Women’s Naval Heritage: From Secretaries to Sailors
Story by MC3(SW) Amanda S. Kitchner, Amphibious Squadron 11 Public Affairs
USS BONHOMME RICHARD (At Sea) – Women serving aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) stand as a testament to the long history of female Sailors that have come before them.

“I think it’s important for us to remember the history and how women came to be allowed in the Navy,” said Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Aleesa Baakko. “Our presence in the Navy required a change in the general population’s view of what a woman is and is not allowed to do.”

It started in 1908 with the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps. While women were allowed to provide service for compensation, they were not afforded actual rate or rank within the Navy.

It was not until March 1917 that women were considered for active participation in a military sense.

The Secretary of the Navy at the time, Josephus Daniels addressed the appeal for clerks and stenographers to serve during World War I as one that required a different approach than the Civil Service Commission was used to.
The decision to enlist women for yeomen, storekeepers and radiomen, marked the barest beginnings of what would come to be known as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service or WAVES.
“The WAVES were the ones who helped women to be seen as more than just mothers and housewives,” said Aviation Support Equipment Technician 3rd Class (AW/SW) Elyse Campbell. “They were afforded the opportunity to prove that women are just as capable to become U.S. Sailors.”
In early August 1942, Mildred McAfee was sworn in as a Naval Reserve Lt. Cmdr. and the first director of the WAVES. McAfee was the first women commissioned as an officer in U.S. Navy history and paved the way for the future of not only the women involved in the program, but also every woman that would follow with service in the Navy.
“I often think of my grandmother, who was a WAVE in 1960,” said Baakko. “The thought of her service reminds me that I am here for a dual purpose; to serve my country and also represent the strength and intelligence of my gender.”
On the one year anniversary of the WAVES program, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the women who had provided service directly, stating that ‘once again, the women of this free land stepped forward to prove themselves worthy descendants of those proud pioneer daughters who first nurtured freedom's flame.’
“Whenever I think of the women in the Navy of the past, it reminds me of why I was allowed to join the Navy with nothing barring my way,” said Hospitalman Amber Williams. “It’s because of them that I can do this. I owe them everything.”
In the years to come, women were given more opportunities to serve in different rates and on new platforms.
“Women have only been allowed on board combatant ships, such as the Bonhomme Richard since 1994,” said Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collection) (SW/IDW/AW) Misty Rambo. “With that comes great responsibility to act in a manner that is honorable to our predecessors who diligently worked to afford us this opportunity.”
Women are no longer confined to nursing and clerical work. They have branched out to become fighter pilots, engineers, intelligence specialists and so much more.
“One thing I would like to say to all of the women who will come after me is remember who you are and the value you have as a person,” said Baakko. “Through hard work and dedication, you can prove your value to those around you. Know that your presence in the Navy is necessary and welcomed.”
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