Any history of the past thirty years of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Ohio must recognize the achievements of our organization and many of our members. Ohio became a state in 1803 and the "Ohio Society" as it is called was founded in Cincinnati in 1896. This history surveys what our Ohio Society has accomplished between 1975 and 2005.
As an organization always interested in history, we have kept excellent historical records of our own to reference and draw from. In our Ohio Society today are third and fourth generation descendants of our first members, continuing the traditions of women who came before us and gave generously to the projects of the Dames of Ohio. We celebrated our "Centennial Year" in 1996 and the past "thirty years" represents almost a third of our total history as a statewide organization. Over these years we have striven to preserve documents, houses, and to create a "popular" interest in history, focusing on education. The Kemper House In 1951 the Ohio Society took responsibility for Reverend James Kemper's home that had been moved to the Cincinnati Zoo in 1912 from its original site in Walnut Hills. When you shake the cobwebs off our history, in 1975 on the eve of the nation's Bicentennial, the June meeting of the Ohio Society was held at the Cincinnati Zoo where, "Mr. Maruska, Zoo Director, spoke to us about future plans for the zoo, after which those who wished went to the see the white tigers." It seems that the future of the Zoo was not destined to include the Kemper Log House. In 1981 the house built in 1804 was disassembled and relocated at Heritage Village in Sharon Woods by the Ohio Society under the "auspices of the Miami Purchase Association in Sharon Woods Park." The little Kemper Log House has found a permanent home and it is today a slice of virtual history busy with the tours and children who participate in its original and vibrant programs.
From this move came the future dreams of a working Stone Kitchen and a house garden on the grounds you see today. More than $100,000 dollars was raised by the Ohio Society to complete the plans for the Stone Kitchen that would be built and opened in 1999. The Stone Kitchen that was built by the Ohio Society rekindled interest in the history of pioneer life in early Ohio and led to the creation of an educational program targeting third graders across our region. With the addition of the kitchen, the log house became known as the Kemper Complex and in 2002 the museum house received formal accreditation from the Museum Properties of NSCDA. The Dames cannot forget to honor the success of the Kemper Log House today with the stewardship for 30 years by the late Mrs. Richard T. Keys and her daughters, Mrs. Robert Galbraith and Mrs. Caldwell Sherrill while the log house was on the grounds of the Cincinnati Zoo and all the prior chairs of the Kemper Log House who served throughout this thirty year period.
In 1981 when the Kemper Log House made its slow move across Cincinnati to Sharon Woods, now Heritage Museum Village, history was in the making. In December 2003, the Ohio Society celebrated the Kemper Bicentennial with publication of the booklet, Kemper House Museum. The historical preservation of the Kemper Log House and its ultimate success could not have been possible without the efforts of the esteemed historical architect, Addison Clipson who was inspired by his wife, Dame Jean Clipson who served as President of the Ohio Society during the crucial period when the future of this Cincinnati icon hung in the balance. Jean and Addison's enthusiasm for this project, their ability to roll up their sleeves, and move us forward was poetry in action. They would be the first to credit all of those in the Ohio Society who participated in the raising of funds, supervising the move, overseeing the renovation and museum certification of the Kemper Complex and the efforts of so many involved with the success of the museum, today.
Dames Rhoda Brooks, Roxann H. Dieffenbach, Marge Fogg, Melody Sawyer Richardson, and Ohio Society Presidents, Betty Prince and Jean Zerges all gave generously of their time and talents and must be equally recognized. Nor must we forget the work of Mrs. Sidney D. Johnson. According to the Annual Report of the Historian in 1981-82," a rousing vote of thanks was given Mrs. Sidney D. Johnson for her work in preparing for the move and in raising the necessary funds.” It does sometimes take an "entire village" to march history forward. The Betts House In 1804 the Betts family moved to Cincinnati and built a brick house mixing clay from the ground on the family's new farm. In the early eighties, Martha Tuttle, a Betts descendant and Ohio Dame rescued her family home and in 1988 formed, the "William Betts House Restoration Group" that included Betts descendants, supporters and the Ohio Society. In 1994, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the state of Ohio became the owner of this unique and restored historic property. Today, the Society is the owner of the property, which leases it to the Betts House Research Center, an independent organization with its own board of trustees drawn from the community. More than half the board members of the Betts House Resource Center are Ohio Dames.
In 2005 the Betts House was recognized by the State of Ohio Bicentennial Committee with an historical marker and today the Betts House is considered by historians to be the "Oldest Brick House in Ohio." The "little brick house in the West End" has become a symbol of survival, revitalization and the pioneer spirit that launched a city. Martha's vision for the Betts House was larger than just granting a house for the Dames to manage; it also included the incorporation of the Betts House Resource Center that focuses on the historical documentation of building arts, an initiative that was started by her talented daughter, Elizabeth Tuttle Miller who served as the second curator of Betts House Resource Center while our small museum was just finding its legs. Today the Betts House Resource Center is making a name as an innovative museum destination that works toward providing programs that emphasize the building trades of early Ohio. Whether a program on Iron Works or a study on how the house and city grew, the Betts House is finding innovative ways to serve the community, including the much heralded "Bond at the Betts-House,” an annual summer program for disadvantaged youth, ages 10 and up that, “provides hands-on experience in such trades as bricklaying, carpentry, and metalworking as well as learning about career opportunities." This work has not gone unnoticed, and in 2004 Betts educators received an award for excellence from the Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) for outstanding achievements in "Historic Preservation in Education". The Betts House and Kemper Log House both celebrated their Bicentennial Year in 2004. As part of its year long celebration, a charming memorial "Bicentennial Garden" was planted at the back of the Betts House and "Bicentennial Notecards" displaying a romantic rendering of the 1804 farmhouse by the historian and artist Menelaos Triantafillou and the poetic verse of Dame Anne Gleason were printed. To honor of its treasured two hundred year old history, the museum hosted in the early fall a "Betts Bicentennial Garden Party." Dame Di Patterson was Chairman of the Betts House Planning Bicentennial Committee. The Colonial & Federal Gallery The Ohio Dame, Mrs. Lucien W. Scott Alter (Ruth Shippen) had been the power behind Charleston Room while she was alive from its inception in 1952 to her death in 1988. It is through a generous endowment to the Charleston Room at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Ohio Society by Mrs. Alter that every year a Decorative Arts Lecture and Tea is held at the museum in historic Mount Adams. In 2000 a complete renovation and rethinking of the Charleston Room at the Cincinnati Art Museum was explored. During this process the Charleston Room underwent an intensive museum review and reassessment, and from this new plans for the period room were born. The Charleston Room Committee and the Museum Properties Committee carryon the legacy of Mrs. Alter with their successful work with our partner, the Cincinnati Art Museum. In early 2000, however, museums were changing to meet the needs of a modern audience. Dame Clarinda S. Schmidlapp, Chairman of the Charleston Room Committee; Dame Eileen McCarthy, Museum Properties Chairman; and all who served on these committees during the transition period and reopening in 2004 deserve special recognition.
In 2005, the reopening of the new "Charleston Gallery" was capped with two major purchases by the Ohio Society, a Federal Mahogany and flame birch inlaid" card table" described as having "edged inlay and a rich and deep color" was purchased for $25,000 and an elegant sofa attributed to the nineteenth- century New York City furniture craftsman, Duncan Phyfe (1768-1854) was obtained from the New York antique market for $100,000. But no testimony of the ability of the society to answer to the demands of change could be greater than to walk through the Charleston Gallery today and see before us our splendid collection open to the public. It is as if the whole room opens up to us.
In the last thirty years under the stewardship of the Ohio Society the popular lecture series on Decorative Arts has continued to educate the public on American antiques. Part of Mrs. Alter's larger vision was to make this lecture open to the public. This tradition, carried on every year for the past thirty years, begins with the President of our Society making remarks before the program and afterwards all in attendance enjoying the elegant Tea in the Great Hall of the" Art Palace of the West.” From 1975, when Mr. Charles F. Hummel, Curator of the Henry Francis Dupont Museum lectured on "American Furniture" to 2005, when "The Jewelry of Louis Comfort Tiffany" was featured, the lecture series has furthered interest in the historical construct of art and decorative objects.
When Mrs. Alter died in 1988, the Dames honored her memory with the following words, "Mrs. Alter will be loved and missed by all who were privileged to know her."