About Our Oral History Program

What we don’t record, we lose. Oral history is a vital tool in recording and preserving the diverse experiences of US servicewomen in their own voices. The Women’s Memorial Foundation Oral History Program promotes research and understanding of all aspects of the history and culture of the women who have served in defense of our nation. The Oral History Program collection is actively utilized as a primary resource by researchers, authors, scholars, artists, filmmakers and the press. Veterans organizations and groups are pitching in to preserve military women’s stories through oral history projects.

You can read excerpts from some of transcripts in our collection in our Oral History Highlight and Oral History Archive, get tips on how to conduct an oral history, or check out our online inventory (coming soon) to view our ever-growing list of several hundreds of servicewomen and veterans who have donated their stories. Just as our online inventory changes and grows over time, so does our “Highlight.”

Learn How to Collect Oral Histories.

Every three months you will get a chance to view a new “Highlight,” featuring the story of one or more servicewomen or some of our oral history volunteers. We also have essential oral history resources right here at your fingertips, including consent forms, biographical data forms, a bibliography and useful links for oral history resources.

The Women’s Memorial Foundation officially launched the Oral History Program in Feb. 2000. The collection includes narratives from all branches and all eras from WWI to the present. Our holdings are as diverse as the women they represent, and include the accounts of women who served as overseas volunteers with the American Red Cross, the USO and the US Public Health Service. Oral histories are housed in the Foundation’s climate controlled, fire and impact resistant audio/visual safes made possible through a Save America’s Treasure’s grant.

“In those days, we didn’t have television, we just had radio, so we always congregated around the radio to listen to all the programs. I remember it was a Saturday night. … They announced that they were going to finally allow Negro women (at that time we’d gone from “Colored” to “Negroes”) they would allow Negro women to enlist in the Navy. So, I went down Monday morning after that and enlisted in Chicago. By that time, I was living with my father. When I told him, he completely disowned me. … He thought the Navy was a hotbed of prejudice, plus he didn’t want any of us to go to war, not my brothers or myself.”

Interview: Jessie Ada Richardson, interviewed by Kate Scott, 22 June 2005, tape and transcript deposited at the Women’s Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.

“I was born in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1902. I went to school, the 1st Ward School and Mynderse Academy, then to Cornell University [Class of 1924] on scholarship with a major in mathematics. I was invited to join the WAVES, but was turned down because of the physical exam. So, I turned to the Coast Guard and was examined by a different doctor and was found to be in perfect health. I was sent to New London to the Coast Guard Academy for about three weeks training in February of 1943. We were a small group of about thirty and we had each been chosen for particular positions. I was chosen for what turned out to be decoding. [Later,] we worked in Washington [D.C.] … in a girls’ school opposite the Vice President’s house. … We decoded messages from Spain, Portugal and Northern Africa.”

Interview: Dr. Caroline Avery Lester, interviewed by Agnes L. Wade, Indianapolis, IN, 22 October 1990, NSCD Collection, tape and transcript deposited at the Women’s Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.

“For some time, I had mixed feelings about the appropriateness of women serving in the regular Marine Corps. All Marines, officers and enlisted, were trained to fight, … an assignment legally prohibited to servicewomen. At that time, I was absolutely convinced of the need for a strong cadre of trained women reservists who could be quickly mobilized in the event of an emergency. Our Women Organized Reserve Platoons and our Volunteer Training Units gave the Marine Corps such a force. As Director of Women Reserve, I discovered that we could not get the active duty leaders we wanted for our reserve units without providing them the security of the regular service. I applied for a regular commission and was accepted, … a decision I never regretted in 22 years of active duty. … I followed Colonel Towle as Director of Women Marines and served in that position for six years. I finally went down to the Commandant and asked to be relieved. … I was blocking other women officers for promotion.”
Interview: Col Julia E. Hamblet, USMC, Ret., interviewed by Kate Scott, Williamsburg, VA, 13 February 2004, tape and transcript deposited at the Women’s Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.“

Let me see, I think there were 17 of us in that squadron at Lackland … and we were the first girls to be put in the US Air Force so there was quite a bit of publicity about it. They sent people from Washington to take pictures of us. There was one gentleman, directly out of Washington, and he came and talked to us and wanted to know how we were being treated.”
Interview: Corrine Gogue-Cook, interviewed by Mary Jo Binker, 27 March, 2001, tape and transcript deposited at the Women’s Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.

“I grew up in a Chicano activist family. Both of my parents were involved in the Chicano movement in California in the sixties. I was raised very much a part of that movement. My first words were “Chicano Power” and “Viva La Raza! … Years later, I went to Wichita State. … I had a million different directions I was looking at. And, a very good friend of mine had a father in the Marine Corps. He told her that he would buy her a new car if she went into the Marine Corps because he thought it would give her some direction. So, she asked me to join and I said, ‘Why not?’ I thought it would help me pay for college. My mom did not have the money and my dad started a new family. It was incumbent upon me. I thought this would be a way and give me a sense of direction. I did not know this at the time, but it also instilled leadership in me.”
Interview: Ingrid M. Duran, interviewed by Kate Scott, Washington, DC, 29 October 2003, tape and transcript deposited at the Women’s Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.

“You’d think after twenty-two years and the rank on my shoulder this uniform might command automatic respect. It doesn’t matter if you’re a private or general … if you are a woman, you must prove yourself first. A man is given the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. You’d think that would change as you go up in rank, but it only gets harder.”

Interview: CW3 Jacqueline Fitch, USA, interviewed by Kate Scott, Fayetteville, NC, 09 February 2005, tape and transcript deposited at the Women’s Memorial Foundation, Arlington, VA.

If you are a servicewoman or veteran and would like to tell your story, or you are a military women’s history enthusiast and can assist in the collection and/or transcription of interviews, contact Robbie Fee, Director of Oral History, at 703-533-1155 or 800-222-2294 or by e-mail at oralhistory@womensmemorial.org. Audio/video tape and transcript submissions must include a signed consent form. Please mail submissions to the Women’s Memorial Foundation, ATTN: Oral History Program, 200 N Glebe Rd, Suite 400, Arlington, VA 22203-3728. Access to the collection is by appointment only. The Foundation is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Disclaimer | IRB Policy | Consent Form (PDF) | Bio Data Form (PDF)