March is Women’s History Month and this is a good time to look at some of the interesting and notable women who have contributed to Lycoming County’s history over the past 240 plus years.
This women’s history has been well-researched and documented through the Lycoming College Women’s History Project that is coordinated and researched by Mary Siemenski and Jane Hurlbert.
The project is a cooperative effort of Lycoming College Snowden Library, the James V. Brown Library, the Lycoming County Historical Society, and Pennsylvania College of Technology Madigan Library. Other partners include the Williamsport Home, the Williamsport Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association, and the YWCA of Northcentral PA.
The project is directed by Snowden Library and the website is hosted by Lycoming College.
We at Webb Weekly would like to tell you about a few thumbnail sketches of some of these notable women, whose stories have been detailed by the Women’s History Project. Space allows us to detail just a few of these women, but we hope it will give you some idea of women’s contributions in a number of endeavors to our county.
One of the most remarkable women was Madame Montour, who lived in Lycoming County before it was a county and the area of the town of Montoursville became a town, the town that would partially bear her name.
She served as an interpreter, diplomat and guide for white Europeans who came to this area as well as parts of New York state.
Madame Montour played a role that was way ahead of her time for a woman and was a key figure in the diplomatic intercourse between colonial authorities in New York and Pennsylvania and Native American leaders.
She is reported to have died in 1755.
According to the Pennsylvania State Historical Marker devoted to her and erected in 2010, Julia C. Collins, author of the novel, The Curse of Caste, the work is considered among the first published novels by an African-American woman. It was serialized in the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s publication, “Christian Recorder.” It circulated nationally giving Collins wide exposure to her work.
There is little background information available about Collins, though it is suppose that she would have lived in the mostly African-American section of Williamsport on Mill Street, near the Susquehanna River, in the area now covered by the Wegmans supermarket.
Collins is reported to have died sometime in 1865 as noted by the Christian Recorder.
Mary Slaughter was an African-American philanthropist who was born a slave. In 1897 she established the “Home For Aged Colored Women” here in Williamsport. The Home provided shelter and aid for women who might because of their color receive such help. It was funded by donations from local philanthropists, donations from the community and a small $10 a month fee that she charged. She personally went to Harrisburg to lobby for state funding and was successful in her quest, despite her limited education. She died on January 14, 1934.
Dr. Jean Saylor Brown and Dr. Rita Church were Lycoming County first two women physicians and were instrumental in the organizing of the Williamsport Hospital.
Brown was born in New Jersey in 1843 and came to Williamsport when she was 11 years old. She showed a scholastic bent early on and graduated from Dickinson Seminary in 1862 and earned her medical degree at the Women’s Medical College in 1874.
While at Women’s Medical College she became friends with Rita Church and persuaded her to bring her medical skills to Williamsport. Together they helped to professionalize what would become the Williamsport Hospital. The two were also the guiding force in the establishment of a School of Nursing at Williamsport Hospital.
Brown is reported to have performed the first operation “worthy of mention” by a physician in Lycoming County. Dr. Brown was one of the founders of local YWCA in 1893.
Jean Saylor Brown died in 1928 at the age of 84.
Church moved to Lock Haven and helped to establish the Lock Haven Hospital. She worked there until 1900 when she became blind and spent the remainder of her days at a nursing home in Elmira, New York.
The Temperance Movement was one of the great social movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was active in Lycoming County as well and the woman who was responsible for that activism was Jerusha Bailey Mussina, better known as “Mother Mussina.”
Mussina’s activism in the Temperance Movement was probably most notable in 1874 when during the first week of March 1874, Mussina and about 80 or 90 women marched on various hotels and public houses that served intoxicating liquor picketed them and lectured the patrons and proprietors on the evils of “demon rum,” hoping to shame some of them into sobriety.
Mussina was 60 years old when she engaged in this crusade and was noted for her charitable and church work in Williamsport. When a local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was established, she was elected its first president.
“Mother” Mussina died in 1887 at the age of 73.
Frances Tipton Hunter may be Williamsport’s answer to Norman Rockwell, like Rockwell, she gained prominence for her drawings that were used for magazine covers. She was an acclaimed watercolor illustrator.
Her illustrations graced the covers of many nationally prominent magazines such as Collier’s, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Look, Red Book and The Saturday Evening Post (the same magazine that Norman Rockwell had numerous cover paintings for).
She worked mostly in watercolor and pen and ink. Her oil works were unsigned and never sold.
She was named to “Who’s Who In American Art” in 1938 in recognition of her extensive and well received children’s illustrations.
She illustrated two books, The Frances Tipton Hunter Picture Book and Boo, Who Used To Be Afraid of the Dark.
Her work has been compared favorably to such artistic luminaries such as Maxfield Parrish, Douglas Crockwell, Paul Dentlef, and of course, Norman Rockwell.
She was born in Howard, Centre County, but came to Williamsport when she was six.
After graduating from Williamsport High School, she attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts where she graduated with honors, under the tutelage of the noted illustrator Thornton Oakley. She later studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.
She died in Philadelphia on March 2, 1957 at the age of 61. She was buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in that city.
These are only a few of the women who have helped to shape life here in Lycoming County. We hope this helps to give you a keener appreciation for the critical role that women have played in Lycoming County’s history.