Meet three Buckeyes whose achievements were bigger than their names.
The Capitol Square Foundation began bestowing the Great Ohioan Award in 2003 for a special Statehouse exhibit that honors enduring and significant contributions to history. The list of recipients is a who’s who of famous Buckeyes—John Glenn, William Howard Taft, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ulysses S. Grant and Jesse Owens among them.
Yet, a few honorees, such as Agnes Meyer Driscoll, Catherine Nelson Black and Albert Belmont Graham, may prompt the question: “Who?”
Charles Moses, chairman of the Capitol Square Foundation board, says the award—which can go to anyone born in Ohio or who lived here at least five years—recognizes many forms of achievement. “It’s representative of what Ohio is all about, in whatever walk of life. It’s not just politics and the military.”
So consider the historical achievements of these unheralded Great Ohioans, each with Central Ohio ties.
Agnes Meyer Driscoll
After studying for two years at Otterbein College, Driscoll graduated in 1911 from Ohio State University, where she majored in mathematics and physics—atypical for a woman at the time—as well as foreign languages and music. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1918, and as one of its leading cryptanalysts, she helped break two Japanese naval codes in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the 1940s, Driscoll made key advances into the Japanese fleet’s operational code to aid the U.S. Navy after Pearl Harbor. This 2015 Great Ohioan was also a developer of early machine systems to make and break ciphers, according to her National Security Agency biography.
Driscoll retired in 1959 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery upon her death in 1971. A historical marker identifies her childhood home on South State Street in Westerville.
Catherine Nelson Black
Born in 1858 in Etna, Ohio, Nelson Black made it her lifelong mission to fight tuberculosis and cancer, as well as to bring health care to the underprivileged.
After studying medicine in Boston, New York and Chicago, she returned to Central Ohio to improve Columbus’ public health care systems and medical service delivery to the poor throughout the state. She continued her work during the 1897-98 mayoral term of her husband, Samuel L. Black.
This 2009 Great Ohioan is known as a humanitarian who founded the state’s first nursing care system, the Instructive District Nursing Association of Columbus, known today as LifeCare Alliance. Among other achievements mentioned in her Capitol Square Foundation biography: establishing the Ohio Society for the Prevention and Cure of Tuberculosis and the Columbus Cancer Clinic. She lived in Columbus until her death at age 87.
Albert Belmont Graham
Invited to be OSU’s first superintendent of Agricultural Extension, educator Albert Belmont Graham pioneered today’s 4-H Clubs. He started holding Saturday morning lessons outside his schoolhouse in Springfield in 1902 so rural kids could learn practical skills, according to his Capitol Square Foundation biography.
The club’s popularity grew so much in one year that Graham sought support from the Ohio Experiment Station at OSU, and with the dean of agriculture, he designed a plan for more clubs. Rapid growth continued, with more than 3,000 youngsters enrolling in 13 Ohio township clubs by 1904.
Ultimately, 4-H became the most well-known, and enduring, U.S. educational organization for rural youth. This 2012 Great Ohioan later served in the federal Extension Service and eventually retired in Clintonville before passing away in 1960.
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