World War I Navy Yeoman Frieda Mae Hardin, who grew up in Portsmouth, spoke at the 1997 dedication of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, with her son (also a veteran) by her side.
By Nikki Blankenship
Scioto County Candor
Though Portsmouth is the home of many who have volunteered their lives in service of their country, few know that it is also the home of the nation’s oldest female veteran.
Frieda Hardin was born Sept. 22, 1896. She lived to be 103-years-old before she died on Aug. 9, 2000. According to the Arlington National Cemetery Website, she was the nation’s oldest female veteran before she passed.
Despite her parents’ wishes, Hardin joined the US Navy during World War I. At the time, women were not allowed to vote. According to articles on the Arlington National Cemetery website, Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels asked women to enlist in the Naval Reserve in March of 1917 as an effort to free sailors for combat duty.
Hardin’s father worked for the railroad, as many in the area did at the time. He moved his family to Kentucky and then Ohio. In Portsmouth, Hardin went to work for a local department store. Then in 1918, she saw a notice in the newspaper explaining that a Navy recruiter would be coming to town.
“I heard about the Navy taking women on a Saturday night, and I signed up first thing Monday morning,” she reveals in historical accounts.
According to her story, she called her mother as soon as she enlisted. Her mother ordered her home immediately. Though her mother tried to prevent Hardin from enlisting, her father decided to let her go.
Hardin was one of nearly 12,000 women who served in the Navy during WWI. They worked during wartime as clerks, draftsmen, translators, camouflage designers and recruiters. Designated Yeomen (F), meaning female, the women were known as Yeomanettes.
Hardin was enlisted in active duty from September 1918 to March 1919, stationed at Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia. There she performed clerical duties. Within a year, all Yeomanettes were released from duty. Women would not be able to serve in the Navy again until World War II.
Hardin went on to marry a chef, settle in California and raise four children, who all became military veterans. She also had 12 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and 29 great-great-grandchildren.
In 1997, she became a symbol of all women who have served in the military when she was asked to speak at Arlington National Cemetery, dedicating the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and hororing nearly two million women who had served in the military. Hardin spoke before an audience of 30,000 people.
When reflecting upon her military career, she explained that there was great opportunities for women in the military. She added that she had always been proud of her Navy service.
Among the female veterans in the crowd was a WWII member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) Ann Darr.
“When Frieda Mae Hardin spoke, reminding us she couldn’t vote when she signed up, saying to the young people, ‘Go for it!’ we were almost ready to serve again,” historical accounts report Darr as saying.
“In my 101 years of living, I have observed many wonderful achievements, but none as important or as meaningful as the progress of women in taking their rightful place in society,”
Hardin told the crowd, two years before her death. “When I served in the Navy, women were not even allowed to vote! Now, women occupy important leadership positions not only in the military, but also in business, government, education and in almost every form of human activity.”
After her death, the veteran and emblem of women’s service in the military, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.