Grace Wilkie grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and spent most of her life living and working there. She was educated at the University of Kansas, where, during her undergraduate years, she became a member of Chi Omega. She served her chapter as president and delegate to the convention at Lexington, Kentucky in 1910. She was a charter member of KU’s Mortar Board chapter and she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.
After graduation in 1912, Wilkie was hired as the head of home economics at Fairmount Congregational College (today it is Wichita State University) in Wichita. Nine years later, she was appointed Dean of Women. In 1926, she earned a Master’s degree from Columbia University. In between, during 1919-20, she spent time in post-World War I France as Chi Omega’s representative to the American Committee for Devastated France. She sailed for France on November 21, 1919.
The February 1920, Eleusis of Chi Omega, had this write up:
The fraternity is unusually fortunate in having Grace Wilkie, Lambda, working in France as Chi Omega’s representative with the American Committee for Devastated France. Miss Wilkie is a thoroughly capable and efficient worker ideally adapted to this kind of work and we are glad that it is Chi Omega’s War Work Fund which is making her achievements possible. As an undergraduate member of Lambda Chapter, Miss Wilkie brought her marked, power of organization and rare enthusiasm to all her fraternity interests making hers one of the personalities not soon forgotten. Since graduation, her interests have been mainly in her school work and along social service lines, in which her tact and understanding of people have been invaluable. With this unusually fine combination of qualities, we know the work of Miss Wilkie will be remarkably successful. While in New York, before sailing, she promised the ELEUSIS Editor to send an article to the ELEUSIS telling of the particular work she has gone to France to do and of her life there. We hope to have some news from her by the time our next magazine appears.
After having visited with Wilkie in France, Katherine W. Carson of Pi chapter, wrote a report which appeared in the September 1920 Eleusis:
The Committee carries on work in the Cantons of Vic-sur-Aisne, Coucy-le-Chateau, and Soissons, and it is in the former that we are most interested, for it is there that Grace Wilkie, Lambda, is stationed, having been sent overseas in December on the Chi Omega Service Fund. Here there is a unit of twenty or twenty-five splendid young women, among them a child welfare specialist, a nurse, four or five chauffeurs, two recreation leaders, and the rest are ‘general workers.’ It is to this last group that Grace belongs. They are not only ‘general workers’ but ‘willing workers’ also, and stand ready to do anything that needs doing, no matter how difficult or how menial.
Vic is a tiny, almost ruined, village near Soissons, with a population, before the war of, only nine hundred and thirty-nine, and its inhabitants are the best type of French peasants, who have lost their all in the war, and have known the terrors of German occupation for three years. The home of the Committee is a stone country house – damaged by shell fire, but now repaired so that it is quite habitable – which contains office, living- and dining-rooms and kitchen, and a few bedrooms, but most of the girls are housed in two wooden barracks at the rear. There is also a well-stocked dispensary, where a children’s clinic is held, and a large ‘magasin’ or store house, in which everything from a baby’s bottle to a spade may be found.
It was my pleasure to meet Grace Wilkie in Paris when she first arrived, and later I had the privilege of visiting twice at Vic-sur-Aisne, where I saw something of the work being done there. Let me mention a few of the things Grace does, as a ‘general worker’ – and she has no doubt lengthened this list considerably since I was there in February! – financial work in the office, kept important statistics of the families in the villages of the three counties, kept records of the sick and under nourished children who have been brought to the clinic, fumigated houses after scarlet fever epidemic, ran the cinema, had charge of live stock, hundreds of baby chickens, besides rabbits and goats with which the Committee is aiding returning peasants to restock their farms – all this, in addition to having as her own particular charge the little village of St. Christophe, for which she is ‘marrain’ and is entirely responsible.
Until her retirement in 1953, Wilkie served as Dean of Women, although the institution was then known as the Municipal University of Wichita. That year, the Grace Wilkie Scholarship was established and a new residence hall was named in her honor. The cafeteria wing was called the Grace Wilkie Annex. In 1980, Grace Wilkie Hall became the offices of the Division of Student Affairs.
Wilkie died in 1967. She was honored in Wichita State University’s Plaza of Heroines in 1999. Her home at 4230 East English Street was nominated to the Kansas and National Registers of Historic Places in 2007. Many of the students were invited to an annual tea at the home in which Wilkie lived with her sister Sophronia. “Phrone,” as she was known, was a teacher.
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