Chalista Willard Wheeler

Chalista Willard Wheeler only lived in Akron, Ohio, for 16 years; but that was long enough for her to establish the city’s Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and First Disciple Church’s Young Women’s Missionary Association.

Little is known about Wheeler’s activities before she came to Akron. She was born Chalista Willard and she married young banker David P. Wheeler in Cleveland in 1873. In 1893, the Wheeler family – David, Chalista, daughters Ruth and Jane, and son Willard – moved to Akron where David took over the management of Citizens’ Savings Loan Association. That financial institution was still reeling from the Panic of 1892. He put that institution’s financial matters in order and soon started a new bank – Citizens’ National Bank.

In the 1890s both Wheeler daughters were away at school, Hiram College, a small liberal arts institution in Northeastern Ohio. Both had affiliated with the YWCA there and they told their mother about the benefits of the organization personally and to employed women in general. The idea of starting a YWCA in Akron wasn’t new. For several years, Akron’s Council of Women had talked about the need for one, especially since more and more young women in the city were working outside the home. But nothing happened until November 1900 when Chalista Wheeler invited a small group of friends to her Fir Hill home to look into the prospect of starting a YWCA in Akron. Two strangers were at that meeting – Helen Barnes, national secretary of the YWCA, and Nellie Adams Lowry, the group’s state secretary. Under the tutelage and advice of these professional organizers, the Akron women quietly did research on the number of women employed in the city and canvassed for potential members.

By March 1901 they had their answers. Akron did indeed have a large pool of women working outside the home; and a large number of women -181 returned pledge cards – were interested in joining the YWCA. The charter membership read like a Who’s Who of Akron. It included wives and daughters of industrialists Seiberling, Manton, Schumacher, Andrews, Robinson and others. Wives and daughters of executives, bankers, attorneys, city officials and college professors signed on. No one Protestant denomination predominated but one socio-economic class did. Wheeler had enlisted the wealthiest, most widely respected women in the city to support the YWCA. On March 25, 1901, the Akron YWCA held its first meeting at the First Congregational Church and Wheeler was elected president. Wheeler provided the leadership during those first years. According to a memorial issued at the time of her retirement from the YWCA, Wheeler was the key to the organization’s success. “The work succeeded from the first for Mrs. Wheeler was wise in seeing that such an organization would supply a long felt want and because at its head was placed a woman in whom the public had implicit confidence not only as to business ability, but also as to her judgment as to the influences that go to strengthen womanhood.”

Between 1901 to 1909, Wheeler served as president, setting up the association’s first “rooms,” hiring the first general secretaries (for a time daughter Ruth Wheeler served in that capacity), and supervising the growing number of programs being offered the women in the city. She did this even as she faced personal tragedies. Her husband was electrocuted in his bank on Christmas Day. She did this even as she faced her responsibilities at the First Disciple Church (now High Street Church of Christ). Wheeler had started and served as president of the Young Women’s Missionary Society (which became the Ella Thompson Missionary Society).

In 1909, she resigned from the YWCA and moved away to care for her mother, who was ill.

Photo courtesy of the YWCA of Summit County.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Elizabeth Undine Slade Voris, 1855-1930

Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Undine Slade Voris helped organize many of Akron’s institutions and women’s organizations.

Elizabeth Undine Slade was born in Columbus, Ohio, the daughter of William Hooker Slade and his wife, Marion Elizabeth Bell. She was the great-granddaughter of William Slade and John Alvord, two influential corporals in the Revolutionary War.

Slade received her bachelor’s degree from Buchtel College (now The University of Akron) in 1877 and her master’s degree from the same institution in 1880. During this time, she was a math tutor in the Preparatory Department of Buchtel College.

During her college years, Slade was a charter member of the Akron chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma women’s fraternity. She represented them in the Akron Pan-Hellenic Association.

Slade married Edwin Voris, an attorney with Voris, Vaughn, and Vaughn, in 1879. He was the son of local Akron hero, Maj. Gen. Alvin Coe Voris, and Lydia Allyn. They had four children, Lydia (Voris) Kolbe, Elizabeth (Voris) Lawry,Marion Voris and William. William’s wife, Louise Voris, was also active in Akron community work.

Elizabeth Voris helped organize two important women’s organizations in the city. She was a charter member of the College Club of Akron, an organization committed to the intellectual improvement of college-educated women, and the Women’s Benevolent Association, one of the pioneering welfare groups of the city. As a member of the College Club, she took part in the Division of Literary Extension in the Applied Education Department.

Voris was also a member of the Women’s Universalist Missionary Association, the Fifty Year Club of Akron, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Dames of the Loyal Legion. From 1919-1920, she was the treasurer of the Katherine Claypole Student Loan Fund, an organization to provide worthy college students with enough money to continue their education. Voris was on the first committee of this organization, representing the Daughters of the American Revolution.

She died in September of 1930.

Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Archives.

–Stephanie Devers

Hermine Schumacher Schumacher, 1823-1893

Hermine Schumacher Schumacher, first wife of Akron’s cereal king Ferdinand Schumacher, was a leader in the temperance crusade of 1874 but she focused most of her benevolent work in groups associated with the German population of the city.

Hermine Schumacher was born in Bevern, Germany, in 1823. She was engaged to her cousin Ferdinand Schumacher prior to his immigration to America. After he was settled in Cleveland, she followed him to America in 1851 and they were married soon after. In 1852, the couple settled in Akron. He focused on building his cereal business, which through mergers became Quaker Oats.

Both Schumachers were committed prohibitionists. She, particularly, played a role in the early days of the women’s temperance crusade of 1874. She signed the call for a rally at the First Methodist Episcopal Church that started the Akron’s temperance crusade of 1874. That crusade was marked by small groups of women “visiting” Akron bars and saloon and praying in the streets in an attempt to close down the liquor traffic in the city. She also served as a delegate to the state temperance convention of 1874. In addition, she was a member of the Ladies Cemetery Association.

Her obituary in the Beacon Journal emphasized that Schumacher had been involved in a range of benevolent organizations, especially those involving the German population. In the post Civil War period, Akron had a sizeable German population with many civic organizations. During the immediate post-Civil War years, the Schumacher house became a center for those activities.

Her activism was cut short by disease, however. By 1882, Schumacher had withdrawn from most of her civic activities. She had a severe case of rheumatism and no amount of hot springs, travel or medicines relieved the pain, the Beacon Journal reported. During this time also, after a disasterous fire at the Akron mill, her husband lost control of his cereal manufacturing business and much of his wealth.

When Schumacher died on June 1, 1893, she was survived by her husband and two sons. Her other five children had died in youth.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Ada Louise Sutton Saalfield, 1860-1935

Ada Louise Sutton Saalfield was an accomplished author and poet who not only found time for writing but also for social and philanthropic organizations in Akron, Ohio.

The daughter of a minister from Brooklyn, N.Y., Ada Louise Sutton graduated from Hintel College. She married Arthur J. Saalfield, who became president of Saalfield Publishing, a large national publishing house based in Akron, on Aug. 1, 1885; they had five children. The Saalfields moved to Akron in 1897 and became members of the First Presbyterian Church.

Saalfield was a key to her husband’s early publishing success. In the early days of Saalfield Publishing, she provided a steady stream of manuscripts. Always writing under her maiden name, Ada Sutton, Saalfield specialized in children’s books. She wrote Mr. Bunny, His Book, Sweeter Still Than This, Teddy Bear, Baby Dear, Little Maid in Toyland and Friendship Series, all popular children’s books, published under the Saalfield imprint.

Her husband’s company also published one of her most famous poetry collections, called Seeds of April Sowing-Poems of Love and Sentiment. The Akron Times also published her poetry, often on the front page. Other collections of her poetry were published by Werner Publishing.

Saalfield did not just write books. She wrote many letters to newspapers editors – this time using her married name. In those letters, she championed the cause of working women. She also applauded anti-vivisection (opposition to the exploitation of animals for research, education and product testing) and general kindness to animals.

Her commitment to women and animals was reflected in her community involvement. She was a charter member of the Akron Woman’s City Club and affiliated with the Akron and Summit County Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was involved with the Akron Young Women’s Christian Association. She also was heavily involved with the Humane Society in Akron.

In her later years, she withdrew from society, having become an invalid. She died at the Mayflower Hotel in Akron on Nov. 18, 1935.

–Stephanie Devers

Mary Rawson Perkins, 1843-1916

If only one woman’s name could be associated with the founding of Mary Day Nursery and Children’s Hospital, that name would probably be Mary Rawson Perkins. It was Mary Rawson Perkins who had the vision to establish a day-care facility for the children of working women in the city of Akron, Ohio. It was this nursery and the women associated with it that would lead to the development of Children’s Hospital in Akron.

Mary Folger Rawson was born in 1843, the daughter of Levi Rawson, mayor of Akron in 1847. Levi Rawson later moved to Cleveland and went into mercantile shipping. Her brother, Charles Rawson, remained in Akron and married Maria Perkins in 1863. Two years later, Mary Rawson married into the Perkins’ family as well. She married George Tod Perkins, who had just returned from the Civil War. The newlyweds moved to Perkins Hill. George Tod Perkins became an industrialist, establishing the Akron Steam Forge Works. They had two daughters: Grace, who died when she was a toddler, and Mary Perkins, who went on to marry C.B. Raymond, an executive at B.F. Goodrich, and became a community leader in her own right.

Mary Rawson Perkins organized the “Daughters of the King” circles at two Akron churches – St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and First Congregational Church. These groups would establish what came to be called the Mary Day Nursery, a day-care facility for children of working mothers in the city. Mary Rawson Perkins, her husband, and their daughter Mary helped create the nursery and all three remained active in running its affairs throughout their lives.

When her husband died in 1910, Mary Rawson Perkins moved in with her daughter, Mary Perkins Raymond, and donated the family’s large home to the Sumner Home for the Aged.

For the remainder of her life, Mary Rawson Perkins continued distributing the family wealth to health and welfare organizations in the city. In 1914, she provided the funds to build a Nurses Home on High Street, adjacent to the Children’s Hospital. She also gave sufficient funds to furnish the entire home.

In January of 1916, while staying at her daughter’s home, she died.

–Stephanie Devers

Mary Perkins Raymond, 1871-1948

Mary Perkins Raymond continued the legacy of service to the Akron community that her mother, Mary Rawson Perkins and her paternal grandmother, Grace Tod Perkins began.

Born and raised in Akron, she married Charles Raymond, a vice-chairperson on the board of B.F. Goodrich, and raised four children. Following marriage, she soon learned that she was one of the last surviving Perkins. In order to keep the Perkins name alive in Akron, she identified herself by both her maiden and married names.

Although she was born into a family of community philanthropists, Perkins Raymond discovered her own unique passion for giving in the Mary Day Nursery. Along with her mother and father and the other members of the Kings Daughters of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Perkins Raymond established Akron’s first day care, which was named for her eldest daughter.

The Mary Day Nursery offered day care services to families with working parents. Many Akron women donated their time to care for community children. Perkins Raymond served as president of Mary Day Nursery for a total of six terms. She was also a member of the board of trustees.

Perkins Raymond and the other volunteers contributed much more than time spent caring for others’ children. They hosted events such as a charity ball and bazaar to raise funds for the operation of the nursery. The Mary Day Nursery eventually expanded to include a kindergarten and a ward for crippled children, which, in turn, expanded into Akron’s Children’s Hospital.

Photos courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Angela Abel

Grace Ingersol Tod Perkins, 1811-1867

Grace Ingersol Tod Perkins joined her sisters Mary Evans and Julia Ford in establishing the Ladies Cemetery Association, an important Gilded Age organization committed to the beautification of the Akron Rural Cemetery.

Born in Youngstown, Grace Tod was the daughter of a judge. In 1832, she married Col. Simon Perkins, who would go on to be a state senator, president of a railroad and an important philanthropist and community leader. The couple moved to Akron in 1835 and had 11 children.

In Akron, Perkins would work with her sisters in supporting the Akron Rural Cemetery Association, of which Simon Perkins was president. She was an original supporter and member of the Ladies Cemetery Association in Akron, founded by her sister.

Until her death, Perkins continued to support the Ladies Cemetery Association, which raised funds to beautify the Akron Rural Cemetery. Perkins and the other members sponsored entertainment in the form of concerts, picnics and other social events to raise money for a cemetery groundskeeper to erect a residence on the property.

Perkins died in 1867. She was only 56 years old.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Angela Abel

Marie Ellene Seibel Olin, 1854-1931

Marie Ellene Seibel Olin, the “adopted mother” of the Buchtel College campus (now The University of Akron), was also an active member of many community and religious organizations in Akron.

She was born in Cleveland but grew up in Mantua, Ohio. She was the daughter of Mary Ann Johnson and Charles M. Seibel, who was the earliest music teacher in Mantua. She graduated from Kent High School, where she met Oscar E. Olin. They married March 21, 1878.

Both had teaching in their blood. When they moved to Kansas, she taught there for three years while he worked as head of the English department at the Kansas State Agricultural College. When they came to Akron, he was the head of the philosophy department and later vice president of faculty for Buchtel College. Oscar was so well liked among students that he was nicknamed “Daddy” Olin. It was only natural that students, faculty and the Akron community would see his wife as the mother of the campus. He and his wife had two daughters, Charlotta and Esther, who both became teachers. The family lived at 433 Carroll Street.

Theirs was an “Akron-minded family,” the Akron Alumnusmagazine said. They were active in the First Universalist Church. She was involved in the Women’s Universalist Missionary Association along with Grace Olin, who was married to Charles Olin, a cousin of Oscar’s.

Marie Olin was also a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

From 1910 to 1912, she was president of the Akron Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was also the president of many other organizations, including the Cuyahoga Portage Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the New Century Club (1915-1916), and the Home and School League (1916-1917). She helped Blanche Carnahan Seiberling organize the Home and School League.

She was named an honorary member of the New Century Club and was a member of the Summit County Woman’s Suffrage Association.

Olin died on June 18, 1931, in the same Mantua house that she grew up in.

Photo courtesy of The University of Akron Archives.

–Stephanie Devers

Maude Watters Milar

Maude Watters Milar played an active part in shaping women’s groups in turn-of-the-century Akron, Ohio. She was especially involved with the start of the Girl Scouts and the Mary Day Nursery.

Maude Watters married Wilbur W. Milar, president of the Harter-Milar Hardware Company and superintendent of the parks system in Akron. They lived at 62 Adolph; both were active in community organizations.

Both were board members of the Mary Day Nursery and Children’s Hospital. Milar was not only on the board, but she was also a charter member of the organization. The Mary Day Nursery served the children of working mothers. Milar’s involvement began in 1890 and ended with her resignation in 1935. During that time, she was also an associate of the Women’s Board and a member of the House Committee.

In addition to her extensive involvement with the Mary Day Nurser and Children’s Hospital, Milar was also a part of many city organizations. From 1913 to 1914, she was president of the Home and School League, an association committed to improving the link between parents, teachers and school administration organized by Blanche Carnahan Seiberling. In 1919 Milar became the chairman on the Women’s Unity of the Summit County War Work Council, a part of the Women’s Division of the Council of National Defense.

In 1927, Milar was elected the Akron head of conservation and became the state chairman for Forest Week in that same year.

She was also an active part of Akron girl scouting. She was a member of the council that helped to organize the Girl Scouts in Akron and remained a committee member until the family moved to Boston. She was also involved with the Girl Scouts in Boston.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Stephanie Devers

Isabella Howard Taylor Mathews

Isabella Howard Taylor Mathews concentrated most of her efforts on the post Civil War campaign to eliminate the liquor trade in Akron.

Isabella was the second wife of James Mathews, a prominent insurance agent in Akron who went on to serve on the town council and the Board of Education. He was also the city’s mayor from 1865 to 1866. Mathews’ first wife Agnes Grant of Vermont had left her mark on the city through her work with the Soldiers Aid Society.

The second Mrs. Mathews concentrated on temperance. She was there at the beginning of the temperance crusade in Akron. Indeed, she signed the call for the rally at the First Methodist Church which started it all. Soon after, small bands of women were “visiting” the saloons in the city, attempting to get the drinkers to end their evil ways and urging the owners to close their bars. It is unknown if Mathews joined these women, who were never identified in the newspaper accounts of the crusade. She did, however, go to Cincinnati as one of Akron’s delegates to the convention of the Women’s Temperance Leagues of Ohio – the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union had not yet been organized. She also served as the corresponding secretary for the Temperance County convention of 1874. She also was on the committee that organized the Friendly Inn, a temperance and industrial union.

Mathews never forgot her commitment to the church. In 1875 she was working with the Dorcas Society, collecting clothing and other materials for Akron families in need.

Mathews remained active in the Akron area for many years. Following the death of her husband, Mathews moved to California.


–Angela Abel