Celebrating Women’s History Month at the Bedford VA: The Angel of Veterans: Edith Nourse Rogers

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By Lee Vorderer

Stephanie Coppolino, VAMC Director Christine Croteau and speaker Pat Fontaine - Courtesy image (c) 2016 all rights reserved

Stephanie Coppolino, VAMC Director Christine Croteau and speaker Pat Fontaine – Courtesy image (c) 2016 all rights reserved

As part of its celebration of Women’s History Month, the Bedford Veteran’s Hospital gave the community a chance to get to know its namesake, Edith Nourse Rogers.  Dr. Patricia Fontaine, Clinical Associate Professor at UMass Lowell, shared her passion for Mrs. Rogers,  discussing her background, her many accomplishments, and the historical context in which she worked.

Born in Maine in 1881 and moving to Lawrence to marry John Jacob Rogers in 1907, Edith Nourse Rogers championed causes for veterans throughout her long career.  After assuming her husband’s seat in Congress upon his death, she ran herself in 1925 and began a 35 year career promoting the needs of veterans and finding government solutions to the problems they faced.  Her attention went beyond veterans, too:  She was the first Republican to speak against Hitler on the floor of Congress;  in 1939, she co-sponsored a bill to raise the quota of Jewish families and children immigrating to the US; and she  began the first air mail service between North and South America.

As “The Veteran’s Legislator”  in Congress, Congresswoman Rogers crafted and promoted the GI Bill (1944),  the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Act (1942), supported soldiers marching on Washington to demand pay that they had been promised but did not receive, and fostered the promotion of  Camp Devens to Fort Devens, securing funding to build its world class hospital as well as contracts from the Government for many other projects. Veterans from across the Country wrote to her to seek help with problems related to the military, and she was known nationwide as someone you could talk with.