One hundred years ago Woodrow Wilson was president, and women were on the verge of getting the right to vote. Dorothy was the third most popular name for girls in 1919, according to the Social Security Administration, and the chance of a baby girl born that year living to age 100 was 1.9%.
So imagine the odds of three girls named Dorothy, all born in 1919, growing up in the same hometown (Auburn, Maine), graduating from the same high school in 1937, and celebrating their 100th birthdays together in 2019.
Dorothy Buchanan, Dorothy Kern and Dorothy Murray call themselves "the three Dots." And they still live in Auburn, two of them in the same houses that belonged to their parents. The longtime friends have outlived their classmates, their husbands, siblings and, sadly, even some of their children, but they still get together a couple of times a year, most recently at Dorothy Buchanan's house for tea.
"I'm just a kid," Dot Kern says. "I don't feel any different than I did at 16."
Kern is the youngest of the three Dots. She's a graduate of Bates College who worked as a reporter for the student newspaper and then at the Lewiston Sun Journal, where she met her husband, who worked in the composing room. When World War II ended she had the thrill of announcing it in a giant headline on the newspaper's office window facing the street. Later, she went on to get a second degree, in library science, from Colby College and became a librarian at the local high school. She loves books and always wanted to write them, but instead wrote diaries, which her children have saved over the years.
Dot Buchanan attended business college and worked as an executive secretary at the American Red Cross during World War II. She remembers the sound of the teletype ticking off war casualties, always fearful that it could include the name of her husband, who was stationed in Hawaii, or someone else she knew. Like Kern, Buchanan was a working mother who went on to get a job as an accountant.
"That was expected of women," Buchanan says. "Well, before that women never worked, but after the war that was expected of women ... but I liked it. Everything I did I always liked."
Dot Murray recalls her fondness for Depression-era pickle sandwiches — sweet pickles with mayonnaise between two slices of bread.
"Times were tough during the early 1930s," Murray says, "but we made it. ... We couldn't spend much, that's all."
Murray also worked as a secretary and later helped her husband run his business. She always enjoyed socializing and to this day still enjoys family gatherings and parties with her friends. When she turned 100 earlier this year the mayor presented her a key to the city of Auburn.
"I thought it was kind of a big thing," Murray says with a laugh. "But Dot Buchanan says it doesn't open anything."
All three women enjoy reading and music — Dot Murray plays the piano by ear — and singing, although Dot Kern says she was sorry to have to give up her participation in the church choir this year. There was concern that she might take a fall.
All three are also guided by their faith.
"I'm not afraid of death," says Dot Buchanan. "But I don't want any pain."
When the three Dots get together they say they always ask each other the same question: "How are you feeling?" Holding hands on Buchanan's couch, as 2019 draws to a close, they say they're feeling fine, especially Dot Murray.
"I don't have an ache or a pain. I drive. I do everything as I always have," she says.
"Why do they let you drive at 100?" asks Dot Buchanan. "Why [do] the police let you drive?"
"Because I've not had any accidents," Murray says. "They can't stop me. I'm still an excellent driver."
"Well, you're due. You're due," Buchanan says.
Buchanan and Kern say giving up driving has been one of the toughest things they've had to do. It's meant the loss of independence, and no one wants to be a burden on their families. All three say that's their primary concern. As for advice for the rest of us they have a few thoughts to share.
Dot Kern is surprised by how fast the time has gone by.
"It never slows down," she says. Her wish is that everyone would slow down, pay attention to the planet and deal with climate change.
Dot Buchanan yearns for tolerance.
"Accept other people for what they are," she says. "Because everybody's not alike. Everybody's not like me or like you."
Dot Murray has a similar wish. She's concerned about polarizing political views in the country and the direction she sees it headed.
"Get along," she says. "Love one another."
And then, glancing at Dot Buchanan's little dog, Jody, resting on the living room floor, Murray adds: "You know, everyone should have a dog."
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