Cleveland Women's History - Tours of Cleveland, LLC

Cleveland Women’s History

Cleveland's Bernice Goetz

We always focus on women from the Cleveland during Women’s History Month. For 2023 we look at Bernice Goetz, Nina F. Gibans, Frances Payne Bolton and Dorothy Dandridge.

Bernice Goetz

Bernice Goetz was born in Cleveland in 1909. She graduated from West Commerce High School and used the money from her first job at an insurance agency to travel to Mexico to explore ruins deep the jungle; she was 19 at the time. She was not happy with the traditional roles imposed on women at the time and set her own course. She lectured, taught poetry at the Cleveland Public Library, worked for the Red Cross and for an oil exploration company. These last two jobs help fund her travels.

In her lifetime the took expeditions to Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Bolivia, Ecuador and Columbia. She would eventually write for National Geographic magazine. Artifacts she brought back to Cleveland were donated to the Cleveland Public Library and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Bernice Goetz passed away in 1958 of cancer. She is buried in Brooklyn Heights cemetery.

Nina F. Gibans

Nina Gibans was a community art leader in Cleveland. Born in 1932, she attended Wellesley College and Sarah Lawrence College where she studied art, music and literature. She wrote poetry, published over ten books, volunteered at countless arts organizations in Cleveland, taught and produced movies and video programs. She was an arts intuition in our city. In 2009, she was honored with the Martha Joseph Citation of the Cleveland Arts Prize for her life long work in the arts community.

Nina passed away this January at age 90. She was married to her husband, James Gibans, for 61 years. I had the pleasure of meeting her in 2021 when we brought our virtual walking tour the retirement home she was living in. Her knowledge of the Cleveland art scene was amazing.

Frances Payne Bolton

Frances Payne Bolton was born in Cleveland in 1885. As a young woman she developed a philosophy that she would carry with her throughout her life, “You must give something to someone to be happier, especially when that gift is your own time and strength.” She was an advocate for nurses. In fact she raised the money to establish and endow the School of Nursing at Western Reserve University.

She had married Chester Bolton in 1907 and while he was serving in Congress, he passed away in 1939. She served out the rest of his term and in a special election in 1940 won the seat, becoming the first woman to represent Ohio in Congress. She continued to work for the rights of nurses of all races and genders throughout her career in Congress. In 1943 she authored the Bolton Act, which created the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.

She would serve in Congress until 1968, she was 83. She passed away in 1977. She is interned at Lake View Cemetery.

Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge was born in Cleveland in 1922. She performed in a song and dance group with her sister Vivian called the Wonder Children. During the depression she moved to Hollywood and the group was renamed the Dandridge sisters. They would play the Apollo and the Cotton Club. She appeared in her first film in 1940, Four Shall Die. Dandridge refused to take stereotypical roles for African-American women at the time.

In 1954, she starred in Carmen Jones. That role landed here on the cover of Life Magazine, where she became the first African-American woman to do so. She was the first African-American to be nominated for an Best Actress Oscar. In 1959 she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in Porgy and Bess. She died in 1965. In 1999, Cleveland’s own Halle Berry would star as her in a biographical film, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.

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