New historic marker honors early Dayton women’s leader, suffragette

Patricia Smith Griffin’s years of research culminated on Sunday in a celebration unveiling a historical marker on the National Votes for Women Trail honoring her great-grandmother, Jewelia Galloway Higgins.

The celebration lasted all day, starting with a service and family history presentation at First Wesleyan Church and ending with an ice cream social in honor of the marker’s dedication.

The dedication was to be located at 236 S Paul Laurence Dunbar St., the site of the Women’s Christian Association, or WCA No. 2. Higgins founded the WCA No. 2 after she was denied entry to the YWCA because of her race.

Elizabeth Early, one of the attendees, is renovating the WCA No. 2, which will become the Early Visions Purpose Center. Once renovations are completed, the marker will be placed in front of the building where Higgins’ mission to empower women will continue through Early.

Weather moved the dedication to First Wesleyan Church, another significant location in Higgins’ family history. Jewelia was “first lady” of the Dayton church, married to Rev. Charles Higgins, her partner in life and civic service.

Griffin partnered with researcher Sherri Goudy to study 12 generations of her family’s history, learning more about Higgins and Charity Broady, her ancestor who was brought to Ohio in 1802. The Pomeroy Foundation contacted Goudy about their research and a possible marker on the National Votes for Women Trail.

Almost two years later, Griffin and Goudy verified the primary sources required to make the marker official. The markers on the National Votes for Women Trail are the result of professional historians reviewing primary sources, a long process.

“We know this historic marker for Jewelia Galloway Higgins will ensure Ohio’s pioneering women’s suffrage history will be celebrated for generations to come,” said Goudy, reading from a congratulatory letter on behalf of the Pomeroy foundation.

Shannon Isom, president and CEO of the YWCA, spoke next, honoring Higgins and the many other Black women who were advocates and activists before her. She highlighted how Higgins embodied the mission of the YWCA: “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

Higgins founded WCA no. 2, became one of Ohio’s first Black Red Cross nurses, started the Montgomery County Equal Suffrage Association and accomplished much more to advocate for women and the Black community throughout her life.

As the attendees raised their voices, singing a hymn, Griffin walked to the front of the church and unveiled the marker honoring her great grandmother. Thunderous applause erupted, celebrating Higgins, Griffin and the legacy their family has left on Dayton’s history.

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