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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Navy (incl. WAVES, Nurse Corps, Yeomanettes)

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The Navy branch includes yeomanettes and women who served in the Navy Nurse Corps, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and the U.S. Navy.

The Navy Nurse Corps was established on 12 May 1908. More than 1,500 navy nurses served from 1917 to 1918 in hospitals in the United States and Europe. Women could enlist in the navy as a legitimate part of the military for the first time during World War I. Almost 12,000 yeomanettes served, primarily performing clerical work. On 30 July 1942, the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve or the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) was created. The 86,000 WAVES who served during World War II performed clerical work such as storekeeping and stenography, but also became air traffic controllers, mechanics, and truck drivers. The majority served in the United States, with small numbers going to Hawaii and Alaska in 1944. Approximately 11,000 navy nurses served in hospitals in the United States as well as overseas.

Almost 10,000 WAVES and 3,400 navy nurses served during the Korean War. WAVES continued to hold jobs primarily in administration, personnel, supply, and communications. Nurses stationed overseas served primarily in Japan and on hospital ships. However, by the mid-1960s, there were only about 6,000 WAVES and 2,300 navy nurses. Although WAVES remained in clerical, administrative, and medical fields, only a handful were sent to Vietnam. Several hundred nurses served in country and on hospital ships in Southeast Asia.

Female roles in the navy expanded in 1973 with the creation of an all-volunteer force and the assimilation of the WAVES into the U.S. Navy. Women could participate in Naval ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) in 1972, were accepted at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1976, and were sent to more foreign duty stations. In the 1980s, the number of women assigned to sea duty and aviation increased. Approximately 4,400 navy women served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991. As of September 2007, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 49,000 women were serving, comprising almost 15% of the Navy.