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.



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.


[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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Hardship and Tragedy

George Woodruff and the other men started work the day after they arrived at Village House, clearing enough land to plant corn that spring. The soil in the area was a clay loam “well suited for agriculture, but before they could take advantage of its fertility, they needed to clear away the trees.

snowy-woodsThis was no easy matter. The forests were heavily timbered with enormous white oaks, whitewood and black walnut, generally eighty to one-hundred feet in height and three feet in diameter. Some were as much as six foot in diameter, and as they began to cut them down, George and the others found by their rings that those giants were upwards of three-hundred years old.

Game was abundant; deer and wild turkey, especially, and provided them with much needed food to supplement what they had brought with them. Wolves were also numerous, and their howling kept George and the rest of the party awake many nights.

Hardships on the trek west, and the privations of their new home took a toll on the settlers, especially the children. During the families’ sojourn in Trumbull, Roxanna Lawrence had had a baby boy, and she carried the infant at her breast all the way to “Village House.” But the harsh conditions of travel and the primitive conditions in their new home took a toll on this delicate creature. Nine days after they arrived, the infant died.

gravestone-in-forestThey buried him on the banks of Mud Run, just north of Village House. People in those days were accustomed to death, it visited often, even in the relatively civilized east. But accustomed as they might be, they could never become immune to the grief of the loss of a loved one–especially the loss of a child so young.

More deaths were to follow; which is the subject of my next post.

This story is based on accounts by John Niles in “Memoirs of Norwich Township,” The Firelands  Pioneer; Volume II, number 2; The Firelands Historical Society; March, 1860, pages 32-46, and by W.W. Williams in his book History of the Fire-Lands Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers, Press of Leader Printing Company, Cleveland Ohio, 1897, pages 417-425.


Laura Joslin – Tales of Tragedy

As we saw in my last post, Laura Tuttle, mother of Sarah Barnett of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, lost her father Arad Tuttle when she was around twenty years old. Her mother, Calista Tuttle, remarried soon after Arad passed away. Calista’s new husband was Daniel Harris, eight years her senior, and a constable in the town of Clyde, Ohio. This was his third marriage. In 1880, Calista and Laura lived with him at 108 Vine Street in Clyde. Laura’s sister Melissa had left home in 1877 when she had married a man named Guy North and went to live with him in Bellevue, Ohio in Huron County.

On November 3, 1886, Laura married James Barnett in Sandusky, Ohio. By this time she was twenty-nine, much older than was customary for women to marry in those days. What was she doing in Sandusky? James Barnett’s family were in the fishing industry, so there would have been no need for him to visit Clyde. It is more likely that Sarah had left Clyde sometime between 1880 and 1886 and had found employment in Sandusky.

In August of 1887, a daughter was born whom James and Laura named Lelia. She was followed two years later by another daughter, Sarah, the object of all these posts. Now that we have reached Sarah, let’s take another look at her family tree.


Most likely, Sarah never knew her father. He died within a year or two of her birth, leaving her mother Laura a single mom with two young girls to care for. What could Laura do in this situation? In those days, there were not many options for young widows with children. She could move back to Clyde and live with her mother and stepfather. Or she could look for another husband. She took a cue from her mother and chose the latter option, In 1892 she married Augustus Joslin, the superintendent of the Norwalk Waterworks (or retired superintendent, he was sixty-seven years old when he married Laura).

Augustus had lost his wife only a couple years before, so he must have been lonely. However, it seems strange (to me, at least) for a sixty-seven year old man to marry a thirty-six year old woman with two young girls. And how did it seem to Lelia and Sarah, growing up with a father who could have been their grandfather. Because they were so young when their biological father passed away, Augustus was probably the only father they had ever known. What kind of father was he? Unfortunately, I have found nothing in the records that would allow me to make a judgement.

By 1902, Augustus’s health began to fail, and after suffering for two years, nursed by his young wife, no doubt, he passed away the day after New Year’s, 1906. Laura now had a nice home at 117 West Main Street for herself and her girls, and, one would think, sufficient means to last her the rest of her life. Fortune had smiled on her, but soon she would have another ailing elder relative to care for, and in a little over a year, she would be shocked by a terrible tragedy, right in her own home. We’ll learn about that in my next post, titled “Temporary Derangement.”


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Who Was Sara Joslin?

In my December 7 post, I celebrated the 110th anniversary of two intramural basketball games between the junior and senior classes of Norwalk High School. Newspaper articles in The Evening Standard and The Daily Reflector gave detailed accounts of the games, and the names and exploits of members of the boys’ and girls’ teams that played. One name on the senior girls’ team stood out to me. One newspaper reported a Sara Joslin, another Laura Joslin. But neither name appears in the commencement photo of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, nor in any newspaper accounts of the class. So who was she? In this post, I’ll explain how I solved this mystery, and how what it tells us about the institution of marriage, and the status of women, over a hundred years ago.


Sara Joslin in the Junior/Senior Study Hall, Norwalk High School, Spring of 1906

I began this series on the Class of 1907 by posting a photo dated 1906 of the Norwalk High School Senior Junior study hall that I had found ten years ago, in my grandmother’s (Harriott Wickham) papers. I had assumed that this was from the 1906-1907 school year, but looking at it again, I see names I recognize from the previous year, (Sophia Harkness, President of the Class of 1906, for one), so it must have been taken in the spring of 1906. Sara Joslin is in that photo, seated in the back of the room. I zoomed in on what I think is her likeness, and have tagged it with an arrow. Who was Sara and why doesn’t she appear in the commencement photo for the class?

Ancestry.com to the rescue. it didn’t take much digging to discover


Sarah Barnett

that Sarah Joslin was actually Sarah Barnett. She lived with her mother, Laura Joslin (which explains why “Sara” became “Laura” in the Evening Standard account of the December 7 basketball game), and her sister Lelia at 117 West Main Street.

The more I dug into Sarah’s family history, the more interesting it became, especially the stories of her mother, Laura Joslin and her grandmother Calista Harris. To begin the story though, we need to go back to Sarah’s great-great-great-great grandfather Arad Tuttle, an early pioneer of northwestern Ohio. He will be the subject of my next post.


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Christmas Day 1906 in Norwalk, Ohio – Family and Charity

Go to Christmas Eve 1906 Post


Harriott Wickham

Christmas Day in 1906 fell on a Tuesday. In Norwalk, Ohio, neither newspaper published on that day, but their editions for Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas paint a picture of a holiday of celebration and good will. There was no mention of any students in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, however. Fortunately, I do have an account of Christmas Day a couple years later from one member of the class, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham. In 1908, she wrote this in her diary.

Dec. 25, 1908, – Such a nice Christmas, and I haven’t been much of anywhere either. The kids got up this morning at four o’clock, and the rest of us at five. Then the kids all went back to bed. I had some breakfast and then I went back too about half past seven. I meant to go to church, but I didn’t. Irene came over just before we had our dinner, and so she sat down with us and ate another. Oh! Ichirstmas-scene ate so much! After dinner we went over to Grandma’s, and then later Irene and I went over to Sophie’s for a few minutes. When I got back to Grandma’s, Ed was there, and she and Lucy came over in the evening. Oh, I almost forgot my Christmas presents. I got a white sweater jacket that I have been wanting for just ages, and a fountain pen, and ten dollars from Aunt Hattie, and two books and two handkerchiefs from my school kids, and a comb & a Larrette and a pair of stockings and a hair-recieveo, and a box of ruches and a pair of cuff links, and a butterfly pin, and a bow and a buffer and an apron, and – oh, several pictures and I can’t think what all, and a pearl and amethyst bead chain thing, awfully pretty from Uncle Louis. He got them while in India, and sent one to each of us girls in the family. He sent Mama and Grandma and the aunts some beautiful lace things and Indian silk things and Roman scarves, all things he picked up in his travels besides $150 apiece. Isn’t he great? Altogether it has been a very Merry Christmas, and I am so ‘appy, but very tired.

Obviously, Harriott’s family was well off. Many other students in the class did not enjoy such bounty, I am sure. However, I am beginning to suspect that most of them were fortunate to be attending high school at all. As I’ve researched the families and circumstances of the members of the class, I have begun to realize that almost all are what we would consider middle class. By this time, Norwalk was home to many manufacturers. What about the children of the men and women who worked in the factories of the town? I suspect that they were already in the workforce, and unable to attend school at all. More on that in future posts.


A Hair Receiver

Several of Harriott’s presents were unfamiliar to me and I had to check with Google (how did I survive without you, Google, in the not so distant past?) to discover what they were. A “hair recieveo,” or hair receiver, was used to collect hair after brushing. A ruche, I learned, is “a gathered ruffle or pleat of fabric used for trimming or decorating garments.” But when it comes to a “Larrette,” Google failed me. Any idea what that could be, dear readers?

Many citizens of Norwalk spent Christmas Day at home or visiting relatives and friends, as Harriott and her acquaintances did. But if that wasn’t enough, the roller rink was open for business, as numerous ads in both the Daily Reflector and the Evening Herald had advertised the day before.

Both newspapers announced the next day that great joy visited the Children’s Home on Christmas morning. A tree laden with fruits, nuts and toys greeted the children, courtesy of the Knights Templar. After the matron, a Miss Head, passed out presents (can you picture that scene? I can—one straight out of a Dickens novel), everyone enjoyed a feast—after dismantling the tree.

The ten inmates of the county jail enjoyed a Christmas feast, as well. A table was set in the “big corridor” of the institution and laden with fried chicken and various side dishes—and even cigars. By the end of the day, but probably after the festive meal, another poor soul was added to their number. An article in the Norwalk Daily Reflector the following day reported that a man named Pat Murray “celebrated too much with liquor, and as a result was arrested and locked up.”


Go to Christmas Eve 1906 Post


Firelands History Website 10,000 Visit Milestone

The Firelands History Website has reached an important milestone, recording over 10,000 visits. Thanks to all who have stopped by to read Sufferers’ Land: A History, by Dave Barton, Little Doctor on the Black Horse, by Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, and the many genealogies of early settlers of the Firelands. Over the next few months, the existing genealogies will be expanded, more families added, and additional stories posted. Please return often to learn more about the history of the Sufferers’ Land.

Thank You!

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