By Rae Anna Victor
Above, the Children’s Hour Parade, organized by Marie Frances in Seattle for her KIRO television show. Opposite page, letters like this were what kept Marie inspired to continue her work. Images courtesy of Rae Anna Victor.
Marie Frances Young Woolcott was a woman before her time. She was liberated before women’s lib was cool. Marie Frances was born in Spokane on January 2, 1908, and spent the majority of her life here. Her passion for life, for patriotism, and for what is right led her to become a true leader at a time in our history when leaders were needed most.
During the middle to late 1930s, Marie Frances was one of the most prominent business women in the Wenatchee area. She worked for Apple Capitol Growers at the Wenatchee District Co-Operative Association, which consisted of 26 co-op warehouses in the area. It was during this period of her life that Marie Frances joined both the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) and the Business and Professional Women (BPW), which changed the course of her life. She remained an active and vital part of both organizations for over six decades.
It was during this time, in 1939, that Marie Frances met Belle Reeves, who was the first and until this time, the only female Secretary of State. These two women formed a lifetime friendship from this meeting.
Marie Frances was passionately patriotic to the United States, and extremely loyal to Washington State. One of her first acts as a member of the BPW was to represent Wenatchee at the opening of Grand Coulee Dam. It was here she first met Eleanor Roosevelt and presented her with a box of Aplets and Cotlets with an insignia of BPW on the top. The day of the opening was bright and sunny, and Marie had made the long journey with great anticipation. As she was walking to the stage with her gift, she was suddenly surrounded by several burley Secret Service agents who demanded to know who she was and what she wanted. They confiscated her gift and sent her to sit in the audience.
Belle Reeves saw her sitting several rows back in the crowd and motioned to her. When Marie Frances met her at the side of the stage and explained what had happened, Belle said, “We’ll see about that.” Soon Marie Frances was presenting her gift personally to Mrs. Roosevelt. She said, “Mrs. Roosevelt we are so proud to present this to you from our state and we are so proud that you are associated with our organization.”
Eleanor advised her, at that time, that she was not just associated, but she was very proud to be a bona fide member of both the DAR and BPW. It was the beginning of a long friendship between the two women.
A guiding influence in Marie Frances’ life was her membership in the BPW and NSDAR. It allowed her to travel all over the nation and put her in the view of those in power who placed her in positions of importance. She became the youngest woman to ever hold the top office as the president of the Business and Professional Women in 1941. One of the mantras during her administration was, “women absolutely must participate more vitally, more intelligently in the everyday mechanics of government if the people’s rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are to be preserved.”
Also in 1939, at the age of 26, Marie Frances was selected by Governor Martin to be a receptionist for the New York World’s Fair. She interrupted her studies to go and represent the state, which she was able to do admirably due to financial support from both PBW and the NSDAR. Two of the items featured at the Washington Building at the fair were specialty fruits and the agricultural wonders of the state.
Marie Frances spent the entire length of the fair living, working, and going to school in New York. She represented the Washington State Progress Commission. The Washington exhibit was coined “The Evergreen Playground.” Over 80,000 pieces of Douglas fir piling from the state helped build the exhibits of the fair. Over 1,000 pieces were used in the Trylon, Perisphere, and over the World of Tomorrow. Marie worked from 9 in the morning until 10 at night six days a week during the year that she was there, while living in a hotel in Times Square.
It was during her tenure as president that Marie Frances was selected to be part of the state advisory committee on Defense Savings Bonds and Savings Stamps. Of the twelve members of the committee only two were women. Marie Francis represented women’s groups and Pearl Wanamaker represented education. Marie Frances sponsored many resolutions having to do with the war and defense bonds.
When war broke out, Marie Frances was put on staff by US Treasury Secretary Morganthu for the promotion of war bonds. Marie was in this position for five years. She was directly in charge of 3,000 women volunteers, who she trained to sell the war bonds. At the height of the campaign over 200,000 women were involved in the effort.
Marie Frances became frustrated when she would see her women volunteers working day and night for the cause and then the men would take the credit. She was determined that this would not continue.
At the time, the cost of a B-29 was $630,000. She knew this, because she was working directly with President Johnson of the Boeing Corporation on the project. Marie broke the costs down so that even school children could symbolically purchase parts to the planes for the war effort. She personally called Walt Disney, who created a certificate for children who were helping with the war effort. She presented her concept at the Pentagon and a National BPW Convention. Before she left the convention, 19 other states had adopted her project.
When she returned home she was summoned to a men’s group meeting and told she had no right to present the program without their permission. They further stated that they would be joining the women in the new project. Marie Frances responded with an emphatic NO.
They were astounded. Who did this five foot slip of a girl think she was telling them no.
She told them the women would do this on their own and the success or failure would be theirs alone. The men were not happy.
Because of her belief in herself and in her volunteers she was able to make miracles happen. The first organizational meeting for the Women’s League was at Meany Hall at University of Washington. Over 2,000 dedicated women showed up for the meeting. Eleanor Roosevelt was the honored guest.
The Statue of Liberty was the logo of the cause. It was created by the man who designed stage sets for the plays and television programs. This rally had women in uniform—WAVES, WACS, and military nurses, on stage. Music was provided by the military band.
Although Marie Frances did not have all the needed expertise, she knew where to find it. Her advisory board was comprised of some of the most influential women of the times including Anna Boettiger, daughter of Franklin Roosevelt, and Eleanor McAdoo, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson. She also “drafted” the top advertising women of I. Magnin, Fredrick and Nelson, Rhodes, Bon Marche, and others from radio, television, and motion pictures. Her team was unbeatable, and worked around the clock for the war effort. They were all driven to excel by Marie Frances’ enthusiasm and commitment. Marie Frances’ organizational plans were later adopted and taught at Reed College in Portland.
Marie Frances’ award winning idea for the raising of funds for the war effort was simple. According to her: “I don’t need to know everything. I need to know how to find everything, or I need to find someone or someone who knows someone who knows how to find what I need.” In her estimation, hard work, being a good neighbor, interest in work rather than progress and persistence were the true formulas for success.
Marie Frances’ plan was to involve everyone from the elderly to the newborn, the rich and the poor. She would work with the laborer and the celebrity, the skilled and unskilled, the professional and the housewife. The common cause would bring together all those factions of society that normally would not work together.
Marie Frances put thousands of miles on her little green Ford squiring speakers around the state. She drove at all hours, in all kinds of weather, to make sure the dignitaries arrived safely at their appointed destinations. Some of her memories included the time when Lana Turner dripping in furs, was presented a baby calf by a Palouse cattleman. She said that Lana was so beautiful that the men flocked around her like honey and she felt like a faded wallflower beside her. She also remembered Barbara Stanwyck giving a stirring speech in a rainstorm, Victor Mature and Helen Hayes with the children of the KIRO show, Pat O’Brien and his wife, Melvyn Douglas and his wife, and Ginger Rogers at Victory Park.
“I remember how sweet Helen Hayes was when she came. She kept calling home because her daughter was very ill. When I asked her why she had not stayed home with her child, she said that the war effort was too important, and that if the boys could be over there fighting the least she could do is leave her home and come out and support them.”
Marie Frances next convinced Boeing to give awards to businesses and percentage contributors. Boeing also made replicas of the B-29 for each of the states that adopted the project. Marie presented the silver replica of the B-29 to Governor Walgren. This replica is still in the state capitol today. Marie Frances’s group of women raised $97 million for the purchase of B-29 planes during the 6th and 7th War Loan Drives.
Marie was always very creative. She developed a television show for children on KIRO and had famous people of the times come and guest on the show. She had several children stars who would act out stories that she had a famous children’s author convert to skits and plays. At one time, she even had a parade in downtown Seattle that included the children actors and elephants.
In October 1996, Marie Frances was the featured speaker at the birthday celebration of the Jonas Babcock DAR. She regaled the members with her stories of attending Continental Congress and the ornate decorations always done with real flowers. She also spoke of the highlights of the New York Worlds’ Fair and the Washington exhibition.
In October 1998, she was the featured speaker at an event with the NSDAR. As she sat at the table with other members her greatest concern was not the mundane, but rather how Y2K (the year 2,000 computer problem) was going to effect the state and the nation, and the current scandal in the Whitehouse. To the very end, her concern was for the country she loved so dearly.
Marie Frances had a remarkable life. During her tenure of service she worked directly under three Washington State Governors. She was so patriotic that she put off her marriage until the end of the war in 1945. She originally met Bloys Woolcott, her future husband, at Seward Park in 1943. The couple owned and operated a commercial interior decorating business in Spokane for over two decades. They lived in Spokane in the home they purchased early in their marriage for over 50 years.
According to Bloys, “She was still as beautiful as the day we met and still had an energy and enthusiasm that I couldn’t keep up with until the day she died.”