World War II WAVES

Establishment of Women’s Reserve, Public Law 689, H.R. 6807, 30 July 1942 [Chapter 538]

AN ACT To expedite the war effort by releasing officers and men for duty at sea and their replacement by women in the shore establishment of the Navy, and for other purposes.

WAVES recruitingposter59 color

The U.S. Navy introduced their women’s corps, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), as a full-fledged part of the service (instead of an auxiliary branch as the Army initially did) in 1942. The reluctance of Congress to hinder the military in a time of national crisis helped carry the legislation through. Mildred McAfee, director of the WAVES, became the first woman commissioned as an officer by the U.S. Navy.

WAVES recruiting poster,

Out of approximately 90,000 WAVES who serves during World War II, 24,000 worked in Washington, D.C. as part of the “Lipstick Brigade.” Quarters “D” built on Ward Circle in Northwest Washington was the largest WAVES barrack in the country.

WAVES at Ward Circle

In 1944, over 20,000 WAVES commemorated its second anniversary on the National Mall in front of the Washington Monument:

WAVES march in mormation on Washington Monument Grounds Jean C. (Shillinglaw) Lee Collection, Donated by Jean Eastman WIMSA

The National World War II Museum has some great information on “Women at War” in its online collection:

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