I first heard of the Women Veteran’s Historical Project in 2000, when I was looking for a way to kill someone in the Rare Book Room of UNCG’s Jackson Library.
I was writing the first chapter of a mystery story serialized in the News & Record and wished to set my fictional murder there. One of the librarians gleefully suggested the fatal weapon be the actual headhunter’s machete that a World War 2 Flight Nurse had donated to the university when it was still the Woman's College, and which had just been added to the recently-created historical archive.
I was curious but was only an occasional journalist then, so I forgot about it for 22 years. But last week, UNC Greensboro University Libraries announced that Beth Ann Koelsch, curator of the Women Veterans Historical Project, would discuss the history of African-American women in the United States military and the American Red Cross in a live Zoom broadcast that would then be posted to YouTube.
Remembering my long-ago intention to learn more about the project, I reached out to Koelsch and asked her to tell YES! Weekly about how it started. She told me that the Women Veteran’s Historical Project was created in 1998, two years before I was shown that wicked-looking weapon that a Borneo guerilla fighter resisting the Imperial Japanese Army had given to a United Stated Army Flight Nurse.
“It was founded by Betty H. Carter,” wrote Koelsch via email. The North Carolina-born Carter grew up in Rowan County and earned degrees from Meredith College and Duke University.
“She began working the UNCG Library's Special Collections and University Archives Department in 1974 and retired in 2010 as University Archivist. While working with women from the class of 1950 on planning for their class reunion, she learned that some of their classmates were WWII veterans. Betty was unaware that American women had served in the war and after some investigating, realized that there were no research archives dedicated to preserving the history of women who served in the military.”
The project was founded to remedy this, and after her retirement, was named the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project in her honor. After Carter passed away in September 2021. University Archivist Erin Lawrimore wrote this about her in UNCG News:
“Betty was a strong advocate for our university’s history, and she worked diligently to preserve and share the story of UNCG’s past. Her work to establish the Women Veterans Historical Project also ensured that the often-hidden stories of women in the military service would be recorded. Her work laid the foundation for our research collections that are highly-used today and often-hidden will be available long into the future.”
Koelsch, who became the project’s curator in 2008, said that, from the start, Carter included the oral histories of Black women veterans, and that inclusion continues to this day.
“The first collection that focused on a Black women’s experience in the military was that of Inez Stroud, whose niece donated her late aunt's materials in 1998.”
Born in Wilmington, Inez Naomi Stroud (1909-1994) served in the United States Women's Army Corps and then the United States Army from 1943 to 1969. A graduate of the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, she joined the WAC in 1943. She served at various installations in the United States and Europe, including three tours in Germany, and was the organist for post chapels and a saxophonist in the WAC band. After her discharge in 1969, she continued her education at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.
Koelsch said that, despite this early acquisition, the records of more Black servicewomen were initially hard to come by, due to the project’s original focus on the Women’s College that would become UNCG, and which would not admit its first two Black students, JoAnne Smart and Bettye Tillman, until the Fall of 1958, four years after Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
“At first, the collecting focused on WWII veterans who were Women's College (now UNCG) alumnae. Since Women's College was a segregated institution at the time, these were white women. However, the WVHP quickly expanded its collecting focus and actively worked to find Black women veterans. This was a challenge because up until 1948, the U.S. military was segregated and consequently, there were fewer Black women who served during WWII. As the number of Black women in the services has increased, and as the reputation of the WVHP has spread, we have been able to add many more materials and oral history interviews with women of color to the collections.”
Koelsch told me about two of the women she would be discussing in her online lecture.
One is the Raleigh-born Millie Dunn Veasey (1918-2018), who in 1942 enlisted in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. After completing overseas training in Georgia, Veasey was selected for the all-African American 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion for overseas duty. She served as company clerk in Birmingham, England, before being transferred to Rouen, France, in summer 1945 to work as a supply clerk. She was discharged with a final rank of staff sergeant in 1945 and had a long career with Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh.
Another, retired Brigadier General Clara Leach Adams-Ender, is still with us.
Born on a tobacco farm in Willow Springs, NC in 1939, she graduated from A&T at 16 and participated in the Woolworth’s Sit-In. Upon her graduation, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. From 1964 to 1967, she attended and then instructed at the United States Army Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston.
After earning a Master’s in medical-surgical nursing, Adams-Ender taught at Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing, where she was appointed its education coordinator. In 1974, she became the first woman and the first nurse to earn a master's degree in military arts and sciences from United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.
In 1982, she became the first Black nurse corps graduate from the Army War College, and then became the first Black chief of the Department of Nursing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In 1987, she was promoted to brigadier general and named chief of the Army Nurse Corps. In 1991, she became the first army nurse and first Black woman to command a major army base, when she was named commanding general at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Adams-Ender retired from the army in 1993 and later started a management consulting firm. In 2001, she published My Rise to the Stars: How a Sharecropper's Daughter Became an Army General.
Koelsch's lecture on these and other women is posted to the UNCG Special Collections and University Archives YouTube channel.