By Jennifer Nason
This week’s blog came about after Camille Breeze discovered some women’s military uniforms on a visit to the costume collection at Keene State College (see photo gallery below). After our recent AWVS uniform project, our interest was peeked by yet another example of women contributing to the WWII efforts. The Keene uniforms are clearly labeled as belonged to two ladies who served in the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve, also known as Woman Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, or WAVES.
The WAVES were created on July 30th, 1942, becoming the first women’s division of a U.S. military branch. It was also the first time in U.S. military history that women were paid and disciplined the same as men of the same rank and status. However it was understood from the outset that the WAVES would be a temporary division, and that it would dissolve once the war ended (hence the emergency part of the name).
Nonetheless, the women of WAVES received ample training; there were schools throughout the U.S. for educating female midshipmen and officers. Within the first year of commission, there were roughly 27,000 women active in the ranks of the WAVES. Their duties were mostly clerical, yet some branched out into the medical, intelligence, and technological fields.
The Women’s Reserve was never used for active combat, however they performed the essential tasks at home needed for a successful Navy and a safe America. They were just as important to the safety and well-being of America as any enlisted men. The WAVES also had their own official song which they sung proudly:
WAVES of the Navy,
The Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve was never disbanded as predicted. On the 12th of June, 1948, the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act allowed women to permanently enter the armed services. The Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve became W9 Women's Officer Training and W10 Women's Enlisted Training programs of the U.S. Navy.
As U.S. women begin to qualify for active combat duty we should all be grateful to trailblazers such as the WAVES for the role they played in protecting America.