7 Black women who helped shape Dayton’s history

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

The accomplishments of Black women have contributed to the success of the Dayton region in a wide variety of ways.

Writers, politicians, mothers and more are among the ground-breaking women Daytonians can be proud of.

Here are seven notable women with Dayton connections who helped to change history.

Virginia Hamilton

Celebrated black life and history in children’s literature.

A lifelong resident of Yellow Springs, Hamilton authored more than 35 books and was known for a poetic use of language which she wove through her works of contemporary fiction.

Hamilton, who died in 2002, is internationally known for her novels, biographies, folk tales and slave narratives according to a 2010 Dayton Daily News story. One of her classic books, “M.C. Higgins the Great,” a story of a young boy whose Appalachian mountain home is threatened, won a Newbery Medal and the National Book Award.

She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1995.

"No one dies in 'M.C. Higgins, the Great' or in any of my books," Hamilton said in her 1975 Newbery acceptance speech. "I never have written demonstrable and classifiable truths. Nor have my fictional black people become human sacrifices in the name of social accuracy.

“For young people reading M.C., particularly the poor and the blacks, have got to realize that his effort with his bare hands to stay alive and save his way of life must be their effort as well. For too long, too many have suffered and died without cause.”

Lt. Col. Charity Edna Earley

The first black officer in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the commanding officer of the only organization of black women to serve overseas during World War II.



Earley commanded the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in Europe during the war. The all-black battalion of 855 women was tasked with delivering mail to Americans stationed in Europe. Their motto was, “No mail, no morale.”

The job was monumental. When they arrived in England, the Battle of the Bulge had disrupted mail deliveries to thousands of GIs, and three giant airplane hangars were packed full of undelivered mail, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Earley wrote a book about her experiences, "One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC.” She was honored by the U.S. Postal Museum Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1995, she was publicly recognized by President Clinton at the groundbreaking for the Women’s Memorial in Washington D.C., and in 2002 Clinton invited her to attend the groundbreaking of the World War II memorial.

She was a member of the Sinclair Community College board of trustees from 1977-92 and vice chairwoman of the board from 1985-92. Earley, who also served on the boards of the American Red Cross and the Dayton Metropolitan Housing Authority, died in 2002.

Matilda Dunbar

Mother of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar

Matilda Dunbar was born a slave in Fayette County, Ky. Despite being illiterate, she instilled a love for language in her son.

As a child, she would surreptitiously pull up a box for a seat on her master’s veranda and listen to him tell stories to his own children, according to LaVerne Sci, a Dunbar scholar who served as the Dunbar House site manager for 20 years.

“She could listen, enjoy, imagine and capture,” Sci said.

She passed those abilities on to her son, who started rhyming as a baby. During her life she worked as a washerwoman to support her family. Among her customers: the family of Orville and Wilbur Wright.

When her son’s chronic health problems became worse, he moved back home with her, and she cared for him for the last three years of his life before he died in 1906. Matilda continued to live in the house, now a national historic site in west Dayton, until her death in 1934.

Louise Troy

Daughter of a Civil War veteran, began teaching in the Dayton school system in 1878

Born in Xenia, Troy became the only African American teacher retained after schools were integrated in 1887. She provided teacher training to young black women in the early 1900s, according to Dayton Public Schools historical documents. Much of her career was spent at Garfield School, where she retired in 1920. Among the students she taught during her career was Paul Laurence Dunbar, who went on to international acclaim as a poet.

Troy helped found the Women’s Christian Association which later became the YWCA. She bought a house in 1909 on Fifth Street, and it was used for YWCA activities. It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

She was co-founder and treasurer of the Dayton branch of the NAACP and organized the first vested choir and played the organ at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Dayton.

Troy died in 1941. Louise Troy Elementary School opened in 1957 on Richley Avenue for students in kindergarten through third grade. Today the new Louise Troy Elementary School, built in 2006 on Miami Chapel Road, serves pre-kindergarten through 6th grade.

Jeraldyne Blunden

Founder of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) who devoted her life to dance education and performance.

As a young woman, Jeraldyne Blunden was known as an accomplished dancer who studied with dance greats Martha Graham, Jose Limon, George Balanchine and James Truitte.

At 19, Blunden became director of the Linden Community Center, which evolved into Jeraldyne’s School of Dance. There she devoted her talent to teaching dance to young people in the community.

“She wanted to give dancers the opportunity to study good-quality dance, and she wanted to give this area the opportunity to see what good-quality dance looked like, particularly African American dance,” said her daughter, Debbie Blunden-Diggs, the artistic director for the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.

She was known to be dedicated and devoted yet demanding of her dance company. A sign posted in the dance studio in her handwriting and signed "J.B." read, “This is not Burger King. You cannot have it your way.”

DCDC has received international acclaim and performed around the world. Sheri “Sparkle” Williams, a dancer with DCDC for more than 40 years, began taking dance classes at Jeraldyne’s School of Dance at age 9. As a child she recognized Blunden’s commitment to excellence: “She was always a real stickler for what she wanted. She was discipline-oriented and nurturing at the same time. Jeraldyne was always trying to pull the best from you.”

Edythe Lewis

Dayton’s first black female radio disc jockey

Before Edythe Lewis began a career in radio, she had earned a nursing degree from Harlem Hospital in New York and was a professional dancer. She operated her own ballroom, modern and tap-dance studio in Dayton.

She served seven years as a Dayton public health nurse, then, in 1971, was hired to conduct a public information and education program on water-quality problems and recommended solutions in the Miami Valley. She later became manager of administration for the Miami Conservancy District.

At the age of 77 Lewis, who had never before sought office, won a special election to fill the Dayton commission seat vacated when her husband died in 2001.

“Mostly, I want to honor my husband and I want to complete his term,” Lewis said in 2001. “His main goal was to finish his term, and so that is what I want to try to do.”

Rhine McLin

Multiple political accomplishments, including first black woman elected to Ohio State Senate and first female Dayton mayor

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

When her father, C.J. McLin died, Rhine McLin was appointed to fill his seat in the Ohio House of Representatives. She ended up serving for six years, from 1988 to 1994.

She became the first black woman elected to the Ohio State Senate in 1994, then was appointed the Minority Whip in 1998 and the Minority Leader two years later. In 2002 she was sworn in as the first female Mayor of Dayton and served until 2010.

“I think that each step I make, I’m making it for a bunch of folks behind me. That’s what drives me,” McLin told the Dayton Daily News in 2004.

“I believe each one of us has a responsibility to lead by example. For kids to see you and see me and think, ‘They’re all right. I can do what they do. How do they do that? I can do that.’ You’ve made an inroad.”

McLin holds a seat on the Montgomery County Board of Elections and has served as vice-chairwoman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

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