Monday, July 17, 2017

Well Done Sister Suffragettes

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

2017 is the 100th anniversary of the passage of women’s suffrage in New York. It was passed as a ballot initiative on election day, November 6, 1917. It was the second time such a referendum had appeared on the ballot. The first was proposed in 1915. It passed in Chemung County with 52% of the vote, but failed state wide. So, what made the difference between failing in 1915 and passing in 1917? The hard work of countless suffragists.
The Women’s Suffrage Party of Chemung County worked tirelessly throughout the spring and summer of 1917 to raise support for their cause. They went door-to-door to speak with potential voters. They lectured on women’s suffrage at local churches. They handed out informational brochures and free soft drinks out the county fair. Who were some of these women and what did they do when they weren’t crusading for the vote?

Letterhead of the Women's Suffrage Party of Chemung County, ca. 1917

Mrs. George Pickering
Pickering of Elmira was the chair of the Women’s Suffrage Party of Chemung County at the time of the referendum. Deeply concerned with politics, Pickering was also involved in the Women’s League for Good Government, an impartial group working to end political corruption, and ran for local office in the 1920s.  She was active in the League of Women Voters for the remainder of her life. In addition to her political activities, she was also involved in the Women’s Federation for Social Services, worked as a fundraiser for various charitable causes, and enjoyed whisk. She was the wife of a prosperous dye manufacturer and thus had the money and time to devote herself to charity and politics. 

Miss Clutha Ralyea
Ralyea was the treasurer of the Women’s Suffrage Party of Chemung County and organized various fundraising efforts including a stand at the public market. During World War I, she was also involved in fundraising for the Red Cross. A graduate of Vassar, Ralyea also took summer classes at Cornell. As the daughter of a wealthy tobacco dealer, she appeared frequently in the social pages hosting and attending parties and bridge tournaments. In 1918, she married a Rev. Charles E. McAllister of Maryland and moved away.

Mrs. Harriet Frasier

Mrs. Harriet Frasier
Frasier was a resident of Wellsburg. She volunteered as a census taker in that village for the Census and Inventory of the Military Resource of the State of New York in the spring of 1917. As part of her duties, she visited every home in the village and took the time to spread the suffragist message in the course of her official duties. In addition to her suffragist work, she was an active member in the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and served as the chairwoman of the Wellsburg Liberty Loan Committee.  Her husband Robert was a commercial artist who served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the war.

Monday, July 10, 2017

200 Years in Time: The Lowman Family Clock

by Erin Doane, Curator

For over two hundred years, the clock that now lives on the first floor of the museum near the admissions desk has ticked away the seconds of history. George Lauman acquired the clock sometime in the late 1700s and it was passed through five generations of the family before finally ending up in the museum in 2016.

Lowman Family Clock
The clock’s dial is marked Osborne, Birmingham. The English foundry firm made dials from 1772 through 1813. At that time, it was common for dials and clockworks made in England to be shipped to the United States. While Osborne made the dial, the company did not make the wooden case. It was impractical and expensive to ship full clocks overseas so American cabinetmakers would construct the clock cases around the imported works.

The clock’s first owners, George and Esther Maria Lauman, lived in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Both had German ancestry and were members of the Lutheran Church. George served in the Revolutionary War and then made his living as a stone mason. He died at the age of 65 in 1809 when a horse kicked him in the stomach. Esther lived until 1831. Upon her death, the family clock was passed down to Jacob, the oldest of their nine children.

Headstones of George and Ester Lauman
in the Middletown, Pennsylvania.
(from The Lowmans in Chemung County, 1938)
In 1788, at the age of 19, Jacob started a business transporting goods on the Susquehanna River to Tioga Point, Pennsylvania. He loaded a boat with 20 tons of goods including tobacco, liquor, dry goods, clothes, guns, ammunition, and tools and traded those goods for grain, flax, hemp, and animal pelts. The enterprise was very successful and he expanded it to the Chemung River. In 1792, he purchased land in Chemung, New York and started a lumber business. At that time, Jacob changed the spelling of his last name to Lowman. Over time, he acquired hundreds of acres of land, including a parcel at the mouth of Baldwin Creek near where the hamlet of Lowman is now located. The hamlet is named after Jacob Lowman.  

Home of Jacob Lowman, Sr. built in 1819
(from The Lowmans in Chemung County, 1938)
Upon Jacob’s death in 1840, the clock passed into the possession of his youngest child, Jacob, Jr. His son also inherited the family homestead and other property. Eventually, Jacob, Jr. became the largest land owner in Chemung County with more than four thousand acres of productive farmland. He was involved in the tobacco industry and established the first tobacco warehouse in Elmira in partnership with John Brand. He also operated a distillery in Lowman with his cousin George S. Lowman which produced Old Lowman Rye Whiskey.

Original Sullivan Monument
Jacob Lowman, Jr. was one of the first trustees of the
Newtown Monument Association and was involved in
the building of the first monument to the battle and the
organization of the 1879 commemoration ceremony.
Jacob, Jr. never married or had children so when he died in 1891, the family clock went to George S., his cousin and business partner. George S. and Jacob, Jr. operated their distillery in Lowman until high taxes during the Civil War forced them to close. In 1872, George S. purchased a homestead in Wellsburg and built a block of stores downtown. A large hall above the stores was known as “Lowman’s Hall.”

Benedictus Ellwyn, grandson of George S., became the next owner of the Loman clock. B. Ellwyn was born in the family home in Wellsburg and attended Wellsburg Union and High Schools as well as Elmira Academy and the University of Pennsylvania. He was involved with the Thatcher Manufacturing Company in Elmira.

B. Ellwyn had one daughter but when he died the clock went to his sister Georgia’s family. Georgia was married to Chester E. Howell, Jr. The last owner of the family clock was their son George Lowman Howell. George Howell was well-known in Elmira and the wider community as a businessman and philanthropist. He was devoted to community service and the preservation of history. Before he passed away on November 22, 2015, he arranged to have the Lowman Family clock donated to the Chemung County Historical Society.

Lowman Family clock on display at CCHS

Monday, July 3, 2017

Naked and Steamy: Turkish Baths in Elmira

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
Public bathing was popular in antiquity, but came to the United States in full force by the 1890s. Larger baths were in cities like New York and Philadelphia, but Elmira had its own, too. There were different types of public baths in this time. One type was for poor people to bathe to help curb the spread of infectious disease in cramped cities. In addition to the germ-cleansing benefits, other people saw bathing and water as a cure for ailments, an idea put into practice at places like the Elmira Water Cure.  Another type were Turkish, Roman, or Russian baths, which were places for wealthier folks to relax and seek the health benefits of the steam. This post will be about the latter.

The Robinson Building where the Palace Bath Rooms were located.

The most impressive bath house in the city was The Palace Bath Rooms in the Robinson Building at the western corner of Lake and Water Streets. The business was originally operated by William Ware, and was then taken over by Peter Flynn in 1896. 
Circa 1912 advertisement for Flynn's Turkish Baths on an embroidered coverlet designed by William Brownlow and embroidered by the Friendly Class of the First Methodist Church on Baldwin Street, Elmira.
There were separate men’s and ladies’ days and hours so that the genders would never mix when folks were in such compromising states of undress (people had to find other places to pick up a member of the opposite sex). The Ladies and Men's days and hours changed over time, but in 1899, the hours were as follows: Tuesday and Friday, 8am-6pm were for ladies only. Monday, Wednesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 8am-10pm, and Tuesdays and Fridays, from 6 to 10pm were for men only. Local gentlemen took to the baths after they had spent an evening drinking to “boil it” out of them.

Patrons of the Palace could partake in Turkish, Roman, and Russian baths. These baths involved combinations of steaming in sauna-like rooms and dipping into bathing pools. The set up at the Palace was rather luxurious, as you can see from the images below, taken circa 1891.
The first hot room at the Palace.
The plunge and shower baths.
The roving room.
A trip to the baths ended in the cooling room.
The cooling room
 Baths were really popular and there were several books about how to set one up properly. In fact, Robert Owen Allsop’s 1890 book, The Turkish Bath: Its Design and Construction even included a chapter about how to set up a Turkish bath for a horse. It was primarily for the therapeutic treatment of race horses, but the author helpfully noted that “a bath for a horse will evidently be suitable for a cow, and might not be wholly beneath the dignity of a pig.” 

The Palace stayed open until at least the mid-1930s. Now, the idea of going out and getting platonically naked and steamy with our friends on a Saturday night is not so popular. But, public bathing culture is having a bit of a resurgence. Just last year, the New York Times ran an article, “After 124 Years, the Russian and Turkish Baths Are Still a Hot.” Apparently, the baths are gaining popularity with young people and “hipsters.” No word, however, on if the trend will be making its way back to Elmira anytime soon.