Luah Miller Butler “is a woman of rare mental attainments, possessing literary talent of a high order,” William Rusler wrote in his 1921 history of Allen County, adding that Butler “is distinguished not only for the prominent position she holds in the social, charitable, literary and religious circles of city and county, but for the honored ancestry from which she is descended.”
Butler, who turned 60 years old in 1921, delivered a history of her own in November of that year. In a paper presented to the Allen County Historical Society, Butler recalled the half century that had passed since her family arrived in Lima on a warm Good Friday in April 1871 to find a city giddily awaiting the hanging of Andrew Brentlinger.
Butler, who was 10 years old at the time, wrote that she would never “forget the horror of that day. It was sure to stamp itself upon the mind of a child – for they were going to hang a man – something inconceivable to me – at that time and now.”
Brentlinger, a Shawnee Township farmer who had stabbed his wife to death the previous October, holds the grim distinction of being the only man ever legally hanged in Allen County.
Although few witnessed the hanging, which was carried out behind the walls of the county jail on West North Street, Brentlinger’s corpse was displayed in the jail yard. Butler remembered the crowds that “surged back and forth until they could enter” the jail yard. Two of the gawkers, Butler wrote, “were lovely girls of prominent families,” who “marched around” the coffin nine times.
Luah Miller was born into a prominent family herself in January 1861. Her father, Alexander Miller, came to Ohio from Pennsylvania, settling in Cincinnati, where he married Martha Ann Cooper Riddle Miller, the widow of Thomas Jefferson Riddle. Luah’s great-grandfather had served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War, while her grandfather was in the War of 1812. Alexander Miller settled in Delphos around 1860 and “established an extensive milling business, being engaged in the manufacture of flour, paper and woolen goods.”
Unlike her grim early memories of Lima, Luah fondly recalled her early childhood in Delphos with her parents and older brother, Edward.
“Memory brings back our quaint garden filled with long beds of old-fashioned flowers with tan bark walks between. I would travel about in this garden shaking my head at flowers that were not fragrant and settling down like a bee with the ones that were sweet smelling,” she wrote.
Likewise, after its frightening start, life in Lima seems to have agreed with Butler, whose childhood home was at 131 N. West St., just down the street she recalled, from a frog pond on the southwest corner of Elizabeth and High streets. The pond, she noted, “gave me a convenient sliding place” in winter.
“A haunted house on the corner of West and High added to frolics there where ‘Old Herritt’ was supposed to walk of nights from the room where he had shot himself,” she added. “We would slide, scamper and stumble down the stairs when someone called out, ‘There he is girls!’”
Butler attended school at the Union School, which was in what was known as the West school building on West North Street and graduated as part of a class of six.
On April 4, 1888, she married Wilson W. Butler, a native of Knox County.
“For fifteen years he was associated with the Westerley Granite Company in Lima but sold his interests in the concern and has since lived in Canada, being separated from his family,” Rusler wrote.
In January 1899, the News reported Luah Butler sued Wilson Butler for divorce on grounds of failure to support. The couple were parents of a daughter named Gladys, who was born in November 1889. Wilson Butler remarried in October of 1899 and died in 1937.
“Luah Miller Butler from 1895 until 1904 was editor of the Woman’s page of the Lima Times-Democrat, and also wrote advertising for a local firm, supporting her mother and daughter in this way,” Rusler wrote. Butler’s father, Alexander Miller, died in 1892; her mother died in 1910.
“Going then with her daughter to Wellesley (Massachusetts), she continued her studies there three years in special English work in Wellesley College,” Rusler noted. “Returning to Lima in 1910, Mrs. Butler subsequently spent one season in California and various points and subsequently traveled in Europe.”
Butler, often accompanied by her daughter Gladys, was a frequent traveler but always returned to her home at 684 W. Spring St.
“Mrs. Luah M. Butler and daughter Gladys of West Spring Street, are home after a visit with friends at various western points and a three weeks’ stay at Lakeside,” the News reported in September 1902.
In April 1914, according to the News, Butler returned to her West Spring Street home after spending the winter with a niece in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Mrs. Butler has spent a delightful winter in the southland, not the least of her pleasures being the trip she took on the new railroad down through the Everglades,” the newspaper wrote.
When at home, Butler was, as Rusler noted, “active in club circles.” She was a charter member of the T and T Club, an early member of the Sappho Club, which became the Women’s Music Club, the Business Women’s Club and served from 1919 to 1921 as president of the Lima Federation of Women’s Clubs. She also belonged to the Allen County Historical Association and the Lima Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A member of Market Street Presbyterian Church, she wrote a centennial history of the congregation.
As a prominent Lima citizen, Butler’s opinion was sought on the important matters of the day. She helped in the push for women’ suffrage, throwing open her home for meetings of the Political Equality Club, opined that women were qualified to serve as jurors, backed a city manager form of city government and even offered her opinion on the trend of women wearing overalls as a means of keeping down the cost of living.
“It seems to me that it would be a saving,” Butler told the News on April 18, 1920. “I know some women who are wearing overalls for working around their homes and gardens. It saves buying expensive aprons. Overalls can be made to look attractive, too.”
Butler went beyond words. In the lean days in the wake of World War I, Butler used her position as head of the Federation of Women’s Clubs to expose inconsistencies in food pricing and lead efforts to obtain food for needy residents.
In 1919, she directed a doughnut drive for the Salvation Army, which resulted in the sale of more than 10,000 doughnuts and raised more than $1,400 for the Salvation Army.
“Four big army trucks, just like they used in France, two donated by the Gramm-Bernstein company, and two by the Garford company, will be rigged up and will be on the streets,” the News reported in May 1919. “They will have stoves and a corps of workers who will fry the tasty cakes and dispense them from trucks.”
Butler remained active well into her 80s. In November 1943, the News noted that “Luah M. Butler of Lima, a lover of art of all people of the world,” was one of those answering questions at an exhibit of Russian art in Memorial Hall.
Eighty-four-year-old Luah Butler died in October 1945. Her daughter, Gladys, died in 1940.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.