Sunday, June 17, 2018

Octavius ‘Tabby’ Carboni:
A Caesar as Spry as A Cat
Tabby Carboni came to this country as a child and grew up to become a contributor Ridgefield’s civic, business and recreational life for most of the 20th Century. He was an insurance agent, a banker, a school board member, the town’s treasurer, and a lot more — including an accurate source of what life was like a century ago.
Octavius Joseph Carboni was born in Monterado, Italy, in 1899, a son of Benvenuto and Assunta Casagrande Carboni. His father came here in 1901 and worked as a mason on the town’s new water supply system. In 1903, Tabby, his older brother, Adrian, and their mother sailed to the United States to join Benvenuto in Ridgefield. (The family would later grow to include Olinto “Lynce” Carboni, Mary Carboni Mitchell, and Reno “Renz” Carboni.)
“My mother was the first Italian woman in town,” Carboni said in a 1971 interview with his sons Stephen and Robert (which will be posted here in the coming days). “My brother and I were the first two Italians who went to the public schools.”
In 1908 his parents opened a grocery story at the corner of Prospect Street and Bailey Avenue, living in an apartment on the second floor. As a boy, Caboni worked at the store, doing various chores to help his parents.
Also as a boy, he had to deal the discrimination aimed at the immigrant population. “I always felt a little inferior,” he said. “I regarded myself as a foreigner. I just felt myself lower, especially when they called you names that you don’t hear too much today. Kids would do that.”
But he quickly decided to become a part of his new nation and community. “I paid more attention to school work and Adrian and I did pretty well. We both graduated at the top of the class in the school we went to through the eighth grade.”
This, after attending kindergarten for two years, “just to learn the language.”
He in fact learned the language so well that, from his childhood through his teen years, he served as a translator. He was often called upon to accompany Italian-speaking mothers when they took sick children to English-speaking doctors, and was also a translator at weddings and other ceremonies. Even adults studying English in night school would seek the boy’s help with their homework.
Besides helping his father at the store, Carboni got his first official job when he was 13: he was a “printer’s devil” at The Ridgefield Press, assisting in the paper’s production in the basement of the Masonic Building, just south of the town hall. However, he also wrote up local sports events for The Press — setting his words in lead type, letter by letter, with his own hands. He eventually earned $7.50 a week — about $190 in 2018.
Carboni later worked for the Gilbert and Bennett Manufacturing Company in Georgetown, and the U.S. Post Office. He then spent 28 years as an agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, retiring in 1957. Two years later, he joined the State National Bank — among the first employees of the office here when it opened in 1959 as the first new “commercial bank” in town since 1900. He retired in 1967.
During World War I he served in the Connecticut Home Guard. In World War II, he was a member of the Ridgefield Ration Board, in charge of tire distribution, which was very restricted in the war years. Sometimes, he recalled, people without a real need for a tire would come up to him and ask for one, half in jest. 
“Walk!” Carboni would reply. “It’ll do you good.” 
He believed in exercise. In 1989, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, more than 100 family and friends attended a party at the Italian American Club where he joked to the audience: “I’ve had to cut my jogging down to two miles a day from five.”
Active in sports from his youth onward, Carboni played  for Ridgefield baseball, basketball and football teams. He was also an accomplished golfer and bowler.
In 1992 interview, he described the source his nickname “Tabby,”  bestowed by schoolmates. “I was spry and somewhat athletic,” he said with a grin. “The kids called me ‘Tabby Cat.’ Finally, they left off the ‘cat.’”
He was honored for his sports achievements by the Danbury Old Timers in 1973 and the Ridgefield Old Timers in 1992 — the first year the then-new organization handed out awards.
Carboni was also active in the Italian-American Mutual Aid Society — the “Italian Club” — and served as its president during World War II. (Years later, his son Steve was elected president, the only father and son to have both served as president.)
Carboni was a member of the Board of Education for 20 years during the 1930s and 40s, and was the town’s treasurer from 1957 to 1959 — between his retirement from Met Life and his job at State National. 
His concern for the older population in town was demonstrated by his service on the Housing Authority, which oversees apartments for the elderly, from the 1970s until his death in 1992 at the age of 93.
Carboni was esteemed for his memory of the long-ago people, places and events in Ridgefield. Over the years he was often consulted for information about life in the early 20th Century, and his recollections of the people and events of long ago remained clear, even when he was in his 90s.  (He and another oldtimer, Francis D. Martin, sometimes publicly disagreed about  various historical events. In the end, however, Carboni was usually proven to have the more accurate information.) 
For many of his last years, Carboni met regularly with other older Ridgefielders at the Keeler Tavern Museum to help identify scenes and individuals from the historic collection of photographs taken by Joseph Hartmann from the 1890s into the 1930s. 
Many were snapshots of the details of life long ago. Recalling in 1971 what the Ridgefield Station — across Prospect Street from his father’s store — was like, Carboni said, “The 5:15 was a very popular train, coming in at night with people who commuted to New York City. The area where the Ridgefield Supply Company is now was full of horses and carriages waiting for the trains…. Some of the horses were high spirited. When the train came in, it made a lot of noise and the people had to hold on to them with all their might.” 
While everyone knew him as Tabby, Carboni had a somewhat unusual given name, Octavius. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that his father explained where that name came from and that one of his middle names was Caesar. 
Asked whether he was impressed to learn he’d be named for Octavius, who became Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, Tabby Carboni replied with a chuckle, “No. I didn’t know him — or Julius either!” 

Friday, June 15, 2018

George J. Stengel: 
Impressionist Artist
George J. Stengel was an artist who spent his last years in Ridgefield and who was instrumental in the founding of one of the region’s major museums.
A native of Newark, N.J., Mr. Stengel was born in 1866  but moved as a child to Yonkers, N.Y., where he lived until 1920 when he moved to Ridgefield. At 14, he went to work for a Yonkers carpet manufacturer, Alexander Smith and Sons, and soon developed an interested in art. He attended night classes for two years while working days. The head of Alexander Smith recognized his artistic ability, and sent him to the famous Julian Academy in Paris, where he studied for two years. 
When he returned, he joined the carpet-maker’s design department, which he led for many years until his retirement in 1920. In his free time, Stengel painted, mostly country scenes in the impressionist style he had learned in Paris where, among his Julian classmates was Childe Hassam. 
In Ridgefield he and his wife, Grace Varian, moved to lower Main Street in Ridgefield,  a house almost opposite Rockwell Road and known as the "Hoyt Place." Stengel remodeled the house and transformed the barn in the rear of the house into a large artist's studio. 
He spent his retirement painting and was a frequent exhibitor at art galleries in the metropolitan area. He was widely known for his paintings of Mexico, which he and his wife had visited. 
He was a member of the Salmagundi Club and the Guild of American Painters. 
In 1916, he and noted sculptor Isidore Konti founded the Yonkers Art Association. Eight years later, the association petitioned Yonkers’ city council to turn the Glenview Mansion, overlooking the Palisades, into the Hudson River Museum. “The members of the Association were instrumental in convincing the city of Yonkers to use the beautiful Glenview Mansion as a museum,” said art historian Thomas C. Folk. “The newly organized Hudson River Museum opened its doors in December of 1924 with the ninth annual exhibition of the Association. Although the Yonkers Art Association no longer exists, the museum is thriving, and is an important part of Stengel's legacy.”
The museum is the largest in Westchester County.
Stengel died on November 31, 1937. “Stengel’s body of work is amazing for the quality and quantity he produced in about a twenty-year period toward the end of his life; achieving the dream of a career in the fine arts following a successful career in design,” Mr. Folk said.
Today his paintings can fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Henry G. Stebbins: 
Civil War Congressman
Ridgefield’s second native-born Congressman apparently didn’t like politics much, preferring the world of high finance.
According to the official Library of Congress records, Henry G. Stebbins was born in Ridgefield in 1811, though the New York Times said in his obituary that he was a native of that city.  
Henry was a great-great grandson of Benjamin Stebbins, one of Ridgefield’s founders whose large saltbox house stood at the north end of Main Street and was used as a hospital during the Battle of Ridgefield. (Razed around 1893, the house stood on the site of today’s Casagmo.)
Henry’s parents were John and Mary Largin Stebbins. A Ridgefield native, John became a fairly well-to-do bank president in New York City and the couple may have been living in New York
in 1811. However, Mary Stebbins may have been staying with the family in Ridgefield when Henry was born.
(Henry’s sister, Emma, was born in New York City in 1815. Emma became a noted American sculptress and feminist lesbian — her 1873 statue, “The Angel of the Waters,” also known as the “Bethesda Fountain,” stands in Central Park, probably thanks in part to her brother, who headed the Park Commission.)
His father wanted Henry to become a lawyer and sent him to a private school.  However, according to a rather bizarre account in his Times obituary, “while prosecuting his studies, he was accidentally struck on the head with a heavy ruler, and was prostrated for some time from the effects of the blow. When he recovered, his physicians insisted that he must give up his studies and his father, reluctantly abandoning his original plans, provided a position for him as an errand boy in the bank.”
Clearly, the ruler blow had no lasting effect for, by 1833 and in his early 20s,  the “errand boy,” was working for S. Jaudan & Co., and that year became a member of the New York Stock Exchange. In 1859, he founded his own brokerage, Henry G. Stebbins & Son. 
He became a colonel in the 12th Regiment of the New York militia in 1847 and for much of his life was known as Col. Stebbins. 
Stebbins eventually rose to the top of the stock exchange, serving three terms as its president: 1851-52, 1858-59 and 1863-64. During the last term, he was also a U.S. congressman.
A Democrat, Stebbins was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1862, took his seat March 4, 1863, but resigned on Oct. 24, 1864, six months before his term ended. He left because he felt his Democratic constituents didn’t support his hard-line approach to the Civil War; he was a strong supporter of President Lincoln’s handling of the conflict. Many Democrats just wanted the war to stop.
“Throughout the session I favored a vigorous prosecution of the war, until the authority of the Government should be reestablished over every part of the United States,” he said in his letter of resignation to the “Democratic citizens” of his district.. “Throughout the session I was opposed to the taking of any steps to a peace calculated to weaken the national authority, or that required negotiations with men in rebellion who had not laid down their arms.
“I am now convinced, though with much regret, and have now to acknowledge my conviction that in all these respects my conduct is, and would continue to be, disapproved by a large majority of those who elected me.
“That you may have the opportunity to put in my place one who will more truly carry out your views, I have resigned my seat.”
Stebbins added, “In the future all my efforts from the position of a private citizen will be directed to the support of such men and such measures as I shall consider best calculated to sustain the honor of my country, to develop its unparalleled resources, and to perpetuate our beneficent institutions.”
A subsequent convention of the Union Party, a conservative party that promoted both the union and the constitution, nominated Stebbins to fill his own vacancy.
“The bold and independent course of Mr. Stebbins, and the reasons which induced him to cut loose from the peace-at-any-price influences … should now receive a hearty indorsement from the War Democracy and all other Union men of that District,” The Times reported after the convention. “With proper effort, he may be returned to finish the term which he has so honorably begun.” He declined to do so.
Stebbins continued as a leading financier in New York, including serving on boards of directors of major corporations. In late 1860s and 1870s he was president of the city Park Commission which oversaw Central Park,  a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History, president of the Academy of Music, and commodore of the New York Yacht Club. 
He died in 1881 at the age of 70.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Eric Sonnichsen: 
Seaman and Wordsmith
Seaman, writer, boxer, and show dog breeder: Eric Sonnichsen was no ordinary Ridgefielder.
The New York City native, whose mother was a Russian countess and a journalist for The International Herald Tribune, ran away from home at the age of 16 (his father had done the same thing at 12). 
He sailed on freighters around the world, crossed the country on freight trains, and boxed professionally on three continents, including in Golden Gloves competition. He worked in the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest and was a gandy dancer for railroads, laying and repairing tracks. 
But he was also writing, and H.L. Mencken, then editor of The American Mercury, accepted his first story when Mr. Sonnichsen was 19 years old. He also sold work to Story magazine. 
While he continued to write most of his life, he stopped trying to sell his work after he went back to sea. “He was bad at marketing,” said his daughter, actress Ingrid Sonnichsen. 
He spent more than 45 years as a merchant seaman, including service aboard Liberty ships plying the North Atlantic during World War II. Twice his vessels were torpedoed by German submarines. He retired in 1973 as a first mate. 
He and his wife, Muriel Gallick, a Broadway actress whom he married at the Stage Door Canteen, came to Ridgefield in 1965 and operated Meriking Kennels, breeding and showing German shepherds. 
Mrs. Sonnichsen, who most of her life was afraid of dogs, became so enchanted with them that she wound up an American Kennel Club official recognized to judge 26 breeds. She died a year and a day before her husband. He died Dec. 31, 1999, the day before “the new millennium,” at the age of 90. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Edward H. Smith: 
He Hated Slavery
Aside from being a well-known Ridgefield businessman of his era, Edward H. Smith had two unusual and noteworthy characteristics: He was an impassioned orator against slavery and he died on the same day as his wife.
Although a native of Westport, Edward H. Smith was a descendant of one of the founders of Ridgefield. He was born in 1827 and grew up in New York City and in Wilton. When he was 17, he went to Mobile, Ala., to be a clerk in the store of a clothing manufacturer who was a relative. He was there for five years, and witnessed slavery for the first time; he never forgot the scenes and the pain he saw.
In 1848, he returned to Wilton but moved to Ridgefield a year later to work as a clerk. 
He soon started a general store on Main Street, something that was then called a “mercantile,” and owned the business for more than 40 years. He also became a partner with D. Smith Sholes in operating the Ridgefield Shirt factory.
During the Civil War, Smith served as a first lieutenant in the Connecticut National Guard — by then he was probably too old to be on the battlefields of the war. He was, however, a strong believer in the cause of the Union.
A member and president of the Ridgefield Debating Society, Smith was known for his oratory skills. He used those skills on May 30, 1893, Memorial Day — then called Decoration Day — to recall the horrors of slavery. In his oration, delivered in Town Hall, he seemed to criticize not only his country’s founding fathers but also its religious leaders. And he praised the attack of the South on Fort Sumter as a “messenger from God.”
Excerpts from his speech were included in an 1899 biographical history of Fairfield County. 
“A little over a quarter of a century ago,” Smith told Ridgefielders,  “there were over three million men, women and children, slaves in this Christian land of ours; men who had no rights to the fruits of their labor and toil; men without a right, without a hope, sold at the auction block like so many articles of merchandise; wives separated from their husbands, children from their parents —   lovely girls, as fair in face and form as any within this hall today, bought and sold as young cattle in the streets.
“I speak of scenes and events which I have repeatedly witnessed in the streets of Mobile and New Orleans, and therefore speak feelingly.”
The founding fathers were a party to slavery, he said. “Our forefathers were partakers in this great wrong in the earlier days of the Republic, and only abandoned it when they found it unprofitable.”  He maintained that in the past, “from the press, yes, even the pulpit, argument and appeal ...  in defense of the doctrine of the right of the stronger to enslave the weaker, were listened to with pleasure and applauded as the words of wisdom falling from the lips of experience.”  
He recalled that some of the nation’s leaders considered it “the loftiest act of patriotism to intercept and return, under that flag, the poor fugitive in his midnight flight to liberty or death.” 
He bemoaned the fact that “a great nation, boasting of its religion and independence, had become so debauched by its professional politicians that it seemed almost ready to adopt the sentiment which might be inferred from the decisions of the highest tribunals of the land.  Witness the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Dred Scott case — ‘the black man had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’”
The outbreak of the Civil War was heaven-sent, Smith suggested. “I wonder at God’s goodness to us as a nation, and feel that we ought reverently to thank God for that first shot fired at Sumter’s battlements — for it was the forerunner of a doomed system, announcing a day of deliverance; the breaking of the bonds; the opening of the prison doors that the captives might go free; that no more should be witnessed the scarred and bleeding backs of its victims, no more the sobs of the mother, the wail of anguish from the bruised heart of the father, as they saw their little ones torn from their embrace and home.”
“Reverently I can but feel that that shot was a messenger from God, proclaiming that no more should the soil of his chosen land be pressed by the foot of a slave, but by men, free men, no more to be called chattels, articles of merchandise... What a triumph for humanity! What a victory for justice!”
Edward Smith was active in the civic and social life of Ridgefield. He served as a state representative in 1859 as a Republican and in 1873 as what was called a “Liberal Republican.” He was a member of the Board of Selectmen, president of the Ridgefield Agricultural Society, and head of the Ridgefield Improvement Society. He was active in the Masons and St. Stephen’s Church where he was a warden and the parish treasurer.
But it was in his departure from this world that he gained his final distinction.  In February and March of 1905, an outbreak of “La Grippe” — as the flu was called — occurred in Ridgefield and at least five people died from it. Both Edward and his wife, Delia Gregory Smith, came down with La Grippe and both developed pneumonia because of it. They died on Feb. 24, 1905. He was 77 and she, 76. They had been married for 56 years. 

Duncan Smith: 
75 Years in Journalism
For three decades Ridgefield Press readers were treated to the usually light-hearted columns of Duncan Smith, a journalist who spent 75 years turning out news and opinion, much of it for the    Chicago Daily News.
Duncan MacMillan Smith was born in Illinois in 1863, one of 10 children of farming immigrants from Scotland. He began his newspaper career while still a teenager, writing a column called “The Cornfield Philosopher” for a local weekly paper. He was eventually hired as editor of  a nearby weekly, and soon started his own in Seward, Ill., called The Blue Valley Blade.
He moved on to work for a paper in Nebraska where he met and married school teacher Grace Woodward, and then bought a weekly in Indiana. Offered a job at the Chicago Daily News, he grabbed the opportunity and wrote for that paper for 20 years, including penning a well-known column called “Hit or Miss,” which eventually became syndicated. Many columns employed verse, not surprising since among his circle of friends were poets Carl Sandburg and Edgar Guest. 
He left the newspaper business in 1912 to become a press representative for the new Populist movement in Minnesota and the Dakotas, but was soon back at the typewriter, buying the Rockford, Ill., Republican, a daily in the town in which he was born. When his wife died in 1929, he moved to Ridgefield to live with his daughter, Margaret, a novelist who wrote under the name of Peggy Shane and who was married to humorist and writer Ted Shane.
Here, he turned out a column called “A Birdseye View” almost every week for 30 years for The Press and eventually its sister publication, The Wilton Bulletin. 
Smith loved words and loved playing with them in verse. One time a group of Ridgefield Press staffers was talking about words that had no rhymes — like orange. Someone mentioned Titicus, the name of the river and neighborhood in Ridgefield, and Smith  took up the challenge, offering the following in "A Birdseye View":
I live upon the Titicus,
a river rough and raging,
where fishes to a city cuss,
will come for a simple paging.
I used to read Leviticus,
or some such ancient volume,
before I saw the Titicus
or started on this column.
And now, my dears, you might agree 
it really takes a witty cuss,
a crossword puzzler (that's me)
to rhyme with Titicus.
(It really should have said 'that's l'
to show for words I have nice sense, 
but for such slips, I alibi
with my poetic license.)
Duncan Smith died in 1956 at the age of 91.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Rev. Richard E. Shortell: 
A Beloved Pastor
When he died in October 1934, The Ridgefield Press called the Rev. Richard Edward Shortell “one of the most beloved priests in the State of Connecticut.” The St. Mary’s pastor was so popular that, for years, babies were named Richard Edward in his honor — among them, former selectman, postmaster and town historian, Richard E. Venus.
Born in 1860, Father Shortell came to Ridgefield in 1893 and led St. Mary’s Parish for 41 years.  It was in the days when a clergyman could spend nearly an entire career at one parish.
“With his coming to Ridgefield, St. Mary’s Church seemed to grow and prosper,” The Press said. 
When he arrived, the parish had only 200 members and was still using a tiny church — a
building later became the Ridgefield Thrift Shop. He built the current church in 1896, a rectory (since torn down) and clubhouse across from the church. The clubhouse was for many years the headquarters of the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, which he also founded. 
But he was not just a pastor, but also an influential citizen of the town who served for many years on the Board of Education, “contributing incalculable services to the public school system here,” The Press said.
     As early as 1927, he was promoting the benefits of zoning (which wasn’t adopted until 1946). 
      Town officials, whether Catholic or not, would often seek his advice, and the newspaper once reported that early in the 20th Century, the three men considered the “powers” of the town used to meet regularly in the back of Bissell’s Drug Store to discuss town affairs: H.P. Bissell himself, Dr. R.W. Lowe, the town doctor, and Father Shortell. 
     In 1918, Father Shortell quashed efforts to give him a 25th anniversary party. But when he reached 30 years in 1923, parishioners took matters into their own hands and had a surprise party at which “the largest crowd of Catholics ever seen in St. Mary’s Hall assembled” and gave him not only a grand party, but a brand new Cadillac Coupe.
     Father Shortell died in 1934 and is buried in St. Mary Cemetery, next to his mother.

Friday, June 08, 2018

D. Smith Sholes: 
A Man of Many Shirts
Catoonah Street today is a microcosm of Ridgefield, with everything from stores and offices to condos and large, single-family homes, not to mention a church, a post office, a cleaners, a restaurant, and a firehouse. But it once also had a shirt factory.
Yes, Ridgefield in the 19th Century was a center, albeit small, of the shirt-making industry, thanks to a man named D. Smith Sholes and his partner, Edward H. Smith, both leading citizens of the town.
David Smith Sholes was born in Ridgefield in 1830, son of a shoemaker who’d moved here from Vermont. He attended local schools including a private school taught by the Rev. David H. Short on Main Street, where Sholes acquired a love of reading. He later helped found a circulating library in Ridgefield that grew into today’s Ridgefield Library, of which he was once treasurer.
When he was 15, he became a clerk at Henry Smith’s store on Main Street but after a few years went to Bridgeport to learn bookkeeping. 
He returned to Ridgefield and, in partnership with Smith, operated the Ridgefield Shirt Factory, which had been founded in the 1840s by George Hunt. The factory was at first located in the Big Shop, a large building that stood where the First Congregational Church is now. (Moved around 1888 to the center of town, the Big Shop is now the home of Terra Sole and Luc’s restaurants, and other businesses off the Bailey Avenue parking lot.) The shirt factory later moved across the street to a building on what’s now an empty lot, and then to Catoonah Street on the site of the current Ridgefield Fire Department headquarters. 
“Colored shirts were a specialty of the factory, which employed as many as sixty persons at one time,” said historian Silvio Bedini. “The chief market was New York City.”
However, it appears many more Ridgefield Shirt “employees,”  mostly women but including a few men, worked from their homes. Sholes and Smith would provide them with packages of  shirt “components” and the women would sew them together in their spare time. The final product was prepared for sale and packaged at the factory. The New York Times reported in 1860 that there were 1,100 home-working women in the area, sewing for Ridgefield Shirt.
Sholes continued in the shirt-making business until around 1893 when, probably faced with competition from large-scale, mechanized clothing operations in New York City, the factory was closed.
In 1886 Sholes was elected treasurer of the Ridgefield Savings Bank, now Fairfield County Bank; he had been one of its incorporators when it was founded back in 1871. He eventually became the bank’s president.
“It was in the discharge of the duties of this important position that he achieved the most marked success of his life,” said The Ridgefield Press in Sholes’s 1907 obituary. “It was under his administration that the institution has grown from a small beginning to be the depository of nearly a million dollars of the savings of our frugal people, and its affairs have been so wisely managed by him that no person has ever yet lost a dollar by his imprudence or mismanagement.”
This profuse praise appeared in a newspaper whose company president was  D. Smith Sholes.
Possible pro-Sholes press prejudice aside, the man was clearly a respected and popular personality in town. An active Democrat, he was appointed Ridgefield’s postmaster in 1886 by President Grover Cleveland, also a Democrat. When Cleveland left office, so did Sholes, but when Cleveland returned for a second term, so did Sholes.
He was a town assessor, a registrar of voters for 17 years, the probate judge in 1870, a member of the Democratic State Central Committee for two terms,  treasurer of the Ridgefield Water Supply Company, and a clerk of St. Stephen’s Church for a quarter of a century. He also helped found the First National Bank of Ridgefield in 1900 and was its first cashier.
Seven years after he died in 1907, he was remembered on Old Home Day, July 4, 1914, when he was saluted as one of Ridgefield’s “sturdy citizens, whose place it seems impossible to fill …Many can testify to his kindness in hours of trouble.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Laura Curie Allee Shields:
Flowers in Her Footsteps
It was a steaming July day in 1920 when Laura Curie Allee got a call from the headquarters of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, soon to be the League of Women Voters, asking her for help in getting the 36th and last state, Tennessee, to ratify the 19th amendment. 
Mrs. Allee had been a leader in the suffrage movement regionally.  Among the people she frequently worked with was Katharine Houghton Hepburn
Soon, she, Miss Mary Olcott and Mrs. James Stokes headed for Ohio to convince U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding, who was running for president, to get neighboring Tennessee to vote for the amendment. 
At Harding’s office, Miss Olcott was their spokesman and her strong personality apparently led to a clash with a Harding aide, who soon told them to leave the office. But after they had departed, Mrs. Allee realized she had forgotten her gloves and went back to retrieve them. The aide, who had apparently calmed down, looked at her and asked why they had come to see the candidate. Mrs. Allee explained. 
“Why didn’t you just say so?” the aide said, adding that she should never have let Miss Olcott do the speaking.  
The three were then ushered into the office of the senator who, when he learned where the women came from, said: “I have an aunt who lives in Ridgefield. Do you know her? Mrs. Northrop.” Mrs. Allee knew her well – both belonged to the Congregational church. “That was open sesame,”
Mrs. Allee said later. The group explained their mission convincingly and, on July 21, Senator Harding announced that he was urging Tennessee to ratify the Amendment. Tennessee did so Aug. 26, and three months later, Mr. Harding was elected president of the United States – with a plurality that no doubt included three newly enfranchised Ridgefield women. 
Mrs. Allee  and her husband, Dr. William H. Allee, moved to town in 1906 and lived in the house they called Homeland at the corner of Main and Market Streets. The place had been the Hurlbutt homestead and included Hurlbutt’s meat market on Market Street. 
Dr. Allee, who practiced in Wilton, was a leader in improving Ridgefield schools. He was also active in procuring the vote for women (one clever example of which will be described in his profile). He died in 1929. 
In 1933, Laura married James Van Allen Shields (1871-1954), a patent lawyer who was involved in the music recording industry in its early days.
Throughout her life Laura Shields was active in the support of schools, the League of Women Voters, and other community organizations, and helped in the effort to acquire the Keeler Tavern. 
She also wrote a 353-page autobiography, called “Memories,” self-published in 1940.
In 1953, The Press reported a comment about Mrs. Shields on the occasion of her 20th wedding anniversary: “It is said that a good woman does not always find flowers in her footpath, but they are always growing in her footsteps.”
She died in 1968 at the age of 97 and is buried in Paterson, N.J., alongside her first husband.