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Lake Erie College is a private liberal arts college located in Painesville, Ohio. One of the oldest institutions for higher learning in the Western Reserve, the college traces its roots to the seminary movement with the founding of its predecessors, the Willoughby Female Seminary in 1847 and Lake Erie Female Seminary in 1856. In 1908, the state of Ohio granted the charter to establish the institution of Lake Erie College, as it is known today.
Elizabeth Bartlett GrannisPhoto: Lake Erie College
A publisher, humanitarian, suffragist, and dress reformist, Elizabeth Bartlett Grannis was born March 27, 1840 in Hartford, CT to Edward P. Bartlett and Maria M. (Howard) Bartlett. After her father’s death, Elizabeth and her mother relocated to Orwell, OH where she continued to pursue an education at Warren High School. By the age of 14, Elizabeth was already unearthing her life’s call as a philanthropist as she began gathering up the homeless, orphans, and other castaways and bringing them to a Sunday School class, which she taught herself. In 1859, Elizabeth attended Lake Erie College (then known as Lake Erie Female Seminary) in Painesville, OH, and studied there until 1862. Elizabeth married Frederick Winslow Grannis in 1865, but their marriage ended in divorce.
In June 1873, Grannis purchased The Church Union, a religious newspaper distributed weekly, nationwide. Grannis was the owner and editor of The Church Union for over 23 years. Being a very religious woman, Grannis founded and became president of the National Christian League for the Promotion of Purity in 1887. Some of Grannis’ ideas regarding suffrage began to surface through her work with the organization as she dealt with issues such as equal rights, equal station, and equal responsibility standards for both men and women.
It was Grannis’ religious convictions that led her to become involved in reshaping lunacy laws, women’s dress, and obtaining suffrage for women. She became the vice president of the Society for the Benefit of the Insane, which worked to give justice to those who had been wrongly admitted to insane asylums. On the subject of women’s dress, Grannis advocated for the Dress Reform movement by campaigning against corsets and popular, low-cut, women’s evening gowns.
In her later life, Grannis became heavily involved in the Women’s Suffrage movement. As early as 1888, Grannis began volunteering to work at the polls, and attempted to register to vote each year. When denied, she would fill out a ballot and give it to a male member of her family to submit it on her behalf. Grannis voted legally, at last, in 1918; taking herself to the polls in her wheelchair at the age of eighty. After her triumph, she said, "I have waited long for this day, and I pray that every woman in the land may soon have the same privilege.” Grannis passed away at her home several years later on March 22, 1926.
Researched and written by Alexandra Strawbridge.
Frances Jennings CasementPhoto: Lake County Historical Society
Frances Jennings Casement was born on April 23, 1840 in Painesville, OH to Charles C. Casement and Mehitabel P. Jennings. After attending the district school and then the Painesville Academy for a year, Frances attended Willoughby Female Seminary (the predecessor of Lake Erie College) during the winter term of 1855-56. Shortly after completing her studies, she met and married John S. “Jack” Casement (who would later become a general in the American Civil War) on October 14, 1857.
Jack's contract work in the railroad industry moved him to Wyoming, where Frances connected with suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton during her visits to her husband. In 1870, Jack returned to Painesville, where Frances continued to involve herself in the women’s rights cause. On November 30, 1883, Casement and twenty local women established the Painesville Equal Rights Association (ERA) of which Frances was elected president of the organization. The purpose of the ERA was not only to gain suffrage for women, but also to inform its members of their rights and duties as United States citizens and to discuss the political issues of the day. The ERA eventually reached 200 members, and two more like-minded organizations grew out of the Painesville ERA: One meeting in Mentor and the other in Kirtland, OH. It was at one of the Kirtland meetings that Casement gave her first speech, despite her claims that she was not a talker, and could not give a speech.
Together with the ERA and as an individual, Frances was invited to attend numerous special suffrage-related meetings and conventions. She was invited to the 16th annual American Women’s Suffrage Convention in Chicago, IL, where she gave a report on women’s suffrage progress in Ohio on November 20, 1884. Earlier on November 13, Susan B. Anthony came to Painesville and spoke in conjunction with the ERA at a local church. That evening, the Casements invited Anthony to supper at their home, to which Anthony obliged. Frances also served as President of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association (OWSA) from 1885-1888, and was later recognized as Honorary President under the presidency of Harriet Taylor Upton.
In February 1907, both Jack and Frances were made life members of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Jack was always very supportive of women’s suffrage, though he would not live to see women granted the ballot; he passed away on December 13, 1909. Frances, however, would see the 19th amendment ratified in 1920, proving that her work for women's suffrage over the previous 30 years had paid off. She passed away eight years later in 1928.
Researched and written by Alexandra Strawbridge.
Lake Erie Female SeminaryPhoto: Lake County Historical Society
Lake Erie Female Seminary was a higher educational institution established for women in Painesville, OH. The school was founded in 1856 following a fire that burnt down the Willoughby Female Seminary, the first all-female seminary in the Western Reserve. The school’s curriculum was based on the ideals adopted by Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and served as an institution that would focus on completing a woman’s education and prepare her for life as a wife, mother, educator, or missionary.
The Lake Erie Female Seminary was founded by Timothy Rockwell, Silas Trumbull Ladd, Reuben Hitchcock, William Lee Perkins, Aaron Wilcox, and Charles Austin Avery. The first president of the seminary was Lydia Sessions and the first six teachers all originated from Mount Holyoke. The school’s first class in 1859 had 127 students, all of whom were required to be at least 15 years old and able to pass basic subject enrollment examinations. Courses taught at the seminary included math, history, Latin, science, philosophy, and literature classes. The school provided liberal arts studies, but emphasis remained on training women in domestic affairs, with students completing one hour of domestic work each day. Women also had the opportunity to participate in athletics, including track and field, tennis, croquet, biking, and basketball. Graduates received a seminary diploma upon completion of their coursework. The first graduating class of the Lake Erie Female Seminary consisted of nine women in 1860.
In 1898, the school altered its coursework and name, allowing students to qualify for a college degree from the Lake Erie Seminary and College. In 1908, the state of Ohio granted the charter to officially establish Lake Erie College, as it is known today. Many notable individuals have spoken at the institution, including Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Amelia Earhart, and President James Garfield. The institution taught and graduated numerous students who went on to play important roles in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, including Frances Jennings Casement, Emma Gillett, Ellen Spencer Mussey, and Elizabeth Bartlett Grannis. The history of Lake Erie Female Seminary remains a significant aspect of women’s history, symbolizing the need and rise of women earning the opportunity to further their education.
Researched and written by Kayla Clark.
Ellen Spencer Mussey
Emma Gillett and Ellen Spencer MusseyPhotos: Britannica
Emma Millinda Gillett was born on July 30, 1852 and graduated from Lake Erie Female Seminary (the predecessor to Lake Erie College) in 1870. She worked for ten years as a school teacher, but developed an interest in pursuing a law career. In 1880, she moved to Washington, D.C. and attended Howard University, a traditionally African American institution, where she was one of two white female students. In 1881, Gillett became the first female notary public appointed by President Garfield. She graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in 1882 and Master’s Degree in 1883. Gillett became the seventh woman member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar in 1890.
Ellen Spencer Mussey was born in Geneva, OH on May 13, 1850, and attended Lake Erie Female Seminary from 1865-1866. Mussey’s father created the Spencerian system of penmanship, for which he opened the Spencerian Business College. In 1869, she moved to Washington, D.C. to lead the women’s division of the Spencerian Business College, where she attended her first suffrage meeting and married lawyer Robert Delavan Mussey shortly after. Mussey studied law under her husband and conducted his practice during and after his bout with Malaria. To continue the practice after his death, she applied to the law schools of Columbian College and National University in order to gain admittance to the bar. Both colleges rejected her on the basis of sex. Mussey was admitted to the American Bar Association in 1893 after bypassing the written exam and passing the oral exam. Mussey was a founding member and longtime Counsel for the National American Red Cross, and also for Swedish and Norwegian legislation for twenty-five years. In 1896, Mussey was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court bar, where she argued and won ten cases and sponsored 25 women’s memberships.
In 1895, Mussey recruited Emma Gillett to assist in developing the Woman’s Law Class, which began educating female apprentices on February 1, 1896. Thereafter, Mussey and Gillett dedicated themselves to promoting educational and professional opportunities for women in the law field, as well as the legal and political status of women. Experiencing first-hand the challenges women faced getting into law school, Gillett and Mussey recognized the need for greater accessibility for women to pursue law careers. In 1898, they incorporated the Woman’s Law Class into the Washington College of Law (WCL), a degree-granting institution. WCL’s primary goal was “provid[ing] such a legal education for women as will enable them to practice the legal profession.” WCL became the first law school established by and for women, but adopted a co-educational rather than single-sex format, symbolizing gender equality. Gillett and Mussey served as the first two deans of the college, becoming the first women to lead an American law school. The college became notable throughout the country, drawing both men and women to enroll in the program.
Both Gillett and Mussey were members of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Gillett worked on the Finance Committee in addition to serving as the Recording Secretary of the District of Columbia Equal Suffrage Association. Mussey participated in numerous events, including the Women’s March of 1913 in Washington, D.C., where she led a group of female lawyers before Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration. Mussey also traveled abroad to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to study women’s suffrage, and upon returning to the United States, she gave a series of lectures illustrating foreign involvement in the movement.
Researched and written by Kayla Clark.
Lake County Bibliography
Casement, Dan Dillon. “Frances Jennings Casement - 1840-1928: A Pioneer Childhood.” The Historical
Society Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 4, 1971.
Casement, Frances Jennings. Frances Jennings Casement Suffrage Diary. Manuscript. Ohio History
Connection, Frances Casement Collection. 1883-1885.
Clark, Mary L. ”The Founding of the Washington College of Law: The First Law School Established By
Women For Women.” The American University Law Review 47, 613 (1998): 613-644.
Coon, Sharon A. “Lake Erie College: The First 150 Years.” Edited by Cristine Boyd, Kathleen Lawry, Holly
Menzie, and Laken Piercy. A supplement to the Lake Erie Magazine, 2006.
Evening Star, “Graduates Are Guests.” May 15, 1916. From Library of Congress, Chronicling America.
“Former Ohio Woman Highly Honored.” School Topics. October 1906. From American University Digital
Research Archive, Washington College of Law Historical Collection.
“History - Law With Impact.” American University Washington College of Law. Accessed May 15, 2020.
Homans, James E., Herbert M. Linen, and L. E. Dearborn. The Cyclopedia of American Biography. New
York: Press Association compilers, Inc., 1918, 445-446.
Illustrated Circular of the Lake Erie Female Seminary, Painesville, Ohio. Illustrated circular. Ca. 1870-1880.
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, Lake Erie College Papers. Accessed May 15,
“Lake Erie Seminary Alumni Association 1893-1898.” From Lake Erie College Archives.
“Mrs. Mussey Speaks.” September 1909. From American University Digital Research Archive,
Washington College of Law Historical Collection.
NAWSA Certificate to Frances Jennings Casement. 8 February 1907. Courtesy of Lake County Historical
Society. Accessed 11 March 2020.
NAWSA Certificate to General John S. Casement. 8 February 1907. Courtesy of Lake County Historical
Society. Accessed 11 March 2020.
Ohio History Connection. “Lake Erie Female Seminary.” Ohio History Central. Accessed May 15, 2020.
Public Broadcasting Service. “Jack Casement (1829-1909) and Frances Jennings Casement (1840-1928).” https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/tcrr-jack-casement-1829-1909-and-frances-jennings-casement-1840-1928/
Sewall, May Wright. The World's Congress of Representative Women: a Historical Résumé for Popular
Circulation of the World's Congress of Representative Women, Convened in Chicago on May 15, and
Adjourned on May 22, 1893. Chicago: Rand, McNally, 1894, 880.
Upton, Harriet Taylor. Ohio Woman Suffrage Association Correspondence Regarding 1912 Election. Letter.
Warren: Ohio Woman Suffrage Association, 1912. From Ohio Historical Society.
http://server16007.contentdm.oclc.org/u?/p267401coll36,16637 (accessed May 13, 2020.)
The Washington National Daily, “Nearly Every Woman in Norway Allowed to Vote.” 1909. From
University Digital Research Archive, Washington College of Law Historical Collection.
Washington Life, “Representative Business and Professional Women of Washington.” June 4, 1904.
From American University Digital Research Archive, Washington College of Law Historical Collection.