Faith, Family, and Fashion: Before, During, and Beyond COVID-19 | A WRHS “Share Your Story” Initiative

Regennia N Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture


For the keepers of traditions in a variety of faith communities, women’s attire has long been viewed as more than just a fashion statement. Among those who engage in corporate worship activities, head coverings, for example, are often related to beliefs about modesty, outward signs of respect, unity, and the establishment of a sense of community.  This fall 2020 series of articles on Faith, Family, and Fashion will shed light on different traditions in Northeast Ohio and encourage area families to share personal stories and images related to keeping religious traditions alive during COVID-19, even when large gatherings for worship and other purposes were sometimes discouraged. 


While preparing to write my introduction for the series, I thought about “Hattitude Sunday,” a celebration that became increasingly popular among many Christian women following the publication of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000.  The publication’s beautiful black and white photographs and quotes from many of the women in those photographs document the pride that is associated with looking your best, especially on Sunday morning, and doing your best to support the church, an institution that historian W.E.B. Du Bois described as both a “social center” of Black community life and a “religious center of great power.” 

As children attending Sunday morning worship services at Cleveland’s New Joshua Missionary Baptist, my siblings and I looked forward to the annual Easter programs that provided opportunities for us to wear Easter bonnets and chapeaus and hone our public speaking skills during special holiday pageants.   

In recent years, as young people, in particular, began to embrace the sneaker culture and more casual attire for school, work, and worship, I have always been pleasantly surprised to meet those faithful members of a special sisterhood of Black church women who continue to wear their crowns with style and grace.  For them, every Sunday is “Hattitude Sunday.”

As ministers or the spouses of ministers, music directors, worship leaders, deaconesses, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, and church mothers, these women hold respected positions of great responsibility, and their life

 stories help to inspire other members of their families, their congregations, and their communities.  For this reason, I asked Mrs. Tonya Byous, an 

accomplished educator and a church and community leader in her own right, to help me launch what I hope will be an intergenerational, interreligious dialogue about Faith, Family, and Fashion, by telling the story of her 

grandmother, Mrs. Zephrine 

Burks.  We look forward to sharing the details ofMrs. Burks’ life story along with those of other women in the coming weeks.  We also welcome your suggestions for women that we might include in this series.

For more information about the Share Your Story initiative, please click Here. 





Photo Credits:

1st Image: (In 2014, the women of the East View United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio welcomed the opportunity to participate in the congregation’s “Hattitude Sunday” program.  Pictured here (left to right) are Marian Elder, Jacqueline Johnson, and Jewell Kirkland. They are holding gift copies of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Photograph courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)

2. (Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000.)

3. (Left to right: Lana, Regennia, and Nathaniel Williams, Jr. at the New Joshua Missionary Baptist Church, c. 1963. Photo courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)

4.  Mrs. Zephrine Burks. Photo courtesy of Tonya Byous.)

Then & Now | babushkas

The babushka, in terms of Cleveland history, seems eternally linked to perogies and polkas, and in some ways that is valid – all relate to central and eastern European life, a life made large in our city by the many immigrants who came from those areas and perpetuated their customs in the city. But the story of this simple head covering is much more complex.

Its name, which means grandmother in Russian, immediately stereotypes the babushka as something worn by older women.  But that does not hold.  Its utility, a simple square of patterned cloth folded into a triangle and then worn by tying the two ends at the end of the fold under the chin, meant that it was a good solution to a bad hair day, or more importantly, an adequate covering to attend church if one did not have the funds for a fancy hat. Then too, in a church, the babushka was a reminder of the simple veil worn by Mary – humble and respectful. It was and remains a signifier of religious belief and custom.

Wearing it downtown for shopping in the post-World War II era did, indeed, seem to brand someone as being “ethnic”, at least in the opinion of one well-born Cleveland who complained about the dress of women visiting the shopping district – he was particularly hard on sloppy shoes and babushkas. Yet, that too was a bit off the mark because by the 1960s the babushka has gone “Hollywood” – after all Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis and Brigette Bardot wore them, Hepburn most famously in Charade. So maybe mother, or her style conscious daughter in the 1950s and 1960s, was combining heritage with fashion.

Certainly, that seems to be the case today as babushkas (aka head scarves) are making appearances in Vogue and other fashion magazines and everyone who is “anybody” seems to be adopting them. But you can certainly bet that one could buy a whole lot of perogies for the cost of one of these fashionable head coverings — so thanks grandma (and mom) for knowing what good fashion was, long before it became fashionable.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg | Afro-Puerto Rican Bibliophile and Activist Scholar of Black History and Culture

“The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future.”

–Arturo Schomburg, 1925


“An analysis of Schomburg’s life should not establish his as the exclusive Afro-Latinx experience to the exclusion of other lived experiences, particularly when considering those of women who shared his racial and ethnic heritage.  Such an examination, however, is useful in attempting to understand the complexities of populations of African descent who arrive in the United States speaking the Spanish language, taking into consideration the specificities of historical context.”

— Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés, 2017


As the observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month continues, and we prepare for the upcoming celebration of Cleveland Book Week (September 29 – October 4), this is the perfect season for readers to peruse works by and about Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938).  

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Schomburg migrated to New York in 1891 and went on to become one of the most celebrated American bibliophiles and thought leaders of his day, continually championing the cause of Puerto Rican and Cuban independence from Spain –through the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, and the scholarly study of Black people throughout the global community. His pioneering work as a book collector, archivist, and curator in the first half of the twentieth century helped lay the foundation for today’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York’s Harlem community.  

One of Schomburg’s most famous essays, “The Negro Digs Up His Past,” appeared in a special 1925 issue of Survey Graphic Magazine, “Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro,” and a subsequent book on the same subject.  Dr. Alain Locke served as editor for both publications, which showcased works by the emerging and established artists and scholars associated with the Harlem Renaissance or the “New Negro Movement, “ including former Clevelander and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner Langston Hughes. 


In Diasporic Blackness: The Life and Times of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (State University of New York Press,2017), Dr. Vanessa K. Valdés includes the following statements about Schomburg’s work and worldview:


Throughout his life, in all of the circles in which he traveled, Schomburg remained Afro-Latino; that is, he actively thought of himself as such, as a black man born in Puerto Rico.  He actively laid claim to the richness of the histories and cultures of the Spanish-speaking world.  We see this in the books he collected, the articles he wrote, and the translations he provided from Spanish to English and vice versa.


For all of the aforementioned reasons and so many more, Dr. Valdés’s scholarly study offers readers an insightful overview of a well-lived and carefully documented life.


Then & Now | Political Fashion

American fashion embraces political campaigns in whimsical ways, and Clevelanders were at the forefront of political style. Historians credit Ohio senator Mark Hanna with the invention of the modern campaign in 1896. Hanna systematically grew support for his friend William McKinley, and spent money on the highest quality posters, pins, and other campaign gear. Candidates’ faces have decorated items such as handkerchiefs, dresses, neckties, bedroom slippers, and t-shirts, lending a little fun to the serious business of electing our nation’s leader. As you get ready to declare your support in a sartorial way, get inspired by the WRHS collection!

James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur Bunting Dress, ca. 1880
Museum Advisory Council Acquisition Endowment Fund 2006.25.1

19th-century revelers wore garments made of flags and bunting in parades and pageants. This dress, with images of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur, was made for the 1880 presidential election and its “front porch campaign.” Instead of traveling across the country, Garfield remained at home in Mentor, Ohio and trains brought thousands of people to hear him speak. The wearer of this dress could have traveled to Mentor to see her future president. 

Reception Dress, 1881
Made by Mme. B. Van Reuth, Washington, D.C.
Worn by Lucretia Rudolph (Mrs. James A.) Garfield
WRHS 86.0.2 a,b

First Lady Lucretia Rudolph Garfield probably wore this striking blue gown while hosting one of her twice-weekly receptions at the White House. However, Lucretia Garfield spent most of her life in Ohio. She was born in Garrettsville and taught in Cleveland before she married. Her tenure as First Lady was, sadly, brief; President Garfield took office in March of 1881, was shot by a would-be assassin four months later, and died of complications in September. The widow retreated to their home, Lawnfield, located 22 miles northeast of Cleveland, which is today the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. 


“I Like Ike” Skirt, 1952
Made by Juli Lynne Charlot (American, b. 1922)
Gift of Mrs. George Johnson 2008.6.125 

Clevelander Michaeline Maschke wore this skirt during Eisenhower’s presidential campaigns. She might have seen it first in 1952, in Life magazine, among pages of hats, sunglasses, gloves, and other Ike-wear. That year, women voters equaled men in numbers for the first time. Republicans in particular made attempts to connect with women through advertisements, clothing, and accessories.

Then & Now | Andrew Johnson

The first visit of a sitting President of the United States to Cleveland was not for purposes of a debate, but, nevertheless, it opened a major debate on the President’s temperament and, indirectly, played a role his impeachment.

When Andrew Johnson came to Cleveland on September 3, 1866, he arrived in a city that was confronting the consequences of the Civil War and a city that had voted strongly for his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln.   Lincoln had, indeed, visited Cleveland, but it was on his way to his inauguration and then, sadly, following his assassination, Cleveland was one of the cities in which he lay in state.

Feelings were high in the city, in particular in relation to the reconstruction of the former Confederate states.   A good number of people in northeastern Ohio felt that Johnson’s policies were far too easy on those who had rebelled against the United States, particularly as they saw many southerners who had held power before the war being allowed to again hold political office.   There were a good number of Radical Republicans in the region who felt that the South was being allowed to go back to just what it had been before.  For those who believed strongly in the rights of the now free Black population, Johnson’s policies were proving to be a disaster.

Johnson’s stop in Cleveland was part of a longer journey he had undertaken to help “sell” his policies to the north.  Dubbed the “Swing Around the Circle” it started in Washington, DC, then went to New York, then west to Chicago, down to St. Louis and then back to Washington.  While Johnson had received a rather good reception at the start, his appearance in Cleveland changed that.

After supper at the Kennard House hotel, which stood at the corner of St. Clair and what is now West 6th Street, Johnson stepped out on the balcony to address a large crowd, a crowd peppered with radical Republicans.   They perhaps knew that Johnson had a habit of going “off script, and that it was easy to goad him.    As he delivered his prepared script, someone in the crowd shouted “Hang Jeff Davis.”   Johnson broke from his script and retorted “why don’t you hang Thad Stevens and Wendell Phillips [Stevens was a radical Republican Congressman and Phillps a famous abolitionist].  When Johnson left the balcony someone overheard his friends telling him to be more dignified.   His response which was quoted in newspapers across the country was “I don’t care about my dignity.”   When Johnson left the hotel the next day to continue his journey he saw a large banner reading “In the work of reconstruction, traitors must be made to take back seats”.   He purportedly pulled his hat down over his eyes and stared at the carriage floor so not to have to see the banner.

After Cleveland, the tour only became worse, hecklers were everywhere.   In St. Louis he compared himself to Jesus and played off the Republicans as his betrayers.   And in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a platform for spectators collapsed, killing thirteen.  By the end of the tour, even Johnson’s supporters were abandoning him, largely because of his lack of dignity.  When Johnson was impeached in 1868, the tenth of eleven articles of impeachment noted that he, as President “…did…make and declare, with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory, and scandalous harangues, and therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces, as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries, jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled in hearing.”  However, this article was not brought to a vote in the Senate given that it had a lack of support. 

Johnson would be the first President to be impeached (by a vote of 127 to 47 in the House of Representatives) but he would acquitted by the Senate.   Factors other than his intemperate nature were at the core of the charges, but, nevertheless, dignity still mattered, and that visit to Cleveland, rightly or wrongly, gave the nation an impression that still lingers in the popular memory.

Then & Now | Northeast Ohio’s Mexican Community

Cleveland’s Mexican population has its roots in the 1920s, in the years just following the Mexican Revolution.  That revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1920, caused many Mexicans to cross to El Norte.   That was not a new crossing as the border between the US and Mexico had been open and fluid, and indeed, much of the American Southwest, including California, had been Mexican territory prior to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).

Crossing the “border” meant safety and jobs, particularly given the expansion of agriculture and railroads in the southwest in the early years of the twentieth century.    Indeed, when the United States created the Quota Act of 1924, a highly prejudicial limitation of immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere, it set no limits on immigration from the Western Hemisphere, a signal, perhaps, that workers from Mexico were needed in the US.

Like many other migrants and immigrants, Mexicans moved to where they could find work.  Many followed the railroads up to Chicago and found jobs in heavy industry,  some continued to the east and found their ways to the steel mills of Lorain, Ohio, and then onto the industries in Cleveland.  (for an excellent account of early Mexican migration to Lorain, Ohio, see Frank Mendez’s book,  You Can’t be Mexican, You Talk Just Like Me).

By 1920 there were 679 Mexicans in Cleveland, most working in factories.   Many lived in and around the area now occupied by the main campus of Cuyahoga Community College and there, they found their way to Hiram House Social Settlement, which by the late 1930s was hosting displays of Mexican dance and culture.

In that same decade the community established a forum to discuss the problems and issues of the time.  Headed by Felix Delgado, that forum was formalized as the Club Azteca in 1932.   In 1951 the Club had raised enough money to establish a formal headquarters at 5602 Detroit Avenue.  The Club became the sponsor of the celebration of two major Mexican holidays, Cinco de Mayo, which marks the Mexican victory over the French in 1862 and Mexican Independence Day on September 16.

One of the most critical issues confronting Mexicans in the United States during the 1930s was the Great Depression during which many industrial cities, such as Detroit, sent Mexican immigrants back to Mexico by bus or train. During that decade Cleveland’s Mexican population fell to 162.   It would grow again during World War II when workers were needed for the steel mills and industries in northern Ohio and by the early 1980s an estimated 4,000 Mexicans or individuals of Mexican descent lived in the Greater Cleveland area.  By this time the community was centered on west side along Lorain and Detroit Avenues.

Despite the decline of Cleveland’s overall population since 1950 (when it was 914,808) the Mexican-American population has remained at around 4,000 (based on the 2010 census) and stands as the second largest of our Spanish-Speaking communities, and a vibrant part of city’s economy.  Its importance and contributions to the history of the city have recently been recognized by permission to establish a Mexican garden within the Cultural Gardens on Rockefeller Park.  The Western Reserve Historical Society was honored to be able to work with Andrea Villalón of the Comité Mexicano de Cleveland in the process of preparing the application.  

Planning for a Mexican Cultural Garden in Cleveland

Members of the Mexican community of Cleveland gathered at the Hispanic Alliance building to start the process of establishing a Mexican Cultural Garden, one of the chain of over 30 ethnic gardens of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation.


Frida Kahlo and Elizabeth Catlett | At Home with the Art and Politics of Mexico and Black America

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), two women who won worldwide acclaim for their art, created evocative works that reflected their personal struggles and triumphs as well as those of farmers and other workers in Mexico and the United States of America. For anyone who will take the time to look, learn, and teach, their works have much to offer in the way of arts and humanities education.  Thought provoking lessons on Kahlo and Catlett are as close as the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and the Cleveland Public Library (CPL), where reference and/or circulating collections and programming activities reflect their contributions to world history and culture.  


Kahlo, a native of Mexico and an alumna of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, was a master of the self-portrait.  Her willingness to visibly embrace Mexican culture—as reflected in her frequent choices to wear indigenous jewelry and clothing styles from different parts of the country, her radical politics and ongoing challenges to the systemic oppression of poor people, and her refusal to accept restrictive gender roles for women helped to make her a celebrated activist-artist in her own right and a creative comrade to her equally famous, controversial, and artistically-gifted husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.


(Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1932. Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress.)

In Frida Kahlo at Home (2016), one of the many book-length studies of the artist’s life and work, author Suzanne Barbezat states that, despite their sometimes stormy relationship, Kahlo and Rivera “were each other’s best supporter and most ardent fan.  They shared political convictions, and perhaps most importantly, were both fiercely proud of being Mexican.” Although she endured major health challenges in both her childhood and adult years, Kahlo’s career also included teaching, international travel, and exhibitions in Mexico and other countries.


During the observance of CMA’s centenary, the museum offered guests the opportunity to view one of Kahlo’s signature works, “Fulang-Chang and I,” a loan from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  This painting was also the subject of an online July/August 2016 Cleveland Art Magazine article. In addition to the books and other reference materials that are available in CMA’s Ingalls library, a special exhibition, A Graphic Revolution: Prints and Drawings in Latin America, which includes works by Rivera and others, will be on view through November 2020.


Like Kahlo and Rivera, Elizabeth Catlett also strove to create socially relevant art. An African American native of Washington, DC, she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Howard University and the University of Iowa, respectively.  After teaching for several years at the secondary and post-secondary levels, she traveled to Mexico on a Julius Rosenwald Fund Fellowship in 1946.  She studied and created works of art with members of the Taller de Gráfica Popular, married Mexican artist and colleague Francisco Mora, became a Mexican citizen, and served as a Professor of Sculpture at the National School of Fine Arts, the National Autonomous University of Mexico.  In addition to their artistic work, Catlett and Mora raised three sons.


Catlett focused primarily on prints and sculptures, winning many commissions and awards and exhibiting widely.  In Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico (2000), Melanie Anne Herzog quotes Catlett’s 1983 self-description of her life and work:


I am black, a woman, a sculptor, and a printmaker.  I am also married, the mother of three sons, and the grandmother of five little girls [now seven girls and one boy] . . . . [I] was born in the United States and have lived in Mexico since 1946.  I believe that all of these states of being have influenced my work and made it what you see today.


Indeed, the influences of the aforementioned “states” were evident  works that were included in CMA’s fall 2002 exhibition, “Elizabeth Catlett: Prints and Sculptures.” Images of Catlett works that reflect these themes are available on the CMA website.

Jack Saul: A Life in Music

(Oh, how we love those pierogi: phonograph record. 1983. WRHS Collection.)

Not everyone designs their family living room to deliver the highest quality sound possible, but Jack Saul did. Saul was an extraordinary local collector of music recordings, memorabilia, and all kinds of printed materials related to the performing arts. His collections in the WRHS Library will teach future generations both about the sounds of the city and about our role as stewards of our local musical heritage. 

The Library Archives hold two collections from Jack Saul, in addition to some unprocessed materials. The Jack Saul Papers and the Jack Saul Audio Visual Collection illustrate the range of Saul’s interests and offer us a look into the work of performers both famous and unknown. Saul’s passion was classical music, but that did not stop him from collecting recordings of all kinds. 

The papers include an 1893 program from the National Saengerfest, a German competition between singing groups that was held in Cleveland that year, and a 1960 program from the Case Institute of Technology Chamber Orchestra. Among the recordings in the audio visual collection, local “hits” such as “Oh, How We Love Those Pierogi”, the theme song of the Joel Rose Radio Show, and “The Buzzard Song”, from Alex Bevan and the Buzzard Band for WMMS, are stored alongside the work of the composer Pierre Boulez and the harpist Alice Chalifoux.

Saul, a graduate of Glenville High School and Western Reserve University, lived with his family in South Euclid and owned Quality Home Furniture on Woodland. A Cleveland Jewish News profile from 1978 states that Saul had over 100,000 records in his private collection, surely a fraction of what he later amassed. Those records were stored upstairs in the furniture store, in a downtown warehouse, and in his home. Saul and his family took steps to dispose of his vast collection before his death in 2009. The Cleveland Orchestra and the Judaica Sound Archives, now part of Florida Atlantic University Libraries, are just two of the institutions benefiting from Saul’s generosity. WRHS also holds the records of the Sir Thomas Beecham Society, a group that promoted the work of the well-known English conductor and that Saul led as President. 

Above all, Saul knew music and what to collect. He collected the recordings of the classical music he loved, but he could also recognize what was unique and sure to interest others. Saul shared his knowledge of music and awareness of history by collecting and making his collections available to others. His presence on the local music scene is still missed by many.


Learn more about the Jewish American Archives HERE.



Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals: The Genuine Meets the Artistic in Black Sacred Music


(L: Zora Neale Hurston c. 1938. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection. R: A. Grace Lee Mims c. 1950. WRHS Collection.)

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) and A. Grace Lee Mims (1930-2019), two Alabama natives with ties to Cleveland, Ohio;  agreed that spirituals were an integral part of the history of Black sacred music.  They said as much in their written descriptions of these songs that date to the Antebellum Era, when enslaved people of African descent created the authentic spirituals.  Both women also encouraged students of American culture to experience live performances of the music in the sanctuaries of churches, on college and university campuses, and in concert halls and other venues. It is also interesting, however, to consider their thoughts on what Hurston referred to as “neo-spirituals” and what if anything was gained or lost when one removed the performance of Black sacred music from its original cultural context.

In 1934, when Hurston’s “Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals” appeared in Nancy Cunard’s Negro anthology, she was already recognized as one of the leading contributors to the Black arts movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, an award-winning essayist and playwright, and a Barnard College-trained anthropologist.  Her collaborations and disagreements with former Clevelander Langston Hughes and her correspondence with Cleveland’s Rowena Jelliffe regarding the Hurston-Hughes co-authored play “Mule Bone” were also well known to her fans and foes alike.  Hurston would go on to receive Cleveland’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road in 1943.  Today, her novels have earned a respected place in the American literary canon.

Never one to shy away from controversy, Hurston dismissed as “ridiculous” historian W.E.B. Du Bois’s “idea that the whole body of spirituals are sorrow songs,” as he had described them in his now classic 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk. Hurston’s 1934 essay suggests, “[The spirituals] cover a wide range of subjects from a peeve at gossipers to Death and Judgment.” She then went on to say:


The nearest thing to a description one can reach is they are Negro religious songs, sung by a group, and a group bent on the expression of feelings and not sound effects.  

There never has been a presentation of genuine Negro spirituals to any audience anywhere.  What is being sung by the concert artists and glee clubs are the works of Negro composers or adaptors based on the spirituals.  Under this head come the works of Harry T. Burleigh, Rosamond Johnson, Lawrence Brown, Nathaniel Dett, Hall Johnson, and [John Wesley] Work.  All good work and beautiful but not the spirituals.

The neo-spirituals are the outgrowth of the glee clubs. Fisk University boasts perhaps the oldest and certainly the most famous of these.  They have spread their interpretation over America and Europe.  Hampton and Tuskegee have not been unheard.  But with all the glee clubs and soloists, there has not been one genuine spiritual presented.


In Hurston’s opinion, those artists who “put on their tuxedos and bowed prettily to the audience” could never capture the true beauty and improvisational nature of the genuine Negro spiritual in performance.  Cleveland-based soprano A. Grace Lee Mims, however, saw things somewhat differently.

Mims, a native of Snow Hill, Alabama, was a graduate of Hampton, one of the historically Black institutions that Hurston credited with the growing popularity of the “neo-spirituals” on college campuses.  A trained vocalist-educator, popular recitalist, founding members of the African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society, and long-time faculty member at the Cleveland Music School Settlement (CMSS), Mims was an expert on Black arts in general and the spiritual in particular.   

For more than 40 years, she also served as the host of “The Black Arts” on Cleveland’s WCLV Radio. In 1981, Mims released Spirituals, an album featuring songs arranged for soprano soloist, with piano accompaniment provided by William Appling.  Voice students in Mims’ CMSS studio could expect to be introduced to The Spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh, a popular collection of art songs arranged for solo voice and piano accompaniment–and these same voice students were expected to perform Burleigh’s works in recital and concert settings.

A philanthropist who gave generously of her time, talent, and treasure, she also established the A. Grace Lee Mims Vocal Scholarship at the Cleveland Foundation.  As the description for this scholarship suggests,  “The primary purpose of this award is to perpetuate the singing of the Negro spiritual through performance and/or teaching, so that this art form, created by African-American slaves in the Diaspora, will remain alive.”

Both Hurston and Mims championed the documentation and study of the place of the spiritual in the cultural history of the African Diaspora.  Mims, who was a preschooler at the time of the 1934 publication of “Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals,” never appeared to doubt the genuineness of the sacred songs that were part of her early school, church, and family life in Snow Hill, Alabama—nor the arranged spirituals that she selected in later years for live performances and recording sessions in urban Cleveland / “Alabama North.” It is possible, therefore, that Dr. A. Grace Lee Mims would have agreed with part of Hurston’s description of the solo and glee club arrangements of concert spirituals as “all good work and beautiful,” even if they were not the same as the genuine spirituals of 19th– and early 20th-century Black folk. 


Learn more about the African American Archives HERE.



Then & Now | Professor Oddo and The Little Italy March

(Oddo and Verdi band photo. WRHS Library.)

Professor Pietro Oddo (1843-1916) was born in the town of Alimena, Italy, in the province of Palermo.  He began studying music at the age of ten.  His musical talents blossomed during his service in the Fifty-Ninth Italian Infantry Regiment, a musical band regiment, that led him to become a decorated war hero of Italy.  Oddo was offered the position of regimental band leader, but declined when his term of service ended to pursue other interests.

Oddo immigrated to Cleveland in 1901 and settled in the area known as Big Italy. He lived on Ontario Street and gave music lessons at his home.  In 1908 he moved into a new home in Little Italy at the corner of Murray Hill and Fairview Roads where he lived until his death in 1916. 

Besides giving lessons, Oddo founded the Verdi Italian Band, which performed at many events around Cleveland in the early 1900s.  He also composed band music, such as waltzes, marches, and potpourris, many of which he co-wrote with son Frank P. Oddo (1878-1966).  These pieces were used as standards by musical organizations during the early twentieth century throughout the United States and Italy.  Many of the compositions were published by the Palermo Music House, Beninati, Italy.

In 2010, Janet Janecek, the great, great granddaughter of Pietro Oddo donated a number of the musical scores, arrangements, and compositions written by Pietro and Frank to WRHS. Many date back to the 1910s, include the original composition titled La Piccola Italia Marcia or The Little Italy March.

Believing that it was important to share this rare and unique musical piece of Italian American history with the public, WRHS contacted the Italian Band of Cleveland. Band members transcribed the music and arranged it for their ensemble. The Italian Band of Cleveland performed La Piccola Italia Marcia during Cleveland Little Italy’s The Feast of the Assumption celebration in August 2010.  It was the first time in nearly 100 years that the march was performed by an ensemble and heard by an audience. 

Watch La Piccola Italia Marcia, composed by Pietro Oddo, at The Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland’s Little Italy on August 16, 2010, by the Italian Band of Cleveland.


Learn more about the Italian American Archives HERE



Then & Now | Carmela Cafarelli, Opera Diva and Harpist

(Carmela Cafarelli in costume. WRHS Library.)

Carmella Cafarelli (1889-1979) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and began her musical education at the age of four under the tutelage of her father Rocco Cafarelli, a renowned Italian harpist who had immigrated to Cleveland in the 1880s.  When Carmela was eight years old, master harpist Henry B. Fabiani settled in Cleveland and became her mentor and tutor until his death in the 1920s.  At age 12, Cafarelli began playing harp for visiting opera companies in Cleveland. From 1918-1921, Cafarelli was solo harpist for the Cleveland Orchestra.

A desire to study voice led Cafarelli to Italy to attend the Conservatoria Santa Lucia and the Reale Accademia Filarmonica Romana where she earned diplomas in both voice and harp.  She made her operatic debut in Florence in 1923, and toured Italy for the next 3 years.  While her time in Italy was successful, she wished to return to the United States.  The State Department, however, blocked her return declaring that her 1918 marriage to Italian citizen, Allesandro Chiostergi, had made her an Italian subject. The Italian government also denied her a passport because her husband had become a naturalized American citizen. Re-entering the U.S. on a visitor’s passport, she regained her American citizenship and divorced Chiostergi in 1932.

In 1934, Cafarelli formed The Cafarelli Opera Company in Cleveland, Ohio, and presented Madame Butterfly. Well into the 1960s, the company presented an annual opera in Masonic Auditorium, with Cafarelli often taking on the role of the leading soprano herself.  In the 1940s and 1950s, the company was the only local opera company in Cleveland.  Carmela Cafarelli obtained numerous honors and awards for her musical talents including the “Serata d’Onore” (Night of Honor), a prestigious Italian opera award.


Learn more about the Italian American Archives HERE



Then & Now | Two Music Halls of Fame

(Polka “king” Frankie Yankovic stands fifth from left.  National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame.)

Cleveland has two music halls of fame. One the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is widely known, but the second, the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame is not on everyone’s radar, so to speak. But it certainly should be given the importance of this musical genre in Cleveland (and elsewhere in America) and the fact that it, like Rock has evolved and changed with the time. Indeed, it represents a true world music.

Most people tend to see Polka as a single musical style, one associated with European immigrants who came to, and worked in industrial cities like Cleveland during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet, like that immigration, it was and is diverse – Slovenian polka is not like Polish polka, and certainly not like the German style. And, like the immigrants themselves, Polka became Americanized, particularly by the children of the immigrants. It probably reached its peak popularity after World War II when artists like Frankie Yankovic, who grew up in the Collinwood Slovenian community produced two recordings that sold over a million copies.

It would be the next generation – the children of the immigrants’ children, who would gravitate to Rock music, and polka would slowly decline. Yet, like the city and the United States, it continued to change with fusions with country and western music and other styles brought by more recent immigrant groups. Polka today echoes both the past and the ongoing present.

So, take a visit to that other Hall of Fame in Euclid, Ohio, and check for the radio stations where polka is still played, or better still, “invite yourself” to a wedding where polka will echo family and community traditions.

Then & Now | The Great American Racing Derby

In 1921, a new carousel was introduced to park patrons at Euclid Beach Park. Its “proper” name was The Great American Racing Derby, but frequent park visitors called it simply The Racing Derby. It was destined to become a park favorite until its removal in 1965 when it was sold and relocated to Cedar Point. The Great American Racing Derby was located right next to the park’s grand carousel, manufactured by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, installed in 1910.


The Racing Derby was a true carousel in every sense of the word, but it was a more “grown up” version of any carousel that had been installed in the Park. First of all it was much faster traveling at nearly fifteen miles an hour which made it more of a thrill ride. The sixty four, two seated horses on its ninety three foot platform were arranged in sixteen rows with four horses abreast in each. The horses could carry two riders each for a total capacity of one hundred and twenty eight each time it turned. They not only moved up and down as the circular wooden platform turned, but also backward and forward as if they were racing each other. This is what made the ride so endearing…you weren’t merely riding a horse…you were in competition with the fellow riders in your row heading toward the imaginary finish line at the end of the ride. No one knew the outcome of the “race” and much of the ride’s excitement involved “egging” your horse on until the ride came to a complete stop. The design of the hand carved wooden horses created by the Williams Amusement Device Company of Denver
Colorado added to the mystique. The horses outstretched legs and elongated stance gave the illusion the horses were in full stride even when the ride was not turning. There was a sense of excitement just looking at the ride before it began. At full speed, leaning into the wind as the ride turned you couldn’t help but feel you were in a horse race.

Then & Now | The Post Office

(Joseph W. Briggs. WRHS Library.)

In the early years of the Civil War, Joseph W. Briggs a clerk at Cleveland’s single post office on Public Square watched lines of women waiting their turn to pick up mail.  That was the practice at the time; there was no home delivery.   Much of the mail they awaited was coming from loved ones serving in the Civil War.   As he watched the long lines, particularly during the cold winter, Briggs came up with the idea of free home delivery and passed it on to the postmaster, Edwin Cowles.   Cowles, who was also editor of a major local newspaper, the Cleveland Leader, thought it was a good idea – indeed it might help boost circulation of the paper.

That idea, born in Cleveland was approved by Congress in 1863 – but only for cities.   Cowles was selected to implement the system and he organized free home delivery in 52 cities.  He would also create the first postman’s uniform.

So, Cleveland was involved in something we take for granted almost every day – the mail carrier will be at our door delivering a myriad of items that are sent to us.  It’s all part of system that dates back to 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General by the second Continental Congress and one that was later embedded in the Constitution which gave Congress the authority “to establish post offices and post roads”.   In 1792 President George Washington would sign a law creating the Post Office Department.  And that department and its successors would be the critical component in creating the original information infrastructure in the United States.  Despite numerous technological changes, it remains critical to the nation as it does to the collections of the Western Reserve Historical Society.

Much of the archival content of our Library consists of letters – dating from the eighteenth century to the present.  Letters written by the great and famous, and letters written by immigrants, dreamers, radicals and simply good friends to one another.  They are a critical component to understanding who we were and what we are, and almost all of them went from one place to another thanks to the postal system – both that in the United States and those operating abroad.

And while we now share so much information via email and other virtual systems, the letters held the WRHS Archives have a very special quality.  They are tangible reminders of connections between people – documents created by an individual and signed by an individual.   Among the most poignant are those written during the Civil War, some of which may have made it “home” thanks to Joseph W. Briggs.

So, when a researcher in our library looks at and holds an original letter it is both a document and an item created by an individual – with a signature, with ink blots, and with a real link to whomever wrote it, whether it was George Washington, Joseph W. Briggs, or an immigrant communicating with his/her family.   They are all the rarest of treasures – human thought, expressed physically on a sheet of paper.  To work with them is compelling, even for long-time staff who never lose the thrill of encountering new thoughts put down on paper which moved from one place to another thanks to the postal system.

Then & Now | Black Philanthropy Month, Part 3

“Give, and it will be given to you.” 

Luke 6:38 (NIV), The Bible

During Black Philanthropy Month and throughout the year, religious institutions are, among other things, both the recipients of charitable contributions and the distributors of charity.  In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois described the work of one Black church in the following manner:


Various organizations meet here, –the church proper, the Sunday-school, two or three insurance societies, women’s societies, secret societies, and mass meetings of various kinds. Entertainments, suppers, and lectures are held beside the five or six regular weekly religious services. Considerable sums of money are collected and expended here, employment is found for the idle, strangers are introduced, news is disseminated and charity distributed. At the same time this social, intellectual and economic centre is a religious centre of great power. (Chapter 10, “Of the Faith of Our Fathers”)


Both Du Bois and Booker T. Washington were early 20th-century philanthropist-educators with first-hand knowledge of the significant role that Black churches played in community life.  More recently, Valaida Fullwood’s Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists (2011) and Robert P. Madison’s Designing Victory, A Memoir (2019) have provided more examples of church support for Black families, Black communities, and Black businesses. 

As we approach the end of Black Philanthropy Month (August) 2020, interested readers are invited to take a look at the Fullwood book, which inspired “The Soul of Philanthropy, Cleveland,” and the Madison book, which tells the life story of one of the honorees featured in this 2019 Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) exhibition.  Both titles can be purchased online via the WRHS website at

For more information on Black Philanthropy Month, please CLICK HERE.  For more information related to “The Soul of Philanthropy, Cleveland.” please CLICK HERE.

Then & Now | A Polish Wedding

(Halka Singing Society Group #4 at Polish wedding. WRHS Library.)

Polish weddings in the old country didn’t look much different than those here in Cleveland! This photograph, of the Halka Singing Society of the Association of Polish Women, portrays the cast of a locally staged production of a “Polish Wedding” from 1937. To be sure, this wasn’t a real wedding. But it was an effort of a local Polish group to recall the folk traditions of the old country and to socialize with other Poles while teaching others about their background.

The photograph was found in Digital Cleveland Starts Here, and not much more is known about it other than the information already included online. But it looked very much like a staged wedding, and so I decided I would try to find out more. The picture shows various types from the village, such as a priest and a Jewish man lying in front of the group, stereotypically depicted in traditional clothing. The folk costumes are another clue that this was not a real wedding (notice the fake moustaches on the women dressed as men). 

The reverse of the photograph confirms that this “Polish Wedding” was “played” in 1937 by Group #4 of the local branch of the Association of Polish Women. It was most likely simply a stylized production of a village wedding, a theme which would have resonated with many immigrants both because of their ties to village life or, quite possibly, because of their general knowledge of Polish culture. The women of the Halka Singing Society made an effort to evoke folk tradition while adapting to American circumstances. Examining the photograph, Ray Vargas, a founder and leader of Syrena Polish Folk Dancers, a group founded in 1999, said, “During the early years in the United States, Polish dance and theatrical groups all used the white skirts with multicolored ribbons as a representation of a Polish folk costume. During that time frame, it was the Polish folk garb. It would appear on advertisements and was used by polka bands. Even dolls and paintings were created.”

A Cleveland-based publication of the Association of Polish Women, Jedność Polek (Unity of Polish Women), wrote a lengthy description of the first such staged wedding in Cleveland in January 1927. “Góralskie Wesele” (A Mountaineer Wedding) was held at St. Stanislaus Church on January 16, 1927, as a fundraiser for the parish school. Also described as a “Kraków wedding”, the event was likely quite similar to the wedding photographed ten years later. The cast included the bride and groom, their parents, bridesmaids, peasants, and extras. The account of the 1927 staged wedding describes the action that takes place in the local tavern and points out that the Jewish tavernkeeper, Icek Szwarcenkopf, was an essential part of village life.

The wedding has a natural place of prominence in village and family life, but it has also taken on a significant role in Polish literary culture, due to the success of Wesele (The Wedding), a 1901 play by the noted playwright and artist Stanisław Wyspiański. While it is hard to know how well Cleveland’s Polish immigrants in the early twentieth century would have known the play, it is also difficult to overestimate the importance of this play in Polish culture. The play is based on the real-life wedding of a Kraków poet and a peasant bride and is set in a nearby village that is now part of Kraków. Wyspiański used the characters of village life to spin a fantastic tale that commented on the role of the peasants and intellectuals in society at a time when Poland itself did not exist on the map of Europe. The great Polish film director Andrzej Wajda turned Wyspiański’s play into a film in 1973.  

By the 1930s, the Association of Polish Women in the U.S.A., a group based here in Cleveland, had about nine thousand members. Singing societies were only a part of their work, which also included the establishment of a newspaper and an insurance fund for members, language and heritage classes, and social service projects. While the group’s membership declined significantly from the mid twentieth century on, local lodges became part of the Polish National Alliance in the 1990s. The presentation of Poland’s folk traditions continues, though, with groups like Syrena entertaining and educating local audiences.

Then & Now | Black Philanthropy Month, Part 2

(William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. Library of Congress, C. M. Battey, photographer)


“[B]y far the greater proportion of the money that has built up [Tuskegee Institute] has come in the form of small donations from persons of moderate means. It is upon these small gifts, which carry with them the interest of hundreds of donors, that any philanthropic work must depend largely for its support.”

–Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery, “Raising Money” (Chapter 12)

In his seminal collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), historian and sociologist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) described Booker T. Washington as the “greatest leader” of Black men and a “Joshua called of God and of man to lead the headless host.”  It cannot be denied that Washington, “The Wizard of Tuskegee” and the subject of Part I in our 2020 Black Philanthropy Month series, did a masterful job of securing millions of dollars to support Black education in the Post-Reconstruction South and that essential contributions came from people of various backgrounds, including wealthy and powerful White industrialists and countless Black Americans of humble birth and, in Washington’s words, “moderate means.” 

Du Bois and Washington also gave generously of their time, talent, and treasure and can, therefore, be thought of as philanthropists. David Levering Lewis, author of W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, has shown that Du Bois’s radicalism, however, often put him at odds with Washington and the White philanthropists who, to Du Bois’s mind, tended to favor a brand of industrial education and socialization that left Blacks politically and economically disenfranchised in the early 20th century. Some facts about Du Bois’s early life help account for his radical tendencies.

Born in freedom in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois was a precocious child and an excellent student. He graduated at the top of his high school class, and he earned his undergraduate degree at the historically Black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.  He then went on to complete graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard University, where he became the first African American to earn a doctorate in 1896.  

Through his work as a teacher, scholar, public speaker, and, by 1909, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)–and editor of the NAACP’s Crisis publication, Du Bois reached millions of readers and listeners, and became an outspoken advocate for social, political, economic, and civil rights.  He also fought for the “higher training” (on the campuses of colleges and universities) of the brightest minds in Black America, an elite group that he often referred to as “The Talented Tenth.” 

Although his political views would continue to evolve over time, Du Bois remained convinced that enlightened Black leaders and Black organizations—including the Black church and fraternal and benevolent groups, had a duty to uplift the race.  A prolific writer, Du Bois’s insightful essays, books, and other publications provide abundant evidence related to his efforts to give back to the Black community. 

For more information on Black Philanthropy Month, please CLICK HERE.  For more information related to “The Soul of Philanthropy, Cleveland.” please CLICK HERE.

Then & Now | Marriage

In 1900s Cleveland, no expense was spared by Euclid Avenue’s families when it came time for a marriage. Weddings in that period were often about love but even more so about forging relationships between prominent families and fortunes. The palatial homes along Millionaire’s Row offered the perfect settings for wedding receptions, and sometimes ceremonies too. Charles Bissell invited 1200 guests to the 1880 marriage of his daughter Julia to Robert H. Clark. The home was filled with pink and white flowers amongst ferns and elaborate decor. Oftentimes, the wedding gifts were on display too.

(Bissell Home, 1880; Hitchcock Family Wedding Gifts, 1900s. WRHS Library.)


Being married at home was no reason to skimp. Wealthy brides at the turn of the century visited designers in New York and Paris, returning home with yards of silk and lace. Trimmings included pearls and often wax orange blossoms or other faux floral decorations. For entirely different reasons, many more weddings are taking place at home today. Are you recently married? Share a photo of your decor or ensemble with us on social media (tag @CleStartsHere, #CleStartsHere) and don’t forget to save lots of photographs for future generations!



(Mary Castle Norton, 1876; Laura Love, 1899. WRHS Library.)

Then & Now | Black Philanthropy Month, Part 1

(Booker T. Washington. Library of Congress Photograph)


August is Black Philanthropy Month, and the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) is using social media posts and other online information to call attention to the rich history of Black philanthropic giving in Cleveland and around the world.  This initiative comes on the heels of the successful fall 2019 WRHS run of “Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy, Reframed and Exhibited.”  Created by Valaida Fullwood and photographer Charles W. Thomas, the “Giving Back” traveling exhibition also inspired the semi-permanent “The Soul of Philanthropy, Cleveland” exhibition that remained on view at the Cleveland History Center through the first quarter of 2020 and is scheduled to travel to other local venues in the near future.

Today, we salute Booker T. Washington (1856-1915).  Born in slavery in the state of Virginia, Washington went on to become one of the most celebrated champions of self-help, industrial, agricultural, and normal school education; and individual and corporate philanthropy that benefitted members of the Black community.  

In his autobiography, Up From Slavery (1901), Washington described his journey from the plantation world to that of the academy, where he served as the long-time principal of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute and became one of the most powerful and influential leaders of his day.  Up from Slavery offers many examples of Black philanthropy, including those described in the passage below, in which Washington attempts to capture the beauty of Southern Black vernacular speech and the generosity of Tuskegee’s Black donors:


It was often pathetic to note the gifts of the older coloured people, most of whom had spent their best days in slavery. Sometimes they would give five cents, sometimes twenty-five cents. Sometimes the contribution was a quilt, or a quantity of sugarcane. I recall one old coloured woman who was about seventy years of age, who came to see me when we were raising money to pay for the farm. She hobbled into the room where I was, leaning on a cane. She was clad in rags; but they were clean. She said: “Mr. Washin’ton, God knows I spent de bes’ days of my life in slavery. God knows I’s ignorant an’ poor; but,” she added, “I knows what you an’ Miss Davidson [a teacher and Washington’s future wife] is tryin’ to do. I knows you is tryin’ to make better men an’ better women for de coloured race. I ain’t got no money, but I wants you to take dese six eggs, what I’s been savin’ up, an’ I wants you to put dese six eggs into de eddication of dese boys an’ gals.”

Since the work at Tuskegee started, it has been my privilege to receive many gifts for the benefit of the institution, but never any, I think, that touched me so deeply as this one.


As much as he appreciated the contributions from the Black community, he also welcomed philanthropic support from wealthy White industrial capitalists.  Historian Louis Harlan referred to Washington as “The Wizard of Tuskegee” and devoted an entire chapter of a 1983 book by this title to a discussion of “Other People’s Money.” According to Harlan, Washington, “found his chief partners in philanthropy [including John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie] in New York, and he directed their interest not only to Tuskegee but to other black schools, including the colleges and the public schools.”

In 1900, Washington established the National Negro Business League to improve economic conditions in the Black community and to support the owners of small businesses and farms. By 1908, Clevelanders, inspired by the NNBL and its affiliates, had established the National Association of Colored Men. Washington also had many devoted followers among club women in Cleveland.  An article in a special January 1905 Women’s issue of The Cleveland Journal, for example, reported that two literary societies, the Minerva Reading Club and the Friday Study Club, hosted a banquet in Washington’s honor, and “more than 200 of the most prominent colored people in northern Ohio” attended the event. Booker T. Washington and the members of the aforementioned organizations are among the millions of 20th-century American citizens who chose to “give Black.” 

For more information on Black Philanthropy Month, please CLICK HERE.  For more information related to “The Soul of Philanthropy, Cleveland.” please CLICK HERE.


Then & Now | Garford Manufacturing Company

In 1902, Studebaker entered the automobile business by adding a line of electric cars to their wagon production. Just one year later the Studebaker-Garford was the combined effort of the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana and the Garford Manufacturing Company of Elyria, Ohio.  Between 1906 and 1913, Studebaker acted only as the selling agent for cars made to their order and produced by other manufacturers.  The Garford Manufacturing Company of Elyria, Ohio, made the more expensive models that were sold as Studebaker-Garfords.  These models were favored by ladies and were intended for town use, shopping, visiting, and so forth.

This luxurious Model H landaulet (an automobile with a half-folding rear roof) was custom-made for Mrs. Bertha Palmer of Chicago, the widow of Potter Palmer, owner of the Palmer House Hotel. Their house was called “Palmer Castle,” and Mrs. Palmer was the grand dame of Chicago society.  The car’s exterior is in her favorite shades of purple, Heliotrope (lighter) and Amaranth (darker) with red striping.  The mauve velvet interior is accented with tapestry trim, beveled glass, and rich cherry wood.