A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. featuring Samuel Hopkins Adams (Dunkirk), Loren and Walter Sessions (Clymer and Panama), Victor Rice (Mayville), Pauline G. Stitt (Frewsburg) and Katherine Bement Davis (Dunkirk). Originally broadcast on local radio stations Oct. 3 – Oct. 7, 2011.
No. 191 – Samual Hopkins Adams
Samuel Hopkins Adams was born January 26, 1871 in Dunkirk, the son of Minister Myron Adams and Hester Rose. Hopkins entered Hamilton College in Clinton, New York in 1887. From 1891 to 1929, he was a reporter for the New York Sun and then joined McClure’s Magazine, where he gained a reputation as a muckraker for his articles on the conditions of public health in the United States.
In a series of eleven articles he wrote for Collier’s Weekly in 1905, “The Great American Fraud,” Adams exposed many of the false claims made about patent medicines, pointing out that in some cases these medicines were damaging the health of the people using them. The series had a huge impact and led to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.
In 1911 the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of falsifications referred only to the ingredients of the medicine. This meant that companies were again free to make false claims about their products. Adams returned to the attack and another series of articles in Collier’s Weekly, Adams exposed the misleading advertising that companies were using to sell their products.
Adams also wrote fiction as well. “Night Bus”, one of Adams’s many magazine stories, became the basis for the film It Happened One Night. His best-known novel, Revelry (1926), based on the scandals of the Warren G. Harding administration, was later followed by Incredible Era (1939), a biography of Harding.
Among his other works are The Great American Fraud (1906), The Flying Death (1906), and the Unspeakable Perk (1916).
In the 1920s Adams wrote two novels, Flaming Youth and Unforbidden Fruit, dealing with the sexual urges of young women in the Jazz Age – these novels had a frankness that was shocking for their time, and Adams published them under the pseudonym “Warner Fabian” so that his other works would not be tainted by any scandal accruing to these novels. Both novels became best-sellers.
No. 192 – Loren & Walter Sessions
The Sessions family was a successful and celebrated family from Panama.
Walter Sessions was born in Brandon, Vermont on Oct. 4, 1820. Seven years later, his brother Loren Session was born, on Oct. 12, 1827. In about 1835, their family moved to the Clymer area. Both boys attended school in the area and then went on to study at the Westfield Academy. Walter would then go on to Hamilton College and the Maynard Knox Law School, while Loren studied at the Albany Normal School.
Walter Sessions taught school before moving to Panama and read law under the honorable Abner Lewis. He was admitted to the state bar in 1849 and began to practice law in the village.
Walter was elected to the New York Assembly and served one term from 1853 to 1854. He also served in the New York State Senate from 1860-1861 and also from 1866-1867. From 1870-72 he was the Town of Harmony Supervisor and also served in the 42nd, 43rd and 49th U.S. Congress.
Walter Session’s daughter, Edith Sessions Tupper, was a published novelist and Broadway playwright. She was born in 1855 and educated in Fredonia, Buffalo and Vassar College. From 1888 to 1926 she penned over 40 novels, short stories and plays.
In 1893, Walter was appointed commissioner of the State of New York to the World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago. He retired in Panama but continued to practice law in an office in Jamestown until his death on May 27, 1896 at the age of 76.
Loren Sessions taught school for a time after college, then read law in his brother’s law office in Panama. He became a member of the Chautauqua County Bar in 1853. He also was responsible for masterminding his older brother’s political fortunes.
In 1877, he accepted the nomination for State Senator and was elected for two consecutive two-year terms. He was also Town Supervisor of Harmony for 23 years, serving 17 of those years as chairman of the county board of supervisors. Loren Sessions died in 1897 at the age of 70.
No. 193 – Victor Rice
Victor M. Rice was born in Mayville on April 5, 1818 to William and Rachel Waldo Rice. He studied in local schools and later attended Alleghany College in Pennsylvania. In 1842 after graduating from college, Rice began studying law in Mayville and was admitted to the bar, though he did not follow the profession. Instead, in 1843, he moved to Buffalo and became a teacher at Buffalo High School.
While living in the Buffalo area, Rice also spent time as editor of the Cataract and the Western Temperance Standard, and then returned to teaching.
In 1851, Rice was elected to the New York Assembly, where he served as chairman of the committee on public education. In 1852, Rice was elected city superintendent of schools in Buffalo and his talents as an organizer and administrator of education became well known. In 1853, he was chosen president of the State Teachers’ Association, and in 1854 was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, to which position he served until 1868.
It’s said that among his many accomplishments, Rice’s greatest achievement was in 1867, when he convinced the state legislature to abolish tuition rates, making public education through secondary school free to all residents of New York State.
Other accomplishments included the Office of School Commissioner, which was created upon his advice, and the creation of the Code of Public Instruction, which was to be followed by all teachers in the state.
He also published a report on the State of Education in the United States and Other Countries in 1867, which was read by education officials throughout the country.
No. 194 – Pauline G. Stitt
Pauline G. Stitt was born May 28, 1909 and raised in the Frewsburg area. She was the daughter of Austin and Allene Davis Stitt. Pauline graduated from Frewsburg High School in 1926 and from the University of Michigan College of Medicine in 1933. After receiving her degree and becoming a pediatrician, she first began working in the Buffalo City Hospital before moving back to Chautauqua County to start her own practice.
In 1940, Stitt left private practice to go to a TB sanatorium in Cassadaga. There she was told she could not go back to private practice because of the irregular hours and that could take a toll on her health. After leaving the sanatorium, Stint returned to Buffalo to serve as an Assistant Medical Superintendant at the city hospital. When Wolrd War II brok out, she went to Hawaii in 1943 and worked as a physician at Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children. Following the war she went to Washington D.C. to serve in the U.S. Children’s Bureau.
Stitt then went on to serve at several pretstigious colleges and organizations throughout the remainder of her career, providing input and guidance in the field of pediatrics.
Among the posts Stitt held were clinical professor of pediatrics at Howard University College of Medicine. She also served at the Harvard School of Public Health in several capacities, and she was associate professor of preventive medicine and associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University Medical School.
She also taught courses for nurses, social workers and nutritionists at various schools, and during 1967 she went on a three month World Health Organization assignment as consultant to the School of Public Health in Bangkok.
Stitt spent her final days in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she died Sept. 11, 1996 at the age of 83. For many years, the “Pauline Stitt” award is given each year to an outstanding student in the University of Hawaii School of Public Health.
No. 195 – Katherine Bement Davis
Katherine Bement Davis was born in Buffalo, New York on January 15, 1860 to Oscar and Frances Freeman Davis. Her mother was a strong proponent of women’s rights and a zealous advocate for women’s suffrage. Katherine and her family lived in Dunkirk for most of her childhood until she was 17 when they then moved to Rochester, N.Y.
In 1879, Katherine graduated from Rochester Free Academy and returned to Dunkirk to teach at Dunkirk Academy. While at Dunkirk Academy, she established a women’s equality club and led a women’s literacy group. She taught chemistry for ten years in Dunkirk before finally saving enough money to continue her schooling.
In 1890, Katherine enrolled in Vassar College. After graduating from Vassar, she continued her studies at Columbia University’s Barnard College and also taught at the Brooklyn Heights Seminary for Girls in New York City.
While studying at Barnard, Katherine managed a project to develop a model home for a display at the Chicago World Fair. As a result of its success, she was offered a job running a settlement house in Philadelphia. There, she worked with Pennsylvania University and the Wharton School to do groundbreaking research of blacks in urban America.
After Philadelphia, Katherine studied at Chicago University where she became the first female Fellow in Political Science-Economics to earn a Ph.D. In 1901, she became the first superintendent of the New York State Reformatory for Women at Bedford Hills. Her work there lead to groundbreaking reforms in the female prison system.
As a result of her work at Bedford Hills, Katherine became head of the Correction Commission in 1914, making her the first woman to lead an agency in New York City. She was also on the Progressive party’s 1914 slate for State Constitutional Convention seat, making her the first woman to run for a New York statewide office on a major party ticket.
In 1918, Katherine became the head of the Bureau of Social Hygiene and arranged for ground-breaking research on women’s sexuality. She remained at the post until retirment in 1927. In February 1928, the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom was filled with Progressive Era reformers to honor Davis at a testimonial dinner. The guests including Eleanor Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller Jr. The Panama-Pacific Exposition also designated her one of the three most distinguished women in America.
In 1928, Katherine Davis retired to California with her sisters. She died on December 10, 1935 at the age of 65.
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.