Grace Goulder, Author, 1893–1984


A respect for the past, and the people who came before us, was something about which Grace Goulder Izant felt strongly. So strongly that for 25 years she authored a weekly article about the extraordinary folks who shaped present-day Ohio. But who knew, when she was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature in 1965 at the age of 72, that some of her best and most important work still lay ahead of her—including a book-length treatment of John D. Rockefeller that would throw new light on his Cleveland years.

Born in Cleveland in 1893 into a family whose forebears had been among the early settlers of the area, Grace Goulder seems to have loved history, especially Ohio history, almost from the beginning. Her vivid portraits of the characters whose choices and risk-taking would have such an impact on posterity—as well as the places and settings where these dramas unfolded—are likely traceable to her first experiences of such stories as a child curled wide-eyed at the feet of grownups recreating cherished family stories.

But a brief stint as society editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer following her graduation from Vassar College in 1914 was as close as she would get to writing professionally until she herself had reached middle age. At 26 she married Robert Izant, a future vice president of Central National Bank, and in 1924 the couple moved to nearby Hudson, where she would spend the next 20 years raising three children.

It was not until 1944 (the year before her beloved second son Jonathan was killed in action in the march toward Berlin less than three weeks before Germany surrendered) that she published her first piece in the Plain Dealer’s Sunday Magazine. For the next 25 years, readers would relish and talk about her illuminating articles about Ohio’s past.  “Ohio Scenes and Citizens,” as the series was called, was much more than Sunday paper filler. By the time she was awarded the Arts Prize, Goulder had already been recognized by the Ohio State Archeological and Historical Society (1949), the Ohio Sesquicentennial Committee (1953) and the American Association for State and Local History (1962)—the first Ohioan ever to be so honored.

It was the publication in 1964 of her second book that provided the occasion for the awarding of the Cleveland Arts Prize. Among the 18 famous or significant Ohioans profiled in Ohio Scenes and Citizens (which took its title from her popular column) were the breakthrough African-American lyric poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar; sharpshooter Annie Oakley (née Phoebe Ann Moses), compelled to return each spring, when the apple blossoms were in bloom, to her native Darke County, where she is buried; Ulysses S. (born Hiram Ulysses) Grant; and the two wives of abolitionist John Brown, who between them bore him 20 children. (He had married the first, Dianthe Lusk, right here in Hudson.)

Goulder’s first book, This Is Ohio (1953; expanded edition, 1966), told the stories of all 88 Ohio counties. Along with the 12 that made up the “Western Reserve” granted to Connecticut by King George were those comprising the areas originally known as “Hanging Rock” (Jackson, Scioto and Lawrence), “Seven Ranges,” “[‘Mad’] Anthony Wayne Country” and the “Virginia Military District” (once claimed by Virginia!).

Goulder retired from writing her weekly column in 1969 at the age of 76. But she wasn’t done yet. John D. Rockefeller: The Cleveland Years (Western Reserve Historical Society, 1972) was, for many Clevelanders, a revelation. Here, in vivid detail, was the never-before-told story of the young oil tycoon and how he put together the innovative and bold enterprise that became Standard Oil. Goulder dedicated the book to the memory of her husband, who had worked as a messenger and driver at Rockefeller’s Forest Hill estate while an undergraduate.

But the book that was surely her favorite was the one that was published the year after Grace Goulder Izant’s death in 1984 at the age of 91. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more fascinating account of a single village than Hudson’s Heritage: A Chronicle of the Founding and the Flowering of the Village of Hudson, Ohio  (Kent State University Press, 1985). Here, in the form of what one reviewer called “delightfully written biographical vignettes,” is the surprisingly rich and compelling “back-story” of the village where Goulder had spent 60 years walking the very paths trod by John Brown of Harper’s Ferry fame; Western Reserve College religion faculty member Beriah Green, whose fiery sermons on the hot-button “Slavery Question” of the 1830s led to fist fights in the streets and board resignations; and chemistry professor Edward A. Morley, who, with his partner, Case physicist Albert Michelson, gained international fame in 1887 with a daring experiment involving the speed of light, the motion of the earth and the atomic weight of oxygen that would provide important support for Einstein’s later special theory of relativity.

In this, her final book—and the one he believed “lay closest to her heart,” wrote Ohio historian Phillip R. Shriver—Goulder “lifts the story beyond the limitations of local history and makes it illuminate an entire region and time.” She couldn’t have wished for a better epitaph.

—Dennis Dooley

John D. Arrives in the Big City

[The] Cleveland of 1853 was a city of wonderment. At the lakefront, ships with white sails ballooning in the wind headed gracefully for harbor to discharge cargo and passengers. Side-wheelers and screw propellers, numerous now, churned the waves on like missions. Both were creations of flourishing local shipyards. The canal had its patient mules that plodded along the towpath pulling snub-nosed barrages laden with 
freight. . . . Sturdy ships brought iron ore from recently discovered mines in the Lake Superior region. Coal from Pennsylvania and West Virginia was coming in on the new railroad lines. . . .

Three daily newspapers circulated: the Plain Dealer, Herald, and the Daily True Democrat, shortly renamed the Leader. A weekly, The Aliened American, the city’s first Negro newspaper, began publication that year. It was edited by William Howard Day, who had earned A.B. and M.A. degrees at Oberlin College . . . .

In November of 1853, P.T. Barnum’s New York company presented Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the Atheneum Theater in the Kelley’s Block. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sensational novel had appeared in book form only the year before with a popular edition “for the Western trade” published simultaneously by Jewett, Proctor and Worthington at 138 Superior Street. The play was also a success. Twelve thousand Clevelanders paid the fifty cents admission fee (half price for rear seats) during a fifteen-night run. Tempted though they might have been by the lurid advertising broadsides, we can safely assume that John and William Rockefeller did not see the performance; their mother had taught them that attending the theater was sinful and a wicked waste of money. . . .

Cleveland was aglow at night with the new gas lamps installed by the Cleveland Gas Light and Coke Company. Officials promised one hundred more would be set up soon to light Euclid Street as far out as Erie Street. Gas was piped into many public buildings where signs warned the unwary: “Please don’t blow out the lights.”

Candles were still used in most houses. “Burning fluids” like whale and sperm oil or lard oil gave better light, but were higher-priced and far from satisfactory. While local manufacturers were turning out such products, experiments were going forward in their plants for something better in lighting. Many of these firms would rush into petroleum refining when that revolutionary industry entered the field.

Mrs. Woodlin evidently required her lodgers to furnish their own light, for John D. Rockefeller’s account book showed regular purchases of  "burning fluid.” He would have to be content with this illuminant a few years longer.

John D. Rockefeller: The Cleveland Years (Western Reserve Historical Society, 1972)

The Road to Harper’s Ferry

[Dianthe’s] brother Milton was devoted to his sister and called her his “guardian angel.” She sang beautifully, he thought, mostly hymns which he liked to listen to. There was a place in the woods he knew about where she went alone to pray. He described her as “pleasant and cheerful but plain,” and declared, “She never said anything but what she meant. At home she was always ready to help and was a good cook.” . . .No likeness of Dianthe exists, but John, referring to her years later, called her “remarkably plain”—again this description of her—but “. . . an economical girl of good common sense.”

There would have been no midnight trysts on the hill for the couple and it is difficult to imagine a kiss escaping from John [Brown]’s implacable, thin lips. “Prompted,” however, “by my father and my own inclination,” he wrote years later, he married her when he was twenty and she a year younger, the local minister, the Reverend William Hanford, conducting the nuptials, probably in Hudson’s new Congregational Church that was dedicated that year.  . . .Dianthe’s brother Milton, who hated John, refused to attend the ceremony. He never forgot how John had turned away abruptly when he walked up the hill to call on his sister one Sunday. The boy at sixteen had been apprenticed to David Hudson and Sunday was the only free day he had. John, however, with Calvinistic righteousness, countenanced no visiting on the Lord’s Day. Dianthe seems to have accepted her husband’s stern dictates: indeed few individuals dared to cross his stern commands.

Influenced by his father’s concern for the blacks, John welcomed runaway slaves who by some secret alchemy knew his farm was a safe stopover. Wakened in the night by a furtive knock on the cabin door, Dianthe would leave her bed to prepare food for the trembling visitors, she or John taking the meal to a hideout beside a big rock in the woods. On such errands she was as terrified in the inky darkness as the Negroes.

Hudson’s Heritage  (Kent State University Press, 1985)



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