May 28

First Female Midshipmen Graduate from U. S. Naval Academy

Monday, May 28, 2012 1:00 AM


May 28th, 1980

First women graduate from USNA

In October, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed a bill which included a mandate stating that the United States’ military academies were to begin admitting women in the fall of 1976. This full integration of the sevice academies required much forethought and preparation to ensure that female students would have the same experiences and opportunities as their male counterparts, but it was a landmark acheivement for women in the services. In April 1976, Proceedings incleded a special news release from the U. S. Naval Academy which detailed the many changes and considerations which had been made in anticipation of the incoming female midshipmen. The article also offered a view of what the lives of these female midshipmen would be like, from the extracurricular activities they would participate in to their living arrangements in Bancroft Hall, and even included a description of their uniforms and dress codes. Most importantly, the article noted the high hopes and expectations for these women midshipmen, which the fifty-five female graduates of the class of 1980 surely met.

As the U. S. service academies enter the country’s bicentennial year, they will end more than a century of male-only admission policies. In the summer of ’76, the U. S. Naval, Military, and Air Force academies will admit women as midshipmen and cadets.

The academies were ordered open to young women when, on 8 October of last year, President Ford signed a military authorization bill with a rider directing the admission of women to the service academies. The new law states:

” . .. the secretaries of the military departments concerned shall take such action as may be necessary and appropriate to insure that (1) female individuals shall be eligible for appointment and admission to the service academy concerned, beginning with appointment to such academy for the class beginning in the calendar year 1976, and (2) the academic and other relevant standards required for appointment, admissions, training, graduation, commissioning of female individuals shall be the same as those required for male individuals, except for those minimum essential adjustments in such standards required because of physiological differences between male and female individuals.”

Academy officials had followed closely the progress of the bill and had been quietly developing plans for the admission of women for some months. On 9 October, Naval Academy Superintendent Rear Admiral Kinnaird R. McKee announced that women would enter Annapolis with the Class of 1980.

The task of preparing and executing the academy’s plan for women was delegated to the Commandant of Midshipmen. The offices of the commandant, academic dean, dean of admissions, candidate guidance, physical education, public works, and public affairs also have had principal roles. Academy planners have drawn from the experiences of the Merchant Marine Academy, which admitted women three years ago, and have consulted with officials from formerly all-­male colleges and other service academies.

Admiral McKee has said that the admission of women will not change the academy’s mission of training midshipmen to be professional officers in the naval service. However, women midshipmen will not be able to use their combat training because of the wording of the U. S. Code Title 10. The code states that:

“… women may not be assigned to duty in aircraft that are engaged in combat missions nor can they be assigned to duty on vessels of the Navy other than hospital ships and transports. “

Within the framework of these statutes, the Naval Academy will minimize distinctions between the training and accommodations for men and women midshipmen. The changes that will be made will deal mainly with privacy in Bancroft Hall living areas, uniforms, and the summer cruise training period.

While academy officials are determined not to have “special” programs for women, they acknowledge the need to make allowances for physiological differences as required by the legislation.  Where necessary, actions bearing on the accession of women will be included in indoctrination given to the brigade officers and midshipmen who will put the plebes of the Class of ’80 through summer training.

Explains Captain William J. Holland, who is coordinating plans for the admission of women, “We’ll tell the midshipmen in the plebe detail about everything from women’s uniforms to physiological differences and communications barriers that could cause problems in the plebe training. For instance, we expect that the women will be highly competitive. If they become exhausted they might not want to tell their squad leader about it. Studies show that women do not have the same physical endurance capacity that men do. They will be working closer to their exhaustion levels than the men. We want to alert the midshipmen to this.”

Holland says there has been no survey of midshipmen to determine their feelings about women joining them in Bancroft Hall, but he estimates that probably 10% of the brigade does not want women and probably will not change its mind after the women have settled in. He says a bigger problem than that 10% will be the possible chivalry of the other 90%.

Says Holland, “Studies also show that when a small number of women join a much larger group of men, the men tend to become chivalrous and protective. We will have to work against that. The women rate the same midshipman experience that the men get, and they can’t get it if they are protected. The men must criticize properly. At the same time the women will have to learn to be straightforward with the men.”

Other details for the women’s arrival are being worked out at Annapolis. The number of women admitted to the academy was determined by the Secretary of the Navy based on the number of women needed in the Navy and Marine Corps and taking into account the normal attrition rate of midshipmen. The secretary designated 80 spaces for women in the Class of 1980.

Women will compete for nomination within existing procedures, and all avenues of nomination will be open to them. Some women will enter Annapolis this summer from the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS). They are women presently on active duty in the fleet or in the Naval or Marine Corps Reserve. They began at NAPS in January.

The women will live in Bancroft Hall, integrated into the company areas. Three women initially will share one room in a company area. Seventeen existing head facilities are being altered for the women in Bancroft Hall Showers and sinks are already in each midshipman room. Other physical revisions include construction of changing and shower facilities in Halsey Field House, Macdonough Hall, and Hubbard Hall.

Women will be addressed as “Midshipman,” since that term is a rank in the Navy rather than a description. Their uniforms, like the men’s, have been designed for maximum carryover potential. Several of them, such as the service dress blue, can be worn as officer uniforms after graduation. Other uniforms, such as classroom uniforms and full dress blues for parades, will be identical, except for hats, to the men’s.

Stringent hair standards will be set for the women. They will wear their hair so that when it is brushed out it does not touch the collars of their uniforms and so that after intense physical activity it can be rearranged easily and quickly.

Though there will be women officers on the commandant’s staff, no women will be assigned as company officers since those billets call for warfare specialists. Women officers will work with the plebe detail.

Women will be eligible for membership in all extracurricular activities except as players in the rugby and ice hockey clubs.

No changes will be made in the academic program because of the admission of women. Women applicants will be informed that the academy’s curriculum is heavily engineering-oriented, and they will select their majors on the same basis as men in the 80-20 engineering/science to humanities ratio. The number of women on the faculty will not be increased merely to accommodate the addition of women to the brigade. The best available faculty members are hired, and currently there are 16 women on the faculty.

Women will graduate as line officers in the Navy and Marine Corps and will be assigned to non-combatant billets. As midshipmen they will take the same professional courses as men. Summer cruise training has not yet been defined because of the law forbidding women to be assigned to combat ships. Since women cannot go to sea on Navy ships, they may be assigned to operational staffs for their third and first class summers. During the summer after third class year, women will participate in the program with the men, taking part in flight, submarine, Marine Corps, and surface warfare training.

Studies show that men and women differ physiologically in endurance and upper body strength areas. Therefore, it is anticipated that some standards in the women’s physical aptitude requirements may be different from the men’s. Women will take the same number of physical education courses as the men. In place of the men’s required boxing and wrestling classes, women will have a required personal defense course that will include judo, karate, and physical conditioning.

Women will be required to compete in intramural and varsity sports with the men. All athletics but the contact sports of football, lacrosse, wrestling, rugby, and boxing will be open to the women, and they will be encouraged to compete at the highest levels of their abilities.

As the arrival of the Class of 1980 approaches, Naval Academy officials are making every effort to ensure that the accession of women proceeds smoothly and profitably for the Naval Academy community as well as for members of the new class.  Changes to living and athletic facilities are near completion, and officers and upperclass midshipmen have been appropriately briefed. A number of highly qualified candidates have been appointed from among the women nominated, and academy officials are confident that the program can be managed within the spirit as well as the letter of the congressional mandate.

  • Jim Valle

    The photo at the top of the page depicting the first woman graduate clearly indicates that the “stringent: standard for hair length and simplicity seems to have gone by the board at some point. I wonder how many other mandates contained in the initial regulations concerning women at the Academy had to be modified or abandoned. Also, on the occaisions when I had a chance to interact with male midshipmen at the various Naval History Symposia that I attended, there was considerable resentment of the female presence. It seemed that a certain percentage of the men had long dreamed of what life at the Academy would be like for them and with the women present the dream went unfulfilled.

  • Woody Sanford

    Jim Valle:

    Does your concern about hair standards trump qualifications for those of Aviation, submarines, Intelligence, Engineering, etc. This first female USNA grad certainly looks trim and fit and I wager she is quite well-trained in navigation, ship-handling, gunnery, professionalism, military history, etc., etc., etc. What rank did she obtain and in what command did she serve?

    Woody Sanford, MD, FACR
    CAPT.,MC, USNR(ret.)

  • Jim Valle

    Well Woody, to tell the truth I have no idea who the lady in the picture is or how well she made out once she graduated. I was only indicating that the admission of women to the service academies ushred in a fairly long learning cycle during which more than one initial arrangement had to be modified or abandoned as experience was gained. I personally was never in the Navy but have had some experience around ships and boats including square riggers like the Brig Niagara and HMS Rose. These experiences taught me that women who have the desire and aptitude for a seagoing career perform as well as anybody else and can certainly develop into clever shiphandlers and navigators. I’ve also had the experience of hearing a Navy captain ( female ) complain about the whining, lazy academy trained ensign ( also female ) she had the misfortune to have assigned to her command.

  • Hanna

    Well Jim just to chime in, having served 20 plus years in the Navy and being a female, it always fascinates me that these comments come about. With men there are the same experiences. You have men that are whiny, lazy, lack aptitude as well as the men who want to do well and do well. But it just accepted that this is a place for men so there is no discussion of the 1,000’s that fail. I have had many men and women who worked with and under me that have both failed and succeeded. I think the problem is that the focus is on gender and not ability. Believe it or not hairstyles (length, bulk,etc.) was questions for men as well while I served. But Like Woody says, I was more focused on whether the individual could perform their duties well during critical and peace time over all other issues.

  • Gregg Overbeck

    This picture is not of the first female graduate. The first female graduate was Elizabeth Anne Rowe. She graduated 111 of 946 midshipman on May 28, 1980. She retired as a Commander.


  • John Bertram

    I too noted of the inconsistency of the hair style in the photo and the description in the article. I had a friend (USMA 1973) who deplored the admission of females to the academies but my guess is that with the first graduating class, with females in all underclasses, that became the norm and each new class now sees female cadets as the norm. I am certain the navy griped about the change from sail to steam, and from steam to nuclear. The norm is today and we will usually gripe about tomorrows changes.

  • Susie Sablan

    This looks like one of my classmates, 1981 vice 1980

  • William Higgins

    It’s Kathy Engleman

  • William Higgins

    As each class graduated more billets were opened. USNA ’81 had pilots, some of whom we lost in training. Two of our three astronauts were women. We also had two women make flag rank, including Peg Klein, who was the first woman to be the Commandant of Midshipmen. Our class has had the greatest number selected as flag officers.

  • William Higgins

    Kathy’s hair was under control most of the time, where we had the rules allowed it to be pinned and put under the cover. On graduation day we carried our covers in to throw at the end of the ceremony.

  • William Higgins

    I saw significant negative views from classes that had no women, and from some that were in my class. We even had an academy wide lecture in fall 1979, when women were in all classes. The CNO at the time spoke out at the lecture against the women. It was Dereliction of Duty on his part, not to support the orders of Congress and the Commander in Chief to voice this in the public forum.

  • William Higgins

    How far we have come… A few years ago some women graduates entered training to become officers in training on submarines. Some have now earned their warfare specialty.