Women in the Military Services for America Memorial

Posted: November 24, 2015 by saacua in Inside the Archives, Miscellaneous Research
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Guest Post by: Marielle Gage

Arlington, Vscr_9710212dA boasts some of the most famous military memorials in the United States. The National
Cemetery, founded on the former property of Robert E. Lee, Confederate general, is the final resting place of many an American soldier, and holds both John F. Kennedy’s grave and the tomb of the Unknown Solider, perhaps the most poignant symbol of the costs of modern war. But there is another gem, not the site of yearly rituals. Right near the entrance is a small memorial dedicated to some of the most overlooked characters in American military history. To quote 1776’s Abigail Adam, “don’t forget about the women!”

The Women in the Military Services for America Memorial’s history reflects some of the realities of military women’s history. The current site of the Memorial was built in 1932 as the “Hemicycle” to be the ceremonial entrance into Arlington, but never served that function, and fell into disrepair by 1986[1]. In 1985, Congress approved the creation of a women’s military memorial, and approved the Hemicycle as the site in 1988. Reconstruction began in 1995 after several years of design and redesign. Controversy followed the first plan, as politicians feared several features would diminish the appeal of other monuments, such as disrupting the view of the Lincoln Memorial from Arlington House and the Kennedy gravesite. A later plan which eliminated the most contentious feature, glass prisms, was accepted. The architecture of the memorial has been widely praised, but the lack of “statues, symbols, or inscriptions that make the memorial identifiable as one for military women” has bothered some visitors.[2]

womens memorial1            Unfortunately, the Memorial has not become a major visitor site in Arlington. Arlington Cemetery’s Wikipedia page has only one line on the Women in Military Service memorial, buried amidst descriptions of several other memorials, all of which receive at least a little more attention in the article.[3] But the limited visibility and knowledge of the Memorial does not leave it without value. This little gem has a secret weapon: its museum and archives. At the “heart” of the memorial is the Register, a computerized database of military women. Users can access “photographs, military histories, and individual stories of registrants”[4] to recreate for themselves the history of women who have served our country from the American Revolution to the present. Furthermore, the Memorial has an Office of History and Collections that curates six separate collections, available to use upon appointment: Institutional Records, Photographs, Documents, Artifacts, Textiles, and Audiovisual Records.[5] The Office of History and Collections also sponsors regular special and online exhibits, in addition to the upkeep of the permanent exhibits on site.[6] Their current online exhibit is A New Generation of Warriors, which “honor[s] the servicewomen of Enduring and Iraqi Freedom”.[7] It can be accessed here: http://www.womensmemorial.org/H&C/Exhibits/EllisOnlineExhibit2.html  exhibitcases

The Women in the Military Services for America cannot help but be an activist archive. Archival Activism is “the conjunction of [the] endeavors”[8] of preserving the past and influencing change in the future. By focusing on a group largely marginalized in the popular memory and historical record of the American military services, The Office of History and Collections at the memorial provides an essential service to those hoping to redirect attention towards the heroines of our nation’s history. Despite being a small, oft-unnoticed site in Arlington, the Women in the Military Services for America Memorial dreams big, and deserves our admiration.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Military_Service_for_America_Memorial

[2] Kilian, Michael. “Women in Uniform Get Their Due.” Chicago Tribune. October 17, 1997

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arlington_National_Cemetery#Other_memorials

[4] http://www.womensmemorial.org/About/history.html

[5] http://www.womensmemorial.org/H&C/Collections/collections.html

[6] http://www.womensmemorial.org/H&C/Exhibits/exhibits.html

[7] http://www.womensmemorial.org/H&C/Exhibits/exhibitshl.html

[8] https://archivalactivism.wordpress.com/


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