March is Women’s History Month and Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) has been celebrating all month long. On our social media pages, we have highlighted a handful of the countless women who have shaped Northeast Ohio's past and those who continue to make history every day.
Women’s History Month is a time for study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history. In honor of Women's History Month, WRHS has featured female figures from the past and present. In this email, you will find content that highlights some of Northeast Ohio’s memorable women, as well as collection items and primary resources from WRHS’s remarkable archives. We hope that the scope of the stories shared foster your own personal connections.
Ruth Franklin Sommerlad
Ruth Franklin Sommerlad (1912-2003), known professionally as Ruth Franklin, was one of the first female curators of an auto-aviation museum. She was born in Byesville, Ohio in 1912, and graduated from Heidelberg College with a Master of Arts degree in 1932. In 1942, she joined the personnel department of Cleveland’s Thompson Products Company. Three years later, she became the Curator of the Thompson Products Auto Album. Ruth Franklin would assist Thompson Products president Fred Crawford in expanding and defining the collection through its transition to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1963 and was named director of the Frederick C. Crawford Auto Aviation Museum when it opened in 1965.
Ruth Franklin was renowned through America because of her antique car expertise. She participated in nation-wide Glidden Tours of antique cars since 1946, and was the first woman on the board of trustees of the National Antique Automobile Club of America. She was also a member of the Women’s Advertising Club of Cleveland, and the American Association of Museums. By the time Ruth retired from WRHS in 1971 she had seen the collection grow to over 100 automobiles, a number of aircraft, and a variety of other vehicles and artifacts.
Clara Belle Ritchie
The living history museum we know and love as Hale Farm & Village would not be what it is today without the foresight of Miss Clara Belle Ritchie. Originally settled by Jonathan Hale (her Great-Grandfather) in 1810, this region known as the Western Reserve of Connecticut was the fabled region of the west, the “Garden of America” and the “Land of milk and honey”. This land would support three generations of Hales and eventually provide educational opportunities for millions.

Clara Belle Ritchie was born in Tallmadge, Ohio in 1869. Her father’s active mind took him into a variety of business interests including, railroads and copper and nickel mines. He commonly traveled the country on business trips and Clara Belle learned a great deal about business during this time. After Samuel’s sudden death in 1908 she took over and further developed her and her mother’s shares in the business.

Clara Belle had two brothers, Lewis Andrew and Charles Edward (Ned). Her brother Ned had taken an important interest in restoring such historical buildings as the Tallmadge Church and the Simon Perkins Mansion in Akron. As president of the Summit County Historical Society, Ned worked with his sister to purchase their family farm and the “old brick” house from the heirs of C.O. Hale after his death in 1938.

Clara Belle Ritchie took special interest in the house and grounds and for a time considered living there. She made a number of important repairs to the house including plaster work, brick work, basement repairs and restoring the mantel and baking oven. Though she never lived on the grounds her care and commitment to her ancestral home was evident when she drafted her will in 1953. She placed the great bulk of her estate in trust for the equal benefit of the City Hospital of Akron and the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. Her bequest instructed that, “Hale Farm when so established as a museum shall be open to public inspection and display to the end that the greatest number of persons may be informed as to the history and culture of the Western Reserve.”

The trustees were also given the power to “erect suitable buildings and make improvement.” With this in mind the Pioneer Farm Museum was opened in 1958. Since this time, other additions to the farm recreate early life in the Cuyahoga Valley and continue to carry out Miss Ritchie’s wishes.
Women at War – a Different Vantage Point
Many would concur that the Civil War was the greatest crisis ever to face the United States.  It threatened the very existence of a unified nation, and the battles that preserved that unity took over 600,000 lives. It also tested the moral and ethical beliefs of our citizens, a test that continues today --particularly in the manner in how we view equality.  However, too often the Civil War is seen only as a series of battles fought by male combatants.  But, it was much more than that. It was also a war in which women, including those in northeastern Ohio played significant roles.

Our image of women in wartime is often focused on the iconic poster of Rosie the Riveter during World War II, but the Civil War also transcended the usual gendered boundaries facing women. Women ran the farms, often absent men during the Civil War, at a time when America was largely an agricultural nation. But their service went far beyond that – Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, and Mother Bickerdyke are names familiar to those who know the history of the war and the role women played in nursing the sick and wounded.  In Cleveland, women formed the Soldiers Aid Society which, at the very onset of conflict began a process of soliciting and making goods – blankets, socks, and other personal items to send to the soldiers.  It would become a branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which throughout the War would provide both medical and personal aid to northern soldiers.  In February 1864, the Cleveland group organized a Sanitary Fair, held in a large custom-built building on Public Square. During its two week run, the Fair raised nearly $100,000 (equivalent to over 3 million dollars today).  At War’s end the group helped soldiers find jobs and adjust to civilian life.

While many local women served the organization, one of the most notable was Rebecca Rouse.  Rouse had come to Cleveland in 1830 along with her husband Benjamin. They were devout Baptists and helped establish “The First Baptist Society of Cleveland” which would eventually merge to become part of what is now First Baptist Church in Cleveland Heights.  But, Rebecca also became perhaps the most noted figure in what would be today called “social service” in Antebellum Cleveland. She founded the Martha Washington and Dorcas Society one of the first benevolent organizations in the young and small community. It would eventually lead to the creation of the Protestant Orphan Asylum, today known as Beech Brook.  It was natural that she would take leadership of the efforts made by area women during the Civil War.  Rebecca’s work and that of the women of Cleveland in the Civil War is memorialized in one of the large bronze panels inside the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Public Square.  Visit the monument and you can easily see her within the panel. 

Interestingly she seems to have set a tradition of civic service within the Rouse family, for her granddaughter, Adella Prentiss Hughes was Cleveland’s premiere impresario in the late 1800s and early 1900s, whose love for fine music was a key to the creation of the Cleveland Orchestra.  She founded the Musical Arts Association, the parent of the Orchestra, and then served as the Orchestra’s manager for its first fifteen years.  

The Western Reserve Historical Society is fortunate to be the home of records of the Adella Prentiss Hughes Family Papers which include material relating her grandparents, and the records of the Soldiers Aid Society of Cleveland.  
Make Do and Mend
Although we’re not at war, life during the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult in similar ways. During WWI and WWII a culture of “Make Do and Mend” emphasized using your resources wisely as well as helping others - both things that we’re all doing right now. During WWI, school children in Cleveland learned to knit so that they could send scarves and other items to soldiers. While many of us feel stuck at home, it’s the perfect time to take up a new skill or hobby, perhaps even one that you can give as a gift.

Visible mending is a centuries-old practice. In Japan, a technique called sashiko has long been used for this process, and it involves simple running stitches and patches. Today, sashiko has entered the mainstream, and even magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens are offering tutorials. In this time when we may only be shopping for the necessities, it might be nice to try mending some of your own clothes, and it might help pass the time too. Some people feel a sort of zen while sewing. 

Darning socks is something people have been doing for as long as socks have existed, but most people don’t do today. While at home our costume curator is trying out a visible mending version of darning. Check out this video and then go grab some supplies!
Anna Perkins
The Chisholm Halle Costume collection at the Cleveland History Center is home to thousands of garments, only a portion of which are on display at any given time.  For those who know the collection it is difficult to identify any one garment or ensemble that is the most, beautiful, the most historically significant, or the most expressive of an individual’s personality.  There is one item, however, that speaks strongly about personal independence and a long standing struggle to combat the boundaries of sex and gender.  It is a pair of short trousers, a plain shirt, and a hat worn by a newspaper seller in Cleveland in the late 1800s. This was “Newspaper Annie’s” ensemble – an expression of individual choice and a desire to challenge the strictures that defined society at that time.
Anna Perkins was born in Green Springs, Ohio, around 1849.  She and her family moved to Berlin Heights, Ohio, where they joined a community of non-conformists in a “free love” community, individuals who believed that neither the government or church could regulate personal relationships between people.  This was not the “free love” of the 1960s, but it was, for its time, a radical expression of personal freedom and equality between men and women.  The experience shaped Anna.  She cut her hair short, became a strict vegetarian, and chose to wear what one might call “men’s clothes.”  She also wrote poetry and self-published a small pamphlet of her verse (a rare copy of this is part of the collections of the Historical Society’s Research Library as are two newspapers published by the Berlin Heights free love community).  A portion of one of Anna’s poems reads as follows: 
Yes, I know you think
it queer,
Well for him, then well
for her
That in this attire
I appear;
Nature’s sex doth not
But this suit is good
and grand—
Leaves me free in foot
and hand.
In 1887 Anna came to Cleveland and became a “newsie” selling the  Cleveland Press  on Public Square. She made 1 cent on each paper sold and became a curiosity – a thirty-seven year old woman, with short hair, wearing “men’s clothing”, and selling newspapers alongside young boys. But the community eventually accepted her. She lived a simple life finding housing in shabby apartments and following a strict diet of raw fruit, crackers and water.  But she found time to become involved with organizations like the Franklin Club, a very liberal forum for the open discussion of a variety of political and social issues.  She would die in 1900 of typhoid in St. Alexis Hospital.  But, she had made an impression on the city.  Upon her death the president of the Franklin Club noted, “As a society seeking social progress in all directions, we cannot help but admire the steadfastness with which she stood by in her convictions as a social reformer.”  Stories like that of Anna Perkins remind us that the struggle against gendered constructions for both men and women have deep historical roots and they inspire us to look more closely at others, who throughout history, have challenged societal constraints that they felt were restrictive or improper.
Mt. Sinai and Nursing History in Cleveland
With Cleveland’s advanced hospital systems, we have had an abundance of dedicated and well-trained people in the medical profession for over 100 years. Mt. Sinai’s 160-bed teaching hospital on East 105th Street was completed in 1916 (although the history of the institution dates back to 1892). By 1947, Mt. Sinai joined the Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Here, Patricia Williams tends to a burn patient in 1944, wearing a uniform that hadn’t changed much when nursing student Miss M. Minton wore the garment on the right, almost two decades later. Minton wore this uniform as a student at the Mt. Sinai School of Nursing in 1960. That same year, to better serve the east side population, the hospital added a 12-story building.

While most nurses no longer wear dresses like these, the job remains vital to the well-being of Cleveland. To our heroes, our nurses, thank you!

Book Recommendations
This coloring book profiles some of the passionate personalities who spearheaded the fight, including Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, and Inez Milholland Boissevain. Thirty inspiring illustrations depict the marches, campaigns, and other tactics that fueled the women’s fight for their civil rights.
This one-of-a-kind intersectional anthology features the writings of the most well-known suffragists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, alongside accounts of those often overlooked because of their race, from Native American women to African American suffragists like Ida B. Wells and the three Forten sisters.
Bertha Benz
In 1885, German engineer Karl Benz built the world’s first automobile powered by an internal combustion engine. The vehicle, called the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, was a three-wheeled machine with an engine capable of producing only two horsepower. Although Benz received a patent for his automobile in 1886, he struggled to find buyers for his machine as he had never tested it over long distances; he had only driven it around his shop in Mannheim.

Benz’s wife Bertha decided to take matters into her own hands. On August 4th, 1888, Bertha told her husband that she and their two sons were going to visit Bertha’s parents in Pforzheim, 60 miles away. She did not tell Karl that she intended to get there in the Patent-Motorwagen. At 5 o'clock in the morning of August 5th, Bertha and her sons set out on the world’s first road trip to Pforzhelm.

It took the trio 12 hours to drive the 60 miles. Bertha stopped at a pharmacy for ligroin, a petroleum product, to buy fuel for the automobile (the pharmacy still exists and is known today as the world’s first gas station). She also solved several problems along the way, including unclogging the carburetor using a hat pin, insulating the ignition wire with a garter belt, and asking a blacksmith to nail leather pads onto the brake shoes to improve the patent-motorwagen’s stopping power (thus inventing brake linings).

Bertha and sons returned to Mannheim three days later, having proved that automobiles were a viable invention. Bertha Benz’s road trip in August 1888 truly set the world in motion.

Shown above is an example of the model Bertha took on her “road trip”. A later  model 1900 Benz Duc Victoria is on display in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.
The Women of Euclid Beach Park
There are a number of reasons Euclid Beach Park and the Humphrey Family that operated it were so successful. One of the most overlooked reasons for their success is the many contributions made by the women of the family. From the beginning when the Humphrey's migrated from New England to Ohio, the Humphrey women were far more than homemakers responsible for rearing their children; they were decision makers who actively participated in the family’s business endeavors.

Born on June 9, 1898, Louise was Dudley Sherman Humphrey II’s youngest child. She was only one year old when the family opened their first popcorn stand at Euclid Beach in 1899 under the park’s original owners. Louise went on to be educated at Hathaway-Brown School here in Cleveland and then Smith College. She excelled in music, and before returning home to the family business she wrote music professionally in New York City.

Louise married John E. Lambie and like many of the Humphrey women before and after her, she took on an active role in the family business. She served as the vice president of the Humphrey Company for sixteen years and was responsible for the development of many of the architectural plans that changed the look of the amusement park. Most notably she oversaw the Art Deco makeover in the 1930's that changed the appearance of the entrances of the Thriller, Racing Coaster, and Flying Turns, the interior of the Dance Pavilion, and the Grand Carousel.

She was also active in the community and served on a number of civic committees in Cleveland. Louise served as the head of the League of Women’s Voters and was the chairwoman of the Library Board of the City of Cleveland.
Read more fascinating stories like this with the book, Images of America: Euclid Beach Park . Available now online in our web store!