– Ryan Reed, Tax Incentive Coordinator
I encourage Nebraskans to ask questions and to learn more about the people who once lived in the old buildings still standing all across the state—you might discover that someone like Hayward used to live right next door!
On my frequent travels across Nebraska, I have seen and heard the stories of a lot of buildings. Some of these buildings house the stories of notable figures in Nebraska history, such as the Senator George Norris House in McCook, Nebraska. Other places tell us about events that shook communities, like George Mitchell Park in Oxford, Nebraska, which is the site of the 1967 salmonella outbreak during the annual Turkey Days celebration. My favorite story, at this time, is told by a two-story brick commercial building at the corner of Chadron Avenue and West 2nd Street in Chadron, Nebraska.
The M.E. Smith & Co. Building, constructed in 1890, once belonged to Mary E. Smith Hayward. Although largely unknown in Nebraska history, Hayward was a successful businesswoman, political organizer, and vegetarian. Born in Liberty, Pennsylvania in 1842, Hayward struck out on her own in 1885 for Nebraska. That year she took up a claim just west of Chadron and also established a dry goods business in town.
Hayward was a prominent member of the suffrage movement in Nebraska. She became president of the Nebraska Women’s Suffrage Association in the 1890s. In 1895, Hayward refused to pay her taxes to protest women being unable to vote. She stated in 1895 that “the church is responsible for the subservient condition of women.” In 1913, she represented Nebraska in the Women Suffrage Parade in Washington DC with an estimated 8,000 attendees. Hayward was also an animal rights activist. She was a lifelong member of the humane society and once had a man arrested for beating his horse.
The brick building at Chadron Avenue and West 2nd Street is a tangible connection to Mary E. Smith Hayward and her story. I have barely scratched the surface of what this extraordinary person contributed to her community, state, and country.