My grandmother, Edith Barbara Lore was born on August 2, 1888 and died on January 4, 1960. Today, I’m celebrating what I feel is a landmark aspect of her life on this, the 59th anniversary of her passing over.
Life in Northern Indiana in 1920
The Presidential election of November 1920 marked the first time that women were provided with the right to vote (nationally) in the US. My grandmother, Edith, would celebrate her 12th wedding anniversary to John Ferverda on November 17th that year. She would have been 32 years old at the time, with a son who would turn 5 on November 24th.
Her husband, John Ferverda, owned the local hardware store in Silver Lake, Indiana, F&F, short for Ferverda and Frye. Edith and John were members of the local Methodist Church. John’s parents who lived a few miles up the road were Brethren, although apparently much less conservative than most Brethren of the time, judging by the fact that three of their sons served in WWI. Edith’s father had passed away, but her mother by 1920 had remarried and had moved to Chicago with her husband.
All in all, Edith seemed to blend in to the conservative heartland of Indiana “near-the-farm” life. While John and Edith did not own a farm, aside from chickens, they lived in a crossroads town that consisted of only 452 people in 165 households according to the 1920 census (yes, I counted), which meant that they were surrounded on all sides by farms and farm culture – which clearly flavored the atmosphere of tiny Silver Lake.
It was then and remains now a small, sleepy community where the local drive-in root-beer stand, the lake and the neighbors provided the only entertainment, outside of church of course.
At that time the B&K rootbeer stand, the drive-in on State Road 15 on the north side of town across from the Marathon Gas Station still remains. The cemetery, where virtually everyone in Silver Lake, including Edith, is buried is a block or so behind the gas station, towards the lake. I remember stopping at the rootbeer stand after visiting my grandparents’ graves. You also passed the cemetery and said a “drive-by” hello to any relatives reposing there on the way to swim at Silver Lake.
At that time, the cottages around the lake were separated from the town itself by the cemetery and a few farms which have been developed at least somewhat now. After all, the population of Silver Lake has doubled and the people have to live someplace.
It was into this community that Edith had moved from Rushville, Indiana after marrying John Ferverda. Rushville was significantly larger, with trips often to both Indianapolis and Cincinnati, vibrant centers of commerce and culture compared to Silver Lake.
Edith’s mother, Nora Kirsch Lore, started and owned a tailoring business after Edith’s father passed away, and Edith’s grandmother, Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, in 1920, hadn’t yet retired as the proprietor of the Kirsch House in Aurora, Indiana.
I’ve often wondered how Edith actually felt about settling in a small, extremely conservative town in the midst of a Brethren/Mennonite community.
Anabaptist Conservative Culture
Mennonite and Brethren wives didn’t work outside the home. They were identified with their husbands. When their names were mentioned, it was almost always as “Mrs. John Doe,” not as Jane Doe. They joined women’s church clubs of like-minded women and birthed lots of children to help with farm chores. These women worked hard on the farms, plus cooked, cleaned and took care of the ill.
I don’t know whether they liked or were happy with their lives or not. It’s doubtful that they gave that much consideration because it’s not like there were any other options, and their conservative church/family life is what they had been raised to revere. The words “obey’ were still in all wedding vows and were taken literally by both genders.
But not Edith. She had been raised in a culture of strong women, brazenly independent for their time, and had married into the Brethren culture.
I don’t know if Edith’s husband was “dismissed” from the Brethren Church for marrying an outsider, but regardless, he and Edith joined the Methodist Church in Silver Lake where they were life members.
The Methodists were somewhat less restrictive than the Brethren, but the conservative culture ran strong throughout the region.
Few women “worked,” at least outside the home, and for the most part, it was the perception and possibly the reality that the only women who worked were those who “had to,” implying that somehow their husbands weren’t manly enough or successful enough to support their families. If your wife worked, it was a slap in your face and implied some very “un-nice” things about you as a man.
In addition to their jobs, working women still had the same responsibilities at home, just much less time in which to accomplish everything. They generally didn’t garner the compassion of other women, who somehow felt that they “deserved” their fate and looked down upon them for working.
Edith worked anyway, as a bookkeeper, beginning in 1925, if not before. She literally worked from then, through the depression when there was no other family income, until just a few days before her death in 1960. Edith did what she needed to do for her family and God help anyone who got in her way.
This is the backdrop against which I’ve wondered how Edith felt about Women’s Suffrage. Women obtained the right to vote in August of 1920.
Did Edith vote in the 1920 Presidential election in which Republican Warren Harding won? If so, did she vote Republican or Democratic? Given how strongly Republican Kosciusko County was at that time, along with her husband’s strong political leaning, I’m guessing that I know which way she voted, assuming she voted.
I’ve speculated that indeed, she probably did vote because she was always a woman with an opinion and not afraid to speak her mind, in SPITE of where she lived and regardless of who approved, or not.
I’m not sure I’ve ever really appreciated Edith’s bravery under the circumstances. Social ostracization is a powerful deterrent, especially in a small town where it’s easy to become a minority of 1. Reading the local Indiana newspapers over the past several days as I’ve been sidelined by the winter crud has made me appreciate the life she led and the woman she chose to be.
It was in the Warsaw Union Newspaper, serving the 12,000 residents of Kosciusko County that I found clear evidence of Edith’s involvement in the election process – and the fact that she was indeed working at least episodically before 1925.
As it turns out, Edith was appointed to serve as clerk for Lake Township’s second precinct for the Special Election to be held on September 6, 1921.
Warsaw Union Newspaper, August 3, 1921, found on MyHeritage
Not only was Edith selected to serve on the Special Election board as Clerk, but Edith was NOT addressed as Mrs. John Ferverda, using her own first name. In later editions of the paper referring to the election and beyond, she was (generally) listed as Edith L. Ferverda.
When she married, Edith replaced her middle name of Barbara with her maiden name of Lore. For 1908, that was a radical way to preserve your birth surname and make a subtle statement. I think she would be proud of her granddaughter who retains her birth surname as well.
One of the ballot issues, as you might have guessed, had to do with women’s rights to vote.
On JStor, the Journal Article “Amendments to State Constitutions 1919-21”, pages 251 and 252, provides the following information about the special Indiana Constitutional Election:
And lastly, this…
Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, giving women the right to vote on January 16, 1920, following the proposal for the 19th Amendment proposed in Congress on June 4, 1919. The amendment didn’t become federal law until August 18, 1920 with Tennessee providing the 50th of the 99 required states to ratify the constitutional amendment.
So, how did the 1921 Indiana Special Election go?
Early returns on September 6th weren’t very positive.
At 2:30 on election day, it seemed that few voted. Women seemed indifferent, but perhaps those who didn’t want to vote, wouldn’t regardless of the Constitution, and those who did care had already gained that right.
Certainly, in Kosciusko County, there were very few non-naturalized females, if any. The topic probably wasn’t terribly relevant. The legislation was apparently in response to the recent war – or perhaps it was an attempt to limit the number of women voters. It would be interesting to understand why a separate amendment would be required if the law regarding citizenship was already in place for men. In 1851, in Indiana, section 2 of the Indiana Constitution read:
Section 2. In all elections, not otherwise provided for by this Constitution, every white male citizen of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who shall have resided in the State during the six months immediately preceding such election; and every white male, of foreign birth, of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who shall have resided in the United States one year, and shall have resided in the State during the six months immediately preceding such election, and shall have declared his intention to become a citizen of the United States, conformably to the laws of the United States on the subject of naturalization; shall be entitled to vote, in the township or precinct where he may reside.
Regardless of disparity, if any in 1921, between males and females, the amendment was passed, but county-wide interest seemed light, according to the Sept. 7th paper.
Only about 2.5% of the county population voted. The “tax amendment” was the least popular of any.
On a national level, today, noncitizens cannot vote in federal elections, but states control who can vote in state and local elections. Back in the 1700s and 1800s, vast tracts of land were available for homesteading and voting rights had been extended to immigrants who had filed their intention to become citizens in order to attract people by letting them know they could have a hand in deciding their own future. Territories needed to attract people to settle those lands in order to have sufficient population to become states, and states needed to have their land settled and cultivated as well, producing taxable revenue.
Edith, Leadership by Example
We will never know how Edith voted in the privacy of the voting booth, but her involvement in 1921, so soon after women obtained the right to vote tells me one thing positively. Edith was no wall-flower.
I imagine Edith walking up to the voting booth on that first election day in November of 1920, perhaps amid disproving stares, maybe with her child in tow, among all men, and voting anyway. A small but tiny act of protest. Then deciding that SHE would be the woman there to welcome future women and sealing the legitimacy of women in the polling place. Edith perhaps knew that the best was to effect permanent and positive change was through encouragement – that old honey versus vinegar adage.
Edith’s immediate involvement in the electoral process almost assures us that she DID vote, and DID care, and DID what she could in the time and place she lived to make a difference. Her name was in the newspaper, so EVERYBODY knew. She was the face of women in the polling place, the silent, or maybe not-so-silent, example for others. Encouraging participation. Encouraging involvement. Encouraging women to step out and step up to the polling booth – and to vote. They knew at least one woman, Edith Lore Ferverda, would be there to greet them with a warm reassuring smile and show them what to do – how to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Women setting examples and encouraging other women was critically important, with the small steps of thousands paving the way 98 years later for the swearing in this week of the 116th class of Congress, the most diverse we’ve ever seen as a country.
I like to think that in some small way, in the tiny community of Silver Lake, where Edith was front and center in Indiana’s 1921 Special Constitutional Election, willing to be present in the polling location, and the voting booth, seen and heard, that she in some way helped with the forward, positive momentum that set the stage for the day when women didn’t just serve as clerks, but in elected positions. Currently, 23.7% of the members of Congress are women, with 25% in the Senate and 23.4% of the House of Representatives.
Nearly a century is a long time, but I think Edith would be proud to watch the swearing in ceremony that just occurred. What a wonderful way to celebrate her passing-over anniversary. I’m incredibly proud to be her granddaughter and thankful for those old newspapers that revealed a previously unknown chapter in my grandmother’s life.
The journey of 1000 miles (or a hundred years) begins with a single step.
Edith, your small steps and public example were not in vain. Thank you!
Read more: dna-explained.com