8. Social Involvement
Mrs. Bemis was one of a group of women who, in the spring of 1889, organized the Women's Education Society of Colorado College. The resolutions passed by its executive board at the time of her death so adequately express her relation to the Society that they are here quoted in full:
"The Executive Board of the Women's Educational Society wishes to place on record its sense of irreparable loss in the passing of Alice Cogswell Bemis.
"Her association with the work of the Society has extended over a long period of years, and her part in it has always been characterized by fidelity to the purpose of the organization and keen discrimination in the execution of the trust. She brought to the problems confronting the Board rare insight and judgment, and her business acumen was invaluable.
"Many students of Colorado College are personally indebted to her for the removal of obstacles in the way of the successful prosecution of their work in which her interest was vital and perennial. A story of genuine need never failed to elicit her assistance. Of her general constructive planning for the many-sided life of the young women, Bemis Hall and Cogswell Theatre are enduring evidence.
"The Board has lost a useful member, her friends a wise counselor, and philanthropic agencies a generous helper to whom worthy cause or person never appealed in vain."
Another organization to which she contributed much pleasure and from which she received the same is the Art Club of Colorado Springs. A group of women whose personal relation to her was close and increasingly dear as the years passed, formed its membership. They met twice a month at each other's houses, read, and studied pictures, finding, as one says, "an alleviation not unwelcome in that life where tuberculosis and the gold fever of the early days alternately possessed the atmosphere." The Art Club owed much of its genuine life to Mrs. Bemis; her interest in art, her keenness to acquire and classify the knowledge that she loved, was as strong as her friendship and neighborliness. The utmost hospitality to invalid strangers was part and parcel of those Colorado Springs early days, and in goodness to obscure invalids and in lending a hand in hard times no one could tell the extent of her benefactions.
All that Mrs. Bemis did will never be known, and what she gave was never told at the time unless it seemed best for obvious reasons that her identification with a good movement should be made public. The unsolicited gifts must have been manifold compared with those she gave in response to appeals. It was always easy to approach her for any good cause. If she gave, it was always with good will; if she declined to do so, a distinct reason for the refusal was stated; and she was as careful not to pauperize by giving as she was not to withhold where it was due, and was entirely free from the bitterness common to a certain type of persons who are wont to think that their generosity is being imposed upon. She often afforded amusement to her friends by the way in which she prefaced an offer of help with a seeming apology. She even seemed at times to call those who were working in a good cause to account because its pressing needs had not been met, and then met them herself.
A notable instance of this was her gift of the gymnasium to the Young Women's Christian Association. When the present Association building was erected she gave generously to the building fund. A gymnasium was greatly needed then, but no money was available for it. A space was left on the lot that had been purchased in the hope that a building might be put there later. Very soon the growth of the work showed that no gymnasium adequate even for the present demands could be built on that limited space. The girls of the Association clamored for it and the members of the board, who even more than they knew how much it was needed, were heavy hearted. No one spoke of the situation to Mrs. Bemis until she herself broached it to one of the board in a tone that, to one who did not know her, might have seemed a reprimand. She prefaced what was on her mind thus: "I do not approve at all of your putting up a building on that small space. You ought to buy that lot to the north." The board member could but agree. The protest was again made, and the board member could only repeat her agreement, but knew from the manner of approach to the subject that something was back in Mrs. Bemis's mind that she would have to tell, though she wished it might be known without her telling it! And then it came. She would like to see that lot when no one would know that she was looking at it, and if it wasn't too much trouble, could it be arranged for her to do this? It was planned that she should go early one Sunday morning to the building, when very few were in the lower rooms. She looked out on the vacant space and said, "Don't you see it will not do at all?" Within twenty-four hours she asked some one to negotiate for the purchase of the lot at the north and gave it to the Association, adding a check that made possible the present beautiful gymnasium. She dismissed with no mistaken emphasis the proposal that this should bear her name. Her pleasure in the building was great, and in expressing this pleasure she always seemed only to be commending the Association for having it. Her part in it seemed nothing to her. "Others have had to do all the work," she would say if her gift was mentioned.
When Bemis Hall, the main residence for girls at Colorado College, was being built, it was found that by excavating under the dining-room there would be space for a theatre, in which the students could give plays and various college meetings might be held. This was done, and the room was named Cogswell Theatre in her honor. It must be admitted that the latter was done under protest, although aided and abetted by some of her family. "What would my ancestors say to having a theatre bear their name!" she said, laughing. Among the memories of the past nine years to those who have enjoyed that little theatre, none is happier than that of seeing the faces of two very dear friends following each word and movement on the stage, laughing at times till the tears came, and giving over and over their entire approval of the existence of the theatre, with no further protest against its name. These two friends rarely missed seeing whatever was presented on that stage, though seldom tempted by public entertainments to give up their quiet evenings at home. Indeed, everything in that beautiful hall named for Mr. Bemis--whose generosity, to the college is there made known only in part--seemed to give them pleasure, and no one else will ever cross its threshold who can receive just the kind of welcome they always found awaiting them.
While the number of organizations which Mrs. Bemis helped is not known, and it is impossible to mention those which for many years counted on her interest and liberal support, one must be noted as showing her abiding interest in all that related to her native town and the region about it. This is the Ipswich Historical Society, which was organized in 1890, and of which she was the first life member. On its twenty-fifth anniversary, in response to what was only a printed appeal, she sent the first substantial gift of money it received. Within a few months of her death, learning that a fireproof building for the Society had been proposed, she wrote to Mr. T. Franklin Waters, its president, asking for particulars of the plan under consideration, and on receipt of his reply sent a check for so large a proportion of the estimated cost that she was asked to consent to have the building named for her. Following a determination made long before that her gifts should not be made conspicuous in any way, she would not consent to this.