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After 224 Years of Service, USS Constitution Gets First Female CO

USS Constitution
USS Constitution under way, Oct. 2021 (USN)

Published Jan 5, 2022 2:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

The oldest commissioned warship in the world is set to get her first female commanding officer. Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell will take command of USS Constitution in a change-of-command ceremony scheduled for January 21, relieving 76th commanding officer Cmdr. John Benda.

As the 77th commanding officer of USS Constitution, Farrell will become the first woman to serve as captain in the ship’s 224-year history, dating back to 1797. She previously served as the executive officer aboard the cruiser USS Vicksburg, and she is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Arkansas.

“I am honored to have the privilege to soon command this iconic warship,” said Farrell. “I hope to strengthen the legacy of USS Constitution through preservation, promotion and protection by telling her story and connecting it to the rich heritage of the United States Navy and the warships serving in the fleet today.”

As USS Constitution’s crew welcomes Farrell, they will say farewell to the ship’s current commanding officer.

"I know the crew is in great hands with Commander Farrell,” said Benda. “This historic barrier is long overdue to be broken. I cannot think of a better candidate to serve as USS Constitution’s first female commanding officer. I look forward to watching what she and the crew accomplish in the next few years.”

Constitution is the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat, and she played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. In service, she actively defended sea lanes from 1797 to 1855. Constitution was undefeated in battle and destroyed or captured 33 opponents.

Today, the active-duty sailors stationed aboard Constitution provide free tours and offer public visits to more than 600,000 people a year as they support the ship's mission of promoting the Navy's history and maritime heritage

USS Constitution partners with the USS Constitution Museum to promote maritime heritage, naval service and the legacy of Old Ironsides.

“This is an exciting time in Boston with a female mayor and a female captain for Old Ironsides. Women have been represented in Constitution's crew since I joined the museum staff in 1986, and the first female officer came aboard in 1996," said USS Constitution Museum President and CEO Anne Grimes Rand. 

The first female commissioned officer to serve aboard USS Constitution was Lt. Cmdr. Claire V. Bloom, who served as an executive officer and led the historic 1997 sail, the first time Old Ironsides sailed under her own power since 1881. The first female crew member was Rosemarie Lanam, an enlisted sailor, who joined USS Constitution’s crew in 1986. Today women comprise more than one third of the 80-person crew.