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social sciences

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Cammermeyer, Margarethe (b. 1942)  
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After their service in Vietnam, the couple moved to a small rural community south of Seattle. Cammermeyer had become pregnant in Vietnam, which according to military regulations at the time meant that she had to leave the military. Both she and her husband settled into civilian life. They built a home and farm on their property in Washington and began a family. They had four children in all: Matt, David, Andy, and Tom.

Yet life for Cammermeyer was not ideal. Although she enjoyed her role as mother, she felt compelled to return to her profession. In 1969 she began working part-time as a night-duty nurse, and in 1971, she took a similar position with more responsibilities at the veterans hospital in Seattle.

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In 1972 the military changed the regulations barring women with children from serving in the armed forces, which allowed Cammermeyer to resume her military career. She decided to join the Army Reserves, and in 1973, she started a graduate program in nursing. Over the next few years, she balanced her various roles as mother, nurse, student, and officer in the Army Reserves.

All of these responsibilities took a toll on her marriage, as her husband began to resent her attempts to have both a career and family. This tension at once reflected and exacerbated the ambivalence Cammermeyer continued to feel about her relationship with him. Through counseling she began to re-evaluate her life with Hawken, and in July 1980 she filed for divorce.

The ensuing family crisis was extremely difficult on Cammermeyer. Her husband was awarded custody of the children, which made it difficult for her to fulfill her role as mother to her four sons.

During this time, Cammermeyer also gained a clearer sense of herself, both in terms of her career priorities and also in terms of her sexuality. Although she did not identify herself as a lesbian, she did realize that she lacked any sexual interest in men.

After a difficult year, Cammermeyer decided to take a position in San Francisco to work at the Veterans Administration Medical Center. Here she continued her work in neurology, focusing on veterans struggling to survive brain tumors.

In 1986, Cammermeyer returned to the Seattle area to be closer to family. During her time in San Francisco, she had continued in the Army Reserves. Her move back to Seattle prompted her to transfer to the Washington State National Guard.

In 1987 Cammermeyer was promoted to the rank of Colonel. In 1988 she became the Chief Nurse for the Washington State National Guard. She also returned to graduate school at the University of Washington to complete her Ph.D. in nursing.

In 1989 a routine interview for a security clearance prompted her to respond to a question about homosexuality by saying, "I am a lesbian." In the past year, a developing relationship with a woman named Diane, who is now her life-partner, helped her fully accept her sexual orientation.

Unaware of the precise policy regarding gays and lesbians in the military, Cammermeyer answered honestly. In so doing, she inadvertently set in motion an investigation and discharge proceedings.

The investigation moved slowly, and during this time, Cammermeyer continued to serve, with many of her colleagues and commanders fully aware of her sexual orientation. The administrative discharge hearing did not occur until June 11, 1992, when she was honorably discharged from the military, in spite of the board's recognition that she was "one of the great Americans."

Cammermeyer and her attorney filed suit in civil court challenging the decision. In June 1994, Judge Thomas Zilly of the Federal District Court in Seattle ruled the policy banning gays and lesbians from the military unconstitutional and ordered Cammermeyer's reinstatement.

Pentagon officials appealed the ruling and requested a stay of the decision, initially blocking Cammermeyer's return to uniform. Ultimately Judge Zilly and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied these requests, and Cammermeyer returned to her position in the National Guard. In March 1997, she retired with full military privileges after thirty-one years of service in the U.S. military.

In 1994, Cammermeyer published her autobiography, Serving in Silence, which was well received. Subsequently, it was made into a television movie starring Glenn Close. The movie won three Emmy awards.

Since retirement, Cammermeyer has remained busy. She ran for Congress in the Second Congressional District in Washington State. Even though she lost the election, her spirit of public service remained active. For two years she hosted an internet talk show. She recently returned to law school.

Geoffrey W. Bateman

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Cammermeyer, Margarethe, with Chris Fisher. Serving in Silience. New York: Viking, 1994.

Miller, Diane Helene. "And the Ban Played On: Politics and Prejudice in the Cammermeyer Case." Freedom to Differ: The Shaping of the Gay and Lesbian Struggle for Civil Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998. 83-138.

Vida, Ginny. "A Conversation with Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer." The New Our Right to Love: A Lesbian Resource Book. Ginny Vida, ed. New York: Touchstone, 1996. 209-211.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bateman, Geoffrey W.  
    Entry Title: Cammermeyer, Margarethe  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 12, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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