Documenting the Role of Women in Local History
The Her Stories project began in 2000 when the State College Branch of AAUW provided funding for research to learn more about the role of women in the development of Centre County. Our thanks to the AAUW for their support in helping us make known the lives of these women.
Click on the + to read more about these women.
Alice Irvin Thompson
This statement, expressed by a Mr. Burns of the National Education Association of the United States upon discovering the death of the heroic Alice Irvin Thompson, best expresses her life mission and courageous accomplishments. Alice Thompson, of Centre Furnace, State College, was born September 18, 1898, and was the daughter of James I. and Janie Shaw Thompson. Miss Thompson attended the Penn State College after attending the Boston Art School for two and a half years, served as the assistant executive secretary of the Pennsylvania State College Alumni Association, and was the assistant editor of the Penn State Alumni Newsletter. However, Alice Thompson found her calling and began to shine as an exemplary and courageous woman when she joined the Red Cross in May of 1943.
Alice Irvin Thompson left State College in April of 1943 to forge a new destiny for herself, and answered the call of duty to join the Red Cross in order to help the war effort in any way she could. She was sent to Washington, D.C. for training for one month, and was then quickly put in charge of a group of Red Cross girls and sent to Australia. Alice Thompson had her headquarters with this group outside of Brisbane, Australia, where she tended to the sick and wounded during the evacuation of war victims there. These war victims, who were retreating from the Japanese invaders in the islands, were rescued by United States submarines at the height of the fighting in November of 1943. These victims were taken to the northern shores of Australia where a Red Cross Center was established and operated by Alice Thompson and one other worker. Miss Thompson reported about her time at Caloundra that “we just fed them, clothed them, gave them plenty of rest, and prepared them for their return to the United States.” Among some of the victims Miss Thompson tended at Caloundra included Dr. A.L. Carson, a 1919 graduate of Penn State, and at that time the President of Sillman University in the Philippines, and his entire faculty. About his time at Caloundra, Dr. Carson expressed that “the American men, women, and children who arrive here so mysteriously…enter as a shabby and weary procession. Within a few weeks, good food, rest and play, puts color into haggard faces and a new sparkle into haunted eyes.” This is part of the miracle that Alice Thompson and her team of Red Cross workers provided to these war-torn victims of the Pacific Southwest Theater. After this unit closed in November of 1944, Alice assumed a new and more involved responsibility, as she was moved into Brisbane and put in charge of all personnel, both civilian and red cross, in that area. She served in the Pacific Theater of the war from May of 1943 through January 1946 in all.
The truly heroic and dangerous experience of her career with the Red Cross came when Alice Thompson was transferred to The Red Cross Civilian War Aid Branch and was one of the first three women to be rushed into Manila to aid Americans released from the internment camps. On February 7, Alice Thompson flew from Tacloban, Leyte to an airstrip on the Luzon coast, and stopped off a day to deliver messages to Americans just released from the Cabantuan prison camp. She was then was rushed into a jeep transporting her into Manila, right into the thick of the fighting and the enemy occupation. She arrived in Manila at 11 o’clock at night on February 7 at the Santo Tomas Concentration Camp, where 3677 civilian internees had been living for three years. Here, Miss Thompson counseled hundreds of prisoners to whom the past three years were a blur, and she was also responsible for readjusting and assorting the overcrowded rooms and setting up a clothing supply dump from which civilians could benefit. Thompson helped to bring Filipino refugees from across the Pasig river, exchange their tattered rags for the pieces of clothing she was able to gather, and tend to their health and needs. General Walter Kreuger, who commanded the U.S. Sixth Army in the Southwest Pacific Theater, sited the hard work of the Red Cross Workers in this theater, and mentions Alice Thompson of State College, PA, for her courage and dedication to the internees in Manila.
In addition to Alice Thompson’s incredible career in Manila, she also served in Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, and Tacloban, Leyte. She also worked with the American Red Cross Civilian Relief efforts in Czechoslovakia. After 53 months of service overseas, she came back to Pennsylvania in September of 1947 and served as the Executive Secretary of the Lycoming County Chapter of the American Red Cross. In October of 1949, Alice Thompson returned to State College to resume her work at the Penn State College. Alice Thompson died January 18, 1950.
Anna Wagner Keichline (1889 – 1943), born in Bellefonte in 1889, was Pennsylvania’s first registered woman architect. Her first architectural project was the design of a schoolhouse in Milesburg. Not only can one find her building projects in central Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington D.C., she also patented several inventions and architectural designs that contributed to the evolution of architectural planning.
Anna Keichline was the youngest of four children. Her talent was apparent from an early age, and her parents supported that talent by furnishing her with a home workshop and a collection of fine carpentry tools. She began to receive architectural recognition long before she graduated from the Bellefonte High School. It was at the age of fourteen that a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter first recognized the genius of the young and gifted architect. She had designed and constructed a calling card table out of oak, which won her first prize at the Centre County fair, and the reporter noted that the craftsmanship in making this piece was comparable to that of a highly skilled mechanic. He also reported the environment in which she had the privilege to work: “At her home she has a workshop complete in every detail, and is in possession of the best outfit of carpentry implements to be found in the town.”
After finishing high school in 1906, Anna Keichline attended The Pennsylvania State College with the intent of earning a degree in mechanical engineering. A year later she transferred to Cornell University to pursue a degree in architecture.
At college we worked, many times, three and four days and nights without stopping; most always in those stretches I took time to make coffee and sandwiches for the fellows, then they would carry my board to the dormitory, where I could draw all night…
Earning a degree in architecture –– a female student pursuing an education in a male dominated field –– certainly was not easy, but she was convinced that women had a unique talent for architectural design, specifically kitchens, because it was a domain that a woman knew far more intimately than a man.
Equipment of houses especially has been developed by people who seldom have experience using or operating these materials…there should be scientifically built houses, and this can be done better by women than men. Indeed, it will never be accomplished until women take hold.
Anna Keichline achieved her first patent the year after she graduated from Cornell for an improved combined sink-washtub design. The goal of this design was to more readily accommodate the space problem in the kitchen and to make the use of it more comfortable for the user. In 1924 she patented a kitchen design that maximized comfort and convenience, efficiency, and conservation of space. Interesting features included sloped countertops to facilitate easier cleaning, and glass-doored cabinets to make the contents visible to the user. Also patented by Keichline in 1929 was her apartment bed, a design for a bed that folded into the wall in order to maximize the use of space in a small apartment.
Perhaps one of her most impressive inventions was the “K Brick,” a forerunner of the modern concrete block. She patented the design in 1927. It was a clay brick for hollow wall construction that proved to be much more versatile than its predecessors. Fireproof, cheaper and lighter, it could be filled with insulating or sound-deadening material. In her article entitled A Tile Designed to Effect a Scientifically Built Wall, Keichline pointed out that her K Brick “requires less clay to make than brick and because of its design takes less time to fire…the tile would reduce the weight of the wall by one-half.” She was recognized for the invention of the K Brick by the American Ceramic Society in 1931.
She had seven patents during her lifetime, all reflecting her central goals of enhancing comfort and convenience to those who would make use of her inventions.
Aside from her architectural career, she owned, drove, and repaired her own automobile (a rarity for women during that era), served as a special agent with military intelligence during World War I, was active with President Hoover’s Better Housing Conference, and marched for a woman’s right to vote. However, her architectural designs remain the centerpiece of her fascinating accomplishments. In Bellefonte they include the Plaza Theatre, the Cadillac Garage and Apartments, the Harvey Apartments, and several private homes.
Anna Keichline’s great niece, Nancy Perkins, has followed in her great-aunt’s footsteps by achieving several of her own patents, and receiving a degree in industrial design from the University of Illinois. She began her own company known as Perkins Design Ltd., and is marketing a replica of the 1903 prize-winning card table, the piece which first recognized Anna Wagner Keichline.
Anne Dunlop Harris
Ann Dunlop Harris (1765 – 1844), born in Shippensburg in Cumberland County March 14, 1765, is a woman of paramount importance in the development of the community of Bellefonte. She was the daughter and the wife of the town’s two founders, and she played a crucial role in Bellefonte’s early heritage.
In 1795, a caravan carrying Ann Dunlop Harris, her husband James Harris, and their three children made its way over the Seven Mountains from Mifflintown, heading for the future community of Bellefonte. The Harris family joined Ann’s father, Colonel James Dunlop, who had arrived in the area two years earlier. He had learned of the rich iron deposits and dreamed of building an iron furnace along Spring Creek. Dunlop purchased lands in 1793 eight miles from Centre Furnace, the blast furnace that Colonels John Patton and Samuel Miles had built near Mount Nittany along another portion of Spring Creek in 1791.
Ann was accustomed to pioneer life. Shippensburg was very much a frontier town at the time of her childhood, and Ann had witnessed her father twice captured by Indians. She was, therefore, up to the challenge of relocating, creating a new life, and forging a destiny in the untamed lands of the future community of Bellefonte. Located on the newly acquired Dunlop-Harris lands was “The Big Spring”. It was at this spring and along fast-flowing Spring Creek that Dunlop and Harris determined to lay out the town. Dunlop’s house, the first to be built, still stands at the corner of High and Spring Streets.
How Bellefonte got its name is an often told story. While French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand is credited with naming Bellefonte in one version, Harris family legend has it that it was Ann Dunlop Harris who asked the visiting Talleyrand what he thought the name should be. He suggested that it be called “la belle fontaine” to reflect the beautiful Big Spring; it was Ann who changed and shortened the name to “Bellefonte”.
Ann Dunlop Harris had married James on June 1, 1790, and the Harris’ were parents of nine children. Known affectionately by her family and friends as Nancy Harris, she was remembered as a woman of keen intellect. She compiled a metaphysical text entitled The Alphabet of Thought, which was published in 1826 when she was 61 years of age. The book was issued anonymously “By a Lady,” because the subject of metaphysics was viewed as inappropriate to be written by a woman and far outside the realm of female knowledge. Nevertheless, John Blair Linn, in his 1883 History of Centre and Clinton Counties, recognized Harris as “a woman of more than ordinary mental powers, and talents for philosophical investigation, which she improved by study and converse with the able theologians of her day.” Her impressive work, The Alphabet of Thought, addresses many complex philosophical issues, such as “spiritual substance,” “the nature of truth,” and “the essence of God,” to name only a few. Ann Dunlop Harris’ granddaughter, Nancy D. Orbison, remembered her as “a woman of uncommon powers of mind and a model of Christian consistency. No one could know her without highly esteeming her . . . but to write such a book, while her growing family, busy husband, and the welfare of a large household were never neglected, was indeed to do what few women could have accomplished.”
Ann outlived her husband by 18 years. She died on April 8, 1844 at the age of 77 at the family estate at Willowbank and is buried in Bellefonte’s Union Cemetery.
Frances Washburn Atherton
Frances Washburn Atherton, the wife of George Washington Atherton, the fourth president of the Penn State College (currently the Pennsylvania State University), is an important female figure in Centre County “herstory” because of her active involvement in the development of State College and her contributions to community life.
She was born May 28, 1836 in Plympton, Massachusetts, a small New England community located outside of Plymouth. After attending district school training and normal school for training teachers at Bridgewater, Massachusetts, she began her teaching career at the age of 17, obtaining her first teaching position at the Bridgewater Normal School. It was in New Haven, Connecticut where she taught for eight years and met Atherton, a student at Yale University at the time. Married on Christmas day of 1863, the Athertons moved to Albany, New York where Mr. Atherton had obtained a position at the Albany Academy. The Athertons also lived in Annapolis, Maryland; at the University of Illinois; and for 13 years at New Brunswick, New Jersey at Rutgers College before finally relocating to a tiny central Pennsylvania community known as State College in the fall of 1882. It was in this year that George W. Atherton obtained the position of President of the Penn State College.
After growing accustomed to life in a cultivated community such as New Brunswick, it was not an easy task for Mrs. Atherton to begin again in a town that was barely established. She arrived in State College with five children to be educated, an unequipped home to be cared for, and innumerable college related events and receptions to be coordinated. Fannie Atherton (as she was affectionately known by those closest to her) was greatly devoted to her husband’s mission of developing the rather poor institution of the Penn State College and aiding him in any way that she could. This included a great deal of strenuous physical labor, preparing meals for the various committees meeting at the president’s home, in a kitchen lacking any of the modern electrical conveniences. Mrs. Atherton’s daughter Helen Atherton Govier recalled the rather primitive kitchen amenities, noting that, during the cold winter months, water that splashed from the sink to the floor would immediately freeze. Mrs. Atherton never turned up her nose to the domestic tasks she carried out on a daily basis, such as making her own soap, doing the laundry, and cooking for guests. Mrs. Atherton completed these household chores with dignity and pride, taking her role as the wife of the college’s president very seriously. One can even find newspaper clippings concerning household maintenance pasted into her daily journals. One in particular entitled “Housewife’s Scrapbook,” states “to the neat housewife few things are more discouraging than a rough, unsightly kitchen floor giving with an excess of candor wholly unappreciated, the ravages of heavy footprints, stains, or spots of grease, souvenirs of carelessness, or of accident liable to befall the most careful cook.”
In addition to her tireless dedication to the domestic affairs of the presidential home, Frances W. Atherton undertook the daunting task of educating not only her children but those of other faculty members of the College as well. Mrs. Atherton converted the library at the president’s home into a schoolroom, administering lessons as well as overseeing the chores of the children in between carrying out her own household duties. Eldest daughter Harriet Atherton Buckhout affectionately remembered receiving lessons from her mother while seated on the back stairs of the kitchen with the other children. Her interest in intellectual activity was evidenced through Mrs. Atherton’s eagerness to provide these children with an education, as well as her desire to always remain aware of current events and well read in the realm of literature and poetry.
Mrs. Atherton’s love of learning and interest in community well-being merged in her growing interest to establish A Woman’s Literary Club for the State College women in the mid 1890s. In 1894, at the age of 58, Frances Atherton wanted to find a way to improve the lives of State College women by providing them with an outlet for intellectual expression. On March eighth of that year, she invited a group of women to the president’s home in order to discuss the establishment of a literary club for women. These pioneers of the State College Woman’s Club agreed to gather on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at various members’ homes, usually with nine to 25 members in attendance. Most of the women involved in the organization were affiliated with the college, usually the wives of faculty members. Some of the founding members of the Woman’s Club include Mrs. Mary H. Buckhout, Mrs. Lucy A. Armsby, and Mrs. Katharine Cotton Sparks. At these gatherings, the members of the club would present papers as well as host guest speakers on literary and historical topics, with Mrs. Atherton herself creating many of the programs for the meetings. In addition, Mrs. Atherton’s Woman’s Club made invaluable contributions to the community and the college, such as their facilitation of the establishment of the Home Economics department at the college in 1906. Mrs. Atherton’s tenure as president of the club endured from 1894 to 1906, when her ill health increasingly took her away from active participation in the organization’s programs. In that year, she was named honorary president of the State College Woman’s club, a position created especially for her.
Frances W. Atherton passed away July 8, 1913, but the spirit of her dedication to the development of the community of State College, particularly its women, was felt long after her death. In 1938, Atherton Hall, a building at the Penn State College, was opened and named in her honor. Built as a dormitory for female students of the college, Atherton Hall bore the name of Frances W. Atherton as a symbol of the excellence, service, and integrity for which all female Penn State Students should strive. Mrs. Atherton’s daughter best characterized the memory and legacy of her mother at the dedication ceremony of the building by stating
“it is my earnest hope that the brave, sweet, unselfish, and sacrificing spirit of my mother…may in some manner fall as a mantel from her shoulders, to pervade and grace these halls and influence towards the highest aims in life every girl who is fortunate enough to live here during the years she is in college.”
Caroline Mills (1828 – 1905) is one of the more hidden female figures in Bellefonte history, but she was a fascinating African American woman who occupied an important role in the town during her lifetime.
Caroline Mills (her maiden name is unknown) was born in Lewistown. Her family more than likely fled slavery by way of the Underground Railroad to Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. Both Lewistown and Bellefonte have been identified as locations along the Underground Railroad’s several routes.
Caroline came to Bellefonte in 1846, and lived there until her death in 1905. Her first husband, Lewis Mills, fought in the Civil War, a private in the 58th Regiment in the U.S. Colored Troops. In fact, approximately one fourth of the county’s African American male population answered the call of duty, inspired by Governor Curtin’s anti-slavery views and his promotion of volunteerism. Lewis was discharged February 20, 1862 due to injury, and died shortly after in 1863. According to tradition, Caroline helped Quaker ironmaster William A. Thomas with the Underground Railroad by aiding in the housing of runaway slaves in Bellefonte while her husband was fighting in the Civil War.
Caroline’s son, William H. Mills, was a Bellefonte barber and also a musician whose grandsons became well known as the singing group, the Mills Brothers. William also was actively involved in improving the condition and status of the Black community, and is reputed to have worked with Frederick A. Douglass. While it is known that Caroline married again, little is known of her second husband, Calvin Munroe.
Caroline was remembered as “the best known and oldest colored woman resident of Bellefonte,” according to her obituary in the Democratic Watchman. She was an accomplished nurse and midwife, seen as one of the best in the community. She had been employed by many of the more prominent families of the area as a house servant, and was an active member of the A.M.E. church. Another interesting reference to Caroline Mills Munroe appears in the Keystone Gazette in a 1956 Sesquicentennial series by a James G. Parsons, who remembers a “Cally” Munroe, who told people’s fortunes by reading tea leaves, with her services sought out by the community’s “curious women.”
Caroline Mills died on April 22, 1905 at the age of 77, and she is buried at the Union Cemetery in Bellefonte.
July 26, 1799
2s – reward
Run away on the 2d inst. Negroman John about 22, also negro girl named Flora about 18. Slender maid speaks bad English and some French. Has scar on upper lip and letters branded on her breast.
Whoever secures the runaways in any place where their master can get them shall have the above reward and reasonable charges paid by
John Patton, Centre Furnace
From the Bellefonte Patriot, March, 1818
“Whereas my wife Susanna, having left my bed and board, without any just cause; this is therefore to forewarn all persons from trusting her on my account, as I am determined to pay no debts of her contracting, after this day.”
– Benjamin Carson
April, 1818 – TO THE PUBLIC
“Whereas my husband has advertised me as having left his bed and board, (he having made over his property to his children with the view of starving me) has now left me to shift for myself the second time. This therefore to forewarn all persons from harboring him, until he provides for my maintenance, and gives security for that, and his good behavior.
To all good people who wants him descripted
To running away he has long been addicted
He deserted his country, being scared of a ball,
And ran home the greatest hero of all.
For such service as this he obtained a pension,
How well deserved I need not mention.
But one thing for all I needs must acknowledge,
He’s the worst husband God ever made,
To my knowledge.
– Susanna Carson
Mary Harris, daughter of Joseph Harris and Jane Stalker Miller, is a fascinating individual for her dedication to and interest in charity and community affairs, which is evident from a very early age. Mary is descended of the founders of Bellefonte, as her father Joseph was the son of James Harris and Ann Dunlop. Born at the Howard Iron Works in Centre County on August 5, 1836, Mary lost her parents at an early age, and Quaker William Thomas assumed her guardianship. Although baptized as a Presbyterian, Mary eventually became a Friend due to the influence of her guardian.
Mary’s dedication to service appeared when she was 11 years old, when Mary organized a children’s Saturday afternoon sewing society in Bellefonte which met at the various homes of members. They bought their own materials, made garments, and then distributed them to the poor. Receiving her early education at the Bellefonte Academy, Mary went on to attend the Friend’s Westtown boarding School in Chester Co., PA. During her time at Westtown, she taught a class of African American girls, and also had regular times for reading to the poor in the community.
On January 22, 1893, Mary Harris was married to Wistar Morris of Overbrook, PA at the Friend’s Meetinghouse in Bellefonte. He was a director of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and they relocated to Overbrook, PA, where her fascination with charitable activities continued. Their home at Green hill Farm at Overbrook became a center for social gatherings as well as community services, as Mary began another sewing society there for making and distributing garments to the poor. Not long after her marriage, Mary became a member of the board of managers for the Orphan’s asylum of Philadelphia, which was organized by women in 1814, and was the first institution of its kind in the city. Mary Harris Morris was also actively interested in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and she also became interested in the struggle of women prisoners. Particularly involved with the women of the Eastern Penitentiary, she would visit them in their cells, and later became the manager of The Howard Home, which was a home for women discharged from prison, where they were kept and cared for until ready to take positions in society.
Continuing with her interest in education, Mary and her husband became dedicated to the educational development of Native Americans. Mr. Morris established the Carlisle Indian School, and he and Mary were especially dedicated to the development of this school, where students were taught in terms of educational ideals as well as in the ways of home life. In 1882, Mary Morris became interested in the education of Japanese students, particularly in introducing them to the study of the bible. Mary, in conjunction with a Japanese student, Miss Tsuda, who attended Bryn Mawr College, opened up a private school for girls in Tokyo in 1900. It was the only school in Japan of its kind at this time where instruction was given in English.
In addition to all of her efforts to service the community, Mary was extremely well traveled and interested in experiencing ways of life abroad. In 1870, Mary Morris, along with her husband and daughter, spent the winter in Egypt, and traveled through Syria and Constantinople. While in Egypt, Mrs. Morris observed the work of the American mission, and this inspired her 11 years later to help organize the Foreign Missionary Association of Friends of Philadelphia, of which she was president. This organization was dedicated to spreading the word of Christianity in foreign lands. Additionally, Mary spent three months in Japan in 1890, working with the Friends Mission there, and Mrs. Morris conducted bible classes for Japanese ladies. Then, in the fall of 1891, Mrs. Morris, along with Miss Tsuda, the above mentioned Japanese student, developed a Japanese Scholarship Committee, which raised an endowment with the sole purpose of maintaining one Japanese girl at Bryn Mawr, the Women’s Medical College, or the Drexel Institute. At this early period, Mrs. Morris was already a proponent of diversity in the learning environment. Even in her later years, Mary’s interest in travel continued, spending alternate summers in places like Iceland, Russia, Norway, and Sweden.
Mary Harris Morris was a woman determined to make any contributions she could to the betterment of society. Oriented towards charitable activities, primarily through her affiliation with The Society of Friends, Mary Harris instigated and perpetuated the education of minority populations in Pennsylvania, and established organizations dedicated to the aid of the less fortunate.
Myrtle Magargel of Pleasant Gap is a woman who contributed much to Centre County History, particularly through her compilations of community histories of the Centre Region.
Myrtle was born in Sonestown, PA in 1881, and was the daughter of Andrew and Cora Laird Edgar. She married George Magargel in 1905 and they moved to Centre County in 1922. She lived in Pleasant Gap until her death in 1958, and did much to contribute to community life. Mrs. Magargel served as the Pleasant Gap correspondent to the Centre Daily Times prior to its becoming a daily newspaper in 1934, handling the Pleasant Gap personals and news items for the Pleasant Gap community. She was also a teacher at the pleasant Gap school. Myrtle Magargel was also a founding member of the Pleasant Gap Women’s Club, and was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution from 1934.
Myrtle Magargel is best known for the community histories that she wrote, particularly for Pleasant Gap, Centre Hall, Boalsburg, Rock and Halfmoon Valley. In addition, she also wrote a special study of the early roads of Centre County. Her writing, however, was not confined to the topic of Centre County history, as she also wrote several works that had for subject matter her native Sullivan County. For example, she helped write “Pioneering with Sullivan County Pioneers” in 1953, a brochure published by the Endicott Publishing Company.
Magargel’s community histories appeared in the Centre Daily Times from 1936-1948 in serial form, captivating a wide audience, as they were given tiny pieces to the puzzle of a community’s history each week. Some of her histories have also been published in booklet form, and are now considered to be collections items. Her “History of Pleasant Gap” ran in the Centre Daily Times from March 16 through June 20 1936, and the first issue was preceded by an introduction that presented Mrs. Magargel and her compilation:
The following is the first installment of the History of Pleasant Gap, written by Mrs. Myrtle Magargel of that community. Delving into histories of centre county, records at the courthouse and through personal interviews with old residents of the community, Mrs. Magargel has amassed a treasure of information and incidents concerning the early history of Pleasant Gap and has woven them into an interesting account.
Myrtle Magargel’s contribution to Centre County history is felt primarily through her efforts to preserve the heritage of the various communities of the centre region, evidenced by her written community histories.
Hilda Patton Thompson
Hilda Patton Thompson of Centre Furnace, State College, stood apart as a courageous and exemplary woman who made great contributions to the efforts of both world wars, as well as humanitarian causes. Born at Centre Furnace August 28, 1893, Miss Thompson did much to propel the United States war effort through her care and support of the men overseas through the Red Cross canteens, aided displaced persons in the European Theater of the war, and participated actively in State College Community affairs. She died on November 27, 1968 in her Locust Lane home in State College, where she lived most of her life.
During WWI, Miss Thompson joined the Red Cross Motor Service and became one of the first female auto-mechanics in Centre County. She took a wartime Red Cross auto-mechanic course at Snyder’s Garage in State College, and also received an automechanic diploma from the New York Auto-mechanic School. This experience led her to her first experiences in serving the war effort, as she became an ambulance driver during the First World War.
Hilda Thompson decided to join the Red Cross in April of 1942, and right away she was sent to Australia for her first assignment as an assistant club director. By June of 1943 she was made supervisor of all of the clubs in Northern Australia, which meant coordinating nine Red Cross Clubs, and working with club supervisors. Dedication, tirelessness, and patriotism characterize Miss Thompson’s work at the Red Cross clubs. The club where she made her headquarters for 16 of her 20 months overseas had beds for 200 men and served about 2500 meals each day. Men on leave would register at the club just as at a hotel, they ate their meals there, used the dating bureau, and attended dances at which Australian girls served as hostesses. Hilda Thompson’s tasks associated with the club ranged from serving American-style food, supplying partners for dances, picnics, and boat trips, mending and altering clothing, buying gifts for soldiers to send home, and managing a cleaning and laundry service. Her tasks were by no means easy nor simple, and a slogan she and the other girls kept pinned above their desks best explains the nature of their work: “the impossible we do at once; miracles take a little longer.”
The club was open 24 hours a day and the women who operated them had to be prepared to get up at any hour of the night to greet men, make up their beds, and find them something to eat. A typical club worker’s day began at about 2 a.m., when the girls might get up to serve breakfast to a plane crew going to an early mission. The nature of Hilda Thompson’s work was so diverse and time consuming, that she described it in the following manner: “We are so busy that the war is just a job to us and somehow little details like getting a new belt for the refrigerator or replacing a burned-out light bulb becomes more important than bombs or enemy planes.” Hilda is remembered as saying, upon reflection of her years as club director, “our goal is to give the man a home away from home.”
Hilda Thompson’s last four moths in the South Pacific were spent as supervisor of canteens in the forward areas and traveled all over New Guinea organizing and setting up these canteens. She was in charge of 26 Red Cross women workers stationed on the island, providing mobile canteen service to American airmen returning from missions over enemy positions. At the time she left the South Pacific, Hilda Thompson had been further north than any other American Red Cross woman and was the first white woman many of the men in the forward areas had seen for 18 months. Before leaving this theater, Hilda also served as the official hostess and guide for Mrs. Roosevelt for one and a half days for the first lady’s visit to New Guinea.
In February of 1946, Hilda Thompson began a new project, as the Deputy Director of Displaced Persons Camp Operations, with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Headquarters in Germany. Hilda was placed in Rebdorf, Germany, and worked with many Lithuanian and Latvian refugees. She was responsible for the overall operation of the camp, the feeding, clothing, sanitation, and all police activities within and around the camp, and conferred and worked with national leaders and committees of the camp. In addition, Miss Thompson acted as the UNRRA liaison between the United States Military Government Officers and military police. Hilda Thompson also interviewed and recruited all young men eligible for the Polish and Baltic guard units established by the U.S. army. Hilda resigned from her position in Rebdorf to come home to the United States to lobby for the acceptance of displaced persons into the United States. In her advocacy, she described the camps in which she worked, where 54 persons were assigned to a room 25 by 50 feet, fed three soup meals per day. She lobbied for a bill in the House of Representatives that would admit 100,000 displaced persons over a four year period on a non-quota basis, and this would therefore admit 400,000 of the 850,000 persons held in camps at that time. After her involvement in the war effort and the aftermath of the war, Hilda Thompson became an active member of the State College area Hospital Auxiliary in 1958 and from 1961-1968; she served as its membership chairman. In the Centre County Council of Hospital Auxiliaries, Miss Thompson served as president from 1963 to 1964 as well. Throughout her life, Hilda Thompson was always dedicated to others: to their well being, care, health, and happiness.
Jane Davis Patton
Jane Bartholomew Davis Patton (1752-1832), the wife of Centre Furnace ironmaster John Patton, was born in Philadelphia in 1752. He was a prominent Philadelphian, a Revolutionary War officer, and a member of George Washington’s Life Guard. He also was a land speculator. Married at 25, she was not quite forty when she moved far away from Philadelphia to the wilderness of central Pennsylvania to be part of the management of a new charcoal ironmaking operation.
It was the first iron furnace to open, to be “put into blast” in what would become Centre County’s major 19th century industry.
We don’t know very much about Jane Davis Patton, but we do know that she was the mother of eleven children, several of them staying in the area. Patton Township and Pattonville, the early name for Pine Grove Mills, are present day reminders.
According to 1798 tax records, Mrs. Patton presided over a log house and a log kitchen at Centre Furnace. And according to the memoirs of Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, Centre Furnace was a center of civility in the wilderness. While in exile from France, he visited Pennsylvania, engaged in land speculation, and spent the winter of 1795 with “John Patton at Centre Furnace.”
Jane Davis Patton outlived John by 28 years, moving to Huntingdon after his death in 1804. She died in 1832 and was buried in Huntingdon. Through the efforts of the Standing Stone, Huntingdon County VFW, in 1938 John Patton’s body was moved with a full military funeral cortege from a area grave near Shingletown to Huntingdon and laid to rest again beside the grave of his wife.
(Children: Rachael, Benjamin, William, John, Francis, Joseph, Edward, Anna, Jane, Samuel and Ellen. John Patton died 1804 in Centre County)
Catherine Wister Miles
Catherine Wister Miles (1742 – 1797), the wife of Centre Furnace co-owner Samuel Miles, was born into a prominent Philadelphia area family in 1742. In 1761 she married Colonel Miles. He was a military officer and political figure who, in 1790, served as mayor of Philadelphia. While Jane Patton left the city in 1791 to live in a log house on the frontier, Catherine Miles remained in Philadelphia. But she, too, was the mother of a large family –– fifteen, in fact, nine of them reaching adulthood.
Two of their daughters married prominent Pennsylvanians. Abigail was the wife of Thomas Potts of Pottstown; Hannah married Joseph McKean, son of Governor Thomas McKean. Three sons –– John, Joseph, and William Wister –– moved to Centre County, married into local families, and continued in the ironmaking business.
A curious, yet intriguing story found in John Blair Linn’s 1883 History of Centre and Clinton Counties, tells the tale of a beautiful young aeronaut named Lizzie Ihling, and her celebrated visit to Centre County. Linn’s story includes Miss Ihling’s observations of Bellefonte and the County, as viewed from a hot air balloon.
Lizzie Ihling made two balloon ascensions, on October 4 and 5, 1876, during the celebration for the Centennial Fair of the Centre County Agricultural Society. She had been invited by members of the Agricultural Society’s executive committee, since balloon ascensions at such events were very popular and would, in all likelihood, draw a sizeable crowd to the fair. The Democratic Watchman reported:
A balloon ascension at any time is attractive, but when made by a beautiful and accomplished young lady it becomes fascinating –– at least to the young men, while the young ladies will be compelled, in sheer self-defense, to turn out en masse, in order to prevent their “gentlemen friends” from becoming too enthusiastic in their admiration of the gay young aeronaut.
Articles ran in the Democratic Watchman for several weeks before Miss Ihling’s arrival, indicating the anxious anticipation of the event, and the great excitement surrounding the expectation for its implications for the success of the fair. Indeed, the turnout was quite impressive for her first ascension, as some 2500 spectators were reported to arrive at the fair in order to witness the impressive voyage. Miss Ihling embarked on her journey in her hot air balloon, “The Amazon”. She was reportedly dressed as the goddess of liberty for the event. She was accompanied to the fair and supervised by her uncle, Professor John Wise of Lancaster County, a well known and accomplished air voyager who modestly described himself as “the world renowned astronaut who has more voyages through the Heavens than any other man.”
Lizzie Ihling’s written accounts of her observations during her aerial journeys have been preserved, allowing for not only a fascinating glimpse of the countryside seen from the air, but of the adventurous spirit of this young lady as well. During her first ascension, Miss Ihling wrote:
I started up at 2 pm, with ascending force sufficient to elevate me 3500 feet by the time I reached a point centrally over the town of Bellefonte. From there the view was grand. The amphitheater form of the fair ground had changed into a sort of galleried terrace, with here and there clusters of spectators, whilst the pit from whence I started, looked in one place like a beehive –– the bees all clustered up in a bunch. I saw the two carriages scampering through the town in pursuit of me, and it made me laugh aloud to myself at the lilliputs hurrying up their tiny vehicles with horses as large as Newfoundland dogs. The town of Bellefonte looked so compactly built that there appeared to be too little room for the locomotives and teams to wriggle through its thoroughfares, unless they were of diminutive size . . .
She was moved to poetry in her second ascend:
Whn e’er I mount on ether’s wing To seek the heavenly air, To hear the zephyr angels sing It fills my soul with prayer. When fleecy clouds around me play Like spirits of the air Ad fan me with their ambient spray I feel like staying there. The world sinks down in ether’s sea Nor stops to rest in space While my frail bark is sailing free To seek a resting place. How beauteous now the realms around, Spread out with bounteous hand; The great blue vault now clasps the ground, And forms a circling band. The world looks like a fairy green With platts of various hue, And silvery streamlets in the scene To beautify the view. All nature sings the song of love In one accord of praise; The lamp of God swing far above Sends down its quick’ning rays. Oh! Must I soon depart from hence To join that rugged shore, To dream of heavenly recompense In nature’s bounteous store. No! No! I will not down to earth –– I’d rather stay up here Around the scenes of Joy and Mirth They greet my eye and ear. Ne’er can the earth such pleasure give, Nor move the soul to praise, As does the upper world of life In sailing on its ways. But now, alas, my fairy bark Is swooping for the strand And down I come like meadow lark, Again to grope on land.
Martha Barnhart Harper
Born in Bellefonte on February 1, 1895, Martha Rebecca Barnhart Harper was the eldest daughter of James K. and Ollie Campbell Barnhart. Most famous for her work Winter Wedding, Mrs. Harper became a novelist, making the region of Centre County the setting for many of her stories.
She graduated from Bellefonte high school in 1913, and following that she attended Lake Erie College and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1917 from Mount Holyoke College. Martha Barnhart Harper relocated to Schenectady and also taught school briefly in Tyrone.
Mrs. Harper addressed numerous groups and conventions in Schenectady area and told stories to children on a local radio and television station, as well as in hospitals, libraries and schools; this was one of her greatest loves and hobbies. Many of the children’s stories she would recount were tales that she had composed herself. She taught first grade as well as high school English class in addition to teaching eight courses for teachers in the public schools of Schenectady for the International Council of Religious Education. In religious work, Mrs. Harper served as the superintendent of children’s work in the Schenectady area for two years and for many years was superintendent of the primary department of her children’s Sunday school.
Martha Barnhart Harper is best known for her novels, which often had settings in Centre County. Among her most famous works are Red Silk Pantalettes, Bittersweet, and Winter Wedding. In fact, the locale of Bittersweet is at “Dowdy’s Hole” area along the Bald Eagle Creek in Boggs Township, where the Barnhart family settled. In her novel Winter Wedding, Martha Barnhart Harper, in revealing the romance of heroine Belle, makes several references to Centre County, including an entire chapter entitled “Penn’s Cave.” In this chapter, Belle and her friends embark on an expedition to the mystical cave, and recount the mythological tale and eerie environment associated with the cave:
“These are labyrinths,” she said, “where one room leads to another. Aren’t the long ‘icicles’ magnificent?” In one room they sat on broken-off stalagmites and listened to the tinkle of small waterfalls which they could not see. Below was a pool of water…. “Oh, Belle, one more look at the water cave. Just the outside, please!” As they approached it Jane stopped short. “Listen!” From below came a faint moan. “Nita-nee! Nita-nee!” “Shhhh! That’s it,” Laura whispered. “That’s Malachi’s ghost. Oooooo!” She clung to Belle. “Nita-nee! Nita-nee!” Belle left the group and started down the path. At the bottom she could see Joe scrooched over the water, his hand cupped over his mouth. “Nita—“ “Joe Barnhart!” “Yes, ma’am.” Obediently he went back to the spring wagon. At the water’s edge Belle called to Manda and Ezra, telling them they were leaving. “It’s a long trip home, you know.”
Here, Martha Barnhart Harper has obviously incorporated the legendary Centre County tale of Native American princess Nittany and her love, who allegedly perished in Penn’s Cave.
Martha Barnhart Harper died January 14, 1961 at the age of 65.
Mary Harris Morris
Mary Harris Morris, daughter of ironmaster Joseph Harris and Jane Stalker Miller, was born at the Howard Iron Works on August 5, 1836. She was the granddaughter of Ann Dunlop Harris, daughter and wife of the founders of Bellefonte and the author of The Alphabet of Thought. Mary lost her parents at an early age, and Quaker ironmaster William A. Thomas assumed her guardianship. Although baptized as a Presbyterian, Mary eventually became a Friend due to the influence of her guardian.
Mary’s dedication to community service began early. As an 11 year old she organized a children’s Saturday afternoon sewing society in Bellefonte which met at the homes of members. They bought their own materials, made garments, and then distributed them to the poor. Receiving her early education at the Bellefonte Academy, Mary went on to attend the Friend’s Westtown Boarding School in Chester Co., PA. During her time at Westtown, she taught a class of African American girls, and also had regular times for reading to the poor in the community.
Mary Harris married Wistar Morris of Overbrook, PA at the Friend’s Meetinghouse in Bellefonte. He was a director of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and they relocated to Overbrook, PA, where her work with charitable activities continued. Their home at Green Hill Farm became a center for social gatherings as well as community service. Mary began another sewing society there for making and distributing garments to the poor, and soon after became a member of the board of managers for the Orphan’s Asylum of Philadelphia. Organized by women in 1814, it was the first institution of its kind in the city. Mary Harris Morris was a proponent of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and also interested in the treatment of women prisoners. Particularly involved with the women of the Eastern Penitentiary, she would visit them in their cells, and later became the manager of the Howard Home, a home for women discharged from prison, where they were kept and cared for until ready to reenter into society.
Continuing with her interest in education, Mary Harris Morris and her husband became dedicated to the educational development of Native Americans. Wistar Morris established the Carlisle Indian School in Cumberland County, and he and Mary sought to develop the school so that students would be taught educational ideals as well as in the ways of home life.
She traveled extensively. In 1870 she, her husband, and their daughter visited Egypt, Syria and Constantinople. While in Egypt, she observed the work of the American Mission, and this inspired her, 11 years later, to help organize the Foreign Missionary Association of Friends of Philadelphia, of which she became president. This organization was dedicated to spreading the word of Christianity in foreign lands.
In 1882, Mary Morris became interested in the education of Japanese students including their introduction to the study of the Bible, and eight years later, she spent three months in Japan and with a former Bryn Mawr College student from Japan, Miss Tsuda, opened a private school for girls in Tokyo.. It was the only school of its kind in Japan at the time, where instruction was given in English. In the fall of 1891, she and Miss Tsuda developed a Japanese Scholarship Committee, which raised an endowment with the purpose of supporting one Japanese girl at Bryn Mawr, the Women’s Medical College, or the Drexel Institute. Environment.
Mary Harris Morris was a proponent of diversity in learning. Oriented towards charitable activities, primarily through her affiliation with The Society of Friends, she instigated and perpetuated the education of minority populations in Pennsylvania, established organizations dedicated to the aid of the less fortunate, and encouraged educational opportunities for women elsewhere.
Sarah Lucinda Hall
Sarah Lucinda Hall, better known as Lucy Hall, was a Bellefonte woman who made her own memorable contributions to the American war effort during World War 11. She did this by seeing off hundreds of Centre County soldiers departing for military service every Monday morning during the war years.
Lucy Hall came from Unionville, PA, and ever since Selective Service began drawing groups of young Centre county men to service, she would activate her one-woman farewell committee. Lucy had no other means of transportation besides her own two feet, so she would hitch-hike to Bellefonte from Unionville early every Monday morning to be able to escort the group of departing troops from the old YMCA down W. High Street to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station, always waving the same two small American Flags. She fulfilled her duty and stuck to this routine, in good weather and bad; winter and summer. Lucy’s last public appearance in this role was in 195 1, when the Bellefonte National Guard troops left for federal service for the Korean War. The Centre County Commissioner at that time, Harry V. Keeler, escorted Ms. Hall to the station so that she could bid the troop farewell.
Lucy hall died at the age of 88 on May 26, 1963. She was residing at the Centre County Home since 1949, and was suffering from a rather lengthy illness. She was buried with appropriate military services on the eve of Memorial Day that year in Union Township, In addition, the week of her death, the Centre County Commissioners adopted a resolution in Memoriam of Sarah Lucinda Hall, commending her for her patriotism, and they urged veteran’s organizations to fly their flags at half-mast in her honor.
Rebecca Valentine Pugh
Rebecca Valentine Pugh, born February 12, 1832, was the daughter of the prestigious Bellefonte ironmaster Abram S. Valentine and the wife of the first president of the Penn State College, Dr. Evan Pugh. Her story tells the tale of a highly cultivated lady carrying the legacy of a respected family, as well as a devoted widow who never fully accepted the death of her husband.
The eldest daughter of Abram S. Valentine and Clarissa Miles Valentine, Rebecca Valentine Pugh enjoyed a fine and rich upbringing, as it has been noted by her niece Rebecca Pugh Lyon that the women of the Bellefonte ironmasters “lived like princesses.” Refinements such as elegant jewelry and expensive clothing—gifts from her father—were included in her most prized possessions as a young girl. Rebecca Valentine Pugh’s niece even recalls how vain her aunt was about her small feet, boasting that “a mouse could run under [her] instep.” She had reddish hair and was quite petite, and her beauty captivated all of those around her. In addition to the material wealth she enjoyed, Rebecca and her sisters participated in the best society affairs of Philadelphia and Bedford, and she and her mother would often ride horseback to visit friends not living too far away. Rebecca Valentine Pugh possessed a great love for poetry and had an intellectual spirit, which contributed to her captivating personality. Perhaps it was most properly stated by David Cameron, a man who knew her quite well, that Rebecca “would shine in the very best society.”
Rebecca Valentine’s encounter with Dr. Evan Pugh was purely by chance, and took place at the Valentine family estate of Willowbank in Bellefonte. Pugh had come to consult with Rebecca’s father, Abram S. Valentine, in 1858 on the scientific matters of comparing smelting in the iron industry in the U.S. and abroad. Pugh sought information concerning the iron industry from Valentine because of his undisputed prestige in the industry. Abram S. Valentine and his brothers, accompanied by Jacob Thomas, came to Centre County and leased the old Dunlop iron furnace built by John Dunlop in 1802, and then purchased it in 1821. The Valentine men built up their reputations by erecting additional forges and in 1824 by building the first rolling mill in Centre County. Therefore, due to his improvements in ironworks and his undisputed success, Abram S. Valentine was the man to consult in the scientific matters of the iron industry.
Rebecca Pugh Lyon has noted that this chance encounter between her aunt and Dr. Evan Pugh was marked by love at first sight. Rebecca Valentine Pugh communicated to her niece that before meeting Pugh, she never expected to marry. She saw him as a unique, brilliant individual, unlike any man she had previously known. Rebecca saw him as a genius, a man of great ideals and a culturally developed background. Before she had met him, no man held her interest, and similarly, after his death, no man was able to capture her heart or mind as he did. For Pugh, the attraction was identical, as Miss Valentine’s refined beauty, intelligence, and charm captivated him. Dr. Evan Pugh and Miss Valentine had a rather drawn out engagement due largely to her family obligations. After her mother’s death, Rebecca took on the responsibility of caring for her two younger siblings Harry and Mary Valentine, and she was very devoted to them.
Finally married on February 4, 1864, the union of Rebecca Valentine and Dr. Evan Pugh was cut short, as he passed away two short months after their wedding. In fact, the president’s house in State College, which was built in anticipation of the Pugh’s residence, was never occupied by the couple because of Evan Pugh’s unexpected passing. It has also been suggested that she never inhabited the home at the college because the undeveloped community of State College was considered to be quite a disreputable place, and the Valentine family was not in favor of sending their Rebecca to such a primitive environment. Rebecca’s life after Evan Pugh’s death was very unhappy, as her grief over his passing never left her. As a matter of fact, Rebecca Valentine Pugh is remembered as always wearing a watch, which was her wedding gift from Pugh, on a chain of metal links around her neck. Rebecca Valentine Pugh upheld her faithful and romantic dedication to her beloved Evan until her death on July 7, 1921, at the age of 89. Although the bulk of her life was characterized by 57 years of devoted widowhood, Rebecca Valentine Pugh is remembered as a woman of great beauty and sophistication, who captured the heart of the first president of the Penn State College.
Katharine Wilson Curtin
Katharine Wilson Curtin, wife of the governor of Pennsylvania during the civil war, Andrew Gregg Curtin, is a fascinating woman for her humanistic qualities as well as her great contributions to her husband’s career. Born at Potter’s Bank on January 17, 1821, Katharine Wilson Curtin was a great granddaughter of General James Potter, a man of great military acclaim during the revolutionary era. Her father, William I. Wilson of Potter’s Mills, was a very prominent and influential man in Centre County, as he did quite a bit to open up one of the most fertile valleys in the State. Raised on the family homestead in Penns Valley, Katherine came to Bellefonte to live after her marriage on May 2, 1844 to Andrew Gregg Curtin, a young lawyer at the time with aspirations for political involvement.
It has been noted that Katharine Wilson Curtin was a very devoted family woman, first and foremost a wife, mother, and grandmother, and at her fullest enjoyment when surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She was the mother of two sons and four daughters and an extremely devout Christian, as she was remembered as an active member of the Presbyterian Church in Bellefonte. Katharine Wilson Curtin was remembered as a charitable woman who was accepting of everyone, and that her hospitable home drew both rich and poor, who were treated with equal respect. Social station was of no concern to Mrs. Curtin, as she didn’t think to try to elevate herself above those less fortunate than her.
Katharine Wilson Curtin was a woman with a sharp intellect and undisputed charm and beauty, qualities that made her perfectly suited for the position of prominence that she was called upon to fill as the wife of the Pennsylvania governor, congressman, and minister to Russia. From 1860 to 1866, she graced the capital city with her charm and goodwill as the Lady of the executive mansion in Harrisburg during her husband’s illustrious term as governor of Pennsylvania. While in Harrisburg, Mrs. Curtin used her influence and persuasion with her husband to promote any and all policies advocating the best care for soldiers suffering on the field of battle during the civil war. She was in favor of every project that allowed for the betterment of the care for the men at war as well as bringing the war itself to a close. It was Katharine Wilson Curtin who suggested to the governor to bring wounded soldiers from the battlefields in the south and care for them in quickly established hospitals in any building available, such as churches, schools and even homes. It was also at Mrs. Curtin’s suggestion that the Soldiers’ Orphan Schools were established. Many remarked that, as the war became more and more critical, few women in the State showed such an overwhelming concern for the crisis as she did, evidenced through her care of soldiers, her hospitality, and good deeds of kindness. When her husband was appointed as Minister to Russia, she accompanied him there, and she won the grace and praise of Emperor Alexander. The Democratic Watchman boasts that never before or after the Curtin’s administration in Russia was the honor of the United States maintained with more dignity and honor at the Russian court.
Katharine Wilson Curtin passed away on December 7, 1903 at 82 years of age. She died at the family home on High Street in Bellefonte, and will be remembered for her humanitarian qualities and her advocacy for the care of wounded soldiers during the civil war.
The Centre County Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was organized in 1884, and Rebecca Rhoads, president of the organization from 1915-1926, brought much to the vitality of its cause. A native of Bellefonte, and a major leader behind the “dry forces” in the county, Rebecca Rhoads made her presence felt as a community leader.
Born in Bellefonte in November of 1872, Rebecca was the youngest child and only daughter of Judge Daniel Rhoads and Marie Dick Smith. Her father relocated to Bellefonte from Philadelphia, drawn to the community as a result of his interest in the lumber, mining, and coal industries. Mr. Rhoads also served as Judge of the courts of Centre County.
Rebecca Rhoads, throughout her time in Bellefonte, was prominent in the activities of the WCTU. She is remembered as having brought youth and enthusiasm to the mission of the organization, by increasing membership, and building up a strong following. She was largely responsible for the politicization of prohibition in Centre County, as she worked hard to have state and national officers brought into the county to perpetuate the cause of prohibition, and to reinforce her wish that it be taken very seriously by Centre County citizens.
Rhoads was extremely dedicated to her duties with the WCTU, driving all night to Washington D.C. on one occasion during her tenure in order to recruit men to come back to Centre County and put over raids that were not being carried out by the local police force.
Even after her retirement as president of the county WCTU, Rebecca Rhoads worked diligently to elect a dry district attorney and other dry candidates for office. She would print up lists of dry candidates and put the ladies of the county WCTU to work, as they distributed these lists to voters. The history of the Centre County Women’s Christian Temperance Union best describes Rhoads’ fierce advocacy of dryness in politics by stating, “The woman had put the fear of God into the hearts of the politicians.”
It is interesting to note as well that Miss Rhoads served during World War I as a Red Cross nurse for several months, so her spirit of service to society reached throughout Centre County and beyond.
“The 1920s were the great vintage years for American writers. There was a tremendous amount of talent in Paris then, and my shop seemed to be a gathering place for most of it. There were no tables and no drinks, but the people made it a hangout. It was a club without a name. The people knew each other only as The Crowd. Their idols were James Joyce and Ezra Pound. . . .“
These are the words of Sylvia Beach, a woman of Centre County stock who played a defining role in the development of twentieth century literature. Sylvia Beach was the granddaughter of Nancy Orbison of Bellefonte, and a great-granddaughter of Ann Dunlop Harris, namer of Bellefonte and author of a book on metaphysics entitled The Alphabet of Thought. Her father was Reverend Sylvester Beach, a faculty member of the Bellefonte Academy, and her parents were married at the Bellefonte Presbyterian Church. Ms. Beach was born in Baltimore in 1887, as her father had been appointed pastor of the first Presbyterian Church of Baltimore. In 1901 Rev. Beach father obtained the position of assistant to the pastor of the American Church in Paris, and Sylvia and her sisters were raised there. Sylvia Beach’s years in Paris proved to have a profound and lasting impression on her, as she found herself returning to Paris as an adult to forge a destiny that proved to sculpt numerous turning points in American literary history.
Sylvia Beach moved to Paris and in November 1919 opened a bookstore she christened “Shakespeare and Company.” It became known as a home for “the Lost Generation,” the euphemism which refers to this group of twentieth-century authors. She made available to these writers a wide variety of services, such as providing a forum for introductions, to finding them typists, to receiving their mail, to critiquing their works in progress, to publishing their works. She would serve these “regulars” tea in a back parlor of the shop, which had a fireplace. Not only was Ms. Beach a very hospitable shop owner, but she was a shrewd businesswoman. She is remembered as referring to books that didn’t sell well as “dead ones,” and she would place these books in large boxes that she called “coffins.”
Great literary acclaim and fame came to Sylvia Beach and her bookshop in 1922 when she took the bold step of publishing James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, a work that had been deemed too obscene to print. Ms. Beach offered to publish her good friend’s novel upon their joint discovery that there was no hope of it appearing in English-speaking countries, due to its controversial nature. She continued to distribute the novel as long as it remained a banned book in England and the United States, and the book remains banned to this day in Ireland. The first edition of the novel included 1,000 copies, printed in Dijon, France; Ms. Beach’s venture proved to be very profitable, as hundreds of Americans visiting Paris bought the book at her shop and then smuggled it into the United States. Sylvia Beach also published Joyce’s work Pomes Penyeach in 1927, and put out a volume of studies by contributors to his “Works in Progress,” which were eventually integrated into Finnegan’s Wake. Literary critics see her publication of Ulysses in 1922 as one of the greatest literary events of the twentieth century.
Ms. Beach’s closeness with these writers on an individual level can be seen through her personal experiences with each of them. Apart from having a very close relationship with James Joyce, Sylvia Beach also knew Ernest Hemingway quite well. A memorable story concerning her and Hemingway on the day of Paris’ liberation from the Germans reflects their relationship. In the Beach Collection at Princeton University, one can find a copy of Hemingway’s novel Winner Take Nothing, with an inscription to Ms. Beach on the day of the liberation from the Nazis. Sylvia Beach left behind a written record of her recollections of that day. As she sat in her apartment at 12 Rue de L’Odeon, she heard a voice crying out her name from the street. When she peered out of her window, she saw that it was Hemingway calling for her, leaning out of a jeep, “in battle dress, grimy and bloody” according to Beach. He looked for her first to notify her that Paris had been liberated, and immediately asked if there was anything he could do for her. She pointed to the Nazi snipers on the roofs of the buildings in her neighborhood, Hemingway and his soldiers headed for the roofs, and Ms. Beach reported that she “heard firing for the last time in the rue de L’Odeon.”
Although this heroic story reflects an optimistic outcome for Sylvia Beach at the close of the war, she was not without hardship during her time in Paris at Shakespeare and Company. In fact, she felt the effects of the Depression in 1936; and Shakespeare and Company would have closed its doors had it not been for the rallying force of her writer-friends Gide, Valery, Eliot, and Hemingway. Her rescuers organized “Les Amis de Shakespeare and Co.” and gave readings of their works in order to raise money for the shop. With the onset of the war, however, Sylvia Beach’s days of success were coming quickly to an end. In 1941 she refused to sell a copy of Finnegan’s Wake to a Nazi soldier, and he threatened to shut her down and confiscate all of her belongings. She closed the shop herself in 1941, and never reopened it. In 1943, she was placed in a concentration camp for six months at Vittel, and when released, she went back to her home on the Rue de L’Odeon.
Sylvia Beach was an author herself, composing a memoir entitled Shakespeare and Company, published in 1959. Her recollections recorded in this work provide a glimpse into the literary scene of Paris in the 1920s, and her shop’s crucial role in the cultivation of American literary style in the twentieth century. Sylvia Beach remained in Paris for the rest of her days. She passed away in 1962 of a heart attack, at the age of 72. Her facilitation of intellectual exchange between the great literary minds of the 1920s was of crucial importance to the path American literary expression took in the twentieth century.
The Memorial Day Women
The history of Memorial Day and its origins in the town of Boalsburg can be traced back to the civil war era, and a grieving community that wished to pay tribute to its loved ones who perished in battle. The women of Boalsburg were confronted with the loss of the men in their families, and because of the shared mourning of three women in particular, today we commemorate those who have fallen in battle fighting for our country in the form of the observance known as Memorial Day.
The community of Boalsburg was fiercely abolitionist, and as a result of their passion for the union cause, many men heard the call to arms and became part of the 148th Penna. Volunteers. This was largely in response to President Lincoln’s calling for volunteers, and Boalsburg Academy Professor J. Patterson’s advocacy of enlistment. Upon announcing his intention to go to war, he urged his students to follow him, and consequently 127 men of Boalsburg and the surrounding areas left to fight. At least five times during the war the bodies of veterans who died of wounds or disease were brought home to Boalsburg. After many of the community’s young men perished, the birth of Memorial Day became visible. The women of the community wanted to do whatever they could to contribute to the war effort, particularly in putting forth efforts to bring back the men of Boalsburg, safe and sound. Mothers and wives and other women of Boalsburg began to meet in the Boalsburg Academy day after day, to sew, knit, and pack boxes to be sent off to the boys at war. This group of women soon organized a Soldier’s Aid Society, which raised money for the Sanitary Commission that cared for wounded and sick soldiers.
Although the specific date of the first Memorial Day is not confirmed, it is thought to have been July 4, 1864, but could have been anytime between July 4 and October of 1864. On this historic day, three women met by chance at the Boalsburg cemetery, united in the common wish to pay tribute to the men in their families who had perished at war. Emma Hunter, the daughter of Surgeon Reuben Hunter, along with her friend Sophie Keller, decided to go to the cemetery that day, to pay their respects to Emma’s father, who was a victim of the war. At the cemetery, the two ladies met Elizabeth Meyer, who lost her son Amos at Gettysburg. Mrs. Meyer had gathered wildflowers on the way to the cemetery where her son was buried, about a mile away from her home, with the intention of placing them on Amos’ grave. Emma, who was a teenager at the time, had flowers for her father’s grave as well, and the women got to talking. As Mrs. Meyer boasted of her courageous son who was such a fine young man, Emma Hunter spoke admiringly of her father as well. As a gesture of kindness, each woman placed some of her own flowers on the other’s grave, and Memorial Day was born. These three ladies did not stop here, however, as they felt the call to share their flowers with the other men buried there, who had perished fighting for their country. They spread flowers on the graves of all soldiers killed in the civil war, and also on some graves form the revolutionary war and the war of 1812. According to tradition, the women ran out of flowers, and wishing to place flowers on each and every grave, they walked into the woods and gathered enough wildflowers to accomplish their mission. These three ladies agreed to continue this new tradition and commemorate the graves on the same day of the following year. Because of these women, the community of Boalsburg followed their lead, and in 1868 an annual observance of Memorial Day was recognized. Although nearly two dozen other towns across the United States lay claim to the founding of memorial day, Boalsburg’s status as the official founder was established in May of 2000, when the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted a resolution designating the village of Boalsburg as the official birthplace of Memorial Day.
The small Centre County community of Snow Shoe has very fond memories of Vivian David, a woman who spent her childhood there, and in adulthood found herself returning to Snow Shoe every summer. She made a very generous gift to the community in 1988 when she donated the historic Victorian home in which she grew up to the town, particularly to the Snow Shoe Lions Club. Now known as the Lions David House, thi building serves as a cultural center for the community, housing much of the town’s history and memorabilia for the people of Snow Shoe to enjoy.
Vivian David was born in the Snow Shoe House, as it is now fondly called, on December 15, 1900. Her parents, Jenkin Reese and Sophia Morgan David, were of Welsh background, and were married in Snow Shoe in the early 1880s. Vivian’s father died at a relatively premature age, shen she was about nine or ten years old, and Vivian’s mother was faced wit the task of raising Vivian and her two siblings, Jenkin Jr. and Anna, alone. While it is not certain what the source of Sophie’s income was, she managed to feed and raise all three of her children, and even send Vivian to Lock Haven for schooling. Jenkin was in the coal industry, so after his death the family most likely was able to live off of a savings left behind. Sophie is remembered as a very hard worker, and she saved money by making use of a rather large garden she cultivated at the family property. Sophie felt that the schooling system in Snow Shoe was rather limiting, and she wanted her children to receive a fine education, no matter what the price. In fact, she was rather clever in finding ways to provide her children with an education. For instance, at one time she had a tutor living as a tenant in the house, and there is no doubt that Sophie hoped he might be able to instruct a lesson or two to the children during his stay.
After obtaining her degree at the Lock Haven Teacher’s College, Vivian began her career as a teacher in Bound Brook, New Jersey. Demonstrating her loyal personality, Vivian remained with the Bound Brook school district for her entire professional career, however she did advance in her career, eventually becoming superintendant of the elementary school. Although Vivian did move away from Snow Shoe as an adult, her heart never left the community. In fact, from 1952 up until 1988, Vivian spent every summer in Snow Shoe at the David house where she grew up. Jean Finlayson, a close friend of Vivian’s from Bound Brook, remembered Vivian’s description of summers in Snow Shoe, which were marked by long, leisurely days in the out-of-doors, whether playing tennis, having picnics under the cherry trees, or playing croquet on the side lawn. Vivian’s great contribution to the community of Snow Shoe came in 1988, when she and William Hall, the current curator of the Lions David House, arranged for donation of the house to the town. On May 4, 1988, at a special town dinner, Vivian presented the deed to the house and the land to the Snow Shoe Lions Club, and she even made provisions for the housing of a small historical museum.
Bill Hall remembers Vivian David very fondly, mostly for her great love of Snow Shoe, her warmth, and her kindness. A wonderful quality of hers on which Mr. Hall frequently comments is her avid storytelling. One precious story that was apparently one of Vivian’s favorites, involved her mother’s vigorous support of the temperance movement and a next door neighbor who seemed to enjoy the occasional drink or two. Apparently, the gentleman living next door had been injured and consequently his legs had been amputated, and he had a dog that would pull him around in a wagon so that he could do his errands. This gentleman, referred to as Alphie, would fill the wagon with his groceries, which the dog would pull home, and Alphie would walk home on his stumps. One day in particular, Alphie was coming home with a jug of whiskey being towed along by his loyal hound, and just outside of the David house, he stopped to say hello to Sophie. Apparently, the dog tipped the wagon, and the jug of whiskey began to tumble into the creek. Watching his precious jug roll away from him, Alphie called out to his neighbor Sophie, “Mrs. David, that’s my precious drink, please catch it before it breaks!” And Sophie, a staunch supporter of the temperance movement, replied, “no Alphie, you don’t need that alcohol!” Mr. Hall recounts this amusing tale with a chuckle, remembering how his dear friend Vivian enjoyed sharing this unique childhood memory.
Vivian David died December 16, 1996. Although she was not a citizen of Snow Shoe in her adulthood, she returned every summer, reflecting the fondness she felt for the community which she carried with her throughout her life. Her generous gift to the community allows for the perpetual enjoyment of Snow Shoe’s rich heritage and culture.