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Anna Dill Gamble, York advocate for world peace

Anna Dill Gamble (1877-1956)
Anna Dill Gamble (1877-1956)

My recent York Sunday News column on Anna Dill Gamble is below. She was truly a woman ahead of her time.

Gamble used her time, money and skills to further causes in which she believed. Her missions included Catholicism, women’s suffrage and world peace. She helped organize the Catholic Association of International Peace, wrote articles on peace for Catholic Action and travelled inside and outside the United States promoting peace. Gamble attended the 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference as a representative of the National Council of Catholic Women. That conference unfortunately failed a year and a half later when Germany, now led by Hitler, withdrew from disarmament talks. Gamble continued on with her world peace activism, leading to Pope Pius XII awarding the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal to her in 1942.

Anna Dill Gamble was a remarkable woman

Far ahead of her time, Anna Dill Gamble (1877-1956) was recognized internationally for her activism in organizations concerning world peace, women’s suffrage and Catholicism, but she is another example of a York Countian little known today.

Her mother, Seraphina (Phenie) Miller Gamble, was of Pennsylvania German ancestry. Both Phenie and Anna claimed Daughters of the American Revolution membership through Colonel Michael Brobst of Berks County. Phenie’s grandfather George Miller helped Lutheran pastor Jacob Albright found a new denomination, the Evangelical Association, and Phenie’s father was the Rev. Samuel Miller.

Anna’s father, William Gamble, born in County Donegal, Ireland, had numerous Presbyterian ministers in his background. William came to the United States at age 19, first to New York, then quickly to Philadelphia, where he learned stamping and gilding of book covers. He went back to New York to work at the Bible House [American Bible Society] until they sent him to China. He developed a system there of movable type for Chinese characters, making it possible to easily print the Bible in Chinese. After completing a similar task in Japan, William returned to America. Anna Dill Gamble and her brother, William T.M., donated their father’s collection, including “Gamble’s Characters” printing type and books printed with the Chinese type, to the Library of Congress in 1939.

Returning to America, William Gamble married Phenie Miller, a talented artist. They moved to Paris, where she studied art, and he is said to have continued medical studies started in Philadelphia. Their son William was born there is 1875 and daughter Anna Dill in 1877. They also lived in Geneva and Edinburgh, where son Samuel was born in 1879. The family returned to America in 1881, soon settling in York at the urging of Samuel Small. (Small, who died in 1885, was a director of the American Bible Society, probably how he knew William and his work.) The children received most of their education at York Collegiate Institute, founded by Small, with William and Anna graduating in 1893.

The Gambles built their impressive house on the southwest corner of Duke and Cottage in 1883. Two original architectural drawings for the house by the Dempwolf firm are in the Library/Archives files at York County History Center. An account by the younger William says the Shanghai climate affected his father’s health, and the elder Gamble died in the spring of 1886. Son William also relates that his brother Samuel passed away in his twenties as a result of pursuing pharmaceutical studies during the day and working as a druggist by night.

If there was something that needed to be done, Anna took advantage of whatever opportunity was offered. She was charter member of the Woman’s Club of York and is said to have organized Girl Scouts here. When votes for women became a pressing issue, she took the reins as York County chairman of the Women’s Suffrage League in 1914. During World War I, she was Director of Dept. 2, Pennsylvania Division, Women’s Committee, Council of National Defense, and under that agency headed the Food Production Committee (Liberty Gardens). A minute book, along with detailed reports of astonishing amounts of vegetables grown by people of all ages in local backyards and vacant lots, survives in her file at the York County History Center.

Although descended from numerous Protestant clergy, Gamble became interested in Catholicism, and she and her mother were received into the Catholic Church by Cardinal Gibbons at Baltimore in October 1917. She recounts her spiritual journey in her 56-page book My Road to Rome. Her brother followed them a few years later, even though he was an ordained Episcopal priest, having served in Lancaster and St. John’s in York. He later wrote that his conversion caused a rift between his wife and his sister which lasted for years.

Anna was a prolific writer. She started out with short stories, and had pieces published on local history. After converting to Catholicism, she wrote numerous articles and pamphlets eloquently outlining Catholic views on issues such as birth control. In one such pamphlet, Are People Necessary, she took Planned Parenthood to task, as well as both the Gazette and Daily and the York Dispatch, for what she saw as support for contraception, including their advocating the practice for European countries the United States was trying to rebuild through the Marshall Plan. She argued that smaller families would not help the situation, that “people are not merely consumers but producers.”

Gamble embraced the cause of world peace, helping organize the Catholic Association of International Peace. Attending the 1932 Geneva Disarmament Conference as a representative of National Council of Catholic Women, she wrote articles, such as “Catholic Women and World Peace” for Catholic Action, and other publications. This led to speaking tours throughout much of the United States and in South America. Years later, a front page story about Gamble in the October 24, 1948, York Edition of the Sunday News was headlined: “Miss Gamble Sees Soviet Pattern at League in 1932 Repeated in UN.” The journalist had gone to interview her about her book in progress on Catholic history in the Susquehanna region, beginning with the Jesuit establishment of the Conewago Chapel near Hanover. Gamble’s long history with international affairs came up. She saw the Soviet Union being obstructionist in the fledgling United Nations, as Russia had been in Geneva in 1932, but she thought that they “are just as reluctant to get into a war as we are.”

Her service did not go unnoticed by the Catholic Church. In 1942 she was one of three women in the Harrisburg Diocese to be awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross of Honor for distinguished service to the Church and to the Pope) by Pope Pius XII.

Along with her other activities Gamble worked on her manuscript, The Struggle for the Gateway, for the last 15 years of her life. From her research, she speculated that the Jesuits might have been in the Conewago area long before about 1720, the usually accepted date.

Anna Dill Gamble died January 11, 1956, but support of her beloved Church did not stop. Her will included a $5,000 legacy to her parish, St. Patrick’s. A Gazette and Daily clipping, September 6, 1956, reads: “Yorker Bequests $43,963 to Priest. Residue of estate of late Anna Dill Gamble awarded to Most Reverend George L. Leech, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.” Her will suggested that her home be used “as home for aged and infirm priests.” The Bishop instead turned the house into a convent, named St. Anne’s in honor of Gamble. Three nuns of the Sisters of Charity were installed there a month later; two taught at York Catholic High School and the third instructed children in music at the convent.

The convent was eventually closed and the home sold. Well-known Yorker Voni Grimes and his wife operated it as a personal care home from 1987-2003. The impressive house continues today as an assisted living facility under different owners.

Anna Dill Gamble and her manuscript (York Sunday News, October 1948)
Anna Dill Gamble and her manuscript
(York Sunday News, October 1948)