Margaret Alvina Voss was born on August 1, 1922, in Davenport, Iowa, to Walter and Anna Marie (Specht) Voss. Voss was raised in Davenport, attending and graduating from Davenport High School. Voss worked in the office of St. Luke’s Hospital until 1943, when she decided to join the Women Accepted for Volunteer Service (W.A.V.E.S.) to help her country win the fight against the fascist Axis Powers in the Second World War. Voss was honored at a going-away party by her family, then was swiftly sent to Hunter College in New York to begin her training.
As a sailor of the Navy W.A.V.E.S., Voss was given opportunities and experiences that many women had never been offered. Since the United States entered the Second World War after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Navy was facing critical manpower shortages. Since men were the only ones who could serve in combat roles, the Navy sought to recruit women to fill the non-combat roles that the men left behind. In 1942, Congress authorized the creation of the W.A.V.E.S. as a women’s Naval Reserve force. Voss and the other women who enlisted in the W.A.V.E.S. thus gained access to all of the non-combat positions of the Navy: “The Navy assigned W.A.V.E.S. to such diverse fields as communication, ordnance, aircraft maintenance, metrology, intelligence, as well as clerical duties. To oversee the thousands [of] new enlistees, the Navy commissioned several dozen W.A.V.E.S. as officers.” Perhaps due to her experience at St. Luke’s Hospital before her enlistment, Voss specialized as a Pharmacist’s Mate.
As a Pharmacist’s Mate, Margaret Voss served as a vital caretaker of her fellow sailors. Pharmacist’s Mates were often tasked with the nitty-gritty of medical care, as full Navy physicians were not abundant enough to serve the whole fleet:
During both World Wars, Navy Pharmacists Mates served afloat and ashore at burgeoning medical facilities. Smaller ships often did not rate a physician, so most medical needs were addressed by a Pharmacist Mate instead. Submarines were a unique challenge since referral to a doctor was impossible while on patrol. Three recorded instances of appendectomies were performed by Pharmacists Mates aboard submarines… Pharmacist Mates also served alongside Marine combat units, where they were commonly referred to as ‘corpsmen’ because of their attachment to the Hospital Corps.
Taking this into account, it is likely that Voss served as an all-round caretaker of the sailors under her care, rather than just as a distributor of medicine. By 1944, Voss was stationed at the United States Naval Hospital in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Three months after the war’s end in December 1945, Voss was discharged with the rest of the Women’s Reserve.
This would not be the end of Voss’ Naval service. In the period between wars, the Navy was once more a men’s only organization. However, in 1948 Congress decided to make women’s participation in the Navy permanent: “The 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act made women’s presence in the Navy permanent, and the Navy set up a program where a group of female Sailors would serve as an experienced cadre in case of a national emergency.” Voss was one of the former W.A.V.E.S. to return to the Navy and serve in the Korean War after the passage of this bill, indicating that she had an affinity for military life.
After the Korean War, Voss returned home to her native Davenport. She worked as an orthodontic tech for 21 years, and then in a dental lab until her retirement. Voss was active in her local church and veteran organizations; St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church, American Legion Post 26, the Northwest Turners, the Rebekah Lodge 256, and the Patriarch Militant. Voss passed away on May 8th, 2014, leaving behind a niece and nephew, and several great-nieces and nephews. Her trailblazing service as a female sailor showcases the bravery of the women of the greatest generation in their willingness to serve their country in its time of greatest need.