The U.S. Naval Institute on Women in the Navy Cover

The U.S. Naval Institute on Women in the Navy

The History

Thomas J. Cutler

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2015, 184 pages

Book Review published on: December 7, 2018

The typical female naval enlistee was twenty years old in 1972. Older than her male counterpart, her friends were divided about her desire to serve, she had no friends with any history in the service and was only able to serve in one-fourth of the Navy and Coast Guard occupations. She could neither serve sea duty nor attend the academy or serve in combat. Once married, her husband could not be a dependent unless he received more than half of his support from her. Additionally, she would be automatically discharged from service if she became pregnant. Even with these restrictions there were still more female applicants than the Navy could use in the limited slots available. Due to the limited number of slots, the test scores of women enlistees in the Navy were higher than their male counterparts who qualified for service.

The U.S. Naval Institute on Women in the Navy: The History is a collection of articles from the U.S. Naval Institute. The book is an eye-opening tribute that documents the history and, consequently, the evolution of the integration of women from volunteers to wearing admiral’s stars. It covers much of the history of tens of thousands of women who served in the U.S. Navy. The book’s time frame begins shortly after the foundations of the Continental navy in 1775 and continues to the dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in 1997. Some articles take a macro view, covering many of the events impacting thousands of women, while other articles delve into the personal insights of individual contributors.

Women in the Navy begins with an article focused on the female volunteers providing nursing care on ships in 1776 due to a natural-nurturing instinct. Other women would don disguises in order to enlist or volunteer only to fallback or be pushed out after the need passed. It would be nineteen years after the first trained nurse and before the Sisters of the Holy Cross were belatedly given a pension for the volunteer work they had completed thirty years earlier.

A few of the significant women’s naval history events covered by the book include:
  • 1802, Captain’s duties include ensuring no women go out to sea
  • 1892, Sisters of Holy Cross given a pension for their efforts in 1862
  • 1942, Rear Adm. Randall Jacobs requests identification of jobs women can fill
  • 1948, Womens’ Armed Services Integration Act
  • 1972, Men cannot be dependents unless they receive one-half of their support from their spouse
  • 1972, Navy couples collocated
  • 1972, Z Gram Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women
  • 1972, Legitimate government need for automatic discharge rule
  • 1974, Women assigned to Marines Forces (FMF)
  • 1976, First woman admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy
  • 1977, Coast Guard assigns women to sea duty
  • 1977, Women dissolution after service
  • 1980, Defense Officer Personnel Management Act repeals all sections of the law requiring separate appointment, promotion, accountability, separation, and retirement of women officers
  • 1980, Services issue service-wide policy guidance on harassment
  • 1993, 1948 combat exclusion law repealed
  • 1995, 571 women (14 percent of brigade) at the U.S. Naval Academy
  • 1996, Guided missile destroyer named after Adm. Grace Hopper
  • 1997, Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington, Virginia

The book ends with a celebration of the history of women in the Navy, including the 1996 naming of the guided missile destroyer Hopper after Rear Adm. Grace Hopper and the 1997 dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial to the 1.8 million women who served in the Armed Forces. It is with sincere appreciation that I highly recommend Women in the Navy: The History to anyone interested in naval and women’s history. The book is an insightful reconstruction of women’s pursuit of naval service and the Navy’s dedication to adapt and maintain a combat-ready force.

Book Review written by: Kathy Kim Strand, MEd, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas