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Des Moines Memorial Way South, Women's Memorial

HistoryLink.org Essay 679 : Printer-Friendly Format

On Armistice Day, November 11, 1921, members of the Seattle Garden Club, led by President Lillian Gustin McEwan, planted the first 25 elm trees along Des Moines Way S  (later renamed Des Moine Memorial Drive) -- the beginning of a living memorial to "American men who gave their lives for the country during World War I." The drive is located in Sunnydale, near Burien, in south King County.

The idea of tree plantings to honor the fallen dead came from Colonel F. W. Galbraith Jr., Commander of the American Legion. Burien Post No. 134 and Seattle Post No. 1 of the Legion helped plant and maintain the living memorial.

Women Who Died in the Cause of Freedom

Although the Seattle Garden Club's membership was predominantly female, it remained for former service women to pay tribute to the female war dead. Prior to World War II, women soldiers were not eligible for military commissions or benefits and therefore were not considered veterans.

Despite this fact, Seattle's Ex-Service Women's Club launched an effort in 1922 to commemorate the women soldiers. On February 22, 1922, the following announcement appeared in The Seattle Times:


"Smiling faces and courageous hearts, tender hands and soft voices which ministered to the sick and wounded, cheered the gloomy and homesick, suffered and died in the cause of freedom -- women 'soldiers' from Seattle -- will be honored tomorrow afternoon by the Ex-Service Women's Club, whose members will dedicate trees to their memory along Memorial Highway near Des Moines."

Four days later, a feature article in The Seattle Times noted:

"The supports of the eight saplings ... carry small silk American flags to mark them from their fellows which have been dedicated under auspices of the Seattle Garden Club to men who died in the service of their country."

A photograph shows Miss Geraldine Doheny "who has just returned from three years' Red Cross service in France and the Balkans, affixing a flag to the support of Mrs. [Lottie Brainerd)] McDonald's tree."

Lottie Brainerd McDonald

The article included stories and photographs of the memorialized women. For example, Lottie Brainerd attended Ballard High School, then joined the Northwest Division of the Red Cross when the United States declared war. While serving in Siberia, she married an Army officer. She contracted an illness and died in Shanghai.

According to the article, 40 members of the Ex-Service Women's Clubs concluded their ceremony with a luncheon in the tea room at the downtown Seattle YWCA, where they paid further tribute to "the women who died in the cause of freedom."

Women Who Died

In the 1960s, when an elm disease and increasing traffic dictated removal of some of the trees, the veterans' organizations and the Seattle Garden Club worked together to replace them with the 84-foot-long expansive pink granite monument in front of Sunnydale School at Des Moines Memorial Drive and S 156th Street. The monument features the engraved names of about 355 men and women  who died, (including a dozen back in the Spanish-American War of 1898), along with a bas-relief sculpture of an American elm.

In addition, there are bronze plaques including two to the Unknown Soldier, and another noting the dedication of the Elmer Noble Memorial Tree. Each year, veterans hold Memorial Day ceremonies at the commemorative stone monument, which bears all of the names originally submitted to the Seattle Garden Club. In particular, the memorial includes the etched names of the following women who gave their lives in service to their country:

  • Miss Daisy Adams
  • Jeanette V. Barrows
  • Hannah Lora Burden
  • Edith Cavell
  • Etta Coover
  • Mrs. Elizabeth Davies
  • Alice Stevens Drisko
  • Lottie Brainerd McDonald
  • Claire McMorran
  • Amanda Needles
  • Mrs. Alice Nellis
  • Amelia Tilda Thorkelson
  • Harriet F. Carter Voderberg

Mildred Tanner Andrews,Woman's Place: A Guide to Seattle and King County History (Seattle: Gemil Press, 1994), 307-308; One Hundred Years of the "Waterland" Community: A History of Des Moines, Washington ed. by Richard T. Kennedy (Des Moines: City of Des Moines, 1989), 141-146; The Seattle Times, February 22 and 26, 1922; Des Moines Memorial Way -- Road of Remembrance," Highline Historical Society website accessed January 18, 2009 (http://www.highlinehistory.org/des_moines_drive_english.html).
Note: This essay was updated and corrected on January 18, 2009.

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Etched Elm tree on center panel of War Memorial, War Memorial Wall, Des Moines Memorial Drive (at S 156 Street), Burien, (King County), January 2009
HistoryLink.org Photo by Peter Blecha

War Memorial Wall, Des Moines Memorial Drive (at S 156 Street), Burien (King County), January 2009
HistoryLink.org Photo by Pete Blecha

War Memorial dedication, War Memorial Wall, Des Moines Memorial Drive (at S 156 Street), Sunnydale (King County), January 2009
HistoryLink.org Photo by Peter Blecha

War Memorial dedication to the unknown soldier, War Memorial Wall, Des Moines Memorial Drive (at S 156 Street), Burien (King County), January 2009
HistoryLink.org Photo by Peter Blecha

Sunnydale School, 15631 Des Moines Memorial Drive, Burien, January 2009
HistoryLink.org Photo by Peter Blecha

Des Moines Memorial Park sign, Burien
HistoryLink.org Photo by Peter Blecha

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