Nancy Bailey Cogsdale — Breaking Barriers in Wartime

World War II opened new opportunities for women in the military and on the home front. In 1943, Nancy Bailey (1922–2020, later Cogsdale) joined the naval reserve unit known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Stationed in Norfolk, she worked as a coding and communications watch officer, encrypting and deciphering top-secret messages.  

The WAVES were the first women to have equal military status and benefits (such as pensions) to men—previously, women were limited to auxiliary units. Although many WAVES encountered sexism, Bailey described her service as “challenging,” “broadening,” and “one of my most treasured experiences.” 

The contributions of the WAVES and their sisters in other branches led President Truman to integrate women into the armed forces in 1948. 


This article was featured in the Virginia Magazine of History & Biography, Vol. 128, No. 2 in connection with the VMHC exhibition, Agents of Change: Female Activism in Virginia from Women’s Suffrage to Today

A black and white photograph of Nancy Bailey Cogsdale in her WAVES uniform standing in front of a car
Nancy Bailey Cogsdale. (Virginia Museum of History & Culture, 1995.71.2)
The Blender newsletter
The Blender was the employee newsletter of the Du Pont nylon plant in Martinsville, which shifted its production from pantyhose to parachutes and other military equipment in 1942. This cover underscores how women were a vital link in the chain of the nation’s defense industry. “Rosie the Riveter”–types filled the job openings created by men serving overseas. (Virginia Museum of History & Culture, TP1101 .B647)