Recently we posted this item on women being allowed to enlist in the Navy for the first time:
Lex Anteinternet: Women authorized to join U.S. Navy: Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels authorized the enlistment of women in the United State Naval Reserve Force. Both officers and enlis...
That was followed by this:
Lex Anteinternet: Loretta Perfectus Walsh becomes the first female sailor in the United States Navy: Loretta Perfectus Walsh joined the U.S. Navy, something that only became a legal possibility two days prior when first authorized by the Secretary of the Navy. She joined at the rank of Chief Yeoman.
Both went right to this blog's top ten of all time.
Well, some may say, what about the Navy's "Sacred Twenty"?
Astute Navy historians and fans (although none posted about it) might have noted that on May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a Naval Appropriations Bill authorizing the establishment of the Nurse Corps as a unique staff corps in the Navy. This followed the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901.
So, I was wrong, right?
Well, it's not quite that easy.
The "unique staff corps" element of it is the key here.
Yes, these women served the Navy. But in a role that was quite a bit different than conventional Navy personnel. At first they were not even provided room and board, which came a couple of years later actually, and instead had to find their own lodging and pay for their own meals. Basically, they were nurses in a special corps in service of the Navy, but they weren't really "sailors". They were not included in the Navy's ranking system, although at some point early on their were provided with uniforms. However, Public Health Service nurses were also provided with uniforms (although the Publish Health Service traditionally becomes part of the department of the Navy during war).
All of which is why Loretta Perfectus Walsh is regarded as the first female sailor. She joined as a sailor. There were women in the service of the Navy prior to that, albeit just barely, but the nature of their service is a bit murky.