First Woman to Serve as Commanding Officer of USS Constitution in Ship’s 224-Year History

USS Constitution’s first female commanding officer will take command of Old Ironsides during a change-of-command ceremony, scheduled for Friday, Jan. 21, at noon.

Constitution’s current and 76th commanding officer, Cmdr. John Benda, will be relieved by Cmdr. Billie J. Farrell.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on USS Constitution’s Facebook page.

USS Constitution will be closed during the ceremony but will reopen to public visitation from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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.

“I am honored to have the privilege to soon command this iconic warship that dates back to the roots of both our nation and our Navy and to have been afforded the amazing opportunity to serve as USS Constitution’s first female commanding officer in her 224 years,” 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.”

Farrell previously served as the executive officer aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69).

She is a native of Paducah, Ky. and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Arkansas.

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.”

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

“The USS Constitution Museum is honored to welcome Commander Billie J. Farrell, 77th Commanding Officer of USS Constitution,” said USS Constitution Museum President and CEO Anne Grimes Rand. “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.”

The first female commissioned officer to serve aboard USS Constitution was Lt. Cmdr. Claire V. Bloom, who served as 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.

USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat and played a crucial role in the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812, actively defending sea lanes from 1797 to 1855.

The active-duty Sailors stationed aboard USS Constitution provide free tours and offer public visitation as they support the ship’s mission of promoting the Navy’s history and maritime heritage and raising awareness of the importance of a sustained naval presence.

USS Constitution was undefeated in battle and destroyed or captured 33 opponents.

 The ship earned the nickname of Old Ironsides during the war of 1812 when British cannonballs were seen bouncing off the ship’s wooden hull.

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