Remembering Margaret R. Barron
President Emerita, African American Archives Auxiliary of WRHS
Tribute written by Sherlynn Allen-Harris, former AAAA President
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
Prepared by Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
She will be truly missed.
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.
Part II in the Faith, Family, and Fashion Series for
The WRHS “Share Your Story” COVID-19 Digital Collecting Initiative
Tonya Byous, M.Ed., Interviewer and First Lady of the Philippi Missionary Baptist Church
Regennia N. Williams, PhD, Scholar-Consultant
“Even though times have changed, I still believe in giving God your best with your dress.” –Zephrine Burks
Rev. Samuel Burks and Mrs. Zephrine Burks are pictured here with their children, c. 1961.
Mrs. Zephrine Burks can point with pride to her many accomplishments as a musician, educator, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and former First Lady of her church. At the age of 90, Burks is especially proud of the fact that faith, family, and fashion consciousness continue to play important roles in her daily life, even in the era of COVID-19 and social distancing.
Born in Cleveland in 1930 to Sadie Mae and William Buchannan, Zephrine was named after her mother’s music teacher in Tuskegee, Alabama, her parents’ birthplace. Like her mother and namesake, she also loved music. In describing her introduction to the formal study of music, she stated:
Rev. Thomas Lee, the Pastor of Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, announced that any parent who wanted their children to take piano lessons could bring them down to the church, where a professional music teacher would offer lessons, and the church would pay for the lessons. Fifteen students started, and two students completed the course of study. I was one of the students who finished the program.
Her piano lessons began in 1937, when she was seven years old. At the age of nine, she began to play for the Sunday School at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, and she still has fond memories of growing up in the church:
I was the only child, and my mother saw to it that I was always well dressed. When we were getting ready for church, my mother would say, “Always give God your best,” and she would dress me accordingly. I continued in that same manner with my children and grandchildren.
Zephrine attended Cleveland Public Schools, graduating in 1949, the same year in which she married Samuel Burks. After her marriage, she followed her husband to and played piano for her father-in-law’s church, St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, and Rev. William D. Burks was Pastor. When her husband became pastor of St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, which was later renamed Olive Grove Missionary Baptist Church; Zephrine became the First Lady of that congregation.
According to Zephrine, she never wanted a preacher for a husband. As she put it,
When Rev. William Burks announced that his son Samuel Burks had accepted the call to ministry, the church clapped, and I cried. I went home and told my mother, and she said, “Listen to me, if the Lord called him, you pray and ask the Lord to make you the minister’s wife that He would have you to be. Encourage him [your husband], and the Lord will bless both of you.” It was my mother who encouraged me, and I followed her advice.
After becoming a member of the local Minsters’ Wives Club, the women who inspired her most were Clara Banks and Anna Chatman, First Lady of the Original Harvest Baptist Church, who was fond of saying, “Zephrine you can do it!” At the Olive Grove Missionary Baptist Church, First Lady Zephrine Burks also became the Minister of Music and a Sunday School teacher. Pastor and First Lady Burks would raise six children while working as servant-leaders in the church, and all of the children studied music.
First Lady Zephrine Burks and Rev. Samuel Burks (center) and their six children.
As a 19-year-old, Zephrine Burks had joined the Cleveland Baptist Pastors’ Wives Club, and she served as the secretary for that organization when Sadie Allen was the president. Under the presidency of Anna Chatman, the name of the group was changed to Cleveland Baptist Ministers and Pastors’ Wives. Today, Burks serves as the chapter vice president. Burks also served as president of the Calvary Hill Baptist District Association Women’s Auxiliary for over 20 years. In describing her various leadership roles, she said,
Whatever I did in the church, at the District level and with Ministers’ Wives, I did it all because of my love for Christ. It was important to me that my children and grandchildren serve the Lord with the same enthusiasm and adoration! I tried my best to be an example for all of them –and the members of the church that my husband and I led.
Even though times have changed, I still believe in giving God your best with your dress. I often tell young Christian women going to church [and wearing short dresses and skirts] to, “Tell your shoes to give a party and invite your dress down!”
Mrs. Zephrine Burks is shown her with her granddaughter (and interviewer) Tonya Byous, First Lady of Cleveland’s Philippi Missionary Baptist Church.
Find out more about the Western Reserve Historical Society’s “Share Your Story” COVID-19 Digital Collecting Initiative HERE.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones was the first African American woman from Ohio elected to the United States House of Representatives, and served the state’s eleventh congressional district for nearly ten years.
Tubbs Jones was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Mary Looney Tubbs, a factory worker, and Andrew Tubbs, an airline porter at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. She was the youngest of three daughters, all of whom were raised in the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland.
Tubbs graduated from Collinwood High School with acclaim and began college at Case Western Reserve University in its first year of federation, 1967. At CWRU, Stephanie Tubbs Jones founded the African-American Students’ Association (now the African American Society). Jones earned her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in psychology in the spring of 1971. She was in Delta Sigma Theta, a predominantly black women’s sorority founded in 1913. In 1974 Tubbs Jones graduated from CWRU School of Law with a Juris Doctor (J.D.).
From 1976 until 1979 Tubbs Jones worked as the assistant prosecutor of Cuyahoga County and was elected as a judge for the Cleveland Municipal Court in 1981. Tubbs Jones was appointed to the Cuyahoga County court of common pleas in 1983 by Ohio Governor Richard Celeste. Tubbs Jones served there for eight years before being appointed prosecutor for Cuyahoga County.
Tubbs Jones was named Chief Prosecutor of Cuyahoga County in 1991. She was the first African American prosecutor in Ohio, as well as one of the first African American women to become the prosecutor of a major American city.
In 1998 Stephanie Tubbs Jones ran to replace Cleveland’s 11th district Congressman of 30 years, Louis Stokes. Tubbs Jones ran on a platform of political experience and community service, winning the Democratic nomination and continuing on to win the general election with more than 80% of the vote. She was re-elected four times and served in congress until her death in 2008.
In her first year as a congresswoman, Tubbs Jones wrote and passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Enforcement Act of 1999. Tubbs Jones’ legislative focus on children, education, and healthcare lasted throughout her time in Congress, and she authored and passed several more bills to promote healthcare and child welfare. Tubbs Jones also served on the House Ways and Means Committee, where she supported Social Security, Medicare, and progressive pension laws.
Tubbs Jones spent much of her congressional career on the House Ways and Means Committee; after the 2006 election Nancy Pelosi selected her to chair the House Ethics Committee. Tubbs Jones co-sponsored legislation to broaden health care coverage for low and middle income people and legislation to promote programs that supported the re-entry of convicts into their communities. She authored legislation that required certification for mortgage brokers and stiffer penalties for predatory loans. Tubbs Jones was also an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Various prominent political figures fondly recalled Tubbs Jones after her death, as former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton said that she was “one of a kind” as well as “unwavering, indefatigable.” Barack Obama said “It wasn’t enough for her just to break barriers in her own life, she was also determined to bring opportunity to all those who had been overlooked and left behind – and in Stephanie, they had a fearless friend and unyielding advocate.”
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.
Two of the most remarkable women in Cleveland’s history happened to be related. One was a pioneer in the early philanthropy of the city and the other helped put the city on the international musical map.
The story of their work begins when Rebecca Rouse and her husband Benjamin came to Cleveland. Active in the Baptist church they both helped organize Sunday Schools in the Western Reserve and were among the founders of the First Baptist Church. Rebecca’s work, however, expanded and she was among the organizers of the Martha Washington and Dorcas Society the city’s first relief organization in 1843. It in turn, at Rebecca’s suggestion, it established the Cleveland Protestant Orphan Asylum (today’s Beech Brook) in 1852. However, her organizational expertise was truly on display during the Civil War.
Five days after Abraham Lincoln’s first call for troops, Rebecca created the Ladies Aid Society, which would eventually become the Soldiers Aid Society and part of the U. S. Sanitary Commission. Throughout the war the group worked to gather supplies (including blankets and books) for the soldiers; raised an immense amount of money ($78,000, which would be $1,611,257 today) for the Sanitary Commission by organizing the Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair in 1864, and then helped returning soldiers find jobs. Her work in this area is memorialized by her depiction in one of the bronze panels inside Cleveland’s Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument.
(Left: Ellen and Adella Prentiss European Travel Photo from the WRHS Collection. R: Photo of the Soldiers Aid Society from the WRHS Collection.)
Rebecca died in 1887, but certainly she had the chance to see her granddaughter, Adella Prentiss (Hughes), who was born in 1869. Adella attended Vassar College where she became immersed in playing and studying music. When she graduated in 1890 she and her mother, Ellen Rouse Prentiss, toured Europe where she saw and heard some of the best orchestras in the world. That tour made her a better musician, but it also whetted her appetite to bring good music to her home town. By the late 1890s she had become a concert manager and eventually became the city’s leading impresario. But her main ambition was to provide a permanent orchestra for the city. She did that by organizing the Musical Arts Association in 1915 and it, three years later, would create the Cleveland Orchestra. Adella would manage the Orchestra from 1918 to 1933. Her Cleveland musical resume also included assisting Almeda Adams in the establishment of the Cleveland Music School Settlement – today’s Music Settlement.
The story of these two remarkable women is well recorded in the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Library where the Rouse and Hughes papers are preserved as well as records of the Soldiers Aid Society and the Cleveland Music School Settlement. Perhaps the most fascinating part of these collections are the images that Adella took with a Kodak #1 box camera of her trip abroad – they capture the world that helped shape the future of music in Cleveland.
There are a number of reasons Euclid Beach Park and the Humphrey Family that operated it were so successful. One of the most overlooked reasons for their success is the many contributions made by the women of the family. From the beginning when the Humphrey’s migrated from New England to Ohio, the Humphrey women were far more than homemakers responsible for rearing their children; they were decision makers who actively participated in the family’s business endeavors.
Born on June 9, 1898, Louise was Dudley Sherman Humphrey II’s youngest child. She was only one year old when the family opened their first popcorn stand at Euclid Beach in 1899 under the park’s original owners. Louise went on to be educated at Hathaway-Brown School here in Cleveland and then Smith College. She excelled in music and before returning home to the family business, she wrote music professionally in New York City.
Louise married John E. Lambie and like many of the Humphrey women before and after her, she took on an active role in the family business. She served as the vice president of the Humphrey Company for sixteen years and was responsible for the development of many of the architectural plans that changed the look of the amusement park. Most notably she oversaw the Art Deco makeover in the 1930’s that changed the appearance of the entrances of the Thriller, Racing Coaster, and Flying Turns, the interior of the Dance Pavilion, and the Grand Carousel.
She was also active in the community and served on a number of civic committees in Cleveland. Louise served as the head of the League of Women’s Voters and was the chairwoman of the Library Board of the City of Cleveland.
Regennia N Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
For the keepers of traditions in a variety of faith communities, women’s attire has long been viewed as more than just a fashion statement. Among those who engage in corporate worship activities, head coverings, for example, are often related to beliefs about modesty, outward signs of respect, unity, and the establishment of a sense of community. This fall 2020 series of articles on Faith, Family, and Fashion will shed light on different traditions in Northeast Ohio and encourage area families to share personal stories and images related to keeping religious traditions alive during COVID-19, even when large gatherings for worship and other purposes were sometimes discouraged.
While preparing to write my introduction for the series, I thought about “Hattitude Sunday,” a celebration that became increasingly popular among many Christian women following the publication of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000. The publication’s beautiful black and white photographs and quotes from many of the women in those photographs document the pride that is associated with looking your best, especially on Sunday morning, and doing your best to support the church, an institution that historian W.E.B. Du Bois described as both a “social center” of Black community life and a “religious center of great power.”
As children attending Sunday morning worship services at Cleveland’s New Joshua Missionary Baptist, my siblings and I looked forward to the annual Easter programs that provided opportunities for us to wear Easter bonnets and chapeaus and hone our public speaking skills during special holiday pageants.
In recent years, as young people, in particular, began to embrace the sneaker culture and more casual attire for school, work, and worship, I have always been pleasantly surprised to meet those faithful members of a special sisterhood of Black church women who continue to wear their crowns with style and grace. For them, every Sunday is “Hattitude Sunday.”
As ministers or the spouses of ministers, music directors, worship leaders, deaconesses, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, and church mothers, these women hold respected positions of great responsibility, and their life stories help to inspire other members of their families, their congregations, and their communities.
For this reason, I asked Mrs. Tonya Byous, an accomplished educator and a church and community leader in her own right, to help me launch what I hope will be an intergenerational, interreligious dialogue about Faith, Family, and Fashion, by telling the story of her grandmother, Mrs. Zephrine Burks. We look forward to sharing the details of Mrs. Burks’ life story along with those of other women in the coming weeks. We also welcome your suggestions for women that we might include in this series.
For more information about the Share Your Story initiative, please click Here.
1st Image: (In 2014, the women of the East View United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio welcomed the opportunity to participate in the congregation’s “Hattitude Sunday” program. Pictured here (left to right) are Marian Elder, Jacqueline Johnson, and Jewell Kirkland. They are holding gift copies of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Photograph courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)
2. (Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000.)
3. (Left to right: Lana, Regennia, and Nathaniel Williams, Jr. at the New Joshua Missionary Baptist Church, c. 1963. Photo courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)
4. Mrs. Zephrine Burks. Photo courtesy of Tonya Byous.)
The babushka, in terms of Cleveland history, seems eternally linked to perogies and polkas, and in some ways that is valid – all relate to central and eastern European life, a life made large in our city by the many immigrants who came from those areas and perpetuated their customs in the city. But the story of this simple head covering is much more complex.
Its name, which means grandmother in Russian, immediately stereotypes the babushka as something worn by older women. But that does not hold. Its utility, a simple square of patterned cloth folded into a triangle and then worn by tying the two ends at the end of the fold under the chin, meant that it was a good solution to a bad hair day, or more importantly, an adequate covering to attend church if one did not have the funds for a fancy hat. Then too, in a church, the babushka was a reminder of the simple veil worn by Mary – humble and respectful. It was and remains a signifier of religious belief and custom.
Wearing it downtown for shopping in the post-World War II era did, indeed, seem to brand someone as being “ethnic”, at least in the opinion of one well-born Clevelander who complained about the dress of women visiting the shopping district – he was particularly hard on sloppy shoes and babushkas. Yet, that too was a bit off the mark because by the 1960s the babushka has gone “Hollywood” – after all Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis and Brigette Bardot wore them, Hepburn most famously in Charade. So maybe mother, or her style conscious daughter in the 1950s and 1960s, was combining heritage with fashion.
Certainly, that seems to be the case today as babushkas (aka head scarves) are making appearances in Vogue and other fashion magazines and everyone who is “anybody” seems to be adopting them. But you can certainly bet that one could buy a whole lot of perogies for the cost of one of these fashionable head coverings — so thanks grandma (and mom) for knowing what good fashion was, long before it became fashionable.
American fashion embraces political campaigns in whimsical ways, and Clevelanders were at the forefront of political style. Historians credit Ohio senator Mark Hanna with the invention of the modern campaign in 1896. Hanna systematically grew support for his friend William McKinley, and spent money on the highest quality posters, pins, and other campaign gear. Candidates’ faces have decorated items such as handkerchiefs, dresses, neckties, bedroom slippers, and t-shirts, lending a little fun to the serious business of electing our nation’s leader. As you get ready to declare your support in a sartorial way, get inspired by the WRHS collection!
James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur Bunting Dress, ca. 1880
Museum Advisory Council Acquisition Endowment Fund 2006.25.1
19th-century revelers wore garments made of flags and bunting in parades and pageants. This dress, with images of James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur, was made for the 1880 presidential election and its “front porch campaign.” Instead of traveling across the country, Garfield remained at home in Mentor, Ohio and trains brought thousands of people to hear him speak. The wearer of this dress could have traveled to Mentor to see her future president.
Reception Dress, 1881
Made by Mme. B. Van Reuth, Washington, D.C.
Worn by Lucretia Rudolph (Mrs. James A.) Garfield
WRHS 86.0.2 a,b
First Lady Lucretia Rudolph Garfield probably wore this striking blue gown while hosting one of her twice-weekly receptions at the White House. However, Lucretia Garfield spent most of her life in Ohio. She was born in Garrettsville and taught in Cleveland before she married. Her tenure as First Lady was, sadly, brief; President Garfield took office in March of 1881, was shot by a would-be assassin four months later, and died of complications in September. The widow retreated to their home, Lawnfield, located 22 miles northeast of Cleveland, which is today the James A. Garfield National Historic Site.
“I Like Ike” Skirt, 1952
Made by Juli Lynne Charlot (American, b. 1922)
Gift of Mrs. George Johnson 2008.6.125
Clevelander Michaeline Maschke wore this skirt during Eisenhower’s presidential campaigns. She might have seen it first in 1952, in Life magazine, among pages of hats, sunglasses, gloves, and other Ike-wear. That year, women voters equaled men in numbers for the first time. Republicans in particular made attempts to connect with women through advertisements, clothing, and accessories.
By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), two women who won worldwide acclaim for their art, created evocative works that reflected their personal struggles and triumphs as well as those of farmers and other workers in Mexico and the United States of America. For anyone who will take the time to look, learn, and teach, their works have much to offer in the way of arts and humanities education. Thought provoking lessons on Kahlo and Catlett are as close as the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) and the Cleveland Public Library (CPL), where reference and/or circulating collections and programming activities reflect their contributions to world history and culture.
Kahlo, a native of Mexico and an alumna of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, was a master of the self-portrait. Her willingness to visibly embrace Mexican culture—as reflected in her frequent choices to wear indigenous jewelry and clothing styles from different parts of the country, her radical politics and ongoing challenges to the systemic oppression of poor people, and her refusal to accept restrictive gender roles for women helped to make her a celebrated activist-artist in her own right and a creative comrade to her equally famous, controversial, and artistically-gifted husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
(Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1932. Carl Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress.)
In Frida Kahlo at Home (2016), one of the many book-length studies of the artist’s life and work, author Suzanne Barbezat states that, despite their sometimes stormy relationship, Kahlo and Rivera “were each other’s best supporter and most ardent fan. They shared political convictions, and perhaps most importantly, were both fiercely proud of being Mexican.” Although she endured major health challenges in both her childhood and adult years, Kahlo’s career also included teaching, international travel, and exhibitions in Mexico and other countries.
During the observance of CMA’s centenary, the museum offered guests the opportunity to view one of Kahlo’s signature works, “Fulang-Chang and I,” a loan from New York’s Museum of Modern Art. This painting was also the subject of an online July/August 2016 Cleveland Art Magazine article. In addition to the books and other reference materials that are available in CMA’s Ingalls library, a special exhibition, A Graphic Revolution: Prints and Drawings in Latin America, which includes works by Rivera and others, will be on view through November 2020.
Like Kahlo and Rivera, Elizabeth Catlett also strove to create socially relevant art. An African American native of Washington, DC, she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Howard University and the University of Iowa, respectively. After teaching for several years at the secondary and post-secondary levels, she traveled to Mexico on a Julius Rosenwald Fund Fellowship in 1946. She studied and created works of art with members of the Taller de Gráfica Popular, married Mexican artist and colleague Francisco Mora, became a Mexican citizen, and served as a Professor of Sculpture at the National School of Fine Arts, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In addition to their artistic work, Catlett and Mora raised three sons.
Catlett focused primarily on prints and sculptures, winning many commissions and awards and exhibiting widely. In Elizabeth Catlett: An American Artist in Mexico (2000), Melanie Anne Herzog quotes Catlett’s 1983 self-description of her life and work:
I am black, a woman, a sculptor, and a printmaker. I am also married, the mother of three sons, and the grandmother of five little girls [now seven girls and one boy] . . . . [I] was born in the United States and have lived in Mexico since 1946. I believe that all of these states of being have influenced my work and made it what you see today.
Indeed, the influences of the aforementioned “states” were evident works that were included in CMA’s fall 2002 exhibition, “Elizabeth Catlett: Prints and Sculptures.” Images of Catlett works that reflect these themes are available on the CMA website.
(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
“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)
(Lethia C. Fleming)
The centennial of the League of Women Voters reminds us to celebrate women who amplify the voices of one another, and lift one another. One way that Cleveland women do this is by working to increase voting rights and access for all women.
Almost as soon as women could, theoretically, vote, Lethia Fleming (1876-1963) disrupted the LWV second annual convention, held in Cleveland, asking league leaders to take a stand for disenfranchised African American women in the south. Although her speech was not part of the official program, parts of it made its way into the Plain Dealer on April 11th, 1921. Alongside Louise Davis, Fleming spoke on behalf of the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs when she said:
“We will ask first for a resolution by this convention asking the new congress for an investigation of [voting] conditions in the south. If that is impossible, we will ask for a resolution merely stating formally that the National League of Women Voters stands ready to cooperate with our efforts to better conditions in the south.”
Fleming later served as President of the Ohio Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and both Presidents Harding and Hoover asked her to mobilize women of color to benefit their presidential campaigns. Her work paved the way for Cleveland women to continue pushing for voting access.
Ohioans like Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins continued this work decades later through the League of Women Voters. Jefferson-Jenkins served as President of the LWV of Greater Cleveland before becoming the first African American President of the National League in 1998. Jefferson-Jenkins promotes the importance of local elections, voter registration, and campaign finance reform. Her work in the early days of the internet was groundbreaking in terms of voter participation among young people. In 1994, the LWV launched the Wired for Democracy project, which recognized that the internet could be a powerful tool for voter registration and education. As the project’s trustee, Jefferson-Jenkins oversaw the study of new media impact on elections and how future technologies could impact voter education. Today, she is also the author of important histories of Black women in politics.
Still more women work beyond the League of Women Voters to make voices heard. Meryl Johnson taught in Cleveland Public Schools for 40 years before joining the State Board of Education in 2016. She empowers young people through voter registration, letter writing to newspapers, and speaking at community forums. Johnson’s grassroots work equips students to become future change agents. She says: “One of the reasons I enjoy teaching so much is the opportunity to show my students the importance of activism.”
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(Fannie Lou Hamer. Library of Congress Photograph)
By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), a native of Mississippi, gained a national following and the admiration of people around the world for her efforts to enhance Black political and economic empowerment during the Modern Civil Rights Movement. In 1964, she summed up the feelings of thousands of disenfranchised Blacks: “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
As a leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in the 1960s, she worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other groups to organize Freedom Summer, a 1964 voter registration initiative that recruited hundreds of volunteers–mostly White, middle-class college students, to help register Black voters in rural Mississippi. Miami University in Oxford, Ohio hosted the volunteer training sessions. Despite the fact that their efforts were often met with intimidation, violence, and even the deaths of some of the volunteers, Hamer and her colleagues succeeded in registering thousands of Black voters and challenging the all-White Democratic Party leadership in her home state.
For more information on Fannie Lou Hamer and her work with SNCC before, during, and after Freedom Summer, see Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (2010). For information on the history of the Suffrage Movement in America, please watch Failure is Impossible, a new film that accompanies the WRHS Women and Politics exhibit.
(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 .
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.
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.
Although they were not allowed to fight in battles, women were instrumental in supporting the war effort across the globe. At the outset of World War I, long before American troops arrived on foreign soil, American women were “over there” volunteering with civilian organizations to provide nursing, transportation and other war relief services. Women aligned themselves with humanitarian organizations such as the American Red Cross, YMCA, Salvation Army, and others to meet wartime needs.
When the Marine Corps announced via newspaper advertisement that women would be allowed to join the ranks in order to help “free a man to fight”, the response was rapid and plentiful. In New York City alone, there were over 2,000 prospective recruits who showed up at the recruiting office. Recruiting offices in other U.S. cities also reported a high turnout of patriotic minded women who wanted to serve their nation.
Mabelle Leland Musser (1889-1995) also joined their ranks, and her uniform is in the WRHS costume collection. Musser was born in Hinckley, Ohio and lived in Medina and Oberlin and attended Oberlin Business College before working for the Elyria Gas Engine Company in 1910. In 1917 her brother, Max, enlisted in the Marines, shortly before Mabelle could too. In the service, she was a Corporal and worked in Washington D.C. until she was discharged in 1922. Thereafter Madelle married and worked as a stenographer in a law office. She lived to be 106.
(WRHS Costume Collection. Woman’s Marine Corps Uniform. Gift of Mrs. A. William Hall 58.10)
Another way for women to see the front was as Red Cross nurses. George Crile’s Lakeside Unit in Rouen, France was one opportunity for women to join in. The Base Hospital No. 4 took on 82,179 cases in 20 months. At their Mobile Hospital No. 5, from August 1918 until January 1919, 124 nurses cared for 994 seriously injured soldiers, mostly American, French, and German.
(Red Cross Nurses on Parade. WRHS Library)
(Lakeside Unit Photographs. Dittrick Medical History Center, CWRU)
Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon recently promised his seniors that he would find a way for them to have their commencement, despite current school closures. Today, students wear their cap and gown as they cross the stage, and generally wear anything they want underneath. Some schools, girls’ schools in particular, require wearing white, and this was no different for young women 100 years ago.
Clevelander Ruth Ruck (1902-1988) graduated from 8th grade in January, 1916. She wore a white cotton dress, trimmed throughout with lace, pictured here in this photo postcard her family ordered to celebrate the occasion. Her dress is now in the WRHS costume collection. A 1900 etiquette guide wrote, “A pure and neatly made white muslin dress is the most appropriate, and always just the thing for the occasion. White is becoming to all young girls, comparatively inexpensive and always perfect in taste.”
CLICK HERE to watch a video of our Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles, Patty Edmonson as she goes deeper into the history of graduation dresses.
Although we’re not sure where she attended middle school, Ruth graduated from Commerce High School in Ohio City. She lived at 3639 Fulton Road with her parents, two sisters, grandfather, aunt, and two cousins. Her father, George Ruck, sold shoes, which makes one take a closer look at Ruth’s two-tones leather boots in this image. Although not much has turned up about the family, we know that Ruth’s sister, Hazel, died the same year this image was taken. It’s hard to imagine such a loss.
Ruth attended Wittenberg University and Western Reserve College for Women (now CWRU). Ruth loved to hike, and was a leader in the YWCA’s Girl Reserves. After leaving Wittenberg, she worked for the YWCA as recreation and athletic director of their Rocky River camp. Ruth was well-known for skills such as swimming and archery. In 1930 Ruth married Charles Lees. By the 1940 census, the couple had moved to Detroit and Ruth was at home caring for their son.