Hancock, Joy (1898–1986)

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Hancock, Joy (1898–1986)

U.S. naval officer who was a top-ranking woman line officer and the third and last director of the WAVES. Born Joy Bright in Wildwood, New Jersey, on May 4, 1898; died in Bethesda, Maryland, on August 20, 1986; daughter of William Henry Hancock (a banker and onetime lieutenant governor of New Jersey) and Priscilla (Buck) Hancock; graduated from Wildwood High School; graduated from the Pierce School of Business Administration, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; attended Catholic University, Washington, D.C.; attended the Paris branch of the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, 1926–27; married Charles Gray Little (a naval aviator), on October 9, 1920 (died 1921); married Lieutenant Commander Lewis Hancock, Jr. (a naval aviator), on June 3, 1924 (died 1925); no children.

Joy Hancock began her 35-year career with the U.S. Navy in 1918, when she enlisted in the Naval Reserve for the duration of World War I. In September 1919, after service at various naval stations in her home state of New Jersey, she left active duty to become a civilian employee at the Cape May (New Jersey) Naval Station. In 1920, she married Lieutenant Charles Gray Little, a naval aviator who was killed ten months later in the crash of the dirigible ZR-2 in England.

Hancock completed some courses at Catholic University, then took a position at the Navy Department's Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington. In 1924, she married Lieutenant Commander Lewis Hancock, Jr., also a navy pilot. In an ironic and tragic turn of events, Hancock's second husband was also killed in the crash of a dirigible (the U.S.S. Shenandoah), on September 3, 1925, in Caldwell, Ohio. Following his death, Hancock, who had been serving as a stenographer-clerk in the construction office of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, decided to pursue her career more aggressively. She attended the Paris branch of the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts, then began pilot's training, receiving her civil license in 1928. After additional study at George Washington University and elsewhere, she rejoined the Bureau of Aeronautics, where for eight years she headed the Bureau's editorial and research section. Establishing herself as an expert on the evolution of naval aeronautics, she authored the book Airplanes in Action (1938) and contributed articles to such periodicals as Flying, Aero Digest, and Popular Mechanics.

In July 1942, Hancock became a lieutenant in the newly created Women's Naval Reserve, then called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES). Rising quickly through the ranks, she was named assistant director of the WAVES in February 1946, and in July of that year, she became director, with the rank of captain. As the third and last director of the WAVES (succeeding Captain Mildred McAfee Horton and Captain Jean T. Palmer ), Hancock served during the period just before the Reserve passed out of existence in October 1948. Since the Navy planned to continue employing women personnel, Hancock had a leading role in the preparation and promotion of what finally emerged as the Women's Armed Services Integration Act (signed by President Harry Truman on June 12, 1948), under which the Navy was authorized to offer regular commissions to women. On October 15, 1948, she was one of the first eight women to receive a commission in the Navy, at which time she was accorded the permanent rank of lieutenant commander and appointed assistant to the Chief of Naval Personnel, with the temporary rank of captain. As adviser to the administration on women's affairs, Hancock was a key figure in activating a total force of 500 officers, 30 warrant officers, and 6,000 enlisted women in the Navy. Upon her retirement in 1953, she was succeeded by Captain Louise K. Wilde . Hancock published an autobiography, Lady in the Navy, in 1972.


Current Biography 1949. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1949.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

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