Super-Volunteer: Minnie “Dolly” Varley
Posted On: 06/26/2017 - 12:41pm, Posted By: Sarah Staples, Helen Steiner Rice Archivist
While processing the American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter collection, I stumbled upon a significant amount of material detailing a woman named, Dolly Varley. I found an Australian Junior Red Cross membership card from 1919, then letters from World War II written by soldiers thanking Dolly for her hospitality while they were in New York, and then service awards in the 1970s and 1980s from a hospital in Pennsylvania. The material I found led me to search for more material and everything I found ultimately inspired me to write Dolly’s story.
Dolly Varley with 2 unknown men, n.d. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 69, folder 11.
Minnie “Dolly” Anson was born on June 25, 1904 in England. She moved to Australia with her parents when she was only a few years old. Inspired by her own mother, who was a long-time volunteer for the Red Cross, Dolly joined the Junior Red Cross while living in Australia. Dolly and her mother made candy and served it in the canteens for the soldiers during World War I.
Dolly Varley’s Junior Red Cross membership card, 1919. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 69, folder 8.
In 1923, Dolly moved with her parents to Montreal, Canada. It was there that she met and married Herbert Varley. Dolly and Herbert moved to New York City soon after marrying. The couple had one child, Bob.
Before the United States entered into World War II, Dolly arranged for aid to be sent to England, mostly by organizing the Bronx unit of the Bundles for Britain program. The Bronx unit sent hundred pounds of hospital garments, baby supplies, and knitting over to the British people. In addition to her work with Bundles for Britain Dolly put together care packages for soldiers. For her work and dedication Dolly was awarded the King George medal from the British Ambassador.
Letter from Frances Gent, Director of Production, Bundles for Britain, to Mrs. Varley, June 1, 1945. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 69, folder 9.
Letter and medal from British Consulate General to Mrs. Dolly Varley, January 14, 1947. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 69, folder 10.
After World War II, Dolly kept up her volunteer work by working at the Medical Center in New York City as a nurse’s aide. She also volunteered with the Recording for the Blind organization. Dolly helped with a project to record college textbooks for soldiers who had lost their eyesight during the war. The project recorded more than 4,000 tapes by the time Dolly left the project.
Letter from Barbara Payne Chairman of Recording for the Blind, to Mrs. Dolly Varley, June 23, 1964. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 69, folder 12.
In 1970, Dolly moved to the quieter town of Lansdale, Pennsylvania having lived alone in New York City as a widow for ten years. During her 17 years in Lansdale, Dolly worked almost 6,000 volunteer hours for the North Penn Hospital. In 1987 Dolly moved to Cincinnati to be closer to her son. She would continue volunteering all the way through her 91st year. From 1987 to 1995 she volunteered more than 2,000 hours for the St. Francis-St. George hospital.
Dolly Varley died on November 25, 1998 in Cincinnati, OH. Her constant charitable contributions to her local communities and far flung places are an inspiration for everyone.