March 1957 Popular Electronics
People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history
of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights
are hereby acknowledged. See all articles from
Oddly, the article does not tell you the origin
of the acronym "WAVES." From the U.S. Navy's history page:
"After a twenty-three-year absence, women returned to general Navy service in early August 1942,
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 'Emergency'.
A "WAVE" in Naval Electronics
By 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 marines.
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.
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.
She tackles with practiced skill that ultimate of all electronic instruments - the
ubiquitous soldering gun.
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
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.
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
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
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 November 9, 2011