First Class: Women Join the Ranks at the Naval Academy

Sharon Hanley Disher, Author
Sharon Hanley Disher, Author US Naval Institute Press $34.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-55750-165-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In the summer of 1976, Disher was among the 81 women who were the first females to enter the hallowed U.S. Naval Academy. Disher stuck out the tough regimen and graduated with her class, then served in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps. Here, she recounts what it was like for that first group of Naval Academy women: ""I write this book to document history,"" she states. Following the group on a near-daily basis, Disher reports not her own experience but that of two classmates, Sarah Becker and Kate Brigman. The women endure the predictable embarrassments and goofs at the hands of an institution unaccustomed to having females in its midst. They must announce their bra sizes to attendants passing out military-issue everything. They must march and run while wearing three-inch heels, and must endure the taunts of male classmates furious at having their bastion invaded. Eventually, Becker begins an illicit relationship with an upperclassman that could jeopardize their fledgling Navy careers. Rather than examine why two young people would place themselves at such risk, however, and what that meant regarding Becker's role as a pioneering female, Disher reports the affair in bodice-ripping detail: ""He stood beside her, slim, tanned and shirtless.... She tried not to stare at the soft, thin line of hair growing from his belly button to the top of his fly...."" The adventures of Brigman are accorded similar treatment. Neither of these women will feel repercussions from appearing in Disher's narrative, however. It turns out that Becker is a pseudonym, and Brigman is a composite character. This is a disappointing work, with too much adolescent fantasy romance mixed into its history. (May)
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