By Katie Van Riper, National Museum of the American Sailor Intern
“I hope you don’t worry about my joining the Waves for it has already been worth millions of dollars to me. I wouldn’t take anything for it all.” — WAVES Recruit Araminta Richardson to her mother, July 1943
Araminta Richardson was born in the small north Texas town of Pecan Gap in 1912, the ninth of ten children. As a young adult, Richardson attended Southern Methodist University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Public School Musc.
Richardson wrote her sentiments to her mother from basic training at the U.S. Naval Training School at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York in July 1943, just a few weeks after she traded her position as a high school music director for a WAVES uniform.
Established in July 1942, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) increased opportunities for women in the Armed Forces and attracted volunteers from across the country to the U.S. Naval Reserve. WAVES recruits came from different backgrounds and volunteered for many reasons. As recruits and WAVES, though, they shared many experiences in common. Their individual perspectives and recollections, however, tell richly different stories. In a number of WAVES’ personal papers and
photographs, now a part of the National Museum of the American Sailor’s archival collections, we can begin to see the diversity of women who created their own Navy traditions and customs while serving their country 75 years ago. As we approach Women’s Equality Day on 26 August, the day that commemorates the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, let’s look at a few of those WAVES’ archival collections.
Araminta Richardson wrote extensive letters home to her mother, sister, and other relatives. She also took snapshots of her WAVES shipmates, saved newspaper clippings about herself and the WAVES, and kept other paper mementos about WAVES life. These materials create a very human image of the former high school music teacher from
small-town Texas. She was proud of her U.S. Navy service.
Another WAVE, Evelyn Dannenberg, also went through basic training at Hunter College before returning to her home state of Illinois to serve at the U.S. Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, less than a hundred miles from her hometown of Aurora. Among her papers from her time in the service are two letters from male sailors, which indicate an aspect of many WAVES’ experience not expressed in Richardson’s collection: the hostility of some men towards women serving in the military.
Just as Dannenberg’s experience differed from Richardson’s and her collection reveals different things, so too do the collections of Mary Farha and Anna D’Ambra, also housed at the National Museum of the American Sailor. It is the thoughts they wrote, the pictures they captured, and the artifacts they saved that begin to form a clearer picture of how they forged women’s equality in the U.S. Navy beginning 75 years ago.
Interested in exploring these archival collections? Staff and interns at the NMAS are working to create archival finding aids for these and other collections to make them available for public research in the foreseeable future. Watch this blog for further details as we make progress.
For more information about the National Museum of the American Sailor vist https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/museums/nmas.html