Works of Benefaction

World War I Red Cross poster

Red Cross poster, c. 1917-1918

Wool blankets

Wool blankets

Letter by Mary to Gustave, 9 March 1917

Mary’s love extended beyond the scope of her personal interests and family. When the Great War came to Europe, and eventually to the United States in 1917, she contributed to the war effort by supporting the local troops. She began knitting woolen blankets for the many young soldiers enlisting from La Salle and Peru. When the draft increased the number of enlisted men into the hundreds and the demand for blankets became too great, she instead used her money to purchase and distribute them.

During the war, Mary’s family members were among the many unfortunate German-American immigrants who fell under suspicion by the intelligence agencies of the United States. Although the U.S. Bureau of Investigation investigated them, no evidence was found that they were in any way “pro-Central Powers.” Mary, in retrospect, appears the humanitarian in the face of these erroneous accusations. In a rare letter to Gustave of 9 March 1917, she expresses her concern for the well-being of others while voicing her opinion of the week’s current event of the U.S. Congress’s rejection of the Armed Ship Bill.

“I am glad 12 senators stood up for their rights the other day—As long as there are so few American boats, the less there are to sink & I suppose the less dangers of even undeclared war.”

Mary’s philanthropic spirit was not confined to the war. Her obituary writer speaks of her life as “dedicated to doing things for her fellow-humans and scores of her ‘works of benefaction’.” Thankfully some of these have come to light in the remembrances of her progeny. Stories are told about her, for example, suppling food to hungry homeless persons begging at the doorsteps of the mansion. Some of the downtrodden at a table on her porch and were sent away with foodstuffs.

Her philanthropy also extended to her lifelong passion for education. She, together with Frances L. Wilson—wife of the assistant chief of La Salle fire department—spearheaded the La Salle Industrial School. The school fulfilled a gap in the public school curriculum by providing classes on sewing for girls and manual training for boys. These classes would serve the town’s young adults who were not college bound with the necessary skills of domestic life. The female duo personally financed this essential educational project for many years until it compelled the local board of education to include the new pedagogy into the standard curriculum.