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Monroe Historical Society
Box 212
Monroe, CT 06468
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Women of Monroe - Herstory

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by Nancy Zorena

Grace Stevens
(1904-1984)

was born in 1904 and died just a few weeks shy of her 80th birthday. She lived across the street from the East Village Methodist Meetinghouse where she was a lay leader and Sunday School teacher. As a child she walked across the street to go to school at the East Village - Barn Hill schoolhouse. After 8th grade she went to Shelton High School along with the minister's son, who drove the horse and wagon in good weather. During the week in the winter, Grace lived at "Mother Ruffles Boarding House" in Shelton, and returned home on the weekends. She went on to graduate from Danbury Normal School. At 21, Grace was the youngest member of the Monroe Board of Education and served for 35 years, with 25 years as Chairman of the Board. Occasionally, she would work as a substitute teacher in the one- room schoolhouses. Grace and her husband Mickey raised three children. She was a Girl Scout leader, a 4 -H leader, a member of Maids and Matrons, and The League of Women's Voters. Serving the community continues to this day in her family. One of her grandsons, Gerry Stevens, is the 2006 Monroe Teacher of the Year and another grandson, is a Connecticut State Trooper.

The Smith Sisters: Matilda "Tilly" Smith Hetherington
1892-1944

An early activist, Tilly Smith is credited with saving the East Village section of Monroe from demolition. Around 1920, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company wanted to buy up all of the properties and level them and perhaps flood that area. Tilly fought the Water Company and rallied the neighbors to stop this from happening. She founded the Maids and Matrons who raised money to stop the destruction of East Village. They performed plays and musicals to save the 1811 church, 1790 schoolhouse, and early homes of East VillageTilly was a determined woman who took a stand and saved a special part of our town from being destroyed.
Her sister Harriet Smith Hawley (1887-1973), a children's book author, wrote several books including Bless You Betsy. Both sisters taught Sunday School. Their father, Reverend Arthur Smith was the minister of the East Village Methodist Church. . Before her death, Harriet gave the Monroe Historical Society an old family heirloom - a Bristol, Connecticut mantel clock from her family home in East Village and copies of the children's books that she had written in her lifetime.

The Wheeler Sisters:
Rose (1877-1975), Jessie (1874-1948) and Lillian (1869-1948)

three very generous sisters who shared their wealth with those less fortunate. Their parents Frederick and Estelle Brewster Wheeler left them a large farm on Wheeler Road. They never married and during the Depression in the 1930's, they employed three teenage boys who lived and worked on their farm. In their wills, they left most of their estate to the lads who ran the farm for them and had become life-long family friends. Lillian was the historian of the family and wrote with vivid recollection of life in old Monroe. Her writing tells of the early days of St. Peter's Episcopal Church on the Monroe Green and also her memories of attending the Monroe Center one-room schoolhouse. Her essays are great resources that teach us about times past.

The Burr Sisters:
Fannie (1858-1931) and Jennie (1872-1961)

pioneering women artists who lived on Elm Street on their parents' prosperous fruit farm. At a time when small-town farming women rarely pursued the dream of becoming artists, they traveled all the way to Yale Art School and Mt. Holyoke College (a long distance in those times) to study art. Fannie was one of the first females allowed to study at Yale's Art program at a time when most women were discouraged from such creative pursuits. They painted landscapes of their family farm during all the seasons, as well as places in old Monroe, and portraits of Monroe residents. Still lives, of flowers they grew on their farm, their mother's chickens, and of their farm cat catching a mouse-- provide images of the rural past. They also wrote daily journals and letters that vividly describe their lives, telling us all about old Monroe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The sisters were very devoted to their family and farm, and never married. They eventually put their art careers aside in order to continue running the farm into their old age.

Annie M. Moss
c.1850-1900

was an inventor who lived in Monroe Center in the late 19th century. She designed, created and patented a new kind of dustpan on November 7, 1882 and is known as Monroe's first inventress. The patent can still be found in the U. S. Patent Office. Her ingenious dustpan had a place to fit one's shoe to hold the dustpan in place while sweeping. Today, one of Annie's original dustpans remains in the collection of The Monroe Historical Society. Plans are in the works to reproduce the dustpan for a fund raiser. According to Ed Coffey, town historian, "Miss Annie M. Moss was a saleslady and a very talented and daring women in her day."

Jean Loveland
1920--2003

was the author of countless articles about Monroe as a reporter for The Bridgeport Post and The Newtown Bee for over 30 years. Her articles are archived on microfilm and serve as a rich resource about Monroe. One can imagine the countless town committee meetings that Jean attended to write the news articles. When she was a child, her father was the mayor of New Haven, and the family used to spend the summer in Monroe. Jean and her husband Harold raised five children in town. She was a Founder and Director of the Monroe Historical Society. In the early 1960's, when she learned that important artifacts of an early Monroe family - Fannie and Jennie Burr, were brought to the dump, she went there herself to retrieve them. In doing so she saved many old letters and diaries that tell us about life in old Monroe. Jean was the curator of the Monroe Historical Society's historic photograph collection, and enjoyed sharing photographs of old Monroe with the community.

Besse Smick
c.1911-1990

was the child of Jewish immigrants who settled and farmed in Monroe in the early 20th Century. After graduating from Normal School she became a teacher in the Monroe Center Schoolhouse. In June of 1935, she and her class witnessed the end of an era, as school would be moved to the new Monroe Consolidated School in the fall. There she taught one of Monroe's most noted artists, David Merrill, how to read. He struggled with reading in the early grades, and Miss Smick helped him overcome his difficulties and he became a successful reader. In the 1980's, David Merrill, who is a Monroe native, painted scenes of old Monroe that are still on display in Masuk High School's library. He dedicated the mural to his Monroe Elementary teacher, Besse Smick because she made such a strong and tremendous impact on his life. When David received a medal of merit for one of his first paintings, she purchased it. She was one of his greatest supporters and owned about 45 of David's paintings. Before retiring and moving to California, Besse was the principal of Stepney Elementary School.

Irma Nichols
1899-1971

was born in Easton but lived most of her life in Stepney. She attended Mt. Holyoke College from 1917- 1921 and majored in Economics and Sociology. Irma was an active member of the Stepney Baptist Church serving as a Trustee and was a charter member of the Monroe Historical Society. She sang in the choir, taught Sunday School, and was Chairman of Christian Education for Fairfield County Baptist Association. At the time of her death, she was the treasurer of the Monroe Historical Society and employed as the office manager of The Newtown Bee for over 20 years. Her friends and colleagues gave funds to restore the fireplace in the 1790 Barn Hill - East Village Schoolhouse, in her memory.

Gertrude Harshbarger
1903-1998

was an artist who lived on Purdy Hill Road with her husband, Physician Issac Harshbarger, and their three sons. Her enthusiasm was contagious and she is credited with encouraging everyone in town to pitch in and build the town's first public library, in the 1950's. Gertrude served as chairman of the First Elected Library Board for over ten years. She was an award-winning metal sculptor, and when Stepney Elementary School was completed in 1962, she created the large metal sculptures of the boy and girl that grace the front of the building. She also designed and constructed sculptures of the state flower, the mountain laurel, for the Connecticut State Capitol. Gertrude and her family gave the town a pond on Purdy Hill Road for use as a swimming hole and for ice skating. She was very active in Monroe's Garden Club and helped others learn to read as a literacy volunteer.

Mary O'Hara
1885-1980

author of My Friend Flicka and several other books, lived on Bagburn Hill Road for nearly 20 years. She lived in a barn she converted into a home in 1948. There she wrote her autobiography, Novel in the Making in 1951, which tells about the construction of her Monroe home and horse farm. Her novel, The Son of Adam Wyngate, was also written in Monroe. Area riders still recall how much they enjoyed riding at Mary O'Hara's estate "Tyrawley" on Bagburn Hill.

Edith Wheeler
1916-1993

is remembered as a benefactress who lived in Monroe for over 30 years. She is a direct descendent of Moses Wheeler who was one of the first settlers of Stratford in 1639. Edith was a gym teacher and head of physical education in Bridgeport. After retiring, she volunteered in the children's room at the Monroe Library. Before her death she set up provisions to share her wealth by founding the Edith Wheeler Memorial Fund. One million dollars of her fund was earmarked for the new Monroe Library that is currently being built. When the library is finished, it will be named the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library. She also left one million dollars to provide numerous local scholarships, and in this way her gifts to Monroe will live on forever. .

Credits: Edward Coffey, Marie Lederer, Gwen Kadrick, Philip Jones, Mary Stevens, Elma Jean Wiacek Monroe Historical Society Archives, A Glimpse of Old Monroe by Edward Nichols Coffey
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