Century of History: Daughters of the American Revolution celebrates 100 years in Eau Claire

Barbara Arnold

HAT’S OFF TO THEM. Members of the Eau Claire Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution gathered to dedicate a historical marker at the Gray Street steamboat landing in 1927 (top) and during a 2018 meeting.
HAT’S OFF TO THEM. Members of the Eau Claire Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution gathered to dedicate a historical marker at the Gray Street steamboat landing in 1927 (top) and during a 2018 meeting (below). Image: Chippewa Valley Museum

The Eau Claire Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month. Founded on May 7, 1918, the Eau Claire Chapter was considered to be the “most remote, frontier chapter in Wisconsin.” Eighteen women, including both my grandmothers and great-grandmothers, filed the initial papers. By year’s end, there were 26.

The primary mission of the DAR is the preservation of history. On Sept. 19, 1927, the Eau Claire Chapter established a historical marker at the Gray Street Steamboat Landing to honor Company C of, the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry which embarked for the Civil War with “Old Abe,” our area’s famous bald eagle, now the mascot of Memorial High School.

You’d never know there was a steamboat landing there now. West of the intersection of Graham Avenue and Gray Street, the street dead ends between a parking garage and an apartment building. Along the hike and bike trail, there are some railroad tie and gravel steps that stop just short of the Chippewa River.

The Eau Claire Chapter of the DAR was only nine years old when the plaque was put up. In a photo of the  dedication from the Chippewa Valley Museum, members stand proudly in their customary hats and gloves along with a stanchion holding a replica of “Old Abe.” In agreement with their mission, members also helped create the Chippewa Valley Museum in the 1960s.

Today, there are 61 members from all walks of life who selflessly contribute hundreds of volunteer hours devoted to American heritage, patriotism, citizenship, the Constitution, and the flag. Menomonie member Marilyn Robelia organizes the history essay contest for middle school students. Rice Lake member Ruth Anderson coordinates the largest number of “Good Citizens” in the state (close to 20 every year): high school seniors so designated for writing an extemporaneous essay on a topic pertaining to citizenship, as well as their academic achievement, extracurricular activity involvement, and community service.

Image: Barbara E. Arnold
Image: Barbara E. Arnold

The members also focus on active-duty service members and veterans. Dottie Carpenter of Eau Claire, the longest-standing member at 52 years, single-handedly knit 204 “watch caps” which fit inside the helmets of Army infantry members serving in Afghanistan. Chippewa Falls members Jean Bastian and Barbara Meredith serve on the board of the Wisconsin Veterans Home of Chippewa Falls, which the chapter supports with various initiatives. Chapter Regent (the group’s president) Georgia Smith, director of the Sacred Heart Hospital Cancer Center, served our country as a nurse in peace and during the Vietnam War. Eau Claire County Clerk of Courts Sue Schaffer is a veteran of the U.S. Navy; her mother and two sisters are also members.

In today’s world, the DAR may appear old-fashioned and out-of-date. Yet, there are 20 prospective members, including a handful of millennials, who have done the genealogical research to prove they are a descendant of a patriot who fought in the Revolutionary War. 

My ancestor is Samuel Whiting Jr., who rose to the rank of colonel in Connecticut during the Revolutionary War. I am grateful for my grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ fascination with genealogy. Long before the days of Ancestry.com DNA tests, these women lovingly and painstakingly pored through hundreds of documents, many housed in Washington, D.C., as well as treasured family Bibles.   

Whiting fought in the French and Indian Wars as well as the Revolutionary War. He rose through the ranks, first serving as captain of the 5th Connecticut Regiment, then lieutenant colonel of the Continental Regiment, and finally colonel of the First Battalion of Connecticut Troop. He died in 1803 at the age of 82.

As Memorial Day approaches, by all means, enjoy the day off and cookouts with family and friends, while also remembering the fallen and thanking those currently serving in our Armed Forces.

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