The only child of Arthur H. and Jettie Robinson Dew, Gwen was raised a strict Methodist. She graduated from Albion High School in 1920 and attended Albion College for three years. During her local school years, Gwen worked on such publications as the Albion High School Breeze, the Albion College Pleiad, and the Albionian, Albion College’s yearbook. She was also on the debate team and was a member of Delta Gamma and the Political Science Club. Gwen eventually graduated from the University of Michigan in 1924, with a degree in journalism. While there, she was elected the Homecoming Queen.
Always an adventurer, Gwen went flying with a barnstormer and decided to become a pilot. She was one of the first 25 women in the United States to fly a plane solo. In one locally memorable ballooning experience, her drag rope caught a power line and left the town of Homer in darkness.
Gwen’s father was a local florist, and her first job was in publicity at Floral Telegraph Delivery (FTD). She designed the FTD logo featuring Mercury which is still in modified use today. Gwen also worked as the society editor at the Albion Recorder for five months. After she tired of her job with the florist association, Gwen went to New York City where she hobnobbed with the stars and wrote for Movie Classic and other Hollywood gossip magazines
Cocktail parties bored her and in 1931 she set off to see the world. The Detroit News, for which she worked as a freelance photographer and writer, refused to grant her a contract. She learned they were publishing her stories only when she arrived in the Orient and found a check waiting.
Gwen’s travels took her twice around the globe, as she strove always to be where the action was. She once interviewed Madame Chiang Kai Shek, and went to Hong Kong two years after the British dependents had been sent home.
The only correspondent to film the siege of Hong Kong and its fall, Gwen was eventually taken prisoner and held for more than six months. During her captivity, she lived onweevils and wormy rice and in filthy conditions. When asked why she had stayed when she could have left safely, she said she wanted to cover war from a woman’s point of view.
Gwen was released as part of a prisoner exchange. She sailed to Portuguese East Africa aboard a Japanese ship with 1,521 others, including business executives, diplomats, and missionaries. She carried with her a set of Chinese dolls, in which she smuggled notes she had written in the prison camp and lists of unreleased prisoners.
After returning to the United States, Gwen went on the lecture circuit, despite suffering from dysentery, dengue fever and beri beri. She also wrote a series of articles about her experiences. She later joined the Office of Strategic Services. Gwen met her husband, Major James Buchanan, in occupied Japan after the war. He died in 1953.
After her husband’s death, Gwen settled in the Phoenix area. She established the largest travel adventure business in that region, and traveled as its tour guide for at least 23 years. She died in a Phoenix nursing home on June 17, 1993.
Sources: Albion Recorder, August 12, 1993; Detroit News, September (several dates) 1942,and December 13, 1981;Journal of Albion, March 15, 1980
From: Albion AAUW. Some Notable Women of the Albion Area. Albion, Michigan: American Association of University Women. 1998.
Gwen Dew (1903-1993) was a prolific writer, photographer, and world traveler who was born and raised in Albion. During the 1930s she traveled around the world taking photographs and writing weekly travel articles for the Detroit News. Her articles were read by thousands of people. She was captured in Hong Kong at the start of World War II and spent several months in a Japanese concentration camp before her release at the end of June 1942. She subsequently wrote a series of thrilling eyewitness accounts of her ordeal for the News, which received top billing in front-page installments. Her book Prisoner of the Japs was published in 1943. During the rest of the War, she toured the country for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, lecturing about her experiences and raising more than $2 million in War bonds. This 1936 photo is from Honolulu, Hawaii, and she is seen with her typewriter “Tappy.”
Gewn Dew started the publicity department of the Florists Telegraph Delivery Association (FTD). She designed the FTD Running Mercury logo and is shown here at her office in Detroit in 1928.
Gwen Dew served as “Miss Michigan” at the dedication of Michigan Stadium at the University of Michigan on October 23, 1927. She is shown here on the right with Michigan captain Bennie Oosterbaan, who is holding a large bouquet of FTD flowers. On the left is the Ohio State Captain and queen.