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Statehouse to honor 1st female lawmakers

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    Lulu Thomas Gleason of Toledo became one of the first female state legislators.

    <Handout not Blade photo


Lulu Thomas Gleason of Toledo became one of the first female state legislators.

Handout not Blade photo Enlarge

COLUMBUS - Lulu Thomas Gleason made history in January, 1923, but she wasn't there to see it.

More than three years after Ohio ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to grant women the right to vote, Mrs. Gleason of Toledo was among the first class of six women to join the state General Assembly.

And she made history by doing it with a campaign run entirely by women, thanks to the Women's Christian Temperance Union in the Prohibition era. The temperance movement sought to reduce or eliminate alcohol use among the general population.

But when the time came for her to raise her hand to take the oath, Mrs. Gleason was ill and missed the ceremony. She officially joined the chamber through a signed affidavit.

"Those women would not have imagined that they would see a woman as a very serious contender for the nomination to be president of the United States," said Charlene Gilbert, director of the Eberly Center for Women at the University of Toledo.

"To be in the moment in 1922 and then in the moment in June, 2008, you come to the same conclusion of witnessing one of the most exciting campaigns in the history of the country," she said. "The one we're living through now is standing on the shoulders of those six women."

Tomorrow, the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board will mark the 89th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment by formally dedicating as the Ladies Gallery what is now the Southeast Passageway of the Statehouse.

The gallery will honor the first ladies of the General Assembly. Mrs. Gleason was elected to the House of Representatives on Nov. 7, 1922, along with Nettie McKenzie Clapp of Cuyahoga County, Adelaide Sterling Ott of Mahoning County, and May Martin Van Wye of Hamilton County.


Joel S. Rhinefort, left, and Sheriff Charles Hennessy meet in 1946 with Martha Welling, Mrs. Mark Winchester, and Lulu Gleason to discuss a liquor sale ban near the Lucas County fairgrounds.


The Senate added Nettie Bromley Loughead of Hamilton County and Maude Comstock Waitt of Cuyahoga County to its ranks in that election.

Capital Square spokesman Mike Rupert noted that the opposite side of the Statehouse holds the George Washington Williams room honoring the first black elected to the legislature.

"That room reminds us of suffrage for African-Americans," he said. "This is a companion room on the other side. A lot of women involved in the legislature were very enthusiastic about making sure we didn't forget what women have done for Ohio over our history.

"Even in the 1800s, they were rallying for suffrage and working against slavery," he said. "This was a way to remember that."

Lulu Thomas was born in 1870 in Butler, Ind., but she lived 65 years in Toledo. She managed her own millinery store until she married Frank A. Gleason of Bryan in 1890.

She was already active in lobbying as legislative superintendent of the WCTA. She was credited with writing what became a law providing for the observance of an annual temperance day program in the public schools.

On June 16, 1919, voters - all of them men - made Ohio the fifth state to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. This was less than five years after voters rejected a similar amendment.

Mrs. Gleason became the first woman elected from Lucas County. In addition to putting five other women in the Legislature, voters also elected the first woman justice, Florence Allen, to the Ohio Supreme Court.

During her single two-year term in the legislature, Mrs. Gleason served as chairman of the House Committee on Temperance.

She died in 1953 at the age of 89. She had lived her last five years with her daughter in Royal Oak, Mich.

Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) first learned of Mrs. Gleason when she became involved in the effort to have the Ladies Gallery dedicated, and she immediately sought out information about her.

"I was fascinated by her level of enthusiasm and the success she had," she said.

Ms. Fedor was briefly a part of her own feminist history in the Ohio General Assembly in 2002 when all state lawmakers representing the city of Toledo were women - then Rep. Fedor, Rep. Edna Brown, then Rep. Jeanine Perry, and then Sen. Linda Furney.

"It's exciting that even today, we have a number women legislators and women in office that really outdoes other cities in Ohio," she said. "We're carrying on the tradition. The women back then would be proud of what we are doing today."

A photo recreating a 1914 women's suffrage rally of 5,000 people at the Statehouse will be taken at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Participating women and men are encouraged to wear white, as those rallying did then. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the gallery will occur an hour later.

The gallery is part of a $3.5 million campaign to upgrade the education exhibits at the Statehouse. The gallery itself is expected to cost $283,048, about $190,000 of which has been raised through donations, Mr. Rupert said.

The capital square board continues to work to raise the remaining $90,000 through its Web site at www.statehouse.

Contact Jim Provance at:

or 614-221-0496.

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