Harriet Beckwith Wilson Ayers, 1890-1978

Harriet Wilson Ayers was known for her work in both the business and social/civic worlds of Akron, Ohio.

Harriet Beckwith was born in Akron in 1890 and attended Henry School. After graduating from Central High School, she spent two years at the Akron Normal School. She then taught kindergarten for a year at Fraunfelter School. In 1911, she married Ralph Wilson, who was the president of the Wilson Lumber Company, which later became the Portage Lumber Company.

They had one daughter, Nancy, and two sons, Ralph and Robert. They were members of the First Baptist Church.

Upon her husband’s death in 1932, she assumed the responsibility of running the lumber company. She continued to do so until 1954. That year, she turned the company over to her son so she could start a new career as an insurance underwriter. She also remarried, to Allan F. Ayers, who had one son, Allan Jr.

Not only was Wilson running the lumber company, but she also spent some time working for the Charles Slusser Insurance Company and the Eagle Printing Company. In 1956, she was named Woman of Achievement, an award given to a business or professional woman who is outstanding in both the community and in public service fields.

According to the Beacon Journal, “despite the 15 years she has spent in business, doing a job that would require the best efforts of a man, Harriet is just as fond as feminine activities as she ever was.” This included maintaining ties to the many organizations she helped to found.

She was a charter member of the Women’s City Club, the Akron Art Institute and the Manuscript Club. She was the founder of the Zonta International Women’s Service Group, the Inter-Club Council of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and the Business Woman’s Current Events Club. Wilson also adopted leadership roles in many of those organizations. She was the first chairman, sponsor, organizer and honorary president of the City Club’s Little Theater Section, a president and member of the board of directors of the City Club, honorary and three-year president of the Business Women’s Current Events Club, secretary and organizer of the Akron Symphony Orchestra and first secretary of the Women’s Section of the National Aeronautics Association. She was a secretary of the Volunteer Committee for the Preservation of Stan Hywet, a vice president of the Home and School League, a member of the board of the Children’s Concert Society, and a member of the board of directors of the International Center. She was also involved in the Men’s City Club, through her business relations, and a member of the Women’s Committee of the Greater Akron Music Association.

As a member of the First Baptist Church, she was president of the Young Ladies Circle. She later changed churches and became an active member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

The Beacon Journal article concluded, “Mrs. Harriet Beckwith Wilson offers further proof – not that any is needed – that a woman can successfully take a man’s place in the business world.” She was a “gracious woman,” with an “infectious laugh…who hates snobbery and has none of it in her makeup.”

She continued her involvement in Akron organizations up until her July 4, 1978 death.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Stephanie Devers

Helen Stocking Waterhouse, 1892-1965

Helen Stocking Waterhouse was the “most controversial newspaperwoman in Akron history,” Beacon JournalManaging Editor Murray Powers wrote. Waterhouse could be abrasive and inaccurate but she also had great sources, enormous energy and enthusiasm and an eye for a story, he observed. Over her almost 40 years with the Beacon Journal, she wrote many front page stories.

She was born Helen Stocking on May 31, 1892 in Watertown, Mass. She was educated in the Watertown schools and then went on to Boston Normal School and Fenway School of Illustration. She started her newspaper career in Massachusetts for the Springfield Union.

She moved to Akron with her husband, Ralph, and two children in the mid 1920s. Ralph Waterhouse would go on to be superintendent of Akron schools from 1934 to 1942. He would also divorce his journalist wife in 1940 on the grounds of neglect.

In Akron, Waterhouse started her journalism career as a freelance writer for the Beacon Journal in the mid 1920s. Freelance writers are paid by the story. By 1928, Waterhouse was selling so many stories to the Beacon,she was making more than many staff reporters. John S. Knight, publisher of the newspaper, hired Waterhouse full-time as a way to save money.

It turned out to be great timing because Waterhouse was going to cover some of the most important stories of the 1930s. An aviation enthusiast (Waterhouse was the first woman aviation writer in the nation), she was friends with most of the early pilots in the nation – Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post and Col. Charles Lindbergh. It was her connection with Lindbergh that probably explained why the Beacon sent Waterhouse to cover the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, accused of kidnapping and killing the aviator’s son. In 1935, she was competing with the likes of reporting legends Walter Winchell, Lowell Thomas and Dorothy Kilgallen. But she scooped them all when she got the only interview with the accused kidnapper. Winchell didn’t care for Waterhouse, dismissing her as the “Akron disaster.” Waterhouse also covered the Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst, N.Y., in 1937.

But her stories in those early days didn’t just involve aviation. She interviewed some of the most important personalities of the day, including first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. During World War II, she was best known for her profiles of the Akron boys killed in action.

After the war, she concentrated on international reporting from France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. It was her time in Yugoslavia that won her two invited audiences with Pope Pius XII at the Vatican. She also covered stories in Israel, Korea, Japan and Russia. She covered the Indo-China war in 1954 and went to Castro’s Cuba in 1960.

But it was the stories that she wrote about Akron and its residents that made her a favorite with Beacon readers. She was the “queen bee” of the Soap Box Derby. She wrote stories about tragedies and human triumphs.

Waterhouse was a member of the National Aviation Writers Association and the Overseas Press Club. She founded the Ohio Press Women’s Association.

She won many awards during her long career. In 1940, 1941 and 1943, she won TWA’s award for best newspaper work in aviation. She won 15 awards from the National Press Women’s organization. That group named her Press Woman of Achievement in 1957 and 1958 and Woman of the Year in 1963.

In 1965, Waterhouse herself became front page news. On her way to a story, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while driving on West Exchange Street in Akron. Her car slammed into a light pole and Waterhouse died.

Her funeral was packed with readers, editors, reporters and sources (including Dr. Sam Sheppard, who had been convicted of killing his wife in Bay Village). The Beacon‘s publisher, editor, managing editor, copy editor, editorial page editor and sports editor served as pall bearers.

Waterhouse is buried in Watertown, Mass.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Henrietta Buckler Seiberling, 1888-1979

When Alcoholics Anonymous wanted to mark its birthplace, it looked to the gatehouse of Stan Hywet in Akron. It was there that the two best-known characters in the Alcoholics Anonymous movement — Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson — first met. But there was another person present; Henrietta Buckler Seiberling arranged the meeting, helped nurture the early organization and ever reminded the AA leaders of the need for a strong spiritual under pining for an alcoholic’s recovery.

Seiberling was satisfied to work in the background. The social customs of the day, her background as well as the background of her husband, explained why she opted to play such a role.

Henrietta Buckler was born in Lawrenceburg, Ky., on March 18, 1888. She was reared in Texas where her father, Julius Augustus Buckler, was a judge of the Common Pleas Court. She was well educated, graduating from Vassar College, when she was only 15. She majored in music, ideal for the well-bred lady of the day. In 1917, she married John Fredrick Seiberling, eldest son of Akron industrialist F. A. Seiberling.

The Seiberlings had made their fortune — and lost it — and gained it back in Akron’s rubber industry. By 1917, the Seiberlings had already earned their place in Akron society. Matriarch of the clan, Gertrude Seiberling, was already one of the leaders in the city’s cultural and musical scene. John Fredrick and Henrietta moved to Akron after their marriage.

None of the Seiberling did as well financially as their parents. John Fredrick was no exception. He worked for his father’s company. It was the financial and family problems that Henrietta faced in the early 1930s that eventually led to her involvement in the creation of the AA.

Seiberling was not an alcoholic; she was, however, involved with the Oxford Movement, an evangelical fellowship of intellectuals who believed in the responsibility of Christians to solve social problems. Seiberling helped organize the group’s “alcoholic squad” in Akron.

Dr. Bob Smith and his wife came into the Akron Oxford Group. A physician, Smith was an alcoholic. Aware of his drinking problem, Seiberling invited the Smiths over for a small meeting of the Oxford Group. Members shared their deepest secrets and then Smith admitted for the first time that he was a “secret drinker and I can’t stop.” The group then prayed together.

The Oxford Movement was not peculiar to Akron. It had groups in many cities throughout the United States and Europe. The Oxford Movement was also a kind of network. Members often contacted others in other cities. It was through this network that Seiberling met Bill Wilson, a stockbroker from New York in Akron on business. Wilson was also a recovering alcoholic. Wilson told Seiberling that he had had a religious experience and found the strength to stop drinking.

Seiberling quickly arranged a meeting between Wilson and Smith. The two worked together to support each other as they dealt with alcoholism. Working with Seiberling, they also came up with many of the tenets that still mark Alcoholics Anonymous — never to drink again, to lead a spiritual life and to share their experiences with others. Initially working through Akron’s Oxford Group, Alcoholics Anonymous soon struck out on its own, meeting at the old King School. Bill Wilson acted as the group’s promoter; “Dr. Bob” was the “homeyness” that the alcoholics needed at the beginning, Seiberling recalled.

Seiberling added the religious dimension that both Dr. Bob and Wilson resisted initially. The two thought that this might turn the alcoholics away. To which, Seiberling replied,“Well, we’re not out to please the alcoholics. They have been pleasing themselves all these years. We are out to please God. And if you don’t talk about what God does and your faith, and your guidance, then might as well be the Rotary Club or something like that. Because God is your only source of Power.”

While Seiberling nurtured the AA movement, she saw her marriage degenerate. Eventually, she and her husband separated and she moved to New York in 1952. She died there in 1979. She was survived by three children — Mrs. George Huhn; Dorothy Seiberling, art editor for the old Lifemagazine; and Rep. John Seiberling, congressman from the Akron area.

After her death, her son publicized his mother’s involvement with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, now a worldwide organization helping millions every year.

Lower photo shows Gate House at Stan Hywet Hall. Photos courtesy of Alcoholics Anonymous.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Hazel Steiner Polsky, 1882-1964

Hazel Steiner Polsky, wife of the owner of one of the largest retail stores in Akron, Ohio, left her own mark on the city through her civic and benevolent activities.

Hazel Steiner was born in Sterling, Ohio, in 1882, the daughter of Elizabeth and Noah R. Steiner. She was educated in a convent school near Cincinnati. In 1899, she and her family moved to Akron. Her father, a real estate developer, was responsible for the development of much of the Kenmore (Ohio) area.

She met Bert A. Polsky, son of an Akron retailer, at a fraternity party and they soon married.

Hazel Polsky never worked outside the home. Both she and her husband, who ran the department store that carried his name, were active in civic organizations. She, especially, got involved with the hospitals in the city. Polsky served as president of the Women’s Auxiliary and a board member of Akron City Hospital (now Summa Health System). She also was active in the Mary Day Nursery and Children’s Hospital, serving as vice president. She was also associated with Women’s City Club, the Art and History Club as well as the Akron section of the National Council of Jewish Women. She attended Temple Israel.

At her death in October 1964, the Beacon Journalremembered her as a “woman whose grace of manner, whose devotion to husband and children and whose service to the community made her beloved by all who had the good fortune to know her.”

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Bertha V. Moore, 1896-1980

Bertha V. Moore started the Tea Time Study Club to increase the political leverage of African Americans in the city. She named the club after the Boston Tea Party because, she emphasized, “we were revolutionaries” – revolutionaries who knew how to work the system.

Tea Time members were busiest during the political campaigns. They tried to get local candidates to support the group’s aims – improved accommodations and job opportunities for African Americans. The club sponsored forums, inviting candidates to appear and learn about the community’s concerns. It also supervised the city’s Emancipation Day Program, which celebrated President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves.

Moore came up from the South in 1922. She went to school in segregated Alabama and received her teaching degree from the historically Black Selma University, Selma, Ala. Prior to moving to Akron, Moore taught in the segregated schools of the Alabama.

In 1922, the Akron Public Schools had no African-American teachers. Years would pass before any were hired. Moore began teaching adults how to read and write through the adult literacy program of the Works Projects Administration in the early 1930s.

Photo courtesy of the Women’s History Project of the Akron Area.

–Kathleen L. Endres

 

Ruth McKenney, 1911-1972

Ruth McKenney, one-time Akron Beacon Journal reporter, is best known for her best-selling book, My Sister Eileen. Old-time Akronites, however, remember her for herIndustrial Valley, a book that described the struggle between industrialists and workers in Akron during the 1930s.

Born in Michawaka, Ind., McKenney grew up in East Cleveland, graduating from Shaw High School. At age 14, while working as a printer’s devil, she got her first union card as a member of the International Typographical Union. From there, she was off to Ohio State University. She majored in Journalism and worked part time for theColumbus Citizen and International News Service but she never graduated from college. Instead, she lined up a job with the Beacon Journal. Actually, it was OSU classmate Earl Wilson who suggested the plan.

McKenney was a popular writer at the Beacon Journal. She and Akron just meshed. There was something about the city and its residents she understood. A Beacon Journalreporter called it a “deep sympathy for those she considered downtrodden.”

The readers loved her and her stories – and honors followed. In both 1933 and 1934, the Ohio Newspaper Women’s Association (ONWA) called her the best in the state. As one colleague recalled, “Ruth, whose stories have brought wayward and wandering husbands back to their wives, saved poor children’s dogs from death in the dog pound, and caused food and dollars to find their way into charity baskets…” was a fine writer.

In 1934, however, she walked away from the Beacon to join the staff of the Newark Ledger in New Jersey. But that didn’t last long. McKenney was about to move to New York City and start a new phase of her career.

In New York City, McKenney worked on her book on the union strife in Akron and sold humorous sketches about the adventures of her sister Eileen to the New Yorkermagazine. In 1938, those stories were woven into the tremendously popular book, My Sister Eileen. Subsequently, the book was turned into a Broadway play.

In 1939 Industrial Valley came out to an outcry from Akron community leaders. Akron evangelist Bill Denton urged the Chamber of Commerce to file suit in the federal court, saying the book was full of “profanity, slander and communistic tendencies.” That same year, the book won an honorable mention in the non-fiction category at the American Writer’s Congress.

McKenney’s other books came in quick succession: The McKenney’s Carry On (1940); Jake Home (1943); The Loud Red Patrick (1947); Love Story (1950); Here’s England; a Highly Informal Guide (with husband Richard Branstein) (1951); All About Eileen (1952); Far, Far From Home (1954) and Mirage (1956).

While achieving tremendous professional success, McKenney experienced a personal life of tragedy. She married Richard Bransten, who wrote under the pen name Bruce Minton, in 1938. Both became Communists. They were ousted from the Communist Party in 1946. The Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker, accused the couple of “conducting a factional struggle against the line of the party and its national leadership.” Just before “My Sister Eileen” opened on Broadway, Ruth’s sister was killed in an automobile accident. Bransten committed suicide in London in 1965.

McKenney moved back to New York City after that. She died there on July 27, 1972. She left a son and daughter and a body of literature and journalism behind.

 

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Mabel Cramer Kruse, 1887-1973

Mabel Cramer Kruse made history in Akron in 1939 when she became the city’s first policewoman under Civil Service. She remained on the force until 1952.

Mabel Cramer was born in New Lyme, Ohio. At first, she thought she wanted to be a nurse and worked at Cleveland’s Lakeside Hospital. In 1908, she married Arthur D. Kruse, a violin teacher, and she temporarily “retired” from working outside the home. However, her husband’s health failed and she needed to look for outside employment.

Her first job was as a relief matron at the city workhouse. Nonetheless, she continued her volunteer work. She served as president of the Henry School PTA; in 1935, she was elected president of Ohio Women’s Republican Club.

It was that later office that positioned her for a spot on the police department. In 1936 the Akron Republican Executive Committee asked her if she would like to be a policewoman. She said yes and served for two years as a police officer. Then the Civil Service system came in. In 1939, she was officially appointed a policewoman under Police Chief Frank Boss.

Over her 16 years on the force, Kruse was assigned to the vice unit and did general police work. At the time of her retirement, she was a detective. Under her vice assignment, she patrolled night spots in search of wayward youth. She attributed juvenile delinquency to “laxity” in the home. As she told the Beacon Journal, “Most of the children I find in these places are here for the same reason. They’re seeking diversion from constant unhappiness at home.”

By 1941, she was given the responsibility of investigations concerning women and girls. That was no easy task. More than once she had to dodge swings as she accompanied women prisoners to court. Nonetheless, Kruse seldom carried a gun.

Kruse was only 51 when she turned in her badge. She reported that 16 years on the force was enough.

Kruse died in 1973. Her obituary reported that she had been a member of the First Methodist Church, Fraternal Order of Police, the Republican Club and an honorary member of the Community Welfare Association. She had four sons.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Salaria Kea O’Reilly, 1917-1990

Salaria Kea O’Reilly fought many battles in her life. Growing up in Akron in the 1920s, she faced racial discrimination. In the 1930s and 1940s, as a nurse, she fought the powers of Fascism.

Salaria Kea came to Akron with her mother and two brothers when she was just six months old. Her father was dead.

If the Keas thought that Akron would be an ideal living environment, they were soon proved wrong. Salaria Kea faced discrimination every day. When she wanted to learn to swim, she had to go to Lorain to learn; African Americans were not allowed to swim in Akron pools. Kea wasn’t allowed to play basketball at the high school she attended, Central, so she transferred to West where African Americans could participate in athletics.

While still at West, she worked in the office of Dr. Bedford Riddle, a successful African-American physician in the city. It was there she committed to a career in medicine.

Kea went to the Harlem Hospital Training School in New York City to become a nurse. While there, she came into contact with a politically active African-American community. In 1935 when Fascist Italy invaded Ethopia, these leaders organized a United Aid for Ethopia Committee to send much needed food and medical supplies to that country. Kea, a nurse at Harlem Hospital, initiated a fund-raising drive that sent a 75-bed hospital to Ethopia.

In 1936 when General Francisco Franco, supported by the Nazis in Germany, moved to overthrow the Spanish Republic, some Americans protested. A few politically concerned doctors in New York City organized the American Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy to raise funds to send medical supplies and personnel to Spain. The fundraising was easy. It was far more difficult to recruit the medical personnel to go to Spain.

At about this time, Kea offered her services to the Red Cross to help flood victims in Ohio, but the Red Cross declined the offer. Kea remembered, “the color of my skin could make more trouble than I’d be worth for them” (Peter Carroll, Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, p. 69). When a friend heard that story, she suggested that Kea go to Spain instead; Kea followed that suggestion. She was the only African-American woman to join Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a group of young American volunteers who went to Spain to work for the Republic.

While in Spain, she met American poet Langston Hughes who described her as a “slender chocolate-colored girl,” who worked as a nurse in the American Hospital under very primitive conditions. The plumbing often did not work in the hospital and she and the other nurses had to use non-conventional methods to provide the medical care the patients needed. Hughes reported that a physican ordered that a wounded soldier be warmed by using hot-water bags. But there was no hot water to be had and the diluted kerosene would not light. Kea went to the kitchen and filled the water bags with hot soup and kept the wounded soldier alive (Langston Hughes, I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey, pp. 380-382).

While in Spain, Kea was captured by Franco’s forces. In a 1979 interview with the Beacon Journal, Kea remembered, “Every morning at 4 a.m., the Germans with swastikas would come down and get me” and bring her above ground so she could witness the massacre of civilians. Seven weeks later, Kea escaped, returning to the American Medical Unit. She had to return to the United States, however, when she was wounded while working in a field hospital.

During World War II, Kea volunteered to work as a nurse with the U.S. Army in Europe. After the war, she and her Irish husband John P. O’Reilly lived in New York before returning to Akron in the mid-1970s. Salaria Kea O’Reilly died in May 1990.

Photo courtesy of Women’s History Project of the Akron Area.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Marion Huber, 1893-1974

During the Depression, Marion Huber led the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). She was a good example for the members to follow. Never married, Huber had a career and, at the same time, she carried on her civic obligations.

Born in Akron in 1893, Huber worked as a stenographer.

She spent her free time with the women’s clubs and organizations of Akron. In this, she was following the lead of her mother Rachel. Both were members of the Women’s Council of Summit County.

Huber dedicated most of her civic activities to children and young women. She served as superintendent of Trinity Lutheran Church’s elementary department and served as president of the Young Women’s Missionary Society. But Huber was best known because of her involvement with the Young Women’s Christian Association. She served as president of the group for two terms.

Huber died in Akron in 1974 at the age of 81.

–Jennifer Petric

Anna Frederica Heise O’Neil, 1887 – 1970

Anna Frederica Heise O’Neil, champion of women’s issues in the workplace and for the poor, left a political legacy for Ohio women that few have matched.

Born in Cumberland, Md., O’Neil moved to Summit County, Ohio, in 1915. O’Neil received her public education at Coolville, Ohio. She attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music briefly.

O’Neil met and married her husband, Dennis (Mike), and pursued the work of a milliner in Akron for a number of years. Her husband worked for Ohio Edison for 43 years and Mrs. O’Neil become interested in politics when her husband served on the City Council for Kenmore and then ran for mayor of that community.

O’Neil began her career in politics in 1932, when she was selected to run for the Ohio House of Representatives by the Women’s Democratic Club of Summit County. Initially refusing to run, she reconsidered but did not tell her husband. When he read about it in the local newspaper the next morning, his only comment was that she would never be elected. Elected the following year, she was the only woman to serve 10 terms as a state legislator.

While in the state legislature, O’Neil was the first woman to serve as chairman of the House Finance Committee, a position she held for 12 years. She co-authored a bill to match state funds for the needy during the Depression. Under her direction, the first minimum wage bill was introduced for women in industry.

O’Neil was appointed by the governor to the Ohio Children and Youth Commission in 1949, and represented the state at a national youth conference in 1950. She was the chair of the Rehabilitation Committee of the Ohio Postwar Program Commission that same year. The RCOPPC was an organization that dealt with housing and urban development.

A natural leader, O’Neil was elected state president of the National Order of Women Legislators in 1953. The following year O’Neil retired from the General Assembly because of health problems resulting from a car accident.

Over the years, O’Neil served as president of many organizations. These include the Women’s Democratic Club of Akron, Kenmore Senior Citizens and the Krumroy Senior Citizens.

Using her knowledge of the political process, O’Neil also played an integral part in the Akron and Summit County Federation of Women’s Club, the Board of Legislators of Akron and Summit County, the Akron Area Citizen’s Committee on Aging, the G.A.R., and the Buckley Post of the Women’s Relief Corps.

An avid gardener, O’Neil enjoyed being an active member of the Town and Country Garden Club and the Garden Forum of Greater Akron. She also attended Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Akron and was a member of the Altar and Rosary Society.

O’Neil was well respected by everyone who knew her. In an article dated March 1, 1954, the Beacon Journal says, “while [we] have not always agreed with Mrs. O’Neil on specific issues, we have respected her conscientious devotion to her duties. She has set a splendid example as a public servant which we hope will be followed by other citizens, both women and men.”

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Penny Fox