Jun 11

Nursing to Combat: The Ever Expanding Role of Women

Monday, June 11, 2018 12:01 AM

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Throughout history, women have had an impact on the Navy and Marine Corps. At the outset, they served as dedicated wives, managing the household and raising children while their husbands served. As time went on, their roles grew. Here’s a look at the progression of official responsibilities women have undertaken in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

 The "sacred twenty" from the collection of Chief Nurse J. Beatrice Bowman. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

The “Sacred Twenty” from the collection of Chief Nurse J. Beatrice Bowman. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

1908- Congress passed the Naval Appropriations Bill, which established the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. The first women to become official members of the U.S. Navy were known as the “Sacred Twenty.” These women paid their own travel expenses to come to Washington, D.C., to pass oral and written exams.

American women were serving as nurses for the Navy and other branches well before 1908, but they now were officially recognized as auxiliary support. Even though they proved their worth during the Spanish-American War, women faced hostility within commands. One of the Sacred Twenty, Beatrice Bowman, who later became Chief Nurse, stated: “These pioneers were no more welcome to most of the personnel of the Navy than women are when invading what a man calls his domain.”

Rear Adm. Victor Blue (left center) chief of the Bureau of Navigation, inspects yeomen (F) on the grounds of the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., in 1918. (Photo: The National Archives)

Rear Adm. Victor Blue (left center), chief of the Bureau of Navigation, inspects female yeomen on the grounds of the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., in 1918. (Photo: The National Archives)

1916- The Naval Act of 1916 allowed women to enlist in the Navy for World War I. About 13,000 women served in the Navy and the Marine Corps for the duration of the war, most under the rating Yeoman (F). They were nicknamed the “yeomanettes” and served in administrative roles, freeing men to serve on ships.

The language of the Naval Act stated that the reserve force could consist of “persons” rather than “men,” opening the door for multiple reviews to determine if that was cause to allow women into the service. Because the Navy never dealt with housing women on naval bases, it was unprepared to meet the immediate challenge. Some women had family or friends nearby, but many were force to find their own housing at the YWCA or to share with other women.

Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) learning to repair and maintain Navy fighter plane engines at Naval Air Technical Training Center, NAS Norman, Oklahoma. October 1943.

Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) learning to repair and maintain Navy fighter plane engines at Naval Air Technical Training Center, NAS Norman, Oklahoma. October 1943. (Photo: USNI Archives)

1942- On 30 July, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Navy Women’s Reserve Act creating the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) program. The WAVES were designated as military personnel and played an important role in World War II. By 1945, the WAVES made up 55 percent of uniformed personnel in Washington, D.C.

More than 104,000 women joined the WAVES, but they were not assigned to ships. By 1945, women made up 18 percent of total naval force ashore. The Navy recruited women with college degrees in mathematics, the physical sciences, and engineering to calculate bomb trajectories.

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Close a suitcase after graduating from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School (WR) at Northampton, Massachusetts, circa December 1944. They were the Navy's first African-American WAVES officers and graduated with the Northampton school's final class. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Lieutenant (junior grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills close a suitcase after graduating from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (WR) at Northampton, Massachusetts, circa December 1944. They were the Navy’s first African American WAVES officers and graduated with the Northampton school’s final class. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

1948- President Harry Truman signs Public Law 625: The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. This law permitted women to enter the Navy as active duty or reservists. It included some limitations, however; women could not make up more than 2 percent of the total number of enlisted service members, and the number of female officers needed to stay below 10 percent of the total number of women in the service. The act allowed the service secretaries to discharge women without a specific reason, and women could not be assigned to aircraft or ships in combat.

Yeoman Second Class Marjorie Powell performs her duties in the Military Personnel Office, Headquarters, Allied Forces, Southern Europe, Naples, Italy, May 1967.

Yeoman Second Class Marjorie Powell performs her duties in the Military Personnel Office, Headquarters, Allied Forces, Southern Europe, Naples, Italy, May 1967. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

1967- 8 November, President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Public Law 90-130. This removed the 2 percent cap on women in the Navy and allowed female officers to hold billets that required flag rank.

 

PT 2/C Carol Cline shoots some film of aircraft at the NAS. Norfolk, Virginia October 1968. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

PT 2/C Carol Cline shoots some film of aircraft at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, October 1968. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

1972- 7 August, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr. published Z-Gram #116: Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women in the Navy. Women could be promoted to flag ranks in managerial positions and enroll in one of four colleges through Navy ROTC. The goal was to open more staff corps billets to women, with the ultimate goal of assigning women to ships. A pilot program was established with women assigned nonadministrative roles on board the USS Sanctuary (AH-17), a recommissioned hospital ship.

The first woman enlisted sailor to arrive was PN3 Peggy Griffith. She was welcomed by the commanding officer and the press with a ceremony aboard ship. Lieutenant (j.g.) Ann E. Kerr was the first female officer assigned. She attended school in San Diego from 20 August to 7 September and qualified to stand underway watches.

New Midshipmen stand in formation at the Naval Academy. The new class includes women for the first time.

New midshipmen stand in formation at the Naval Academy. The new class included women for the first time. (Photo: USNI Archives)

1976- Women were admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis as members of the class of 1980 following President Gerald Ford signing Public Law 94-106.

One former midshipman recalls that when they first arrived, the only uniform they had to drill in was a skirt, so they grabbed their rifles and pulled on their pantyhose to march as their heels sunk into the grass.

1978- Owens v. Brown decided barring women from service on ships prevented them from excelling in the service. The plaintiff Yona Owens served as an interior communications electrician. Her expertise was in repair and maintenance of shipboard navigation systems; by denying her and other qualified women the opportunity to be stationed on ship, the Navy was stalling these women’s careers.

Not everyone in the Navy approved of the increasing role of women. Retired Rear Admiral Deborah A. Loewer recalled that when she first arrived on the destroyer tender USS Yosemite (AD-19) in 1979, the XO introduced her and three other women to the CO, who told them, “I did not ask for women on my ship . . . find them something to do.” These pioneers often faced undeserved bias.

A female midshipman gazes out the window of a CH-46 Sea King helicopter during a demonstration flight. The midshipman is participating in a one-week aviation training program for students enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC).

(1980) A female midshipman gazes out the window of a CH-46 Sea King helicopter during a demonstration flight. The midshipman is participating in a one-week aviation training program for students enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC). (Photo: USNI Archives)

1993- In the wake of the 1991 Tailhook scandal and investigation, women’s roles in the Navy were reassessed. A provision in the 1993 Defense Authorization Act repealed the prohibition of women on combat vessels and opened positions for women to serve on combat ships and as pilots of aircraft in combat.

Two women were instrumental in uncovering the 1991 Tailhook scandal: Lieutenant Paula Coughlin was molested while walking down a hallway at the convention nicknamed “the gauntlet.” Her accusations were not taken seriously, so she broke the story to the press, which prompted a thorough investigation. Barbara Pope, the first woman assistant secretary, was outraged by the initial investigation and fought back against the initial report, which named only 2 suspects, unlike the final report, which named 140 officers suspected of taking part in the assaults. Ultimately, Lieutenant Coughlin was treated like a traitor by her fellow aviators and left the Navy. She went on raise awareness and become an advocate for sexual assault and harassment victims in the military.

Navy Counselor First Class (NC1) Cheryl Ann Cassarella is shown working at her desk at Naval Station Rota where she is the command career counselor. Petty Officer Cassarella has received orders to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN-69). She will become one of 59 other Navy women who will break new ground as they embark on board IKE as the first Navy women permanently assigned to a combatant warship.

Navy Counselor First Class (NC1) Cheryl Ann Cassarella is shown working at her desk at Naval Station Rota, where she is the command career counselor. Petty Officer Cassarella has received orders to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). She will become one of 59 Navy women who will break new ground as they embark on board the Ike as the first Navy women permanently assigned to a combatant warship. (Photo: USNI Archives)

1994- The first women deployed on a combat ship arrived on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). The Navy released a statement that outlined a plan to eventually assign a total of 500 female sailors and officers to the Eisenhower.

(July 26, 2013) Cmdr. (Ret) Beth Coye, right, pins the dolphins from her father late Rear Adm. John "Jack" S. Coye, a prominent submarine commander in World War II, on Lt. j. g. Laura Martindale, assigned to the ballistic-missile submarine USS Maine (SSBN 741). Beth Coye, one of the Navy's first female commanding officers and Navy women's rights activist, wanted to pin the dolpins on one the first females qualified in submarines. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes)

(July 26, 2013) Retired Commander Beth Coye, right, pins the dolphins from her father, the late Rear Admiral John “Jack” S. Coye, a prominent submarine commander in World War II, on Lieutenant ( j.g.) Laura Martindale, assigned to the ballistic-missile submarine USS Maine (SSBN-741). Beth Coye, one of the Navy’s first female commanding officers and Navy women’s rights activist, wanted to pin the dolpins on one the first women qualified in submarines. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes)

2010- In February, Secretary of the Navy, Robert Gates notified Congress of plans to integrate women into ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines. The plan, supported by Navy officials, placed 19 officers on a total of four SSBNs and SSGNs by January 2012

The integration of women into the submarine force was mostly accepted. However, in 2015 a scandal was uncovered on the USS Wyoming (SSBN-742) when a few male enlisted sailors were caught filming female crew members while they showered. This behavior was seen as an anomaly, and many submariners were shocked by this betrayal.

2012- In November, four servicewomen, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, sued Defense Secretary Leon Panetta over the policy of prohibiting women from combat roles. They argued the Pentagon was not reacting quickly enough to the expanding roles of women and that the restrictions were unconstitutional and hurt their careers.

Pfc. Christina Fuentes Montenegro prepares to hike to her platoon's defensive position during patrol week of Infantry Training Battalion near Camp Geiger, N.C. on Oct. 31, 2013. Fuentes Montenegro is one of the first three females to ever graduate from Infantry Training Battalion. (Photo: Sgt. Tyler Main)

Pfc. Christina Fuentes Montenegro prepares to hike to her platoon’s defensive position during patrol week of Infantry Training Battalion near Camp Geiger, North Carolina, on 31 October 2013. Fuentes Montenegro is one of the first three women to graduate from Infantry Training Battalion. (Photo: Sgt. Tyler Main)

2015- December, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced all combat posts in every branch would be open to women starting in January 2016.

Women have come a long way in 110 years. They now command warships as pioneering flag officers. Many women contribute greatly to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The brave women who choose to serve our country leave behind a legacy of refusing to accept the status quo.
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