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How Do You Spell Success

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on August 22, 1992



by Roz Young


            The good ladies on the board of the YWCA are just now engaged in raising funds to renovate the downtown building. Ever since the board's founding in 1870, it has always had to find ways to raise money to carry on its programs. In 1875, for instance, the board wanted to renovate the Orphans Home building on the site of the present Miami Valley Hospital and open it as the Widows Home.

            In those days one of the most popular forms of entertainment was a spelling bee. Why not hold a spelling bee to top all spelling bees, the board women dreamed. Invite prominent Dayton clergy, lawyers, business men, teachers, students, club women to participate. Hire the Music Hall. Have music. Charge admission.

            Music Hall, at the corner of First and Main, would seat about 1,000. Committee women visited the local newspapers and asked their help. For weeks before the event the papers ran stories, and on the night of the bee, March 26, 1875, all the seats were filled by 7:30 p.m. and others sat in the aisles and stood around the perimeter of the theater.

            The board members of the YWCA (called the WCA in those days) filled one of the proscenium boxes and looked out over the audience with joy.

            The entertainment began with music. A choir composed of Mrs. J.N. Bierce, Mrs. E.B. Solomon, Miss Ella Dickson, Miss Lizzie States, James Martin, Fred Boyer, John Bell, James Brenneman and Charles Snyder, accompanied by Mrs. James Martin at the piano, sang Night Shades No Longer. Fred Boyer sang Robin Adair. A quartette of Martin, Bell, Snyder and Brenneman followed with Serenade and then the entire group sang Gypsy Maiden.

            The teams of spellers took their places on the stage. On the north side of the stage Col. John G. Lowe introduced members of his team. They were D.W. Schaefer, William J. Tierney, James Shaw, Mary Taylor, Cora Comer, Mrs. Ed Buvinger, Dr. J.S. Frizzell, Rev. William Herr, William Ramsey, Julia Thompson, Charles McKee, Minnie Earnshaw, Jennie Whitmore, C.W. Wuichet, Ed Baird and Frank Hosier.

            On the south side ,with Capt. William Earnshaw as leader, sat D.N. Kelly, Rev. J.L. Russell, Col. E.F. Brown, Willie Mayer, A.D. Wilt, George Young, C.W. Dustin, J.S. Manning, Ida Condit, Mary Mumma, Annie Bartholomew, George Hoglen, Jr., Arthur Hughes, Homer Calhoun, Capt. E.R. Fleming, P.P. Ellis, Abe Bickham, Pliny Bartlett and Julia Dennis.

            Robert W. Steele and Rev. J.H. Montgomery were referees. On a stand displayed before the footlights were the first prize, a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and the booby prize, a small speller, to be given to the first loser.

            For half an hour nobody on either side misspelled a word, and the audience began to get restless. Then Charles W. Wuichet stepped to the front and misspelled "irrelevant." The audience applauded enthusiastically: Wuichet was the president of the Dayton Board of Education.

            The first clergyman to miss was Rev. Herr, who went down on "apostasy."

            Gov. Brown, head of the Soldier's Home, missed "exchangeability."

            Rev. Russell missed "colicky." As he left the stage he said to the audience, "It has been so long since I had such a spell." He was the momentary hero of the evening.

            Col. John G. Lowe spelled "seize" with two s's and left the stage. "Referable," "apropos," "schottische, "mnemonics," "prior," "physiology," "pharynx," "clayey," "tingeing," "verify," "marquee," "circean" and "elusinian" thinned the ranks until only two men were left in the contest, Frank Hosier and L.F. Thompson.

            Hosier stepped to the front of the stage and spelled his word "anacreontic."

            "Wrong" said the referee.

            Hosier left the stage.

            To win, Thompson had to spell the word correctly. He spelled it "anachreontic."

            "Wrong," said the referee.

            For a moment everybody sat silent and the referees looked confused. There were no rules governing what to do in case nobody won. Then Thompson said, "I believe that Mr. Hosier spelled the word right. I would have spelled it the same way, but since he was ruled wrong, I put the "h" in. I suggest that Mr. Hosier should be recalled and we should be given another word."

            The referees consulted each other and called the two captains in. Finally they agreed to reinstate the two finalists.

            The next word was "ipecacuanha." Hosier left out the "h." Then Thompson spelled the word correctly and was declared the winner among enthusiastic cheers and applause.

            The president of the WCA presented the Webster to Thompson.

            Col. M.P. Nolan, an attorney, was called on to present the booby prize. He called Charles Wuichet to front stage and said, "Edward Bulwer-Lytton remarked in Act II of his great play Richelieu :

            'In the lexicon of youth, which fate reserves

            For a bright manhood, there is no such word

            As "fail ." '

            "But you, sir, will find that little word 'fail' written within this book." He held up the speller. "And you have failed. You now will receive this little token, which the ladies of the Woman's Christian Association tender to you for your participation in the struggles of the match tonight. You have fought nobly and your picture and biographic sketch ought to adorn the illustrated atlas of Montgomery County. This is the happiest moment of your life."

            He handed the red-faced but smiling president of the board of education the book, and the audience shouted and clapped hands with great delight.

            The great WCA spelling bee was hailed in the press as the finest spelling bee ever held in the city of Dayton. It was also the last large public spelling bee, because the next week a skating rink opened downtown and supplanted spelling bees as the favorite Dayton public entertainment.

            The good ladies, however, after paying all expenses, cleared $300 for the Widows Home, and $300 in 1875 went a lot further than it does today.