VMI’s Library Hosts Traveling Exhibit – 'Military Mapping Maidens'
LEXINGTON, Va. Nov. 9, 2023 — Virginia Military Institute’s Preston Library is hosting a temporary, traveling exhibit through April 30, 2024 called, “Military Mapping Maidens.” The exhibit features the story of 224 young women who were recruited by the Army Map Service (AMS) in 1943 to research and draw maps by hand for the Allied war effort during World War II. The exhibit is narrated through the personal experiences of Bea Shaheen McPherson, a Kent State University alumna, who was encouraged to take a 60-credit hour course in cartography. Completion of the course, designed by pioneering female cartographer Edith Putnam Parker and taught at Kent State by Professor Edna Eisen, opened the door for McPherson to apply for civil service employment with the AMS.
Young women recruited to fill mapmaking roles for the AMS came from 22 colleges and universities where Parker’s cartography class was offered. Dubbed the Military Mapping Maidens, or 3M Girls, the mapmakers were housed first in temporary barracks-style housing in Arlington, Virginia, until civil service housing at McLean Gardens was completed. On workdays they commuted by trolley to the Ruth Building, a three-story brick structure covered in camouflage to conceal its top-secret purpose. There, 3M girls toiled up to 70 hours per week in mapping departments that included project drafting, foreign editing, and research.
Over the course of the war, the 3M girls assisted in creating more than 40,000 maps of all types, and made a profound impact on the map making industry and preserved the lives of soldiers and citizens across the globe through their dedication to accurate, hand-drawn mapping.