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Women in Uniform

WAVES stood for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. These ladies, all volunteers, were the Navy’s female members. These photos date from World War II, the conflict during which the WAVES were born. They officially came into existence in July 1942.

About 100,000 women were made WAVES. They served in a variety of capacities, from performing essential clerical & administrative duties to providing flight instruction to male pilots-in-training. At least one-third of the WAVES handled naval aviation duties. Some WAVES tackled complex & precise operations like calculating bomb trajectories. Others processed paperwork for such top secret projects as the D-Day Invasion of Normandy and the development of the atomic bomb. No wonder the Navy tried to recruit college-educated women with backgrounds in math, science, and engineering. For many WAVES, the war provided an opportunity to work at jobs usually open only to males. Initially, however, WAVES did not serve overseas.

To some degree, the Navy proved quite progressive toward women. Consider the Army’s female branch, the WACs (Women’s Auxiliary Corps). Whereas the WACs were an auxiliary group, the WAVES were not. Therefore, the WAVES were given a status comparable to that of male members of the reserve. On the hand, the WACs were generally more open to the inclusion of African American females.

In 1948, the WAVES became a permanent component of the Navy. They remained so until 1978, when the armed forces integrated women’s units with formerly all-male units.

These photographs were taken at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in September 1943. In the first photo, WAVE Mary Arnold jumps down after finishing work on an SNJ training plane. In the second photo, WAVES Mary Arnold, Violet Falkum, and Bernice Stansbury adjust the intake on another SNJ training plane. The third image shows WAVE Bernice Sansbury adjusting the spark plugs. The final image was taken inside the Navy aviation hangar (the O&R Building), and shows WAVE Ann Garman speaking with a seaman guard. (Photos from the National Archives, information from

written by Glenn Emery

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