Alexine and Marion Mitchell, Kappa Kappa Gamma, #amazingsororitywomen, #WHM2017

 “Alexine Mitchell has returned from a trip abroad,” reported a 1911 Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Alexine and her sister Marion Otis Mitchell were both initiates of the Kappa chapter at Stanford University although Alexine later affiliated with the chapter at Berkeley.

They were the daughters of Captain Josiah A. Mitchell. He survived the burning of the chipper ship Hornet by making it 43 days in an open longboat. Captain Mitchell’s story was immortalized in Samuel Clement/Mark Twain’s account of the ordeal which appeared in the newspapers and magazines of the day. The sisters, too, were world travelers and both would go on to be of service during World War I.

“Alexine Mitchell is nursing in a hospital in France, through the grounds of which were the third line trenches of the July offensive,” their alumnae chapter reported in a 1918 Key. Marion, it was noted, was “still in motor service at Toule and Nancy and writes of being under direct bombardment of German guns while rescuing two old French women from their remote mountain hut.” 

(courtesy of

The War Work done by the sisters explained in more detail in The Key. On December 31, 1916, Alexine left Alameda, California to travel to France. She was with the “American Fund for French Wounded.” She had spent 30 weeks preparation and study at the State Normal School in Santa Barbara, which was followed by a first aid course at the Presidion and another at the Lane Hospital. Her work in France was detailed below. (Do the math on the mileage. It works out to about 10 miles an hour!)

For a year and a half she drove a car in France delivering hospital supplies to hundreds of outlying hospitals, taking care of the car. The trips often required driving late at night, summer and winter. On one occasion when it was necessary to carry supplies from Paris to Nancy in haste (218) miles she drove for twenty hours without stopping, arriving at 2 a. m.

Nancy has often been subjected to severe bombardments. She visited the American Headquarters at the Front, where no women had driven a car. Also visited the famous citadel of Verdun. Was in the French second-line trenches, where no woman except Sara Bernhardt had been since August, 1914. Even going beyond until she stood less than half a mile from the German line, a shell exploding near reminded them of their dangerous position.

In June, 1918, Alexine entered hospital work as a nurse at Essey-le-Nancy just back of the Front, where she is at present; that hospital has been bombed by the Germans repeatedly. -General Nollet, head of the hospital, upon leaving to follow their advancing armies, called the doctors and head nurses together and said: ‘We drink to the health of our two American nurses, who, like ALL Americans, have made good.’

While on her first vacation she fell ill with influenza, but recovered and reached Paris during ‘Peace Week’ in time to witness the joyful celebrations.

Alexine is on the left in this picture which appeared in The Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Marion Otis Mitchell (courtesy of

Marion Otis Mitchell left Alameda on May 7, 1917, also working for the  “American Fund for French Wounded.” Her preparation included taking a first aid course and another in automobile repair. In addition:

She handled hospital supplies for some time in Paris, and was engaged in canteen work in Bar-le-duc for a short time; then went to Toul and drove a dispensary car for Dr. Brown, an American woman physician, for four months, their work being among civilians immediately back of the Front including Pont-a-Mousson. She acted as interpreter for the doctor, and also assisted her in her work when necessary.

From Toul Marion was sent to Nancy where she continued her work for a year past, driving a car with hospital supplies to the ambulances back of the Front. She has been present in Nancy and Toul many times when they were bombed, also in Paris when fired upon by ‘big Bertha.’

Being sent to the top of Mount Mousson to evacuate an old woman of ninety-three years and her “ancient daughter,”she came within range and sight of the Germans who fired six shells at her car. The second shot brought down a tall tree less than thirty feet from her.

After an attack of the Spanish influenza Marion was fortunate in arriving in Paris in time to witness the wonderful peace celebration.

Marion Otis Mitchell (Courtesy of The Key of Kappa Kappa Gamma)

Alexine married Walter Lubowski, and in the 1940s, the family name was changed to Gregory. Alexine’s granddaughter and her cousin have put together a wonderful website about the Mitchell sisters. For more information on the war service of the Mitchell sisters, visit

© Fran Becque,, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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A Poignant Chi Omega Story and a Talk With Charlotte Rae, AEPhi, “Mrs. G.”

It’s Women History Month and I have been trying to profile sorority women who served in World War I. It’s not as easy as it looks and frankly and I not sure if anyone is interested. That’s never stopped me before, but there are a few things I’d like to share with my subscribers.

The first is an Oprah magazine article I read about members of the Chi Omega chapter at the University of Mississippi. Be forewarned, it is beautifully written and I was in tears by the end of the article.


Kevin Hunsperger is a friend who Southern Illinoisans know as the morning anchor at WSIL-TV. He is a charter member of the Sigma Nu chapter at Southeast Missouri State University. He and his friend Tom Harness interviewed Charlotte Rae Lubotsky, better known as Charlotte Rae. To a generation of television viewers, she is known as Mrs. Garrett on The Facts of Life. She became a member of Alpha Epsilon Phi at Northwestern University.

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Blanche Grand-Maitre, Alpha Xi Delta, #amazingsororitywomen, #WHM2017

“Blanche B. Grand-Maitre has sailed for France with the third unit of the French-American toll service,” read an entry in the May 6, 1918 Minnesota Alumni Weekly.

Grand-Maitre was a 1911 graduate of the University of Minnesota, where she was a member of the Mu Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. She hailed from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, from a French Canadian family. She spoke fluent French. While a collegiate member of the chapter, she wrote a musical comedy which was performed and the proceeds went to the House Fund. Its title was Cupid, Ph.D. and the plot revolved around the love affairs of Peter and Mary Featherbrain. One of the songs she wrote, When Ladies Go to War, was sung by the chorus. It title was very prescient.

She was working as a teacher in Minneapolis when she answered a call for who could speak French and were willing to learn to operate a telephone switchboard.  Her chapter’s report in the March 1919 The Alpha Xi Delta (before it was called The Quill) noted, “Blanche Grand-Maitre who is with the Signal Corps is stationed at Bordeaux, France. She has been wearing a service stripe for over two months. Her main desires at present are to be in the United States, have some really ‘classy’ clothes, and no longer be a soldier, but a ‘regular’ girl.”

Blanche Grand-Maitre, Alpha Xi Delta

She was chosen as one of the 223 women the Signal Corps sent to France during World War I to serve as telephone operators. She served in General Pershing’s headquarters. The women were known as “Hello Girls.” Although they were treated like soldiers, the Hello Girls did not receive veteran’s status until 1979, when 205 of them had died. 

She had a love who was also in Europe, fighting in the war. His name was Everett Hale, and he, too, had attended the University of Minnesota. Some say they were engaged to be married. When war was declared he was working in real estate in their home town of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. He promptly enlisted and, after training, was sent to the Argonne Forest. He died on October 14, 1918. His family was told he was “missing in action” and it was not until July 1919 that his family was notified of his death.

After the war was declared over, she made a trip to the Argonne Forest to find the grave of her love. With the help of soldiers who had detailed maps, she located his shallow grave. His body was then moved to the cemetary at Romange-Meuse. In 1921, his body was sent back to Chippewa Falls, as requested by his parents.

When she returned to Minnesota in Septenber of 1919, she visited with her chapter, and attended Alpha Xi Delta events. As an senior she had written an article for The Alpha Xi Delta on the importance of alumnae support, so it’s no surprise that she made that effort. She also attended the first national convention of the American Legion, which took place in November 1919 in Minneapolis. She represented the St. Paul Legion Post.  She also served Alpha Xi as the Entertainment Committee Chairman at its 1920 convention.

After the war, likely broken-hearted, she returned to teaching. She never married. The 1940 census has her living in California. She died in 1970 before she and her 222 compatriots received veteran’s status.

My thanks to Jan Hutchins, Alpha Xi Delta, for her lead on Grand-Maitre. Those interested in Hello Girls might enjoy a book which will soon be available, The Hello Girls, by Elizabeth Cobbs, see The photo of Grande-Maitre’s identity papers is courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum.

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Grace Banker (Paddock), Gamma Phi Beta, #amazingsororitywomen, #WHM2017

Gamma Phi Beta Grace Banker joined Gamma Phi Beta at Barnard Colllege. Due to anti-fraternity sentiment, the chapter was short-lived. Banker was one of the women who served her country in World War I. Her service was in a unique capacity, which was high tech at the time, but it seems so quaint to us now.

A call went out for experienced switchboard operators who could speak both French and English. More than 7,000 women applied; 450 were chosen to be “Hello Girls” as they were informally known. Banker was the Chief Operator of the of the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit.

The women completed Signal Corps training at Fort Franklin in Maryland. In March 1918, she and 32 other women, the first group of operators, headed to Europe. They began operating phones in France and Britain.

Grace Banker, Gamma Phi Beta, is on the left in the front row.

Banker and five others were dispatched to the First American Army Headquarters. They were part of the September 1918 Battle of St. Mihiel. Together they worked night and day for eight days. At the end of the month, their new assignment took them to the front lines, northwest of Verdun. From that post, they were subjected to the same threats as the infantry, aerial bombardment from German planes. Their barracks were leaky and cold and in October it burned after being hit by the Germans. Once they were also threatened with court-martial if they did not leave their posts immediately. They left, but returned an hour later to make use of the few telephone lines that survived the bombardment.

Banker continued to work after the armistice was signed. She went to Paris and was dispatched to President Woodrow Wilson’s temporary residence. When an opportunity to be assigned to the Army of Occupation at Coblenz, Germany, was offered, she quickly accepted it. Lieutenant-General Hunter Liggett presented her with the Distinguished Service Medal for her work during the St. Mihiel drive. She left Europe in September 1919 after more than a year and a half of service.

Banker and her colleagues wore U.S. Army uniforms and were subjected to all Army regulations. However, they did not receive honorable discharges; Army regulations specified male gender, therefore the women were considered civilians. In 1978, on the 60th anniversary of World War I’s end, Congress gave the living “Hello Girls” veteran status via honorable discharges. Sadly, Grace Banker Paddock died in 1960 and could not revel in this honor.

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Dr. May Agness Hopkins, Zeta Tau Alpha, #amazingsororitywomen, #WHM2017

May Agness Hopkins was born in Austin, Texas on August 18, 1883. She graduated from the University of Texas in 1906, the same year the Kappa Chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha was founded. May Bolinger (Orgain) was a member of ZTA’s Epsilon Chapter at the University of Arkansas. There were four other NPC groups at the University of Texas, but Bolinger wanted a ZTA chapter in Austin. A friend told her that if she could get May Hopkins to help, her efforts would be successful.  A lunch was arranged and by the end of lunch Hopkins had agreed to help organize a Zeta chapter, even though she was a senior. The installation of the chapter took place in Hopkins’ home. A month after graduation, Hopkins attended ZTA’s 1906 Knoxville convention. She left convention as Grand Secretary. In 1908, while attending medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, she was elected Grand President. She served in that position until 1920.

In 1911, Hopkins received her medical degree; she was the lone woman in her graduating class. She completed an internship at Boston’s New England Hospital for Women and Children and a residency at Pennsylvania State Hospital. In 1912, she opened a pediatrics practice in Dallas.

Dr. May Agness Hopkins

During World War I, she offered her services and “her call came shortly before the 1918 Grand Chapter meeting and prevented her attendance there, but she sent her suggestions and recommendations, and while the meeting was in progress she was busily engaged in closing her office and making all preparations for going into – she knew not what,” according to the The History of Zeta Tau Alpha 1898-1928.

She tendered her resignation as a Grand Chapter member, but it was not accepted; instead, she was granted a leave of absence. Her response to the leave of absence was printed in the Themis, ZTA’s magazine: 

To my sisters in Zeta Tau Alpha: When I received the resolution of my co-workers of Grand Chapter expressing their appreciation of my work, my heart simply filled to overflowing and I now am unable to find words with which to express my appreciation of your thoughtfulness. But I do wish you to know this: If I have been able to serve my fraternity with the least degree of efficiency; and through it to serve my sisters at large, it has only been through the untiring and loyal support you have given me as my co-officers and co-workers. It is true that our beloved fraternity has grown and through it I have grown – but you have been the power behind the throne. To you I give all the praise, all the honor. For myself, I can only say, ‘May I live to serve you and those I love again.’

In lieu of the identification bracelet worn by all war workers, she wore a gold band bracelet with the Greek letters “ZTA.” It was a gift given to her by Omicron Chapter when it was installed in 1911 at Breanau University in Gainesville, Georgia. Her name was already engraved on the inside and she added her address to it. The bracelet, “was a bit of Zeta Tau Alpha that went with her through all her war-time experiences.”

Dr. May Agness Hopkins in uniform

Once she arrived in France, she was put to work. From July to September 1918, she was assigned to the Smith College unit of the Red Cross stationed at Château Thierry. While there she was given charge of evacuating wounded solders. After she left the front, she was given full jurisdiction of the “Southern Zone,” thirteen departments that bordered the Mediterranean Sea. She was the only woman doctor who served as a chief of a zone. She returned to America in 1919.

In 1920, after serving as Grand President for 12 years, Hopkins felt it necessary to resign the office. She called a Grand Chapter meeting in Dallas. The meeting took place over three days, and “many of the meetings were held in Dr. Hopkins’ car, the members driving with her while she made her calls.”

ZTA joined the National Panhellenic Conference in 1909. “Dr. May,” as her ZTA sisters called her,  was the organization’s first NPC Delegate. She later served as NPC Chairman from 1923-26.

In 1927, she married Howard E. Reitzel. Hopkins remained an active member of  the medical community of Dallas. She practiced medicine until shortly before her death in 1972.

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On Delta Phi Epsilon’s Centennial, Happy 100th!

On March 17, 1917, on hundred years ago today, five coeds at Washington Square College Law, a Division of New York University, founded Delta Phi Epsilon. The DIMES, as they are referred to, are Dorothy Cohen Schwartzman, Ida Bienstock Landau, Minna Goldsmith Mahler, Eva Effron Robin, and Sylvia Steierman Cohn. Delta Phi Epsilon was formally incorporated under New York State law on March 17, 1922.

That these five women were law students back in the day before women could vote in a federal election is impressive. Today, one must have a bachelor’s degree to apply to law school. In 1917, this was not the case. While the American Bar Association was formed in 1878, the first two women to join the organization did so a year after Delta Phi Epsilon was founded. In 1906, the Association of American Law Schools adopted a requirement that law be a three-year course of study.

Delta Phi Epsilon’s founders were between the ages of 17 and 19 when they formed the organization. I suspect they were working on an undergraduate degree in law, rather than what Delta Phi Epsilon members of today aspiring to be lawyers would do, spend additional years of study after obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Ida Landau later in life

Ida Landau later in life

In 1920, Ida Bienstock graduated and was admitted to the New York Bar. In 1921, she married an Austrian, Jacob Landau, who, in 1917, founded the Jewish Telegraph Agency in The Hague. Landau lost her citizenship and her right to practice law when she married a foreigner (men who married foreigners at this time did not forfeit American citizenship). This case attracted national attention and it led to the adoption of the Cable Act (or the Married Woman’s Act) on September 22, 1922, allowing women who marry foreigners to keep their United States citizenship.

Ida Bienstock Landau from the Centennial issue of The Triad

Ida Landau served as the assistant general manager of the Agency for many years. From 1942-51, she served as manager of the Overseas News Agency. She also served as a war correspondent. In 1943, she covered the Bermuda Refugee Conference. In 1945, she toured the liberated countries of Europe and reported on the plight of Jewish refugees. In 1950, she organized the Transworld Features Syndicate.

The Landau’s son, Albert Einstein Landau, was born in 1933. He was named for his godfather, the esteemed scientist. 

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It’s Founders’ Day for Delta Gamma and Phi Delta Theta

March 15 is the day on which both Delta Gamma and Phi Delta Theta celebrate Founders’ Day. The organizations are also connected by the efforts of a Phi Delt who was also an initiated member of Delta Gamma.

It is the birthday of Robert Morrison, one of Phi Delta Theta’s six founders. The organization was founded on December 26, 1848 at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Morrison proposed the organization; along with John McMillan Wilson, he chose the name of the fraternity. The other founders are Robert Thompson Drake, John Wolfe Lindley, Ardivan Walker Rodgers, and Andrew Watts Rogers. Miami University was founded by an act of the Ohio general assembly in 1809. Phi Delta Theta’s second chapter was chartered in 1849 at Indiana University.

Delta Gamma was founded at the Oxford Female Institute, also known as the Lewis School, at Oxford, Mississippi. The school was established before the Civil War and eventually was absorbed by the University of Mississippi. Delta Gamma’s three founders, Eva Webb [Dodd], her cousin Anna Boyd [Ellington], and Mary Comfort [Leonard], all from Kosciusko, Mississippi, were weather-bound at the school over the Christmas holidays in December of 1873.

Delta Gamma

Mrs. Hays, the lady principal, hosted the girls for the holidays. She had a son who was a fraternity man at the University of Mississippi. He and the women’s other gentlemen friends may have imbued the girls with the idea to start their own Greek-letter society. Founder Eva Webb Dodd later told this story:

When the idea first came to three homesick girls during the Christmas holidays of 1873 to found fraternity or club as we then called it, little did we realize that we were laying the cornerstone of such a grand fraternity as Delta Gamma. The school we attended at Oxford, Miss., was not much more advanced than a high school of today. During the week we decided on our motto and selected the Greek letters to represent it. We did not know that there were any other fraternities for girls in the United States known by Greek letters when we gave our club its name. We spent the holidays deciding on our pin and initiation and writing our constitution. In January 1874, we had our first initiation. We initiated four girls. The initiation was in one of the rooms of the house where we were boarding. We were careful to select only the girls we thought would be in sympathy with us and make our fraternity worthy of its name.

Delta Gamma’s Founders’ Day is celebrated on March 15 because on that date in 1879, the Eta Chapter at Akron University was founded. Coincidentally, it was a man, Phi Delta Theta George Banta, who took Delta Gamma to the northern states. That story of George Banta, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Gamma.

According to an article published in the Winter 1993 Anchora:

In May 1878, 20-year-old George Banta was on a train returning to Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, from a Phi Delta Theta Convention. He sat with Monroe McClurg and shared with him his concern over the fraternity political situation in Indiana, noting that Indiana needed another female Greek group. Brother McClurg agreed and offered a solution. In Oxford, Mississippi, where he was in school at ‘Ole Miss,’ there prospered a fine ladies’ group with a few other chapters in southern girl’s schools. The group was Delta Gamma, and Monroe McClurg was happy to put Brother Banta in touch with these young women.

George Banta wasted no time in making contact with the Delta Gammas in Oxford, They, too, were eager for new expansion and invested him with the power to form chapters in academically well-recognized northern colleges. George Banta set about achieving their expansion goal, having been told to select the Greek letters of his choice for the new chapters. It was logical that when he organized the first northern chapter at Franklin College the Greek letter should be Phi, in honor of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. No doubt, the first initiate was his fiance, Lillie Vawter.

George Banta later wrote, ‘I think we were also told to adopt our own ritual and bylaws, the latter to serve as well as it might for a constitution. These were used to organize at Hanover, Buchtel (now the University of Akron), and Wisconsin . . . and probably at Northwestern. I cannot recall when no in what order the organization were effected at Hanover and Buchtel (but) in both cases it was through the direct and active effort and cooperation of membership of my fraternity.’

George Banta, Phi Delta Theta and Delta Gamma

Banta spent his life as a strident supporter of the fraternity world. In 1901, he founded  the George Banta Printing Company in Menasha, Wisconsin. In addition to printing the magazines of many fraternities and sororities, he published Banta’s Greek Exchange.

It is also interesting to note that Banta’s sons Mark and George, Jr. became members of Phi Delta Theta. George Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps; he served as president of the Phi Delta Theta Grand Council from 1932-34.

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M. Estelle Angier, Kappa Delta, #amazingsororitywomen, #WHM2017

A profile of M. Estelle Angier was published in Volume 17 of The Angelos of Kappa Delta, the recap of convention edition. At that convention, she was elected National Secretary. Angier was an initiate of the Kappa Delta chapter at Hollins College. She wrote:

I did not go to be the ‘College Queen,’ nor yet did I know anything about sororities. My first thrilling introduction was a formal invitation to Kappa Delta. I didn’t know anything about rushing,—in fact I hadn’t been rushed, and Gamma records show no awful secrets about my past. But just by accident they decided to take me, because, as one member confided to me long after, ‘We decided there must be something good in you because dogs and children liked you.’

The following year she went to the Richmond convention as her chapter’s delegate.  After graduation she gave music lessons and performed as an accompanist. She then began teaching high school in Portsmouth, Virginia. In the fall of 1917, she enrolled in the American College of Physical Education in Chicago. There she earned a Bachelor’s in Physical Education. She funded her studies by accompanying and managing a college orchestra. She worked at one of the South side park playgrounds during the summer term.

After that she:

went into the Army! I was first at Walter Reed Hospital, in Washington. From Washington I was sent to Boston, where I had the privilege of eight weeks’ work in the shadow of the sacred halls of Harvard Medical School. And then I went to Fort Sheridan, where I stayed during the last fifteen months of my service. While here, I was made Head Aide, in charge of a clinical investigation of the recovery from peripheral nerve wounds. Then the office personnel was changed, and the obedient genii swished me into the corrective gymnasium,—and a private office. And then my period of usefulness was over, and my Army career ended.

Angier served as Secretary-Treasurer of the World War Reconstruction Aides Association, (WWRAA), “an organization to perpetuate the friendships and interests formed during the recent period of stress, both for Occupational and Physiotherapy Aides.” She was an officer in the WWRAA from its 1920s inception until it dissolved in 1952.

Angier taught at several colleges, including Cornell College, Marshall University and Oklahoma State University. In 1954, she celebrated her sixty-third birthday by driving the Alaska Highway. The travel conditions on the early Alaska Highway were challenging. There were many flat tires and vehicle repairs along the way. She died in 1977.

    Mary Estelle Angier

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Mary Ann Newcomb (Cornwell), Sigma Kappa, #amazingsororitywoman, #WHM2017

Mary Ann Newcomb was a member of the George Washington University chapter of Sigma Kappa. For a time she served as Vice-President. The September 1918 Sigma Kappa Triangle reported that she was “preparing to go to France in the fall with the Red Cross. She has been entertaining in the camps for some time.”

During World War I, she served in the Red Cross. She sailed for Europe in October of 1918, leaving from Quebec for London with its American Unit No. 8. After a short stay in London and Frances, she headed to the hospital center in Mesves, France. Located between the villages of Mesves and Bulcy, it was said to be one of the largest hospitals in the world. She established and was in charge of a recreation hut. According to letters she wrote, she installed pianos, planned a library and a tailor’s shop, and started an orchestra. She also spent hours visiting patients and “providing them with cigarettes and delicacies, sweaters, bathrobes, hosiery and toilet articles.” Moreover she slept in the cold barracks and was responsible for doing her own laundry.

The December 1919 Triangle, the “Overseas Number,” included her letter about the Christmas 1918 celebration at the hospital center. Titled “A Real Christmas in France,” the letter described the celebration she and the American Red Cross coordinated:

‘Whoever thought that a real, honest-to-goodness Christmas would be possible in France? This surely is the biggest surprise we ever had in our lives,’ said two Rainbow Division men on the morning of December 25, 1918, in the Red Cross Recreation Hut of Evacuation Hospital #27 at Meaves, France. It was Christmas Eve and it had been raining and snowing for three days. The mud outside was about knee deep and the gloom inside was almost equal to the mud. The soldiers were all gathered around the small tables playing cards or writing letters. The electric lights had gone out and the flickering candle light showed faces with far-away thoughts.

One could just see that these soldier boys were dreaming of home with its usual Christmas Eve bustle and cheerful Christmas spirit. One big Texan said, ‘I’d give a million to walk into my house now. I can just see my mother decorating the house and trimming the tree for my kid brothers and sisters. What a difference!’ and he sadly picked up his cap and strode off to his bunk.

At nine-thirty all the boys left the hut. There was no sign of Christmas anywhere, not a piece of decoration—not even an evergreen. After the windows and doors had been bolted, about fifteen boys, who had been let into the secret, started in to work, and such fun as they had! The whole place was decorated from one end to the other with Christmas decorations and evergreens. One long, slim buck private from Alabama sitting on a rafter running across the room and holding a bunch of evergreens in his hand said, ‘Gee, fellows, this is great! It makes you feel you are playing Santa Claus for the rest of the gang.’ A Christmas tree reaching from the floor to the ceiling was literally covered with tinsel and ornaments. A large table covered with a white sheet was placed in the middle of the floor. On this we put all kinds of toy horns, whistles, drums, pipes, and anything that would make a noise.

One week before, the Red Cross had sent us candy, cakes, figs, nuts, cigarettes, tobacco, matches, chewing-gum, handkerchiefs, socks, red ribbon, and Christmas cards. Our same fifteen boys helped us fill 950 pairs of socks, tying each pair together and attaching a Christmas card. We had enough material to entirely fill both socks of each pair. The socks having been finished previously were placed around the foot of the Christmas tree on the stage. At four-thirty in the morning the place looked like a real Christmas party, so the fifteen boys and two Red Cross workers turned in for the few remaining hours before reveille.

The boys were told to report at the hut at nine o’clock on Christmas morning. Promptly at nine the doors were opened and the long line filed in, passing the stage and receiving from one of the Red Cross workers a pair of socks and a wish for a merry Christmas. For a few minutes the boys were overcome with astonishment, for the Red Cross hut was a fairy-land compared to what it had been the night before when they left it. At first they did nothing but stand around and stare, but soon they discovered the toys on the center table and then the fun began. Such a noise! The men gathered in groups and each tried to make the most noise, as they gave cheer after cheer for the Red Cross. In the middle of the
performance the commanding officer of the whole center came in to see, as he said, what all the fun was about.Almost every man came to the workers and said he had never had such a good time at Christmas before. One Georgia boy said, ‘This seems like a real old-fashioned southern Christmas.’ A California boy said that he had never had such a surprise in his life. One middle westerner remarked. ‘This is more fun than a Christmas at home because it is so unexpected. At home we would have expected a lot, but over here
we expected nothing, and just look what we got.’ And he  held up his socks and looked around.

At twelve-thirty chow call sounded and the boys with mess kits in hand rushed to enjoy the chicken dinner which had been furnished by the American Red Cross. The boys were told to report at the hut again at three o ‘clock and to bring their mess kits and cups. One smiling soldier boy about eighteen years old said, ‘Gee, are we going to have another surprise?’ Another answered, ‘You can bet your life! The Red Cross is just full of pleasant surprises for us.’ Again the long line of khaki filed into the hut and this time one Red Cross worker gave each man a quarter of an apple pie about one and a half inches thick, while the other dipped out a canteen cup of chocolate. The chocolate and the pies had been cooked the night before by a volunteer company of ten cooks and K. Ps.

Once again the boys cheered the Red Cross and all expressed over and over again their appreciation of what had been done for them and their joy in having spent such a pleasant Christmas so far away from home.

Mary Ann Newcomb, Sigma Kappa

In 1927, she became Mrs. Abner Milton Cornwell. The couple lived in Lincolnton, North Carolina where they raised a family. In 1966, she served the Daughters of the American Revolution as State Regent of North Carolina. She died in 1981.

© Fran Becque,, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates through the comments section below. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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Dr. Placida Gardner Chesley, Kappa Alpha Theta, #amazingsororitywomen, #WHM2017

As a student at the University of Southern California, Vera Placida Gardner joined a local organization, Alpha Rho. She graduated from USC in 1910 and attended medical school at the University of Michigan. While in Ann Arbor, she became a member of the Alpha Epsilon Iota Medical Fraternity for Women. The organization had a chapter house at 1115 E. Huron.

The Alpha Epsilon Iota Medical Fraternity for Women at the University of Michigan. Bertha Van Hoosen, an Honorary member, was also a Kappa Alpha Theta.

After graduation from medical school, she worked at Stanford University. When Alpha Rho became the reinstalled Omicron Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta on April 14, 1917, Gardner was one of eight Alpha Rho alumnae initiated with the Alpha Rho collegians.

“Full of unconquerable energy” was the caption on the side of this picture.

A 1918 Stanford publication about the war service of those affiliated with the institution included this information:

In the task which the Stanford women have before them experienced physicians are required; therefore due consideration was given all applicants for these
positions. Dr. Placida Gardner, present head of the bacteriological department of the public health office of Los Angeles, was one of those chosen. In addition to being a public health bacteriologist, Dr. Gardner is an experienced pathologist, physician, and surgeon. She was an instructor in clinical microscopy and physiological chemistry in the University of Southern California.

Volume 33 of the Kappa Alpha Theta (1918-19) reported, “Dr. Placida Gardner, in France as bacteriologist with the Stanford Women’s unit for civilian relief.” The next volume added this information about her:

Stanford women’s unit of Red Cross. Left New York July 13, 1918, expected to return in October 1919. Dr. Gardner, a trained bacteriologist, with headquarters at Paris, was in the Public health department. She made a sanitary survey of canteens from Bordeaux to Paris. She was then acting head of the unit’s Red Cross work at the Embarkation camp at St. Nazaire. Returning to Paris she helped equip laboratories for the Red Cross commission to Poland, and in April 1919, went to Poland as head of the Red Cross laboratories with headquarters at Bialystok.

The magazine also included her first-hand account of some of the journey:

Eleven day trip in special car attached to a fifty-car train of Red Cross supplies, through northern France, Belgium, and Germany, passing through Berlin and being held up near the Polish border by the Germans, who held a soviet meeting of soldiers and civilians (officers having no influence) to decide the fate of the train; after a search of the train and nearly three days of doubt, it was sent back towards Berlin, but managed to get through to Poland by another route.

A book, Europe’s Morning After, by Kenneth L. Roberts, taken from accounts of the war, included this about the young doctor: 

Dr. Placida Gardner, a comely young American woman, is making vaccines in Warsaw for the American Red Cross. She toyed carelessly with a glass tube containing cholera bacilli which she had reared herself, and spoke of some of the towns she had visited. She went down to Kovel to work on a cholera epidemic.

As far as I can tell, while in Poland, Gardner met Dr. Albert Justus Chesley, a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School. He served first as a private and left the service as a colonel in the Spanish-American War prior to attending medical school. To old to enlist in the war, but wanting to be of service, he went to France on May 1918 as a public health adviser to the American Red Cross. He was summoned to Poland where he served as chief of the Red Cross Medical staff and then commissioner of the program. The Chesleys were married on February 13, 1920 and returned to the United States in October. She moved to Minneapolis where the male Dr. Chesley resumed his career with the State Board of Health. 

The Doctors Chesley (courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

Placida attended the Kappa Alpha Theta Founders’ Day banquet on January 29, 1921 at its University of Minnesota chapter. She she spoke as part of the program. A daughter, Louise, was born in 1924. Albert died in October 17, 1955; Placida died in 1966.

© Fran Becque,, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If  you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates through the comments section below. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest

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