A portrait of the Indiana Historical Commission in 1915 shows eight members, some bearded and most white-haired, in similarly cut three-piece suits. But it is the ninth commissioner that especially piques our curiosity. Barely peeking above the others’ shoulders is a woman of a certain age, in a broad-rimmed black hat. Having just begun serving on the commission when that portrait was made, Charity Dye used the appointment to play a major role in the state’s Centennial Celebration. Commissioner Dye produced historical pageants, addressed over 150 civic and school groups, and organized a campaign in which school children across the state wrote and exchanged letters describing their neighborhoods.
An educator in the Indianapolis public schools for 37 years, Dye was born in Madison County, Kentucky in 1849, and moved with her family to Indianapolis, where she was graduated from the Normal School. She went on to distinguish herself as an English teacher at Shortridge, Indianapolis’ first free high school. In that capacity, Dye served as the sponsor of the student publication The Dawn and established the school’s relationship with the poet James Whitcomb Riley. Known for her activism for female suffrage and for peace, Dye authored a pamphlet urging the observance of Peace Day in Indiana schools on May 18, 1912. Published by the state Department of Education, the effort was part of a national initiative by the American School Peace League. Dye was at this time part of a growing peace movement in Indiana, represented by such groups as the Indiana Peace Society and the Indiana branch of the World Peace Foundation.
Along with her efforts as an activist, educator and commissioner, Charity Dye edited poetry anthologies and wrote historical non-fiction about the Hoosier State. The James Whitcomb Riley Reader was published in 1915 and Once Upon a Time in Indiana, the following year. Some Torch Bearers in Indiana was her 1917 tribute to notable female figures in Indiana history. Even more readers became acquainted with Charity Dye’s byline in the Indianapolis Star, where her Sunday column promised tidbits of Indiana history “entertainingly told.”
Although Dye passed away in 1921, Shortridge High School’s new library was named for her when it opened in 1928. Although the Indianapolis landmark closed its doors in 1981, the next year witnessed the opening of Charity Dye School #27 on East 19th Street, where it continues to serve children in the Circle City.