Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Remembering Cynthia Cleveland

Earlier this month, we posted a short video clip about a January 4th presentation given in Spearfish by Black Hills State University professor Laura Palmenero-Chilberg.  She surveyed the role of women’s clubs across the region and in the United States, but gave special emphasis to Spearfish and the northern Black Hills.

You’ll find a short summary of her “Early Spearfish Women’s Clubs” presentation on the Spearfish Area Historical Society web site.

Cynthia Cleveland
Shortly afterwards, LCHS President Jerry Bryant shared with us a newspaper clipping about another “women’s club” (of sorts!) that had major influence across the country – and a lady who played a key role in its development.

She was Cynthia Eloise Cleveland.  Reputed to be a distant cousin of president Grover Cleveland, Cynthia was born in New York in 1845.  The family later moved to Michigan and then to Nebraska.  By the time she was in her 30’s, Cynthia Cleveland had become actively involved with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

“After a brief four-year association with WCTU, Cynthia was offered an appointment by the national office as president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the Dakotas,” writes Bryant.

Conversations with Jerry Bryant have revealed that Cynthia Cleveland was much more than a traditional pioneer woman.

Lecturer.  Temperance activist.  Author. Attorney.  And a favorite of the media, at least in her earlier years.  Of course, “the media” consisted mostly of newspaper folks, publishing papers in even the smallest of communities. 

Jerry Bryant
“In the short span of three days,” says Bryant about Cleveland’s 1881 arrival in Deadwood, she “swayed the Deadwood press into believing that her cause was not only just, but that her approach was logical and her views anything but fanatical.”  The Black Hills Daily Times published many of her articles and wrote that Cleveland was probably “the best single-handed talker who ever visited the Hills,” and that “it would do the old sinners of Deadwood a world of good to go and hear her at least once.”

Many Black Hills history buffs likely have never heard of Cynthia Cleveland, and those who have probably know little about her.  Her's is a story worth telling, and so a few years back Jerry Bryant researched and wrote, “Cynthia in the Dakotas,” which briefly chronicles her life.   

Cynthia Cleveland left a pretty big swath across Dakota Territory long before women were allowed even to vote – let alone serve as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives! You’ll find Jerry Bryant’s piece well worth the read.