Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lake County Mini Profiles - Women at Work

Earlier this month, we examined some of the Lake County contributions in the decades following the Civil War. The men who affected these changes in the patterns of American life were not alone. The Industrial Revolution changed agriculture and industry.  New nationalities came to Lake County. These changes soon affected women's roles in society.  The Painesville Steam Laundry opened in 1887.  Homes could now afford a hired girl.  In turn, women of privilege began to have leisure time to devote to their communities.

Women's Temperance Union  - There had been a few early attempts to encourage temperance.  Early pioneer settlers to the Western Reserve had little to offer but whiskey.  However after the Civil War, women began to unite to work for prohibition.  Painesville's branch of the Women's Temperance Union began in 1874.  The group opened a public reading room as an alternative to the numerous area saloons.  For the next twenty-five years the reading rooms operated until the public libraries came into being.

Equal Rights Association - H. C. Gray of Willoughby was the first advocate of women's suffrage in Lake County.  His 1851 advocacy at the state level garnered little support.  G. W. Clement revisited the cause in 1880 as he sought the right for women to vote for local school boards.  Support increased but no changes came.  In 1883, Mrs. Frances J. Casement undertook the leadership role in Lake County's Equal Rights Association.  An inveterate letter writer and dogged chapter president of the cause, she made inroads into a fundamental shift in women's rights.  Martha H. Elwell of Willoughby carried on the crusade and by 1895 women received the right to vote for local school board members.  Two women were elected that year to the Painesville Board of Education.

Lake Erie Female Seminary -  Opened in September, 1859 this Painesville institution weathered the storm of the Civil War and under the leadership of Principal Lydia A. Sessions became a community cornerstone.  The 1868 appointments of Mary A. Evans and Luella Bentley as Principal and Assistant Principal proved wise.  They led the school for the next forty years.  Lake Erie Female Seminary grew.  In time it changed its name as college level studies were  being offered in 1897.  By 1898, a new name Lake Erie College had been chosen.

The Mathews School -  Mrs. Samuel Mathews, daughter-in-law of Painesville's pioneer doctor, started her school in her home circa 1870.  Her  preparatory school for Lake Erie Seminary took in both day pupils and out-of-state boarding pupils until it closed in 1900.

These early pioneering women from the last half of the nineteenth century affected changes that carried over into the next century.  Their contributions provided a growing awareness of Lake County's most enduring resource - its citizens.

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