In the age of innocence, before television, when most families didn’t own an automobile, Americans found things to do.
When she was 13, Evelyn Moe joined a service club for girls — the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls.
It was 1932, and the Rainbow Girls held a national meeting in Tacoma. Applicants had to be sponsored by a Freemason, and Moe’s father, LeRoy, was happy to sponsor her.
“We had all kinds of activities, and we'd met twice a month at 38th and Yakima,” Moe said. “We had service work, and then we had all kinds of entertainment, usually dances.
“We met on Saturday nights. I don’t know what kind of attendance you’d get from teenagers today if you met twice a month on a Saturday night.”
Begun in 1922, the Rainbow Girls was a popular organization. Among its members were future U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and future U.S. astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger.
Today, the organization lives on; its website says there are hundreds of thousands of members across the globe. Locally, there are chapters in Tacoma and Puyallup. Just last weekend, Danielle Brunson from the Tacoma chapter was elected grand worthy advisor for the Washington-Idaho region in a ceremony in which she was encircled by fellow Rainbow Girls in formal purple gowns.
Moe clearly remembers the pomp and pageantry of her generation’s Rainbow events. Among her scrapbooks, she has two from her Rainbow years.
“We didn’t have uniforms , but officers wore long dresses, and it was customary for the worthy advisor, the highest-ranking officer, to wear a white dress,” she said. “At one time, we had over 100 girls in our chapter.
“There were more than 3,000 active members in the state of Washington,” she said. “Many of the chapters were in small towns in Eastern Washington.”
Girls ages 13 to 21 were eligible to join.
“I had three younger sisters, and the oldest, Mildred, was a member,” Moe said. “My youngest sister, Carol, was a Rainbow Girl and then joined Job’s Daughters, another Masonic group for girls.”
And her middle sister, Lois?
“She was too interested in boys to join anything,” Moe said, and laughed.
Boys had their own group, the Order of DeMolay. The Rainbow Girls was the female club created to give young women the same opportunities. Both groups focused on leadership and community service.
Moe was the chapter chaplain, then in June of 1939, the worthy advisor.
In between, there were annual trips to Rainbow conventions.
“They’d run from Wednesday through Saturday, and I remember a bunch of us taking a train to Spokane for one convention,” she said. “I made friends in Rainbow Girls that lasted a lifetime.”
At 94, Moe has outlived most of those friends.
“It’s like being the last man standing,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who’s still around. I’ve got friends I went to school with who are still here, and we get together. But no Rainbow Girls.”
Born in Spokane, Moe moved with her family to Tacoma when she was 8 and took her first job here.
“I went to work for Ma Bell pushing plugs and saying ‘number, please,’” Moe said. “I made $3 for each day I worked, so $15 whole dollars for a week’s paycheck.
“I bought my mom a new dress and new shoes with my first paycheck.”
There was a four-year marriage that didn’t take, and suddenly Moe was in her 60s, living alone. One day her telephone rang, and it was her childhood sweetheart, Kirk Athow.
“We’d gone to Lincoln High School together, and then the war broke out and off he went,” Moe said. “He was a cryptographer in Alaska. He proposed, I accepted, but it was so hard to communicate. I gave him his ring back.”
After the war, Athow went to Washington State University, then accepted a scholarship to attend Purdue University in Indiana. By the time they talked again, he was a professor emeritus.
“We spent the day visiting,” Moe said. “He was single — his wife had died — and we talked about our families, our lives, our friends.”
The next day, he was headed back to Indiana. He telephoned from Montana.
“Our conversations continued, and three or four months later, he proposed on the telephone.”
They were married in Indiana in June 1983.
“We visited all 50 states together, drove all the way across Canada one year,” Moe said. “We moved to Fircrest and were together until Kirk died in 2005.”