Supreme Court of Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor helped to unveil the Ohio Historical Marker in Tiffin honoring Nettie and Florence Cronise as the first women to be accepted to the bar in Ohio Wednesday.
Born in Seneca County, both sisters attended Heidelberg College. Florence graduated in 1865 at the top of her class, while Nettie moved to State Normal School in Illinois.
In 1873, Nettie became the first woman admitted to the Ohio Bar Association. Six months later, her younger sister joined her, and they opened their own practice, N. & F. Cronise, Attorneys at Law, in Tiffin.
PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE
Maureen O'Connor, chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, unveils the historical marker Wednesday on Courthouse Square. To view more photos from this event, visit cu.advertiser-tribune.com.
Their practice was the first woman-owned law firm in the state.
When Nettie married Nelson Lutes, she joined her husband in their firm Lutes and Lutes. They worked together even as he went deaf, and she would interpret cases for him in the courtroom.
The sisters were nationally respected and participated in the Columbian Exposition of 1893, where Florence gave the opening remarks and Nettie gave a speech titled "Women as Lawyer."
Nettie also was active in a number of professional organizations, while Florence served on the local school board and was an original incorporator of what is now the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.
Local attorney and President of the Seneca County Bar Association James Fruth opened Wednesday's dedication ceremony by saying the recognition was "140 years overdue." He spoke about the sisters' history in Tiffin and the state, along with recognizing that the Supreme Court of Ohio now has a majority of women justices.
"It's an honor to be a part of the celebration," Fruth said.
Mayor Aaron Montz said that it was hard to believe how short of a time it has been since women have been granted the right to vote.
He also commended the sisters on becoming practicing attorneys before they had been granted voting rights.
"There are so many wonderful things that we need to be proud of," he said. "It's a great feeling to know we have such a great history."
State Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, also spoke about the event, calling it "exciting" and said he has also witnessed several firsts, including Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor's contributions.
Ohio Historical Society Local History Coordinator Andy Verhoff congratulated the involved members for choosing to erect the historical marker. He said he was proud the city chose the marker program to commemorate the sisters' achievements and for acknowledging the city's heritage.
A proclamation was read from Gov. John Kasich's office officially recognizing the marker on Courthouse Square.
Ohio State Bar Association President Jonathan Hollingsworth spoke about the "struggle for gender equality" and how the sisters were trailblazers for women.
O'Connor called it a "historic day" and said "(we) stand on the shoulders of those before us" and that the sisters opened up many opportunities for women.
She also said it was an "honor and a privilege" to be the first female Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice.
She recognized members of the Supreme Court of Ohio also in attendance, including Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger, Justice Terrence O'Donnell and Justice Judith L. French.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, although not in attendance, offered a statement in recognition of the sisters' achievements.
"Nettie and Florence Cronise overcame prejudice and discrimination to achieve their dreams of practicing law, and in so doing, set an example for generations of Ohio women," Brown said. "They were trailblazers who proved that women have both the ability and the right to pursue any career."
In addition to the historical marker, Court Street between Washington and Jefferson streets was given the honorary street name N. & F. Cronise Way.
Prior to the ceremony, Heidelberg student Rebecca Dickinson gave a historical perspective of the Cronises' contributions at a Tiffin-Seneca Public Library presentation, while Katelyn Hough and Leigh Barthel gave a performance as Nettie and Florence, respectively.
Heidelberg University's Women's Leadership Initiative also hosted a luncheon as part of its "Early Success Speakers" series. Featured in the luncheon were Rebecca Denton Shope, Jennifer Coletta McHugh and Carrie Benedict, Heidelberg alumni and practicing attorneys.
Sponsors for the events were the Seneca County Bar Association, the Barnes-Deinzer Seneca County Museum Foundation, the Ohio State Bar Association and Heidelberg University.
Also recognized at the event were members of Tiffin Historic Trust, Ohio Historical Society and officials from the city of Tiffin and Seneca County.
The Seneca County Bar Association also organized an exhibit dedicated to the women and the context of their achievements at Bailiwicks Coffee Co.