Bio Sketch: Elizabeth Forrer Peirce (1857-1930), nurse in Dayton, Ohio

Elizabeth Forrer Peirce, often called “Bess,” was born September 5, 1857, in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Jeremiah H. Peirce (1818-1889) and Elizabeth H. Forrer (1827-1874).[1] Elizabeth was probably named after her mother, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Forrer, or possibly her great-grandmother Elizabeth (Neidig) Forrer, who had died a few years earlier.

As a young woman, Elizabeth studied at Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton.[2]

Elizabeth Forrer Peirce, undated

Elizabeth Forrer Peirce, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 29, Folder 10)

Elizabeth lived at Five Oaks nearly all of her life. Even in her old age, Elizabeth lived there with her Aunt Mary (Forrer) Peirce and her sister Sarah Howard Peirce.

However, on two separate occasions during her thirties, Elizabeth made extended stays in Boston, Massachusetts.

The first of these times began in November 1890, when Elizabeth went to stay with her brother Howard F. Peirce, who was studying and performing in Boston. They lived at 198 Tremont Street. While there, Elizabeth attended many lectures (several on literature) and visited friends, including the Diman family.[3]

After staying for about a month, Elizabeth wrote to her sister and aunt back home, asking whether she might stay longer, if they could afford to be without her (and to keep financing the visit). Elizabeth wrote:

Do you and Aunt Mary think it would be a possible thing to get along without my share of the house money for the first two or three months of next year[?] Then if the money can be spared, will it be right for me to stay away from home so long a time[?] I would like very much to stay. The perfect freedom from all care and worry has made such a wonderful change in the way I feel, that it seems to me the cure is worth trying, for a longer time. As you say, we ought to make the best of ourselves, mentally, morally, and physically… Howard would like me to stay, and I think he would hate to go back to the way he was living before I came…[4]

It was decided that Elizabeth would stay in Boston. She remained there until the end of April 1891, after which time she returned to Five Oaks.[5]

Elizabeth apparently felt that she had no right to leave home permanently while her feeble sister Mellie was still alive, but after Mellie died in July 1892, she began to think seriously about a profession for herself: nursing. She informed her Aunt Mary of this desire in October 1892:

I am finding out all I can, as to the rules in regard to training schools connected with the Hospitals, as I expect to make that nursing a study. I have always felt an inclination for that vocation but never thought I had any right to think of leaving home for good as long as Mellie lived. Now it seems to me I have the right to choose my own way of living. I fear you will not approve of my plans, but I am going to give you some of my reasons. Every woman who has no family to take care of ought to have a business or profession, and can not help being dissatisfied and unhappy without it… If at any time I find that I am not strong enough I can give it up, and nothing is lost…[6]

Elizabeth argued that while her aunt might find teaching a more suitable profession, she did not think she would make a good teacher. She also expressed a desire to earn her own money.[7]

Elizabeth was right that Aunt Mary would disagree with her choice. Mary wrote to Elizabeth’s sister Sarah a few days later:

Bess has written me telling what she is wanting to do. Of course, I would not presume to oppose her, but I am very sorry she has chosen a profession that we think will undoubtedly result in invalidism. I hoped, after the years of sadness and sorrow through which we have passed, that when you were once more restored to health and all home together [to] live happily in our lovely home, as your father had so carefully and kindly arranged.—If the poor child would only turn her attention to literary pursuits and not try to break down the little strength she has, it does seem to me, the result might be more satisfactory. I have been feeling very sad since receiving her letter.[8]

Elizabeth executed her plan to train as a nurse in August 1893, returning to Boston again to train as a nurse in the Massachusetts general hospital there. She remained in Boston until October 1894, although her school work had ended in June.[9]

After Elizabeth returned to Five Oaks at the end of 1894, she began working as a nurse in Dayton. She is listed as a nurse in the city directories from 1895 through the 1901-1902 edition. From 1902 until her death, she has no occupation listed.[10] It is not clear why her nursing career ended. Although her formal career had ended, Elizabeth still kept busy with many activities outside the home.

Elizabeth Forrer Peirce, undated

Elizabeth Forrer Peirce, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 29, Folder 10)

Elizabeth was one of the founding members of the First Unitarian Church of Dayton, along with her sister Sarah Peirce and her Aunt Mary Peirce.[11] She was also active in the Woman’s Literary Club, of which she was a founder and past president, as well as the Needlework Guild of America.[12]

Elizabeth’s cousin and close friend Frank Bruen described “Bess” as…

…the court of final resort upon all family dilemmas or questions of fact. If anyone felt a doubt about some matter, it was settled by a reference to “Aunt Bess.” She never betrayed a confidence; was kind and efficient, interested in the welfare of all the family, and bent upon doing all in her power to further it…[13]

Elizabeth Forrer Peirce, later in life

Elizabeth Forrer Peirce, later in life (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 29, Folder 10)

Elizabeth F. Peirce died on November 19, 1930, at her home at 120 Volusia Avenue in Dayton, Ohio; she was 73 years old.[14] She was buried on November 21, 1930, in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.[15]

Grave of Elizabeth Forrer Peirce in Woodland Cemetery, Section 77

Grave of Elizabeth Forrer Peirce in Woodland Cemetery, Section 77 (Photo by the author, 29 Oct. 2011)

 

*****

This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in April 2012 for the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654.

Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection. For more information about the manuscript collection’s contents, please see the original PDF finding aid available in the Local History Room of the Dayton Metro Library, the OhioLINK EAD Repository entry, or the WorldCat record.

Please contact the Dayton Metro Library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.


[1] Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 123.

[2] “Funeral for Miss Peirce to be Friday,” Dayton Daily News, 20 Nov. 1930, in Elizabeth Forrer Peirce: Obituaries, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 23:9, Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio).

[3] Various letters from Elizabeth F. Peirce to her family, FPW, 19:9, 19:13, 20:4.

[4] Elizabeth F. Peirce to her sister Sarah H. Peirce, 1-2 Dec. 1890, FPW, 19:9.

[5] Various letters from Elizabeth F. Peirce to her family, FPW, 19:9, 19:13, 20:4.

[6] Elizabeth F. Peirce to her aunt Mary Forrer Peirce, 11 Oct. 1892, FPW, 20:4.

[7] Elizabeth F. Peirce to her aunt Mary Forrer Peirce, 11 Oct. 1892, FPW, 20:4.

[8] Mary Forrer Peirce to her niece Sarah H. Peirce, 15 Oct. 1892, FPW, 12:4.

[9] Various letters from Elizabeth F. Peirce to her family, FPW, 19:9, 20:2, 20:4; Frank Conover, Centennial Portrait and Biographical Record of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio (Chicago: A. W. Bowen, 1897), 310.

[10] Dayton City Directories.

[11] “Funeral for Miss Peirce to be Friday,” Dayton Daily News, 20 Nov. 1930, in FPW, 23:9; Finding Aid, First Unitarian Church of Dayton Church Records (MS-230), Wright State University Special Collections & Archives (Dayton, Ohio), accessed 18 Jan. 2012, http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/collection_guides/guide_files/ms230.pdf;

[12] “Funeral for Miss Peirce to be Friday,” Dayton Daily News, 20 Nov. 1930, in FPW, 23:9.

[13] Bruen, Christian Forrer, 123.

[14] “Funeral for Miss Peirce to be Friday,” Dayton Daily News, 20 Nov. 1930, in FPW, 23:9.

[15] Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 2 Feb. 2012, http://www.woodlandcemetery.org. Elizabeth is buried in Section 77, Lot 24.

5 responses to “Bio Sketch: Elizabeth Forrer Peirce (1857-1930), nurse in Dayton, Ohio

  1. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Joseph Peirce (1786-1821), pioneer, merchant, & banker in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

  2. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Elizabeth H. (Forrer) Peirce (1827-1874), wife of J. H. Peirce | Glancing Backwards

  3. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Jeremiah H. Peirce (1818-1889), Dayton lumber dealer and founder of Five Oaks | Glancing Backwards

  4. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Sarah Howard Peirce (1853-1930), founded first kindergaten in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

  5. Pingback: Bio Sketch: Howard Forrer Peirce (1865-1899), prominent musician in Dayton, Ohio | Glancing Backwards

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