March 15, 2016, is the day when the state of Ohio will vote in its primary election; determining which Democrat and which Republican will get the most delegates for their respective parties to represent the state of Ohio at the nominating national conventions. Cleveland is even the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC). This year, in particular, is a unique primary season, to say the least. But, how many know that Lakewood has its own unique and profound history with the political national conventions? Lakewood was home to the first women to be elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920.
Bernice (Secrest) Pyke, a well known and celebrated member of the Lakewood community, graduated from high school in Chillicothe in 1898 and then studied at Ohio Wesleyan University and at Smith College in Massachusetts. She taught mathematics in Illinois and in 1906, married Arthur B. Pyke. Bernice was a prominent suffragette in Lakewood and assumed the presidency of the Lakewood Women’s Suffrage Party in 1914 where she raised $400 from the district which earned her the distinction raising the most funds in the Greater Cleveland area. Pyke also was the first woman to campaign for Mayor of Lakewood, hold a cabinet position in Cleveland City government, and, as stated previously, served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920. While she was unsuccessful in her mayoral campaign, Bernice continued her involvement in politics with a state senatorial campaign and addressed the 1932 Democratic Part at the convention where she was skeptical of presidential candidate, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After Roosevelt’s victory in the presidential race, he actually appointed Pyke as the director of customs collection for Ohio, which she held for 20 years and two presidents waived the mandatory retirement age for her. Those presidents were Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower.
Throughout all of her political involvement, Bernice also was noted as one of the founding members of the Lakewood Public Library and even owned her own bookstore on the corner of Detroit and Cook. At the Lakewood Historical Society, we maintain and care for items that dealt with Bernice Pyke, as well as the Lakewood Women’s Suffrage Party. She stood out as a pioneering woman who had a great influence on both her local community and gained national notoriety through her service in local affairs, as well as in national politics.