Paving the Way for Women, Up & Down Duryea Drive: Rhea Duryea

Rhea Duryea, BHC Museum Collection

When I began my “career” as a docent at the Berks History Center, I learned about a young woman named Rhea Duryea. She was pictured in the museum’s Transportation Room. If you’ve been there, you know there is a Conestoga Wagon, a Horse Car, and a Duryea Phaeton car. When I was searching for a woman from Reading to portray in the DAR’s Famous Ladies’ Tea, I decided to find out more about Rhea. She was born in 1885 in Peoria, Illinois, but moved to Reading when she was 14 years old because her father, Charles, brought his Duryea Power Company to Reading. From 1900-1911, automobiles were manufactured here. Rhea was the oldest of the four children who lived first on Spruce Street and later moved to Douglass Street. Charles encouraged Rhea and her sister, Grace, to be involved in whatever interested them, not in just what was expected of a woman of the 1900s. Rhea grew up learning all about motors and bicycles and cars and how they ran!

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She is probably best known for being her father’s test car driver–at age 15! In 1901, when she had mastered the skill of successfully cranking the drive shaft, she was often seen driving her dad’s three or four wheeled vehicles toward Mt. Penn. At Mt. Penn she would then drive the car up Mt. Penn Boulevard (now known as Duryea Drive) and back down again. Her dad would not agree to sell a car unless the car could be successfully driven up and down the hilly and winding road now known as  Duryea Drive. Not many women drove cars (or were thought of as being physically able to) because of several reasons: it was difficult to crank the drive shaft, which could take  two minutes or more of strenuous cranking; there was no steering wheel, you had to steer by using a perpendicular tiller located between the two front seats; with one hand, you had to steer, set the clutch, and throttle the motor! Make sure you check out the Duryea vehicle in the  BHC Museum Transportation Room. You could sit on either side of the tiller in the front and of course there were no speed limits or rules. Her biggest problem on the road were the horses, that would balk and refuse to move when she was near them in a car!

Rhea Duryea on a Duryea automobile. BHC Museum Collection. 

Rhea was unafraid to try things that were not the “norm” for a woman of that time. She graduated from  Ursinus College in 1908, where she sang, acted in plays and was the manager of the women’s basketball team. She became a teacher and author of several books about genealogy. Rhea was a woman of many firsts: the first baby to be carried to the top of the Washington Monument; the first teenaged girl to drive a car; the first woman named to the Ursinus Board of Directors. She served in that capacity from 1926-1969! I could not find out much information about Rhea after she left Reading and got her degree. I know she married, rather late in life, to a man from Philadelphia, whose last name was Johnson. As far as I could find out, she had no children. I even had to ask an Ursinus alumnus to help me find out anything about her later life. I do think that Rhea was a woman of many interests and dreams. She helped pave the way for women to step out of their comfort zones and experience new opportunities that previously had been unheard of for a woman.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 


Mystery Woman of the Week #3

I was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. I was appointed by President Reagan in 1981. Who am I?

Answer to Mystery Woman #2

Wilma Rudolph


A Woman with Wings: Frances Dean Wilcox Nolde


Nolde Forest. Photo: A Hike Through Nolde Forest by Susan Charkes

If you have lived in Berks County for most of your life, like I have, you have probably been to Nolde Forest, on route 625, in Cumru Township. It is a State Park where you can enjoy hiking, birdwatching, and taking photos of beautiful trees and animals. A few years ago, I was there and heard about Frances Nolde, one of Hans Nolde’s three wives. What I found out was that she was an awesome woman who followed her dream and made her dream her career and life.

Frances was born in Deposit, NY, in 1902. Kind of a strange name for a town, but people there probably think Bird-In-Hand and Sinking Spring are odd names, too! Originally her home town was named Deanville after her family but over time the commercial effort of bringing logs down from Canada created the wish for a new name: Deposit.

As a child and teenager she loved music and drama and had a dream of being an opera singer. When she was 16, her parents sent her to the Oberlin Conservatory to study music. While she was there, she was told her voice wasn’t strong enough to sing opera. She had taken piano lessons for years so she turned her attention to piano. She received her BS and BA degrees in music from Syracuse University, where she met and fell in love with Carlton Brown, who became a well-known screen writer in Hollywood. They married and had one daughter, Sally. But they soon divorced. She and Sally moved to NYC where she decided to follow her musical and stage career dreams. She loved the glamour of New York and was told she looked like Marlene Dietrich, but her acting career was short lived. She was offered a part in a radio soap opera, which she took, and played a major role as Gloria Gay!

Nolde Mansion. Photo: Christine Mitchell,

A friend introduced her to hosiery manufacturer, Hans Nolde in the late 20s. She said he was charming and handsome and before she knew it, she was married and living in the Nolde Mansion in Reading, PA! Frances and Hans had two children, a son, Chris and a daughter, Frances. Along with Hans’s 4 children from his first marriage and Sally – that made 7 kids at the mansion! She loved the children and all their activities, and of course, the parties.

She was a board member of the Jr. League of Reading and she directed and founded the New School, a country day school at the bottom of Mt. Penn, which later moved to the Sheerlund Forest area. She always felt that education was the keystone to life. She made sure all 7 kids went to good schools and colleges.

During the 20s and 30s she was very happy with her life until she fell in love and was consumed by flying! Hans encouraged her to learn to fly, which may have been his biggest mistake! She loved flying, caught on quickly and before long was heading daily to the airport. At one time, she had amassed the highest number of solo flying hours of all women pilots in the United States.

Kenney, Clayton, and United States. Office of Civilian Defense. Civil Air Patrol. Eyes of the home skies.. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943. Web. 08 Mar 2018

When the U.S. entered WWII, she wanted to help with the war efforts, so she joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). The CAP combined her love of flying with her love of country. Her job with the CAP was to ferry cargo and personnel around the US. This would free up the male pilots for combat in Europe. Frances was named commander of the Reading Station, and as Lieutenant, she flew her own Fairchild on many of the flights. Sometimes she worked 7 days a week, flying and keeping the logs, records and ledger books up to date. In the year between 1944 and 1945, her station logged 295 flights out of Reading with a total of 480 hours of flying time. The delivery of supplies helped to speed the war effort throughout the states. After WWII she remained active with the group and attained the rank of full Colonel, which was the highest rank a woman could achieve. She had logged 4500 hours flying for the CAP and was the first National Director of Women in Aviation for the CAP.

Frances Nolde from the Reading Eagle, May 29, 1949

She continued flying and in 1948, won the inaugural All Women’s Transcontinental Air Race–Powder Puff Derby– from LA to Miami. In 1949, she became the first woman to sit on the Reading Airport Commission and worked to have the airport named for General Carl A. Spatz of Boyertown, the first national director of the US Air Force Academy. In 1950, her hometown of Deposit, NY dedicated their air show to her and renamed their airport in her honor.

In 1952 Hans and Frances divorced and she went to Washington, DC, where she lived the remainder of her life. She had a phenomenal career working for the U.S. Department of Commerce as the Director of General Aviation in the Defense Air Transportation Administration. She logged over 10,000 hours as a commercial pilot and received too many awards to mention here. One of her favorite organizations was the Ninety-Nines. This was begun by the first group of female pilots. When the pilots could not agree on a name for the group, Amelia Earhart suggested that the group be called the Twenty-Six for the number of female pilots present at the meeting. The organization grew in numbers: The 26, then the 43, then the 87. Finally they stopped at 99! The group was formed to coordinate the interests and efforts of women in the aviation industry. They did everything from running Powder Puff Derbies to helping women become pilots and mechanics. They are still active and have chapters all across American grew to international status.

Francis passed away in 1995 at age 93. Chris and Frances (daughter) are still living. She made amazing contributions to our aviation history and yet, not a lot of people are aware of her accomplishments.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 


Mystery Woman of the Week #2

I was the first woman to win 3 Gold Medals in an Olympics, in 1960, in track and field. I had polio, as a child, and most people thought I would never walk again, let alone run.

Mystery Woman of the Week #1  

Answer:   Elizabeth Blackwell


Reading: The Town of Widow Finney

During the month of March (National Women’s History Month) I will be posting a blog on some of the women of Berks County. I hope I will be choosing some women that will be interesting to you and you may find them as amazing as I do. Also, I will include a Mystery Woman of the Week for you to read and test your knowledge.


Have you ever eaten at The Speckled Hen? For the longest time, historians thought that this log cabin had been the home of Sarah Finney, better known as Widow Finney. Later it was determined that the original Finney home was where Judy’s on Cherry is located today.

Sarah was born about 1685 in Philadelphia, to what we might call “well-to-do” parents. She married Joseph Finney and the two of them decided to make a life of their own as homesteaders near the ford in the Schuylkill River along what was called the Perkiomen Path. They had two sons, Sam and John and two daughters, Rebecca and Anne. Joseph planned a plantation with fruit trees and for two years, Joseph and Sarah and their sons and daughters worked tirelessly to clear the land, and make a home for the Finney family. Unfortunately, Joseph died in 1734 only a few years after making their homestead. Not long after that, Sam and John died also.

Making a life in the wilderness was no easy task! So Sarah was left along the frontier, with her two daughters. Her family wanted her to come back to Philadelphia and live there with them. Whether she was stubborn or determined, I’m not sure, but she decided to stay at their homestead. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the land they had worked so hard to settle. Her home became a haven and rest stop for travelers, hunters, trappers and Native Americans as they walked or rode along the Perkiomen Path. Sarah always had fresh bread, soup or stew on the hearth for those who stopped in. And, oh yes, her pies were made with the fresh fruit from the orchard! Occasionally, a traveler might spend the night.

Her homestead was so well-liked that the area which today is Reading, was once known as The Town of Widow Finney! For more than ten years Sarah welcomed and chatted with Conrad Weiser, Mordecai Lincoln, Joseph Hiester and the Lenni Lenape Indians. She said she got along better with the Lenni Lenapes than she did with Thomas and Richard Penn and Thomas Lawrence! She felt that they represented land hungry businessmen! They owned the property adjacent to hers, and had mapped out a city plan and they were after her prime property. Sarah died in December of 1743 and the deed to the property went to Rebecca. Through the use of clever land agents and surveyors, the Penns were able to recover the prominent site from the widow’s heirs and build their town at the best location. And, the rest, so they say, is history!


Mystery Woman of the Week (Watch for the answer in my next blog)

I was the first female doctor in the US, graduating from Geneva College in 1847, even though my acceptance there was considered to be a joke!


Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 


The Price of Freedom: Life in Berks County After the Emancipation Act

From the Berks History Center Research Library Manuscript Collection

In 1780, Pennsylvania passed a gradual emancipation act. The act marked the start of the decline of slavery in the state. Still, the act’s specifics were more gradual than immediate, which created a system that allowed slavery to persist in this state. There were slaves in Berks County just like many other places in the state. Like elsewhere these enslaved people struggled to gain that freedom.

In 1796, an eight year old African American girl named Margaret was sold to Thomas Boyd for the sum of forty pounds. More than likely, Margaret worked as a domestic servant taking care of her master’s house. What is striking about Margaret’s case was that slaves were, in 1780, not allowed to be imported into the state and everyone born in Pennsylvania after 1780 was not to be considered a slave but indentured. Despite these regulations, Margaret was clearly considered a slave by Boyd in this document.

After many years of unsanctioned enslavement, Margaret gained her freedom in 1816. But, the bill of sale suggests that she did so at a steep price. The bill states that between 1816 and 1819 Margaret paid $117.75 for her freedom. This cost her almost three times her original sale price in 1796. Like so many others, Margaret bought freedom at an inflated price when she should have already been free. All enslaved people were supposed to be freed at the age of 28 in Pennsylvania. In 1816, Margaret reached the age of 28. This document clearly shows the extent to which black Americans went to better their lives in a society that constantly attempted to cripple their advancement.     

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.


Welcome Women’s History Guest Blogger: Hallie Vaughn

Just in time for Women’s History Month, the Berks History Center welcomes Women’s History enthusiast, Hallie Vaughan as a guest blogger on the BHC blog. In addition to being a longtime member, volunteer and presenter at the Berks History Center, Hallie will be contributing to the Berks History Center’s blog for Women’s History Month. 

Hallie Vaughan dressed as a “Hello Girl,” a WWI servicewoman phone operator in the BHC World War I & Berks exhibit.

My interest in Women’s History began in the 80s while I was teaching 4th grade in the Muhlenberg School District. It has probably always been part of my background, because I remember questioning, when I was a little girl, why girls were unable to participate in everything or play everything that boys were. But during my teaching career, I was looking for stories to enhance and interest students’ independent reading. Especially during what seemed like the long haul between New Years and spring break.

I heard about the movement to get women written back into history and March being National Women’s History Month. I went to the school and community libraries and took out biographies of some famous women. At first, I was unfamiliar with many of the women who I was reading about. The more I read, the more I was amazed at the accomplishments of American women, who most people, myself included, knew nothing about! I began to make copies of short stories, collect posters and make creative activities about these women to use in my classroom.

Throughout March, I would host a” Mystery Woman of the Day” contest where I posted a question each day like: “I was the first female doctor in America, graduating in 1847. Who am I?” I found a website sponsored by the National Women’s History Project, where I bought stickers, bookmarks, pencils, etc., for daily prizes. The school librarian and I worked with the students to write skits about famous American women and present the skits to the other 4th graders.

Each year teachers and other people began to give me posters or news articles or suggestions about an American woman to include in my activities. When I switched to teaching 3rd grade, I just continued with the women’s history events in March. Even now that I’ve been retired over 10 years, the 3rd grade teachers at the Muhlenberg Elementary Center still invite me to present a program to their current students.

After retiring, I began presenting programs to community groups, retirees, schools and basically, anyone who has an interest in women’s history! About a year or two after I retired in 2004, Sally Reading, invited me to begin teaching women’s history courses for Alvernia’s Seniors College. This is something I love doing and has become part of my fall activities. I have taught Women of the Revolution, Women of the Civil War, Suffering’ Suffragists, Berks County Women, Pennsylvania Women, Who Knew It was Women Who Could Make That Happen (Inventors), Explorers, Women of the Military, Ministry and Athletics, and more!

The amazing thing to me is how much I learn by teaching these classes. Another important piece of my background is the DAR-Daughters of the American Revolution. This group traces its ancestry back to someone who fought in or participated in the Revolutionary War.

In the 90s I had the opportunity to travel to Windsor, CT, where my Revolutionary War ancestor lived and fought with the Green Mountain Boys under Ethan Allen. My mother was also involved in DAR and she’s the one who got me interested in this great organization. I have served as Historian, Chaplain, Vice-Regent and Regent of our Berks County Chapter. Eleven years ago we started an event called the Famous Ladies’ Tea to fund our DAR Good Citizens Scholarship. This event is still going strong and I have portrayed a different American woman each of the years.

I want to thank the Berks History Center for inviting me to present the Second Saturday program on March 10, 2018 about America’s First Soldiers – The Hello Girls, and write a blog about some awesome American women, from near and far. I look forward to your responses!


Clam Pot Pie: A Local Twist on a Uniquely Berks County Dish



So, we’re talking pot pie, and not just any pot pie, but, Berks County Pot Pie! When most people think or talk about pot pie they’re generally referring to the deep dish, crust on bottom, crust on top pot pie made famous by Mrs. Smith, Swanson, et al. While the homemade variant of that type of pot pie can be good, they haven’t nearly the complexity of sensory taste and texture that the unique cultural dish that those of us from southeastern Pennsylvania and especially Berks County call pot pie.

Berks County Pot Pie is a symphony of onion, potato, parsley, sometimes butter and those handmade, hand kneaded, hand rolled, squares or rectangles of dough that differentiate our pot pie from those of the rest of the country. There are many variations of pot pie and most people are familiar with chicken, turkey, beef and if there is a hunter in the home, squirrel, rabbit or groundhog. All of those recipes are excellent, but, the recipe that I will put forth in this blog is one that has been and remains a staple in my Bertolet Family repertoire. Clam Pot Pie!

I can’t even really tell you how I learned to make it. I “watched” my Gremmom and Grempop make it a hundred times and talked about making it with my Father and Uncle Herbie about the same number of times, but I can’t remember ever making it with them. I guess I just learned to make it by osmosis.

Let’s begin.

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Ingredients for 8-10 servings

Pot pie dough:

2 ¼ cups all purpose unbleached flour

3 large eggs

2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

Remaining ingredients:

25 shucked top neck clams (cut clams in half and reserve the clam liquor/juice)

2 bottles clam juice

3 russet potatoes (cut into ½”-1” cubes)

3 yellow onions (chopped medium size pieces)

½ – ¾ cups (finely chopped parsley)

1-½ sticks (12 tbsp) butter

Dough Preparation:

Making you own dough is relatively easy, but it takes some practice, so make a couple of practice runs before you proceed to the main event.  It’s well worth the effort. (If you would like to begin by practicing with a smaller amount, I have found that a ratio of 1 large egg to ¾ cup of flour along with ½ – ¾  tsp salt and ½ – ¾  tsp baking powder works very well.)

Traditional dough preparation:

To prepare the dough, combine the flour, eggs, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Keep a small glass of tepid water handy if extra moisture is needed.

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Begin folding the above ingredients together until a dough ball forms (this may require adding 1 tbsp of tepid water at a time until the dough ball forms). About 3-5 minutes.


After dough ball forms, knead the dough ball until it acquires a smooth texture/finish. About 8-10 minutes.


At this point, cover or wrap the dough ball in a towel or plastic wrap and let it “rest” for 2-3 hours, or place the wrapped dough ball in the refrigerator if you are making it ahead.

Alternative dough preparation:

Now, mixing and kneading dough by hand is the reason our otherwise petite grandmothers were so strong. It’s work! So, I’ll offer an alternative method for mixing and kneading dough with the photos and directions below. (The ingredients and quantities remain the same.)

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This method of dough preparation is called modernity and if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer it really makes the job a whole lot easier. Begin by mixing all the ingredients using the unit’s mixing paddle (as shown in Alternate dough making photos 1 & 2) until the dough ball forms (again, adding 1 tbsp. of tepid water at a time if more moisture is needed) When the dough ball is pretty well-formed, switch out the mixing paddle with the dough hook (as shown in Alternate dough making photo 3). Begin kneading with the dough hook. The dough ball will form once and then break apart, this is normal, keep kneading with the dough hook until the doug ball reforms a 2nd time and continue kneading it until the dough takes on that smooth texture/finish.

Now that the dough ball has “rested,” begin rolling out the dough until you achieve the desired thickness.

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I gauge the desired dough thickness with the help of Stella, my Black Lab. When the dough thickness approximates that of Stella’s ear, it right!


Now that the dough has been rolled out to the desired thickness it’s time to cut the dough. See photos below:

Now, a word about the clams. It used to be that you could purchase shucked clams in their liquor/juice from any seafood market, but not anymore. What I do now is purchase top neck clams in their shells and prepare the clams for use in the pot pie.

I start by scrubbing the clams under cold water to get the sand off of them and then cover them in cold water in the sink to let them purge. I change the water about 3 times until the last change of water remains clean, indicating the clams have purged all the sand they were holding.

Following the purging, I put the clams in the freezer for 24 hours until they are frozen. After the 24 hours, I remove the clams and let them sit a room temperature 4-5 hours until they begin to thaw slightly and I can open them easily with a clam knife. By shucking the clams this way the clams and all their liquor/juice remain in a nice frozen ball which can be placed in a bowl until thawed completely. When thawed, I cut each clam in half and drain them reserving the liquor/juice.

Next, cut/chop your potatoes, onions and parsley as described in the ingredients list. If preparing ahead of time, cover the potatoes with cold water to keep them from turning brown and cover the onions with plastic wrap.

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Now that we’re at the assembly line stage of the preparation, bring all the components within reasonable proximity to the pot you will cook the pot pie in.

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Put the clam liquor/juice in a large pot along with the two bottles of clam juice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a fast simmer and when the clam juice begins to “froth,” skim off all the froth and discard. With the clam juice at a very fast simmer/near boil begin layering the potatoes first, onions second and a layer of cut pot pie dough last, repeating the layering until all the potatoes, onions and pot pie dough are used up.

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Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.


While the pot pie is simmering, begin melting the butter over medium heat until it browns. Don’t let it burn! The butter should be a “nutty” brown, not black.

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After the 15-20 minutes check the pot pie to make sure the potatoes are done and when they are, add the clams and mix well. Cover the pat again and cook until the clams are done.

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When the clams are done, add the brown butter and the chopped parsley and mix well.

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Well, that’s all there is to it. If you like pot pie and you like clams, you’ll love my Gremmom’ s Berks County Clam Pot Pie. Serve with pepper cabbage, cole slaw or chow-chow and you’ve got a Berks County Dutch dinner on the highest order.

Ess dich satt!

Ess dich satt.jpg

Written by BHC Executive Director, Sime Bertolet

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 


The 3rd Annual Berks History Conference Focuses on Berks County Foodways

2018 Conference_Insta

The Berks History Center invites you to attend the 3rd Annual Berks History Conference on April 21, 2018, located at 940 Centre Avenue, Reading, PA 19601.

The Berks History Conference is an annual gathering for history enthusiasts that features a series of lectures on Berks County’s history. This year’s conference will focus on Berks County Foodways and will cover a variety of topics that explore Berks County’s unique culinary traditions including: local cuisine during the American Revolution, agriculture and its influence on culture and history, whiskey distilling in Berks County, and the foodways of the PA Dutch.

The Berks History Center welcomes four distinguished conference speakers: Alan G. Keyser, PA Dutch Foodway Historian; Bradley K. Smith, Berks History Center’s Museum Curator; Dr. Irwin Richman, Professor Emeritus of American Studies & History at Penn State; and Dr. Clarissa F. Dillon, Historian & Demonstrator.

“The Berks History Conference is a unique opportunity to explore Berks County’s vibrant cultural traditions through an academic lens,” said Sime Bertolet, Executive Director, The Berks History Center, Reading, Pa. “We are pleased to host four esteemed historians who will share their research and interpretations of a cultural activity that we all enjoy: food!”

This year’s conference is part of “Berks County Foodways” a year-long series of events and a digital community storytelling project at the Berks History Center. The Berks History Conference is sponsored by The Berks Packing Company, Inc. and Sweet Street Desserts.

Tickets are $25 for students, $50 for members, $60 for non-members and can be purchased by calling 610-375-4375.  Berks History Center is also offering a special new member fee for $95 that includes admission to the conference and a discounted membership to the Berks History Center. Lunch is included for all participants. Call 610-375-4375 to register or click here for more information.