Doris A. Youtz is a wave of inspiration to our country, her family and women’s rights. She was one of the first women to be part of the WAVES program. WAVES stands for “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.” This program accepted women because the war had started and at the end it was understood that women would not be allowed to continue in Navy careers. The program began in 1942 when Eleanor Roosevelt convinced Congress to allow a women’s component to the Navy which was called WAVES. It was 1942 when Youtz enlisted and became one of the first women electrical coding officers.
Doris Ann Backman Youtz was born on July 9, 1919 in Utica, New York. Her father was a pharmacist and her mother was a homemaker. Youtz attended Wellesley College and earned her Bachelor’s degree. Before entering the military, she taught school in Chicago. She taught 5th grade and a freshmen English class at a high school. She later taught in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Youtz heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She heard the news over the radio, and could not find anyone who knew where Pearl Harbor was. She and her roommates quickly researched the location of Pearl Harbor, and heard how upset people were. “I remember everybody was pretty horrified by the whole thing. I don’t think anybody objected to attacking back.”
After hearing about the attack, Youtz heard Mildred McAfee, President of Wellesley College speak in Chicago. McAfee was a Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander, the first female commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and first director of WAVES. The speech sparked her admiration for McAfee, as well as inspiration to enlist in WAVES. In this program women could not serve aboard combat ships or aircraft. Initially, they were only allowed to work in the United States. Most did clerical work but some took positions in the aviation community, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, medical professions, communications and intelligence. They also worked as storekeepers and jobs in science and technology.
Youtz enlisted and was recruited to do coding for the Naval Reserves in WWII. She had four weeks of basic training. Women who enlisted in the Navy or Coast Guard attended the V10 WAVE Enlisted Rating Volunteer Program. She was trained separate from the men, but never felt discriminated against. “We were taken seriously by our superiors and the most effect training was learning to type and learning to type code.” To learn communications she had 2 months of training. Every day, the trainees got up early, marched and were trained in coding. They went to bed early to perform the same routine the next day. While training in South Hampton, an inspector would check the rooms every morning. She recalls, “We would spend hours dusting to make sure the room was spotless. We couldn’t figure out why we would get a bad checkmark for dust. We finally figured out we had not dusted the bottom of the chair legs and that is why we were getting in trouble.” Youtz became an officer in coding, and received and sent messages with coding machines. She had specialized training in Cryptography and sending messages to other bases. Cryptography, a code system used to keep the messages short or secret, was widely used during WWII.
Youtz’s first assignment was in the coding room at the Boston Navy Yard. This job lasted almost 3 years. She handled the coding room, working for three days with 8 hour shifts and having 3 days off. She had a long train ride to get to work, and thought the “hard part of the job was getting off the train and going to work at midnight.” The train ride was long and she had to go through a bad part of town to get to the base. It also was difficult for her to get used to working at night and sleeping during the day. During this time, she lived in an apartment in Boston near Copley Square with two other women. They ate in a hotel dining room designated for those who worked in the military. She stayed at one base while coding for the Boston Navy Yard. They had to deliver top secret messages every day to the Navy Headquarters and Navy adjunct in Boston. They took the messages to the headquarters, due to the fact that there were no coding rooms at that base. During the day, they decoded messages, and then delivered them in the evening by car with a driver. She thought she and her fellow coworkers were treated well. When she was released from her service, she was in Boston and left because the war was over. She met her husband at this assignment and she planned on getting married.
Her highest rank in the Navy during WWII was Lieutenant – Junior Grade. She thought the officers were kind and talented in their work, as well as the other women who were decoding with her. She recalled a humorous event when she went to lunch with the other women who decoded messages and watched the soldiers leave for Europe from the harbor. After lunch, one man came into the office, annoyed that his ship was leaving late due to a broken part. He asked for a bottle of glue so he could fix the ship himself.
Youtz enjoyed her job and felt it was worthwhile. She recalls, “I felt a part of something.” This made her want to keep in touch with her two best friends she made while serving the country. Both of the women she kept in touch with were her roommates, and one of them was a bridesmaid at her wedding.
When she was released, she got married to a Navy man and followed him to all the bases. They went to Washington, then Newfoundland while he served for 20 years. While in Washington, she got a job as a research analyst at the Army Security Agency. The Agency wanted her to learn Russian so she tried learning by looking at Russian newspapers. She lived there for a year until her husband was transferred to Newfoundland. In the late 1950s, Youtz started teaching again when they moved to California.
Youtz believes that the WAVES opened up a whole new career for women, as there are still many WAVES today. She remembers, “It broke barriers for women.” She thinks it is interesting that so many women are in the military today, and is happy that she was able to get the job. Her experiences though the WAVES program were invaluable. She believes that we need to remember that the United States was doing the right thing by getting involved in WWII She states, “Serving our country is a good career for young men and women to pursue. I was fortunate that I fell into the job. We were doing the right thing at the time. It was a good career.”
Interviewed by Anna Lonsway on July 11, 2016.