Women Making History | Margaret Wong

Margaret Wong

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publicationsusing resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

The history of assisting new immigrants in Greater Cleveland is linked, in many ways, to the work of women who have used their skills, as lawyers, agency directors, and volunteers to assist newcomers to our city over the past century.

Margaret Wong and Associates, one of the nation’s foremost immigration-focused law firms had its beginnings, so to speak, in Hong Kong.   That is where Margaret Wong was born. Her father was Hwang Mien Lin, a newspaper publisher and her mother Kuan Kuo Hua, a journalist. Margaret’s goal was to study medicine, and in order to so she obtained a student visa to the US.  She and her sister Cecilia arrived in 1969 with four suitcases, several hundred dollars, and with some rudimentary English. She studied initially at Ottumwa Heights College in Iowa and then graduated from Western Illinois University. However, her plans would change when she decided to, instead, study law. She graduated with her JD in 1976 from the SUNY Buffalo Law School where she was one of only four women in the class.

Her search for a legal position was difficult, made so by biases against women and immigrants.   She persisted and eventually came to Cleveland where she found a position at Central National Bank as a credit analyst. Yet, her desire was still to practice law, and given her own experiences as an immigrant, she wanted to focus on immigration law.   She did so by starting her own law firm in 1978. Today Margaret Wong and Associates is one of the premier immigration law firms in the nation, a feat made possible by Margaret’s incredible work ethic and her desire to assist those who are confronted by an unbelievably complex body of rules, regulations, and case law that today govern immigration to the United States.   Headquartered on Chester Avenue in Cleveland, and with offices in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis, Nashville, Minneapolis, Columbus, and Raleigh, the firm now has three partners, nine associates, and a number of paralegals. For many immigrants, Margaret Wong’s dedication and that of the members of her firm have provided new, secure lives in the United States.

Margaret Wong’s story is, perhaps the most recent of those that relate to women who have helped immigrants in our city and nation. The history of one of Cleveland’s premiere immigrant aid organizations clearly reflects that connection.

In September 1916, the Young Women’s Christian Association of Cleveland established its International Institute “…for the protection and welfare of immigrant girls.”   Margaret Fergusson would head the Institute from 1926 until 1954 when it merged with the Citizens Bureau to form the Nationalities Services Center. Both institutions had, up to that time, assisted over one hundred thousand immigrants and refugees. Lucretia Stoica, the daughter of Romanian immigrants and formerly a case worker at the International Institute, would become the Deputy and then the Executive Director of the merged agency, serving as its head for twenty-six years until her retirement in 1988. Algis Ruksenas would become director in 1988. Renamed the International Services Center in 1994, it would again be led by a woman, Karin Wishner, after Ruksenas’ retirement in 2006. Karin who had previously worked with the Center’s educational programs would then oversee its merger into the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in 2016. She would retire in 2019. Today Dylanna Grasinger heads both the Cleveland and Erie, Pennsylvania offices of the USCRI.

Then & Now | Presidential Inaugurations

Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln's 2nd Inauguration

Contributed by John J. Grabowski, Ph.D., Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, using resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

The Western Reserve Historical Society’s collection of political memorabilia is of national significance. Much of it is comprised of campaign material which is often on display during an election period. But it is deeper than the buttons and badges representing candidates and political parties that most people see. As we reflect on the inauguration of a new President it is important to note that that event, a peaceful transition of power –one of the most powerful and symbolic events in our nation, is also represented in the collections. As we move toward this year’s inauguration, it is well worth looking at two other inaugurations – perhaps the most important pair in the nation’s history, for which the Historical Society holds several major and rare items.

Abraham Lincoln’s election to the Presidency in 1860 would, in many ways, eventually reshape the nation, not only because of an ensuing Civil War, but also because it would ultimately bring about the end of slavery. The election of 1860 was a fraught affair. Four candidates representing four parties ran for the office. The controversy over slavery split the Democratic Party and resulted in southern and northern candidates. A third party, the Constitutional Union Party, which opposed secession, tried to bridge that gap. The Republican Party, of Lincoln was the candidate, opposed the extension of slavery, but included a number of people who strongly advocated its immediate abolition. No matter its stance the Republican Party was portrayed by its southern opponents as a “black” or “abolitionist” party. Lincoln would not win a single slave state and no ballots for him were distributed in ten southern states.

Nevertheless he won with 180 electoral votes, but only 40 percent of the popular vote. He received the news in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, and began to make plans for his inauguration which would take place on March 4, 1861. He was to travel to Washington by train and almost immediately he received invitations to stop at cities along the route. George B. Senter, the Republican mayor of Cleveland sent a letter to Springfield.

The reply to that letter is one of the icons of the Society’s collection. Written by one of Lincoln’s secretaries but signed by Lincoln it confirmed Lincoln’s acceptance of the invitation. The President-elect came to Cleveland on February 15 where he spoke to a large crowd from a balcony at the Weddell House where he spent the night. For many years his room was preserved as a museum at the hotel. When the hotel was demolished, a desk purportedly from Lincoln’s room, became part of the Society’s collections.

One of Lincoln’s last stops on the route to Washington was in Philadelphia. There he participated in a flag raising in front of Independence Hall on February 22. The flag had 34 stars, one being new and representing the admission to Kansas to the Union. His remarks were somewhat hopeful, “… I think we may promise ourselves that not only the new star placed upon that flag shall be permitted to remain there to our permanent prosperity for years to come, but additional ones shall from time to time be placed there….” By this time seven southern states had seceded and Jefferson Davis installed as provisional president of the Confederacy. A rare original photographic print of Lincoln speaking from the platform in front of Independence hall is another piece of Lincoln’s inaugural story held in our collections.

It was during his stay in Philadelphia that Lincoln received reports of a plot to assassinate him when he changed trains in Baltimore to travel to his destination Washington. The reports seemed credible, particularly given Maryland’s status as a slave state and because of the number of threats that Lincoln had received since his election. Detective Alan Pinkerton who had discovered the plot convinced Lincoln to change his travel plans. He did, and in partial disguise, he arrived in Washington safely, but was soon lampooned by the press for sneaking into the capital. It was not a good start in a long difficult journey.

On March 4th he gave his first inaugural address at a heavily guarded Capitol. In that address he tried to convince the South to remain in or return to the Union, but hinted at consequences if it didn’t. Near its end Lincoln said: “In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.” It was, according to one observer an “iron fist in a velvet glove.” James Buchanan, his predecessor as President and who had done nothing to stop the secession of southern states attended the inauguration.

The attack on Ft. Sumter the following month began four years of war, the bloodiest conflict that the nation has ever fought. Near the end of that conflict, Lincoln had his second inauguration. The event in March 1865 was captured by the camera of Alexander Gardner. For many years it was believed that there was no clear image of Lincoln giving his second inaugural address, a short one in which he asked the nation to stay firm and focused at a time when the war was nearly ended. His image was blurred or not fully visible in the prints that were known to exist.

Abraham Lincoln Inauguration

In the early 1970s, Lincoln photographic scholar Lloyd Ostendorf, a noted expert on Lincoln and particularly on photographs of Lincoln, visited the Western Reserve Historical Society to review its collection, which was then being sorted and processed. He came across several images of the second inauguration and found one he had never seen before – it showed a clear, crisp image of Lincoln seated near the lectern at Capitol. The discovery made national news, even appearing in Life magazine. It is, indeed, a treasure of our institution.

Yet, the items we hold relating to Lincoln and his inauguration are not merely treasures – they are evidence of a time when the nation was at a crossroads – free or slave, unified or divided. That crossroads led to a journey that ended up costing hundreds of thousands of lives, including that of Abraham Lincoln who would be assassinated a mere six weeks after his second inauguration, and after the rebellion in the South had been defeated. In December of 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment which ended the unspeakable practice of slavery was passed and two further amendments would begin to reshape the rights of all Americans. It was a difficult time, one considered by historians as a second American Revolution. But it was one that helped and continues to help shape our nation. As we watch the inauguration this year, we should remember that the past never fully repeats itself, but it bears many lessons for the present.

Then & Now | Inauguration Balls

Presidential Inaugurations are parties to celebrate a new leader but also a place for the country’s movers and shakers to see and be seen.

Contributed by Patricia Edmondson, Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costumes & Textiles, using resources from WRHS’s collections & archives.

George Washington celebrated his presidency with a ball, and the first official inaugural ball took place in 1809, honoring James Madison. In 1913, Woodrow Wilson cancelled the party, considering it too extravagant. Unofficial events continued until 1949 when Harry Truman revived the tradition. Some presidents choose to hold several small balls, and others accommodate thousands of people in one night. Bill Clinton holds the record with fourteen balls for his second inauguration. Many Clevelanders have attended these celebrations, treasuring both the clothes and the memories that come with them.

Inaugural Ball Gown, ca. 1868. Gift of Lucy and Olive Moody 42.4270

Mary Kirtland Mansfield of Poland, Ohio wore this dress to Ulysses S. Grant’s first inaugural ball. Both of Grant’s balls were relative disasters. In 1869, the small venue left little room for dancing and the coat check clerks lost several items. Grant constructed a larger, temporary building for the 1873 ball, but the lack of insulation forced guests to wear coats, eat cold food, and watch caged canaries freeze to death.


Evening Dress, 1980. James Galanos (1924-2016). Gift of Lindsay J. Morgenthaler 93.27.1

Presidential Inaugurations are parties to celebrate a new leader but also a place for the country’s movers and shakers to see and be seen. Clevelander Lindsay Morgenthaler purchased this ensemble for Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration, and the festivities that year were slated to be elaborate. Proceeds from ticket sales, merchandising, and donations totaled about $6 million to cover the costs of the parade, events, and coverage of the inaugural day.  Although the country was in the wake of economic depression, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies requested semi-formal attire (rather than the standard politician’s business suits), even specifying colors and details to be considered. Later that evening, with guests in formal attire, there were no other rules.  Lindsay’s dress is made from a shimmering silver silk satin, and reveals an open back beneath the jacket. The lace topper makes a statement with powerful padded shoulders and swinging layers of lace. In choosing the American designer James Galanos, Lindsay supported her country’s artists and gave a nod toward the First Lady—who loved Galanos and also wore one of his designs to the ball.

 


Equal Rights Amendment Pennant, 1980. Gift of Deborah L. Neale 2017.19.2

Cleveland lobbyist Debbie Neale attended Reagan’s 1981 inaugural ball at the height of the struggle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment would have secured equal rights for men and women, along with methods for Congress to enforce them. Neale carried this pennant with her to the Swearing-in Ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol, but was required to leave it at the entrance. She made sure to retrieve it when she left Capitol Hill.

 

Ask a Historian | The Modern World

Lili asks, “How would you define the modern world and when do you believe it began?”

“Historians date the “modern” era to the late 1700s with two pivotal events:  The French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution each of which began a significant alteration of society — one relating to  hierarchies of power and governance, and the other to the means of production and consumption.  These changes have been ongoing since then.   However, some now argue that we are in a “Post-Modern” world in which these changes, usually seen as progressive, are now being questioned or seen as having reached an end..
Historians also look at an “early -modern period”, beginning in the late 1400s with the Renaissance and the consequent rise of independent inquiry, the challenge to religious systems (e.g. the rise of Protestantism), and the beginning of the age of exploration.
Of course, both of these periods largely reflect a focus on “western civilization” and neglect changes taking place in China, and the Indian subcontinent.
So, my tendency, like many others, is to see “modernity” as things that are new and innovative, but core shifting styles and technologies really rests on the major changes that I’ve noted above.”
John J. Grabowski, Ph.D.
Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History  CWRU
Historian/Senior Vice President for Research and Publications, Western Reserve Historical Society
Editor, Encyclopedia of Cleveland History