Mar 19

The Navy’s First Enlisted Women, 19 March 1917

Saturday, March 19, 2011 12:01 AM


Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels authorized the enlistment of women on 19 March 1917 to help alleviate a projected shortage of clerical workers. They served under Class 4 of the 1916 United States Naval Reserve Force that provided for the first enrollment or enlistment of officer and enlisted personnel. Loretta Perfectus Walsh of Olyphant, Pennsylvania, became the first woman to enlist on 21 March 1917. By the time war with Germany was officially declared on 6 April, 200 women had joined her.

To distinguish these women from their male counterparts the Navy established the rate of Yeoman (F), though they were also known as “Yeomanettes” or “Yeowomen.” Men and women in the same rank earned equal pay, something not available in the civilian sector. Unlike their male counterparts, the highest rank a Yeoman (F) could reach was that of chief petty officer. Since they did not receive basic training, these enlisted women took classes and learned how to drill in the evenings. They worked as couriers, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, masters-at-arms, mess attendants, paymasters, recruiters, switchboard operators, and translators. A select few worked overseas at base hospitals in France and in naval intelligence in Puerto Rico. Female reservists also participated in Victory Loan Drives and parades. By the signing of the 11 November 1918 armistice between the Allies and Germany, a total of 11,275 Yeomen (F) had served in the Navy. The last Yeoman (F) was discharged from active duty in July 1919.

  • Donnalee Pickrel

    I have a book entitled “The First Enlisted Women 1917-1918.” The author is Eunice C. Dessez. My grandmother was a Chief Yeoman in WWI – Letah Heimbach Beatty; and the book was presented to her in June 1955, apparently by the author (it is signed and addresed to Grandma).

    Do you have a copy of this publication?

  • kim dessez

    Eunice was a member of my husband’s family. I think it is awesome that you have a copy of the book signed by Eunice.

  • Carman

    Hello Donnalee,
    My name is Carman Brinker. I am a senior in college at UMUC and I am writing my senior thesis on the yeomanettes. I would love to know if you might have any personal accounts (I.e.journals, diaries, or letters)
    of your grandmothers? I know this is a weird request, but I am looking for first hand information, a kind of “in their own words” account. My email is [email protected]. I would love to have any information about your grandmother that you can give me. Thank you so much.