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19th Amendment: Historians talk about lack of historical info on women

MARIETTA — Traveling to the Northwest Territory in the 1700s meant a difficult life, especially for those women who made the land their home and left their mark on the area.

“That’s a worldwide phenomenon about having no information on women,” said Jann Adams, a Washington County Historical Society board member. “There were obituaries that were Mrs. John Snider. It makes it hard to do ancestry. From looking at the lack of documentation about women, it certainly wasn’t (deemed) newsworthy, their efforts.”

Persis Putnam, the second wife of General Rufus Putnam, died in 1820 and the couple had eight children. Rufus Putnam, an early settler of Ohio, was a founder of the Ohio Company, which started its first settlement on the banks of the Ohio River, now known as Marietta.

“We think she was known for her seamstress ability,” said Glenna Hoff, director of education and programs for the Campus Martius Museum in Marietta, about Persis. “What we know of her, we just surmise from his story.”

“It’s sad, it’s frustrating, the lack of recorded history of women in early times in the frontier here,” Adams said. “If you bounced over to New England, you might see more about women, because the society was more developed. Things were very different here.”

A little more is known about Lydia Moulton, who learned a trade from her father, William.

“They used to travel around, bringing civilization to the frontier,” Hoff explained. “She learned the silversmithing and goldsmithing trade, which I think is amazing.”

She said Moulton helped bring civilization to the frontier through utensils and teapots that travelers weren’t able to bring with them.

The first white woman in the Northwest Territory, Mary Gardiner Owen, worked to help people stricken during a smallpox epidemic. For her work, she was granted land near what is now Lowell. Hoff said she wasn’t allowed to own land, so the 100 acres was deeded to her husband, James. Although no one knows where she is buried, a monument for her is located in the Greenlawn Cemetery in Lowell.

Owen wasn’t the only women to have a such an honor. Mary Bird Lake was the first to start a Sunday School in the territory. She and her husband, Archibald, helped support the colonists’ cause by working in hospitals, and for her work, the Marietta Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze tablet on her grave.

A scholarship was named after Mary Bird Lake at Marietta College, although it is ironically given specifically to young men, Hoff said.

She noted that Williamstown is named after a female settler, Rebecca Williams, although the distinction is usually given to her husband, Isaac.

“She used natural herbs to heal people,” Hoff explained. Once, she came to the aid of a man who was gravely injured and brought him back to health through her salves and herbs.

Hoff said although these women did great things, they were not considered important.

“The women were not considered…not looked upon as being crucial,” she said. “Some saw them as nothing more than servants.”

Adams said the recorded history for women is lacking.

“When you try to research women, even the Williams’ history, there will be some women, but they won’t talk about them,” she said. “She’ll be listed as the daughter of, or the wife of.”

Hoff said it sheds light on how women were treated.

“This is a part of women’s history,” Adams said. “It’s a lack of history about women.”

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