A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]The Grand Dames of the American Colonies became the world's most exclusive hereditary society on Friday when its only two members, Lillian Walthrup and Gladys Drew, amended the organization's charter to exclude even themselves from membership.
"The amendment passed without objection," says Mrs. Drew, a retired librarian now living in Fort Myers, Florida. "As soon as we'd voted, we escorted each other from the room. Needless to say, tears were shed."
Expulsion from the Grand Dames was even more troubling for Mrs. Walthrup, a descendant of one of its original members, and chair of the refreshment committee.
The society was founded in 1856 in Philadelphia by the wives of Know-Nothing politicians. Frustrated that they could not campaign with their husbands to deport Catholics, the ladies began an organization that welcomed only the "right kind of people." The recent changes to the Grand Dames Charter were in keeping with the original philosophy of the group, says Mrs. Walthrup.
"We're not opposed to immigration, but illegal immigration is beyond the pale," she insists with an almost religious fervor. "To accept the descendants of undocumented immigrants into the society would be an insult to our ancestors. And it would reflect badly on the other members, of which there are now none."
The new rules required that members produce evidence that all of their American immigrant ancestors had come to this country legally. To their shame, neither Walthrup nor Drew could do so.
"Proving these things is very difficult," admits Mrs. Drew. "One of my great-great-grandfathers just showed up in New York out of the blue. Did he jump ship, or sneak across the border from Canada? Probably not, but I can't take the chance."
Mrs. Walthrup agrees. "We can't take the chance of sullying the society's reputation by admitting the descendants of criminals. If Gladys and I hadn't left quietly, I'm confident that we would have thrown us out. I'm just glad it didn't come to that."