Our History

Women Created Memorial Day

Monday, May 25, 2009

The forgotten role that women played in the creation of Memorial Day is just one example of how women's history has been overlooked. Joan Wages says we need a permanent reminder of the experiences of American women.



Joan Wages

(WOMENSENEWS)--Much of women's history is missing from our public story. One more example; women were almost entirely responsible for the recognition of Memorial Day. Its origin was the Civil War and until recently, the day focused on the terrible War between the States that, at tremendous human cost, ended legalized racial slavery in the United States.

Just weeks after the Civil War ended in April 1865, Ellen Call Long organized a women's memorial society to reconcile embittered enemies. Usually named some variant of "women's relief society," groups sprang up in both the North and South that not only memorialized the dead, but also cared for the war's disabled and its widows and orphans.

Turning Gore Into Reflection

On June 22, 1865, women adopted these profound, forgiving and future-oriented resolutions. The document read in part:

"The object of this meeting is to initiate a Memorial Association . . . that shall perpetuate in an honorable manner the memory of the gallant dead . . .

In no invidious spirit do we come; the political storm that shook our country to its foundation, we hope, is passed . . . We are done with the [Confederate] cause . . . and are willing to do all that women can do to stem the tide of bitterness . . . and angry feelings . . . We will practice and teach forbearance and patience, which must finally bring peace and justice . . . "

Our society has forgotten that women cleaned up the mess. They took the gruesome reality of approximately a half-million dead men, and by promoting cemeteries, led the way in turning blood and gore into something that encouraged serenity and reflection.

In our nation's capital filled with museums, there is not one to remind us of the totality of the experience of American women. The National Women's History Museum is urging Congress to pass legislation that will provide a permanent home for women's history in our nation's capital.

Joan Wages is the president of the National Women's History Museum, which was founded in 1996 in Washington, D.C.

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