Charlotte Louise Berry Winters, the last known Navy Yeoman (F) and female veteran of World War I, was laid to rest March 30 in Frederick, Md. Winters died at the age of 109 on March 27. Her funeral was attended by an honor guard, pall bearers, and firing party from the Navy Ceremonial Guard, along with family and friends. Vice Adm. Nancy E. Brown, Joint Staff director of Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (C4 Systems), presented the casket flag to the family.
“Every Sailor in our Navy joins me today in mourning the passing of our shipmate, Charlotte Winters. We offer her family and friends our deepest sympathies and most heartfelt condolences,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen.
After enlisting in 1917, Winters served at the Washington Navy Yard in Building 57, current home of the Naval Historical Center. One of the last
Yeoman (F)s to be discharged in 1919, she was immediately hired by the Navy as a civilian to fill her active-duty job.
“Ms. Winters was a trailblazer, one of a relatively small group of women to serve in our Navy during World War I. She did so honorably and nobly, helping through that service to bring freedom to millions of people all across Europe and hope to thousands of young women all across America,” said Mullen.
“She and her shipmates answered the call when the nation needed them most. They worked hard. They struggled. They persevered, and they set a shining example. And, as in Ms. Winter’s case, some stayed on to prepare the Navy to fight and win yet another World War. They were patriots, and we will remain forever in their debt,” Mullen added.
Winters was a founding member of the National Yeoman (F) veterans’ organization, and served as its eighth commander from 1940-1941. Later, she met and married her husband John F. Winters, a yard machinist, in 1947. Retiring in 1953, her connection with the Navy spanned from World War I through the Korean War. A Civil War enthusiast, she and her husband toured the country to visit famous battle sites; eventually visiting every state except Hawaii. Her husband preceded her in death by 24 years.
The Yeoman (F)s, popularly called ‘Yeomanettes’ to their objection, were established by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in 1917 after the U.S. entry into the war. At the time the Navy and Marines were the only branches of the U.S. armed forces to enlist women to serve in a similar status with men. The expanding Navy and Marines had a dire need for more clerks and stenographers, while also needing to free male Sailors and Marines for fleet duty. Recruited at first just for clerical duties, by the end of the war their jobs included being language translators and making munitions in factories.
Records show that 11,000 Yeoman (F)s, 1,713 female nurses, and 269 women Marines (Marinettes) served in World War I. For many years they, along with Army nurses, were the only women eligible to join the American Legion, and the only ones eligible to receive a bonus voted to veterans of World War I. Daniels later commented in 1943: “They were so capable and showed such skill that scores were enabled to do, and to do excellently, a character of work done exclusively by men. In a word, the women in the Navy did everything except going to sea … the women saved the day for the Navy in World War days.”
The Yeoman (F)s were of such invaluable service to the country that there was no question of women returning to Navy service during World War II as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). The success of the WAVES in turn paved the way for the 1948 permanent establishment of women in Navy. So, not only did the Yeoman (F)s provide exceptional service during World War I, they set a standard of excellence for women in the U.S. military which is carried on to today.
Theodore Roosevelt once observed that “no nation has the root of greatness in it unless in time of need it can rise to the heroic mood.”
Ms. Winters and every other American Sailor of World War I — man or woman — certainly rose to the heroic mood. We all salute her memory, and every American should be thankful to her for inspiring us to do the same.
Rest in Peace Sailor.