Toward Equal Partnership: The Greater Cleveland Congress-International Women’s Year by Marian J. Morton

The pdf is here

by Marian J. Morton

“THRONGS OPEN IWY CONGRESS,” exclaimed the Cleveland Plain Dealer on October 26, 1975.[1]  The throngs included men, but most of those who crowded into the Cleveland Convention Center  were women –  old and young; single, married, or divorced; of many religious faiths; black and white, Hispanic and Eastern European; housewives, nurses, lawyers, teachers, social workers, artists.  They came on the opening Saturday of the Greater Cleveland Congress – International Women’s Year, then Sunday, and then Monday – 45,000 of them – to applaud the celebrities, to learn from the workshops and lectures, to enjoy the dance and music.  And mostly to join in solidarity with other women – it was called “consciousness-raising” back in the 1970s –as they sought equal partnership with men.  Cleveland was hosting the biggest IWY celebration in the country. Those were heady days, another beginning in the long fight for equality for women.


The immediate impetus for the congress was a 1972 United Nations resolution, more than 30 years in the making, declaring that 1975 would be International Women’s Year; the goal would be to create a society in which women would have full and equal participation in social, economic, and political life. The resolution was supported by Presidents Nixon and Ford.

But the  UN resolution, and the Cleveland congress, came more than a century after 300 women and men gathered in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, the official beginning of the women’s rights movement in this country. Inspired by their participation in the movement to free slaves, they re-phrased the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident- that all men and women are created equal.”   They asked for equal rights before the law, in education, employment, and churches.  And – most controversially –  they asked for the vote.  Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was one of the brave few to offer support.

The Seneca Falls demands were eloquently re-stated at a woman’s rights convention in Salem, Ohio, in 1850, and in 1851, in Akron, where former slave and anti-slavery activist Sojourner Truth delivered her dramatic, often-repeated speech, “And Ain’t I A Woman?” There is some about question about who actually wrote the speech,  but no question that it ridiculed the many who claimed that women were too weak and too stupid to have equal rights and that, as further evidence, Christ wasn’t a woman. “And where did your Christ come from?” Truth famously replied: “From God and a woman.  Man had nothing to do with Him.”

In the post-Civil War period,  in the context of national attention on enfranchising black men,  the movement for women’s rights began again,  focusing its own attention on the vote – becoming, in effect, the suffrage movement.  In Cleveland in 1869, Lucy Stone, an Oberlin graduate, and her husband Henry Blackwell, founded the American Woman Suffrage Association, the moderate wing of the movement.  In 1890, the association merged with the  National Woman’s Suffrage Association, led by firebrands Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to form the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The NAWSA led the suffrage movement  for the next three decades.

These were decades of progress as women in Cleveland, like women elsewhere, entered the work force, most in industry, some in offices; an elite  few went to colleges like Oberlin or Western Reserve’s College for Women;  some even entered the professions.[2]  Cleveland women also entered public life through the backdoor –  the myriad of  women’s organizations like the YWCA, the Consumers League of Ohio, the Women’s City Club, and the Junior League. Although there were small political victories – Ohio women got the right to vote for and serve on school boards in 1894 – , woman suffrage amendments to the Ohio Constitution were defeated  in 1888, 1890, and 1891.[3]

Cleveland suffragists organized in 1910 and braved public scorn by speaking from soap boxes in rough neighborhoods and outside factories, distributing pamphlets, marching in lively parades, and debating the vocal, plentiful anti-suffragists.  Suffragists did win the support of local  politicians, including Tom L. Johnson and Newton D. Baker. Nevertheless, efforts to get the Ohio legislature to enfranchise women failed in 1912, 1914, and 1917.  Cleveland suffragists sided with the moderate NAWSA when radical suffragists picketed the White House and went to jail, and they rejoiced when 26 million women finally got the vote with the passage of the 19thAmendment in 1920, a long, exhausting 72 years after Seneca Falls.

The Cleveland suffrage movement produced two national leaders:  Florence E. Allen, the first woman to be elected to the Ohio Supreme Court and first to be appointed chief justice of any federal court, the 6th Circuit; and Belle Sherwin, who served from 1924 to 1934 as president of the new national League of Women Voters.  The league began its work of educating the new voters to participate in politics.

And then still another beginning – an echo of the nineteenth century – when the civil rights activism of the 1950s and 1960s inspired another movement for equality for women. These women called themselves feminists –  a nod to an earlier generation who wanted the vote but had broader goals. Women’s potential political importance, as they continued to enter the work force, higher education,  and elected office, was acknowledged in the 1963 Equal Pay Act and the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against sex discrimination in employment.  In 1966, women and men, chafing at the slow pace of change, established the National Organization of Women (NOW).  Its signature goal became the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA had been introduced to Congress in 1923 by the National Woman’s Party, the  left wing of the suffrage movement; some of them had also picketed the White House. The amendment was sporadically endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties until it was shelved in the mid-1950s.

NOW resurrected the ERA from political oblivion. The amendment stated that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.”  It had been initially opposed by women’s groups like the LWV that feared it would eliminate the laws that gave women special protection in the workplace or in marriage. By the early 1970s, however, many women’s organizations endorsed it. And by 1975, NOW had become the most visible face of feminism. Its motto, “toward equal partnership with men, “ emphasized cooperation, not war, between the sexes.

Cleveland women organized a local chapter of NOW in 1970  and then a flurry of new  feminist organizations.  These included the Women’s Equity Action League, the Cuyahoga Women’s Political Caucus, the Cleveland  Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, and Women Together.[4] All would be part of the IWY congress.


Congress planners were well-established, well-connected volunteers and professionals.  Chairperson Gwill York was a past president of the Junior League and  sat on the boards of a half-dozen prestigious, non-profit institutions.   York was aided by Muriel Jones and Barbara Rawson, both with the Cleveland Foundation, and Evelyn Bonder, director of Project EVE (Education, Volunteerism, and Employment) at Cuyahoga Community College.  Planning meetings began in August 1974 and continued for more than a year, ultimately engaging dozens of women in the process. All were volunteers.

These women knew their Cleveland audience. York predicted that the Cleveland congress would be a great success: “You have extremists on the West Coast and the East Coast, but here in the Midwest … is a beautiful place where things are handled in a very rational way.”[5] According to a Gallup poll of Cleveland women taken just prior to the congress, the “largest proportion” felt that “marriage and children without a job [was] the ideal situation” although especially younger women felt that a job could be combined with marriage and children.  Black and low-income women found the combination less desirable – or simply less possible.  Only 44 percent believed there was job discrimination; 85 percent believed that women had equal opportunities to get an education.[6] The  congress’s adoption of  NOW’s moderate goal of “equal partnership”  was intended to appeal to these women.

The planners also knew how to raise funds, a perennial challenge for women’s organizations.   The Junior League, the YWCA, and the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine contributed.   The Cleveland Foundation donated funds and lent an office –and its prestige.  Other foundations and businesses, including banks, industry, and retail establishments like Halle’s and Higbee’s, followed suit, as did the Cleveland AFL-CIO.  Dozens of exhibitors, both commercial and non-profit,  paid for booths to advertise their goods and services. The grand total raised: more than $100,000, which did not count volunteer hours or donated services.[7]

More than 300 women’s institutions and organizations participated.  They represented a range of political views from Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice and the Socialist Workers Party to the Cuyahoga County Republican Women’s Organizations.  They  had differing religious affiliations  –  the National Council of Jewish Women, the B’nai Brith Women’s Council, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Eastern Orthodox Women’s Guild – and came from different ethnic backgrounds – the Karamu Women’s Association and the Ukrainian Gold Cross.   Professional women were represented by the Women’s Clergy of Greater Cleveland, the Women Historians of Greater Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Nurses Association, among others.  Groups also addressed long-standing economic inequities:  the National Welfare Rights Organization and the Domestic Workers of America.[8]

The panels and workshops expanded upon familiar themes. There were seventeen on equality in the workplace, more than on any other topic.   Panelists and the audiences discussed women in industry, the female chief executive, how to make the system work for the working woman, jobs for low-income women, women in faith communities, women in the arts, returning to work, volunteering, and  women in the military and in sports.[9] Panels on education stressed the need for women’s studies classes, women in teaching and administrative positions, and continuing education for adult women.  Workshops on politics urged political action at all levels of government: “A woman’s place is in the House … and Senate.”[10]

Other programs focused on recent changes in women’s private lives: divorce and separation, day care (the congress provided day care for participants),  “Occupation Mother: Too Much or Not Enough.”  Others reflected the sexual revolution of the 1960s, including birth control, rape, and lesbianism.  Because the U.S. Supreme Court in  1973 had legalized abortion under certain circumstances in Roe V. Wade, there were panels on both sides of this controversial issue.[11]

The celebrity speakers also addressed old and new themes.  First Lady Betty Ford gave a ringing endorsement of the ERA at the opening session.  Congress had passed it in 1972, and it was then circulating around the states for their ratification.  Ohio had ratified in 1974, and the amendment needed only four more states to ratify.  “While many new opportunities are open to women, too many are available only to the lucky few. Many barriers continue to block the paths of most women, even on the most basic issue of equal pay for equal work. And the contributions of women as wives and mothers continue to be underrated.” She also acknowledged that the amendment aroused  “the fears of some – both men and women – about the changes already taking place.” Passage of the ERA was not the solution to all problems, she concluded, but it would be a hopeful start.[12]

Nationally syndicated advice columnist Ann Landers addressed a more personal issue in  “A Presentation for Women with Perfect Marriages … and Other Liars.”   Women in this feminist era faced special challenges as they sought to reconcile their own identities with their role as wives and mothers, she said. Her advice:  no marriage is perfect.[13]

But the congress wasn’t all workshops and lectures.  It also showcased local women’s musical talents:  the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra, the Sweet Adelines, the Kitchen Band, the St. Adalbert Soul Choir.  Comedian Lily Tomlin combined entertainment with pointed political commentary, poking fun at herself, her enthusiastic audience,  and thanking congress organizers for giving her Betty Ford’s dressing room.[14] On the final night of the congress, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, husband and wife, gave dramatic readings that linked the past with the present: Davis, an 1857 speech by Frederick Douglass, the revered supporter of equality for women and blacks, and Dee’s own poem, “Calling All Women.”[15]

When it was all over, congress organizers created a laundry list of future goals.  Some were old and familiar – “fair representation and participation in the political process”; “equal education and training”; “meaningful work and adequate compensation.”  Some addressed specific, contemporary concerns: federal assistance for infant and toddler care, full-day kindergarten, free clinics,  more adequate health care insurance, avoiding Medicare cuts, improved health care delivery, crisis shelters for women and children, and altering “societal values so that men do not need to feel superior to women and resort to brute force to prove their masculinity.”[16]

There were some tangible results too.  A registry of women’s organization served, like the congress itself, to better connect the widely various women’s groups.  Plans for WomenSpace were also finalized, with a grant from the Cleveland Foundation.  The new agency set up offices in the YWCA headquarters, providing research, counseling, and programs for women, another continuation of what the congress had done.


The three-day event made the local news for months. Mayor Ralph Perk himself spoke at the opening ceremony.   The Cleveland Plain Dealer enthused over the large crowds, thought-provoking workshops, and celebrity speakers.  One reader showered praise:  “The congress was one of the best organized, most interesting, most innovative events this city has seen in a long time…. [E]veryone working in harmony for a successful conclusion. This is what America should be about…. Pride in Cleveland is still well placed.”[17] The congress did attract national attention.  As York proudly stated, “Cleveland became a leader in the struggle for equality for women in equal partnership with men.” It had hosted the biggest IWY celebration anywhere, a feather in the cap of a city still smarting from jokes about the burning of the Cuyahoga River in 1969, a 1973 federal lawsuit against its racially segregated public school system, and the humiliation of having to sell off its sewer system in 1972 and its  public transit system in 1975.

Not everyone was happy about the congress, of course.  One Cleveland woman wrote in disgust: “When community leaders sponsor workshops on rape, prostitution, abortion and lesbianism for the enlightenment of young people…; when free sex of any variety is promoted as a positive value along with free birth control devices, … when home and family life is denigrated and sex roles blurred, we have the beginning of the end.”[18]

At the other end of the political spectrum, the January 1976 issue of Point of View,  habitually critical of almost everything, carried an article by radical feminist Marge Grevatt, entitled “Cleveland’s IWY: Feminism for Sale.”  She described the congress planners as “safe” women, naively  “co-opted” by  “the establishment,” pointing to meetings in the Cleveland Foundation’s “plush headquarters.” She criticized the $300 fee for booths that sold stuff to women, questioning whether the congress was more about serving Higbee’s and Halle’s than about serving Cleveland women. With more justice, Grevatt accused the congress of shortchanging lesbians and lower-income women.  Yet even she had some praise for the organizers who worked so hard for no money and with such good intentions. “Some very good things happened,” she conceded: thanks to the workshops and panels and talks and performances, and just coming together in solidarity, Cleveland women woke up.  At least to mainstream feminism.[19]


Those were heady days – those three days in October 1975.  York spoke of the  pervasive “atmosphere of joy.”[20] These women may have been joyful, but Grevatt’s criticisms notwithstanding,  they weren’t naïve.  No one thought the fight for equal partnership had been won, or that a win would be easy.

And sure enough.  The social and political ferment of the 1970s  gave way to the conservative backlash of the 1980s.  Even with a three-year extension, the ERA, the goal most closely identified with 1970s feminism, failed in 1982, just three states short of ratification.  Right-to-life organizations picketed abortion clinics and threatened doctors. The Supreme Court imposed restrictions on abortions although Roe V. Wade survived. The Reagan budgets cut funds for social service programs that customarily aided women. The fissures between feminism and traditionalism and between mainstream and radical feminism, apparent in Cleveland in 1975, continued to divide the movement.[21]

But in 2019, it’s important to remember that in the mid-1970s, “feminism” was a dirty word to lots of people and that despite the moderate title of the congress and its mostly modest goals, its planners and participants were not only energetic and optimistic but brave, like the woman’s rights advocates and the suffragists who came before them.

It’s also important to remember that those heady October days in Cleveland were another brave beginning.  But not the last.

[1]  Cleveland Plain Dealer, October 27, 1975: 4.

[2]  Examples;

[3]  Marian J. Morton, “How Cleveland Women Got the Vote and What They Did With It,”  Teaching Cleveland Stories (Cleveland: Teaching Cleveland, 2013), 106.

[4] Marian J. Morton,  Women in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 221-222.

[5]  CPD, August 5, 1975: 14.

[6]  Toward Equal Partnership: Proceedings of the Greater Cleveland Congress, International Women’s Year, 1975  (Cleveland:  Greater Cleveland Congress- International Women’s Year, 1976), 29.

[7]  Toward Equal Partnership, v.

[8]  Morton,  Women in Cleveland, 221-222.

[9]  Toward Equal Partnership, 47-68.

[10]  Toward Equal Partnership, 130.

[11]  Toward Equal Partnership, 131-133.-

[12]  Toward Equal Partnership, 30-34.

[13]  Toward Equal Partnership, 112.

[14]  CPD, October 27, 1975: 26.

[15]  Toward Equal Partnership, 151-152.

[16]  Toward Equal Partnership, 280-282.

[17]  CPDNovember 1, 1975: 20.

[18]  CPD, November 1, 1975: 20.

[19]  Marge Grevatt, “ Cleveland’s IWY: Feminism for Sale,” Point of View, January 31, 1976: 1-10.

[20]  Towards Equal Partnership, vi.

[21]  Nancy Woloch, Women and the American Experience: A Concise History (New York: McGraw Hill, 2002), 386-393.

The Best of Teaching Cleveland

Teaching Cleveland Stories

Tom L. Johnson, America’s Best Mayor video

“Cleveland: The City on the Hill 1901-1909” by Hoyt Landon Warner*****

Cleveland in the 1960s by Mike Roberts

Rockefeller in Cleveland by George Condon*

Confession of a Reformer by Frederick Howe (Tom Johnson chapter)**

Regional Government vs Home Rule by Joe Frolik

Cleveland: Economics, Images and Expectations by Dr. John J. Grabowski

Survival – Man and Boy. A story about Lorrenzo Carter from “The Cuyahoga” by William Donohue Ellis*

Making of a Mayor – The Election of Carl Stokes***

Mark Hanna Vs. Tom Johnson by George Condon*

Water by Brent Larkin

Success By Design: The Schreckengost Legacy (video)

Biography of Newton D. Baker by Prof. C. H. Cramer****

African-American Heritage Trail in Cleveland***

Cleveland’s Johnson: The Cabinet by Eugene C. Murdock*****

The Ohio Canal Movement by Harry N. Scheiber*****

The Power Brokers – Glory Days of the Political Bosses by Brent Larkin***

*from Cleveland Memory/CSU Special Collections

**from Kent State Press

***from the Plain Dealer


*****from the Ohio Historical Society

*****Ohio State University Press

Teaching Cleveland Welcome Page

Teaching Cleveland Welcome Page

Welcome to Teaching Cleveland Digital phase 2
Here is the original site


Unfortunately it was an old platform and the time had come to move on
Also unfortunately all of our links from google are lost too. But the search function works pretty well. So just enter the topic you want to find in search and it should should pop up
Thank you for your patience. Click on the photos below if you want more content on the people shown


johnson-as-the-motorman  carl-stokes-wins-1967




perk-on-fire-1972  voinovich-and-forbes-1986  kucinich-with-forbes



Cleveland History Self Study: A 5 Week Syllabus of Recommended Essays

Cleveland Stories: An Informal Look at the City’s Past

A 5 Week essay-based syllabus suggested by Dr. Marian Morton, professor emerita at John Carroll University with expertise in Cleveland area history.

Overview: A discussion of some of Cleveland’s most interesting and important people, places, and events
Objective: To link the city’s past with its present policies, politics, and practices

Week 1. Introduction. Read Teaching Cleveland Stories (TCS)John J. Grabowski, “Cleveland: Economics, Images, and Expectations”

Week 2. TCS: Mike Roberts and Margaret Gulley, “The Man Who Saved Cleveland.” Elizabeth Sullivan, “Immigration”  John Vacha, “The Heart of Amasa Stone”; Joe Frolik, “Mark Hanna: The Clevelander Who Made a President”

Supplemental: Timeline of Cleveland/NE Ohio; The Western Reserve, 1796-1820, and Pre-Industrial (Erie and Ohio Canals), 1820-1865 and The Industrial Revolution/ John D. Rockefeller/ Mark Hanna, 1865-1900

Week 3. TCS: John J. Grabowski, “Cleveland 1912 – Civitas Triumphant”; Joe Frolik, “Regional Government versus Home Rule”  John Vacha, “When Cleveland Saw Red”  Margaret Bernstein, ‘’Inventor Garrett Morgan, Cleveland’s Fierce Bootstrapper”  Marian Morton, “How Cleveland Women Got the Vote and What They Did With It”

Supplemental: Progressive Era/Tom L. Johnson/ Newton D. Baker, 1900-1915 and Fred Kohler/City Managers/Political Bosses, 1920s and The Van Sweringens/ Depression … 1930s

Week 4. TCS: Thomas Suddes, “The Adult Education Tradition in Greater Cleveland”  Bill Lubinger, “Bill Veeck: The Man Who Conquered Cleveland and Changed Baseball Forever”  Jay Miller, “Cyrus Eaton: Khruschev’s Favorite Capitalist” Roldo Bartimole, “One Man Can Make a Difference”  Mike Roberts, “Cleveland in the 1960s” and “Cleveland in the 1970s”

Supplemental: World War 2- Post War, 1940s; Carl Stokes- Civil Rights, 1960s and Ralph Perk-Dennis Kucinich, 1970s

Week 5TCS: Mike Roberts, “Cleveland in the 1980s” and “Cleveland in the 1990s” Supplemental: “10 Greatest Clevelanders”; “12 Most Significant Events”; Cleveland Politician Interview Series (George Forbes, Jim Rokakis, Louis Stokes, George Voinovich, Michael R. White); Mike Roberts, “Cleveland in the 2000s

General questions: what is the main point of each article? Did you agree or disagree? What did you find most interesting? What would you add? Or subtract? 


Teaching Cleveland Stories

Cleveland 1912: Civitas Triumphant By Dr. John Grabowski

Mark Hanna: The Clevelander Who Made a President By Joe Frolik

Rockefeller’s Right-Hand Man: Henry Flagler By Michael D. Roberts

Cleveland’s Original Black Leader: John O. Holly By Mansfield Frazier

The Heart of Amasa Stone By John Vacha

Frederic C. Howe:  Making Cleveland the City Beautiful (Or At Least Trying) by Marian Morton

Bill Veeck: The Man Who Conquered Cleveland and Changed Baseball Forever By Bill Lubinger

When Cleveland Saw Red By John Vacha

Maurice Maschke: The Gentleman Boss of Cleveland by Brent Larkin

Inventor Garrett Morgan, Cleveland’s Fierce Bootstrapper  by Margaret Bernstein

How Cleveland Women Got the Vote and What They Did With It  by Marian Morton

One Man Can Make a Difference by Roldo Bartimole

The Election That Changed Cleveland Forever by Michael D Roberts

Deferring Dreams: Racial and Religious Covenants in Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, 1925 to 1970 By Marian Morton

Cyrus Eaton: Khruschev’s Favorite Capitalist By Jay Miller

Ray Shepardson: The Man Who Relit Playhouse Square By John Vacha

Bertha Josephine Blue By Debbi Snook

The Scourge of Corrupt and Inefficient Politician: The Citizens League of Greater Cleveland By Marian Morton

The Man Who Saved Cleveland By Michael Roberts and Margaret Gulley

“The Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 and how they changed Cleveland” a talk by Dr. John Grabowski on March 5, 2019

“The Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924
and how they changed Cleveland”
The video from the forum is here:

The flyer is here
Dr. John J. Grabowski, CWRU Krieger-Mueller Joint Professor in History
with a brief update on Immigration 2019 in #CLE by Lynn Tramonte, Ohio Immigrant Alliance

The growth of major industrial centers such as Cleveland was made possible in large part by the migration of peoples of a variety of origins to provide the labor or entrepreneurial skills demanded by the changing economy. 

The Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 prohibited large-scale immigration and provided quotas that discriminated against Southern and Eastern Europeans. Given the chaos in Europe following the war, it is justifiable to assume that the “new immigration” would have continued unabated had not restrictions been put in place. Despite problems in Europe, and particularly persecution in the Nazi German state, relatively little migration to the U.S. and Cleveland took place from 1914-45.*

Dr. Grabowski will talk about the multi-decade impact of the severe reduction of immigration on Cleveland’s development. We will also provide an update on current immigration policy. Is history repeating itself?
*Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Tinkham Veale University Center, CWRU Campus
11038 Bellflower Road, Cleveland OH 44106
Free and open to the public

Co-sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning, League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland, and The Plain Dealer
Corporate sponsor: First Interstate Properties, Ltd.

“How Can We Reduce Gun Violence in Cleveland” (when the laws are made in Columbus) a forum on Feb 26, 2019

Tuesday February 26, 2019  7pm
“How to Reduce Gun Violence in Ohio

Here’s the video from the forum

The preview is here
The flyer is here

Tinkham Veale University Center, CWRU Campus
11038 Bellflower Road, Cleveland OH 44106
Free and open to the public

Moderated by Peter Krouse,
Public Interest and Advocacy Reporter,

Andrés González, Chief of Police, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority

Dr. Lolita McDavid, MD,
Medical Director of Child Advocacy and Protection, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children

Judge Joan Synenberg,
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court

Jane Timmons-Mitchell, PhD,
Senior Research Associate, CWRU Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education

This forum takes a non-political perspective and asks a judge, a suicide prevention expert, and a physician for advice on how to reduce gun violence and gun deaths in Northeast Ohio

Co-sponsored by and The Plain Dealer, Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning, League of Women Voters-Greater Cleveland, Begun Center for Violence Prevention, Research and Education Case Western Reserve University
Corporate sponsor: First Interstate Properties, Ltd.

12 Most Significant Events in Cleveland History

12 Most Significant Events in
Cleveland History

by Joe Frolik

Any list of the 12 top events in Cleveland history is obviously a series of judgments calls that probably reveals more about the person doing the compiling than it does the city. Certainly as I ran down some of the milestones I was considering, my wife’s reaction was immediate and, as usual, probably correct: “Money and politics, money and politics. Is that all you think about?”

I don’t think so, but then again as an editorial writer for Ohio’s largest newspaper, I do spend a lot of my time trying to figure out how Greater Cleveland became the place – politically, economically and socially – that it is today. And much of that evolution involves the interplay of powerful economic, demographic and political forces. Sowith that caveat about the blinders I bring to the task at hand, here is one person’s list of the events that did the most to shape Cleveland’s history, for good and ill.

— Joe Frolik

1) The last Ice Age ends roughly 10,000 years ago, and the retreating Laurentide glacial sheet leaves behind massive basins and plenty of meltwater to fill them: Today we call this gift of nature the Great Lakes. The world’s largest concentration of freshwater made possible both Cleveland’s settlement (Moses Cleaveland) and his party from Connecticut Land Co. sailed east from Buffalo and the mouth of the Cuyahoga River) and its economic boom (without easy access to iron ore from the far end of Lake Superior and waterways to ship out the finished product cheaply, there’s no steel business here). Perhaps the greatest guarantor for Greater Cleveland’s future remains this incredible and increasingly valuable liquid asset.

2) In 1850, Henry Chisholm, a 28-year-old immigrant carpenter and contractor from Scotland arrives in Cleveland to help build a breakwall on the lakefront. Seven years and several major construction projects later, he enters Cleveland’s fledgling iron and steel business by becoming a partner in a plant that re-rolls worn out iron rails. In 1859, Chisholm builds the first blast furnace in Northeast Ohio and in 1868, the first Bessemer converters west of the Alleghenies. His Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. becomes a major integrated producer of iron and steel products and by the 1890s has more than 8,000 employees. Cleveland by then is a major center for making steel and the finished products that use it. It is a transportation center for the ships and railroads that bring in raw materials and take out finished goods. All that also makes it a magnet for tens of thousands of immigrants like Chisholm eager to make their fortune in the New World.

3) Charles Brush is barely 30 years old on April 29, 1879, when he quite literally lights up the town (sorry, LeBron): At 7:55 p.m., Public Square is illuminated by a dozen of the Euclid native’s newly refined arc lights, all mounted on poles significantly higher than traditional gas street lamps and powered by a Brush-patented generator in a building just off the square. Brush’s latest invention proves a sensation: within two years, Brush street lights are in use from Boston to San Francisco. In 1891, his Brush Electric Co. becomes a building block of the new General Electric Co. Brush is not alone in his ability to turn good ideas into useful products. A 1900 Census report ranks Cleveland fifth among U.S. cities in “important patents’’ awarded between 1870 and 1890. This fuels a highly innovative, entrepreneurial – and fast-growing— industrial economy.

4) On April 1, 1901, Cleveland voters elect a new mayor: Tom L. Johnson, the “Great American Paradox,’’ as the New York Times called him, a wealthy businessman who talks like a labor agitator. Over the next eight years, Johnson makes Cleveland a laboratory for Progressive Era civic invention and arguably the best-run city in America. He builds playgrounds, parks and grand public buildings, makes public health the city’s business and holds public meetings in huge circus tents so average citizens can observe and join the deliberations of government. But Johnson’s successes – and those of Newton D. Baker, his like-minded and exceptionally talented protégé who served as mayor from 1911 to 1916 – have one downside: They inspire many communities surrounding Cleveland to embrace the “home rule’’ he and Baker advocate, eventually limiting the city’s potential growth and leading to generations of political Balkanization in Cuyahoga County.

5) In 1917 and 1918, amid the carnage of World War I France field hospitals, four accomplished doctors from Cleveland – Frank E. Bunts, George W. Crile, William E. Lower and John Phillips – begin making plans for a new hospital they will start when they got home, one based on the cooperation across specialty lines that seems to work well in the military. In 1921, they dedicate the first Cleveland Clinic building on Euclid Avenue and East 93rd Street. From the beginning, they set aside part of their revenues and raise additional funds solely for medical research. The result, nine decades later, is not only one of the most highly regarded research hospitals in the world, but the contemporary city’s most important economic engine. With some 40,000 people on its $2 billion annual payroll, the Clinic is far and away Cleveland’s largest employer.

6) On Dec. 11, 1918, the Cleveland Orchestra, under the direction of Russian-born, Yale-educated Nikolai Sokoloff, plays its first concert at Grays Armory on Bolivar Avenue downtown. The 50-plus member ensemble is the brainchild of local impresario Adella Prentiss Hughes, who in 1915 organized the Musical Arts Association and began exhorting the city’s wealthy elites to create a world-class orchestra as a symbol of Cleveland’s rising status. By 1922, Sokoloff and the orchestra are playing Carnegie Hall and establishing a global reputation for themselves and the city they represent. Thanks to a generous gift from industrialist John L. Severance — a memorial to late wife Elizabeth – the orchestra in 1931 gains a permanent and spectacular home in University Circle, an anchor for one of the nation’s premier cultural districts.

7) Cleveland voters go to the polls in a special referendum on Jan. 9, 1919, and agree to a major modification of Daniel Burnham’s Group Plan for downtown. The referendum is orchestrated by the reclusive Van Sweringen brothers, real estate developers Oris and Mantis, who want to include a new central railroad station as part of a massive office complex (Terminal Tower) that they hope to build off Public Square. Burnham’s plan put the depot on the lakefront just below City Hall and Mall C – and voters had ratified it just three years earlier. But the Vans – who want the terminal also to serve as the end point of their Shaker Rapid — mount a massive, modern campaign with heavy use of advertising and carry the day. Terminal Tower becomes a Cleveland icon, but moving the station also turns the city’s back on the lakefront. It will be decades before Cleveland begins to rethink its decision to squander an asset other cities regard as priceless.

8) African Americans, just a generation removed from slavery, begin to move north around 1910, following word that industrial jobs are available. This first Great Migration accelerates when World War I creates a labor shortage and continues until the Depression. Cleveland’s black population, estimated by the Census Bureau at 4,010 in 1900 grows to 70,755 by 1930 with more than half of them arriving during the Roaring ‘20s. Among that decades’ newcomers are Georgians Charles Stokes and Louise Stone. They marry here and by the time Charles, a laundry worker, dies in 1928 have two young sons: Louis and Carl. The Stokes brothers grow up in public housing, go on to law school and as blacks continue to pour into the city – the second wave of the Great Migration includes rabble-rousing Marine veteran from Memphis named George L. Forbes –build a political organization that challenges both white business establishment and the Democratic Party. In 1967, Carl becomes the first black mayor of a major northern city. A year later, Louis becomes Ohio’s black member of Congress.

9) On November 1, 1952, chemicals and other debris floating on Cuyahoga River catch fire and do roughly $1.5 million worth of damage. But the event draws little attention – let alone outrage. There’d been occasional fires on the river since 1868 and as far back as 1881, Mayor Rensselaer R. Herrick had called the Cuyahoga a “sewer that runs through the heart of the city.’’ But in those days, pollution was seen as little more than an unfortunate byproduct of industrial prowess. A very different story unfolds on June 22, 1969, when the Cuyahoga again blazes. Although damage this time is barely $85,000, an angry Mayor Carl Stokes leads a delegation of reporters to the banks of the Cuyahoga the following day and demands help from Washington to clean up the mess. His timing was perfect. With a Time magazine team already in town working on a cover story about pollution’s toll on Lake Erie, this fire becomes a rallying point the nascent environmental movement and leads to passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

10) After 140 years of uninterrupted growth, Cleveland’s white population begins to decline in the 1940s, in part because white GI’s can get low-cost federal home loans to move to the suburbs, while black veterans cannot. “White flight’’ continues into the 1960s, accelerating after two major riots –Hough in 1966 and Glenville in 1969. But the last straw for many whites comes on Aug. 31, 1976, when U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti signs a 203-page decision that, among other remedies, orders cross-town busing to end racial segregation. However well-meaning Battititi’s decision may have been – other northern districts had been hit with busing orders before Cleveland – the impact here is devastating.. White flight morphs into middle-class flight. In the 1970s, Cleveland’s black population falls, too, with an exodus of 30,000 people, many to suburbs perceived to have better schools. Battisti’s order remains in effect until the 1990s, when the city’s second black mayor, Michael R. White, leads the charge to end it.

11) On Dec. 15, 1978, a year-long battle between Cleveland’s populist “boy mayor,’’ Dennis Kucinich, and a combative business community, led in this case by Cleveland Trust CEO Brock Weir, comes to a head. A consortium of six local banks calls in $14 million in loans, knowing Kucinich cannot come up with the cash because he refuses to sell Cleveland Public Power as they recommend. Cleveland, its finances held together for nearly a decade by chewing gum, baling wire and accounting tricks, becomes the first U.S. city since the Depression to default. The debacle leads to Kucinich’s defeat in 1979 and effectively ices his political ambitions for another 15 years. But default also forces the business community to rethink its relationship with the city. Under Kucinich’s successor, George V. Voinovich, City Hall and the newly engaged corporate sector form a celebrated public-private partnership that produces several major downtown projects and helps burnish Cleveland’s national image as a “comeback city.’’

12) For decades, good-government groups warned that Cuyahoga County government was a relic of agrarian times with power so diffuse that no one could be held accountable for anything. Not even a poorly supervised investment fiasco in 1994 could prompt more than a study of government reform – that was shelved as soon as public angry subsided. All that changes on July 28, 2008, when nearly 200 federal agents descend on the County Administration Building, the homes of the county’s two most powerful Democratic politicians and the offices of numerous county contractors. They fill U-Haul trucks with documents and computers. After a year of stony silence from federal prosecutors, the indictments begin to flow. On Nov. 2, 2009, appalled voters overwhelming fire the entire county government and concentrate responsibility in a powerful new county executive.

The 10 Greatest Clevelanders Since 1796

This article ran in the Plain Dealer during the Cleveland Bicentennial Year celebration. If you disagree with elements of the list or wish to offer additions, please email us at and we can start the discussion.

Courtesy of The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) – Sunday, July 21, 1996

To borrow from Shakespeare, some are born with greatness. Others achieve it. Some have it thrust upon them.
Greatness is highly subjective. It’s elusive to define and difficult to measure.

And it also can go unnoticed. Imagine how many tens of thousands who have been a part of this area’s rich past, the deeds of their ordinary lives combining to build a great city. They and their memories are as much a part of this Cleveland’s bicentennial celebration as are the leaders who occupy our history books.

But today, on the eve of the city’s 200th birthday, I have set about the difficult task of attempting to determine and rank the 10 greatest Clevelanders – those whose deeds have had the greatest impact on this city and, in some cases, the nation.

The list that appears below is mine alone. But it was compiled after consultations with some of the foremost experts on Cleveland history: John J. Grabowski, director of planning and research at the Western Reserve Historical Society; David D. Van Tassel, professor of history at Case Western Reserve University; Thomas F. Campbell, history professor at Cleveland State University; and George Condon, retired Plain Dealer columnist and the author of several books on Cleveland’s history.

Singling out only 10 Clevelanders (actually, three of the top 10 include, for reasons that will be obvious, two names) for greatness guarantees that many historic figures be excluded, which is a major reason why the list is followed by an honorable-mention section. Ranking them in order is an invitation to second-guessing.

Nevertheless, what follows is one person’s listing of the 10 greatest Clevelanders.

1. Tom L. Johnson (1854-1911): The mayor against whom all others are measured. Elected in 1901, Johnson left a legacy that includes the mall plan, cheap trolley fares, low taxes and, probably above all, the municipal electric system. Johnson was the central figure in planning the city’s development as an industrial power. A successful businessman, he used town hall forums to bring immigrant masses into the political mainstream by instilling in them hope and inspiration. Upon his death, 200,000 people lined Euclid Ave. for the funeral procession.

2. John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937): His family moved from a farm in upstate New York to Strongsville when he was a teenager. After high school, he took a job as an assistant bookkeeper. At 24, he decided to enter the oil business.

So was born the Standard Oil Co., which made Rockefeller one of the world’s richest and most powerful men. This industrialist and philanthropist gave away millions. He built buildings and bought parks here. Criticized by some for moving to New York City in the 1880s, Rockefeller continued to spend summers at his Forest Hills Park estate.

3. Alfred Kelley (1789-1859): Not nearly as well-known as some of the more legendary Clevelanders, in 1915, Kelley became the first president of the village of Cleveland. Back then, Cleveland wasn’t much bigger than any of the other surrounding lakefront cities, like Lorain, Vermilion, Painesville, and others. But Kelley was a man with a dream – a canal that would link Cleveland with the Ohio River and make his city a major industrial port. As a member of the legislature in the 1820s, Kelley dedicated his life to making the Ohio & Erie Canal a reality. When the canal opened in 1827, it secured Cleveland’s place as Ohio’s dominant lakefront city.

4. O.P (1879-1936) and M.J (1881-1935) Van Sweringen: They developed Shaker Heights and Shaker Square, and when they envisioned a rapid-transit system linking the suburb to downtown, a railroad line stood in their way. So, the brothers bought the Nickel Plate Railroad and eventually accumulated a railroad empire consisting of 30,000 miles of tracks valued at $3 billion. Their monument to Cleveland remains today as the city’s most symbolic building – the Terminal Tower. The 1929 stock market crash almost bankrupted them and they died several years later.

5. Marcus Hanna (1837-1904): He was the nation’s first political boss, a cunning and brilliant political strategist universally credited with engineering the election of William McKinley as president in 1896. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1898, Hanna became a major advocate of an idea many scoffed at – building a canal across Panama. In Cleveland, Hanna was both a wildly successful businessman and the town’s most dominant political figure. His biggest setback in politics was the election as mayor of his longtime enemy, Tom L. Johnson.

6. Newton D. Baker (1871-1937): A protege of Tom L. Johnson, Baker made his mark as mayor of Cleveland from 1912 to 1916. He was responsible for enactment of the City Charter and for promoting passage of the Home Rule amendment to the Ohio Constitution. He made his mark upon the world a few years later. With the nation’s future threatened from abroad, President Woodrow Wilson needed someone to build and train a force of 2 million men to fight the first world war. The choice of Baker as Secretary of War proved outstanding, as Baker was widely credited with succeeding in the most difficult of tasks. Shortly after the war, Baker returned to the Cleveland law firm that still bears his name.

7. Flora Stone Mather (1852-1909) and Samuel Mather (1851-1931): The Mathers were both born into wealth, and through the formation of the iron-ore company Pikands, Mather & Co., saw their separately inherited fortunes grow to the point where they became Ohio’s richest couple. What set them apart from so many other affluent husband-and-wife teams was the vast sums they donated to worthy charities. Major beneficiaries of the Mather fortune were Old Stone Church, Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, John Carroll University and the Community Chest.

8. George Crile (1864-1943): In 1906, while practicing at St. Alexis Hospital, this surgeon and medical researcher performed the world’s first successful blood transfusion. In the Spanish-American War and World War I, he was a highly decorated war surgeon. But Crile’s major contribution to Cleveland came in 1921 when he joined with three others to form the Cleveland Clinic, which, along with the other first-rate hospitals that already existed, cemented Cleveland’s place as a world-class medical center.

9. Adella Prentiss Hughes (1869-1950): Music was her life and through her efforts she put the music made in Cleveland on the map. A philanthropist and the promotor of scores of musical presentations, Hughes formed the Musical Arts Association in 1915 to fund and promote her projects. Three years later, she was the instrumental figure in the creation of the Cleveland Orchestra.

10. Edward Morley (1838-1923) and Albert Michelson (1852-1931): Morley was a scientist at Western Reserve University, Michelson a physicist at the Case School of Applied Science. Their research on the speed of light, known as the Michelson-Morley experiment (1887), laid the foundation for Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Michelson became the first American to win a Nobel Prize in science. He finished second in the Nobel Prize balloting for chemistry.

Honorable mentions (alphabetically):

Paul Brown (1909-1991): A football genius and innovator who built one of the greatest franchises in the history of professional sports. So deep runs the loyalty Clevelanders have for the Browns that not even Art Modell could dry up this reservoir of affection.

Charles F. Brush (1849-1929): Developer of the arc light, the forerunner of Thomas Edison’s inventions.

Lorenzo Carter (1767-1814): Cleveland’s first permanent settler and easily its most prominent early citizen.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881): Because he lived in and spent so much time in Mentor, not all historians consider him a Clevelander, which explains why he was not placed in the top 10. Nevertheless, the 20th president of the United States did have some Cleveland connections.

Jane Edna Hunter (1882-1971): Daughter of a sharecropper, Hunter was a nationally known social worker and founder of the Phillis Wheatley Association.

Levi Johnson (1785-1871): A major figure in the growth of Cleveland as a large port, Johnson was a shipbuilder and real estate developer.

Garrett A. Morgan (1877-1963): Credited as the inventor of the gas mask and the traffic light, Morgan was a successful businessman and an early leader in the city’s black community.

Carl B. Stokes (1927-1996): The first black elected mayor of a major American city.

More Great Clevelanders
Florence Allen (1884-1966): Prominent suffragette; first female Chief Judge of a federal court.

Ernest Bohn (1901-1975): The father of U.S. public housing.

Linda Eastman (1867-1963): The first female head of a major library system (1918). She helped make the Cleveland Public Library into one of the nation’s best.

George Forbes (1931- ): One of the most powerful politicians in Cleveland history; as council president, he dominated government under three mayors.

Dorothy Fuldheim (1893-1989): The first female news anchorperson in the United States at WEWS.

Frederick H. Goff (1858-1923): Helped to establish the Cleveland Foundation, the oldest and one of the largest community foundations in America

Max Hayes (1866-1945): Union printer; launched the Cleveland Citizen newspaper in 1891; became a national voice of labor and socialist movements.

Martin A. Marks (1853-1916): Businessman; Developed models for philanthropic fund raising and management that ultimately became the United Way of Cleveland

Bishop Louis Amadeus Rappe (1801-1877): Cleveland’s first Catholic bishop; recruited priests and nuns from Europe and built churches, schools, orphanages and hospitals.

Bishop Joseph Schrembs (1866-1945): Cleveland’s fifth Catholic bishop; expanded charity work; used radio to evangelize.

Amasa Stone (1818-1883): Contentious man who built the first major railroad between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati. He was ruined when a bridge that he built collapsed in Ashtabula. His money helped to move Western Reserve College to University Circle from Hudson. His daughters (particularly Flora) and sons in laws, (John Hay and Samuel Mather) all had highly successful careers.

George Szell (1897-1970): In 34 years as musical director, this stern taskmaster from Vienna cemented the Cleveland Orchestra’s international reputation.

George V. Voinovich (1936- ): Mayor after 1978 default; improved city’s fiscal footing, Went on to become Governor of Ohio and US Senator. A power locally and nationally for over 30 years.

William O. Walker (1986-1981): Editor and publisher of the Call and Post; central figure in the rise of black political power here.

Cyrus Eaton (1883-1979): Highly controversial capitalist who mentored with John D. Rockefeller in Cleveland and then made his mark in the utility and steel industries. He lost it all during the depression, made it back post-depression and then worked on detente with the Soviet Union during the cold war.

William Stinchcomb (1878-1959): Father of the Cleveland Metroparks, today’s Emerald Necklace and one of the nations best free public park systems in a metropolitan area.

Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963): Influential Jewish and civic leader in Northeast Ohio for nearly 50 years. Worldwide leader in the 1940s in the effort to create the State of Israel