On June 10, 1865, dozens of angry women congregated in downtown Greenfield. Armed with hatchets, mallets and axes, the ladies of Highland County marched through the streets and into busy saloons. They broke open barrels of alcohol and poured containers of spirits into the street. The furious women were arrested and fined, but the message they sent was clear — the temperance movement had reached Ohio, and it wasn’t stopping anytime soon.
It all started with the death of a young boy named William Blackburn. The child was passing by Newbeck and Hirn’s Saloon when a stray bullet from a bar fight whizzed by and struck him. The boy’s tragic death as well as recent increases in alcohol-related violence began to worry locals, who feared liquor was becoming a problem in Highland County.
The final straw for the Greenfield women came when two ladies, Mrs. Pearson and Mrs. Crothers, were harassed by an inebriated man while passing a saloon one rainy day in July. The women, fed up with the mens’ drinking, assembled in the home of Elizabeth Love. They devised a plan to confront Mayor John Eckman and reveal their plans to obtain the liquor from local bars. The mayor all but laughed them out of his office, and the discouraged women took matters into their own hands.
That afternoon, 70 women gathered at the “Free Soil” African Methodist Episcopal church at 200 North St. in Greenfield. They armed themselves and made their way to the William S. Linn drug store in Greenfield. Logan, Love and Young, leaders of the raid, presenting an ultimatum to the shop owner — surrender the alcohol or the women would take it by force. Linn locked his doors, and when the ladies attempted the same intimidation tactic at the Newbeck and Hirn’s Saloon, they were met again with barricaded doors.
The women were discouraged, but they didn’t give up. Drusilla Blackburn, the mother of William Blackburn, cried, “Here is the place where my boy was murdered!” This was just the reminder the crowd needed to reignite their passionate revolt. Mary Cool smashed open a window and unlocked the door of the saloon from inside. The women, dressed in their heavy hoop skirts, stormed into the tavern and began to haul barrels of alcohol into the gutters. They smashed casks and jugs of spirits in the streets and used hatchets to hack away at kegs of beer. Mere minutes passed and the Newbeck and Hirn’s Saloon had been completely emptied of drinks.
The women continued their crusade, robbing Robinson and Norton, Binder, and Morris’ stores. While the mutiny of women terrorized bars around town, Mrs. Widenour was able to prepare for their visit. Widenour ran a popular drinking parlor, but claimed she had no alcohol on the premises. This seemed to be the case, but one woman lifted the tablecloth on one table and discovered it was made of whisky barrels with planks on top. Mrs. Widenour’s whisky met the same fate as the rest of the alcohol the Greenfield women had confiscated.
In all, it was estimated that approximately 3,000 gallons of liquor were dumped into the streets of Greenfield. The bar owners claimed the losses totaled around $2,000, the equivalent of $31,652.88 today.
The ladies were arrested and tried in January 1867 at the Highland County Common Pleas Court. They were found guilty and fined between $100 and $400 each.
The Greenfield Women’s Raid of 1865 laid the groundwork for the temperance movement in Highland County and is often associated with the Praying Crusade that came to Ohio eight years later. These fearless ladies went to the extreme to communicate their anti-alcohol movement, paving the way for the temperance and prohibition movements to come. The Greenfield Women’s Raid will forever be a part of the colorful history of Highland County and a dramatic tale of rebellion.
Information for this story came from “Timeline of Greenfield Events,” Greenfield Historical Society, 2012, greenfieldhistoricalsociety.org; and “The Women’s Raid in Greenfield,” Ohio Southland, 1993, pp. 11–11.
Isabella Warner is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.