Even before Ohio was settled and established as a state, women were playing key roles in the local region. From blazing trails through the frontier to training future nurses and breaking barriers in law enforcement, women have helped shape the communities we know and love today.
Martins Ferry is believed to be the oldest European settlement in Ohio, dating to 1779 — three years before Elizabeth “Betty” Zane McLaughlin Clark made her famous dash for gunpowder during the siege of Fort Henry at what is now Wheeling. By doing so, she enabled the Americans inside the fort to defend it until help arrived the next day. Commonly known as the last battle of the Revolutionary War, the siege involved about 50 British soldiers and around 300 Native Americans.They held their fire as Zane walked to her brother’s cabin outside the fortified walls, but they realized her scheme as she returned with the gunpowder and opened fire again. She sprinted about 60 yards to make it back to safety.
Zane and her family later settled in Martins Ferry, where she is buried in Walnut Grove Cemetery. The family built Zane’s Trace and established several Ohio communities. A couple of centuries later, nurse and educator Ruth Brant Maguire came to Martins Ferry. According to information from the Belmont County Heritage Museum, she organized the Martins Ferry Hospital School of Nursing in 1925. The school, which graduated more than 500 nurses in its 40 years of operation, was later named for Maguire.
During her administration, the hospital grew in both size and scope of services. Additions to the hospital campus were added in four consecutive decades ultimately growing from 30 to 200 beds. After being closed for a year, the hospital reopened as East Ohio Regional Hospital earlier this year.
Another pioneering nurse was born in Martins Ferry and graduated from Mount Pleasant High School before earning her nursing degree in 1956 as the first African American student at the Ruth Brant School of Nursing. Today, according to the museum, May Hinton Wykle is a nurse, gerontologist, nursing educator, researcher and the first African-American Marvin E. and Ruth Durr Denekas Endowed Chair at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing of Case Western Reserve University. In 2011 she was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame.
“During her career as nurse and educator, May Wykle made it her mission to open up the field of nursing to more minorities,” the museum states..
As the nation celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, Belmont County voters made history by electing Kathy Crumbley as their sheriff. The museum states she was the first woman in American to win election as a sheriff in contested races during the primary and general elections. A larger than life, tall and imposing figure, Crumbley gained notoriety locally and nationally for her exploits in law enforcement. She also was a popular TV guest, appearing on programs such as “Hee Haw,” the “Johnny Carson Show and the “Mike Douglas Show.”
Born and raised in Bellaire, Crumbley served as sheriff from 1976-81. Afterward, she worked as a bounty hunter and private investigator and received many awards. She died in 2011.
According to the museum, however, Crumbley was not Belmont County’s first “Lady Sheriff.” Mary K. Dunfee filled the office following the death of her husband, who died on duty as sheriff in 1926. She finished his term in 1927, which was a common practice of the period.
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