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Women in Military Service for America Memorial

Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

When people think of Arlington National Cemetery, most times they think of the service membersWomen in Military Service buried in the Cemetery, or at least I did. Arlington is full of "Americans Fallen" dating back to the Civil War, but, Arlington has more. As we walked through the grounds, I become more and more pleasantly surprised to find what I did not know about the treasures at Arlington.

One of the surprises, at least to me, was The Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA). This beautiful Memorial was established by the U.S. federal government to honor women who have served in the United States Armed Forces. The memorial is located at the western end of Memorial Avenue at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

In the early 1980s, women veterans began pressing for a memorial to women in the U.S. armedWomen in Military Service services. They won the formal support of the American Veterans Committee (AVC), a liberal veterans' group, in 1982. Representative Mary Rose Oakar, chair of the Subcommittee on Library and Memorials of the Committee on House Administration, introduced legislation (H.R. 4378) to establish a memorial. However, Secretary of the Interior Donald P. Hodel and the National Park Service both opposed the legislation, arguing that the existing Vietnam Women's Memorial and the planned United States Navy Memorial already incorporated and honored women. Despite this opposition, the legislation passed the House of Representatives in November 1985.

In March 1986, the Subcommittee on Public Lands of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee tabled identical legislation introduced by Senator Frank Murkowski. Committee chairWomen in Military Service Malcolm Wallop was concerned that too many memorials and monuments were being placed on the National Mall, and wanted a statutory scheme that contained approval criteria enacted first. But United States Air Force Brigadier General Wilma Vaught argued that a statue or monument was not enough; what was needed was a memorial with exhibits about the contributions of women in the armed forces. Subsequently, in late 1985 the AVC established the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation (WMSAMF) to raise funds and lobby Congress for a memorial.

WMSAMF began building support outside Congress for the memorial legislation. The foundation turned first to the larger veterans groups, and won the support of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It then sought approval from the Department of Defense. Although no federal law yet established criteria for the approval or sitting of memorials in Washington, D.C., Congress was considering the Commemorative Works Act of 1986 which would restrict military monuments in such a way as to bar a women's memorial. When DOD said it had no objections, this removed most grounds for opposing H.R. 4378. This support (and lack of opposition) persuaded the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission to approve the memorial. Since the National Park Service (a unit of the Department of the Interior) sat on the commission, and the voteWomen in Military Service was unanimous.

Passage of legislation in mid-October 1986 establishing the Korean War Veterans Memorial gave momentum to women's memorial bill. On October 16, the Senate adopted via unanimous consent agreement House Joint Resolution 36 ("Memorial to Honor Women Who Have Served In Or With The Armed Forces"), which incorporated the provisions of H.R. 4378. The House passed the H.J. Res. 36 by voice vote on October 17. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law on November 6, 1986. The bill required that all fund-raising for the memorial and groundbreaking for construction occur by November 1991.

The structure in which the memorial is housed was originally known as the Hemicycle, and built inWomen in Military Service 1932 to be a ceremonial entrance to the cemetery and to honor the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. It never served this purpose, and was in disrepair by 1986. Congress approved the WIMSA memorial in 1985, and the Hemicycle approved as the site for the memorial in 1988. An open design competition was won by New York architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi. Their original design was leaked to the public, and caused significant controversy. Two years of fund-raising and design revision followed. A revised preliminary design was approved in July 1992, and the final design in March 1995. Ground was broken for the memorial in June 1995, and the structure dedicated on October 18, 1997.

The memorial is notable for its successful mixing of Neoclassical and Modern architecture. TheWomen in Military Service memorial largely retained the Hemicycle, but added a widely praised skylight on the Hemicycle terrace that incorporates not only memorials to servicewomen but also acts as a transition to the memorial below. Construction of the memorial, however, generated a lawsuit when a nearby pylon (part of the gateway to the cemetery) was damaged. Raising funds to pay off the construction debt incurred by the memorial took several years.

8am - 5pm 7 days a week
Closed Christmas day

Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia