Pioneering Women in the Navy

Photo from the Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph Collection, NH 106756.


Women have been an important part of the Navy for a long time. They began their service in the Navy as nurses during the American Civil War. Today, there are over 52,391 women serving on active duty.

Reading the paper on July 7, 2016, I was reminded of an important milestone that occurred on this day back in 1948. This is when the first six enlisted women were sworn into the Regular Navy. The women, who are shown above, were:

  • Chief Yeoman Wilma J. Marchal
  • Yeoman Second Class Edna E. Young (who was also the first African American woman to enlist in the regular Navy as well as the first African American woman to achieve the rank of Chief)
  • Hospital Corpsman First Class Ruth Flora (who was also the first female appointed to the Navy Hospital Corps)
  • Aviation Storekeeper First Class Kay L. Langen
  • Storekeeper Second Class Frances T. Devaney
  • Teleman Doris R. Robertson

Many other women followed in their footsteps including:

  • Anna Der-Vartanian, a yeoman, who became the first female Master Chief. She was also the first female E-9 in the armed services.
  • Cmdr. Elizabeth Barrett was the highest-ranking woman naval line officer to serve in the Vietnam War and the first woman to hold command in a combat zone.
  • Lt. Elizabeth G. Wylie became the first women to serve in the Vietnam War on the staff of Commander, Naval Forces, Saigon.

Each of these women (and many others) represents an ever-expanding role of women in the navy.

Posted in News.