Born in Malta, Montana, on August 29, 1921, Doris I. Palm Brander graduated from Malta High School, joined the navy’s Women’s Auxiliary Voluntary Expeditionary Service (WAVES) in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, and attended the U.S. Naval Training School in New York.
Like most of her compatriots, Brander enlisted in the navy out of the dual desires: for adventure and to contribute to the war effort. As she recalled, “I think most of us women that volunteered in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and coast guard did it out of a sense of adventure, but also because we knew that until the war was over, both in Europe and in Asia, things would not go back to normal. So by pitching in and helping, we felt we would get things back to normal faster. We wanted to do what we could to stop the war.”
As reasonable as she found these goals, she discovered that her male comrades often questioned her motives and abilities. “Because we were cutting a new path in history with our volunteering for the service, we were really looked at with question marks as to what our purpose was, what our motive was, what our morals were,” she recalled.
After the war, Brander settled on a ranch near Avon. She returned to college in her fifties, ultimately becoming the medical records manager for Warm Springs State Hospital. However, she never forgot her military experience, and through oral histories, essays, and presentations, she gave voice to feelings shared by women veterans of the World War II era, and well beyond.
Brander’s commitment to promoting women’s military service extended long after World War II ended. “Women love their country as much as men,” she explained, “and I am really proud to have been part of the forerunners who opened up the way for the young women of today to serve in more areas that we were allowed.”
Even as women continued to serve in the military, however, no monuments or memorials in Washington, D.C., recognized their sacrifices. Determined to see that women veterans received appropriate recognition, Brander joined the Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation (WIMSA) in 1990. Founded five years earlier, in 1985, the organization promoted the building of a monument at Arlington National Cemetery to honor all women who served in the U.S. military.
Brander led the campaign for Montana’s participation in the national effort. She convinced Montana governor Stan Stephens, the tribal councils of Montana’s seven Indian reservations, and each of Montana’s fifty-six counties to issue resolutions in support of the memorial. She also successfully petitioned the governor’s office to establish a Women Veterans’ Day.
Brander raised over fifty thousand dollars to support the memorial. And she recruited an army of volunteers to document as many as possible of the estimated forty-eight hundred female veterans in Montana. Those volunteers copied discharge papers from county records, enlistment records from the adjutant general’s file at the Montana Historical Society, and appealed to friends and relatives of veterans to provide information. All in all, Brander’s efforts played an important role in making WIMSA a success.
Designed by Marion Gail Weiss and Michael Manfredi, the Women’s Memorial at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery opened to the public in October 1997. Annually, over two hundred thousand people now visit the site that honors “all military women—past, present and future.”
As important as were Brander’s contributions toward the creation of the national monument, so too is the rich collection of records she gathered in the course of that work. These records explore the experiences of Montana women who served in the military in the two world wars, in the Korean War, in the Vietnam War, and in the peacetime. Today they reside at the Montana Historical Society, where they are available to researchers. JF
Brander, Doris. Interview. In the oral history files (OH 1276), Montana Historical Society, Helena.
—. Papers, A3:3-4, Montana Historical Society, Helena.
“Highlighting the Doris Brander Papers andMontana Women in Military Service for America (WIMSA).” Montana History Wiki Monthly Features. http://montanahistorywiki.pbworks.com/w/page/21639735/Monthly%20Features%202008#November2008HighlightingtheDorisBranderPapersandMontanaWomeninMilitaryServiceforAmericaWIMSA. Accessed November 10, 2008.
Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation (WIMSA) website. http://www.womensmemorial.org/H&C/h&cwelcome.html. Accessed November 23, 2013.
“About the Memorial,” WIMSA website. http://www.womensmemorial.org/About/history.html. Accessed November 10, 2008.
Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation. MHS, MC 343, Montana Historical Society.