COLUMBUS – Courageous words, steadfast support, personal integrity and creative initiative characterize many of Ohio’s most famous citizens – the women who quietly made a difference in their neighborhood or who loudly called for national change.
Ohio women’s impact.
Time may have diminished their voices, but their efforts continue to impact many lives. Whether they encouraged a famous pair of brothers to take flight or boldly challenged slavery, Ohio women have many stories waiting to be discovered.
Seeing the light.
Navigable waterways and improved shipping routes were essential to Ohio’s development. With the opening of the Ohio & Erie Canal in the early 1800s and establishment of lighthouses along Lake Erie’s shore, boats could carry supplies into the state and export raw materials.
The Marblehead Lighthouse was completed in 1821 to guide ships safely into Sandusky Bay near the Bass Islands.
After her husband passed away, Rachel Wolcott assumed the lighthouse keeper duties and thus became the first female lighthouse keeper on the Great Lakes.
Each night she would light 13 whale oil lamps, record the weather conditions and log the number of ships that had passed that day.
Visitors can now climb the same steps and enjoy Wolcott’s view from the top of Marblehead Lighthouse during public tours.
On the wild side.
Phoebe Mozey preferred the view through the sight on her rifle. Better known as Anne Oakley, she amazed audiences with her sharp shooting and signature heel kick.
Born near present-day Yorkshire, Oakley later traveled with the Wild West show. This traveling festival featured “Little Sure Shot”, her close friend Chief Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill with a variety of other acts.
At times their audiences included presidents, dignitaries and international leaders. During a European tour in 1890 and 1891, Oakley shot a cigarette out of Crown Prince Wilhelm’s hand.
In an era where men commonly ran the show, Oakley stole the spotlight. Her western spirit is captured in the annual Annie Oakley Days Festival in Greenville.
Other women may have been upstaged by significant spouses or siblings, but their support and encouragement contributed to numerous technological advances.
The modern aircraft is one high-flying example. Orville and Wilbur Wright often receive credit for the work, but Katharine Wright offered support and encouragement as they experimented in The Wright Cycle Company Shop in Dayton.
Women also assembled and transported planes during World War II and have been at the forefront of space exploration.
Kathyrn Sullivan, president and CEO of COSI Columbus, has flown in three shuttle missions and logged more than 500 hours in space.
COSI Columbus’ newest exhibit, Space, alludes to her journey and experiences in this immense frontier.
The International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland documents the Wright family story and other influential female fliers.
Power of the pen.
Women have also wielded the power of the pen. Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Connecticut and moved to Cincinnati when her father was named president of Lane Theological Seminary.
In this atmosphere she was exposed to intellectual debate and first-hand experience with the system of slavery. Her family provided refuge for escaped slaves and worked toward abolition.
Her most famous work, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” resulted from these experiences. This book quickly gained national attention and set sales records both in the United States and in Europe.
Portions of the text were written during her time in Cincinnati. The original home is open to the public as a cultural and educational center.
More literary greatness.
The lingering effects of racism shaped the future and career of another Ohio literary great, Lorain native Toni Morrison.
Growing up in this immigrant community of Europeans, southern blacks and Mexicans, she attended an integrated school. She was the only black student in her class and the only student able to read.
Nurtured by authors such as Tolstoy and Jane Austen, she pursued an English degree at Howard University. Later, she was the first black American and only the eighth woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature for her novel Beloved.
Margaret Garner, a slave who escaped to Ohio from Kentucky, inspired this story. Visitors to Lorain can retrace her steps throughout the city or relax with one of her books at the Lorain Public Library.
Humorist Erma Bombeck continued the Ohio literary tradition in a different form. Her wit brightened thousands of lives through her daily column.
A Dayton native and University of Dayton graduate, professors told her she would never make a career in writing. Determined to prove them wrong, she started as a reporter for the Ohio Journal Herald.
After marrying her husband and raising a family, she pitched the idea of a daily humor column to a local editor. Skepticism yielded to success as Bombeck produced more than 4,000 columns and wrote 15 books before she died of kidney transplant complications in 1996.
Bombeck’s memory lives on at the University of Dayton where her papers and letters are housed. She is buried nearby in Woodland Cemetery, not far from where she once lived.
The Buckeye State has many local heroines with stories waiting to be told. The Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism can help travelers find these stories through a free call to 1-800-BUCKEYE or by visiting www.OhioTourism.com.
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