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“We couldn’t see why girls couldn’t get in the service of the country just as well as a man.”

– Beatrice Viola Timmins

By Rebekah Clark and Lauren Webb

During World War One, six Utah women were among the first to ever enlist in the United States Navy. Beatrice Viola Timmins, Norma Bessie Long, Dora Montague, Edna Romney, Blanche Williams, and Irma Voss served their country in this unprecedented expansion of women’s role in the military. By entering the naval workforce and filling vital non-combat positions on the homefront, these female yeomen helped facilitate more men going overseas and paved the way for women’s military service.


Two women signing up for the Navy in front of a Navy recruiter.

Beatrice Viola Timmins and Norma Long enlisting. Salt Lake Herald-Republican, December 2, 1917.

Faced with the looming threat of German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean, President Woodrow Wilson decided that the United States needed to prepare for the worst. Even before officially entering the war, he signed the Naval Act of 1916 into law to expand the U.S. Navy. But the Act’s vague wording had an unintended consequence. By stating that the Navy would comprise “all persons who may be capable of performing special useful service for coastal defense,” this loophole opened the door for women to enlist.

Beginning in March 1917, commanders of naval districts all over the country started to recruit and enlist women as formal members of the U.S. Naval Reserve to perform primarily clerical and administrative duties. The women enrolled for four year enlistments as yeoman second class and were officially referred to as “female yeoman” or “yeoman (F),” although the media persisted in nicknaming them “yeomanettes.” They took the military oath, wore military uniforms and insignia, completed the same three months of training and examinations as the men, and were even paid the same $46.50 per month salary as men with the same naval rank. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels later observed: “They did everything except go to sea.”

Over 10,000 American women took advantage of this opportunity to serve as Navy yeomen during World War One, including these six Utah women:

Beatrice Viola Timmins (March 26, 1898 – May 30, 1992)[1]

two women in navy uniform.

Norma Long (L) and Viola Timmins (R) lead an inter-city stamp drive from SLC to Ogden. Salt Lake Tribune, March 30, 1918.

On November 28, 1917, Viola Timmins made history as the first woman in Utah to enlist in the Navy. She explained: “Just staying at home and doing your bit is all right, but we couldn’t see why girls couldn’t get in the service of the country just as well as a man. There’s lots of things girls can do better than a man, too.”

Viola graduated the year before her enlistment from Salt Lake City’s West High School, where she had earned recognition as a talented pitcher for the school’s girls baseball team. As a qualified stenographer, she was assigned to duty at the Salt Lake City naval recruiting office and was eventually promoted to the rank of first class yeoman. In March 1918, she made news by winning a large war savings stamp drive in Ogden.

After the war, she continued her work in the recruiting office even after the Navy “demobilized” the female yeomen and placed them on inactive duty on August 9, 1919. At Salt Lake City’s first anniversary celebration of the Armistice, she was asked to christen the launch of the new navy destroyer the U.S.S. Wasatch “with a bottle of the strongest liquid obtainable.” Viola briefly married Joseph Fagergren in 1921, divorced, and then married Vincent W. Young in 1924. She passed away in St. George, Utah in 1992 at the age of ninety-four.

Norma Bessie Long (Thomson) (March 25, 1898 – December 5, 1943)[2]

Norma Long enlisted as a yeoman (F) second class on the same day as Viola Timmins, her friend and former classmate at West High School where Norma had been an elected class officer. They took the military oath together, and news reports hailed the two “pretty Salt Lake girls” who had entered new territory by joining the Navy. Like Viola, Norma was assigned as a stenographer at the Salt Lake City naval recruiting office. As she enlisted, she declared:  “We’re going to have uniforms. . .because we are regular yeomen, just like the boys who have gone to the training station.”

In fact, Norma was reportedly the first woman in the nation to wear the official navy uniform. When the Navy initially started enlisting women, there was no precedent for female uniforms so the female yeomen initially reported for duty in their civilian clothes until the Navy could design and manufacture official uniforms. In early 1918, newspapers photographed Norma wearing the new uniform and saluting as part of a naval recruitment tour.

Norma married Carl Boyd on December 18, 1918, almost immediately after the war ended. They eventually had five children. Both Norma and her husband remained on the naval reserve list even after the war.

Edna Romney (January 28, 1896 – December 18, 1991)[3]

4 women in 1920s dresses and hats.

These female yeomen joined the American legion in 1919. L to R: Norma Boyd, Edna Romney, Beatrice V. Timmins, and Dora Montague.

Edna Romney was born and raised in a Mormon colony in Juarez, Mexico.  She moved to Salt Lake City to go to college at the University of Utah, then put her studies on hold and enlisted in the Navy as a yeoman (F) on June 11, 1918. During and for at least a year after the war, she worked as a stenographer in the Salt Lake City naval recruiting office, performing clerical and administrative duties.

After the war ended, Edna returned to the University of Utah and was actively involved in debate, student event planning, theater, and the hockey team. Upon graduation, she was hired as an English teacher at Carbon County High School and then at Ogden High School where she also directed school plays and supervised the women’s bowling club. Edna married the woodworking teacher, Elmer Noall, in 1924, they had twins two years later,  and then they moved to Santa Rosa, California in 1930 where Elmer established a medical practice. Edna stayed engaged in her community through membership in multiple clubs as well as the American Association of University Women, the Retired Teachers Association, and the Republican Women. She passed away in 1991.

Isadora “Dora” Montague (April 29, 1899 – November 29, 1986)[4]

Woman receiving a medical shot in the arm.

Dora Montague receives a typhoid shot in preparation for Naval service. Salt Lake Herald-Republican, August 16, 1918.

The youngest of eleven children, Dora Montague demonstrated a bold willingness to speak up and try new things throughout her life. When she was only seventeen, she was a passenger in a car that was hit by a train near her home in Payson, Utah. Dora sued the railway company because of her injuries and won her case. She graduated from Payson High School and then Brigham Young University. She worked as a stenographer for The Panguitch Progress until she enlisted in the Navy as a female yeoman on July 12, 1918. Dora joined Edna, Viola and Norma as a stenographer at the Salt Lake naval recruiting office, where she continued to work even after the war ended and the navy placed the female yeomen on inactive duty. She and Edna  Romney were both elected as a members of the executive committee for the local American Legion unit in 1919.

After completing her naval service, Dora Montague studied art at the University of Utah. Shortly before her twenty-first birthday, she and a small group of college women were the first tourists to visit the newly-recognized Zions National Park several days before the grand opening. They brought climbing equipment and horses so they could travel to sections of the park that had never been explored by non-Native people. Dora did data collection, research, and oil paintings of the beautiful landscapes – at times even hanging off the cliffs to get a better angle. On opening day, she and her friends led the first tourists through the gate.

In 1924, Dora married George Wareing in the Salt Lake City temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They had one daughter. Dora passed away in St. George, Utah in 1986 and was buried in Salt Lake City.

Blanche Williams (December 30, 1890 – September 17, 1976)[5]

Photo of a woman in a fancy dress.

Blance Williams in the Ogden Daily Standard, July 5, 1919.

Blanche Williams  was born and raised in Ogden. Growing up, she wrote poetry and was the assistant editor of her high school school paper. She was active in Ogden’s First Congregational Church. She studied education at the University of Utah and graduated in 1910 and then returned to Ogden to become a teacher.. Upon her enlistment, Blanche was described as “one of Ogden’s best loved and efficient school teachers.” She had been teaching first grade at Grant Elementary School when she decided to enlist in the Navy, committing to four years of service.

Blanche enlisted as a yeoman (F) second class on June 30, 1918 and was assigned to duty in a naval hospital in Brooklyn, New York where she served for at least a year. After the war, Blanche married Oscar Merrick in November 1920 and moved to Seattle, Washington. She was a talented singer and became president of the Philomel Singers choir in Seattle.

Irma Lauretta Voss (February 5, 1900 – October 29, 1996)[6]

Irma Voss has historically been left off of any lists of Utah’s navy yeoman, likely because she enlisted while she was in San Francisco visiting her sisters. She was born in Millcreek, Salt Lake City and attended the North School where she received the highest grades in her school district and was the valedictorian at the Granite school district commencement in 1914. She then graduated from the commercial department of Salt Lake High School in 1917.

At the time of her enlistment in the fall of 1918, she was living on Harvard Avenue in Salt Lake City and had recently taken a course in stenography in Salt Lake City. Because of her training, she passed the navy exam with honors. After brief training in the San Francisco naval offices, she was stationed in Washington, D.C. for two years beginning soon after the Armistice. Following her time in the navy, she married Dennis H. McClure on November 26, 1920 in Sacramento. They lived in San Francisco and had one son. Irma passed away in California in 1996.


Although the enlistment of women in the Navy was initially controversial, the efficiency and professionalism of the Navy’s female yeomen during the war won the respect and gratitude of those who worked with them. Secretary of the Navy Daniels observed, “These women who enrolled were of the elect of their sex, . . . .Their efficiency has again illustrated women’s large part in war work,” and Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, chief of the Bureau of Navigation, wrote: “The civil service clerks and the men and women of the reserve yeoman branch have given excellent service. It would have been impossible to carry on the duties of any of the bureaus or offices of the Navy Department had it not been for the efficient and loyal work of these men and women.”[7]

The enlistment of women as yeoman (F) during World War I opened the door for further military service. Today, women serve in almost every role in every branch of the U.S. military. These women, including many from Utah, continue to break down barriers for themselves and others through their courageous service.

[1]  “West High Junior Girls Defeat Sophs,”Salt Lake Tribune (February 26, 1916), 10; “Graduates Given Diplomas,” Salt Lake Tribune (June 8, 1916), 12;  “Plan Inter-City Stamp Drive,”  Salt Lake Tribune (March 30, 1918), 22; “Plan “U.S.S. Wasatch Launched Today,” Salt Lake Tribune (November 11, 1919), 17.

[2] Norma’s last name is listed as Thomson in several newspaper articles because her mother got remarried to a man named Alexander Thomson when Norma was seven years old.  “Salt Lake Girls Join U.S. Navy,” The Salt Lake Herald-Republican (December 2, 1917), 9; “Tech Sophomores Organize: Class Officers are Elected,” Salt Lake Tribune (October 3, 1914), 14;  “Wears Official Garb, She’s U.S. Navy Maid,” Salt Lake Telegram (January 22, 1918), 2; “Girl Yeoman of Uncle Sam’s Naval Force Now Goes Land-Cruising in Big National Car,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican (February 3, 1918), 31;  “By all Signs, Should be a Sailor,” Salt Lake Telegram (May 24, 1919), 2.

[3] “Apmin and Forum to Debate Soon on State Question,” University of Utah Student Newspapers, February 11, 1921, p. 1; “Close Friends Bidden to Say Goodbye,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 2, 1921, p. 8; “Ring Hockey is Popular Sport of Coeds on Campus,” University of Utah Student Newspapers, November 19, 1920, p. 2; “Teachers for High Chosen,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, September 2, 1923, p. 34; “Bowling Popular Sport at Ogden High School,Ogden Standard-Examiner, “December 9, 1923, p. 41; “Funeral Notices,” The Press Democrat [Santa Rosa, CA] (December 22, 1991), 24.

[4] “Case Decided Against Orem Interuran Road,” Eureka Reporter (March 2, 1917), 3;  “Local Notes,” Panguitch Progress (June 2, 1916), 4; “Local Notes,” Panguitch Progress (June 2, 1916), 4; “Girls Exploring in Zion,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican (May 9, 1920), 31; “Society,” Salt Lake Tribune (May 9, 1920), 55; “Art From a Safe Distance,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican (February 11, 1920), 14; “U. of U. Girls Have Thrills in Zion Canyon,” Washington County News (May 27, 1920), 4.

[5] “New Principals with List of Assignments of Teachers for the Coming School Year,” Ogden Daily Standard, June 27, 1918, p. 7; “Utah University Graduation Today,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican (June 8, 1910), 12; “Now a Yeomanette,” Ogden Daily Standard (July 8, 1918), 10; “Miss Blanche Williams,” Ogden Daily Standard, (July 5, 1919), 16;  “Yeomanette Comes Home,” Salt Lake Tribune, July 3, 1919, p. 7.

[6] “Salt Lake Girl in Naval Service,” Salt Lake Tribune  (November 25, 1918), 12; “Music Will Be Feature,” Salt Lake Tribune (May 24, 1914), 37; “Seventy-four Given Business Diplomas,” Salt Lake Herald-Republican (June 7, 1917), 10.

[7] “Department of the Navy Annual Report 1918” (Washington, DC: GPO, 1918), 66, 437.