Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lucy Webb Hayes and Her Four-Footed and Feathered Friends

The nearby photo of Lucy Webb Hayes, wearing the President’s hat while feeding pigeons on a cold, snowy morning, is one of the last ever taken of the former first lady. It has always been one of my favorites. This candid image would be considered common place in today’s casual world, but in the 19th century, such unassuming poses of women, particularly former first ladies, were much less common. Perhaps its appeal is that it represents a true reflection of who Lucy Webb Hayes was and how she lived her life.

Compassionate, cheerful, gracious, and possessed of a quiet confidence, Lucy showered kindness on family, friends, children, the sick, and the helpless. The same was true for animals - be they domestic or wild. It was always her way.

Upon Lucy’s arrival in Washington, society columnists commented on what changes she surely would make in her hair style, her dress, and her demeanor. But the First Lady remained unchanged - outwardly and inwardly. It wasn’t long before such questions were forgotten. Rather, Lucy’s warmth and kindness to all around her became the recurring topic in DC newspaper columns.

Gifts for Lucy poured in – a mockingbird, a Siamese cat, a turkey, a cow, and other feathered and four-footed creatures. They all found their place in the White House family. When Lucy learned that an owl had become trapped inside the unfinished Washington Monument, she asked that construction stop until it could be freed.

When the Hayeses returned to Ohio, their White House pets came with them. Their homecoming at Spiegel Grove brought more gifts of dogs, chickens, turkeys, and cats. Lucy welcomed and loved them all.

In his letters and diary, President Hayes often mentioned how children, servants, and animals responded to Lucy. He wrote, “All seemed to know her, and loved to be near her. The dogs would climb on her, the Jerseys would rush to her, the pigeons came at her call….How happy she was to see their glad welcome of her. I must preserve the pictures that show these things.”

Lucy's Jersey Cows at Spiegel Grove

Everyone was aware of Lucy’s love for animals and the affection they returned. Some weeks after her death, a Fremont teamster came up to President Hayes after Sunday services. He said, “There was a notable thing at [Lucy’s] funeral. I noticed it and many others [did]. The jerseys – her Jerseys – all came up as near to the funeral procession as they could get and stood in a row looking at it – standing still like soldiers in ranks until the funeral had all passed.”

Willetta Adams Michaels: Woman of Talent and Vision

When Willetta Adams graduated from Fremont Ross High School in Fremont, Ohio, in 1910, the right to vote for her and all women across the United States was still a decade away. Casting a ballot wasn’t the only restriction women faced in 1910. Their career choices also were greatly limited.

None of that seemed to matter to the talented Willetta Adams. Holding a firm vision for her future, she charted her own course. She joined the first women’s basketball team in Fremont. Willetta went on to attend secretarial school, eventually leading to employment at Claus Shear and the well-known Jackson Underwear Company.

A gifted vocalist, she studied at the Toledo Conservatory of Music and at Heidelberg University. Willetta joined Fremont’s Musical Matinee Club, Madrigal Glee Club, and the Brahms Choral Club. She performed in musical productions that featured lavish sets and costumes. Pictured here is one of her family’s photographs, showing the cast of the club’s performance of the popular Gilbert and Sullivan production “H. M. S. Pinafore.” Willetta can be seen standing second from the left dressed for her role as Little Buttercup.

She was one of the first to perform musical readings for Fremont composer Elizabeth Cox. Winning numerous honors, Willetta gave recitals throughout Ohio. A significant highlight was recognition by and the opportunity to sing for the internationally renowned opera contralto Mme. Schumman – Heink.

After her marriage to Hayes Michaels, one might have expected that being a wife and mother would have consumed all of her time and energy. But while caring for their ten children, Willetta continued her musical career. As a member of Trinity Evangelical Church, she also sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, and participated in the Dorcas Circle Class, Women’s Missionary Society. The Batesole Farm Women’s Club was part of her life as well.

Willetta lived until 1978, long enough to see career opportunities open up for young women. But in her era, the full and vibrant life Willetta Adams Michaels carved out for herself was accomplished only by a personal vision and a drive to make the most of every talent she possessed.
This post first appeared in Lifestyles 2000 Fremont, Ohio

Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans Home, Xenia, Ohio

The stereoscopic view at left is of children playing on the lawn before one of the cottages at the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home in Xenia, Ohio. The image, one of a series, was given to Lucy Webb Hayes, who was instrumental in rasing funds to establish and support the orphanage.

The Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' organization of Union soldiers who fought in the American Civil War, established the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home in Xenia, Ohio in 1869. GAR officials rented a two-story building, where some 50 children were housed.

Initially, children whose fathers had died in the Civil War or as a result of service-related wounds or disabilities were accepted. The need was so great that the city of Xenia donated more than 100 acres outside the city to establish a larger orphanage. A committee petitioned Ohio's General Assembly to assume control of the orphanage. In April 1870, the orphanage officially became an institution of the state of Ohio. That summer, the orphanage was moved to the land outside Xenia.

The first board members (1870 - 1874) were General Ralph P. Buckland, of Fremont; General James Barnett; General J. Warren Keifer; Barnabas Burns; General Manning F. Force; head of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home at Sandusky; General John S. Jones; and A. Trader.

Originally, the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home provided Ohio children who had lost their father in the American Civil War with a place to live. Eventually, the State of Ohio opened the institution to orphans of all military conflicts and the children of all veterans, including ones who had not died on the battlefield. In some cases, the children of a living veteran and/or his spouse, who were suffering financial difficulties could leave their children at the home. In 1901, more than 900 children resided at the institution. It was the largest institution of its kind in the world.

Children lived in cottages like the one featured in the image above. They received a traditional education and manual training. In 1978, the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home became known as the Ohio Veterans' Children's Home. In 1997, the Ohio Veterans' Children's Home ceased operation. More than 13,500 children had been cared for and educated. The Greene County Library maintains an online database of "Applications for Admission" to the home from 1877 - 1919.

As early as 1881, the Association of Ex-Pupils was formed. Members consist of former pupils of the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home or of the Ohio Veterans' Children's Home. You can read a 1901 article from the institution's newspaper, the "Home Weekly", reporting on some of the former pupils. For pictures of the home from 1901, follow this link to those displayed on Ohio Memory.

Each year, the association holds a three-day reunion on the former site of the home. They also operate a museum and have worked to improve the care of the Collier Chapel Cemetery. In 1963, a history, titled Pride of Ohio: The History of the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home at Xenia, Ohio, 1868-1963, was published. The association is now in the process of publishing a second history due out this year.