Nov 27

Reminiscences of Captain Winifred Quick Collins

Friday, November 27, 2015 12:01 AM

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Visit of Captain Winifred Quick Collins, Director of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) (Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Visit of Captain Winifred Quick Collins, Director of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) (Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Being the first in anything, especially the first woman, brings with it its own set of problems along with the prestige eventually given by history. Captain Winfred Quick Collins was not only one of the first WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II; she also was one of the first women commissioned in the regular Navy. Her primary duty during her service was finding a place for herself and the women who followed. Above all she worked to get women accepted. She retired in 1962 as Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women after twenty years of service.

Below are only a few of my favorite quotes from CAPT Collins’ oral history conducted in 1986 by Paul Stillwell and published in 2013 by USNI. While CAPT Collins is one of only a few women interviewed by USNI for our Oral History Program, I hope many more will be added soon.

 

I don’t know why I was so motivated towards college. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t go. It’s tough for a young man to earn his way [during the Great Depression], but it was even more difficult for a woman. But there was never any doubt in my mind at all. I never questioned my decision.

 

When the war was coming on, President Comstock [of Radcliffe College] joined the Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Board for Women in the Navy. Because I had been to Radcliffe, she called me from her office in ’41 and told me that something very exciting was going to happen in the Navy. She said, “I know it’ll just suit you perfectly. Will you go and have an interview?”

I said, “Do they have to wear uniforms?”

She said, “Oh, I don’t know that detail,” which was definitely a con job.

 

One of many recruiting posters for the WAVES

One of many recruiting posters for the WAVES

And my experience taught me that the commanding officers would be very resistant, and then they would be told they’d have so many [women]. Then, once they had WAVES in their commands, they became knowledgeable about them and got know them as human beings. Then they wanted more.

 

And the most ridiculous thing was the question of why women should have to be rotated. And I said, “Well, how will they get to know the Navy? How will [they] get to be promoted?” The men raising the objections didn’t want them promoted. That was simple: “Don’t rotate them. Don’t promote them. Don’t have them.”

First group of WAVES sworn into the Regular Navy. Captain Collins was one of the first 500 women sworn in 1948.

First group of WAVES sworn into the Regular Navy. Captain Collins was one of the first 500 women sworn in 1948.

I’ve worked with a tremendous number of wonderful Navy men, and I also worked with a lot who were very opposed in every possible way. And I was a focal point in each of those, yes. So you learn diplomacy fast.

 

I tried to visit every command where women were to find out how they felt about everything that was going in their command. I found some where the commanding officers were impossible. I almost took them away from the naval hospital at Bethesda. I threatened them . . . I never will forget talking to the commanding officer. I said, “Unless you improve conditions, you’re just not going to get any hospital corps.”

He said, “We couldn’t do without them.”

I said, “You can, because you’re treating them like slaves.” . . . I just couldn’t believe treatment of humans, particularly medical person. You’d think they have some empathy towards a human being more than just a regular officer might.

 

I went away with a good reputation for women in the Navy, which was one of my goals, definitely, and good morale for them. I wanted them to feel proud of what they were doing and the men to feel proud of them. And I think I achieved that. It’s ongoing forever, of course, but it certainly was different from when I took over.

 

 

To learn more about about CAPT Collins, please see the link below to her autobiography, MORE THAN A UNIFORM: A NAVY WOMAN IN A NAVY MAN’S WORLD, published by University of North Texas Press:

https://untpress.unt.edu/catalog/3007

To view more oral histories by USNI please visit our online catalog:

http://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history кредит

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