Mabel Treadwell Grammer, 88, a former journalist who adopted a dozen interracial children in Germany and arranged for the adoption of 500 others by families in the United States, died June 5 at her home in Washington. She had hypertension.
Mrs. Grammer was a native of Hot Springs, Ark., and a graduate of Ohio State University who wrote for the Washington Afro-American in the 1940s.
She was involved in civil rights issues early in life but modest about it later, her children said. She lobbied the War Department during World War II to desegregate Arlington National Cemetery and took pride in having secured a room as a young reporter at the whites-only Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, while on a trip there to interview lawyer Thurgood Marshall.
After her marriage in 1950 to Army chief warrant officer Oscar George Grammer Sr., she accompanied him to the first of his two postings in Germany. Unable to have children of her own, and with time on her hands while her husband worked in supply assignments in the field, Mrs. Grammer began to explore Europe. One trip was to France, to the shrine at Lourdes.
Her youngest daughter, Army Lt. Col. Nadja West, said it was at Lourdes that her mother had a glimpse of her future. She realized that there was "so much she had, she could help others instead of focusing on herself," West said.
Back in Germany, she visited orphanages, where nuns showed her the so-called brown children, many the offspring of German women and African American servicemen. German families were not adopting the children because they were of mixed race.
Mrs. Grammer and her husband took in their first boy, then 10. He had friends from the orphanage, and they had friends, and soon the family began to grow. "Nuns would hear of cases . . . and say, 'Is there any way you can take one more?' " West said. One of the early Grammer adoptees was a boy who had been taken by another couple and returned when it was discovered that he had leukemia. That son, Edward, died in 1955, when he was 9.
The Grammers lived in Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Stuttgart, and they adopted children from across Germany. West went to live with them in 1962, when she was 8 or 9 months old. "Everyone pulled together" to help out in the burgeoning Grammer household as they moved from base to base, West said.
Over the years, Mrs. Grammer also used her connections at the Washington Afro-American and with friends to contact U.S. families interested in adopting German children. She did this on her own, with no assistance from the usual social service agencies, West said, although Scandinavian Airlines helped fly some of the 500 adoptees to the United States.
The Grammers encouraged their children to seek out their birth parents, and several were able to track them down using military records and German city registries.
The couple told their children that they shouldn't judge their birth parents, West said. She said their message was: "Just be thankful that your parents gave you life. You don't know what decisions your mothers had to come up with, so just forgive them and be thankful you had a second chance."
"My mom met some of the mothers," West said. "One would visit her son in the orphanage. She said, 'Here in Germany, I can't provide for my son. If he can possibly go somewhere where someone can give him a better life. . . .' "
In the 1950s in Germany, "there really wasn't much help for the 'brown babies' or the mothers that kept them," West said.
Today, two of the Grammer children still speak German, one well enough to teach it. The other travels to Germany for a defense contractor.
Nearly all have served in the military, and two are on active duty: West and a sister who is a master chief petty officer in the Navy. One daughter who teaches in Alaska adopted an Athabascan Indian child. Many of the Grammer children graduated from Coolidge High School in Washington. Nine have college degrees.
In 1968, the Grammers received a humanitarian award from Pope Paul IX. A representative of the pope traveled to Fort Myer to make the presentation. Good Housekeeping magazine covered the story.
Mrs. Grammer was a member of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Washington and volunteered with the Army Community Service agency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, helping the families of soldiers changing duty stations.
Oscar Grammer Sr., whose last assignment was as a logistician specializing in medical supply at Walter Reed, died in 1990. Mrs. Grammer's first marriage, to John Alston, ended in divorce.
Mrs. Grammer is survived by 11 children, Oscar George Grammer Jr. of Washington, Eugenia Grammer of Kaltag, Alaska, Karin Bravo of Texas, Wera Damhauser, an Air Force retiree, of Atlanta, Roswitha Miles, a church secretary, of New Hartford, N.Y., Peter Grammer, a retired Army command sergeant major, of El Paso, Mack Grammer, an assistant high school principal, of Colorado Springs, Mabel Geiger, a legal secretary, and Elwen Grammer, a master chief petty officer, both of San Diego, James Grammer, a software company employee, of Pomona, Calif., and West, who is stationed at a hospital in Seoul; 16 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.