Jane Hamilton-Merritt

Jane Hamilton-Merritt
"I went to war with my generation, but instead of a rifle I took a typewriter and a camera. Then I joined the battlefields of Southeast Asia."
- Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt

Induction Category:
Writers & Journalists

Born: 1947

Inducted: 1999

Town: Redding

Born near Fort Wayne, Ind., and raised on farms in both Ohio and Indiana, Jane Hamilton-Merritt received her B.A. and M.A. degrees from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and a Ph.D. in Southeast Asia Studies at Union Institute in Cincinnati, OH. She worked as a freelance war correspondent in Vietnam for six years, taught journalism at Southern Connecticut State University from 1979 to 1997, and was a visiting faculty fellow at Yale University from 1991-1992.

In 1969, she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a series on young soldiers and won the Inland Daily Press Association’s Grand Prize Trophy for her frontline coverage of the war in Vietnam. In 1980, her article in Reader’s Digest broke the story of chemical and biological warfare in Laos. Her highly acclaimed Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret War for Laos, 1942-1992 was published in 1993 by the Indiana University Press. In 1998 and 2000, Hamilton-Merritt was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her tireless efforts on behalf of the Hmong people of Laos, U.S. allies in the Vietnam War who have since been largely forgotten.

For almost 25 years Hamilton-Merritt has documented the Hmong story in books, magazines, and newspaper articles. She has testified before Congress and traveled throughout the country to raise public awareness of the plight of these former allies. She has also worked as a cultural advisor to school systems with significant numbers of Hmong refugee children and has brought an exhibit of their art and culture to museums throughout Connecticut. From 1982 to 1985 Hamilton-Merritt served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassador-at-Large for Refugees. Since 1991, she has worked to stop the involuntary repatriation of Hmong political refugees from camps in Thailand back to Laos, a move she argues dooms thousands to slavery or execution. In 1997, she resigned from her tenured teaching position to work full-time for the resettlement of 20,000 Hmong living in a Buddhist compound north of Bangkok, most of whose families now reside in the U.S. She also serves as co-editor of the Vietnam War Era Classics Series.

More than a hundred individuals and organizations from several countries supported Hamilton-Merritt’s 1998 nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, including ten members of Congress and three former U.S. ambassadors. As Burke Marshall of Yale Law School wrote, “They (the Hmong) are a people who have been deeply damaged and wronged by history and by the actions of great nations…and for whom there is no compensation, no recourse except for the inexplicable intervention of the exceptional, virtually unique, voice and body of Dr. Jane Hamilton-Merritt.” Hamilton-Merritt, for her part, said that, “The nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is, of course, a tremendous honor. It is, however, not really for me but for the tens of thousands of Hmong and other ethnic groups in Asia who, because they are voiceless, suffer silently egregious efforts to extinguish their cultures and their lives. This nomination, hopefully, will remind the world and its leaders that the plight of the Hmong and other vulnerable ethnic groups in Southeast Asia needs bold and serious attention.”

During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice