Celebrating 50 Plus Years of Service
For the past 50 plus years, the WAC Foundation of 1969 has evolved into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation we know today. 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 recognize and honor the achievements and service of Army Women—past, present, and future.
The Foundation. 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, the 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.
The Foundation was built by women who stepped up to ensure the history of the Women’s Army Corps and women’s service in the Army would be told. The Foundation’s original idea came from COL Maxine B. Michl, then the WAC Center commander, who became the first Foundation president in 1969. She was followed by COL Bettie J. Morden, USA, Retired, who in 1973, was elected Foundation President a position she held for over 28 years, until her resignation due to health reasons 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 hearts, souls, and financial support to the Foundation and the museum. Other significant leaders in the quest to build the Foundation include BG Elizabeth Hoisington, Colonels Eleanore Sullivan, Nancy Hardy, Betty Branch, Sergeants Major Mary Lee, Yzetta Nelson, Helen Allen, and Betty Adams.
The Museum. 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, Fort McClellan, 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 committed to moving the museum to Fort Lee, VA. Fort Lee was a particularly appropriate choice for the women’s museum as it was the first home of the WAC Training Center following the 1948 integration of the military women’s elements* into the regular armed forces. By this time, the WACs branch had been disbanded (1978), women were integrated throughout the Army, and the museum’s mission was expanded to cover all Army Women.
The new U.S. Army Women’s Museum was dedicated on May 11, 2001. It was during this time, the WAC Foundation changed its name to the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation. To complement the museum programs, the Foundation sponsored a unique research project conducted by George Mason University on the socio-economic impact the Army has had on the lives of the women who have served.
In 2010, as part of its key goals, the Foundation supported the expansion of the museum on the west side with an enhanced entrance and an enlarged foyer with added special exhibit space to record and preserve Army Women’s story. In November 2018, the Foundation helped support the museum as it underwent a renovation of its galleries, exhibit halls, and memorial garden.
Scholarships. In 2008, the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation launched its Legacy Scholarship program for past or present women soldiers to recognize the importance of education and assist recipients in achieving their educational goals. The Army Women’s Foundation Legacy Scholarship program empowers and supports education for Army women and their children through tuition assistance for technical certificate programs, community college coursework, and undergraduate and graduate degrees. Over the past 13 years, the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation has awarded over $500,000 to over 230 recipients through our Legacy Scholarship program. This year we will be presenting a full-ride undergraduate and graduate-level scholarships in partnership with Trident University International.
Hall of Fame. The U.S. Army Women’s Foundation honors the service and sacrifices through our Hall of Fame Induction and Special Recognition Award Program. Women who have served in the Army or the Armed Forces and have contributed extraordinary service are eligible for induction into the US Army Women’s Hall of Fame. Most inductees have served in the US Army, but the list of honorees also includes Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, USAF, Retired. Our Special Recognition Award is presented to any individual who has made exceptional contributions to women in the Army or the Armed Forces. Our Hall of Fame Awards were first presented in 2009 and have been presented each year since then.
Today. Fast-forward to 2021 —the Foundation honors, empowers, and connects Army women through a number of programs. To honor Army women, the Foundation remembers and recognizes women through our Hall of Fame Recognition program. To empower and help Army women achieve their academic and career goals, the Foundation provides scholarships to women who are serving or have served in the Army. Through the Foundation’s leadership development forums, social media, and webinars, the Foundation offers Army women opportunities to network, learn, and hear from experts in defense policy, veteran benefits, and the civilian workforce.
The U.S. Army Women’s Foundation provides a platform to recognize the dedication, strength, commitment of women’s service, along with the diversity and inclusiveness women have brought and continue to bring to the Army.
The U.S. Army Women’s Foundation is the genesis of the old and the new, tradition and modernization, yet what stays the same is the clarity of our vision and mission. No doubt, the next fifty years will offer a widening view of the Army Soldier, and along with that, the continuation of the extraordinary history of women who have served the Nation.
*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 temporary wartime expedient to serve “for the duration plus six months.”