County historian talks women’s history

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Hamilton County Historian David Heighway recently presented on prominent women in the county to commemorate Women’s History Month.

The Feb. 19 presentation was part of a program for the Westfield Washington Historical Society.

“We are looking at women’s history in the county, particularly the history of women’s rights,” Heighway said. “There actually was a lot of movement toward that. This was a county that was open-minded about a lot of that stuff.”

Heighway first discussed Mekinges, a Native American princess in the Delaware Lenape tribe, who was the first wife of William Conner, founder of Hamilton County. When the tribe moved further west, Mekingese went with it and Conner remained in Hamilton County.

“Three months after the first wife left, he married his second wife, Elizabeth Chapman,” Heighway said. “It’s interesting because he died in 1855, and she lives until 1891. In the 1880s, she was applying for pensions to the veterans’ bureau for his service in the War of 1812 and she (issued a) statement saying there was no first marriage.”

Heighway also shared information about Martha White Talbert, a Westfield woman who kept a diary. A copy of the diary is stored in the Hamilton East Public Library’s Noblesville branch.

“It talked about the Underground Railroad, and there’s a passage in there where we think she might be talking about helping slaves,” Heighway said. “One thing she was very interested in was the right to vote, and she mentioned early in the diary about participating in the political process. The women of Westfield had a very strong-minded attitude. They had their own way of doing things.

“They were always coming up with various things they were working on, whether it was abolitionism with the Underground Railroad or rather it was temperance.”

Heighway said the suffrage movement began in Westfield in 1869, when the first women’s rights society in the county was formed. A local newspaper in Noblesville encouraged the women to write a weekly column. Topics included equal pay for equal work and women finding the best possible representatives.

“Women were actually involved in Hamilton County in this time period as postmasters and station agents,” Heighway said.

Heighway also mentioned local women who ventured into creative jobs, such as Alice Armstrong, who created a window latch at age 75, and Berta Jones, a playwright who wrote and produced a play staged in Noblesville.

For more, visit hepl.lib.in.us/tag/david-heighway/.


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