Posted: 7:00 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012

Mission engaged young women


Mission engaged young women photo
Pat Baker portrays Fannie Winger, founder of the Young Women’s Mission, an early women’s group whose members left their comfortable Victorian Era homes to care for Springfield’s sick and poor. Staff photo by Bill Lackey

By Tom Stafford

Staff Writer

Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0368 or —

To portray Fannie Winner at the Clark County Heritage Center on Saturday, Pat Baker donned Victorian clothing of the sort Winger might have worn when she founded the Young Woman’s Mission in 1898.

She also pored through the YWM archives to connect with the true character of the women who started mission work 114 years ago and were remembered at Saturday’s tea party for current members.

“These were all women from comfortable homes who had no idea what poverty was or how the other half lived,” Baker said.

The fact that they boldly went where no other women had gone, “that’s the most impressive thing,” she said.

The YWM story has its particulars: Grateful for her recovery from a lengthy illness, Winger organized it “for the sole purpose of benefiting the sick poor of our city in whatever way might suggest itself,” according to minutes from the founding meeting.

But Molly Wood, associate professor of history at Wittenberg University, said Winger and her compatriots acted at a time when women throughout the country were taking action.

“Because women were still largely excluded from formal political processes,” Wood said, “they increasingly formed alternative organizations … to propel themselves into public life.”

Leading them on the national level, explained Wood, was “a small but influential cadre of women trained in law, economics, etc. and especially the ‘new’ discipline of social work,” fields available to them because of recent access to information.

Virginia Weygandt, director of collections at the Clark County Historical Society, said women were drawn to social issues because they knew the importance of the home to the larger society and vice versa.

Still not everyone was pleased that the women were venturing outside of the home.

Hearing mission members had called on a woman with TB who shared a room with a male border, one woman refused to join, fearing for her reputation.

And in 1934, some members feared for their safety.

The YWM volunteers who staffed the Mother’s Clinic when it opened on Feb. 19, 1935, “actually expected to be arrested,” said mission member Margie Baldwin.

Their courage was needed to face another challenge, too: keeping expenses at less than $100 a month, “$85, if possible,” Baldwin reported.

“The first 26½ months, even with a telephone they ran it for $85.58.”

Years later, mission member Dr. E. Sue Miller ran the clinic, which Planned Parenthood now operates in the Park Shopping Center with mission support.

Miller’s contributions are remembered with an annual scholarship to a second-year female medical student. Baldwin said members also remember the 1935 case of a woman married 22 years, who had endured 21 pregnancies, had 11 living children and the memories of two stillbirths and eight miscarriages.

One of the mission’s fundraising traditions was a charity ball, the first held Nov. 6, 1899, at the Arcade Hotel. Tickets were $1.50 and Gov. and Mrs. Asa Bushnell led the grand march.

The last dance was held in 1980 at Memorial Hall, said member Rosie Anderson, who fondly remembers the events.

“We always had Ohio Edison hang all the lights from the ceiling,” she said. “They really made it look like a winter wonderland.”

The sandwich committee worked in advance, packing the sandwiches into shirt boxes from the fashionable Vogue Shop and storing them in the freezer at W.R. Hackett’s until the dance.

“We always had it between Christmas and New Year’s. Sometime’s we’d go in our long gowns with our snow boots on,” Anderson said.

She particularly recalls chairing the 1976 ball, when the Memorial Hall furnace gave out, and the fur jacket and posh outwear became fashionable indoors.

Similarly, Jane Warbington shares the story of a woman who drove her car through the front door of the mission’s Nearly New Shop shortly after shopping at the 923 W. Main St. thrift store.

Finding her battery dead, the woman got a jump start, apparently when her car was in gear.

The car “made a hairpin turn, went out in the street and went into the shop,” recalled Warbington, who was in the building at the time. “If it hadn’t been for some steps, that car would had probably gone through the shop and back to the railroad.”

It turned out for the best, she said, because the remodeled shop has turned out to be a steady source of income for mission activities. Another has been a gift of nearly $500,000 from member Mary Jo Bryan, who volunteered at the shop on Mondays when the golf courses were closed anyway.

The sense of connection members like Bryan have with the mission is a legacy of the sense of connection members have with one another.

Nancy Pyles, who volunteered with the now defunct sewing committee, said some regulars on the committee “called it their therapy.”

In the days before hospitals and nursing homes switched to paper products, volunteers sewed bibs for residents of nursing homes and the old Springfield Developmental Center. Before Pyles and member Pat Chiles were involved, the group sewed items for mothers and newborns in the maternity ward at Community Hospital.

“It was a wonderful group of women that tried to do their best for the community and enjoyed each other’s company,” Pyles recalled.

That may be one of the keys to what Weygandt considers to be the mission’s remarkable achievement.

“It’s remained a homegrown local effort, said Weygandt, “and it hasn’t been absorbed by a wider organization.”

Plus it’s 114 years old and still going.


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