GUEST

Celebrating the 19th Amendment in the Cuyahoga Valley

JENNIE VASARHELYI
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Mehitable Bradford Frazee one of the Cuyahoga Valley's earliest pioneers, managed her family's household on the Cuyahoga River during the early 1800s.

On Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment became an official part of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment made it possible for women to vote because it prohibited states and the federal government from denying access to the ballot box based on sex. While the amendment did not guarantee the vote for women, is was a benchmark moment for American democracy and an important milestone in women’s equality.

As a federal agency that manages national parks, historic sites, and other places important in American heritage, the National Park Service plays a role in sharing American stories. This year, we have joined many other organizations to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Some of the celebration will take place in parks, but much will be online due to Covid-19.

Visit nps.gov for expanded coverage about the amendment, the drive for the right to vote, and the role of women in society. You will find family friendly activities that you can do from home. Girl Scouts can also find the Girl Scout 19th Amendment Patch Program, in which they can earn a special patch by doing park activities.

At Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the anniversary has prompted us to explore stories of women tied to the park. Some CVNP stories feature women who lived in the valley across time.

Mehitable Frazee, for example, was among the earliest European women to settle in the valley. She moved here in 1806 with her husband Stephen. They bought land near the Cuyahoga River, built a log house, and farmed. In 1826, they replaced their log home with the brick house that still stands on Valley View Road. They built the home themselves with little more than a stylebook to guide them. Mehitable managed the household, which included hired laborers and seven surviving children.

Other stories reflect ways that women have intersected with CVNP as they worked to improve their communities. There are two primary threads to these stories: the role of women in creating the park and the role of women in engaging their community members in the park to achieve quality-of-life ideals.

The park resulted in part from grassroots efforts to protect the valley from suburban sprawl. Women played pivotal roles through organizations like the League of Women Voters.

Individuals like Birdie Smith and Janet Hutchinson led on-the-ground efforts such as bus tours to build support for the park and then volunteered for the park for decades.

This story of the response by women to the loss of natural places in their communities reflects a less-well-known, driving force within the environmental movement.

Adam Rome, author of “The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism,” argues that suburbanization was one of the greatest transformations of the environment that, along with the loss of wilderness, contributed to the rise of environmentalism. He notes the important role played by civic clubs that were often led by women.

By exploring this story at CVNP, we illuminate this national story of the influence of women.

The second thread links to the important role that parks play in communities. Women have often been the biggest advocates for outdoor recreation for child development, physical wellness, and mental health. This tradition is long standing.

Jane Edna Hunter, a prominent African American social worker in Cleveland, established Phillis Wheatly Association in 1911 to support African American women. During her tenure, PWA established Camp Mueller in Cuyahoga Valley.

Today, park rangers and community leaders (often women) from around Greater Cleveland work together to provide opportunities for community members in the park.

The NPS also operates First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton and James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor. First Ladies NHS highlights the private and public lives of First Ladies of the United States. Their lives intersect with women’s history and political involvement in many ways. The site has developed a park-specific Girl Scout Ranger Program booklet, which you can find online.

James A. Garfield National Historic Site preserves the home of the 20th President of the United States. He was assassinated in 1881 during his first few months in office. The NHS reflects the influence of his wife, Lucretia Garfield. She wanted his letters, papers, and diaries preserved for posterity. She had a Memorial Library added to the home to house them. This became the first presidential memorial library and the birthplace of the presidential library idea.

To learn more about the 19th Amendment and the National Park Service sites in Ohio, visit nps.gov. Please check the website before visiting parks in person for modifications to operations due to Covid-19.

Vasarhelyi is Chief of Interpretation, Education & Visitor Services of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.