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Flo Pattee and the Founding of FSLT

When members of the Young Ladies Guild of Sparks Hospital met on May 6, 1947 at The McCartney House, it is doubtful they could have foreseen the impact of their actions. But after Mrs. J. Burton Gregg’s installation as the new president and her announcement of committees, a decision was made that literally “sparked” the formation of the Fort Smith Little Theatre.

Florabel Pattee, FSLT’s “Founding Mother”

It began with a proposal by Mrs. James W. Pattee, Jr.  Having earned a degree in dramatics at Northwestern University, Florabell (Flo) Pattee had performed professionally in New York before returning to her hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Flo traveled to Fort Smith to visit her sister whose husband was stationed during WWII at Camp Chaffee, a nearby military base. On that visit, she met her future husband, James, another serviceman stationed at the Camp. They married and had one daughter, Penny, but Flo had energy to spare. Soon this new Fort Smith resident brought her theatrical experience to the table. She proposed that the Guild perform “Mr. and Mrs. North” as a fundraiser and that they sponsor a Little Theatre.

Seventy-five percent of the proceeds from performances would be used to purchase surgical equipment for Sparks Hospital (now Baptist Health), and the remainder would help launch the theatrical group.

It was decided that this would be a community project sponsored by the Guild, but with a separate governing board. At an organizational meeting at the Goldman Hotel, a constitution and bylaws were approved for the new group and a 15-member Board of Directors was elected: Mrs. Thomas Foltz, President; Lawrence Tennant, Vice President; Miss Annis Lick, Recording Secretary; Mrs. Packard Porter, Corresponding Secretary; and R.A. (Dick) Delong, Treasurer. Board members included: Sam Phillips, Mrs. William Eads, Mrs. J. Burton Gregg, Mrs. J.C. Alexander, Mrs. Ander Orr, Mr. Mose Smith, Jr., Mrs. James W. Pattee, Jr., Mrs. Burley Johnston, Jr., David Boatright, and James Elmore.

A local newspaper reporting on the Guild’s new venture stated, “Little Theatres are springing up across the country,” and “The Fort Smith Little Theatre is the only one in Arkansas.”

The newly founded organization would retain sponsorship until 1952. In that year, FSLT came of age when they became an independent theatre and bought their first theatre home on North O Street. They would perform there until 1986 when their current facility on North 6th Street opened.

FSLT’s first Board of Directors President Foltz was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “The Little Theatre is open to anyone in Fort Smith who is interested in it.” Now more than 75 years later, the resulting community theatre is still fueled by open public auditions and completely manned by volunteers.