Celebrating women in the Navy

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – It was a celebration of women Wednesday at Naval Station Norfolk as part of the Navy base’s centennial and Women’s History Month.

A number of women spoke at the event. Some were the first to serve on ships, and others challenged the Navy and helped make it what it is today.

“We really didn’t know what our rules, except we found out as we tried to do different things,” said Charlotte Crist, a retired senior chief. “You were supposed to be feminine first, and now you come in the Navy and you’ve got to be a sailor.”

Crist joined the Navy in 1964 as a recruit at Naval Station Norfolk. She was a WAVE — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

“I’ve heard people say that women had to break the glass ceiling,” Crist said. “When I came in the Navy in ’64, I felt like it wasn’t a ceiling, it was a bubble they put us in.”

Crist was joined by other female pioneers, like Yona Owens, who sued the Navy in 1976.

Owens said, “You just didn’t run into women who… ‘What do you do?’ ‘Oh I’m in the military.’ Nope.”

She, and a group of enlisted women and officers, challenged the law that barred women from sea duty. In 1978, the court ruled in her favor and Navy women were able to serve on all non-combatant ships.

“Davey Jones’ locker was supposed to explode if this happened,” said Owens.

In 1994, it changed again. Women began serving on combatant ships, opening doors that remain that way to this day.

“I think that they were very brave and courageous. I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to stand up and want to fight for us,” said Tatyana Marshall who is an active duty seaman.

There was also a panel that featured active-duty service women. The Hampton Roads Naval Museum helped coordinate the event.