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

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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



Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth J. Hauser

Biographical Sketch of Elizabeth J. Hauser

Elizabeth Hauser and Zara DuPont Plain Dealer August 19, 1912

Plain Dealer August 19, 1912 article about Suffragists Elizabeth Hauser and Zara DuPont:
Miss Hauser writes as follows as to what Cleveland Suffragists will do if the suffrage does not pass Sept. 3 (1912):
“She never knew defeat. When that happened which others called defeat, she was wont to think of it merely as the establishment of a mile post to indicate the progress which had been made and she never doubted that victory was just ahead”

“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, Cleveland.com

The flyer is here

The preview is here

The Cleveland.com post forum summary is here

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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, Cleveland.com

Please contact if you have questions: teachingcleveland@earthlink.net

Cosponsored by
Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland, Cleveland.com/Plain 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] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235368754_The_Flexner_Report_of_1910_and_Its_Impact_on_Complementary_and_Alternative_Medicine_and_Psychiatry_in_North_America_in_the_20th_Century . The medical schools that admitted blacks were reduced from 10 to three in the wake of the report: http://thescholarship.ecu.edu/bitstream/handle/10342/3086/Abraham%20Flexner%20black%20medical%20schools.pdf.

[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.

[22] https://case.edu/ech/articles/t/towslee-lillian-gertrude-md/

[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:// teachingcleveland.org/Miriam-kerruish-stage-biography/

[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.

[36] http://case.edu/ech/articles/r/rauschkolb-ruth-robishaw-md/

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

[38] Weir, 274-275.

[39]   CPD, June 21, 1928: 3.

[40]   http://case.edu/ech/articles/planned-parenthood-of-greater-cleveland/

[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.

Michael Curtin speech to League of Women Voters 4/11/2018

The link is here

Here is excerpt:

From Mike Curtin speech
at League of Women Voters of Ohio
Statehouse Day 4/11/18

One of the first league initiatives I learned about was one to bring fair districting to our state. That was 45 years ago. The league’s work never stopped, through Democratic governors and Republican governors. Within Democratic-controlled legislatures and Republican-controlled legislatures. Consistency. Relentlessness.

The league’s efforts – your efforts — were indispensable to securing the ballot issue of November 2015, a state constitutional amendment providing Ohioans with a historic reform of how we draw state legislative districts.
It was that success that provided the essential momentum for securing the ballot issue we face next month, giving Ohioans the opportunity to embrace a historic reform of how their state draws congressional districts as well.
Putting the voters first.

All of us have an obligation to keep working through May 8 to ensure that State Issue 1 not only gets over the finish line, but that it wins with a sizable majority – as Beth Taggart has reminded me, and Ann Henkenerhas just reminded all of us – so that all future legislators are reminded of to their moral obligation to stick to the rules when drawing congressional district lines.

The Ohio Democratic Party and the Ohio Republican Party have officially endorsed State Issue 1. Please give not only yourselves – but especially your countless predecessors – a round of applause for this historic achievement. It has only taken the entire history of our state of Ohio to get to this moment.

Michael F. Curtin

Jean Murrell Capers (1913-2017)

1948 photo (CSU)

Jean Murrell Capers by Marian Morton

Jean Murrell Capers (1913-2017) met head-on the challenges of being both female and black by maintaining her outspoken political independence. The daughter of teachers, she went to Western Reserve University on a scholarship, one of the university’s few black students at the time. She earned a degree in education and taught briefly before getting her law degree from Cleveland Law School.  She passed the Ohio Bar in 1945 and was appointed assistant police prosecutor by Mayor Thomas A. Burke in 1946. “[A]nother first for Negro women,” the Cleveland Call and Post announced proudly. [16]The newspaper later applauded Capers as the one of several “lady lawyers [who] bring beauty [and] brains” to the local legal community.  An accompanying photo shows a stylish Capers, smiling mischievously. [17]

Capers made her first foray into partisan politics in 1943, staging an unsuccessful write-in campaign for City Council. She also ran unsuccessfully for Council in 1945 and 1947. Like Cermak, she early gained the support of organized women’s groups, and in 1949, she got one of her few political endorsements from the Glenara Temple of Elks, of which she was a member. “[I]t is high time that Negro womanhood took its place in the sun of city politics,” said Republican leader and temple member, Lethia C. Fleming. [18]  In 1949, on her fourth try, Capers became the first black woman to be elected to City Council and the first Democrat to be elected from what had historically been a Republican ward.

Her four subsequent elections to Council reflected her ability to organize her ward and get out her supporters, doubtless impressed by her education, her political skills, and her glamorous appearance. Capers fought for a swimming pool for her ward’s children and offered a prize for the neighborhood’s cleanest yard.

But she also sparked plenty of controversy and made plenty of enemies.  She joined forces with Council member Charles V. Carr in an unsuccessful effort to make the possession (as opposed to the sale) of policy slips legal despite police efforts to crack down on the numbers racket. [19] And despite the opposition from local pastors, she got a license for a local bingo parlor. She criticized Cleveland’s ambitious slum clearance program: “In every instance since urban renewal began, the city has created more problems than it has cured.  This is reflected in increased crime and lower sanitation standards.”[20]   (Its critics often referred to urban renewal as “Negro removal.”)

Her opponents alleged that she had ties to rackets figures and pointed to her poor attendance record at Council meetings.  There were also allegations of voter fraud in her ward in 1952 and 1953.  In 1956, she was the only black member of Council to oppose the fluoridation of city water, further estranging her from the Democratic majority. [21]

Even though it had earlier praised her, Capers’ most outspoken critic became the Cleveland Call and Post, the city’s African-American and Republican newspaper, which accused her of being a lazy Councilman and a “wholly irresponsible person.” [22] She was a “vicious, skilled campaigner,” the paper claimed, whose sex “protected her from retaliation in kind.”[23]  Her sex did not protect her from savage attacks by the paper –  for example, for her opposition to the appointment of Charles P. Lucas, a black, to the Cleveland Transit Board in 1958: “the odor of selfish irresponsibility and putrid demagoguery … marked the conduct of Mrs. Jean Murrell Capers,” the paper spluttered. [24]  Everyone wanted her out of office except her constituents.

By 1959, however, although she was chairman of Council’s powerful planning committee, Capers had lost her Council seat to James H. Bell, the candidate endorsed by local Democrats.  Bell “ has retired, at least temporarily, one of Cleveland’s most colorful and successful political demagogues …. [who] was possessed of a vibrant sort of feminine attractiveness, an excellent family background, and a razor sharp mind, ” wrote the Call and Post. [25] Capers unsuccessfully filed suit in Common Pleas Court to set aside Bell’s “fraudulent victory.” [26] Undiscouraged, she ran unsuccessfully in 1960 in the Democratic primary for state Senate in a large field that included Carl Stokes, and in 1963, she lost a primary race for her old Council seat.

In 1965, Capers and her League of Non-Partisan Voters organized the movement to draft Stokes  to run as an independent mayoral candidate, a race which he lost.  Only two years later, however, the league supported Republican Seth Taft when he ran against Stokes for mayor.  Capers minced no words when she explained league’s about-face: “Mr. Taft has qualities superior to those of his opponent and has the broad personal knowledge necessary to administer the complex affairs of the city.  Stokes knows nothing about anything and is far too superficial in our judgement to serve as mayor.  Carl Stokes especially lacks the knowledge and understanding necessary to solve this city’s crisis in human relations.” [27]  Capers subsequently acted as the lawyer for Lee-Seville homeowners who fought off Stokes’ plan to locate public housing in their neighborhood.  In his embittered autobiography, Stokes called her “one of the brightest politicians ever to come out of Cleveland” but also accused her of being a hustler who supported him in 1965 only to get herself back into politics. [28]

In March 1971, Capers decided to run as an independent in the mayoral primary. She had joined the new National Organization for Women and hoped to win support from the emerging woman’s movement. In mid-summer, she discovered that she had missed the Board of Elections filing date for independents but persuaded a federal judge to overturn this early filing date. The date became a moot point since she did not get enough valid signatures on her petition and was disqualified from the mayoral race. Thanks to a divided Democratic Party, Republican Ralph Perk was elected mayor.

By 1976, Capers had become a Republican herself, and her former nemesis, the Call and Post, endorsed her candidacy for Juvenile Court Judge.  She lost this race, but Republican Governor James A. Rhodes appointed her to a municipal judgeship in 1977, a position she held until her retirement in 1986.  Reflecting on her long, difficult political career, Capers pointed to her double handicaps of race and gender, maintaining that her “detractors resented her not just because she was a black woman but because she was an educated black woman. ‘They still had the concept that the only place for a Negro woman was on her knees scrubbing the floors. If I had been a dumb Negro woman, I would have gotten along much better.’”[29]

In recognition of her long, difficult political career, Capers earned many professional honors. These include the Norman S. Minor Bar Association Trailblazer Award and induction into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame.

This essay is part of a longer piece written by Dr. Marian Morton, here

The Shark: Mary Anne Sharkey by John Ettore Cleveland Magazine November 1994

The Shark: Mary Anne Sharkey by John Ettore
Cleveland Magazine November 1994
The link is here
The time is the late ’80s, the venue a dilapidated comedy club in the Warehouse District. The guest, Plain Dealer editorial-page editor Mary Anne Sharkey, perches almost coquettishly on a bar stool, crosses her legs and produces her signature toothy grin. A group of earnest young suburbanites who call themselves the Young Democrats eagerly await her thoughts. The Plain Dealer for many has served as the embodiment of their antipathy for Cleveland — so stodgy, so deeply unimaginative, so very … well, Cleveland. Now, however, they’re forced to factor in this latest spectacle.Tonight, Sharkey has already begun to win some tentative confidence by admitting, in very un-PD fashion, that the paper’s harshest critics have some valid criticisms. When the question-and-answer session begins, the tenor of most of the questions suggests the audience believes the newspaper to be the instigator of dozens of ongoing civic conspiracies. A theme also runs through many of Sharkey’s patient answers. Cmon, she teases, think about every other large, bumbling bureaucracy with which you have intimate knowledge. Are any of these institutions remotely capable of mustering enough coordinated intelligence tofoment evil, even if so inclined?More than her words, it’s her manner that seems appealing and so very unusual. Sharkey enjoys the thrust and parry of ideas, reacting to criticism and palpable hostility for her employer with a sense of humor. Those who know her best find her bulldog print persona hilarious: Even though she can summon deep moral outrage formed by her Catholic upbringing (her mother used to drop her off at the convent so the nuns could baby-sit), she is in many soft, almost fragile, though with described “low tolerance for bOne former colleague from her in Dayton, Mickey Davis, still a writer at the Dayton Daily News, she “was always a hustler, a game one who would go after the stoq aggressively. But she also had thi Irish wit, this ebullient personali about her that made her a delig work with. You miss those kind 0 people with that kind of charact Political consultant Gerry Austin her “kind of a throwback to the reporter with sources among the coatcheck girls.”

Her charming openness and irreverence similarly pose at least a subliminal challenge to conspiracy theorists: Why would such a place as formidable as you imagine the PD to be
ever invite someone so full of the dickens as Mary Anne Sharkey to the table of senior management?It was an excellent question at the time, and all the more appropriate today. But the answer remains as elusive as Sharkey’s complicated internal role at the paper. After raising hell in Ohio politics for more than two decades — putting misogynist pols on the record to disastrous (for them) effect, helping install an improbable former street kid in Cleveland City Hall, and even helping snuff out an Ohio governor’s Oval Office ambition — Sharkey now finds herself in something of a state of internal limbo at “Ohio’s largest.” According to sources at the PD and among political communications people, she’s been stripped of her role as politics editor in all but name (a deve opment she’s not eager to discuss, but she doesn’t dispute). She’s an editor to whom no one answers. But she’s vowed to win the internal test of wills.

She’s prominent in nationa jiournalism circles: Village Voiceand Washington Post columnist Nat Henthoff singled her out for praise recently, and she serves on the board of the International Women’s Media Foundation, which is populated with nationally known media heavyweights. Because of her institutional memory and her wide name recognition throughout the state, “A Sharkey column mailed to 50 people around the state is a very, very powerful thing,” says Cleveland political consultant Bill Burges. “I mean, that is a Scud missile, or at least a
Patriot missile.” All of this surely provides her some internal leverage.

A MILD WORKAHOLIC whose schedule calls for frequent after-hours events and public appearances (including an occasional panel show on WVIZ-TV Channel 25), Sharkey does all her writing in her cramped office just off the newsroom. She shares a secretary with Metro editor Ted Diadiun and often has the television tuned to CNN. Colleagues with a weakness for practical jokes find her an easy mark: They have been known to hide her Rolodex and even her office sofa, waiting to see how long their absence will go unnoticed. She has a fiery temper that quickly blows over, and an impulsiveness that manifests itself in manic fits of shopping: She once bought a used Cadillac on a whim.

In early August, Sharkey arrives for an interview after attending a stormy press conference at Cleveland City Hall in which all of Mike White’s shortcomings finally broke into full public view. The woman who proved so instrumental to his election by engineering the PD’s endorsement must admit she’s concerned about White’s unsteady behavior: abrupt staff changes, almost comic micromanagement, and reports about general emotional instability following his effortless re-election last year.

“I’m starting to have my doubts,” she says about the mayor, which seems remarkably restrained after the months of mounting reports. Weeks later, after being pressed some more about her indulgent attitude toward White, Sharkey gets to the crux of her affection for the mayor: “I like overachievers,” she says, sitting in her brick, Lakewood home with one leg slung over her sofa arm. “And I think of myself as an overachiever. When I look at White, I just laugh. Other people think he’s arrogant, but he just amuses me. I see him as a ghetto kid … whose mother died at an early age.”

At a time in which many journalists — intimidated by their low public regard or perhaps by the doleful state of American libel law — have sought refuge in the euphemism, Sharkey continues to go for the political jugular. She can be delightfully caustic, at least if you’re not on the receiving end. She has referred to the prim members of the League of Women Voters as “the Democratic wives of Republican businessmen” and once likened a pair of arguing state representatives to a couple of skunks in a spraying match. “I never seemed to have learned the art of subtlety,” she once observed of herself in a column.

“[Sharkey] has the keenest news sense I’ve ever seen,” says former PD publisher Tom Vail. Even the people she criticizes, if not her more serious targets, voice genuine admiration. Ohio state Rep. and majority whip Jane Campbell says that Sharkey “has enough hope about the process to really make a difference.” U.S. Rep. Eric Fingerhut, who has also been batted around mildly but who on the whole has been well-treated in Sharkey’s columns, offers: “There’s no question that she’s sharp and caustic, but she doesn’t just go for the cheap shot; she puts it in context. Even though it always stings to be on the receiving end, I always get a sense that it’s coming from somebody with a little bigger picture, so it’s a little easier to take.”

Sharkey was raised in a reasonably prosperous Dayton family, the only daughter of a serially published Catholic writer who inhaled books until the day he died — writing at least two dozen himself (Norman Sharkey’s personal bestseller was a 1944 book about the papalselection process, “White Smoke Over the Vatican.”) Sharkey’s mother prayed to the Virgin Mary that she might deliver a girl after the first four attempts yielded all boys. She signaled her thanks by dressing Mary Anne in blue and white (the colors of the Virgin) until the age of 7.

The family was steeped in their father’s work: It became second nature for the older kids to issue opinions on the piles of manuscripts authors sent for his consideration while he was still on staff at a Catholic youth magazine. Most members of the family were even familiar with the symbols used in editing.

Though she’s had asthma all her life, Sharkey grew up a happy, energetic child who eagerly plunged into dance and piano lessons. Growing up second-youngest in a family with all brothers (one of her six brothers died recently; another, born with Down’s Syndrome, died before she was born), Mary Anne learned early how to get along amicably with the opposite sex. “I’ve never found men much of a mystery,” she says. It’s been a boon ever since to her formidable reporting skills, allowing her to coax information from male officials and propelling her into formerly all-male environments.

Her older brother Nick remembers that 3-year-old Mary Anne would walk around the house during Eisenhower’s first campaign saying, “I like Ike, I like Ike” (she even repeated it at her grandmother’s funeral). Her occasional child-modeling assignments through her Aunt Norma’s agency turned into more substantial teenage appearances in print and television ads for the Bob Evans restaurant chain.

Sharkey admits to having been “a very bad student” through her 16 years of Catholic schooling, terminating with an English degree from the University of Dayton. “I got out of college by the skin of my teeth,” she says. “That’s why I love newspapers, because you don’t need an attention span.”

Many years later, however, she learned that she suffered from dyslexia, a mild learning disability. “I sometimes reverse numbers, I mix metaphors, I could never learn foreign languages, and I absolutely don’t have any sense of direction. And I can’t do computers. Other than that, it hasn’t handicapped me.”

Yet it did leave her with a deep sense of having beaten the odds. “I was always in trouble for being an underachiever, and no one could understand why, including me.” Experts on the malady note that while dyslcxics do have trouble performing certain tasks, in other ways they often process information better, sorting through individual facts to identify patterns not readily apparent to others.

While still in college, she began her professional career as a copydesk clerk at Dayton’s old Journal Herald, an overachieving paper, largely Republican in editorial outlook though quite liberal in spirit, staffed by young journalists who were encouraged to report aggressively. Colleagues from her Dayton days uniformly remember Sharkey as a “live wire.”

“She had a phenomenal knack for getting politicians and policemen and judges to talk to her,” says Bill Flanagan, an editor who was perhaps her earliest mentor. Sharkey was so taken with the job that her brother Nick had to almost force her to complete school. At 24, she married Bill Worth, eight years her senior, twice previously married, and the paper’s city editor at the time. The pair tooled around town in a black Studebaker, which colleagues remember as being halfway between classic and junker. After four years, however, the couple divorced.

“Believe it or not, I was a tad naive in those days,” Sharkey says. “I was totally sheltered … I was the only one in my entire family to go through a divorce — cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers.”

Sharkey’s first taste of prominence grew out of an extraordinary event in the fall of 1974. She was covering the Dayton court system when two federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms got into a shootout in the Federal courthouse, killing one of the men. The following February, after having interviewed court sources and federal officials, Sharkey wrote a frontpage article describing how the suriving agent had refused his now-dead colleague’s offer to participate in an illegal chain-letter scheme and in selling confiscated guns, which led to their deadly encounter.

Separately, Sharkey’s Freedom of Information request had produced a court transcript in which the surviving agent described the events in chilling detail, full of rough language not ordinarily seen in any family newspaper, much less those in conservative, Southern Ohio towns. It included the key words: “Gibson, God damn it, you are fucking with my family. You are fucking with my future. I am not going to let you do it. I’ll kill you first.”

Unknown to Journal Herald editor Charles Alexander, the paper’s promotions department had arranged to distribute free copies of the paper that day to Dayton schoolchildren. In the ensuing uproar, Alexander was fired by the Cox chain, and his managing editor quit in protest. “That’s the story that people around here “I remember [Sharkey] for,” says former colleague Mickey Davis. “She proved her mettle.”

If the story inflicted collateral damage upon her superiors, Sharkey’s own career received quite a boost. The unique controversy became fodder for national journalism trade journals, and by 1977 she had been made an investigative reporter. A year later, with an opening in the paper’s one-person Columbus bureau, she moved to the capital, where her energy and charm quickly won her admission to the mostly male “Capital Square Gang,” a collection of politicians, journalists and lobbyists who would often gather at the Galleria, a bar a across from the Statehouse.

“TheJournal Herald clearly got a lot of stories because she would go to where these people did business,” says one PDreporter. “And to a [House Speaker] Vern Riffe, cutting part of the deal at the Galleria was just as important as finishing the deal at the Statehouse.”

In 1980, she remarried, to Joe Dirck, who today is a PDcolumnist himself At the time, he was a fellow Daytonian who’d played rock ‘n’ roll in area nightclubs. Sharkey and Dirck shared an obsession for politics and, one colleague jokes, questionable fashion sense. Old photos from the Dayton newspaper archives show Sharkey dressed in blouses with enormous period-piece
lapels, her hair worn in cascading bluffs framing her face. One office intern from that time remembers the effect her appearance left from their initial meeting. “Here I was this scared
college student, and she was wearing purple gaucho pants and a puffy cap. I thought I was about to be employed by Petula Clark.” Dirck still had in his possession a pair of skin-tight, leopard spot pants from his days as a rocker.

Characteristically, they met during the heat of a reporting battle: It was the mid-’70s. Dirck was reporting for a small daily in Springfield. He and another reporter were investigating a bookkeeper for a federal, anti-poverty agency who had a gambling problem. When the case landed in a federal grand jury, Dirck thought he’d go down to wait outside the closed session to see who came and went. “This assistant U.S. attorney — who I don’t know — they called him Crimefighter, [he was a] spit and polish, kind of hard-nosed type — started giving me a hard time, told me I couldn’t stand in the hallway,” Dirck recalls. “I said, ‘Well, this is a public building.’ He said, ‘Well, you can’t stand here, you have to go down in the lobby.'”

So Dirck went downstairs to a pay phone and called Sharkey, whom he knew only by reputation. “She was kind of a legend in Dayton at the time I said, ‘hey, this guy told me I couldn’t stand in the hallway.’ And she said, ‘WHAT? I’ll be right over.'”

Sharkey showed up after having scooped up a handful of other print reporters and a couple of television crews. “The Crimefighter came out, and he knew he couldn’t buffalo them,” says Dirck. “So he just went back in the room.”

During the early years of their marriage, Sharkey was continuing to produce powerful reporting. But as the Reagan era dawned, it was her role as feminist pathbreaker that was gaining the most attention. In 1981, she was sitting in the Secretary of State’s office after an election when an official of the Ohio Democratic Party, Pat Leahy, began to brag about beating Issue 2 and its proponent, Joan Lawrence (then head of the state League of Women Voters and now a state representative from Galena) and “her fat, ugly tits.” When Sharkey reported the comment (“I didn’t get the word tits in, but I think readers could tell what I meant,” she says), Leahy was fired, and Sharkey became something of an instant feminist poster girl.

“That was sort of a watershed for me,” Sharkey says. “I sort of once in a while feel like there is something to this diversity. There were six guys sitting around laughing. And it didn’t occur to any of them to report it.”

“She’s the one who said, ‘Now wait a minute: there’s this loudmouth with the Democratic Party, and nobody’s doing anything about it. I’m going to do something about it,'” recalls Gerry Austin, who cut his political teeth in George McGovern’s 1972 Ohio campaign and later ran campaigns for Dick Celeste, George Forbes and Jesse Jackson.

Curiously, she became a lightning rod for feminists even when she didn’t intend to. During the ’82 gubernatorial election, Sharkey arrived for an interview with Republican Clarence J. “Bud” Brown and was greeted with the suggestion that she “step into my parlor and take off your clothes.” Having grown up with plenty of verbal abuse from her brothers, she says, she never took it seriously and wrote it off as a grossly awkward attempt at humor by a normally buttoned-down man. She later mentioned it in passing to press colleagues, and a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter used it as a small item. “And Lord, it started from there,” recalls Dirck.

The New York Times picked up on it, which led a biting press release from the National Organization for Women, which prompted feminist picketing of Brown. The libertarian candidate seized on the remark, demanding an apology on behalf of women, and the Celeste campaign privately enjoyed the problems it was causing its rival. Brown later asked if he should apologize to Sharkey’s husband.

At the center of it all was Sharkey, the congenitally amiable Catholic girl with impeccable manners tempered by a bawdy sense of humor — highlighted by her endearing “horsey laugh,” as one friend puts it — who once again was thrust into the role of “feminist hero.” “Everyone assumes I’m going to come from this liberal-Democrat, feminist point of view,” she says today. In truth, she contends, she’s a feminist “when I need to be.”

In 1983, partly as a result of the attention from the controversy but also due to her warm conviviality with friend and foe alike, she was elected president of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents’ Association, the first woman so named in the group’s nearly 100 years of existence.

That same year, she was hired by the PD to join the paper’s Columbus bureau. Her days of real prominence were at hand. By one account, it was a 1981 series where she wrote about racial tensions at the Lucasville prison that got her noticed in Cleveland and later hired at the Plain Dealer.

Richard F Celeste, the 64th governor of Ohio, and Mary Anne Sharkey, then-Plain Dealer reporter and later Columbus bureau chief, began on friendly enough terms. Like many reporters who covered Celeste in his early years, Sharkey was filled with high expectations formed by the candidate’s own soaring campaign rhetoric as well as the fact that he was following eight years of antics by boorish Jim Rhodes. After that, much of the capital press pool was easy prey for the jarring contrast provided by the earnest Yalie governor with ethnic roots and an Oxford pedigree. The stage seemed set for a four-year run of Camelot By the Scioto. What developed followed quite another script.

Eventually the Celeste administration came under a steady and perhaps well-deserved working-over by the PD bureau. Sharkey’s tips, reporter Gary Webb’s bulldog tenacity and the PD’s willingness to print the results were turning up a Niagara of administration sleaze that cried out for coverage, especially considering the rest of the state’s papers were so timid about taking on a sitting governor. “Once people know you’ll go with that stuff, it becomes self-generating. It began coming in over the transom,” one reporter explains.

Sharkey readily concedes that the PD’s Columbus bureau under her direction didn’t cover the legislature very critically. She could hardly argue otherwise. It would be up to the Akron Beacon Journal to devote resources later in the decade to document Riffe’s questionable fundraising methods in its so-called “pay~for-play” series.

In the spring of 1987, after Democratic front-runner Gary Hart was forced to drop out of the presidential race because of his extramarital affairs, Sharkey turned her attention to the rumors about Celeste’s similar activities. She pulled the personnel files of two aides he was said to be sleeping with. Two other Columbus reporters were working on the story, but Sharkey had personal knowledge of Celeste’s peccadilloes with a woman she knew.

“We just thought it was incredible that Celeste would run for president when he had the same womanizing problem as Hart,” says Jim Underwood, at the time a Columbus-based reporter for the Horvitz newspapers, who later joined the PD.

In early June ’87, Underwood entered a Celeste press conference and sat between Sharkey and the Dayton Daily News‘ Tim Miller, who was also digging around the edges of the story. ” I just kind of grinned and said, ‘One of us is gonna have to ask the question.’ And we all knew what I was talking about,” says Underwood. Miller pulled out a dollar and challenged Underwood. Sharkey added a quarter. And Underwood got up, still clinging to the $1.25, and asked the question that would soon reverberate around the country. “Governor, is
there anything in your personal life that would preclude you from being president, as it has Gary Hart?” When Celeste surprised everyone, including his aides, by choosing outright denial
over dodge, Sharkey had a hook for her story. Media people would later say that Underwood held Celeste’s jaw while Sharkey slugged it.

In a copyrighted, front-page article on June 3 written by Mary Anne Sharkey and Brent Larkin, the PD reported that Celeste had been “romantically linked to at least three women” in the last decade, and called into question his credentials to be president. Says Larkin: “We knew it wouldn’t be ignored by the national media, coming on the heels of the Gary Hart incident.”

He was right. The Celeste story quickly became national news. And even though much of the coverage was harshly critical of the PD, the damage had nevertheless been done: Celeste never quite recovered his prior stature as a regional politician at the threshold of national prominence. (Celeste’s office didn’t return calls for comment.) And the legal saber-rattling of Stan Chesley — a well-connected Cincinnati personal-injury attorney and major Celeste donor who, former Celeste aides confirm, was aggressively encouraging the governor to file a libel suit — eventually sputtered out. Sharkey’s reputation received yet another high-octane boost.

Months after the Celeste story, the Plain Dealer promoted Sharkey to the deputy editorial page director, and Sharkey moved to Cleveland. Dirck, who had spent some time working at a Columbus television station after the Columbus Citizens Journal closed, eventually followed his wife 120 miles north to write a much-coveted column, sparking more than a little internal bitterness over the perceived two-for-one deal. Sharkey’s new position seemed an unlikely fit for many who knew her, given her interests and her well-known impatience with both the nonpolitical aspects of government and with sitting behind a desk. “I thought it was strange,” says her Dayton editor Bill Flanagan. “Well, I thought she was getting older and wanted something different. But it didn’t fit the Mary Anne that I knew.”

Nevertheless, she thrived. The page, significantly enlivened under her predecessor, continued to be relatively bold and unpredictable, at least for the traditionally cautious Plain Dealer. It took several brave stabs at the polarizing issue of abortion, an issue on which Sharkey shares Mario Cuomo’s position: She is personally opposed to it, though she refuses to impose her personal beliefs on the rest of society. It also denied Lee Fisher the paper’s endorsement in his initial run for Ohio Attorney General because of his embrace of the death penalty. Internally, Sharkey employed her people skills to defuse potential ideological conflict.

But her tenure on the editorial page will be best remembered for the paper’s endorsement of Mike White during the 1989 mayoral race. Sharkey persuaded publisher Tom Vail to ignore the near-unanimous pleas of Cleveland’s establishment on behalf of George Forbes, and instead anoint a smoothly articulate black state representative and former Cleveland city councilman from Glenville, whom Sharkey had observed with some admiration while in Columbus. “Vail, in his last days, tended to defer to Mary Ann’s good judgment,” recalls one editorial board member at the time. “She was the mover in it, and Vail largely blessed it.”

The insurgent White campaign, running third at the time behind both Forbes and Benny Bonnano, learned of the endorsement the day before it ran, and immediately understood its importance. “The Plain Dealer likes to take credit for shaping the course of the city,” says White’s ’89 campaign manager Eric Fingerhut, “and that’s a case where they did.”

But at the PD, where the saying goes “The closer you are to the top, the closer you are to the edge,” no one is ever surprised by frequent management shakeups. And Sharkey’s internal stock ebbed after Vail retired. Her legendary shouting matches, during the ’89 mayoral race, with editor (and Forbes partisan) Thom Greer didn’t help. Of her high-decibel confrontations with Greer, she says: “I knew I would be hurt by that, and I was.”

The shift from Vail’s moderate, Rockefeller-style, noblesse oblige brand of Republicanism to Machaskee’s harsher, in-your-face, Pat Buchanan style demanded a less-unpredictable editorial voice for the paper. So Sharkey was replaced on the editofial page by Brent Larkin, a lawyer and a former Cleveland Press political writer with a deeper knowledge of Cleveland and a far more pleasing posture toward management.

Sharkey was given what most of the world would consider an equally prominent assignment. She was made assistant Metro editor just as the paper began its expensive and oft-chronicled move to the suburbs with the opening of several exurban news bureaus. While she was now responsible for directing nearly 100 reporters, at least one colleague calls that position a form of “internal exile,” with only modest direct impact on the news product but lots of time spent overseeing budgets and making sure that slots were covered when copy editors called in sick — hardly her strength.

At about this same time, Sharkey was dealing with a series of personal setbacks that were disrupting her emotional equilibrium. As she and Dirck (who has a college-age daughter by a previous marriage) moved into their 40s, their efforts to adopt a child met with frustration. Once, an adoption was scotched at the last moment when the pregnant woman’s boyfriend called their attorney from the delivery room. They were set to adopt a second time, this time a biracial child, but that, too, fell apart at the last minute. By 1991 Dirck had a mild stroke, which put things off again, and by the time he recovered, the couple, then nearing their mid-40s, were informed they would have to abandon their adoption plans.

“What can I say?” Sharkey says, her eyes misting. “After awhile, you just say to yourself, ‘It’s not meant to be.’ Her brother Nick calls it “the tragedy of her life. She’s told me a million times that you can have a million [newspaper] clippings over in the corner, but giving life to a child…”

Sharkey eventually asked to be replaced in the Metro editor’s position, which seemed too much to handle with all the other noise going on in her life. “Metro editor was the most miserable job I ever had in my life. It had everything to do with management and nothing to do with news.” She learned that she was born to report and write, not oversee others. Hall immediately carved out her current “politics editor” role, which defies standard organizational-chart description. Meanwhile, her personal losses have continued. After losing one brother before she was born and then her mother to brain cancer in 1976, Sharkey’s father and another brother died last year. “Those losses have been finding their way into her writing,” her husband says. Earlier this year, for instance, she wrote an emotional column about her brother’s death, briefly confessing to her own spiritual shortcomings as she described the loving community that enveloped her brother with care in the final days of his life.

Despite all the tensions, Sharkey has been given considerable breathing space and wide latitude to roam at the PD. And her “feminist” accomplishments have continued. Sharkey’s most immediate project has been encouraging more management openings for women. She and an informal assortment of female editors and managers have been gathering over occasional lunches and dinners to discuss the issue. “Immediately people became threatened by it, like we were holding a civil rights rally,” she says. And women are increasingly being added to the paper’s management ranks (one female editor of 17 years, Marge Piscola, has recently been promoted to the new position of news editor, where she’s now centrally responsible for planning Page One; and nearly everyone in a position to judge thinks PD editor David Hall has a genuine commitment to addressing documented complaints about gender inequities.)

Sharkey herself sits in editorial planning meetings when her ambitious reporting schedule allows, and she still has a place on the paper’s executive council. She also has the ear of PDeditor David Hall, according to Hall himself.

“She has unique skills and insights that were especially important for me, coming into Ohio from outside the state to edit the state’s largest newspaper,” Hall says.

The Battle for the Right to Vote in Ohio – Video Western Reserve PBS

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The Battle for the Right to Vote

  • Aired: 04/18/2017
  • 26:49
  • Nearly a century ago in Northeast Ohio, both women and men fought for women’s right to vote. This half-hour local production explores moments in Akron and Cleveland history that fueled this battle. Examples include Sojourner Truth’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech and Belle Sherwin’s participation in the suffrage movement.