Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, known as WAVES, answered the call to free men for duty at sea during World War II. The passage of Public Law 689 on July 30, 1942, amended the Naval Reserve Act of 1938 by creating the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Navy. With some exceptions, WAVES were assigned full military status, including ranks and ratings. Women enlisted voluntarily and served the duration of the war plus six months. Enlistment criteria included U.S. citizenship, an age of twenty to thirty-six, preferably single marital status, and a high school diploma or its equivalent. If the woman was married, her husband could not serve in the navy, and the children could not be under age eighteen. WAVES earned fifty dollars per month and wore navy blue uniforms with light blue stripes and brim hats.
To accommodate WAVES training several colleges offered the navy their institutions to provide immediate housing, classrooms, dining halls, and recreation spaces. Hunter College, in New York City, was commissioned as the indoctrination Naval Training Station. Women undertook march and drill and learned naval tradition, discipline, and vocabulary. Training varied from six to eight weeks. Each day began at 6 a.m. and concluded at 10 p.m. Nicknamed the "USS Hunter," by mid-1945 the college had facilitated boot camp for more than eighty thousand recruits.
After indoctrination, WAVES attended advance training schools based on qualifications, preferences, and verbal, mathematical, and physical examinations for the thirty-four specialist ratings for women. On October 9, 1942, Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University), Stillwater, began participation in the WAVES program, becoming one of the first educational facilities to offer yeoman or administrative training. The first class consisted of 644 women, and each succeeding class produced a maximum of 1,250 graduates. Originally, trainees were housed in three dormitories, Willard, Murray, and North Murray, with the addition of seven sorority and fraternity houses as enrollment increased.
WAVES constituted the largest group of yeomen in the country, participating in twelve weeks of intensive instruction. Each day, physical exercise was followed by eight hours of classroom practice in secretarial skills such as filing, shorthand, stenography (at least 140 words per minute), and typing (at least eighty words per minute) as well as courses in history, public relations, naval correspondence, and decoding messages. At Oklahoma A&M College trainees produced a newsletter, "Brightwork," which discussed training and campus activities. WAVES also attended "Aggies" basketball games, participated in the drum-and-bugle corps, and performed in the Glee Club.
Upon completing advance training, WAVES were assigned to active duty. Initially they were prohibited from service outside the continental United States or on board naval vessels or combat aircraft. But by war's end the increased demand for the women's skills meant WAVES could be stationed at bases in Hawaii, Alaska, and the Caribbean.
Although the Naval Women's Reserve was detached from active service in September 1946, the WAVES program at Oklahoma A&M College was decommissioned in December 1944. The last class graduated on April 16, 1945. The college had the nation's largest enrollment for WAVES, producing 10,783 women for active service. In total, more than one hundred thousand women served as WAVES during World War II. After the war the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 allowed women to join the Regular Navy and Naval Reserve.
Carolyn Alison, Navy Women in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Navy and Marine Corps World War II Commemorative Committee, 1993).
"Correspondence of Women Who Attended Oklahoma A&M College Naval Training School," Vertical File, Women's Archives, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.
Susan H. Godson, "The Waves in World War II," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 107 (December 1981).
Regimental Office, comp., Yeoman Training at the United States Naval Training School (Y-W) (Stillwater, Okla.: Regimental Office, ).
Nancy Wilson Ross, The Waves: The Story of the Girls in Blue (New York: Holt and Co., 1943).
Philip Reed Rulon, "The Campus Cadets: A History of Collegiate Military Training, 1891–1951," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 57 (Spring 1979).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Tally D. Fugate, "WAVES," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=WA049.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.