Welcome to the official web-page for the Nellie Sheridan Wilson Statue Committee. In 2014, members of the Perry County Historical and Cultural Arts Society formed a special committee in order to oversee the creation of a statue dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Nellie Sheridan Wilson.
It is the sole purpose of this website to offer insight into the life of Nellie Sheridan Wilson, a woman who exhibited self-determination as a woman working in Appalachian Ohio at the turn of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. It is the intention of this site to promote an understanding of Nellie Sheridan Wilson, a most fascinating historical figure, and to illustrate her significant contributions to Somerset, Ohio and how regional identity, family values, community involvement, and the societal norms of the day, aided in shaping her charming yet resilient character.
Nelie Sheridan Wilson, daughter of John Sheridan and Kate Gallin, was born in Somerset, Perry County, Ohio 14 December 1870. She was the youngest of two daughters. Her sister, Mary was born 11 March 1868, resided within the village of Somerset her entire life, until her death in 1944. Mary taught musical lessons and was also theatrical. The two sisters in the family home that still stands on Columbus Street.
Nellie’s grandmother, an Irish immigrant who was a well-known collector of teapots, was said to be one of the kindest women in the area. Per her obituary,” a poor person never left her home hungry” and “a ragged soldier always had a place to stay.” She was as equally proud of all of her sons as she was of the general. Nellie, like her grandmother, was a constant participant in GAR events and rejoiced in telling stories about her father, Uncle Mike, and dear Uncle Phil.
Nellie , the younger sister by three years, was born three years after Mary and flouted convention at a time when women were not considered much more than mere chattel, but the self-proclaimed favorite niece of Philip H. Sheridan had other ideas.
Like her valiant uncle, Nellie was indeed a fighter who personified courage and enjoyed pushing the envelope ( a little postmistress humor..). In 1889, when Nellie was just nineteen years old, she declared that she wanted to be postmistress. During that time, women were not encouraged to hold the office. In fact, the powers that be did everything to discourage women from entering the field because it lessened opportunities for men, who were the traditional breadwinners, to hold the position. Consequently, women who were appointed earned less than their male counterparts. Nellie earned a handsome $1,700.00 per year.
Postmaster General Payne composed an order which essentially stated that any woman serving as postmistress, must remain unmarried or resign. Postmaster Payne’s policy followed his , and the general philosophy then, toward working women and their degree of commitment and self-reliance. It was his philosophy that women working in the field were less likely to marry and depend on their spouses for income. He also felt that men were better suited for the position.
Be that as it may, Nellie, with true Sheridan spirit and determination, filled the position at Somerset and served the area well for twenty-five years. When one examines her life story, one wonders why she wanted to remain postmistress if not purely as a matter of principle. Nellie was an exception and an example in her day – a ‘suffragette ‘ making her way before Suffrage was established in law : she did it, she held office.
In addition, Nellie had a flair for the dramatic arts and performed in local theater productions. Once during one of the quirky days of her youth, she scratched the window of her grandmother’s home to see if a diamond ring, which had been given to her by an unknown suitor, was real. However silly and charming young Nellie was, she also had a serious side. Like their grandmother, Nellie and her sister Mary often attended GAR events, spoke, placed wreaths, sang songs, and remained active in the cause their entire lives.
In 1905, Nellie oversaw the erecting of a statue of her “Uncle Phil” in Somerset. The statue, then Ohio’s only Civil War equestrian monument, was erected at the roundabout in the center of Somerset. Nellie orchestrated a penny fund for area school children to pay for the enormous granite base. (see unveiling photo on donation page)
When Nellie married, she was a bride only for one night as her beloved, Thomas Wilson, a wealthy merchant who had selflessly been her significant other for fifteen years and sacrificed their marriage and chances of family for Nellie to continue her career, had ultimately succumbed to Bright’s Disease, a condition that he suffered with for over one year, on the very night of their wedding. Nellie, who was forced to resign her position the previous day, was forced to fight to retain her position. It wasn’t easy. After his death, she never remarried and retained the name of Wilson. However, she did serve as postmistress as Nellie Wilson.
Somerset resident, Jim Young stated that when he was child, he visited the old post office (located in the building that is now Underwood Hardware), recalled Nellie as “flamboyant.” She dressed to the nines in her large hats and was a well-known person within the village of Somerset. Jim recalled, that she liked him because she always smiled at him. Jim attended Holy Trinity School as a youngster and to avoid the long walk from Young’s Farm, he used to stay in Somerset with his grandparents. It was his task to obtain the mail each day. Jim is the only person that we know of who knew Nellie personally. If you know of anyone else, please have them email the historical society.
Nellie was an extraordinarily interesting person who was anything but boring. She possessed a vivacious Irish spirit and was the embodiment of self-determination. She was..a survivor. When she died in 1947, the old Somerset Courthouse rang its bell in her honor and people stopped on the square to pause and pay homage to the former civil servant and friend, Mrs. Nellie Sheridan Wilson, Somerset Postmistress extraordinaire.
* The Nellie Sheridan Statue Fund operates under the aegis of the Perry County Historical and Cultural Arts Society and is a 501c3 organization.