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Fond farewell to a leader

Dibbles Dabbles

June 14, 2011
By (the late) Billie Dibble, Former Westfield Historian (1975-2006)
This article was first published June 2, 1983

I want to thank Bessie Loveless for bringing to my attention the announcement of Marion Dickerman’s death which appeared in the New York Times of May 18. I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Dickerman only once a number of years ago, but I have followed with interest her long and varied career.

Marion Dickerman was born in Westfield in the house which stood at the corner of East Main and Grove Streets. It later became The Rumsey and still later, The Murray Hill Hotel. Her father practiced law as a member of the firm of Russell, Dickerman, and Ottaway. He was supervisor for several terms of the Town of Westfield and was always a faithful communicant of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

Marion received her early education in Westfield Schools and then attended Wellesley College, graduated from Syracuse University in 1911 and received a master’s degree at Syracuse in 1912. She taught American History at Canisteo High School and at Fulton High School until the United States entered the First World War.

Then she and her life-long friend, Nancy Cook, were accepted as staff members of the Endell Street Hospital in London, England, “with the understanding that we were not nurses and would have nothing to do with the care of wounded men but would scrub floors or perform whatever other chores were required.” However, they arrived at the hospital simultaneously with a large group of seriously wounded men and Marion accepted an assignment as a nursing orderly in one of the most critical wards in the hospital.

When she returned to America in 1919, women had won the right to vote in New York and she was practically drafted to run against the Republican assemblyman from Oswego County. She lost the election, of course, but she had become the first woman ever to run for the New York legislature.

Who’s Who in America published a long list of Marion Dickerman’s accomplishments, referring to her as “lecturer, writer on current events, educational and political topics.”

Perhaps you have visited the Marine Museum at Mystic Conn. Did you know that Marion Dickerman became a permanent member of Mystic Seaport Staff in 1946? It was her job to organize the educational activities of the Seaport. It is through her efforts that the Conrad Program was instituted. She organized the first corps of volunteers and hostesses. The Junior Museum and the Youth Training building are results of her untiring efforts. She wrote or compiled a number of publications for Mystic Seaport.

Miss Dickerman enjoyed a “member of the family” friendship with the Roosevelts of Hyde Park. She and Eleanor Roosevelt organized the Democratic women in New York State; owned and ran the Todhunter School for Girls, which later merged with Dalton. Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman began the Val Kill Furniture venture which made hand-crafted replicas of Early American pieces in a lovely cottage located near Hyde Park.

In 1974, biographer, Kenneth S. Davis, wrote a book, Invincible Summer, An Intimate Portrait of the Roosevelts, Based on the recollections of Marion Dickerman. “For nearly a quarter of a century, Marion Dickerman was a close friend of one of America’s most extraordinary households – that of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. This memoir evokes those years in rich and intimate detail, recounting moments of triumph, heartbreak, anger and love among the Roosevelt’s inner circle that the world outside has never glimpsed.”

Marion Dickerman died on Monday, May 16, 1983 at Crosslands, a retirement community in Kennett Square PA at the age of 93. She had lived in New Canaan, Conn. for a number of years before moving to Crosslands.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy Patterson Library
The young Marion Dickerman in the uniform in which she served at Endell Street Hospital, London, England, 1918-1919 during World War I.



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