Charlotte L. Winters, 109; U.S.’ last female veteran of WWI

Baltimore Sun

Charlotte L. Winters, the nation’s oldest female military veteran, died in her sleep Tuesday at a care facility in Boonsboro, Md. She was 109.

“She is the last female World War I veteran,” said Romana E. Joyce, a spokeswoman for the American Legion.

With Winters’ death, there are only four surviving U.S. veterans from the “war to end all wars,” according to Scripps Howard News Service, which tracks living veterans of that war. Since the beginning of the year, six -- including Winters -- have died.


In 1916, in the midst of the war, Winters called on Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels in Washington, D.C., and asked why women weren’t allowed to enlist.

“She convinced him that women could be in the Navy, and her visit is corroborated in his journals,” said her niece, Kelly N. Auber. “While he did not admit that she directly influenced him, he did acknowledge that they had met.”

After meeting with top Navy brass, Daniels discovered there were no regulations prohibiting women from serving.

“A year went by before she and her sister, Sophie Bean, joined the Navy,” Auber said. They were designated yeoman 3rd class (F), the (F) being for female.

“The only restrictions were they couldn’t be sent overseas or into battle,” Auber said. “Over 10,000 women joined [the Navy] by 1918.”

Winters was assigned to the Washington Navy Gun Factory, also known as the Washington Navy Yard, where she worked as a typist for the duration of the war.


Within months after the end of the war, all of the enlisted women had been released from active duty. Winters, discharged in 1919 with the rank of yeoman 2nd class (F), returned to her former job as a civilian employee at the Washington Navy Yard, where she continued working as a typist through World War II and the Korean War. She retired in 1953.

Winters joined the American Legion in 1919 -- the year it was founded -- and was a member for the next 88 years.

“Women could join the American Legion and vote for their post officers before women were given the right to vote nationally in 1920,” Joyce said.

Winters, who held numerous offices in the post, was chairwoman of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the U.S. Constitution celebration. She coordinated the activities of all American Legion chapters for the event that was held in Washington.

She also was a co-founder in 1926 of the National Yeoman (F) Assn. and served as its commander in 1940 and 1941. She was a frequent contributor to The Notebook, the organization’s publication.

She was married in 1949 to John Russell Winters, a Navy Yard machinist.

They shared an interest in Revolutionary War and Civil War history and frequently visited battlefields, where they documented campaign strategy and the lives of the soldiers who had fought in those places. He died in 1984.


Winters drove until she was 95. She gave up her home in 1990 to move to the assisted-living community.

She was born Charlotte L. Barry on Nov. 10, 1897, in Washington, the daughter of a haberdasher. She was a 1915 graduate of Washington Business High School.

Auber ascribed her aunt’s longevity to “good genes” and the fact that she didn’t smoke and liked to walk and garden.

“She also enjoyed one martini -- and only one -- every afternoon,” Auber said.

Winters, who had no children, is survived by several nieces and nephews.