“WAVES and SPARS” is the story of the over 90,000 female Naval and Coast Guard reservists who enlisted during World War II. The exhibit included items from the Museum’s collection exhibited for the first time, as well as loans from the United States Coast Guard Collection. During World War II, the United States Navy and Coast Guard required increasing numbers of men to mobilize for battle at sea. Allowing women to join the Naval or Coast Guard Reserves meant they would be trained to fill the vacant shore positions, enabling more men to fight overseas.
Initially, both Congress and the military voiced strong opposition to the notion of a Women’s Reserve. Finally, on July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689, establishing the Women’s Reserve of the Navy (to be known as WAVES: Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
The WAVES would eventually number over 80,000, comprising two and one-half percent of the Navy’s total strength.
The Coast Guard founded its own Women’s Reserve called the SPARS, (a name derived from the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus – Always Ready”), on November 23, 1942. Over 10,000 women joined the SPARS. At the peak of the Coast Guard’s reserve strength, one out of every 16 enlisted members and one out of every 12 officers was a SPAR.
The exhibit was on view through August 25, 2002.