Honoring Women's History in Erie County

It's October already, and you can find the monthly program listing on the sidebar.

Lucky you. We're back to guest posts! This week frequent Trailheads contributor Linda Bolla, Erie Maritime Museum and Flagship Niagara, writes about two recent PHMC historical markers dedicated in Erie County. Photos are courtesy of Allan Montgomery, Linda Bolla, and John Baker.

This has been a banner year for the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program in Erie County, with three new markers dedicated this summer: Miracles on Maple Hill; Pennsylvania National Guard 112th Infantry Regiment; and Making of the Flag “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”

The fact that two of these recognize the efforts of women gives one pause to reflect on the nature of women’s contributions to history and culture in the age before the later 20th Century feminist movement. These words come to mind: quiet, but profoundly inspirational.

In her children’s novel Miracles on Maple Hill (1956), Virginia Sorensen reveals the miracles of nature as well as of healing body and mind. Her simple story, inspired by people she knew and experiences she had living in Edinboro, PA, was honored in 1957 with a John Newbery Medal, given for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Sorensen’s book has not lost any of its appeal, even as we approach the 60th anniversary of its publication. Generations continue to read a very old-fashioned story about a little girl and her family, because the values and bonds of family and friends are universal, and because Sorensen crafted her story in a way that transcends the modern age. Her picture of a place in time has proven to be timeless.

Children and adults met and had their books signed by Marilyn Hilburn (left), who was Virginia Sorensen's model for the character Margie, and Amy Hipple Bjork (second from left), Sorensen's model for Marly. Lisa Nathanson of Hurry Hill Maple Farm Museum (background) had Sorensen's book, Miracles on Maple Hill, for sale. Sorensen’s Newbery Medal is on exhibit at the Museum.

While the weather was not-too-cooperative for the June 27th unveiling of the Miracles on Maple Hill marker, the event was still full of old-fashioned fun, with nearly 200 people enjoying music, talks, book signings (photo above), and maple ice cream sundaes. In the photo below, Amy Hipple Bjork has the honor of unveiling the marker, located on Route 6N in Edinboro.


The women who made Oliver Hazard Perry’s “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flag remained steadfast to their task amidst the fear and tension of Erie preparing for war. The flagmakers shared the common bond of family (all were part of the Forster family) and quietly made their stitches while fathers, brothers, and sons engaged in the more obvious aspects of war as soldiers. They certainly had no thoughts beyond the immediate. While they hoped their work would inspire Perry’s men, they could not have known that the flag they made in 1813 would continue to speak through centuries, inspiring generations of naval officers as well as anyone who needs to stand persistent to win the day. While their work is preserved and exhibited at the US Naval Academy Museum, their names are not remembered there – it is on the state historical marker that they are finally brought out of the shadows.

East High JROTC joined Ship’s Company, US Brig Niagara 1813 to provide a color guard for the Battle of Lake Erie Commemoration. In honoring both the 1813 period colors along with our nation’s flag, we honor the fallen of the War of 1812 as well as the veterans and those who continue to serve today.

Dedication of the “Making of the Flag” marker took place on September 10th at the Erie Maritime Museum as part of the annual commemoration of the Battle of Lake Erie. While the service itself was solemn, there certainly was a sense of joy when the marker honoring the flag makers was unveiled. In the photo below, Forster Family descendants N. Lane Nelson and Becky Forster (center, left and right), along with Sabina Freeman (left) and PHMC Commissioner Craige Pepper Victor (right) reveal Pennsylvania’s newest marker. Descendant Nancy Gorman (far left) and Master of Ceremonies Jay Breneman (far right) applaud.



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