Mary Elizabeth Lasher was a 1939 initiate of the Ohio Alpha chapter of Pi Beta Phi at Ohio University. She died March 9, 2016 at Friends Fellowship Community in Richmond, Indiana, a few days short of her 94th birthday.
I met Mary Lib, as she was known to family and friends, at several Pi Phi events. She was an elegant, charming, and gracious woman. In 1989, she moved back to Athens, Ohio, There, in her retirement years, she was a stalwart member of her chapter’s Alumnae Advisory Committee.
Her father was George Starr Lasher, founder and first director of the Ohio University School of Journalism. He was also a dedicated member of Theta Chi. He served as its national president and was editor of The Rattle of Theta Chi for almost four decades. He also served as vice-chairman of the North-American Interfraternity Conference.
Mary Lib was also a pioneer in many ways. In the 1942 issue of The Rattle, her proud father included this news:
The distinction of being the first woman to edit the campus newspaper at Ohio University, the oldest university west of the Alleghenies, went this year to Mary Elizabeth Lasher, daughter of George Starr Lasher, editor of The Rattle of Theta Chi, and director of the School of Journalism at Ohio University. She is one of the few women to edit campus newspapers in the country, especially papers that issue more frequently than once a week, and have circulations exceeding 3000. The Ohio University Post is published three times a week and its circulation is 3100.
Miss Lasher resigned the presidency of the local Pi Beta Phi chapter to accept the editorship, as a campus regulation limits a person at Ohio University to one major position. She is a member of Mortar Board, Phoenix, Theta Sigma Phi, journalism professional sorority, and Kappa Tau Alpha, journalism honor society.
In 1942, after graduating from Ohio University, she became a reporter for Editor & Publisher, a trade journal. When she took that job she became the first female reporter for a newspaper trade journal. She was also the first woman in the retail advertising division at the American Newspaper Publishers Association.
She married Kenneth A. Barnette on Saturday, June 8, 1946; the reception took place at the Ohio University Theta Chi chapter house. According to another news item in The Rattle, 200 guests attended the reception after the church wedding.
From the 1940s until the 1970s, Mary Lib edited the From Pi Phi Pens feature in The Arrow of Pi Beta Phi. Pi Beta Phi’s first Chapter Loyalty Day took place on January 9, 1947. It was Carrie Chapman Catt’s 88th birthday and Chapter Loyalty Day was Pi Beta Phi’s way of thanking one of its most loyal and prominent members. Mary Lib interviewed Carrie Chapman Catt and that interview was published in the March 1947 Arrow:
Both pen and voice, guided by a keen mind and a progressive spirit, have been the tools used by Carrie Chapman Catt to achieve many long denied rights for women. By virtue of her successful fight in behalf of the voting privilege for women in the United States and abroad she has earned the gratitude of all womankind, and for her still continuing fight for world peace she deserves the support of all mankind. For these reasons and because her birthday, January 9, has been designated as Chapter Loyalty Day for Pi Phis everywhere, it is fitting that this column carry some of her messages.
The firmness of her voice, the erectness of her carriage, and the clarity with which she remembers the past and perceives the requirements of a peaceful and civilized future belie the eighty-eight years for which she was honored at a birthday dinner given for her by the American Association for the United Nations at the Hotel Roosevelt, New York, in January. Pi Phi alumnae in New York were given a similar opportunity two days later when they entertained her at a tea.
The following statements, which New York’s daily newspapers published in extensive articles covering the AAUN dinner, indicate the responsibilities which Mrs. Catt believes women should accept along with the rights for which she and others of her generation fought.
She urged the women of the world, “each and every one of them,” to become soldiers for peace, declaring that the best way to avert war is not to be prepared for it, but to oppose war preparation.
Recognizing that this is not an easy task, Mrs. Catt asserted: “It will be a great, tortuous effort to persuade the masses of people that war should be stopped, that it can be stopped, and that it will be stopped when they are ready for it.”
In a further statement she explained her beliefs regarding the causes of war, saying: “Everyone is asking if the United Nations is going to be able to stop war. I think it will not stop war unless something bigger and stronger makes it move faster than it now does. There is one cause of war, to my mind, and that is the rivalry and competition in armaments between nations. When one nation goes far enough in armaments and the other is afraid of it, out of the confusion then arising comes war.”
Pi Phis can well be proud of the bond that joins them to Mrs. Catt, who has distinguished the fraternity by her membership and who has always worn her Pi Phi badge whenever she was opening an important convention or association meeting. They can be equally proud of the United Nations scroll which Thomas J. Watson, president of the International Business Machines Corporation, presented to her for her devotion to the cause of world peace and her efforts on behalf of international cooperation.
And, they can agree with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt who in paying tribute to the pioneer suffragist, said: ‘I think it s wonderful, Mrs. Catt, that you can look back and feel you have accomplished so much not only for your country but for countries throughout the world. In our hearts, we give you our gratitude and respect and deep admiration.’
On a more personal level, it should be of delight her fraternity sisters that, though vitally active in national and international affairs, Mrs. Catt has maintained an unflagging interest in Pi Beta Phi, which was known as I.C. Sorosis when she became a member. To this reporter she expressed her particular satisfaction in the work accomplished by the Settlement School, saying, ‘I think the Gatlinburg development has done more than anything else to give Pi Phi the standing it has today.’
Indeed, Carrie Chapman Catt is a Pi Phi who has given far more than lip service to the fraternity’s ideals, who in fact has made them an essential part of her life’s work.
The Barnettes and their three daughters were living in the Buffalo, New York, area when Kenneth Barnette was diagnosed with cancer. After his death in 1969, Mary Lib married again and took the name Myers. Several years ago, she chose to revert to the name from her first marriage. For 11 years, Mary Lib served as the New Director at SUNY Buffalo State. In 1999, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University honored her with the L.J. Hortin Distinguished Alumna Award.
Mary Lib’s grandson, Justin Watt, wrote a post on his blog about his grandmother. It includes a wonderful picture of her in her later years (see http://justinsomnia.org/2016/03/my-grandmother-passed-away/).
As one last gracious gesture, Mary Lib’s brain was donated to the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. 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.