Celebrating the 70th Anniversary
The National Society of Arts and Letters
May 15, 2014
Charleston, West Virginia
It was in 1944 that two professional women who were both devoted to the arts set out
to brighten the dark days of World War II by focusing their energy and determination on encouraging and assisting young people in the development of their artistic talents with monetary awards.
One of the women, Mollie Davis Nicholson of Chevy Chase, Maryland was a gifted writer, columnist, editor and lecturer. She was the first Chevy Chase columnist for the Washington papers, edited The Woman Democrat and published The Woman Voter. She was the first National Democratic Congressional Vice-Chairman for Maryland, and organized the
Federation of the United Democratic Women of Maryland. Listed in Who’s Who in
America, it is not surprising that she received a citation as an outstanding club and
church woman. She served as the First National President of The National Society of Arts and Letters. Her daughter Dorothy Nicholson Stabell, who celebrated her 100th birthday in 2013, was a lawyer. She started the Washington, DC chapter and served as its first president.
Mrs. Nicholson’s co-founder, Francesca Falk Miller Nielsen of Chicago, was a woman of tremendous energy and great charm. She was the daughter of the internationally known organist, Dr. Louis Falk, and had her own career as a singer. She was equally successful in the field of literature, authoring seven books of poetry, including Reveries and Rhymes, which is available through Amazon.com. Her poems also may be found in poetry anthologies, and many were set to music by famous composers. She also wrote two novels, The Sands, a story of early Chicago, and Golden Heritage where the scene is laid in San Francisco.
Today, we honor and remember Mollie Nicholson and Francesca Nielsen by calling the fund that provides awards for the national competitions, the Nicholson-Nielsen Trust Fund.
The first National Society of Arts and Letters chapter was founded by Molly Nicholson’s daughter, Dorothy Nicholson Stabell. Originally called the Chevy Chase Chapter, Dorothy served as it’s first president. Later the chapter was renamed the Washington, DC Chapter. The same year her mother founded NSAL, 1944, Dorothy was called to the Maryland Bar. A maverick, she and her father, Jesse Nicholson, opened the first father-daughter law practice in Montgomery County, Maryland. Dorothy celebrated her 100th birthday in 2013.
The idea of establishing an organization to foster the arts caught on and about a year later, twelve Chapters had been formed. By the mid 1990s, NSAL counted some thirty-three Chapters. Unfortunately, a decline in the number of chapters has been experienced in recent years. However, a revitalization of the organization is taking place and there are plans to add
The NSAL Minutes of October 21, 1944 states the organization’s business plan:
The society carries out its purpose by giving scholarships,
by holding exhibitions of painting and sculpture, by offering prizes,
by sponsoring radio time and press space for Arts and Letters, and
by conducting centers for marketing material in key cities
throughout the USA.
While the purpose of NSAL has not changed, the support given to the young artists has expanded from awarding scholarships to holding local and national competitions.
Records indicate that scholarships were awarded as national awards from 1944 to 1950. In 1951, the first national competition was held in the category of music. It is from that time that competition in five disciplines were held for monetary awards.
In 2002, musical theater was added to the list of disciplines and the first musical theater competition occurred as we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of NSAL in Central Illinois.
In 2002 Shirley Rabb Winston offered a substantial gift to NSAL to establish two scholarship programs, one in voice in memory of Shirley Winston, a singer, and one in art in memory of her mother, Naomi Winston, who was an artist. Shirley had voice received scholarships from the Washington, DC Chapter in 1949 and in the 1950’s. She wished to show her appreciation
by providing for other young people the opportunities she received from NSAL.
Now, in 2014, we look to the future of NSAL. To honor our two founders and all who devoted their time and energy to the mission of this organization for the past 70 years, let us make a firm resolve to carry on the purpose of this worthy organization, the National Society of Arts and Letters, and bring it to a celebration of its 80th anniversary in 2024.