She joined her big brother Robert Hemmington McElroy, Jr. (1898-1969) The first interesting fact about Ailzia was her name. Her father, who chose her name, said that years before he had been on a trip to Canada where he saw a professional swimmer named Ailzia Frank. He liked the name so much that he said if he ever had a daughter he would name her "Ailzia" and he did. Her middle name "Lathrop" was because she was a direct descendent of Wisconsin pioneer William Henry Lathrop. She used to say that Lathrop Hall at the University of Wisconsin was named for her family.
When Babe was born, the family was living at 602 (now 1750 W.) Pratt in Chicago:
|1750 W. Pratt|
|1607 W. Lake Street, Wilmette|
Robert McElroy Sr. lists his job as "Traffic Expert" with the Standard Oil Company. Robert McElroy Sr. is a success story in his own right, and will be featured in a future article in this blog. He started his long career with Standard Oil in 1906. Florence, Robert Jr, and Ailzia were all listed as not having an occupation. Babe used to say that her family moved to Wilmette "right after the Ouilmette Indians moved out."
To say that Babe was a hellion as a child is an understatement. She used to laughingly say years later that she was kicked out of some of the finest schools in Chicagoland. She told me that among the many schools she had attended was Evanston Academy, the prep school division of Northwestern University.
The Evanston Academy closed in 1917, so her father then decided to send Babe to a school where she would experience a little discipline: St. Mary's Academy, Notre Dame, Indiana.
Although Babe was not a Catholic her father decided that the structure and discipline of a Catholic girls' school would be good for her. Robert McElroy had been raised a Scots Presbyterian; Florence Dascombe came from a High-Church Episcopalian family. Neither Babe nor her brother received any formal religious education after their baptism as infants.
Although Babe chafed at the structure of St. Mary's, she loved it there. Back in those days there were so many nuns that each student had a nun assigned to her as a mentor/guide/buddy. Babe's assigned nun was Sr. Clare Assisi, who she came to love like a blood sister. Those were the days when nuns wore full habits but that did not stop Sr. Clare Assisi from playing tennis or golf, or many other of the athletic activities for the students. Babe said that Sr. Clare Assisi had come from a very well-to-do family and was very highly educated. She had given up a life in Society to become a nun and teacher. Babe said that she used to love the long talks that she and Sr. Clare Assisi used to have as they strolled around the beautiful campus at St. Mary's.
While Babe was still at St. Mary's, Sr. Clare Assisi died suddenly. As was the custom then, she was waked in the school chapel. Coming from a non-Catholic background, Babe had never been to a wake before that featured an open casket. Babe said that all the girls were to line up and file slowly past the casket. When it was her turn, Babe took one look at Sr. Clare Assisi in the open casket and fainted dead away.
Although Ailzia McElroy is prominently featured among the graduates in the 1920 St. Mary's yearbook,
that is not exactly what happened. Babe was kicked out of St. Mary's prior to graduation because she had been caught smoking a cigarette and had "bobbed" her hair. In 1920 long hair was considered the sign of a "good" girl; whereas if a girl had short hair she was called a "flapper" and the implication was that she was a person of loose morals. And, of course, "good" girls did not smoke cigarettes. So Babe topped off the list of schools she had been kicked out of, with St. Mary's of Notre Dame.
(An interesting side note: When she was in her 80s, Babe returned to St. Mary's for a visit. She was ushered into the office of the principal who asked her what year she graduated. She replied that she was Class of 1920 but that she had been kicked out prior to graduation. "What did you do to get kicked out?", the nun asked. "I got caught smoking a cigarette and bobbed my hair," was Babe's response. "Oh my goodness," the nun said, "the nuns here today do worse things than that.")
It is interesting, however to take a look at Babe in the 1920 St. Mary's yearbook. I did not find this yearbook until after Babe was dead, so I was never able to ask her anything about it, but it does provide an interesting insight into the Babe McElroy of 1920. Here is an essay she wrote on Booth Tarkington that was included in the yearbook:
From the yearbook Class Prophesy:
|704 Sheridan Road, Wilmette|
|Bahai Temple, Wilmette, Illinois|
|St. Francis Xavier Church, Wilmette.|
|6004 N. Paulina, Chicago|