World War II saw the introduction of the organization Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), an all-woman division of the US Navy. The word “Emergency” referred to their accepted status due to the circumstances presented by the war. The organization began in July of 1942 and by early August, Mildred McAfee, was sworn in as a Naval Reserve Lt. Commander. She was the first woman commissioned as an officer of the US Navy.
WAVES were not permitted to serve aboard combat ships or on aircraft. Their service was strictly limited to the US mainland. Late into the war, they finally received authorization to serve in specific US possessions and in Hawaii. Any additional plans to expand their services were halted with the end of the war.
Within the first year of startup, over 27,000 women joined the WAVES. While most of them performed clerical duties, some accepted positions in the aviation community, as well as positions in medical, communications, technology and other various areas. Though initially they did not accept African-American women, by mid-1944, approximately one in every 36 women who enlisted and trained for the WAVES was an African-American.
By the end of World War II, the WAVES consisted of 8,000 female officers and close to 80,000 enlisted women. Despite their involvement in World War II and post-war, the organization was disbanded in 1948 when the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was passed. This new law permitted women permanent status within the armed forces. Despite this change, the acronym WAVES continued to be used for almost 30 more years.
It cannot be disputed that the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) of WWII made tremendous contributions both in the overall war efforts and towards the acceptance of women in the military service.