Naval Award Named for Erie Girl
by Debbi Lyon
Once upon a time a little Erie girl's good deed inspired thousand of people across America to follow her lead. Sound familiar? Believe it or not, it's been nearly 100 years since Marjorie Sterrett sent her 10¢ allowance to the U.S. Navy to build a new battleship to fight in World War I.
Marjorie wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Tribune on February 2, 1916 which said:
"Dear Sir: I read in your paper every morning a great deal about preparedness. My grandpa and great-grandpa were soldiers. If I was a boy I would be a soldier, too. But I am not, so I want to do what I can to help. Mamma gives me a dime every week for helping her. I am sending you this week's dime to help build a battleship for Uncle Sam. I know a lot of other kids who would give their errand money if you would start a fund. I am 13 years old and go to Public School 9, Brooklyn. Truly yours, Marjorie Sterrett.
I am a true blue American and I want to see Uncle Sam prepared to lick all creation like John Paul Jones did. P.S.- Please call the battleship America."
The NY Tribune forwarded her letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels. Daniels wrote a letter to Marjorie which stated, "Your patriotic action is indeed commendable, and I congratulate you on the motives which prompted your action, but I am returning the stamps herewith. The revenue required for such naval construction...will be obtained by taxation in the usual manner."
Marjorie's story was quickly picked up by the wire service and was published in thousands of newspapers across the country. It even caught the eye of former president Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote to Marjorie on Feb. 5, 1916. "Dear little Miss Marjorie...I enclose a dollar. Forty cents- a dime apiece- are for: Gracie Roosevelt, Richard Derby II, Theodore Roosevelt III, Cornelius Van Schaak Roosevelt...The other sixty cents is for my other six grandchildren. They are not born yet..."
Marjorie met Theodore Roosevelt on February 11, 1916. Her photo appears on the Library of Congress website, where she is identified as "Marjorie Sterretti." Close inspection of the George G. Bain photo reveals that the last name is actually Sterrett.
"Several motion picture concerns have offered inducements to Marjorie to take up a career with them, but the little girl has flatly refused them. She is more interested in her school work than acting in the movies, and I am glad it is so. Neither Marjorie's mother nor myself would consent to her appearing in any sort of performance- stage or motion pictures- that was not directly concerned with the Battleship Fund and for its sole benefit. We will gladly lend our little girl to the cause of Americanism and patriotism, but we will not consent to have her patriotism commercialized. Neither she nor we have received one cent either directly or indirectly through the Battleship Fund, and we do not expect to receive any. Marjorie is now just and ordinary American schoolgirl, and we mean to keep her so.
March 14, 1916 (signed) Thomas G. Sterrett"- Poughkeepsie Eagle News.
The Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund, which is still in existence, ultimately donated $20,000 to the U.S. Navy. Two ships are chosen each year, one from the Pacific Fleet and one from the Atlantic Fleet, to receive the Marjorie Sterrett Battleship Fund Award.
Marjorie was born in Silver Creek, NY and was the daughter of Fred and Grace Rockwood Dean. Grace married Thomas G. Sterrett in 1912, following Fred's death. Marjorie then took the surname of her step-father. Thomas G. Sterrett was an actor and a military veteran. He was stationed at New York at the start of World War I and was in charge of the Marine Corps Publicity Bureau until the spring of 1919. The Sterretts moved back to Erie and Thomas served as Sheriff of Erie County from 1926 to 1930.
Marjorie Sterrett married Peter Raun in 1920 and had three children. Marjorie Raun died on March 2, 1927, in Wattsburg, Erie Co., PA. She was just 24 years old. The photo shown above is available on the Library of Congress website.
Enjoy more historic facts and photos of Erie, Pennsylvania at: Old Time Erie