Thursday, March 15, 2012

Artifact Spotlight: Yeomanette Photographs and Documents, c. 1919

---Amy King, Curatorial Volunteer


 Doris Conway and her brother Jack, c. 1918

In the middle of Women's History Month, today's blog post focuses on a watershed event in naval history: on 19 March 1917 the Navy Department authorized the enrollment of women in the United States Naval Reserve.  These were the first women since the establishment of the Navy nurse Corps in 1908 to serve. With an imminent declaration of war against Germany, naval shore installations had dire need for clerical positions. The Navy recruited women to serve as telephone operators, bookkeepers, accountants, typists, and stenographers, and drivers. Some women also served as electricians, camouflage designers, and photographers. Their service was critical to a large scale mobilization and to ultimate Allied victory.
Called Yeomanettes or Yeowomen,  their gender was officially indicated by placing an “F” after their rate, e.g. Y (F) 3c. Several hundred yeomanettes served at Newport. Many of them trained at the Yeoman school and served with the Supply Office of the Second Naval District. One woman to take advantage of the new opportunity of military service was twenty-one-year-old New Hampshire native, Doris Elizabeth Conway. Conway enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve Force on 20 May 1918 in Newport, RI.  She was promoted to Yeoman (F) first class and served with the Athletic and Amusement Department at Newport. Her trade was listed as "cashier." 

Letter authorizing Conway's
release from active duty.

 Like all of the yeomanettes, Doris Conway's service was not to last a full four years. Just prior to Armistice Day 1918, the Navy stopped enrolling women in the Naval Reserves. The following year, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels began to have female reservists reassigned as inactive. Not wishing to waste the valuable talents women reservists had brought to the Navy, Secretary Daniels had them transferred to similar civilian positions with the Department of the Navy.

 On 9 August 1919, Conway was released from active duty to assume a temporary civil service position as a clerk at the Naval Training Station. After her discharge on 20 May 1920, she was awarded the Victory Medal for her service is the World War.
Award Letter for Doris Conway's
Victory Medal

The official end of Yeoman (F) came by a special act signed by Secretary Daniels. The act cut enlistments so all female reservists would be discharged by 24 October 1920 though the last Yeoman (F) was discharged in March 1921. Over 11,000 served women served in the Navy from 1917-1921 and those that served in Newport remain a vital part of the naval history of Narragansett Bay.







Gifts of Mrs. Paula Craig                                                                                                                       86.20




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