Emma Elizabeth George-US Navy

July 3, 1883–November 21, 1964


Yeoman Petty Officer Emma Elizabeth George, US Navy

Champlain Studios, 161-164 Tremont St., Boston, MA. Orrin Champlain was one of Boston most successful portrait photographers.
John Luther, military history expert and consumate model builder comments:

"The photo shows a summer uniform of the US Navy, WWI.  The insignia on the sleeve indicates she was a Petty Officer (that would be a sergeant in the army).  In what appears to be crossed quill pens just below the eagle and above the stripes (stripes indicate Chief Petty Office First Class) denotes a speciality of Yeoman (navy for secretarial and clerical positions), there is reference in places that this symbol covers a wide range of duties (see below*)."

*Following The Naval Reserve Act of 1916, which did not mention gender, a number of women begin to enlist from mid-March 1917 and by the end of April 1917, nearly 600 Yeomen (Female) were on duty. This number grew to over 11,000 in December 1918. Yeomen (F), or "Yeomanettes" as they were often referred to, mainly served in secretarial and clerical positions, though some were "translators, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, ship camouflage designers and recruiting agents. Five went to France with Naval hospital units and a modest number of others were stationed in Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone. However, the great majority were assigned duties at Naval installations in the Continental United States, frequently near their homes, processing the great volume of paperwork generated by the war effort." By July 1919, numbers were down to under 4,000, when they were all released. Some Yeomen (F) continued until the end of their four-year enlistments on inactive reserve status. Thereafter, apart from Navy Nurses, women did not appear in the uniformed Navy until 1942. (Source: US Naval Historical Center)


Here is a picture of a yeoman in uniform where the insignia is clearer.

Emma Elizabeth George

Emma Elizabeth George

Emma Elizabeth George was born in Wrentham, MA on July 3, 1883, to Harvey and Ida Adelia Pagington George. Her siblings were Jesse Thomas, Walter Henry, Fannie Josephine and Alfred E. George. Her brother, Walter married Elsie Adamson Winter, daughter of Patrick Murray Winterand her sister, Fannie, married Charles Crane Winter., son of Patrick Murray Winter, Brother and sister married a sister and brother, making children "double cousins."


Some census facts:

In 1909, Emma is a jeweler in Franklin, MA, living with her parents at 306 South Street Her silings have a variety of jobs. Walter is a stone setter and Fannie is a clerk. Her dad works at a box factory.

In 1920, Emma is boarding with John Haskell in Boston, Ward 7. She is employed as a bookkeeper in the US Navy yard.

In 1930, Emma was a bookkeeper at a jewelry shop. She is living with her father, Harvey (74), on South Street in Wrentham. Harvey was working at Winter Brothers Tab and Die Company. His home value is $4000. In a 1932 directory, Emma was a bookkeeper at 1144 Eddy Street in Providence, RI, but living in Wrentham. The company was Federal Products Corporation which makes measuring, surface and depth guages.

In 1940, she was living with brother, Walter H. and his family in Wrentham. Her profession was pastry cook at a hotel. Her income was $760/year, however, she reported income from other sources. She worked 45 months of the year, 40 hours per week. She was a high school graduate and was single.

Ida George Meikel, her aunt, recalls Memorial Days in Wrentham.

Ida continues, "Some years my Dad (Walter George, Emma's brother) would hurry off to Plainville to participate in their parade."

Emma lived in Hartford and West Hartford, Connecticut for 15 years. She was a bookkeeper for her brother, Jesse Thomas' company. Jesse was a machinist. Pat Winter Oakes remembers that she became nearly deaf like her brother Walter who she lived with at the time of her death on November 24, 1964. She is buried in a family plot in Wrentham Center Cemetery.

The following article by David Hannington, Park Guide at the Boston National Historical Park, provide a description of Emma's place of employment in 1920.

Boston Navy Yard and the "Great War, " 1914–1918

The Boston Navy Yard on a war footing. Photograph shows new planking of Pier 6

At the turn of the 20th century, the Boston Navy Yard (now known as Charlestown Navy Yard) entered its second century of service by embarking on its first major expansion since the Civil War. This growth was in line with the goals of President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, which wanted the United States Navy to expand and modernize, heralding the emergence of America as a world power. In Boston several new buildings and a second dry dock were built to meet the demands of the growing fleet that it served.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared that the United States would remain neutral. It would become the navy’s job to protect the nation’s neutrality at sea and at home by stationing destroyers at Boston Navy Yard.

In the aftermath of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in May 1915, President Wilson sided with the growing number of advocates of military preparedness who sought to protect America’s interests at home and abroad. As part of the preparedness movement, Wilson called upon Congress to authorize the construction of over 150 warships. With the passage of the Naval Act of 1916, the Boston Navy Yard prepared for an increase in the number of ships built, outfitted, and repaired at the facility.

Throughout the war years, many of the yard’s older buildings were renovated or replaced, while several new buildings were erected, including a massive general storehouse. An inclined shipway, where vessels could be built and launched, was constructed and towering hammerhead cranes were erected after the Navy Department selected the Boston Navy Yard for the construction of the first ship specifically built to carry supplies and provisions for overseas fleet replenishment. For the repair of smaller vessels, a marine railway was constructed between the yard’s two dry docks.

As preparations intensified, the number of workers at the yard increased dramatically, growing from approximately 2,500 to 4,400 skilled and unskilled laborers by 1917. This workforce would come to include a number of women who filled a variety of roles from clerical workers to manufacturing assistants in the yard’s ropewalk, which had greatly increased its production of cordage for the navy.

Destroyers ready for service at Pier 9 in the Navy Yard, circa 1916-1917 


By January 1917, the land war in Europe had reached a stalemate, prompting Germany to resume its campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare in an attempt to cut off Britain’s supply lines and starve the country into submission before America joined the war. After the sinking of several American vessels with loss of life, the United States declared war on Germany on April 6 and rapidly began to mobilize its forces.

Immediately following the declaration of war, the United States Navy ordered Destroyer Division 8 to assemble at the Boston Navy Yard and prepare for deployment to European waters. Six destroyers departed Boston on April 24, 1917 and arrived at the British naval base at Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland on May 4. A second group of destroyers left Boston on May 7 to join in escort duties and patrol for German U-boats. Thereafter, the port of Boston and its navy yard would become one of the principal points of departure for troops, arms, and supplies to Britain and France.

U.S. Supply Ship Bridge launching, May 18, 1916 


Though the Boston Navy Yard would build a number of support ships during the war, the Navy specifically assigned the yard the task of repairing warships and support vessels. Equally important, the yard oversaw the outfitting and commissioning of a steady stream of warships built by private shipbuilding concerns. These would include destroyers and submarines constructed at Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation’s Fore River Shipyard and its Victory Destroyer Plant, both located in Quincy, Massachusetts.

In addition to readying and repairing warships, workers at the Boston Navy Yard also outfitted ships of the American Merchant Marine with armament provided by the federal government. Boston also converted, fitted out, and commissioned former cargo carrying merchantmen and passenger vessels that had been purchased or leased by the Navy. The smaller and swifter vessels were converted for use in anti-submarine warfare and coastal patrol, while larger vessels were converted for use in transporting troops and carrying cargo. Perhaps the most complicated conversion work at the yard involved five German passenger ships that had been seized in American ports by the United States government after the declaration of war. Prior to the vessel’s seizure, their crews had sabotaged the ship’s’ engines, necessitating extensive repairs before these vessels could be transformed into transports to carry troops and supplies from the United States to France.


Another article focuses on Women at the Shipyard

Women Workers at the Boston Navy Yard during World War I

Boston National Historical Park

Black and white photgraph of three women walking through the navy yard in their "Yeomanette" uniforms Helen McCormack, Yeoman 1st Class; Helen Barr, Radio Operator; Eva Forbes, Yeoman First Class, who were stationed at the Boston Navy Yard during World War I. Names from The Illustrated War News, 1918. Image courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

In spring of 1917, more than two years before the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, a radical transformation was taking place at the Boston Navy Yard. The US Navy adopted a radical enlistment policy that opened its clerical ranks to educated, white women. Parallel to this national watershed, the Boston Navy Yard (now known as the Charlestown Navy Yard) hired civilian women as unskilled laborers for the first time in its history.

In January of 1917, the quarter-mile long granite ropewalk at the Boston Navy Yard was producing rope and cable for the entire US Navy using hand-powered, 19th-century machinery. By December of 1918, the ropewalk, the only government-owned plant that manufactured the various kinds of rope used in the Navy, had sped up production to meet national demand for its products. As the Yard newspaper, The Salvo, proudly related, 232 steam-run spindles now manufactured yarn from Manila or American hemp, long enough to stretch from the Earth to the Moon and back again. Long, empty room with tracks on the floor, pillars and rope piled in corner.

The ropewalk at the Boston Navy Yard employed 150 women during World War I NPS Photo

The coming of industrial-era machinery to the ropewalk not only increased production, but opened up light manufacturing jobs to unskilled laborers. The Boston Navy Yard quietly broke with trade tradition and brought on 150 women to fill these new positions at the ropewalk facility. The ropewalk was the Yard’s only plant to employ women in industrial roles during World War I.

At present, we know very little about these women. It is possible that they, like many new hires of the time, were encouraged to apply for their positions by friends and relatives who already worked at the Navy Yard. The law stated that they would be paid the same rate as male unskilled laborers, $2.24 per day, increasing to $4.32 by late 1818. Grainy photo of scores of women in naval uniforms The Yeoman (F) of Boston Navy Yard, 1918 US Naval Archives - Department of the Navy

Women also occupied skilled roles at the Boston Navy Yard during World War I. On March 21, 1917, all Naval District commanders were called on by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to open enlistment for the Yeoman (clerical) grade to women, who would be referred to as Yeoman (F). White collar work was already a boom field by the beginning of the twentieth century, as administrative, communications, and clerical functions became increasingly important in both industry and governance. With the United States on the brink of war, US Navy planners knew that their male clerks of the Yeoman rating would be sent to sea with the fleet. To Secretary Daniels’ mind, inviting women with the right education and experience to enlist in the Naval Reserve was the solution. However, Secretary Daniels made it clear that no African American women were to become Yeomen (F); one case of an African-American woman being denied the chance to enlist in Boston was recorded in a history of the First Naval District.

At the Boston Navy Yard, Commander William R. Rush was building his administrative staff to run a facility that would soon triple its workforce. As more experienced male Yeomen were sent off to sea, educated Yeomen (F) with job experience were a welcome addition to the team with its relentless 6-day, 60-hour workweek.

Many Boston women rushed to enlist for duty as Yeomen (F), like Emily Steele who, upon her enlistment in March 1917, was immediately designated secretary to the First Naval District commander and assumed duties the next day. Many of the new Yeoman (F) came from families with deep ties to the US Navy. All were high school graduates, some had attended clerical training schools, some were college graduates, and some offered years of valuable work experience. In March 1918, Boston enlistment for Yeomen (F) was capped, as supply had come to exceed demand. Throughout the war, Boston newspapers reported on charity events, uniform and deportment competitions, war bond drives, sporting events, all coordinated by Yeomen (F) at the Navy Yard. A core team of these women, associated with the Commandant’s office, became Head Yeomen (F) and took on leadership functions in many of these activities.

Boston Navy Yard quickly fitted out an office space “for a corps of a dozen young women, who will be enrolled as soon as they pass the examination.” By May 1918, several hundred women served as Yeomen (F) in offices at Boston Navy Yard and other U.S. Navy offices in Boston. Commander Rush singled them out for praise on the occasion of the funeral of Capt. Samuel Nicholson, the first commandant of the Boston Navy Yard, saying that “their devotion to duty, zeal and efficiency is beyond praise.”



Emma Elizabeth George Gallery

Emma George, About 1901, age about 18
Jesse George, high school graduation--Born April 21, 1882, died April 21, 1961. Married Edna Josephine Whiting on October 2 1907 in Melrose, MA. He worked for Parker Pen Company and later had his own company, Jesse T. Gerge Company, in West Hartford. He was a member of the American Society of Tool Engineers and the Manufacturers Association of Hartford County.

Alfred Ellsworth George 1890–1980

Born September 22, 1890 • Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts, died May 4, 1980 • Windsor, Hartford, Connecticut, USA In 1918, he was an "embalmer" in Brattleboro, Windham County, VT and later in Hartford, CT.

1903  Walter George, high school graduation. Photographer was Millers, corner Elwood and Public St., Providence, RI

Fannie Josephine George, August 6, 1887–1985. She married Charles Crane Winter
Graduation photo, ca 1904. Photographer was Millers, corner Elwood and Public St., Providence, RI

Fannie and Emma George


Emma George with her car and 3 children (nieces and nephew)--about 1920

Emma George

Emma George, about 1930.