Women Making History | Rowena Jelliffe

Rowena Jelliffe and Karamu House

The dream of Rowena Jelliffe was to build a center where people of different ethnic cultures could find common cause

coupled with hard work materialized into the establishment of Karamu House, a nationally recognized interracial community center. Mrs. Jelliffe, born in 1892 in New Albion, Illinois. It was her early upbringing that Mrs. Jelliffe often credited for giving her a sense of dedication to the ideals of gender and racial equality. She came to Ohio in 1910 to attend Oberlin College, where she was the president of the Oberlin Women’s Suffrage League and met her future husband, Russell, who also campaigned for women’s rights.

After marrying in 1915, the Jelliffes moved to Cleveland where they were hired by the Second Presbyterian Church to conduct neighborhood improvement projects. They bought two houses and named them Playhouse Settlement. The settlement welcomed all races and educated the neighborhood residents through art. The Gilpin Players, the first theater group, was started in 1920, and in 1927 the theater opened. The theater was called Karamu after the Swahili word that means a place of joyful meeting. After moving in 1950, the name of the settlement was changed to Karamu House. Through the Jelliffes’ work, Karamu House prospered and expanded its programs.

Besides working on projects related to Karamu House, the Jelliffes were also involved in the establishment of important civic welfare organizations such as the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Association, the Community Relations Board, and the Cleveland Urban League. They were delegates to the 1921 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention in Atlanta and they attended the Pan-African Congress in Paris. In 1963, the Jelliffes retired from Karamu House and spent much of the 1960’s campaigning for civil rights. After her husband’s death in 1980, Mrs. Jelliffe served on the boards of the East Cleveland Theater and the Fine Arts Association of Willoughby

Then & Now | Amanda Wicker

Students at the Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design

Contributed by Patty Edmonson, WRHS’s Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles

The Hunt family lived in Hancock and Washington Counties, in Georgia, at the turn of the 20th century. In 1900, Henry Hunt farmed and his wife Barbara cared for their five (eventually eight) children, including Amanda, born March 5, 1894. Mandy, as she was then called, became increasingly close with her mother and siblings after her father died in the following decade; as an adult, she lived with brothers Julian and Albert at various times. Perhaps because her parents could neither read or write, Amanda was driven to pursue her own education and career at Tuskegee Institute (now University), and as an apprentice to Addie Clarke in Washington D.C. Around 1924, Amanda married fellow Georgian McDuffie Wicker. The couple lived briefly in Savannah, Georgia before moving to Cleveland where Amanda started her dressmaking business and McDuffie worked as a Barber. The Wickers were hardly unusual in their move north, and were part of what is known as the first Great Migration. Black rural southerners sought opportunities in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. The first wave of migration began around 1916, when cities experienced shortages of industrial laborers during World War I. Amanda Wicker was a member of Cleveland’s “Georgia Club,” which provided southerners a place to connect and celebrate their Georgian heritage. Clevelanders from other southern states organized similar clubs. By 1936, approximately 15,000 Georgians lived here in Cleveland. Although Amanda’s mother remained in Sandersville, Georgia, she visited her daughter frequently.

After 1925, Amanda operated the Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design from her home on Cedar Avenue. During the late 1920s the Wickers lived on Cedar Avenue, and after McDuffie’s 1929 death Amanda continued to live and work at various addresses along Cedar between East 89th and 95th Streets. [Map] Perhaps the biggest landmark in her neighborhood was, and still is, the Antioch Baptist Church at the corner of Cedar and East 89th Street. Amanda was integral to the church; she served as a charter member of the Beehive Bible Class, was a member of the Cora Boyd Mission Circle, the Fifty-Plus Club, and the Ta-Wa-Si- Club. At the end of her life she lived in Antioch Towers senior apartments.

Located primarily at 8911 and 9202 Cedar Avenue, the Clarke School offered classes for this predominantly African American neighborhood until the 1980s. Although anyone could take classes, many pupils were students from Central High School, which, along with Wicker, created an annual student fashion show beginning in 1941. The accompanying publication, called The Book of Gold, helped raise funds for student scholarships. Wicker and her instructors taught drawing, pattern drafting, tailoring, millinery, and other course. The lay person could sign up for a course to revamp their own wardrobe, but her focus was on preparing young people for the garment industry. Students could learn how to operate industrial machinery and other skills related to mass production. In 1948 the school became G. I. approved, which meant that veterans enrolled and changed the makeup of the student body for a time. Amanda worked with the Veteran’s Administration liaisons to spread awareness of the program for Black veterans. Beyond running a school and teaching the trade, Amanda Wicker worked with personal clients and served as the second vice president of Cleveland’s chapter of the National Association of Fashion and Accessory Designers, operated for and by Black designers.


dresses from the Clarke School of Dressmaking and Fashion Design


Amanda Wicker impacted Cleveland through her civic work of providing important skills to young people and actively engaging her neighborhood. In June of 2021, the Cleveland History Center will open an exhibit about Wicker and her work. The exhibit will share, for the first time, 14 garments made by Amanda, as well as the rich photographic archive of the school, and thus a community. Visitors will come away inspired by the story of a self-made Black woman who lifted those around her.


Then & Now | Buying a Car


What better way to usher in the coming year than with the purchase of a brand new car? Hypothetically, let’s say you are shopping for a new Ford for example. Now, to have some fun, let’s say you were shopping for a new Ford exactly 100 years ago. What would be on offer, and what would the experience for today’s consumer be like? Let’s listen in on the conversation… ‘C’= Customer, and ‘D’=Dealer.

‘D’: ‘Good morning little lady, what can we do for you?’

‘C’: (With a slight frown), ‘I’m interested in buying a new car, and I see you’ve got plenty on hand.’

‘D’: ‘Sure do Miss, fresh off the assembly line in Detroit. We’ve got whatever you need; a Sedan, a Coupe, a Roadster Pickup, a Runabout, and a top-of-the-line Touring, all courtesy of Mr. Henry Ford.’

While other auto makers wanted to design luxury cars, Henry Ford designed a car that anyone could afford. Here he is standing by that very car. From the collections of The Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company.

‘C’: ‘Are these the famous Model T’s I’ve heard so much about?’

‘D’: ‘Sure are Miss; reliable as the sunrise, comfortable and affordable too! Why, just since 1908, we’ve sold five million of ‘em. All those customers can’t be wrong!’

‘C’: ‘That little convertible looks very nice over there.’

‘D’: ‘Yep, that’d be the Runabout, a two-seater that has plenty of pep, and even has electric headlights! I hope you’re a pretty good driver, as this little beauty can hit 45 miles per hour, and keep at it all day long!’

‘C’: ‘I think I can manage. The black paint is certainly very shiny, but does it come in any other colors?’

‘D’: ‘Nope!’

‘C’: ‘How about the other models in the line-up?’

‘D’: ‘Nope! Word is that Mr. Ford got a good deal on a volume purchase of black paint!’

At this point in history, most car buyers appreciated value and affordability, regardless of available body colors. In 1921, nearly 57% of the automobiles sold worldwide were Ford Model T’s! Ford was a genius at integrated assembly as well. Outside parts suppliers were required to use a certain type of wood for the part’s shipping crates. The wood was recycled into building the wooden framework for the car’s bodies, and the leftovers were turned into charcoal briquettes, marketed under the trade name ‘Kingsford’.

‘C’: ‘The interior looks pretty Spartan. I don’t see any air conditioning’.

‘D’: (Blank look)

‘C’: Well, does it have a heater at least?’

‘D’: ‘Nope’.

‘C’: ‘What do you do in the winter time?’

‘D’: ‘Dress for the weather!’

To reduce overall price, the Model T was pared down to the bare essentials. The options and equipment we consider standard today were just a pipe dream back then. Climate control, heated, cooled, and massaging seats, GPS navigation, radio/stereo, turn signals, electric windshield wipers, tire pressure sensors, remote locking and starting, automatic transmission, leather upholstery; all were unavailable.

‘C’: ‘Well, I guess I’m still interested in the Runabout. What sort of money are we talking about?’

‘D’: ‘Including the electric starter option, which I highly recommend for a young lady like yourself, we are looking at right around $400.00 out the door. Since West Virginia is still the only state in the union with sales tax, you won’t have to worry about that.’

‘C’: ‘$400.00 a month seems pretty pricy for that bare bones car’.

‘D’: ‘A month?! Lady, that’s the price for the whole car! I hope you can pay in cash, as we don’t finance here.’

Henry Ford was dead set against buying a car on credit, which he referred to as ‘morally reprehensible’. Instead, Ford dealers could act almost like a savings bank, accepting regular deposits from customers until they could pay for the vehicle entirely. General Motors, forming their own financial branch for consumer loans, began to chip away at Ford’s near-monopoly of the car market, until Ford was forced to follow suit.

‘D’: ‘Well Miss, it’s been a pleasure! I think you’ll really enjoy your new Ford, and look pretty snazzy behind the wheel! Remember, she’ll run on gasoline, kerosene, or methanol, so you’ll never get stuck on empty!’

The Model T was one of the first true ‘Flex Fuel’ vehicles in America, a real advantage since many were put to use in rural environments, where gas stations were few and far between.

Let’s return to our own time, back to the spacious, modern Ford dealership, where our purchase is being concluded.

‘D’: ‘Thank you and congratulations Ms. Smith for the purchase of your new Ford SUV. I’m sure you’ll love it!’

‘C’: ‘Of course. By the way, I’m interested in one of those factory roof racks. How much extra would that be?’

‘D’: ‘Right around $400.00, plus tax.’


Today, we are living in something of a new ‘Golden Age’ of automobile production, from 300 mph hyper-cars to a mind-boggling array of sport utility vehicles, available to consumers across the financial spectrum. In the early 1920’s, Cleveland’s car buyers were also afforded a wealth of choices from domestic and foreign automakers. Around fifty American automobile companies (down from 253 in 1908) provided everything from utility to pure luxury vehicles. Detroit had surpassed Cleveland as the epicenter of automobile manufacturing, but names like Jordan, Cleveland, Peerless, Chandler, and Winton kept the flame alive in the Western Reserve.

*Ford dealership photos courtesy of Ford Model A Club of America
*Henry Ford and Model T photo courtesy of Myautoworld.com

ERC | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

Founded in 1920 as the American Plan Association of Cleveland, ERC was formed in response to the labor movement by 15 business owners at the Union Club of Cleveland. 

Together, this group of CEOs united to create better workplace practices for both employers and employees. One hundred years and several name changes later, ERC has maintained its founding purpose and has grown into a leading human resource organization that has served thousands of members and clients across the region, nation, and globe.

ERC has withstood the test of time by being nimble and diversifying its portfolio of offerings. The 100-year-old company has adapted to the market by continuously tailoring its products and services in response to the current issues employers face, and by delivering modern, flexible solutions to client challenges and opportunities. 

Through certified HR advisors, ERC offers consultative services, compensation benchmarking and data, workplace polls and surveys, networking, and cost savings opportunities. ERC also offers virtual and classroom instructor-led training, on-demand learning, individual and team assessments, one-on-one coaching, and employee engagement services. 

ERC is especially committed to our region’s economic vitality and to making our community a long-term destination of choice for companies and top-performing individuals. In 1999, ERC established NorthCoast 99, an annual recognition program and event that honors 99 great Northeast Ohio workplaces for top talent. This program helps employers make a difference in the lives of the people working and living in our region.

ERC also started ERChealth over 20 years ago to help Ohio employers significantly reduce their health insurance costs. ERChealth is an affordable, quality health insurance program that delivers uncommonly low rates, and comprehensive coverage and plan options.

Proud of its legacy and rooted in its mission, ERC is dedicated to serving the needs of its members, clients, and community for decades to come.

The Millcraft Paper Company | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

The Millcraft Paper Company was founded in December 1920 by Pauline and Harold Keil as a small stationery and invitation merchant serving the Cleveland area.  Over Millcraft’s 100 years, the company’s ownership and leadership has spanned four generations of the Keil family, including Jane (Keil) and Stuart McKinney; Katherine (McKinney) and Charles Mlakar; and current President and CEO Travis Mlakar. With sole proprietorship passing to Pauline Keil in 1956 – and subsequently on to her daughter, Jane, and granddaughter, Katherine – Millcraft thrived as a woman-owned business for three generations and more than 60 years.

Cleveland has always been home to Millcraft with two early downtown addresses at 750 Superior Avenue and 1927 East 19th Street.  Since 1971, Millcraft’s corporate headquarters and Cleveland sales and distribution division have been co-located at 6800 Grant Avenue in Cuyahoga Heights. 

Millcraft’s first 60 years established its standing as a premier fine paper merchant serving the Midwest commercial printing industry with early expansions into Ohio, Indiana and western New York.  Since the 1980’s, the company has used strategic acquisitions and an adaptive product and service platform to gain market share across Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York and West Virginia.  Among its key acquisitions: Daka Paper (Erie, 1983); Cleveland Paper (1986); Hull Paper (Dayton 1989); Merchants Paper (Cincinnati, 1991); Niagara Paper (Buffalo, 1995); American Paper (Detroit, 2000); Clark Envelope (Cleveland, 2003); Paper Plus Stores (Detroit, 2004); Standard Paper (Detroit, 2005); Ariva (assets, Covington, KY, 2013); Brown Paper (Greenwich, CT, 2015); Ideal Mobile Canning (Indianapolis, 2020). Today, Millcraft proudly serves a national customer base with a diversified product offering of printing and office papers; industrial, retail and luxury packaging; sign and banner materials; food and beverage packaging supplies and services; mailing and shipping supplies; and more.

Millcraft’s consistent success derives from an unwavering commitment to the guiding principles of its founders to “positively and meaningfully impact the people we work with every day – our co-workers, customers, supply partners, families, communities and friends.” 

Millcraft has been honored with numerous business awards over the years, including:  The Ohio 200;  Women’s Business Enterprise Star Award; NAWBO Top 10 Women Business Owners; Crain’s Fast 50; Smart Business Smart 50; Printing Industries of America Best Workplaces in America; and Best and Brightest Companies to Work For.

League Of Women Voters (LWV) Of Cleveland | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

The League Of Women Voters (LWV) Of Cleveland was formed in April 1920 by a group of suffragists, after the disbanding of the Woman’s Suffrage Party of Greater Cleveland. Founders followed the example of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, which had organized the National League of Women Voters in February 1920. The local league worked to complete ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and to educate new voters, with the motto, “Every Woman an Intelligent Voter.” Nonpartisan, the league also proposed to support legislation protective of women and encourage women’s involvement in politics. The Cleveland LWV was the first local chapter to send questionnaires to candidates and to hold public forums between opposing candidates. It hosted the second national convention in 1921, where activist Carrie Chapman Catt made a plea for world peace. This speech ignited a women’s peace movement that culminated locally in the Women’s Council for the Prevention of War and the Promotion of Peace and the 1924 Women’s Council Peace Parade. Belle Sherwin, the Cleveland league’s first president, served as national president from 1924-1934.

The league has endorsed legislation concerning women workers, child welfare, and education, as well as particular local issues. In 1921, the local LWV supported the City Manager Plan; in the 1950s it began to call for protecting Lake Erie as a water source; and in 1981 it successfully advocated a smaller Cleveland City Council. In the 1960s, the LWV actively supported legislation to establish accessible institutions of higher education such as Cuyahoga Community College. The league, however, refused to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for close to half a century, until 1970, because of its threat to special legislation for working women. The league has also assisted election boards and conducted voter registration and public demonstrations of registration and voting techniques.

In 1972, the LWV established the League of Women Voters of Cleveland Educational Fund, Inc., as its nonprofit educational division. The Fund sponsored a yearly series of Town Hall and Public Forums addressing issues of importance for the Cleveland area, established (1975) the Cleveland Area Voter Information Center (as of 1984, the Voter Information Center) to encourage citizens to participate in government, held a “Government Day” and a “Journalism Day” for students in the Cleveland Public Schools, and established a newsletter and video to teach new voters the voting process.

During recent years, the LWV conducted studies on the effect of tax abatement on the finances of the Cleveland Public Schools (1997), presented a 1999 forum on campaign finance reform, and organized the State of Ohio’s youthvote2000 initiative. In 2007, LWV offices were at 850 Euclid Avenue. That same year, the League president was Penny Jeffrey, while Sharon McGraw served as executive director of the Education Fund.

Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

In 1920, Hahn Loeser’s Catholic and Jewish founding partners, marginalized in their ability to practice law due to their religious affiliations, joined together to serve the legal needs of their community. Being one of the first firms in Cleveland to combine lawyers from both faiths, our founding partners recognized from the very start that our differences often, when combined, become great strengths.  Since then, Hahn Loeser has grown to be one of the top full-service law firms in the nation, with over 130 attorneys across six offices, serving clients across the country and around the world.

One of the hallmarks of our Firm is our strong ties to our community.  Our attorneys and staff are involved in numerous philanthropic and community organizations across our national footprint and devote thousands of hours each year to giving back to those in need.  To celebrate our 100th anniversary, we launched our 100 Acts of Kindness initiative in January, giving back to the causes and non-profit organizations our attorneys and personnel are involved in and care about deeply.

Hahn Loeser has thrived for a century because of our pursuit of excellence.  As our country faces an uncertain global health and economic crisis, we are focused on supporting our clients as they navigate the challenges and intricate issues that arise.  Our longevity gives us perspective, and our team-based approach provides our clients with a multi-dimensional perspective that are essential during challenging times.

While our services have expanded, our core values have never changed. Hahn Loeser believes in providing exceptional legal counsel, serving our communities, and fostering inclusion. Above all, we value our people who take great pride every day in serving the needs of our clients. Our attorneys and staff have developed a culture of excellence and an unwaveringly focus on achieving results that exceed client expectations.

Cleveland Institute of Music | 2020 100 Year Club Inductee

The Cleveland Institute of Music, founded in 1920 with composer Ernest Bloch as the founding director, is one of just seven independent conservatories of music in the United States, one of three devoted exclusively to classical music performance and the only one nestled in America’s heartland. 

CIM empowers the world’s most talented classical music students to fulfill their dreams and potential. Its graduates command the most celebrated and revered stages in the world as soloists, chamber musicians and ensemble members; compose meaningful, award-winning new repertoire; and are highly sought-after teaching artists, administrators and thought leaders. More than half of the members of The Cleveland Orchestra are connected to CIM as members of the faculty, alumni or both. 

All CIM students benefit from access to world-renowned visiting artists and conductors, intensive study with CIM’s stellar faculty and the rich curriculum offered by CIM’s partner Case Western Reserve University. In fall 2020, the diversity of CIM’s student body increased by a remarkable 338% since 2016 and represents 12% of the Institute’s approximately 325 students.

CIM’s Preparatory & Continuing Education Division was also founded in the early 1920s, recognizing the need for high-quality instruction preparing school-aged musicians and offering life-long learning to talented amateurs. The Preparatory Division is home to CIM’s Musical Pathway Fellowship, which prepares Black and Latinx student musicians for success in a college music school or conservatory. 

CIM is an integral part of Cleveland’s arts community, presenting nearly 600 free performances and master classes on campus each year, and hundreds more at locations throughout the region, including Severance Hall. Students and faculty engage with partners including The Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Institute of Art and other cultural, educational and community organizations to create classical music that is as vibrant and varied as the city of Cleveland. 

Explore cim.edu to learn more.


Celebrating Diversity – Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens

Controlling immigration was near the top of the United States agenda during the early 1920s, a period then touted as a “return to normalcy.” Two major pieces of federal legislation, the Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 severely limited the number of immigrants admitted to the US from the eastern hemisphere, designed with quotas that discriminated against those from southern, central, and eastern Europe. Those laws, on top of a nearly total restriction of immigrants from the “Asian barred Zone” would remain largely in force until 1965.

At that same time, Cleveland took a step in a different direction, it decided, through the creation of a series of landscaped gardens, to celebrate the diverse cultures that made up the city.  Indeed, in 1920, two thirds of the city’s population was of foreign birth or foreign parentage, and another 35,000 were part of a growing African-American population.

The concept was promoted by Leo Weidenthal, a journalist, book collector with a deep interest in theater, and a civic activist. In 1916 Weidenthal had led the effort to establish a Shakespeare Garden to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The dedication ceremony featured readings by actress Julia Marlow and music from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  Its decorative scheme would include plantings from England, including a cutting from a mulberry that, itself had been planted by Shakespeare.

In some ways the Shakespeare Garden can be seen as a reaffirmation of the United States’ link to Great Britain, particularly at the time of World War I. However, Weidenthal’s vision was wider and it would come to fruition in the 1920s – perhaps in response to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment at that time. His vision was for a series of similar gardens, each reflecting the culture of a particular ethnic group in the city. He was joined in this effort by Jennie Zwick and Charles Wolfram.  Zwick, like Weidenthal was Jewish and Wolfram was a major figure in the city’s German community. In 1925 the three would establish the City Progress League which would become the Cultural Garden League.

The enterprise had the enthusiastic backing of William R. Hopkins, Cleveland’s City Manager.   Land for the gardens would be made available along then Liberty Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) and East Boulevard. The entire enterprise would be defined by the Doan Brook Valley. So, as the nation began to limit immigration, Cleveland began to celebrate the cultures that immigrants brought to the city. The first garden to be established was the Hebrew Garden in 1926.  Three years later (and only eleven after the end of World War I) a German Garden was dedicated. By 1940 another thirteen had been established many with fiscal support of the Depression-era WPA.  During the ensuing Second World War the gardens became successful symbols of the need for national unity.

The remainder of the century would see progress slow, with only five additional gardens created as the Doan Brook valley suffered as the city’s fortunes declined and as racial tensions expanded. Ironically, when immigration to Cleveland slowed after restriction, migration from the American South and Appalachia increased to fill the need for workers in the 1920s and during and after World War II. Yet, no garden was planned or established for the African-American Community until 1977.

At the same time, the new immigration law of 1965, did away with the old biased restrictions and ultimately opened the United States and Cleveland to new groups of immigrants from areas well beyond Europe. Those communities ultimately would revivify the Cultural Gardens. In 2005 the Asian Indian community established its garden and, fittingly, erected a stunning statue of Mahatma Gandhi alongside the then renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. That event, along with new sources of funding and the creation of a bicycle path from University Circle to the lake, has catalyzed a renaissance of the system.

As of 2019 there were 33 gardens, with others proposed and, or in the planning process. What Leo Weidenthal envisioned has, today, become a landmark in the city – indeed, there is no peer for the Cultural Gardens. And, today, there is more reason than ever to look at them and consider what they represent as we once again debate immigration. It is, indeed, a site of beauty, but more so one of contemplation of the diversity of our city, our nation, and wider world. And, it is a site where groups that may once have contended with one another, now celebrate their history and heritage in concert.

Race and the Politics of Respectability | The 1920s from the Vantage Point of Ida B. Wells

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

At the start of the “Roaring 20s,” Ida B. Wells was a journalist, educator, author, suffragist, clubwoman, social reformer, leader in the anti-lynching movement, and a wife and mother.  A native of Mississippi, she was born in slavery in 1862.  By the time of her death in Chicago, Illinois in 1931, she had achieved a fame that was rare for any woman, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, and nationality.  In her lifetime, she would claim friends, allies, rivals, and enemies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and across the color and class lines that frequently divided blacks and whites in America, including those in Cleveland, Ohio.

Wells’ biographer Paula Giddings described her as one of the most uncompromising leaders of her time.  In ‘Ida: A Sword Among Lions’, Giddings recounts the story of Wells’ work with and, sometimes, disagreements with such leaders as suffragist and diplomat Frederick Douglass, historian and fellow founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) W. E. B. Du Bois, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, & Frances Willard of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WTCU).  

Articles in the black press and other publications suggest that Wells, despite her many disputes with some well known leaders, also found trusted allies in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and among mainline black churches across the country, including Cleveland’s St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is interesting to note that some poor and working class African Americans found the “uplifting” messages of NACW members and other “respectable” reformers somewhat off-putting, since they reflected certain class and cultural biases regarding alcohol consumption, church decorum, and clothing etiquette.

Tragically, despite the best efforts of Ida B. Wells and other African American suffragists, within a decade of the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, thousands of black women in the South would join the ranks of the politically disenfranchised, just as black men had done so in the decades following the 1870 ratification of the 15th Amendment.  African Americans’ ongoing desire to secure and exercise voting rights would, however, help to fuel the Modern Civil Rights Movement after World War II.

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.


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 | 19th Amendment

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”


Women could vote. Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment on August 18th, 1920. Women had waged their fight for over a century, since they were officially denied the vote across the country by 1807. Suffragists organized en masse after the 1840s, and in Ohio during the years following 1912 they waged all out war. 

(Suffrage Parade, ca. 1914. LWV Photographs. WRHS Library)


The process of speech making, pamphlet distributing, signature collecting, and organizing empowered women and changed their lives even before they won the right to vote. Ohio was home to brave activists who challenged sexism, racism, and classism. These women carried their work beyond the amendment through the League of Women Voters and beyond. As they saw the inevitable approaching, Cleveland’s League officially formed on May 29, 1920. Their work to educate new voters continued a tradition of activism that endures today.


(LWV Voter Education and the First Vote, 1920. Press Scrapbooks, LWV Papers. WRHS Library)


League of Women Voters in Cleveland is 100 years old on May 29, 2020

(Above Image: Belle Sherwin on the cover of Cleveland Women magazine, 1918. WRHS Library)

Guest Written by Susan Murnane, League of Women Voters | Greater Cleveland Chapter

The League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland (formerly known as the Cleveland LWV) turns 100 years old on May 29, but we didn’t know that until very recently.  For many years, the Cleveland LWV claimed that it was formed in April 1920, and we had no reason to question the timeline.  Nationally and locally, the League of Women Voters was created out of woman suffrage organizations, and in 1949, Virginia Clark Abbott wrote the history of woman suffrage in Cuyahoga County and of the Cleveland LWV up to 1945 relying on the memories of surviving women who participated in the suffrage fight and became leaders in the early League. Abbott wrote that the Woman Suffrage Party of Cleveland disbanded and launched the Cleveland LWV at a meeting at Cleveland’s Hollenden Hotel in April 1920. Abbott had the founding story mostly right, but the date was wrong.

What a celebration it was. On May 28,1920, at least 2,000 Cleveland women attended the Fifth Annual Convention of the Cleveland Woman’s Suffrage Party at the Duchess Theater on Euclid Avenue near E. 55th St. to celebrate their history with a pageant.  On May 29th the convention resumed at the Hollenden Hotel to formally disband the Cleveland Suffrage Party and reincorporate as the Cleveland League of Women Voters. The Cleveland LWV announced its purpose as: “… to foster the education of women in citizenship, to give them unbiased information upon the vital issues of the day, to support improved legislation and to secure law enforcement. The league as an organization shall support no political party, but shall urge women to enroll as voters.” Today, the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland empowers voters and defends democracy throughout Cuyahoga County, with more than 550 members, men and women, in eleven chapters. For more information go to www.lwvgreatercleveland.org .

The LWV of Greater Cleveland is partnering with the Western Reserve Historical Society to celebrate the 100th anniversary of woman suffrage and the founding of the Cleveland LWV with the upcoming exhibit: Women and Politics. The exhibit was scheduled to open on May 22 but has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.  Ironically, the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic also disrupted suffragists’ organizing activities as they worked to pass the woman suffrage constitutional amendment.  The amendment was passed by both houses of Congress in June 1919 and sent to the states.  It was ratified and became law on August 26, 1920.

In April 2020, WRHS staff contacted LWVGC asking the exact date that the Cleveland League formed in order to post a commemorating article.  We checked our sources and realized we had no records that showed an exact date. We had donated our earlier files to WRHS in the 1970s, and there were very few records from the first decades of the Cleveland LWV. Apparently, the early LWV activists were too busy changing the world to keep good records. The WRHS staff member checked the Plain Dealer and found the original report of the League’s formation celebration on May 29 1920.

“Women to Usher in Voters’ League,” Plain Dealer May 28 1920

There is a moral to this story for all history lovers.  Too often, a fact gets recorded in a respected source and is repeatedly cited as authoritative. No one ever goes back to check the original documents, but the generally accepted “fact” is not true. In this case, after 70 years of perpetuating a mistake, the record has been corrected.

The virtual Women and Politics exhibit is coming soon, sign up for our emailing list to stay updated: Sign Up Here.

Dan-Dee Potato Chip Company White Motors Truck

In the year 2000, the Crawford Museum was contacted by the Signature Models firm to make toy scale models of some of the collection’s most popular cars. One of those chosen was the 1920 White truck.  (WRHS accession 2003.23.4).

Cleveland-based, White Motors got its start thanks to sewing machines. Thomas White, founder of the White Sewing Machine Company, relocated to Cleveland to be closer to the Midwest markets.  His sons, Walter, Windsor, and Rollin became fascinated by innovations with the automobile instead.  Rollin White, educated and trained as an engineer, designed an early steam-powered automobile, and the White brothers were able to convince their father to build it.  Its success spurred Thomas to allow the brothers to take over a corner of the White factory, and begin production.  White cars were known for their quality engineering and became the most popular steam-powered vehicles in America.  The White brothers also introduced a line of trucks, at first steam-powered and later gasoline-powered.  By 1915, the automobile department at the White Sewing Machine Company was spun off into its own company, the White Motor Company.

White trucks soon gained a reputation for toughness and durability, and very quickly White trucks were adopted by the U.S. Army, as well as a variety of commercial businesses.  During WWI, the White 2-ton truck was selected as the standard Class A truck of the U.S. Army, and Whites saw extensive service in Europe. White trucks were doing so well that by 1918, White Motor dropped all automobile production and shifted solely to truck production, which continued until 1980.

Among the commercial users of White trucks was the Dan-Dee Potato Chip Company, which began in 1913, and moved to Cleveland in 1915.  Starting with horse-drawn wagons, the company soon moved to gasoline-powered vehicles.  This 1920 White 3/4-ton panel truck was acquired in 1952, when Dan-Dee employee Truman J. Fisher conceived of the idea of acquiring and restoring an early White to honor Dan-Dee’s founders, Charles V. Pike and Harry Orr.  Fisher supervised the restoration and realized his dream in 1953. The truck displays the 1928 Dan Dee logo and blends images of the company’s products from the late teens to the 1930s.

In addition to promoting the Dan Dee brand for forty years, the truck served the community appearing in countless parades and visiting schools, nursing homes, and hospitals, usually driven by Charles P. Pike, son of the company founder.  The truck was donated to the Crawford by Charles P. Pike in 1994.

Women Boutique Owners in the 1920s

During the 1920s, a group of Cleveland women became the faces of local fashion. Their boutiques could be found downtown, and in particular, the Quinn-Maahs and Mary Kazhal stores were known for importing Parisian fashions. 


Halle Brothers’ employees Katherine Quinn and Gertrude Maahs left to start their own business in 1921. Their first shop spanned multiple storefronts from 1421 to 1425 Euclid Avenue, although they moved around a bit in later decades, they remained open into the 1950s. Locals shopped there for the latest European imports as well as more affordable copies of runway fashion.

Mary Kazhal, Inc.

Kazhal had opened her shop in 1918, a block or so down from Quinn-Maahs at 1276 Euclid Avenue, where the street meets Huron. Not only did the shop import and make sportswear and gowns, but it imported Parisian furs, like this life-like fellow. From 1938 the shop operated at Carnegie and East 105th, until its closure in 1950.

Convertibles | Know When to Fold

As the weather warms, even a ‘bread, milk, eggs’ trip can become an adventure, if you’re driving…a convertible!

At the dawn of the automobile, virtually all were open vehicles, but it wasn’t until 1927 that the formal definition of a ‘convertible’ was generally agreed upon in the United States; that of a car with a permanently affixed folding top and roll-up windows.

It seems as though the idea of producing a ‘fun’ open-topped car occurred to several domestic manufacturers simultaneously. Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, and Lincoln all introduced models in 1927 that fit the definition perfectly.

During the ‘Golden Age’ of American motoring, from the late 1920’s through the following decade, automotive styling reached its zenith, with a mind-boggling array of color choices, power plants, and custom bodies available to the well-heeled customer. Add a canvas drop-top to the equation, and the results could be pure poetry. Have you ever attended a car show where a 1930’s Duesenberg convertible rolled in? The crowd response can become almost reverential.

Despite their attention-grabbing good looks and general popularity, the volume of convertibles has always been a mere fraction of total automobile production for a given year. When first introduced, the figure was around one tenth of one percent. During the seminal cultural changes of the 1960’s, that figure reached a high of 6.4 percent; still small by any measure.

The conundrum facing the potential convertible customer was one of enthusiasm and style versus practicality. Growing families required roomy interiors, protection from the elements, and an affordable product. Convertibles usually came at premium prices, had dodgy weather seals, couldn’t be used for hauling much, and a second ‘fun’ car was usually outside most folks limited budgets.

Possibly the most radical example of the sacrifice of practicality in a convertible was the 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner, a two-door retractable hardtop convertible that used an astonishingly complex system of seven electric motors, four lift jacks, four locking mechanisms, and ten limit switches to lower the top into the trunk. The top was so large that it required the front third to be hinged to fold for storage. They are a crowd pleaser at current shows, but their production lasted only three years.

From a boom in popularity in the 1960’s, domestic convertibles began a slide that concluded in the mid 1970’s, occupying merely one percent of total sales. Pending (although never enacted) government safety regulations regarding rollover protection influenced the Big Three automakers to stop convertible production altogether. Of course, European and Asian manufacturers knew an opportunity when they saw one, and offered a variety of convertibles to desperate enthusiasts. Sales were strong enough to influence the Americans to resume production six years later in 1982, and the drop-tops have been rolling off the assembly lines ever since.

Most current automakers have some sort of open car in their yearly lineup, particularly in the exotic luxury or hyper car sector. Usually, a new model is debuted as a hardtop with a convertible version following on at a later date, exemplified by the new Corvette C8.

Convertibles are not for everyone, but if you’ve ever driven one on a summer evening, moon ascending over the horizon, newly mown hay on the wind, and temperatures changing with every hill and valley, the experience is unforgettable and visceral. Pure automotive joy.

Evolution of the Family Car

The first ‘family car’ was invented rather by accident in 1888, when Bertha Benz, the intelligent and adventurous wife of automobile inventor Carl Benz decided on a whim to leave with her husband’s latest prototype vehicle and visit family in the neighboring town of Pforzheim, Germany, some 66 miles away. She bundled her two adolescent sons into the car, which lacked even rudimentary protection from the elements, and ventured off. Keep in mind that her spontaneous jaunt occurred in an era when there were no fuel stations, no service facilities, and limited communication other than telegraphy. After a day-long journey, packed with numerous improvisations to keep the car running, Bertha and her brood arrived safely. Upon returning home several days later, the unapologetic Bertha suggested various design improvements to her husband’s automobile, which he dutifully adopted!

Although designs progressed rapidly over the next two decades, it wasn’t until around 1926 that the automobile became a ‘family-friendly’ vehicle with the introduction of hot-air heaters in the Ford Model A. Of course, earlier cars could easily transport several people, but the adoption of glassed-in passenger compartments and heaters provided year-round comfort and protection, perfect for routine errands or a weekend cruise in the country.

In 1926, the Jordan Motor Car Company of Cleveland contracted with the Wiedman Body Company of upstate New York to adapt their “Sport Model” camper body to the Jordan frame. Jordan marketed the hybrid as the “House Car”, and it became one of the earliest examples of what is now known as a “family camper”. This rare time capsule vehicle is currently on display at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum.

Concurrently, the expansion of the nation’s road infrastructure allowed easier access to distant locales, spurring development of roadside hotels, or ‘motels’ along several interstate highways. The ‘family vacation’ no longer depended upon rail or marine transportation, and savvy automakers took note of the growing popularity of automobile travel.

The term ‘family car’ has become synonymous with the development of the station wagon, first marketed by Ford in 1929. Early versions were mostly used as utility vehicles, but at the end of World War II, given the average American’s growing wealth, abundance of babies, and migration to the suburbs, station wagons became the transport of choice for growing families.

Domestic automakers provided a bewildering variety of station wagons from the 1950’s through the ‘70’s, many of which could carry ten passengers plus baggage. How many of us recall riding in the rear-facing ‘jumpseat’ of a wagon, waving or making faces at the following cars. Perhaps the most exotic of the wagons was the Chevrolet two door Nomad of the mid-Fifties, a favorite of custom and hot rod builders today. Who can forget the ‘Wagon Queen Family Truckster’ from the 1983 film ‘Vacation’, or the revered ‘Vista Cruiser’ from ‘That 70’s Show’?

Station wagons have faded into obscurity in favor of today’s SUV’s and pickup trucks, but how many lasting memories will be created in these vehicles? Was it really freedom to crawl around a car without seatbelts, wind in one’s hair, or just youthful naivete?

Dinner Under the Dome

One of the most remarkable examples of adaptive reuse in Greater Cleveland stands at the southeast corner of East Ninth and Euclid — there a Heinens grocery store has been transplanted into the main rotunda of the former Cleveland Trust Bank headquarters, one of the city’s most striking interior spaces.

Designed by noted architect George P. Post, the building was completed in 1908.  The domed structure instantly became a landmark.   By the 1920s, it and three other large buildings – the Schofield, the Hickox, and Union Trust Bank occupied corners on what was, perhaps, the busiest urban intersection in the nation’s fifth largest city, one whose fortunes rested on industry, banking, commerce, and transportation.

Downtown Cleveland bustled.  But seventy years later the city’s economy had shifted and diminished and Cleveland Trust had become part of what is now KeyCorp.  Banking operations ceased in 1996 and the Post building stood empty until, in what has been characterized by author Lauren Pacini, the “renaissance on East Ninth” took place.   The entire Cleveland Trust complex along East Ninth was transformed into a hotel, apartments, offices, and the Heinens store housed in the former banking rotunda.    One can now grocery shop and dine under the dome in an area which for nearly nine decades was the site of financial transactions, large and small, that shaped the fortunes of the city and its citizens.   The lower level vaults in which those fortunes were stashed now are home to a cocktail lounge named (you guessed it), “Vault.”

Belle Sherwin (1868-1955)

Belle Sherwin was one of the most important figures in the LWV’s history. Born in Cleveland to one of the founders of Sherwin-Williams Company, she worked for several years as a teacher before becoming involved in the suffragist movement. Sherwin headed and founded charitable and welfare organizations, including the Cleveland Consumer’s League (1899), and the Women’s City Club (1916). During World War I, she organized women locally, and served as a Women’s Committee Chairman for the Council of National Defense. In 1920, Sherwin chaired the League of Women Voters in Cleveland and became the second president of the national League of Women Voters from 1924-1934, where she launched many of the nonpartisan voter education programs and initiatives that LWV still follows today.