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Louise Strongman

Southworth Library

Optimistic that, as she insisted, “The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket,” lifelong volunteer Louise Endicott Strongman (1912-2004) made sure that services were available for Dartmouth residents to become their best.

Lifelong volunteer Louise Endicott Strongman (1912-2004) contributed to the town of Dartmouth through work that benefited all ages, from teens to the elderly. Optimistic that, as she insisted, “The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket,” Louise made sure that services were available for Dartmouth residents to thrive and become their best. She was a dynamic leader of the town’s Girl Scout Mariners, its public libraries, and its Council on Aging. Committed to the preservation of Dartmouth’s rural character, she donated land to the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust.

Born in New Bedford in 1912, Louise was the daughter of textile mill financier John Benjamin Strongman and teacher Louise (Endicott) Strongman, who died during childbirth. Louise’s Aunt Elizabeth immediately arrived to take care of the baby and became a great influence on her. “Auntie” had graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1891 as a biology major but gave up a career to raise Louise. The family moved to Elm Street in Dartmouth’s village of Padanaram about 1922. In Padanaram harbor, Louise learned to swim by age five and row by age seven. Articulate and outgoing, Auntie became interested in the town of Dartmouth, set high standards for Louise, and supported her studies and interests. She became a role model and source of inspiration for Louise.

Louise excelled in Dartmouth public schools and at Friends Academy. In 1934, she graduated from Radcliffe College (the female counterpart for the all-male Harvard College). She also earned a master’s in marine biology from Radcliffe in 1935. Louise often repeated Auntie’s wisdom, including, “When you start to feel sorry for yourself, go do something for somebody else quick,” and “No regrets.” Louise also travelled extensively with her father throughout the United States, Europe and Canada. With her graduate work completed, Louise was encouraged by her father to volunteer and not take a paid job away from workers after the Depression.

In 1936, Louise began her volunteer work by launching a Girl Scout Mariner program in Dartmouth. Earlier that same year, this nationwide program was introduced to provide young women, ages 14 through 18, with the opportunity to combine Girl Scouts and sailing. Louise led the Dartmouth Girl Scout Mariners for over 40 years, from 1936 to 1979, with Auntie’s full support. Open to all teenage girls who resided in Dartmouth and New Bedford, the only qualifications were the ability to swim and a willingness to commit to full participation, including meetings once a week at Louise’s home. Through the decades, up to 40 girls at a time learned responsible citizenship and seamanship in two groups named after the New Bedford whaling barks Lagoda and Morgan. During World War II, when many local residents were deployed, the Dartmouth Mariners collected junk metal to support war efforts, formed the Mariners Band to play at parades and Dartmouth High School football games, and even served as the Race Committee for the New Bedford Yacht Club in Padanaram, where they blew the horn, ran the stop watch and raised/lowered signals. The girls also learned and mastered all aspects of seamanship, including sailing, racing, compass, and knots. With Louise as their leader, aboard Beetle Cats, the brigantine Yankee, and the topsail schooner Shenandoah, the girls gained self-confidence while they sailed and began to attain leadership positions. Many Mariners went on to become leaders in their own lives, drawing from the encouragement from Louise to trust themselves, learn from mistakes, and be responsible. Today’s annual Padanaram Village Summer Festival began as the Mariners’ major fund raiser, a street fair to support the troop members’ summer cruise. The Mariners also held an annual Christmas fair in Louise’s home. Both fairs supported troop activities.

Carrie O’Neil-Smith, a former Dartmouth Girl Scout Mariner, described Louise’s influence, “Louise was the real deal – a strong, independent woman who knew how to get things done. Yes, we had amazing trips and adventures as Girl Scout Mariners, but through the fairs and her point system, Louise made sure these experiences were earned, not paid for by our parents. We sailed in the summer on boats that we ourselves had sanded and varnished during the winter months in Louise’s garage at her home on Elm Street. Our camping skills, knot tying, astronomy, fire building … would rival that of any Boy Scout troop. As a matter of fact, the Girl Scout Mariners routinely took first place during ‘Operation Snowflake,’ the winter camping competition of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. Louise led by example, through her actions, not words, and I feel her influence on my life to this day.”

A trustee of Dartmouth Public Libraries since 1949, Louise advocated for the new Southworth Library and led the effort to include an elevator there. She also supported the creation of the North Dartmouth Library. Louise was named the Massachusetts Library Trustee of the Year in 1982 by the Massachusetts Library Trustee Association. In 1999, she was honored at the Southworth Library’s 30th anniversary with a citation from the Dartmouth Board of Selectmen. During her term as Trustee they increased access to library materials and services to all Dartmouth residents.

Later, Louise continued her impact in Dartmouth through its Council on Aging. She began work with the elderly in the 1960s as a volunteer driver for the Federal Senior Lunch Program, where hot lunches were served to senior citizens at the Old Town Hall. This program was the precursor to Dartmouth’s Council on Aging, which Louise helped to establish. She was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Council on Aging and led the Friends of the Elderly, a fund-raising group for the Council. In 1996, the Board of Selectmen honored her with a testimonial dinner and named the large meeting room in the Council building “The Louise Strongman Room.”

Louise had numerous other affiliations and interests. She was a Town Meeting member for over 50 years. Convinced that Dartmouth should preserve its rural character, she gifted three parcels of land to the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, with two parcels together known as the Strongman Elm Street Reserve and the other named the Strongman Stoneybrook Reserve. The three land parcels surrounded the “Mill Pond Home” which she built in 1958 on Elm Street’s Buttonwood Brook. Her land donation safeguarded the natural habitats of fox, deer, rabbits, blue heron, merganser ducks, and other species. She was active in the guild and the senior choir of the Congregational Church of South Dartmouth. At the New Bedford Whaling Museum, she volunteered in the research library and led tours. A dog owner since she was six weeks old, she raised Springer Spaniels that won championships in shows from Canada to Bermuda.

Louise died on March 1, 2004, at her home in Padanaram at the age of 91. As she predicted, and due in part to her dedicated volunteerism, “The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket.” Well, at least the town of Dartmouth isn’t …

Ann O’Leary

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