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Quest mapped for locating women of the past

By Staff | Jul 20, 2015

Meeting in Montgomery to aid in research for the Lycoming County Women's History Collection are (seated left to right): Mary Siemenski, Mary West, Grace Walkup (Back row): Hannah Swaraer, Miriam McCormick, Martha Huddy, Norma Jean Alexander and Melinda Bender.

MONTGOMERY – After publishing an account titled “Women of Distinction,” authoress Mary Sieminski and staff are widening their scope beyond Williamsport. Currently the researchers are sweeping across the County in hopes of gleaning names of women and adding them to listings known as the ‘Lycoming County Women’s History Collection.’

Results from previous research have become a treasure trove to genealogists seeking to locate individuals. Of the list Sieminski said, “Our website receives about a thousand hits a month.”

These researchers have become aware that local libraries and historical societies are repositories for records of several defunct groups. Knowing this, the search has been successful in its primary purpose of identifying women. The functions of organizations are secondary and often well known as being branches of national groups.

On Tuesday, July 7 during their stop at the Montgomery Area Historical Society (MAHS), Sieminski and assistant Hannah Swaraer were met by a bevy of representatives from various local women’s organizations. These women brought reference items and in turn gave guidance on ways to aid the effort. “We are looking at the years between 1850 to 1950,” Siemenski said.

Greeting the group were MAHS volunteers Martha Huddy and Miriam McCormick. McCormick shared that during WWII, her mother, Mrs. Paul (Ruth Noll) Decker, was an integral part of Montgomery’s ‘Keep-’em Flying Club.’

Norma Jean Alexander, a past president of 15 years with the Women’s Auxiliary of Montgomery’s Bower-Decker VFW Post, said that their auxiliary was established in 1924.

Melinda Bender of Picture Rocks, Vice President of the Muncy Garden Club said, “Our group was officially founded June 5, 1939.” From a listing Bender identified its first and second presidents as Miss Jessie Shoemaker, followed by Mrs. Charles Sprout. Sieminski cited the signature as an example in the difficulty in truly identifying women saying, “In earlier days, it was common practice to use the husband’s name.”

Grace Walkup of Hughesville, President of the American Baptist Women at Moreland Baptist Church, took the following quote from a secretary’s minute book: “The Willing Workers met at the church to organize a Missionary Society on May 14, 1928.” Mrs. William S. Opp signed her name as secretary. By May 1932, the seemly more liberated secretary signed her name as Pearl K. Houseknecht.

Mary West of Hughesville, charter member of the town’s Business and Professional Women’s Club (BPW), brought proof her group was established in 1947. Now defunct, the BPW records were placed with the East Lycoming Historical Society (ELHS). West has agreed to review photo snapshots and name unidentified individuals.

“These are the kinds of things we’re looking for, records which may still remain in individual’s attics or basements,” Sieminski said. The researcher gave examples of items from which name lists may be gleaned from club minute books, annual event booklets, photo albums, newspaper clippings, diaries and letters. Also, be aware of items auctioned at estate sales, the source for the Moreland Missionary Society record book now at ELHS.

Siemenski said, “The importance of identifying the location of irreplaceable historical materials and encouraging their preservation cannot be overstated. Historians often lament how difficult it is to find primary documents relating specifically to the lives of women, which leaves huge voids in the record of our heritage. The continued efforts of the Lycoming County Women’s History Collection project (LCWHC) will increase the odds that these documents will be saved and can be used to benefit students and scholars today and in the future. “

For questions or inquiries about the LCWHC, contact Alison Gregory, Associate Dean and Director of Library Services at Lycoming College or call 570-321-4082, or gregory@lycoming.edu.