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NHHC Celebrates 75 years of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948

This landmark legislation, signed into law by President Harry Truman on June 12, 1948, granted women the right to serve as regular, permanent members of the armed services.

Prior to the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, women had played crucial roles in the U.S. Navy during World War II as nurses or members of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) under the provisions of the Naval Reserve Act of 1938. However, these acts did not provide for women's service during peacetime. It was the Women's Armed Services Integration Act that shattered this barrier, opening the door for women to serve their country alongside men in the armed forces.

Under the provisions of the act, the number of women who could serve was initially capped at 2% of all personnel, and they were prohibited from participating fully in combat units. Nonetheless, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act marked a significant turning point in the fight for women's rights and equality, setting the stage for further progress.

Captain Joy Bright Hancock, the director of WAVES, played a pivotal role in advocating for the passage of this act. Her dedication and efforts were instrumental in breaking down barriers and ensuring that women had the opportunity to serve their country in a more comprehensive and permanent capacity.

On July 7, 1948, the first six enlisted Navy women were discharged from the Naval Reserve and immediately reenlisted in the regular Navy. These trailblazers included Chief Yeoman Wilma J. Marchal, Yeoman Second Class Edna E. Young, Hospital Corpsman First Class Ruth Flora, Aviation Storekeeper First Class Kay L. Langen, Storekeeper Second Class Frances T. Devaney, and Teleman Doris R. Robertson.

Following this historic moment, on Oct. 15, 1948, Captain Hancock and seven other women were sworn in as the first female officers in the regular Navy. Lieutenant Commanders Winifred Quick Collins, Ann King, and Frances Willoughby, Lieutenants Ellen Ford and Doris Cranmore, and Lieutenants (junior grade) Doris Defenderfer and Betty Rae Tennant represented the pioneering group of 288 women selected for commissions.

Dr. Heather Haley, a historian with Naval History and Heritage Command, delivered a presentation titled "Finding a Permanent Place: Demobilization, Suburbia, Motherhood, and Women in the Navy," June 6. The presentation delved into the historical context surrounding the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, exploring the challenges and achievements of women in the Navy during that era and can be viewed online: https://youtu.be/pHtpvpWaFDs.

In recognition of this milestone, the Naval History and Heritage Command offers web-based resources to highlight the stories of some of the first female officers in the regular Navy, honoring their commitment and the progress made since the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.

• Women's Armed Services Integration Act: https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/diversity/women-in-the-navy/WASIA.html
• 75th Anniversary of Women's Armed Services Integration Act: https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/diversity/women-in-the-navy/WASIA/WASIA-at-75.html

This 75th anniversary observance recognizes the courage and resilience of the women who blazed the trail and paved the way for the more than 120,000 women currently serving in the Navy. Their service and dedication contribute to the strength and success of our armed forces and our nation as a whole.

NHHC, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for preserving, analyzing, and disseminating U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy's unique and enduring contributions through our nation's history and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis, and interpretive services. NHHC comprises many activities, including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, 10 museums, USS Constitution repair facility, and the historic ship Nautilus.