Thankful Thursday: A Passion for Creating

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick (1889 – 1984)

Benita (McGinnis) McCormick,
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

When my  great-aunt Detty, or Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, was born 125 years ago this week (September 30, 1889) in Conneaut, Ohio, I doubt her parents had any idea their daughter would be so passionate about the arts and making her mark on the world.

 
But that is exactly the way she was all her life. Considering that she lived in an era when society expected a woman to defer to husband and family and home, often putting off her own life dreams, she was unafraid to be her own person and  had her own ideas about how she should develop her talents and accomplishments.
 
The late 1930s and 1940s saw her broaden her interests as she proved she was not only an accomplished painter and short story writer but also a published playwright and songwriter.
 
In an earlier blog post, we read a 1937 letter to Benita from The Jewel Tea Company, thanking her for the use of a short story for their commercial Christmas cards.  During that same year, she wrote the lyrics and melody for a musical, “Gingham Apron Strings.”  The musical is on file in the Library of Congress and features the following five rather jaunty songs.  I have not yet been able to obtain copies of the script or the lyrics to the songs (whose titles appear below), but it is easy imagine that their theme and lyrics were as spunky and spirited as their author:
 

Quick as a Wink

Ha, Ha, I’m Laughing at You

Rumble, Rumble, Rumble

You May Part Your Hair in the Middle

Let’s Go to Town on a Waltz

 
This article, from an unidentified
newspaper (possibly the Chicago
Tribune?) was written sometime
during World War II.  The
original clipping still resides in
Benita McCormick’s scrapbook.

Benita adored her mother for her tender qualities and homemaking talents, but she was not the “domestic goddess” her mother was. Nor, for that matter, did she want to be.  In this regard, she was rather like her younger sister (my maternal grandmother) Alice (McGinnis) Schiavon, eschewing the idea of  being homemakers in favor of being artists and businesswomen.  They likely inherited their streak of independence from their father, Thomas Eugene McGinnis, and their five maternal aunts, four of whom were working women and never married.  

Choosing to not stay at home was an unpopular choice for  women in the years leading up to World War II. Indeed, many people at the time believed that women should have no choice in the matter at all.  Despite the passage in 1920 of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, it was still considered “unnatural” for women to pursue work or interests outside the home.

Thankfully for us, Benita McCormick was not one to be deterred by what others thought or said, and she followed her heart’s passion, creating thoughtful and sometimes provocative works throughout her life.

This 1940s clipping from an unidentified newspaper in Aunt Detty’s scrapbook of memories, tells of her unique contribution to the morale of soldiers in the Second World War:

During World War I, when every one was knitting for the Red Cross, Mrs. Benita McCormick, 8032 Vernon avenue (sic), wasn’t.  She couldn’t.  She made several vain attempts and gave up the idea.  For her part tho (sic), she painted and gave to the Red Cross a poster which they used quite extensively.

Now, in World War II, Mrs. McCormick still can’t knit.  Her contribution this time is a song, “You’re an American, ‘n’ that Means Free.”  It’s being readied for publication now.  She got the idea for the song when she saw movies at the battle of the Midway.  She was much impressed with two young anti-aircraft fighters who were shown briefly, and remarked later, “We’ll surely win with boys with Plymouth Rock chins like that.”  That provided the inspiration for her song, and it has a line, too, about the “Plymouth Rock chin.”

Mrs. McCormick is a former member of the motion picture censor board, and is now secretary of the Delphian society.

 

Benita was one of those fortunate people in the world who was not only talented but figured out how to make her passions work for others and for her.  In a future post, we will learn more about this side of her from yet another newspaper account about the accomplishments of this fascinating lady who was at her happiest when engaging in the world in her own unique way.

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Copyright ©  2014  Linda Huesca Tully

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