Like all great stories, Martha Alworth’s begins long ago and far away.
It was Nuremberg, Germany in 1938, the eve of World War II. Her view was slightly obstructed by a giant swastika flag, but 13-year-old Martha could see enough to absorb the gut-wrenching seriousness of the Nazi rally that would soon unfold. “That experience, more than anything, made an impact and inspired her interest in international events,” says her son Royal Alworth III.
This September, the Alworth Institute renamed its International Brown Bag Series the Martha B. Alworth International Brown Bag Series in honor of Martha’s commitment to and enjoyment of the UMD event. “It was Martha Alworth’s passion for travel, learning, and social justice that sustained the International Brown Bag Series,” says Cindy Christian, director of the Alworth Institute. On this, the one-year anniversary of her passing, we offer an introduction to the woman behind the title.
Front Row to History
Travel may have been in her blood. Her mom took Martha and her sister overseas for three years; giving them an opportunity to experience the churning waters of pre-World War II Europe. They stayed until the very last minute, catching the final voyage of the Queen Mary. Her son Royal recalls his mom’s story, “The ship was so crowded, people were sleeping in the library. The Nazis had recently torpedoed another cruise liner, but the Queen Mary traveled without military escort, zigzagging across the ocean. A mandatory blackout was in place- no smoking on the deck, blackout curtains in the room.” While Martha and her family were sailing the high seas, Hitler invaded Poland.
Safely back in the US, Martha and her family were eager for news of the war. They tuned into the radio, only to find very little war news and a lot of baseball scores. For most, the latest score may have seemed more relevant than events across the ocean, but not for Martha, “My mom understood that what happens in the world impacts us at home,” explains Royal.
Her home, after graduating from Smith College and spending more time in Europe, was Duluth, but global events were always in her sights. “She was a world citizen who viewed life through a lens of peace and justice,” says Royal. This vantage point gave perfect focus to the Martha B. Alworth International Brown Bag Series.
About the Series
Started in 1987 as the International Brown Bag Series, it offers insight into international places and events. Speakers present on a variety of topics with the goal of introducing audiences to other cultures. This objective, explains College of Liberal Arts Dean Sue Maher, is inline with Martha’s philosophy, “Her life embraced the mission of the series: exploring all facets of global citizenship.”
Carol Michealson was the program associate at the Alworth Institute during its first decade and remembers Martha living this mission through her own travels. “Martha went to out of the way places, not just to France, Rome, and Germany. She went to places like Iran, when hardly anyone had done it.” In fact, her son Royal likens her perspective to that of a citizen diplomat, “My mom felt that citizen diplomacy means making sure that people understood each other. She was interested in foreign places, but she was even more interested in people from those places.”
One thing that Martha was not interested in was having the event named after her, preferring instead to keep the focus on the series. After she passed away, those she impacted wanted to find a way to honor her by name. This, says Dean Maher, is perfect. "Martha Alworth was an avid participant in the Brown Bag series for many years, and renaming the series after her is a lovely, meaningful gesture on the part of the Institute."
Story written by Lori C. Melton