Baltimore’s Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal (1893–1987) earned a commercial radio license, first class, in September 1917 and was assigned to the SS Howard in December 1917 (as “junior operator,” according to Marconi Service News). The Howard, a ship of the Merchants’ and Miners’ Transportation Co., was one of those requisitioned by the US government. The Howard‘s routes were listed as Baltimore to Norfolk and Savannah to Jacksonville. According to this account, DuVal’s shifts were 1:30–8 am and 1–6 pm.
Although various accounts credit DuVal as the first US female wireless operator in sea service, the May 1918 Marconi Service News (14) lists Mrs. R. H. Tucker of the Indianapolis, Mabel Kelso of the Mariposa, Mrs. Sickles [probably Edith Coombes] of the Roanoke, and Graynella Packer of the Mohawk as her predecessors.
In February 1918, DuVal applied to serve on a US Navy ship and was told by Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels that he would take the request “under advisement” (it never occurred, although Abby P. Morrison had previously achieved the rank of first-class electrician as a wireless operator in the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation). Although US ships were under threat by German U-boats during DuVal’s service from December 1917 to December 1918, with a number attacked and even sunk not far from the US coast, and she asserted that “my patriotism can best be demonstrated . . . aboard a United States naval vessel,” she is described rather cloyingly in this account in the 20 Feb 1918 Washington Times as “young and pretty and more than one naval officer who saw her at the Navy Department when she presented her petition to Secretary Daniels [were] hoping for her appointment to his ship” (1). She praised the Navy’s daily wireless news service, “The Navy Press,” which was sent to all ships and coast radio stations:
It keeps us from feeling that we are “out of it” . . . When we can have the daily reports of what Washington officials are doing and what is happening on the French frontier it seems as though we were closer to things that are happening in the world. (Cordova [AK] Daily Times, 12 June 1918: 3)
DuVal was a great-granddaughter of Supreme Court Justice Gabriel Duvall. Her father, Edmund Brice DuVal, was a captain in the Maryland National Guard. In 1922, she married Herman Hobelman, who had served in World War I as a private in the AEF’s 303rd Tank Center, according to Maryland in the World War. He is listed in the 1930 and 1940 censuses as involved in real estate. The 1930 census lists DuVal as a saleslady and the 1940 census as a seamstress.
• “Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal, Ship Wireless Operator,” OneTubeRadio.com
• Elisabeth Lansdale DuVal Hobelman Collection, Maryland Historical Society