by Larry Miller
Seeing old hometown photographs can stir up lots of memories. Contemporary photos of old buildings still standing do the same thing. So when I saw a photo of the old building at 201 West 2nd Street in Chadron the other day, I thought, "Oh, yes, I remember that old building, so what?"
The "what" for me was trying to remember what businesses operated out of that old building over the years. Saunder's Furniture comes to mind from the late '40s into the '50s. Then there were the Gilmore's, Ken and Marge, who lived in an upstairs apartment in the 1950s. We're sure there were many other businesses and families associated with the building over the past century or so.
But what really got me hooked on the building was the short story that accompanied the photo.
It recounted a few achievements of one Mary Smith-Hayward.
Who was she?
Born in Pennsylvania, she came to Nebraska when she was in her 40s and gained prominence as a suffragette, successful businesswoman, and animal rights activist. Who, among those of us raised in Chadron during the mid-20th century knew anything about this Mary Smith-Hayward? Not many, I suspect.
We had heard of Fannie O'Linn, of course. Fannie was probably the best-known woman in Chadron's early history. After all, she was the first woman attorney in Nebraska. She was also postmistress for the community of "O'Linn," which was near Dakota Junction, west of Chadron. There was no Chadron in those days. In 1885, when the FE&MV Railroad came to Dawes County just a couple of miles east of O'Linn, a new town sprouted up. Fannie lost her battle to name the new community O'Linn. It became "Chadron," Fannie and other O'Linn residents soon picked up and moved to the new town.
Mary Smith-Hayward was a contemporary of Fannie O'Linn's. They were both around town while James Dahlman was county sheriff and mayor of Chadron. And they were both activists.
Mary was certainly known locally – but her activities (notoriety?) made her more visible across the state. Her husband was a rancher, but Mary was not your typical ranch wife. According to the Centennial History of Chadron published in 1985, Mary Smith Hayward's animal rights advocacy led her to oppose the famous "Chadron to Chicago" horse race in 1893.
While revisiting Patricia Pinney's compilation of Dawes County–The First 100 Years, we happened across what appears to be a very old photograph of a fountain captioned "Fountain in Honor of Mrs. Mary E. Smith-Hayward in Court House Park, Chadron, Neb."
Learn a bit more about Mary Smith-Hayward in this Nebraska History piece authored by Ryan Reed: History at the Corner of Chadron Avenue and West 2nd Street.