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 | 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 | 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.)

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.)


 

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 | 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 | Presidential Inaugurations

Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln's 2nd Inauguration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abraham Lincoln Inauguration

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

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

Then & Now | Inauguration Balls

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 


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

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

 

Then & Now | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Cleveland 

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

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Cleveland on numerous occasions.   He first came to the city on August 7, 1956. At that time he was the leader of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and he reported on it before the National Negro Funeral Directors Convention held at the Hollenden House Hotel.

During the 1960s his visits became more frequent. He spoke at a number of churches, including Antioch Baptist, St. Paul’s Episcopal in Cleveland Heights, and Cory Methodist Church.   When he appeared at Cory on May 14, 1963, a crowd of 10,000 to 14,000 lined the streets as he arrived.   The church could only seat 5,000, so extra appearances were soon set up.   While many of these visits focused on Civil Rights actions in the South, by the mid-1960s his appearance in Cleveland focused on issues in the city. In 1964, a week after winning the Nobel Peace Prize he came to Cleveland to lead a “march on the ballot box”. Other visits that year continued a focus on voter registration.

He returned to Cleveland a number of times in 1967 and these visits focused again on local issues relating to Civil Rights, the treatment of the Black community, and again voter registration.   He played an important role in getting voters to register during Carl Stokes’ mayoral campaign that year.   His last appearance that year in the city took place on December 16 when he participated in a debate with James C. Davis, President of the Cleveland Bar Association on the topic of civil disobedience.

In 1968 he returned to speak to a small group on the east side early in the year.   He was scheduled to return to the city on April 10th.   That would not occur – he was assassinated on April 4th. Robert F. Kennedy, who was scheduled to speak at the Cleveland City Club the following day did so, with great sadness.   His speech was titled “On the Mindless Menace of Violence” and within his prepared remarks he noted “This is a time of shame and sorrow” and also focused on the issues facing poor people in the United States, referring to that situation as “another kind of violence” which resulted in “the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and heat in the winter.”   In two months Kennedy would also be the victim of an assassin.

The Western Reserve Historical Society is fortunate to have in its collections a number of images of Dr. King during his visits to Cleveland. Many of them were taken by Max Schoenfeld , a labor, peace and Civil Rights activist.   He was also a member of the executive board of the United Auto Workers Local 45.   His large collection of negatives document not only Dr. King’s visit, but also protests in Cleveland led by the United Freedom Movement. Maintained in the Society’s secure negative vault, they form an extraordinary document of the 1960s a time of change that has yet to see its complete fulfillment.

Then & Now | Martin Luther King, Jr.

Contributed by Patrice Hamiter, African American History Archivist, using resources from WRHS’s African American Archives.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day seems particularly poignant against the backdrop of recent events that seem to chip away at the “dream“ that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned. This is currently evidenced by the insurrection on our nation’s capital, the rise of racist subversive groups, voter suppression, the ravaging effects of the coronavirus on black communities, police killings of black men and women, and violent protests and riots.

No one can argue the significance of Dr.’s King’s legacy; living a life of activism that has generated monumental strides for equality, and reach far beyond the civil rights movement. In just over a decade he accomplished what few could in a lifetime, but it was only the beginning.  We continue to face the challenge of gaining civil rights for all, and like Dr. King, we have to understand the impact of working together to push for one common goal.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and an iconic activist who led marches and protests for black people’s civil rights, right to vote, desegregation, and labor rights. One of his first and most notable acts of activism was leading the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. When on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white a man on a city bus.

The boycott lasted for 385 days, and became so intense that Dr. King was arrested and his home was bombed. The boycott ended on December 20, 1956 and resulted in the United States District Court ruling in Browder v. Gayle that ended racial segregation on all Montgomery public buses. The boycott transformed Dr. King into a recognizable activist and leader during the civil rights era, and in 1957 he rose to national prominence by becoming the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

The SCLC practiced nonviolent protest tactics, and though there were many stand-offs with segregationists and police that sometimes turned violent, Dr. King the son of a minister, remained committed to advancing civil rights through non-violence and civil disobedience. He was inspired by his religious beliefs, and the non-violent activism of Mahatma Gandhi. Ironically, the FBI labeled Dr. King a radical, and made him the object of many investigations trying to link him to communism.

As the head of the SCLC, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the most visible spokesperson in the civil rights movement.  In addition to helping organize non-violent protests, he was arrested and jailed for ignoring an Alabama state court injunction against demonstrating. It was during this time in jail that he penned his now famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which was in defense of non-violent resistance to racism. Later that year, four young African American girls died in a racially motivated church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama at the 16th Street Baptist Church. Dr. King delivered the eulogy for three of the slain girls.

In 1963 Dr. King helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, or as it’s most commonly known, the “March on Washington.” The march made specific demands to help end racial segregation in public schools, address civil rights legislation, employment discrimination, and protection of civil rights workers from police brutality.

The march was criticized because it was originally conceived as a forum to air grievances about the desperate condition of southern blacks and to publicly denounce the federal government’s failure to safeguard the rights and safety of civil rights workers and blacks. Some felt that organizers gave into pressure, and criticized the march as being too sanitized. Malcolm X dubbed the march the “Farce on Washington”, and the Nation of Islam forbade its members from attending the march.

Despite the tensions and criticisms, at the time the march was the largest gathering of protesters in Washington, D.C.’s history. With more than 200,000 people attending the peaceful event, Dr. King delivered his now famous I have a dream speech. The march, along with Dr. King’s speech, which is regarded as one of the finest in the history of American oratory, helped to put civil rights reform at the forefront of the United States agenda, and facilitated passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Dr. King’s non-violent approach was not universally accepted by some members of the black community who were angry at the violence against blacks.  Malcolm X, accused Dr. King of working “to keep Negroes defenseless in the face of an attack.” And black psychologist Kenneth Clark called the philosophy of loving one’s enemy “psychologically burdensome.” Nevertheless, on October 14, 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to achieving racial equality through nonviolent actions, and his activism and leadership in the Civil Rights movement.

In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. led marches in Selma, Alabama to call attention to it’s history of using violence to prevent African Americans from voting.  Due to the marches, seven months later President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a voting rights bill to Congress that would expand the 14th and 15th amendments.  The bill banned race based restrictions, making discriminatory voting practices illegal. It was quickly adopted by Congress and signed into law as the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, and is considered to be one of the most far-reaching pieces of Civil Rights legislation.

Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968 during a trip to Memphis, Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers, but he didn’t die in vain.  There has been progress and people of color contribute to almost every facet of society. More African Americans have professional and political positions, access to higher educational opportunities, the black middle class has grown, there are more black millionaires, and more persons of color have significant roles in the television and movie industry. Among the greatest accomplishments was the election of Barack Hussein Obama in 2008, as the first African-American President of the United States.

But, despite these strides, African American still face inequalities which prevent them from assuming their rightful place in this country, a country they built.  Outright racism, policies that don’t effectively address systemic racism, and a complete lack of attention to important issues continue to create large disparities within education, health-care, employment, and fair treatment within the justice system.

This only means we have more work to do. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday appointed as a national day of service to motivate and inspire everyone to volunteer to help improve their communities.  This is a creed that all Americans should be striving for and carrying with them every day to honor Dr. King and his legacy, so that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can be within every American’s reach.

 

Then & Now | 1942 White M2 Half Track

(1942 White M2 Half Track. Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection.)
Since 1867, volunteers have contributed to the operations of the Western Reserve Historical Society. By sharing their stories, knowledge and skills, WRHS can continue to fulfill its mission of inspiring people to discover the American experience by exploring the tangible history of Northeast Ohio.
The CAAM volunteers have undertaken the extensive restoration and refurbishment of a White Half Track, an American armored personnel carrier widely used by the Allies during World War II and in the Cold War. The M2 Half Track and its variants were produced by many manufacturers including Cleveland’s very own White Motor Company.
The organization has had the vehicle in its collection since 1999. Upon inspection it was noticed that the vehicle had a magnitude of issues including engine, driveline and incorrect body parts. What started out as a minor rebuild increased in scope as more incorrect parts and damaged driveline items were discovered.
WRHS, along with the help of volunteers, has completely rebuilt the entire rear track assembly and brakes on the vehicle. The front floor and all the front sheet metal was removed due to corrosion and improperly fabricated components from its past life. WRHS will continue to fabricate, rebuild, restore or purchase what is necessary to return it to fully functioning status. The process is a tedious one as not many parts are available almost 75 years after production. There is a dedicated team of approximately 6 volunteers who work solely on this project bringing it back to its former glory.

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.

Then & Now | Remembering Snow

Well, Cleveland had a truly white Christmas several weeks ago. It was not the usual holiday with rain, sleet, sunshine, or a wisp of snow. It was a good foot plus for much of the city and it did tend to tie up holiday traffic, such as it was during the Pandemic. But, how did that recent holiday snow stack up to some memorable winter weather events?

As heavy and widespread as the snow was, it was certainly not a blizzard, but rather one of the sometimes heavy snow events that hit the city and the eastern suburbs, particularly when the lake is not frozen over and “lake effect” snow results. Just ask the folks in Lake and Geauga county about heavy snows – it’s hard for them to remember a winter when there was not one. That said, the real “test” of a city is a blizzard which is defined by the National Weather Service as a storm with winds or gusts 35 mph or higher along with blowing snow or considerable falling snow that causes visibility to be less than a quarter of a mile.

Given those parameters Cleveland has had three major blizzards during its recorded weather history. They occurred in 1913, 1950, and 1978. The first in 1913 was the second weather disaster to hit the city (and the state) that year. It was preceded by the “Great Flood” of 1913 which began on March 21st and then over five days dropped more than 11 inches of rain of the state. It was the disaster that put what remained of the Ohio and Erie Canal out of commission forever. The blizzard of that year began eight months later on November 9 and lasted until the eleventh. Over 22 inches of snow fell with 60 mile an hour winds. Shipping on the Great Lakes was severely hit. Thirty-two ships were lost or damaged and 277 sailors perished.

The next blizzard is still within living memory. It occurred in 1950 and also in November. It began on the 24th and lasted for five days, and is remembered as the Thanksgiving Blizzard. Cleveland was at its peak population of over 900,000 at that time. Over 22 inches of snow fell and high winds created huge drifts. Roads were blocked with over 10,000 abandoned cars and the National Guard was called in to help dig the city out. In the end, 23 people died. Digging out of the storm cost the city over one million dollars. For students, it was fairly good news – Cleveland schools closed for the entire week after the blizzard.

The last major blizzard to hit the city took place in January 1978. It was the third major storm to hit the city that winter and it began on Thursday, January 26. The barometer fell to a record 28.26 as the temperature dropped 36 degrees in 6 hours. Wind gusts were clocked at 82 miles per hour while the sustained wind speed was 53 mph. One estimate indicates that the wind-chill reached -100 F! Snow fall was minimal – 8 inches, but again it drifted. Mayor Dennis Kucinich was in Washington when the storm began and could not return to the city. His finance director, Joseph Teagreene served as acting mayor. All major highways, excluding Interstate 77 were closed and over 110,000 people in the Greater Cleveland area suffered power outages. For a time, the entire Ohio Turnpike was closed and once again, the National Guard was called upon for assistance. This is the “blizzard” that many in the area still remember and it is also the winter that sticks in local memory given that, at the time, it was the second “snowiest” in the city’s history.

Many of us will likely recall our snowy holiday season this year – it may have caused inconvenience, but it certainly did seem to match the season. For a brief period at the end of a difficult year, northeastern Ohio looked pleasantly different as the snow created a new landscape, and along with holidays it helped take our minds off the other pressing issues of the times.

Then & Now | Buying a Car

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘D’: ‘Nope!’

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

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

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

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

‘D’: (Blank look)

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

‘D’: ‘Nope’.

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

‘D’: ‘Dress for the weather!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day | Book Recommendations

Below you will find a series of books related to Black History in Northeast Ohio that are available in the WRHS Museum Store:

 

 

Then & Now | Christmas comes Twice a Year

Sometime in the 1880s, Greater Cleveland began a new holiday tradition – a “second” celebration of Christmas. As immigration from southern and eastern Europe increased, individuals of the Christian Orthodox faith arrived in the city. Their religious rites followed the Julian calendar (which was first adopted in 46 BC) whereas the Roman Catholic Church adopted the Gregorian Calendar which was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Protestant churches began to follow the Gregorian calendar in the early 1700s. By the time of the arrival of the early Orthodox immigrants in Cleveland, the two celebrations of the birth of Jesus were separated by well over a week.

As the Orthodox population grew, various national churches were established in Cleveland. The first two were St. Theodosius in 1894 (Russian) and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, established by fifteen Greek immigrants in 1912. These congregations continue today in magnificent structures in Cleveland’s Tremont area. Over the years they been joined by another twenty-eight Orthodox churches and two monasteries in the Greater Cleveland area.

Yet, today, not all of the Orthodox faith celebrate Christmas as per the Julian Calendar. In the early 1920s the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople decided that a revised Julian calendar (that matched the Gregorian calendar) should be followed for Christmas, but not for Easter. Yet, some national churches, the Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian and Egyptian Orthodox Copts, still follow the old Julian Calendar. However, Ukraine has also made Catholic Christmas a national holiday.

This year the Julian December 25th equates with the Gregorian January 7th and on that date, Cleveland will see a second celebration of Christmas. Our best wishes to all who will celebrate and continue the rich traditions of our diverse community.

 

(Photograph: St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox,1970s. WRHS Collection.)