Women who influenced the county

Martha Samuels

DECATUR COUNTY – Back in 1976, the local Business and Professional Women's Club of Decatur County was going strong and had a huge membership. That year, the club had Bicentennial Moments, which were sketches of women who influenced the development of Decatur County.

Martha Samuels gave her time and effort in researching the BPW project. Martha was head librarian at the old Carnegie Library from 1948 until 1981 and had been on the staff since 1935. Martha herself could have been one of the sketches. She entered the service during World War II on July 3, 1944 and served in the Army WAC for 24 months.

The women listed today are not well known, but played an important part in our history.

The first was Elizabeth Trimble Hendricks, who married Thomas Hendricks. Her brother-in-law was William Hendricks, who was governor of Indiana. Obviously, it took a lot of courage to leave her hometown of Greensburg, Pennsylvania to come to an area of the country that was wild and untamed. She is the one, according to tradition, who named Greensburg, Indiana after her hometown.

Elizabeth died about five years after coming here, but her four daughters married men who would be leaders and help civilize the area. Her husband remarried in 1827 and is considered the founder of Greensburg. The Hendricks cabin was in what is now the 300 block of E. Central Street.

"Aunt Jane" Warriner is the second woman named in the booklet. She was born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Edmund Heuston, came down the Ohio River on a barge to Cincinnati to join her husband who had come here with Thomas Hendricks. From Cincinnati, she walked to Greensburg alone through the forests carrying her baby. Her husband died a few years later and she remarried Franklin Warriner. Their home was a log cabin located on the site where the old Y.M.C.A. was located. A well was dug in front of the house and it became a social center.

Mrs. Justus Rich is next. Martha Samuels said that it isn't certain who the first physician in Decatur County was, but is is known that Mrs. Justus Rich practiced medicine in Greensburg as early as 1821 or 1822. She was the wife of an inn keeper whose hostelry was located near what is now the First Presbyterian church on the northeast corner of the Square. Samuels wrote that "no doubt the rigors of early travel forced her to minister to the needs of their guests."

Mahala Hanks Skinner is another of the "Women of Decatur County." Samuels wrote that in November 1923 there passed away in Milford an 86-year old woman, born east of Letts, July 4, 1837 by the name of Mahala Hanks Skinner. Her father was a cousin of Abraham Lincoln, his father having been a brother of Nancy Hanks Lincoln. She is typical of the sturdy pioneer stock which settled southern Decatur County, many of whom came up from Kentucky.

Miss Jane Bartee is next. According to Harding's history of Decatur County, there was no free school in Indiana until 1853. Education was obtained in subscription schools, with parents paying the teacher, who were often poorly educated themselves and taught only the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic. Most of the teachers were men; but sometime near 1840 Miss Jane Bartee taught a school in the southern part of the country. She probably got her start because her father was a justice of the peace, equivalent to our county commissioners. Attributed to her teaching program is the verse, or fragment of verse:

"No rippin', no tearin',

No cussin', no swearing',

No clingin', no swingin', to tree."

Sarah Hamilton Rankin is next in the booklet. Sarah was the last of her generation of the Hamilton family which settled in northeastern Decatur county, members of which played a part in the work of the underground railroad. Her husband was John Rankin of Ripley, Ohio, to whose home Eliza came after crossing the icy Ohio River. Mrs. Hamilton was attending the seminary in Greensburg in 1861, when Lincoln's train came through Greensburg, and she remembered seeing him as she stood among the crowd which greeted him in his brief stop.

The following are the first officers of the BPW Club established in November 1944: Elsie L. Harwood (later Mock); Fannie Nordmeyer; Altha Clerkin; Margaret Myers; Evalena Aldridge and Freda Schatz.

More about these women will be featured in a future column.


Decatur County resident Pat Smith may be contacted via this publication at news@greensburgdailynews.com.