Norwalk, Ohio in the Civil War

On this, the anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant, we’ll take a look at the role of soldiers from Norwalk, Ohio in that struggle.

Norwalk actually fielded a regiment in the Civil War, the 55th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (O.V.I), [1] which was organized from September to December 1861 at Camp McClellan in Norwalk. [2]

The 55th O.V.I. was not at Appomattox with Grant on April 9, 1865, though. The day of Lee’s surrender, they were in North Carolina with General Sherman’s armies. Their war would not end until April 25, with the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston’s army at Bennett Place in Durham County, North Carolina. [3]

 

Bennett Place

A restoration of Bennett Place, North Carolina, site of the surrender of the largest number of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War.

 

Another citizen of Norwalk with General Sherman’s armies on April 9th, 1865 was my great-great grandfather, David Benedict. But he was not serving in the 55th O.V.I. He was a surgeon with the 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. [4]

David Benedict had been with the army since the beginning of the war. Captured at Chickamauga, he was held prisoner at Libby Prison for a few months before being exchanged. He returned to his regiment before the Battle of Atlanta, then, after the fall of that city, participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea. The army finished their march across Georgia on December 21st, 1864 when they accepted the surrender of the city of Savannah. A few days later, on Christmas Day, David Benedict went into the city from his camp in the outskirts to attend church and do a bit of sightseeing. He wrote a letter to his wife that evening, describing his day.

 

David DeForest Benedict

Doctor David Benedict

 

Years ago, I visited Savannah, and, using his letter as a guide, followed my great-great grandfather’s steps as he travelled through the city that Christmas Day so many years ago. In my next post, Hear the Chants Sung Once More, I’ll describe what I found.

 

Footnotes:

[1] For a history of the 55th O.V.I, see 55th Ohio Volunteer Regiment, on Wikipedia. A comprehensive bibliography is at 55th Ohio Infantry, compiled by Larry Stevens.

[2] Camp McClellan was located somewhere on the banks of the east branch of the Huron River; exactly where, I do not know. See Camp McClellan (Norwalk, Ohio), at Ohio Civil War Central for a description of the history of the camp.

[3] An account of the Confederate surrender is at Bennett Place, on Wikipedia.

[4] A history of the 17th O.V.I is at 17th Ohio Infantry on Wikipedia. A roster listing David Benedict is online at The Civil War Index: 17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry  page 537.

 

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Minnie Cleghorn: Athletic Girl Legacy

This will be the last of the Athletic Girl series of posts. Before we leave this subject, let’s take a look at Minnie Cleghorn’s legacy at Norwalk High School. How did promoting the ideal of the “Athletic Girl” influence the girls she taught over their lives? I can only speak knowledgeably about one, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, who left diaries and other writings recording her life in 1907, and after.

harriott-wickham-1915-20-2

Harriott Wickham

A year after graduation, Harriott taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Peru Township, then attended Wooster College, graduating in 1914. She was a Suffragette, and during the “Great War,” she went door-to-door in Columbus and Cleveland doing surveys for the Labor Department.

After the war, she went west, teaching in high schools in the Dakotas and then Wheatland, Wyoming, where, like her former teacher Minnie Cleghorn, she taught English and Physical Education, and coached the girls’ basketball team.

Harriott and another teacher at her school took up a local rancher on an offer to homestead land so he could control the water rights. According to her account, this rancher figured two schoolmarm’s from Ohio would soon give up and go home, but they persevered: teaching school in the winter, and proving up their claims in the summer. Here is Harriott’s deed to the homestead, signed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1925, after she married.

 

Homestead Deed

Did Minnie Cleghorn’s work with her “Athletic Girls” leave a legacy of strong and confident women?”

If my grandmother history is any indication, I believe it did.

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Previous Athletic Girl Posts

Minnie Cleghorn – Norwalk High School Girls’ Basketball Coach

Shutout – Norwalk HS Girls’ Championship Game 1907

The Athletic Girl in 1907

Minnie Cleghorn: Oberlin College

Suzan Rose Benedict and a Dark Path to Smith College

Minnie Cleghorn: Life in the Fortress – 1907

 

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Norwalk High School and the Great War

U.S. Declares War

One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany, upending the lives of all Americans living at the time. [1] Where were the alumni of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 that momentous day? How were their lives affected by this world-altering event?

robert-venus-commencement-photo-1907On the front page of The Norwalk Reflector Herald that day, just below the article announcing the war, was a small item notifying readers that one alumnus of the Class of 1907, Robert Venus, had spent two years at the Case School of Applied Science and now held “a responsible position with the East Ohio Gas Co.” [2]

Did his country’s entry into war change Robert’s life. Indeed, it did. He enlisted as an officer candidate in the Army and by July was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He would spend the next two years on active duty. I do not have any evidence that he served overseas, but no matter–he did serve. [3]

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The “War to End All Wars” disrupted lives all around the world, and ended the lives of millions. Robert Venus was not the only graduate of Norwalk High School whose life was turned upside down. As I often do when writing these posts, I turn to the diaries of Harriott Wickham, my grandmother, to see what she had to say. Here is what she wrote on April 22, 1974.

This evening have been watching a movie about W.W.I. How very long ago that seems now—like a different lifetime! It is really very clear in my memory though. Most of the boys I had known off in France! Bill [4] among them. Making bandages in the courthouse in Buffalo, Wyo. with other women. Getting a letter from my “then fiancé” [5] in France. Eleanor, [6] and I working in Columbus & Cleveland for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And especially remembering the long, long, two deep rows of rough boxes that stretched along the station platform at Columbus. Coffins filled with the bodies of boys who never even got to the front, but died of the flu epidemic at a training camp! One of the saddest sights of my life, I think! – Then, finally a night when we were awakened by the noise of sirens & shouting and chanting, — the “false armistice”! [7] But the real one a few days later, when there would not be any more “casualty lists” in the paper and the boys would be coming home alive!

It was another year before Bill would be home – but we didn’t know that then. And I think he really enjoyed that year – after the fighting had ended. He was quartered in a French home. When he had been crossing the ocean to France, a torpedo from a German submarine had grazed their ship—he heard the scrape of it! then it hit & sank another ship.

A number of our friends were killed in the war—one of them a fraternity brother of Bill’s at Ann Arbor—Lois Brush. I had been his guest at a Beta House party two years earlier. – He had no girl to ask & I was visiting Aunt Sue, [8] who was taking her doctor’s degree at Ann Arbor. A number we knew from Wooster & Norwalk were killed, though most of them came home safe. Damn Wars!! So stupid & unnecessary!

Stupid and Unnecessary! That sums about sums it up, doesn’t it?

 

Footnotes

[1] “U.S. Declares War Against the Kaiser,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5. The Norwalk Reflector Herald was a successor to both the Daily Reflector and the Evening Herald which had merged in 1913.

[2] “Where They Are,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5.

[3] In the U.S., Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 Ohio Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918, 1st Lieutenant Robert Edward Venus of 45 Seminary Street in Norwalk, Ohio biography reads: 2 Lieutenant Quartermaster Corps 15 Aug 1917 from CL. 1 Lieutenant 28 July 1918. Fort Benj Harrison Ind 15 May 1917 to 14 Aug 1917. Quartermaster Corps to Discharge Cp Sherman O; Cp Johnson Fla; Baltimore Medical Department Honorable discharge 24 March 1919. Citation: The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18. Columbus, OH, USA: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1926.

[4] Harriott’s younger brother, my great uncle Bill Wickham.

 

William Wickham - WWI

William (Bill) Wickham in World War I

 

[5] Joe Gill. When my grandmother lived at our home near the end of her life, she told my mother that she received a “Dear Jane” letter from this man while he was in France. She said that it came as a big shock and she had a hard time getting over the rejection. I don’t know much more about him.

 

Joe Gill

Joe Gill – 1907

 

[6] Harriott’s sister Eleanor Wickham, my great aunt and godmother.

[7] On November 7, 1918, three days before the actual event, UP mistakenly reported that the German’s had signed an armistice. This sparked wide-spread, if short-lived, celebrations. How wrenching it must have been to learn that it was not true. For a detailed account of this little-known event, visit the New York Sun Blog.

[8] Suzan Rose Benedict. In 1914, she became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan.

 

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Minnie Cleghorn: Life in the Fortress – 1907

In my last post, we explored how Suzan Rose Benedict experience with women’s athletics while attending Smith College from 1891 to 1895 might have influenced fellow Norwalk High School teacher Minnie Cleghorn to start a girls’ physical education program. Today, we’ll check in with Miss Cleghorn to see how she fared with her athletic program at Norwalk High School, and with her life in general.

When Millie began the school year the fall of 1906, it was without her very good friend Suzan Benedict, who was now back at Smith College as an Assistant in Mathematics. This was Suzan’s first year teaching at Smith. The previous year, she had earned a Masters in Mathematics at Columbia University in New York City. [1]

How do I know that Suzan and Millie were very good friends. Well, for one thing, in 1906, Millie was living in Suzan’s house at 80 Seminary Street in Norwalk, known as “The Fortress” to the young people of the time, and had been since at least 1904. [2] And she continued to live there after Suzan left for Columbia. Not only were they good friends, they were business partners, too. In addition to teaching mathematics at Norwalk High School, Suzan was a realtor, and in 1901, she and Millie went in together with other teachers at Norwalk High School to buy land in a new development north of town. [3]

 

80 Seminary - 1880

“The Fortress,” 80 Seminary Street, Norwalk, Ohio, 1881. Doctor David Benedict stands on the front lawn. His wife Harriott is sitting on the front steps. Suzan Rose Benedict and her friends play croquet to the left of the house. Sadly, this stately home was torn down around 1995 after a fire.

In 1907, Minnie was forty-three years old. Since 1897, her first year at the high school, she had lived in Norwalk during the school year, visiting her mother and father in Wellington often, and spending her summer vacations there. [4]

I do not know where Minnie lived when she first arrived in Norwalk, but by 1904, she had taken up residence in the Benedict home at 80 Seminary Street. [5] Perhaps she had moved in before, but that is the earliest mention I can find of her being there. On June 11, 1900, she was not listed as a resident when Census enumerator Fred Husted visited the home. [6]

If in 1907, Suzan Benedict was not living at 80 Seminary, who was? David Benedict had died of a heart attack in 1901, [7] but his wife Harriott was still alive, although I believe that at this time she suffered from what has been called the “Benedict Curse:” Alzheimer’s.” [8] Mrs. Benedict’s caregiver would have been her eldest daughter Mary, who like Suzan and Minnie, had never married, and a granddaughter, Eleanor who was a sister of Harriott Wickham, Class of 1907. [9] A few years earlier, another Benedict daughter, Hattie, had moved into the house with her husband William Benham. [10]

After she started living in the Benedict home, Minnie became more active in the Norwalk community. At school, she led the high school orchestra, and was the sponsor of the school newspaper. Outside school, she became active in the Women’s Temperance Union and the Junior Auxiliary at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and organized a book club that met weekly at the Benedict home. [11]

Of most interest to us, is her involvement in athletics. Sometime, soon after she arrived at the school, she took over the girls’ athletic program. Or more likely, instead of taking it over, she started it. The only photo I have of her is a group shot of her “in the ranks” among her student in the 1906 girls’ gym class as they did calisthenics, probably Swedish Gymnastics, which involves light calisthenics, and was popular at Smith College when Suzan Benedict attended there.

 

1906-nhs-girls-gym

Minnie Cleghorn (third from right in white blouse) during a 1906 girls’ gym class in school hall on the 3rd Floor of Norwalk High School.

By 1904, Minnie had organized girls’ basketball teams that competed in intramural and extramural matches at Norwalk High School. [12] Although women’s college teams played Senda Berenson’s “line game rules,” high schools were more likely to play a five-player boys’ game, often named the ‘YMCA game.” Many high schools also allowed “interference rules,” where players could block and attempt to take the ball away. Most high schools in the Midwest played the YMCA game using interference rules. [13] Norwalk newspaper articles of the girls’ games reported rosters with five positions, two forwards, a center, and two guards, so I assume the Norwalk team followed the norm and played by YMCA rules.

That’s the story of Minnie Cleghorn’s life in Norwalk High School, and her involvement in fostering the Athletic Girl at the school, as I know it. To conclude this series on the Athletic Girl, in my next post we’ll take a look at Minnie’s legacy at Norwalk High School, and how she impacted the future lives of her female students.

Footnotes:

[1] “About College,” (Smith College Monthly, Volume 13, Number 1, October 1906) p. 66. Also: Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, Pioneering Wemen in American Mathematics: the pre-194 PhD’s(American Mathematical Society, 2009), 27, and Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, “Supplementary Material for Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhD’s,” 74:  http://www.ams.org/publications/authors/books/postpub/hmath-34-PioneeringWomen.pdf. Suzan Benedict remained at Smith College the remainder of her life, rising to Chairman of the Mathematics Department. In 1914, she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and was Class Dean at Smith for the Class of 1926. A summary of her life is at “Suzan Rose Benedict” in Wikipedia.

[2] “The Norwalk Directory,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, April 1, 1904, page 5, column 2.

[3] “Greater Norwalk is Assured,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 6, 1901, page 1, column 4.

[4] Minnie’s father James Cleghorn died in 1899. His obituary is at “Wellington,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, February 10, 1899, page 4, column 2.

[5] “The Norwalk Directory,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, April 1, 1904, page 5, column 2.

[6] 1900 US Federal Census: Kenton Ward 2, Huron County, Ohio; Roll: T623 1288; Page: 10B; 11 Jun 1900.

[7] See “Post # 17 The Later Years,” part of the Little Doctor on the Black Horse series on this website for an account of David Benedict’s last years and his death.

[8] I often heard stories of the “Benedict curse” while growing up; most of the Benedict daughters were afflicted by it, as were generations after them (to include my father). However, if Harriott Benedict suffered from Alzheimer’s, it probably should be called the “Deaver Curse” (her maiden name). I have been told by family that she suffered from this horrible disease, and that account seems to be supported by a diary entry written on the day of her death in 1909: I am glad that I am among the elder children, so that I can remember Grandmother as she was before this sickness.

[9] Mary (Mamie) Benedict, never married. Her niece Eleanor Wickham (my godmother), lived with her aunt from a young age under strange circumstances, as explained by Eleanor’s sister, Harriott Wickham (my grandmother), in a 1976 diary entry. The reason for [my mother’s] illness was caused by their stealing Eleanor from her – when I, as a little tot was very sick, & Eleanor was sent over to her grandmothers, where Aunt Mamie became so attached to her that she went in a tizzy when they tried to take her home Aunt Lil finally came over & told Mother that she was being very selfish not to let “poor Mamie” keep her’ & that she was taking her back as Mother had another child & she (Mama) was being very cruel to “poor Mamie,” who (incidentally) was driving them all crazy with her crying. Grandpa & Grandma (who had always spoiled “poor Mamie”) would not interfere – as, of course they should have!

It was their fault that poor Mamie was so spoiled. She had been a seven month baby, but was a perfectly healthy person (physically) though not (I think) mentally. Not mentally deficient, but never really grew up! – to stand on her own feet. Too timid – she just got her way by crying – and making everyone uncomfortable.  I was shy as a young child, but Mama made me stay in her clothes closet “if I had to cry.” She would say “I’m just not going to let you grow up like your Aunt Mame!” I never have been able to cry since, except in private – and not often then! I feel reasonably sure, also, that she (Aunt Mame) infected Eleanor with her unreasonable distrust of men! If she had grown up in her own home, I think E. would probably have married. When I was growing up, we visited Aunt Eleanor at 80 Seminary Street many Sunday afternoons. I remember her as an elderly, rather aloof woman who spoke with the same flat unemotional voice as my grandmother, but lacked her warmth of spirit.

[10] William Benham was Hattie’s second husband. Her first marriage was Henry Owen in 1881. Henry suffered from tuberculosis, so the couple moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where Henry was superintendent of the water works. In 1885, they returned to Norwalk for his father’s funeral, and he contracted pneumonia and died. Hattie remained in Norwalk after his death, and in 1897 married William Benham. The couple lived in William’s home on Main Street until sometime before 1905 when they moved into the Benedict home at 80 Seminary Street. Hattie never had children. See her WeRelate person page for details of her life.

[11] Around 1904, articles mentioning Minnie’s extracurricular activities began appearing in Norwalk newspapers. For instance: reading club, “Among the Clubs,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, November 7, 1905, page 3, column 4; advisor to the high school newspaper, “High School Newspaper,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, November 23, 1905, page 4, column 3; temperance society involvement, “Temperance Service,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, November 25, 1905, page 1, column 6; and member of the Norwalk lady’s orchestra, “Ladies Rehearse,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, April 6, 1905, page 1, column 3.

[12] “Norwalk Girl Won,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, December 19, 1904, page 2, column 3. Eleanor Wickham played in this game.

[13] Robert Pruter, “Chapter 8: The New Athletic Girl and Interscholastic Sports”, The Rise of American High School Sports and the Search for Control: 1880-1930, Syracuse University, 2013; 149.

 

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Suzan Rose Benedict at Smith College

In my last post, we followed the dark–and tragic–path of Suzan Rose Benedict in her journey from Norwalk, Ohio to Smith College. In this post, we’ll see how she fared at Smith, and how her experiences with women’s athletics might have influenced Millie Cleghorn when she introduced girls’ physical education at Norwalk High School.

In the fall of 1891, at the age of eighteen, Suzan joined the Class of 1895 at Smith College. [1] The school already had a long tradition of  promoting women’s athletics, but physical education for women there was about to make a dramatic change. The year she arrived, the college had just opened the Alumnae Gymnasium, with Swedish gymnastic equipment and a swimming pool, and outside the gym, a tennis court. [2] Physical education was mandatory, so I expect that Suzan took part, despite her heavy course load in science, mathematics and foreign language (German).

But did she participate in organized sports? I have found no record in the college archives that she did, but do know that she played sports in Norwalk. In the photo below, clipped from the image in the header of this website of her home in 1881, she and her friends are playing croquet beside the house. From later diary entries of her niece Harriott Wickham, I believe Suzan also enjoyed tennis.

Suzan Benedict and Friends Playing Tennis

Suzan Benedict playing croquet with friends in 1881

Halfway through Suzan’s first year at Smith, the gymnastics teacher fell ill and had to leave. In her place, in January 1892 the college hired Senda Bernenson, a recent graduate of the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. Senda was energetic and immediately became popular with students and fellow faculty at Smith. Her goal was to develop the best physical education program possible.

At that time, in addition to gymnastics, for many years students and faculty had enjoyed horseback riding, hiking, boating, swimming, bowling, fencing, roller skating, golf and other more individual pursuits. Tennis and baseball were also played, but the rules for those games did not allow for much competition. True competitive team sports were not considered proper for women at the school.

The same month Senda arrived at Smith, James Naismith, an instructor at the YMCA Training School at Springfield, Massachusetts, published an article describing the rules of a new game he had invented the previous year: basketball. According to her later account, after reading this article, Senda revised the rules Naismith described in his article to avoid physical roughness, and introduced the game to her students that spring.

Basketball was a big hit, and the freshman-sophomore match quickly became one of the most popular events of the year. A fellow student of Suzan Benedict’s in the Class of 1895 described one of these matches in her journal.

“The balconies were filled with spectators and the cheering and shouting was something tremendous. The Freshman held one side, decorated with lavender in every shade and shape, while the opposite side was radiant in the brilliant green of ’95 . . .  when Miss Martin [student captain] received the golden S the girls raised her on their shoulders and marched with her about the hall.” [2]

Suzan Rose Benedict

Suzan Benedict around 1890

I have found no record of who played for the class of 1895, so I do not know if Suzan Benedict was on the field. But I have no doubt that she was in the gymnasium the night of the game described above. After graduating in the spring of 1895 with a Bachelors in Chemistry, she returned to Norwalk and began teaching mathematics in the high school that fall. [3] Although she did not, to my knowledge, teach physical education, she must have remembered fondly those exciting basketball games at Smith, and shared those memories with her colleagues.

So, when Minnie Cleghorn arrived at Norwalk High School two years later, she had a source of inspiration to guide her as she introduced physical education there. We’ll see how that turned out in my next post: Minnie Cleghorn: Life in the Fortress – 1907.

 

Sources:

[1] “Suzan Rose Benedict,” Wikipedia

[2] Betty Spears, “Senda Berenson Abbott: New Woman: New Sport;” A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four, edited by Joan S. Hult and Marianna Trekel; National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, 1907, Reston, VA; 21, 27.

[3] Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, “Supplementary Material for Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhD’s,” 74:  http://www.ams.org/publications/authors/books/postpub/hmath-34-PioneeringWomen.pdf

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Suzan Rose Benedict and a Dark Path to Smith College

As I stated in my last post, I believe Minnie Cleghorn was inspired to introduce women’s physical education at Norwalk High School in part by accounts from fellow teacher Suzan Benedict about her experience at Smith College. I’ll get to that in a later post. But first, there is a question I’d like to explore. Why did Suzan attend such a prestigious college as Smith in the first place? Few young women were so fortunate in the late 1800s, especially those who lived in small towns like Norwalk.

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Suzan Rose Benedict was born in Norwalk, Ohio, the youngest child of David DeForrest Benedict, MD and Harriott Melvina Benedict (née Deaver). The story of her parents early years is told in the Sufferers Land Posts on this website, beginning with Post #30, Jonas Benedict.

During the Civil War, David Benedict served as a surgeon in the Union army, was captured at the Battle of Chickhaumagu and held at Libby Prison until exchanged. He returned to the army for the Battle of Atlanta and after the fall of that city, accompanied Sherman’s army on the March to the Sea. Eighty letters he wrote to his wife during the war survived, and formed the basis of “Little Doctor on the Black Horse,” by his granddaughter Harriott Wickham, on this website. He seemed to have been scarred by the war, and never practiced medicine again, instead going into pharmacy.

Suzan Benedict grew up in the home depicted in the header of this website with her father and mother, five older sisters, and a brother. Apparently, she excelled in high school, but I don’t believe that alone was enough for her parents to allow her to go to Smith College after graduation. None of her sisters went to college. Suzan’s sister Aggie (my great-grandmother) wanted to become a doctor, like her father, but he forbid it, believing women should not go into medicine. He did allow her to become a pharmacist and work in his pharmacy until she married.

Benedict Sisters 001.jpg

The Benedict Sisters. front row: Frances, Suzan, Ellen; back row: Mary, Hattie, Aggie.

Suzan’s brother Fred was a different matter altogether. After graduating high school, he attended his father’s alma mater, Kenyon College. He was the apple of his father’s eye, the family’s hope for the future in Norwalk, the last male descendant of Platt Benedict. And by all accounts, he was a personable fellow, almost too good to be true.

Fred Benedict

Fred Benedict

In March of 1885, Fred caught a bad cold. Perhaps he had been out in the weather. From growing up there, I know that March in Ohio can be raw and miserable. It is more likely, however, he caught it from other young men he lived in close quarters with. In any event, he went home to recover. But he did not recover. Every day a small item in the newspaper reported that his cold had worsened, then that it had turned to pneumonia. On March 11 came the dreaded news–Frederick Benedict had died at 2:30 that morning. [1]

Grief hung over the house, and the town, like a shroud. All were affected in some way, but especially Fred’s father. He was already damaged from his experience in the Civil War, [2] and he never quite recovered from the death of his only son.

Was this, then, the reason that Suzan was allowed to go to Smith College. I think it very well may be. No matter how it happened, in the Fall of 1891 at the age of eighteen, Suzan Rose Benedict began her freshman year at Smith College. [3] How she fared at Smith, and what experiences she had with women’s athletics at the school will be the subject of my next post: Suzan Rose Benedict at Smith College.

Footnotes:

[1] “Death of Fred Benedict,” Norwalk Daily Reflector; 11 Mar 1885; Page: 1 Column: 4. (Updates on Fred’s worsening health were published in the Norwalk Daily Reflector on 5, 9 and 10 March 1885).

[2] Ian Frazier, Family; Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, NY, 1994; 157. (New Yorker columnist Ian Frazier is also a descendant of David Benedict.)

[3] “Students: First Class,” Smith College Official Circular, Number 18, Northampton, MA, October, 1891; 29

Other Sources about Suzan Benedict:

“Suzan Rose Benedict,” Wikipedia.

Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: the pre-194 PhD’s; American Mathematical Society, 2009; 141.

 

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Minnie Cleghorn: Oberlin College

1906 NHS Girls Gym Cropped - Copy

Minnie Cleghorn – Norwalk High School Girls’ Gym Class (in center with white blouse)

In my last post, “Athletic Girl,” we learned that English teacher Minnie Cleghorn was responsible for starting a girls’ athletic program at Norwalk High School around the beginning of the twentieth century. In today’s post, we’ll learn more about her, and what might have inspired her to introduce physical education to her female students .

Minnie Cleghorn was born in Birmingham township, Erie County, Ohio to James and Mary Cleghorn in 1863, during the darkest days of the Civil War. Her mother had been born in Canada and immigrated to New York state sometime in the 1840s. James Cleghorn, a stone mason from Massachusetts, traced his ancestry to the Mayflower. His father was also named James, as was his grandfather, who had served in the Revolutionary War. James and Mary wed in Buffalo, New York in 1845, and shortly after that moved to Birmingham, Ohio. They had seven children, three of whom died in infancy. [1] Around 1870, they moved to Wellington in Lorain county where they resided the remainder of their lives. [2]

Although James and Mary were not affluent, they must have had a high regard for education. They enrolled Minnie at Oberlin College just up the road from Wellington for the 1883-1884 school year. As far as I can tell, she was the only of her family to attend college. [3] Did her experience at Oberlin College introduce Minnie to women’s physical education? I think so, and here is why.

Oberlin College 1880

Oberlin College 1880

Founded in 1833, Oberlin College, in 1837 became the first coed college in the U.S. and the second in the world. The college was a leader of the abolitionist movement. It was the first college to admit an African American student, and its students and faculty actively supported the town of Oberlin, which a historian called “the town that started the Civil War,” as a way station on the Underground Railroad. [4]

Women’s basketball began at Oberlin in 1896, six years before the men. This was long after Minnie had left the school, but she still must have been exposed to athletics during the year she spent there. Women’s athletics had a long tradition at Oberlin. [5] The college offered co-ed classes in croquet as early as 1860, [6] and the first gymnasium for women opened in 1881, two years before Minnie arrived. In 1885, a physical education instructor was hired for the women’s athletic program, the first in the nation. [7] Although by then Minnie had returned to Wellington to teach school, it is safe to say, I think, that she stayed in touch with her former classmates at Oberlin, and attended basketball games and other sports events over the years.

Minnie taught in Wellington schools until 1897, when she was hired by the Norwalk School System with a salary of $500 per year, making her one of the highest paid faculty in the system.

Appointed in June 1897 to teach in one of the four grammar schools in the city, [8] by the first day of classes, she had been bumped up to to teach English at the high school. [9]

Teaching mathematics at the Norwalk High School that year was Suzan Rose Benedict, who had received her undergraduate degree from Smith College two years previously. A great-granddaughter of Platt and Sarah Benedict, founders of the town of Norwalk, she lived in the Benedict mansion across the street from the high school with her parents and sisters. I believe that Suzan’s stories of her experiences at Smith may have inspired Minnie to introduce a girls’ athletic program at Nowalk High School. I’ll explain my reasoning for this assertion in my next post.

Sources:

[1] Minnie Cleghorn Personal Page, WeRelate Wiki

[2] “Wellington,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, February 10, 1899, page 4, column 2.

[3] “Students, 1833-1908,” General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1830-1908; Oberlin, Ohio; April 1, 1909, page 194.

[4] “Oberlin College,” Wikipedia

[5] Marc Horger, “Basketball and Athletic Control at Oberlin College: 1896-1915,” Journal of Sport History; Volume 23, Number 3; Fall 1996; 258-9.

[6] Kenney, Karen, “The Realm of Sports and the Athletic Woman: 1850-1900,” ,” in Her Story in Sport: A Historical Anthology of Women in Sport, Ed. Reet Howell, PhD. (Leisure Press, West Point, NY: 1982), 123.

[7] Marc Horger, “Basketball and Athletic Control at Oberlin College: 1896-1915,” 271.

[8] “Teachers for the Next Year,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 9, 1897, page 3, column 5

[9] “Public Schools,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, September 4, 1897, page 3, column 5

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