Cemetery tour recalls local women's movement
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jennie Benford, an archivist at Carnegie Mellon University, leads a tour through the Homewood Cemetery grave sites of women prominent in social justice battles.
Afternoon sun dappled a rainbow of fall foliage and crows cawed frequently while 18 women strolled through Homewood Cemetery Sunday to learn about local suffragettes.
The women joined the special tour of the 200-acre cemetery hosted by Nancy Bernstein and Steffi Domike of Squirrel Hill, Emily Lippert of Wilkinsburg and Judy Ruszkowski of Highland Park. The tour was auctioned off earlier this year at a benefit for the In Sisterhood project, an effort by historian Patricia Ulbrich to document the local women's movement in the latter half of the 20th century.
First stop was the grave of Rebecca Conner Marchand, a woman who advocated for temperance during the 1840s. She's buried in Section 7, the cemetery's oldest neighborhood.
Jennie Benford, a Carnegie Mellon University archivist who led the tour, said many women joined the temperance movement because they did not work outside the home, putting them at the mercy of husbands, fathers and brothers who spent most of their paychecks on liquor.
Many women who supported temperance also backed women's suffrage because "they realized they would not get anything done without the right to vote," Ms. Benford added.
Three decades later, in the 1870s, Pittsburghers read the sentiments of Elizabeth Wade, who wrote under the pen name of Bessie Bramble. In a wide-ranging newspaper column, she advocated the reform of property, divorce and child labor laws and never shied away from politics.
During the second wave of the local suffrage movement, Eliza Kennedy Smith helped start the Allegheny County Equal Franchise Federation. Her father, Julian Kennedy, a successful engineer, initially served as the group's president.
"This gave them credibility and access to Duquesne Club wallets," Ms. Benford said.
Ms. Smith was one of several suffragists who traveled all over the state of Pennsylvania with a replica of the Liberty Bell. The bell's clapper was tied down and the message was that freedom would not truly ring until women had the right to vote.
Ms. Smith's grandson, Templeton Smith Jr., practices law with the Downtown firm of Thomson, Rhodes & Cowie.
"She was a unique individual. She always made her views known without raising her voice. She never had to. She was very logical and didn't mince words," Mr. Smith said.
Eliza Kennedy Smith's granddaughter, Eliza Smith Brown, is a historian who lives in Squirrel Hill and is writing a book about her famous relative called "She Devils at the Door."
One of Mrs. Brown's favorite stories about her grandmother involves baseball. Pittsburgh, Mrs. Brown said, had a special affinity for the World Series because it was born out of an agreement between the Pirates' Barney Dreyfuss and Boston's Henry Killilea, who decided in 1903 to stage a best-of-nine-games playoff for the world championship.
In 1915, twice-daily newspaper reports were not enough to satisfy the public's demand for coverage. While the morning Post and the evening Sun posted scores every few minutes in their office windows, that caused congestion. So Pittsburgh City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting window posters.
Local suffragettes saw their opportunity for a captive audience and appealed to Herbert Dupuy, a Downtown arcade owner who backed their cause. Local newspapers agreed to call the scores in to the suffragettes.
"The fans would come into this arcade 2,000 at a time. The suffragettes were in this arcade from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and had as many as 10,000 people a day," Mrs. Brown said.
In between the newspaper reports about the World Series, suffragettes jumped on their soap box.
"They held court in this empty arcade and they would get up and say, 'So and so just hit a home run, and by the way, women ought to be given the vote,' " Mrs. Brown said.
When women finally got the vote in 1919, Pittsburgh Mayor Edward Vose Babcock encouraged the "blowing of whistles and ringing of bells."
"I wonder if he was running for mayor," mused Pamela Murray of Squirrel Hill, one of the women who took the tour.
Over at the Flinn family mausoleum is Mary Flinn Lawrence, who grew up at Hartwood Acres, a mansion that's now part of a county park. Ms. Lawrence was the daughter of Pittsburgh political boss William Flinn. In 1915, Ms. Lawrence marched in a suffrage parade in Pittsburgh with her fiance, John Lawrence. The banner was so heavy that she struggled under its weight, and he offered to carry it.
The banner read, "If men can vote, why can't I?" But Mr. Lawrence didn't read it until the parade ended. That's when he understood why so many people along the route were laughing at him.
Nobody laughed at Perle Mesta, the famed Washington hostess who was widowed at age 36 when her husband died in 1925, leaving her a fortune of $78 million. Today, that estate would be worth $900 million. Mrs. Mesta belonged to the National Woman's Party and supported the Equal Rights Amendment.
"She was a king maker and an early supporter of Harry Truman, who made her ambassador to Luxembourg in 1949," Ms. Benford said.
Across the road from the Mesta family mausoleum is Daisy Lampkin, who was known as "Mrs. N.A.A.C.P." An ardent suffragette and civil rights activist, Mrs. Lampkin was a phenomenal organizer and fundraiser. Famed for her hats, she was known as "Aunt Daisy."
To learn more about local history in Homewood Cemetery, check out an hour-long walking tour, "Taking It With You," from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday. It focuses on Section 14, where members of prominent Pittsburgh families, such as the Heinzes, Fricks, Mellons and Benedums, are buried. Cost is $5. To register, call 412-421-1822.
Marylynne Pitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1648.