Dorothy Canfield Fisher and the “Kappa Aunts” on KKΓ’s Founders’ Day

Happy Founders’ Day, Kappa Kappa Gamma. Kappa Kappa Gamma’s founders are Mary Moore “Minnie” Stewart, Anna Elizabeth Willits, Susan Burley Walker, Hanna Jeanette “Jennie” Boyd, Mary Louise “Lou” Bennett,  and Martha Louisa “Lou” Stevenson. Some of the founders recalled that the organization was founded in March, 1870, but that the appearance was delayed until fall, because the badges had been difficult to procure.  Willet’s mother was the one who came up with the idea of using a key as the badge.  The first badges were made by the Bennett’s family jeweler who was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In order to have the badges made, 12 had to be ordered at a price of $5 each.  The Kappa Kappa Gamma’s first public appearance at chapel took place on October 13, 1870 and since the 1876 Convention, October 13 has been celebrated as Founders’ Day.

At a June 1874 meeting, the Senate of Monmouth College, under pressure from some sections of the United Presbyterian Church, passed the following resolution, “It shall be unlawful for any student of the college hereafter to become a member of any secret college fraternity or to connect with any chapter of any such fraternity, and also for an active member of such fraternity to be admitted as a student in the college.” At first the resolution had little impact, but pressure from devout United Presbyterians grew. Some refused to donate money to the financially struggling institution.  In early 1878, the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter disbanded.

On October 13, 1934, the chapter was reinstalled.  A local sorority, Kappa Alpha Sigma, became the Alpha Deuteron Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. In between the time the Alpha Chapter was closed and Alpha Deuteron rechartered, Dorothy Canfield was initiated by the Ohio State chapter. In 1913, Lucy Allen Smart, former Editor of the Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma, wrote:

Little Dorothy Canfield, with curls down her back, entered the Ohio State University preparatory department in 1894, when her distinguished father, Dr. James H. Canfield, became president. She had known Kappas at Lincoln, where Doctor Canfield was chancellor of the University of Nebraska, and she liked them, too, and so, naturally and most fortunately for us, she was pledged to Beta Nu. The writer was a senior when Dorothy was initiated in the fall of 1896. As a student, she entered whole heartedly into the life of the chapter and into all activities of college life. The hospitable home, with big open fires in the living rooms and the studio (for Mrs. Canfield is an artist), was the scene of one delightful gathering after another. Musicales. receptions, lectures, Hallowe’en parties followed one upon the other. Especially informal and delightful were the happy times when Kappas, active and alumnae, sometimes forty strong, took possession of the executive mansion. Rare good fun we had one day when we were Dorothy’s guests for dinner and supper and a side splitting mock wedding ceremony was performed. A province convention was held in the Canfield living rooms one May. Rich, indeed, are the memories of those happy times when Dr. and Mrs. Canfield and Dorothy and her brother, Jim, opened their doors and their hearts to Kappas.

Jim married a Nebraska Kappa, Stella Elliot, who was director of physical education for women at Ohio State University. In 1Γ898, Dorothy was Beta Nu’s delegate to the Kappa Convention, which was held at Lincoln. When Doctor Canfield resigned to become librarian at Columbia, Dorothy Canfield, B.Ph., entered Columbia and affiliated with our Barnard chapter. After studying at Columbia and in France, Italy, and Spain, she received the degree of Ph.D., in comparative philology at Columbia in 1904. She was secretary of Horace Mann school for several years.

Dorothy married John Redmond Fisher, essayist and journalist, in 1907. The old Canfield homestead in Arlington, Vermont, is the permanent home of the Fishers and little three-year-old Sally plays where her maternal great-grand-parents lived. Dorothy is a linguist of remarkable gift, speaking a number of languages as a cultured native speaks each one and reading fluently many more. She used to play a violin charmingly and oh, how her musical voice read Browning to me! The world knows her through her writing, for the magazines have been full of her unusual fiction for years. Some of her serious books are ‘Corneille and Racine in England’ (Macmillan), and ‘Rhetoric and Composition’ (Macmillan). Two novels have attracted much attention and favorable comment: ‘Gunhild’ (Holt), and ”The Squirrel Cage’ (Holt). The latter preaches one of the strongest sermons I know against the modern complex life, with its many artificial and false standards. Read it, all ye Kappas, and profit thereby.

Her last book, ‘The Montessori Mother,’ is fresh in our minds. Last winter, Dorothy Canfield Fisher (for so we must now call her), was in Rome and came in close contact with Doctor Montessori and the Casa dei Bambini and in this book the author brings to us the message of the Italian educator, whose philosophy is based on the democracy of the child. The book gives a clear statement of this new system and the apparatus used and helps all mothers in the education of their small children.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

In the February 1917 Key, a letter from Fisher was published. It told of her efforts and how she ended up in Europe during the war:

You know I was partly brought up in France, and have lived here off and on a good deal, so that it’s a second home. The outbreak of the war seemed like the end of the world to me.had loved Germany too, and had lived there, and for that reason there was an added bitterness to the horror for me. I’ll never forget the day I stood on our front porch at Arlington (Vermont), on the slope of the big mountain, and read in the headlines that Belgium had been invaded. The very ground seemed to drop away from under my feet and when I looked up,  I remember how like a mirage our peaceful, green valley looked, so unchanged by what had changed all the world to me. But my little boy was only a few months old then, it was out of the question to leave him or to take him along. My husband (who felt quite as I did) and I worried along as best we could, through many painful months of “neutrality” until we couldn’t stand it any longer. Little Jimmy by that time had grown into a big, hearty, healthy child who didn’t look as though he could be hurt by traveling . . . and so we came. Mr. Fisher went into the American Ambulance Field Service, and went out to the front near Verdun. It was the very first separation since our marriage eight years ago, and I can tell you, it was a very dismal time for me; although I was ashamed to confess it because it was nothing compared to what my friends were suffering all round me here. It is true my husband was in danger, was replacing tires under shell-fire, and all the other trying circumstances possible, was spending whole days in the ‘abris’ with German shells falling all around it, and was driving night after night over shell-ruined roads, without any lights at all, to and from the front . . . but he wasn’t in the front-line trenches liable to be sent over the top at any moment; so I said nothing about my anxieties to any Frenchwoman.

She went on to add that after she arrived in Paris, she had a hand in the preparation of Braille reading materials for the men blinded during the war. When she wrote the letter she was serving as a head cook for the American Ambulance training camp. She then told about her friend, Madame Fischbacher:

Now please, will you do something for me? I appeal to you as members of my own family. This is the case. Mme. Fischbacher (the one who is taking my place at the Phare) lives in Bellevue-Meudon, a suburb of Paris. She has been terribly impressed by the sufferings of the children there, due to war-conditions. . .no, not war-orphans, everybody is helping them . . . nor yet refugees, who are getting help from many and many an organization; but just children, children who are always inexpressibly precious to every nation, but who to France are the only hope she has for the future. Their fathers are at the front and have been for three years. Just think of that. That means that a little baby of three, has now become a school-child of six without seeing his father more than three or four times, without ever having had any help from his father in the family life. Their mothers work them-selves into shadows trying to be father and mother both, and to be wage-earners into the bargain but they can’t do it. Nobody could! And they aren’t “helped” because their case is the normal, usual one in France. . .think of that! Now Mme. Fischbacher wants to start a little work for the children in her own town, and she is partly laying that aside because I have pounced on her for the work at the Phare Printing Department. Won’t you help me make it up to her and to the children of Bellevue. Why shouldn’t all Kappas, if they want to have a special war work of their own, just ‘adopt’ the little children among the poor of Bellevue.

She ended her plea with ” Think of yourselves as their far-away aunts, why don’t you . . . there, that’s just the thing. Let’s call ourselves the ‘Kappa Aunts of Bellevue’!” and signed of with “affectionate greetings to you all.”

In the 1919 Ohio State yearbook, her chapter gave this information about the work being done by one of their number: 

Behold the godmothers of the children of Bellevue. It happened through Dorothy Canfield Fisher so prominent in war work and in the literary world. Mrs Fisher was a member of Beta Nu Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma not so very many years ago. She is now in France while her husband is at the front. She takes care of great numbers of refugee children giving them clothing and food to keep them alive. She has granted our chapter the privilege of being headquarters for all the clothing that the people of this country send to her for the French who need it so badly.

The “Kappas aunts” took up the cause. A report of NPC war work which appeared in many NPC member publications noted that the Kappas:

Performed reconstruction work in Bellevue Meudon France under the direction of Dorothy Canfield Fisher. This work consisted in a free dispensary, doctor, visiting nurse and free meals for the sick and underfed children of this district. Many tons of clothing, shoes, toys, soap, and medicine were sent. Underclothes, dresses, suits, layettes, etc. were made by the chapters and alumnae associations for the children and women of Bellevue.  

Fisher received the Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumnae Achievement Award in 1948. She was the author of 22 novels and 18 books of non-fiction, including Understood Betsy. Published in 1916, it introduced a Montessori style of learning to an American audience. She died in 1958.



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