First woman to command the Navy’s oldest ship, USS Constitution

USS Constitution’s incoming commanding officer, Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell, poses for a photo onboard the ship. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Samoluk/U.S. Navy)
January 08, 2022

From serving as executive officer on the Norfolk-based guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg to command of the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel marks a step into history.

Cmdr. Billie Farrell is about to take command of USS Constitution — Old Ironsides — the first woman to do so in the ship’s 224 years.

Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell will take command of Old Ironsides this month (US Navy/TNS)

Launched in 1797, the Constitution saw action against pirates in the Barbary Wars and in the War of 1812, where it won its Old Ironsides title as astonished sailors watched British cannonballs bounce off its wooden hull.

USS Constitution defended American interests at sea for decades after that, retiring in 1855 after serving in anti-slaving patrols with the Africa squadron.

Old Ironsides captured or sank 33 enemy vessels, and was never defeated in battle.

Farrell called USS Constitution an “iconic warship that dates back to the roots of both our nation and our Navy,.”

She said she hopes the strengthen the warship’s legacy “by telling her story and connecting it to the rich heritage of the United States Navy and the warships serving in the fleet today.”

While Farrell will be Old Ironsides’ first female commanding officer, it was another woman officer, Lt. Cmdr. Claire V. Bloom, who as executive officer and led the warship’s historic 1997 sail, the first time it sailed under its own power since 1881.

Women now comprise more than a third of USS Constitution’s 80-strong ship’s company.


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