Honoring the First Defenders on the Fourth

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First Defenders Monument in City Park memorializing the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading. Photo from from Berks History Center’s Henry Janssen Library

July 4, 1901 was an Independence Day in Berks County, different from most others. At promptly 10:00AM a celebratory parade moved from 24th and Penn Streets to City Park for the dedication of a newly placed monument that honored the Ringgold Light Artillery of the Union’s First Defenders. The title “First Defenders” was awarded to the five volunteer groups of Pennsylvania soldiers who were first to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for militia to protect our nation’s capital from Confederate forces at the earliest stages of the Civil War.

It was April 12, 1861 when the Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter, officially beginning the war between the North and South. Washington D.C. was quickly understood to be a vulnerable and defenseless location for the Union, and action needed to be taken to protect the capital. On April 15, 1861, the President of the United States issued a proclamation calling out the militia of several states:

“Now therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the power vested by the Constitution and laws, have thought fit to call forth and hereby do call forth the militia of the several states of the Union to the aggregate number of 75 thousand, in order to suppress the said combination and to cause the laws to be duly executed.”

The general atmosphere among Berks County at this time was strong for maintaining the Union and upholding the Constitution. The Ringgold Light Artillery, under the direction of Captain James McKnight, had been actively preparing for this type of national emergency since January. Immediately after receiving Lincoln’s cry for support, a telegram was returned stating that the Ringgold Light Artillery “have ninety men, every one of them expecting to be ordered on duty for the U.S. Service before they leave their guns.” The following day, Captain McKnight received orders to get to Harrisburg by train as soon as possible. He left Reading with 101 of his men at 6 o’clock in the evening and arrived in Harrisburg by 8 o’clock, making the Ringgold Light Artillery the first to leave home and arrive for duty.

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Train car that carried the Ringgold Light Artillery from Reading to Harrisburg. Image: Berks History Center’s Henry Janssen Library

On April 18, 1861, fully uniformed and equipped, the Ringgold Light Artillery and four other companies left Harrisburg for Baltimore. As the First Defenders approached the center of the city to board the special train to Washington, they were met with a shower of stones, bricks, and clubs of an angry mob; fortunately, no one was seriously injured and they were able to reach the Capitol by 6 o’clock that evening. The members of the five companies were taken to the capital and were supplied with new arms. President Lincoln even greeted each and every one of the soldiers with a handshake, thanking them for their rapid efforts to protect Washington.

On April 23, 1861, Captain McKnight and the rest of the Ringgold Light Artillery were ordered to report to aid Captain Dahlgren at the Washington Navy Yard for the protection of the arsenal. It was ascertained that a rebel attempt would be made to capture the capital via said arsenal. The Reading troops remained in this position for several months before returning home. Many of them went on to see many major conflicts in the war, but regardless of other honors and credits, the survivors of these first five companies were ever proudest of the fact that they were “The First Defenders.”

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Ringgold Light Artillery in the Washington Navy Yard. Image: Berks History Center’s Henry Janssen Library

The Memorial to the First Defenders, 1901

As noted earlier, on July 4, 1901, the City of Reading dedicated a monument in City Park to memorialize the men of the Ringgold Light Artillery. An article written in the Reading Eagle on that particular day mentions that designs had been submitted by Bureau Brothers of Philadelphia (at a cost of $1,320) and P. F. Eisenbrown’s Sons of Reading (at a cost of $1,350). The committee favored to award the home contractors with the job of crafting and erecting the monument in City Park. July 4th was the chosen day of dedication “in the hopes that Mt. Penn would be set ablaze with redfire.” Adorning the front of the monument, a plaque was fastened that reads:

To commemorate the patriotism and promptitude of the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading, Pennsylvania, which reported for duty at Harrisburg, April 16, 1861, arriving there first of the Pennsylvania companies; and with the Logan Guards of Lewistown, Washington Artillerists of Pottsville, National Light Infantry of Pottsville, and Allen Infantry of Allentown, entered the city of Washington April 18, 1861, The First Defenders of the Capital.

The monument still stands today, nearly 120 years after its dedication, reminding us of the sacrifices of those brave men—and so many others before and since—whose service to our country is the reason we are able to freely celebrate today.

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Button from the July 4, 1901 Dedication Ceremony of the First Defenders Monument. From the Berks History Center Museum Collection.

Written by BHC Curator, Amber Vroman

Berks History Center Hosts Premiere of Groundbreaking Book: Working Girls

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The Berks History Center and Glitterati Publishing invite you to an exclusive, first-time ever presentation and book signing of Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892, The Secret Photographs of William Goldman by Robert Flynn Johnson on Monday, September 10, 2018 at the Berks History Center, 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601. The program will begin with a reception and book signing at 5:00pm followed by a presentation by the author at 6:30pm.

Working Girls is a historical, artistic and sociological interpretation of the personal collection of 19th century professional photographer and Reading native, William Goldman. In his program, author and Curator Emeritus at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Robert Flynn Johnson, will detail his research and how he came to unearth the collection of more than 200 vintage photographs that artistically capture a group of women who lived and worked at a brothel in Reading, PA.

 

The Berks History Center is honored to host this premiere event, which precedes the official book launch and exhibition opening that will be held later that week in New York City, NY. The launch of Working Girls will be held at Rizzoli Bookstore in NYC on September 12, 2018, and the opening of an exhibition of the William Goldman photographs will be held at the Ricco / Maresca Gallery,  W 20th St  in Chelsea, NYC on Sept 13, 2018.

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In the book, Johnson, a noted photography curator, uses these photographs to detail their historical and sociological importance in the history of photography, alongside essays from feminist scholars Ruth Rosen and Dennita Sewell that provide an insightful historical overview of these images in context of the period in which they were taken.

“We are thrilled to have an opportunity to share Johnson’s groundbreaking book and photograph collection with Reading and Berks County,” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “While the focus of the book explores and interprets both the artistic vision of photographer William Goldman and the lives and historical context of the women in the photographs, we feel as though Working Girls has unearthed an unseen aspect of Reading and Berks County’s story that was previously lost to history. As the stewards of Berks County’s heritage we believe it is our duty to provide a space for all facets of Berks County’s history to be explored and discussed.”

Working Girls is the result of over a decade of research, which began when the author first visited an art fair and became captivated by the beauty and originality of a group of 19th century photographs of women. Curious to know more about these women, Johnson began an investigation into their origin, authorship and purpose.  However, it wasn’t until 2015 when Johnson’s research led him to the Berks History Center, after he discovered a photograph of a woman posing with a copy of the Reading Eagle. Berks History Center Research Library staff, along with local historian George M. Meiser IX, assisted Johnson with his research.

The cost of the Working Girls program is $8.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members. Reservations are recommended as seats for this exclusive program are limited. Due to subject matter and content, this program is age restricted to 18 and older. Call 610-375-4375 to reserve your seat or click here for more information.

The cost of Working Girls is $60.00. The Berks History Center is accepting pre-sales for the hardcover book, which will be available for pick-up on September 10th from 5:00-8:00PM during the program and following the event during regular museum hours. Call 610-375-4375 to order a copy of Working Girls.

Farm-Fresh: Farmers’ Markets are a Berks County Foodway Tradition

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Photo: Model of Downtown Reading, Berks History Center Museum. Photo Credit: John Secogies

One of our favorite things about living in Berks County is the abundance of local farmers’ markets that sell local, fresh produce and meat.  The history of fresh markets in our area is long-standing and dates back to the original deed from Thomas and Richard Penn, which proclaimed that two fairs be held each year on June 4 and October 22. The Clerk of the Market was directed to erect as many stalls as necessary at the two markets on Penn Street, which operated weekly. The open air markets, erected in the 1840’s on Penn Square, were torn down in 1871. In the following years there were as many as 10 neighborhood market houses, each an elaborate structure.

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Penn Square Market Buildings, looking West on Penn from 6th Street, circa 1870’s. From the BHC Library Photograph Collection.

The Crystal Palace Market on Penn Street took its name from the famous building at the World’s Fair of 1871. The South Reading Market House, considered one of the finest buildings in Reading, was built by Francis B. Shalters, the owner-editor of the Reading Times.  The window on the north side resembled a rose, similar to those found in a cathedral. The iron columns supporting the first floor porch were the original posts from the second market pavilion on Penn Square, built in the 1840s. An arson fire in 2005 collapsed the structure, which had stood for 135 years. Another fine market was the Northeast Market House at 9th and Buttonwood Streets. It was built in 1874 by the Reading German Building and Savings Association. The building was known in the 1920’s as the Eagle Market, then owned by Jesse Hawley, publisher of the Reading Eagle.

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In addition to seasonal open air markets like the Penn Street Market and the West Reading Farmers’ Market, Berks County has three large operating indoor farmers markets. Built in 1934 by Harold B. Ludwig (and later run by his son Ted), the Shillington Farmers Market was once an old cement block factory with a cement mixer in the middle of the building. The restaurant was added in 1948 as a lunch stand for market customers, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and soda, and later hot roast beef sandwiches. The Farmers Market moved to a new location on Summit Avenue in Shillington in 2001. Hamid Chaudhry purchased the market from Jim Daley in 2017 (Daley is part of the family that had operated the Market since its opening). Today a Wawa occupies the original site at Museum Road and Route 724.

In 1946, LeRoy J. Weist and his wife Mary purchased 30 acres of farmland in Leesport. At first they thought about building homes, but they needed a place to sell their livestock. In 1947, they opened the Leesport Market Auction. In 1985, third generation owners Woody and Bill Weist took control and changed the name to the Leesport Farmers Market. The market has been opened year-round since 1947 and features cooked items and fresh produce. The flea market stands have been around since the beginning, but by the 1970’s, they became a large part of the business. There was a midway-like quality to the place, with entertaining pitchmen like Bernie Cohen who auctioned off just about anything out of his truck.

The Fairgrounds Farmers Market has an interesting history. It was once part of the Reading Fairgrounds Complex, established in the late 1940’s after the War Department relinquished control of the property. The first market building, mostly wooden, was located behind the back stretch of the racetrack and was built in the early 1920’s for fair and merchant displays. Back then some businesses sold goods out in the open. In 1969, a huge fire destroyed 3/4 of the market building, although the market was back operating the following Saturday. By then stock car races were promoted at the adjacent track. In 1970 the Fairgrounds Market, Inc. opened the new Reading Fairgrounds Market just north of the original structure. By 1980 the racetrack was replaced by the mall and owned by Albert Boscov. The size of the market increased to 50,000 ft and, in 2000, the former banquet facility reopened as an annex. In addition to fresh goods there are non-food vendors, a barbershop, wine retailer and several stands of antiques and collectibles. The market is open three days a week with 64 proprietors and up to 5,000 shoppers.

 

Bibliography:

Joseph N. Farrell, “Regal Relics,” Reading Eagle, September 5, 1979.

Jeff McGaw, “New Life for Shillington Farmers Market,” Reading Eagle, May 18, 2017.

Irvin Rathman, “Reading’s Market Life – a Brief Scrapbook,” 1980 (F10 MA Rathman 1980).

“A Scrapbook  on Berks and Lebanon Counties, PA,” Vol. 1.1 (F10 AG).

BHC Library Vertical File on the Leesport Farmers Market, VF F10 MA-29.

BHC Library Vertical File on the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, VF F11 MA-5.

Pitching In & Going Without: Patriotism in Berks County during the Great War

By May of 1918, the citizens of Reading and Berks County were confronted with the realities of war on a daily basis. The war itself may have been fought on foreign soil, but its presence was felt intimately at home. Whether in the form of food rationing, loan drives, or new recruits leaving for camp in preparation for the battlefields of France, the never-ending sacrifices of war had a huge impact on the citizens of Berks County.

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Reading Times  May 1, 1918, Cole Watson

The Third Liberty Loan Drive was nearing its completion when the last fight card of the season was scheduled by Cole Watson’s Athletic Club at The Auditorium on April 30th.  At the event, patrons were greeted by Sergeant Manning Grimes of Providence R.I., a wounded soldier who returned from France and made his pledge to the patrons that buying Liberty Bonds will help our boys beat the Kaiser. This was the first time boxing patrons were solicited to purchase Liberty Bonds, and the 1,000 patrons responded with bond purchases in the amount of $9,000.

In addition to raising funds, the people of Berks County were accustomed to going without in a time of war. Citizens were already rationing food on pork, meat and wheat-less days, and by the end of April 1918, the Food Administration introduced a 90-day pastry abstinence, which went into effect on May 1, 1918. The pastry abstinence was enacted to conserve flour shortly after Food Administrator Davies battled with Reading bakeries over the price of bread.  The city of Reading offered residents several areas around town to start war gardens, encouraging citizens to raise their own vegetables for consumption and conserve farm produce for the war effort. Gardens sprung up all over Reading, from the Hampden and Buttonwood reservoir plots, to the grounds near Sternbergh’s Sterling and Spring and Weiser Streets. Open city blocks, city parks with reservoirs or open land on private property were all made available to Reading residents for rent or free of charge.

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Reading Times  · April 24, 1918

Local media encouraged citizens to do their part and get on board with the war effort. A story appeared in the Reading Times about a much-married slacker who was arrested in Reading and returned to York. Paul Sweitzer, alias George Krause, was arrested for failing to register with his draft board in York. City detectives ran down a series of clues on Sweitzer, who married 16-year-old Augusta Hunf of Reading four years prior. The two lived with Hunf’s parents until they ran away, dressing his bride as a man as they hopped freight trains toward Pittsburgh. They were attacked by tramps out west, where Sweitzer shot one of the tramps. Sweitzer spent 6 months in jail for the shooting, and police sent his wife back home. When Sweitzer returned, he took out an $1,000 insurance policy out on his wife. He then made a concoction for his wife, which made her deathly ill. Sweitzer then disappeared, as his wife was saved by means of a stomach pump from his deadly act. Two years later he published accounts of his fake death. Believing Sweitzer was dead, Hunf later married another man. Sweitzer then married again under the name of Krause. Reading police learned of Krause from his second wife, Mary Phillips. The two had lived in York and then Reading when police were on the lookout for a slacker named Sweitzer. Phillips became suspicious and reported her husband to the police, when they discovered his hidden identity.

On May 18, 1918, 2,000 women marched in the Red Cross March of Mercy, which kicked off the nation’s hundred million drive for the Red Cross, with Berks County’s quota at $150,000. Over 6,000 people marched in the parade, with Ernest J. Poole as chief marshal of the parade. The parade consisted of 5 divisions that formed in City Park and included Red Cross workers, students from the girl’s high school, fraternal organizations, loan workers, civic organizations and students from the boy’s high school. The parade began at the head of Penn Street, marched down to 4th Street and counter-marched to 10th Street before dispersing at Franklin Street. Miss Catherine Gilbert, who dressed as Miss Liberty for the Boy Scouts Liberty Loan parade in April, exchanged her Liberty costume for a Red Cross outfit for this parade.

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Red Cross March of Mercy Parade Reading, PA from the Collection of Berks History Center

Gilbert had just finished up touring the county as Miss Liberty for the War Savings Stamps drive. She then began a week long 90-mile tour of Berks County for a series of open air meetings dressed as a Red Cross Nurse. The tour would leave Reading each evening at 5:30PM, making multiple stops along each route.  The drive had the presence of a British and French soldier, who had seen much service in Europe.  The soldiers attended meetings during the day in Reading and accompanied Miss Gilbert on the evening tours in the county. The evening tours ended with destinations in Boyertown, Hamburg, Birdsboro, Kutztown and Womelsdorf. In each instance, the tour was met with large gatherings, including parades through Hamburg and Boyertown, which were led by the local Boy Scout troops. The drive started on May 20, 1918. Typical of Berks County’s patriotic response for a drive of any type, the county doubled its quota, raising $300,000 for the Red Cross drive. The Wolfinger Knitting Mill went over the top by contributing 100 percent by May 18th, doubling their quota of $195 and thus receiving a 100 percent flag with a gold star.

Jere Edwards had just completed his Sunday lectures at the Y.M.C.A. auditorium on the war and the conditions our soldiers experienced at the front. The lectures were well attended. Edwards, the General Secretary of the Reading Y.M.C.A., left late in 1916 to work with the International YMCA in Cairo, Egypt and operate a service hut in France. He returned from Europe in November 1917.

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Reading Times · May 01 ,1918

With all the happenings around Reading and Berks at this time, from food rationing and war gardens, loan drives, Red Cross parades and tours, war lectures at the Y.M.C.A., or slackers being picked up for failure to register to their draft boards, the citizens of Reading and Berks County never wavered in their commitment to their patriotic duty. At the time, reports were coming back of casualties to U.S. soldiers, who were fighting at the frontlines. Letters would appear in the Reading Times from a soldier “somewhere in France” telling of life in the trenches. The reality of the Great War left six Berks County soldiers in graves in France and one at the bottom of the Atlantic, all at the hands of the enemy. Others had died from disease. Memorial Day in 1918 had a very solemn meaning for the citizens of Berks.

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War. 

Roped into Berks History: Uncovering the Thomas Jackson Letters

“He’s was like combination of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore – a powerful commentator on life at that time.” – John Paling on his ancestor, Thomas Jackson

It all began with a small family heirloom. At the time, John Paling didn’t know anything about the letters or his great-great uncle, Thomas Jackson. But Paling’s persistent attitude and fascination with history has lead him from Oxford, England to Gainesville, Florida to Berks County, where he uncovered enthralling stories about an idealistic Reading businessman, the struggle for abolition during the Civil War, what life in Reading was like when Lincoln was shot, and much, much more!

After more than decade of research and correspondence with Berks History Center staff and others here in Reading, Paling visited the Berks History Center last month (click here) where he was able to connect with the people who have helped him along his journey. Here is his story!

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John Paling during his visit to the Berks History Center in March 2018

What started out as an unwanted responsibility has turned into a major fascination with the history of the American Civil War and an unknown relative’s passion to see slavery abolished. By chance, a battered metal hat box that had been passed down through my family for 150 years, finished up in my hands upon the passing of my mother. It contained an unsorted trove of old letters, many near impossible to decipher but clearly important enough so that what was clear was that “somebody” (not me for sure) should take a look at them and try to make sense of all the contents.

I have spent over 10 years trying to give them away to that “Somebody” who would put in the hours and hours necessary to transcribe and correlate them and also take them off my hands and store them somewhere for posterity. Also, if appropriate, I hoped that “Somebody” would use them as the basis of some historical research papers and maybe, even a book.

Once again, I totally failed in my intentions.  Instead, I turned out to be the “somebody” who has dedicated over a decade of my life to researching the letters; The Library of Congress (click here) has become the organization that “took them off my hands” and where the original documents are now safely curated: And the book about Thomas Jackson is still to be written.

In brief, Thomas Jackson (click here) was the son of a seemingly uneducated English rope maker who was a passionate admirer of America. So much so that his father could not be suppressed from advocating that the American colonies be given their independence – not a popular position to advocate in the days of George III. As a result, he was pilloried three times and finally imprisoned for a year to shut him up!

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Rope Samples from the Thomas Jackson & Sons rope company, newly accessioned to the BHC Museum Collection

The young Thomas Jackson was radicalized about America as being the most perfect country from the time he sat on his father’s knee. When he was 22 years old, he came over to America and struggled to start a rope making company in Reading, PA. Not long after his arrival, when he visited Richmond to get supplies, he was appalled to stumble across a slave market and witness the more obvious degradations of slavery.  These experiences so conflicted with his idealized image of America that he became a fervent abolitionist and started to write powerful, first-hand accounts about the civil war and the cruelty of slavery and sent them back to his relatives in England with the request that they get them published in English newspapers. His intended strategy seems to have been that he wanted to ensure that citizens in that country would not be disposed to allow the British politicians to support the Confederacy- and hence slavery –  even though their economy was hurting from the massive shortage of cotton supplies.

The full story of Thomas Jackson has many twists and turns and would even make a good film script about the power of passion and the costs that can come with a dedication to a cause that many locals did not support. But by the time of his death he was much respected and lauded by his local community. The local newspaper reporting his funeral quoted. “On the coffin rested a cross of flowers and a wreath placed there by prominent colored citizens in acknowledgment of Mr. Jackson’s devotion to the colored race and opposition to slavery.”

After a busy career as a biologist, and later, a filmmaker for the Wildlife Film Company, John Paling has spent his retirement uncovering the secrets of Thomas Jackson’s letters. As an Ambassador for Thomas Jackson and the Curator of the Thomas Jackson Collection of Civil War letters, Paling has compiled a comprehensive digital directory for the letters, making them publicly available to researchers and history enthusiasts. The Thomas Jackson letters are now being preserved in the Library of Congress where the letters will be the subject of 3 major projects. To learn more visit thomasjacksonletters.com

A League of Her Own: Ruth Kramer Hartman

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Photo: Society For American Baseball Research Biography project

Ruth Hartman…her name always brings a smile to my face. Chances are you’ve heard about her also. She was born in 1926, the oldest child of Annie and John Kramer. When her dad won the Irish Sweepstakes, he went from being a mechanic to being an innkeeper. He bought the Leinbach’s Hotel which was in Bern Township. It was in a cow pasture across from the inn where she learned to catch a softball and field grounders that her dad hit to her. In 1940 her dad bought the hotel and taproom called The Rising Sun in the northeast part of Reading near the Reading Railroad repair shop and 11th and Pike Playground. At age 13 Ruth was a regular there playing baseball with the older boys. She began playing on girls’ teams and  her teams were very successful with her on the pitching rubber. No one could believe where all the power in her 5’1″, 110lb. frame came from!

Following graduation from RHS in 1942, she went to East Stroudsburg State Teachers’ College to become a physical education teacher. Her only outlet for softball was intramural teams, but the problem was no girl could catch her pitching! So the men’s team selected a male to be her catcher. There were special rules: he could not bat, could not run the bases or throw out runners. The last rule was not a problem since she struck out everyone- there were never any base runners! This situation was not popular with the girls, Ruth, or the male catcher. So Ruth was allowed to play on the men’s team! She was so proficient as a pitcher that her male teammates gave her the nickname “Rocky” because she threw like a rocket.

In the Spring of ’46, a scout for the All American Girls’ Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) saw her play and offered her a position. She played second base for the Fort Wayne Daisies and pitched some batting practice, but never pitched in a game. Her favorite friend was Faye Dancer, who in the movie, A League of Their Own, was “All the Way May”, played by Madonna. Her favorite experience was during the Game 7 Playoffs. The Daisies were ahead of the Chicks 1-0 in the last inning. The Chicks had one out and a gal on 2nd. There was a line drive hit to Ruth- she jumped up and caught the ball in the webbing of her glove, tagged 2nd for a double play and the Daisies won the league championship! That was her last play in the AAGPBL. She did not return for the next season because she wanted to finish her degree.

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Immediately after graduation she began her 36 year teaching career in the Reading School District. She coached volleyball, track and swimming. She also played on several fast-pitch softball teams around the PA area. In 1976 she began girls’ softball at RHS. Over 18 seasons, her teams were 217-73 and won 2 Berks County Championships, 3 District Titles, and were twice PA State Runners-up.

After retirement from coaching and teaching, she began to raise and breed Corriedale sheep on her farm in Limekiln. As you may know, her sheep were named for Phillies baseball players. In 2003, Baseball Charities, dedicated to giving financial support to area youth baseball and softball programs, created the “King of Baseball Town” award, presented annually to a resident of the Reading area who has made a lifetime contribution to baseball or softball. Ruth was  the first woman to receive this award in 2008. Ruth said, “I want to be Queen!” And so Baseball Town had its first Queen! Next she became Queen of the Corriedales when she earned the reputation as one of the nation’s top sheep breeders. In 2006 she won the “National Corriedale Breeder of the Year” award as well as the Grand Champion Title that year in North America.

I remember the first time I met her. It was at a Berks County Commission for Women dinner at the former Moselem Springs Inn. Ruth was the speaker. I didn’t know much about her back in the late 80s. A League of Their Own came out in 1992, and Ruth hadn’t talked much to anyone about her experiences in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). As she walked to the podium, she dropped her papers and scooped them up and said,”I don’t really need these anyway!” And she didn’t! She was an excellent speaker and story teller. She said.” I always wanted to be the best; when I played baseball, I would push myself; when coaching, I was demanding of my players; and even with my sheep, I still always want to be the best.” I met her again about 20 years later and she remembered that dinner at Moselem Springs. Truly, she was in a league of her own.

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. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #6

In 1962, I wrote a novel, Silent Spring, an expose’ on the dangers of the pesticide, DDT. I was a Pennsylvania native. Who was I?

Mystery Woman #5 Answer 

Georgia O’Keefe

An Athlete, an Educator, & an Inspiration: Grace AsBerry Jones

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Photo: Grace AsBerry Jones being inducted to the Southwest Jr. High Hall of Fame, Belongs to Hallie Vaughan

I probably chose today’s woman for two personal reasons. The first is that I spent 35 years teaching elementary students, just like she did. The second is because of my love of basketball, which she also had. I remember Grace AsBerry Jones. When I was playing basketball at Wilson, she occasionally refereed our games. She was one of those referees that you didn’t even raise an eyebrow to, let alone your voice! She was tough, but fair. It wasn’t until much later that I learned of her struggles to overcome racial discrimination and her outstanding commitment to the education of children.

Grace was born in West Reading. She was one of seven children and attended Tyson Shoener Elementary School, Southwest Junior High School and Reading High School, graduating with Merit in 1954. She was accepted and planned on attending one of the State Teachers’ Colleges for Health and Physical Education, but because she was an African American, she was not permitted to live in its dormitories. During this era, college students majoring in education were required to pass swimming tests. At her first choice of schools, Grace would not have been allowed to swim in the college’s pool facilities, but would have had to swim at the YMCA for African Americans. She decided to matriculate at East Stroudsburg, where racial discrimination was not such a problem.

Grace played field hockey and basketball while at East Stroudsburg where she was captain and leading scorer of her field hockey team as a senior.  Grace was named to the All Collegiate field hockey team three of the four years she played. She started at guard on the basketball team where her nickname was “the Rock of Gibraltar” for her defensive prowess. She became the first African American to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at East Stroudsburg.

When Grace graduated, she applied to and became the first African American teacher under contract in the Reading School District. After earning her Master’s Degree from Temple University in Guidance, Grace also became the first African American guidance counselor in the Reading School District. In approximately 1968, she became principal at the Lauer’s Park Elementary School, marking the first time in ninety years that the Reading School District hired an African American to this position. She also served as Principal at Amanda Stoudt Elementary and 13th and Union Elementary. While at Amanda Stoudt, her work in early childhood education was rewarded by several grants being awarded to the Reading District. Her efforts brought national recognition to the Reading Schools in 1993. That year she received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Image Award and the Bethel A.M.E. Service to Mankind Award. It must have been quite a thrill for her to receive the Key to the City of Reading and to have February 20th of 1993 named as Grace AsBerry Jones Day!

Even after her retirement from teaching she remained active especially in her interest in children and education. She was an assistant Sunday School teacher at Zion Baptist Church, she was an adjunct professor at Albright where she supervised student teachers in elementary education, and she was a guest lecturer  at Kutztown and Temple Universities. Grace was involved in the Reading Senior High School Alumni Association and started a chapter of the East Stroudsburg University’s Alumni Association in Berks County. She gave the winter commencement address at ESU in 2003, about a year before her death in 2004. How lucky are the hundreds of Reading children who were influenced by her teaching, counseling and leadership as school principal! Grace must have endured great scrutiny throughout her teaching career, with being the first person to overcome racial barriers in the Reading School District. We educators should be very proud of the exemplary life of service that she lived.

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. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman of the Week #5

I painted persimmon colored poppies, calla lilies and cow skulls. Even with failing eyesight I waited and sculpted until my death at age 98. Who am I?

Mystery Woman Answer #4

Julia Ward Howe

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

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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!

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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. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

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

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.

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Photo: DineIndie.com

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 speculated that the original Finney home was where Judy’s on Cherry is located today, while other believe it was located closer to the river. Unfortunately, there is no historical or archaeological evidence that indicates the exact location of Finney’s residence. However, we know quite a bit about Sarah Finney and the substantial impact she had on her community.

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! Sarah was left alone in 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. 

Weathering the Storm: Feeling the Effects of the Great War on the Homefront

Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania) · Thu, Jan 3, 1918 · Page 1
Reading Times, Thu, Jan 3, 1918 · Page 1

Winter 100 years ago was not unlike our current weather conditions; the winter of 1917-1918 was exceptionally cold. With a healthy accumulation of snow beginning in December and more on its way, temperatures dropped to the single digits as the New Year began.  The citizens of Reading and Berks County were presented with difficult challenges in January 1918. By order of President Wilson, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad had been taken over by the United States government. Nationally, the railroads were deemed inefficient for the government’s needs supporting the war effort. President Wilson appointed William Gibbs McAdoo as Director General of the Railroads. By taking control of all railroads in the United States, McAdoo’s task was to make the roads more efficient in freight transportation by eliminating competitive traffic between rival railroad companies. Locally, it would not be unusual for a P & R car to travel on the Pennsylvania Railroad line or for Pennsylvania employees to work at a P & R station. Both railroads were already cutting passenger services significantly because of the other hardship bestowed upon the local citizens – the shortage of coal.

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Reading Times · Wed, Jan 30, 1918

The origins of the coal shortage came from an act of the government and an act of nature. President Wilson appointed Harry A. Garfield to lead the Federal Fuel Administration (FFA), which was born out of the Food and Fuel Control Act of 1917. The FFA was tasked with conserving energy through the managed use of coal and oil and the war effort was first in line to access the natural resources. After the war effort was satisfied, the remaining coal was distributed down to the state and county level through agents under Garfield. At the time, Reading’s fuel administrator was H.A. Acker. It was Acker’s responsibility to set and enforce the prices of coal on the local level. Coal supplies for the public had lessened since the creation of the FFA and was perceived by the public as a gradual inconvenience. However, the winter of 1917-1918 changed the gradual inconvenience to a severe crisis. The first page of the Reading News-Times would announce when coal cars would enter the city for distribution. Relief arrived in the January 7th edition of the News-Times when the headline proclaimed that 83 cars of coal had reached Reading for distribution.

Although the coal crisis had lessened, the coal supplies remained limited. Local citizens relied on coal to heat and light their homes.  In an effort to relieve the stress of the shortage on local citizens and to ensure that households had sufficient coal to keep warm, the FFA instructed businesses not essential to the war effort to shut down 3 days a week, starting on January 14, 1918. Three days later, in a drastic effort to curb the coal famine, the government ordered all businesses to close 5 days the first week. Every week thereafter, for a duration of 10 weeks, Sundays would become “lightless nights” and Mondays and holidays would become “coal-less days”. In Pennsylvania, the Blue Laws prohibited businesses from opening on a Sunday anyway and that day did not count towards the 5-day closure rule. On the first week of the order, Penn Street looked like Sunday for six days straight – all of the businesses were closed.  Day by day, the crisis brought new adjustments to combat the coal famine. Food stores, saloons and movie theatres were affected by the ban. Those who did not comply with the rules of the FFA were initially given an embarrassing lecture on their lack of patriotism, and subsequently, if they violated the ban again, were given a fine. Shortly after the ban, food stores were ordered to be closed by noon and movie theatres were allowed to remain open.

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Reading Times · Sat, Jan 26, 1918

Not everyone was happy to “live with less” as their civic duty in the war effort. Those who refused to go without risked the repercussions as Edith Grant of 139 Lemon St. learned. On January 24, 1918, Ms. Grant was arrested for hoarding coal with bail set at $300. She was charged with having 400 pounds of coal in her cellar and purchasing 1300 pounds on top that. She claimed she was ill and had no coal to heat her house. On the other side of the coal crisis, a York coal broker was held on $5,000 bail for selling coal above the price set by the FFA. Children would go door to door tagging coal shovels with cards prepared by the United States fuel administrator. The cards read: “Save that shovel of coal for Uncle Sam.” On the back of the card were 6 tips on how to conserve your coal supply.

In addition to feeling the effects of energy conservation, the people of Reading and Berks experienced other inconveniences as the war effort continued. Food was another area of national conservation. Meatless, wheat-less and pork-less days were enacted by the United States Food Administration, which was led by Herbert Hoover. Hoover did such an outstanding job heading the Belgium Relief while in London that President Wilson requested he return to the United States to lead the Food Administration. The local administrator for Hoover was Charles T. Davies and the policies enforced were similar to those of the FFA. The popular term regarding the Food administration’s policies was to “Hooverize” your food, or otherwise, to be satisfied with less. The call to restrict consumption as part of the war effort was widely regarded and expected of everyone. An article appeared in the Reading Eagle that former President William Howard Taft, on a trip to Lebanon, made a stop at the Outer Station for lunch. The newspaper reported that Taft, a man who weighed close to 300 pounds, “Hooverized” his lunch by ordering smaller portions than a man of his size would consume.

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Reading Times  · Sat, Jan 12, 1918

While the war raged on overseas, the City of Reading had its own war to fight at home with the Reading Traction Company, operators of the city’s trolley system. The Traction Company proposed raising the fare for a street car ride from 5 cents to 6 cents, which prompted outrage from the citizens, the Chamber of Commerce and the City of Reading. The Traction Company wanted to raise the fare with no justification for the increase. The coalition of opposing forces demanded the Traction Company to make their case for the increase before they would determine if it was justified. The city hired John P. Fox of New York City, a widely known traction expert, to assess the necessity of the one cent increase. The issue dragged out for several months and was not easily resolved.

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YMCA Building at 631 Washington Street. Postcard belonging to Richard Polityka

Today, while we can relate to feeling the effects of the winter’s wrath, we might be stretched to understand what it is like to feel the impact of war in our daily lives. 100 years ago, the people of Reading and Berks County definitely paid a price, trading in their comfort and excess to support their countrymen overseas.  Many felt as though it was their patriotic duty and nearly everyone kept close tabs on the state of the conflict in Europe. Jerry Edwards, Secretary of the YMCA of Reading would hold Sunday talks at the Reed and Washington Streets facility on the effects of the war on Europe. Edwards spent considerable time overseas, first in Egypt and then France where he served as a camp secretary at both locations. He returned from France in November 1917 to Reading, where he travelled to Dayton Ohio to conduct a lecture series on the conditions of the war. When he returned to Reading, he continued the lecture series at the YMCA Reading branch to capacity crowds in the facilities auditorium.

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I & Berks project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War.