‘Any person… can affect change’
Date posted: December 20, 2013
SHERIDAN — The National Society of The Colonial Dames in the state of Wyoming is celebrating its 100-year anniversary.
The society focuses on the preservation of historic manuscripts, properties and relics, the education of citizens about early American history and works to inspire a love and respect for the country. The society also collectively owns 87 historic home museums throughout the country.
“We’re interested in heritage,” society president Jane Ferril said. “We want what our forefathers did to not be forgotten.”
“For me, I’ve always been interested in history and I think that without organizations that promote history and want to preserve it, it doesn’t happen,” added member and historic property chair Susanna Meyer, whose great grandmother was a Dame, about why she wanted to become a member of the society and dedicate her time to it.
The national society was founded in 1891 and currently has societies in 44 states with almost 16,000 members. Wyoming’s state society began in 1913 and Ferril said the society currently has about 55 members, the majority of whom live in the Sheridan/northern Wyoming area.
Twelve women were the original founders of the state society, including artist and Pass Creek rancher Fra Dana. As part of the state society’s 100-year celebration, the Colonial Dames arranged for a showing of some of Dana’s works and collected pieces at the The Brinton Museum earlier this year.
Locally, the Colonial Dames are probably best known for their ownership of the Mandel Cabin and Post Office that is housed at the Dorothy King Reflective Garden in Whitney Commons Park.
The cabin was built in 1878 and purchased by George Mandel in 1880.
The following year, he was designated postmaster and the cabin became a post office. It later had other owners before being purchased by John D. Loucks in the spring of 1882.
Loucks kept the cabin in operation as a post office, but also expanded it to include a store and also serve as his family’s living quarters. It took on an additional role as Sheridan’s first school in October 1882 and served as a voting location in the territory’s first election.
In later years, it served as a home, a bank and even a dance studio, before falling into disrepair. It resided in several locations, including the grounds of Trail End Museum and the Sheridan Inn, as well as the corner of Main and Loucks streets.
In 1976, as part of the country’s bicentennial celebration, Ferril said the Colonial Dames applied for a state grant to purchase and renovate the cabin, which was literally in pieces.
Combined with local funds and donations, the grant allowed the society to restore the cabin to what is believed to be its original size and dimension. The society continues to pay for maintenance and repairs needed on the structure, including a recent $5,000 investment in a waterproof sealant under the sod roof.
In addition to maintenance of the cabin, the Dames attend local naturalization ceremonies for people becoming citizens and provide them with information about the country and also contribute to the national Indian Nurse Program, which assists young Indian women in receiving professional training in nursing.
In past years, the Dames have collected the oral and written history of early ranchers and residents and also did a survey, edited by Mrs. John B. Kendrick, of county courthouses throughout the state, cataloging photos, architectural information and other documents and details about the buildings.
The Dames also focus on encouraging students to study American history, through an award they provide at the annual State History Day.
“We give the one that is selected as the winner of the state history day award an additional financial gift to as an encouragement for keeping history alive and the principals on which this country was founded relevant to our lives,” said member Sally Morton.
The group is also currently collaborating with the Sheridan County Museum to develop a local history curriculum for Sheridan County students.
“We are now in the process of working with the Sheridan County Museum to develop an educational program in conjunction with the museum and the schools that will utilize the Mandel Cabin to help students understand that early history,” said member Susanna Meyer.
In order to become a member of the society, a woman must have researched her genealogy and be able to claim an early ancestor who lived in one of the founding colonies, or British America, and contributed significant military, political or other community service that aided in the formation of the new nation. This service must have occurred prior to or on July 5, 1776.
“Keeping alive the principals upon which this country was founded and the extent that people really put themselves in jeopardy to form this country is very important, especially in light of the country we live in today,” said Morton, about why she is involved with the society. “We really have something unique. Our country had a unique birth process and in order for us to maintain the form of government that was conceived and for it to continue, it is important for us to understand our past. We honor and keep alive the memory of individuals who helped found this nation and by the recognition of their actions, we are reminded that any person, through their own actions, can affect change for the better in society.”
The Mandle Cabin is available for school or community group tours by calling Meyer at 752-0093.