Women Making History | Alta Weiss

Contributed by Robyn Marcs, WRHS Grants Manager

Alta Weiss was born into a Jewish family, the second of three daughters, in Berlin Heights, OH. By the time she was 17, Alta was playing semipro baseball for the Vermillion Independents. She was the only woman on her team, and her male teammates and the manager were at first skeptical about letting her play. After 15 strikeouts in one game, they realized her talent and let her join the team. Each weekend, she made the 127-mile trip from Ragersville, OH to Vermillion to play ball, debuting on the mound in September 1907. Alta quickly earned the name “Girl Wonder” for her pitching prowess. The following year, her father established the Weiss All-Star semipro team, and people flocked from miles around to catch a game featuring the talented lady pitcher.

Alta was a sensation, garnering attention for her skill and poise on the mound. While still on the Vermillion team, Alta was able to play at League Park, now the home of the Baseball Heritage Museum, against future Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie and the Cleveland Naps. A special train was even built to Cleveland just for those who wanted to see Alta play there! Of her skill Nap said: “she looked to me to have as much as many men pitchers … but really, I was surprised to find that she could pitch so well.” Vermillion beat the Indians that day, 4-2.

Alta used her funds from her baseball barnstorming days to good use, and paid her way through higher education. In 1914, Alta graduated medical school from The Ohio State Medical College, the only woman in her class. She continued to play baseball until 1922, when she decided to practice medicine full time. Alta passed away in 1964 and is buried in Winesburg, OH. She truly helped paved the way for women in baseball, and was a local woman in a league of her own.

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.

Women Making History | Zelma Watson George

Zelma Watson GeorgeZelma Watson George became a symbol of African American achievement in several fields ranging from operatic diva to United Nations diplomat. After moving to Chicago with her family she earned a sociology degree from the Univ. of Chicago and studied voice at the American Conservatory of Music. Later she added advanced degrees in personnel administration and sociology from New York University.

Her journey would bring her to Cleveland to examine the John G. White Collection of the Cleveland Public Library. She would go on to write a musical drama based upon her research, “Chariot’s A’Comin!”, which was telecast by WEWS-TV in 1949. That year Zelma assumed the title role in Gian-Carlo Menotti’s opera, The Medium, at Karamu Theater. She was selected by Menotti himself to repeat her triumph in an off-Broadway revival of the work. As an African American appearing in a role not written for one per se she was likely New York’s first example of non-traditional casting.

In the 1950s Zelma served on several government committees at the national level, culminating in a world lecture tour as good-will ambassador and an appointment as U.S. alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly (1960-61). From 1966-74 she served as director of the Cleveland Job Corps. Following her retirement and the death of her husband, she lectured, wrote, and taught at Cuyahoga Community College.

Women Making History | Adella Prentiss Hughes

Adella Prentiss HughesAdella Prentiss Hughes spent her life promoting musical causes in Cleveland and, in founding the Cleveland Orchestra, was able to bring international acclaim to Cleveland. Mrs. Hughes was born in Cleveland to Loren and Ellen Rouse Prentiss. She graduated from Miss Fisher’s School for Girls and graduated with a music degree from Vassar in 1890. She toured Europe for a year before returning to Cleveland, and she devoted herself to the sparse local musical scene, first becoming a professional accompanist. Though she enjoyed playing music, by 1898, she also wanted to bring other musicians to Cleveland. She was married once, in 1904, to Felix Hughes, but they divorced in 1923.

For seventeen years, she brought orchestras, ballets, and operas to Cleveland to perform at Gray’s Armory. In 1915, she established the Musical Arts Association that called upon a group of wealthy businessmen for the funding of cultural projects. Under her leadership and the guidance of Nikolai Sokoloff, the Musical Arts Association founded the Cleveland Orchestra in 1918. Mrs. Hughes was the Orchestra’s first manager for 15 years and held leadership positions at the Musical Arts Association for 30 years. In 1945, Mrs. Hughes only nominally retired, and continued to pursue musical interests until her death in 1950.

Women Making History | Fannie Lewis

Fannie Lewis

Fannie Lewis earned her tough as nails reputation as a tireless leader and dedicated public servant who worked hard to improve conditions in not only her own ward, but also the city of Cleveland.

Fannie Lewis was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but her heart was in Ward 7 of Cleveland, which she represented for almost 30 years. Lewis first gained public attention when she was photographed talking to National Guard troops after the Hough riots. After the riots Lewis became a recruiter for Neighborhood Youth Corps, and was eventually promoted to recruitment coordinator. Wanting to take a more active role in her community, Lewis ran for City Council in 1979, and began her first term as councilwoman in 1980. During her time in office she advocated for voting rights, the Cleveland school voucher program, the construction of new expensive homes in the Hough area known as “Fannie’s Mansions”, and she was also responsible for the “Fannie Lewis Law” which required that city residents make up at least 20 percent of the work force on city construction contracts that were above $100,000. Serving for 28 years, Lewis is the longest-serving female council member in the history of Cleveland, and was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996.

Women Making History | Judith A. Resnik

Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Judith A. Resnik blazed a trail for young girls across the United States to take an interest in space and science. Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978, Dr. Resnik was 1 of 6 women representing the first female class to enter the program. She first flew as a mission specialist on STS 41-D, launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on August 30, 1984. This was the maiden flight of the Orbiter Discovery. On this mission, the crew earned the name “Icebusters” by successfully removing hazardous ice particles from the orbiter using a Remote Manipulator System.

Later, Resnik was a mission specialist on STS 51-L, which was launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 11:38:00 EST on January 28, 1986. The crew on board the Orbiter Challenger included the spacecraft commander, F. R. Scobee, the pilot, Commander M. J. Smith (USN), fellow mission specialists, Dr. R. E. McNair, and Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Onizuga (USAF), as well as two civilian payload specialist, G. B. Jarvis and S. C. McAuliffe. The STS 51-L crew died on January 28, 1986 after Challenger exploded 1 minute and 13 seconds after launch.

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

Women Making History | Lethia Cousins Fleming

lethia fleming

Lethia Cousins Fleming was many things throughout her life; campaign organizer, women’s and civil rights activist,wife, and politician, to name a few. Although Mrs. Fleming was most well known for her work in politics, both locally and nationally, she was also a twenty-year employee of the Cuyahoga County Child Welfare Board where she worked following an unsuccessful bid for her husband’s city council seat in 1929.

Born in Tazewell, Virginia in 1876 to James Archibald and Fannie Taylor Cousins, Mrs. Fleming was educated in Ironton, Ohio and later at Morristown College in Tennessee. Following college, she returned to her home state where she was a suffragist and taught for twenty years, until her marriage to Thomas Wallace Fleming in 1912.

After their marriage, the couple moved to Cleveland, where Thomas, a lawyer, would later become the city’s first African-American councilman. Only two years after the move, Mrs. Fleming became the chairwoman of the Board of Lady Managers at the Cleveland Home for Aged Colored People (later the Eliza Bryant Center) and was also part of many national organizations. She was a charter member of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland, the Traveler’s Aid Society, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Cleveland Branch). An ardent supporter of the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA), her fundraising efforts led to the purchase of the first PWA building.

Though she did not win her husband’s city council seat after his imprisonment, Mrs. Cousins was active in politics on a national and local level. She worked on galvanizing support among African-American women for three Republican presidential candidates: Warren G. Harding, Herbert Hoover, and Alfred M. Landon. She chaired the executive board of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and served as president of its Ohio federation. She served on the executive board for the National Association of Colored Women and the National Council of Negro Women, in addition to serving as president of the National Association of Republican Women and executive director of the Republican Colored Women organization.

Then & Now | Antonia – An Immigrant Mother

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

Perhaps the most striking statue in Cleveland’s Cultural Gardens, our city’s monument to its diversity, is that of an anonymous immigrant mother holding two children. It can be found in the lower level of the Croatian Garden. It challenges our concept of who should be honored in the history of our multicultural city. Certainly, there are other women, all famous, depicted within the Gardens, but no other monument binds us together as well as this – it is a reminder that migration and immigration are not simply the stories of famous men, nor is the history of women simply that of those whom we choose to see as agents of change. It also means that each of us may well have a story such as the one that follows. It is not one of an activist, but of an ordinary woman, whose brief life was built around and constrained by custom and tradition.

In 1906 Antonia Bohinc and John Vuk, her new husband left their home in what is now Slovenia to come to Cleveland. There they would join Michael, her brother-in-law. She was nineteen, the daughter of a charcoal burner from the town Kropa. John, likely an orphan, was from the nearby settlement of Kamna Gorica. John left little behind while Antonia left behind her parents and two brothers.

Kropa was a smoky town of iron forges; forges that long ago created the spikes that helped build Venice. But it was nestled in a green semi-rural, hilly area of the countryside. Today it is a stunning small village, almost frozen in time. The home she lived in still stands. And while she left for America, the culture and norms of Kropa shaped her life.

Antonia’s life in Cleveland would be far different in terms of environment. The couple settled on Lakecourt, a short street of small frame homes running westward from E. 55th Street just north of the Lake Shore & Michigan railroad tracks. She may have enjoyed the view of the lake to the north, but it was compromised by the continual din of trains and the coal smoke that they and the area factories, such as the one that John worked in, emitted. It was likely a wrenching change of scenery. And there she settled into the life expected of her at that time – cooking, keeping house, and having children. Like many women from abroad, she would eat only after her husband had been served.

She had her first child, Kate, in 1907; two years later a second child, Marie was born; followed in 1911 by Antonia (known as Rose) and in 1913, a fourth daughter, Frances. It was literally one pregnancy after another, each in a new world, and strange surroundings. One of her daughters recalled a bit of family lore that indicated that each of them had been delivered in the house by the tracks.

In slightly less than nine years after arriving in Cleveland she would come down with a common affliction in crowded American industrial cities. She had tuberculosis and on May 24th, 1915 she succumbed to it in the Cleveland City Hospital. She was only 28. Her husband spent an enormous sum of $72.50 on her funeral, the equivalent to over $1,800 today. He could not fully pay the bill. Her grave in Calvary Cemetery lacked a proper stone until one of her daughters, Marie, purchased one many years later. Nor could he care for his young daughters. One was sent to live with a friend, the two youngest spent some time in a Catholic orphanage. Eventually he would remarry.

Each of the four daughters would survive far longer than their mother. All would marry, but only one would have children – ironically, two boys. Each, through the foods they prepared, would carry part of the family heritage with them, but while they knew the language of their parents, they seldom used it. One daughter, rebellious in her own way, would be tempted to become a chorus girl, and then train as a

cosmetologist, only to later be prohibited by her second husband to practice her trade as he, the son of immigrants, insisted in being the breadwinner.

This story of one young immigrant woman, who brought four daughters into the world and then died at the age of 28 is tragic, but not unique. Nor are the lives of her daughters. Similar stories can be found throughout the world, both then and, indeed, now. Yet, in and of itself, the story indicates that in our celebration of Women’s History Month, our focus need not only be on those who have achieved a solid place in the history books or pushed the boundaries of women’s rights, but on every woman. It is, perhaps, the story of “every woman” that most truly resonates with most of our own experiences and given the diversity of our nation, best allows us to see our shared humanity.

 

(Photo: John and Antonia with their first daughter, Kate.)

Then & Now | Geraldine “Gerry” Ferraro

Contributed by Pamela Dorazio Dean, MA, CA, Curator for Italian American History at Western Reserve Historical Society.

Geraldine “Gerry” Ferraro (1935–2011) was the first woman and Italian American to become a vice presidential candidate when she ran on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984.  While the team did not win the election, Ferraro had a long, successful career in politics.  She served as a member of the US House of Representatives from 1979-1985, secretary of the House Democratic Caucus from 1981-1985, US Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1993-1996, and as a member of Hilary Clinton’s campaign team in 2008.

Ferraro was born in Newburgh, New York, to Antonetta Corrieri, a seamstress, and Dominick Ferraro, a restauranteur.  Her father emigrated from Marcianise, Campania, Italy.   Her grandparents on her maternal side emigrated from Molise, Italy.  Ferraro was proud of her Italian heritage.  In the acceptance speech for her nomination as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, Ferraro said, “The daughter of an immigrant from Italy has been chosen to run for vice president in the new land my father came to love.”

After getting her Bachelor of Fine Arts in English, Ferraro served as a public school teacher in Queens.  She said it was not her first choice of career, but one option that was acceptable for women.  Ferraro soon switched gears and studied law at Fordham University, graduating in 1960.  She was only one of two women in her graduating class.  After raising her children, Ferraro took a full-time position in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in 1974.  This job led to her election to the U.S. House of Representatives where she was a strong advocate for women’s equality in the areas of wages and pensions.

 

(Photo: Geraldine Ferraro. Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images)

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 | Susan Hall

At Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there are plenty of opportunities to shine, from parties to the induction ceremonies. The Rock Hall’s Director of Community Relations, Ruthie Brown, gave this suit to her colleague Susan Hall, who first wore it to their annual fundraiser in 2001. With its second owner, this suit has attended events, and even traveled to New York for a Rock Hall induction ceremony (although, due to a broken shoe strap, it didn’t make it to the event).

Clevelander Russell Trusso designed the ensemble during the 1990s, when he was still working as both an anesthesiologist and a couturier. He first found fashion success making one-of-a-kind wedding dresses from antique lace, and progressed to couture suits and gowns. Today, Trusso is a full-time jewelry designer, working with gems and enamel, and developing new techniques like his method for embedding diamonds into the surfaces of pearls. His clothes still fill the closets of Cleveland women, and the WRHS costume collection includes a handful of his garments.

Susan believes that “dressing for the occasion is essential,” and although her life’s work is community engagement and documenting Black history, fashion has always been important. Following college, she worked for IZOD Kids in New York City, and when she first moved to Cleveland Susan managed production and models for catalog and editorial work at Remington. She also worked as the Director of Community Relations and a Curator at the WRHS, where she worked on exhibitions such as 1964 – When Browns Town was Title TownThrough the Lens of Allen E. Cole, and Carl & Louis Stokes: From the Projects to Politics. When not working as a historian, Susan is the President of Hall Creative Productions, where she creates public art exhibits, events, strategic marketing, and historical research focused on African American and pop culture history.

(Evening Suit, 1990s. Russell Trusso. Worn in Cleveland, Ohio by Susan Hall (b. 1962)


 

Then & Now | Sarah Nakagawa Sato

The fabric’s sheen, the jeweled feline design, and flowing feathers epitomize Sarah Sato’s love of whimsy and drama. The designer George Halley was known for these qualities and his glamorous eveningwear during the 1960s and 1970s—which might surprise those who knew him while growing up on a farm in Alliance, Ohio. Just a few years before he produced this dress, Halley and his wife Claudia Morgan (a model and the muse for designer Norman Norell) founded his design house. Almost immediately, they found success, even winning a prestigious Coty Award in 1968. Sarah would have worn her statement-making fashions to openings, benefits, and other philanthropic events. When wearing this dress, she explained that she often removed the detachable collar of this dress because the feathers ended up in her mouth (not a glamourous experience).

Sarah’s dramatic tastes in fashion can also be tied to her interest in powerful art and culture, most notably music. She and her husband Sam moved to Cleveland during the 1940s and supported the Cleveland Orchestra, Lyric Opera Cleveland, Northern Ohio Opera, the Cleveland Music School Settlement, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Sarah made an enormous impact while serving on the board at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and she and Sam established the school’s Center for Suzuki Studies. The couple did much of this work together, and their marriage was celebrated—most notably after they completed the oldest spouse-to-spouse organ transplant when Sarah gave Sam a kidney.

(Cocktail Dress by George Halley. 1969. Worn in Cleveland, Ohio by Sarah Nakagawa Sato)


 

WRHS Women Making History | Robyn Marcs

Robyn Marcs
Grants Manager for Western Reserve Historical Society

 

What do you do at WRHS?

I am the Grants Manager for WRHS, including the Cleveland History Center and Hale Farm and Village.

Why is it important?

Finding and securing funding is crucial for WRHS to maintain the Cleveland History Center and Hale Farm and Village.  My goal is to make sure that WRHS is operating for years to come for everyone to enjoy!

Why is history important to you?

I grew up with a history teacher mother and a Civil War buff father, loving history was part of my upbringing!  I love learning about the past, including the lesser known figures in history.  For example, my cat is named after Richard III’s mother, Cecily Neville!  My area of expertise is medieval English history, mostly between the years 1460-1558.

Do you have a favorite figure from history that motivates you?

One of my favorite lesser known figures from history is Nicholaa de la Haye a formidable Englishwoman in the 13th century. Despite being a grandmother at the time, Nicholaa successfully held off raids on Lincoln Castle against King John of England in the 12th and 13th centuries. When France tried to take England for themselves in 1217, the 67-year-old Nicholaa defended Lincoln Castle again the invading armies, and who knows – England may be French today were it not for her valiant efforts!  For her loyalty, King John appointed her as the first female High Sheriff of Lincoln, which is remarkable for a woman, let alone a 60-some year old, at that time!  Her bravery and “unladylike” leadership secured the throne for John’s young son Henry III.  She held her own in the increasingly male-dominated society of early medieval England.
It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how old you are – you can always make a difference!  I love her tenacity and I picture her as a tough-as-nails older woman who didn’t take sass from anything or anyone.

More Info

Graduated from Miami University in History and English Literature.  My senior thesis was on Harry Truman, who said my favorite quote: “There is nothing better than cake but more cake.”

Then & Now | Denajua

Denajua designer dress

Cleveland-born designer Denajua (which means of the moon) created this dramatic evening suit to intrigue viewers from every angle. An exhibition about armor at the Louvre inspired the silhouette, with its strong shoulders and structured bustle. The designer, who specializes in evening wear, has been creating unique statement-making clothing for almost forty years. It’s never been her goal to appeal to the mass market: in 1991 she told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “I don’t follow trends, I don’t read fashion magazines. I make my own decisions about what the season is going to be, and I don’t care about long and short.”

In addition to the sculptural quality, this suit’s materials serve as evidence of Denajua’s affinity for handwork and unusual fabrics. Detailed embellishment in sequins and lace are accompanied by less commonly found materials, namely VHS tape. The primary textile is woven using the recycled tape, resulting in an extremely light, flexible fabric with a glimmering texture. Denajua’s work over the decades has been fun, whimsical, and sometimes surreal. She created a dress in picnic-perfect red and white gingham decorated with ants; breasts become eyes on an evening gown; guitar picks come together as shoulder straps for a dress in the form of a keyboard. Although her work is unusual, Cleveland’s clients haven’t been scared off: “They seem conservative, but once they put on one of my designs, they light up. It’s really wild.” Browsing through coverage of Cleveland’s society benefits during the 1980s and 1990s, one finds an abundance of Denajua’s work, from clothing to the entire gala decoration.

Her work is not the only place that Denajua seeks individuality. She once said, “I just want the single luxury of being allowed to be me.” In this context, Denajua was referring to her journey to become the woman she is today, figuratively and literally. She began sexual reassignment surgery in 1979 after years of counseling at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Ultimately, she also wanted the rights afforded to her such as a legal marriage to a man and an accurate passport—and she succeeded. Today, Denajua splits her time between Paris and Cleveland, living and designing as her own woman.

(Evening Suit, 2017. Denájua b. 1957.)


 

WRHS Women Making History | Pamela Dorazio Dean

Pamela Dorazio Dean, MA, CA
Curator for Italian American History at Western Reserve Historical Society

 

What do you do at WRHS? 

Curator of Italian American History/Director, Italian American Museum of Cleveland

Why is it important? 

Italians are one of the largest groups to immigrate to Cleveland between 1880-1920.  The positive impact they made and continue to make upon the region is significant.  It is important to preserve the history of their contributions as well as educate others about it.

Why is history important to you? 

I believe history is important because it teaches us cause and effect, basically why things happened and what occurred as a result.  This understanding helps us function better in our present lives.  Another aspect about history that I think is important is that it allows us to broaden our knowledge and experience of the world.  Our lives are short, relatively speaking, and our ability to experience different events, cultures, and peoples is somewhat limited.  But with history, you can gain an understanding of the world centuries before you were born.

Do you have a favorite figure from history that motivates you? 

Too many to name.

More Info 

One group of women that motivates and inspires me are the Ursuline Sisters.  I was lucky enough to be educated by them in high school.  They were incredible role models for women.  They ran the school at all levels, from the classroom to the administrative offices, and did it extremely well.  Their dedication to their faith, to the community, and to the education of youth still inspires me to this day.  Particularly inspiring is their outspokenness on social justice issues.  Even when women’s voices were not being heard, they found a way to be leaders in making positive change.

WRHS Women Making History | Whitney Stalnaker

Whitney Stalnaker

Public Programs Manager at Western Reserve Historical Society

 

What do you do at WRHS? 

As Public Programs Manager for the Cleveland History Center, I am responsible for developing and implementing adult learning experiences based on the WRHS collections. These programs include tours, lectures, panel discussions, classes, workshops, and special events. The bulk of my work over the past year has focused on making these programs accessible virtually so our guests can continue to engage with our museum from the safety of their own homes.

Why is it important? 

Artifacts provide a unique look into the past, and it is our responsibility as museum professionals to present them in ways that best convey their stories to our audiences. Programming is a key part of this effort. Our programs give audiences the opportunity to engage with our experts and go in-depth into our collections, ensuring that the critical lessons of Cleveland history are shared and understood beyond our museum galleries.

Why is history important to you? 

History is most important to me because of the human element. Studying history, it’s easy for us to get so consumed with facts, figures, and theories that we forget the intrinsic humanity of these stories. However, it is this humanity that makes the study of history so crucial. When we learn about a historic event, we’re also learning about the millions of lives that were shaped by it. Understanding this not only helps us realize the gravity of these large-scale decisions but also allows us to better empathize with those who might still be affected by them even decades later.

Do you have a favorite figure from history that motivates you? 

I am most motivated by the women of my family who came before me. I come from central West Virginia, where my ancestors settled many generations ago. Living in rural Appalachia, these women were faced with environmental and economic challenges that demanded they be resourceful, clever, and – most of all – tough. They learned the land, grew and sometimes even hunted the food for their families, and contributed to their small communities as midwives and caretakers. Their stories have greatly shaped how I live my life, and I am inspired to keep their history alive so that future generations may understand the contributions of these remarkable women.

WRHS Women Making History | Patty Edmonson

Patty Edmonson
Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles
for the Western Reserve Historical Society

 

What do you do at WRHS?

I’m the Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume and Textiles. I care for a large collection, which means everything from vacuuming storage to bringing in new garments. I act both as a collections manager and a curator, so I conduct a lot of archival research, plan and write exhibits, and do the installation too.

Why is it important?

For me, clothing provides a relatable link to the past that helps make it relevant. It can be transformative and transportive. So while it might seem frivolous to some, working with textiles helps preserve artifacts that remind us of who we were, are, and will be. Clothes open to doors to much larger conversations about class, race, sexuality, and humanity.

Why is history important to you?

Understanding history helps us know who we are, and why. Without knowing about the struggles and successes of the people that came before us, we wouldn’t know why our world is the way it is, for better or for worse.

Do you have a favorite figure from history that motivates you?

I’m inspired by the women who’ve lived in Cleveland before me. I’m currently researching Amanda Wicker, who moved to Cleveland in the 1920s and opened a dressmaking and design school that was successful for six decades. She had to face the discrimination of being a woman and being Black, but did it with dignity and used sewing skills to teach people survival skills, workforce readiness, and a sense of community. I wish I could have met her.

Then & Now | Ruth Franklin Sommerlad

(Photograph of Ruth Franklin Sommerlad and Frederick C. Crawford.)
Ruth Franklin Sommerlad (1912-2003), known professionally as Ruth Franklin, was one of the first female curators of an auto-aviation museum. She was born in Byesville, Ohio in 1912, and graduated from Heidelberg College with a Master of Arts degree in 1932. In 1942, she joined the personnel department of Cleveland’s Thompson Products Company. Three years later, she became the Curator of the Thompson Products Auto Album. Ruth Franklin would assist Thompson Products president Fred Crawford in expanding and defining the collection through its transition to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1963 and was named director of the Frederick C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum when it opened in 1965.
Ruth Franklin was renowned through America because of her antique car expertise. She participated in nation-wide Glidden Tours of antique cars since 1946, and was the first woman on the board of trustees of the National Antique Automobile Club of America. She was also a member of the Women’s Advertising Club of Cleveland, and the American Association of Museums. By the time Ruth retired from WRHS in 1971 she had seen the collection grow to over 100 automobiles, a number of aircraft, and a variety of other vehicles and artifacts.

Remembering Margaret R. Barron

AAAA logo

Remembering Margaret R. Barron

President Emerita, African American Archives Auxiliary of WRHS

 

From Kelly Falcone-Hall, President and CEO of the Western Reserve Historical Society and Raymond A. Weeden, President of the African American Archives Auxiliary

 

On behalf of the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS), we honor the life and legacy of Margaret Barron, President Emerita of the African American Archives Auxiliary (or, Quad A) and Lifetime Member of WRHS. Margaret’s leadership of the African American Archives Auxiliary for two decades transformed this all-volunteer auxiliary organization that provides support and guidance for the development of the African American Archives. Among Margaret’s many notable achievements, she worked at Tri-C Metro Campus as a Librarian with Dr. Booker T. Tall, Director of the Black Studies Program, and a founder of the auxiliary that would become so dear to Margaret.

 

Margaret’s exemplary leadership elevated Quad A, the work of the African American Archives, and the preservation of African American history in Cleveland and the region. We at the Western Reserve Historical Society express our deepest condolences to the family. We honor Margaret’s memory, and our work continues to be guided by her shining example.

Tribute written by Sherlynn Allen-Harris, former AAAA President

After a friendship of twenty-five years, it is difficult to find all of the words to express what Margaret Barron meant to me. To me Margaret Barron was larger than life. She was a deep thinker with a keen intellect, and an all-around problem solver.
 
When I was appointed to the QUAD A board of trustees in 1994, Margaret had not yet been elected President of the Board, but she was

a go-getter who knew how to pull Board members together to complete required tasks.
 

Indeed, she played a big role and was one of the main inspirations behind the numerous programs QUAD A organized and implemented.
 

I still remember when she was sworn-in as President of the Trustee Board. It was a nice day with sunshine, and Margaret wore a beautiful corsage on her dress. Margaret hit the ground running. She, in fact, presided over some of the most important programs and celebrations launched by QUAD A, including the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. commemorative celebration; which featured some of the most iconic figures in Civil Rights history as keynote speakers.
 

When illness caused Margaret to curtail her activities, she eventually selected me to serve as Interim President of the Board. I was honored that that she had faith in my ability to fill that role; although no one could truly take Margaret’s place.
 

Over the years, Margaret made herself available to me as an advisor on any number of issues related to QUAD A; indeed, she was like a big sister to me. She had a good listening ear. She listened to me, encouraged me, and kept me uplifted.
 

Margaret served as President Emerita of QUAD A from 2009 until her passing. She was a gem to all of the members of QUAD A and the Western Reserve Historical Society in general. Margaret was loved and respected by many throughout the Greater Cleveland community—including her organization, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., of which she is the founding member of the Greater Cleveland Chapter.
 

Margaret and I failed to connect with each other during the last weeks of her life. We missed each other’s phone calls several times. Even though It’s sad that we didn’t catch up with each other, Margaret, nonetheless left 25 years of  leadership, service and memories to be cherished. I will hold fast to those precious memories.

 

 

Photo circa 1998-99; Front Row (L-R) Sherlynn Allen-Harris, Elaine Williams, Margaret Barron
Second Row: Unknown, Barbara Brown, Bob Render, Gladys Bankston, David Reynolds, Ruby Terry
Third Row: Sam Dickerson, Kenneth Redd

Prepared by Regennia N. Williams, PhD

Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture

 

Western Reserve Historical Society is saddened by the passing of Margaret R. Barron. She was a long-standing member of WRHS and selflessly served many years as president of the African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA or Quad A). Most recently, she was awarded the title “President Emerita” for AAAA.

 

President Barron held a bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State University and a graduate degree in Library Science from Case Western Reserve University. She served with distinction as a Librarian and Associate Professor at Cuyahoga Community College and was the chapter founder and chartering president of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the Coalition of 100 Black Women.

 

Under the leadership of President Barron, AAAA has, among other things, presented excellent Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Commemorative Celebrations and guest lectures that engaged inter-generational program planning committees and attracted diverse audiences.

 

President Barron often allowed other AAAA volunteers to take center stage. Beginning especially in the 2008, she delegated many of her presidential duties to other trustees, giving them new and expanded opportunities to lead and serve the auxiliary. While allowing others to play a more central role, she continued to support planning, programming, and outreach efforts by participating in the June 2015 “Afternoons in the Archives” membership meeting, the February 2020 planning meeting, and contributing a “Reflections on Leadership” article for the February 2020 program newsletter.

 

Even in the midst of the current COVID-19 global pandemic, she found time to participate in the virtual AAAA membership meetings, taking care to remind participants of the importance of their work. President Margaret R. Barron continued to represent servant leadership at its best.

 

She will be truly missed.