VMI Hosts Military Women’s Memorial Exhibition

Chief Warrant Officer Phyllis J. Wilson, president of the Military Women’s Memorial, thanks everyone for attending the opening of the “Color of Freedom” exhibit in Preston Library April 15.—VMI Photo by Kelly Nye

Chief Warrant Officer Phyllis J. Wilson, president of the Military Women’s Memorial, thanks everyone for attending the opening of the “Color of Freedom” exhibit in Preston Library April 15.—VMI Photo by Kelly Nye

LEXINGTON, Va., April 18, 2022—A special opening reception was held Friday, April 15 at Virginia Military Institute for the “Color of Freedom: Honoring the Diversity of America’s Servicewomen” exhibit, which will be on display from April 15 to May 17 in the Preston Library main lobby.

The 40-foot-long traveling exhibition was created by the Military Women’s Memorial with the goal of shedding light on the sacrifices and contributions of a selection of minority women who served in or alongside the U.S. Military throughout history.

A few of the many women memorialized, from the Revolutionary War to the present in the exhibit, are: Maj. Charity Adams Earley, the first Black commissioned officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later the Women’s Army Corps; Charlotte Anderson Monture, of the Six Nations Grand River Reserve in Canada, served as one of the few American Indian Army nurses during World War I; four Lakota Sioux Catholic sisters of the Congregation of American Sisters from Fort Pierre, South Dakota, who served as nurses with the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War in 1898; and Tyonajanegen (“Two Kettles Together”) of the Oneida tribe, fought in the Battle of Oriskany, one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War.

The interactive display includes QR codes that enable viewers to access a selection of oral history recordings through the use of their smart phones. Much of the oral history recordings are in the voice of the women on display, providing viewers with an especially personal rendition of the service stories.

According to Col. Keith E. Gibson ’77, VMI museum system director, plans for the opening of the exhibit began over a year ago. “We’ve been looking forward to providing our community the opportunity to explore the legacy of diversity in our armed forces as told by this exhibit. The time spent with these panels by our cadets and visitors to the post, will become its own moment of gratitude, a silent tribute for those who pause here and read about these women, and their service and sacrifice,” said Gibson.

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, VMI superintendent, noted the exhibit highlights women who endured and overcame discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces, which allowed future women of color to thrive. “It was not until 1948, with the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, that women could even consider making the military a career. Since that time, countless women have devoted their lives to their country following decades-long career paths. For the past 20 years, many VMI trained women have joined those ranks as well,” stated Wins.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, this year’s Leader-in-Residence at VMI, told those at the reception, “When I first entered the military, 38 years ago, I planned to only serve for four years, and not a day longer, but something happened, and I fell in love with this vocation called the U.S. Army, and I’ve been the better for it. I truly stand on the shoulders of giants, and those giants are depicted in the faces and stories of the women you see behind me. I am thankful that VMI has this exhibit, so cadets, parents and visitors can come here and learn the stories of these women who came before us.”

Retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Phyllis J. Wilson is president of the Military Women’s Memorial, a nonprofit organization. It is the only historical repository documenting all military women’s service. It is located at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and features an education center, interactive exhibitions, a world-class collection of military women’s stories, and engaging programs and events for all generations. Wilson, along with her team of four women, brought the display to VMI. “These women were trailblazers, and their service and sacrifice allowed more opportunities for those who followed. When I entered the Army, women were just being allowed into jump school [parachutist training]. Now, the sky is the limit for women,” stated Wilson.

The exhibit at VMI is free and open to the public during regular Preston Library hours. Information about Preston Library can be found at www.vmi.edu/academics/library.

Marianne Hause
VMI Photos by Kelly Nye
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