Poetry, the Paris World’s Fair, a Battleship, and John Philip Sousa: “The Ohio Poet” Ida Eckert Lawrence

April is U.S. National Poetry Month, and in recognition this blog post explores a renowned poet who was born in Richland County, just outside Belville, although later in life she lived in Kansas, Toledo, and finally Los Angeles.

Ida Eckert was born just outside of Belville to Daniel S and Nancy A Eckert around 1861, and her family lived there until she was about 6 years old. At that point, the family moved to Wayne County, and by 1880 the family had moved to Topeka, Kansas. In Topeka in 1880, Ida married her first husband, Thomas Brower Peacock, and in 1883 they had a son named Aubrey [1-7].

In Kansas, Ida became very involved with the local writers’ scene, from press to poetry. She was a member of both the Kansas Editorial Association and the Kansas Women’s Press Association, and wrote for both newspapers and magazines [8].

Photo from A. J. Baughman, A Centennial History of Richland County

In 1897, already recognized as “a well known writer of short stories and poems,” she married again, this time to Fred A. Lawrence, of Chicago. They were married in Kansas, but shortly thereafter moved back to Ohio, this time to Toledo, where Fred was a partner in the J. Melvin & Co. clothing company [9].

Successes in Poetry

While in Toledo, Ida’s recognition as a poet continued to grow, and in 1900 she published a volume of her poetry with the Robert Clark Company of Cincinnati under the title Day Dreams. The book was fairly successful, and had three print runs at the time [10].

Ida was also honored in 1900 to be chosen as one of the Ohio Women Commissioners to the Paris Exposition, also known as the Exposition Universelle or World’s Fair [11].

While at the Paris Exposition, Ida was further selected to speak to the International Women’s Congress on the topic of women in American literature. Her talk was apparently very well received, and it was reported that she spoke of such authors as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Louisa May Alcott. She also spoke about Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of the women’s suffrage movement and women in journalism [12].

“Brains, industry, and tact are the necessary qualifications, and we have proved successfully that women are no longer children but are representing themselves along all lines of thought and work. In Frances E. Willard, Clara Barton, and Jane Addams our authors may find the heroic souls heroines are made of.”

Ida Eckert Lawrence, speech as quoted in “Ohioans Abroad,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, 8 Jul 1900, p 17.

The next year, returning to the United States after attending the Paris World’s Fair, Ida was chosen to write and read a poem to commemorate the launch of the Battleship Ohio (third of its name) from San Francisco. She traveled to San Francisco to read the poem as part of the launch, and on her way west she stopped in Kansas to visit with her family and speak to the Ohio Association there, where she was also well-received [13].

In 1902, Ida’s poetry achieved yet another mark of renown: it was set to music by another Richland County native, Lulu Genet, and arranged for orchestra by John Philip Sousa. The poems that were set to music included “Way Down South” and “Day Dreams,” the title poem of Ida’s poetry volume. Sousa’s arrangements of the music and poetry were performed in Pittsburgh with a full band and a vocalist of Sousa’s choosing [14] .

A Divorce, and a Move to California

The next “newsworthy” event of Ida’s life was her divorce from Fred Lawrence in 1907. Various newspapers described the reasoning for the divorce somewhat differently: the Stark County Democrat reported that she divorced him “because he clipped unfavorable criticism of her poetry from newspapers,” while the Wooster Republican stated that Ida “claimed cruelty…[and] claimed he ridiculed her literary productions,” and finally the Defiance Daily Democrat reported briefly that she filed the divorce “alleging extreme cruelty” [15]. Whatever the reason for their divorce, Ida was not unmarried for very long. She moved to Los Angeles in June of that year and was married to James K. Connor, a “train man,” but they chose not to tell anyone of their marriage until word got out in October when Ida returned to Kansas to visit her family [16]. In the 1920 census Ida was reported as a widow living with her son, still in the occupation of authoring verse [17]. She herself passed away in 1931, and was buried in Los Angeles [18].

Sources

  1. “Noted Poet Visits County,” Wooster Republican (Wooster, OH), 10 Apr 1907, p 6.
  2. 1870 United States Federal Census, Canaan, Wayne, Ohio, digital image, s.v. “Daniel Eckert,” Ancestry.com.
  3. 1880 United States Federal Census, Mission, Shawnee, Kansas, digital image, s.v. “Daniel Eckert,” Ancestry.com.
  4. 1895 Kansas State Census,
  5. 1900 United States Federal Census, Toledo Ward 9, Lucas, Ohio, digial image, s.v. “Fred A Lawrence,” Ancestry.com.
  6. 1910 United States Federal Census, Los Angeles Assembly District 71, Los Angeles, California, digital image, s.v. “James K. Connor,” Ancestry.com.
  7. 1920 United States Federal Census, Los Angeles Township, Los Angeles, California, s.v. “Ida E. Lawrence,” Ancestry.com.
  8. “The Kansas Poetess Married,” Topeka State Journal, 27 May 1897, p 4.
  9. “Ohio Women Commissioners at Paris Exposition,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, 29 Apr 1900.
  10. “The Kansas Poetess Married,” Topeka State Journal, 27 May 1897, p 4.
  11. “Ida Eckert Lawrence,” Bellville Messenger (Bellville, OH), 5 Jan 1900.
  12. “Ohio Women Commissioners to the Paris Exposition,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, 29 Apr 1900, p 28.
  13. “Ohioans Abroad,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, 8 Jul 1900, p 17.
  14. “Sousa Arranges Orchestration and His Band Plays Music Composed and Worded by Former Residents of this City,” Mansfield News (Mansfield, OH), 27 Sep 1902, p 6.
  15. “Late Ohio Specials,” Stark County Democrat (OH), 26 Mar 1907, p 5; Defiance Democrat (OH), 4 Jan 1907 p 8; Wooster Republican (OH), 10 Apr 1907, p6.
  16. “Secret Marriage Announced,” Los Angeles Herald, 30 Oct 1907 p 12.
  17. 1920 United States Federal Census, Los Angeles Township, Los Angeles, California, s.v. “Ida E. Lawrence,” Ancestry.com.
  18. California Death Index, digital image, s.v. “Ida E Eckert,” Ancestry.com.

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