Historians have paid scant attention to the role of women in the American military. Today, women are an integral part of the armed forces; in the Navy, for instance, they attend the Naval Academy at Annapolis, serve aboard ships, fly aircraft, and rise to flag rank. Yet it has not always been so. Until after World War II the U.S. Navy had considered women’s service as temporary or peripheral. When Congress passed legislation in 1948 allowing women permanent standing in the regular navy, it was largely because of the untiring efforts of one woman – Captain Joy Bright Hancock. Secretary of the Navy Robert B. Anderson later acknowledged her role: “More than any one individual,” he wrote in a letter to Captain Hancock, “you are responsible for the establishment of the WAVES as a component of the Navy. Your ideals, energy, and enthusiasm are continually reflected in the integration of women into the regular Navy.”
Joy Bright was born in Wildwood, New Jersey, on 4 May 1898. During World War I, after attending business school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she enlisted in the Navy as a Yeoman (F), serving at Camden, New Jersey and at the Naval Air Station, Cape May. Following the war, she married Lieutenant Charles Gray Little, who was killed in the crash of the airship ZR-2 in 1921. A year later, she obtained employment with the Bureau of Aeronautics, where her duties including editing the Bureau's "News Letter", which later evolved into the magazine "Naval Aviation News". In 1924, she left the Bureau to marry Lieutenant Commander Lewis Hancock, Jr., who lost his life when USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) crashed in September 1925.
Joy Bright Hancock returned to the Bureau after attending Foreign Service School and obtaining a private pilot's license. For more than a decade before World War II and into the first year of that conflict, she was responsible for the Bureau's public affairs activities. In October 1942, she was commissioned a Lieutenant in the new Women's Reserve (WAVES). She initially served as WAVES representative in the Bureau of Aeronautics and later in a similar position for the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air), rising to the rank of Commander by the end of the War.
In February 1946, Commander Hancock became the Assistant Director (Plans) of the Women's Reserve and was promoted to WAVES' Director, with the rank of Captain, in July of that year. She guided the WAVES through the difficult years of Naval contraction in the later 1940s and the expansion of the early 1950s, a period that also saw the Navy's women achieve status as part of the Regular Navy. Captain Hancock retired from active duty in June 1953. The next year, she married Vice Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie and accompanied him on his 1955-56 tour as Commander, Sixth Fleet. Following her husband's death in late 1956, she lived in the Washington, D.C., area and in the Virgin Islands. She died on 20 August 1986.