Inniswood Gardens – Westerville, OH

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Grace and Mary Innis as Teens

Thanks to Mary and Grace Innis, two sisters who purchased this property and built a home toward the end of their days, this beautiful landscape exists for our benefit. This property is now know as Inniswoods Metro Gardens. The home where they live, which is now offices and a place to rent for meetings, was first occupied by the two ladies in August of 1961. Mary died five years later and Grace continued to stay there and keep up the property until her death in 1982. The 37 acre property was donated to the city about ten years before she died though (but she remained). I heard that she did this to keep from having property developers move in and rip it up but I don’t know if this is a fact or she just wanted to preserve all the work she had accomplished. Maybe it was both.

Part of the Secret Garden

The park has a secret garden near a children’s play area. It has an area for concerts to be held with a huge lawn surrounding this for about a few hundred people. There is a creek running through the property with what appears to be an original bridge and a modern bridge. It is hard to know what was planted by Grace and what was planted by the city. I had assumed she did all the landscaping but after reading notes in the office library, I saw that this was not the case. As I walked around afterward, I started to look for signs of what might have originally been there vs. volunteer landscapers. It really doesn’t matter, it is just that when I tour a historic area I like to imagine the inhabitants living there and what they might have been looking at.

Lovely sculptures inhabit the property, none of which were probably there when the sisters lived there. One is a sculpture of the two of them as teens in the “Sisters Garden” which is meant to look like a miniature farm. The art piece which struck me the oddest was Sky Woman on a turtle. I believe there is a Native American story behind this as the woman appears to be of this background. There is an Iroquois story book you can get online called “Sky Woman and the Big Turtle.” The tribe was once found along the St. Lawrence River in New York. Perhaps the sculpture was based on this story (I didn’t find a reference to it at the park). I would love to get a smaller version of it though as it is very beautiful and unique. I am sure my friends in the Sand Play Therapists world could have a day discussing this.

A couple of weddings were going on while I was there today and I saw quite a few places that were obviously created just for that purpose. When Grace was alive, she was a part of many horticultural societies and would open her grounds to the public on occasion as well as hosting events here. I recall going to the Park of Roses in Clintonville with my grandmother but I don’t believe she knew about Inniswoods as it was never mentioned.

Unfortunately, they do not allow food there so you can’t consider taking a picnic, nor can you take your animals. However, considering they way people behave in our society today, it makes a lot of sense. This area is a paradise of sorts and a wonderful place to go on a date or just take your kids out for a stroll. If you ever happen to be visiting Northeastern Columbus make sure to plan a day at this park. You won’t be disappointed.

(Note: All photos here grabbed from the Internet)

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Sharon Ann Lane

Kate did my work for me today by posting this wonderful tribute to an Ohio born woman in history!

Kate Spitzmiller: Remember the Ladies

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I usually write about ancient women on this blog—women from Classical times—because I’ve always felt like their contribution to history has been forgotten. But I recently came upon the story of another woman, a modern woman, whose story I think has also been forgotten. And I want to share her story with you because I think it deserves to be told.

Sharon Ann Lane. First Lieutenant in the United States Army. A nurse stationed at the 312th Evacuation Hospital, Chu Lai, Vietnam in 1969.

Sharon was born in 1943 in Ohio. She graduated from high school in Canton in 1961. After high school, she attended the Aultman Hospital School of Nursing, where she graduated in April of 1965. She worked at a civilian hospital before joining the U.S. Army Nurse Corps Reserve in April of 1968.

She received her army training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where all…

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Agnes May Driscoll – Westerville, Ohio

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 Agnes May Driscoll, née Meyer (July 24, 1889 – September 16, 1971, Leo/Athena), known by colleagues as Madame X or Miss Aggie. At first glance you might see a very timid woman in her photographs. You are suddenly caught by her eyes and this is when you realize her wisdom, strength and character. Unfortunately, Agnes is probably the most difficult woman I have chosen to write about on this blog because only one paper has been written about her and she

Beth Weinhardt

was a cryptanalyst, something I know nothing about. I am extremely grateful to

Beth Weinhardt, Local History Manager at the Westerville Library, for allowing me to spend time in their history museum reading this paper. Beth is also the writer of the “Images of America: Westerville” booklet that can be found at stores here in Ohio (but also on Amazon). This coming weekend, July 22, 2017, at 2pm, the Westerville Library will be honoring Agnes by placing a plaque outside the front of the library. The section of the library where this will be placed also happens to be the home Agnes and her family lived in until 1903.  This is the time when the Anti-Saloon League purchased the property but then later sold it to the library in the 1930’s.

At the age of six years old, Agnes and her family moved to Westerville, from Illinois as her father had accepted a position at the newly opened “Otterbein College,” as a Professor of Music. Her father was Dr. Gustav Meyer, a German

Meyer family home 110 State Street.

immigrant from a town called Neustadt on Reibenberg near Hanover. Her mother, Lucy Andrews Meyer was American. The family had only three children at the time of the move to Westerville, with Agnes being the youngest but it would soon grow to a total of eight children. Dr. Meyer was also an accomplished pianist and like his father, he would share his love of music with the family. Agnes would go on to study music and become an accomplished pianist herself. Also, like her father, fluent in several languages. Dr. Meyer also ran a very strict household, demanding obedience. As you read the paper “The Neglected Giant,” 2015, by Kevin Wade Johnson of the National Security Administration (NSA), on Agnes, a deceased colleague from this agency, you begin to empathize with her personality.

Agnes was from a time before women had the right to vote. She would be 31 years old before she was able to do so for the first time. Prior to joining the U.S. Navy in 1917, she achieved degrees from both Otterbein and OSU. She received a Bachelor’s degree (listed in the paper as an A.B.) in Mathematics, Physics, Foreign Languages and Music and taught for some time. At the age of 28, in 1917, this was the first time the Navy allowed women to enlist and they were only allowed to be in clerical positions. Their view on women did not change much in her time and she was often slighted from promotions, pay raises, and dealt with heavy competition and jealousy from male peers; which caused her much distress. She was recruited as a Chief Yeoman and started with a pay of $1400/annum. This was in the middle of World War I and almost immediately she was transferred to Washington D.C. to work in the Code and Signal Section of the Director of Naval Communications.

Great Nephew Captain Victor A. Meyer, (retired USN).

Her time in the Navy started out as a short period of a couple of years. She was discharged and then went back to work as a civilian but quickly left for what seemed like a promising future in the small business world. After solving a puzzle (noted as being unsolvable), in a contest put together by Edward H. Hebern, she was asked to work at his company Hebern Electric Company, at their offices in D.C. as a Technical Advisor. This was to be a small stint as the company fell apart due to issues with finances. It would be 1924 when she returned to her post as a civilian in the Navy knowing that she was going to receive a 17.5% pay cut.  

At this time she was working for Captain Laurance Safford, who was to become known as “the father of U.S. Navy Cryptology.” It was also a time when Japanese and Americans were engaged in stealing secrets from each other, known as “black-bag” jobs. Soon she would be put on the task of breaking the codes from something known as “The Red Book.” It would take her three years before she was able to accomplish this. In the meantime she was training junior officers on the art of cryptology. This is about the time when her nicknames began to be formed by the men and she would be known as Madame X or Miss Aggie.

Agnes was a very refined woman, seen by colleagues as being tall and patrician, she was only about 5’ 5” which is an average height for women today, though it was tall for a woman at that time. It is mentioned that probably because she was in a “man’s world,” she was known to “curse like a sailor.” This certainly would not fit her personality based on the way she was raised and what you can gleam from her personal life. She also wore no make-up to work as attractive women were said to be in the military to marry a sailor. She would however, go on to marry Michael “Brownie” Bernard Driscoll on August 12, 1925. Brownie, his nickname, was an Attorney for the Interstate Commerce Commission. He was known to be a sentimental person who wrote poems for his wife. Brownie and Agnes loved to travel and garden and they never had children. They were close to her family and she enjoyed analyzing her nieces and nephews when they were at play, trying to determine a deeper meaning in this. She would have made a great play therapist, no doubt. The two of them loved to enter contests and gamble and Agnes was a great chess player. Her sister Margaret Eliza Hamilton, was eight years her junior. She had enlisted in the Navy during World War I as well and would end up working with her sister in the Code and Signal Section.

By 1930 the Japanese had realized the U.S. was onto their codes and so they established a new code which would come to be known as “The Blue Book.” This lasted until 1938 and then it became “The Black Book,” in two parts. However, around 1937 Agnes was in a terrible automobile accident. The driver of the faulty car would see two fatalities. Agnes had about four people in her own car but she apparently suffered the worst. She had two broken jaws and a leg that was never properly fixed so that she suffered pain and walked with a cane the rest of her life. In the video above, you can see a photo of her with her mother and what her leg looked like. Evidently she was too afraid of the surgery, which would require re-breaking the bone and probably not as nicely as the way it would be managed today with modern technology. However, this injury was known to have changed her personality quite substantially. Though the debate from her colleagues as to whether or not this was the case varies according to favoritism. At this time, she was accomplishing a great many things for the Navy meanwhile watching her peers surpass her in pay and rank. She wasn’t too happy about this.

After the accident, it would appear she had hit her peak and upon returning from her convalescence began to go on the decline in her job. It does appear though that she would be set up to fail by her colleagues, from what was written. Around this time Pearl Harbor would be attacked, to no surprise to Agnes or to U.S. Naval Intelligence (though I found it interesting to read this). Nonetheless she would be shifted to other things at this point and was no longer involved with Japanese intelligence. She would be involved with a German naval system called Enigma, in which her work came to no avail. Partly, this had to do with the Navy refusing to work with the British who had already achieved success in decoding this system. Partly, it had taken awhile because Agnes’s methods for de-coding were behind the times and she refused to keep up with them. There were machines now to help with deciphering codes but Agnes preferred to work manually (and did so the rest of her career). It was however, her only way to find the answers that she trusted. Then she was put on a project called Coral and a colleague by the name of Frank Raven, was successful at thwarting her accomplishments by sabotaging them. He was backed by people within. Agnes at this point had enemies and her cheerleaders were losing strength as they were retiring or deceased.

In 1949, toward the end of her career, she was transferred to the newly formed Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA). It appears that she was at this point merely patronized on the job. The officers in charge had no respect for people who did not go to war directly, so she was given tasks to keep her busy during the day.  From 1952-1959 she became a consultant for the NSA (National Security Administration) that was formed by the top people in the field.  Agnes was still very stubborn in the way she did her work and was using a magnifying glass to pore over pages of information that took much longer to do then the machines devised to speed up the process. She did finally retire in 1959 after her 70th birthday, though no mention of this was made in the NSA newsletter.

At the end of her life, she and Brownie continued to travel, sometimes with her mother, to New England, post-war Europe and Cuba (before Castro). Agnes was fond of collecting green stamps, which gave rewards (these were before you had cards to get discounts at stores). She and her husband kept to themselves and did not socialize much, outside of a few dinner parties. They did attend lectures on astronomy and anthropology. Her mother Lucy would go on to live to be 100 years old and died in 1964. Within the same year her husband Brownie died three days before his 74th birthday. Her family noted that she was very stoic about this but stated that this was just her nature. She was known to them as an iron-willed woman.

Her sister’s stroke in 1969, which left her unable to talk until she died in 1980, would prove to be the toughest for Agnes to take.  The two of them had worked together since World War I and had been close their entire lives. Agnes shared a floor at the same nursing home and would come to her death at the age of 82, in 1971. She and her husband’s bodies are interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

The reason for there being a lack of information about Agnes is that she did not keep a diary or journal. Much of what the author was able to deduce for his paper came from military archives and journals written by her peers, which happened to mention her but gave biased details about her personality. She herself is a bit of an enigma.

**The above (and below) photos are from the ceremony on July 22, 2017, honoring her with a plaque in front of the library (and her home).

Front of plaque.

Great Nephew Captain Meyer standing next to the plaque.

Back of plaque.

Mildred Wirt Benson – Toledo, Ohio via Ladora, Iowa

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Mildred Wirt Benson (aka Carolyn Keene, Alice B. Emerson, Frances K. Judd, Joan Clark, Mildred A. Wirt, and Ann Wirt) lived 96 years (July 10, 1905 – May 28, 2002, Cancer/Hera) and wrote 79 books, including the first 23 in the Nancy Drew series. She was married twice, the first husband Asa Wirt, brought her to Cleveland and this is where the Nancy Drew series began. Several years after Asa died, she met the editor of the Toledo Blade, George Benson, where she had begun to work as a journalist. 

Growing up in Ohio, the books for teens to read in the 1970’s included the Nancy Drew series. They were either a Christmas or birthday present, I don’t know which but I devoured them. This series showed an independent young woman solving mysteries. Her dad respected her. Her friends looked up to her and she was beautiful and smart. It was as if there was nothing she couldn’t do.

What I did not know is that Nancy Drew was conceived of in 1929, the outline was created by a man, Edward Stratemeyer. This was a man who made his fortunes creating “dime store” novels with ghostwriters who took on various nom de plumes that he thought up as well. Nancy Drew was first released in 1930, at the beginning of the Depression but because they sold for 50 cents apiece and even during these bleak times, people found a way to get two quarters. Entertainment was what helped people get through these dark years. It gave them hope, something to dream about. Post World War I, women were beginning to have careers, living on their own and making their own decisions (rebelling against parent’s wishes).  

Mildred, was a lot like Nancy Drew. She was born and raised in Ladora, Iowa and as a young woman went right to college, in 1922, without even considering a husband. Her parents were not pushing this either. Mom might have wished she wouldn’t leave though and wrote this really touching poem to her daughter.

So now your room is silent.

The whole house seems silent too;

Every object which confronts me

Seems incomplete without you. 

Yes, your silent room, it haunts me

Every garment left behind

Have memories from which bring a tear

For the loved one I cannot find. 

Lillian Augustine, “Mildred’s Room.” 

In college, Mildred became a member and excelled on the swim team. Having already begun to write and win contests she majored in journalism. Naturally, she joined her colleagues and became a part of what is still the top college newspaper entitled “Daily Iowan.” This newspaper was the springboard for her future success with other papers and books. Mildred’s parents respected her lifestyle, just as Carson Drew respected Nancy. Being raised by parents who respect their daughter, this lead her to find partners who looked up to her and respected her as well. Again, a lot like Ned Nickerson, Nancy Drew’s boyfriend, both nurtured her profession and supported her achievements. Mildred did other odd feats for women at the time, also like Nancy Drew. She became an accomplished pilot too but not until she was in her fifties. Like Nancy Drew she had so much energy to burn and couldn’t sit still and be idle. Whenever obstacles hit her, she got involved in a hobby or book series and threw her attention into this.  

The book I read was “Missing Millie Benson,” by Julie K. Rubini (2015, Ohio University Press) which is actually written for young readers – apropos to this woman’s life. Mildred had a daughter, Peggy Wirt and Ms. Rubini mentioned they had a challenging relationship. I notice her name is not acknowledged in the credits as to one of the people providing insight and wisdom for this book. Peggy, one would guess, took a back seat to Mildred’s life. Unfortunately, as successful as Mildred was, apparently she was unsuccessful in balancing motherhood with all the other amazing feats she accomplished. I am not surprised at this. Generally when women are like this, they have no children or if they do, their children suffer in the attachment process. I have seen this time and time again in my profession. You can’t do everything without something or someone suffering. 

Some of the other books that Mildred was known for writing, none of which have merited the success today that Nancy Drew has, though they were well known in their time include: Ruth Fielding and her Great Scenario, the Dana Girls series, the Penny Parker series, Kay Tracy series, Penny Nichols series and more. It is interesting to note that most of these girls lived with their father because their mother had died. Why this was the case remains a mystery because neither Edward Stratemeyer nor Mildred lost their mother’s at an early age from what I have read. Mr. Stratemeyer developed the storylines and so my only thoughts on this are that 1. Mr. Stratemeyer did not have a close relationship with his mother or 2. Felt that a mother character in these novels would get in the way of the female characters development – a girl would subsequently strengthen as a woman by losing a mother because she would have to become the mother herself. We were such a naïve society back in the days prior to the sixties when college was more prevalent for both men and women and feminism had become an epidemic. While we do continue to pay money to see regurgitated stories in American pop theater culture, I believe readers are a lot more intelligent than this and demand much more. Not only did these series not have a mother, they were all independent young women who solved mysteries and had spunky attitudes. 

Carolyn Keene’s identity ended up being three women toward the end of “her” career. This was not exposed until the 1980’s when two publishers were fighting to retain the rights of the Nancy Drew series. Mildred’s fame began at this time, because after appearing in court to prove her existence and how the stories came about, people suddenly became interested in her. Unfortunately the bigger publishing house won and as is typical in our society, instead of creating a new storyline they have turned Nancy Drew into a website and I suppose an “app” and re-did the stories to appeal to today’s culture. Nonetheless, the Nancy Drew series from the 1970’s can be found in many antique stores here in Ohio that I have been too. I haven’t purchased the set yet but I do intend to so that hopefully my granddaughter will be a fan of the story as well. I’d prefer she reads the original story rather than the modern version because I think it is more important to read it as it was written. 

Of course I did watch the actress Pamela Sue Martin, in the TV series from 1977-1979 and the only reason I watched the Hardy Boys is that I was a great fan of Shaun Cassidy back then. From reading the book, I learned that the earliest version of Nancy Drew in the film world was in 1939 (both parts available on YouTube). As I look over this post, I wonder if I am writing about Mildred Wirt Benson or Nancy Drew. How can we possibly think of an artist without seeing their creations in our head?

 

 

Natalie Clifford Barney – Dayton, Ohio

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1896 painted by her mother Alice Pike Barney

Ms. Barney  (October 31, 1876 to February 2, 1972, Aphrodite/Scorpio) only lived in Ohio, where she was born for 10 years. However, I assume because her parents were both born and raised in Ohio, she is accepted on the roster of notable women from Ohio (on Wikipedia). There is also a historical marker where she was born in Dayton. Her heart and where she spent the majority of her life as a famous salonist was in Paris.

One must become idle to become oneself. Natalie Clifford Barney

I developed a love/hate relationship with Ms. Barney and trying to read 368 pages of Suzanne Rodriguez’s book “Wild Heart,” (2002) took me a couple of months. Ms. Barney is famous for saying “I am a lesbian. One needn’t hide it nor boast of it.” I have a great deal of respect for this sentence because I think the way our world is today is quite hedonistic and part of why we are in such turmoil as a whole. Ms. Barney would probably agree with me. She was a society lady, raised in wealth, appreciating high fashion and having exceptional taste. What I did not like about her is that she was a snob and if she were a man we would say she was a player. Friends, who spoke to the writer of this book described her as a very giving and generous woman. These were not her liaisons that made these observations. They documented much more painful and passionate thoughts as to her character. A player is a person who will use the word “love” sparingly and in her case as sonnets to continue playing with her web of intrigue and manipulation. A player loves the chase, like a cat to a mouse and once caught, will carry it around in their mouth until they are ready to spit it out. Natalie was known to have said “When you want to make someone crazy, you must not give in.” If she had been a poor woman, it is doubtful she would have had half of her success with friends, though she would not have been a snob.

Natalie Clifford Barney

Ms. Barney was a writer, though what I have seen thus far (very little is translated) is not quite to the level as many of her counterparts, many who were her lovers. Her salon in Paris on 20 Rue Jacob, was her child, a place where she helped create futures for young writers from the 1920’s to 1972 when she died. Some of the people who were known to be in her circle, such as Pauline Tarn (aka  Renée Vivien ) the courtesan Liane de Pougy, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, and Lily Gramont (the Duchesse de Clermont-Tonnerre). There were also very famous people (that we know today still, the others were famous then) who made their way to her “Fridays” and these were James Joyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Max Jacob, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Mata Hari (entertainment), Isabelle Duncan (entertainment), Antole France, Romaine Brooks and Jean Chalon.

Natalie and Romaine

Her longest relationship was with the painter Romaine Brooks, who is now being brought back to life by many art historians. I did find myself captivated by her work when I looked at copies online. I wonder if Coco Chanel would have been intrigued as well, since they might have known each other then. Her work is black and white paintings with what is said to be incredible insight, on her part, in capturing someone’s psyche. What is odd is that they met in 1914 and it wasn’t until their mid 90’s, right before both of them died that Romaine ended the relationship for good. Of course this had to do with her mental condition that she was in at this time. My guess, from reading, is that she probably had some form of dementia. However, due to her early abusive upbringing, she had always been a bit of an eccentric and had very low self-esteem. I felt sad for Ms. Brooks because Ms. Barney was never faithful to her. I can imagine what this must have been like for her. Ms. Brooks was a survivor in some respects though. She would live elsewhere or travel abroad whenever Natalie was chasing after another skirt. Sometimes she had other liaisons herself.

Self-portrait by Romaine Brooks

In her younger days, Ms. Barney was a horsewoman, known for her athletic abilities. What is fascinating when you read this book is reading descriptions of her pursuits of other women or networking with locals, on horseback through the streets of Paris. I found myself caught up in visualizing what this might have been like, though I have seen many period pieces that have shown this.  What is funny about this book is that one might think every famous woman in Paris was a lesbian, considering her exploits. What I began to gather though, is that at this time women she chased, who were well-bred ladies like herself (for the most part) and many of them married, only knew what they were allowed to behave like with a man. Natalie introduced them to newer, more promiscuous and perhaps sometimes even safer ways to be able to express oneself. Most women at that time were more comfortable with other women. I have read in other historical books that lesbian type behaviors were actually acceptable in women’s schools and colleges. It kept them from focusing on boys but was considered natural behaviors too. Once they married it was meant to end of course and they were meant to behave in a manner fitting a betrothed spouse. With Natalie’s lovers, sometimes this happened; sometimes they continued the affair and on occasion a ménage-a-tois.

Ms. Barney’s salons were famous because of her extroverted behavior, the wonderful delicacies that she served, her choice of entertainment but also her rules. The rules had to do with not cursing, behaving appropriately (not being a jerk) and if she didn’t like you, then you weren’t allowed to come back. Agents and publishers would approach her about bringing around what they hoped would be a protégé. On one occasion Natalie invited Emmeline Pankhurst; to discuss women’s suffrage in her parlor. She listened intently but in the end was disturbed by the way their discussions and ideals turned into petty arguments. She decided at that point on not to use her salon as a political venue. This is something I could applaud her for as well. While these ladies did so much for their countries, in getting the right to vote, their behaviors kept this from happening sooner (see my article on Victoria Woodhull).

In 1927, Natalie created Académie des Femmes as a reaction to the discrimination against women in Académie Française (a group recognizing writers, but only allowing men to join). While her group did not last very long, it did bring attention to women writers. It wasn’t until 1980 when Académie Française would admit the first woman.

The last salon would occur at the cemetery on February 4, 1972 when 23 friends came to honor the passing of Ms. Barney. They realized it happened to be a Friday which was fitting this great lady and her famous salons. Ms. Barney and her sister Laura were buried together. Laura was famous for her translations in the Baha’i faith. Natalie had known that the Van Gogh brothers were buried together and thought it was ridiculous that all the marker said was “Here Lies.” As a result, Natalie prepared her own tribute which says “I am this legendary being [Amazon] in which I will live again.” Her nickname, given to her by the writer Rémy de Gourmont, after they met was “The Amazon.” 

Sarah Ann Worthington (King-Peter) – Chillicothe, Ohio

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This article, originally posted here on 9/6/16, has now been posted on the Women’s Museum of CA website for their “Share Your Stories,” blog. Thank you ladies!!!

Source: Sarah Ann Worthington (King-Peter) – Chillicothe, Ohio

Emma Gatewood – Mercerville, Ohio

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Emma “Grandma” Gatewood (October 25, 1887 – June 4, 1973; Scorpio and Artemis)

To say that she had the Gods on her side would be an understatement. This woman faced such tragedy at the hands of her husband. These were episodes of extreme violence, sexual abuse and emotional abuse as well.  After she finally got rid of him, she began to heal from these inner wounds in her own individual way. A way which began to nurture her sense of self and help define her as a woman. By an act of purpose, she became an accidental celebrity. A gift that she did not wish for but would allow and come to expect after a while. Emma Gatewood, aka Grandma Gatewood on the A.T. (Appalachian Trail) would be the first woman to walk the trail in 1955 at the age of 67. She would continue to walk the trail two more times as well as the “The Oregon Trail,” and quite a few other long hauls.

gatewood-book-coverI was turned on to this story, just this past year, after learning about a documentary made in her honor. A documentary which features two of her daughters:  Lucy and Louise, the youngest of the clan. After watching the documentary, I saw Ben Montgomery’s book “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk,” lying on the table and picked it up to scan the cover. This book was a  New York Time’s bestseller and written by a Pulitzer Prize Finalist. After purchasing it, I had put the book to the side, thinking it would be a dull day to day journey and not quite that interesting. I assumed I would force myself through it so I could review it for this website. Naturally, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book was full of intrigue; rich in historical content from that time period and of course her background.

Being a woman from Mercerville, Ohio and having lived in Gallipolis and some small

First Four of 11 Children

First Four of 11 Children

towns in West Virginia with her husband; it is not unusual to imagine a story of abuse and desperation. Not quite a story of poverty, when you had a woman like Emma but finances were plucked away because her husband was just a really bad man. I am not putting too much emphasis on him because it is a typical jerk of a husband story. You can read the book to find more. These types of stories are so compelling and what old country music tried so hard to explain to us. She would have eleven children, 24 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and one great-great when she died at the age of 85.

Ben creates a rich experience of the trail that you feel as if you are walking right along with her. Thanks to her journals, newspaper articles, and letters written home, he was able to piece together what life on the trail was actually like for her, on a daily basis. In the meantime, his research uncovered one of the largest hurricanes of that time “Hurricane Connie.” He was able to show us the devastation in towns she had already left behind as well as how it affected the path in front of her. He spoke of civil unrest of the times while talking about the night she spent with two opposing gang leaders from New York, unaware yet sensitive to her surroundings. His story created a depth by showing us her own trials and tribulations on the road and yet, no matter what, she persevered and kept moving forward “one foot at a time.”

Her Gear

Her Gear

Reading this book, I kept thinking to myself “Wow, the Gods sure wanted her to be the one.” I also kept imagining the pain she must have been in with a simple pair of tennis shoes. I imagined what her feet must have looked like. As a smaller hiker myself (up to 15 miles), I have seen my own feet after wearing hiking boots. If they aren’t just right, you can get callouses, blackened toe nails, and bloodied heels – all of which I have had. I heard about the throbbing pain she suffered toward the end – with her knee beginning to give out. I have, at 54, problems with my legs which give me trouble if I walk too much on sidewalks or in shopping centers. I could imagine what it was like after her glasses broke (also toward the end) and she could barely see ahead of her. What amazed me most was that a 67 year old woman, having birthed eleven children, was able to sleep on a bed of leaves or hot rocks to warm her back. I have only had one child and my back does not allow me to sleep on anything but a mattress and this is not for vanity. I certainly would have a hard time getting off the ground after an eventful night’s sleep (her sleeps outside were rarely good ones due to nature, not her back).  The bitter icy temperatures up in the final mountain range, any of us who live in cold weather climates – such as Ohio – know far too well what it would have been like wearing a rain coat and a few layers of clothes.  But she made it and is now a legend.

The Writer with Louise (L) and Lucy (R). On the trail.

The Writer with Louise (L) and Lucy (R) on the trail.

As you can imagine, I am not racing to get to the trail and step in place behind her. I’ll keep walking my 6-10 miles with my local meetup group. I wouldn’t mind walking the Grandma Gatewood trail again (I didn’t know I had been on it when I was at Old Man’s Cave). The writer, Ben Montgomery did walk the majority of her trail and did so by tracing the original path she would have taken, thanks to her notes.  This is because the trail she took was much more intense and less user friendly than the well-paved and marked trail of today. I was impressed by his dedication to doing so. He was definitely not a wimpy writer, hiding behind his computer.

So, very sadly, I must put this story behind me as I do with all the women that I have begun to research for this blog and begin to search for another amazing tale. After finishing each woman’s article, I feel as if they have just died for the first time. I tend to be on the verge of tears as I finish the book and write the article as I know I must say goodbye and move forward. I have gotten to know some amazing women that no one really has much intimate knowledge about, with the exception of what little is there to read. When I went about bringing this website to people’s attention, I had no idea just how few resources there would be about Ohio Women’s History. It is important to showcase their lives and make sure that young women have heroines, someone to look up to and imagine being like. Important that they understand, women have done so much more than get us the right to vote – which is all most people seem focused on. We are in a generation of slackers, people who would have the same physical problems I have from sitting at their desk for hours in a day staring at a CRT. Ben’s book talks about an article a man wrote which addresses the laziness of society (back then), due to the invention of automobiles. It mentioned people driving for only two blocks to get a bar of soap. I can’t imagine what that man would think of today’s society. His story was telling and a bittersweet call to arms before life became as it is right now.

The story of Emma Gatewood is the tale of many strong farming women who were capable of accomplishing multiple tasks in one day. My own research into women’s history reminds me of the book, “They Saw the Elephant,” which are diaries and stories about women crossing the country with their families, to find Gold in the hills of California, around the time of 1849. Unless these women documented their experiences or someone decided to walk a trail, these other women, unsung heroines, are people we will never know. Except of course if our grandparents made sure to put them in our heads – and we listened and paid attention to those stories. Otherwise, they are long ago and forgotten because now, in their place, are the modern vamps of our time who can sing a song or look pretty on the screen.

 

Note: Below is the Grandma Gatewood Trail at Old Man’s Cave, where a placard is there mentioning this. This trail was her favorite hike.

Grandma Gatewood Trail map at Old Man's Cave

Hillbilly Elegy – Middletown, Ohio

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ma-and-pa-sonI just finished reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance, 2016. If you remember Ma and Pa Kettle, the first four episodes are about their eldest son who went to college. This could be based on the story of J.D. Vance (except they don’t have potty mouth). In fact, my own paternal family came from the hills of Kentucky, making their way up Daniel Boone Forest (Lauren and Lee Counties) before moving to Obetz, Ohio.  My Great Grandfather left after killing someone to protect his family from the victims family. However, of the people I grew up with, J.D.’s family makes mine look like the Queen’s cousins. While his family was plagued with drugs and alcohol, mine changed the spellings of their last name, for all the children they had from playing around. Of course no one could figure that out since 1. The last name was quite unique but 2. A lot of illiteracy came into play. Why I am including this story here on Ohio Women’s History is that the main character of the book is Mamaw (prn: Ma’am-maw), Bonnie Vance. A woman of exceptional and very unique character (though not for an Appalachian woman), it was because of her hard work and I’d say intelligence that helped her grandson escape poverty and make a name for himself. ma-and-pa-w-gun

Bonnie was a woman who found herself pregnant in high school and ran off to marry her husband. She then learned that this man was a raging alcoholic, yet she stood by him for many years before he finally got his act together. Her own children, including J.D.’s mother continued the genetic trend with alcohol and now drugs as well. J.D. went from home to home, like a foster child, except in his case it was his mother’s succession of boyfriends. Bonnie took him in from time to time and the last three years of his childhood would be spent with her. Over the years, she and her husband worked diligently to make up for what was lost with their own kids and to try and turn the family crisis around.

I didn’t have any relatives or “family” who could match Bonnie with her talk but I did know a lot of Appalachian women whom I truly adored and respected. What endeared me to Bonnie’s story was that she did remind me of Ma Kettle and beneath that rough exterior was a woman who would do whatever it took to make sure that her grandson succeeded in life. As I am also the first in my family to go to college and then get a graduate degree, I can empathize with the struggles of going from welfare and living in the “sticks” or out in the “boondocks,” to living in California and dealing with culture shock from this experience. Appalachian women may have had it rough but these women are what we would call “street smart” today. Though they didn’t live on any streets, they grew up with a sense of loyalty to their kin that most people can’t really relate to in this day and age. J.D. Vance is able to capture this sense of love and respect through an incredible memory that seemed to photograph each scene of his life and then write it down in such a way that you feel you are right there in their living room.

Unless you know exactly when your kin “crossed the pond” and took a look at lady liberty for the first time, then you just might be of Appalachian folk yourself. This is not exactly what we were called when I was growing up; this term is merely a Politically Correct word which established itself among the liberals of today. In fact, the women that are still with me refer to themselves as “hillbilly and proud to call myself that.” There is no shame in being a hillbilly, there is only shame if you choose to get caught up in the chaos and surrender to living out the terms “White Trash.” Of all the survivors of abuse, drugs/alcohol, child molestation, that I have met and had the pleasure to work with, those who rose from the ashes of despair and chose to not allow their trauma to be a part of their lives ever again – except to educate and teach others – all have started from humble beginnings.

I would be proud to have known Bonnie Vance and I chose to put her on this website list of heroic Ohio women of history because of her hard work and dedication to her family. She was a transformed woman of history who brought her family to where they are today. And this, no doubt, will transform the future generations of her family. Hillbilly Elegy should be a must read for children raised in Appalachian communities (via school districts) as it will be a book they can relate to and as such, will give them hope that they too can succeed.

J.D. Vance and his Mamaw, Bonnie Vance

J.D. Vance and his Mamaw, Bonnie Vance

Trail Magic, Friday 1/27 8pm, Carter Caves State Resort Park, Kentucky

An article about an amazing woman!

Grandma (Emma) Gatewood

There is a great article about Grandma Gatewood, Written by Dave Lavendar in the Huntington, WV Herald Dispatch this week.

http://www.herald-dispatch.com/features_entertainment/film-tells-story-of-southern-ohio-hiking-legend-grandma-gatewood/article_033d866f-667e-58fc-bb3d-e2b082e33232.html

Dave will be at the Winter Adventure Weekend at Carter Caves this weekend as well. You can join director Peter Huston for his presentation of “Trail Magic, the Grandma Gatewood Story” this Friday evening 1/27 8pm at the Carter Caves State Resort Park in Kentucky at the Winter Adventure Weekend. For more information go to:  http://parks.ky.gov/…/detai…/winter-adventure-weekend/20241/

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Erma Bombeck – Bellbrook Ohio

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erma-bombeckErma Bombeck (February 21, 1927-April 22, 1996; Pisces and Demeter).

I remember reading Erma’s writings in Good Housekeeping, because I read anything my mom had on the bookshelf or lying around on the coffee table. She was writing for housewives which I was far from becoming but I still found it funny. I could imagine those things happening to women because I did a lot of housework, cooking and taking care of younger brothers myself. I wasn’t much into reading newspapers but I did follow her on occasion when she would appear on television from time to time or there would be an interview with her. Recently I thought about her again, though I can’t recall where I had read her name. It is so difficult to find books written exclusively about Ohio Women but I knew there would be one about her. And so I read, “A Life in Humor,” by Susan Edwards 1997.

If you ever wanted to understand the struggles of being a writer, than this is the book for you. While celebrities, big and small, seemed to have easy lives’ to a young woman like myself hers was certainly not one of them. Losing her father at a very young age of nine and having to live with her mother and grandparents. She might have been a “famous” tap dancer had she not been so keen on being a writer. She wouldn’t have been a writer either had she been the type to give up easily; practically failing out of college her first time out. Instead, she chose another college which appeared to be the right fit for her both academically and matrimonially. It was at the University of Dayton that she began her career at a newspaper office and met the man who would spend the next 47 years with her.

After a struggle to become pregnant and the stress of suburban housewifery, begging to look like them; she decided to adopt after two miscarriages. Then as fate would have it, no sooner had the little girl been brought into their lives, she successfully carried a child to term and then another. In the meantime she and Phil Donahue, a neighbor from across the street, began to have burgeoning careers.

Erma’s career was a struggle, partly because she was a woman and because she was dedicated to being a mother. Yet no matter what choices she made, the artist was a natural and eventually she would become a syndicated columnist writing three articles/week that would be seen around the country. This led to magazine articles such as the one I saw in Good Housekeeping.

She was approached by Doubleday to create a book which was a collection of her articles and the entry into published book writer began. Though Doubleday was not so keen to take her up on her fiction ideas, a salesperson there by the name of Aaron Priest was a great fan and saw the potential. It was through him that she began her career as an author. Before she died, she would pen eleven books and all from a typewriter. One book was made into a movie which starred Carol Burnett but unfortunately did not do well at the box office. Below is a four minute segment of this movie and I also began watching the movie on YouTube and easily saw what happened. It had funny lines (very good actors) but in between a lot of work had to be done to carry the long scenes. While it perfectly shows a typical family of the late 70’s early 80’s it is like a reality show without a producer creating conflict between the characters. Just a typical long day in the life of… It would be something I might download and watch on a Sunday; when it is raining outside.

Her first movie debut didn’t do to well but suddenly she was approached to write a play and then a TV show. The TV Show was called “Maggie” but this didn’t make it past the eight week pilot season. There is a trailer for this on YouTube but no dialogue, just credits and scenes of the opening bit for the show. It had a lot of actors who later became much larger on screen, but this wasn’t their big debut.

I found it ironic that fate put her into the hands of a kids camp for cancer survivors, in Arizona where she and her husband had moved after his retirement. The woman who ran this camp wanted her to bring some humor to the children. It wouldn’t be too much longer before she herself was claimed as a cancer survivor by having a mastectomy. Shortly after surviving this a kidney disease which she had inherited from her father began to show its ugly head. After waiting a few years to get a transplant, she died from complications that occurred after the surgery in a San Francisco hospital.

I found a quote from her that I especially loved, which was noted in this biography by Susan Edwards.

I get people who tell me they want to write, too, but that they have this house, and they have these kids, and they have that car pool. Listen, the priority has to be this, right at the top. People can’t put their dreams in a little box and take them out and play with them from time to time. These are people who are afraid to put it on the line.

If you are a writer, there is a writer’s conference annually called the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop at the University of Dayton.

The most important thing to take from this book was the level of modesty shown by this great lady. While she had a bug in her that just wouldn’t stop her from writing, she never let it go to her head. As I once learned years ago at a writer’s workshop in California, and I don’t know that I have the quote word for word, “Your only as good as the last book you have written.” She was an Ohio woman who never took one day for granted.