Artifact Spotlight: Medals and Insignia of the First Female USN Master Chief Petty Officer

---Amy King, Curatorial Volunteer

March is National Women’s History Month. Without a doubt, women have been an instrumental part of force readiness for every branch of service.  This week’s post honors a true trailblazer in naval and women's history: the first female Master Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy, Anna Der-Vartanian.

A native of Michigan, Der-Vartanian enlisted in the WAVES in 1943 during World War II.  After the war ended, she transitioned over to the regular Navy. Her duty stations included Naval Station San Francisco, Naval Air Training Command Pensacola, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and Pacific Fleet Public Information Office Pearl Harbor. From July 1959 to April 1960, Der-Vartanian served on staff at the Naval War College, where she coordinated preparations for the 1960 Global Strategy Discussions.

While at the college in December 1959, she was promoted from Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8) to Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9). Der-Vartanian’s promotion made her not only the first female to achieve the rate of Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, but the highest ranking enlisted female in the United States military at that time. After YNCM Der-Vartanian's retirement in July 1963, she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as a counter-intelligence specialist. She passed away on 4 August 2011, just four years after her retirement from the CIA.

The shadow box shown here is a display of Anna Der-Vartanian’s twenty-year naval career. The box displays the rate insignias and medals she earned during her service. Below the master chief petty officer cap and collar device, are the insignias for senior chief petty officer and chief petty officer. The bottom row has her devices for first, second, and third class petty officer. Underneath the WAVE collar device are four medals (left to right): the USN Good Conduct Medal with four stars, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.

The shadow box is currently on display as part of the museum's exhibit Sailors and Scholars: A History of the Naval War College . The box is displayed with the uniform of one of the first female captains in the U.S. Navy, Dorothy Council. The museum thanks the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. for the generous loan of the Der-Vartanian shadow box.


  1. Do you have any information regarding Lieutenant Commander Clairece Black, first female staff member, Naval War College (1940s)?

    Any information would be appreciated.


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