WAVES: Women in the WW2 US Navy

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

In 1919, a small group of women served with the United States Navy as nurses, answering to male officers. 23 years later, in early Aug 1942, female officer Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander Mildred McAfee was commissioned into the US Navy amidst World War II to head up the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program (WAVES). The use of the word "emergency", however, signified that when the effort to resurrect female service was in the planning stages, US Navy brass thought female service would cease when the emergency, or the war, came to and end. The reason for that was due to political resistance from many who did not believe women had a place in the US Navy, and for the program to take place, creative intrigue had to be used. Despite the resistance from conservative officers, however, the demand was clearly there; for example, as early as Jan 1942, the Office of Naval Intelligence was recruiting female college students. Even as President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Navy Women's Reserve Act into law on 30 July 1942, little did people know that female service in the US Navy would become something that would last far beyond the "emergency".

By mid-1943, 27,000 American women served in the WAVES program. While their WW1 counterparts served only as nurses and secretaries, these WW2-era women took up far more responsibilities. Secretarial and clerical jobs still made up a large portion of WAVES positions, but thousands of WAVES personnel performed other jobs such as aviation mechanics, photographers, control tower operators, and intelligence personnel. In late 1944, the WAVES program began accepting African American women at the ratio of one black woman for every 36 white women enlisted in the WAVES program. By the end of the war, over 84,000 women served in WAVES with 8,000 female officers, which constituted 2.5% of the US Navy's personnel strength.

After the war, the US Congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act (Public Law 625) on 12 Jun 1948, allowing women to gain permanent status in all military branches of the United States, which put the WAVES program into obsolescence (although people still referred to female members of the Navy as a member of WAVES well into the 1970s). After the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, on 7 Jul 1948, six women were sworn into the regular Navy: Kay Langdon, Wilma Marchal, Edna Young, Frances Devaney, Doris Robertson, and Ruth Flora. On 15 Oct 1948, eight women were commissioned as the first female officers of the regular Navy: Joy Bright Hancock, Winifred Quick Collins, Ann King, Frances Willoughby, Ellen Ford, Doris Cranmore, Doris Defenderfer, and Betty Rae Tennant.

WAVES marching song
I WANT TO BE A NAVY WAVE
To the tune of
"I Want to be a Friend of Yours"


By Betty McClinchie

I want to be a Navy WAVE, MMM,
And a little bit more.
I want to be an Ensign, too, MMM,
And a little bit more.
I want to wear a suit of blue, MMM,
And a little bit more.
One blue stripe would be all right.
But oh, for a little bit more.
 

Source: United States Navy Great Lakes Naval Museum, United States Navy Naval Historical Center, Wikipedia.

Photographs

WAVES Ensign May Herrmann recruiting two women at the Officer Procurement office, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, 30 Oct 1942US Navy recruitment poster for the WAVES program, circa Aug 1942-1945US Navy WAVES personnel and British Royal Navy sailors obtaining free theater tickets from New YorkWAVES aircraft mechanics working on a SNJ aircraft, Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Whiting Field, Pensacola, Florida, United States, circa 1943-1945; note Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial engine
See all 156 photographs of WAVES: Women in the WW2 US Navy


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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. Anonymous says:
    14 Oct 2007 06:25:22 PM

    the seaman reading the letter on page 2 is my mother
  2. Carmen says:
    10 Apr 2008 06:21:20 AM

    This information was helpful when I was writing an essay. Thank you
  3. Anonymous says:
    24 Apr 2008 08:12:40 AM

    this information is not helpful at all to me i want a quote from a first hand account by a woman in ww2 servin in the war. thanks a lot.
  4. Anonymous says:
    11 Jul 2008 06:34:42 PM

    Thank you for this web site. I was looking for information on what women did during ww2 and there isn't very much said about these's lady's Keep up the good work on women in the service Thanks
  5. LeeAnn says:
    8 Nov 2008 05:23:35 PM

    My Aunt was on the cover of one of the magazines when she was in the Waves. Her name was Dorothy Beckley-Harvey-Smith. Not sure which last name was hers while she was in the Waves. Would love a picture of it, for my mother, her sister.
  6. Anonymous says:
    15 Dec 2008 03:09:58 PM

    this really helped me wile writin a research paper on women in world war two and their gains and loses durin the whole process !!

    ps thanks :))
  7. Anonymous says:
    10 Jan 2009 03:34:55 PM

    Thank You so much for this website. I am using it to do train on Women in the Navy. This website has a great amount of knowledge on it and who ever is supporting this is a great asset to the world. Thank You again.
  8. katelyn patterson says:
    17 Feb 2009 04:57:47 PM

    very cool
  9. Anonymous says:
    14 Mar 2009 10:58:13 AM

    I love this website
  10. Robert says:
    6 Jul 2009 09:55:52 AM

    Does anyone know who was the WAVE Lt. Cdr. stationed at Jacksonville NAS about 1943 or into 1944, doing psychological studies on aviators?
  11. Graham says:
    10 Aug 2009 06:23:09 AM

    Does anyone know if any waves were stationed in England during ww2, or even came over with any officers for a short period during the war
  12. Anonymous says:
    24 Aug 2009 08:27:48 PM

    As a Naval Aviator,1942-46,I remember WAVES on the towers in Corus Christi,Jax, Alemeda.Also recall attractive young women who were ferry pilots, particularly from Hellcat factory to Norfolk,East Field
  13. Anonymous says:
    25 Oct 2009 12:20:21 PM

    Does anyone have information about a WAVE named Marcella Svejda. She was stationed in Japan. Fabulous that women had the chance to do all this considering what generation they were. They helped pave the way for the rest of us.
  14. Anonymous says:
    25 Oct 2009 12:22:54 PM

    Is there a database to find a relative that served in with the WAVES? If so, does it tell where they were stationed and what they did?
  15. Anonymous says:
    21 Nov 2009 07:04:09 PM

    I am looking for Dorothy M Todd Gulick who was a Wave in the 1940's. A data base would be great!
    Linda
  16. Anonymous says:
    30 Nov 2009 07:39:34 PM

    Excellent site helped me with my national history day project! thanks a bunch!
  17. Florene Marion Johnson Johnny says:
    22 Jan 2010 08:01:33 AM

    WesternElexcetric, NJ 1942 1943 then Washintion DC Buidling 128 I think Anyone please contact me
  18. Kristin sipperley says:
    9 Feb 2010 05:47:57 PM

    My mother, Bettie Helen Boyce was in the Waves during WWII. When going through hr chests full of stuff, we came across this poem. She could not remember which one of the "girls" serving with her borrowed her typewriter and wrote it..
    “Won’t you step into my parlor”,
    Said the spider to the fly.
    “Won’t you step into the parlor”,
    And his look was very sly.
    Her heart began to flutter,
    She wanted so to flee,
    For the spider was a sailor
    And her fate was plain to see.

    Now the fly was very timid,
    And she didn’t want to go
    But the spider was so handsome
    And his urging touched her so,
    With one last look at freedom
    She stepped into the room,
    As the door closed gently after,
    She realized her doom!

    Oh! She looked at him for guidance
    It was up to him she knew.
    His voice came soft, compelling,
    “It’s the only thing to do.”
    With this word of assurance,
    She said, “It can’t be wrong”
    Come on let’s do it quickly,
    I’ve waited now too long.”

    He said, “You son’t regret it,
    It means a lot to me.
    For when we’re in the service,
    We miss a lot, you see.
    It’s girls like you that cheer us
    And send us on our way,
    There’d be a lot more like you
    If we could have our way.

    In her breath there was a flutter,
    And her heart began to race.
    Her lip began to tremble,
    And the color left her face.
    “The only ones who don’t”, he said,
    “Are either fools or knaves”,
    So with a sigh of sweet submission,
    SHE ENLISTED IN THE WAVES!!
  19. clairebear says:
    1 Mar 2010 04:34:22 PM

    thnx ths helped me alot on mi social studies world war 2 project!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  20. CUTIE BUG says:
    6 Mar 2010 07:34:39 AM

    hey this was a really useful website for me. i am in the 7th grade and doing a project on women in the war so this was extremely helpful. thanks buches,
    kAtIlEn
  21. Evelyn Jepson says:
    10 Mar 2010 11:47:38 AM

    I wondered if there is a list of the women who enlisted. I have a Wagar that enlisted, and I want to know if there were any pictures of her, there.
  22. Anonymous says:
    21 Mar 2010 12:57:23 PM

    thank you so much!! this information helped me a lot on my WWII project about the Home Front and the WAVES!!
  23. Anonymous says:
    25 Mar 2010 10:32:42 AM

    Thank youu lots this info really helped me on my World War II project. (:
  24. David Oneppo says:
    14 Apr 2010 02:09:50 PM

    My mother Jane Westerlund Oneppo serverd in The Navy Waves during WW-2..Does anyone remember her or served with her??? Thanks, David Oneppo Edgemoor, SC...
  25. R says:
    11 May 2010 10:03:27 AM

    Looking for any info regarding Melba Hill who was stationed in Corpus Christi.
    Did anyone find a database of names?
  26. Molly Dunn says:
    30 May 2010 01:50:58 PM

    My friend was Lola Tilden. She was a WAVE in WWII. I learned a lot from her, though at 22 she thought I had "Lofty thoughts." I suppose I did at that young age. Before she died she gave me her peacoat. I am soooo honored. I wish that I knew more about her.
    In high school I took a class on WWII vets, my teacher Tommy Tegge was my teacher. He would give us extra credit if I got WWII vets to come in and talk and be recorded. I got the most extra credit in the WHOLE class.
    I would love to reach out and fine WAVES that would like to be interviewed and let me tape their story. I am a flight attendant and can get to your location. If there is anyone out there who would like to film your family member/friend men and women, and send it into the Smithsonian Institute there are some forms you need to fill out for submission. If you would like those forms please let me know. I can copy them and send them out.
    My email is chelsea_re@yahoo.com
    If anyone out there was friends with Lola Tilden please contact me via my email.
    Looking forward to hearing from you!
    Sincerely,
    Molly Dunn
  27. Anonymous says:
    31 May 2010 03:56:40 PM

    this is good site
  28. Anonymous says:
    12 Jul 2010 01:07:18 PM

    Does anyone know if Waves are allowed to be buried in a Veterans cemetery? I think it depends if they served active duty. Does the Navy count a nurse serving on a ship as active duty?
  29. Harvey says:
    1 Nov 2010 09:17:27 AM

    My mother and her sister were two of the 1st 5 thousand women who enlisted into the WAVES.
    The answer to question number 11 is "Yes". My aunt Dorothy (Drake) Castek had a hush hush job of translating German messages in England. She was sworn to secrecy for her entire life.
    My own mother, Rita (Drake) Harvey remained in the WAVES after the war. There were only 2 thousand remaining after 1945. From that number the Navy built on idea that women could enlist into all the branches of the Armed Forces. It took an act of Congress in 1948 and signed by the President to accomplish this.
    My mother and aunt are in the picture of the ladies of recruits at the bottom of page 1. Forth from left back row and the one in front of her is my aunt.
    Answer to question 28 is "active duty". WAVES are allowed to be buried with full military burials in a private or national cemetery.
  30. Anonymous says:
    3 Nov 2010 11:59:34 PM

    My mother was a wave according to a article writtin about two young woman, one being my mom, Ann Antonia DeAngelis who was I think sworn in in New York City in 1943. I knew my mom was in the Navy but did not know she was a Wave. She would of been from Irwin, PA at the at of 23 yrs old. Can this be confirmed, if so can someone post a picture of her. Please.
    Thank you so much.
    Anna Marie Chalmers
  31. Anonymous says:
    8 Nov 2010 05:55:00 PM

    Am working a county memorial to honor all branches of the service. We are doing the regulars, Army , Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Also are adding the merchant marines . Would it be proper to add the Waves as their own branch or were they consider part of the Navy and that would be adequate. Would like some comments. Thanks............Dennis
  32. joe says:
    1 Dec 2010 03:25:59 PM

    is it fact or fiction that women in the navy were sometimes disciplined with a rattan cane this supposedly happed in the royal navy a lot I find it hard to belive but you come across comment from time to time
  33. kelcey says:
    18 Jan 2011 06:02:00 AM

    it was a good site
  34. Erin Curtis says:
    19 Jan 2011 02:46:52 PM

    Looking for WAVES who passed through the Charleston Navy Yard in South Carolina - or are natives of/currently reside in South Carolina.

    Email me.
  35. jolan somogyi says:
    14 Feb 2011 03:45:16 PM

    I think this web site is great it needs a data base though because I'm looking for a women named Elizabet w. Daugherty who was a wave.
  36. Marilyn Casler Riesbol says:
    9 Mar 2011 09:40:17 AM

    Could someone tell me the Pharmasist Mate rating of Betty Lou Worrall who was a WAVE:WWII? She was from Denver, Colorado.
    Thank you.
  37. Anonymous says:
    14 Mar 2011 09:03:37 AM

    My mother (who recently passed away) was an anti-aircraft gunnery instructor. 20mm and 40mm guns. She used to brag that she was the only one in her group that could pick up and load a clip of 40mm. (Five feet tall, 120 pounds)
  38. Francie says:
    15 Mar 2011 07:57:10 AM

    Hi Aunt Marilyn,
    Found a Waves hat with pin and buttons. Thought it was Mom's but has the intials of BLS inside it. Any ideas of the S?
  39. Heather Potts says:
    15 Mar 2011 09:26:45 AM

    I was doing an iSearch paper for my Interdis class. I didn't k now anything about women and there role of being in it. I looked at this website and it became a big help in me actually writing it. It was a great tool in helping with my paper, so thankss.
  40. Anonymous says:
    30 Mar 2011 02:51:39 PM

    this website isn't half bad. it gives a good amount of information on the WAVES program of world war 2.
  41. Anonymous says:
    30 Mar 2011 05:04:36 PM

    I wanted to learn about African American woem in World War 2 and all I got from here "one black women to 36 white women".
    NOT HELPFUL!!!!!
  42. Anonymous says:
    23 May 2011 06:57:27 AM

    I found an ring that I think may be a WAVES graduation type ring. It is 10K gold with a blue stone. On the stone is an anchor overlaying a 3 bladed prop. On each side of the band is engraved "WAVES". Can anyone confirm that this type of ring was purchased or issued to these brave women? There are the initials B.D. on the inside of the ring, but I'm not sure if that is the manufacturer or former owner. Any info would be appreciated!
  43. Anonymous says:
    29 May 2011 08:13:35 AM

    I am looking for a Dorothy M. Gunlock who was in the WAVES during WWII. Any information would be helpful.
  44. Sandy says:
    2 Jun 2011 09:06:10 AM

    Did anyone serve on the WWII ship, Tranquility? I know someone who served as a nurse and has wonderful stories. Please contact!
  45. Anonymous says:
    25 Aug 2011 06:09:01 PM

    My mother was a WAVE and went to Boulder, Colorado where she learned Japanese. She translated sailing directions in Washington, DC and then at the close of the war went to Japan for four years where she worked as a translator in the Allied Translator & Interpreter Service for the Supreme Command.

    We need a search service so we can find their records on-line!
  46. Jenny from Denver says:
    22 Sep 2011 09:00:12 AM

    Hi! Does anyone know of any WAVES that served from 1943-1944 in the San Diego Area?
    Please let me know, I am trying to reunite hem with another WAVE who served there who is now in Chicago.
  47. florence johnson says:
    9 Oct 2011 10:38:58 AM

    Anyone still alive that knows me? 19424 worked on FIDO secret project at Western Electric, KEarney, NJ Then at NAVY HQ
  48. Anonymous says:
    5 Nov 2011 11:20:54 AM

    I also have a waves ring exactly as described above. I found it after my grand parents passed. It also has D.B inside. Did you find any info about it?
  49. Relative says:
    8 Dec 2011 02:51:37 PM

    (Cecilia) Dorothy Beattie, USN WAVES - Rank: Y1. 22 Nov. 1910, Narrows Island, Guilford, CT-15 Mar. 1988, New Haven, CT.

    Graduate of Stone Business College; enlisted 8 Dec. 1941, serving to Apr. 1946. Attended University of Oklahoma. Served in San Diego and San Francisco, CA; transferred to Civil Service as Stenographer for International Military Tribunal for the Far East in office of Sir William Webb, President and Member from Australia from 6 Aug. 1946 to 5 Dec. 1948, in Japan.

    Retired after 30 years by Joint Chief of Staff, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
  50. Judy Williams says:
    23 Dec 2011 12:58:52 PM

    My mother was a SP2 in Telecommunications, USN WAVES during WWII. Could you please tell me what SP2 meant? Thanks.
  51. Anonymous says:
    1 Feb 2012 10:50:27 AM

    ummmm...... Ima writng a speech about W.A.V.E.S and need a little infor can i have some help???
  52. Eva Young says:
    4 Feb 2012 02:34:35 PM

    ...Looking for infor on Eva Maurice (married name Schweder) the aunt I was named after..She was a WAVE in the Navy during WWII - any information would be appreciated...
  53. Anonymous says:
    21 Feb 2012 12:57:25 PM

    This page was very helpful. I am in the 6th grade and we are doing a newspaper on WW2. this was my living topic.......W.A.V.E.S
  54. Anonymous says:
    27 Feb 2012 10:46:48 AM

    THis rlly helped me thanks to all those Whom made this website possible!!! :)
  55. Anna says:
    28 Feb 2012 10:28:05 AM

    This website really helped me with a project
    on WAVES of World War2. It's a really cool website.Thanks, Anna
  56. Larry Kenrick says:
    29 Mar 2012 10:13:06 AM

    Looking for waves stationed in China Lake CA.in or around 1942. My mother-in-law was a yoeman there. Any help would be appreciated.
  57. Melisa Fry says:
    9 Apr 2012 07:01:41 PM

    I am doing a project for Language class on women in world war 2 this website helped me find some facts for the W.A.V.E.S part of it thank you so much !!:]
  58. DeAnn says:
    14 Apr 2012 11:43:44 AM

    Does anyone know a WAVE from the early 40's named Margaret Elizabeth Sommers? We are searching for any information or photos of her.
  59. Margo Rochelle says:
    17 Jul 2012 06:17:21 PM

    Hi All;
    My mom Marjorie June Armitage served in the Navy as a Wave 1-6-1944 to 2-7-1946. Are there any Waves or personel that knew her? She was exposed to something and had a lung infection while there. Now 3 generations are ill; with similar symptoms. We are looking for a connection for treatment of the family. I also have pictures; I wonder if this site wants some copies? She was proud of her service and is buried in a National Cemetary; she had a military funeral. I would also like to have her name in Arlington at the Memorial; any suggetions? She lived her whole life to prevent war and to keep the peace. Her daughter Margo Rochelle, Tucson
  60. Stephanie B says:
    27 Aug 2012 11:50:30 AM

    Does anyone know any WAVES who were stationed in Pasco, WA during WWII? I am looking for stories for an exhibit I am putting together. I am hoping to put some names to the faces from our photo archive.
  61. Teresa D says:
    13 Dec 2012 08:38:56 PM

    Wonderful site. Have not been able to find much on the Waves. My husband's grandmother was a Wave from Arkansas, but she did not talk much about it. Would love to find information or her service records? Can anybody help. It would mean alot to my husband.
  62. Anonymous says:
    14 Feb 2013 11:45:55 AM

    Some oral history interviews of women who served in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) during World War II are available for viewing from the Illinois Veterans History Project YouTube Channel. Link is
    http://www.youtube.com/user/ilveteransproject

    Just click on World War II, 1939-1945 playlist.
  63. Anonymous says:
    19 Feb 2013 06:50:43 AM

    Thank you, my Grandma was an active WAVES during WWII. I did no know much about what that was until I found this site.
  64. Anonymous says:
    10 Jul 2013 06:53:59 PM

    Any pictures of Edna Young; first female african american to wear the rank of a Chief Petty Officer
  65. Jack says:
    12 Sep 2013 08:23:54 AM

    My Great Grandmother was a navy WAVE her name was Helen Feleki Bolen a 1st Lieutenant in the Navy WAVES her husband was also a 1st Lieutenant his name is R. Ernest Bolen part of the US Navy Helen F Bolen was a code talker and could speak German so she was a code talker and intercepted German codes
  66. Sue says:
    28 Feb 2014 01:22:17 PM

    I'm trying to find the records of my mother's tour of duty. Among the first women taken in and housed at Hunter College in 1942. She was, we were told, the first female aviation technician in the Naval Air Corp. She installed radios in airplanes.
    How would I go about getting this info? I do not have here SS#... But her name was Sallie Curtis Easley.
  67. Hannah Masterson says:
    5 Mar 2014 04:31:15 PM

    Eva Young, if you are still looking for Eva Maurice Schweder please contact me. She was my grandmother. :)
  68. Rita McCutcheon says:
    8 Mar 2014 02:35:27 AM

    My mother's name is Edith Ellen Briggs married name Rollins.
    She was a Navy WAVE during WWII. She was born and raised in Arkansas until she joined the Navy. She was at Hunter College, and her Naval occupation was in intelligence. In 1944 she married Stanley Rollins and lived in Washington DC. She was invited to have lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House. I am trying to research her time served in the
    Navy.. Not having any luck so far. Any info would be greatly
    appreciated.
  69. Rita McCutcheon says:
    14 Mar 2014 02:18:03 PM

    Update:
    My mom's name is Edith Ellen Briggs. She was a Navy WAVE during WWII. She attended boot camp at Hunter College, and was stationed at Dayton, Ohio as a code breaker. She helped decipher enemy communication that helped to save lives, and shorten the war. She worked at the Naval Machine Computer Lab at the National Cash Register Company. My mom died of cancer in 1993, never revealing to anyone what her role was during the war. If anyone knew my mom, or worked with her as a code breaker, please contact me. I would love to know what her life was like as a Navy WAVE.
  70. Anonymous says:
    8 Jul 2014 11:07:28 AM

    Any pictures or stories of Ann Antonia DeAngelis. Navy WAVE from class in New York City (Hunter College) 1943. She was from Irwin, PA
    Thank you,
    Anna M. Chalmers, her daughter.

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WAVES Ensign May Herrmann recruiting two women at the Officer Procurement office, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, 30 Oct 1942
See all 156 photographs of WAVES: Women in the WW2 US Navy



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