City, History Society Mark Women’s History Month

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The role men played in the industrial history of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley – men such as  David Tod, George Wick and James and Daniel Heaton who all is well known. But, as the aphorism goes, behind every great man is an even better woman. And with March being Women’s History Month, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society today honored the women who, both in the background and on the forefront, made strides in Youngstown.

“There are women like Olive Arms, a wonderful philanthropist, or even women going to the steel mills as nurses and helping with medical care for the workers,” said Traci Manning, curator of education for the society. “There were women in the kitchens and offices, too. So while it seems like a male-driven, blue-collar society, there were lots of women supporting those roles.”

When she died, Arms donated her home, known as Greystone, to the society and it’s now used as the Arms Family Museum.

Manning spoke this morning before a gathering of 37 leading women in the community who were invited to the Tyler History Center by Mayor John McNally to commemorate the national observance of Women’s History Month.

From the beginning, Youngstown had notable and pioneering women, Manning related, including Jane Shehy and Catherine Daugherty Hillman who settled the city when it was “nothing but the Mahoning River, some salt deposits and springs.”

In 1850, on the heels of the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, where women gathered to discuss the social issues that affected them, the Women’s Rights Convention was held nearby in Salem. The two-day convention featured female speakers exclusively.

“What makes it different [from Seneca Falls] is that it’s run by women and women were the only ones speaking. That set the tone for the entire region in the women’s rights movement,” Manning said. “This was a wonderfully forward-thinking area.”

Other women, such as Dora Schwebel, who during the Great Depression took over the baking company she and her husband started after he died, Lavenia Simpson-Webster, the first African-American graduate of The Rayen School, Mary Haddow, who worked to integrate her classrooms in the 1920s, and Lucy Buechner, who donated money to Youngstown State University and started the Buechner School for Girls.

Manning also acknowledged area organizations, such as the women-led Junior Achievement and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, founded by the Humility of Mary Sisters.

McNally echoed Manning’s comments in the proclamation he read aloud.

“The city of Youngstown has a long-standing history of dedicated women serving the community as volunteers, worker sand business owners. Women of every race, class and ethnic background have made historic contributions to the growth and strength of our city in countless reported and unreported ways,” he said in the proclamation.

The “even better” women behind him, McNally said, included his wife, two daughters and mother.

“My mother was a great role model growing up. She was what you’d call a traditional housewife, so she cooked, cleaned, raised four kids and did all the things that makes being a mom a job with a lot of compassion,” he said.

While having nationwide recognition of what women have accomplished, the history society’s Manning said, it’s good to look at the history on a smaller scale as well.

“This is a month celebrated across the nation, but proclamations like this in smaller cities such as Youngstown sets the tone a bit differently to celebrate our women and our history in the backdrop of national history,” Manning said.

Every woman at the event introduced themselves to the audience, some offering comments on the caliber of women in the room and what they went through to reach their accomplishments.

Jan Strasfeld, executive director of the Youngstown Foundation, said the organization she oversees was “a good ol’ boys network” for a long time.

“I sometimes wonder if some of the past members are rolling over in their grave with a woman running it,” she said, noting that her grandmother, who founded the Interfaith Tea event over 80 years ago — an event still held every year, is her greatest inspiration.

Cris Young, vice president of Hudson Fastener and a member of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce board, approached McNally about issuing the proclamation. While not from Youngstown, she noted the quality of women in the Valley.

“In my time here, I’ve found that there are a lot of strong women in the area who do great things. That was my premise for going to Mayor McNally and asking him to recognize women in this special month,” she said. “To the old boys’ networks that are still out there, I have this to say: watch out.”

Added Shirley Christian, a judge on the Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas, “The people in this room will create the history that will be talked about in 30 years when they do this event again.”

Cheryl Staib Lewis, campaign director for the history society, said women of the past have left a strong legacy but “You ladies are blazing the path in what you’re doing. I commend all of you.”

Pictured: This morning’s event at the Tyler History Center downtown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.