Guest commentary They made difference in our community

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"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is mere tenacity" - Amelia Earhart (Readers Digest)

For more than 30 years, the nation has recognized March as Women's History Month. And so it has come around again and there are so many accomplished women to celebrate in this country I couldn't begin to name them all or how proud I am of them.

So I have narrowed down the search to my hometown, paged through the dusty files of history and found some of the women in Beloit who made a difference and whose efforts are still significant today.

In health, education, the arts and more, they were women who found their courage, stepped up and did more to find success, help their families or their community.

Anna Luetscher Hawley


Anna, a registered nurse employed by the Beloit Health Department, became Beloit's first visiting nurse. In her first year, she made 1,514 house calls in Beloit and South Beloit working Sundays and holidays as needed.

She made these calls by walking or riding the streetcars until businessmen provided the Visiting Nurse Association with a 1917 Ford Roadster. Most of her visits were to new mothers and infants, undernourished children and people with tuberculosis. In 1916, a newspaper story credits the work she did for reducing the infant mortality rate from 98 to 56.

Yee Shee Gok Wong


She was the first woman of Chinese ancestry to settle in Beloit. Her husband and his uncle owned the The Chop House restaurant

In 1938, however, her husband was shot and killed. She was left with their seven children, ages 14 months to 14 years. Relatives urged her to come back to Hong Kong. Hardly knowing the language or culture of this country, she somehow found the courage to stay, becoming mother and father to her children.

The children were bestowed with a sense of ambition, courage, love and family loyalty, according to the family. All of her children earned college degrees.

Helen Brace Emerson


Helen was a teacher who loved art and who worked to develop the art department at Beloit College by donating from her personal collection. Through her efforts, the department grew in size and reputation and the college's art collection led to the development of the Wright Art Museum.

Sadie Loraine Bell


Sadie is recognized as a pioneer in the breaking of the color line of her day by becoming an outstanding and successful retail sales person. The elegant Clara Stone's store was one where she worked.

She also was involved in Beloit's first protest sit-in by African-Americans at Kresge's restaurant, despite personal threats. With the help of her efforts, restaurants in Beloit became open to all members of the community.

Mary Divine Leindorf


Mary was one woman who cracked the glass ceiling in the world of male-dominated heads of industries.

She joined Warner Electric Brake and Clutch Company in 1924 and worked there for 48 years. She worked her way up to become Vice President and Treasurer of the company. After retiring from Warner's, she became the President of the First Savings and Loan Association and a member of the Board of Directors.

Mary also was a charter member of the Zonta International Club for women.

Dr. Mary Bartlett


Dr. Mary first earned a teaching degree and later earned a diploma from Hahneman Medical School, Chicago, the first university to grant medical diplomas to women.

She practiced homeopathic medicine and made house calls in Beloit day and night. During prohibition, she had trouble securing alcohol for medicinal purposes, yet found a way to obtain it. She requested local police officials to provide her with what she needed from speak-easy raids.

She treated the poor and all members of the community. Many people said they owed their lives to her for her treatments for pneumonia.

There is one more woman in Beloit's history I want to highlight. She is someone who influenced my life and aspirations to become a writer. She was by far the toughest teacher I ever had and the one who forced me to work the hardest because of her expectations. After taking her class at Beloit Memorial High School, freshman college English was a snap!

Evelyn T. Wehrle


Evelyn taught English in China and Wales. She then taught English and chaired the English department at BMHS from 1965-1982. After retiring, she became the Director of the Beloit Historical Society during the design and construction of the Lincoln Center and renovation of the Hanchett-Bartlett Homestead. Evelyn also was involved with many other civic endeavors.

There is much that can be learned from the lives of these women, what they experienced and accomplished and the inspiration they gave to others. They are among the types of role models we look up to for encouragement, support and the courage to follow our dreams.

They helped make Beloit a better place and in so doing, are among the many who deserve to be recognized for their skills and talents.

(Historical information gleaned from the Beloit Historical Society)

Debra Jensen-De Hart is a freelance writer whose work often appears in the Beloit Daily News. Before her retirement from full-time work she was the newspaper's features editor. - WRB

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