Tippecanoe County Women to Know
The women of Tippecanoe County have done amazing things, both for their community and the world at large. Here are a few of the women from Tippecanoe County’s history that you should know.
Government and Politics
Catherine Dorner was the first female candidate for public office in Tippecanoe County (city clerk) in 1921. Cora Davis was the first woman to win a political office as County Auditor in 1922.
Mary C. Kennedy was the first woman in Indiana to be elected to serve on a city council. She was elected to the Lafayette City Council in 1929.
Sue Reser was the first woman to serve as a Tippecanoe County Commissioner from 1980-1984.
Sonya Margerum was the first woman to serve as mayor of West Lafayette, Indiana. Elected in 1980, she held the position for 24 years.
Artists & Musicians
Ida Hartman DeMotte was a child prodigy, born in Lafayette, who began playing the piano at age 3 and giving concerts at the age of 6. She toured the country as a soloist and both studied and taught at prestigious music schools.
Edna Browning Ruby was an award winning stained glass artist. Her work appears in many Tippecanoe County churches. In 1925, she designed the commemorative plate for the Tippecanoe County/ Lafayette Centennial celebration.
Sister Mary Rufinia immigrated from Germany to serve as a nun and nurse with St. Elizabeth Hospital. After an injury, she turned to painting. She received a master of fine arts degree and taught in Lafayette for many years. She widely exhibited her art and won a number of prizes for her oil and watercolor works.
Evaleen Stein was a poet and artist who wrote a number of children’s books and illustrated poems. Quiet and humble, she was friends with many other authors of her day including James Whitcomb Riley and Lew Wallace.
Flora Work Kern served as the first Vice President of the Tippecanoe County Historical Association. She wrote and gave numerous presentations on the history of Fort Ouiatenon.
Sarah Murdock Crockett published an early history of Tippecanoe County, Old Days and New in Tippecanoe County.
Alameda McCullough served as the Tippecanoe County Historical Association’s Curator for over 35 years. A county historian, she wrote columns for the newspaper, presented educational programs and helped TCHA publish a number of historical works- all while caring for a collection of thousands of artifacts in the county history museum.
In the 1920s, Evelyn Ball discovered and rescued the ledgers and watercolors of George Winter from a family-owned building about to be destroyed. Over the years, she worked with her husband to preserve and interpret the collection. In 1986, she donated the collection to TCHA for its continued preservation.
Want to learn more about the history of Tippecanoe County? Check out the writings of these historians: Paula Woods, Fern Martin and Mary Moyars- Johnson.
After her husband’s death, Gertrude Shambaugh took over the administration of the Shambaugh Garage, becoming one of the first women in the US to run a car dealership. She was an active member of many local civic organizations and won the 1968 Journal and Courier George Award for her charitable contributions.
Dr. S. P. Stephens was one of the first female doctors in Tippecanoe County, advertising her trade in 1862. Dr. Alice Pierce Fifield practiced medicine in Tippecanoe County from 1869 until the 1889.
Jessie M. Bigane was the first woman attorney admitted to practice in Tippecanoe County courts.
Laura E. Ingersoll served as the first matron of the Indian Soldiers’ Home (now the Indiana Veterans’ Home) for 38 years. She wrote the book, “History of the Indiana State Soldiers Home” about her experiences.
Dr. Adah McMahan settled in Lafayette and opened her own medical practice, specializing in women’s and children’s diseases. McMahan was active in the community as a staff member at both Lafayette Home Hospital and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, the physician for the Women’s Christian Home (1904-1910), and a member of the American Medical Association, the Woman’s Medical National Association, the Tippecanoe County Medical Society, and the Indiana State Medical Association. Dr. McMahan was also an active suffragist, hosting the first meeting of the Lafayette Franchise league in her home in 1912. During World War I, she traveled to France to treat victims of the gas units.
Activists & Philanthropists
Rebecca Gordon Ball authored poems, musical verse and sort stories. By the mid-1850s her poetry and short stories condemned the neglect of the poor and the cruelties of slavery. Her home was also a station on the Underground Railroad.
Alice Earl Stuart started the Free Kindergarten and Industrial School for Girls “for the education and moral training of the poor”. She also created a home for the elderly and supported efforts of Purdue University and the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.
After contracting AIDS in the early 1980’s, Amy Sloan sued several medical facilities for providing her with impure blood. In 1985, she gave birth to a healthy baby. She died battling AIDS in 1987. Her public work helped correct rampant rumors and expand awareness of AIDS, earning her numerous honors including a Sagamore of the Wabash.
Helen Jackson Gougar was the first female school principal in Lafayette. She worked tirelessly for women’s rights throughout her life. She studied law with her husband, eventually being admitted to the Indiana Bar in 1897. She wrote suffrage columns in her newspaper “Bric-A-Brac” and traveled the country given speeches in favor of women’s right to vote.
Marie Stuart Edwards, of Lafayette, was elected president of the Women’s Franchise League of Indiana in 1917. Prominent Tippecanoe County women were involved in the state organization. Ada Ellsworth Stuart (Edwards’ mother) was a Director, and Caroline Blackstock Morrison was the Recording Secretary. Lafayette also had its own branch.
Ada Ellsworth Stuart served on the board of the Women’s Franchise League. Stuart was also a member of the Monday Club, the Free Kindergarten and Industry School, the Community House, Needlework Guild of America, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.
Educators & Athletes
Emma Montgomery McRae spent many years teaching before taking the chair of English Literature at Purdue University in 1887. She held the position, along with Matron of the Ladies hall and counselor to women students, until she retired in 1912. Well respected in the education field, she was the first woman elected as president of the State Teachers’ Association in Indiana.
Sevena Alder was the first woman on the Lafayette School Board and served from 1917- 1920, even serving as president in 1919. She also served on the boards of Home Hospital and the Community House (later Duncan Hall). She was followed by Sarah Westfall, who also served as president of the school board.
Eva Dickey was the first librarian of the West Lafayette Public Library from 1923- 1941.
Corissa Yasen became the most decorated athlete in Purdue history by winning the NCAA heptathlon title (1996), nine all- American honors and 10 time Big Ten Conference champion.
Carolyn Shoemaker was the first Dean of Women at Purdue University (1912-1933) who set a high standard for the women who followed her in the position.
Dorothy C. Stratton served as Dean of Women at Purdue University before serving as a WAVE in WWII and then becoming the Director of the Women’s Reserve of the US Coast Guard and creator of SPARS.
Allison Bock won 10 state championships in swimming while a student at Jeff High School. In 1991, she won the bronze medal for 50- meter freestyle at the Pan American Games in Cuba.
Delia Silance graduated from Purdue University with a Master’s of Science in Education. She taught locally and out west. When she returned to Lafayette, she worked at Purdue and was an active social and civic leader. During her retirement, she helped administer scholarships to local African American students.