Title: Navy Yeoman (F), World War I; Communications Yeoman, World War II
Birthdate: January 23, 1895
Death Date: March 6, 1976
Plot Location: Naval 4, Row 15, Grave 7
Kathryn Lufkin Alcorn was part of an historic change to the U.S. Armed Services during World War I. Beginning in 1917, women who were not nurses could enlist in the Armed Forces.
Katie was born in Easton, PA in 1895. Her father, Charles Lawson Lufkin (1852-1901), was a railroad engineer and her mother Delia Lufkin Smith (1862-1933) was a homemaker. In 1910 they were living at 4417 Cleveland Street in Philadelphia along with five children: Walter (12), Lawson (10), Agnes (7), Katie (15), and Mary (3). Their father died in 1901 and their mother became head of the household until she died in 1933.
In 1914 the Allied Powers initially consisted of France, Great Britain, and Russia, and the opposing side included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. Over the ensuing years 12 more countries became involved, including the United States when it joined the Allies in 1917.
As the U.S. Navy was marshalling its fleet for the war it found it was having trouble finding enough sailors. In March, 1917 as the U.S. was reaching the final decision to enter the war, the Navy’s need for clerical assistance was also critical. In order to solve this problem the Secretary of the Navy studied the terms of the recently passed Naval Reserve Act of 1916 carefully. He discovered that the act did not state a specific gender requirement for yeomen (enlisted personnel who fulfill administrative and clerical duties), so on March 19th the Navy Department authorized the enrollment of women in the Naval Reserve with ratings of yeomen, radio electricians, or other rank. This action resulted in the first enlistment of women in the Armed Forces who were not nurses, changing the make-up of the nation’s defenses forever.
The first woman to enlist who was not a nurse was Loretta Perfectus Walsh on March 17. Just 35 days later on April 23 Katie enlisted. By the end of April, 600 had signed up. The Navy would subsequently enlist 11,200 more.
Most of the Yeomen (F) personnel (with the F denoting the sailor is a female) performed clerical duties such as typing, stenography, bookkeeping, accounting, telephone operations, and inventory control, but others were assigned as radio operators, draftsmen, photographers, telegraphers, chemists, and finger printers. They were assigned to stations throughout the country as well as naval stations in England, France, Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone, Guam, and Hawaii. Katie was assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard as a stenographer and clerk.
Because of the speed of events at the time (President Wilson went before Congress on April 2 to ask for a Declaration of War which Congress approved on April 6) the organization of the new yeoman groups was somewhat chaotic. Accommodations or living spaces were very uncertain. There were no barracks at first and the women had to find their own places to live near their stations.
They also had no specific uniforms. It wasn’t until June 18 that bids for the new uniforms were sent out to potential contractors. Katie is quite likely pictured below with her co-workers.
The Great War ended with the Armistice in November, 1918, and while the yeomen (F) had signed up for a four year obligation they were sent home with Honorable Discharges as soon as their specific duties were no longer needed. They also obtained full veterans benefits and military preference to obtain a civil service rating for jobs in the federal government.
Following her discharge on September 4, 1919, Katie lived with her mother and sister Mary at 4203 9th Street in Philadelphia. She then got a job as a civilian stenographer at the Navy Yard.
Katie married Charles A. Alcorn in 1929 and had a son, Charles, Jr, in 1932. She worked as a stenographer, and her husband was a clerk for the railroad. They lived at 3303 Tilden Street in the Roxboro section of the city.
Her grave marker shows that Katie also served during the Second World War as a Communication Yeoman (CYN). She died on March 6, 1976 and is interred at Mount Moriah in the Naval Asylum Plot.
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