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Women's History

Local Female Factoids!

  • Pioneer women in the early 1800’s in the Upper Miami Valley did it all including plowing the fields, weeding the gardens, harvesting the corn, feeding the hogs, cooking the meals, cleaning the cabin, cleaning the clothing, giving birth to the children (families averaged five to nine kids) and keeping their husbands in line.
  • Women served as teachers beginning in 1830, but were paid significantly lower wages until the 1960’s.  Early teachers were also expected to bring the wood for the fireplaces or stoves.
  • The first Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in the upper Miami Valley was founded in 1919. The Y provided a wholesome environment for young women working away from home in the underwear mills.
  • During World War I, women first joined the heavy industrial work force as assemblers, cutters and packers.  Women’s wages were averaging about twenty dollars a week which was up from about $4.55 a week in 1900.
  • The local issue of temperance after the Civil War was addressed in this area by the formation of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in February of 1874.  The WCTU’s first mission statement was “Be practical.  Use the means to succeed.  Enforce the law.  We need no better law or more laws than we have…”
  • The Ohio Legislature passed a resolution in 1894 allowing women twenty-one years of age to vote and run as candidates for local Boards of Education.  A local convention was called by suffragettes on March 11, 1895.  Surprisingly, when a poll was taken during the convention, only two-thirds of the women present said they would vote at the next election. 
  • In 1992, Lucy Fess became Piqua’s first female mayor and city commissioner.
  • Dorothea T. Rudd, became one of the first African-American women in the area to head a major local industry, the Favorite Chemical & Supply Company (embalming fluid).
  • Area author, Bertha Anderson, won the Ohioana Award in 1954 for Tinker Tim and the Witches (1951).
  • Belle C. Buchanan Shearer Evans served as the area’s first female physician in the 1880’s.  She is known for opening a free dispensary dedicated to the diseases of women and children in 1883.
  • During the Civil War women organized Soldier’s Aid Societies in communities around Ohio.  At first, they provided bandages and knit wear directly to soldiers.  Then the Societies began providing assistance to the families left behind including food, fuel and funding.  These Societies became the fore-runners of today’s United Way.
  • In 1880, the Bell Telephone Company of Dayton ran lines north into Miami County.  The new switchboards were run exclusively by women and women dominated this communication system until automation came in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • Minabelle Abbott Hutchins was a radio soap opera star in the 1930’s in the “Life of Mary Southern”.  She moved to the Upper Miami Valley in 1946 and became the voice of “Your Best Bet” on WPTW radio for twenty-five years.
  • Rachel Johnston eloped in 1802 with Colonel John Johnston and spent her honeymoon on a thousand mile horseback trip across the Pennsylvania and Ohio to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Moving to Upper Piqua, she setup housekeeping on the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency.  She ran the farm and agency during the Colonel’s frequent absences.  During her free time she gave birth to fifteen children, organized the Piqua Female Bible Society and hosted numerous politicians, military leaders, and Native American leaders in her home.
  • In 1922, Mary Mitchell began teaching the first classes for physically handicapped children in the area.
  • Dr. Doreen Larson became the first female president of Edison State Community College in July of 2015.  She resides in Shelby County.
  • The Socialist Party of America (SPA) was the first national party to actively promote suffrage in the early twentieth century.  The Montgomery County SPA discussed how to promote the woman’s vote but according to their meeting minutes had to stop the afternoon’s debate “to allow the ladies time to fix dinner”.
  • Viola Ruth Bowdry Clemens moved to Miami County in 1925 and served as a Red Cross nurse and actively promoted post-World War II desegregation with the N.A.A.C.P. through several local sit-ins.
  • Kristin King from Miami County, was a member of the Bronze Medal winning Women’s Hockey Team during the 2006 Winter Olympics.
  • Martha Sanborne Hamilton Flick left the Miami Valley area to become a newspaper reporter working for the Washington Post.  While working for the Post she became a founder of the American Pen-Women’s Club in 1897.  This club was formed in reaction to the all-male Press Club.
  • Artist and teacher Linda Hamilton won the 2003 Purchase Award at the Piqua Fine Arts Exhibition.
  • By 1900, Jane Cook had classified all the books in the Schmidlapp Free School Library using the Dewey Decimal System.
  • In 1896, long time High School Principal Mary E. Hall saw her yearly salary raised to $1,200 a year.
  • In March of 1944, during the stressful times of World War II, Carrie Dickerson took over the operation of the relaxing Lange Mineral Vapo Bath parlor in her home on Wayne Street.  Male nudity was prohibited.
  • Mabel Murphy, a downtown business woman, combined the Peerless Hat Shoppe and the New China Store into one location.
  • Estella Jean Yenney, a Miami County resident, worked as a commercial artist during the 1930’s drawing women’s clothing illustrations used in advertising by the Rike-Kumler Company, a department store in downtown Dayton.
  • A one cent reward was offered in 1829 for the return of a thirteen year old apprentice, Mary Woodchuck, who took with her five dresses, two pair of stockings, a fancy pair of undergarments and one pair of shoes.
  • Gertrude Breslau Hunt, a nationally known Socialist organizer, orator and author spoke in Piqua in 1909.
  • In 1890, Wayne Street School was served by six female teachers each of whom had a class of over fifty pupils.
  • Area artist, Virginia Saunders Kurtz Heitzman, started painting in 1937 and would go on to become the president of the Western Ohio Watercolor Society.  She is best known for her 1970’s watercolor and oil series showing the historic buildings on the Johnston Farm.
  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show visited Miami County in 1908 featuring Darke County native sharpshooter Annie Oakley.
  • The Ladies Union Aid Society, headed by Mary C. Wall, assisted over eighty-one area families in 1886.
  • Ann Baird was elected as Miami County’s first female county commissioner in 1994.
  • A strong supporter of Civil Rights, Troy resident Lucille K. Wheat, she was active in the Urban League and the Council of Negro Women.  She was an author and the recipient of the Miami Valley’s Top Ten Women Award in 1983.
  • The Women’s Christian Temperance Union petitioned area schools to introduce Physiology and Hygiene classes in 1886.
  • The Patriotic Youth of America was established in Miami County in April of 1934 by Judith Dunn as an off-shoot of the Daughters of America, an auxiliary of the secret lodge Junior Order of American Mechanics.  This was a nativist, anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic group.
  • Church women were first allowed to vote on congregational matters at the First Presbyterian Church in March of 1889.
  • Mother Mary DeChantal served as the first principal from the Sisters of Mercy at St. Mary’s Parochial School in 1888.
  • Kathy Antolick created the first library in 1973 at the Edison State General and Technical College located in the former Spring Street Elementary School building.
  • Army Nurse Irene Upton was the first local woman to join the American Legion in the early 1920’s.
  • In 1923, Socialist Mary Johnson became the first woman in Piqua to run for a city office (city auditor).
  • Nursing prior to 1900 was almost completely limited to women. Nurses were not considered professionals but rather as “body” servants.  This would change locally when the Ball Memorial Hospital Nursing School opened in 1909 to train women in medically appropriate skills.
  • By 1885, the Post Office began hiring local women as postal clerks for the first time.
  • The most common occupation for area women between the Civil War and 1900 was that of domestic service.  By 1905, industrial work in area knitting and underwear mills became the number one occupation.
  • Dr. M. Belle Brown, born in Staunton Township, served her medical career in helping with the health needs in the tenements of New York City.  By 1910 she had become the Dean for the New York Medical College for Women.
  • In 1996, Donna J. Householder became the first woman to serve as chairperson of the board of the Troy Area Chamber of Commerce.
  • A portion of the Miami Tribe established the village of Pickawillany in 1747 in northern Miami County.  The women of the new village had selected the site, decided what and where crops were to be planted, while the senior women (by age) decided upon matters of war, the selection of chiefs and the life or death of prisoners.

List compiled and contributed by James Oda

Edison State Library Hours: Monday to Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone number: 937-778-7950