Many thanks to Beth Applebaum, Tri Delta’s Fraternity Archives Manager, for graciously allowing me to post her Trident article about R. Louise Fitch. I have been a long-time admirer of “Our Louise,” as she was called by the Tri Deltas of her time.
R. Louise Fitch once described herself as being “above medium height, so thin that she had to stand twice in any one spot to cast a show.” But she failed to mention her warm, magnetic brown eyes, her remarkable memory of names and faces, her insight into chapter problems and her ability to help chapter members few those problems objectively. Her contributions Tri Delta’s growth and development were legion, but perhaps less well known are her many contributions outside Tri Delta, including her remarkable war service during World War I.
She was born Rachel Louise Fitch, only daughter of Elmer Eli and Rachel Helgesen Fitch on September 27, 1878 in Galva, Illinois. Her father was superintendent of the Galva schools for eight years before resigning to serve as editor of the Galva News, which he purchased in 1883. Her mother was a teacher and advocate for education improvements. R. Louise graduated from Galva High School and went on to attend Knox College where she was initiated into Tri Delta’s Epsilon chapter in 1899.
She attended the fifth national convention in Boston in 1902, where she urged the adoption of a visiting delegate program in which a chapter officer would make the rounds visiting each chapter. This program later evolved into what is currently the Chapter Development Consultant (CDC) Program. As visiting delegate, she was the first fraternity officer to make a complete round of chapter visits. Many chapters were at first intimidated by her arrival, often spending the preceding weeks in a flurry of cleaning and organizing in anticipation of her visit. After she arrived, her shrewd eyes saw far more than the chapter realized and she developed a warm relationship with each one she visited, even those she had to discipline. She left the chapters showered with hugs and kisses, and along with her notes, a magazine of two and a box of chocolates under her arm, gifts to “Our Louise.”
It was during her first visit to the Boston chapter, she met Founder Ida Shaw Martin and together with Amy Olgen Parmalee, Northwestern and Bessie Leach Priddy, Adrian, caught the vision Ida Shaw Martin had for Tri Delta’s future. Together this “Great Triumvirate” worked for many years to make that dream a reality. Martin also entrusted Louise with her original handwritten copies of the rituals, constitution and designs for the different insignia.
R. Louise had spent eighteen months as editor and business manager of her father’s paper, the Galva News. This experience came in handy when she became editor of the Trident in 1910. She spent five more years as editor, focusing on greater chapter communications. She also acted as co-editor of our first history, A Detailed Record of Delta Delta Delta, 1888-1907 with Bessie Leach Priddy, and was responsible for many of the photos.
Louise was elected national president in 1915. But with the World War I looming, she felt the need to make a significant contribution to the war effort. As a result, she was accepted to work with the YWCA and was sent to France. She conducted an in-depth study of that part that French women played in the war effort. Her work took her all over France, interviewing women in factories and farms all across the country. While there she wrote her book, Madame France, which was published and distributed by the YMCA. The book tells of the remarkable women she met in her travels across France and their significant efforts to support their country.
It was during this period that she also wrote a series of letters in diary form which were duplicated and mailed out to all initiated Tri Delta members. She used this to raise money for several projects benefitting education of women in France after the war.
Louise continued her philanthropic efforts throughout the rest of her life and was particularly known for her interest in women’s education. She served as temporary house director of the Theta Delta chapter at Oregon. She was appointed Dean of Women at Whitman College, and later served as Dean of Women at Cornell. While at Cornell, she became involved with the planning, building and furnishing of the quadrangle dormitories. Her home was often the gathering place for freshman girls that R. Louise came to know personally.
During her time at Oregon, she became acquainted with Lila Belle Acheson, Oregon and DeWitt Wallace, who later became editors of Reader’s Digest. After her retirement from Cornell, she traveled under their sponsorship, studying facilities for recreation and counseling of the elderly. She became quite involved in the issues of elder care and gave presentation across the country on the subject. For her many achievements, she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from her alma mater, Knox College.
She spent the last years of her life in Tacoma, Washington, where she continued to be active in many local clubs and organizations. In 1952, R. Louise Fitch and Amy Parmelee attended the Tri Delta Convention at Sun Valley as special guests, since the event marked the fiftieth anniversary since they had attended their first convention together in 1902.
Over the next few years, R. Louise’s health began to deteriorate. She moved to a Tacoma nursing home where she died on March 12, 1958. She was buried in her hometown of Galva, Illinois with mourners present from Tri Delta and from Knox College.
R. Louise Fitch remains an inspiration to many Tri Deltas dedicated to service to our Fraternity, but her passion for education, women’s history and the elderly should not be forgotten.