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Little-known women influenced city

from the archives of The News-Sentinel

March is Women's History Month. But only a few women are readily recognized in the historical traditions of Fort Wayne.

There's Tahcumwah , the sister of Little Turtle, whose business and political savvy guided the civil affairs of the Miami tribes at Kekionga. Mother George, too, is remembered as the courageous and tireless Civil War nurse who lost her own life to the diseases that ravaged army hospitals.

But there are scores of lesser-known women who made their positive mark on Fort Wayne. Here are a few of them.

Emerine Hamilton (1810-1889), the book-loving feminist
Among those who helped settle Fort Wayne after the military days was Emerine Jane Hamilton, the first of a brilliant line of Hamilton women whose impact was felt well into the middle of the 20th century.

Emerine Holman was born in Aurora, Ind., in 1810. In 1827, at age 17, she married Allen Hamilton, an Irish entrepreneur and frontier merchant, moved to Fort Wayne, and settled with him in the remains of the old fort. The cultivation of the mind and spirit through books was precious to her, and she was intent upon passing this educational attitude to her children and grandchildren - and to the growing community in which she lived.

Determined to bring books to the public, Emerine started the city's first public library, the Fort Wayne Free Reading Room in 1887 on the corner of West Wayne and Webster streets. The room was renamed the Emerine J. Hamilton Library and served as the city's only library until 1895, when the tax- supported Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County was opened.

Carrie Gifford Shoaff (flourished in the 1870s and 1880s), reporter, author, potter
Gifford Shoaff was Fort Wayne's first newspaper woman, as well as a playwright, and an artist of some distinction. After marrying U.S. Shoaff of Huntington in 1869, her work began appearing in the mid-1870s in the Fort Wayne Gazette.

The owner of the Gazette, Martin Spencer, was the one who got Gifford Shoaff to write "chatty letters" for the paper. He paid $2 for a good Sunday article. Shoaff eventually established her beat as a special New York correspondent. From her headquarters there in the Sturtevant Hotel, she interviewed prominent people in literature and the arts and sent her reports back to Fort Wayne.

Julia Emmanuel (1871-1962), the colorful pharmacist
Julia Emmanuel was Fort Wayne's first woman pharmacist. She was also known as "The Lady in Lavender."

Julia was born in Antwerp, Ohio, in 1871. Her father, a physician, died while she was still quite young. Her mother used his office stock of drugs to start a small pharmacy in order to keep the family going. Julia went to the University of Michigan and graduated in 1889 with a degree in pharmacy. She was the only woman in her class and one of the first ever to graduate from the university's school of pharmacy.

She went to work in the Meyer Brothers Store in Fort Wayne. She stayed on for 10 years, although she was never allowed to attend customers directly at the counter; there was fear that a woman's presence might hurt business. But in 1902, Julia set out on her own: She opened a small pharmacy in the "Arcades" section of Berry Street.

By 1922, she had become extremely well-known, respected, and sufficiently successful to enter partnership with Dr. L. Park Drayer. Together, they purchased the lot at 123 W. Wayne St., and built the Drayer Emmanual Building. This time when the shingle was hung out, it read "Miss Emmanuel's Chemist's Shop."

In 1942, she sold her business to the Jefferson Pharmacy.

It was one of her eccentricities (and a trademark) to dress in lavender, a color she wore most of the time and used often in her household furnishings. She even used purple wrapping paper and ribbons for her customers at the pharmacy.

Marie McDonald Kane (1890-1974), widow with a welcome
Marie McDonald was born in Fort Wayne, and married Dr. Alfred Kane in 1911. She seemed settled into the role of physician's wife and mother of three when Kane died in 1928. The impact of the Great Depression completed the tragedy.

But Marie Kane was a survivalist who found ways to use her abilities. She learned about an Illinois organization called the Civic Activity Association which, for a fee, promoted a city through a welcome program to new arrivals and potential investors. Taking the cue, the widow established herself as Fort Wayne's unofficial "Civic Hostess" and called on more than 300 newcomers her first year in business.

--March 7, 1994