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Don’t Say “No” to the Dames

Margie Helm's Colonial Dames membership card

Margie Helm’s Colonial Dames membership card

Founded in 1891, the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America seeks to preserve and promote an understanding of America’s formative years through education and historic preservation.  Membership requires proof of descent from an ancestor who served the country during the Colonial period, but candidates must also be “invited and proposed” by an existing member.

Lydia Mae Helm, a cousin of WKU head librarian Margie Helm, resolved to join the Colonial Dames in 1942.  A Washington attorney who already knew many Dames socially, Mae was nevertheless a little intimidated at the prospect.  Her first test was appearing at a formal tea for 60 women, of whom 20 were being vetted as candidates.

Afterward, Mae informed her cousin Margie that the tea was a “complete success,” given in a “gorgeous apartment” and attended by women of charm, wealth, civic conscience and patriotism.  She was especially dazzled by those who had married titled foreigners, and conversed with one who promised to help her with her genealogy.  Planning her research trip to the Library of Congress, Mae declared “I have started and I am going to finish it.”

Margie Helm herself became a member of the Kentucky chapter of the Colonial Dames in 1951.  Two years later, she was recruited by its Historic Activities Committee in a project to identify 18th- and early 19th-century houses in the western part of the state.  Highly tasked as WKU’s head librarian and busy with church and other community work, Margie resisted the assignment, but received a stern letter from the committee.

“You can’t do this to me,” wrote Frances Fairleigh, “and further more one does not say ‘No’ to any work of the Dames.”  “So accept gracefully,” she advised.  Further, Margie was not to delegate the task to any outsider, for “this is Dames’ work.”  “For the present,” Frances concluded, “you are chairman of the western district.”  Margie appears to have surrendered, noting on the envelope her meek reply: “accepted temporarily.”

Mae and Margie Helm’s adventures with the Colonial Dames are part of the Margie Helm Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more of our collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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