As war became imminent, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, realizing that the Navy would be shorthanded, deftly avoided the need for congressional approval to enlist women by pointing out that the Naval Act of 1916 did not actually specify that yeomen must be men–it called for “persons.” He ordered his Navy and Marine Corps leaders to enlist women into the reserve ranks and thousands of qualified women rushed to sign up. More than 12,000 served as Yeomen (F) from 1917 through 1921. The Marine Corps enlisted 305 women for clerical duties.
The Navy Department already had hundreds of women clerical workers, but needed more. As enlistees, women yeomen could be trained quickly for specific jobs and sent where needed to fill a variety of posts. Most Yeomen (F) traded protected, comfortable environments for spare, crowded living quarters and for the same strict discipline and regulation as male enlistees. They earned the same pay as the men—$28.75 a month.
When they were discharged, the Yeomen (F) received honorable discharges, full veterans benefits and military preference to obtain civil service ratings for jobs in the federal service.
Secretary Daniels called them “the elect of their sex,” and considered it “one of the greatest honors of my life to have been associated with [them] in the days of emergency and war.”