Contributed by Patty Edmonson, WRHS’s Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles
Many American women experienced a newfound independence when they could serve our country during wartime. In July, 1942, Congress established the U.S. Navy WAVES, which stood for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.” When Clevelander Ann A. Cain joined, she was issued this blue wool uniform for winter, along with a white suit for summer, and in the following years a seersucker ensemble. The fashion house of Mainbocher, known for its crisp construction, designed the uniforms.
Not only did wartime service provide individual feelings of independence, but women could feel pride in their patriotism and support of their country. Some posters for WAVES recruitment tapped into this by showing young girls admiring the bravery and commitment of their role model Navy servicewomen. This particular design was printed over 40,000 times as a poster and was made into 45,000 postcards.
WAVES served at 900 stations throughout the United States. Their role was to perform stateside Navy jobs so that men could serve at sea. Officers worked in areas such as engineering and medicine, while enlisted women served a range of jobs including parachute rigging and clerical work. At its peak, 86, 291 women served as WAVES, although a mere 72 were African American. Other areas of wartime service for women, such as nursing, were more open to diversity: it was Clevelander and Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton who called for desegregation of the WWII nursing units.