By Elaine Seliskar
At the end of the 1700s and into the 1800s the roles of women were vastly different from life in the 21st Century. The first family of settlers moved to Huntsburg in 1808. Prior to that, in 1777, the original 13 states passed laws which prohibited women from voting.
In 1850 the first National Women’s Rights Convention was held in Massachusetts, and in 1869 women from the American Woman Suffrage Association sought to gain voting rights for women through amendments to the individual state constitutions. The Women’s Suffrage movement slowly gained momentum and was accompanied by many organized protests and arrests throughout the United States for many decades. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified which finally granted women the right to vote.
Looking back, it’s no wonder that we do not see names of the women residents of Huntsburg among the listings of town officials or other such important groups, since women basically had no legal rights to hold any position of importance. The daily life of the people in the little town of Huntsburg was solely due to the leadership and hard work of the men. Right? Not exactly.
The town would not have survived without the courage, dedication and endurance of those women who packed up everything they owned and headed into the unknown territory of the Western Reserve. The “west” held nothing but adversity, harsh conditions and great risk for all who chose to come here, especially the women. But they not only survived, they flourished.
While the men, of necessity, did all of the wearisome and back-breaking work such as clearing the land, building a homestead, and plowing the fields, it was left to the women to provide everything else her family needed. While the men were planning how to run their town, the women were giving birth to countless babies, some of whom died at birth or shortly after. Women helped women wherever they were needed, but each woman had her own home and family to feed and clothe, and this meant long days of tireless work gardening, spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, cooking, baking, raising and feeding their children, and countless other chores. The women of Huntsburg provided all of these necessities of daily life including taking care of those men, women and children who were hurt or sick, as there were no doctors in those early years.
By 1812, there were six families in town with children and a small log house was built to serve as the first of many one-room schoolhouses. The first teacher was a woman by the name of Lucinda Walden. Miss Walden was followed by a man, and the third teacher was Anna Lyman. Later teachers were Sarah Dickinson, Lucinda Bridgman, Laura Waters and others whose names are lost to time. Later, in the 1800s, we find teaching certificates granted to Anna M. Bowyer, Carrie M. Tucker and Emma Noble, all of Huntsburg. Prior to the establishment of schools, the children’s education and instruction in reading and writing would have been left to the mothers. Having been raised in New England where children had schools, the early settlers of Huntsburg knew that education was an important element in the lives of their children if they were to succeed in life.
As the number of inhabitants began to increase, the need for churches and schools were top priorities. Although the preaching and organization of their church was presided over by the men, the women of Huntsburg began to take an active role in some church affairs. Early accounts of church meetings listed both men and women, although the women generally held no position of importance within the church. However, in the 1800s we see that for many years Mrs. Lucy Strong taught the young people’s class in the Huntsburg Congregational Church.
In 1817 a group of early settlers came together and formed a corporation listed in the Geauga County Archives where we find the constitution of the Huntsburg Library Association. All of the 22 framers of this Association were men except for Harriet Pomeroy, whose name is listed as the only woman – a rarity for this time period.
The predecessor of the current Geauga County Fair was the Geauga County Agricultural Society formed in 1822, and the officers and members were, of course, men. They thought it prudent to have something in which women could also be included, thinking perhaps that if the women came to the fair, the men would also look forward to attending and participating in this county-wide event. So, along with prizes for farm animals, women could also enter some of their handiwork to be judged and awarded prizes. The fair in 1823 shows that winners in the women’s categories were: Mrs. Sophia Howe, Mrs. Sarah French, Mrs. Catharine Kerr, Mrs. Alice Beardsley, Miss Caroline Baldwin and Miss Lucy Baldwin. Women were at least recognized for their contributions to life on the Ohio frontier.
Mrs. Lucy Strong (1834-1928)taught the young people’s class in the Huntsburg Congregational Church. (MP photo/courtesy Huntsburg Historical Society)
Unlike all other public offices of the time, the United States Post Office surprisingly thought more highly of women assuming a role of public accountability. The Postmasters appointed during the 1800s at the Huntsburg Post Office included a few women: Mrs. Jennette S. Wright, January 1876; Susie M. Kile, July 1893; and Cora B. Moss, August 1899. Women were frequently appointed postmasters of small rural post offices, with their numbers increasing in the last quarter of the 1800s.
The contributions made by the early women settlers of Huntsburg were many, although their individual names do not appear in early town documents and registers. They may not have had the right to vote, to hold public office or serve in any other official capacity, but life on the frontier would not have fared well without them. The daily lives of these women, their accomplishments, their interaction with others and their determination to persevere is evident in the generations that followed. They provided to their families what was needed and supported their churches and schools. In general, they helped set the tone for the continuation of a successful life in the growing township of Huntsburg.
In this 100th anniversary year of women finally being given the right to vote, we salute all those early pioneer women of Huntsburg and other small towns for their courage, dedication, perseverance and hard work.