As a LTJG, Beverly Kelley became the first woman to command a Coast Guard cutter, the CGC Cape Newhagen, in April 1979. Two years earlier, the Coast Guard had experimented with assigning women to sea-going ships. The high-endurance Coast Guard cutters Morgenthau and Gallatin received 10 enlisted women and two female officers each.
Kelley was one of those officers. According to Coast Guard historical documents, a great deal of opposition accompanied the trial run—including concern from the wives of men aboard the ships. Some seamen reportedly even commented, There goes the neighborhood.”
The crews of the two cutters were briefed on appropriate conduct on a coeducational vessel and families informed about shipboard modifications to accomodate women and men working and living together. Just as had been the case when the Coast Guard set up its first racially integrated ships’ companies during World War II, the “mixed crews” quietly settled into a working routine and went about their business with little commotion.
Captain Alan Breed, commanding officer of the Gallatin, acknowledged a year later that some of his male crewmembers had experienced “apprehensions, reservations, concerns, and, in some cases, frustrations” when they were told that women would be joining the ship, but he asserted that “there have been no major problems to date … . Today, I doubt that there are over two or three who retain such hardcore opposition.”
When Kelley, who now holds the rank of Captain, took command of the Newhagen, the 14-man crew adjusted gracefully. Twenty years later, she made history again as the first female to command a Coast Guard medium-endurance cutter, the CGC Northland. She told the press, “I’ve punched all the tickets that my male counterparts would have to, to be the commanding officer…”
We honor you, Beverly Kelley.