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March 21: 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh Enists in the Navy

A bit of naval history was made a hundred years ago when twenty year old Loretta Perfectus Walsh enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman F, becoming the first woman to be a member of the US military.  Some 13,000 women would serve in the Navy as Yeomen, or Yeomanettes as they were often unofficially called,  during World War I as clerical personnel, freeing up men for sea duty.  Walsh served her four year tour and tragically died of tuberculosis at age 29 in 1925.  She was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cemetery in Olyphant, Pennsylvania.  Her tombstone bears the following inscription:

Loretta Perfectus Walsh
April 22, 1896–August 6, 1925
Woman and Patriot
First of those enrolled in the United States Naval Service
World War 1917–1919
Her comrades dedicate this monument
to keep alive forever
memories of the sacrifice and devotion of womanhoo

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

5 Comments

  1. Loretta looks so young. Rather courageous for young non nurse females in 1917 to join the military. The Yeomanettes’ service set precedent for the Women Accepted For Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES) in WWII.

  2. This picture appears to be Marion Walsh, not Loretta. Note Loretta was immediately given the rank of CPO, and there is no rocker on this woman’s rank. I was not able to find this exact picture, but the Naval History and Heritage Command’s photo archives have several pictures of Yeoman Marion Ross, and she was a Yeoman (female) First Class with this rank insignia.

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