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McKeesport-area women trace their lineage to every-day patriots
Marsha Watkiss of Jeannette, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, helps to clean a grave Long Run Cemetery in North Huntingdon. The McKeesport chapter, named for Queen Alliquippa, celebrated its 110th anniversary this past weekend. (Submitted photo)
Few organizations can celebrate more than a century of existence. Even fewer in Western Pennsylvania are comprised of people who can trace their lineage to the American Revolution.
On Saturday, members of the Queen Alliquippa Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution celebrated their 110th anniversary with a tea social.
Their special guest was Elizabeth Watkins, state leader — or “regent” in DAR parlance — who updated the local group about her efforts to restore a window at the Valley Forge Tower that honors Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, and one of Pennsylvania’s first U.S. senators.
Founded in 1890 and incorporated by an act of Congress in 1896, the DAR is an organization of women 18 years and older who can prove they are descendants of any “patriot” who supported the American Revolution.
Sharon Wallhausen of Irwin, who serves as the Queen Alliquippa Chapter’s regent, said that patriots need not have been prominent early Americans such as Morris. Ordinary privates in the Continental Army, shopkeepers and merchants, freed slaves and other working-class citizens who contributed to the fight for American independence are also counted as “patriots.”
The organization uses census and cemetery records, Army payrolls, pensions and other documents to trace family histories back to the late 18th century, Wallhausen said.
Membership is extended regardless of race, religion or ethnic background, Wallhausen said.
According to a DAR spokeswoman, the organization today has more than 185,000 members in 3,000 chapters, located in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and several foreign countries, including Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Wallhausen said DAR members volunteer millions of service hours annually in their local communities, including supporting active duty military personnel as well as veterans, awarding scholarships and financial aid each year to students, and supporting schools for underserved children with annual donations exceeding $1 million.
The DAR also maintains Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Wallhausen said Watkins’ update to the McKeesport group included news about the fundraising campaign being conducted by Denise Doring VanBuren, 45th president general of the DAR, to restore Constitution Hall.
Associate member and state chair Barb Cross also presented an update on preservation efforts at the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.
Members of the Queen Alliquippa Chapter of the DAR assemble hygiene kits for children served by Beverly’s Birthdays in North Huntingdon. Shown are Sharon Wallhausen, Janet Speas, Becky Caliguiri and Amy Smart (Submitted photo)
The local chapter was founded in 1911 by a group of prominent McKeesport women and is named for Queen Alliquippa, chief of the Mingo Seneca Indians, who was highly respected by early Native American families, traders, and explorers. George Washington wrote of his meeting with her in 1773 at the confluence of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers near present-day McKeesport.
The Queen Alliquippa Chapter includes members from throughout the Mon-Yough area, Irwin, West Mifflin, Pittsburgh’s South Hills and Monroeville, Wallhausen said. Recent service projects have included restoring gravestones of Revolutionary War soldiers, making face masks for distribution and knitting scarves for active-duty military personnel, she said.
Nature conservation projects included victory and pollinator gardens, Wallhausen said.
“This past year, though a challenge, has continued our works of service to the community through historic preservation,” she said. “We continued our service to veterans supporting organizations such as Veterans Breakfast Club, Operation Troop Appreciation and Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans.”
Wallhausen said Western Pennsylvania members of the DAR also support groups for youth and teen-agers, including Chemawa Indian School in Oregon and local ROTC, Sea Cadets and Civil Air Patrol units.
“Our organization continues to grow and has added to its roles 24 percent in spite of obstacles of the pandemic,” she said.
In addition to Wallhausen, members of the local chapter’s board include Amy Smart (Vice Regent), Rebecca Caliguiri (Secretary), Chrissie Van Tol (Historian/Librarian), Ruth Smith (Registrar), Pam Shirley (Chaplain) and Kathie Fawcett (Treasurer).
The Queen Alliquippa Chapter is currently raising money through a spring flower and seed sale. For more information, visit http://QADAR.fpfundraising.com before May 1.
Women who think they may be able to trace their lineage to someone who aided the American Revolution can contact the group online at https://queenalliquippadar.wixsite.com/.
Originally published April 14, 2021.