How Women Shaped Akron – Our First SHEroes
“To know your future you must know your past.” - George Santayana.
This introduction sets the stage for all that comes after. It features notable Akron women in history– pioneers and leaders who shaped and inspired our community from early days and beyond. The Women’s Endowment Fund believes that in order to know where we are headed, it is important to know who came before us. A resource of the Summit County Historical Society, Akron Women's History tells the stories of some of the Akron and Summit County women whose stories have been lost. The women profiled on this site made important contributions to the city and the county through the jobs they held, the business they ran, the reforms they led or the volunteer work they did.
Highlighted below are are just a very few notable women from our City:
Sojourner Truth (1797 - 1883)
Although not from Akron, Sojourner Truth delivered her Ain’t I A Woman? speech, considered by historians to be one of the most important speeches related to abolition and women’s rights in United States history, right here in Akron. Please take a few moments to read about community efforts to honor Sojourner Truth’s presence in Akron at the soon-to-be-unveiled Sojourner Truth Memorial Plaza. The Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee and Summit Metro Parks—whose vision and leadership inspired renewed efforts of the Sojourner Truth Project-Akron is partnering with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund in collaboration with the United Way of Summit & Medina, Akron Community Foundation and other community stakeholders to honor Sojourner Truth’s presence in Akron in 1851 with a space for remembrance, reflection, and education. Scheduled to open in Spring 2023, the statue will be designed and created by Akron native and internationally recognized African American artist Woodrow Nash and will be the first memorial statue of a Black woman in Akron. To support this historic project, make a gift online at akroncf.org/SojournerTruthProjectFund.
Mary Ingersol Tod Evans (1802 - 1869)
Mary Ingersol Tod Evans believed the Akron Rural Cemetery (Glendale Cemetery) deserved to be as beautifully kept as the rest of the city. For that reason, she established the Ladies Cemetery Association and raised funds to build a residence for a groundskeeper.
Grace Tod Perkins (1811 - 1867)
Grace Tod Perkins joined her sister Mary Evans to establish the Ladies Cemetery Association. She married Colonel Simon Perkins in 1832, and the couple became influential philanthropists and community leaders in Akron. Perkins continued to support the Ladies Cemetery Association in its mission to beautify the Akron Rural Cemetery, now the Glendale Cemetery, until her death in 1867.
Katherine Benedicta Trotter Claypole (1846 - 1901)
Katharine Claypole married scientist and scholar Edward Waller Claypole in 1879. She was the first president of the Akron Women's Council and an active voice in the suffrage movement. In 1894, she served as the recording secretary of the Ohio State Suffrage Association (OSSA) and lobbied state legislators to allow women to vote for and serve as members of Ohio school boards. She was also a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Both of her and Edward's daughters became scientists.
Margaretha Gerhardt Burkhardt (1848 - 1925)
Margaretha Gerhardt Burkhardt was not even 35 yet when she took over Burkhardt's Brewery, now known as Thirsty Dog. She not only ran the business for over 40 years, but increased productivity and profits for the brewery. Around the turn of the 20th century, Burkhardt lead the charge to diversify the business, allowing the brewery to succeed through the prohibition era.
Gertrude Ferguson Penfield Seiberling (1866 - 1946)
Mary Perkins Raymond (1871 - 1948)
Henrietta Buckler Seiberling (1888 - 1979)
Sister Mary Ignatia (1889 - 1966)
Julia Perry (1924 - 1979)
Mary Perkins Raymond (b. 1952)
"We Need A Foundation" - Too Many Needs Unmet (1977 - 1993)
This section highlights the origins of the idea for the Women's Endowment Fund.
1977: Akron Women's Network Created - Relationships Born Here
Founders & early fund supporters first met through the Women's Network. The Women's Network brought women leaders together, fostering new relationships, creating deep connections and catalyzing change. The Women's Network remains a powerful connector among women in our community to this day.
Summer 1986: "We need a foundation"
One Sunday morning in the summer of 1986, Marie Covington and Norma Rist were sitting on Marie's back porch, chatting about life and their community. Norma was President and Marie was Vice President of the Women's Network, so the conversation naturally turned toward the needs of women and girls in Summit County. The two women brainstormed a long list of women’s needs and "what we would do if we had the money." The list was long – spanning 52 lines on a typed sheet – and just touched the tip of the iceberg. There were, in fact, too may needs to count, and very little funding to support any of them. "How are we going to do all this?," the two women wondered. And with the next four words that Marie uttered – "We need a foundation" – the idea for the Women’s Endowment Fund was born.
January 30, 1987: Floating the idea
Marie and Norma convened a group of women leaders (groundbreakers at the time) at Cascade Club* to explore how to make this happen and support women and girls in our community. All of these women were connected through the Women’s Network.
From here, and from the many lunches and meetings that followed, a like-minded group of women emerged who ultimately became WEF's Founding Mothers: Marie Covington, Carrie Herman, Norma Rist, Ilene Shapiro, Laurie Zuckerman and Jody Bacon!
*Although the Akron City Club was the "place to be" for city leaders, women were not able to join at that time.
1990: Jody Bacon comes to town - Anchoring at Akron Community Foundation
Akron Community Foundation hired Jody Bacon as its first Executive Director/President in 1990. The founding mothers recall that was particularly noteworthy because women weren’t often hired into positions such as these at that time.
It was Jody Bacon who introduced the idea to the five other founders that WEF should not be its own separate foundation, but should be a part of Akron Community Foundation.
With Jody's guidance, the six founders developed a clear blueprint for a designated fund at ACF. This structure provided a vehicle to get off the ground more quickly, offered instant credibility as an already-established funder and allowed the founders to focus on grant making, rather than administration.
1991 - 1993: Chicken salad sandwiches & a good pair of shoes
The founding mothers set a goal to raise $100,000 of all female money. They set out to host many, many fundraising lunches. The founders believed that, "Every woman can be a philanthropist." Their plan was for 100 women to donate $1,000 each and their message focused on the power of every woman to be a philanthropist.
Norma Rist recalls this sentiment: "You don't need to be rich - if you break it down into monthly installments, it costs about the same as a good pair of shoes."
Among many, many others, some of these early pioneers for local women who helped build momentum during this time period included Kathryn Hunter, Judy Nicely, Mary Beth Cox, Annie Russell, Ann Brennan, and so many more.
The Birth of the Women's Endowment Fund (1993 - 1994)
1993-1994: First gifts totaling $106,000
The Women's Endowment Fund was established with support from 100 women & one committed father. (100 women donated a total of $100,000. Charlie Booth gave $6,000; $1,000 each for his wife and five daughters.)
Only 4% of philanthropic dollars were dedicated to women and girls at this time. By forming this fund, women not only had a voice at the table, but were the table – WEF is unique because it is exclusively women who are making the funding decisions.
The Women’s Endowment Fund was the first women’s grantmaking endowment in Northeast Ohio. It became a model and inspiration for other funds, including the Bath Community Fund, Medina County Community Fund, Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund and more.
The Women's Endowment Fund's First Decade (1993 - 2003)
Our first decade was marked by laying the foundation for informed grant making and building a corporate donor base. Here are a few highlights:
1994: Our first community forum
Leaders from the Women's Endowment Fund met with four community organizations in an effort to understand the most pressing needs for women at the time. This tradition of convening on-the-ground community organizations to inform grantmaking has continued over the decades through the tradition of holding regular forums dedicated to learning from the community to understand women’s needs.
1994: First grant of $2,500 to YWCA of Summit County for Women's Personal Enrichment Program
The Women’s Endowment Fund’s first grant in 1994 funded a new collaboration among 5 local organizations that offer women’s crisis intervention and emotional support. Five organizations – ACCESS, Battered Women's Shelter, H.M. Life Opportunity Services, Summit County Children's Services Board, and the YWCA – collaborated to form a three-month Personal Enrichment Program to help women in crisis relieve stress, improve mental and physical well-being, and build self-esteem.
1998: $250,000 Challenge Grant builds a corporate donor base
Marie Covington and Ilene Shapiro led efforts to expand the Women’s Endowment Fund's donor base beyond individual women's giving. To build a corporate donor base, they created a $250,000 matching challenge grant, which truly galvanized fundraising efforts. The founders fondly remember this milestone – "When we hit $250,000, we had a big party at Ruth Dean’s house!"
1998: Mother's Day campaign created
The Women's Endowment Fund designed its individual annual giving campaign around a Mother’s Day theme. Donors were encouraged to donate to the Women's Endowment Fund in honor of their mothers or mother-figures, with Mother's Day cards sent to the honorees in acknowledgement. The Mother's Day campaign was the predecessor of today’s SHEro campaign.
The Women's Endowment Fund's Second Decade (2003 - 2013)
"Seeding Our Future" aptly characterizes the theme of the second decade of the fund. During this period, the Women's Endowment Fund launched the largest endowment-building campaign for an affiliate fund in Akron Community Foundation's history. At the same time, the fund's 'three buckets' of grantmaking priorities were established.
The 2023 JARTA recipient, Tracy Carter, was president of WEF from 2010-2013, and very fittingly, was the presiding WEF President at the 20 Year Anniversary Celebration. Along with many others, Tracy was a central architect of the key milestones captured during this chapter in WEF's history.
2013: The 'For Women, Forever' campaign
The 'For Women, Forever' campaign represented the fund's goal to reach $2 million in charitable assets. To celebrate the fund's 20th anniversary, the Women’s Endowment Fund launched an endowment campaign to raise $2.013 million by 2013. The campaign kicked off at the annual dinner in March 2012 under the tagline "For Women, Forever" - this signature tagline has been used at every WEF annual event since then. "For Women, Forever" was the largest endowment-building campaign for an affiliate fund in Akron Community Foundation’s history. The fund not only reached their goal, but actually exceeded it, and announced the total raised at the annual dinner in March 2013. The final amount raised was $2,109,278.
Establishment of three priority areas for grantmaking
Under Tracy Carter and Janet White’s leadership, established three priority areas to guide our grant making: Economic Empowerment; Health & Wellness; Safety From Violence.
The Women's Endowment Fund's Second Decade (2003 - 2013)
"Expanding Our Impact" is the theme of the third decade in the Women's Endowment Fund's history.
2016: The Judith A. Read Tribute Award for Service & Advocacy established, honoring Judy Read
The Women's Endowment Fund created the Judith A. Read Tribute Award for Service & Advocacy for Women in 2016 to honor Judy Read's lifetime commitment to empowering women and girls. Read lived her life as a tireless advocate, passionate volunteer and insightful leader whose work improved the lives of countless individuals in Greater Akron. She was a longtime supporter and former advisory board member of the Women's Endowment Fund (2013 - 2015). She and her husband, Roger, supported the fund by helping ignite early fundraising and leading the "For Women, Forever" campaign. Roger Read and his family have carried on Judy's legacy through continued engagement and financial support of the Women's Endowment Fund.
The award is presented annually to an individual or couple who best exemplify Read's service, advocacy, leadership and passion in the community. The Women's Endowment Fund has proudly presented the award to eight exemplary women since its inception in 2016:
- 2016: Judy Read
- 2017: Marie Covington
- 2018: Laurie Zuckerman
- 2019: Norma Rist
- 2020: Sylvia D. Trundle
- 2021: Jacqueline A. Silas Butler Esq.
- 2022: Dr. Sandy Auburn
- 2023: Tracy Carter
2016: The annual "Who Is Your SHEro?" campaign created
In 2016, the annual Mother's Day campaign was replaced with the "Who Is Your SHEro?" campaign. Community members are still encouraged to make tribute or memorial gifts in honor of the important people in their lives, but this rebranding allowed for more SHEroes to be honored. The possibilities for SHEroes are endless - parents, partners, siblings, friends, mentors or anyone who has positively influenced your life - is a SHEro.
2017: SHEro campaign begins utilizing ambassadors, mobile giving platform introduced
2018: Circle of Empowerment formed
In 2018, the Women's Endowment Fund created the Circle of Empowerment to maintain a source of continued sustainability of the fund and increase its grantmaking impact each year. The Circle of Empowerment is a group of donors who support the Women's Endowment Fund with an annual leadership gift of $1,000 or more. Donors to the Circle of Empowerment receive:
- Special recognition at our events, including being listed in all event programs
- Advance First-to-Know communication about the fund's latest news
- An invitation to our annual Circle of Empowerment gathering
- Opportunities to get involved with the fund's various committees
- The knowledge that their gifts uplift women and girls in our community, now and forever
In 2023, the Circle of Empowerment surpassed 100 members, all of whom provide a sustainable source of support for our future.
March - May 2020: Adapting to changing times - first "virtual" community event in Akron
In March 2020, the world changed. On the very day that the Women's Endowment Fund was scheduled to hold its annual event (expecting 600 in-person attendees), the Governor of Ohio issued an order shutting down all public gatherings to protect public health in the face of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.
In May 2020, the Women's Endowment Fund led the way to a "new normal" in events, pivoting to create the very first virtual community event in Akron. Meals were delivered to homes for guests to enjoy while they enjoyed the program in full from the safety and comfort of their homes. There was even a "virtual cocktail hour" featuring photos and pre-recorded video toasts from many sponsors and supporters.
2021: Annual grantmaking tops $200,000 in a single year
2022: The Women's Endowment Fund goes through rebranding
In 2022, the fund wanted their logos and color schemes to reflect what they had become - an established source of funding and support for many nonprofits in Summit County. While the fund's colors and imagery changed, their mission remained the same.
Where are we in 2023?
- More than $2.1 million in grants awarded over lifetime of the fund, directly supporting more than 100 organizations serving women and girls in our community.
- September 2022: Convened all 26 of the 34 nonprofits that received grants in 2022 for our first grantee roundtable
- March 2023: Awarded $175,000 in grants to 31 organizations
- In 2023, the Circle of Empowerment surpassed 100 members, all of whom provide a sustainable source of support for our future.
- April 2023 - "Who Is Your SHEro?" Campaign: More than 30 SHEro Ambassadors to honor our 30 years
- September 15, 2023 - "Women, Work and Wealth Creation" forum is held