The women I am writing about for #WHM seem, at least to me, to be about 100 years ahead of their time. One wonders what they could accomplish today!
Bessie Leach was born in Illinois on January 18, 1871. She graduated from Belvidere (IL) High School in 1887, where she took top honors. Although scholarships were few and far between back then, she was awarded the Adrian College Scholarship. She took a year and taught school before she used the scholarship. At Adrian College, in Adrian, Michigan, she became a member of the Gamma chapter of Delta Delta Delta. The chapter was installed on February 22, 1890 in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union parlors with nine charter members. Mrs. Lotta A.W. Stevens, a charter member of the Alpha chapter, installed Gamma chapter.
Twenty-five years after their first meeting, Elizabeth Gibbs Palmer wrote this about her, “My earliest and latest impression of her is her ability to work under pressure and many a time Latin and German or Psychology was accurately and definitely crammed into a scanty quarter of an hour before class time, while her productions for literary society were hastily written during the supper hour preceding performance.”
She graduated in 1891. That year she was a delegate to the meeting at Boston University called by Kappa Kappa Gamma with seven women’s fraternities/sororities present. She was also in attendance at the 1893 World’s Fair Fraternity Congress in Chicago, and was one of the speakers on the program.
After graduation, she spent two years as Principal of the Capron, Illinois, schools. On August 15, 1893, she married Frank E. Priddy, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon whom she had dated in college. They had three children, Irene, Allan, and Frances. Her daughters were both Tri Deltas. Frances attended the 1906 Convention at Syracuse as an infant. She later served the Fraternity as National President when she was known as Frances Priddy McDonald.
In A Detailed Record of Delta Delta Delta, 1888-1907, written by her during her tenure as Tri Delta’s Historian, she wrote, “To the Editing Committee, R. Louise Fitch, Editor of the Trident and Amy Olgen Parmelee, Grand President, the present Historian owes a double debt, first of all for constant inspiration and eager interest, and second for entire readiness to render all manner of aid and services outside of the technical duties devolving upon them. The interest and counsel of her husband. Frank E. Priddy, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, have also been drawn upon freely and often.”
In 1907, her husband, an attorney and postmaster, became ill. He died on February 25, 1909. Palmer described the situation, “Prominent as an attorney, both in political and business circles, postmaster of Adrian for seven years, he had won and was still winning many laurels and cut off as he was in the very fullness of his prime, the loss was almost overwhelming, and is wholly irreparable. As (his wife was) executrix of the estate, many problems have been presented and cared for in a most competent and painstaking manner.”
Palmer wrote of her friend, “From March 1910, Mrs. Priddy’s life has been crowded with work in the schoolroom. A severe operation during the summer did not deter her from her school in the fall and up to June 1915, she was teacher of History in the Adrian High School, at the same time taking additional scholastic work and rapidly acquiring fresh honors. In June 1911, the degree of A.B. and a State Teachers Certificate from Adrian College were conferred upon her and in August 1913 the degree of A.M. from the University of Michigan special work being taken in History and Political Science in courses leading to a Ph.D. for which she is at present working.” She taught history at the Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) in Ypsilanti, Michigan where she was later named Dean of Women. She also served as Dean of Women at the University of Missouri.
She remained a dedicated Tri Delta, having joined the organization when it was in its infancy. She lived most of its history and she wrote and produced another volume, A Detailed Record of Delta Delta Delta 1888-31.
In her introduction to the 1907 volume, she wrote, “No space has been taken for words of self-praise or gratulation for it has been thought that the achievements of Tri Delta will speak for themselves to all who may care to read. While a task of many days, interrupted sometimes for months by family cares, yet the compilation of this history has nevertheless been a source of pleasure to one who has worked in the ranks of the fraternity since the third year of its history….Kindly indulgence is asked for the multitude of errors that must be made by one who attempts to compile nearly twenty years of history from such scattered records as were to be commanded. More time and more labor could have brought this to greater perfection but as time passes history is making and already enough of labor upon it has been added to a busy life to equal the working hours of a year. May these humble efforts open the way for some future historian to perfect the task and also to inspire in all Tri Deltas who read an abiding resolution to make a history worthy of preservation.”
In 1931, she was elected National President. She presided at the 17th National Convention in Virginia Beach, Virginia in June 1934. According to a 1934 November Trident article, the convention attendees were “acutely conscious of the long years of service given by Bessie Leach Priddy.” It was also noted that “because of serious illness, Bessie Leach Priddy relied on her devoted workers to help her preside.” At the final banquet at that 1934 convention, she was given a diamond studded wrist-watch. For her devotion to Tri Delta through much of its history, she had served as a national officer. At the 1936 convention which took place at the Broadmoor in Colorado, she was honored at the memorial service. She died on May 27, 1935.
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