Rediscovering Memorial Day: Politics, patriotism and gender

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Robert Bogdan


Peace groups, Memorial Day parades, Militarism, Veteran's organizations

Subject Categories



For over 125 years Memorial Day has been a United States holiday dedicated to those who lost their lives in war. Annually, since 1983, in a mid-size city in the northeast, a coalition of peace groups has challenged what they perceived as the militarism of the city's Memorial Day parade. They have marched in the parade, in a separate contingent from the veterans' units, and presented their alternative vision for keeping peace and honoring the dead.

This is a qualitative study documenting and analyzing the nine year conflict over parade ownership, purpose and rights to participation between the peace coalition and the veterans' parade organizers. The data consists of twenty participant interviews, document collections, and the official records of participant groups.

Analysis of the data concentrated on three areas: the meaning of community war memorials; issues of gender discrimination; discovering the unacknowledged work done by grassroots social movement organizations.

The study suggests that as veterans' organizations assumed responsibility for Memorial Day events their meaning and look shifted to a military rather then a memorial emphasis. The parade has deep personal meaning to the veterans that participate and they deny political motivation for military displays. The peace coalition is offended by the militarism and contends that working for peace is the best memorial.

Instances of gender discrimination were pervasive throughout the nine years of conflict. The peace coalition's mostly women organizers encountered political and social bias from the veterans, the city administration and within their own coalition. The parade events showcase the pervasiveness and depth of feeling about gender roles within the larger culture.

The study also identifies often unacknowledged work that grassroots social movement organizations perform in advancing the goals of a movement. These locally based groups engaged in building relationships, dealing with emotions, handling multiple issues and maintaining the life of their organizations.

The study concludes with suggestions for alternative ways of constructing community relationships.


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