Notable women of Greene County

By Joan Baxter

March is designated as Women’s History Month therefore I will share some short biographies of Greene County women who have made a difference.

Mary Elam was born in a house her father built near Spring Valley in 1883, one of six daughters. With a strong desire to help others, she took her nurses’ training at McClellan Hospital and subsequently worked there as a registered nurse. She later took a post graduate course on care of infants and children at Boston Floating Hospital.

When World War I broke out, she felt the need to serve her country and enlisted as a nurse. She was stationed at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe during the 1918 flu epidemic, working for six weeks, 12 hours a day with no time off. She did contract the flu herself, but survived.

Although she was not able to travel extensively, she was proud of the fact that she was able to save enough money to purchase a train ticket to go the World’s Fair in San Francisco in 1910. Another special trip was at the age of 106, she took her first airplane ride, going from Dayton to Atlanta and back. Newspapers around the world were reporting about this accomplished lady who was getting her first plane ride at that age. At the time of her death, she was the oldest living American veteran.

Olive Huston was born 1900 in New Jasper Township, graduated from Wittenberg College and began a teaching career. She was qualified to teach all subjects, but became best known as a public speaking and dramatics teacher.

It was said that she had a close bond with her students while coaching debating teams and directing class plays. She taught for more than 29 years in public schools of Xenia, Dayton and Spring Valley.

In 1961, she decided to aid her community by running for public office and then had the honor of being elected to the Xenia City Commission; the first female to achieve that recognition. She was so effective on the council that in 1963 she was selected by her fellow commissioners to serve in the office of mayor, a position she held for six years. She became director of the Women’s Department of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and state president of the Ohio Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. Not surprisingly, she was a strong advocate of equal pay for women.

In 1966, she was appointed chair of the Governor’s Committee on the Status of Women and then as a member of the Ohio Crime Commission. She was named one of the “Top Ten Women in the Miami Valley” in 1964.

Well known author Erma Bombeck was born in Dayton in 1927; her writing career began when she wrote humor pieces for Emerson Junior High School’s newspaper. Ate the age of 15, while attending Patterson Vocational High School she got a job as a copy girl for the Dayton Herald. After graduation she wrote obituaries for the Dayton-Journal Herald. She enrolled at Ohio University, and then transferred to the University of Dayton where she worked on the student paper. Following graduation, she returned to the Dayton Journal-Herald as a reporter for the women’s section. She wrote more than 4,300 columns which ran in 900 newspapers word-wide. She wrote 12 books, some of which were on the best-seller list for weeks. She stated that the book The Grass Grows Greener over the Septic Tank was written during the years she and her family lived in Bellbrook.

Eleanor Parker who starred in a number of movies was born in Cedarville when her father was a mathematics instructor at Cedarville College. When the Cedarville school system was made into a public school, several individuals served as superintendent of the school system. In time, the title was changed to principal and L.D. Parker became the first to serve in that capacity.

After a few years L.D. was offered a position in Cleveland where Eleanor completed her education. She performed in some summer stock plays while still in high school. Following graduation she enrolled in the Pasadena Playhouse. At that time she wanted only two things: “to be a screen actress and buy my mother a fur coat.”

During the 1940-50 eras, she starred in a number of films. Although she never won an “Oscar” she was nominated three times once for “Caged”, again for “Detective Story” and a third time for “Interrupted Melody” in 1955.

Her last movie is probably the one where she is most remembered. When the director was casting for the movie, he was looking for a “star” to help sell the movie and so she was cast in a leading role. The movie was “The Sound of Music.” Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer played leading roles but no doubt everyone will remember the beautiful lady who portrayed the Baroness, namely Eleanor Parker.

Peggy Shoals was born in San Francisco where her father was a banker. She remembered the huge earthquake-fire, often telling of sleeping on top of a trunk filled with the bank’s money which her father took for safe-keeping. She moved to Ohio and eventually accepted a position as Executive Secretary for The Greene County Historical Society. She sat at her desk with her dog when the April 3, 1974 tornado ripped apart several of the buildings in the complex including serious damage to the structure in which she sat.

All these women have unique contributions to our history.

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.

Joan Baxter is a local resident and weekly historical columnist.