“Social and business status of womenfolk have been altered decidedly in the last half century,” The Lima News opined in 1928.
“Whereas in the eighteen sixties, seventies, eighties and ‘naughty nineties,’ women’s sole occupation was that of ‘mistress of the house,’” the newspaper wrote, “many modern women are, in addition to housekeeper, a business or professional woman with time, also, for a hobby.”
For Dr. Josephine Peirce, an osteopath who was “active in club work among women,” the welfare of children was “her favorite hobby” outside of her profession. “The promotion of better child care is the one thing that provides her the most happiness,” The Lima News wrote August 26, 1928.
Dr. Peirce enjoyed her hobby for more than five decades in Lima, and Lima benefited from her devotion to it. Dr. Peirce founded the Allen County Child’s Welfare Association, served more than 30 years on the city recreation board and, near the end of her life, was elected to the city school board and served as the first female president of the board. In March 1933, The Lima News wrote that Dr. Peirce was believed to have been Lima’s second female physician.
The 1976 history of Allen County wrote that Dr. Peirce was “a wife and mother as well as a professional woman at a time when the combination was rare.”
She was born Josephine Liffring in Kiel, Wisconsin, in 1874 but was raised in Cherokee County, Iowa. Dr. Peirce graduated from the Still College of Osteopathy in Des Moines, Iowa, and came to Lima soon after.
On May 2, 1902, the Lima Times-Democrat reported that Miss Josephine B. Liffring had married Dr. William S. Peirce, a native of Grinell, Iowa, and a graduate of the Still College of osteopathy.
“Mrs. Pierce (sic) was known before her marriage as Dr. Josephine Liffring and has been Dr. Pierce’s assistant here since her graduation from Still college of osteopathy,” the newspaper reported. “They have established their office in room 49 Holmes block.”
In March 1952, the couple was honored for 100 years collective service as osteopaths.
The doctors also collaborated on two children, a son and a daughter. Louis Peirce graduated from Harvard Law School and worked as an attorney in Cleveland, while their daughter, named Josephine like her mother, studied at Wellesley College in Massachusetts before marrying William H. Brown and settling in Boston.
Dr. Peirce soon wove herself into the social fabric of the city, joining the Lotus Club and serving as the head of several departments of the Lima Federation of Women’s Clubs, an umbrella organization over the many women’s clubs in Lima at the time. She frequently appeared as a speaker at federation events or as a representative of the federation. In January 1911, The Lima News reported that “the educational committee of the City Federation has arranged with Dr. Josephine Peirce for a lecture to the mothers of the city on the important period of childhood called the adolescent period.”
Although her focus was child welfare, her interests were many. During the early years of the 20th century, she would speak on topics ranging from women’s suffrage to the need for statewide prohibition of liquor and the banning of fireworks.
Dr. Peirce eventually served as president of the Lima Federation of Women’s Clubs, president of the Ohio federation and as a vice president of the national federation.
Child welfare, however, remained her passion. In January 1916, The Lima News reported Dr. Peirce was named chairman of the committee overseeing a citywide celebration of “Baby Week.” The week was designed to ensure, in the words of The Lima Times-Democrat, “healthier, brighter, happier children.”
It was a success. “Having for its object the betterment of childhood everywhere and especially in the city, after the splendid work done during baby week, the societies interested met last night at the chamber of commerce and organized the Child Welfare Association,” The Lima News reported in April 1916. Dr. Peirce, the driving force behind the group, became its president.
In June 1918, a leader of the Ohio branch of the Parent Teacher Association told The Lima News that Dr. Peirce was “recognized all over Ohio as a force for the betterment of children and also for governmental work.”
In the early 1920s, Dr. Peirce, as part of her work with the city federation, began overseeing recreational programs on city playgrounds. As with much of her other work, once Dr. Peirce became involved, she remained involved. She eventually was honored by the city for three decades of work with the city recreation board.
In September 1923, she became one of nine candidates, three of them women, vying for three seats on the city school board. Despite an endorsement from the Lima Republican-Gazette, Dr. Peirce finished out of the top three. She spent $29 on her campaign.
The loss was unusual. Dr. Peirce rarely failed to land in a leadership position. She was founder and first president of the Osteopathic Women’s National Association, vice president of the Lima Tax League, an organization backing a tax-limit amendment to the state constitution, president of the Lima Mental Hygiene Council, president of the Allen County District Health and Tuberculosis organization and leader of the women’s division of the Community Fund Campaign.
In November 1930, President Herbert Hoover invited Dr. Peirce to attend a White House conference on child health and protection. Five years later, in November 1935, as the world began spinning toward World War II, Dr. Peirce was named to the national advisory council of a youth movement called SOS, which, according to The Lima News, “has for its purpose war on war and arousing the public to demand a practical program to keep America out of war.”
America went to war six years later, and Dr. Peirce was named to head the consumer interest committee of the local Civilian Defense Council, which offered, among other things, information on food shortages and help in planning meals while dealing with rationing. In 1943, she became president of the Health for Victory Club and joined the committee of the Lima Victory Garden organization. The following year, she was appointed to the wartime rationing board.
Following the war, Dr. Peirce was involved with the March of Dimes Campaign, the local chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (polio) and the League of Women Voters. She was named Lima’s Woman of the Year by the Soroptimist Club in 1952.
In November 1949, 26 years after failing to win a seat on the city school board, Dr. Peirce was elected, thanks to the large number of women who turned out to vote because of her candidacy, according to The Lima News. In 1953, as president of the school board, she oversaw the groundbreaking ceremony for the city’s new senior high school.
She was still serving on the school board when she died at the age of 83 in August 1957. Her husband had died in September 1956.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.