Today in Feminist History: Women in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (December 28, 1942)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

Thirteen women today went where none have gone before: The United States Coast Guard Academy.

They are members of the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, nicknamed the “SPARS.” The name derives from the Coast Guard’s motto of “Semper Paratus” and its English translation of “Always Ready.” A “spar” is also a nautical term for a strong pole. The Women’s Reserve was created on November 23rd, when President Roosevelt signed Public Law 773.

Though 13 is a small number, they are only the first of 8,000 “SPARS” that will eventually be required. A minimum of 4,700 enlisted personnel and 240 officers are needed immediately. The women began their first day here by being bugled out of bed at the same early hour as the men in their separate quarters. After the 13 women and 1,300 men breakfasted together, the women moved right into their first classes. Later, they boarded a ship and were formally greeted by Rear Admiral James P. Pine, Superintendent of the Academy.

For 12 of the 13, this was not their first meeting with Admiral Pine. He is a strong supporter of the SPARS, and when 12 resigned their commissions in the WAVES (the Navy’s Women’s Reserve, called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), to become members of the newly-created SPARS, it was he who swore them in on December 16th in a ceremony held at Smith College. They now must complete their training here at New London, Connecticut, before being given permanent assignments.

Almost all of the first 13 will recruit new members for the SPARS. According to Lieutenant Commander Dorothy H. Stratton: “The whole success of our program depends upon what you, the procurement officers, do. We depend upon the ability of the procurement officers to select the right people to come into the SPARS.” Like women in the WAVES and WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), they will be doing a wide variety of jobs, though not actual combat, but will be freeing men for combat assignments.

This is a unique day in American military history, because never before have women been admitted to any of the nation’s service academies. So in addition to helping the war effort, this is also an opportunity to prove that co-education can work in military as well as civilian colleges.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.