Jump to Main Navigation Jump to Main Content
Return to NWC Home >

Naval Historical Collection

Search using this query type:

Search only these record types:


1942: WAVES and WOCS

WAVES Recruiting poster

WWII WAVES Recruiting Poster


The Navy's WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, began on 20 July 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689 establishing the Women's Reserve, amending the Naval Reserve Act of 1938.

Despite the successful and beneficial service of volunteer women during WWI, the 1925 Naval Reserve Act restricted enlistment to men. Exigencies of war and opposition from navy bureau chiefs including Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz meant continued exclusion even as war in Europe raged. It would not be until October 1941, under the aegis of Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark, that the Navy would support the recruitment of women. The WAVES Act restricted women to continental U.S. shore duty and limited officer billets but ensured that female recruits would receive the same pay as men of the same rank.

The Navy nearly found itself overwhelmed by the response from women: over 27,000 enlisted in the first year and nearly 100,000 served during the war. They served  

Some women who joined the WAVES had mothers who served a Yeomanettes in WWI, including Rhode Island native Mary Catherine Sullivan, whose oral history is included in this exhibition. 

In 1945, newly appointed Women's Naval Reserve Commander, Commander Jean Tilford Palmer, began work to extend women's roles in the Navy beyond wartime. She had the support of Fleet Admiral Nimitz, who, despite earlier opposition to women in the Navy, testified before Congress as to the WAVES "superior work" during the war and argued in favor of a permanent status for women. Passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1948 ensured women a continued role in the Navy.