February 17, 2021 • Helen Macqueen
Promoting access to and preserving history are key components of what the archiving team does at History Factory. After all, we can best learn the lessons that history offers when it has been captured and made available. Our team works with many different kinds of clients, many of them Fortune 500 companies and other corporate entities. Over the past year and a half, we have worked with the Military Women’s Memorial Foundation to enhance access to its collection.
In 1985, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation formed in response to a lack of representation of servicewomen in national tributes. The foundation’s mission: to create a memorial honoring woman who had served in the United States armed forces.
One of the foundation’s early goals was to register servicewomen into a database, where their stories would be saved for generations to come. As these stories were recorded, memorabilia started to arrive to accompany them, giving rise to the Military Women’s Memorial collection in 1994.
The Military Women’s Memorial was opened on October 18, 1997, after 12 years of fundraising, designing and building. It is located at Arlington National Cemetery, curating and exhibiting for visitors inspiring stories of women’s valor and sacrifice
The collection contains examples of the service of thousands of women from across the armed forces, demonstrating how women’s service is crucial in defending our country. Materials represent 129 different service areas and span from the late 1800s to the present. They include photographs, documents, objects, textiles and audiovisual materials.
Making this collection unique is the fact that it strives to encompass all branches of the military and military support organizations from every era. It includes Army Nurse Corps capes from WWII and fatigues from women who served in Operation Desert Shield. It has service documents and photographs that show women serving overseas. The collection also houses service medals, patches and even Barbie dolls modeled after servicewomen.
In all, it’s a large amount of material amassed from many places in a relatively short amount of time. The collection’s exponential growth over the years has presented a challenge for the foundation’s small staff. The foundation approached History Factory for assistance in generating location information for the materials, gaining broader understanding of the scope of the collection, and getting guidance on next steps for the collection, including processing, digitization, and potential deaccession of some items.
History Factory’s team began a complete inventory of the collection in October 2019. Working in various locations, we used existing catalog records and donation paperwork to paint a clear picture of the contents of the collection and created a detailed plan for processing and removing items from the collection. For housing the large collection, the foundation relocated its materials to History Factory’s climate-controlled, state-of-the-art Archives Lab in Chantilly, Virginia. This move allows for increased access to the collection, allowing the foundation to use the heritage that it has worked so hard to maintain.
The Military Women’s Memorial collection is an asset to the historical community. It provides unique insight into the lives of servicewomen and their contributions to the safety and security of the United States. And the memorial foundation’s work, in tandem with History Factory, will ensure that the collection will serve the community for years to come.
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