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The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home from Vietnam

Presenter: 
Heath Hardage Lee
Duration: 
(00:00:00)

On April 5, 2018, Heath Hardage Lee delivered the Banner Lecture, “The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home from Vietnam.”

On February 12, 1973, one hundred and fifteen men who, just six years earlier, had been high flying Navy and Air Force pilots, shuffled, limped, or were carried off a huge military transport plane at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. These American servicemen had endured years of brutal torture, shackled and starved in solitary confinement, in rat-infested, mosquito-laden prisons, the worst of which was The Hanoi Hilton. Months later, this first group of Vietnam POWs to return home would learn that their rescuers were their wives, a group of women led by Sybil Stockdale and including Jane Denton, Louise Mulligan, Andrea Rander, Phyllis Galanti, and Helene Knapp. The POW-MIA advocacy group Sybil and her “League of Wives” created, The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, went to extraordinary lengths to facilitate their husbands’ freedom—and to account for missing military men.  The women relentlessly lobbied government leaders, conducted savvy media campaigns, met reluctantly with antiwar activists, and attempted to negotiate with the North Vietnamese.  Most astonishingly, many of these women helped to code secret letters to their imprisoned husbands. Heath Hardage Lee tells the story of these remarkable women for the first time in The League of Wives, drawing on first person interviews, diaries, letters, oral histories, and government and archival records to tell this story of courage, resilience, and rescue.

Heath Hardage Lee comes from a museum education and curatorial background, and she has worked at history museums across the country. She holds a B.A. in history with honors from Davidson College, and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Virginia. Heath served as the 2017 Robert J. Dole Curatorial Fellow. Her exhibition, The League of Wives: Vietnam POW/MIA Advocates & Allies, premiered at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in May of 2017 and will be on display at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in March of 2019. She is the author of Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause, winner of the 2015 Colonial Dames of America Annual Book Award as well as a 2015 Gold Medal for Nonfiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and The League of Wives: The Untold Story of the Women Who Took on the U.S. Government to Bring Their Husbands Home from Vietnam.

This lecture is cosponsored by The Virginia Antiquarian Book Fair and the Virginia Antiquarian Booksellers Association (VABA).