Women in the Great War: The Yeoman (F) of World War I
July 30, 2018
Yeoman (F)—often referred to as “yeomanettes”—were enlisted women who served in the United States Navy during World War I. They served as yeoman—enlisted personnel who fulfill administrative and clerical duties. They worked as radio operators, stenographers, draftsman, recruiting agents, messengers, or filled any necessary role in naval district operations. Vague language in the Naval Reserve Act of 1916 made no specific gender requirements for service. This opened the door to the over 11,000 women who enlisted as yeoman (F) from 1917 to 1918.
Thousands of men volunteered or were drafted into the Navy after the Act of 1916. Despite the growth in membership, the Navy remained shorthanded, and lacked personnel in critical clerical and administrative work. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels (1862-1948) utilized the unclear language in the 1916 Naval Reserve Act to address the shortage. On March 19, 1917, the Bureau of Navigation sent letters to naval district commanders informing them they could recruit women into the Naval Coast Defense.
The yeomen (F) enlisted for the standard four years. The Navy added the suffix (F) for female after yeoman to make it easier to separate the women from the men. Most women were discharged by July 1919, as the Navy returned to peacetime activities. Yeoman (F) served for two to three years and many continued to work for the United States Military in a civilian capacity after the war. This 1918 photograph in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection shows a group of women identified as the yeoman (F) first class of New London, Connecticut.
The women pictured wear the yeoman (F) uniform—a "Norfolk" style navy blue jacket with gold buttons, a navy colored A-line cloth skirt, and a felt navy blue wide-brimmed, flat-crowned hat. The Navy took several months to create and issue a formal uniform to the newly enlisted female yeoman. In intervening months, yeoman (F) uniforms included multicolored variations of either homemade or locally purchased items. In a June 19, 1917, New York Times article, detailed specifications for the new uniform going out for contract included the measurements, fabric, cut, and style of the new uniforms.
A handwritten note on the back of the photograph includes a name and address,“Ruth A. Styffe Paull 25 Heroult Road, Worcester, Mass, 01606.” According to naval records, Ruth A. Styffe Paull (1899-1988) enrolled in in September of 1918. In the 1930 U.S. census records for Worcester County, a Ruth Paull is listed as living at 25 Heroult road in Worcester, Massachusetts, confirming the address on the photograph. We are still trying to identify Styffe in the group photograph.
Want to learn more about World War I related items in our collection? Visit the current exhibition “Americans, Do Your Bit: World War I in Posters,” on view through August 2018.
Nathaniel Patch, The Story of the Female Yeomen during the First World War, Prologue Magazine, National Archives and Records Administration, Fall 2006, Vol. 38, No. 3, www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2006/fall/yeoman-f.html, accessed July 2018.
Sophie Platt, Last surviving ‘yeomanette’ dies, The Flagship, April 5, 2007, www.militarynews.com/norfolk-navy-flagship/news/top_stories/last-surviving-yeomanette-dies/article_63657a3a-ccc2-5d11-8d64-89842ba4be34.html, accessed July 2018.