Forgotten Stories of Troy Women Are Featured in Local Exhibit
By Judy Deeter
This story is about the exhibit at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in downtown Troy, which is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. The exhibit is currently open and is curated by Judy Deeter, President of The Troy Historical Society. The exhibit also includes contemporary art work by Masada Warner, former Troy High School art student.
TROY - In August 1920, the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote in federal and state elections.
Events marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification are currently being held throughout America. A local event in commemoration of the anniversary is an exhibit at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, titled “Troy Women: Ahead of the Vote.” This exhibit honors several amazing women who lived in Troy in 1920 and earlier, and tells of the things they did before they had the right to vote.
Work on the exhibit began several months ago when the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center Exhibit Committee approved a proposal to have an exhibit of quilts made for the anniversary by the Miami Valley Art Quilt Network. Four quilts from the organization are part of the exhibit. It was also decided that there would be an exhibit about Troy women involved in suffrage.
As research began to find Troy suffragists, it was learned that though many Troy women were interested in woman’s suffrage, only a few were directly involved as individuals in gaining the right to vote. Most local women learned about and promoted the suffrage cause through Troy women’s organizations.
One of the few Troy women specifically mentioned as a suffragist was former Troy school teacher Mrs. Jean Neal Cosley, wife of Troy businessman Edwin Cosley. Her obituary notes that she “…was active in the early work in woman suffrage….” In 1920, she was president of the newly-formed Troy Republican Women’s Club. At about the time of the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, she gave a talk at a club meeting explaining how the American voting system worked, particularly the election primary. Mrs. Cosley had also been president of the Troy Altrurian, and involved with both the Miami Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.
In January 1917, Troy women organized what was known as the Local Suffrage Association. A couple of weeks later, they sponsored a play at the Edwards School Auditorium titled “How the Vote was Won.”
The play had been given in several cities across the United States. A profit of $110 was made from the play. Half of the money went to the local suffrage group and the rest to a state suffrage organization. Very little information has been found about the Local Suffrage Association after the production of the play.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, several Troy women’s groups helped local ladies enrich their lives both culturally and socially. These were the Troy Altrurian Club, the Miami Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Girls Civic League, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Women’s Christian Association.
Several of these organizations had speakers or reviewed papers related to women’s suffrage. These groups did outstanding work related to community service. The Altrurian Club helped to start the Troy Public Library, the Women’s Christian Association promoted the idea that there should be a special home for orphaned children, which resulted in the Knoop Children’s home, and the Miami Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed an historical marker at the site of the old Dutch Station settlement near Staunton that honored Jacob Knoop, the first white child born in Miami County. (The historical marker has been moved but is still in Staunton.)
In 1894, a law was passed in the Ohio Legislature that allowed for women to run for seats on Ohio school board and vote for the school board members. This was known as “school suffrage.” Mrs. Hannah Gahagan and Mrs. Elmira Green ran for and won seats on the Troy School board. They were some of the first female school board members in the United States. Their story is told in the exhibit.
NOTE: The granddaughter of Mrs. Hannah Gahagan was Hollywood actress and three-term California Congresswomen Helen Gahagan Douglas. In 1950, Congresswoman Douglas ran for the California United States Senate seat against U.S. Congressman from California Richard M. Nixon. During the campaign, Congresswoman Douglas referred to Nixon as “tricky Dick,” a nickname that was used about him the rest of his life.
From the mid-19th century, women tried to stop the manufacture and sale of alcohol in Troy. This included both the sale of beverages and in patent medicines. In 1874, the Troy Central Chapter of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union was founded. Along with working against alcohol, they promoted woman’s suffrage. The organization of women believed that if women could vote, the manufacture and sale of alcohol could be stopped. A portion of the exhibit remembers the women of the WCTU.
The exhibit remembers women of a century ago by honoring them in several categories: suffragists, school suffragists, women of courage, women of the arts and female leaders in Troy. Stories are told of women in each category.
Here are some examples, women are honored for their courage:
AUNTY GREEN - In the 1840s, Aunty Green was a former slave who lived in the basement of an abandoned Troy church. One day, slave catchers came looking for her to take her back to a life of slavery. Even though the slave catchers yelled for her to come out, hit the church door with a whip and shot the lock off the door, Aunty Green eluded the slave catchers and escaped. The story of this African-American woman’s bravery has been handed down through generations in Troy.
MARY KELLY EDWARDS – Mary Kelly Edwards began life as a West Milton Quaker girl. She struggled to get an education to become a teacher. After graduating from the Cooper Academy in Dayton in 1851, she began teaching in Troy in 1853. Here, she met and married Troy School Superintendent William Norton Edwards. After he passed away in 1867, Mrs. Edwards went alone to South Africa. There she helped found the Inanda Seminary. When she arrived, she could not speak the local language, her students were not disciplined, there were food shortages, and an economic recession. She faced-down male Zulu warriors who came to take their daughters out of the school and near the end of her life was blind. Yet she always seemed to overcome the challenges that beset. She died in 1929. There is a monument to her in Riverside Cemetery, but she is buried in South Africa. In May 2001, a bust monument honoring Mrs. Edwards was placed at the school and dedicated by South African President Nelson Mandela.
OLIVE GORDON WILLIAMS – Olive Williams was the daughter of United States Congressman Capt. Elihu Williams of Troy. Following her graduation from Troy High School in 1886, she went to Washington, D.C. to work in her father’s Congressional office. While there she served as a correspondent for Miami County newspapers. At the end of her father’s term in office, he returned to Troy and bought the West Milton newspaper the Buckeye. Olive served as her father’s assistant until he sold the newspaper in 1899. In September 1899, she took a trip around the world with her father’s brother Henry Williams and his family. In 1903, Congressman Williams passed away. Soon after his death, Olive bought the Buckeye. She then built a fine home for she and her mother and a building to publish the newspaper. Unfortunately, Olive was not good with money and spent too much of it. She faced financial ruin and lost both the house and newspaper building. The house was sold at a sheriff’s sale on July 11, 1908. Olive and her mother moved to a smaller house and Olive got job to support she and her mother. After the death of her mother in 1915, Olive decided to become a missionary. She was 47-years-old when she became a missionary. For the next 10 years, she worked in one of the poorest areas of Puerto Rico. She took special interest in four boys. Through her work, the boys were sent to Defiance College in Ohio. The boys all called her “mother”. In 1925, she became seriously ill with a tropical disease and returned to the United States for treatment. She weighed less than 80 pounds when she came back to Troy. She was quickly sent to the Home for Ministers of the Christian Church in Lakemont, New York for further treatment. She She died there in November 1925.
These are only a few of the many stories told through the exhibit.
An exhibit booklet that has been published by the Hayner includes further information about all the women in the exhibit as well as a timeline of important events in Troy women’s history. The booklet is free. Research information about the women came from research materials at the Troy-Miami County Public Library Local History Library and collections of The Troy Historical Society. A scrapbook with pictures of several women in the exhibit was created by Sandy Gurklies of the Local History Library. The scrapbook is included in the exhibit. The display also has two paintings by Troy artist Masada Warner. She created two painting based on the lives of courageous Troy women: Mary Kelly Edwards and Josephine Miller Rogers Slyder.
Also on display in a separate but related exhibit at the Hayner, is a collection of U.S. presidential memorabilia owned by local resident Brian Wilgus. The presidential collection includes campaign badges, pictures and even a musical record.
The Troy-Hayner Cultural center is located at 301 W. Main St., in Troy. It is currently open Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 1-5 p.m. After Sept. 7, hours will be Monday 7-9 p.m., Tuesday–Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m.
These are some photographs from the exhibit at the Hayner and an old photograph used to honor long ago businesswomen in Troy. It was taken at the Miami County Courthouse about 1908.