Belle Sherwin (1868-1955)

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

League of Women Voters

The League of Women Voters (LWV) was conceived more than a year before ratification of the 19th amendment in August 1920. The national organization officially organized on February 14, 1920. In April, 1920, the Woman’s Suffrage Party of Greater Cleveland prepared to transform into Cleveland’s League of Women Voters. On May 29, 1920, the National and State Leagues officially inducted the Cleveland LWV at the Hotel Hollenden with public ceremonies the previous evening.

From its beginning, the LWV worked to educate all voters through nonpartisan voter guides and candidate debates. Clevelander Belle Sherwin introduced voter guides in 1921, which became nationally adopted. Over the decades, these guides have appeared in multiple languages in newspapers, their member publication, and as standalone publications. The LWV provides details about candidates’ positions on issues, interviews, and suggestions on where to find out more. Today, the LWV operates a nationwide online voting guide, www.vote441.org.

 

The suffragists who created the League also had deep roots in reform movements, and the LWV has always worked on enacting “good government” legislation and social policy reforms through coordinated advocacy campaigns and lobbying.  The LWV chooses its issues, such as public housing, welfare reform, child labor law, public transit, gun violence, and renewable energy, by member consensus after intensive study. One important example of this work is their 1963 formation of the Lake Erie Basin Committee to preserve and restore the health of Lake Erie and its watershed. This committee was the first Great Lakes watershed organization, inspiring numerous others to form. It tackles issues such as fracking, nuclear waste, and clean drinking water. The League’s advocacy work remains true to its grassroots heritage and LWV continues the fight to ensure that “ALL votes are counted and ALL voices are heard.”

Victory Gardens

In 1917, the National War Garden Commission began their call to action: “Do your bit and plant a War Garden. We need the food.” During the war, many men who worked in farming had to leave for the service, so people planted gardens to grow their own food and help increase production on the homefront. It was a way that women and children could support their community, and they grew any number of vegetables and greens. This photograph was taken of a now unknown Cleveland family to promote growing food. The mother has dressed her son as a soldier and her daughters wear Red Cross nurse costumes.
In Cleveland, war gardens, or “Victory Gardens” only increased during WWII, when even Public Square and the White House lawn became vegetable gardens. Growing food helped ease the troubles of rationing, and boosted morale. Clevelander Alice Collum was featured in the Call & Post with her garden on East 90th Street. Although the homefront effort was a serious topic, Clevelanders enjoyed working in their gardens, and by 1943 there were an estimated 18 million new gardens. They were so popular that they also became the butt of jokes, as seen in this Charles Allen’s Call & Post cartoon.

Almira L. White Memorial Window

Almira L. White, nee Greenleaf (1838-1900) was the wife of Thomas H. White, founder of the White Sewing Machine Corporation, the parent of the White Motor Corporation. This memorial window now located in the Bingham-Hanna House at WRHS comes from the First Unitarian Church, formerly located at Euclid Avenue and East 82nd Street.  It was rescued by members of the White family.

The theme of the window appears to be a verse from the Bible, “And why take ye thought of raiment, consider the lilies of the field, see how they grow; they toil not neither do they spin” (Matthew 6:28).  Depicted beneath an elaborate Gothic canopy, the thoughtful figure is neither a saint nor an angel, but a woman who has been interrupted at her work, as is evident from the distaff in her left hand wound with flax fibers to be spun.

Although the window is not signed or stamped, it is attributed to Tiffany Studios.  Louis C. Tiffany’s innovations in stained glass include the use of opalescent glass with muted colors that give a painterly effect.  Chips of bright glass in the neck edging, flowers, and foliage draw attention to these areas.  The face, hands, and foot were created by fusing powdered tinted glass and metallic oxides onto a clear sheet of glass, and not by painting on the features as had been customary before Tiffany.  Surface sculpting of the glass creates three-dimensionality in the fold of the garment.  All these kinds and thicknesses of glass could not have been joined by traditional single-width lead stripping.  Instead, Tiffany pioneered the process of sheathing the edges of the glass pieces with copper foil and joining the pieces with lead solder.  The thinner joint lines are part of the overall design, leading the eye from one form to another.  The Almira L. White memorial window is an excellent example of Tiffany’s belief that craft could achieve the level of importance formerly accorded only to fine art.

 

Honoring the African American Archives Auxiliary’s Founders | Mrs. A. Grace Lee Mims

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD

 

From the Glenville High School Library to the Studios of WCLV Radio and Beyond

An oft-quoted passage from Mr. Kermit Pike’s manuscript history of the African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society (formerly known as the Black History Archives Project) states:

 

In 1971, twenty-three people served on the original Black History Archives Project: Russell T. Adrine, Dr. Tillman Bauknight, Myrtle J. Bell, Professor Thomas E. Campbell, Ernest C. Cooper, Russell H. Davis, Lawrence L. Evert, Ralph W. Findley, Rev. Donald G. Jacobs, Ronald M. Johnson, Butler A. Jones, Dr. Middleton H. Lambright, Robert P. Madison, Professor August Meier, Mrs. A. Grace Lee Mims, George A. Moore, Professor Wilbert Nichols, Ralph L. Pruitt, Robert L. Southgate, Dr. Booker T. Tall, John B. Turner, William O. Walker, and Harvey M. Williamson.

 

At least two of the group’s founders had known each other for many years.  Mrs. A. Grace Lee Mims and Mr. Robert P. Madison were, in fact, fictive kin—with family ties that linked them to their ancestors’ experiences in rural Snow Hill, Alabama, Mims’ birthplace.

 

At the age of 15, Madison’s father, Mr. Robert J. Madison, enrolled in the Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute, a much-needed private boarding school for African Americans, because Alabama did not provide education for Black children beyond the eighth grade.  Mims’ maternal grandfather, William J. Edwards, was the founder of the school.  A generation later, she, too, would attend Snow Hill Normal and Industrial Institute.

 

In the preface for his 1918 publication, Twenty-Five Years in the Black Belt, Edwards described the motivation for both the establishment of the school and the writing of the book:

 

In bringing this book before the public, it is my hope that the friends of the Snow Hill School and all who are interested in Negro Education may become more familiar with the problems and difficulties that confront those who labor for the future of a race. I have had to endure endless hardships during these twenty-five years, in order that thousands of poor negro youths might receive an industrial education, – boys and girls who might have gone into that demoralized class that is a disgrace to any people and that these friends may continue their interest in not only Snow Hill but all the schools of the South that are seeking to make better citizens of our people. I also hope that the interest may be sustained until the State and Nation realize that it is profitable to educate the black child as well as the white.

 

Mims’ bandleader and college professor father, her pianist mother, and her six musically inclined siblings all seem to have valued education as highly as did Edwards. After graduating valedictorian from Snow Hill Institute, Mims earned her undergraduate degree at Virginia’s Hampton Institute, where she met her future husband, Howard A. Mims.  When she travelled to Cleveland, Ohio to pursue her Masters in Library Science at Western Reserve University, she benefited greatly from the hospitality of her extended family members, the Madisons.

 

After living and working for a time in Michigan, Dr. Howard A. Mims and Mrs. A. Grace Lee Mims settled permanently in Cleveland, where she worked for the Cleveland Public Library, and, by the 1960s, at Glenville High School—where she built an extensive Black Studies collection, coordinated a Black Arts Festival, designed a lecture course on Black history and culture, and continued to pursue a career as a classically-trained vocalist who never hesitated to perform the music of Black Americans, including jazz and spirituals.

 

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, including an honorary doctorate from Cleveland State University, Mims is also known for her service on the boards of numerous arts organizations, her work as a voice faculty member at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, and her programming activities at WCLV Radio, where she hosted “The Black Arts” for more than 40 years.  Her good friend Robert P. Madison was a long-time program sponsor.

 

In the wake of Mims’ passing on October 4, 2019, I learned that Mr. Madison had asked staff members at WCLV about the possibility of obtaining a recording of a Black Arts program for which he served as a special guest. For a while it seemed that, with very little in the way of identifying information, including the programs theme and broadcast date, no one at radio station would be able to find that recording.  Nevertheless, as one of Mims’ former students, I continued to reach out to family members, letting them know that I was interested in obtaining the Madison interview and anything else related to my teacher’s work in Cleveland.

 

On the evening of Saturday, February 22, 2020, the family member who is the executor of Dr. A. Grace Lee Mims’ estate invited me to come to her East Cleveland home to pick up a small box of arts-related material that might be of some value. Inside, among the approximately two-dozen recordings was a tape labeled “1/98 Black Arts, Leontyne Price w/ Robert Madison Interview.”

 

Listening to that January 7, 1998, recording at the Cleveland Institute of Music was almost like being in the same room with two good friends who really loved each other and their work.  Someday soon, I hope to share digital copies of this recording with members of the Madison family and others.

 

Dr. A. Grace Lee Mims was an incredible educator and ambassador for Black history and culture, and we were blessed to have her with us for 89 wonderful years.

Dr. Shirley Smith Seaton: A Biography

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD

To say that Dr. Shirley Smith Seaton is “Famous in the Neighborhood and Beyond” would be an understatement. However, that is how members of the African American Archives Auxiliary (AAAA or Quad A) of the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) described her in 2015. Today, there is abundant evidence to suggest that this Cleveland, Ohio native, long-time resident of the city’s Fairfax neighborhood, and award-winning educator and administrator is even more “famous” now than she was in the past.

Dr. Shirley Smith Seaton (right) and Dr. Regennia N. Williams at the Cleveland History Center, c.2008. (Photo courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)

Dr. Seaton is a product of the Cleveland Public Schools. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from Howard University, a graduate degree in education from Case Western Reserve University, a doctorate in education from the University of Akron, and a certificate in Chinese history and culture from Beijing Normal University. Dr. Seaton served as an instructor and administrator at the K-12 and post-secondary levels, and she was the Director of Social Studies for the Cleveland Public Schools. Through her work with Cleveland’s WEWS and WVIZ television stations, parents, students, and teachers throughout the region also benefitted from her distance learning activities.

As a Fulbright alumna, philanthropist, and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Coalition of 100 Black Women (Greater Cleveland), Inc., she mentored and helped dozens of students and emerging scholars achieve their educational and career goals, and she supported family members as a wife, mother, and grandmother. Dr. Seaton is a former WRHS board member and a former Quad A trustee.

Selected Bibliography

Aplin, Norita, Shirley Seaton, Juanita Storey. The Negro American: His Role, His Quest. Cleveland: Cleveland Public Schools, 1968.

African American Archives Auxiliary of the Western Reserve Historical Society. Printed
Program for “Famous in the Neighborhood and Beyond,” Saturday, September 19, 2015. Personal Archives of Regennia N. Williams.

Ross, Lawrence C. The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. New York: Dafina, 2019.

Seaton, Shirley Smith. “A Study of Rapport among Elementary Teachers Reassigned and Not Reassigned to Meet Court-Ordered Desegregation in the Public Schools of Cleveland, Ohio.” EdD diss. University of Akron, 1981.