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The Oberlin Heritage Center originated in 1903 as a progressive era community improvement group known as the Village Improvement Society. The organization went through various transformations and merged with other community groups over the years. It took on varied projects such as improving sanitation, planting trees, providing playgrounds, operating visiting nurse programs, and creating the town’s park system.
In 1964 the organization merged with the Oberlin Historical Society to form the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization (O.H.I.O.) It acquired various buildings and artifacts with a desire to protect them for future generations. Now known as the Oberlin Heritage Center, their mission is "to preserve and share Oberlin’s unique heritage and to make our community a better place to live, learn, work, and visit."
Anna Julia CooperPhoto: National Museum of American History
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1859-1964) was born into slavery in Raleigh, NC. Following the Civil War, she attended Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute where she was trained in a wide range of subjects and known to be academically excellent. She graduated from Oberlin College with her B.A. in 1884 and M.A. in Mathematics in 1887. She became one of the first African American women in the United States to earn a PhD, which she did in 1924 from University of Paris-Sorbonne. She taught at Wilberforce College and was also the president of Washington D.C.’s M Street High School.
One of her books, A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892) is considered to be one of the most influential texts of the Black Feminist movement and granted her the title, the “Mother of Black Feminism.” In the book, she states that African American women were “confronted by both a woman question and a race problem” and were “an unknown or unacknowledged factor in both.” She was also a founding member of the Colored Women’s League, on the Executive Committee of the inaugural Pan-African Conference, and helped found a YWCA branch for African American women in Washington, D.C. She was known for being especially effective at emphasizing to other African American women the importance of their vote as she campaigned for women’s suffrage. Despite the challenges she faced, Cooper stated she found power in her identity as an African American woman, and she lived to be 105 years old.
Doris StevensPhoto: Library of Congress
Doris Stevens (1888-1963) was born to Caroline D. Koopman Stevens and Henry Henderbourck Stevens in Omaha, NE. After graduating from Omaha High School, she attended Oberlin College in Ohio to study music, although she changed her major and graduated with her degree in sociology in 1911. It was at Oberlin College that she became involved with the suffrage movement. She was an active member of the College’s Equal Suffrage League, and made a reputation for herself as a woman who had little regard for traditional gender roles. She worked briefly as a teacher and social worker following graduation, but soon after moved to Washington D.C. to work as an organizer for the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Along with Alice Paul, she picketed the White House for women’s suffrage in 1913. Soon after, the two would be among the founding members of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage. She lived in several places throughout the United States including Rhode Island, Colorado, and California, organizing suffrage movements in each state as she went. In California, she organized a convention of women voters at the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915 and the National Women’s Party campaign in 1916. In 1917, Doris Stevens was arrested for obstructing the sidewalk while picketing the White House. She served three of her sixty day sentence at Occoquan Workhouse and was pardoned by President Woodrow Wilson. She detailed this experience in her 1920 book, Jailed for Freedom.
Following the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Stevens continued to work internationally for women’s rights with the International Council of Women, through creating the Inter-American Commission of Women, for which she was the chair from 1928-1938, and by backing French suffragists when they picketed President Gaston Doumergue. After a fallout with Alice Paul, Stevens left the National Women’s Party and joined the Lucy Stone League, where she served as Vice President. One of her last contributions was to rally support for feminist studies in American universities. She passed away in 1963 in New York City, following complications from a stroke.
Lucy StonePhoto: Library of Congress
Lucy Stone (1818-1893) was born into a farming family in West Brookfield, MA, near Boston. Growing up, she watched her parents, Hannah Matthews and Francis Stone, conform heavily to society’s roles for men and women. She also experienced being paid less than her brother while teaching for the same school district. This led her to question women’s role in society and she began reading all she could about the “woman question” and became determined to achieve the highest education she could. Stone originally attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, then transferred to Wesleyan Academy, and finally to Oberlin College from which she graduated in 1847. She continued to advocate for women’s rights while in Oberlin, striking when she was not paid equally, and organizing an off-campus women’s debate society to practice her orating skills, which she was not permitted to do in class. When she was asked to write a commencement speech, she refused, as she would not have been allowed to deliver it; a man was going to do so in her place. Once determined never to marry, Lucy Stone ended up marrying Henry Blackwell, another progressive abolitionist under the condition that she retain rights to property and be allowed to keep her last name.
Post-graduation she was hired by the American Anti-Slavery Society to write and deliver abolitionist speakers. Following the abolition of slavery, she set her sights on achieving universal suffrage – voting rights for both Black men and all women and became an active member of the American Equal Rights Association. Eventually she split from other prominent suffragists including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton over a difference in opinion on the suffrage priorities – Anthony and Stanton prioritized women’s suffrage, while Stone continued to advocate for universal suffrage. Anthony and Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association and Lucy Stone co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. The two associations would later merge to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1890 with the help of Lucy’s daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell. Lucy Stone passed away from stomach cancer in 1893. She was cremated and is interred at Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, MA.
Mary Church TerrellPhoto: Library of Congress
Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954) was born to Robert Reed Church and Louisa Ayers in Memphis, TN. She attended Antioch College Model School in Yellow Springs, OH before moving to Oberlin, where she graduated from Oberlin High School. At Oberlin College, she majored in the Classics and excelled academically and socially. She was elected class poet, was a member of two literary societies, and was an editor of the Oberlin Review, the college’s student-run newspaper. She also chose to pursue her Master’s degree in Education at Oberlin College and received it in 1888. Post-graduation, became involved with the women’s suffrage movement and addressed the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association in 1898, at a time when African American women generally weren’t allowed to associate with the white suffrage organizations. Her speech, “The Progress of Colored Women,” urged the NAWSA to include African American women in their activism. Along with Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, she picketed the White House in support of women’s suffrage.
She was also a charter member of the NAACP and taught at Wilberforce College and M Street High School in Washington, D.C., where she met and married Robert Heberton Terrell. She was one of two women appointed to the Board of Education in D.C. and the first woman of color in the United States to hold such position. One of her achievements as a member of the board was to get the Board to declare February 14th as Douglass Day in D.C. schools. She also chartered the Colored Women’s League, which later merged with the Federation of Afro-American Women to form the National Association of Colored Women, of which Terrell was the first President, from 1896-1901. At eighty-six years old, she became the chair of the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws, which fought against the segregation of stores and restaurants through protest and in court. Oberlin College recognized Mary Church Terrell as one of their 100 Most Famous Alumni, named her one of eight men and women to be named “among the most outstanding of Oberlin graduates”, and awarded her a Doctor of Humane Letters in June 1948. In 2018, the library in Mudd Center at Oberlin College was renamed the Terrell Library in honor of Mary.
Clara Snell WolfePhoto: Library of Congress
Clara Snell Wolfe (1874-1970) was born and raised in Milledgeville, IL to Francis Adam Snell and Ellen Rosamond Campbell Snell. She graduated from Illinois State Normal University in 1898 and became a high school principal in Dundee, IL and professor at ISNU before moving to Oberlin, OH with her husband Albert Benedict Wolfe. Albert Wolfe taught at Oberlin College and Clara went back to school and graduated from the College with her B.A. in 1909. During her time at Oberlin College, she was actively involved with its Equal Suffrage League and was elected recording secretary of the Ohio Woman Suffrage Association. Following her graduation, she was elected corresponding secretary for the Ohio Federation of Women’s Clubs where she continued to run suffrage campaigns.
The Wolfe's moved to Texas in 1914, and Clara continued her suffrage activism, establishing and becoming the first President of the National Woman’s Party of Texas. She lobbied Texas legislators to grant women voting rights, and when that was achieved she began to help other states, including California where she assisted in organizing their branch of the National Woman’s Party. Clara and Albert moved again when Albert took a position at Ohio State University, where Clara would earn her M.A. She continued to be an active member and supporter of the National Woman’s Party and in 1942 Clara was elected Second Vice Chairman. In 1949 she would become the National Woman’s Party’s Executive Council Vice Chairman. Clara Wolfe was a supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and lectured around the United States, educating others about it. The Wolfe's were also big supporters of higher education and sponsored a scholarship at Oberlin College from 1962 until 1971. Clara passed away in 1970 and is buried in Union Cemetery in Columbus, OH.
Mary Burnett TalbertPhoto: Iowa State University Archives
Mary Burnett Talbert (1866-1923) was born to Cornelius and Caroline Nicholls Burnett in Oberlin, OH. She graduated from Oberlin College at the age of nineteen, and was the only African American woman in her graduating class in 1886. Following graduation, she took a position as a teacher at Bethel University in Little Rock, AR, then became the first African American woman to be the Assistant Principal of Union High School. After marrying William H. Talbert, she moved with him to Buffalo, NY, where she became politically active as a member of the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church. She helped found the Phillis Wheatley Club of Colored Women, a chapter of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). She hosted meetings of the Niagara Movement – the precursor to the NAACP - in her own home in Buffalo, advocating for African American men's suffrage. When the NAACP formed, she was the first woman to join and served as Vice President and Chair of the Anti-Lynching Committee until her death. From 1916-1921, she served as the President of the NACW, even while serving abroad as a Red Cross nurse during World War I. Following the war, she was appointed to Women’s Committee on International Relations, a nominating board for the League of Nations.
Talbert was also a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. She spoke at “Votes for Women: A Symposium by Leading Thinkers of Colored America” in Washington, D.C. in 1915 and lectured abroad following her service in World War I. In 1922, Mary Burnett Talbert was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP, making her the first female recipient of the honor. An advocate for historic preservation, she also was a leader in saving and preserving Frederick Douglass’ Anacostia home. She was known to her peers as “kind, thoughtful, and generous” and the referred to as “the best known Colored Woman in the United States.” Talbert passed away in 1923. She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY. In 2005, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Researched and written by Riley Thomas.
Lorain County Bibliography
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