Sea History 178 - Spring 2022

Page 42

Celebrating Navy Women: Perseverance and Achievements


ince being allowed to join the US Navy more than a century ago (in 1917), women have profoundly impacted the Navy and created enduring legacies. To honor those trailblazers who have led the way, along with the more than 60,000 women who serve today, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and his wife Linda Gilday, in coordination with the Navy History and Heritage Command, created Celebrating Navy Women: Perseverance and Achievements, an e-book as well as a display at their residence, Tingey House. Celebrating Navy Women has two purposes: It is a way to honor those women “firsts,” those who served with integrity, humility, fortitude, and sacrifice in uniform or as civilians; and importantly, to inspire young men and woman alike as they forge a path ahead on a foundation laid down by others. As a Navy, we celebrate the many accomplishments that women have achieved through hard work, grit and determination. It is available online at —Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs

all photos courtesy us navy, nhhc

Lt. j. g. Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ens. Frances Wills On 22 December 1944, Harriet Ida Pickens and Frances Wills became the first black women commissioned as officers in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Service (WAVES). Pickens, who graduated as the top ranking member of her officer candidate program class, served as a physical training instructor while Wills was assigned as a classification text administrator. By the time World War II ended on 2 September 1945, Pickens and Wills were the only two black women officers among the Navy’s 86,000 WAVES.

Lt. j.g. Judith Neuffer and Lt. j.g. Barbara Allen Rainey (right) Judy Bruner (née Neuffer) became the first woman to fly solo in an aircraft and the first to become a P-3 Poseidon pilot in the Navy. One of the first women to qualify as a naval aviator in 1973, Neuffer logged several thousand hours piloting the P-3, becoming the first woman P-3 aircraft commander, and also the first woman to pilot an aircraft through the eye of a hurricane. She transferred to the Navy Reserve and continued her service as commanding officer of three units, and as the Navy’s Science and Technology Reserve Program director. She retired from the Navy in 1998 after 28 years of service. Bruner began her career at NASA in 1981, where she currently serves as the director of the Goddard Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate (2021). Barbara Allen Rainey became the first woman to qualify as a US naval aviator when she earned her Wings of Gold on 22 February 1974 and was among the first women naval aviators to qualify as a jet pilot. She was assigned to fly C-1s in Alameda, California, and became the first jet-qualified woman in the US Navy to fly the T-39. In 1977 she transferred to the Navy Reserve; in 1981 she was recalled to active duty to help fill a shortage of flight instructors. She was assigned to VT-3 at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Florida, flying the T-34C Mentor. On 13 July 1982, she was killed in a crash while teaching touch-and-go landings at Middleton Field near Evergreen, Alabama. Petty Officer 3rd Class Yona Owens Yona Owens was instrumental in securing the right for women to serve aboard ships. She enlisted in the Navy in 1973, and in 1976 she launched a classaction suit (Owens v. Brown) against the Navy arguing that regulations prohibiting women from serving on board ships were unconstitutional. The court ultimately ruled in her favor on 27 July 1978, and by autumn of that same year the law was amended to allow women to serve at sea. 40


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