"I am more interested in the challenge of the job itself, than I am in being a 'first'." - CMDR Pamela Chelgren speaking in 1972
In 1972, shortly after the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps formed, its first director, Rear Admiral Harley Nygren, was faced with a dilemma. Was it time to admit women to NOAA’s uniformed service? His decision: yes.
“There was no reason not to, so I just decided to let women join the NOAA Corps,” Nygren said, “We did not have ‘men jobs’ and ‘women’ jobs. Anything women wanted to try they could, and more power to them.”
Rear Admiral Nancy Hann, Director of the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations and NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, on Pamela Chelgren, the first female officer in the NOAA Corps:
The first woman to take on this challenge was Pamela Chelgren. When she made an appointment with the NOAA Corps recruiters visiting the University of California's Berkeley campus, she did not know that there were no women in the NOAA Corps yet. But she was one of 12 women engineering majors among thousands at Berkeley and was not fazed.
Chelgren became part of the 41st NOAA Officer Training Class. She was appointed on June 21, 1972 and was sworn in by Secretary of Commerce Peter G. Peterson on July 6, 1972. By October 1977, Chelgren was a lieutenant and became operations officer aboard the hydrographic survey ship NOAAS Peirce. At the time, this was the highest shipboard posting ever held by a woman in any of the uniformed services of the United States. Chelgren retired at the rank of commander in 1995.
Chelgren earned her place in history as the first woman to join the NOAA Corps, and she led the way for many more. Within three years of her commission, 18 more female officers had followed her lead. As of today, women make up nearly 30% of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.