The rating of Yeoman (YN) was first officially established in 1835, but in practical terms the rating is one of the oldest in the United States Navy. In an Act passed by Congress in 1794 authorizing the creation of a six-ship Navy to address the “depredations committed by the Algerine corsairs” (more commonly called Barbary Pirates), the petty officer position of “captain’s clerk” was established—and you would be hard-pressed to find a better two-word definition of a Yeoman’s duties than that.
Apparently, the need for clerking duties extended far beyond the captain’s chair. Beginning in 1797, a slew of Yeoman ratings was established, including Yeoman of the Gunroom (1797), Carpenter’s Yeoman and Gunner’s Yeoman (1798), Boatswain’s Yeoman (1799), Paymaster’s Yeoman (1870), Engineer’s Yeoman (1874), Equipment Yeoman (1884), and Communications Yeoman (1964).
The Navy changed the original Yeoman rating to Ship’s Yeoman in 1884, but it was merely a cosmetic nomenclature alteration as the rating’s duties remained in place. When the title reverted back to Yeoman in 1893, the Navy also designated the rating as one of just eight with the rate of Chief Petty Officer.
Today’s Yeomen are the Navy’s equivalent of clerks and secretaries, with job titles that reflect the nature of their tasks: Administrative Assistant, Administrative Supervisor, and Office Manager. They are responsible for preparation and routing of reports and correspondence, organization and maintenance of files, handling telephone calls, serving as office receptionists, carrying out the administrative aspects legal proceedings, and a myriad of other clerical and office duties. Though their duties seem mundane, anyone remotely familiar with large organizations is aware of just how great an impact the work of administrators and clerks can have on efficiency, productivity, and even morale.
The Yeoman rating was the first in the Navy to see a woman reach the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer. In 1959, Anna Der-Vartanian was promoted to the paygrade of E9, a rate that had been created along with E8 in June, 1958 as part of an Amendment to the Career Compensation Act of 1949. (Just when Der-Vartanian had reached the rate of E8 is not cleared up by the Wikipedia entry on this milestone even; it claims she became a Senior Chief Yeomen in 1957, a year before such a rate existed.)