08 October 2011

Sepia Saturday 95: Aunt Vi and the Dayton Soldiers' Service Club

William Saroyan, 1941,
Library of Congress, Al Aumuller photographer

It all started with My Name is Aram.  It was a hot summer day - the last of the library books sat on my desk, my best friend was on vacation and it was a Thursday ... in August.   I was bored.  School would not start again for another 4 long weeks ... two more days until my next trip to the library.

The book was disappointingly short.  I poured a cup of tea before settling into the recliner for what I hoped would be a leisurely read.  I was immediately transported back in time to an immigrant neighborhood in depression-era Fresno, California.  (Is this what sparked my quest to know the experiences of my immigrant ancestors?)

Soon, reader's remorse set in - I tried to read slower to prolong my escape but failed.  What to read next, the encyclopedia?  My father's old college texts?  Saved!  The shadow of the postman traced across the floor.  I raced to the door to retrieve the mail ... surely there would be something to read.

A letter!  And this was not just any letter, this one was from Great Aunt Vi.  Her letters were full of political intrigue and exuded a sense of indomitability.  I can still see her hand-writing and the position of the words  "Bill Saroyan" on the page.  It was an off-hand remark.  'Bill Saroyan' was in town, something about plays - WHAT????  My Great Aunt knew William Saroyan?!  Glad my Dad was home, I peppered him with questions and learned what a remarkable woman Great Aunt Vi was.

Viola D. "Great Aunt Vi" (Manchester) Mansur (1894-1981) was the Director of the Dayton Soldiers' Service Club during World War II.  From its inception on 7 December 1941 following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it took Vi only 12 days to rally local women's groups and businesses to the cause.  The Soldiers' Club of Dayton ensured that none of the troops became bored:
"The Club is a happy playground.  Deafening noises from the juke box, laughter from the dozen game tables, poolballs clicking, ping pong balls singing through the air, some boy hammering out boogie-woogie on one piano, a former concert pianist at the grand piano, no one has time to be lonely with all these fine American boys and girls at play." - Viola D. Mansur, City of Dayton Annual Report for 1943.
This is also where Vi met William 'Bill' Saroyan.  "Not long ago, a group of men from Company 'C,' Wright Field, wrote and produced a 'Gay 90's Review.'  This began as an amateur production but with such men as Lynn Riggs and William Saroyan planning it, it turned out to be a real production and art creation."

Vi's organizational abilities and indomitable spirit were honed in the 1930s when she was President of the Dayton Women's Group,
"the Women's Civic Group has followed, in the main, Theodore Roosevelt's advice to 'tread softly but carry a big stick.'  Much of its success in fact, more than the general public realizes has been accomplished through quiet cooperation with public officials. Where that has not produced results, steady pressure without fanfare of publicity has brought other officials to see the need of changes in policy." - Viola D. Mansur, National Municipal Review, May 1940
During the 1930s, Vi was also Financial Director of the Dayton League of Women Voters.  The League had its roots in the successful suffrage movement of the 1910s.

"Over the Teacups" makes no mention of Vi's participation in the suffrage movement.  Was Great Aunt Vi an active member? Or did she support the cause but reject the fanfare?  The answers to these questions will have to wait for further research.  My fascination with the role my ancestors and their families played in history continues to stave off any possibility of boredom!

This has been a rather circuitous path to the Sepia Saturday theme of the week, suffrage.  For more suffragettes and other takes on the theme, see Sepia Saturday 95.

Woman suffrage headquarters in Upper Euclid Avenue, Cleveland--A. (at extreme right) is Miss Belle Sherwin, President, National League of Women Voters; B. is Judge Florence E. Allen (holding the flag); C. is Mrs. Malcolm McBride.   Library of Congress.

A special thanks to Steve Koons who stumbled on the Teacup article, knew I would be interested and sent me a copy.

Sources and Further Reading:
"Keeping Up Morale."  Curt Dalton, President.  Dayton History Books Online.  http://www.daytonhistorybooks.com/soldiersserviceclub.html : 2011.  Citing Dalton, Curt.  Home Sweet Home Front:  Dayton during World War II.  [Dayton]: Curt Dalton, 2000.

"William Saroyan."  Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Saroyan#Short_stories : accessed 7:43, 8 October 2011.

Mansur, Viola D.  "Many Women Show How."  National Municipal Review.  29 (May 1940): 336-339.

Mansur, Viola D.  "The Soldiers’ Service Club."  Digital transcription.  1942. Curt Dalton, President.  Dayton History Books Online. http://www.daytonhistorybooks.com/soldiersserviceclub.html : 2008.  Citing City of Dayton Annual Report for 1942, 14-17.

Mansur, Viola D.  "Soldiers’ Service Club Activities."  Digital transcription.  1943. Curt Dalton, President.  Dayton History Books Online.  http://www.daytonhistorybooks.com/soldiersservice.html : 2011.  Citing City of Dayton Annual Report for 1943.

McMarty, Mary.  "Dangerous Dames of Dayton."  Web edition. 25 September 2010.  Cox Ohio Publishing.  Dayton Daily News.  http://www.daytondailynews.com/lifestyle/dangerous-dames-of-dayton--943927.html : 2011.

Ohio.  Dayton.  Dayton Daily News.  22 September 1935.  "Over the Teacups." 

Saroyan, William.  Digital image.  1940.  Library of Congress.  Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.   New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97502041/ : 2011.

Saroyan, William. My Name Is Aram. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968.

Woman suffrage headquarters in Upper Euclid Avenue, Cleveland--A. (at extreme right) is Miss Belle Sherwin, President, National League of Women Voters; B. is Judge Florence E. Allen (holding the flag); C. is Mrs. Malcolm McBride.  1912.  Library of Congress.  Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.  Miscellaneous Items in High Demand Collection.  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/97500065/ : 2011.


  1. She must have been a very interesting woman to know. "Current" in every respect.

  2. Mary, I only knew her from her letters. She passed away only a few months before I moved to Ohio. I had so looked forward to meeting her in person. Her letters were fascinating to someone from a small town in the West.

  3. Wow, Liz!!!! This is an incredible post. You pulled it all in to one excellent piece. Thanks, I really enjoyed learning about your Aunt and her work.

    Kathy M.

  4. I've just finished a novel with a main theme being the suffragette movement. It mentions a parade with a white horse ridden by someone dressed as Joan of Arc, rather like the one in the programme you show.

  5. Excellent post Liz. Your Aunt Vi must have been a dynamo.

  6. A great family history to weave into this weekend's theme. Interesting times and people.

  7. What a fantastic post! I was hooked from the very beginning and could not stop reading. Thanks for sharing.

  8. You've done a lot of research for this fascinating story. I'm intrigued with your Great Aunt Vi's surname, as my wife's grandmother was a Mansour.

  9. What an amazing woman and story....this really works well for the Sepia theme as well! Thanks!

  10. Brett, Mansour/Mansur is not a particularly common name here. Vi's husband was William B. Mansur. I've been curious about the name's origin. Evidently it is of Anglo-French origin going back to the 12th century crusades.

    As for the research, I've piles of it! I only regret not having time to track down the original City of Dayton annual reports as one of them had photographs. I'd love to have some pictures inside the club to add.

  11. What a fabulous post! It sounds like your Aunt Vi was an amazing woman. And what a treasure for you to have such insight into her passion and her service to the community. One of the most disappointing things to me about genealogical research is when all you can find are names and dates but no anecdotes like this to add dimension to previous generations. It's a shame you didn't get a chance to meet her, but thank you for sharing her with us!

  12. That's intriguing - I mean the Crusades connection, since my wife's grandmother was from Lebanon.

  13. Very interesting post. It is amazing how women weren't even considered worthy of voting, did they think we didn't have brains and could think for ourselves??

  14. If there is one thing that I love it is circuitous routes : and what a fascinating circuitous route this was. A perfect Sepia Saturday post packed with wonderful old images linked with fascinating detail.

  15. Thanks for the interesting post. Your Great Aunt Vi sounds like she really "made a difference."

  16. A Mighty post Liz.And Viola D Mansur Sounds A Mighty lady!


Comments welcome!