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DAR protects Pepperell’s past, looks to future

PEPPERELL — A town that takes its history seriously relies on a group of women to keep an iconic society alive and well.

The Prudence Wright Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is still making its mark in a town where both men and women are recognized as heroes in the battles fought before the United States struck out on its own.

The hide-bound traditions of the DAR might make it a challenge to join, but the local chapter welcomes all. Members must prove they had a Patriot Ancestor on the DAR list but non-members are welcome at the monthly meetings.

“We don’t do the white-glove thing,” said Regent Wendy Cummings.

“I joined in 1987,” said Treasurer/Registrar Barbara Smith. “I think I was the only one under 80.”

Almost 30 years later, the chapter has members as young as 18. They are called the Children of the American Revolution. They meet in the town-owned chapter house building, across the street from Town Hall.

Town Meeting voted to let them use the former school house turned fire station if they would keep the building up. In recent years, they have installed modern plumbing and cabinets.

At the turn of the 20th century, they had to rehab the building. Even the renovations remained historical. When the town removed the front wall for fire apparatus, they simply buried the bricks in the yard.

Members’ husbands dug them up and built a new exterior wall with the old bricks, Smith said.

Historical preservation is just one part of the DAR focus. Education and patriotism are also on the list of priorities.

It took some thinking to create a list of what the chapter has done in the past 100 years. “We don’t like to brag on ourselves,” Cummings said as she ruminated over their accomplishments.

Some of their contributions are close to home.

The chapter replaced Wright’s tombstone, which is a stone’s-throw away from the chapter house beside the cemetery. Plaques at the Prudence Wright Overlook and the site of the minuteman muster mark other donations.

Each year a senior, male or female, at North Middlesex Regional High School, gets a $200 good citizen award. During Constitution Week, the chapter usually has materials to give away at the library.

They are currently supporting an Eagle Scout project. They have given many volunteer hours to a cycling event in Concord for injured veterans and at the Edith Nourse Memorial Hospital in Bedford.

The DAR is a state and national organization and its charitable giving reflects that.

The Massachusetts branch supports the Hillside School in Marlborough. The boarding school for middle school boys is one of seven schools across the country the DAR supports, Cummings said.

The national office gets more than half the dues the chapter collects. They use some for keeping the DAR Constitutional Hall in Washington D.C. open.

“If this is what we’re preserving with our money, go for it,” said Susan Smith, the chapter librarian after she saw the building during a trip.

The game show “Jeopardy” recently broadcast from the hall, said Barbara Smith. She tuned in regularly.

The chapter is always looking for new members with new skills.

A newer member, Patty Gale, is an excellent seamstress and formed a sewing circle, Cummings said.

Although she is barely able to thread her machine, Cummings decided to join. The plan is to make costumes like the ones worn by colonialists that will be worn during Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades.

Both Smiths are also excellent seamstresses, Cummings said. But, the guidance of one fell short and the apprentice seamstress ended up making something with a hem much longer on one side than another.

Susan Smith claimed responsibility, saying she did not explain well enough. Cummings agreed.

By the time the three chapter leaders had discussed the garment, they were all in stitches, laughing.

Creating costumes is a natural match for the chapter. Prudence Wright gained fame during the Revolution as the leader of a group of women who dressed in men’s clothing at least once. The menfolk were away at war.

After the call went out for women to form a guard, she was elected to be commander. The women watched at Jewett’s Bridge over the Nashua River and seized at least one man, Leonard Whiting who was carrying dispatches for the British.

Some accounts say that Wright’s brother, Samuel Cumings was also caught. There is debate on whether or not he recognized his sister’s voice and “dashed” away, according to “The Pioneer Mothers of America, published in 1912.

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter and Tout @a1oconnor.