The Jane Randolph Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) has a historic object that has stood the test of time.
Made of holly and cherry trees grown at Mount Vernon, near the grave of George Washington, this gavel has opened and closed meetings of the Jefferson City chapter of the DAR for 120 years.
“It was presented to us in 1897, and we still use it today,” said Vivian Kaysen, regent of the chapter, a position on a par with president.
The chapter’s first meeting was Jan. 6, 1987, the wedding anniversary of George and Martha Washington. On that date, 14 Jefferson City women organized this, the third chapter in Missouri, and named it Jane Randolph in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s mother.
Rapping the meetings to order with this gavel was a duty so moving Kaysen wrote this statement about it: “Striking the gavel, knowing its rich heritage, feels rewarding, energizing and meaningful. It is immediate. Precise. The sound of the single rap grabs our attention. It gathers everyone in the room and includes them. Something significant is about to happen — an exact repeat of an opening ceremony that has spanned over a century, is part of history and yet still signifies the activity of today, of relevance and longevity.”
The 14 ladies initiated the chapter in the home of Florence Ewing Towles, at 612 E. Capitol Ave. The house stands today. Towles was the chapter’s first regent and held that elected office for 10 years before becoming state regent (1906-08).
“These were the high society ladies here in town,” Kaysen said of the chapter’s founding members. “They were active in petitioning to keep the Capitol here in Jefferson City. Some of the ladies were governors’ wives.”
Sarah Caroline Pelot Eppes Davison was elected the chapter’s first recording secretary. She came to Jefferson City after the Civil War as the wife of Dr. Alexander Caldwell Davison. She had previously been married to John Wales Eppes, great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson. Margaret Julia Eppes the Eppes’ daughter and great-great-granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson, was a charter member of the chapter.
Louise Winston Stone, wife of Gov. William J. Stone (1893-97), was elected historian. Other charter members were Louise Miller Bragg, Christine Harding Broughton, Louise Pope Church, Ellen Pedigo Edwards, Georgia Chiles Ewing, Elizabeth Allen Ewing, Beauregard Harding Ferguson, Christine Cordell Harding, Kate Madison Henry and Margaret Harding Robertson.
The Jefferson City chapter was formed seven years after the national organization was founded in 1890. It was 114 years after the end of the American Revolutionary War and 32 years after the Civil War ended. That year, The New York Times began using its slogan, “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” The National Organization of Mothers (eventually the Parent-Teacher Association) formed. The first Boston Marathon was run, and the first ship carrying gold from the Yukon arrived in Seattle, beguiling writer Jack London to join the Klondike Gold Rush.
DAR was an organization just for women, and since its founding in 1890 more than 950,000 members — all proven descendants of Revolutionary War soldiers or patriots — have joined.
“The inspiration behind it was there was a men’s organization at the time that didn’t include the ladies,” Kaysen said.
It was a time of revived patriotism and intense interest in the United States’ beginnings. Not to be left behind, a group of women met in Washington, D.C., and formed their own nonprofit, non-political organization, which has grown into a national headquarters with a variety of publications, genealogy records, and Constitution Hall (the capital’s largest concert hall and now a national historic landmark). The goal: promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America’s future through better education for children.
Any woman 18 years or older, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background, who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution is eligible for membership.
As American pioneers moved west, many in the early 1800s following the Louisiana Purchase, they carried their ancestors’ memories with them.
“Everybody who had a patriot and moved west were still connected to the (Revolutionary) war,” Kaysen said.
Currently, Missouri has 116 chapters, led by Susan Bowman, state regent. Fulton has a chapter as well, the Charity Stille Langstaff Chapter, formed in 1907. Nationally, the Sons of the American Revolution was formed in 1889 and is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. The SAR’s Christopher Casey Chapter, started in 1985, is also in Jefferson City.
“Lt. Col. Sandy Karsten of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is a member of the chapter,” Kaysen said. “She was awarded our DAR
Women in American History award last year.” Karsten was recently named the Patrol’s superintendent, pending Senate approval — “the first female to move through the ranks to become the head of the MSHP,” Kaysen added.
From the day DAR and its chapters came into being, volunteerism has been part of the creed. A counter at DAR.org shows members have volunteered 74,051 hours so far in 2017.
“They were very active women looking for things to do,” Kaysen said of the founders and those who have followed.
Projects currently underway include activities with and for veterans, educational activities and events, such as the statewide “Wheeling for Healing” bike ride along the Katy and Rock Island trails. This year’s event is scheduled to start Sept. 30 and has raised $50,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project. Quilts of Valor is another veterans’ project, and the organization also gives out scholarships and Good Citizens Awards — and much more.
“We have members working at the state archives, digitizing records all year long,” Kaysen added. “They just finished World War I records.”
Donna Medley has been a member for 23 years, but others have been around much longer, she said.
“We have 60-year members; we have 50-year members,” she said. “It’s a wonderful chapter with terrific ladies. Some of my very best friends are in DAR. I also love what DAR stands for.”
Medley listed education, historic preservation and patriotism.
“I like them all,” she said.
Medley is an honorary chapter regent and served as Missouri state recording secretary and chaplain. One of her favorite activities is giving out DAR scholarships, she said.
“It’s always good to see the young people come to the chapter and hear about the good work they are doing,” she said. “And I like doing things for the veterans.”