History

Prepared by Robert B. Immordino

1913 to 1920
On February 6, 1913, Guy Richards McLane, a New York City stockbroker, and Dr. Henry van Dyke, a Princeton University professor, poet, and diplomat, formed and incorporated the Dorothea van Dyke McLane Association. They created the non-profit association to establish a living memorial to Dorothea van Dyke McLane, wife of Mr. McLane and daughter of Dr. van Dyke. A year earlier (Feb. 24, 1912), Dorothea and her infant daughter died during childbirth. They are buried in the van Dyke family plot of the historic Princeton Cemetery.

Dorothea's love and concern for the well-being of Princeton's newly arrived poor Italian immigrant families, among whom she worked as a volunteer social worker, had long commanded the attention of her family.

The Association's incorporation papers cite the purposes of the association "...to originate, foster, develop, promote, carry on and engage in charitable and benevolent work for the welfare of the inhabitants of Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, primarily those of the Italian race, and to receive and hold real estate and personal property to be used and employed in the purposes aforesaid."

The intial Trustees of the Association were Guy Richards McLane, Dr. Henry van Dyke, Henry I. Parsons, Bayard Stockton, and Tertius van Dyke, Dorothea's brother.

On the day of its incorporation, Dr. Henry van Dyke deeded a plot of land located at the rear of his Bayard Lane home "Avalon" to the Dorothea van Dyke McLane Association. Shortly thereafter, Guy Richards McLane had a two-story Italianate stucture built on the property in honor of his late wife, which would come to be known as "Dorothea's House."

Dorothea's House was officially opened on the evening of Wednesday, October 7, 1914 "with brief ceremonies and entertainment for the Italian people of Princeton," according to the Princeton Press. of Oct. 10, 1914. The article also stated that "over 300 Italians were present who showed by their enthusiasm their appreciation of the effort to give them a place where they can meet for instruction, recreation, and entertainment." Miss Elinor Kennedy Purves was employed full-time to initiate and carry on a wide-ranging set of educational, recreational, and social programs for Princeton's Italian community. She was assisted by Princeton Univeristy students and other local volunteers. At the time, Princeton's Italian immigrant families lived in close proximity to Dorothea's House, at 120 John Street. Ms. Purves worked for Dorothea's House for the next 32 years.

For over two decades, Ms. Purves's regular reports to the Board of Trustees cited the highly intensive use made of Dorothea's House by the Italian children, young adults, and their parents. Ms. Purves's 1923 report stated that the average monthly attendance was 529, with the number increasing to more than 600 during the winter months. Girls' and boys' clubs and fraternal lodges were organized and met regularly; classes in English, citizenship, sewing, embroidery, etc., here held; summer camps for children were created; diverse athletic activities were organized; a playground was built; a well-used library was established and cultural activities flourished.

The Italian government in December 1919 decorated Guy Richards McLane with the Order of the Crown of Italy in recognition of his generous gift to Princeton's Italian immigrant families. The ceremony was arranged by the Dante Alighieri Society of Jersey City, through its president, Dr. Luigi Pezze. It was reported that practically the entire Italian population of Princeton crowded into Dorothea's House that evening to witness the ceremony, which included a number of special guests. After a speech by Dr. Pezze, Mr. McLane accepted the honor, and Dr. Henry van Dyke spoke on the meaning of the occasion. To the Italian immigrant families of Princeton, it was a fitting way to express their appreciation of Dorothea's House.