At the height of the second World War, university students across the nation were forced to withdraw from school and join military forces. First the men, but with a high demand, women also became part of the war’s history. Women not only entered the workforce, but they broke gender barriers by joining military forces. In 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and the SPARS (United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve). Historian Roger D. Launius discussed women’s impact on the war saying, “Not only did women enter the workforce in a big way, but many of the other traditional sexual boundaries were eroded by the war.”
As reported by the Salt Lake Telegram on Tuesday, January 11, 1943, Lieutenant Tova L. Petersen, a recruitment officer for the WAVES and SPARS, arrived in Salt Lake City to interview applicants. Just one month later the first Utah women would enlist in the military.
The Utah Chronicle reported on February 25, 1943, that twelve women from the University of Utah were assigned and enlisted to make up Utah’s first contingent of the WAVES and SPARS by the Navy Recruiting Station in Salt Lake City. In order to enlist, women had to be between the ages of 20 and 36, some schooling was required, and they could not be married to a man in the same military branch. The women had to complete four months of training of which nine participants were WAVES and three were SPARS. Following their training, they were assigned to active duty around the United States, or sent to schools for “technical training by Navy experts.” Utah continued to enlist women to reach a quota; to do so, the naval officer from San Francisco remained in Salt Lake City to approve applications.
A brochure titled Facts About the WAVES and SPARS addressed the importance of women joining the armed forces. The author wrote, “Never in history has there been such an urgent need for American women to serve their country. This is total war — a war in which every woman as well as every man must play a part.” The brochure gave complete instructions on how and where to apply, what living situations would be like, and the basic requirements to enlist as WAVES or SPARS.
On March 19, 1943, the Sugar House Bulletin shared an image with a brief description of women in training, titled, “Future WAACS, WAVES, SPARS Start Training.” The trainees are shown doing jumping exercises on a springboard.
On March 8, 1943, The Utah Chronicle published a letter from Florence Henrichsen, a WAVES member and former University of Utah student. Henrichsen wrote from Massachusetts to her sister and told her of her daily life. There was no more staying up late and no more everyday clothing, which she referred to as “civies” — only uniforms were allowed now. Henrichsen did not express any resentment for her decision and seemed quite happy. She wrote of her meals and the training she partook in. She ended the letter to her sister with a little encouragement: “Come and be a WAVE with me – you would love it.”
Reporting for KSL in August 2014, Peter Rosen shared the story of Utah’s own Kathryn Klaveano who served in the Navy WAVES. Klaveano wanted to be a part of the action. She is quoted as saying, “I told them I will go AWOL before I would be a secretary.” And she was more than that. Klaveano was a flight orderly on domestic military flights “from Newfoundland to Miami and to Hawaii.” Another Utah woman, Ora Mae Hyatt, actually served outside of the U.S. and made her way to Okinawa. Unconcerned with her surroundings, Hyatt said, “We were young. We didn’t dwell on the danger we were in.” (Rosen)
World War II brought an urgency upon the United States and called for young men and woman to help fight. President Roosevelt’s establishment of WAVES and SPARS gave women the opportunity to join the war effort. In February 1943 the first twelve Utah women were given the chance to help shape America’s future military and they did just that.
Matt McPherson graduated from The University of Utah in December 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Communication.
“Future WAACS, WAVES, SPARS Start Training,” Sugar House Bulletin, March 19, 1943, 3.
“From Former U Coed—Now WAVE,” Utah Chronicle, March 8, 1943, 3.
“First WAVE, SPAR Unit Accepted,” Utah Chronicle, February 25, 1943, 3.
“Women Wanted in WAVES, SPARS,” Salt Lake Telegram, January 11, 1943, 18.
Advertisement/image of U.S. Army announcement, Utah Chronicle, January 14, 1943, 2.
“Facts About the WAVES and SPARS,” n.p., 1943.
Rosen, Peter. “Utah Woman at War: Stories of Service in WWII,” KSL, August 28, 2014.
Launius, Roger, D. “World War II in Utah,” Utah History to Go.
Images provided by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah