Exhibition - Women Divers: Part of the Navy Team

Friday, Aug 28, 2020

Keyport, WA 98345

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Tradition and equipment discouraged women from becoming divers. Navy divers were exclusively male for over one hundred years. Dive gear, designed to fit men, was heavy and oversized for female divers. Hull Technician Donna Tobias made history in 1975 when she graduated from the Navy's Deep Sea Diving School as the Navy's first female hard hat diver. "She had to prove herself, to be twice as good at everything, and she was," remembered retired Master Diver Steven Lechner.

This exhibit examines the challenges and achievements of some of the first women Navy divers. Through determination, persistence, and a love of diving, these early pioneers proved themselves in a male-dominated world to become valued, respected members of the Navy diving community.

"Babe, what do you want to be a diver for?"

Women became Navy divers for many reasons. Some had loved the water as children. TV shows such as Sea Hunt captured the interest of others. Some women, after they joined the Navy, became fascinated with the work the divers did. And some wanted a career where the standards for women were the same as those for men.

Anatomy is Not Destiny

Diving officials often cited the physical differences between men and women to discourage women from becoming divers. Less upper body strength, less aerobic capacity, higher risk of the bends, hormonal differences, and pregnancy were used as reasons for them not to dive.

Medical science has disproved these ideas about women's physiological fitness for diving. Today the primary restriction to diving is pregnancy. The physical qualification for women divers is the same as those for men: be physically fit and in good health.

Challenge and Determination

In the face of physical hardship and institutional barriers, the first women Navy divers were determined. They struggled with equipment sized for larger bodies and an organization that was not always welcoming.


A diver's life depends on being part of a team. Divers train and dive in teams. Divers working in the water are supported by their shipmates on the surface. Teamwork is at the core of everything divers do.


Learn more about the women divers originally featured in this exhibit and about other female Navy divers who also helped pave the way.

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