WAVES and SPARs officers initially were selected from leaders in business and academia. In order to be an officer, a woman had to be a college graduate.


Early Organization

A number of prominent women were advocating that women serve in the Navy and Coastt Guard, including Virginia Gildesleeve (Barnard College), Maragaret “Mom” Chung (a San Francisco surgeon), First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and at least two members of Congress: Representative Edith Nourse Rogers (R-MA) and Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-ME).

The first few weeks in the Bureau of Naval Personnel in the Arlington Annex are a muddle of complete confusion to me. I was tucked away in a little office somewhere, where it seemed to me there was no way of finding out what the whole thing was all about . . . My first assignment – my first responsibility – was this business of just getting enough women there to start doing something, and what they were to do was a vague to me as it was to all the rest of the Navy at the time.

Mildred McAfee Horton

Captain (1942-1945), World War II Navy WAVES

Laura Patton

Laura Patton trained in the second full class of officers at Smith College in 1942. She worked in communications.

Her oral history interview was conducted at her daughter’s home in California in May, 2007.

Laura's Oral History

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Part One

In Part One, Laura talks about growing up, joining the WAVES, and working as an officer. Click for more.

Part Two

In the second part of her oral history, Laura talks the end of the war and the legacy of her military service. Click for more.

It’s very difficult to change, to get accustomed to change or to encourage change. There were those members of Congress who were most unkind in the debate . . . My role in the WAVES, other than supporting [the original bill] was to get permanent status for all women in the services. This came from my knowledge of what the nurses were contributing. I felt it was about time to give women – if they were needed, in the services – they should be given permanent status and recognized for what they were doing, rather than to just say so many women in the service.

Margaret Chase Smith

U.S. Senator (1949-1973), R-ME


Key Commands

Margaret Chase Smith praised the skill of the early WAVE and SPAR leaders, including Joy Bright Hancock and Jean Palmer (both of whom would lead the WAVES after the war) and SPARs leader Dorothy Stratton.

The greatest advantage I had was the fact that I had worked for so many years in Bureau of Aeronautics, I had been marreid in the Navy, and so had a substantial Navy background . . . it is marvelous to look back on and so darn rewarding because I can see what has been accomplished. Not just my own accomplishments but also being able to view so many things that are continuing to be accomplished.

Joy Bright Hancock

Lieutenant (1942-1943), Lt. Commander (1943-1945), World War II Navy WAVE

Mary June Ferry Bingham

Mary June Ferry Bingham worked as an officer in Naval aeronautics.

Her oral history was conducted at her home in Eugene, Oregon, in July of 2007.

Mary's Oral History

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Part One

In Part One, Mary talks about growing up, enlisting in the WAVES, and officer training. Click for more.

Part Two

In the second part of her oral history, Mary talks working in Oakland, California, meeting her husband, and the end of the war. Click for more.

Part Three

In the final part of her oral history, Mary talks about the WAVES legacy. Click for more.

I was very much interested in the women’s services and the fact that women were going to be given an opportunity to serve. I feel pretty strongly that it was important that the United States should join the allies and I hope to win the war. I know there’s a good deal of talk at the present time about how this may not have been necessary but I still don’t feel that way. I feel to put it simply that it was important that we should stop the Japanese and Hitler, so I thought that if there was any opportunity for me to do my little bit I wanted to do it.

Dorothy Stratton

Director (1942-1946), World War II Coast Guard SPAR


Smith College Training

Officer candidates took over part of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, as a training facility during the war.

As I say, if I had any advice to give them, that was it, “Ladies, use your own good judgement.” Actually, even after training, which was a very short period, the WAVES could have never acconplished what they did, had they not been able to use their own judgement . . . These were adult women who had long passed their rote memory learning, and they were accustomed to reasoning and questioning, analyzing, challenging.

Elizabeth Crandall

Commander, Smith College Training Facility, World War II Navy WAVE

Frances “Franny” Prindle Taft

Franny Prindle Taft spent her Navy career training officers at Smith College.

Her oral history was conducted in March 2010 at her home in Cleveland, Ohio.

The first year was a year of proving. The whole note of it was really set by Captain Underwood and those of us right there trying to start the whole thing off . . . We had public relations. We had drill and discipline, which was my department. Then we had training in all sorts of Navy matters.

Frances Rich

Lt. Commander, Smith College Officer Training, World War II Navy WAVE



The Navy offered oppotunties for women of color, including officers, but only after lobbying both inside and outside of the Navy.

Miss McAfee … she called me and said, “Have we any negro women?” … There was an unspoken and certainly unwritten order or policy, how it traveled I will never know, but no negro women ever seemed to be recruited . . . [Secretary Knox] wanted them to be absolutely Mainbocher uniformed, perfect, beautiful . . . We rushed two Negro women into the last Midshipman class. One of them was a “summa cum laude” in history, brilliant woman . . . And this gal was the head of the class having arrived at least a week late if not longer. She was miles ahead of the rest of the class. 

Mary-Josephine Shelly

Lt. Commander, Bureau of Personnel, World War II Navy WAVE

Susan Ahn Cuddy

Susan Ahn Cuddy enlisted as a WAVE because she was initially told that Asian American women could not serve as officers. She later went through officer training and worked in Naval intelligence. She was first Korean American WAVE and the first Asian American WAVE officer.

Her oral history interview was conducted in her son’s home in Southern California in May 2009.

In October 1944 when the Navy said it was ready for me and I said, ‘Take me.” I was not consciously making a statement about race relation . . . I became aware of a brown face, staring, wide-eyed from the galley opening. I tried to appear casual as I smiled lightly in his direction . . . Only after I passed the third serving plate did I realize how I had almost missed a reaction which I would soon become accustomed to see in various places, with different people. It was the first time that these stewards (the only job available for many years for Afro-Americans in the Navy) had seen a person of color in officer’s uniform.

Frances E. Thorpe

Officer, World War II WAVE



WAVES and SPARs officers, in particular, were breaking new ground, from the first woman to serve from a specific location, to the first ever boot camp for Navy women.

I sold my apartment. I gave up my job and on the 19th day I received my orders I received a commission as a lieutenant junior grade and I was the first WAVE sworn in the state of Oregon. I hadn’t the faintest idea what I would be doing but I cried all night long because sure I would never see home or family again. It didn’t quite work that way. 

Etta-Belle Kitchen

Lieutenant, World War II Navy WAVE

[Hunter College] had been set up as the one boot camp for every girl who enlisted in the Navy to go there for her first six weeks . . . We got 1,680 from civilian life every other Thursday, just as regularly as clockwork . . . The great difficulty I found right away was that no one had ever gotten all the heads of the various departments together to talk over their problems. Everyone was kind of operating independently and it was pretty difficult. After one morning session of about two hours everything fell into place.

Eleanor Rigby

Commander, World War II Navy WAVE

They had the school, the Navy Language School, for years, for men, but about 1942 they issued a call for women, so there were about a hundred of us went to Boulder to take the same course that the men took. They tried to teach us to read, write and speak Japanese in 14 months. And of course, our men went directly out to the battlefields and we Waves fought the war in Washington doing the captured documents.

Dr. Marie A. Edwards

Lieutenant, World War II Navy WAVE


Base Operations

WAVES and SPARs officers were often charged with making sure things on bases ran smoothly, for both women and men.

My first assignment was to this same Bureau of Naval Personnel where [Mildred McAfee’s] office was. I was in the Plans and Policy Division at the time and, although I didn’t attend the conferences with Admiral Randall Jacobs at the time, I had the advantage of hearing all the comments from the men who attended the meetings. And there was no question form these — and they were 99 percent Naval Academy graduates in those days — there was no question in my mind whatsoever that she was on top of every situation.

Rita Lenihan

Lieutenant, World War II Navy WAVE

Betty Wicks Peterson

Betty Wicks Peterson was a WAVES officer assigned to the Chief of Naval Offices. She was tasked with setting up bases.

Her oral history was conducted July 10, 2007, at her home in Florence, Oregon.

Betty's Oral History

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Part One

In Part One, Betty talks about growing up, getting married and teaching, and signing up to be a WAVES officer. Click for more.

Part Two

In the second part of her oral history, Betty talks about serving in the WAVES, and the legacy of her military service. Click for more.

I do feel that by and large the women in the Navy had a better opportunity than the women in the Army because they were assigned on a much more individual basis. I think that they really did a superb job. I think a lot of it was due to their motivation into their selection. They required a much higher educational background in IQs and all of that for the women and they did for the men. I think it showed.

Jean Palmer

Captain, World War II Navy WAVE


Recruitment and Publicity

A large role for WAVES and SPARs officers was being involved in both recruiting new women as well as making sure that media coverage and other publicity was positive.

They had to have the right attitude . . . They had to have a good education. They had to have an appearance we thought was right. They physical requirements were adhered to, meticulously. We adhered to all the directives. We didn’t deviate one bit . . . We lived up to everything right down to the letter. Then we made up a few of our own. One was that just because a girl graduated from college, we didn’t consider her officer material. She also must have had outstanding business experience or a professional background.

Tova Wiley

Commander, Procurement (Recruitment), World War II Navy WAVE

Janette Shaffer Alpauagh

Janette Shaffer Alpaugh first enlisted in the WAVES and later became an officer. As an officer, she was in charge of putting together touring competitive sports teams made up of WAVES.

Her oral history interview was conducted in her home in Gresham, Oregon, April 4, 2007.

The stated objective [for media coverage] always was to make the country understand as much as possible that these were young people in to do a job and the job was to help get the war over. It was that simple . . . This needed backing up in substance. Substance of magazine stories, press releases. Well, I shouldn’t say press releases because you know we didn’t so much put out press releases as we invited the newspapers to come and write their own. But stories of substance that would show what these people were doing in all of these areas. Now that always sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Louise K. "Billye" Wilde

Captain, Public Relations, World War II Navy WAVE


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