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Guard Women's Reserve
The Coast Guard Women's Reserve came into existence with the signing of Public Law 773 on November 23, 1942. Like the other women's reserves (WACs, WAVEs, WASPs, etc.), its purpose was to place women in stateside positions so that more men could be sent overseas. Captain Dorothy C. Stratton, former Dean of Women at Purdue University, was chosen from the Navy Womens Reserves to be the first director (with the rank of Lieutenant Commander), and it was she who coined the acronym SPARs, from the Latin and English translations of the Coast Guards motto, Semper Paratus! Always Ready!
All SPARs enlistees received basic training that included classroom instruction, physical trining and exams, and drilling. That training was carried out at a variety of locations across the country, including Oklahoma A&M, Iowa State Teachers College, Hunter College, the Palm Beach Biltmore Hotel, etc. Upon graduation from basic training, enlisted SPARs could specialize in a variety of jobs, including Yeomen, storekeeper, parachute rigger, lighthouse keeper, air traffic controller, Boatswain's Mate, radio operator, etc. Officer candidates received the same basic training, as well as leadership courses taught at the Naval Reserve Midshipman School and the United States Coast Guard Academy, making the Coast Guard Academy the first U.S. service academy to admit women.
More than 11,000 women served as SPARs during World War II. In addition to the many traditional jobs they performed, SPARs were also involved in several non-traditional roles. For example, musically inclined SPARs were involved in a song and dance show which toured the country and ultimately inspired the movie Tars and Spars, made in 1946. SPARs were also involved with the then top secret LORAN program. In fact, the LORAN station in Chatham, Massachusetts, was completely run by SPARs, making it the only women-run unit during the war.
As were all of the other women's reserve units, the SPARs were demobilized upon the end of the war, on June 30, 1946, and were fully deactivated on July 25, 1947. A small number of SPARs served during the Korean War, but the Coast Guard did not actively pursue an enlistment drive during either that conflict or the Vietnam War. In 1973 Congress enacted legislation that terminated the SPARs as a separate branch of the Coast Guard, making it the first military branch in the U.S. to allow women to serve alongside men in both regular and reserve units, but only within the boundaries of the continental United States. Women were finally given permission to serve aboard seagoing Coast Guard vessels in late-1977.
This page was last updated on 04/02/2017.