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Navy Makes WAVES
S.S. Rocky New Homes of Waves

  WAVE Airtraffic Controller, 1943, Courtesy of the U.S. Navy (50)  
"It's a Woman's War, Too" Courtesy of the U.S. Navy (51)
 
 
 

U.S. Navy Comes to South Hadley
The WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, was a newly formed division of the U.S. Navy when they arrived on campus in 1942.(52) The Navy had recently authorized recruitment of women for the first time. Commander Mildred McAfee, former president of Wellesley College, was influential in the choice of Mount Holyoke College and Smith College as training centers for future communications officers. The two schools share the distinction of being the first training facilities in the nation for women officers in the armed forces although several universities had training courses for enlisted personnel.(53)

Making History
Commanded by Captain Herbert W. Underwood,(54) the WAVES lived in Rockefeller Hall, which was soon nicknamed the "S.S. Rocky."(55) The first class graduated on December 16, 1942 and made history shortly thereafter, when Ensign Loraine Cornelison became the first woman officer to break the 141 year old "No Women Allowed" policy at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This longstanding tradition had now been broken for the second time in a few short months. Civilian women had been hired the summer before Ensign Cornelison arrived and by the end of the war more than 1500 women were working at the shipyard.(56) After the war, the majority of the women workers were laid off to make room for the returning demobilized men.(57)

Training
As students, the WAVES set a great example. For the first time in college history no one was late for class. Several of the training officers were Mount Holyoke alumnae, which helped make the transition easier. The training program involved a month of indoctrination to Navy history, rules and regulation. In addition, they marched on campus every day practicing drill formations. The new officer candidates then spent the next three months in communications training and upon graduation were promoted to the status of Ensign.(58)

Newspaper Clippings
On August 29, 1942, the New York Sun printed an article about the Mount Holyoke and Smith training centers with a focus on the WAVES uniforms. Specifically mentioned was the new short skirt that was 17 inches from the floor. Also noted by the reporter was the innovative shoulder strap on the purse. The article discussed the stocking material shortage but stated that the recruits were making the best of it. The reporter added that no one mentioned girdles.(59)

According to a Holyoke Transcript Telegram article datelined November 12, 1942, there were 343 WAVES now stationed at Mount Holyoke College. A group of newly arrived officer candidates had just undergone their first inspection which resulted in their first liberty. The report stated that the women were allowed to stay out until midnight(!) Saturday night but were required to attend church services Sunday morning just like the rest of the student body.(60)

The last word, naturally, goes to an unknown editor of the Amherst Student whose editorial argued that the WAVES presented "a challenge to collegiate glamour girls. To contemplate the shock of females as God made them, free of lipstick, fuzzy sweaters and $40 sport coats is very pleasing indeed." The editorial was written to acknowledge the arrival of military personnel at Mount Holyoke, Smith, Mass. State (UMass) and Amherst colleges.(61)

Final Words
The Navy initially projected the recruitment of 11,000 women into the WAVES and by the end of the first year of training, the Mount Holyoke and Smith training centers had commissioned 5400 officers, of whom 500 were Marines and SPARS. By 1945, there were over 82,000 women serving in the U.S. Navy and Mount Holyoke played a substantial role in their success.(62)

Atlas Home Page MHC Goes to War 1943 Roster 1945 Roster Marines
Class of '43   Curriculum Changes Recruiting WAVES