Tuesday, June 22, 2021

52 Ancestors - GROUPS: Cheerleaders and Bridesmaids

1946 Cradock High School Cheerleaders

Long before human pyramids and high-flying basket tosses changed the face of cheerleading, peppy high school girls in lettered sweaters and saddle oxfords were chanting “Push ‘em back, push ‘em back, WAAAAY back!” When my mother was a cheerleader at Cradock High School in the mid-1940s, the most amazing stunt the squad performed was a jump in which the girls threw their arms over their head and their feet behind them, then arched their backs to make the letter “C” for Cradock. It required a lot of practice.

Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward,
Cookie Spencer, Marree Hogan,
Unknown girl in front

It was probably all that practice as well as all the dances and parties following the games that fostered a lifetime of friendship. After graduation, the girls went in different directions, but the box of letters found in my grandparents’ attic shows that their friendship endured despite the miles. On fancy pink or blue stationery, yellowed onion skin, and even notebook paper they shared the gossip of who was dating whom, who was on the outs, who wrecked a car, who found a job, who drank too much, and even who had a 7-month baby! GASP

Christine Westbrook, Betsy Ward,
and my mother Mary E "Duny" Davis

The most interesting letters, to me at least, are about the weddings. Not surprisingly, several of the cheerleaders served as each other’s bridesmaids.


While Lucille “Cookie” Spencer was among the first in the gang to marry, Christine Westbrook had the first BIG wedding in which Momma was a bridesmaid. Momma was still away at Shenandoah College, so letters from Cookie, Betsy, and Christine were filled with news of the plans.

In those days, the parents of the bride usually paid for the bridesmaids’ gowns. Christine had a large number of attendants including family members and BFFs from both high school and college. To save money, Mrs. Westbrook purchased fabric so the girls could have dresses made.

A humorous letter from Christine (aka “Teeny-wabbit”) described the gown Momma would be wearing:

from a letter from Christine
27 Feb 1948

The Westbrooks were cutting it close with that fabric order (no pun intended). The wedding was scheduled for March 28, but just 10 days before, Christine wrote THIS letter to Momma:

from a letter from Christine
18 Mar, 1948
Duny Baby, [Momma’s nickname was Duny]

We were holding our breath – but at last the material he ordered has arrived. I was afraid it wasn’t going to get here. I just love the color. Really think it’s the prettiest of all . . . altho’ the green, pink & blue are pretty, too.

About the pattern - several changes: Allow extra fullness in waist in front. (This was done for Cook. Also makes gowns fit cuter.) Two darts at the shoulder blade make neck fit better. Notice change in Neck - . We’re sending a finished gown, too. Bring the scraps of material home. Mother will make gloves after you get here.


Cookie Muter needed that extra fullness as she was expecting her first child. A letter from Betsy described the brocade taffeta gowns with drop shoulder as “darling,” but she also had this to say about Cookie:

from a letter from Betsy
5 Mar 1948

Cook is so large that I think she’s going to look terrible in Chris’s wedding. She has just jumped out in the last couple weeks & she still has 3 more weeks to grow before the wedding. Maybe the nosegay will hide it. That’s what she says anyway.

 Now, Betsy - was that nice to say??

The Westbrook-Wisehart wedding was written up in the newspaper presenting all the big and small details that are missing in today’s wedding announcements.


While Christine’s wedding plans were winding down, Betsy’s were just gearing up. In one letter she described shopping for her engagement ring in Richmond with her fiancĂ© John Lumsden, a dental student. The ring was a full carat and cost $450. She agonized over how to pay for his wedding band costing $100.

Betsy’s vision for her bridesmaids was something different from what Christine had her attendants wear. Betsy wrote to Momma:

from a letter from Betsy
14 Jan 1948

I’m thinking about that real pretty organdy that is rather stiff. You’ll have to let me know what color you want. I’m going to the Famous and get some pointers first.


The Famous for many years was THE place to shop in Portsmouth, the only place, really, for higher quality women’s finery.

Betsy and her mother had planned an extravagant wedding until Betsy’s father lost his job unexpectedly. In one letter, she swore Momma to secrecy about the untimely job loss. As Betsy said, at her father’s age, he was not likely to find another job paying $500 a month. Wedding plans had to be scaled back:

from a letter from Betsy
22 Apr 1948

The wedding is June 12th at 4:00. The bridesmaids are: Jo, MJV [Mary Jane Via], Chris & Joanne. Mother and I are going to look at wedding dresses & attendants gowns so I don’t have any idea how yours will be made or the color. We’ll have to get some tips & then order the material for your dresses. Mother will have to make mine since we can’t afford to buy it now. The ushers are: Billy, Tommy, George, Milton, Grease & Pete is to be master of ceremonies. There might be a change in this so also keep this to yourself.

It was probably a bitter pill to swallow when the Wards asked the girls to pay $20 for their own material. To offset that expense, Mrs. Ward offered to make the girls’ hats.

Betsy also had to cut back on shopping for her honeymoon:

from a letter from Betsy
22 Apr 1948

I got a real pretty blue nightgown last Wed. It’s drop shoulder with 2 rows of white lace & lace around the bottom. It’s real cute & looks sexy as hell on. Poor Johnny! Now that Daddy has lost his job I won’t be able to get the clothes I had planned to buy so I’m not going to show my trousseau.


Apparently, that was THE THING to do – show off your trousseau, maybe at a shower or bridal tea. Does anyone even SAY “trousseau” these days?

Betsy was not lacking in bridal showers though. Her cousin hosted one in Cape Charles across the bay on the Eastern Shore.

from a letter from Betsy
22 Apr 1948
Edie is giving me a shower in Cape Charles. We haven’t decided on the date but I want you to go over with me to help me back on the ferry with my presents. We wouldn’t spend the night – okay? It will probably be better for you to have your dress made here as I know I won’t be able to find a pattern just right & we’ll have to make some changes.

Other shower invitations were sent from Mary Jane Via and Christine Westbrook Wisehart.

Betsy’s wedding appeared in the social column.

from Richmond Times Dispatch
19 Jun 1948

I have seen the requisite Ward-Lumsden bridal party photo. Unfortunately, neither my sister nor I can find it. And OF COURSE, it is one photo in which we could probably identify every person, unlike the myriad nameless faces in other photos we inherited. Oh the irony!

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. 


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Great post! I was a cheerleader in high school and while I haven't really stayed in touch with the group other than Facebook, at least I know where they all are. The one I have really stayed in touch with lives in Sweden.

  2. The letters add so much to this story. Thanks.

  3. I really want to see a photo for the Westbrook wedding and the colorful bridesmaid dresses. I will just have to imagine the orchid color. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing this story. I did not realize that the bride's parents had to buy the dresses for the bridesmaids’. This answers some questions that I had about a wedding many years ago. Your story adds a lot of information that I never thought to add to some of my research.