Students honor local suffragist history
In the months prior to the closing of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, several Meyersdale Area High School and Middle School students joined a local movement to celebrate women of the past and the impact they have made on women in the present and future. One of their projects was to create a paper-mache replica of The Justice Bell. The Justice Bell was a symbol of the women’s suffragist movement created by activist Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger in 1915. Original plans called for the bell to be featured in the Pennsylvania Maple Festival parade. When that event, like many others, was cancelled, organizers decided to have their impressive work on display at the Western Maryland Railroad Station Visitors’ Center and Museum in Meyersdale. As the station is closing for the season, the bell is on the move again and will now spend several months on display at the Somerset County Courthouse.
The Meyersdale Area Public Library uncovered the role Somerset County women had in the advancement of the rights of women during the earliest days of the 20th century. As the 100th anniversary of the August 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution approached, staff and volunteers planned a variety of activities to celebrate this important milestone. While these plans were cancelled due to the pandemic, the work of our students cannot and should not be ignored, as they worked diligently to celebrate the work of those special activists.
A small group of teen girls agreed to tackle a special project – a paper-mache replica of The Justice Bell. The Justice Bell was a symbol of the women’s suffragist movement created by activist Katharine Wentworth Ruschenberger in 1915. Members of the Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association traveled to the Meneely Bell Company in Troy, New York, to kick off the casting of the 2000-lb. bronze replica. The words “Establish Justice” were engraved on the bell and its clapper was chained to its side, not to be rung until women were able to vote. For months, the bell was transported across the state on a truck to parades and rallies. After passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave all the nation’s women the right to vote, the Justice Bell was finally rung in a huge celebration at Independence Square in Philadelphia.
Students, Jaylynn, Katie, Anna and Maria, spent several afternoons working on a replica of the Justice Bell that was to be featured in the Pennsylvania Maple Festival Parade. When those plans were cancelled, the Meyersdale Area Historical Society graciously offered to house this impressive project. After several months at the restored train station, the bell, like the original, will be on the move again! The Somerset County Commissioners have offered to display the bell at the Somerset County Courthouse throughout the fall and winter months.