In 1955, shortly after the Women’s Army Corps Center was activated at Fort McClellan, Alabama, a small museum was created to display uniforms, photographs and other memorabilia reflecting women’s Army service. As this collection grew, and as women’s roles in the Army evolved, the need for a permanent facility to show the Women’s Army Corps history was recognized. To help achieve this goal, Women’s Army Corps (WAC) leaders established the WAC Foundation in 1969. The Foundation’s goals included planning for a permanent facility to house the WAC collection and raising the money necessary for the building.
Over the next few years the Foundation raised over $400,000 through direct mail campaigns, individual contributions both large and small, bake sales, and lots of hard work. The doors of the WAC Museum were opened in May 1977 in colorful dedication ceremonies. The building, located in the heart of the Women’s Army Corps Center, was donated to the U.S. Government, and became the official WAC Museum. For twenty years the WAC Foundation continued to support the Museum’s exhibits and collections, establishing a memorial program, and adding a new wing in 1986.
When the decision was made to close Fort McClellan in 1996 as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, the government made the commitment to move the museum to Fort Lee, VA. By this time the WAC branch had been eliminated (1978) and women were integrated throughout the Army. The new Museum’s mission was expanded to cover all Army Women. Fort Lee was a particularly appropriate choice for the Museum as it was the center for Army logistics and combat service support training. Fort Lee was also the first home of the WAC Training Center following the 1948 integration of the military women’s elements* into the regular military forces. To reflect the new mission, the WAC Foundation changed its name in 2000 to the U.S. Army Women’s Museum Foundation. The new U.S. Army Women’s Museum was dedicated amidst speeches, fanfare, and a crowd of about one thousand active duty Soldiers, women veterans and well wishers on May 11, 2001.
Fast-forward to 2005 — the WAC Foundation of 1969 has evolved into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation. Through all the changes — the Museum location, the names of the Foundation, the broadening of the focus on all Army Women, the restructuring of the Foundation itself—the mission has stayed the same: to support the Museum and to promote the achievements and service of Army Women—past, present and future.
The Foundation was built by women who stepped up to ensure the organization’s success and the success of the Museum. The original idea for the Foundation came from COL Maxine B. Michl, then the commander of the WAC Center, who became the first Foundation president. In 1973 COL Bettie J. Morden, USA-Retired, was elected Foundation President, a position she held until her resignation for health reasons shortly after the Museum’s dedication in 2001. COL Morden led the Foundation through the challenges of fundraising for the WAC Museum, the Museum addition, base closure, packing and storing of artifacts and collections, and the move and reinstallation in the new facility. She faced many of the challenges and changes, growing a group of supporters who gave their heart, souls and financial support to the Museum and Foundation. While the significant leaders can’t all be named a few others include General Elizabeth Hoisington, Colonels Eleanore Sullivan, Nancy Hardy, and Betty Branch, Sergeants Major Mary Lee, Yzetta Nelson, Helen Allen, and Betty Adams.
Today, the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation focuses efforts on professionalizing its operations, and on building the infrastructure and ongoing leadership to enable the expansion of the Museum and Foundation programs. Although the U.S. Army supports three Department of the Army Civilian spaces and provides operations and maintenance funding, the Museum depends on the Foundation to support new displays, conservation supplies, exhibit support equipment, administrative enhancements, expanding memorial gardens, and utilizing state of the art technology for archiving and web capabilities. Enter the Museum today and a sobering video exhibit tells the story of over 50 women who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan in the service of our country.
As part of its key goals, the Foundation has supported the expansion of the Museum both physically and virtually to record and preserve the story of Army Women. Space has been added for exhibits, conservation, education, and archives. To compliment the Museum programs, the Foundation sponsored a unique research project conducted by George Mason University on the socio-economic impact that the Army has had on the lives of the women who have served. This study has been well received. The Foundation preserves history but also works to shape the future. To help Army women achieve their academic and career goals, the Foundation also provides scholarships to women who have served their country honorably. And through its annual Summit, the Foundation provides opportunities for Army women to network and to hear from experts in defense policy, veteran benefits and civilian workforce opportunities. And there is much more to be done!
The U.S. Army Women’s Foundation is the genesis of the old and the new, tradition and modernization, but what stays the same is the clarity of vision and mission of the organization. The next decade will offer a widening view of the Woman Army Soldier, and along with that, the long history of women who have served and the values they share.
*The 1948 Armed Forces Integration act regularized women as members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Marine Corps women were included under the Navy. During World War II women were accepted into the reserve components as a temporary wartime expedient to serve “for the duration plus six months.”