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Inside this Issue

May/June 2019

Glimpse into the lives and passions of the diverse group of women who comprise today’s DAR membership.

National Treasures
Take a step inside the DAR Museum for a closer look at its fascinating collection.

More Articles
Learn about the interesting historical articles from this issue.

To Come in Our Next Issue
Preview the exciting stories to be featured in the next issue of American Spirit.

Today's Daughters
Make WAVES: Erna Bentley

Volume 153, Number 3
By Lena Anthony
Photograph courtesy of Erna Bentley

Rhode Island Daughter recalls her World War II service

Erna Schoen Bentley was 21 years old when the United States entered World War II, and almost immediately she looked for a chance to contribute. As the oldest daughter in a family with no sons, she saw it as her duty to serve. She also thought it would be a nice change of pace from the sleepy Connecticut town she called home. In March 1943, that opportunity came. She and a friend went to New York City to sign up for the women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserves, known as Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES). “We went there to do it together, but my friend had a change of heart and did not enlist,” Mrs. Bentley recalled.

On April 9, 1943, Mrs. Bentley arrived at the U.S. Naval Training School in Cedar Falls, Iowa. After training there and at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard, she reported for duty at the Naval Communications Annex in Washington as a communications specialist in cryptography. There she and 4,000 other women spent the duration of the war working to decode secret messages from the German and Japanese governments.

It’s been nearly 75 years since the war ended, but Mrs. Bentley still won’t discuss details of her top-secret assignment. It’s clear, though, that her memories of that time are still vivid.

Take, for example, the evening spent aboard the USS Wisconsin. At the invitation of their former commanding officer, Mrs. Bentley’s unit boarded the battleship for dinner and a tour. “Until that night, I never realized just how enormous the guns were on a ship,” she recalls. “We were not allowed to talk to anyone about our whereabouts or activities for three days afterward [to ensure] ship security.”

Or the time she and her friend, on leave, decided to skip their usual train stop at Hartford, Conn., and continue to the end of the line, to Montreal, Canada. While there, she met her future husband, David, who invited her to have dinner at his mother’s house. A long-distance courtship ensued.

Her favorite story involves removing a nest of roosting pigeons outside her Washington apartment window so that she and her fellow WAVES, who had just worked the night shift, could sleep. Mrs. Bentley and her roommate helped hold the legs of another roommate, who was dangling out of the window to reach the nest. The characters in this story, Josephine and Nellie, turned into Mrs. Bentley’s lifelong friends.

During her time of service, the Naval Communications Intelligence Organization (NCIO) received personal commendations from the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and the Commander of the South Pacific for its contributions to the war effort. Mrs. Bentley was promoted quickly to petty officer first class, a rank she held until the war ended. In addition to the World War II Medal and the American Campaign Medal, Mrs. Bentley was authorized to wear the ribbon bar of the Navy Unit Commendation, awarded for meritorious conduct by the NCIO. In 2018, she added another honor to her name—the Women in American History Medal, presented by the Rhode Island Society DAR and Phebe Greene Ward DAR Chapter, Westerly, R.I. 

After the war, she took time off to travel, mostly to Canada to see David. They married in 1946 and had two daughters, Linda and Wendy, a few years later. Last year, she became a DAR member, joining daughter Wendy Bly and granddaughter Kristy Head in Phebe Greene Ward Chapter.

“I am so honored to now be a part of the DAR,” she said. “It’s our history and heritage, and we have to keep it intact for future generations.”

Thanks to Wendy Bly and Kristy Head for interviewing Mrs. Bentley.

For more Today’s Daughters, please click here.

To nominate a Daughter for a future issue, e-mail a description to

National Treasures
Wardrobe for Washington

Volume 153, Number 3

Throughout February 1832, George Washington’s 100th birthday was celebrated nationwide with parades—and sometimes participants marked the occasion with commemorative costumes. This silk apron, a ceremonial version of an artisan’s apron, is printed with Washington’s portrait and birth and death dates. The appliquéed black silk hat design is interlined with a fragment of a New York City newspaper from December 17, 1831, dating the apron to just before the centennial celebration. A hatter (a maker or seller of hats) may have worn it to the centenary parade in Philadelphia, where thousands of artisans marched together. The February 25, 1832, issue of The Evening Post of New York, N.Y., reported, “The Hatters—450 in number—were preceded by a standard [flag or banner] ... The members of this company wore white aprons.” It seems implausible that so many hundreds of hatters lived within the same city, so it’s likely that many traveled to march in the parade—perhaps even the wearer of this apron, given the newspaper clipping’s origin. 

For more National Treasures, please visit the DAR Museum's Featured Objects.

More Articles

The Old Brick Capitol by Bill Hudgins
In 1814, the future of Washington, D.C., was in doubt. After the British burned the city, Congress considered relocating the nation’s seat of government. The debate galvanized early Washingtonians and ultimately led to construction of the core of today’s gleaming Capitol.

Tomatoes, ‘Tomatas’ by Samantha Johnson
During the Colonial Era, tomatoes were believed to be poisonous. But tomato advocates such as Thomas Jefferson helped introduce the delicious fruit to colonists, raising its status from a strictly decorative plant to a commonplace food.  

Founding Botanist by Bill Hudgins
Colonial physician David Hosack was a walking encyclopedia of botany knowledge who fought for a botanical garden to inspire others in the study of plants. Though that garden is now lost under Rockefeller Center, many of the institutions he supported continue to thrive.

Naturally Flavored by Courtney Peter
At J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, brotherand-sister team Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne rely on sunshine and mountain air to turn brine into boldly flavored salt.

History Has Its Eyes on Her by Loren Broaddus
Born to a prosperous family in the West Indies, Rachel Fawcett Hamilton, mother of Alexander Hamilton, lived a turbulent life. Despite abandonment by Alexander’s father, she was a resilient single mother who started a successful provisions shop in St. Croix.


Spirited Adventures: Memphis: Rise of a River Town by Emily McMackin
Known for its role in bringing the sounds of rock ’n’ roll, blues and soul music to a worldwide stage, Memphis has flourished over the past 200 years, growing from a small port ferrying goods down the Mississippi into a commercial and cultural powerhouse.

Historic Homes: The House in the Horseshoe by Jamie Roberts
Alston House, a North Carolina State Historic Site, was once the scene of a skirmish between Patriots and Loyalists. Its Colonial architecture is preserved and its Revolutionary history interpreted thanks to support from its community and, recently, from the DAR.

Our Patriots: Eleazer Blake by Maureen Taylor
Though he fought many battles as a Patriot in the Massachusetts militia, Eleazer Blake spent his post-war life in Rindge, N.H. The town’s historical society is dedicated to preserving his memory and treasures such as his diary and discharge papers signed by George Washington.

Plus the President General’s Message and Whatnot

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To Come in July/August 2019:

The Lafayette Trail

Charles Willson Peale

The Old Dartmouth Region