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Coast Guard Trailblazer - Eleanor Creed L’Ecuyer

Seal of the U.S. Coast Guard
Seal of the U.S. Coast Guard

By Denise Krepp 2019-11-10 15:15:39

In 1944, a very special lady joined the U.S. Coast Guard. Her name was Eleanor Creed L’Ecuyer. Captain L’Ecuyer convinced the Coast Guard to change two important policies enabling pregnant women to continue to serve and allowing for the co-location of active duty spouses. Captain L’Ecuyer is 97 years old and lives in Florida. Please join me in wishing her a Happy Veterans Day.

L’Ecuyer was born in Boston to a political family. In 1931, her mother and namesake Eleonor Creed L’Ecuyer ran for a seat on the Boston City Council. Women only gained the right to vote in 1920, so her candidacy was novel, but not unexpected as her five brothers had each served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The elder Mrs. L’Ecuyer told the press “municipal government is simply municipal housekeeping.” Mrs. L’Ecuyer didn’t win but in running she showed Captain L’Ecuyer that new opportunities were available to her and her contemporaries.

Captain L’Ecuyer joined the Coast Guard in 1944. She served as a pharmacist’s mate at Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles. Discharged in 1946, she used her G.I. bill benefits to go to law school. Her mother had done the same in the 1920s. The elder Mrs. L’Ecuyer found employment in her father’s law office.

Captain L’Ecuyer struggled to find a job. Few women attended law school in the late 1940s, and those that did faced closed doors upon graduation. Captain L’Ecuyer applied to re-join the Coast Guard in 1951. She was accepted and became the first female lawyer to join the Coast Guard, but Captain L’Ecuyer wasn’t allowed to serve as a lawyer.

For the next 20 years, Captain L’Ecuyer served in non-legal jobs. And it was during this time that she convinced the Coast Guard to stop discharging pregnant women. Coast Guard leaders thought that pregnant women couldn’t do their jobs - a laughable assumption in 2019 but a statement of fact in the 1950s and 1960s.

Captain L’Ecuyer also convinced the Coast Guard to allow spouses to co-locate, an opportunity we take for granted in 2019. But again, a novel idea. Coast Guard leaders simply assumed that female personnel would leave the service to follow their husband’s career.

Eleanor Creed L’Ecuyer retired in 1971 as a Captain, the highest rank women could become at that time. She continued to advocate for women. In 1973, Captain L’Ecuyer testified before the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries about legislation that would create one reserve program - one with both men and women. The legislation passed.

Captain L’Ecuyer joined the National Organization for Women.  In 1983, she was President of the South Hillsborough Chapter in Florida. She and her fellow members championed the Equal Rights Amendment Act.

Captain L’Ecuyer wasn’t the only L’Ecuyer to serve during World War II. Her sister Virginia served in the Navy from March 1945 to August 1946. She rejoined the service during the Korean War. Virginia Le’Ecuyer died in 2002, and her veteran status is prominently referenced in her obituary.

Like Captain L’Ecuyer, I served in the Coast Guard. I was a Coast Guard lawyer and no-one expressed concern about my ability as a woman to serve on active duty. They didn’t because of the path Captain L’Ecuyer blazed in the 1950s and 1960s. Thank you Captain L’Ecuyer for your service to our country.  
Happy Veterans Day.

K. Denise Rucker Krepp is a former Coast Guard officer and former Maritime Administration Chief Counsel.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.