I became interested in the women’s suffrage movement in my hometown of Shelby, Ohio after seeing a newspaper article in the Trenton, N.J. Evening Times, dated Oct. 29, 1914, written months after the event. A group of 47 Shelby women pasted “Votes for Women” on boxes and barrels of trash during the annual clean-up day in April 1914. Nearly fifty women seemed like quite a large movement for a small town of less than 5,000 in the farmlands of Richland County so I decided to learn more. My research has led me to fascinating stories of strong women from rural America who overcame ordeals in their own lives while leading change that would become the 19th Amendment.
Shelby’s movement was spawned from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was formed locally in 1897. About 46 women formed the original group. A dozen drinking establishments lined the four blocks of Main Street. Men could literally stumble from one saloon door to another.
Within three months the women established a reading room on the second floor of a building on East Main street, with three saloons within a stone’s throw. Men and boys who worked in the town’s seamless tube mill and bicycle factory were invited to come in and read newspapers, magazines, and play games. Books were donated later.
In 1912, the Shelby Equal Franchise Association was formed as a department of the W.C.T.U. Dr. Lydia DeVilbiss Shauck was named president. Miss Lizzie Marvin was vice president.
Using an analogy from her profession, Shauck addressed association members at the first meeting –
“For men from entirely separate walks of life to elect men from other walks to enact laws for these working women, and permitting them no voice in the matter, is about as ridiculous as for a physician to attempt to diagnose and prescribe for a pain without consulting the patient who is the one vitally interested in the matter. ” Dr. Lydia DeVilbiss Shauck, speech to Equal Franchise Association members, Daily Globe, March 12, 1912
Shelby was a hotbed of activity during the suffrage years. Suffragists and Antis came to area to speak to men and women, lured by the unique blend of factory workers and farmers. Shauck claimed there were about 600 women in Shelby working for a living in the shops, stores and offices. Several factories employed women, like the Richland Mazda Lamp Works, makers of incandescent light bulbs. The factory employed hundreds of women and would have employed more had there been adequate housing for them. The Shelby Printing Company, Autocall and Shelby Candy and Manufacturing Company, among others, all hired women to work in the factories. Large farms dotted the countryside and wives worked alongside husbands, tending the livestock, and selling eggs, meat, and baked goods in the town markets. Within the ranks of the factory workers and farmers came great support for the suffrage movement.
Shauck wasted no time recruiting suffragists to speak in the area. One notable speechmaker was Margaret Foley, from Boston. Her appearances in Ohio in June 1912, for the most part, were orchestrated by Harriet Taylor Upton, president of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. Shauck heard Foley speak in Chicago Junction (Willard) and persuaded her to come to Shelby. But her trip to Shelby may not have been intended. Upton wrote to Foley just a couple of days before the speech that Shauck arranged for a special car and band for the day in Shelby. Upton wrote to Foley –
“you are a power of yourself and that I have other work for you and that you cannot do this. I am writing you personally to tell you to get away from Mrs. Shauck and stay away. To trust me in this regard and that I will explain when I see you.”
It is not known whether Foley received the letter in time or chose to ignore it. But she did arrive in Shelby, speaking at several locations in the area before resuming the route Upton had planned for Independence Day celebrations. Her talk in Shelby took place in the dark at the bandstand, as either through misunderstanding or on purpose, the lights had not been turned on.
Shauck married Mansfield music Prof. A.K. Shauck in 1906; he was 22 years older. She set up practice at 96 W. Main Street in Shelby, which also became a meeting place for the Equal Franchise Association. 1912 was the first time suffragists were able to bring their cause directly to Ohio voters. Shelby women were very active in local and state activities. Shauck marched with 25 other women physicians in a Columbus parade while the rest of the association walked as a group behind a banner that read, “Shelby, The Town That Does Things.” While the 1912 vote carried in Shelby, it was defeated throughout the state. She remained with the group through the 1912 election, but the time she invested took its toll on their marriage. Shauck quietly began to move heirlooms out of her house and secured lawyers to file for divorce. She left town shortly before Thanksgiving. Her husband found out while reading the local newspaper. The proceedings were sensational. He wrote a four-column rebuttal in the newspaper claiming extreme cruelty, and that she threw a butcher knife at him. Shauck finally dropped the case but didn’t return to Shelby.
Mary Ross Rininger became president of the Equal Franchise Association in 1813 after Shauck left town. She was a widow with a young son who had just moved to town from nearby Tiro.
Mary Ross Rininger
Mary Ross and Will Rininger married in 1900 and moved to St. Louis where he took a position at a medical college as assistant professor in nervous diseases and internal medicine. His research into tuberculosis was considered of great value by his collegues.
Will was working in his home laboratory in 1905 when he left the cork open on a bottle of Benzine. The vapor reached the flame of a Bunsen burner and the bottle exploded, showering the burning liquid over the physician’s clothing. Mary and a neighbor ran to assist, and three doctors were summoned when the pain became too great, but Will died shortly after they arrived. Son John was just 4 years old.
Will left Mary a large sum of money, which was to become a source of struggle among her family. She returned to the family farm, but distraught over the accident, went to Will’s brother’s sanitarium in Washington for a time. On her return, her brothers tried to declare her not competent to manage affairs. Mary asked her father-in-law to handle management of the farm. A long string of disagreements between Eli Rininger and her brothers ended in the shooting of the two brothers. At the trial, Rininger was found not guilty, justified as self-defense. Mary eventually moved to a beautiful stately home on Marvin Avenue in Shelby.
Mary Rininger quickly assumed association leadership duties, representing Shelby at the 1913 Cleveland convention, one of 96 women from across the state. At that convention, the women decided to submit their cause directly to the people by petition and that work should be pushed forward through county societies. Rininger became the head of the Woman Suffrage Association of Richland County.
Rininger and son John were among 5,000 suffragists who marched while a quarter of a million people watched the demonstration before the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson in Washington, DC March 4, 1913. John carried a purple banner at the front of the Ohio Woman’s Suffrage Association that said “Harrison, Hayes, Garfield, McKinley, and Taft.” At age 12, John was the youngest suffragist in Ohio.
Mary Rininger recounted later that the crowd surged in on them, police unable to help. Men who arrived for the inauguration, shouted vulgarities. A cavalry from Ft. Meyers took charge.
“I had a most terrible thought that I had brought my boy to Washington to be crushed,” she said.
National and state suffragists, as well as anti-suffragists came to Shelby to persuade men to vote for or against women’s right to vote. Vice president of the association, Lizzy Marvin, was also a local journalist for the Shelby Daily Globe. While the Globe claimed to be non-partisan, Marvin had free reign to write as she chose and to encourage Rininger to contribute columns too. Many an Anti came under the cutting remarks of Marvin’s sharp quill! Of Anti-suffragist Minnie Broxson, Marvin reported:
“The speaker gave a heartrending, tear-starting, hysteric-provoking picture of the disrupted homes to follow the enfranchisement of women. This was high class farcical comedy, in which even the leading lady must have found amusement.”
Lizzie Marvin, in response to Miss Minnie Bronson’s speech in Shelby, Daily Globe, August 22, 1912
In 1927, while in her 50’s, Marvin married itinerant umbrella mender Charles De Very. She had known him for 5 years but filed for divorce after 3 months. The feud started with coffee grounds. He wanted her to reuse them and she threw them out. The final fight ended with a call to the police about wife beating. In a very public trial, she claimed he was a drunk, and he claimed she was a gold digger. She was awarded $500 alimony.
In April 1914, the Woman’s Suffrage Association of Richland County decided the annual city clean-up would be a good time to promote their cause. Rininger and 46 other women pasted yellow Votes for Women signs on barrels and boxes containing rubbish. They covered the town completely, each lady posting the stickers in her section of the city. At the home of Rininger’s neighbor on Marvin Ave., George Cole, barrels and boxes were covered by about 25 stickers. Mr. Cole was opposed to suffrage. A war of words ensued in the Daily Globe, with Rininger getting the final word –
“After a talk with Mr. George Cole I think he wishes me to state that he was “misplaced and misquoted” using the words in your article of last Monday. The rubbish which was furnace and pipes, not “boxes and barrels” was not labeled in the early morning because I feared Mr. Cole would turn the pipes, etc. over and then joke me by calling my attention to how easy it was to turn “Votes for Women” down. I waited until afternoon when the pile looked properly anchored and labeled it with three others on Marvin and several on Jennings Court.”
Mary A Rininger letter to editor, Daily Globe, May 2, 1914
The suffrage association remained active throughout the years until the 19th Amendment was ratified, although the World War and the influenza pandemic would slow the women’s progress. The focus for Shelby women shifted to forming a women’s Council for National Defense.
Senator Warren G. Harding was nominated as the Republican nomination for president in 1920. Rininger attended the Notification Day festivities at Harding’s home in Marion. She took a train to Marion, in time for a parade in the morning. A couple of women helped her carry the purple banner that son John carried in 1913 in Washington D.C. at the head of the Ohio Woman’s Suffrage Association. Harding’s name had been added to the other Ohio Presidents.
Rininger offers a beautiful account of the day in the Daily Globe, ending with –
“I have been wondering who really did neglect the home. Did the women who pioneered suffrage and did not cook and make beds neglect the home, or may we not see in the future it was the talented women who refused to help, or the indifferent woman who did not care about the vote?”
Christina Yetzer Drain is a historian, genealogist and preservationist in Shelby, Richland County, Ohio. Her special interests include the suffrage movement in rural north central Ohio, and Shelby bicycles. She teaches genealogy classes for the local library and the Ohio Genealogical Society, and gives presentations on many topics concerning Shelby history and genealogy. Drain is founder and president of the Shelby Cycle Historical Society, president of the Richland County – Shelby Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society and chair of the Shelby Historic Preservation Commission. She also works part-time at Mansfield City Schools as site coordinator for the middle school after school program. She serves as area coordinator for the Ohio Suffrage Centennial.