By Jordan Green
MIAMI COUNTY — March is Women’s History Month — a time for people to celebrate the historical and cultural importance of women and all the things they have done, and still do, to shape the world. In honor of women everywhere, here are just a few of the women of Miami County who have lived some incredible lives.
Dr. Sarah Ellen Furnas Wells of West Milton was born in 1834. At a time when women were thought of as only homemakers, Wells defied expectations. After graduating high school, she attended Earlham College and although she was not permitted to obtain a degree, she excelled in her courses. After that, she went to Oberlin College and received her A.B. degree.
From there, she attended the Women’s College of Medicine in Philadelphia and the New York Medical College for Women ultimately becoming an instructor at the latter after earning her M.D. Wells, in search of equal treatment from her medical peers, left for Vienna, Austria for post-graduate studies at a medical school. She used her time abroad to travel Europe with stays in Paris, London, and Italy, lecturing at universities wherever she went.
She returned to her post at the New York Medical College and quickly fell ill. Taking a sabbatical, she moved to London where she met her future husband, Dr. Rufus Gibbon Wells, a doctor and avid hot-air balloonist. Together, they traveled the entire world over a span of 10 years. Wells climbed Mt. Vesuvius months before it erupted, served as the Court Physician to the Queen of Bhopal in India, attended the Coronation of Tsar Alexander III of Russia, and worked as a women’s doctor in the Ottoman Empire.
She returned to the New York Medical College, this time, as the Professor of Anatomy and Obstetrics, and later co-founded the Women’s Medical College of the Pacific Coast. Finally, she returned home to West Milton to write her book, “Ten Years Travels – Around the World.” After publishing it in West Milton, she returned to traveling with her husband until he died. Wells then moved to St. Louis where she raised 15 cats and ran an apothecary until her death in 1912.
Aunty Green lived in Troy in the mid-nineteenth century. The Milton Union newspaper from March 13, 1895, said she was, “torn away from her children, sold south to work in the rice fields, then in some way secured her liberty.” Green lived a life of solitude after coming to Troy and rarely spoke of her past.
After a few years of living in Troy, a group of slave-hunters showed up to abduct her. They shot open the locked doors of the church she was living in and busted into her quarters. Green had disappeared. There are theories as to how she managed to escape, though none can be confirmed. What can be confirmed is her bravery and perseverance to secure her freedom.
Olive Gordon Williams of Troy was born in 1867 and died in 1925. She was the daughter of Civil War Captain Elihu Williams. Williams graduated from Troy High School in 1886, the same year her father was elected to Congress. She served as his secretary in Washington D.C. and later became the D.C. correspondent for various Miami County newspapers.
After two terms in Congress, her father purchased a newspaper and renamed it, the “Buckeye,” for which Williams was the editor. She later traveled the world with her uncle, Judge Henry Williams, making stops in Europe, Asia, Hawaii, and San Francisco before coming back to Troy.
Hanah Smith Gahagan was one of the first women elected to a Board of Education in the country. She was elected in 1895 one year after the law was changed to allow it. Gahagan’s election prompted outrage according to The Miami Union newspaper who received telegrams from around the country expressing outrage and confusion. She also served as the President of the Troy Altruism Club in 1906 and 1907.
Gahagan is the grandmother of Helen Gahagan Douglas, a U.S. congresswoman from California who served three terms and is credited with giving President Richard Nixon the nickname, “Tricky Dick.”
Little is known about Mary Whittington of Troy. What is known is that she was the first female employee of the Hobart Corporation and gave the company a loan that allowed it to stay in business — protecting many jobs and ensuring economic growth in Troy for years to come.
Nancy Currie-Gregg was born in Wilmington, Delaware but grew up in Troy. She graduated from Troy High School in 1977 before going on to Ohio State University, where she received a B.A. in biological science. She went on to the University of Southern California for her masters and the University of Houston for her doctorate in industrial engineering.
As a member of the U.S. military Currie-Gregg logged over 3,900 hours of flights as a Master Army Aviator and achieved the rank of Colonel. In 1987, she was assigned to work for NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. At NASA, she worked as an engineer and astronaut while earning her Ph.D., spending over 1000 hours in space in a multitude of missions. Her last flight was in 2002 on the STS-109 mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. During that mission, she operated a 50-foot-long robotic arm used to retrieve and redeploy the telescope.
Currie-Gregg now serves as a professor for the Department of Industrial Systems & Engineering at Texas A&M University.
There are many more women deserving of being included and every woman in this country is deserving of praise for the work they do. During this last week women’s history month, be sure to take a moment and recognize the sacrifice and achievements of the women in your life.
For more information on historical women in Miami County, visit the Local History Library located at 100 W. Main St. in Troy.