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Doylestown Historical Society To Hold Memorial Service for Volunteer

The late Jean Dawson helped do research for the historic plaques placed on homes and buildings throughout Doylestown.

 

A memorial service honoring Jean Elsie Dawson, who helped research the history of many homes and buildings in Doylestown, will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Barn Gallery of the Doylestown Historical Society, 56 S. Main St.

Jean died May 2 in her Doylestown home at age 84.

Jean was a special education teacher for 32 years, first at the former Doylestown Public School and then at in New Britain.

After her retirement, Jean worked with the late Wilma Rezer in researching the history of properties in Doylestown, for the historic plaque program begun in the early 1980s by the Doylestown Community Association (later the Doylestown Business and Community Alliance).

Jean spent much time at the county courthouse and was expert at deciphering colonial era deeds. The research reports were the basis for wooden plaques placed on historic buildings, giving the original owner and date of construction.

Jean also volunteered for the Spruance Library of the Bucks County Historical Society, and for the after that organization was formed in 1995.

Born in 1928, Jean was the daughter of George and Anna May McNichol Dawson. Growing up in Philadelphia, she was close to her maternal grandparents, Joseph and Martha McDonnell MacNichol; her aunts, Ethel and Mabel; and her younger sisters, Dorothy and Anne. Her brother, George Jr., died of scarlet fever as an infant.

With her sister, Dorothy, Jean began taking piano lessons at age 8. The sisters played classical piano duets for many years. Jean would later become skilled at the organ, playing occasionally in churches.

Jean attended Girls' High School in Philadelphia, excelling at math and English. She overcame a stuttering condition to win a speech contest on the topic of temperance, and continued to compete in similar contests.

When the family moved to Lancaster, Pa., the three sisters worked for 5 cents an hour in a diner owned by their uncle, Frank Hill. Although still a teenager, Jean successfully negotiated a higher wage for all.

On July 28, 1945, Jean and her sisters were on a sightseeing trip to New York City. The observation deck of the Empire State Building was closed due to fog, so they went to the top of the Chrysler Building instead. Through the fog, Jean saw a "pink flash" in the distance. A B-25 bomber, lost in the fog, had crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building, killing 14 people.

While an undergraduate majoring in English at the University of Pennsylvania, Jean studied for a time in London. She became proficient in both French and Portuguese. Jean received bachelor's and master's degrees in education from the University of Pennsylvania, and later a second master's degree in education from Temple University.

As a special education teacher, Jean initiated mainstreaming in the local schools of severely and profoundly retarded children released from institutions. She was particularly skilled at reaching and training children with cognitive disabilities. Later in life, she received grateful correspondence from some of her former students, many of whom could not even speak when they began her class.

Jean loved sewing and making crafts for the annual Doylestown United Methodist Church Peach Festival and singing in the church choir. She sang each year in the annual choir festival in Ocean Grove, N.J.

She traveled frequently, often abroad, and pursued her special interests in rocks and minerals, painting and history. She volunteered at Doylestown Hospital.

Jean is survived by her sister, Dorothy Clarke; six nieces and nephews, six grandnieces and grandnephews, and many cousins.

The family suggests contributions in her name be made to the Doylestown Historical Society, 56 S. Main St., Doylestown, PA 18901; or Voice & Vision, www.voice-and-vision.org.

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