Helen Marlowe, Tennis Champion, Zeta Tau Alpha, and Marine Captain

Where do I find subjects for this blog? Sometimes I find them and sometimes they find me. For the past two days I have been working on cataloging some information on spreadsheets.

Enter Helen Marlowe, a member of the Xi chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha at the University of Southern California. Helen and her sister Mercedes, a Phi Mu, were tennis champions.  Together they won the 1930 national girls’ double championship. (Mercedes was once excused from playing at Forest Hills because she insisted on wearing bright red shorts under her “abbreviated skirt.”)

Ellsworth Vines, Sigma Nu, and Helen Marlowe, Zeta Tau Alpha (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

Ellsworth Vines, Sigma Nu, and Helen Marlowe, Zeta Tau Alpha, at Longwood Court. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.)

In 1943, Helen  joined the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. She told her ZTA sisters about her training, “We paid for our front row seats with as tough and relentless an eight weeks of combined bootcamp and officers training as ever successive groups of girls ventured to tangle with – sixteen overstuffed hours a day plus the extra nights we spent boning for exams in the ladies room – she said politely! – which, for obvious reasons, was the only place in the barracks immune to ‘lights out’.” She added, “Granite-pussed sergeants who didn’t know we are supposed to be the weaker sex poured it on and kept on pouring….Life was a merry-go-round – hit the deck, dress in nine seconds flat drill, classes, exercise, inspections, march to breakfast, lunch and dinner, and then march back again, lectures, bootblackery, the pursuit of microscopic dust grains in squadrooms, making beds with square corners, head up and shoulders back, study, brush the teeth and take a shower in fourteen seconds (combined) and scramble back into the sack so you can do it over again. For diversion we rode in Higgins boats, tripped through the gas chamber, detonated assorted explosives, quaked before the rush of mock-attacking airplanes…”

Although 11 of her 80 classmates did not finish officer training, “Only once in the whole eight weeks, as I recall, did I have to say ‘And to think I left a swell job’ – as a film editor at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios – ‘and home and mother and a better-than-average boy friend for this!!'” 

On the Sunday graduation, as she had two gold bards pinned on her shoulders, she “realized with emotions I have never known before that I was a commissioned officer in the finest fighting force in the world – a lieutenant in the United Stated Marine Corps. It’s trite, but all I can say is – it was the proudest, most inspiring moment of my life.”

Helen graduated Officer Candidate School sixth with an average of 3.8/4.0 She became an instructor at Camp Lejeune. She taught machine guns, landing operations, tactics, and chemical warfare. She was later transferred to San Diego where she was on the staff of General Holland M. Smith.

An article in the November/December 1947  Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha entitled “Zeta’s First Gold Star,”  tells of her death.  In 1946, she was stricken with a pulmonary ailment and hospitalized for a year until her death. On July 28, 1947, she was buried with full military honors at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

The article ends, “Helen was known to Zetas everywhere through her articles in Themis during the war years. Full of verve and enthusiasm, they exemplified her fine spirit and outlook on life.”


By Chris Demarest.  The caption reads “Captain Helen Marlowe, USMC, an instructor in chemical warfare training at Camp Lejeune, 1943-45, She died  of a ‘lung condition’ at age 35 in 1947. She received the American Campaign and WWII Victory medals.”    (Courtesy of the artist, see his website at http://chrisdemarest.net)

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2014. All rights reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/


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