Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918


Isabel Holt Rumbaugh

Photo of Isabel Holt Rumbaugh ISABEL HOLT RUMBAUGH, widow of the late Jacob Rumbaugh of Fort Scott, Kansas, has for years stood among the foremost club women of Kansas, and if there is any one who can speak with the authority born of actual experience concerning woman's lot, especially in the country and rural districts of America during the last half century, it is Mrs. Rumbaugh. In the years when the door of aspirations was shut in almost every woman's face, Mrs. Rumbaugh was loyally, faithfully, self-sacrificingly playing her part, often of drudgery and with none of the influences and associations that tend to enlighten and cheer the existence of human life. When her own duties as a home maker and a mother were fulfilled and after her daughters had left home, she began seeking those advantages which a cultured woman craves. At the same time she commenced to bend every effort toward the betterment of the lot of her sisters, not so much in material welfare as in those things which count a great deal more and which the mere possession of money cannot satisfy. Since then, for many years she has worked alongside other prominent leaders in the woman's movement, not only in Kansas, but in the nation.

While many of the facts of her experience have been told in the article upon the career of her husband, Jacob Rumbaugh, it will serve the better to indicate her point of view and attitude toward some of the issues of life, if many of her early and later experiences can be set down, practically in the words which she herself has used in describing these experiences.

"At the age of fifteen," she says, "a stepmother requested that I leave high school and earn my own living. I was proud and ambitious. The professor of the high school urged me to try for a school. I passed the examination, receiving a certificate for six months. I do not believe the average girl of fifteen has the nerve or bluff that I possessed at that age. I remember well the day that I started off to be a school mar'm and my father, driving a two-horse covered carriage over a plank toll road just after a rain, fourteen miles to a village named Bettsville, Ohio. I was but a small girl, with my braided hair hanging down my back. I took up my duties at once and enrolled seventy-five names. When I looked into the faces of young men, eighteen and nineteen years old and recalled what the directors had told me, that these same boys had caused the school to be closed that winter, I could not help but wonder how I should come through the summer. But one thing I knew, that as soon as these boys could plow they would not be in school. My only trouble during the term was with a woman who came to the school one day and told me what she thought of me for forbidding her children to chew gum in school. The pay was not munificent then. For the summer school I received $6 a month and boarded around at the homes of the scholars, and for the winter term I was paid $10 per month. That amount was as much as the experienced teachers, both men and women, received as compensation. I taught two years. On August 6, 1862, at the age of eighteen, I was married at Tiffin, Ohio, but I continued to teach while Mr. Rumbaugh was in the army.

"When we commenced keeping house it was the money that I had earned by my teaching that furnished our home in a simple but useful fashion. How pleased I was with my first rag carpet can be imagined. That was during the Civil war, and I often live through again some of those exciting times. To my notion the war songs had more music in them than any that have ever been composed since. How proud we were of our president, Abraham Lincoln, and how every head was bowed in grief when he was assassinated.

"We were so very poor and worked so hard. Life was so different then. Everybody worked; some had more than others, but all worked, and the wisest counted it a blessing. In the course of time my husband, like many others, got the Kansas fever, and talked of going West. At last he secured my consent to make the move, though I must confess that I was not eager to go. The tiresome trip was made with our main destination as Kansas City, in 1870. Having located on a farm near Stotesberry, I found myself with my two little girls so lonesome as no one can ever know. Everything was strange. Our home was a two-room log cabin built on a hill. Visitors were a rarity. I shall never forget the prairie fires. Every time I would see the blaze shooting up to the sky I thought we were surely in the line of destruction. There was not a neighbor near; the prairie grass was as high as the horses' backs, and it was sixteen miles to the postoffice at Fort Scott. There was no fruit and I would get so hungry for apples. Taking my butter and eggs to Fort Scott, I would sell them for just enough to secure some necessary things for the children, while I looked longingly at the apples, which were such a luxury to me, and came near taking one.

"About that time a schoolhouse was built in the district and I boarded the teacher. The first money she paid me was invested in calves, which was the beginning of a prosperous era for us. The teacher furnished companionship, and life became more interesting. Yet I was not content. We added to our land holdings each year until we had eight hundred acres. The curious ox teams used for plowing began to be replaced by horses, just as in this day that noble animal is being supplanted by the steam tractors. Every year I cooked for ten or twelve men. How the loaves of bread, pies and cakes would disappear! I was so hungry for knowledge and so dissatisfied, yet kept it to myself, for no one was near to be in sympathy with me. I could not make others understand what I craved.

"But the time came when I realized my ideals in an unexpected way. The Normal College was opened in Fort Scott. Professor Sanders came out soliciting for pupils. I was happy that I could see my way clear to giving my girls what I had craved for myself. They were enrolled. The older daughter graduated in the business course and the younger in the teacher's course. I drove a team of young horses hitched to a spring wagon to Fort Scott every week for three years to look after the girls. I shall never forget the fright I had one evening on one of these trips. After eating dinner at the school with the girls, I went to the bank to deposit four hundred dollars which Mr. Rumbaugh had given me. I noticed a man watching me count the money at the window. I can see him yet—dirty and wearing a slouch hat. And I looked right in his eye. I started home about half past three o'clock. It was almost a prairie, with the exception of a long stretch of hedge on either side of the road, which obstructed the view. I was half way through the hedge, when this man I had observed in the bank came through the hedge and almost took the bridle in his hand. He probably thought I had withdrawn the money and had it on my person. He was quick, but I was quicker. I struck the horse next to him with all my strength; the animal lunged and started at a gallop, taking her companion with her. We were five miles from home and the horses' hoofs hardly touched the ground until we arrived there. Never after that did we carry any money, but transacted our business by checks.

"When the girls had graduated they decided to follow in their mother's footsteps, and they taught country schools. Later we moved to Fort Scott, where we were not long in receiving those social advantages which we had so long looked forward to. The farm was not a success after we left it, but the best part of my life was spent on the farm in hard work. At this time the clubs being organized had as their object self culture, that which I desired. But I look back now, as through a mist, and see how little we really accomplished. What a small beginning. How often I have thanked God for the calling I could not resist—to go out into the world to the work that helps to bring people together for the noble things of life, the uplift, the broadening and reaching out of a helping hand to others. Even yet I am a farmer, with eight hundred acres of land, shipping my own hay and corn, and I love the farm also." In later years Mrs. Rumbaugh was an advocate for a rest room for farmers' wives, which she helped to start in a humble way. It proved a great comfort to weary mothers and shoppers in Fort Scott.

Mrs. Rumbaugh has always been a woman of boundless energy, and aside from her club life gave much time to church and civic affairs. She was president of St. Andrew's Episcopal Guild in 1903, at that period when funds were being raised for the erection of a beautiful new church edifice. She did her part when plans were first suggested for a new Railroad Young Men's Christian Association Building, erected in 1907. Mrs. Rumbaugh put forth every effort as president of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Young Men's Christian Association to make money, which was used for equipment and furnishing of the linen and silver chests. At this time the ladies also assisted by serving suppers at the men's weekly meetings. When the need of larger quarters became apparent for the Epworth Home for Orphan Children, Mrs. Rumbaugh was chairman of the committee of ladies who gave a rummage sale, which realized a large sum with which it was intended to buy a permanent home. The seed then sown afterwards bore fruit, when the home was enlarged and became the Goodlander Home for Homeless Children. She was also a valuable worker in the Bourbon County Historical Society.

Mrs. Rumbaugh became a member of the first club organized in Fort Scott, the Castilian Club, organized in 1882, with Mrs. C. H. Haynes as the first president. The next club joined was the Social Science Club of Kansas and Missouri, which was organized in 1881, joining the General Federation in 1890. It became the Kansas Social Science Federation in 1895, and afterwards the Kansas Federation of Women's Clubs in 1904.

A number of years ago Mrs. Rumbaugh accomplished what was considered almost the impossible, when she called all the clubs of Fort Scott together at her home and brought about the organization of the City Federation, on March 25, 1906. In 1912 she took the initiative in organizing the Women's Athenaeum, which in turn organized the Women's Current Topic Club with seventy-five members.

Mrs. Rumbaugh has attended as a delegate some of the greatest conventions of women in the country within recent years. In 1915 she was state delegate from Kansas to the Mid-Biennial Council, General Federation of Women's Clubs, at Washington, D. C., when 2,000 women were in attendance and when the White House was opened for their reception by President Woodrow Wilson and the first Mrs. Wilson. Mrs. Rumbaugh was also a delegate to the Eleventh Annual Conference on Child Labor, which opened on May 28, 1915, at San Francisco, California, having received her appointment from Governor Capper of Kansas. She was also state delegate to the Ninth National Biennial of Women's Clubs at Boston in 1908; to the Twelfth Biennial at Chicago in June, 1914; to the Thirteenth Biennial at New York City in June, 1916. Mrs. Rumbaugh also received the appointment as state delegate to the World's Court Congress, held in May, 1916, from Mrs. J. M. Miller, president of the Kansas Federated Clubs. In June, 1915, the Athenaeum Club elected her as delegate to the Biennial Council Meeting of General Federation of Clubs at Portland, Oregon.

Among the conventions of her own state which Mrs. Rumbaugh has attended was that held at Manhattan in May, 1908, when she was the president of the Current Literature Club, which was organized in 1905. She was sent by the City Federation of Fort Scott as their delegate to the nineteenth annual convention held in Wichita in 1914. She was the delegate of the Athenaenum Club at Iola in 1916 and delegate of the Women's Christian Temperance Union at Pittsburg, Kansas, in 1917. She represented her district at the Anti-Saloon League at Topeka in June, 1917. On January 29, 1914, Mrs. Rumbaugh was elected president of the Second District of the Kansas Day Club, which meets annually in Topeka, on Kansas Day. Her latest appointment was received from Governor Arthur Capper as delegate to the Thirteenth National Conference on Child Labor, which opened in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 23, 1917. After the return from that meeting Governor Capper wrote expressing his appreciation of the genuine service she had rendered both the cause and the State of Kansas. One of the most inspiring meetings she ever attended was as a delegate to the tenth biennial convention of the General Federation of Women's Clubs at Cincinnati in May, 1910.

Mrs. Rumbaugh has lived during two great national crisis, the Civil war and the World war, and she was one to assist nobly with Red Cross work. The high food prices caused much hardship among the working people, Mrs. Rumbaugh, as a farmer, particularly noticed the price of prairie hay at $22.00 per ton, corn at $1.60 per bushel, wheat at $3.50 per bushel, potatoes at $3.50 per bushel and other products accordingly.

Thus for a number of years Mrs. Rumbaugh has accepted the opportunities, privileges and responsibilities of commingling in a spirit of co-operation with those organized movements which have put forward the individual and collective welfare, not only of women, but of families and society at large, to a greater degree within the past quarter of a century than has been accomplished in any preceding century. Mrs. Rumbaugh is a woman of broad culture, has traveled extensively, making many trips with her husband. Her home at Fort Scott for years has been a center from which has radiated high ideals, and some of the impulses which make an entire community better and more enlightened.


Transcribed from volume 4, pages 2193-2195 of A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, copyright 1918; originally transcribed October 1997 , modified 2003 by Carolyn Ward.

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