Oct. 19, 1944: U.S. Navy began admitting African-American women to serve as administrative officers

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Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills
Photo #: 80-G-297441 Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Close a suitcase after graduating from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School (WR) at Northampton, Massachusetts, circa December 1944. They were the Navy's first African-American WAVES officers and graduated with the Northampton school's final class. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
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On this day, Oct. 19, in 1944, the U.S. Navy began admitting African-American women to serve as administrative officers in the Women’s Reserve of the U.S. Navy. Despite this groundbreaking order, Black women remained largely unrepresented in the naval branch.

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills
Photo #: 80-G-297441 Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Close a suitcase after graduating from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (WR) at Northampton, Massachusetts, circa December 1944. They were the Navy’s first African-American WAVES officers and graduated with the Northampton school’s final class. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Of the more than 80,000 women serving during World War II, only 72 were African-American. The U.S. military’s history of racial segregation formally came to an end on July 26, 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981, the legislation that integrated all branches of the U.S. armed forces.


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