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.


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.


[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.


[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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Shutout – Norwalk HS Girls’ Championship Game 1907

The Norwalk High School Class of 1907 boys’ basketball team did not play in the 1906-1907 intramural championship game. They were eliminated months earlier in the season by the juniors, who went on to win the boys’ championship game the evening of Friday, March 22, 1907. But the senior girls’ team did play–and won, shutting out the freshmen girls six to zip. [1]

I don’t have a championship photo of the senior girls’ team, as I do for the Junior boys’ team. But I can match faces to names with individual portraits of the team members that I clipped from their commencement class photograph.

Clockwise from top left, they are, Lillian Smith, Florence Davidson, Ruth Jenkins, Ruby Hoyt, Harriott Wickham, Florence Bascom, and Sarah Barnett aka, Sara Joslin.

Prim and proper here in their commencement dresses, these girls would have appeared differently on the basketball court in “long, dark woolen bloomers, long sleeved blouse to match the bloomers, dark stockings, and flat-heeled soft shoes.” [2] See the picture of the girls’ gym class at Norwalk High School in 1906 for an idea of what they wore in that class.

We may not think of girls in 1907 engaging in sports, but the “Athletic Girl” was all the rage at high schools and colleges during the first decade of the 19th century. It was an offshoot of the “New Woman” movement of the last half of the previous century. [3]

There was an active girls sports program at Norwalk High School in 1907, and basketball was an integral part of it. The gym teacher and girls’ basketball coach at the school was English teacher Miss Minnie Cleghorn, whom I briefly introduced in this blog on February 11th.

What inspired Miss Cleghorn to introduce basketball and physical education to Norwalk High School. We’ll look at that, and learn more about the “Athletic Girl” of the early 1900s, in a series beginning with my next post: Athletic Girl 1907.


[1] “Senior Girls and Junior Boys are Champions,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 23, 1907, page 1, column 3. and “Decides Basketball Superiority,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 23, 1907, page 4, column 3.

[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.

[3] 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; 145-148.

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Final Defeat – Norwalk HS Basketball 1907

Saturday afternoon, March 23, 1907, a day after the Junior boys’ basketball team’s intramural victory over the sophomores, the Norwalk High School regular boy’s basketball team was defeated badly in an away game by a Sandusky squad, 52 to 12. Leonard Delamater did not make the trip, and The Norwalk Evening Herald attributed this embarrassing loss to his absence, even though him missing the intramural game the night before did not keep the junior class from winning the championship.

The Norwalk Daily Reflector did not cover the Saturday afternoon match at all. So much for supporting the home team through thick or thin.

After a couple premature reports of the end of the 1906-1907 Norwalk High School basketball season, I can now report with confidence that March 23, 1907 was indeed the last game.

As we wrap up the season, let’s look at who in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 went out for basketball their senior year.

Clockwise from top left they are Harry Holiday, Robert Venus, Arthur Young, Homer Beattie, and Sheldon Laning. (click on the links for posts about each boy).

These boys were not as successful in basketball their senior year as they would have liked, I am sure. Who was successful at basketball that season? The girls of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, that’s who. We’ll see how successful, and launch a series of articles about the “Athletic Girl” movement, in my next post.


“Senior Girls and Junior Boys are Champions,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 23, 1907, page 1, column 3.

“Decides Basketball Superiority,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 23, 1907, page 4, column 3.

“Sandusky Defeats High School Team,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 25, 1907, page 4, column 3.

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Norwalk Basketball Champions 1907: Who Were They?

On Friday, March 22, 1907, one hundred-ten years ago today, spectators crowded the school hall on the third floor of the “Old” Norwalk High School in Norwalk, Ohio for the school’s annual boys’ and girls’ intramural championship basketball games. In the boys’ match, the juniors defeated the sophomores 15 to 12 in what The Norwalk Daily Reflector described as the most exciting game ever played at the school. The match was hotly contested from the very beginning, and it was not until the final whistle that the Class of 1908 was assured of victory.

Who were the young athletes who won glory for their class and were borne triumphantly on the shoulders of their schoolmates around the hall? Newspaper accounts of the game reported the roster: Clifford Williams, Fred Harkness, Pitt Curtis, Walter Sutter, and Phil Fulstow. But those are just names. Who were they really? What did they look like, these young sporting heroes?

Well, I have good news–and I have bad news. Harriott Wickham, a member of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 (and my grandmother), left in her papers a commemorative photo of those young champions. Unfortunately, unlike with every other photo I have from her, she did not record their names.

Anyway, here they are, decked out in their sporting garb.

NHS 1907 Champions

Seven young men posing solemnly for the camera–six in uniform, one in street clothes. Was the latter a player, or the coach. And what’s with the teddy bear perched on the basketball between his knees?

The rosters in the newspapers list five players, but in this photo there are six boys in uniform. I believe the additional boy in this photo is Leonard Delamater. On December 7, 1906, he played for the junior class in another intramural game, but for some reason, he did not play in the championship game.

I’ve searched the internet and genealogical sources for photos of these boys. Nothing there. However, when I looked back through Harriott Wickham’s papers, I found this photo of her and several of her friends. Fortunately, in this instance, she did record their names for posterity.

Friends - Lucy Rule, Me, Sara B. Sophie Harkness, Walter, Leonard Delamater, Fred Harkness

Front row: Lucy Rule, Harriott Wickham, Sarah Barnett, Sophie Harkness. Back row: Walter ? , Leonard Delamater, Fred Harkness

So, now we know how Leonard Delamater and Fred Harkness looked. Comparing their faces with those of the boys on the basketball team, I believe Leonard is sitting on the far left in the team photo, and Fred is standing behind him, second from left.

It’s a puzzle. But I do like a good mystery.

What do you think? Leave a comment below letting me know if you agree with me–or not–about Fred and Leonard. Also, if you have any idea of the identity of the other boys in the team photo, I’d really love to hear about it.


The same evening the junior boys’ team defeated the sophomores, the senior girls representing the Class of 1907 defeated the freshman girls. We’ll get to that game in a couple days, but first, in my next post, we will see how the boy’s regular team fared when they played the Sandusky High School squad on Saturday, March 23, 1907 in the last extramural game of the season.


“Senior Girls and Junior Boys are Champions,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 23, 1907, page 1, column 3.

“Decides Basketball Superiority,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 23, 1907, page 4, column 3.

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Young in Years – Old in Crime

In my last post, I reported that on Friday, March 7, 1907, the Norwalk High School boys basketball team lost to Elyria in a close match–then I drifted off subject to wonder about young people of the day who did not attend high school at all.

The report of the game was in the Saturday issue of The Norwalk Daily Reflector one-hundred and ten years ago today. In that same edition that reported on the advantages of sport and scholarship for those fortunate enough to receive a high school education, was an account that may shed light about life on the other side of the tracks in 1907.


J.W. Johnson did not go to high school, of that I am confident. He did, however, spend four years attending the Boys’ Industrial School in Lancaster, Ohio, where he was sent at the age of twelve for burglary and larceny.


Boys’ Industrial School, Lancaster, Ohio

The Boys’ Industrial School was not successful in instilling in J.W. the values and morals undoubtedly impressed upon the minds of students in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. Within four years of his “graduation” young Johnson was convicted of larceny and sentenced to a year in prison, an institution he was in and out of the next few years.

His most recent incarceration came on February 12, 1907: eighteen months for stabbing and wounding a man in Huron County. Sheriff Snyder, who transported J.W. to the penitentiary,  later learned of the young man’s criminal record. The sheriff did not ponder whether a life of crime begun at such a young age might be the result of a disadvantaged upbringing. He did, however, lament that, if the facts had been known, J.W. would have received a longer sentence.

How many students in the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 do you think were shown this article by their parents? When I was their age, I was warned of the horrors of “reform school,” so I’d say it’s a good bet they were.

What were the conditions at the Boys’ Industrial School where J.W. Johnson was an inmate from his twelfth to his sixteenth year. How did his experiences there contribute to his later life of crime. We’ll find out in my next post.



“Young in Years, Old in Crime,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 9, 1907, page 2, column 4.

“Boys’ Industrial School,” Ohio History Connection.


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More Basketball – Class of 1907: Which Side of the Tracks?

Basketball Exciting ContestIn “Ending the Season with a Loss” on March 1st, I posted that the boys and girls basketball teams at Norwalk High School had played their last extramural games of the season with losses to Fremont and Clyde teams. It turns out I was wrong–at least about the Norwalk boys team. They had at least one more loss to go–this time an away game against an Elyria squad they had defeated the month before.

According to The Norwalk Daily Reflector, the match on this day, one-hundred ten years ago, was hotly contested, Norwalk led through most of the second half. But Elyria rallied, and when the whistle blew at the end of the game, they had won, 20 to 16.

As in the previous game against Elyria, the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 was represented by Arthur Young and Sheldon Laning. Look at the images of these young men that I cropped from their class commencement photo. Well-dressed and intelligent looking boys, were they not? But were these young men, and their classmates, representative of all of Norwalk’s youth?

The population of Norwalk in 1907 was around 9,000. [1] Twenty-eight students were in the class of 1907, fewer than I would have expected from a city that size, and almost all of them came from the “upper class” of the city. Sheldon Laning’s father had a successful

Norwalk Street Scene

Main Street, Norwalk, Ohio

publishing company, and had recently been elected to be a U.S. Congressman. Arthur Young’s father was also a leader in the community, and Harriott Wickham, who is often featured in these posts, was a descendant of the founder of the town, and her father was editor of The Norwalk Daily Reflector.

Surely, not all young people in Norwalk had such fortunate backgrounds. By this time, the town had become a modest manufacturing center, employing hundreds of workers in factories around the city. What kind of education did the children of those men and women receive? From my research so far, I’ve found that in 1907 few, if any, sons and daughters of factory workers were in the public high school. Did they mix at all with those who were fortunate enough to attend? We’ll look further into those questions in later posts.


The same issue of The Norwalk Daily Reflector that reported about the basketball game, also carried an article that told of another young man, not much older than the students in the Class of 1907, who was in a very different place: a state penitentiary. More about him in my next post: Young in Years – Old in Crime.


“Exciting Contest,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, March 9, 1907, page 1, column 7.

“High School Stung Again,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 9, 1907, page 4, column 4.

[1] 14th U.S. Census: Summary for the United States by Divisions and States, page 18. (

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