The Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) was a unit of the U.S. Naval reserve created by the president in 1942 at Eleanor Roosevelt’s urging. These pioneering young women served in aviation, community, medical professions, science, technology and communications.
The WAVES uniform, now part of the Washington County Historical Society collection, was worn by Betty Maguire, a 1941 Vassar College graduate who served as a communications officer at the Philadelphia Navy Yard soon after the United States entered the war.
During those early years women were often assigned less-desirable shifts. They lived in one large sleeping room that housed 84 women in bunk beds with steel lockers for their belongings. It was reported that more than 8,000 female officers and at least 75,000 enlisted WAVES had served their country by the end of the war. After the war, their status was uncertain. The experience of World War II solidified the recognition of women’s vital role in the military.
In 1978 the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act made the WAVES permanent, and separate women’s units were integrated in the formerly all-male units. It would not be until 1993 that women would serve on combat ships alongside men.
Maguire was one of those early pioneering young women. She was known in Washington County for her volunteer service as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church, as a 21-year member of the Women’s Hospital Auxiliary and avid collector of Victorian toothpick holders.
Linda Zelch is a volunteer for the Washington County Historical Society and a member of the antiquities committee.