Women’s History Month: Beulah Brinton
In the spirit of Woman’s History Month, I thought it appropriate to highlight Milwaukee’s matriarchs and the buildings associated with their lives. The most obvious and one of the earliest is Beulah Brinton and her home at 2950 South Superior Street in Bay View, an independent city prior to its annexation in 1887. For that matter, the blocks of homes surrounding the site of the former Bay View Rolling Mill are likewise associated with Brinton as these were the homes of the women and children she helped. As such, Beulah Brinton is an important figure for Milwaukee, Women’s history, and the settlement movement.
Beulah Brinton was Milwaukee’s pioneer in the settlement movement and social work. Her home served as a social and recreational center for those living in the neighborhood surrounding the Milwaukee Iron Company. Beulah opened her home to her neighbors seeing that the wives of the mill workers hailing from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales were in need of education, medical care and recreation. She aided these new comers with life skills and acculturated them to a new society. Beulah used her home as a pioneer community center teaching these women English, cooking, sewing and childcare. As reading was very important to Beulah, her own personal collection of 300 books soon served as Bay View’s first lending library. An excerpt from Beulah Brinton of Bay View, written by Daisy Estes Kursch (Beulah’s great granddaughter), states “An interviewer from the Milwaukee Journal stated that ‘Like Ruskin, she pictured the working man as the hope of the world, and living as she did close to the steel mills, she saw him as a mill worker.’” Various accounts describe Beulah’s work as being akin to that of Jane Addam’s Hull House in Chicago. As such, Bay Views first community center was named in Beulah’s honor in 1924.
In addition to her community work, Beulah Brinton published two books concerning the Civil War: Man is love in 1873 and Behold the Woman in 1887 as well as publishing the Bay View Herald in the 1880s with her son Warren. Except for a brief period in the 1920s, Beulah Brinton resided in the home on South Superior Street until her death in 1928. The home remained within family ownership until 1974 and currently serves as the home of the Bay View Historical Society.
The New York native married foundry man, Warren Brinton, in 1854; consequently, the pair moved to a variety of cities throughout the states following work. In 1862, the Brinton’s moved to Wyandotte, MI where Beulah’s cousin, Eber Brock Ward, owned the Eureka Iron Works. It was just four years later that Ward established the iron mill in Bay View, Wisconsin where Warren Brinton later secured a position around 1870.
The Milwaukee Iron Company ushered in the Industrial Age for the City of Milwaukee, though the rolling mill wasn’t actually located in Milwaukee. The rolling mill established an industrial economy, which would forever remain a facet of the city’s culture. In 1866 Detroit capitalist Eber Brock Ward, founded the Milwaukee Iron Company on a site just south of the current Hoan Bridge, ideal for its accessibility to the port and railroads, and consequently, its ability to accommodate cargo from Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Between 1868 and 1870, Ward recruited skilled workers from England, the home of the Industrial Revolution, to build and work the blast furnaces that revolutionized the rolling mill, producing high quality rails from raw iron ore deposits around Dodge County. Former practice had re-rolled soft metal rails that had been misshapen from extensive use. The result was an English-speaking neighborhood of predominantly skilled industrial workers from England, and an industrial company settlement that would become Milwaukee’s first suburb, Bay View, in 1879.
The Milwaukee Iron company built boarding houses and rental cottages for newly arriving workers; however unlike other industrial cities, the mill did not require workers to live in factory owned housing but encouraged them to build or purchase homes in the neighborhood surrounding the rolling mill by offering lots and cottages at affordable prices as well as donating land for churches. The workers predominantly lived in the vicinity nearest to the rolling mill while the managers and business owners tended to live in the land farther south. Constructed in 1872-74 with Late Gothic influence, the home of Beulah Brinton stands out amongst the surrounding Italianate houses and puddlers’ cottages located just two blocks south of the site of the former rolling mill.