Thursday, March 8, 2018

Grandmother Elected to School Board ~ 52 Ancestors #10

I am participating in this year's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Each week has an optional writing prompt and this week's writing prompt is Strong Woman.

My grandmother, Helen Hunter Copeland, was on the school board in Hampton Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Family lore is that she was the first woman to be elected to this board (but I haven't yet confirmed this).

Tuesday, November 2, 1943, was a rainy day, which reduced voter turnout in the greater-Pittsburgh elections. I have not been able to determine if there was a contested race for school director in Hampton Township, but according to the list of candidates (for Pittsburgh, not in the surrounding boroughs or townships) found in The Pittsburgh Press on the day before the election, there were many other contested races on this election day in Pittsburgh.

"GOP Victorious in Party Fights in Townships: Contests Center in Races for School Posts And Council,"
  The Pittsburgh Press, 3 November 1943, digital images
( : accessed 8 March 2018), p. 22, col. 6.

Republicans took all local offices
in Hampton Twp.
Hugh R. Brankstone and Helen
H. Copeland won six-year terms as
school directors.

Grandmother was 36 years old when elected, and had three young daughters at home (ages 8 1/2, 7 1/2, and 5). I haven't found any other mention of her as a school director, so I'm not sure if she served the full six year term.

Interestingly, when I searched Pittsburgh newspapers at the subscription website,, for Helen Copeland, I don't find other mentions of her. However, I found several mentions of her as Mrs. Lowell T. Copeland or Mrs. L.T. Copeland. (She was active in the local garden club and her high school's alumnae association.) This is yet another example of why it's hard to research our female ancestors: when they're listed as Mrs. "husband's name."

Grandmother's maternal grandfather, George Lysle, Jr., also served on the school board in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, in 1889. (See George Lysle ~ School Board Member.)

Now I know where the interest in participating in politics comes from!


  1. I'm sure there weren't a lot of women who served in politics in the 40's, especially those with young children at home. And you're right - why did the women have to go by "Mrs. husband's name"?

    1. Debi, I believe you're right - very few women in elected positions at that time. I wish I could confirm the family lore about her being the first woman on this board, but it may require finding a smaller, more local, newspaper. Thanks for commenting.