8 badass Dayton women who made history
Amelia Robinson, Staff Writer
The buck doesn’t stop with the Wright Brothers.
Dayton’s fly boys are everywhere and rightly so, but they aren’t the only ones who make Dayton history awesome.
Angelina Hoschouer, manager of development and marketing for Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum, said many of those other people were women — and they have some of the most fascinating stories.
“It’s Dayton history. It is the fabric of our town. It is who we are,” Hoschouer said. “The women are just as important and did important things, too.”
And Hoschouer isn’t only talking about well-known Daytonian heroes like philanthropist Virginia Kettering and columnist Erma Bombeck. She pointed out the Woodland Cemetery women below.
You likely haven’t heard about some of these badass women. They were incredible, innovative, creative, interesting and, in many cases, before their times. Others will come as a surprise.
Mark your calender if you want to visit some of these women in the former flesh — Woodland offers self-guided and guided tours.
Marian Bergeron Ruhlman Setzer: 1918-2002
Originally from Connecticut, Marian is the only Miss America to hail from New England. She’s also the youngest Miss America in history, winning the crown at the age of 15½ in 1933.
She held the title for two years because no competition was held in 1934.
Her reign wasn’t without drama.
RKO Pictures, one of the pageant’s sponsors, refused to award Marian the prize of a screen test, claiming that she was too young.
The story didn’t stop there. Marian went on to sing with a list of big bands acts that included Rudy Vallee and Guy Lombardo and became a public speaker.
Three children were produced from her marriage to Donald Ruhlman, who died in 1972. Marian’s marriage to Frederick Setzer lasted until his death in March 2002.
Marian died of leukemia the following October.
Photo credit: Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum
Clara E. Weisenborn: 1908-1985
Clara Weisenborn had no more than an eighth-grade education — she left school to help raise her ten younger siblings — but she went on to play a leading role in establishing the Wright State University School of Medicine as a prominent politician.
Clara married Herbert Weisenborn in 1923 at the age of 16 and was active in the community, serving as president of the local Parent Teacher Association, a member of band parents and member of the local 4-H chapter.
She was a Sunday school teacher for 53 consecutive years and wrote a weekly newspaper column on gardening for the Journal Herald for 42 years.
She won election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1952 and served until 1967. She was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1966 and served until 1975.
While in the Ohio General Assembly, Clara focused on health, education, agricultural and environmental issues.
She is now entombed in the Woodland Mausoleum.
Photo credit: Dayton Daily News archive
Red Light District Queen
Elizabeth Richter (Lib Hedges): 1840-1923
Lib Hedges was not the sort of woman you’d overlook.
The tall, strikingly beautiful redhead born Elizabeth Richter in the German kingdom of Prussia in 1840 wore billowing skirts for daytime wear and elaborate brocades and velvet at night.
When she died in 1923, her assets — earned through prostitution, real estate and investments in several Dayton companies — were worth $202,546.17.
Her long list of treasures included Haviland & Co. China, cut glass and a Herrick Ice Machine.
For nearly 40 years before that, Hedges commanded respect and admiration as the most successful madam in Dayton’s long gone, lucrative red-light district on Pearl Street.
Read more about Lib here: What you need to know about the Queen of Dayton’s Red Light District
Photo credit: Amelia Robinson
Jeraldyne Blunden began her dance training at the age of eight under the guidance of Josephine and Hermene Schwarz, the legendary founders of The Dayton Ballet.
The Schwarz sisters helped Jeraldyne gain access to opportunities such as the American Dance Festival in Connecticut. She studied with a list of dance luminaries that included Martha Graham, Jose Limon, George Balanchine and James Truitte.
At the age of 19, Jeraldyne took over the dance school at the Linden Center started by the Schwarz sisters. The Dayton native sent her students to study at such notable training centers as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Dance Festival and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center.
Jeraldyne created Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in 1968 so her students could have more opportunities to perform.
The inventive modern dance company gained national and international acclaim thanks to Jeraldyne’s 30 years at the helm as artistic director.
She received numerous awards, honors and grants, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship Award from the MacArthur Foundation and honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Dayton and Wright State University.
On November 22, 1999, Jeraldyne Blunden died of renal failure at what was then Franciscan Medical Center here in Dayton. She was 58.
Her New York Times obituary called her ” a major and much-honored proponent of the contributions of black choreographers and performers to American modern dance.”
Photo credit: Jan Underwood/Dayton Daily News archive
Fallen Rodeo Queen
Marquerite E. Doane: 1894-1917
As Woodland Cemetery relays the story, Marquerite E. Doane debated for hours whether she should mount “Gentle Annie” in an arena at Union Park in Denver on August 4, 1917.
Maggie, as she was called, decided to go for it after being teased by cowboys who said she was afraid.
Gentle was in the horse’s name, but Annie was far from that. Few cowboys dared to ride the vicious bronco.
The lady rodeo rider’s decision came just weeks after she was declared champion woman rider of the world by judges at Cheyenne Frontier Days. The championship meant much acclaim and many invitations. The day before she gave an exhibition ride for soldiers.
Maggie gritted her teeth and climbed on the saddle of the “plunging, snorting beast.”
Gentle Annie soon after took her on a rough, bucking ride around the arena with cowboys giving chase. Gentle Annie stopped bucking and started on a wild gallop toward a corral at the south end of the arena.
The horse tore through a wire fence, stumbled and finally fell with Maggie still in her saddle.
Caught between the saddle and the ground, Maggie was crushed.
The horse rose and stepped on Maggie’s face, crushing her skull. Maggie is said to have remained conscious long enough to say to onlookers: “Well, I rode her.”
Caroline Louise Dudley, a.k.a. Mrs. Leslie Carter 1857 to 1862-1937
Caroline Dudley was born in Lexington, Kentucky but spent her childhood in Dayton, where she dreamed of a life on stage and was pampered by her father.
When she finally got on stage, her name spited the man she wed.
Strikingly beautiful and considered a belle, Caroline married Chicago millionaire Leslie Carter in Dayton in 1880. The couple named their child Dudley Carter.
In 1887, Caroline filed for divorce, citing assault and abandonment, but Mr. Carter got the divorce two years later. He named actor H. Kyrle Bellew as “correspondent,” according to Mrs. Carter’s biography on PoemHunter.com.
The whole mess was a front page scandal.
Caroline turned to the stage to make a living after the divorce. She used her married name — Mrs. Leslie Carter — on stage and screen to spite her ex.
Her career blew up under the direction of director and playwright David Belasco.
Called the “The American Sarah Bernhardt,” she was considered her generation’s greatest dramatic actress and the first star of the twentieth century. The international stage star of the “emotional” school of acting appeared in more than 45 plays and several silent films.
Mrs. Leslie Carter married actor Louis Payne and adopted a daughter, Mary Carter Payne, with him.
Before retiring in Santa Monica, Calif. in 1937, she appeared in low-budget westerns. Her body was cremated and interred at Woodland Cemetery.
Photo credit: Woodland Cemetery and Penn Libraries Special Collection
Dayton’s Queen of the Gypsies is said to be buried at the “only sacred burying ground of gypsies in the United States,” according to the authors of the “History of Wayne Township, 1810-1976.”
Before she ended up in at the gypsies’ burial place in Woodland Cemetery, Matilda built a reputation as a fortune teller.
Born in Reading, Berkshire, England in about 1821, Matilda was the wife of Levi Stanley, son of Richard “Owen” Stanley, king of a prominent gypsy tribe.
Owen Stanley moved his affiliated families from England to the United States in 1856, according to a Dayton Daily News article. The tribe settled in the northern part of Dayton. They bought farms in Harrison, Mad River, Butler and Wayne townships to have houses to stay in during the cold months.
Levi and Matilda’s reign as king and queen began when Owen and his wife Harriet died.
Matilda Stanley died in Vicksburg, Mississippi in January 1878 after a two-year fight with cancer. She was embalmed to “retain the natural aspect of life” and placed in a Woodland receiving vault.
Her funeral was held eight months later to give time for word of her death to spread.
As was tradition, people traveled to Dayton from across the United States, England and Canada to pay respect for the Stanley family. An estimated 20,000 people, a dozen chiefs and their tribes included, arrived here to pay tribute to Matilda, according to Woodland. The funeral attracted press coverage from major newspapers, but was brief and lacked the extraordinary rites many expected.
United Brethren Church of Dayton Rev. Dr. Daniel Berger officiated and the First United Brethren Church quartet choir sang hymns. The queen’s casket was transferred from the vault to the family plot which had been purchased so “all the tribesmen and women could be buried when the time came,” according to the late Roz Young, a Dayton Daily News columnist.
Levi died on April 13, 1909 at age 96, according to Dayton History Books Online.
Photo credit: Warped Wings' Gypsy Queen beer pays tributed to Matilda Stanley. Drawn by Dayton artist Amy Kollar Anderson, the label features an image of Clash owner Mary Kathryn Burnside.
Alice Pike Barney: 1863-1931
Born in Cincinnati and educated in Dayton, Alice Pike Barney was the youngest child of Samuel Pike, the distiller of Magnolia brand whiskey behind the Pike’s Opera House in Cincinnati and the Grand Opera House in New York.
She shared her father’s artistic interests and was a talented singer and pianist.
Alice was engaged to marry Henry Morton Stanley, but her mother Ellen Pike thought the 33-year-old was too old for her 17-year-old daughter. Alice instead married Albert Clifford Barney while Stanley was on a two-year expedition in Africa. Family members in Dayton fixed the couple up after Ellen sent Alice here to get her mind off of good ol’ Stanley.
Albert was a catch. His family, the founders of The Dayton Academy, Cooper Female Seminary and Barney & Smith Car Works, was prominent in Dayton.
Alice rented a home in Paris in 1899 and began to paint, according to information from Woodland. Her daughter, Natalie Clifford Barney, wrote a book of poetry titled “Quelques Portraits-Sonnets de Femmes” (Some Portrait-Sonnets of Women). Alice provided illustrations for the book.
Alice missed that Natalie’s work was lesbian poetry, or that all but one of the four women who modeled for her illustrations were her daughter’s lovers.
Papa Albert found out about the book’s theme from a newspaper review and rushed to Paris in a huff. He destroyed the publisher’s remaining stock and the printing plates. Alice and Natalie returned to the United States.
Albert considered the incident an outrage and began to drink like a fish. To make things worse, Washington newspapers started running articles about Alice’s Jewish ancestors.
Albert had a heart attack on a golf course two months later and things went down from there, according to Dayton History Books Online. He died in 1902, leaving $3 million to Alice and her daughters Natalie and Laura, an American Bahá’í teacher and philanthropist.
Alice continued her art and went on to invent and patent mechanical devices, write and perform on stage and collect all sorts of artifacts. Some of her art is at the Smithsonian Art Institute. Here former studio house is now the Embassy of Latvia in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: Woodland Cemetery