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Meredith & the Military

Meredith's strong military connection

Amy Mills Brown, ’00, has a job that only eight other people have held since its creation in 1992. Furthermore, she is only the second woman to hold the position.

Brown is the Army’s official artist-in-residence, and she is helping to record not only the history of the Army but also of the country. While the Army has had dozens of artists since World War I, it established the official position of artist-in-residence in 1992. Only one service member holds this position at a time, though there are other artists in the Army.

“I pinch myself every day still,” Brown said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Of course, it’s not unusual for Meredith alumnae to achieve success in their chosen careers. The College has long prepared women for success in whatever career they choose, including male-dominated fields such as medicine, business, and engineering.

With women making up just 15% of active-duty military personnel, there is room for women, including Meredith alumnae, to lead the way in this historically male field.

Brown is not the only Meredith alumna who has served or is serving in the U.S. military in significant ways.

For Kat Maitrejean, ’05, who served in the U.S. Navy before attending Meredith and joined the U.S. Air Force after graduation, the women’s-only education she received at Meredith helped her find strength and prepared her for her career.

“There was such a wonderful community, very supportive and creative,” said Maitrejean, who majored in social work. With the support of her professors, Maitrejean organized a state-wide social work conference at Meredith, which she said helped her gain confidence and professionalism.

After graduation, she said, “I was ready to be in a more corporate or professional setting,” noting that Meredith helped prepare her for that kind of environment.

Now in her 20th year in the military, Maitrejean serves as Assistant Aide de Camp for the Air Force Joint Chief of Staff, a position for which she was nominated. She advises him on issues related to family and personal life for enlistees, including the increasing emphasis on preventing sexual assault in the military and issues related to family life on Air Force bases.

Sabrina Hearst, ’00, served in the Coast Guard for eight years before attending Meredith as an inactive reserve member. After graduating from Meredith with a degree in nutrition, Hearst again became an active-duty member of the Coast Guard. Like Maitrejean, Hearst went from a male-dominated world to a women’s college and back to the male-dominated world of the military. And like Maitrejean, Hearst said that Meredith gave her confidence in her personal and professional life.

Coming up on her 20th year in the military, Hearst has worked as an instructor for others in the Coast Guard since 2008. It’s a position she might not have applied for without her experience at Meredith: “The confidence I developed at Meredith allowed me to put in for instructor duty at our training center.”

Marie Mason, ’47, is Meredith’s oldest known alumna veteran. Mason, a psychology major who went on to get her Ph.D. and return to Meredith in 1970 as Dean of Students and professor ofPhoto of Marie Mason, Class of 1947, in her WWII Army Nurse Corps uniform psychology, served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II before she attended Meredith.

Mason, now 98, cited a feeling of obligation as her reason for joining the Nurse Corps in 1943: she had a younger brother serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

“I was thinking, if he gets hurt, I hope somebody takes care of him. And I said, ‘Well, what about you, Marie? Why can’t you go take care of him?’”

So Mason, who was already a trained nurse, joined the Army Nurse Corps, attending training at Camp Davis in Onslow County in North Carolina. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant and served overseas, including in Aversa, Italy, near Naples. When Mason left the military in 1946, she returned to North Carolina and began studying at Meredith, completing a degree she had begun before enlisting.

Brown, the Army’s official artist, also joined the military out of a sense of patriotism and desire to serve the United States.

After graduating from Meredith, she was a high school art teacher in Wake County in North Carolina. The morning of September 11, 2001, she and her students watched the news images of the terrorist attacks. Soon after, Brown talked with an Army recruiter.

After basic training, Brown served as a multimedia illustrator, a job that included designing for the internet and creating leaflets for the Army to drop in towns overseas to inform citizens of possible dangers. She served as an instructor in Army training, including in Iraq, and then became the Army artist-in-residence in 2012, a position she will hold for another year. Her job as official artist has taken her all over the United States and the world, including to Afghanistan, where she visited the front lines to record the Army’s experiences there.

As the Army artist-in-residence, Brown said she captures “the emotional response to war.”

“I have the ability to condense several moments into one moment, or to take creative license,” Brown said. “There are 10,000 things going on on the battlefield. There’s not a moment missed if I don’t want it to be missed.”

Because women make up such a small percentage of the United States military, Meredith College is working to increase awareness of female service members and veterans. For instance, in 2012Photo of two women veterans, color guard, during flag ceremony and Dr. Jean Jackson watching in background and most recently in 2014, Meredith was named a “Military Friendly School” by Victory Media, a veteran-owned company. This designation signifies that Meredith is among the top 20% of schools nationwide in providing a good experience for veterans or current service members.

Meredith is working in other ways to shine a spotlight on the contributions of women like these alumnae. For the past two years, Meredith has held a Veterans Day Service specifically honoring female veterans. The event is planned again for this November.

“As a women’s college, it’s important for us to give students and members of the community knowledge of all kinds of ways that women have been important in our history,” said Jean Jackson, ’75, vice president for College Programs. “Serving in the military is one of those ways, and it’s something that most of us know little about unless we’ve had direct contact.”

Patty Blackwell, who works in customer service for the facilities department at Meredith and serves on the planning committee for the Veterans Day event, is a seven-year veteran of the Air Force. Blackwell, who served in the first Gulf War, notes the importance of recognizing the contributions that women have made in the armed forces. Female service members, said Blackwell, are “bucking the system in a male-dominated profession, just like we do in other professions.”

Before attending Meredith, senior Holly Monday, a psychology major, served in the Air Force for four years, working in accounting and finance. Monday believes that Meredith’s focus on female veterans is important.

“A lot of times, you look at the media, [and] the veterans who are portrayed are predominantly men,” Monday said. “We want to bring attention to women.”

Supporting Meredith students and alumnae who have served in the military aligns with Meredith’s mission of preparing women to “provide leadership for the needs, opportunities, and challenges of society.” And it aligns, too, with Meredith’s emphasis on helping women find and develop their strengths.

For Hearst, Meredith helped inspire and build the leadership she employs in her life and in her Coast Guard career.

“The confidence that my professors, the staff and my peers had in me to do good things still inspires me, to this day, to give things my best effort, to be an active citizen, in my work in the U.S. Coast Guard and in the communities in which I’ve lived,” Hearst said.

Maitrejean noted that her social work education at Meredith helped her hone her strength of empathy, which she uses every day in her job. “As a supervisor, I’ve had 200 to 400 people at a time that I’ve had to be in tune with,” she said. And in her work with Air Force families, she uses empathy to help think “about the emotions and confusion that families might feel in situations.”

As for Brown, she said that Meredith left her well prepared for her career as both a high school teacher and a member of the Army.

“When I started teaching in North Carolina, I felt very prepared,” she said. And now, she said, with most experiences in the Army, she knows that she will be prepared for almost anything.

“Being in the Army is not always about being physically strong,” Brown said. “I am mentally strong, as well.”Photo of Sabrina Hearst, Class of 2000, veteran of the Coast Guard, points out her Silver Shield pin

Maitrejean described her Meredith experience as one that allowed her to “grow as a person and as a woman in a supportive environment.”

Their Meredith education continues to play an important role for all of these current and former service member alumnae.

Hearst, who was a member of Silver Shield Honorary Leadership Society at Meredith, said that being a part of the society is still a point of pride for her, comparing her Silver Shield pin to the rack of ribbons that she wears on her military uniform.

“Every now and then,” Hearst said, “I wear my Silver Shield under the pocket flap [of my uniform], and it reminds me that other people believe in me to do the right thing.”

Meredith’s Ship Comes In

During World War II, Meredith College, as well as its faculty and students, contributed nearly $200,000 to the war effort, according to a 1967 issue of thePhoto of SS Meredith Victory ship named for Meredith College Twig student newspaper. This service to the country earned the College something that many people don’t know about today: the name of a ship.

The SS Meredith Victory was a Merchant Marine cargo freighter named for Meredith College, commissioned in 1945 and designed to carry supplies during World War II. The ship deployed again during the Korean War, when its legacy was cemented.

In 1950, the SS Meredith Victory aided in “one of the greatest marine rescues in the history of the world,” according to a 1960 letter from the U.S. government. The ship, which was designed to carry supplies and about 35 crew members, rescued 14,000 North Korean refugees, carrying them 450 miles to a South Korean port.

The ship served again during the Vietnam War, and afterward, it was decommissioned and sold for scrap metal. It still holds the Guinness World Record for largest evacuation from land by a single ship.

How were wars perceived on Meredith’s campus?

World War I, 1914-1918: In World War I, one alumna, Fay Memory, Class of 1911, served as a nurse in France, according to Mary Lynch Johnson’s History of Meredith College. On campus, Johnson said, students helped the war effort by “rolling bandages, making soldiers’ kits, and participating in Liberty Loan [a type of war bond] drives.” Charlotte Ruegger, a professor of music at Meredith, Photo of Class of 1918 dressed in Red Cross-style dresses for Class Dayserved in the Red Cross from 1915-1919. The class of 1918 dressed in Red Cross-style dresses for Class Day (and their doll, which you can see in Johnson Hall or online, wore the same dress). “Our hearts were thrilled as we realized the significance of their simple, soldierly costumes,” said the 1918 Meredith College Bulletin. Meredith students also sang patriotic war-related songs, with a leaflet called “Meredith College War Songs.”

“Meredith College Students Set Pace in War Work Drive,” a 1918 Raleigh Times headline proclaimed. The article describes Meredith as a leader in the United War Work campaign and notes that, for one thing, Meredith students planned to do their own laundry, putting the money saved toward the war effort.

World War II, 1939-1945: A May 1942 Twig article featured the headline “Meredith Girls Bravely Face Rationing,” describing how students on campus rationed sugar, tea, coffee, and more. A November 1944 Twig article encouraged students to support a scrap paper drive sponsored by the War Activities Committee. And of course, students, faculty, and the College as a whole contributed to war bonds (see sidebar about SS Meredith Victory).

While alumna Marie Mason, ’47, joined the Nurse Corps, other alumnae also supported the war effort. Johnson said that Mary Kate Collier, ’39, went from “teaching home economics to using a monkey wrench” in a factory. Johnson also wrote that Meredith alumnae included: “seventeen WACS,” the Women’s Army Corps; “three WAVES,” Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service; “one WASP,” the Women Airforce Service Pilots; “one marine, and three camp librarians.” Other alumnae served as Army hostesses, which provided recreational activities for military service members.

Vietnam War, 1955-1975: The Vietnam War caused some division on campus, a reflection of the divisions in society. A November 1967 Twig editorial urged students to provide cards, gifts, and letters to the troops for Christmas. However, the tide seemed to shift on campus. In 1969, Johnson wrote, “students had a ‘write-in’ … when letters were written to their congressmen and to President Nixon, protesting” the Kent State killings “and the invasion of Cambodia.” In October 1969, students held a panel discussion about “the nation’s involvement in Vietnam and Cambodia.” The Raleigh Times described the discussion as “sane, sound, but definitely spirited.” Johnson also reported that two Meredith students participated in the March Against Death held in Washington, D.C., in November 1969.

Gulf War, 1990-1991: The Meredith Herald published names of soldiers killed in the conflict. And the College sponsored the Middle East Careline for students concerned about the conflict or for students with family members or friends in the military.

Iraq War, 2003-2011, and Afghanistan War, 2001-present: In the weeks leading up to the Iraq War in 2003, The Meredith Herald ran articles about the potential for war. In one opinion piece, the writer urged students to be sure that they thought the war was “for the right reasons.” In a letter to the editor a few weeks later, another student argued for the war – showing that students once again had varying viewpoints. Meredith’s 2004 summer reading selection was Anne Garrels’ Naked in Baghdad, a book about her experience as a reporter in Iraq during the war. Garrels gave a lecture for students and members of the community. As well, the College sponsored panel discussions about U.S. involvement in Iraq.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Meredith Magazine.

Melyssa Allen

News Director
316 Johnson Hall
(919) 760-8087
Fax: (919) 760-8330

allenme@meredith.edu