Women in the Navy and Marines

Female Navy Yeomen stand in review during World War I. Source: Library of Congress. Navy Girls on Review. , None. [Between 1917 and 1915] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/96501196/.

As part of the Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum’s “miniseries” about women in the armed forces, this post will dive into women in the Navy (who certainly made WAVEs) as well as female Marines.

Navy—Women took on roles in the Navy beyond nurse starting in World War I. The first female inductee in the U.S. Navy was Loretta Perfectus Walsh in 1917. Beyond the yeoman role, women also served as draftsmen, pharmacists, torpedo assemblers, photographers, telegraph operators and chemists. After the war, these women were released from active duty.

During World War II, women were again brought into service in the Navy, this time as a separate auxiliary called Women Appointed for Voluntary Emergency Service, or WAVES. Serving with distinction around the world, the WAVES broke barriers for the women who continue to serve the country in the Navy.


This photograph shows women called the “Marinettes” who performed clerical work usually done by male Marines starting in 1918 during World War I. Source: Library of Congress, Bain News Service, Publisher. Enlisting “Marinettes”. , ca. 1915. [Between and Ca. 1920] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014707651/.

World War I saw the Marines recruit women into the Marine Corps reserve, as depicted in the picture above. By the end of the war, 305 women had served, most of whom went to France to fill administrative roles.

During World War II, over 20,000 women served in the Marines. It is estimated that one third to a one half of the positions on Marine bases during the later part of the war were filled by women. One such of these was Irene Brophy, whose photograph is below and also on display at the BVMM in the Women in World War II exhibit.

Sergeant Irene Brophy served at the Marine Corps base in San Diego in the Motor Transport Company as a tune-up specialist and truck driver. Photo in Veterans Museum collection, 2010.8.

As with the other branches of the military, despite obstacles and difficulties, women served in the Marines in a variety of capacities in all subsequent American conflicts. Take a moment today to appreciate these pioneering women.

Sources: Lacy, Linda (2004). We are Marines!: World War I to the Present. Tar Heel Chapter, NC-1, Women Marines Association.

Hall, Mary-Beth (1 September 2014). Crossed Currents: Navy Women in a Century of Change. Potomac Books, Inc.