Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Woman's Place...

Review by Bill Doughty

... is "Serving Proudly."

This "History of Women in the U.S. Navy" by Susan H. Godson (Naval Institute Press, 2001) shows how women's roles evolved in the sea service, especially at first in Navy medicine.

Women served in defense of the nation even before there was a United States Navy, but women like Clara Barton (for the United States in the War of 1812) and Florence Nightingale (for Britain in the Crimean War) proved the value of women near the battlefield in the early and mid 1800s. By the end of the century, during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps was created (1898). 

The book opens with an epigraph by Rear Adm. Grace M. Hopper: "The highest award I have received is serving proudly in the U.S. Navy."
"By the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. Navy had developed into a world-class naval power with fleets to sail and colonies to administer. The Navy's evolution had been uneven and sporadic, and growth had depended on external threats or, by the 1890s, on markets to open, colonies to supervise, and primitive people to uplift. Concurrently, training and requirements for officers and men had become professionalized... But the Medical Department still lacked a vital element: professionally trained nurses – those women who had taken two- or three-year courses in hospital training schools. Nursing, along with teaching and social work, was one of the few professions open to women. During the nineteenth century, many women emerged from their prescribed sphere and went into reform movements, clubs and associations, and higher education. And they were no strangers to the seafaring life; they had been in virtually all types of vessels, both private and naval. The Navy needed professional nurses, and such women had proven their worth during the Spanish-American War. Could the two, in fact, be mutually beneficial?"
In 1908 the Navy Nurse Corps was born. Esther Voorhees Hasson, Lenah S. Higbee and J. Beatrice Bowman were the first superintendents.

Godson examines the Navy's influence in breaking down walls, promoting education and progressing toward greater equality for women throughout the 20th century. 
"During World War I, the U.S. Navy grew in men and ships to address the demands of the European conflagration. How it met wartime requirements depended largely on Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Because of his vision and boldness, the Navy embarked on the temporary and unprecedented wartime expedient of bringing women into its enlisted ranks as yeomen (F) and Marine Reservists (F). Those women who entered the naval service had no idea that they were pioneers. They joined the Navy because the country needed their talents."
The author relates the early influence of civilians Margaret Sanger, who "launched the birth control movement, which gave women the knowledge and ability to control family size;" Alice Paul whose party proposed an equal rights amendment; and Eleanor Roosevelt, who championed social-welfare causes.

"A dramatic breakthrough for women" came during the Second World War, when some 350,000 women served in the military ashore. Women throughout the nation saw greater opportunity serving in the industrial sector. Of course, it was in WWII that  WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service – was created, in the face of quite a bit of resistance to change.

The Marine Corps, part of the Department of the Navy, was most recalcitrant about integrating women into its ranks. Although only a small number of women Marines were allowed to serve temporarily during the First World War in the Reserves, they were welcomed back in 1943, again in support roles, separate but unequal.

WAVES march in a parade for Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and Medal of Honor veterans in New York City, Oct. 9, 1945. (NHHC)

After the war, pioneers like Cmdr. Joy Bright Hancock "firmly believed that women should be allowed to serve in the regular Navy as a regular career." She traveled around the country, coordinated with the newly formed Department of Defense, and lobbied Congress, causing the "House Armed Services Committee to run up the white flag."

Women were in a "holding pattern" mid-century, but the 60s brought about great change in civil rights, including for women, and the Navy was in the forefront of the changes. A small number of WAVES served in support roles in Vietnam, but "the Navy never hesitated to dispatch nurses to the war zone," according to Godson. The 70s brought more demonstrations, class-action lawsuits and a "new brand of feminism," resulting in the Equal Opportunity Act and the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), which "represented another victory for equality."

"Guiding the Navy from 1970 to 1974 was CNO Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., who undertook to modernize both the fleet and personnel policies... Zumwalt issued the famous (or infamous) Z-116 on 7 August (1972), giving equal rights and opportunities to Navy Women," Godson writes.

Zumwalt opened the U.S. Naval Academy to women and opened avenues for women to be able to achieve flag rank. Once again, Navy Medicine was in the lead with the first women allowed to serve aboard ships going aboard the hospital ship USS Sanctuary (AH-17). The Navy's newest warship in early 2017 is named for the visionary Navy leader. According to the Navy, "USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) is the largest and most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world."

The 80s were a period of entrenchment, with greater participation and new roles for women in the Navy, leading to the early 90s and the repeal of combat exclusion for women, thanks to Rep. Patricia Schroeder, DACOWITS (The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services) and Secretary of Defense Les Aspin.

Vice Admiral Nora Tyson, Commander U.S. Third Fleet.
Godson's book ends on a hopeful note as she wonders about the "long-term impact of these sweeping changes" (initiated more than twenty years ago). She reflects on women's achievements in the first Gulf War, at sea, in aviation, at the Naval Academy, and of course in the Navy Nurse Corps.
"The story of all Navy women is one of dedication and valor. They proudly chose to serve their country as part of the U.S. Navy and pursued their goal with dogged determination. They would not be denied such an honorable calling. As in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women's familiarity with maritime matters and their nursing skills have made them essential to the naval service. Tributes to their service have been many. One of the most touching came in 1996, when the Navy named the guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) in honor of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, who had led the Navy into the computer age. And in the fall of 1997, a lasting monument to Navy woman, as well as to all 1.8 million women who have served in the military was dedicated: the women in Military Service for America Memorial at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, which stands as a fitting reminder of all women who have volunteered to defend American freedom."
Working with renowned Navy historians such as Jan K. Herman, Robert J. Schneller, Dean C. Allard and Edward J. Marolda, Godson provides a wealth of information and some great photos in "Serving Proudly."

She presents controversial issues such as sexual harassment, sexism, discrimination against lesbians and uniform issues. And she gives a wide-ranging history of the progress women have made in and out of the Navy, acknowledging that the history of women in the military is still being written.

Commodore Grace Hopper, special assistant to the commander, Naval Data Automation Command, gives an autograph and a length of wire representing distance an electron moves in an nanosecond during groundbreaking ceremonies for the Grace M. Hopper Navy Regional Data Automation Center at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, Sept. 27, 1985. Photo by PH2 Michael Flynn, Naval History and Heritage Command.

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