Michelle Ann Kratts

Please Sign Our Petition!

In 1940's Era Wartime Scrapbook, Niagara Falls on May 31, 2015 at 7:55 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

To Honor Elizabeth Howe

There are a few glorious monuments in front of our City Hall in Niagara Falls. You have seen them. I pause to look at them when I drive by…when I go inside. It is extremely hard to read the words inscribed upon them, as they are very faded with time, but one afternoon I stopped to look more closely and I even took a few pictures. Here is what is inscribed upon one of the monuments:

To the memory of those pioneers and citizens of Niagara Falls who through their patriotism, self-sacrifice and endeavors have contributed in an outstanding degree to the greatness of our beloved city this monument is dedicated. Judge Augustus Porter, General Peter B. Porter, Judge Samuel DeVeaux, Hon. Thomas Welch, Col. Charles B. Gaskill, Hon. W. Caryl Ely, Hon. Peter A. Porter, Alexander Jeffrey Porter, Albert Huntington Hooker, DeLancey Rankine, Frank A. Dudley

It is followed with the names of several local heroes. How exciting to see these excellent men from our history honored in such a way! But I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing. Surely, there must have been at least one woman from our history worthy of having her name among these great men! And it didn’t take me any time at all to know which woman that would be, for I knew instantly: Elizabeth Howe.

You probably have never heard of her, but I promise you, I will never tire of singing her praises. Even as she died in Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital about fifty-two years before I was born (at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital)—I can say that I know Miss Howe intimately and I can also tell you that there is no one more worthy of praise.

My friend Pete Ames, a fellow genealogist who volunteers tirelessly at Oakwood Cemetery and in the city through various historical research projects, introduced me to this wonderful woman several years ago. Buried in the Stunters’ Section at Oakwood Cemetery near the world famous daredevils of Niagara it might be said she, herself, was not so unlike a daredevil for she surely fought against the greatest of odds during her time at Niagara, too.

Miss Howe’s story in Niagara Falls was short. However, there was not another individual who left such a giant footprint behind in our city. She came here in the Fall of 1919—an Experienced Social Settlement Worker—who had come all the way from Boston after being assigned a very difficult task by the War Council of the YWCA. She had travelled the world over, had worked in many situations, but this job in Niagara Falls was seemingly impossible. She had been sent here to start up an International Institute.

The International Institute was formed out of necessity in Niagara Falls on October 13, 1920. Statistically, Niagara Falls contained the second largest percentage of immigrants in New York State, only overshadowed by New York City. The thousands of pilgrims from foreign lands found themselves in need of many services, especially the women. Most importantly they needed to learn English. The International Institute in Niagara Falls was established to assimilate and Americanize the local foreign born women. In Miss Howe’s own words, “the main purpose in establishing this institution is to make the foreigner feel at home in this country and particularly in this city. Our idea is to also make it easier for them to live here, to understand our ways and to understand us…”

Initially, it was quite difficult for Miss Howe to entice the women to the benefits of her establishment—for many of the men were quite opposed to the idea of it and the women were frightened of disobeying.    Her notes reveal the great battles she fought with the local priests, especially.   It was apparent that they felt that the immigrant women didn’t need to venture out of their homes and into the secular world for assistance.  She felt otherwise!  And she won them over in the end with the generosity of her works.  She made it so easy for them.   Once the first few came (out of curiosity) many thousands more followed.  When they said they could not make it because their children needed them, she opened a nursery and welcomed the children, too.  She hired a staff of brilliant female teachers and each of them were fluent in various languages:  Italian, Armenian, Polish, Syrian. Miss Howe, herself, was fluent in numerous languages.   As well as teaching the English language, there were classes on American principles, customs and methods of living, civics, cooking classes and sewing classes. The women were taught how to file birth records, how to fill in their naturalization papers.    There were children’s story times and book clubs for the mothers. Miss Howe and her workers also assisted the women in every sort of social problem and dilemma you could imagine.  One of the last acts of her life was the procuring of a double stroller for an impoverished mother of twins.  During the month of February, 1921, 735 calls for help were recorded and fulfilled at the International Institute.  It is hard to believe such incredible work went on in this empty lot on East Falls Street.   Miss Howe was so proud of what was unfolding before her very eyes.  She mentioned to a Niagara Gazette reporter, one day in January of 1920, “…is it not wonderful and a great country, too?”

Miss Howe was only fifty three when she died of pneumonia on November 15, 1922.  The incredible burden of her work proved to be too much, even for a woman of her stamina, and it seems that she literally had worked herself to death.  Women of twenty five nations were brought together because of the hard work and deep devotion of one woman.  Day or night she was there for those in dire need and thousands of acts of social service were rendered.  The notes she kept are priceless.  Her story has touched our lives.  Once upon a time there was a little fireball of a woman in Niagara Falls who paved the way so the rest of us may live in a world of opportunity.   She was only here for a few years however her great legacy of love remains.  Even the newspapers of her day remarked about her work of love.

Sadly, like much of the East Side of Niagara Falls, the International Institute (which had been located at 1116 East Falls Street) is gone. The only physical remnant of this space is an open field near Holy Trinity Church. But the spirit of this beautiful woman and all of those people she helped lives on in this city and especially in the descendants of these immigrant people. Our immigrant ancestors who did the back-breaking work of building the Hydraulic Canal, who labored in the factories, who made it possible to bring light and electricity to the world from Niagara Falls, certainly contributed just as much as the factory owners and the power moguls. Miss Howe represented these people and gave her life to this city.

If you are in agreement that Elizabeth Howe deserves to have her name memorialized among the other giants of our city’s past, please sign our online petition which you may access at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/485/906/134/add-elizabeth-howes-name-to-city-hall-monument/ or on paper at the Lewiston Public Library.  Once we have enough names I will present our request to the city and see where it takes us.   I am also working on completing an application nominating Miss Howe to the National Women’s Hall of Fame. I look forward to the day when she will be given her due respect in a most official way—among the greatest people from our city’s history and among the nation’s finest women.

Full Image

The only known picture of Elizabeth Howe (standing toward the back)

Niagara Falls Gazette

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