As the US Navy ramped up for World War 2, its leadership began the unprecedented task of recruiting 27,000 female sailors called WAVES, an acronym for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Previously, it was only during the first world war that the Navy accepted females into its ranks, and mainly for clerical roles and as nurses, not as officers. 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 US Navy history, and the first Director of the WAVES.
WAVES were not allowed to serve aboard combat ships or aircraft, and initially were restricted to duty in the continental United States. The WAVES performed atypical duties in the aviation community - Judge Advocate General Corps, medical professions, communications, intelligence, science and technology. Late in World War II, WAVES were authorized to serve in certain overseas U.S. possessions, and a number were sent to Hawaii. The war ended before any could be sent to other locations.
With the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act on June 12, 1948, women gained permanent status in the armed services. Although the WAVES officially ceased to exist, the acronym was in common use well into the 1970s.
See another great collection of photographs of Women in World War 2.