They were the hinges of history…

Homefront Heroines: The WAVES of World War II introduces a group of quirky, independent and determined women who went where no women had gone before: into the Navy as WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Through oral histories, a documentary film (six years in the making), a blog, and immersive storytelling, this interactive documentary project reveals a hidden history about a generation that changed the course of American life.

 here are their stories.


Jean Byrd (Stewart)

Dorothy "Dot" Forbes (Enes)

Virginia "Vickie" Burdick (Leach)

Helen Edgar (Gilbert)

Margaret Gay

Before the WAVES

This exhibit will outline the changing character of women’s work in the United States to see the challenges, and successes, women had in the years leading up to World War II.

From Gobettes to WAVES and SPARS

Even before the United States entered World War II, the Navy was considering how women might be used to help win the war.  The resulting negotiations to implement what to some was a controversial — and distasteful — proposal were both protracted and complicated. This exhibit explores how the process unfolded and the key players who helped to create the Navy WAVES.

Uniform Identity

The uniform is the focal point of the Navy’s public relations campaigns, seen in posters, photographs and film. As a result, before analyzing those campaigns, it is first necessary to understand the powerful image presented by the uniform, and what the uniform meant to volunteers.

Recruitment Posters

A National Archives exhibition that divided World War II poster output into two general themes: those that convey American strength and those that confront the viewer with the human and emotional costs of war.

From Recruits to Boots

Approximately 100,000 women were accepted into the Navy as WAVES. Another 13,000 were trained as Coast Guard SPARs.  The Navy established a rigorous screening and training process designed to weed out women who didn’t meet the Navy’s high standards.

Specialty Training

Boot camp lasted six weeks. Afterward, most women were assigned to an advanced training school, depending upon their abilities and the Navy’s needs. This exhibit explores those schools.

On the Job

Initially, just three jobs were open to women in the Navy: yeomen (secretarial work), storekeepers (bookkeeping), and radio communications.  By late-1943, that list had expanded to 246 different job categories, including Link trainer instructor (training pilots in instrument flying), Aerographer’s Mate (weather forecasting), and carrier pigeon raising (a single class of recruits who learned how to breed and train carrier pigeons).

The Media Campaign

The Office of War Information had a specific goal during the war years: a message about the war in every bit of media produced, be it by a government agency or an independent author or film producer. As a result, the Navy tightly controlled the outside image of the WAVES.

Changing Attitudes

As the war progressed, the WAVES faced a number of challenges: rumors about their character, suspicions or resentment from military men and sometimes negative reactions from the community. But as the WAVES proved their mettle on the job, those attitudes would gradually change.


As the number of women within the WAVES grew, and the number of jobs diversified, the Navy’s policy towards the women changed: from opening up the WAVES to different types of women, including African-American women, to allowing the women to serve in specific overseas Naval stations.

War's End

From Pearl Harbor to Pensacola, Washington State to Washington D.C., and everywhere in between, as the war came to a close in August of 1945, celebrations erupted. The WAVES joined sailors, soldiers and civilians in toasting the end of hostilities and anticipating a return to “normal.”

After the WAVES

When women signed up for the WAVES, they enlisted for the duration of the war, plus six months. But as demobilization began, the Navy discovered that the women had become a crucial element of military service. And the women discovered that military service had an unexpected impact on their post-war lives.

About the Project

We began working on Homefront Heroines in 2006, interviewing Navy WAVES and Coast Guard SPARs (from the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus Always Ready”). This started as academic research, with the intent of transforming it into a multi-media interactive documentary project. Watch our introductory video to learn more.


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Watch our feature documentary.

Available in streaming and DVD.