During Women’s History Month, we celebrate the legacies of remarkable servicewomen who served in our nation’s maritime services. No sailor or coastie’s journey is alike. Explore the diverse stories of women in uniform and the impact they have made on American history.
Women in Uniform: U.S. Navy
Starting in 1862, women began their journey in the Navy with the Sisters of the Holy Cross who served aboard the USS Red Rover, a naval hospital ship. Then in 1908, the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps was established, beginning a rich history of service.
“The Sacred Twenty”
They were the first female members to ever formally serve in the U.S. Navy representing the Nurse Corps. Explore how they Answered the Call.
Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee
Higbee became one the first twenty nurses in the newly formed Navy Nurse Corps. For her service during World War I, she became the first woman to receive the Navy Cross. Honor this U.S. Navy Pioneer.
Captain Joy Bright Hancock
Captain Hancock was one of the first women officers of the U.S. Navy. During World War I, after attending business school in Philadelphia, she enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman. She would go on to direct the WAVES program, which during World War II and briefly afterward grew to 500 officers, 50 warrant officers and 6,000 enlisted women. Hancock guided WAVES through the difficult years of Naval contraction in the later 1940s and the expansion of the early 1950s, a period that also saw the Navy’s women achieve status as part of the Regular Navy. Her promotion to captain after only 6 years of service was one of fastest progressions to that rank in the Navy’s history. See more Servicewomen Firsts.
Captain Joan Bynum
She became the first African American woman to advance to the rank of Captain in 1978 and would go on to serve for 20 years. Read about more Women in the U.S. Navy.
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens and Ensign Frances Wills
On October 19, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the inclusion of African American women in the W.A.V.E.S. (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Pickens and Wills were the first two recruits and laid the groundwork for future African American women to serve in the U.S. Navy. Explore their Story of Service.
Admiral Michelle Howard
Howard was the first African American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship, the USS Rushmore. In 2014, Howard was appointed Vice Chief of Naval Operations the second highest ranking officer in the Navy. Upon her swearing in she became the highest-ranking woman in U.S. Armed Forces history, and the highest ranking African American and woman in Navy history. She would become the first female four-star Admiral to command U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Naval Forces Africa. Connect with Her Story.
Explore the experiences of Navy women today:
Women in Uniform: U.S. Coast Guard
Over the past 230 years, women have played a major role in the Coast Guard and its predecessor services. Their service first began as lighthouse keepers in the 1770’s.
“The Bravest Woman in America.” In 1879, Ida Lewis overcame biases of the time to become an official keeper of the Lime Rock Light Station in Rhode Island, a position she held until her death. As a part of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, a U.S. Coast Guard predecessor, she was credited with saving 18 lives during her 39 years as lightkeeper and was the first woman to receive the Gold Lifesaving Medal. Connect with more Servicewomen Firsts.
Myrtle Hazard enlisted on January 7, 1918, during the height of the U.S. effort to support the Allies during World War I. She was a trained radio and telegraph operator who applied for a position in the Communications Division of the Coast Guard at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Explore this Coast Guard Trailblazer.
Captain Beverly Kelley
Kelley became the first woman to command an American military vessel of any branch of service, specifically a Coast Guard cutter, the 95-foot patrol boat USCGC, Cape Newagen, on April 12, 1979. In 1996, she made history again as the first woman to command a medium endurance cutter, USCGC Northland. Then in 2000, she was the first woman to command a high endurance cutter, USCGC Boutwell.
Lieutenant Commander Marilyn Melendez Dykman
Lieutenant Commander Dykman was one of the first Hispanic females to graduate from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and become an aviator. See more Women in the Coast Guard.
Lieutenant Commander La’Shanda Holmes
Holmes is the first African American female helicopter pilot for the U.S. Coast Guard. Today, she has amassed over 2,000 flight hours conducting search and rescue, counter drug, law enforcement and Presidential air-intercept missions. Explore her Story of Service.
Vice Admiral Sandra Stosz
In 2015, she became the first female graduate of the U.S Coast Guard Academy to achieve flag rank. During her 40-year career, Stosz became the first woman to command an icebreaker on the Great Lakes and to lead a U.S. armed forces service academy. Connect with Her Story.
Explore the experiences of Coast Guard women today:
During the month of March and beyond, we honor the women in uniform who took on challenges with fortitude and resilience and never gave up.