Tales From the Archives: Clara Hadley Wait

Written by: Amanda Vasquez, DAR Archivist
April 27, 2017

April 2017 marks the 100 year anniversary of the United States’ entering into World War One. The DAR is honoring this anniversary in numerous ways beginning now through the centennial celebration of the Treaty of Versailles in June of 2019. The NSDAR Archives is especially excited about our Americana Room exhibit Women of Resilience: DAR Service and World War One which will be opening in June of 2017 for Continental Congress.

This blog post celebrates a DAR member who worked tirelessly to coordinate DAR’s volunteer efforts during World War One, Clara Hadley Wait. She was born in Lacon, Illinois on April 18, 1864. In September 1888 she married William Henry Wait a Professor of Latin and German at Illinois Wesleyan University. In 1895 Professor Wait’s career moved the couple from Illinois to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan where he initially taught Greek and Sanskrit, and later Latin and modern languages. The Waits traveled extensively through Europe and were involved in Ann Arbor’s social life. In Ann Arbor, Mrs. Wait joined the Sarah Caswell Angell Chapter of the DAR in 1902, serving as Chapter Regent from 1913 to 1915. She served as the State Regent of Michigan from 1915 to 1919.

Her time as state regent was punctuated by the Great War. After the United States entered the war, she was appointed Director of Publicity for the War Relief Service Committee. Her service in these two positions greatly impacted the DAR’s volunteer service efforts during the war. On April 24, 1917, on behalf of the committee she issued 100,000 registration blanks to DAR members to survey the skills, services, and resources they were willing to use to aid the American war effort. The information from these forms helped catalog what resources were available not only for DAR’s relief work, but it was used by the US government as well. As Director of Publicity she wrote bulletins on war relief subjects such as assembling Comfort Kit Bags for soldiers, the importance of Liberty Loans, and conserving food and other resources that helped DAR chapters implement these ideas in their own volunteer services. Mrs. Wait routinely used the DAR Magazine to publish reports and updates about the committee’s work, this also included practical information such as making and donating jelly for the war effort to be stored and used at hospitals.

Clara Wait and the Michigan daughters initiated the concept of DAR chapters knitting garments to support the needs of a specific naval destroyer. Due to the success of this project, it was implemented throughout DAR, as various chapters knitted for specific ships. Mrs. Wait was also involved with the Women’s Navy League, and she used this connection to help educate the DAR membership on knitting instructions and patterns. She was recognized by the French government for this work when in 1921 they awarded her the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Francaise for meritorious service.  Additionally, in 1923 the American Committee for the Devastated Regions of France awarded her with a diploma and medal for her cooperation for the restoration of France.

After her volunteer work during the war, Clara Wait served as Vice President General from 1919 to 1922. The Michigan Daughters endorsed Clara Wait for the upcoming 1923 DAR President General election; however health soon led her to withdraw from her volunteer work. Mrs. Wait continued her volunteer work from her bedroom, converting it into a workshop with a long table in the middle of the room. Her dedication to the DAR was well remembered. Her fellow Michigan daughters remarked, “Those who know how tirelessly she worked as State Regent of Michigan and as National Publicity Director of the War Relief Service Committee attribute her break in health to this cause.  But her patriotism was an obsession with her and she sacrificed herself willingly.  It was her ability to turn off work without a flurry, and her tact as an organizer that helped her to accomplish so much.” She passed away on July 28, 1925.

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