Among the family photos I was able to scan from the notebook of my 1st cousin, once removed, was this picture of my great-grandaunt, Julia Brenner (1877 – 1969) and her husband James Huffman (1874 – 1969). The Huffmans lived in Mahoning County, Ohio. I’m not sure whether this picture shows her as a tough non-conformist or a woman with a big sense of humor. (It almost looks posed.) Growing up as the twelfth of fifteen children, she probably had to possess both qualities.
Julia was quite a remarkable woman. In 1927, she began working as the first woman truant officer for the Youngstown (Ohio) public school. Her obituary in the Youngstown Vindicator remarked that “her willingness to help [youngsters] with their problems, real and imagined, forged a bond of respect between youth and the image of authority she represented.”
Her concern for young people (especially girls and young women) was more than just her job, it appeared to be her calling. She helped organize the first Camp Fire Girls group on Youngstown’s South Side. During the Great Depression she helped organize the Young Ladies’ Opportunity Club, aimed at self-betterment and she campaigned for the development of a neighborhood Playground Association. She was active in Big Sisters and the Women’s relief Corps. As the daughter of an immigrant, she taught Americanization classes to recent immigrants.
In her mid-70s, she was still well-known by the children in her neighborhood for her annual Easter Egg Tree. Throughout the year, when baking she didn’t break the eggs, but blew out the contents and saved the shells. She then dyed the egg shells a wide variety of colors and would hang them outside on a tree for all to see.
Julia Brenner Huffman was a remarkable woman… a non-conformist, an organizer, a champion for young people (and especially young women and truants).