"This memorial tree planted by the Kentucky Chapter of the American War Mothers - 1924," reads a tablet next to a large bur oak tree not 10 feet from the University of Kentucky's (and the city of Lexington's) major roadway - Limestone Street.

Bur oak tree and dedication plaque on University of Kentucky Campus (N. Williamson)

 

The American War Mothers is a non-political, non-partisan, and non-profit organization whose initial purpose was to bring together the mothers of sons and daughters who served in the First World War. Efforts of the American War Mothers included (but not limited to) putting together care packages for veterans in hospitals and a national campaign of planting Memory Trees to honor Americans who lost their lives in WWI.

 

The Fayette County Chapter of the American War Mothers met monthly in the Parlor Room of the Phoenix Hotel in downtown Lexington. Of the group, Mrs. Maude South McCarty was chair of the Memory Tree Committee during the planting of the oak tree marked by the tablet in the above picture on University of Kentucky campus.

Letter response to Mrs. Maude South McCarty from University of Kentucky President McVey, Oct. 7, 1924 (Kentucky Historical Society)  Read UK President Frank McVey's response about planting a Memory Tree on campus

Letter response to University of Kentucky President McVey from Mrs. Maude South McCarty, 1924 (Kentucky Historical Society)  Read Mrs. Maude South McCarty's response to President McVey 

 

 

"This tree will be planted in memory of the students who gave their lives that we could have a better world"

                                                   - Mrs. Maude McCarty to President McVey

 

How do trees serve as good reminders of longevity and stability? Why are trees good memorials? Planting and caring for trees is simultaneously simple and complex. Placing a seedling in the ground, mulching, watering, and pruning are all necessary and straightforward actions that anyone with a desire can learn. However, slightly more complex is the notion that doing these simple actions make possible the growth - over time - of a seedling into a mature bur oak. 

 

Maybe trees make good memorials because rather than diminishing, as is often the case with memories, they instead grow with time given the proper care. Thanks to the American War Mothers, this bur oak is a reminder that as we stand on the shoulders of those who have made sacrifices before us, we stand in the shade they helped create as well.  

 

 

Photography

  1. Large bur oak near Limestone Street; a Memory Tree planted in 1924 by the American War Mothers - April 2015 (N. Williamson)
  2. American War Mothers Memorial Tree plaque on University of Kentucky Campus near Limestone St., dated 1924 (photo 2015 N. Williamson)
  3. University of Kentucky President Frank McVey's response letter to Mrs. Maude South McCarty about planting a Memory Tree on campus (Kentucky Historical Society)
  4. Mrs. Maude South McCarty's (American War Mothers - Kentucky Chair of Memory Tree Committee) hand-written correspondence with President Frank McVey (Kentucky Historical Society) 

 

About the Author

Nic Williamson is an Urban Forestry Extension Associate and full-time staff member of the Urban Forest Initiative at the University of Kentucky. He can be reached at nwilliamson@uky.edu.