Monday, August 10, 2015

Grinnell's Trees...What Tales They Could Tell!

I know—trees don't talk, so how can they tell stories? I suppose that they can't—despite the curious abilities that J.R.R. Tolkien gave to trees in The Lord of the Rings Nevertheless, from time to time I find myself wondering about trees, especially long-lived trees: what have they witnessed? What might they tell us about what happened in their presence?  This question reminds me of the tree slice—an American elm that took root in Grinnell about 1885 and came down about 1990—on display in the foyer of the Noyce Science Center, the tree rings being coordinated with various moments in the college's history.
Cross-section of American elm on display in Noyce Science Center (2015 photo)
Nowadays, of course, trees have attracted special attention—from the public as well as from public officials—because of the arrival of the emerald ash borer, an invasive and destructive insect that has already done enormous damage to ash trees across the country.  According to a recent survey, about twenty percent of the trees growing along Grinnell's streets are ash trees, and experts expect that most—if not all—will succumb to the insect, decimating Grinnell's urban forest. The prospect of widespread tree damage calls to mind the last arboreal crisis, when in the 1970s Dutch elm disease destroyed the leafy arcade that Grinnell's elm trees had brought to almost every street in town.
Winter Scene: Elm Trees Over High Street (undated photograph from Henry Shoemaker Conard, Our Trees, ed. annotated by Larissa Mottl [Grinnell: Grinnell College, 2003], p. 12)
Of course, the reality is that, when J. B. Grinnell and the other pioneers arrived on the land that later became Grinnell, it was prairie—not forest—that greeted them.  Proof comes from the oft-cited diary of Johanna Harris Haines, who came to Grinnell as an eleven-year-old in 1855, not long after J. B. Grinnell  himself: "there was not a tree within three miles of Grinnell," she wrote.  "We could see for miles, and all my longings for vast open spaces were satisfied...."

Haines's longing for open vistas notwithstanding, the town's settlers understood the importance of establishing trees as soon as possible, and they succeeded, vigorously importing seeds with which to begin trees on the Iowa prairie.  In 1857, for example, Henderson Herrick planted elm seeds collected from George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon in front of the Kiesel house at 623 Broad. A bit later, Leonard Fletcher Parker planted Lombardy poplars and a row of "soft" maples along his property north of Sixth Avenue and west of East Street.  These and other efforts soon bore fruit, as trees quickly appeared along the streets of town and within individual yards and city parks.

The 1882 Cyclone, however, wrought havoc with this handiwork. When the super cell tore across the college campus and what was then the northern reaches of town, it left behind a dispiriting array of tree stumps and splinters, all that was left of mature—if not yet elderly—trees.
Photograph taken after 1882 Cyclone
For all its destructiveness, the Cyclone left much of Grinnell and its trees untouched. The surviving trees continued to grow, creating leafy roofs over many of the town's streets and homes. Residents of the town grew attached to their trees, and came to pay special attention to some of the most long-lived of them.

One consequence of this attachment to Grinnell's trees was Henry Shoemaker Conard's book, Our Trees, the second edition of which appeared in 1927. Intended as a guide with which to identify more than 100 species, the book also spoke proudly of the town's urban forest. According to Conard, if one then viewed Grinnell from the air (as it had recently become possible to do, thanks to the development of the airplane), one "scarcely sees the houses as he goes over [the city] on a summer day...You see only a beautiful grove"—so dramatically had trees altered the appearance of what had once been prairie.

Another paean to Grinnell's urban forest appeared in 1934, when Ada Park, member of the local chapter of the D.A.R., took photographs of nine remarkable trees in town.  Park and several collaborators later produced a small booklet that they called Historic Trees of Grinnell, supplementing Park's photographs with brief, hand-written statements about the origins and history of each of the trees they identified.  Predictably, most of the trees they selected for photography and comment were elms, like those in front of Amos Bixby's house at 1025 First Avenue, just east of the railroad.
Amos Bixby's Elms, 1025 First Avenue, Grinnell (1934)
Only one of the featured trees was not an elm—a "cucumber" (magnolia) tree adjacent to Lawrence House (today's Levi House, Fifth and Park).  Most of the "historic trees"—including the elms, of course—had had their start very close to the time of Grinnell's founding, and thus stood witness to the town's history. 

For decades Grinnell's elms continued to prosper, but the arrival of Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s  quickly eradicated the great bulk of the town's most elegant trees. Happily, even as the elms flourished, Grinnell's tree enthusiasts were wise enough to plant other tree varieties. For example, according to a 1944 article in The Scarlet and Black, in 1904 Grinnell College president Daniel Bradley arranged to have two gingko trees planted on campus. The pair grew quietly for forty years before giving evidence of successful fertilization: the stinky fruit that surrounds the gingko seed.
Stuart Roeder, "Ancient Oriental Gingko Will Blossom At Last," Scarlet and Black, November 3, 1944, p. 4.
In spite of the annual scourge, the offending tree—planted west of Magoun Hall (originally called Chicago Hall and later replaced by Roberts Theater)—continued to grow into old age, and was finally removed only in the 1980s.  That tree's twin, however, planted north of Blair Hall, but today standing adjacent to the east-west walk that runs north of Goodnow Hall, is still going strong, and has long since celebrated its centennial.
Gingko (Gingko biloba) on Grinnell College Central Campus (2015 photo)
Something similar might be said about the bald cypress that has for so long prospered in a most unexpected environment.  According to Henry Conard, Dan Bradley is also responsible for this titan, today growing adjacent to Roberts Theater on Park Street. Presently more than 45 inches in diameter, the cypress—which normally prospers in the swamps of the American South, often living in standing water—seems to have adapted to very different circumstances.  As Conard observed some ninety years ago, "here the thing grows, high and dry on the Iowa prairie. Impossible? Yes, but true."
Southern Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) adjacent to Roberts Auditorium (2015 photo)
Perhaps not quite as old, but certainly senior statesmen among Grinnell's trees, are the plane trees standing in the middle of the college campus. When Conard prepared Our Trees in the 1920s, he thought this cluster of plane trees (or sycamores, as some know them) already "splendid specimens," so it seems likely that by now they must be counted almost a century old. Certainly they display an imposing network of branches that reach perhaps one hundred feet above the sidewalk below.
Plane Trees on central campus, Grinnell College (photo 2015)
The college grounds may have provided unusual succour to these arboreal elders, but elsewhere in town numerous other trees have stood long and successfully without the kind of exceptional environment that the campus provides.

The several conifers standing behind Pine Tree House (1128 East Street), for example, have also probably reached the century mark by now. As Curtis Harnack wrote in a 1945 article in The Scarlet and Black, these trees were imported to Grinnell from New York by Mrs. E. G. Fellows, whose husband had had this house built in 1902. By the mid-1920s the Fellows had abandoned the house (it was donated to the college by their son, Jesse Fellows), which means that some of the conifers that still stand behind this building are also nearly 100 years old.
Curtis Harnack, "Under the Spreading Pine Tree Roof: An Interesting History," Scarlet and Black, Apr 13, 1945, p. 4
Similarly, when B. J. Ricker had Walter Burley Griffin design his home on north Broad Street, there were no trees in evidence. A photograph of the newly-completed house (ca. 1912) shows a barren landscape adjacent to the house. Yet, as Henry Conard pointed out in Our Trees, by the mid-1920s a "handsome specimen" of Douglas fir was prospering in Ricker's front yard, just north of the driveway. That tree—wounded seriously over the years as various broken branches confirm—was perhaps planted the year that the garage was added (1916), and therefore must be approaching its centennial (if it has not already reached it).
Ricker House (ca. 1912), National Library of Australia, pic-vn3603884a-s585-v
Ricker House Douglas Fir (photo 2015)
No doubt there are other trees throughout Grinnell that have long stood watch over the town's history. The tall cottonwood inside the north campus quad, for example, gives every appearance of old age, and may well have been planted about a century ago when the dormitories around it were built. The pin oak standing at the northeast corner of Broad and Eleventh also will soon celebrate its centennial.  Planted as a sapling in 1927 along with a twin (now gone) on the opposite side of the entrance to Merrill Park, this sturdy tree has long stood guard to Merrill Park.
Oak Tree, Merrill Park (2013 photo)
Grinnell's trees may not exercise all the abilities of Tolkien's Ents and their cousins, but they constitute an important part of the town's story.  They will not verbalize all that has taken place around them, but they certainly stand witness to what went before, and in that way help challenge our often limited imaginations about the past. Their presence reminds us how much they (and the people who planted and nurtured them) have changed the world that we so easily imagine to have been long unchanged.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grinnell's Connection to the Armenian Genocide

The year 2015 marks a sad centennial: it has been one hundred years since the events that much of the world knows as the Armenian Genocide (but which Turkey continues to refuse to acknowledge, much less apologize for). A century ago,Turkey was not much on the minds of Grinnellians: it was far away, and World War I, which helped give rise to the genocide, was still not formally an American concern. Nevertheless, Grinnell had a direct connection to the dreadful events then taking place in Turkey, a connection that continues to occupy a quiet spot in town.

I think about this connection often, and usually on Sundays, because what brings these events to mind is a lovely stained glass window that now lights the apse of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  Much has been said and written about how St. Paul's acquired and moved into town the building that had originally been home to Chester Congregational Church. It is a wonderful story, and, as a parishioner of St. Paul's myself, I admit that I treasure the building and am pleased at its successful reinvention as an Episcopal church. Less well-known, however, is the stained glass window in the apse which also made the journey from Chester into Grinnell. That window, depicting "The Good Shepherd" and celebrating the fourteen-year ministry of the Rev. George H. White at Chester, connects Grinnell to the gruesome events of 1915 Turkey. Of course, there is a certain irony in the iconography: if only there had been a shepherd like that who had intervened to save all those sheep subjected to the terror of the genocide.
"The Good Shepherd," Apse Window, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Grinnell, IA
But we have to begin at the beginning, and that means we begin with George H. White, born in Harrisburg, PA in 1830 and graduated from Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN in 1852. After completing seminary, White married Joanna Fisher in 1856, and soon thereafter the newly-weds left home for Turkey where they were to serve as Christian missionaries. Over the next several years, Rev. and Mrs. White worked at several mission locations, ending at Marash (today's KahramanmaraƟ) in central Anatolia. Almost immediately, however, health issues interfered with their mission, and obliged the Whites to return to the United States. They reached America in 1863, and at first settled in Vermont where White held several pastorates. But in 1872 White and his family went west, accepting the invitation to become pastor of the Chester Congregational Church, a rural parish located just north of Grinnell.  By all accounts, Rev. White's  fourteen-year tenure at Chester was quite successful, but poor health continued to dog him, leading to his resignation in 1886.  The Reverend and his family moved into Grinnell (914 High Street) where they resided until their deaths—Mrs. White died in 1904 and Rev. White in 1910.

Chester Congregational Church, ca. 1900
It was the Whites' children who, after their parents' deaths, wanted to memorialize them with a stained glass window. Rev. and Mrs. White had two children: Susan, who was born in 1867 in Vermont after the Whites returned home, and George, the older child, who was born in Turkey in 1861 while his parents were missionaries there. Although both children spent their childhoods in Chester township, attended rural schools, and both graduated from Grinnell College, young George retained an interest in and affection for Turkey long after the family had put down American roots. Consequently, it is through George that we find the connection with the Armenian genocide. As I noted, George attended Grinnell College, graduating in 1882—just days after the cyclone that leveled much of the campus and part of the town. He then pursued a divinity degree at Hartford Theological Seminary, and then, subsequent to his 1887 marriage to Esther Robbins in Muscatine, IA, he accepted a pastorate at the Congregational Church in Waverly, Iowa.

But the connection to Turkey still burned warmly in his heart, and therefore in 1890 the young George White, his wife, and their infant daughter left for Turkey as missionaries of the American Board of Foreign Missions—as his parents had done more than thirty years earlier.  The Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions had only recently (1886) founded a college in Merzifon (Marsovan), north-central Anatolia, and it was to this site that the Whites were sent after an emotional and warm farewell at Grinnell's old Stone Church.
Anatolia College, Merzifon , Turkey, ca. 1900
This second George White spent most of his career at Anatolia College, first as a professor and then later as treasurer, dean, and, after 1913, President, a post that brought him into intimate contact with one of the twentieth century's first experiments with genocide.
Grinnell Herald, September 3, 1912, p. 2
Before that catastrophe broke into the news and even before George was named President of Anatolia College, George White and his sister Susan had commissioned a set of stained glass windows to honor their parents and their father's fourteen-year pastorate at Chester Congregational. The work of an unknown Chicago artist, the windows featured a central panel of "The Good Shepherd," flanked on either side by smaller, undecorated panels; the glass was installed in the Chester Church in late summer, 1912, and can still be admired in the apse of St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
White Memorial Windows, St. Paul's Episcopal Church (photo 2015)
Even as the windows were being installed, Rev. White was on his way back to Anatolia College, which in truth had not enjoyed a peaceful existence within the remains of the Ottoman Empire. The Unit, a Grinnell College publication that reported on alumni, already in 1895 carried the news of a pogrom against Armenians in Merzifon, the college being spared only because of government guards. But with the rise of the Young Turks and the creation of a Turkish state, circumstances rapidly grew more threatening.

Anatolia College was, of course, a Christian outpost in a largely Muslim world. Merzifon itself was then inhabited by a large number of Greek and Armenian Christians, and this population constituted the primary constituency for the college. Therefore, when inflamed Turkish nationalism turned on the Armenians and other subject nationalities, the College was bound to collide with this new power.
The New York Times, September 30, 1917
There were many witnesses to the 1915 violence, but George White was one whose reports made it onto the pages of The New York Times. His tale, published after the Turks finally closed the college in 1916 and after the Whites had returned to the U.S., movingly described the misery that accompanied the raid on the college, when entire families were dispatched by ox carts to their doom. Later, according to White's account, the Turks "plowed the Armenian cemetery in Marsovan [Merzifon] and sowed it with grain as a symbol that no Armenian should live or die to be buried there. No Armenian student or teacher was left to Anatolia College, and of the Protestant congregation in the city of 950 souls, more than 900 were swept away."

Experts estimate that at least 600,000 Armenians—and perhaps twice that number—perished in the frenzy, and many more suffered through the forced-march deportations into the Syrian desert. Numerous witnesses described how the Turks prepared trenches toward which they marched male Armenian captives. There the captives were set upon, sometimes with axes, their bodies falling into the trenches prepared for them—in this detail eerily anticipating practices refined in later genocides of the twentieth century.

As I sit in the quiet of St. Paul's and gaze at the window of "The Good Shepherd," I cannot escape the irony of the iconography. Of course, George and Susan White, in selecting the theme of the stained glass window, could not have foreseen the terror that the Turks would later unleash against their Armenian subjects. No doubt the White children had in mind the faithful shepherd that their father had been to the women and men of Chester township. But in retrospect it is difficult not to wonder why there was no Good Shepherd for the hundreds of thousands of Armenians and others who perished in the cataclysm of 1915.

George White returned to Merzifon in 1919 and revived Anatolia College, but by 1921 new difficulties had arisen, and the college closed once again. In 1924, largely through White's personal endeavors and against the judgment of Mission Board Commissioners, Anatolia reopened, this time in Thessaloniki, Greece, where White completed his service as President of the College in 1934. He retired to the United States, and died in California in 1946. His body was transported back to Grinnell where he was buried near his parents, and where his wife's body joined him a few years later. The man who had survived the 1882 Grinnell Cyclone and who had witnessed the storm of the Armenian Genocide lay at final rest in the peaceful environs of Hazelwood Cemetery.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Alice at the Library...of Congress!

Alice Lee (1906-97) was the second oldest of the Renfrow children, and the first to be born in Minnesota. Like the rest of her siblings, she grew up and went to school in Grinnell.  But, once she finished high school, she left Grinnell to make her mark elsewhere in the world.  If her older sister, Helen, settled in Iowa City, and her younger sister, Evanel, ultimately located in Savannah, Georgia, Alice made her home in Washington, D. C., where for more than forty years she worked for one of the world's great libraries. Unlike Helen and Evanel, however, Alice never married, and therefore after her 1997 death her body was returned to Grinnell, and buried next to her parents and brothers in Hazelwood Cemetery. So her story circles back to conclude in Grinnell, even if the most successful pages of the tale were written far away from the family homestead.
South School Students, ca. 1912: Alice Renfrow, 2nd row, far left
(photo courtesy of Digital Grinnell; thanks to Gail Bonath who brought this photo to my attention)
When the Renfrow family returned to Grinnell in 1909 or 1910, Alice was only three or four years old, and therefore she probably didn't begin grade school before 1911. A surviving photograph of unidentified students in front of South School includes one young African American girl, probably Alice Lee Renfrow. Like her sisters and brothers, Alice had to get used to being the only African American in her class.

Little else is known about Alice's school days. She probably attended South School for all her elementary education before moving on to Center and the adjacent High School.  Like sisters Helen and Evanel, Alice identified YWCA in the 1924 high school yearbook as an extra-curricular activity, but nothing else. Whereas Helen and Evanel had taken the so-called normal curriculum, directed toward future teachers, Alice pursued the commercial course, a curriculum intended to prepare students for secretarial and office work. However, as Alice reported in a 1982 interview with Stuart Yeager, a Grinnell College student researching the experience of African Americans in Grinnell, there was no local secretarial work open to blacks like her—not at Grinnell College, not at the Grinnell Glove factory, not at any other of the town's main employers. "They used to hire just anybody who could look like they could read ABC and that's all," Alice told Yeager. "They would hire those people, but not us."
Alice Lee Renfrow, 1924 Grinnellian
As noted in earlier posts, both Helen and Evanel had gone directly from Grinnell High School into college—Helen to Fisk University and Evanel to Iowa State University. But Alice did not follow this same course, perhaps because, as I speculated earlier, family finances at that point had become strained. Or perhaps Alice never intended to enter college, and, armed with a good set of skills suitable for office work, she had hoped to enter the work force immediately.
Official Entrance to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, VA
Whatever the explanation, records make clear that Alice enrolled at Hampton Institute only in autumn 1928, four years after graduating from high school.  Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, as it was formally known before 1930, occupies a special place in American education. As General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, its white founder observed, "the only hope for the future of the South is to lift the colored race through a practical education that shall fit them for life." Hence, Hampton emphasized learning by doing, and in its earliest stages the school concentrated upon training for the trades and for farming. But Armstrong and his successors were in search of more than skills; in their view, manual training also led to mental discipline and moral integrity. "Education for life," a slogan often pronounced in discussions of Hampton, aimed at developing character in Hampton's students as much as preparing them to earn a living.

What brought Alice to Hampton? Her younger brother, Rudolph, had been a student at Hampton Academy since 1923, and in the events that rocked the Institute in 1927 Rudolph had been one of the student leaders who had challenged the school's leadership (more on this in a future post). But, so far as I know, nothing about Rudolph's experience at Hampton proved especially attractive to Alice, although certainly she would have learned a great deal about the place from her brother. And, if the years after her 1924 graduation from Grinnell High School were as frustrating as the record indicates, Alice could very well have been eager to get out of Grinnell. Moreover, as her high school concentration upon the commercial course reveals, Alice was looking for an education in skills that would aid her in securing work in an office or business, and had no intention of becoming a teacher or researcher.

Academic Building--later Schurz Hall--at Hampton Institute; housed the offices of Business School (ca. 1920)
Since 1912 Hampton had added to the two-year Academy curriculum in business another two years of study beyond high school; Alice's commercial concentration at Grinnell High School was well-suited to this program.  In line with the Hampton's emphasis upon practical applications, the business curriculum provided students with experience in the school's own business operations, and  also, during one quarter of the second year, sent students out to near-by towns and cities to gain actual experience—what today might be called unpaid internships. The on-campus business courses included accounting, business English, business law, economics, money and banking, office training, and a range of electives. Graduates of this two-year program received a business school diploma, which Alice apparently received in 1930 (I could not confirm the year of graduation from Hampton).

Where Alice went immediately thereafter I am not sure, but certainly by April, 1935 she was resident in the District of Columbia, living at 904 Rhode Island Avenue NW, the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA building, the first "colored" YWCA in the country, where 55 African American women lodged.  Long before Alice arrived the District of Columbia had been attracting large numbers of African Americans. According to the authors of the Federal Writers Project guide to Washington, in the 1930s the District was about one-quarter black, and although some African Americans in the District were living well, many were not. Unemployment among blacks in this era in Washington was estimated at 40%, and blacks accounted for more than 70% of the District's relief cases. Large proportions of the impoverished settled in makeshift housing concentrated in alleys, a practice that a 1934 law tried to eliminate. Housing "covenants," intended to keep African Americans out of white neighborhoods, often had the unintended effect of creating concentrations of black settlement elsewhere in the city. As an example, northwest Washington, where Alice Renfrow took up residence, became one of the most densely populated black settlements in the District. Overall, it was not a very encouraging situation. To borrow the words of the 1937 guide, "The Negro of Washington has no voice in government, is economically proscribed, and segregated nearly as rigidly as in the southern cities he contemns [sic]."

Alice, who had grown up in Grinnell's Congregational Church (today's United Church of Christ-Congregational), found a worship home in Washington at Foundry United Methodist. Established in the early nineteenth century by a foundry magnate grateful that his business had escaped the desolation visited upon the capital by the British in 1812, Foundry had grown over the years, first occupying a building at 14th and G Streets, then in 1904 dedicating a new facility at 16th and Madison Streets, NW. This was the building that Alice would have seen in 1935.  Over the years various Presidents had visited Foundry, perhaps most famously on Christmas Day, 1941 on the heels of the Pearl Harbor attack, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the visiting British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, attended Foundry (Alice might well have been there for the occasion). In the 1990s, President and Mrs. Clinton attended Foundry fairly often, and President Clinton even preached there.
Foundry United Methodist Church, 16th and Madison Streets NW (ca. 1904)
Foundry came to occupy a fairly radical position within the Methodist denomination (having decided, for instance, to ignore the 1984 church ruling that excluded practicing homosexuals from the ministry), but whether it was very multi-racial is more difficult to know.  Early in its history the church had founded a daughter church—Asbury Chapel—for African Americans, and before the end of the nineteenth century these two churches had separated. Website photographs of the staff and congregation at Foundry over the years depict very few persons of color, so how many African Americans Alice Renfrow met at Foundry is hard to say. Even if she was a relatively rare black member, Alice could not have been too surprised, given her experience in Grinnell. Nevertheless, the choice of Foundry is an interesting one; as the 1937 guide to Washington points out, by that time there were numerous African American churches in the district, and some were very well-known—but for reasons of her own Alice chose Foundry.
Thomas Jefferson Building, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Exactly how Alice decided to come to Washington is unknown. It seems that her younger brother, Rudolph, who had preceded her to Hampton, had also preceded her to Washington, so it may be that Rudolph had encouraged her move. Or perhaps she came because she knew that she had a good job in prospect. Whatever the stimulus, the reason for staying was clear enough: in April, 1935 Alice accepted appointment in the Card Division of the Library of Congress. So far as the record reveals, Alice never had any training specific to library science, and therefore evidently applied her business training at Hampton to her new position. It is no surprise, then that when 1940 census workers asked Alice about her employment, Alice called herself a "clerk" at the Library of Congress.
Card Division, Library of Congress (1919)
Indeed, the Card Division where Alice began work in the Library might better be understood as an office rather than a library. Here officials undertook to deliver to numerous public libraries across the country sets of catalog cards prepared and printed at the Library for each title acquired by the Library of Congress.  Since each title might generate a dozen or more cards (for subject headings as well as for author, title, series, etc.), and since the Library had accumulated more than five million titles by the time Alice started working there, the Card Division had to keep track of immense numbers of cards, as well as organize the timely shipment of cards to libraries all across the country. Without these cards, the banks of card catalogs then central to library work everywhere were useless.  

During this part of her career, Alice came into contact with Dr. E. Franklin Frazier (1894-1962), by then professor at Howard University but also "consultant in American Negro studies" to the Library of Congress. Frazier, who had taught at Morehouse College and Fisk University before coming to Howard, was well-known as a critic of racism, and had written widely on what he called the "pathology of race prejudice."  He was also a contributor to the 1950 UNESCO statement on race, and published several books, including the well-known The Negro Family in the United States (1939) and Black Bourgeoisie (1957).  Alice served as his secretary for some time, so it would be interesting to know what she thought of Frazier and what sort of conversations they shared. Given her own family experience and Frazier's interest in African American families, did she relay some Renfrow stories to Frazier, thereby adding a Grinnell-specific narrative to Frazier's overview? Did she share with him news about her siblings who, like others of their generation, had climbed into the "black bourgeoisie?" So far as I know, nothing survives to answer these questions, and we are therefore left to wonder.

At the Library of Congress Alice later worked briefly in the Copyright Office, and then settled into the Catalog Management Division as a filer. In 1964 she was named supervisor of filing, the position she held at the time of her 1976 retirement, completing almost forty-one years at the Library, a longevity that had earned her special recognition several times. Certainly Alice had good reason to be proud of her success in Washington, and it does not strain credulity to imagine that from time to time she recalled her difficulties in getting work back in Grinnell.  It was some years after her retirement when Stuart Yeager interviewed her, asking her to look back more than half a century. Alice had no difficulty doing so, remembering the harsh reality of racial bias that had prevented her from gaining secretarial work in 1920s Grinnell.

I do not know how long Alice lived at the YWCA on Rhode Island, but at some point before 1985, she moved out of the District, and took an apartment in Forestville, MD, located in nearby Prince George's County. Then, only about a year before her death she moved to  3101 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago, a fourteen-story senior living residence. Here she fell ill with cancer, and died March 10, 1997. Her body was returned to Grinnell where a memorial service was held a few days later. She was then buried in Grinnell's Hazelwood Cemetery, taking her place next to her parents and two brothers, both of whom had died before her, as had sisters Helen and Evanel. The simple gravestone, marked with a cross like her brothers' stones, adds only the words "Library of Congress," a suitable key to the most important stage of her life.
Apparently Alice did not leave behind the sort of continuing legacy that both Helen and Evanel had—no library was named after her nor did she have her name attached to any scholarship. Also different from Helen and Evanel, Alice in the end returned to Grinnell. Although her life story had taken her across the country and she had worked more than four decades in the nation's greatest—and one of the world's greatest—libraries, she returned to the tiny midwestern town in which she had grown up, circling back to take her final resting place with many of the same kids with whom she had gone to South School some ninety years earlier.