Beyond Suffrage: Women’s Reform Networks and the Road for Women’s Rights, a lecture by Einav Rabinovitch-Fox 2/27/2020 w/video


Beyond Suffrage: Women’s Reform Networks
and the Road for Women’s Rights
The video is here

Einav Rabinovitch-Fox, Visiting Assistant Professor, History, CWRU
Thursday February 27, 2020 at 7p.m.

Talk will be at CWRU Siegal Facility on Richmond Rd
25700 Science Park Dr Beachwood, OH 44122

This talk will explore how the local activism of women in various reform causes in Cleveland and elsewhere led to their involvement in the suffrage movement, thus situating the right to vote in a broader activist agenda to advance women’s rights and equality before and after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This series is held in partnership with The Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program Case Western Reserve University and the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland.

Free and open to the public.
The flyer is here
RSVP here

The Gardeners Versus the Government: The Ambler Park Skirmish by Marian J. Morton

Ambler Park 1934 (CSU), Ambler Park 1912 Map (pub domain), Ambler Park 1940 (CSU)

The Gardeners Versus the Government: The Ambler Park Skirmish
by Marian J. Morton

The pdf is here
Cleveland history buffs love the story of how feisty women’s garden clubs helped halt the federal highway destined to destroy the beautiful Shaker Lakes and nearby neighborhoods. [1] This is what the women did: in 1966, a consortium of 30 garden clubs created what is now the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes and got it designated a national education landmark; so designated, it became it an obstacle to the proposed Clark Freeway. Today, the center’s mission is to preserve and enhance the lakes’ natural environment.  It’s a wonderful Goliath versus David story, or rather, a wonderful story of Goliath versus the “ladies in tennis shoes,” as the gardeners were described, the term suggesting that they were ineffectual socialites and dilettantes. The women, of course, had powerful allies: grassroots organizations that sprang up in opposition to the several proposed freeways; the mayors of Shaker and Cleveland Heights and Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, who knew very well that freeways can destroy a city; and Sun Press editor Harry Volk, whose editorials and news articles kept the issue alive from 1965 to its demise in 1970.

And whether they knew it or not, the women had history on their side: three decades earlier, the women of local garden clubs had also triumphed over the federal government. Marshalling the power of organized womanhood and their own social connections and with significant help from a sympathetic newspaper, they thwarted the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA)’s threatened destruction of the natural beauties of Ambler Park.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, garden clubs organized middle- and upper-class women for the socially acceptable purpose of beautifying their own homes and gardens.  Club activities – meetings, luncheons, elections, fund-raisers, plant sales, lectures – dominated the women’s pages of  many newspapers.  And as often happened when women got together, they looked beyond their own homes and became advocates for public causes – in this case, civic beautification and conserving the natural landscape.  Consequently, they also became political players.

A local example: in the 1920s, the Shaker Garden Club began to plant wildflowers around the Shaker Lakes and in 1930, cherry trees.  In 1933, the club developed a broader plan for the lakes’ region  and got permission from the city of Cleveland to “improve park property adjacent to the upper Shaker Lakes.” [2] The lakes had been a gift in 1895 to Cleveland from the Shaker Heights Land Company, which had bought the Shaker community’s property and later sold it to developers Otis P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen in 1913. The proximity of the lakes to Shaker Heights’ handsome new homes greatly enhanced their value, as the Van Sweringens had hoped.

By 1933, however, the Great Depression had taken hold, and the Van Sweringens’ real estate empire had collapsed.  Even affluent suburbs like Shaker and Cleveland Heights had residents so down on their luck that they needed help from the federal government.  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration created the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to take men off local relief rolls and put them to work on publicly useful projects such as parks, playgrounds, schools, roads, and bridges.  Cities that had projects already designed or underway got a head start.

The Shaker Garden Club’s plan for Shaker Lakes, for example, was ready to go. In December 1933, CWA workers, “directed by the City of Cleveland Parks Department  … and the women of the Shaker Lakes Garden Club,” began to “transform the 300 acres of forests and meadowlands of Shaker Heights into a great city recreation area.” [3]  This ambitious plan didn’t happen exactly that way, but in October 1934, the CWA had almost completed work on the landscaping and a set of stone steps on the peninsula of the upper [Horseshoe] lake. [4]

When the CWA began work on Ambler Park, however, it was a different story: gardeners clashed instead of cooperated with the federal government.  The CWA project on Ambler Park was part of the larger project to improve Doan Brook, which began in the Shaker Lakes and then proceeded through Ambler Park and from there to Rockefeller and Gordon Parks.   Like the Shaker Lakes, most of Ambler Park had been a gift to the city of Cleveland from a developer, Martha B. Ambler, owner of the property that became Cleveland Heights’ elegant enclave, Ambler Heights, that bordered the park on the north.

Ambler Park also had a very different terrain.  The Shaker Lakes were small and man-made, on flat meadowland, and designed to run the mills of the Shaker settlement. The lakes could be easily domesticated with wild flowers and cherry trees.  In contrast, much of Ambler Park ran through a steep, shale-lined ravine, which dropped sharply from the lakes on “the heights” down to Cedar Road and University Circle. Major thoroughfares flanked it on the south and north.

The park’s geography did not lend itself to baseball diamonds or tennis courts although there was a small pond at the foot of the park used for ice skating in the 1910s.    By necessity and design, most of Ambler Park was kept in its natural state.  Cleveland city officials in 1908 hoped to “cultivate [its] wild beauty.” [5] They boasted of its birds and summer foliage.  On one sunny Sunday in 1911, 10,000 people rode the streetcar or walked to enjoy the park. [6] The most frequent visitors were the dozens of Boy Scout troops who used the park to test their wilderness skills during the 1920s.

But the untamed landscape also created dangers: children drowned in the pond or ran their sleds into trees; motorists occasionally crashed down into the ravine.  And there was crime, including a sensational gangland slaying of two gamblers found trussed up, shot, and tossed into the park’s depths in 1927.  And the park itself was endangered. In the mid-1920s, debris from building Baldwin Reservoir to the south was tossed down the ravine.  Even worse, in 1930, County Commissioner J.H. Harris suggested that a boulevard be cut through the ravine to speed automobile traffic to and from the Heights.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized about “Saving Ambler Park[:] …. there is no convincing reason why [a roadway] should be made the instrument of destroying most of what remains of Ambler Park’s glory.” [7]  The idea went nowhere; Fairhill (then Fairmount) Road on the south side of the ravine was widened instead.

So park lovers were already concerned when the CWA began to enclose Doan Brook with culverts and cement walls in both Rockefeller and Ambler Parks. Photos from April 1934 show workers in Ambler Park struggling with huge chunks of concrete.[8] But the CWA’s primary goal was putting men to work; its secondary goal was to prevent erosion and keep the brook from overflowing its banks. Conserving the beauties of nature was not a priority.

Women’s gardening groups led the attack on what they saw as a destructive approach to the natural landscape.  Their spokesperson was Elizabeth Ring Ireland Mather, chairman of the Cleveland parks committee of the Garden Center (now the Cleveland Botanical Gardens).  She was the wife of William Gwinn Mather, a prominent industrialist and philanthropist and Cleveland’s “first citizen.” But she was a powerful civic activist in her own right.  She was a founder in 1930 of the Garden Center, then located on the Wade Lagoon, and she remained deeply invested in the planning and beautification of University Circle throughout her life. [9]

In 1933, under Mather’s direction, the Garden Center became the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland.  Its members included gardening and horticultural groups and women’s civic groups from several suburbs, as well as the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Natural History Museum. In December, Mather, on behalf of the  center’s “nearly 200,000 members,” asked that federal relief money be spent on  planting trees and shrubs along state highways, not simply widening and grading them.[10]  Six months later, Mather demanded that  Governor George White come up with the money she believed her groups had been promised. [11]

In the meantime, she also accused Cleveland Mayor Harry L. Davis of allowing the managing of Cleveland’s parks to become a “political football”: political appointees who knew little about parks –  and were almost certainly Democrats –  had allowed streets and parks to become “ugly and neglected.”  The city should create a non-partisan park board that would develop a comprehensive plan, informed by experts, she argued.  The mayor responded that even if there were enough money for such a board, it would be composed of residents of Cleveland, “not of the Heights.” The message:  suburban women had no business poking around in city business. [12] (Mather lived in Bratenahl.)

In 1935, the WPA replaced the CWA. But the approach to Ambler Park remained the same: walls and culverts.

On April 20, 1936, Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Josephine Robertson blasted the WPA’s destruction of Ambler Park on page one. “Natural beauty spots in the city’s parks are being laid waste by WPA workers …. The pretty meandering brooks and rills in which many generations of children have waded have been organized between high walls like open sewers.” The habitat of woodland animals has been destroyed, she continued, and “The natural mat of leaves and mold, the wild flowers and mosses are being scraped off the banks … The natural cover for birds … is being uprooted.”  Robertson interviewed strollers heartbroken and astonished that their park’s natural beauties had fallen victim to “pickaxes and shovels …. ‘The woods is gone now,’” one mourned. [13]

The very next day, Mather and the gardeners jumped in.  The Garden Center’s formidable alliance of Cleveland’s social and cultural elite established a committee to “investigate WPA plans to wall up” Doan Brook through Ambler Park. Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, Cuyahoga County WPA director, responded, “It’s all a matter of taste.”  The women disagreed.  “Why fix nature?” they asked. When he explained that walls would prevent erosion from the thousands of gallons of water dumped into the brook from the reservoir, the gardeners pointed out that this water had been dumped into the brook for many years from the Fairmount and then the Baldwin Reservoir without damage.  Further, they accused the WPA of “digging out the homes of little animals and destroying the natural vegetation along the way.” [14]

The Plain Dealer rallied to the women’s cause: “WPA workers, blunderingly trying to improve on nature in Cleveland parks, remind one of those highway engineers who are found occasionally slashing century-old trees so that a road may be made just a big straighter …. Thus many lovers of natural beauty will echo the protest against what the WPA is now doing to Ambler Park. One hopes there is landscaping as well as engineering talent in the high command of the WPA which will stay the hand of the slashers before it is too late.” [15]

In the hot seat, Cleveland City Parks Director Hugh E. Varga passed the buck, claiming that his department had “practically no check on the way projects were carried out,” although the city had apparently okayed the original plans.  He promised to do better: “a committee of Cleveland’s most prominent landscape architects [would] recommend” changes to WPA plans. “I will do all I can to preserve the natural beauty of the parks.”[16]

A month later, the Plain Dealer headlines shouted, “Ambler Brook Reprieved; Prison Walls Won’t Rise.”   The committee Varga had promised recommended that the eastern end of Ambler Park “should be kept in a natural condition.”  The gardeners had won. Robertson breathed a sigh of relief: “the sylvan brook in Ambler Park, which was threatened with being walled up like a sewer … will babble gayly by its natural green and wooded banks.”  The chipmunks and the birds are safe, Cleveland children will still wade in the shallow water.” [17]

WPA work on Ambler Park continued through the 1930s.  Photographs taken in 1940– at least for public relations purposes – show graceful steps and walkways winding through the stone outcropping and woods that line the brook. [18] The western-most end of Ambler Park was culverted.

Although the WPA left a very visible built legacy in nearby parks – the landscaping and statuary of Rockefeller Park and a handsome bridge in Forest Hills Park – , the WPA left behind in Ambler Park the (almost) natural setting for which the skirmish had been fought.

The preservation of Ambler Park was a small – but early – victory for the environment and for these gardeners: it illustrated that “women in tennis shoes” can be a force to be reckoned with, that private citizens can become political actors, and that private gardens can lead to civic beautification – especially with local journalists on your side. It left a legacy of grassroots activism for women of the 1960s and beyond.

Ambler Park has changed since 1940.  Today, Facebook pages show that local artists have left their own marks on its shale outcropping.  [19]  Mather’s gardeners might not approve.  Nevertheless, thanks to her and her gardeners, the park is still a place where strollers and birdwatchers and students can admire and learn about the beauties of nature.   [20]




[1] For example, Lauren R. Pacini and Laura M. Peskin, Preserving the Shaker Parklands, The Story of the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes (Cleveland, 2016).

[2]  Cleveland Plain Dealer (CPD), June 1, 1933: 4)

[3] Local History Ephemera File, Shaker Heights Library.

[4]  CPD, October 14, 1934: 28.

[5]  CPD, February 16, 1908: 5.

[6]  CPD, October 16, 1911: 12.

[7]   CPD,  November 18, 1930: 10.



[10]   CPD, December 5, 1933: 10.

[11]   CPD, June 30, 1934: 9.

[12]  CPD, May 9, 1934:14.

[13]  CPD, April 20, 1936: 1, 5.

[14]  CPD, April 21, 1936: 1,4.

[15]  CPD, April 21, 1936:8.

[16]  CPD, April 24, 1936: 1

[17]  CPD, May 25,1936: 1.



Mr. Adorjan's 6th grade science class learns about geology in the classroom and in the park just south of the school. …

Posted by Roxboro Middle School PTA on Thursday, November 15, 2012


Florence E. Allen, Cleveland’s Most Famous Woman Almost No Clevelanders Today Have Heard Of

Florence Allen 1921 KSU

By Marian J. Morton

The pdf is here

When the Plain Dealer’s Andrea Simakis discovered “the unstoppable Judge Florence Allen,” she marveled over Allen’s path-breaking career, her intellect, her perseverance, her “moxie.”  And yet,  Simakis mused, “… I had never heard of her… Neither had a lot of women I know.”  [1] But for much of Allen’s lifetime (1884-1966), almost everyone in Cleveland – at least everyone who read the newspapers – had heard of her.  She was Cleveland’s most famous woman,[2] not just because she was the “first lady of the law,”[3] not just because this local girl made very, very good, but because Allen herself made it happen.  A performer by both nature and nurture, Allen loved being center stage. She gave hundreds of speeches -on soapboxes, street corners, luncheons, and lecture halls – on topics ranging from opera to woman suffrage to outlawing war; she faced down hecklers and anti-suffragists; she led and marched in parades. These set the stage for successful runs for municipal judge and the Ohio Supreme Court and less successful runs for the U.S.  House of Representatives and Senate and a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.  Fiercely ambitious, she cultivated political allies from local precinct captains to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; fiercely competitive, she relished the challenges of being the first woman in a male role.  Her reward: fame, although fleeting.


One of Allen’s earliest memories was of her five-year-old self on a make-shift stage, dressed in costume, like her older sisters, in a performance that celebrated her father’s birthday.  Allen recited the Greek alphabet, which he had taught her. [4]

The family was living in Utah, where her father, Clarence Emil Allen, had gone to recover from tuberculosis. He was a graduate of Western Reserve College in Hudson, then became head of Western Reserve Academy, and then taught classics at the college until his health gave out.  His wife, Corinne Tuckerman Allen, and two small daughters, Esther and Helen, followed him to Salt Lake City.

He quickly entered public life.  He studied law, was admitted to the bar (no law school necessary in those days), and became county clerk. He was elected to the territorial legislature, and when Utah became a state in 1895, he became one of its first elected representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives.  He served only one term, and after his return from Washington D.C., made his living as an assayer for one of the mines of Liberty Holden, owner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Corinne Allen “was always immersed in some public undertaking,” her daughter recalled.[5] Corinne had been admitted to the first class at Smith College in 1875, one of a tiny handful of women who attended college in the 1870s.   Although she dropped out of college to marry Clarence, she believed that her privileged education gave her special responsibilities to her community.  Florence was born in Utah, and Elizabeth, Clarence Emil Jr., and John followed.  Utah women had been enfranchised by the Utah territorial legislature in 1870, disenfranchised by Congress in 1887 in a dispute over the legality of polygamy, but continued to play public roles. An energetic participant in the woman’s club movement of the late nineteenth century, Corinne joined local, state, and national women’s clubs and helped found the Mothers’ Congress, later the P.T.A.  She was a vocal opponent of the Mormon practice of polygamy. Corinne became an organizer in 1900 for Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.[6]

Florence Allen attended high school in Salt Lake City, where she was most inspired by her piano teacher, and in 1900, at age 16, she entered the Women’s College of Western Reserve University. Although she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, she later recalled, “I do not seem to have been greatly interested in any special branch of learning,” except piano, which she practiced for hours.  She found time for politics, however, and was elected freshman class president.[7] She loved going to local operas, stage productions, and concerts; her college scrapbooks are full of playbills with lively comments in the margins. [8] She also greatly enjoyed “the dramatics that we produced on the campus,” proud of her role in which “I was stout, vigorous, shook my cane and swore enthusiastically.” [9]  No male actors being available, she – with a strong voice – also played the king in a Hindu play: “ I sweltered in the royal purple robe.” [10]These college theatrics were dress rehearsals for performances in her judicial robes.

Allen was tall, sturdily built (she struggled with her weight all her life), with regular features and a broad forehead.  Until the 1920s, she wore her hair long and piled on top of her head. She was handsome, not conventionally pretty.  [11] She had a commanding presence, appreciated and applauded by audiences and supporters.  By her own account – and other’s -, she had little fashion sense and recalled more than one occasion when friends at the last-minute scrambled to provide something appropriately feminine for her to wear for a public appearance. [12]

After graduation in 1904, Allen accompanied her mother to Berlin, where Corinne had been asked to speak on polygamy to the International Council of Women. Florence studied piano but decided that she lacked the talent to make her living as a musical performer. Instead, she became a music critic, which provided her with an entry into her public life in Cleveland when she returned in 1906.  She landed a job at Laurel School, a private girls’ school, where she directed the plays, played piano for chapel every morning, and taught “Greek, German, geography, grammar, and American history.”  [13]

More important, she became the music critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  She reviewed concerts, operas, orchestras, and solo performers weekly and sometimes more often.  To readers, the byline,  “By Florence Allen,”  became associated with social respectability and professional integrity.

But she didn’t want to teach high school girls or write music reviews forever. At the suggestion of one of her teachers at Western Reserve University, she studied for a master’s in political science and decided to go to law school.  Law was very much a male field, and the new requirement of law school made it even more difficult for women.  Western Reserve University Law School, for example, did not accept women, so Allen went first to the University of Chicago and then to New York University.  She graduated second in her class.

In New York, money was tight, and as she had in Cleveland, she supplemented her income with public lectures.  More important, she met the women who would help shape her career and her political agenda. These included the Reverend Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), 1904-1915; Carrie Chapman Catt, the brilliant NAWSA president usually credited with devising the “winning strategy” for achieving the vote; and Maude Wood Park, the organizer of the College Equal Suffrage Organization. Park gave Allen a job as the organization’s secretary. Although initially viewed as wild revolutionaries by many Americans, these suffragists led the movement into the moderate mainstream, especially after the break with the more radical National Women’s Party. This way led to victory in 1920.

Pragmatic by necessity, the NAWSA endorsed no political candidate unless he endorsed woman suffrage.  Suffragists argued for the vote on the grounds that women were equal to men and deserved equal treatment and also, often simultaneously, that women were different and would bring their special nurturing skills to politics and the larger community, especially the lives of women. These became Allen’s guiding principles.


In 1912, one of many proposed amendments to the Ohio constitution would have enfranchised Ohio women by changing the words that described a voter as a “white male” to “every citizen.”  Allen returned to Cleveland to make it happen. She was already well-known to Clevelanders, thanks to her family connections and her byline at the newspaper.

She was also a polished public speaker. Like her fellow suffragists, she was well educated and well off financially, but unlike them, she was neither shy nor modest.  Accompanied by cub reporter Louis Seltzer, she and other brave women rode from Cleveland to Medina on a rented trolley that carried a “Votes for Women” banner; when it stopped, Allen hopped off and pitched woman suffrage from a soap box. [14] Suffragists were routinely greeted by hecklers, who told them to return to their homes where they belonged.  “It can’t be did,” maintained one opponent to votes for women, “and if it can be did, it hain’t right.” [15] More frustrating was public indifference.  Allen recalled a meeting in one small town at which only two women appeared; she urged them to return the next night, and they did, bringing one friend.  On the brighter side, she was “roundly cheered” in a circus tent in Ottawa, Ohio, and in Sidney, Ohio, at a band concert,  accompanied by another suffragist, who entertained the crowd by whistling and playing the cornet. She spoke and organized women all over the state – 92 speeches in 88 counties [16] The referendum lost by 87,455 votes, but Allen’s exposure laid the groundwork for her successful runs for state-wide office in 1922 and 1928.

Ohio women organized a second effort to amend the Ohio constitution in 1914, using the  initiative. Allen again took to the lecture circuit; she shared a platform with fellow supporter, Cleveland Mayor Newton D. Baker in March, 1914. [17] As Baker watched from the grandstand, a great parade of 10,000 women and men, including Allen, marched through Cleveland streets on October 4.  [18] Allen predicted a win: “I have visited more than forty Ohio counties in this campaign … [M]any women opposed to suffrage two years ago now are heartily in favor of it…. [M]en are changing from a position of direct opposition or indifference to open espousal.” [19]  Her colleagues chose her to debate the prominent anti-suffragist Lucy Price in Gray’s Armory. Anti-suffragists, often wealthy and well-educated women like the suffragists themselves, argued that women’s place was in the home, not the polling place, and moreover, most women didn’t want to vote.  Allen took the opposite position.  Both arguments would have been difficult to prove.  Although no official winner was announced, Allen felt that she had won and accused her opponent of calling her “a short and ugly name.” [20] The initiative failed by an even greater margin than had the 1912 amendment.

Temporarily thwarted at the state level, suffragists switched tactics.  Persuaded by Allen and other suffragists, the authors of East Cleveland’s new charter in 1916 included a provision that allowed women to vote in municipal elections. The provision was challenged by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. The Cleveland Woman Suffrage League filed a taxpayers’ suit against the board.  Allen was their attorney and won the case before the Ohio Supreme Court.

This victory, plus her name recognition, won her the attention of the local Democratic Party, which appointed her an assistant county prosecutor.  This became the beginning of her judicial career.

Even before the suffrage amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, Allen launched her campaign for municipal judge.  Because it was too late to enter a party primary, she quickly organized a petition campaign to get her name on the ballot.  Her fellow suffragists, many now members of the new League of Women Voters, came to her aid, as she had to theirs.  Allen herself spoke often, now on her own behalf.  Once in the race, she was endorsed by the league, by the Business and Professional Women and a host of other women’s organizations, and by all four Cleveland newspapers.  She led the field of ten judicial candidates.[21]

Allen ran as a non-partisan. She believed that judges should not be closely identified with one party or the other.  Moreover, she had broken with Democratic leader Baker over his endorsement of universal military training when he was Secretary of War during World War I.  She also hoped to get votes from both Democrats and Republicans, which she did. [22]

During these years in Cleveland, Allen met the leaders of the local suffrage movement like Harriet Taylor Upton, Elizabeth Hauser, Belle Sherwin, Zara DuPont, Lucia McBride, Mary B. Grossman, and dozens of others.  “Society women, professional women, rich women, poor women – a noble band of good workers.”[23]  She made personal friends and political alliances that would stand her in good stead for the rest of her career. She never forgot them; they never forgot her. “I was the beneficiary of the entire woman movement,” she acknowledged. [24]


Within months of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment and with these women’s help, Allen took her seat as Cleveland’s first female judge of the Common Pleas court.  She prided herself on her efficiency in the dispatch of justice. On the grounds that she was single, she refused to be sidelined to divorce court, choosing criminal law.  “[25] This was where the action was: Cleveland was then under siege by “organized and unorganized criminals” who robbed and murdered citizens, including policemen, almost with impunity.  [26] In her first term, 1921-1922, she disposed of 892 cases.[27]

Two of those cases made headlines.  The first involved a 1921 payroll robbery in which two men were murdered by a gang implicated in several other robberies. Their leader, Frank Motto, fled to California but was returned to Cleveland and Allen’s court.  In May 1921, during the jury trial, she had to clear the courtroom of suspicious looking men, who were carrying weapons.  She herself received a death threat: “On the day Motto dies, you die.” [28] The Cleveland Plain Dealershouted: “JUDGE ALLEN SENTENCES SLAYER …. In a calm, even tone, Judge Florence E. Allen pronounced the death penalty.” [29]  Motto died in the electric chair in August. Allen got police protection, became the “first woman judge to impose the death sentence,” and created a reputation as a fearless enforcer of law and order. [30]

She enhanced that reputation by sentencing a fellow jurist, former chief justice of the Common Pleas Court, William Henry McGannon, to jail for perjury. He had twice been acquitted of murder.  The Cleveland Bar Association, however, prosecuted him, and others, for false statements made during the trials.  Despite Allen’s efforts, bribes and witness-tampering took place before McGannon’s trial.  The jury found McGannon guilty, and Allen sentenced him to one to ten years in the penitentiary.  “[A] court has never been faced with a more disagreeable duty than that of sentencing a man before whom the court has practiced as a lawyer,” she reproached him. [31]

It was a spectacular first act, but Allen had set her sights higher.  In the summer of 1922, she briefly contemplated running for the U.S. Senate against the incumbent, Atlee Pomerene.  Instead, encouraged by Baker, she ran for a vacant seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. [32] The Cleveland Plain Dealer applauded: “her election was one of the best things that ever happened to this [Common Pleas] court …. [H]er service on the lower bench fully entitles her to aspire to the higher office.” [33]Her usual allies, former suffragists and women’s organizations, again organized her campaign.  She again ran a non-partisan campaign and won handily, the first woman to be elected to a state supreme court.  Six years later, as her term drew to a close, she again contemplated the Senate. Without the endorsement of the Democratic party but encouraged by women’s groups offended by Pomerene’s lamentable record on woman suffrage, she ran in the primary against him.  She lost but by a small margin. [34]

Allen won re-election to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1928, but in 1932, hoping to add to a Democratic landslide, she made a run for the U.S. House. She lost to Republican Chester C. Bolton, but she received her reward in March 1934, when she was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the first woman to sit on the federal bench.  Clevelanders honored her with a banquet, “an expression of esteem from the Cleveland Bar Association and the women of the city for Judge Allen’s achievements in her profession.”  Organizers included women who had fought for suffrage with Allen two decades earlier. [35] She was appointed the court’s chief justice in 1958, the first woman to hold this appointment.

Allen also became the first to be seriously considered for a Supreme Court position by Roosevelt and subsequent presidents.  Although she had strong support from local and national women’s organizations and political connections in Washington, she never received the appointment.   She claimed that she did not “expect such an appointment,” [36] but many of her supporters wanted it for her, and certainly so did she.

Perhaps her academic and professional credentials, both limited by her gender, were not strong enough.  Perhaps she was too closely identified as a Democrat; perhaps not closely enough.  Perhaps Americans just weren’t ready for a woman on the highest court of the land. [37] Not until 1981 did Sandra Day O’Connor get appointed to the Supreme Court.

Allen was a pioneer judge but not a pioneer jurist. The decisions she was proudest of supported the familiar agenda of the suffragists and the women’s organizations who had always backed her (the death penalty being the exception). In Reutner v. City of Cleveland(1923) she ruled that Cleveland had the right to adopt a city manager plan and proportional representation.  The League of Women Voters advocated both and continued to support the city manager plan long after Cleveland voters rejected it in 1931.  The league also favored laws that protected women in the workplace. Although the decision was not gender-specific, in Ohio Automatic Sprinkler Co. v. Fender(1923) Allen voted with the majority of her colleagues to over-rule lower courts and hold the company responsible for the woman employee’s injury. Women’s organizations continued to support special legislation for women in the workplace until the  1970s.

Her most significant decision – in January 1938 on the appeals court – ruled in favor of the New Deal’s Tennessee Valley Authority. The issue was whether the federal government had the authority to build the dams and waterways that would control flooding in the region and also market electric power.  Private power companies argued that this was unfair competition. The League of Women Voters had endorsed an earlier version of the plan in the late 1920s. [38] Clevelanders were familiar with  publicly owned utilities because of the municipal power plant established in 1914 when Baker was mayor of Cleveland.  In 1937, however, Baker was, initially, the lead attorney for the private power companies.  His side lost. Allen’s decision held that the TVA did not unfairly compete with private enterprise and more importantly, it upheld the federal government’s broad use of its powers.  Allen herself, in full judicial regalia, read aloud for an hour her decision before an excited, expectant audience in a jam-packed courtroom. [39] She was upheld by the Supreme Court.

This was probably her last bravura performance although she served on the appeals court until 1959. After retirement, Allen continued to make news, traveling and lecturing. In 1965, she published her memoir, To Do Justly.

During her long career on the bench, she had no opportunity to rule on women’s rights cases; those would emerge with second-wave feminism after her retirement.  In any case, despite her own unconventional life, she had conventional ideas about women’s responsibilities: family, home, work if necessary, and service to the community. Perhaps reflecting on the political challenges she herself had faced, she predicted, “No woman, no matter how qualified, will be nominated, much less elected, President of the United States.” [40]  Allen was more like Sandra Day O’Connor –  better known for her ability to get along with male judges [41]– than like the trail-blazing feminist, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When Allen died in September 1966, the Cleveland Plain Dealerlamented the passing of this “distinguished, well-loved citizen.” [42]


Distinguished and well-loved, but soon forgotten.  Why?

Maybe because she was from Cleveland, and most famous people are from somewhere else.

Maybe even Clevelanders don’t think Cleveland history is interesting enough to remember. Dr. Jeannette Tuve’s is the only definitive biography of Allen. The Cleveland Public Library system owns three copies; only one circulates.  Allen’s contemporary, sometime friend and sometime foe but always more famous, Newton D. Baker, doesn’t do much better. The Cleveland Public Library system owns four copies of Clarence C.H. Cramer, Newton D. Baker: A Biography (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1961) and three copies of Douglas B. Craig, Progressives at War: William G. McAdoo and Newton D. Baker, 1863-1941(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).

Maybe it’s just easier to forget women, even women like Allen who lived very public lives.

Of course, periodically we do “remember the ladies,” as Abigail Adams advised her husband John as he contemplated the American Revolution and she contemplated what freedom from the British might mean for those who were not male. John and his colleagues didn’t heed his wife’s advice.

In the 1910s and 1920s, when it looked as though the suffrage movement might, like the American Revolution, turn the world upside down, politicians remembered women – Allen, for example.  But in the following decades, attention turned to other things – the Great Depression and World War II, for example.

And then in the 1970s in the heady days of second-wave feminism, born of the civil rights movement, we re-discovered women in the American past.  Like Simakis, we were astonished – and exhilarated. We knew about the men, of course, – the presidents, the generals, the industrialists.  No one had ever mentioned that there were women back then. You’d think we could have figured it out.  And we did, and then forgot.

And today, in 2019, in the context of Hillary Clinton almost becoming President in 2016 and a record number of women elected to Congress in 2018 and because it is almost a hundred years since Allen and others fought for the vote – and Americans like centennials -, we are re-discovering women one more time.

But this story of Cleveland’s most famous woman reminds us that fame is fleeting. Simakis suggested – as Plain Dealer reporter Tom Suddes had earlier[43]– a remedy for our faulty public memory: a courthouse named for Allen, a more substantial memorial than existing portraits and plaques.  Simakis’s readers were enthusiastic.  Howard M. Metzenbaum and Carl B. Stokes have their names on courthouses:  why not “the gutsy, unstoppable FEA”?  One reader suggested that Allen’s life would make a good play.  Simakis concluded, “I can see the actress in Allen’s robes now, sitting in her chambers, opening that smudgy death threat [during the Motta trial] … [F]or sheer drama, her tenure as a judge in Cleveland is hard to beat.”  [44]

Allen was that actress; her whole life was that drama – from her five-year-old recitation of the Greek alphabet to her hour-long reading of her decision in the TVA case and all the lectures and stump speeches and marches and headlines in between. These made her Cleveland’s most famous woman.  For a while.

[1]  Plain Dealer, June 30, 2019: B3.

[2]   Don’t take my word for it. Reporter Grace Goulder described Allen as “Ohio’s most famous woman”, “Ohio’s first lady,” and the “world’s best known woman lawyer”: Cleveland Plain Dealer (CPD), October 6, 1935: 67. By my count, from 1900 to 2019, she got 1,466 mentions in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and for almost all those years, there was more than one Cleveland newspaper.

[3]   Allen had the good sense and sturdy ego to leave her papers to the Western Reserve Historical Society.  These became the basis for her definitive biography: Jeannette E. Tuve,  First Lady of the Law: Florence Ellinwood Allen(Boston and London, University Press of America , 1984).

[4]  Florence Ellinwood Allen, To Do Justly(Cleveland: The Press of Western Reserve University, 1965), 1.

[5]  Allen, 9-10.

[6]  Tuve, 10.

[7]  Allen, 19.

[8]  Tuve, 11.

[9]Allen, 19

[10]  Allen, 20.

[11]  Tuve, 12.

[12]  Allen, 26;28; 31. Virginia Clark Abbott, The History of Woman Suffrage and the League of Women Voters in Cuyahoga  County, 1911-1945(Cleveland: n.p. c. 1949), 52.

[13]  Tuve, 18.

[14]  Cleveland Plain Dealer (CPD),June 25, 1912: 12.

[15]  Abbott, 54.

[16]   Allen, 32.

[17]  CPD, March 3, 1914: 14.

[18]   Abbott, 38.

[19]   CPD, October 10, 1914: 5.

[20]   Allen, 34. What name can this have been?

[21]  Allen, 43-44.

[22]  Tuve, 54.

[23]Florence E. Allen and Mary Welles, The Ohio Woman Suffrage Movement(Committee for the Preservation of Ohio Woman Suffrage Records, 1952), 41.

[24]  Allen, 43.

[25]  Allen, 46.

[26]  John Stark Bellamy, The Maniac in the Bushes and More Tales of Cleveland Woe(Cleveland: Gray and Company Publishers, 1997), 219.

[27]  Allen, 51.

[28]  Allen, 28.

[29]  CPD, May 15, 1921: 1.

[30]   Allen, 56.

[31]   Allen, 62. McGannon was released after 19 months because he had diabetes.

[32]  Tuve, 63.

[33]  CPD, June 14, 1922: 6.

[34]   Allen, 75-77.

[35]   CPD,  March 25, 1934:16.

[36]  Allen, 110.

[37]  Tuve, 124-126.

[38]  Tuve, 117.

[39]  Tuve, 116-122.

[40]  Quoted in Tuve, 141.

[41]  Evan Thomas. First: Sandra Day O’Connor(New York: Random House, 2019).

[42]  CPD, September 17, 1966: 14.

[43]  Plain Dealer, June 7, 2000: B9; January 9, 2002: 9B.

[44]  Plain Dealer, July 21, 2019: B 1, B 3.  I can’t resist pointing out that the Newton D. Baker Building on the Case Western Reserve University campus has been demolished. Brick and mortar are no guarantee that you’ll be remembered.

Paula Giddings Book Discussions (2/28/2020 and 3/27/2020)

2020 Centennial Celebration of the Women’s Vote
Paula Giddings Book Discussions

Friday, February 28, 2020; 2:15 to 4:15pm
Fairview Park Library
21255 Lorain Rd.
Cleveland, OH 44126

Facilitators:  Dr. Dorothy Salem, Phyllis W. Benjamin

This “ is an eloquent testimonial to the profound influence of African-American women on race and women’s movements throughout American history. Drawing on speeches, diaries, letters, and other original documents, Paula Giddings powerfully portrays how black women have transcended racist and sexist attitudes – often confronting white feminists and black male leaders alike – to initiate social and political reform.  From the open disregard for the rights of slave women to examples of today’s more covert racism and sexism in civil rights and women’s organizations, Giddings illuminates the black woman’s crusade for equality.  In the process, she paints unforgettable portraits of black female leaders, such as anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, educator and FDR advisor Mary McLeod Bethune, and the heroic civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, among others, who fought both overt and institutionalized oppression.  “When and Where I Enter” reveals the immense moral power black women possessed and sought to wield throughout their history—the same power that prompted Anna Julia Cooper in 1892 to tell a group of black clergymen, “Only the black woman can say “when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or patronage, then and there the whole….race enters with me.””


Friday, March 27, 2020; 2:00 to 4:00
Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library
2345 Lee Rd.
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118


Facilitators:  Dr. Regennia Williams, Dr. Dorothy Salem, Phyllis W. Benjamin with the support of the CH-UH Library’s leadership.

This history of the largest block women’s organization in the United States is not only the story of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (DST), but also tells of the increasing involvement of black women in the political, social, and economic affairs of America. Founded at a time when liberal arts education was widely seen as either futile, dangerous, or impractical for blacks, especially women, DST is, in Giddings’s words, a “compelling reflection of block women’s aspirations for themselves and for society.”
Giddings notes that unlike other organizations with racial goals, Delta Sigma Theta was created to change and benefit individuals rather than society. As a sorority, it was formed to bring women together as sisters, but at the some time to address the divisive, often class-related issues confronting black women in our society. There is, in Giddings’s eyes, a tension between these goals that makes Delta Sigma Theta a fascinating microcosm of the struggles of black women and their organizations.
DST members have included Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Church Terrell, Margaret Murray Washington, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan, and, on the cultural side, Leontyne Price, Lena Horne, Ruby Dee, Judith Jamison, and Roberta Flack. In Search of Sisterhood is full of compelling, fascinating anecdotes told by the Deltas themselves, and illustrated with rare early photographs of the Delta women.

Convened by the Education Committee of the LWV GC

Women’s Suffrage Centennial Symposium: From Complex Legacy to Collective Action April 18, 2020

Postponed due to corona virus

Women’s Suffrage Centennial Symposium: From Complex Legacy to Collective Action
April 18, 2020
More info here

The flyer is here
Order tickets here

Tinkham Veale University Center at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU)
Ticket price, including lunch, will be $35.

This symposium brings together leading voices on the women’s struggle for the vote and will reflect on the historical meaning of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the extension of the franchise to women.

Morning speakers:

      • Paula J. Giddings, retired professor of Africana Studies, Smith College, and author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America,  In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement, and Ida: A Sword Among Lions – Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching.
      • Dawn Teele, professor, Political Science Department, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Forging the Franchise: The Political Origins of the Women’s Vote

Panel discussion “Where do we go from here? A Call to Action Moment”

      • Amy Hanauer, Executive Director of Ohio Policy Matters, will moderate. Panelists include:
      • Crystal Bryant, Do-project Director, Cleveland Votes
      • Destinee Henton, Ohio Outreach Coordinator, Alliance for the Great Lakes
      • Rebecca Maurer, Maurer Law LCC, Lead Member Cleveland Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH)
      • Jasmine Santana, Councilwoman, Cleveland City Council Ward 14

Keynote speaker

      • Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the U. S., will wrap up during dessert, with a “charge” to move forward and get involved.

Cosponsoring with the LWV of Greater Cleveland are CWRU Flora Stone Mather Center for Women ★ CWRU Political Science Department ★ CWRU Siegal Lifelong Learning ★ CWRU Center for Civic Engagement and learning ★ CWRU African American Studies ★ CWRU Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences ★ CWRU Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity ★ Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Alpha Omega Chapter ★ Cleveland Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University ★ Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Women in Law Section ★ Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Greater Cleveland Alumnae Chapter ★ Facing History and Ourselves ★ Hispanic Roundtable ★ The Junior League of Cleveland ★ LINKS, Western Reserve (OHIO) Chapter  ★ National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland ★ Norman S. Minor Bar Association ★ Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Cleveland Chapter  ★ Urban League of Greater Cleveland ★ Women of Color Foundation ★ YWCA of Greater Cleveland


Before RBG, a Cleveland judge made history; it’s time to recognize Unstoppable Florence Allen: Andrea Simakis Plain Dealer June 30, 2019

Florence Ellinwood Allen is sworn in as a Common Pleas Court Judge for Cuyahoga County in 1921. Prior to her historic election to the trial court bench, Allen, a mean piano player, wrote music criticism for The Plain Dealer. (Kent State University at Ashtabula)

Before RBG, a Cleveland judge made history; it’s time to recognize Unstoppable Florence Allen: Andrea Simakis

Plain Dealer June 30, 2019
The link is here

Our Voices, Our Vote: Courage and Persistence in Black Women’s Struggle for Voting Rights Joy Bostic Tues Jan 28, 2020 7pm CANCELLED/POSTPONED

the flyer is here
the preview is here

CANCELLED/POSTPONED will be rescheduled. stay tuned…

Our Voices, Our Vote: Courage and Persistence in Black Women’s Struggle for Voting Rights
Joy Bostic

Interim Vice President, Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity; Associate Professor, Religion, CWRU

Talk will be at Tinkham Veale University Center on CWRU campus
11038 Bellflower Rd, Cleveland, OH 44106

Tuesday January 28 7-8:30 p.m.
This talk will delve into the core values and organizing strategies Black women use locally and nationally in the struggle for inclusive voting rights in the United States. This series is held in partnership with The Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program Case Western Reserve University and the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland.

Free and open to the public.
RSVP here



“Women in Politics: How to get more women to run for office in Ohio” a forum on May 16, 2018

Wednesday May 16, 2018 7-8:30pm
“Women in Politics: How to get more women to run for office in Ohio”
moderated by Mary Kilpatrick, Reporter,

The flyer is here

The preview is here

The post forum summary is here

The video is here

Women make up over 51% of the voting electorate and yet men still far outnumber women in elected office in Ohio and across the country. This forum will explore options for increasing the number of women who run and hold elected office, particularly in Ohio.


Karen Beckwith, PhD, Flora Stone Mather Professor and Chair Department of Political Science, Case Western Reserve University

Christina Hagan, Ohio House of Representatives, (R) 50th District

Nina Turner, President, “Our Revolution, former Ohio State Senator, Cleveland Councilperson

Cost: Free & Open to the Public
Heights Library Main Branch
2345 Lee Road 44118
7-8:30 p.m. Free & Open to the Public

Mary Kilpatrick,

Please contact if you have questions:

Cosponsored by
Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland, Dealer plus Heights, Lakewood, Shaker and Cuyahoga County Library Systems.

Corporate Sponsor: First Interstate, Ltd.

Roads Less Traveled: Cleveland’s Women Doctors, 1852-1984 by Marian Morton

photos: (l) Dr. Myra King Merrick  (r) Dr. Sarah Marcus

Roads Less Traveled:
Cleveland’s Women Doctors, 1852-1984

by Marian J. Morton

The pdf is here
It’s not easy to become a doctor; the road is long and hard. For generations of women, it was longer and harder. But not impossible. Challenged by cultural and institutional obstacles, these Cleveland women chose alternative routes to their profession. Often barred from medical schools and hospitals, they established their own; often unwelcome in established medical specialties, they laid claim to others; often sidelined in public life, they remained politically committed to women’s causes. These doctors took the roads less traveled.


Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from a medical school – Geneva Medical College – in 1847. Her graduation was unusual for two reasons: first, the usual route to becoming a doctor – like that of becoming a lawyer – was through an apprenticeship with an older, more experienced practitioner – not by going to medical school. Second, although by the 1820s, there were a dozen medical schools – at Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Yale, and Georgetown, for example, – none admitted women. Women were considered too fragile, intellectually and physically unable to tackle the rigors of higher education. This popular wisdom was reinforced by experts such as Harvard’s Dr. E.H. Clarke, whose Sex in Education: A Fair Chance for Girls argued in 1873 that studying impaired women’s reproductive organs, denying them the maternal role that was a woman’s true destiny. In any case, so the rationale continued, even if they were willing to risk infertility, women should be too modest to sit in the same classrooms as men studying such things as human anatomy.

Blackwell’s admission into Geneva, a small school in upstate New York, was a prank played by the students upon the faculty. Extremely reluctant to accept her, the faculty allowed students to vote on Blackwell’s admission. “The ludicrousness of the situation seemed to seize the entire class, and a perfect Babel of talk, laughter, and cat calls followed,” recalled one young man. To the faculty’s dismay, the students voted yes. [1] Despite the subsequent hostility and harassment, Blackwell graduated at the top of her class. The college then shut its doors to women.

Blackwell also created the career path that other women would follow. Finding it difficult to compete with male doctors, she specialized in the care of women and children, taking advantage of the very cultural norms that had been barriers to her education. Women were thought to have the innately nurturing qualities appropriate for pediatrics: after all, women were born to be mothers. And the very modesty that prevented them sharing the classroom with men meant that a woman patient should be treated only by other women. These were not medical specialties that paid well. After her graduation, Blackwell established the New York Infirmary for poor women and children.

Geneva Medical College was a “regular” or “allopathic” institution. Most regular medical schools required 32-40 weeks of lectures and an apprenticeship and boasted a curriculum based on what mid-nineteenth century Americans knew about chemistry, human anatomy, surgery, and bacteriology.  Common medical practices by regularly trained doctors also included “heroic” measures such as bleeding, leeches, and harsh emetics.

In 1847, the nascent American Medical Association (AMA) urged that regular schools also include clinical instruction. This effort to establish rigorous standards for the profession was a response to the mid-century proliferation of doctors and the medical institutions that produced them, a proliferation encouraged by lax state licensing laws and the uncertainty about what exactly cured what. Many of these new schools were proprietary or for-profit. Many taught alternative therapies. Regulars or “allopaths” referred to these latter competitors as “irregular” or “sectarian,” suggesting their quackery and illegitimacy.

These therapies, like allopathic medicine itself, reflected the widespread desire to improve American health. Health reforms included temperance (abstinence from alcohol), diet reform (vegetarianism and Grahamism); herbalism (reliance upon age-old natural remedies); hydropathy (cure by drinking or immersion in water), or the most tenacious, homeopathy (based upon the theory that diseases can be cured by very small doses of drugs that produce the same symptoms as the disease – that is, like cures like). While the regulars charged that these remedies were ineffective, they at least followed the ancient medical dictum, “do no harm,” which is more than could be said of bleeding or emetics.

The irregular institutions were – at least initially – happy to accept women, and when irregular institutions joined the regulars in excluding women, women sometimes established their own – the Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital College for Women, for example. Most of the women’s schools were short-lived, dying or merging with regular medical institutions, for financial reasons. [2]  By the end of the century, state universities’ medical schools began to admit women – the University of Michigan was the first. And persuaded by a large gift dependent on admitting women, the medical school of John Hopkins University, the standard-bearer for all higher education, became coeducational in 1893.[3]

In 1910, educator Abraham Flexner’s famous report criticized the mediocre quality and the profit motive of much medical education, recommending that students have at least a high school degree and two years of college before entering medical school and that medical students receive in-hospital clinical training. His particular targets were the “sectarian” and for-profit schools. In the wake of his report, dozens of medical schools merged or closed, many of them “irregulars,” women’s historic route into the profession. [4]

Nevertheless, by 1910, 6 percent of all doctors were female. Cleveland women showed how this could happen.

First Graduates

The Cleveland Medical College in 1852 graduated its first woman, Dr. Nancy Talbot Clarke. The medical college was affiliated with Western Reserve College, located in Hudson, Ohio. (After Western Reserve College moved to University Circle in 1882, the medical school became the Western Reserve University (WRU) School of Medicine.) Clarke managed to graduate despite the hostility of the faculty, who in 1851 had unanimously supported the motion that “it is inexpedient to admit female students to our lectures.”   A handful of other women braved this inhospitable atmosphere, and six were graduated by 1856. [5]   Among them were Dr. Emily Blackwell, Elizabeth Blackwell’s sister, and Dr. Marie Zakrzewski. Both went to work at Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s infirmary in New York City. Zakrzewski then went to Boston, where she founded an institution similar to the Blackwells’, the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1862.

The AMA in 1856, fearful that female physicians would lower the status of the new profession, adopted a resolution against coeducation. Although a few women managed to graduate during the 1870s from the Cleveland Medical College, it resurrected – and enforced – , the 1851 policy beginning in the mid-1880s.[6] No women were admitted until 1918 when the dwindling enrollment of male students due to the United States entrance into World War I inspired a change of heart and admissions policy.

Dr. Myra King Merrick (1825-1899)

Merrick was Cleveland’s first woman physician. When she hung out the shingle advertising her services in 1852, “no circus bill ever attracted more curious attention.”   The daughter of English immigrants, Merrick herself began to work in the textile mills near Boston at age 8. She married in 1848. (Until her divorce in 1880, she was referred to as “Mrs. Dr. Merrick.”) Her husband’s illness “compelled her to become the breadwinner. She conceived the idea that the practice of medicine would be a lucrative calling.” [7] Her colleague Dr. Martha Canfield explained: “While she was full of quiet determination, her gentle, womanly manners disarmed opposition …. She was only like many other women, driven to fight the battle of life alone.”[8]

Barred from regular medical schools, Merrick studied first at a hydropathic institute and graduated in 1851 from the Central Medical College of Rochester, an eclectic institution that leaned toward homeopathy.

Homeopathy had a substantial following in northeast Ohio. Its method – minuscule doses of non-toxic substances – addressed what homeopaths considered the prevalent “overtreatment of patients with drugs about which doctors knew little, for diseases about which they knew less.”  It enlisted distinguished male and female physicians, attracted wealthy clients such as John D. Rockefeller, and built substantial institutions. The Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital opened in 1856, the first organized hospital in Cleveland. This was re-named Huron Street Hospital and eventually Huron Road Hospital. It moved in 1935 to Terrace Road in East Cleveland at the foot of Rockefeller’s Forest Hill estate. The hospital’s prestigious board of trustees included Mark Hanna and Myron R. Herrick. [9]

In 1867, Cleveland’s Western Homeopathic College decided to improve its reputation by refusing to admit women. Merrick and other women then established the Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital College for Women; she served on its faculty and as its president until it merged with the original institution in 1871 to form Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital College. (In 1911, the college became Pulte Medical College, allied with Ohio State University, until the latter ended its homeopathic program in 1922.)

Merrick’s own experiences, private and professional, explain her advocacy of woman’s causes, popular and unpopular. Her medical studies in up-state New York, not far from Seneca Falls, the site of the world’s first woman’s rights convention in 1848, may also have inspired her. In 1869, Merrick was elected president of the Cuyahoga County Woman Suffrage Association at a meeting attended by 100 courageous women and a few even more courageous men. The group drew up a constitution, whose preamble echoed the Seneca Falls Declaration: “Believing in the natural equality of the two sexes, and that woman ought to enjoy the same legal rights and privileges as man; [and] that as long as women are denied the elective franchise they suffer a great wrong, … the undersigned agree to unite in an association to be called ‘The Cuyahoga County Woman Suffrage Association.’” This radical step must have put Merrick’s new medical practice at risk.

In further pursuit of equal opportunities for her sex, Merrick, with Dr. Eliza Merrick, her daughter-in-law, and Dr. Martha M. Stone, in 1878 founded the Women’s and Children’s Free Medical and Surgical Dispensary that operated out of the Homeopathic Hospital College.   Its purpose was to provide poor women and children – “the worthy sick poor” – with much-needed medical treatment and to provide female doctors with much-needed clinical experience. The dispensary staff also visited patients’ homes, providing advice on hygiene and nutrition and occasionally even employment. [10]

The only other place that provided medical care to Cleveland’s indigent was the city Infirmary, more commonly referred to as the poorhouse.   It was intentionally an inhospitable place to discourage long-time residence at taxpayers’ expense. It was called the Infirmary because most who entered had been made indigent by their own illness or the illness of the family breadwinner. Inmates were disproportionately women and children. [11] Hence, the necessity of privately funded charitable institutions such as Merrick’s dispensary.

Despite her charitable and political activities, medicine had – as Merrick had hoped – proved to be a lucrative calling. She made money – and lots of it.   “[H]er skill, her serene confidence in herself …, and her dogged persistence triumphed , … and for many years she stood shoulder to shoulder with the best physicians in the city. More than this, she overstepped most of them in a pecuniary way, and her practice, largely, was among a wealthy and exclusive class that gave her an income far up in the thousands.”[12] Merrick was “the mother of all the women physicians at the present,” declared Canfield in 1896. [13]

Dr. Martha Canfield (1845-1916)

Canfield herself was one of Merrick’s “children,” following and building upon Merrick’s pioneering. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1868. She married attorney Harrison Wade Canfield in 1869, and the couple had four children. Medicine was her second career choice. She taught school before entering the Cleveland Homeopathic Hospital College. After her graduation in 1875, she became professor of gynecology at the college, 1890-1897.

Both the practice and the teaching of gynecology were wide open fields for women doctors. Few female patients would welcome an examination by a male doctor: “Many physicians entered practice without ever having seen a baby born.”   By the early twentieth century, when gynecology and obstetrics were finally taught in medical schools, students were urged not to specialize in them because they paid so badly: “That man who undertook to be a pure specialist in this department, in this city, would soon find himself a candidate for the poor house or the State Hospital [for the insane].” [14]

Canfield was an outspoken advocate for women’s causes. In 1886, she addressed the Western Reserve Club on “The Divorce Mania.” The cure for the rising number of divorces, she argued, would be “giving woman more responsibilities as well as more rights.”[15] She also spoke on the “evils of intemperance,”[16] which fell more heavily upon women than men. Another target: “houses of ill fame” that spread disease among innocent women and children as well as guilty men. [17]

She served on the medical staff of the Maternity Hospital, established in 1891.   Like most hospitals and like the dispensary, this was a small, privately funded charitable institution; it was initially homeopathic, intended for an indigent clientele, and specializing in obstetrics. In 1917, it affiliated with the WRU School of Medicine and became an allopathic or regular institution. In 1925, by then the largest maternity facility in Cleveland, the hospital moved to University Circle and became MacDonald House of University Hospitals. Its gradual transformation foreshadowed imminent changes for women physicians and women’s health care. [18]

Canfield succeeded Merrick as the director of the women’s and children’s dispensary in 1900. Its 1909 annual report provides an intimate look into the dispensary’s unique role: “Many times have mothers come contemplating embryonic or fetal destruction, and asking assistance, thinking women physicians more easy to approach on the subject. Each time they left wiser than when they came and nearly always persuaded to follow the safer and more righteous course.” [19] Whatever the doctors’ moral compunctions about abortion, carrying a child to term would certainly have been “safer” than the available methods of self-induced abortion.

Since most regular hospitals did not permit women on staff, the Flexner 1910 report’s mandate for in-house clinical experience created an enormous challenge. The result: Woman’s Hospital, an expansion and institutionalization of Merrick’s dispensary in 1912. The facility had 12 beds and an annual budget of $5,000. It was staffed by both homeopathic and allopathic, male and female doctors to provide women with the required clinical skills in a hospital setting. The hospital served men, women, and children, and unlike the dispensary, it was not free although it took some charity patients. [20]

When Canfield died in 1916, she was memorialized by the local Homeopathic Medical Society: “the medical profession has lost a representative and talented physician and all who knew her will miss the inspiration and helpfulness of her friendship.”[21] In addition to her family, she left behind an institution and a profession that would continue to change for women.

Dr. Lillian Gertrude Towslee (1859-1918)

Towslee succeeded Canfield as president of Woman’s Hospital in 1916. She is an important transitional figure in the history of Cleveland’s women doctors because she trained and taught at regular medical institutions.

Like Canfield, she graduated from Oberlin – its Conservatory of Music – in 1882. (She hosted and entertained at musical social events all her life.) She graduated in 1888 from Wooster University Medical College in Cleveland. (The school later merged with WRU School of Medicine.) She taught briefly at the Wooster University Medical College and also at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ohio Wesleyan University, both regular institutions. Like Canfield, she specialized in gynecology, but also trained as a surgeon. Her regular medical education probably got her accepted into the probably all-male Academy of Medicine of Cleveland, founded in 1902.   [22]

In an 1893 article for the Western Reserve Medical Journal, “Why Women Should Practice Medicine,” she explained her choice of gynecology: this is “woman’s especial sphere…. A woman understands the sensitiveness of a woman and appreciates the suffering she endures better than is possible for a man.… Women are especially adapted to care for the sick.” Yet she was candid about the difficulties that women, certainly including herself, faced: “To gain any standing a woman was obliged to compete with the better class of physicians [probably a reference to her training.] …. She at first met with great opposition. Men did not want her in the profession and placed every obstacle in her path. She has fought her way step by step and won the day,” she concluded optimistically. [23]

Like Merrick and Canfield, Towslee was a political activist. A member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she turned down an invitation from the Prohibition Party to run as their candidate for Cleveland School Council. [24] (Ohio women could participate in elections for school board candidates.) She was also an enthusiastic suffragist and hostess at a 1902 suffrage convention in Cleveland. The honored guests included Susan B. Anthony. One keynote speaker accurately predicted, “Suffrage would not be a shortcut to the millennium, but it would be a step forward.” [25]

Towslee also hosted the Political Equality League, whose members heard a spirited lecture by suffragist Mrs. Frederic C. Howe on the need to rationalize household drudgery so that women could play a more active public role. [26] According to the local newspaper, however, Towslee was less newsworthy for her professional and political achievements than for a five-week automobile trip that she took with her companion, Mrs. Katherine Arthur, her stepson, George and two young friends in 1911. Of apparent interest to the reading public: the fact that the group camped outside every night and never ate or slept under a roof. Also notable: the unreliable nature of automobiles in 1911. A chauffeur did some of the driving. [27]

Towslee headed Woman’s Hospital only until her death in 1918. Not long enough to leave her personal imprint on the institution, but long enough to give it the respectability of allopathic medicine, which it would need, going forward.

Dr. Merriam Kerruish Stage ( 1870 – 1929)

Stage helped guide Woman’s Hospital through its next phases. Like Towslee, Stage was regularly trained. After graduation from Smith College in 1892, she enrolled at the Wooster University Medical College, finishing her degree in 1895.

She established her practice as a gynecologist and pediatrician and also served on the staff at Cleveland City Hospital in 1895. The facility had only recently separated from the city Infirmary.   Like the poorhouse, City Hospital cared for indigent patients. Nevertheless, the hospital did not employ a full staff of physicians until 1891. [28] Stage may well have been the first female physician on that staff, and her experience there may explain her subsequent belief that the illnesses she treated as a pediatrician could be blamed on poverty. [29]

Stage married attorney Charles W. Stage in 1903, and they had four children. It is not clear whether she returned to her medical practice. Newspaper and other accounts refer to her as “Mrs. Stage”, not “Dr. Kerruish.” But she remained committed to women’s causes and institutions.

She marched proudly in the splendid parade of 10,000 suffragists from 64 Ohio cities and counties in October 1914 as bystanders and marchers anticipated – too optimistically – the passage of an amendment to the state constitution that would enfranchise women. [30] It would be another six years before the passage of the Nineteenth (Woman Suffrage) Amendment, but Stage remained active in politics, joining the local League of Women Voters after its founding in 1920.

She also became a forceful advocate for women and children. She was chosen vice-president of the Women’s Protective Association that pushed for a temporary detention facility for first-time female offenders: “Women Steeped in Crime Mix with Mere Girls at Central Station,” explained the newspaper account.[31] She joined the Consumers League of Ohio, dedicated to improving the living and working conditions of women and children. Reflecting her medical training, she served on the committee that made it “their task to find a way to get this prime necessity of life [milk] to the children.”[32]

Woman’s Hospital in the meantime had expanded its scope, staff, and number of beds, moving to a new building on E. 101st St. in 1918. On its staff were nine female physicians and eleven male physicians; two more women and two men served in the clinic department. In 1926, the hospital had been accredited for the training of interns and had strong financial support from the local community. [33]

Stage, one of those benefactors and a member of the hospital’s all-female, all-physician board of trustees, pushed to enlarge the board by including non-medical men and women, broadening the board’s scope and financial resources. She remained particularly interested in internships for women doctors.[34]

Stage died tragically in the May 1929 fire at the Cleveland Clinic. A memorial fund, established by Mrs. Charles Thwing, raised $14,621 in her memory. The funds were used to make the last payment on Woman’s Hospital’s mortgage in 1934, her final contribution to the institution. [35] 

Dr. Ruth Robishaw Rauschkolb (1900-1981)

Robishaw took women’s health in a new, unprecedented direction, helping women take control of their fertility; she became a pioneer in family planning. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Ohio State University, she also graduated at the top of her class at the WRU School of Medicine in 1923, specializing in dermatology. Although she did an internship at City Hospital, her age and gender prevented her from doing her residency there. [36] She taught in both the pediatric and the dermatology departments of WRU School of Medicine. She practiced dermatology with her husband under his name, Rauschkolb, but used her maiden name in her controversial position as a founder of the clinic of the Cleveland Maternal Health Association, the forerunner of Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland.

According to legend, the clinic was inspired by the suicide of a young woman, pregnant and already overburdened with nine children. Volunteers at a pre-natal clinic, Dorothy Brush and Hortense Shepard, were outraged, but felt powerless because the 1873 Comstock Law made illegal the distribution of birth control technology and information.[37] Violation of the law had jailed many – most famously, Margaret Sanger, the founder of the birth control movement, – and in Cleveland, Ben Reitman, the lover and manager of anarchist Emma Goldman in 1916.

Quite correctly, the birth control movement was associated with the political left and free love.   During the 1920s, however, the movement gained a measure of respectability as it shifted its emphasis away from a woman’s right to control her own body to society’s need to control the size and quality of its population. Cleveland illustrates this transition. In 1923, the Maternal Health Association was formed at the Women’s City Club. Members tried – without success – to get birth control information distributed at local hospitals. [38] In 1928, however, inventor Charles F. Brush donated $500,000 to a foundation dedicated to ending over-population. His goal was eugenics – limiting population growth “which threatens to overcrowd the earth in the not distant future,[39] not liberating women’s sexuality or improving women’s health. Nevertheless, the foundation assisted his daughter-in-law’s Maternal Health Association, which opened its first clinic that year. The clinic had to have a medical staff: Robishaw became the first director, assisted by Rosina Volk, R.N.. Both risked their careers.

Initially the clinic served only married women, seeing 510 clients between 1928-1930. [40] Although the Depression made family limitation an acceptable – and necessary – option, the association still fought “the medical conservatism” of the AMA on birth control in 1933. [41] The clinic continued to expand its clientele and mission, offering marriage counseling in the 1930s and advice on infertility in the 1940s.

Robishaw became the public face of the clinic, as it struggled for respectability, boldly bringing its message to a wide variety of audiences.   “Sex and Marriage” was her topic at the YMCA in May 1936; she also addressed local PTA’s on “The Wanted Child,” and as part of a program on “The Family and Sex Education,’ she spoke on ‘Personal Regimen for Women.”[42] In October, 1940, she addressed the Women’s Association of the Temple on “The Biological Basis of Marriage.”[43]

Robishaw was elected third vice president of the American Medical Women’s Association in 1941. The group demanded equal treatment in the military, as the United States approached entrance into World War II: “… the United States government to date had taken no cognizance of … women physicians in time of war;” the association asked that women “become eligible for the medical reserve corps of the United States Army and Navy with full privileges enjoyed by men physicians.”[44]

Robishaw returned to private practice but remained on the medical advisory board of the Maternal Health Association. The association had affiliated with the national Planned Parenthood organization in 1942 and changed its name to Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland in 1966.

Dr. Sarah Marcus (1894-1985)

Marcus witnessed the affiliation of the small, renegade birth control clinic with this national organization and the demise of the venerable institution created especially for women doctors, Woman’s Hospital.

She graduated from Flora Stone Mather College of Western Reserve University in 1916 but was turned down by its medical school. She went instead to the University of Michigan, graduating in 1920. Many years later when she became the first woman to receive the University of Michigan Distinguished Alumnus Award, Marcus recalled with wry amusement her rejection by Western Reserve. Dean Dr. Frederick C. Waite kept Marcus waiting for her interview “a long time, and finally, since I didn’t leave, I was admitted to his office.” He couldn’t accept her, he explained, because “the school did not have any toilet facilities for women! I promised not to need them.” Waite remained un-persuaded. President Charles Thwing agreed to admit her if she could convince five other women to apply. She couldn’t. Even with legal assistance from Judge Florence Allen, the doors to the medical school remained closed to women. [45] Until two years later when the shortage of male students changed the administration’s mind.

After a residency at Ohio City Hospital in Akron, she joined the outpatient staff at Mount Sinai Hospital as a gynecology-obstetrician in 1923. In 1928, she studied in Vienna with a student of Dr. Sigmund Freud.        Like Robishaw, Marcus was an outreach speaker for the Maternal Health Association to local PTA’s and women’s organizations. She established a clinic on infertility and addressed the American Medical Women’s Association in 1962 on “Medical Aspects of Marriage and the Family.” [46]

Marcus herself married twice and claimed to have had no difficulty combining her career with marriage and motherhood. Two weeks after the birth of her son, she recalled, her own doctor stopped to see her and her new infant. Marcus was out, however, delivering someone else’s baby. She lost track, she said, of the number of children she delivered over the course of her long career. [47]

Like the other women doctors in this study, she dedicated much of her professional life to promoting opportunities for other women.   She established the Women’s Medical Society of Cleveland in 1929, and even more forcefully than Canfield, Towslee, and Stage, Marcus played a leadership role at Woman’s Hospital. She headed its department of obstetrics and gynecology from 1933 to 1950 and served on its board of trustees, as vice-president, 1932-1958, and president, 1958-1971. As board president, she oversaw the expansion of the hospital’s facilities and services. The hospital changed its name to Woman’s General Hospital in 1970, suggesting a broadening of its clientele and services. The board remained predominantly female, but fewer and fewer of the medical staff were women.

Marcus remained optimistic in 1976: “Woman’s Hospital had a mission and that mission is fulfilled. No longer do women need their own hospital for protection from derision and insults or for the opportunity of obtaining good internships and residency.” In striking contrast to her own experience, she concluded, women are accepted everywhere. [48]

The hospital itself, however, faced with mounting competition, dwindling patients, and failure to get a contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Northern Ohio, closed its doors in 1985. Its program for female alcohol and drug abusers, known as Merrick Hall after Cleveland’s pioneer woman doctor, was transferred to Huron Road Hospital – appropriately enough the offspring of the homeopathic institutions that had admitted women more than a century earlier. [49]

The Road Forward

It wasn’t easy for a woman to become a doctor – to risk being childless, as Dr. E. H. Clarke threatened; to arouse “laughter and cat calls” when you applied to medical school as Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell did; to brave a medical school faculty who thought it “inexpedient” for you to be there, as did the first women graduates of WRU School of Medicine; to arouse curiosity worthy of a “circus bill” when you hung up your shingle like Dr. Myra King Merrick; to have to overcome “every obstacle” that men placed in your path, as did Dr. Lillian Gertrude Towslee; to be denied admission to medical school because “the school did not have any toilet facilities for women,” like Dr. Sarah Marcus. But these women did it.

It still isn’t easy for a woman to become a doctor; the road is still long and hard. But if it is less hard today, it is partly because these women who traveled it decades ago rose to the challenges and fought for themselves and for the women who followed them on the roads less traveled. *

Marian J. Morton is a professor emeritus at John Carroll University. She received her B.A. in classics from Smith College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in American studies from Case Western University. She is the author of And Sin No More: Social Policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleveland, 1855–1990; Emma Goldman and the American Left: “Nowhere at Home”; The Terrors of Ideological Politics: Liberal Historians in a Conservative Mood; Women in Cleveland: An Illustrated History and Cleveland Heights: The Making of an Urban Suburb.

* This essay is dedicated to Dr. Hannah Z. Kooper-Kamp, who is traveling that road, and to her husband, my grandson, James W. Garrett IV, who travels with her all the way.

[1] Regina Markell Morantz -Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 49.

[2] Mary Roth Walsh, Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply: Sexual Barriers in the Medical Profession, 1835-1975 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977), 180.

[3] Morantz-Sanchez, 87.

[4] . The medical schools that admitted blacks were reduced from 10 to three in the wake of the report:

[5] Frederick Clayton Waite, Western Reserve University Centennial History of the School of Medicine (Cleveland: Western Reserve University Press, 1945), 126-127.

[6] Adelbert College of Western Reserve ended coeducation at almost exactly the same time . Hiram C. Hayden became president of the college in November 1887 and terminated the admission of women shortly afterwards. A separate undergraduate College for Women was established in 1888, but no separate medical school for women was forthcoming.

[7] Cleveland Plain Dealer (CPD), June 28, 1896: 3.

[8] CPD, June 28, 1896:3.

[9] Victor C. Laughlin, “Homeopathy” in Kent L. Brown, ed., Medicine in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, 1810-1976 (Cleveland : The Academy of Medicine of Cleveland, 1977), 46-51; the quote is on page 47.

[10] Glen Jenkins, “Women Physicians and Woman’s General Hospital’ in Brown, ed., 55.

[11] Marian J. Morton, And Sin No More: Social Policy and Unwed Mothers in Cleveland, 1855-1990 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1993), 24-33.

[12] CPD, November 11, 1899: 3.

[13]   CPD, June 27, 1896: 5.

[14]   Burdett Wylie, “Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Cleveland Hospital Obstetric Society” in Brown, ed., 232-273; the quote is on p. 239. Wylie does not mention one woman physician in this essay.

[15] CPD, November 18, 1886: 5.

[16]   CPD, November 9, 1893: 8.

[17]   CPD, May 15, 1894: 6.

[18] Morton, 111-112

[19] Quoted in Jenkins, 56.

[20] Jenkins, 59.

[21] CPD, September 6, 1916: 7.


[23] Mrs. W.A. Ingham, Women of Cleveland and Their Work: Philanthropic, Educational, Literary, Medical, and Artistic   (Cleveland, O: W.A. Ingham, 1893), 326.

[24]   CPD, February 7, 1898: 1.

[25] CPD, October 9, 1902: 5.

[26] CPD, February 15, 1907: 7.

[27] CPD, September 24, 1911: 60.

[28]   Morton, 111-112.

[29] http://

[30]   Virginia Clark Abbott, The History of Woman Suffrage and the League of Women Voters in Cuyahoga County, 1911-1945 (Cleveland: n.p., c . 1949), 33.

[31] CPD, October 14, 1917: 10.

[32] CPD, October 12, 1919: 57.

[33] Jenkins, 62-63.

[34] Jenkins, 61-62.

[35] Jenkins, 64.


[37] David R. Weir, “”Planned Parenthood, 1923-1976” in Brown, ed., 274.

[38] Weir, 274-275.

[39]   CPD, June 21, 1928: 3.


[41]   CPD, October 7, 1933: 4.

[42]   CPD, January 9, 1939: 29; and March 19, 1939: 37.

[43]   CPD, October 29, 1940: 14.

[44] CPD, June 3, 1941: 15.

[45] Quoted in Jenkins, 67.

[46] CPD, November 18, 1962: 13.

[47] CPD, May 13, 1985: 47.

[48]   Quoted in Jenkins, 68-69.

[49] Woman’s General was only one of many small independent hospitals that failed or merged in the last decades of the twentieth century because of financial problems. Huron Road Hospital itself in 1984 had merged with Hillcrest and Euclid General Hospitals in an unsuccessful effort to remain financially viable. All were absorbed into the Cleveland Clinic, which closed the Huron Road facility in 2011. Two hospitals with beginnings similar to Woman’s General also closed. Forest City, established in 1939 so that black doctors, unwelcome elsewhere, could receive training and treat patients, closed in 1978. Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1913 and intended for Jewish doctors and patients, closed in 2000.