For the longest time, Mamie L. Bass (November 1879 - April 1962) did not have a grave marker. That changed, however, in 2003 when Altrusans from around the world decided to raise funds to honor their First National President. Subsequently, the Mamie L. Bass Memorial was dedicated at Crown Hill Cemetery on November 4, 2006.
Mamie was a success as a professional woman on her own before she became a pioneer and visionary in Altrusa, the first national organization of business and professional women in the United States. Born in Indianapolis into a family with deep Indiana roots, Mamie graduated from Shortridge High School and continued her education by taking additional classes there and through extension courses.
Miss Bass put her education to use in the workplace. For a time she was the secretary to the law firm of Woolen, Woolen & Byers and the office manager in her brother Herbert's architectural firm, Bass, Knowlton, and Company; and his partner in the Herbert L. Bass Company. She also
Mamie's abilities took her beyond the family businesses and traditional female positions. She sought a role as a community leader and served as president of the Mutual Service Association, secretary of the Nature Study Club of Indiana, a group she helped organize, helped Herbert establish a Rotary Club in Indianapolis, and joined the Chamber of Commerce.
When World War I became a part of American life, Mamie became the superintendent of the Women's Division, U. S. Employment. Charged with the task of finding office employees, the division processed 11,000 applicants in six months, aided by Mamie's campaign of newspaper publicity and visits to Women's Clubs and to women working in factories.
Dr. Alfred Durham started Altrusa Institute in 1917 as record numbers of women were going to work during the war and he saw a need for civic organizations for women. He envisioned a chain of national clubs where business and professional women could meet and exchange ideas. Dr. Durham saw himself organizing the clubs and collecting a portion of the dues. He established clubs in Nashville, Louisville, and Dayton.
Dr. Durham met Mamie Bass when he came to Indianapolis and she became the first president of the Indianapolis club. She admired his Institute but thought Altrusa could serve a higher purpose. When Altrusa held its first national convention in Indianapolis in 1918, Mamie led the group into changing its vision into becoming a service organization and the Institute renamed itself the National Association of Altrusa Clubs. She became the first national president of Altrusa.
Mamie went on to formulate the 12 Principles of Altrusa which defined Altrusa as “a builder of women” and became the editor of Altrusan. Since the organization required its members to be working professionals, Altrusa made vocational education for women a national policy, and as the group spread abroad, an international policy. Altrusa is a community based, grassroots organization solving problems at the local level. Altrusans raise money for local charities and scholarships; volunteer at battered women's shelters, help runaway teens, and build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
Mamie spent much of the latter part of her life confined to bed because of illness. But through extensive letter writing to fellow Altrusa leaders and members, she continued to inspire the group to do good works, believing that the strength of the group lie in the strength of the individual member.
The Mamie Bass Memorial in Section 37 at Crown Hill Cemetery is a beautiful, towering black obelisk. The Altrusa emblem, a laser etched photograph of Mamie, and a listing of Mamie's accomplishments are on the front of the memorial. On the back are engraved Mamie's words that read:
What we have already achieved is magnificent. But Altrusa is not static; it is dynamic. New fields shall open unto us and we will achieve new goals of helpfulness. In the past, in the present, and in the future. The strengths of Altrusa is in the individual member, her vision, her character, her kindness and her desire for service and always her power to add to the happiness of those about her.