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Dorothy C. Stratton

Captain Dorothy Stratton, USCGR


Captain Dorothy C. Stratton, USCGR (W) was born in Brookfield, Missouri on 24 March 1899.  Her father was Reverend Richard Lee Stratton and her mother the former Anna Troxler. Her father, a Baptist minister, traveled with his family all over the mid-west.  She attended the Ottawa University in Kansas, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1920.  She alternated between teaching at high schools and studying, receiving degrees of Master of Arts in Psychology from the University of Chicago and Doctor of Philosophy in Student Personnel Administration from Columbia University.  She joined the staff of Purdue University in 1933 as Dean of Women and Assistant Professor of Psychology.  She was the first full-time Dean of Women at Purdue.  At the time only 500 women were attending Purdue and most were studying home economics.  During her nine-year tenure the university's female enrollment nearly tripled to more than 1,400 in large part to her work in developing a curriculum favorable to women who wanted to study subjects other than home economics.  She also managed the construction of three new women's residence halls at the West Lafayette campus.  Stratton was promoted to full Professor in 1940.

She took a leave of absence from Purdue in June, 1942 and entered the armed forces of the United States as a senior lieutenant in the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES), where she attended the first class of the U.S. Naval Training Station at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.  After completing her training she was assigned as Assistant to the Commanding Officer of the radio school for enlisted WAVES at Madison, Wisconsin.

She became the first women to be accepted for service in the Women's Reserve of the Coast Guard soon after President Franklin Roosevelt signed an amendment to Public Law 773 that created a women's reserve program for the nation's oldest continuous-going sea service.  Her transfer to the Coast Guard as the Director of that service's Women's Reserve occurred on 24 November 1942 and she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander.  She made commander in December, 1943 and captain in February, 1944.  One of her first contributions to the Coast Guard was creating the name SPAR for the Women's Reserve, which she discovered in the first letters of the Coast Guard's motto "Semper Paratus" and its English translation "Always Ready".  In her memo to the Commandant, Vice Admiral Russell Waesche, she noted "The initials of [the Coast Guard's motto] are, of course, SPAR.  Why not call the members of the Women's Reserve SPARs?. . . .As I understand it, a spar is. . .a supporting beam and that is what we hope each member of the Women's Reserve will be."

Captain Stratton oversaw the incredible growth of the program in a short span of time.  During the remaining years of the war over 10,000 enlisted and 1,000 officers served their country in the SPARs.  At the peak of Coast Guard strength in late 1944, one out of every 15 or 16 enlisted persons was a woman and one out of every 12 or 13 officers was a SPAR officer, the highest ratio of women-to-men of any of the armed services at that time.  Enlisted SPARs served in thirty different Coast Guard ratings and many achieved the distinction of being promoted to first class or chief petty officers in their particular specialties.  Large numbers were trained and qualified as radiomen and served with distinction in the communications service as well as other specialties such as yeoman, storekeeper, divers, parachute riggers, pharmacist's mates, printers, among others.  The majority served in the continental U.S., freeing up men for combat duty but when Congress authorized the women of the naval services to serve outside the continental U.S., many SPARs did so.

Her official war-time biography noted:

As Director of the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, Captain Stratton was primarily responsible for originating policies for the procurement, training, utilization, and maintenance or morale of members of the SPARs.  Through her qualities of leadership, Captain Stratton inspired the finest type of woman to volunteer her services to her country.  Through her keen understanding of the abilities of women, her vision of the jobs which they could perform, and her consummate tact in fitting women into a military organization, she was able to direct the efforts of the women of the Reserve into channels of the greatest usefulness to the Coast Guard and to the country.  She has thus made substantial contributions to the successful prosecution of the war effort through her competent leadership and direction of the Women's Reserve of the United States Coast Guard Reserve.

With demobilization soon after the end of hostilities Captain Stratton After left the Coast Guard and became the first director of personnel at the International Monetary Fund where she served until 1950.  She then took the position as National Executive Director of the Girl Scouts of America, serving in that capacity for 10 years, before retiring in 1960.

Captain Stratton passed away on 17 September 2006 at the age of 107.  In 2001 the Coast Guard Women's Leadership Association named its "Captain Dorothy Stratton Leadership Award" in her honor.  This award is presented to a female Coast Guard officer (W-2 to O-4) who demonstrates "leadership and mentorship and who shares the Coast Guard's core values."  In 2005, the Ottawa University Alumni Association awarded its Outstanding Achievement Award to Stratton and in 2008 the Coast Guard named its third National Security Cutter WMSL-752 in her honor.

Additional Information:

Captain Dorothy Stratton, USCGWR

"Captain Dorothy C. Stratton, working at her desk at Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, D.C. in 1944."; no photo number; photographer unknown.

A photo of Russell R. Waesche, Sr.

"Dorothy Stratton [;] RRW", no date/photo number; photographer unknown.

Then-Navy Lieutenant Stratton interviewing with Vice Admiral Russel R. Waesche, the Commandant.

LCDR Dorothy Stratton, USCGWR

"Captain Dorothy C. Stratton, USCG as a Lieut. Comdr."; no date; Photo No. 450-60; 11th Naval District DCGO; photographer unknown. 

Captain Dorothy Stratton, USCGWR

"Charleston, S.C. -- Scenes similar to the above are typical as Captain Dorothy C. Stratton, National leader of the SPARS travels about the country looking after the 7,500 young women under her command in the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard.  She captures the affections of the SPARS everywhere with her helpful friendliness and her talent as reconteur which she is plying in this photograph."; no date; Photo No. 1341-3; 6th Naval District PRO; photographer unknown.

LCDR Dorothy Stratton, USCGWR

"Mildred M'Afee Waves [&] LtComdr Dorothy C. Stratton"; no date/photo number; photographer unknown.

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Last Modified 9/15/2016