March is Women’s History Month. This annual celebration of women dates back to the late 1800s, but officially came to be recognized in the US in 1978, when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission and Status of Women in California held a Women’s History Week. The movement spread. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring the week of March 8 Women’s History Week because International Women’s Day was already set on that date each year. Seven years later, Congress chose to designate the entire month in honor of celebrating and learning about women’s history, which has been maintained by presidential proclamation in years since.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary was formed on September 14, 1914. The first National Encampment (the equivalent of a National Convention) was held in Pittsburgh, PA that year, where 47 members gathered to adopt temporary Bylaws. They selected Margaret Armstrong (pictured: above left) to be the first National President. It was a primary goal of the organization to welcome members regardless of income, religious affiliation or ethnicity, in order for the membership to best reflect the nation and veterans members would be serving. For 100 years, the Ladies Auxiliary was led by strong, capable, caring women like Armstrong and included thousands of women members who worked tirelessly to ensure that our nation’s veterans were not only not forgotten, but also honored, aided and supported.
These leaders include Past National President Marion Watson of Kentucky, who served in 1981-1982, the earliest of any living PNP; her slogan was “United We Stand for America,” and Betty Morris (2002-2003) of Maryland, the first Black woman to serve as National President, whose slogan was “Everyone Achieves Magic for Our Veterans.” This also includes Winnifred Toussaint of New Jersey (1934-1936), the last National President to serve two consecutive terms; Virginia Carman (2007-2008), the first National President who had previously been a VFW Junior Girl; Ann Panteleakos (2014-2015), the last National President of the Ladies Auxiliary; Francisca Guilford (2015-2016), the first National President of the VFW Auxiliary; Peggy Haake (2019-2020), thus far the only National President from Hawaii and the first to serve during a worldwide pandemic since Lydia Riegel (1918-1920); and, of course, our current (2021-2022) National President, Jean Hamil of Florida, pictured above center on couch, surrounded by her National Ambassadors.
Looking toward the future, Carla Martinez (2023-2024) will be the first VFW National President who was/is also a dual member veteran* – she spent 13 months serving in Korea while in the Navy.
Is there an incredible leader in your Auxiliary or Department? One you feel deserves recognition for years of volunteerism, teamwork and mentoring? Nominate that member for an award through the Mentoring for Leadership Program!** Citations will be awarded to the first, second and third place member in each Department who is instrumental in fulfilling the role as a mentor/leader. Learn more about Mentoring for Leadership Program Awards in our 2021-2022 National Program Book, linked here: vfwauxiliary.org/resources
You can also nominate your Auxiliary superstars for VFW Auxiliary Magazine’s “Member Spotlight” feature. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Prior to the change from VFW Ladies Auxiliary to VFW Auxiliary, there were several Auxiliary members who belonged to the Veterans of Foreign Wars as dual members. In our next E-Newsletter (March 24), we will introduce you to a few of these women veterans. If you or someone you know is/was a dual member or is a veteran who is also a member of the Auxiliary, we want to hear from you! Reach out to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your service!