Notable Indiana County Women Part II

Agnes Hunger – The Indiana Progress reported on August 28, 1901, that “Mademoisella Zeno” of Pittsburgh, a native of Indiana County, would make a balloon ascension at the Indiana County Fair on August 29. The next week, on September 4, the Progress said her real name was Agnes Hunger, a daughter of Martin Hunger, and that she gave trapeze exhibitions while the balloon rose to 4,000 feet and then parachuted back to earth.

She certainly was an unusual woman for her time.  It is unfortunate that nothing more is known of her.  Her father was said to have lived in the Elderton area.

Zoe Allison Johnston was a physician, and served as president of the American Medical Women’s Association form 1943-44.  She was noted as an X-ray and radium therapy specialist and served a term as president of the American Radium Society.

Johnston graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and passed the Pennsylvania State Medical Board examination in 1909.  After 12 years as a general practitioner in Tarentum, she set up an office in the Jenkins Arcade in Pittsburgh.

In 1941, she was president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Zonta International.  In 1944, her fellow physicians elected her president of the Allegheny County Medical Society.

She was athe daughter of Dr. T.B. Alllison and Eva Farnsworth.  Farnsworth was a registered nurse and served as superintendent of Indiana Hospital for a number of years beginning in June 1922.

Johnston was born in Indiana in 1889.  She married Charles M. Johnston, a Pittsburgh attorney, and they had one son.  She died on May 7, 1961.

Hannah Sharp Leason is a good example of a “profile of courage.”   She endured grief, numerous hardships and physical handicaps during Indiana County’s pioneer years.

Born in Cumberland County on February 4, 1784, she was the oldest child of Captain Andrew and Ann Woods Sharp.  Her father was a Revolutionary soldier.

As an infant, she and her parents accompanied Fergus Moorhead and others to Indiana County in 1784.  They settled near Shelocta.

When Leason was 6 years old, she lost her hearing but soon learned to read lips, and it is said, “It was truly wonderful with what exactness she could carry on a conversation in this way.”

In 1794, her father decided to move to Kentucky, and the family’s belongings were placed on a raft at Campbell’s Mills near Black Lick.  The group was attacked by a large party of Indians near Apollo.  Her father was severely wounded.  With great difficulty, they reached Pittsburgh where he lingered in pain for 40 days and died.

“Many a time,” she said, “I went and covered myself up and wept…when the doctor was dressing his wounds.”

The day he was buried, her mother was unable to go, so the little deaf girl, 10 years old, and a younger sister were the only family members who accompanied him to the grave.

Afterward, the mother took her children back to their old home in Cumberland County, where they went to school and Leason acquired a good command of the English language.  About 1797, they returned to Indiana County and settled on their old place.

In 1802, at about 18 years old, she married Robert Leason.  They moved to Butler County and raised a family of 16 children.  She and her husband were together 60 years, but she never heard his or any of their children’s voices.

In 1865, she wrote a beautiful letter to a nephew telling of her terrible ordeal in 1794 and her father’s death.  Despite this, she said, “I never had a spite and the Indians.  They were very badly treated.”

Leason died in 1869, the last of her family, at the age of 85.

Jane E. Leonard was preceptress at Indiana Normal School for more than 46 years from its founding in 1875 until she retired in 1921.  When she came to the new school, she was also the first teacher of history and geography.

Although she tended to be somewhat spinsterish and overprotective of the young ladies in her care, she was nevertheless fondly remembered by thousands of students as “Aunt Jane.”

She was honored by the dedication of Leonard Hall on February 23, 1905, which, although it burned in 1952, was rebuilt and rededicated.  The building has since been demolished to make room for the new College of Natural Sciences building.

The Leonard Literary Society was organized in 1927, and in May 1931 the Jane E. Leonard Memorial Student Loan Fund was established.  Her portrait painting in John Sutton Hall was presented at the 25th anniversary celebration of Indiana Normal School on July 3, 1900.

Leonard was born on December 27, 1840, in Lawrence Township, Clearfield County, a daughter of Robert and Lydia Wilson Leonard.

After attending the schools of her vicinity and the Clearfield Academy, she began teaching at the age of 15.  She graduated from Millersville State Normal School in Lancaster County in the early 1860s and, after teaching in that county awhile, joined the Millersville faculty as teacher of mathematics and history from 1868 until she came to Indiana in 1875.  While at Indiana, she attended summer sessions at Chautauqua Institution, completed a course of study and graduated.  In 1891, she traveled to Europe.

She was a staunch advocate of woman’s suffrage and supported the women’s club movement when it was initiated in Indiana County in 1912.  She was active in civic and political life, serving as chairman of the Indiana County Ladies Democratic Committee and president of the Indiana County Democratic Women Voters League.

She was chairman of the local Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fund devoted to the advancement of Wilsonian ideals.  She was one of the founders of the Ingleside Club of Indiana.  In 1922, she was the Democratic candidate for Congress, one of the first two women in Pennsylvania to seek national political office, and, although unsuccessful, received a large vote in an overwhelmingly Republican district.

After her retirement in 1921, she was told she could continue to live in her apartment in John Sutton Hall, and there she died in her sleep on April 6, 1924.  She is buried in Curwensville, Clearfield County.

Verna M. Zartman Bennett was the first woman in Pennsylvania to chair a county political party in 1962.

She was born in Bell Township, Clearfield County on July 6, 1902, and was a controversial figure during her political career on account of a serious split in Republican ranks which occurred during her term.

She served as deputy secretary of the Commonwealth, 1966-71; was elected a delegate to the 1964 Republican National Convention and was politically active in numerous other ways.

In earlier life, she had been a school teacher for 25 years.  She was also active in civic and community life and held posts and memberships in many organizations.  She married Boyd D. Bennett and they had one child. She died on December 17, 1985.

Eva Griffith Thompson was born about 1842-43 in Somerset County, a daughter of Abner and Elizabeth Cooper Griffith. She was assistant superintendent of Indiana County Schools, 1880-84, and an editor of the Indiana News beginning from about October 1889 until 1894.

She graduated from Steubenville Ohio Seminary and began teaching in Lowman School, East Mahoning Township, for $14 a month and taught afterward in many others county schools.

She was a leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and served a term as president of the Indiana County unit.  In March 1888, she and Jane E. Leonard attended the Women’s Suffrage International Congress in Washington, D.C.

Thompson’s first husband, Andrew B. Allison, was killed February 11, 1862, during the Civil War. She married Sylvester C. Thompson on October 14, 1867, and they had two children, Guy C. Thompson and Rue Cetta who married J.C. Blair.

In later life, Thompson resided in Trafford where she died February 6, 1925.

Elizabeth Uncapher was the first Indiana County woman to obtain a medical degree.

She was born in Blacklick Township on September 4, 1856, attended the local schools of her area and graduated from Indiana Normal School with the class of 1879.  She then went to the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, where she received the MD degree.

For a while she practiced in Allegheny County and then moved to Houston, Texas.

Dr. Uncapher was not married.

Her parents were Daniel and Elzabeth Keener Uncapher.  She was the youngest of the family.  She died on June 18, 1908, and was buried in the old Livermore Cemetery.

Mary Florence Wallace was a history teacher at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for 30 years, 1938-68, Florence Wallace was honored when Wallace Hall at IUP was dedicated in 1973.

She was born in East Liverpool, Ohio on February 7, 1893, and afterward moved to Indiana County with her parents, Alphoen and Luella E. Seanor Wallace.  Here, she attended the model school at Indiana Normal School and took college preparatory courses.  She went on to Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she received the AB degree and to Columbia University, New York City, which conferred on her the MA degree.

Wallace was a charter member and the first president of the Indiana Chapter, American Association of University Women.  She sponsored the Indiana State Teachers College International Relations Club and was instrumental in brining the national IRC to the campus and obtained Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt as a speaker.

She was honored by the Indiana Business and Professional Women as Woman of the Year and was named professor emeritus by IUP when she retired.

She died on December 18, 1980.

Dorothy Melsena Warner was born in Center Township on January 20, 1903.  She was the daughter of Harry S. and Effie A. Moore Warner.

She graduated from Elders Ridge High School and from Indiana State Teachers College in 1937.  In 1941, she received the master of education degree at The Pennsylvania State University.

Warner began her career teaching in elementary schools but soon was teaching mentally retarded children and rose to supervisor of special educational programs in various counties, including Indiana County, 1951-59, and ended in the Pennsylvania Department of Public Instruction.

When she retired in 1967, she received a certificate of appreciation “in grateful acknowledgement of 30 years of important service.”  She died on February 2, 1978.

Sue E. Hawxhurst Williard was known as “Aunty Sue” to several generations of children and young girls.  Sue E. Williard, in 1897, founded and administrated the Girls’ Industrial Home located at 11th and Washington Streets in Indiana.  In 1921, she was the founder and administrator of the Williard Children’s Home near Indian Haven.

She was born in Babylon, Long Island, NY on January 10, 1843 to Solomon and Ann Jackson Hawxhurst, and moved with her parents to Indiana County in the 1850s.

Her husband, Robert Williard, died in 1885 and she continued to conduct the Williard Planing Mill, at the corner of Philadelphia and Tenth Streets in Indiana, for some years until it was sold in the 1890s.

She became active in the Pennsylvania Children’s Aid Society and was treasurer and president of the Indiana County unit from 1892-93.  The Girls’ Industrial Home was financed by the state board of directors of the Children’s Aid Society to serve the Western Pennsylvania district with Williard as chairman of the committee in charge.  Here, during the years 1897-1933, some 850 underprivileged girls between the ages of eight and 16 were educated, trained and placed in good homes.

Williard also had charge of the Williard Children’s Home, which was opened by Indiana County in 1921 for orphans and homeless children.  She continued as administrator until 1935, but the home was maintained by the county until 1965.

She had a key role in the establishment of the Indiana Hospital.  As early as 1903, she was chairman of an association of citizens interested in establishing a hospital.  The matter languished for a while until 1912 when she again called a meeting, the outcome of which was the establishment of the hospital in 1914.  She was a member of the hospital board until July 6, 1935.

Williard had no children of her own, but she had the proud honor of being “mother” to more than 1,000 orphan children and underprivileged young girls.

Norah E. Zink was born in Richmond, Indiana, a daughter of John and Laura L. Heiser Zink.

She was honored in 1976 when Zink Hall was dedicated at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she had been a member of the geography department for 26 years.  When she was named professor emeritus.

Dr. Zink received a BA degree from the University of Utah and afterward taught art in the schools of Utah.  She received the master’s degree in geography from Columbia University, New York City, and a PhD from the University of Chicago.  After teaching at the University of Minnesota, the University of Pittsburgh and New Haven State College, she came to Indiana State Teachers College in 1936.

She traveled extensively and visited every continent except Antarctica.  She was particularly interested in Nigeria and made several visits to aid in establishing a school and hospital there.  The school was named in her honor and several children were named Norah.

She expended more than $60,000 of her own funds to assist foreign students attending IUP.  She also supported the Chevy Chase Community Center and offered cash prizes for the best flower and vegetable gardens in Chevy Chase.

On November 18, 1971, a testimonial dinner was held in her honor, at which time she received citations and awards from the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Pennsylvania State Education Association, University of Chicago, WDAD, Indiana Borough and IUP.  Governor Milton Shapp designated the day, “Norah E. Zink Day.”  The Pennsylvania House and Senate passed resolutions of commendation and the Indiana County commissioners named her an honorary county commissioner.

Dr. Zink died May 17, 1978.

Aunt Jane

“Miss Jane E. Leonard is selected for Congress Democrats of this District will give women a chance.”  This mundane headline appeared in the March 25, 1922 edition of the Indiana Democrat, and it seemed to understate the newsworthiness of an event.  It was a historic occasion.  Miss Jane E. Leonard, as the Democratic candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s Twenty-seventh Congressional District, was one of the first women to seek a national political office as a major party candidate in Pennsylvania.*  Since only ten women in the entire country ran for congressional seats as choices of major political parties in 1922, Miss Leonard attracted national attention.

Jane E. Leonard was the former preceptress of Indiana State Normal School (known today as Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP)).  The former Leonard Hall on the IUP campus had memorialized her name.  She served “the Normal” from its opening in 1875 until her retirement in 1921.  Then, less than a year after her retirement and at a spry eighty-one years of age, she ran for Congress.  This episode is both more incredible and, at the same time, less incredible than it seemed at first notice.

The 1922 election was only the second national election following the enfranchisement of women by the Nineteenth Amendment.  Miss Leonard had not been that active in politics; her life was spent in education.  And at eighty-one, it was an amazing age to be launching a new career.  She was, moreover, a Democrat in an area dominated by the Republican party. Despite this, she ran extremely well, polling a far larger percentage of the votes cast than any other Democratic congressional candidate in a ten-year period.

“Aunt Jane,” as Miss Jane Leonard was affectionately known by the thousands who attended the State Normal School in Indiana, came to Indiana from the Clearfield County area.  She was born on December 27, 1840, in Leonard, Pennsylvania.  Her family was so well established in the area, that there is reflected in the vicinity’s place names – Leonard Station, Leonard House, Leonard School, and Leonard Run as well as the town itself.

It is likely that her early education was at Leonard School, a gift to the rural community from her father.  Her life-long involvement in education began at the age of fifteen when she first taught in the public schools of her native Clearfield County.  Later, desiring more advanced educational preparation, she entered Millersville State Normal School, the first institution of its kind in Pennsylvania.  Then she spent some time teaching in Lancaster County schools.  Her attainments as a student at Millersville, her teaching experiences, and her personal qualities led to Miss Leonard joining the Millersville faculty in 1868 as instructor of history and mathematics.

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Jane Leonard

In 1875, the Board of Trustees of the new State Normal School at Indiana asked Dr. J.P. Wickersham, Pennsylvania’s superintendent of education and the founder and first principal of Millersville State Normal School, to recommend a candidate for the position of preceptress and instructor of English literature.  He recommended Jane E. Leonard.

For the next forty-six years, Miss Leonard served Indiana.  When she retired in 1921 she was awarded emeritus status and given permission to continue occupying her apartment in John Sutton Hall.  As an education she always stressed that her students should be ambitious both for themselves and their communities, that they should be active and participate in their world, that they should shoulder the responsibilities offered to them, and that they should work to better the world they lived in. In that educational philosophy lie clues which make “Aunt Jane’s” political adventure less incredible than it first suggests.

Although she could not even vote in a national election until she was seventy-nine years old, Jane E. Leonard had developed an active interest in politics. She was lauded as having a wide knowledge of politics and political men.**  As a member as the Indiana community, Miss Leonard while not seen as a political firebrand, had not been politically bashful.  She was accustomed to interrupting her return from Sunday church service to impose herself on one of the local newspaper editors or political leaders in talk over the public issues.  According to the March 23, 1922 Indiana Weekly Messenger, Miss Leonard “was one of the campaigners for years for equal franchise and has campaigned also for prohibition.  She never neglects an opportunity to assail the monopolistic practices of the tariff barons and speaks for National economy, friendly relations with other nations, universal peace and human advancement.”

Her political orientation appeared foreordained.  The Indiana Weekly Messenger said bluntly, she is “a democrat by nature and it was inevitable that with the enfranchisement of women she would be found aligned from the outset with the Democratic party.”  Her affinity for involvement in her interests, an “Aunt Jane” trait, made it rather natural that she later gravitated toward political stewardship when the opportunity presented itself.  In 1922, she was chairman of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fund, devoted to soliciting monies for Wilsonian goals, chairman of the Indiana County Ladies Democratic Committee, and president of the Indiana County Democratic Women Voters League.  The octogenarian was one to give her personal time and support to those matters that personally touched her.

The challenge of being the Democratic candidate in the Twenty-seventh District’s congressional race was not a quest that she eagerly sought.  The distinguished lady had to be sought out, and, according to the Indiana Evening Gazette, “Her friends…demanding a fit representative in congress insisted that she permit her name to be used.  Miss Leonard did not make any effort for the nomination, letting her name be used but not spending a cent in a campaign or making one speech.”

The days preceding her nomination for the Democratic primary, Miss Leonard had another and very different, political interest – to secure the Republican gubernatorial nomination for Indiana’s native son John S. Fisher.  Although she was serving as the chairman of the Indiana County Ladies Democratic Committee, she strongly endorsed Fisher.  She attended the formal opening rally of his campaign in front of the Indiana County Courthouse, she wrote an open letter to the alumni of the Normal School urging their support for Fisher, and she later addressed the annual reunion meeting of the Allegheny County ISNS Alumni Association stressing the need of their support of his candidacy.  The Indiana Republican press praised her as a “grand old lady.”

While such incongruent activities might have branded Miss Leonard as a political maverick, they were in keeping with her character.  John S. Fisher, as a former Indiana Normal student, was one of “her boys” in whom she had confidence.  She declared that “Democrat though she was, she’d vote for him for governor if he’d capture the Republican nomination for that office.”  Her open support of the Republican Fisher was simply an indication that she never was and never could have been a narrow political partisan.

The primary campaign was very quiet since Miss Leonard was unopposed, and her opening political activity reflected that situation.  If any event served as a campaign kickoff it was the Democratic Ladies Tea which was held on March 30.  Miss Leonard presented the opening remarks which contained some advice on the Indiana County Democratic campaign.  The state chairman of the Women’s Democratic Committee of Pennsylvania was in attendance.  The Indiana Democrat hailed the event as “A Fine Success.”  The first public endorsement of Leonard’s candidacy, and the only known one in Indiana County, came on April 5 when the Joseph M. Blakely Camp, No. 71, United Spanish War Veterans unanimously endorsed her.  These were the only public acknowledgements in the Indiana press of the Leonard campaign prior to the May primary election.  Of course an active campaign is not required of an unopposed primary candidate.

The fall general election, however, was a different situation.  Miss Leonard’s political interests and knowledge must have suggested to her the seemingly insurmountable obstacle she was facing.  Pennsylvania in 1922 was essentially a one party state – Republican.  The Twenty-seventh Congressional District was solidly Republican, and Indiana County was rock-ribbed Republican. The primary returns reinforced this general knowledge.  In Indiana Borough, for example, only 124 Democrats bothered to vote while 1,481 Republicans cast their ballots.  In Indiana County, running unopposed, Leonard received 667 votes while a total Republican vote of 8,633 was split among three contestants.  In the fall when the voter registration for the Twenty-seventh Congressional District was announced it favored the Republicans over the Democrats, 68 percent to 23 percent.  Certainly a bleak prospect faced the novice candidate.

To make matters worse, her Republican opponent was formidable.  He was Nathan L. Strong, the incumbent Congressman from Brookville, Jefferson County.  Certainly everything was a disadvantage: Miss Leonard was running for her first elected political office, her opponent was an incumbent seeking his fourth congressional term.  She was eighty-one years of age, her opponent was sixty-three.  She was a woman, he was a man.  The odds were staggering.  There was little wonder that William K. Hutchinson, a national news correspondent, included Miss Lenard among the five feminine congressional candidates who had only “a chance in a hundred” of winning.  It could be suggested that perhaps, at least in “Aunt Jane’s” case, Hutchinson was even underestimating the odds.

It could be argued that Miss Leonard was not really a serious contender.  If newspaper advertisement is any indication, the Democrats spent little money on the campaign.  The Leonard campaign trail in Indiana County was not overly onerous.  It is possible that the Democrats, faced with the impossibility of winning the election, had conceded from the start.

Jane E. Leonard, nevertheless, seemed to use the public exposure to continue to stress ideals important to her. During her campaigning, light though it was, she worked to further her causes.  “Aunt Jane” challenged women to involve themselves in politics.  “We are in politics,” she declared, “and we are going to do our duty.  Our duty is to do the best we know how.”  In another instance she lectured the newly enfranchised women on “the importance of women taking the responsibilities which are now theirs with the assuming the principles of enfranchisement, an action which at the present time they are not prone to do.”  She became known for her positions on what were to her the vital issues, some of them most progressive – the inclusion of a secretary of education in the president’s cabinet, a tariff used only for revenue, measures to insure fiscal responsibility in national government, and election victories for Democratic candidates.

Miss Leonard, always bound by her principles, could not be bound by party lines.  She acclaimed the educational program of Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor William C. Sproul.  That program had been embodied in the Edmonds Act which aimed at consolidating schools, increasing aid to education, increasing aid to education, and standardizing curriculum, teachers’ qualifications, and salaries.  She publicly acknowledged that Dr. Finegan, the Republican-appointed superintendent of public of public education, had “done more to advance education in the past three years than had been accomplished in the preceding ten years.”

She apparently did not have many opportunities to express her ideals.  Her reported public appearances following the primary were at the Indiana County Congress of Women’s Clubs meeting in June and the one day Democratic County Tour in September.  It was an incident at the Cookport Fair, one of the stops on the County Tour, that permits a glimpse of “Aunt Jane” on the hustings.  One writer described the scene this way: “As she climbed aboard the hay wagon, the veteran educator carried her 83 [sic] years as though they were a mere 50.  She had a sprightly step and her voice was strong as she urged the assembled voters to support the Democratic candidates from top to bottom.”

Given the light campaigning effort, given the political realities, the November election results were surprising.  The eighty-one year old, former educator carried 37 percent of the vote in the Twenty-seventh Congressional District to her opponent’s 54 percent, and 30 percent in Indiana County to his 55 percent.  The popular vote was 18,682 to 12,927 and 5,071 to 2,764 respectively.  A loss by a landslide, yes, but a comparably minor landslide.  In 1920, Strong’s victory was 66 percent to 25 percent in the District and 70 percent to 16 percent in the County; in 1924 Strong would win by 59 percent to 18 percent and 59 percent to 13 percent.  The neophyte, maiden politician had done remarkably well.

The full story of Miss Leonard’s relative success rests more in events outside of the Twenty-seventh Congressional District since the Pennsylvania Republican party that year had been severely splintered by internal struggles.  The election of 1922, nevertheless, was a surprising story, and “Aunt Jane” really fared no worse than any of the other nine female candidates who were running for Congress – they all lost (even Alice M. Robertson, the incumbent congresswoman from Oklahoma).

Miss Jane E. Leonard, an Indiana institution as an educator, probably considered herself to be continuing her educational goals as a politician in teaching by example the duty of personal responsibility and active participation, expounding one’s convictions and ideals, and attempting to better the world.  If there was a loser in the 1922 election, it was not “Aunt Jane.”  Her “political whirl” was the giving of a practical lesson – she was engaged, as always, in educating.

*Ellen D. Davis was, in the same election, running for the congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s Second District.

** The “Indiana legend” that James Buchanan, fifteenth president of the United States, had proposed marriage to Miss Leonard has no basis in historical fact.