Patri O'Gan works with many researchers who are veterans.
But it was not until speaking with a female veteran about next fall's project, "100 Years of American Women in Uniform," that O'Gan, a project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, saw the impact that a program highlighting women's military achievements might have.
"She was mentioning how through the course of her military career, she never really knew the history of women in the military," said O'Gan, who is also the project's program manager. "Even as a woman veteran herself, she didn't know that women had started in uniform in World War I, or that there was a contract surgeon in the Civil War."
"100 Years of American Women in Uniform" is a collaboration between Marian Moser Jones, an assistant professor of family science at this university, and the Smithsonian's Division of Armed Forces History to "try to develop a program that brings the public to nurses and women who served in World War I, and also to really appreciate the history we have of women who've served in war zones," Moser Jones said.
Moser Jones created this program, which is primarily aimed at this university's students, and she applied for the project's grant with the support of the Smithsonian.
The project consists of four weekend-long discussions — two in fall 2016 and two in spring 2017 — and will involve comparing writings from military women who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and World War I. It will also include behind-the-scenes trips to look at artifacts and exhibits at the Smithsonian and to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, Moser Jones said. These discussions will most likely be held at this university with occasional field trips to the Smithsonian and the memorial.
Participants in the program will also interpret letters and diaries from female veterans from World War I and other moments throughout history, which will help Moser Jones with an additional research project.
The program is open to all veterans, and student veterans can participate in the program for independent study credit, Moser Jones said. The project was awarded a grant for about $83,000 in March from the National Endowment for the Humanities, according to the NEH. The money will go toward funding and publicizing the project as well as hiring program leaders, Moser Jones said.
Although the project focuses on women's experiences in war, capturing the perspectives of men and other groups is also essential, Moser Jones said.
"We want to have men involved in the discussion session, too, and people who are transgender and others," Moser Jones said. "This is an important time in our history when women are being integrated in all positions of the military, and we see this as an important discussion for all."
Planning for the program began about two years ago, O'Gan said, but only focused on the women in World War I at first.
"I think it's important to hear the voices of living veterans and how they reflect upon other people who served in war," Moser Jones said. "They're probably best equipped to understand what it's like when someone describes coming home from war or a war zone or even a funny experience during their deployment."
Ally Pakstis, a family science doctoral student, said she is looking forward to seeing the differences in reactions between herself and the veterans while reading the World War I diaries.
"I have [my reactions] being from the academic side of it, looking at what their experiences were and what that meant for them as women, but I've never served," said Pakstis, who is helping Moser Jones study the diaries. "It's going to be really interesting to see what it is that [the veterans] take from it."
Recognizing the service and bravery of military women throughout history is the ultimate goal of the program, said Margaret Vining, curator of the Armed Forces History division at the Smithsonian.
"Even today, given as much as they are doing, women are sort of relegated as not as important as heroic men," Vining said. "It's important work to us — getting money to train people and to put the word out that women are veterans and they're doing excellent work."