Donna Tobias

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Donna M. Tobias (May 22, 1952 – September 21, 2010) was an American diver. She was the United States Navy's first female deep sea diver.

Early life[edit]

Tobias was born on May 22, 1952, to parents Elmer and Marie Tobias in Los Angeles, California.[1][2] Her father was a former World War II bomber crewman and prisoner of war.[3] As she grew up in a poor household, Tobias took a job as a school bus driver and worked at the police department after high school.[2]


Upon enlisting in the Navy in March 1974, she inquired a Navy recruiter about the possibility of her becoming a diver. Her question was immediately shot down as “women can’t get in [to dive school],” and she chose to focus on shipfitting and hull technician.[4] While working as a shipfitter and hull technician for the Navy, she applied for a waiver to attend dive school.[5] She was required to get permission from The Pentagon before being assigned to training in Norfolk.[2]

At the age of 21, she applied to the Navy 2nd Class Diving School and was accepted two days before the program started in January 1975.[5] During training, she was required to dive while carrying more than 200 pounds of gear in dark, cold or turbulent water. Despite this, Tobias became the first woman to graduate from the Navy Deep Sea Diving School and went on to work with the Navy search and salvage operations.[6] However, she was still limited opportunities due to her gender. She was unable to join sea duty billets so she accepted a position as an instructor at the Submarine Escape Training Tank at Submarine Naval Base in New London.[3] Tobias also worked within the hyperbaric chamber to treat divers suffering embolisms and civilians suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning and gangrene.[1] Retired Master Diver Steven Lechner believed Tobias was the first woman to teach in the escape tank.[5] Her brother Gary was also enrolled in the army, and she was his instructor at the diving school on base.[3]

After eight years in the Navy, Tobias earned her bachelor's degree in education and a master's in psychology and taught special-education classes at New London High School.[3] In 2001, she was inducted into the Women Diver's Hall of Fame.[7] However, at the age of 58, Tobias committed suicide due to depression on September 21, 2010.[1]

In 2018, the Naval Submarine Base New London unveiled a dive locker named after Tobias.[8]


  1. ^ a b c "Donna M. Tobias". Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c Hamilton, Anne M, (December 19, 2010). "Donna Tobias Bravely Swam Against The Tide". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on April 15, 2018. Retrieved November 26, 2019.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  3. ^ a b c d Bergman, Julia (May 23, 2018). "Sub Base Names Dive Locker after Navy's First Female Deep-Sea Diver". Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  4. ^ "DONNA TOBIAS: THE FIRST FEMALE NAVY DIVER". March 1, 2016. Archived from the original on April 23, 2019. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Taylor, Frances Grandy (April 11, 2001). "Navy's First Female Diver Took the Plunge". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  6. ^ Viders, Hillary. "Year of the Military Diver". Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  7. ^ "Donna M. Tobias , 2001". November 26, 2019. Retrieved November 26, 2019.
  8. ^ Lotz, Tristan B. (May 31, 2018). "SUBASE unveils new dive locker name for first female diver". The Dolphin. Retrieved November 26, 2019.