Book Review: Ohio Is My Dwelling Place

Ohio Is My Dwelling Place: Schoolgirl Embroideries, 1800-1850.  By Sue Studebaker. With a foreword by Kimberly Smith Ivey.  (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002.  xxvi, 310 pp.  Cloth, $70.00, ISBN 0-8214-1452-6.  Paper, $34.95, ISBN 0-8214-1453-4.)

In 1777, a Continental Army officer complimented Philadelphian Sarah Wister on her “needle wisdom.” The young Miss Wister’s sampler, hanging in the parlor of the family’s Germantown home, served as the sole evidence of this trait. One necessarily wonders how much wisdom, a term so often applied to the learned, the experienced, or the elderly, may have been possessed by a sixteen-year-old Quaker girl. We do know that Sally (as she was called by family and friends) attended Anthony Benezet’s school, British America’s first public school for women. There Sally learned the basics of education, but also learned the “higher branches” of French and Latin. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century American girls’ school curricula did approach that of boys; the differences, though, charted gender roles and class expectations. Sally Wister still learned needlework as she parsed French, as did other young girls of the time. In 1777, Alice Lee Shippen wrote to her daughter Nancy (who attended a Trenton, New Jersey, boarding school) of her expectations of these “ornamental branches” of a young lady’s education:

Tell me how you improve in your work. Needle work is a most important branch of a female education, & tell me how you have improved in holding your head & sholders, in making a curtsy, in going out or coming into a room, in giving & receiving, holding your knive & fork, walking and seting. These things contribute so much to a good appearance that they are of great consequence.

From the mid eighteenth century through the Civil War, wisdom meant to Americans the ability to judge rightly in matters relating to life and conduct. Wisdom could also define learning or erudition, or a type of knowledge, as well as the spiritual life attained through biblical study. Young ladies’ use of needle, thread, and other tools with which to create alphabets, verses, images, and symbols, was not the necessary skill of a tailor. A genteel girl’s needlework signaled to all the acquisition of an education and a specific set of social graces. In Sally Wister’s case, as in those of many other American girls in this era, “needle wisdom” embodied in a sampler symbolized the pursuit of refinement, the acquisition of a specific skill and, especially after the American Revolution, more cosmopolitan knowledge, and even a spiritual nature deemed peculiar to women.[1. Sally Wister’s “needle wisdom” found in Kathryn Zabelle Derounian, ed. and intro., The Journal and Occasional Writings of Sarah Wister (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; London and Toronto: Associated Universities Press, 1987), 61;  (Anne Home Shippen Livingston), Nancy Shippen Her Journal Book, ed. Ethel Armes (Philadelphia, 1935; rpt. New York, 1968), 39-40, quoted in Davida Tenenbaum Deutsch, “The polite lady:  portraits of American schoolgirls and their accomplishments, 1725-1830,” The Magazine Antiques 135 (March 1989): 742-753, at 744-45.] Continue reading Book Review: Ohio Is My Dwelling Place

Book Review: Ohio States

Ohio States: A Twentieth-Century Midwestern, by Jeffrey Hammond. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2002. pp. X, 195. $14.95

It may seem a bit out of place for a journal of history to review what is essentially a literary work, but a strict distinction between “literary” and “historical” can be a false dichotomy when discussing worthwhile reading on Ohio.  Books such as John Baskin’s New Burlington: The Life and Death of an American Village and Terry Ryan’s The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio have demonstrated that compelling accounts of late 20th-century Ohio are as likely to come from professional journalists and writers as they are from professional historians.  Jeffrey Hammond’s Ohio States–a collection of charming and thoughtful essays on growing up in Findlay, Ohio in the 1950s and 1960s–is an important entry into this admittedly small genre.  Deceptively modest and straightforward in approach, this extremely well-written work touches on issues of religion, politics, race, gender, and even philosophy en route to a deeper understanding of people, life, and what it means to be an Ohioan. Continue reading Book Review: Ohio States

Book Review: The Weary Boys

The Weary Boys: Colonel J. Warren Keifer and the 110th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  By Thomas E. Pope. (Kent: The Kent State University Press, 2002.  183 pp.  Softcover, $16.00, ISBN 0-87338-729-5.)

The Civil War is one of the most written about events in American History.  Books detailing every aspect of the war find an eager audience made up not only of scholars but also of history buffs.  Studies of battles and leaders are especially popular with the general reader, and of this genre Thomas Pope’s The Weary Boys: Colonel J. Warren Keifer and the 110th Ohio Volunteer Infantry is one such example. Continue reading Book Review: The Weary Boys

Book Review: A History of Jonathan Alder

A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians. Ed. by Larry Nelson. (Akron: University of Akron Press, 2002. ix, 222 pp. Cloth, $34.95, ISBN 1-884836-80-1. Paper, $14.95, 1-884836-98-4.)

In 1795, Jonathan Alder settled in today’s central Ohio. Shortly thereafter, other settlers began to move into the area; and within a decade the small community of Darby, composed of both white settlers and Indians, had been formed.  Alder played a unique role in this young settlement.  He acted as an interpreter and intermediary between the two races and helped them co-exist under unusually peaceful terms. “Here,” Alder rejoiced, he “could lie down at night without fear . . . and [he] could rise up in the morning and shake hands with the white man and the Indians, all in perfect peace and safety” (119).  The unusual, yet true story of this Ohio settler is told in autobiographical format in A History of Jonathan Alder: His Captivity and Life with the Indians (2002), edited by Larry Nelson, chief administrator at Fort Meigs State Memorial in Perrysburg, Ohio and adjunct professor of history at Firelands College of Bowling Green State University. The narrative recounts half a century of Alder’s experiences, from his 1782 capture by Indians at the age of nine, to the early 1830’s when the United States federal government removed the Indians with whom Alder had lived to the territory west of the Mississippi River.

Alder’s story provides a rare glimpse into the Indian experience and frontier life in Ohio in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s at a time when the native nations of the region were experiencing the growing pressures of Anglo-American settlement. Continue reading Book Review: A History of Jonathan Alder

The Sutler Secret of Erhard Steinbacher

By: Robert C. Reszler

Oatmeal is a staple on tables across America, and Quaker Oats is one of the most recognized brand names in the world. These, however, are relatively recent phenomena. One hundred forty-five years ago, most Americans were unfamiliar with oatmeal as a foodstuff, yet in a matter of only fifteen years it had become integral part of the American cuisine. How this dish went from relatively unknown to standard fare in just a few years is a legitimate, yet perplexing question. Historians have traced the oatmeal industry (and its most famous brand) to Akron, Ohio in the 1860s, but the particulars of its origins and phenomenal growth have never been explained satisfactorily. Local Akron, Ohio, legend states that Ferdinand Schumacher, “Oatmeal King” and founder of Quaker Oats, started his business empire with the help of close friend Erhard Steinbacher. Steinbacher had supposedly managed to get Schumacher a one hundred barrel trial order to supply Union Army troops during the Civil War.[1. Karl M. Grismer, Akron & Summit County (Akron: Summit County Historical Society, 1952), In this historiography, Grismer provided a standard, traditional account of Ferdinand Schumacher’s start in the oatmeal business which has been widely accepted in Akron, Ohio lore. “(Ferdinand Schumacher) was one of the first persons in Akron to prosper because of the Civil War…. in 1861 the thrifty Schumacher got a tremendous break. He got it through one of his best friends, a fellow German who had also fled from oppression in his fatherland. He was Erhard Steinbacher, grocer and druggist. Becoming an ardent Republican, Steinbacher had many influential friends in the party and when the Civil War started was authorized by the quartermaster general to purchase supplies for the army in this territory. He placed huge orders for flour with local mills and before the war was many months old, all were running at peak capacity. In making his purchases, Steinbacher did not forget his good friend Schumacher. He insisted that the army buy oatmeal to serve the soldiers for breakfast – it was much tastier and more nourishing than any other cereal which could be obtained, infinitely better than cornmeal. That stuff, he declared, might be good enough for Southern rebels but certainly not good enough for fighting Yankees. After weeks of arguing, Steinbacher’s German persistence won and the quartermaster’s office reluctantly agreed to take a sample order of a hundred barrels. Just a hundred barrels – from an army standpoint, hardly an order worth mentioning. But for Schumacher, the order was stupendous…. After the oatmeal was shipped, Schumacher anxiously waited to learn how it would be received in the army camps. He knew that few soldiers had ever eaten the cereal and was afraid many would refuse to taste it, just because it was something new. But his fears were unjustified. The soldiers liked it. Army orders for oatmeal began pouring in.”] Until recently, this legend has been accepted as fact, yet research into official government and army records provides no evidence that the Army or the Sanitary Commission ever directly supplied Schumacher’s products to the troops. If Schumacher started the American oatmeal industry through supplying great quantities to Union troops, it had to have been via unofficial channels. The issue of Schumacher’s success is not in dispute: by the mid-1860s he was running several mills and was the wealthiest man in Akron. The issue of where and how the oatmeal was sold, however, is not as clear. This paper will illustrate that the secret to the success of the oatmeal industry in America may lie in a much deeper role for Erhard Steinbacher as a Civil War “sutler,” providing hungry Union soldiers with an introduction and pipeline to Schumacher’s new dish, and thus whetting their appetite for more when the war was over. Continue reading The Sutler Secret of Erhard Steinbacher

To Work and Live: Brickyard Laborers, Immigration and Assimilation in an Ohio Town, 1890-1925

By: Martha I. Pallante

Historians generally agree that at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries immigration to the United States, particularly that from Southern and Eastern Europe, played an important role in reshaping the fabric of America life. These waves of humanity flooded American cities joining the laboring masses, and in the process forever changed the character and the composition of American cities. For the most part, historians and the others who have studied this phenomenon have concentrated on the largest masses of that movement–those who went to large urban areas or to the major industrial complexes that acted as magnets for the many immigrant groups.

This study approaches the problem differently. It focuses on a relatively small group of Italian immigrants from the Italian province of Avelino, who arrived in Niles, Ohio between 1890 and the mid 1920s when changes in immigrations laws stemmed their flow. Their origins did little to distinguish them from more mainstream immigration experiences either to east coast or mid-western metropolitan areas. Continue reading To Work and Live: Brickyard Laborers, Immigration and Assimilation in an Ohio Town, 1890-1925

In This Issue: Fall 2003

In The Current Issue:

From how Italian immigrants came to Ohio to how oatmeal came to your table, this edition of the Northeast Ohio Journal of History answers some questions you may never have considered.  In addition, a new “discussion” feature we are adding will allow you to ask your own questions and answer those of others.

In this issue, we feature a group of pieces that challenge us to rethink conventional wisdom.  For example, Margaret Pallante’s feature article on Italian workers in theNiles, Ohio brick works demonstrates that oft-repeated historical generalizations about Italian immigrants to America do not fit the experiences these brick makers. Pallante, Chair of the Department of History at Youngstown State University, argues that Italian workers at Niles Fire Brick were more likely to assimilate, rapidly acquire property, and pursue educational opportunities than their counterparts in large Eastern cities.

Similarly, Robert Reszler’s piece on Erhard Steinbacher overturns a century-old myth regarding the origins of the oatmeal industry in America.  Local legend (supported by Quaker Oats’ own history and publicity) has long held that America’s embrace of oatmeal began with a one hundred barrel order the Union Army placed with Ferdinand Schumacher during the Civil War.  Reszler’s research not only reveals that this legendary order almost certainly never happened, but offers an alternative, more interesting, and more likely explanation of how oatmeal got to Union troops (and thus to America’s breakfast tables).

Gregory Wilson’s item in “Notes and Comments” also challenges us to rethink what is meant by the term “region.” The Northeast Ohio Journal of History is by definition a regional history publication, but how should that region be defined?  Politically? Geographically? Culturally? Environmentally?  Wilson, NOJH‘s Publication Director and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Akron, means to provoke discussion and debate with this piece.

To add your part to this debate, please feel free to visit our new “discussion board” feature.  Taking advantage of the technology available to us as an electronic journal, we are endeavoring to make the NOJH an interactive publication in which our readers can comment on and discuss issues pertaining to our content and Ohio history.

In lieu of our usual virtual museum exhibit, we are featuring a link to the Ohio Memory Project.  This outstanding website–a cooperative venture of the Ohio Historical Society, the Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board, the State Library of Ohio, the Ohio Public Library Information Network, and the Ohio Library council–recently won the prestigious “Award of Merit” from the American Association for State and Local History.  It is a tremendous achievement in public history and a “must-see” for anyone interested in Ohio History.

In addition to the usual book reviews, we also encourage the reader to explore the other features of our site. For those who missed earlier issues, please visit our “Archives” link, which contains the entire contents of our first volume. We have expanded our “Research Links”  feature, adding not only more primary sources but also more links to local historical agencies. We strongly encourage the reader to suggest or send new links for this page. The same is true for items in “Current History,” which is a clearinghouse for information on events of a historical nature inNortheast Ohio. Because we update this section constantly, please feel free to send announcements for it at any time.

We would also like to remind our readers that printer-friendly versions accompany each item. These PDF files are not only easier on the eyes when printed, but also contain basic issue data and page numbers for convenience in citation.

As always, please address any inquiries about this project (or about any other aspect of the journal) to the editor at kkern @ uakron. edu. We welcome all comments and suggestions.

Kevin Kern

Continue reading In This Issue: Fall 2003