By YN1 Silvia Raya and YN2 Waltesia Crudup, Chief of Naval Personnel
In order to fill severe clerical shortages caused by World War I, the U.S. Navy approved the enlistment of women in 1917. The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 made no specific gender requirements for yeomen, enlisted personnel who fulfill administrative and clerical duties.
So either by deliberate omission or accident, the act opened the opportunity to enlist women 97 years ago this week. One of the first through the door on March 17, 1917 was Loretta Perfectus Walsh, who became the first active-duty female in the Navy who wasn’t a nurse. Four days later, March 21, 1917, she was the first female to be named a chief petty officer. On April 6, 1917, Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson’s request to declare war against Germany.
The newly-enlisted Sailors were given the rating Yeoman (F), with the “F” designating female. More popularly referred to as “yeomanettes,” the majority worked in clerical positions, but they also served as translators, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, ship camouflage designers and recruiting agents.
Nearly 600 Yeomen (F) were on duty by the end of April 1917, a number that had grown to more than 11,000 by December 1918, shortly after the Armistice.
After the war, many “yeomanettes” continued in their positions during the post-war naval reductions. By the end of July 1919, there were just under 4,000 left in service, and all were released from active duty to return to their more traditional roles before the war.
Yeomen (F) continued on inactive reserve status, receiving modest retainer pay, until the end of their 4-year enlistments, at which point all women except Navy Nurses disappeared from the uniformed Navy until 1942.
Many honorably discharged Yeomen (F) were appointed to Civil Service positions in the same navy yards and stations where they had served in wartime. Entitled to veterans’ preference for government employment, they provided a strong female presence in the Navy’s civilian staff through the decades after World War I.
Chief Walsh served all four years of her enlistment, getting out in 1919. After contracting the flu in 1918, she developed tuberculosis. Walsh died six years after leaving the Navy, Aug. 6, 1925, at the age of 29.
Today, nearly a century later, there are 4,644 yeomen, of whom 1,602 are women. We have faced similar experiences when it comes to balancing family and work, as did our predecessors nearly 100 years ago, but we are proud to be among the Navy’s first rating opened to women. Female yeomen today are no longer trivialized with the term “yeomanettes” or designated specifically as females. Thanks to the groundwork of those in 1917, women today are accepted in nearly every rate within the service.
Raya: I joined the Navy only six months after arriving in the U.S. from Brazil at the age of 26. I faced a lot of obstacles due to language barriers, but with determination I overcame them. It has been a journey of ups and downs – and I’m growing personally and professionally from this journey. I have faced things that I’ve never faced before, such as racism and sexism, which many times made me want to give up, but I didn’t let it deter me. Instead, the challenges made me want to make things better for others like myself. I advise people to search for help and learn from people who have experienced similar obstacles. I know that the women who joined this rate before me faced more difficulties – but because they persevered and kept charging forward, I am here today, able to serve in equality.
Crudup: I also believe that being a woman in the Navy definitely has its ups and downs – just as any man in the Navy experiences challenges, I would think. I came into the Navy as an undesignated airman. In 2008, I decided to take the test for yeoman and made third class on my first try. In 2011, I advanced to YN2 and finally settled into being a yeoman.
Both of us walked different paths in our careers, but we faced similar experiences.
Crudup: In October 2012, I found out I was pregnant with my third child, while on sea duty at a squadron. My commanding officer was very supportive and decided to keep me attached to the squadron until I transferred to shore duty shortly after. This was very beneficial because it allowed me to continue my sea duty time while still being a major asset to the command, lending support while the squadron was away on detachments. I know the timing of my pregnancy was not optimal – and not what I was planning – but I continued contributing to the mission. Many people at the command looked down on me because I got pregnant on sea duty, but I kept my head up and didn’t allow my pregnancy to determine my value as a Sailor.
Raya: I also faced difficult times, the most difficult being when I left my family behind while on deployments. I always think about my children and how much I’ve already missed in their lives I know that as a woman in the workforce, I need to learn to manage family, professional life, and goals to ensure I can reach a healthy equilibrium between them I’m thankful to have the support of my husband, who is also in the military, to make it easier for me to achieve this balance.
We both believe that being a woman in the Navy requires sacrifices, just as it does for women in the civilian workforce. We know we are not the only ones facing these challenges.
We both understand that life gives us opportunities to succeed. As a part of the three-star staff for the Chief of Naval Personnel, we feel as though our careers have truly taken off. We see things from a different perspective now. Here we are an essential part of the beginning process of every personnel action (instructions, NAVADMINs, executive correspondence) that takes place in the Navy. These are things that you can only experience as a yeoman. We are all here to do a job, no matter what gender we are. We feel that we are treated as equals and that our job matters.
We can finally say with certainty that we are two yeomen, learning how to lead, with the main goal in mind of making a difference for people in the service now and the ones who will join our Navy family in the future. We are here to stay and make a positive impact in the life of many Sailors that will come after us. We are “the relief” for the warriors before us. We are taking charge of this post and we accept the responsibility that comes with it! #People Matter
Raya is the Assistant Leading Petty Officer for N1 Secretariat. She manages a team of Yeomen in the administrative process involving executive-level taskers and correspondence enhancing manpower, personnel, training and education programs and policies for Sailors Navy-wide. Raya has earned the COMNAVEUR DET MAST FY-12 Junior Sailor of the Quarter, 3rd Quarter and CHNAVPERS FY-13 Junior Sailor of the Quarter, 4th Quarter.
Crudup is the Scrolls Manager for the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP) N1 Secretariat. She manages the daily tracking, setting up, editing, closing out and forwarding of all scroll packages for signature by the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations and acts as a liaison for scrolls with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, NPC PERS codes and medical offices in Bethesda, Md. Crudup also serves as an administrative assistant on the edits team ensuring that correct format and grammar are being used in all TV5 tasker packages for CNP’s review and signature.