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When Women Got Out the News

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, October 30, 1932

 When the Women Got Out the News
By Howard Burba

      It is regrettable that everybody in Dayton couldn’t have crowded into that little auditorium at the Young Womens’ league the other night when Charlotte Reeve Conover was reminiscing.  It is likewise a matter of regret that the spirit and enthusiasm of the occasion could not be caught and passed on to the whole community.  For if ever the high-mindedness and civic-righteousness of the women of Dayton was truly and inspiringly pictured, Charlotte Reeve Conover painted that picture in her informal talk at the Young Womens’ league.
     It was far more, however, than a tribute to the indefatigable zeal of Dayton womanhood.  It was in a large way a triumph for the speaker herself since a flood of congratulatory messages has fallen upon her ears, and enthusiastic listeners, fortunate enough to be within sound of her voice the other evening, are enthusiastically declaring that “no one could have told it like Charlotte Reeve Conover.”
     Happily, too, that fact will serve as an alibi for my own poor attempt at retelling the story of how Dayton women got out The News.  But it is too good and too interesting to escape a place on these pages, pages of the selfsame newspaper that was for one entire day, completely in the hands, under the direction and wholly and solely guided by the little group of women represented in that assemblage a few evenings ago when Mrs. Conover retold the story of that historic day.
     It was a good deal like sitting down with a very dear friend and poring over the pages of an old and treasured assortment of family documents, sitting there listening to this remarkable woman of equally remarkable memory.  As you shifted a little farther toward the edge of your chair for fear one word from her lips might be lost, you noticed your neighbor was doing the same thing.  And now and then, as a pathetic bit of the story of the struggles and early sacrifices of this little band of Dayton women was told, you didn’t feel the need of apologizing for dampened eyelids.  There was a visible tear in the eyes of the ones who sat about you, too.
     Charlotte Reeve Conover reached into that miraculous mind of hers much as one would reach into a card index system, and drawing forth a memory page, labeled “May, 1895,” she told how ten members of the young woman’s department of the Y. W. C. A. answered a call issued by Etta Wolfe to discuss plans for forming a new organization to replace that branch of activity then about to be discontinued.  She even remembered the names of those ten women—Clara Sawyer, Edith Pryor, Etta Auchey, Phena Martz, Fannie Koch, Frances Spirk, Sarah Rosenthal, Alice Lane, Mary Grimm and Mrs. Katherine Jordan.
     She told how that meeting found these young women not alone anxious, but determined to carry their plans to a victorious conclusion, and how they set about spreading the details of those plans among their sisters in various parts of the city; how they held another meeting on June 12, 1895, at the home of Mrs. Charles H. Kumler, and how the eager desire of the fifty girls present to have an organization of their own overruled all discouragement and melted down all objections.
     Then came still another meeting, this time on July 26, 1895, at the home of Lula Smith, on S. Jefferson st.  The roll was called and as each young woman arose she gave the names of friends who were anxious to become affiliated with such an organization.  And then the preliminaries were dispensed with and the formal organization accomplished.  A membership fee of two dollars a year was agreed upon.  One month later, on Aug. 26, in the Sunday school room of the First U. B. church the Young Women’s League was formed, a constitution adopted, and the following board of directors named:  Miss Alice Jennings, Mrs. W. A. Phelps, Mrs. W. J. Conklin, Mrs. William Plattfaut, Miss Mary M. Kumler, Miss Alice Lane, Mrs. John R. More, Mrs. Hannah S. Frank, Mrs. J. E. Gimperling, Mrs. Charles H. Kumler, Miss Leoti E. Clark, Miss M. Etta Wolfe, Mrs. D. L. Rike, Mrs. Robert E. Dexter and Miss Leila Thomas.
     One of those pathetic moments referred to a little farther back came when Mrs. Conover called for all of the original charter members to stand, and but five women arose to their feet.  But it was an enthusiastic reception those five pioneers received.
     “You remember how we struggled along,” said Mrs. Conover, addressing her remarks apparently to those five charter members, “trying to find a permanent home for our organization.  Starting without a single piece of furniture, or a dollar in money, but all the confidence in the world—how can any of us ever forget it. Classes meeting in three different places—the courthouse, the Davies building and at Prof. Shauck’s schoolroom.  Few chairs and no blackboard, but always a lot of girls who wanted lessons and a teacher who wanted to teach—their services donated the first year.
     “Can we forget the day we engaged Adah Boyer to manage the lunch room and the leasing of the room at 231 S. Jefferson st., every woman in the organization pledging herself to be personally responsible for raising the rent for the first year?”
     She pictured the opening of that first League activity on Nov. 18, 1895.  She even went into financial details, and told how at the September meeting, one year later, the treasurer’s report showed a balance of but $44.65 in the treasury.
     Three years of constant struggle, three years of meeting and overcoming obstacles which promised more than once to dash the little barque to pieces and jagged financial reefs.  And then a new era of enthusiasm, a new birth of determination.
     “We had to have a more central location for the lunch room,” explained Mrs. Conover.  “But how to get it--there was the dilemna.  There was but one way out, and that to make a ‘good plunge’ and buy a site in the very heart of the city.  The residence of Dr. Adams, at 24 W. Fourth st., was for sale.  He put a price of $23,000 on it—but there hadn’t been a single dollar saved for that purpose.  There was an unswerving devotion to the League, however, and enthusiasm for its work and unlimited energy to be spent in its cause.
     “These suggested and carried out the numerous enterprises for raising money with which to pay the building.  First there was the “Grand Bazaar of Nations,” held in the Kuhns building on Nov. 5, 1898.  It continued for nine days, and $5000 were the net proceeds for the first payment on the new League home—it’s present site.  On Dec.1, 1898, the League secured possession of the property and moved into it.”
     Those were the happy days, as Charlotte Reeve Conover pointed out; days when every member of the League saw that tremendous obligation incurred through the purchase of the Adams property as a new star in the sky; days when the actual joy of service was recognized and no task counted insurmountable.
     “Who remembers the Christmas trees for the poor children which the League had in 1896 in N. C. R. hall on S. Jefferson st., and in 1897 at the Fourth Presbyterian on Summit st?” she asked.
     “Remember that jeweler W. H. Best designed the League pin in 1896; how Mrs. A. M. Kittredge gave the League its first outfit of table linen and Mrs. Wesley its first set of dishes; that the Sistine Madonna in the parlor was the gift of Mrs. D. L. Rike and the two Davis sewing machines donated by Mr. Frank Huffman?”
     And then she told of that red letter event of League history—the day the women got out The News.
     There was much debate and no little foreboding the day the publisher, James M. Cox, offered to turn the entire News plant over to the League for one day, and to give to the organization all the money it could make off of that day’s issue.  No such undertaking had ever been attempted before in this part of the country.  Was the League capable of carrying out such an enterprise?  That was the questions they asked themselves.  Yet there was but a single answer when they paused to contemplate that big debt on the League home—that answer was “We will.”
     So under the directing genius of Charlotte Reeve Conover The News office was for the entire day of Saturday, March 30, 1901, turned over to members of the Young Women’s League.  For once in the long and honorable history of the publication the cuspidors enjoyed a holiday, the smoke of vile pipes and stogies was conspicuous by its absence, and the scent of choicest perfume replaced the aroma of beer and limburger, supposed in those days to be a natural requisite of every newspaper office.
     Charlotte Reeve Conover, “master mind” of this proposition, never had any qualms or if she did she was diplomatic enough to conceal them, about the final outcome of the stupendous undertaking.  Always a gifted writer, and long tied in closely with a distinguished literary family, the very fact that she was to be “Editor-in-Chief” lent confidence to her sister leaguers and served to endow them with the inspiration they needed for the gigantic task.
     She organized her staff.  And here is how it read in that never-to-be-forgotten issue of The News of March 30, 1901.

     Editor-in-Chief—Mrs. Frank Conover

     City Editor—Mrs. Charles H. Kumler

     General Manager—Mrs. Charles I. Williams

     Gen. Sec.—Miss Hortense Fogelsong

     Music Editor—Mrs. Katherine Houk Talbott

     Art Editor—Miss Annie Campbell

     Church Editors—Miss Van Ausdal, Miss Marie Durst, Mrs. F. J. Ach

     Schools—Mrs. A. B. Shatuck

     Fashions—Miss M. E. Culp

     Telegraph Editor—Lorena Dill

     Woman’s Page—Mrs. Eva Best

     Children’s Dept.—Mrs. W. A. Phelps

     Club Editor—Mrs. E. A. Parrott

     Sports Editor—Miss Isabel Parrott


     Fire Dept. –Miss Mary Dixon

     Police—Mrs. Mabel Withoft

     W. C. A.—Miss Hughes

     Jail—Mrs. Margaret Stout

     Hospitals—Miss Dissinger, Mrs. Rottermann

     The Courts—Miss Celeste McCann, Miss Clara Shank

     G. A. R.—Mrs. Lyon

     W. R. C.—Mrs. Shoemaker

     Special Assignments—Miss Evans, Miss Willoughby, Miss Denise, Miss Shauck, Miss Sawyer.

     That represented the local staff.   But it does not contain the names of the brilliant array of talent which Mrs. Conover called to her aid when she outlined the work of issuing The News.  Copies of that particular issue are highly treasured now by a good many Miami Valley families; they are sacredly kept in the archives of the newspaper itself.  And one glance at the League edition shows a list of notables such as The News, and no other Ohio newspaper, ever boasted in a single issue, before or since.
     For instance, spread across the top of one section was a personal message of inspiration and helpfulness penned by the great and only “Teddy” Roosevelt, written at his desk in Washington while he was vice president; cheering words, congratulations, and good wishes in other special letters or articles by William Dean Howells, at one time a printer’s “devil” in a Dayton newspaper office; Helen Miller Gould, Booker T. Washington, Dr. Washington Gladden and others.  “Gold bless the Young Women’s League,” wrote the good Bishop Potter in his signed article in that souvenir issue of The News, while Dr. Lyman Abbott and the dean of the American stage at that time, Joseph Jefferson, added their contributions to the unique and interesting array.
     “Your membership are all good people and soundly righteous” said the inimitable Mark Twain of “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” fame, “I know otherwise you could not have gotten together that tolerant combination of Protestant, Jew and Catholic.  You have all the elements of the universal brotherhood but one—the sinner.  Mind, he is the largest element of all, and the one that most needs your sympathy and countenance.  Yes, what you lack in order to be complete, is an abandoned sinner, an old professional.  Would I do?”
     There were 40 pages in that League edition of The News and, believe it or not, the paper went to press on time.  “It can’t be done,” Dan Kumler, the city editor, had said when he was told that the women were actually going to get out the paper and get it out on time.  But they went right ahead and did it while Dan and George Knecht and Ben Schieble and “Uncle” Charlie Ware, Joel Shoup, George Baker and Frank Breene reveled in their daily pinochle game in a smoke-choked card room at the old Beckel House.
     “The Y. W. L. has edited this paper!  There is no argument out of it!” reads one of Mrs. Conover’s scintillating editorials.  “But, inasmuch as in the whole ages of the world, kings, prelates and emperors were accustomed to consult an oracle about the affairs of state, so it is no relinquishment of editorial dignity to acknowledge that the ultimate source of appeal in the sanctum today has worn trousers.  We removed the ash receivers, but we kept the masculine point of view.  It has been Mr. Cox who has given steady advice of the right kind and kept the editorial staff from despairing surrender.”
     “It will be seen,” runs an editorial quip from the same versatile pen, “that the only prominent persons now living who are not connected by contribution with the League edition of The News are Edward VII and Mrs. Carrie Nation.”
     Out on the street a public equally as enthusiastic as the women themselves greeted the first cry of the newsies.  No pennies were in evidence that day.  Nothing but quarters and halves and dollars served, and The News presses were forced to run hours overtime to supply the demand.  Next day auditors checked up financial returns and the Young Women’s League had another generous sum to apply to its building debt.  They cleared more than $1800 on that one issue of The Dayton Daily News.
     And the credit for it?  Why go into that?  Could you have had any doubt about it that doubt would have been completely dispelled when you witnessed the reception that was tendered Charlotte Reeve Conover the other night as she stepped before that audience at the League to tell them the story I have tried to repeat after her.
     More than 30 years have passed since she directed the League edition of The News.  Many of those who assisted her have passed to “the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust.”  But Charlotte Reeve Conover we still have with us.  Let’s thank a wise and benificent Providence for that!