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yeoman navy department inspectionA unit of U.S. Navy Yeomanettes at an inspection in 1919. 

Not Every Woman Who Served With the U.S. Military During World War I Got the Same Treatment. Here’s Why 

By Pamela D. Toler
via the Time Magazine web site

The First World War is often described as the first “modern” war. The term generally refers to mechanized warfare in the form of tanks and airplanes; terrorizing civilian populations as an act of war; and the mobilization of society as a whole. But it could also apply to the new roles of women in their nations’ war efforts.

Increasing manpower demands on the part of all the combatant powers in World War I made it easier for women to make official contributions, though few would fight. Women signed up as ambulance drivers, telephone operators, munitions workers, members of various service auxiliaries and even as soldiers in Bolshevik Russia’s all-female units. In the United States, the Navy’s “yeomanettes” and the Army’s Hello Girls were the first American women to openly serve in (or at least with) the military. And, though they served in the same war for the same nation, their experiences differed greatly.

Faced with the potential for serious manpower shortages in the approaching war, United States Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels decided to take advantage of a loophole in the Naval Act of 1916, which did not specify that only men could enlist. In March 1917, he took the bold — and controversial — step of enlisting women in the Navy as yeomen.

Hundreds of women between the ages of 18 and 35 headed to recruiting stations. By the time the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917, two thousand women had enlisted as “Yeoman (F).” By the end of the war, the number of female yeomen had increased to 11,000.

Daniels did not intend for his female yeoman to serve in battle. The Navy initially recruited women to take over clerical duties, thereby freeing men to fight. Most female yeomen were indeed assigned to clerical jobs, but the list of jobs the Navy considered suitable for women grew as the war went on. Women also worked as radio and telegraph operators, supervisors for naval shipments, commissary stewards, fingerprint experts, draftsmen, pharmacists, torpedo assemblers and camouflage designers. Once the navy realized young women in uniform were good publicity, it trained female yeomen to march and perform basic military drills so they could parade in support of war bond drives, troop send-offs and other official events where goodwill was valuable.

Read the entire article on the Time Magazine web site.

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