March 1957 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Oddly, the article does
not tell you the origin of the acronym "WAVES." From the U.S. Navy's history
"After a twenty-three-year absence, women returned to general Navy service
in early August 1942, when
Mildred McAfee was sworn in as a Naval Reserve Lieutenant
Commander, the first female commissioned officer in U.S. Navy history, and the
first Director of the WAVES, or "Women Accepted
for Volunteer Emergency Service".
In the decades since the last of the
Yeomen (F) left active duty, only a relatively small corps of
represented their gender in the Naval service, and they had never had formal
officer status. Now, the Navy was preparing to accept not just a large number
of enlisted women, as it had done during World War I, but female Commissioned
Officers to supervise them. It was a development of lasting significance, notwithstanding
the WAVES' name, which indicated that they would only be around during the wartime
A "WAVE" in Naval Electronics
H. H. Fantel
A pert redhead with blue eyes flashes her winning smile from the cockpit
of a Navy fighter aircraft, and reports: "Radar i.f. bandwidth okay on all stages."
No, this is no Hollywood movie, but actual proof that things are changing fast
for the Navy, for electronics - and for women.
Proof became tangible in the form of Delores Startzel, Aviation Electronics
Technician, USN. Even an "old salt" like John Paul Jones himself would have
uncrusted a bit at the sight of such a charming sailor. But what would really
have set him up on his sea legs is the fact that Delores has been doing an expert
technical job on fully equal terms with Navy men. Her career reflects dramatically
two important trends: the awakening of women to the opportunities of electronics,
and their growing participation in the armed services at levels of high technical
responsibility, qualified by thorough schooling.
Double-Barrelled Pioneer. Both in the Navy and in the field of electronics,
Delores (Dee, for short) is somewhat of a pioneer. Of course, the WAVES have
been a branch of the Navy for over a decade, yet they have had to sail against
the blustery headwind of male prejudice. But by now it has dawned on even the
most stubborn that men have no monopoly on brains. The female breakthrough on
the technical front is a relatively recent development. In the Navy Electronics
Training School at Memphis, Tenn., Dee was the only girl among more than a hundred
On the job, our Wave traces through the stages of an intricate
receiver with a VSM-29 frequency meter. On this month's cover, Dee runs checks
on an oscilloscope.
She tackles with practiced skill that ultimate of all electronic
instruments - the ubiquitous soldering gun.
Dee is proud to be among the first women doing advanced technical work in
electronics. Like anything that smacks of engineering, electronics used to be
an all-male preserve. But there just aren't enough qualified male technicians
to take care of the ever-increasing variety of electronic equipment in military
and civilian life. Under the pressure of this need, the old barriers of sex
prejudice are now caving in. The military and private industry are no longer
just looking for women with soldering irons tied to their apron strings. Now
they want girls to be equally handy with the slide rule, the spec sheet, and
a quick deduction from a complex schematic.
Many women have the necessary keen intelligence for such work, but don't
even realize it because they think of themselves as "feminine." Subconsciously
they feel that having brains is like having pimples: they try to hide them or
dry them up. Fortunately, the old saw that keen-minded women are unattractive
no longer cuts any ice among intelligent men. Its teeth broke on the hard realities
of modern life that make men and women equal partners in work and in marriage.
Women who realize this no longer try to shrivel their brains. They feel free
to make the most of their native intelligence and have it sharpened by thorough
schooling. Electronics, since it requires more brain than brawn, seems a natural
field for women's careers on the professional and semi-professional level.
Dee didn't want to go to waste. She wanted to train and use her abilities.
But after the first year of college, her money gave out. Instead of heading
for the usual dead end of an unskilled job, Dee looked into the technical training
offered by the armed services. It offered an answer to the question of her future.
With a bit of pay and plenty of technical savvy stowed away, a girl would have
a better toe-hold on the world. Besides paid education, Dee, who comes from
a small town in the state of Washington, wanted a bit of travel and adventure
- so the recruiting posters made plenty of sense to her. Always willing to take
the next logical step, she enlisted.
Boot Camp Ahoy! The Navy did not immediately surrender to Dee's ambition.
Like all recruits, she had to steer through the military purgatory known as
"boot camp." Dee maintains tactful silence about "the senseless things that
come with boot," realizing that it takes a tough dose of sheer barefaced drill
and discipline to fit a former civilian into the military mold. For better or
worse, that's part of the bargain. As a mature and understanding person, Dee
accepts this discipline in the context of military life without letting it encroach
on her democratic feeling of inner freedom as a person.
After boot camp, electronics was still a long way off. First came Airman
Preparatory School at Jacksonville, Florida, where Dee studied flight fundamentals
and aircraft maintenance, and was also trained to act in emergencies. She can
handle a crash truck at disaster scenes, fight fires, and service automatic
weapons. And if war ever comes to the front door, mindless of the neat distinction
between combatant and non-combatant troops, communications specialist Dee can
rattle off an unmistakable message in 50 caliber slugs.
Electronics - At Last. After basic training and long sessions of aptitude
testing and counseling, Dee was finally admitted to the Navy school for Aviation
Technicians, where physics, mathematics, and basic electronic theory are ladled
out in heavy doses. On the practical side, she learned the circuitry of various
types of electronic gear, from simple radio receivers to complete radar systems.
The biggest thrill of her electronics training was operating navigation equipment
and airborne radar in actual flight, directing a plane from target to target.
Later, on the job, the thorough schooling ripened into a sure knack for trouble-shooting
equipment. With the great variety of electronic devices passing under her hands,
Dee has had hardly a dull moment at her workbench.
Sailors Ashore. Service life in this technical age is a far cry from our
traditional ideas about soldiering. Looking back at her Navy career, Dee tallies
up pluses and minuses and feels that she comes out well ahead in the balance.
Nowhere else could she have got such a good technical education - not just for
free, but actually being paid for it. Nowhere else would she have been able
to learn so much so fast. No civilian job open to beginners fresh out of school
would have given her the variety of electronic experience she obtained from
her Navy assignment.
There are off-duty gains also: meeting and making friends with people from
all parts of the country and many different backgrounds has enhanced Dee's personality,
giving her a wider range of human experience and understanding. "I have formed
many rewarding friendships and I've learned tolerance and self-control," she
says. "Many people feel that when you go into the service you lose your individuality
and have to conform to a group. This is certainly true to a point. My individual
desires became secondary when they conflicted with those of 40 other people.
You do very little without thinking how it will reflect on the uniform you wear."
Yet the dulling of the individual's outer edge is compensated for by strengthening
of the core. "I feel that I am more of a person now than I was the day I joined,"
says Dee, "more capable of making my own decisions and standing up for what
I believe in."
Dee has formed a very realistic attitude about the military atmosphere pervading
her work: "If you talk back to your boss in civilian life, you get fired. In
the Navy, your punishment is different. That's all."
Steady Ahead. After discharge, Navy electronic technicians, male or female,
find the doors of the fast-growing electronics industry wide open to them. Or,
using the educational provisions of the G.I. Bill, they may continue their schooling
toward a formal engineering degree.
Dee is steering a steady course toward her own goal: a combination of electronics
and marriage. The shipmate whom she plans to sign on permanently also works
in Naval electronics. When they are both back in civilian life, she wants to
work in industry while he completes his engineering studies.
Perhaps it seems paradoxical that the net result of Dee's Navy training is
a firm foundation for civilian life. But we must remember that, after all, the
purpose of the military in a democracy is not a war-like quest for "glory,"
but to assure the safety of the private citizen and help this troubled world
gain enough peace to sustain the good of ordinary living.
Posted March 4, 2021
(updated from original post on 11/9/2011)