Miss Clara Bingham earned the title “The First Lady of Goodyear” for her 47 years of service to Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. In 1921, Bingham became the director of women’s activities at Goodyear and William Egan later noted in the Akron Times-Press that “Practically every outside-of-work club for women at the factory has been the result of her work.”
Bingham had a motto that “All workers need escape. No matter how much you enjoy your work–you need play too. It doesn’t pay to become stagnated.” This motto led her to create the Wingfoot Girls Club and the Goodyear Garden Club for female workers at the factory. She also organized basketball and volleyball teams, bridge clubs and a summer camp for them. According to a story in the Akron Beacon Journal, she had much faith in the power of recreation.
Some of Bingham’s views were quite advanced for her time. For instance, she believed that married women who work outside the home should not have to do housework. She also felt that children no longer knew how to have fun. Bingham never married or had any children, yet she was still seen a “mother figure for the working woman.”
She was hired at Goodyear as a stenographer on Nov. 20, 1898, the day before the plant opened. “The Seiberlings [the original owners of Goodyear] were impressed with her pleasant demeanor and intelligence,” according to the Akron Beacon Journal. When she began, the whole factory operated with just a few hundred employees. She earned $10 a week. An article from the Beacon Journal stated, “Bingham liked the job and enjoyed taking dictation from the Seiberlings.” She was popular with her fellow employees and among other Akron business women.
In 1908, Bingham became Goodyear’s assistant purchasing agent; and in 1916, she became head of the company welfare work. She worked at Goodyear longer than her original bosses; she was a member of the “Old Guard,” employees who were on the payroll in 1900. In 1928, Bingham became the company librarian and an article in theBeacon Journal said that, “By 1940, Goodyear had more than 500 stenographers, but its original stenographer was still a happy, productive employee.”
When Bingham died on May 23, 1946, the flags at Goodyear were lowered to half-staff and the clock chimes on East Market Street played hymns in her memory. TheWingfoot Clan remembered her as “the most-beloved woman employee.”
Two years after her death, a stone memorial was dedicated in her honor with a bronze tablet that said, “Bingham Park, dedicated to the memory of Clara E. Bingham, 1871-1946, ‘The First Lady of Goodyear.’ Her life and counsel were of help to many.” The Beacon Journal reported, “Bingham would be happy to know that neighborhood children are having fun there.”
Bingham, who was a native of Edinburg in Portage County, graduated from Akron Business College and worked for two years at American Belting Co. before going to work for Goodyear.
Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Archives.