Ships named for Women and More "Firsts"
The very first American armed ship named for a woman was Lady Washington a small wooden river gunboat built in 1776 by New York State to defend the Hudson River, named in honor of Martha Washington.

In 1858 the first armed U.S. Navy ship named for a woman was the Harriet Lane a Revenue Cutter, named for niece of President James Buchanan, who served as Buchanan's White House hostess. It was transferred to the Navy when the Civil War began in 1861 and captured by Confederates at Galveston Jan 1863.

In 1942 the following U.S. Navy ships were named for women:

Sacagawea (YT-241, harbor tug), name assigned to tug acquired by Maritime Commission for Navy use.

Elizabeth C. Stanton (AP-69), troop transport named 20 Aug.

Pocahontas (harbor tug YT-266).

Florence Nightingale (AP-70), transport named 20 Aug.

Mary Lyon (AP-71), transport named 20 Aug.

Dix (AP-67), transport, named for Dorothea Dix 20 Aug.

Susan B. Anthony (AP-72), transport named 20 Aug.

In 1944:

Watseka (YT-387), harbor tug named for Pottawatomi woman.

In 1945:

First warship named for a woman by the USN and the first USN ship so named to take part in combat operations. Higbee -class destroyer. Named for Lenah S. Higbee, Superintendent of Navy Nurse Corps 1911-1922. The ship served in the Fast Carrier Force.

The Coast Guard was the first service to name a woman
commander of a ship - in 1979 - Lt. jg Beverly Kelley.

In 1996:

The guided missile destroyer Hopper, DDG 70, commissioned on Saturday, January 6th at Bath Ironworks in Bath, Maine. Named after Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper who was one of the pioneering spirits in the field of computer technology, and led the Navy into the computer age. She first retired in 1967, was then called back to active duty and retired a second time in 1986. She died in 1992.
This is only the first time since World War II and the second time in the Navy's history that a warship has been named for a woman from the Navy's own ranks.

Sgt Heather Lynn Johnsen,
first woman Tomb Sentinel
Women are now allowed to serve in
"Washington ceremonial units"
performing duties in
Arlington National Cemetery
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Sgt Danyell E. Wilson,
first black woman
Tomb Sentinel

NOAA Photo
Adm. Evelyn Fields
and Secretary Daley
On May 13, 1999 the Senate confirmed Capt. Evelyn Fields as director of the NOAA Corps - the first woman and the first African American to serve in this position. Since her confirmation, Fields has also been promoted to the rank of rear admiral, upper half - seen being "pinned" by U.S. Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley. NOAA's Commissioned Officers Corps is the nation's seventh uniformed service, and operates under the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Admiral Fields began her career with NOAA in 1972 as a cartographer at the Atlantic Marine Center in Norfolk, Va., and in 1973 when NOAA began recruiting women into its commissioned service was the first African American woman to join the NOAA Corps. She is now the most senior woman in the Corps.

Unusual Firsts

"Major" Pauline Cushman may be the first known spy - though her true background is an enigma. The "Major" is an honorary rank supposed to have been granted by President Lincoln. And she did spy for the Union during the Civil War; she was even captured by the Confederates and sentenced to hang - but was rescued by Union troops. Upon her death she was buried at The Presidio in San Francisco. Was she the first military woman spy?

"Captain" Sally Tompkins was the first, and only, woman ever to be commissioned in the Confederate Army. In order to keep her Richmond hospital up and running Confederate President Jefferson Davis commissioned Sally a captain of cavalry in 1861. When "Captain Sally" died she was buried with full military honors.

"Colonel" Sarah Borginis enlisted with her husband at the Jefferson Barracks, Mo. during the Mexican War. When the Mexicans began bombarding Fort Texas, (Fort Brown) from their positions at Matamoros, she was isssued a musket. It's said she took an active part in the ensuing fray, never missing a target. Gen. Zachary Taylor breveted her to colonel, making her the first female colonel of the U.S.Army. Upon her death in 1866 Col. Borginis was buried at Fort Yuma with full Military Honors - allegedly the first woman to be a ranking U.S.Army officer, albeit a brevet one.

The USS CONSTITUTION met and defeated HMS GUERRIERE, the first in a grand succession of victories in the War of 1812. What was not known at the time was the fact that a U.S. Marine, serving aboard Old Ironsides, as George Baker, was actually Lucy Brewer. Eventually the Marine Corps reluctantly acknowledged that Lucy Brewer was in fact the very first woman marine. Or did they? Is it myth or legend? See: The War of 1812 for more info.

"More Unusual Firsts":

On 3 March 1945 a young flight nurse, Ensign Jane Kendeigh, made history on Iwo Jima. She was aboard the first plane to land for aerial evacuation on the recently secured airfield, becoming the first flight nurse in history to set foot upon a battlefield. Before landing, the R-4D transport plane that she was travelling in was forced to circle the airfield for 90 minutes while an offshore bombardment was in progress. Described in a press release as "108 pounds of green eyed charm and efficiency", ENS Kendeigh was also the first flight nurse to land on Okinawa. ENS Kendeigh was part of the first class of nurses that finished flight indoctrination 22 Jan 1945 at Alameda Naval Air Station, CA.

Many thanks to Scott Baron whose book - "They Also Served - Military Biographies of Uncommon Americans", 1998 MIE Pub., - contains some unique vignettes, like this one on Ensign Kendeigh, and more about many famous men and women who served.

female crew

The first Air Force all-female flight to fly an overseas mission included -Capt. Guiliana Sangiorgio, aircraft commander; Capt.Barbara Akin, 1st pilot; 1st Lt. Terri Ollinger, copilot; Tech. Sgt. Donna Wertz, flight engineer; Staff Sgt. Denise Meunier, flight engineer; Sgt.Mary Eiche, load master; and Airman1st Class Bernadette Botti.
Location: MCGuire AFB, NJ, US. Date Shot: 11 May 1983 by Staff Sgt. Marvin D. Lynchard.
Dept of Defense Photo.

Ensign Matice Wright, the Navy`s first black female naval flight officer,poses for DOD photograph.
Wright was assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 3 (VQ-3). Date: 01 MAY 1993

postalDuring WWII the first all black WAC group to serve overseas was the 6888th Postal Unit in England and then France. Here Major Charity Adams reviews the troops in Birmingham England. (National Archives Photo).

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm received the first Sen. Margaret Chase Smith Leadership Award, June 11, 1998, at the Women's Memorial in Washington D.C. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton presented the award sponsored by The Women's Memorial Foundation. In presenting the award Mrs. Clinton said of Jeanne Holm: "She was the first Air Force woman promoted to brigadier general. Always the first and never satisfied to be the last, she inspired all women to follow her force. General Holm fought those who claimed that women could not be both mothers and soldiers. She fought for women to be allowed in military academies. She fought for the 1967 removal of the cement ceiling that had kept too many women from serving and advancing, and she did it by bringing people together, even people who disagreed, in order to get things done." holm
(DOD Photo Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik, USA)

Airborne Firsts:
On 14 December, 1973 another milestone in Airborne history was established when Privates Joyce Kutsch and Rita Johnson became the first women to graduate from the Basic Airborne Course. Following graduation from a modified, but rigorous, airborne course the two women successfully completed the U.S. Army Quartermaster School Parachute Rigger Course and were assigned to Aerial Delivery Companies at Fort Bragg, NC. Since then, women do not attend a modified airborne course, but complete the full course and meet the same standards as their male counterparts.

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Unless otherwise noted contents © 1996 to 2005 by Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret)