Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, June 20, 1993
Albion has had a handful of individuals in its history who have lead adventurous and exciting lives which have atracted national and international attention. One of these very special persons is Gwendolyn Dew (1902- ), now living in retirement in Phoenix, Arixona. Gwen was born here n 1902, the daughter of Arthur H. and Jettie (Robinson) Dew. Her father Arthur was in business for 50 years as a florist, coming here in 1893. Their shop on Perry St. is now Clark’s Floweres. The slogan painted on the front window said, “Dew Makes the Flowers Grow.” The Dew’s lived at 401 E. Michigan Avenue, across from Central School (later the site of Washington Gardner High School). Gwen’s maternal grandparents were Orton and Ida (Grover) Robinson; Orton was an early Albion Village president. In the 1932 book “Albion’s Milestones and Memories,” Gwen writes on page 40 about her grandparents. Her aunt Sybil Robinson was a long-time art teacher at Albion High School.
She attended the Albion Public Schools, and graduated from Albion High School in 1920. She then attended Albion College for three years, and was a member of the Delta Gamma sorority. Gwen was interested in journalism, and was active in the Pleiad and Albionian staffs. She transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for her senior year, and was the homecoming queen in the fall of 1923. Gwen graduated form the U of M in 1924 with a degree in journalism.
Her career in journalism began in1924, when she served as society editor fo the Albion Evening Recorder for five months. Gwen’s spirit of adventurism became apparent when a “barnstormer” (an acrobatic airplane stunt person) came to Albion, making nose dives towards town, then pulling up at the last moment and making acrobatic loops. The plane also buzzed the Dew Florist Shop on Perry Street--because Gwen Dew was in the plane! The thrill of the ride led her to pursue becoming one of the first 25 women in the United States to obtain a solo flight license.
Gwen put her wiring talents to use as the head of publicity for the Florist’s Telegraph Delivery Association following her college graduation. While there, she designed the Mercury symbol for the Association which is still being used today by FTD florists nationwide, although now in modified form.
Traveling was definitely one of Gwen’s major interests. one of Gwen’s aunt’s had traveled worldwide in the 1880s, and had interviewed Admiral Robert Perry who discovered the North Pole. Her aunt had also been the first woman to travel in a locomotive engine car. In a 1980 interview, Gwen remarked, “Traveling was just somethng that was always in my blood. I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Michigan,” she said.
During the early 1930s Gwen worked as a reporter for the Hollywood gossip magazine, “Movie Classic.” Dissatisfied with her job, Gwen then approached the Detroit News about traveling worldwide, and having the paper sponsor her. She then came back to Albion to pack her things: a typewriter, camera, and $50--and off she went to New Orleans to catch a boat to Japan.
In subsequent years, Gwendolyn Dew literally wrote her way around the world. The Detroit News carried her articles and paid her for them. While in China, she had the honor of interviewing Madame Chiang Kai Shek. Her travels took her to Asia, Europe, the Near East, Hawaii, Bali, and the Far East. She returned to the U.S. in 1937.
While World War II was becoming imminent, Gwen managed to get a travel passport into Hong Kong, and was there at the Repulse Bay Hotel on December 8, 1941 (December 7 in the U.S. because of the international date line) when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Japanese soon occupied Hong Kong, and Gwen was taken prisoner. She spent the next several months in Japanese concentration camps, living on only small amounts of rice, gravy, and stew. She lost 20 pounds during the experience.
Gwen was fortunate to be among a group of prisoners released as part of an exchange in June, 1942. She arrived back in the U.S. on the liner Grisholm on August 27. Gwen immediately began writing a series of articles beginning on August 31, 1942 in the Detroit News entitled, “I Was a Prisoner of the Japs,” relating her harrowing experiences. The series was so popular and well read, that it was published in book form. Several Albionites still have copies of the book today. In her first article Gwen wrote: “I went hunting for war. I found it. I wanted to know what war looked like through a woman’s eyes. Now I know. Horror, destruction, torture, hunger, death. I want to tell you in Detroit what it means if war comes to your front door..Never has there been such a trek...and we who were part of it are the luckiest people in existence. None of us expected to see our loved ones at home for perhaps years.” These articles especailly made Gwen Dew famous, and copies are available for reading in the local history room at the Albion Public Library today.
Gwen then embarked on the speaking circuit, including a rousing welcome on October 29, 1942 here in Albion, as over 700 persons attended a packed Methodist Church to hear her story firsthand. Two days later, she spoke at Albion College as part of the homecoming activities.
During the remaining years of the War, Gwen was employed by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. She then became the first female foreign correspondent permitted into Japan after that country’s surrender.
Gwen married Major James R.T. Buchanan here in Albion in in November, 1948. A graduate of Ohio State University, Major Buchanan was a regular army public information and educational officer. The couple lived at various army bases across the U.S. Major Buchanan died on a sudden heart attack in Japan on August 10, 1953, only hours after his wife arrived to meet him there. Funeral services for Major Buchanan were held in Columbus, Ohio, where he was buried.
After her husband's death, Gwen settled in Phoenix, Arizona, and started “World Adventures,” a series of annual travel-adventure film presentations highlighting the work of the best professional travel film makers in the world. The series took viewers around the world to many countries, including Gwen who never love of traveling.
Now nearly 90, Gwen lives in retirement in a nursing home there in Phoenix. But her accomplishments in life are certainly an honor for Albionites to remember, and also for us here in our Historical Notebook. For those who remember Gwen, there was once a saying in Albion that went like this: “Some do and some don’t. What does Gwen Dew?” Gwen did it all.
Special thanks to Shirley Sharp for helping supply information for this article. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Gwen Dew upon her arrival in New York in August 1942 following her release from Japanese concentration camps [INTENET UPDATE: In bit of irony, Gwen Dew died in Phoenix, Arizona on June 17, 1993, just a few days before this article was published! She died a few minutes to midnight of her 90th birthday. Her cremains were buried in Riverside Cemetery here in Albion. This writer subsequently was able to obtain many of Gwen’s photographs].
Gwen Dew Returning from Japanese Prison Camp
More about Gwen Dew:
More about the Dew Family in Albion:
All text copyright, 2014 © all rights reserved Frank Passic