Valiant Visionaries of the Vote
From October 2019-October 2020, we will be featuring a special guest blogger once a month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. This month we are excited to share a post from Brianna Treleven, a museum professional who has helped produce trading cards that will support Northeast Ohio’s celebration of the Suffrage Centennial.You can learn more about the series here.
I have a confession: despite being a born-and-raised Northeast Ohioan, I knew very little about the region’s fascinating and vibrant suffrage history prior to joining the Ohio History Service Corps as a Local History member in fall of 2018. In the Service Corps, I regularly assisted local history organizations in Ashtabula, Geauga, Mahoning, Portage, and Trumbull Counties with capacity-building projects in addition to coordinating the Region 4 Ohio History Day competition at Youngstown State University. Traveling around the region, reading every Ohio Historical Marker I came across, and developing content for History Day social media was an enjoyable crash course on the region’s history.
In January of this year, an organization I was serving expressed interest in a multi-county celebration of the 2020 Suffrage Centennial. Many organizations were already planning individual programs, exhibits, and activities—why not bring everyone together to create something even bigger? As a Local History member, I was in the perfect position to help cultivate these relationships. The project began as many big ideas do by identifying potential stakeholders and sending a lot of emails. There was an incredible response from those who recognized the potential historical, educational, and cultural tourism value in a collaborative project. Representatives from museums, tourism bureaus, universities, and the Ohio History Service Corps were joined by passionate volunteers at our first meeting in Warren (previously home to both Harriet Taylor Upton and the National American Woman Suffrage Association) where we discussed our ideas, dreams, and goals for a region-wide suffrage centennial celebration.
Initial ideas ranged from digitization projects to a resource index to a history “passport” that would be stamped at various locations, but the group eventually settled on trading cards. These “Valiant Visionaries of the Vote” cards will highlight Northeast Ohio women, men, sites, and events that were a significant part of suffrage history and encourage visitors to travel to participating organizations around the region to collect the entire set. There will be a companion website that will provide brief biographies and histories of those featured on the cards and will show where visitors can find the cards. Both the trading cards and website are expected to launch in late spring of 2020.
To choose who and what would be featured, each organization researched and “nominated” 6-10 people, places, and/or events to create a list of trading card candidates that were then voted on by the group. I had the privilege of compiling this list and reading the wonderful stories of inspirational women I had never heard of before! In the October blog post, Megan Wood highlighted three women (two of whom had strong ties to Northeast Ohio), and I would like to share more.
Dr. Anna J. Cooper (1859-1964) was born into slavery in Raleigh, North Carolina. After graduating from Oberlin College with her BA in 1884 and MA in Mathematics in 1887, Dr. Cooper earned her PhD from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in 1924, making her one of the first Black women in the United States to earn a PhD. She taught at Wilberforce College (now Wilberforce University), was a founding member of the Colored Women’s League, served on the Executive Committee of the inaugural Pan-African Conference, and helped found a YWCA branch for Black women in Washington, D.C. Her book A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South is considered to be one of the most influential texts of the Black Feminist movement and granted her the title “Mother of Black Feminism.”
Ellen Spencer Mussey (1850-1936) and Emma Gillett (1852-1927) met while attending the Lake Erie Female Seminary (now Lake Erie College) in Painesville, Ohio in 1870. Both moved to Washington, D.C. where they co-founded the Washington College of Law, the first law school in the world founded by women, in 1898 and the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia, one of the first organizations for women lawyers in the United States, in 1917. Mussey served as the first dean of the college and as the first chairwoman of the Women’s City Club of Washington, D.C. Gillett was the first female notary public and served as the Chairman of the Legal Branch of the National Woman’s Party. They were both members of the National Women’s Party, a political organization formed in 1916 to fight for women’s suffrage.
Frances Grimes (1869-1963), born in Braceville, Ohio, was a sculptor known for her bas-relief portraits and busts. After attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, she worked as a full-time studio assistant to sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and was a prominent member of the Cornish Colony, a popular art colony centered in Cornish, New Hampshire. Her bas-relief panels “Girls Singing,” commissioned in 1916, were featured in the “Allies for Sculpture” exhibition in 1917 that benefitted World War I refugees and prisoners of war and were shown a year later in an exhibit of contemporary sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Grimes was also a strong advocate of voting rights for women and served as marshal of the Sculptors division in the Women’s Suffrage Parade in New York City on October 23, 1915.
Ruth Fisher Munn (1809-1876) was an early member of the Ohio Women’s Dress Reform Movement and part of a small group of women who illegally cast ballots at South Newbury Union Chapel in a local election in 1871, becoming one of the first female voters in Ohio’s history. Munn became the first President of the Newbury Women’s Suffrage and Political Club (also known as the Equal Suffrage Club), the second oldest suffrage organization in Ohio and one of the oldest in the United States, in 1874.
Interested in learning more or want to know where to find the cards? Keep an eye on the Northeast Ohio Suffrage Centennial Facebook page for updates on the launch of the trading cards and website, join the Facebook group, or follow @HistoryDayYSU on Instagram for future announcements! Region 4 is fortunate this year to have two outstanding Ohio History Service Corps Local History representatives, Kayla Metzger and Mia Owens, who continue to work with local history organizations and passionate history enthusiasts in the region to research and develop the trading cards and website.
Brianna Treleven is a museum professional and former Region 4 Ohio History Service Corps representative. She holds an MLIS with a focus on museum studies, archives, and special collections from Kent State University and a BFA in photography and art history from Rochester Institute of Technology.
NEO Suffrage Centennial logo and banner: Designed by Kayla Metzger, Region 4 Local History AmeriCorps Rep
Cooper: Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Mussey & Gillett: https://mtwomenlawyers.org/2015/09/26/portias-for-supreme-court-1912/
Grimes: Public Domain