Today, September 14, is the 109th birthday of the VFW Auxiliary, though our roots go even deeper into America’s soil.
A QUICK HISTORY
Starting the 1860s, not long after the end of the Civil War, and continuing through the Spanish-American War, veterans’ organizations and their auxiliaries began to form. This includes the Grand Army of the Republic Auxiliary, the Daughters of the Union, the Ladies’ Puerto Rican Society of Columbus and the Spanish-American War Women organization.
In 1901, the Ladies’ Puerto Rican Society of Columbus became the American Veterans of Foreign Service Auxiliary. Thirteen years later, the American Veterans of Foreign Service merged with the Army of the Philippines to become the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
And the formation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary was not far behind.
Founded in 1914 and chartered by the VFW a year later, the VFW Auxiliary was initially a woman-only organization, comprising the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and granddaughters of veterans of the Spanish-American War. Not even three years later, America entered World War I, the “War to end all wars,” and membership boomed as women back home wanted to do their part for those fighting in Europe. Unlike most previous veterans organization auxiliaries, the VFW Auxiliary, like the VFW, was a nonpartisan organization with no political affiliations, and members were accepted from all races, religions and income levels.
At the first national meeting, a committee of three adopted temporary Bylaws, while three other members presided over a temporary Ritual. Many of those in attendance had belonged to other aforementioned groups, and much of our Bylaws, Rituals and titles were passed down from these early organizations. For example, National Conventions were originally called National Encampments, a term borrowed from the Grand Auxiliary of the Republic, which is also where the idea came to organize by states, labeled Departments, and to call local units Posts. Additionally, the Ladies Auxiliary to the G.A.R. primarily focused on raising money for war orphans and helping disabled veterans – the VFW Auxiliary would carry this torch through the VFW National Home, Hospital and Veterans & Family Support Programs.
A FEW FASCINATING FIRSTS
First National Encampment: Philadelphia
First National President: Margaret Armstrong
First National Treasurer: Josephine Geis
First National Secretary: Mary F. Brice
First Total Treasury & National Dues: $6.75 & $0.15
First VFW/Auxiliary Joint Memorial Service: 1920
First “Buddy”® Poppy Distribution: Memorial Day, 1922
First National Program: VFW National Home (1924)
First President to Travel by Plane: Bessie Hankin (1930)
First National Secretary-Treasurer: Hazel Miller
First to Attend a Queen’s Coronation: Doris Holm (1952)
First Year of Co-Ed Membership: 2015-2016
First Dual-Member National President: Carla Martinez
CHANGES THROUGH THE YEARS
In the 109 years since the VFW Auxiliary was founded, millions of members have dedicated millions of hours and donated millions of dollars to better millions of lives and honor millions of veterans.
The individual Programs have changed through the decades; VFW National Home, Americanism and Youth are among the first to have been created and are still in existence today, but we no longer have Civil Defense, Cancer Aid & Research, Junior Girls, Safety, Health & Happiness or Rehabilitation, though many of them were essentially absorbed into other Programs. Current Programs not aforementioned include Veterans & Family Support, Auxiliary Outreach, Extension & Revitalization, Hospital, Historian & Media Relations, Legislative, Membership, Mentoring for Leadership and Scholarships. Past National Presidents’ special projects included raising funds to open a hospital, nursery and recreation center at the National Home, raising funds to restore the Statue of Liberty, sending cigarettes to servicemen fighting in World War II, purchasing phone cards for soldiers stationed in the middle east and the 3-Dimensional Patriotic Art Program, to name just a few.
National Presidents today travel to each of the 50 states to do their Official Visits, which was impossible a century ago, but they no longer tour Europe and Asia as National Presidents did in the middle and toward the end of the twentieth century. Members have more opportunity for involvement than ever before, as technology, travel options and disability access allow for increased inclusion at all levels. Over the next year, led by our first-ever dual member of the VFW and VFW Auxiliary Carla Martinez, members are encouraged to attend Celebrating America’s Freedom Event in Utah (September 2023), the Mid-Year Conference Cruise (Cape Canaveral, Cozumel, CocoCay) and National Convention (Louisville, Kentucky) in addition to Department conventions and area Conferences. We hope to see you there!
OUR MEMBERS, THEN & NOW
We are always looking for more photos to add to our digital archives, share via social media on Throwback Thursdays or include amongst our Auxiliaries in Action. If you have any awesome photographs you’d like to share, send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the appropriate subject line or upload to Facebook and Instagram with the hashtags #vfwauxbt or #auxiliariesinaction – make sure to set your post to public so we won’t miss it!
Below are just a few of our favorite photos from the past and present:
“My son asked me to send him a VFW application to Iraq so he could become a member when he came home, but he died in Iraq. I feel like he would have wanted me to try to help veterans.”
-Donna Rosenbaum, Auxiliary 4554, Arkansas
“My dad served in Korea in 1950, he came home broken and we didn’t know what to do. In my (dad’s memory) I am a proud life member; I make a difference and help others.”
-Kimberly Lewis, Auxiliary 3016, Alabama
“I joined the VFW Auxiliary under my daughter who served in Kuwait at the age of 19, for it was the very least I could do to honor her and all those that served.”
-Marsha LaRosh, Auxiliary 7743, Kansas (& daughter Kelli Armknecht, Army Reserves)
“I joined under my husband Gerald J. Mees, who was wounded in the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and received a Purple Heart, to show my children and grandchildren we all need to honor and support all veterans; all three of my sons and one grandson have since joined our Auxiliary to honor their stepfather/step-grandpa.”
–Cynthia Lovelace Overman Mees, Auxiliary 2899, Kentucky
“Why? Because we all owe our veterans for our freedom.”
-Beverly Phillips, Auxiliary 10904, Tennessee
“If you’re not having fun, you are doing it wrong!”
-Bob Kabala, Auxiliary 4364, Florida
“I’ve always been patriotic and wanted to honor the veterans in my family.”
-Carol Holmes, Auxiliary 9662, Iowa
“To help veterans make the most of their lives.” -David Kozak, Auxiliary 943, Ohio
“When I look into the eyes of my husband and I see the pain and suffering he and others felt when they came back from Vietnam; I vow never to see another military personnel go through that.”
-Brenda Bryant, Auxiliary 2180, Missouri
“I joined under my brother Richard (Korean War) and am married to a 100% disabled Vietnam veteran (Charlie); it’s very important to me.”
-Anne Marie Philippon, Auxiliary 1979, Connecticut
?”I joined the VFW Auxiliary to honor and support veterans and their families, fostering a sense of community and gratitude while contributing to meaningful initiatives for those who served selflessly.
-Nancye Hart, Auxiliary 7034, North Carolina
“I am a member of the VFW Auxiliary because my husband is my uncommon hero.”
-Jackie Key, Auxiliary 4273, Oregon