Ann Arbor News - July 1995 The Carpenter Woman's Relief Corps No. 65 of Ypsilanti is 75 years old this year.
In celebration of the anniversary, the organization is planning a banquet at the G.A.R. Hall on Nov. 5 to which national, department and district officers are being invited. A highlight of the program will be a look backward over the milestones of the past 75 years. Also incorporated into the program will be the annual tribute to senior members. This year a dozen members over 75 will be honored.
The YAMS, a kitchen band composed of representatives from Maccabees women in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Manchester, will play for the occasion. Arrangements for the banquet are being made under the chairmanship of Mrs. John W. Bird.
The Women's Relief Corps in the United States is the auxiliary the the Grand Army of the Republic, veterans of the Union Army. Its chief function is a dedication to patriotism and service. The G.A.R. is now extinct as an organization, never having taken descendants of veterans into membership, but the Woman's Corps is a going concern. At first limited to wives, sisters and daughters of Union men, this restricted eligibility clause has been revoked, and the organization is open to all "patriotic women of good character."
Relief to Wounded: Individual relief corps groups were first formed after the Civil War from among the women who went out to the Union battlefields to give what aid and relief they could to the wounded. Hence the word "relief" in the organization's name.
The national order was founded July 25, 1883, in Denver, Colo. This national body was at one time the largest patriotic organization of women in the world.
The local group was organized in May, 1884, by Mrs. Julia Mereness. Its charter was issued Nov. 20, 1885, when the group had 25 members. The corps took its name from the veterans' organization, Carpenter Post 180, founded two years before.
Full Name Lost: Traditionally, the G.A.R. posts and auxiliaries named their organizations for Union soldiers killed in battle. In the case of the Ypsilanti G.A.R. and women's corps, the full name of the man they commemorate seems to be lost in history. There is a theory the tribute may involve more than one man, hence the lack of a first name or initials, as is common in the names of other posts. Also bearing out the theory are minutes of an 1895 meeting of the G.A.R. wherein a committee was appointed to "look for the picture of the Carpenter boys."
In City Historian L.S. White's files are listed two Carpenter men from Washtenaw County, both Union casualties. One is a Capt. Roswell P. Carpenter, killed May 12, 1864 at Spotsylvania, Va. It appears he is the one whom the Chelsea women's corps paid tribute. Their group is the R.P. Carpenter post.
The other man, Watson W. Carpenter, rank unknown, was killed July 30, 1864, near Petersburg, Va. Whether the Ypsilanti post was named for him, or for him and another man jointly, or for somebody else entirely, is not known.
Light Guard Armory: For some years after the G.A.R. first organized, the men held their meetings in the Light Guard Armory, the building at the northeast of Michigan Ave. and Washington St. now housing the Cunningham Drug store. They met on the third floor, where the guardsmen used to hold their drills.
In 1908 the men put on a series of dinners to raise money to acquire their own quarters. The women were allowed to help with the project, provided they didn't solicit house to house or "bother the businessmen." The dinners, at 15 cents a plate, were successful enough to permit the G.A.R. to rent a hall on a five-year contract, with an option to sub-let. The building they rented is the present G.A.R. Hall on Pearl Street between N. Huron and N. Washington Sts.
As things turned out five years later, it was the women who actually bought the building. Title to the property was deeded to them by Matthew Stine, a cigar manufacturer, and Mathas Stine and his wife Anna. Two women, Mrs. Katherine Sherman and Mrs Lois Leech, figured importantly in the purchase of the property. Each contributed $1,000. "Many other citizens donated liberally," reads a newspaper clipping of the time. The woman's corps has title to the building for the life of the organization. If they should disband, the building reverts to the city of Ypsilanti with the stipulation it be used for patriotic purposes.
Erection Date Unkown: Apparently records no longer exist to determine when the building was erected. It is believed the abstract for the structure and a number of other papers were burned at one time. Mr. White, the city historian, surmises it may have been built about 1880. A building of some sort shows up at the location as a photographic negative he has from that year.
The earliest factual information dates from 1899, when the building was the residence of a Miss A. C. Swicke. About two years later a printer by the name of Guy W. Flower did business there; and in 1909, when the G.A.R. was already renting the place, there was a blacksmith shop in the eastern part of it.
At the present time the local club, with a membership of over 50 women, meets regularly on the first and third Fridays of every month except July and August. It is affiliated with the Washtenaw County Hospital Auxiliary and has a representative at the V.A. Hospital in Ann Arbor.
Seven of its members are active in Red Cross work as volunteer drivers and as assistants during Blood Bank and chest X-ray clinics. To each of these institutions the corps makes continuing monetary contributions.
University Hospital in Ann Arbor, the Wayne Infirmary and Howell Sanitarium also have figured in donations from the corps. Christmas remembrance packages are donated to individual families through the local Council of Social Agencies.
Contributes: At the Department and National levels, the corps contributes annually to at least a dozen "mandatory" funds and a number of voluntary ones besides. Money for these diverse contributions is raised through card and other benefit parties, rummage sales and the renting of the G.A.R. hall to other groups.
Each year the corps presents American flags to numerous churches, schools and Boy Scout groups. In making the presentations, or at other times when called upon, the women explain the proper use and display of the flag. They distribute pamphlets containing the pledge of allegiance and patriotic high points in the nation's history.
District Officers: Two of the local women have served the District as president, Mrs. Mable Slater and Mrs. Lillian Parre. At the present time Mrs. Parre is Department chaplain. Department representative to the Veterans Administration is Mrs. Pearl Celebrezze.
The Woman's Relief Corps and the Daughters of Union Veterans jointly observe Patriotic Month during February, when they co-sponsor a banquet at which civic leaders and leaders of allied patriotic orders and churchs are guests.
The partiotic instructor of the corps has charge of Memorial Day and Memorial Sunday observances in Ypsilanti.
Current Officers: Corps officers are elected in January for a one-year term. Following are the group's current officers: Mesdames Alvina Grubb, president; Margaret Starr, junior vice president; Ora Ostrom, chaplin; Cestia Ollette, conductress; Lillian Parre, treasurer and patriotic instructor; Pauline Schoug, secretary; Florence Burd, guard; Hazel Horner, Bertha Stitt, Janet Hodson and Margaret Case, color bearers.
Senior members who will be honored at the anniversary banquet include Mesdames Ella Niles, Nora Holmes, Margaret Weston, Clara Howling, Edna Clough, Rose Parre, Bertha Stitt, Cestia Ollette, Ettie Reed and Florence Burd. Tribute in absentia will be paid to two other senior members, Florence Raymond, now residing in California, and Jeanne Hadley, a Detroit resident.