October 19, 1944:
On this the United States Navy opened its doors to Black women. “Navy to admit Negroes into the WAVES,” so read the newspaper headlines Oct. 19, 1944. For the first time black women would be commissioned naval officers as members of the Navy’s female reserve program.
The Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted For Volunteer Emergency Service) accepted Harriet Ida Pikens and Frances Wills on October 19, 1944 as the first African American women in the United States Navy. Both women graduated two months later becoming the first two African American female officers in the Navy. The Navy assigned Pickens as a physical training instructor and Wills as a classification test administrator at the main enlisted WAVES training facility at Hunter College in New York City, also known as USS Hunter. More than 70 blacks joined the enlisted ranks by Sept. 2, 1945. Among them was Edna Young, one of the first enlisted WAVES to later be sworn into the regular Navy.
During the past 72 years, black women across the ranks, ratings and communities have had outstanding careers in the Navy, and it all started with these two fantastic Black women.