Maritime Log #42 Women Began Joining Coast Guard in Large Numbers in Mid-‘70s

By Dyke Hendrickson, Custom House Maritime Museum Outreach Historian  With some notable exceptions, women didn’t play a large role in nautical history or events. But females began joining the Coast Guard in the 20th century. Genevieve and Lucille Baker, 19-year-old twins, volunteered to serve with the Coast Guard during World War I (1914-1918). They were the first women to don a Coast Guard uniform and served at headquarters in Washington. They are shown here. During World War II (1941-1945), the Coast Guard recruited women for the SPARs (Semper Paratus, Always Ready), a female corps similar to the Navy’s WAVES and the Army WACS. For the war effort, the Coast Guard estimated it would need 8,000 enlisted women and 400 female officers; however, 12,000 women volunteered and served during the conflict. Most left the service after the war. By 1956, the Coast Guard had only a few hundred women out of thousands of service personnel. In the 1970s, federal regulations began encouraging women for both officer and enlisted ranks. In 1976, the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., began accepting women. During that first year, 700 women applied, and 38 were accepted. Of the original 38 female cadets in the entering the class of 1980, 14 graduated. More women have joined each year. In fact, in last year’s first-year class, almost 40 percent of cadets were women. Women have excelled in the service, and now hold many high posts. They have commanded vessels and superintended the Coast Guard Academy itself. Women – officers and enlisted – have continued to join the Coast Guard, whose birthplace is Newburyport. Coast Guard leaders are trying to make it easier for women to remain in the service while starting families. In recent years, a program has been developed to permit moms to leave for two years – and then return to resume their rank and assignment. There are about 42,000 active Coasties today, historians say. About 5,800 are women. If your organization would like me to speak at an event, please get in touch. I can be reached at dhendrickson@thechmm.org.