The grande dames of Akron society once again will grace us with their presence.
For the fifth year, Akron’s Hower House is the setting for In the Company of Extraordinary Women, a Victorian tea honoring late, great citizens of the past.
Sponsored by the Friends of Hower House, the Women’s History Month event re-creates the formal teas that socialite Grace Hower Crawford (1881-1973) and her mother, Blanche Bruout Hower (1862-1952), held in the 28-room mansion on Fir Hill.
Actresses will portray the hostesses and special guests during four shows March 16-17. Seating is limited to 50 guests at each show.
Organizers promise a riveting, informative afternoon. The story should also be sobering. According to this year’s plot, the shocking news of World War II will be the subject of conversation.
As portrayed by actresses, the guests at this year’s tea are Idabelle Smith Firestone, Hazel Steiner Polsky, Gertrude Penfield Seiberling and Grace Hower Crawford.
Frank Chaff IV wrote the play and will serve as director. The cast features Nici Romo, Josie Reynolds, Natalie Beckwith, Alex Agosta, Miranda Roth, Erica Peters, Annabelle Rogers, Libby Justus and Delilah Tuminello. Pianist Ben Cochran will provide accompaniment.
One lump or two? Let the tea flow. Here is more about the esteemed guests:
Idabelle Firestone (1874-1954)
Mrs. Firestone was a gifted songwriter and composer, penning such tunes as If I Could Tell You, In My Garden, Melody of Love and You Are the Song in My Heart. The Idabelle Firestone School of Nursing was named for her, as was the Idabelle Firestone marigold, developed by Philadelphia botanist David Burpee.
She married Harvey S. Firestone in 1895 and for a time lived at Fir Hill and Forge Street before they built and moved into Harbel Manor in West Akron.
“I think we all should make the best possible job of our life’s work, whatever it may be,” she said at her 75th birthday celebration in 1949. “Mine has been that of a homemaker. For years, all my hours were spent trying to be a good wife and mother. Now I’m trying to be a good grandmother.”
Hazel Polsky (1882-1964)
Mrs. Polsky was active in many Summit County civic and cultural organizations including Akron City Hospital, Children’s Hospital and the Women’s City Club. She was known as a gracious woman who was devoted to her husband and children. She was married to Bert Polsky, owner of the popular local department store.
Her father was Noah R. Steiner, who developed and named Kenmore.
Upon Mrs. Polsky’s death at age 81, the Beacon Journal eulogized her as a woman who exemplified the best connotations of the word “lady.”
“Here was a woman whose grace of manner, whose devotion to husband and children and whose service to the community made her beloved by all who had the good fortune to know her,” the newspaper reported.
Gertrude Seiberling (1866-1946)
Mrs. Seiberling, the wife of Goodyear co-founder F.A. Seiberling, was an Akron humanitarian and cultural leader.
A talented painter, singer and musician, she was a founder of the Tuesday Musical Club, Akron Garden Club, Women’s Art League of Akron and National Federation of Music Clubs.
Mrs. Seiberling sang before President William Howard Taft at the White House, appeared in productions at Akron’s Academy of Music and produced more than 100 paintings — about 80 of which remain at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens.
She was known for her gracious hospitality and lifelong commitment to the arts.
“Here is the kind of wealth that doesn’t fluctuate with the stock market,” the Rev. Walter F. Tunks, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, eulogized at Mrs. Seiberling’s funeral. “We rejoice in all that she did to enrich the cultural life of this community.”
Grace Crawford (1881-1973)
Mrs. Crawford was the daughter and eldest child of Blanche Bruot and Milton Otis Hower. She and her husband, John, were the third generation to live at Hower House.
Her grandfather, John Henry Hower, an Akron industrialist, built the mansion in 1871. The family had owned the land since 1812. Seiberling and Firestone children used to play on the property.
Mrs. Crawford was active in local cultural and civic organizations and was one of the founding members of Weathervane Playhouse.
She was known for inviting University of Akron students to formal teas in her home. She gave the property and its furnishings to UA in 1971, and lived there until her death two years later at age 92.
“I hereby bequeath to the University of Akron, it being my wish that the bulk of these furnishings be preserved in said residence to the end that it retain its present character,” she wrote in her will.
If you would like to sip tea with these extraordinary women (and some of their modern contemporaries), you are cordially invited.
The deadline for reservations is Friday.
Per usual, if this year’s event is another success, expect more distinguished guests to visit Hower House in 2014.
Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.