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“Cutting a New Path”: A World War II Navy Nurse Fights Sexism in the Military

In World War II soldiers, sailors, nurses, and airmen often found themselves thrown together with fellow Americans whose experiences and backgrounds were drastically different from their own. Racial segregation was an official policy of the War Department, but gender discrimination was a subtler, if no less troublesome, social constraint. Doris Brander, who enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor in the navy’s Womens Auxiliary Voluntary Expeditionary Service (WAVES), felt that she and her fellow WAVES were rebels, going against the tide of convention and pushing the limits on women’s opportunity. In this 1992 interview with Rosetta Kamlowsky, Brander described how she and other women fought the sexism they experienced in the military and strove for gender equality.

Listen to Audio:

Doris Brander: I have talked with many veterans that were in World War II, and even now there’s that feeling of bitterness with many of them that experienced it at one time or another. So we tend to forget that we were way out of line back there in the 40s to even venture to join the service, because it just wasn’t done. It had not been done. So we really were the rebels that said, “Hey, we want to be part of this.” And because we were cutting a new path in history with our volunteering for the service, we were really looked at with question marks as to what our purpose was, what our motive was, what our morals were.

We came from such different backgrounds. It was a real mixing of cultures. You have to know people from Brooklyn to know how different they are from the people from Montana, the people from down South and their slow drawls, the people from Texas—lots of wonderful people, both men and women.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Montana Historical Society.