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How College Classmates Helped Rebuild War-torn Europe

Alzina Stone Dale ’52
When the Post War World Was New,
(Tate Publishing, 2009)


Alzina “Maryal” Stone Dale (far left) and Swarthmore classmates (counterclockwise from front) Jenny (Mary) Lee Suiter, Elspeth Monro Reagan, Nell Goldstein Stern, and Amy Blatchford Hecht on the deck of the Arosa Kulm, a converted troop ship, en route to Europe and the work camps in June 1952.

World War II had recently ended, and Maryal Stone (known also by the pen name Alzina Stone Dale) had her Swarthmore diploma in hand. Unsure of what her next step would be, the Chicago native volunteered to go overseas with the Quakers and help rebuild war-torn Europe. After four days of orientation at the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) Pendle Hill Conference Center, Stone and four classmates—Amy Blatchford Hecht, Elspeth Monro Reagan, Jenny (Mary) Lee Suiter, and Nell Goldstein Stern—boarded the Arosa Kulm, a converted troop ship. Classmates Esther Fiske Doherty and Nancy Cliffe Vernon also volunteered at work camps that summer, and Dale met them later in Switzerland to sightsee before heading home.

Their adventure began in Philadelphia on June 18, 1952, with the women lugging rucksacks filled with all they would need for the next three months. Once in Europe, they went to Paris, where the AFSC’s office assigned them to various work camps. Dale traveled north by train—her destination a Finnish camp near Rovaniemi. On the final leg of her trip, she was bused to the edge of a wooded area in Paivojoki, picked up by a truck driver, and driven on a dirt road to the camp, where she traversed a plank to reach the first building. This was home for the next six weeks.

Dale was inspired to write When the Post War World Was New while attending her class’s 45th reunion. Other book projects have included biographies of G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers. She also co-authored a series of mystery guidebooks that trace the steps of characters such as Nero Wolfe in New York and Lord Peter Wimsey in London.

Dale had detailed diaries from the summer of 1952 and letters home that her parents had saved, but she also wanted to incorporate the memories of her traveling companions. In response to her requests for details, a plethora of shared memories, letters, and photographs flowed into the Dale household.

Last fall—more than a half-century after the European adventure—the tale was ready to be shared.

Why write this story 50 years later?
When I talked my friends into coming to our reunion in 1997, I found that the summer of 1952 had been important to many of them—teaching them what it meant to be an American and how to cope with strange conditions. When I saw how delighted our other classmates were with our stories, I had a lightning-bolt moment—this could be a book! Back home that summer, I began gathering letters, cards, and photos from my traveling companions.

Describe your six weeks at the work camp in northern Finland.
Primitive but fun. The site was previously a lumber camp with two ramshackle buildings. One was a dining room and kitchen for the camp; the other was where the girls slept [The boys slept in tents.]. The whole camp sat around in the evenings to read, talk, or write. Only one other person spoke English, so communication was difficult. We helped 26 families clear trees and boulders from farmland the Finnish government had given to them at the end of the war.

What impact did the work camp and backpacking through Europe have on you?
I learned I could adapt to the primitive conditions. When I started out at the Pendle Hill training center, I could hardly lift my rucksack, but by the time we were touring Europe, I was easily swinging it up onto my shoulders. Traveling through Europe, I was surprised that some Europeans disapproved of Americans and discovered that the some work camp members preferred not to be identified as Americans.

Your writing became softer and more upbeat at the end of your summer-long sojourn. Why was England such a different experience for you?
England felt more like home because I could speak the language. It was part of my heritage, and I had studied English history and literature in my honors classes. I also had classmate Kippie deKiewiet Hemphill (who was taking graduate history classes at the University of London) to bum around with— just about every evening we indulged ourselves with inexpensive seats at the theater—and fulfilled a lifelong dream when I saw Queen Elizabeth II [who recently had been crowned] ride by in her horse-drawn carriage.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?
When I opened a letter from a publisher saying they wanted to publish my book about Dorothy L. Sayers. Even before going to England, I was very fond of Sayers’s mysteries, having found them in a Swarthmore neighborhood bookstore. Years later, while home with my three children. I wrote Maker and Craftsman: The Story of Dorothy L. Sayers.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Reading books. If given the chance, I would do just that and write letters. Here in Chicago, I’m known for writing letters to editors. Perhaps my next book will be a compilation of those letters.

—Susan Cousins Breen



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