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Ship Shape Sisters: The Women of The Coast Guard SPARS

On Display August 24, 2024 through February 9, 2025

This exhibit explores the United States Coast Guard Women's Reserve, commonly known as the SPARS. The nickname SPARS came from the first letters of each word in the Coast Guard’s Latin motto and its English translation: Semper Paratus, Always Ready. The Reserve was established on November 23, 1942, marking the first time women were allowed to enlist in the Coast Guard on a large scale.

Idealized Experience

Ship Shape Sisters provides a historical overview and explore the role of gender in the experience of enlisted servicemembers in the SPARS through three themes, the first of which is idealized experience: how glamorized versions of the Women’s Reserve were used in recruitment efforts and to influence public perception of women being enlisted. Recruitment posters and archival materials given to prospective enlistees, a recruitment video, and uniforms worn by the SPARS will enlighten visitors to the exhibit.

Personal Experience


A second theme considers the lives and stories of a select group of SPARS. By exploring the experiences of these women, visitors will be able to compare the image of the Women’s Reserve portrayed by the Coast Guard and the lived experiences of the SPARS themselves, with SPARS' personal photographs, a facsimile of a SPAR’s service scrapbook that visitors can flip through, as well as SPARS uniforms.


The memorialization of the SPARS is the final theme of this exhibition. The Women’s Reserve was disbanded in 1973 when women became eligible to serve alongside men in active duty and reserve capacities. Explore some of the efforts made to preserve the memory of the SPARS organization, and see archival materials from various reunions of the servicewomen and objects related to SPARS’ involvement in the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival.


Woven throughout the exhibit will be a focus on Tri-Cities connections. Seven women were inducted into the Women’s Reserve at Escanaba Park (then Kelly Park) as part of a memorial service commemorating the loss of the Escanaba. Several women from the Tri-Cities area served as SPARS themselves. Following their service, many former SPARS from across the United States attended the Grand Haven Coast Guard, participating in various events, including marching in the Grand Parade.


Ship Shape Sisters will provide visitors the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of Coast Guard history. TCHM hopes that the exhibit will foster an increased appreciation for the service of the SPARS. By recognizing their efforts, we can better understand how these servicemembers contributed to creating opportunities for future generations of women in the Coast Guard.​


Sisters in Service: Panel Event

October 10, 2024 | 5:00 pm

The Tri-Cities Historical Museum invites you to join us on October 10 as we examine the perspectives of women of the Coast Guard, both past and present. Through the lens of our gathered panel of experts and our new exhibit, Ship Shape Sisters: The Women of the Coast Guard SPARS, we will look at historical objects and dialogue on the gendered experiences these women had and still have today.

This event is free to attend! We ask that you register ahead of time. Doors open at 5:00 pm for refreshments, and the program will begin at 5:30 pm.

RSVP is required by 5 pm on October 8

Courtesy National Archives (44-PA-1785A)

Sisters in Service: Panel Event is great for anyone interested in learning more about the experiences of former SPARS members.

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