On May 1, 1970, Sybil Stockdale, Phyllis Galanti, Louise Mulligan and Jane Denton, founding members of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, rallied with 1,000 family members of prisoners of war at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, an early and ardent supporter of their cause, helped draw a crowd of 3,800 to the event that helped establish the league’s influence and national visibility.
Image: National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia leaders with U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, circa 1970. Dole Archives, Dole Institute of Politics.
The Dole Institute of Politics opened a new special exhibition about these leaders earlier this year. “The League of Wives: Vietnam’s POW/MIA Allies & Advocates,” tells the story of the military wives who founded the organization, which would later become the National League of POW/MIA Families. The exhibition – the first of its kind at the institute – features documents, artifacts, oral histories, multimedia and regionally specific components.
The project was funded by a $50,000 gift from Harlan and Alice Ann Ochs of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The gift honors Harlan Ochs’ late brother Larry Ochs, former mayor of Colorado Springs and a strong advocate for the POW/MIA cause.
Virginia-based historian and 2017 Dole Archives Curatorial Fellow Heath Hardage Lee curated the exhibition, which is based on her upcoming book, “The Reluctant Sorority: The True Story of Survival and Rescue from the Homefront,” due for release in 2018.
“The wives’ weapons were organization, tenacity and their willingness to ditch the very military protocols they were trained to adhere to,” Lee said. “Ultimately, these Vietnam War wives quit waiting for their husbands to be rescued by the American government. Instead, they did the job themselves with aid from Senator Dole, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and his staff, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon.”
“Ms. Lee’s 2015 visit revealed to us a remarkable story of women’s leadership during the Vietnam War and a little-remembered part of Senator Dole’s legacy,” said Audrey Coleman, Dole Institute assistant director and senior archivist. “It also resonates today as a prime example of a grass-roots effort becoming a partnership of citizens and their government officials. This transformative partnership changed U.S. government protocol regarding prisoners of war and missing in action – and ultimately, the fate of their husbands.”
Through partnerships with the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and the Virginia Historical Society, the exhibition will later travel to institutions nationwide. The exhibition will open at the Pioneers Museum in March 2018 and the Virginia Historical Society in early 2019. Each institution will customize the exhibition with materials from their own collections.
The exhibition’s tour schedule beyond 2019 is still in development. The exhibition team includes Kristine Bartley, filmmaker and herself a Vietnam war wife, and Minda Stockdale, assistant curator and granddaughter of National League founder Sybil Stockdale and Adm. Jim Stockdale, as well as staffs of the Dole Institute, Pioneers Museum and Virginia Historical Society. Kansas Audio-Reader Network will provide audio description for both the Dole Institute installation and the traveling exhibition.
The Dole Institute of Politics is dedicated to promoting political and civic participation as well as civil discourse in a bipartisan, philosophically balanced manner. It is located on KU’s West District and houses the Dole Archive and Special Collections. Through its robust public programming, congressional archive and museum, the Dole Institute strives to celebrate public service and the legacy of former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole.
More information on all programs, as well as ongoing additions to the schedule, can be found on the Dole Institute’s website, www.doleinstitute.org.