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Tue, 10.08.1901

The Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School Opens

Enlistees (1917)

*The establishment of Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School is celebrated on this date in 1901. The fort was a military base and training facility on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa.

There have been three forts called Fort Des Moines. Fort Des Moines No. 1 (1834–1837), a U.S. Army post that grew into Montrose, Iowa, and Fort Des Moines No. 2 (1843–1846), a U.S. Army post that grew into Des Moines, Iowa. The current facility, the third, was established in 1901 on 640 acres, several miles south of downtown Des Moines and at the time outside the city boundary. Initially founded as a base for cavalry, the fort expanded in 1903 with barracks, stables, officers' quarters, and other facilities for this use. The base is notable as the first facility where Blacks were trained to be officers for the U.S. Army during World War I and where women first began training for U.S. Army service as part of the Women's Army Corps.

In 1917 the first officer candidate class of Blacks in U.S. military history trained at Fort Des Moines and received commissions. Also, in 1917 a training camp for black medical personnel began, and in 1918 the fort was used to treat World War I casualties. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the fort again housed military units, some cavalry, and some artillery. From 1933–34 it was used as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

With the entry of the United States into World War II, the fort was used as a training center for women to serve in the Army's Women's Army Corps in 1942. After the war, the fort was turned over to the city in the early 1950s. In 1949, a portion of the old post grounds became a U.S. Army Reserve training center, which continues to the present. Surviving older portions of the base were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974 in recognition of this history.

The fort property has since served public and private uses. Much of the original 640-acre base was sold off for development as the city grew. The main surviving portion of the base, organized around the parade ground, is located at the northwestern corner of that land. Portions of the former base are the Blank Park Zoo, and part of the parade ground has had an apartment complex built on it. Despite this, several of the fort's buildings still stand, mainly on the southern and eastern edges of the parade ground. These buildings, including barracks, quarters, and stables, are now used for various civic and commercial purposes.

These surviving elements of the fort were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974 in recognition of their role in advancing African Americans and women in the United States military forces. The Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center honored the U.S. Army's first officer candidate class for African American men and established the first Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs).

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