Mary A. Upperman, 1878-1937

When Mary A. Upperman came to Akron, Ohio, in 1916, she was a minister’s wife. But, with the untimely death of her husband, Upperman assumed a new identity, as an entrepreneur. She became perhaps the most successful African-American businesswoman in the city during the Progressive period.

Little is known about Upperman’s early days. She was born in Raleigh, N.C., and was orphaned by the age of 2. She attended the prestigious Scotia Seminary, the rigorous girl’s boarding school in North Carolina that educated the likes of such African-American women leaders as Mary McLeod Bethune, Gertrude Brown and Mary Church Terrell. After graduating at the age of 19, Upperman taught school at Keystone, W.Va.

She and her husband, the Rev. Louis M. Upperman, came to Akron where he became pastor of the Wesley Temple A.M.E. Zion Church. He died in 1917. She stayed in the city and began a new life.

According to the city’s Negro Year Book of 1927, Upperman had the one qualification needed for success, “belief in herself.” She started initially running an employment agency out of her home. By 1920, however, Upperman had diversified. She continued running the employment agency but also ran a thriving grocery and laundry. By 1927, she was the sole owner of the only African American-owned drug store in the city (Globe Drug Store, 103 N. Main St.), even as she continued to run her grocery.

The Depression had some effect on Upperman. In 1931, she ran a confectionary (North End Cut Rate Store, 187 Bluff) and a grocery (189 Bluff) but she had apparently given up her drug store. By 1932, she was concentrating on the grocery business.

Mary A. Upperman died of pneumonia in Akron, on Dec. 7, 1937. She was only 59 years old.

Although she carried on lucrative businesses, Upperman always retained ties to the church that her husband once ministered. She supervised the Sunday school for many years. In 1936, she was a delegate to the general conference of the A.M.E. Zion Church.

She was a member of the board of directors of the Association for Colored Community Work which affiliated with the National Urban League. For the last four years of her life, she also gave domestic science classes for girls.

No known picture exists of Mary Upperman. This advertisment from her drug store courtesy of The University of Akron Archives.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Marion Voris, 1892-1973

Marion Voris came from a family whose name was often associated with the history of Akron. Marion Voris carried on many of the family traditions. She attended Buchtel College (now The University of Akron), just like her mother, Elizabeth Voris. She was a member of the Pan Hellenic Association, like her mother. She became a teacher, like her mother.

Marion Voris was born in Akron in 1893. When Voris graduated from Buchtel College in 1914, she sought employment. The following year, she became a teacher at Central High School and taught there for the next 40 years, retiring in 1955.

She also got involved in the College Club of Akron, an organization of college-educated women in the city. In 1919, she served on the organization’s membership committee. Besides being a place where college-educated women could get together and socialize, the College Club also brought well-known speakers such as poet Alfred Noyes and novelist Baroness Von Suttner to Akron. In addition, Voris served as a charter member of Akron’s Women’s City Club.

Voris was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church. She died in 1974 at the age of 81.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Jennifer Petric

Louise Voris, 1882-1946

Louise Voris converted her long career as a volunteer community activist into a job as the superintendent of the Summit County Children’s Home. When she was offered the position in 1936, she had never worked outside the home for pay. Nonetheless, she said, “I feel that I have spent my entire life preparing for the task I know have” (Beacon Journal, 1946).

She was correct. She was well equipped for the task. Born in Cleveland, Voris had graduated from the exclusive Vassar women’s college in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She moved to Akron shortly after graduating and married William S. Voris, a salesman during the 1930s.

She came to Akron at a time when the women’s community was brimming with energy and she quickly got involved. She was a charter member of both the College Club of Akron, an organization that her mother in law helped found, and the Woman’s City Club. Voris served as president of each organization. She was also the president of the Art and History Club. She also served on the board of the Florence Crittenton Rescue League, a home for unwed mothers. Her longest affiliation, however, was with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Akron. She served on its board for 22 years, as its president from 1927-1930 and as the chair of its camp committee that administered Camp YaWaCa on Lake Erie.

In 1936 when Mary E. Boteler suddenly resigned as superintendent of the Summit County Children’s Home, Voris applied. Given Voris’ connections within the women’s community and her family connections, she seemed the natural selection, even though she had no previous professional experience in administration.

Voris came to the job with no real plans. She admitted, “I don’t know in the least what I am going to do there except to follow in Miss Boteler’s capable footsteps” (Beacon Journal, 1936). Voris had no real crises to deal with. The home was well run, clean and well staffed.

The appointment, however, came to pose a problem for the children’s home. In order to keep the job, Voris needed to pass the state Civil Service exam. In 1937, she took that exam and passed.

Voris remained the superintendent until March 1946 when she died of a heart attack.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

Kathleen L. Endres

Ella A. Thompson, 1861-1956

At the time of her death in 1956, Ella Thompson was not only one of the oldest members of the High Street Church of Christ but she was also one of its most active members.

Thompson was born in Canal Fulton, Ohio, but lived at 346 Spicer for most of her life. She became a member of the church now called the High Street Christian Church, in 1878 and started teaching a class of girls. In 1901, she was elected president of the Young Ladies Missionary Society (an organization established by Chalista Wheeler) and remained in that position for 33 years. In 1934, she was named president emeritus. Thompson’s influence on the body was so great that the Young Ladies Missionary Society voted in 1916 to change its name to the Ella Thompson Missionary Society.

Thompson was also instrumental to the success of the East Akron Community House. It was begun by the missionary associations of Akron’s Protestant churches as the city’s only settlement house. (East Akron Community House still operates in the city and offers a wide range of community services.) According the High Street Christian Church records, “she [Thompson] contributed generously of her time, talent and means to the work of the East Akron Community House with foreign born immigrants. Her devotion inspired a similar commitment on the part of the society.”

She encouraged members of the church and the women’s missionary society to read about foreign missions. In 1930, she organized a missionary library that became a part of the Valentine Memorial Library, which is still in use in the church today.

Thompson was recognized for her civic activities when the Woman’s City Club held a banquet in her honor on Sept. 16, 1926.

Thompson worked for 50 years at the American Hard Rubber Company. She retired in March 1937.

–Stephanie Devers

Elizabeth Brown Thompson, 1853-1931

Dean Elizabeth Brown Thompson was the first head of the history department and the first dean of women at Buchtel College (now The University of Akron). In addition, she was also active in many community organizations in the city.

Elizabeth Brown was born in Scotland. On Dec. 14, 1853, her family arrived in the United States. They lived in Philadelphia, where she graduated from a girl’s high school and a normal school. She then taught history in Philadelphia until 1878, when she married Charles Thompson, who was once secretary to the Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker. They had one son, Roy. After her husband died, she and her son moved to Akron in 1885. They became members of the First Congregational Church.

Thompson ws a history teacher in Akron high schools and continued in that position for 23 years. In 1908, she resigned that post and left high school teaching, to join the staff of Buchtel College, where she would teach history under popular teacher/administrator O.E. Olin in the philosophy department.

In 1911, The University of Akron gave her an honorary Master’s degree of Arts; at this time she was still an associate professor. In 1914, she was named dean of women at the university. The university also created a history department, putting that in her charge. In 1916, she was promoted to full professor. Thompson served as both dean of women and head of the history department for 17 years, until her death in 1931.

According to the Akron Beacon Journal, she had a “colorful career of 45 years teaching in Akron Schools, during which time she taught many of the city’s most successful men and women, and endeared herself to thousands of school and university students.” The Akron Alumnus magazine wrote that this “rarely gifted woman” had instructed more high school and college students than anyone else in the city.

Thompson also impacted the adults of Akron, by becoming active in many civic organizations. Not only was she a leader of the current events lecture course of the Woman’s City Club, but also was a gifted public speaker herself, often lecturing before Akron organizations and clubs. She was a member of the Woman’s City Club, the Woman’s Club League and the Division of Literary Extension in the Department of Applied Education of the College Club.

She was president of the Art and History Club, and had honorary memberships in both the Altrusa Club and the College Club.

Thompson died March 29, 1931, after suffering a stroke. Dr. George F. Zook, president of the university at that time, said the university would miss its long-time faculty member/dean. “Mrs. Thompson was a continual inspiration to students of the university for many years. She was most high[ly] respected among members of the faculty and student body,” he recalled.

Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Archives.

–Stephanie Devers

Gertrude Ferguson Penfield Seiberling, 1866-1946

Gertrude Ferguson Penfield Seiberling, benevolent supporter of the arts, gave unselfishly of her time, talents and resources to better the people of her community, Ohio and the nation.

Born on January 23, 1866, Seiberling-then Penfield-grew up in Willoughby, Ohio, where her father owned a leading manufacturing company. When she was 21, she graduated from Lasell Seminary for Young Women in Auburndale, Mass. Later that year, she was introduced to Franklin Augustus Seiberling and the couple married.

After her marriage, Seiberling came to Akron with her husband. Never one to miss an opportunity, Seiberling helped supplement the family income by giving singing lessons to young girls.

Because of her love of music, Seiberling became a charter member of the Tuesday Afternoon Club, which was later renamed the Tuesday Musical Club (T.M.C.). F.A. Seiberling was once quoted as jokingly saying the T.M.C. meant “Trouble Must Come.” Because of the group’s dedication and skill, performance requests came from all over the city.

Seiberling played an important part in bringing renowned performers and orchestras to Akron by helping to organize and finance these activities. Also active in theater, Seiberling performed at the Akron Opera House and demonstrated her golden contralto voice at the White House for President William Howard Taft. She founded the St. Cecelia Choral Society and was a frequently featured vocalist for the Christmas services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Akron, where she was a member.

It was during this time that her husband co-founded the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company with his brother, C. W. Seiberling. As her husband’s business prospered at the turn of the century, Seiberling enrolled at Buchtel College to study architecture, gardening and interior design so she would be able to assist in building the new family home. After extensive travel abroad to gather design ideas and materials, the Seiberlings returned to Akron to build Stan Hywet, a beautiful 100-room, 1,400-acre estate patterned after an English Tudor-style mansion.

Even with the daunting task of raising her large family, Seiberling’s interest in the arts continued. She became honorary president of the Tuesday Musical Club, served on the board of directors for the Cleveland Institute of Music and was an honorary member of the Philadelphia Music Club and the Westminster Choir of Dayton, Ohio. She held honorary memberships in the National Federation of Music Clubs and the Music Arts Association in Cleveland.

Seiberling was a gifted and talented artist as well and exhibited paintings in New York and Ohio. She held memberships in the Women’s Art League of Akron, the Akron Art Institute, now known as the Akron Art Museum, and the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors.

Seiberling founded and served as the first president of the Akron Garden Club in 1924, and held board positions on state and national garden clubs as well. She was active in the Peace Society and the Ohio Women’s Suffrage Association.

Seiberling died on Jan. 8, 1946. Because of her unfailing support of the arts and tremendous cultural contribution to Summit County, the Women’s History Project elected her “Woman of the Year” posthumously in 1993. At her death, the Beacon Journal reported that she was “a gracious matron and an outstanding musical enthusiast…[who] inspired in every way to make the world about her a better place.”

Photo courtesy Women’s History Project of the Arkon Area

–Penny Fox

Blanche Carnahan Seiberling, 1873-1932

Blanche Carnahan Seiberling considered her community work as a kind of career, one to be pursued diligently with creativity and commitment.

Blanche Carnahan (also spelled Karnaghan in some records) was born in Finley, Ohio. She was the daughter of Theophilius and Mary Carnahan. Well educated, she married Charles Seiberling in 1895. Charles Seiberling and his brother Frank went on to start Goodyear Tire and Rubber and later Seiberling Rubber in Akron, Ohio.

Blanche and Charles Seiberling moved to Akron and built a mansion that came to be known as Triacres. While not as grandiose as Frank and Gertrude Seiberling‘s Stan Hywet House, Triacres became the heart of much community work in the city of Akron. The Home and School League was born there when Seiberling invited a group of friends to talk about improving relations between family and teachers. Seiberling became the first president of the league and was named its honorary president.

It was at Triacres that Seiberling and her friends came up with ways to introduce garden club work into the schools. Seiberling had long been a member of the Garden Clubs of America.

She was also a member of the Portage Country Club and the Woman’s City Club.

In the early 1920s, Seiberling withdrew from community work. She died in July 1932 after a long illness. She left her husband and daughter Catherine M. Stewart, who went on to an active philanthropic and community career of her own.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Mary Zipperlen Schumacher, 1860-1936

Every concert presented by the Tuesday Musical Club in Akron, Ohio, is a lasting testament to Mary Zipperlen Schumacher. It was Schumacher’s bequest that made the concerts economically viable.

In the early days of the Tuesday Musical Club, the organization faced an uncertain future. Even a fund-raising campaign championed by the city’s newspaper, the Beacon Journal, could not guarantee the future of the concerts. Schumacher, a pianist and a long-time member of the Tuesday Musical Club, assured that future by leaving a sizable amount – some $50,000 – to the organization to underwrite the costs of concerts. She also endowed scholarships for students at the Ferdinand Schumacher School and left a large bequest to the Sumner Home for the Aged.

Mary Schumacher was the second wife of the “cereal king” of Akron. Ferdinand Schumacher was almost 40 years older than his bride.

Mary Zipperlin was born in Cincinnati in 1860. The daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Adolph Zipperlin, Schumacher had one sister, Hermine Hansen, who became another prominent Akron community leader.

Schumacher was involved in a number of other Akron women’s organizations as well. She was a charter member of the Akron Women’s City Club. She was also active in the Akron and Summit County General Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Sumner Home for the Aged.

Schumacher traveled extensively which helped the Tuesday Musical Club enormously. She cased the world for musical organizations and up-and-coming artists.

Her travels also meant that she would be a popular speaker to the various clubs and organizations in the city. She talked about her trips to the Pacific (Tristan da Cunha), Africa as well as Europe. Her travels also led her to an interest in aviation. She flew on a plane for the first time in 1919 and soon affiliated with the Akron women’s organization affiliated with the National Aeronautical Association.

Schumacher died in Akron’s City Hospital in September 1936. She had been ill for several weeks. Cremation took place in Cincinnati.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Elizabeth Robinson Saalfield, 1888-1971

Elizabeth (Bess) Robinson Saalfield focused her benevolent activities primarily around the Mary Day Nursery and Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio.

Elizabeth Robinson was born into one of the most prosperous, important families of Akron. She was the daughter of the founder of Robinson Clay Products. She lived a pampered life. She went to the best schools, graduating from Wellesley College in 1909; and she married well, to A.G. (Albert) Saalfield, who would soon take over the management of Saalfield Publishing, a national publishing company located in Akron.

The Saalfield mansion, Robinwood, became the center for visiting dignitaries, including movie star Shirley Temple, who had business dealings with Saalfield Publishing. (Saalfield published the “authorized” Shirley Temple books.)

Robinwood was also a meeting place for benevolent women in the city, especially those associated with the Mary Day Nursery and Children’s Hospital. Saalfield got involved with the Mary Day Nursery shortly after graduating from college. She served on many committees but her “special project” was the Children’s Charity, a kind of self-help program where Akron children donated money each year toward the purchase of needed hospital equipment at Children’s Hospital. Saalfield helped establish the charity in 1913 and supervised its growth until 1949.

Besides the Children’s Charity, she also served on the board of the Mary Day Nursery and for a time was president of the Women’s Board of Children’s Hospital, which with the trustees ran the hospital corporation. In 1960, she was given one of the few 50-year awards for volunteer work at Children’s Hospital.

Besides her involvement with Children’s, she also served on the Women’s Board of the Sumner Home for the Aged and worked in a variety of associations affiliated with her church, First Presbyterian.

Saalfield died in 1971 in Norfolk, two years after her husband.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Mary Paul, 1879 – 1961

Mary Paul, a quiet and gentle-spirited woman, broke new ground for women in Summit County by being the first woman to hold public office.

Paul was born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, the daughter of Robert Spencer Paul and Sarah M. Romig. The third of four children, Paul attended Spicer School and Akron High School. After graduating, Paul worked as office manager for her family’s engineering firm.

When her brother, Edward W., was elected county engineer in 1913, she joined him at the courthouse and served as county recorder for 12 years. Always known for her keen sense of detail and precision, Paul was elected county recorder. She was the first woman in the county to hold such a position and won re-election twice.

Under the guidance of the Republican Party, Paul ran for mayor of Akron in 1929, but withdrew because she failed to receive the endorsement of the local newspaper, theBeacon Journal. She also studied law at Akron Law School, but never took the bar exam, saying, “I didn’t think I’d make much of a lawyer.”

Never married, Paul worked for public welfare with the Works Progress Administration under President Roosevelt’s New Deal Cultural Program. She also worked with the National Youth Administration and the Barberton Welfare Department. She was a title transfer clerk for the county auditor’s office until a few years before her death.

In her spare time, Paul was a member of the Pythian Sisters and the Royal Neighbors of America. The Past Chiefs Association and Nomads of Avrudaka show her on their membership lists as well.

An avid stamp collector all her life, Paul also enjoyed music, reading and nature walks. She prepared baskets for needy families during holidays and often helped people financially. Her interest in writing prompted her to contribute a chapter entitled, “Environs and Landmarks,” in the 1925 Centennial History of Akron.

Those who worked with her remembered Paul as “Miss Precision.” A story in the Dec. 18, 1961 issue of theBeacon Journal said, “You might never guess she knew anything-unless you asked her. Then, whatever it was, you could be sure of a ready, complete and accurate answer.”

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

–Penny Fox