22 August 2012

Women of the DAR Come in All Shapes and Sizes

As you know, I am a proud member of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.  For the next two years I am will serve as regent for the El Toyon Chapter here in Stockton.

Our chapter has a monthly newsletter and I am obligated to contribute something.  A friend recently asked me "What kind of woman joins the DAR?"  After 4 hours of intense research (intense = no distraction by shiny things) I can tell you that currently over 170,000 women are members of DAR.  If you go back to the beginning in 1890 over 890,000 women have become members. 

I can also tell you that the women of DAR come in all sizes, shapes and colors.  They are doctors, lawyers, astronauts, teachers, housewives, single parents, suffragist leaders, pilots, artists and even an admiral of the US Navy.

Political Heavy Hitters:  Janet Reno, Sandra Day O'Connor, Elizabeth Dole

Several actresses:  Bo Derek, Lillian Gish, Ginger Rogers, Dina Merrill and Virginia Mayo

Eleven First Ladies :  Barbara Pierce Bush, Laura Welch Bush, Roslyn Smith Carter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower, Julia Dent Grant, Florence Kling Harding, Caroline Scott Harrison, Nancy Davis Reagan, Edith Carow Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt.

And then there is
 Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton Magri

Better known as Mrs. Tom Thumb.  

Now tell me true people - is this a "Shiny Thing" or what!!!  So for the better part of four hours I sat at the computer - clickty clack, clickty clack went my keyboard.

This woman had the most interesting and exciting life.  She was born in 1841 to James Sullivan Bump and Huldah Pierce Warren at Middleborough, Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  She came from a long-established and well-respected New England family that descends from five passengers of the Mayflower:  John Billington, Francis Cooke, Edward Doty, Stephen Hopkins and Richard Warren.    Lavinia's parents are of normal size as all her siblings with the exception of her younger sister Minnie.  Minnie who also had a form of proportionate dwarfism.

At the age of 16 she became a school teacher.  A few years later, she made a career change.  She left Massachusetts and went to Mississippi to work as a a miniature dancing chanteuse on her cousin's showboat.  P.T. Barnum, who was managing Tom Thumb at the time,  learned of Lavinia and brought her into his show.  Tom's real name was Charles Sherwood Stratton.

It must have been love at first sight, because just one week later, Tom Thumb and Livinia were married on 10 February 1863  in an elaborate ceremony at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City.  Her sister Minnie was her maid of honor.  P.T. Barnum, ever the show-man, didn't charge admission to the wedding.  He did however charge $75 a person to the first 5000 people who wanted to attend the reception at the Metropolitan Hotel. It was a sold out event.  They went to Europe for their honeymoon and one of the first stops was to England to call on Queen Victoria.

Twenty years later, on 15 July 1883, Tom suffered a stroke and died at the age of 45.  In 1885, Lavinia remarried to Count Primo Magri, an Italian dwarf and they operated a famous roadside stand in Middleborough, Massachusetts.  Lavinia died 25 November 1919 at the age of 78 and is buried next to her first husband Tom Thumb with a  grave stone that reads simply, "His Wife."

I wasn't able to find the date that Lavinia joined the DAR nor which chapter she belonged to, but I was able to find her DAR membership number - 43670 - and her  patriot ancestor.  Through her maternal line, Lavinia descends from Sylvanus Warren who served as a Sergeant in the Massachusetts Militia.

Photos courtesy of University of Washington Library Special Collections and Wikimedia Commons


  1. I blogged about her a year ago, but didn't know her ancestry or that she was in the DAR. I'm going to link to your post! Folks around here will like that! http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2011/06/commodore-nutt-lived-in-fame-but-died.html

  2. Proving once again that someone with a "disability" can life a rich, fulfilling life!

  3. That was a great post about Mr. and Mrs Tom Thumb.

  4. Fascinating, Sheri. And shiny!

    See, those four hours slaving away were worth it! Powerful. I even felt a tinge of guilt over my coffee while you were posting...

  5. That was a great post! Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the read!

  6. You find the best shiny things, Sheri! I'll have to share this with my DAR chapter.

  7. Great story, Sheri. I wonder how much $75 in 1863 would be worth now :-) Jo

  8. Now I am even more motivated to get my application papers together. What a fascinating story, Sheri. Your chapter is in for an adventurous toe years with you at the helm!

  9. Sheri, loved the post. Made me even more determined to get my DAR application done. Who wouldn't want to join such a more than "shiny" group!

  10. Very shiny indeed! Very interesting article.

    Thank you.

  11. I enjoyed your post! I am planning on starting a genealogy blog (hopefully this weekend!) and viewed the intro at www.geneabloggers.com where they listed your blog. And, this is the firt one I hopped over to read!

    First of all, I recently read a book about Mrs Tom Thumb... The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It was REALLY good! Not a true autobiography, but my of a fictionalized biography. I learned a lot!

    Second, I'm patiently awaiting my DAR acceptance letter! Well, maybe not so patiently. ;-) I go to my first meeting next month. It was neat reading about some of the women who were in DAR!

  12. Mercy Lavinia Magri was a member of the Melzingah Chapter in New York. Their chapter web site makes no mention of her having been a member... I wonder if the current members even know? Maybe you should tell them!

    Great post, btw!

  13. Heather - Thanks for linking!

    Miriam - How very true!

    Thanks Cinamon!

    Jacqi - Your turn now!

    Thanks Shannon!

    Shelley - Yes, please do share the story!

    Jo - A lot more than I would be willing to pay!

    Denise - yes my chapter is in for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride!

    Valerie - What? You're not already a member of DAR? Get going Girl!

    Thank you Tim!

    Dana - Congratulations on completing your application, you will make a mahvahlous addition to DAR!

    Elizabeth - Thanks for the info on the NY chapter. I will contact them to let them know!

  14. To, Elizabeth Oneal
    Yes, as I am a member of the Melzingah Chapter in Beacon, NY, I can assure you that our Lilliputian is known, even if we don't promote her as Barnum once did. She joined in 1903, age 60 as Melzingah's 60th member. We even have some of her personal items. The Chapter owns the Madam Brett Homestead and if you get there to visit, we'd be happy to show you the collection. http://melzingah.awardspace.com/

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