Miriam Ben-Shalom Papers, 1971-1999


Born on May 3, 1948 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Miriam Ben-Shalom attended Catholic Memorial and graduated from East Troy Community High School in 1967. She married for a short time and had a daughter. After moving to Israel in 1968, Ben-Shalom converted to Judaism and changed her name. Upon returning to the United States in the early 1970s, Ben-Shalom returned to Wisconsin and completed both her B.A. and M.A. at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 1974, she began serving in the 84th Army Reserves Training Division. She also completed drill instructors school, becoming one of the first two female drill sergeants in the division. During this time, she became openly involved in the local gay rights movement and lesbian-feminist organizations. In late 1975, she publicly expressed her sexual identity as a lesbian, and was subsequently discharged from the Army Reserves. Her suit for reinstatement was heard by the U.S. District Court in Chicago, which ruled that ruled that Ben-Shalom's discharge violated the First, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments of the Constitution. The U.S. Army appealed the decision, then withdrew its appeal and simply refused to comply with the order. In 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago supported the lower court's ruling, and in September 1988 Ben-Shalom was reinstated. The Army appealed the decision and in August 1989 a federal appeals court ruled against Ben-Shalom. Ben-Shalom then appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. This body declined to hear her case and let stand the previous court's ruling, effectively ending Ben-Shalom's military career. In following years, Ben-Shalom remained active in gay and lesbian politics, forming the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Veterans Association (now known as American Veterans for Equal Rights). She has received several awards for her community activism, and published poetry, short stories, and other writing.