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New Walking Tour Explores the Legacy of Vanguard Women in Downtown Pittsburgh

The Fort Pitt Block House, the only surviving defensive structure of the five that were built in 1764 to protect Fort Pitt, is one stop on a new walking tour that traces the stories of bold Pittsburgh women who helped shape the City’s history and architecture.

PHLF Education staff continue to work at home to ensure that when we receive permission to resume normal operations, we can bring you our typically varied slate of tours. In the meantime, we have invited docents to write about new tours they developed for 2020. Here, Debbie Edwards and Jo Ellen Aleshire tell us about their tour “Out of the Parlor: Women Trailblazers and Game Changers Downtown.”

The Fort Pitt Block House is well known as Pittsburgh’s oldest building. Perhaps less well-known is the fact that, but for the intervention of a formidable group of women, the Block House would have been destroyed in the late 19th century. In saving the building in 1907, the local chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution thwarted powerful capitalist interests and successfully lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature to enact one of the State’s earliest preservation laws.

We share enthusiasm for the hidden stories of women’s history, and as we started researching these stories, we were surprised to learn of locations Downtown where important events in the evolution of women’s roles took place. For example, the site of the Union Trust Building today was the terminus of an important parade for women’s suffrage that wound through Downtown in May 1914. Construction of Union Trust started just months later, so the land was vacant at the time of the parade. It’s fascinating to think of the 30 speakers and a crowd of marchers occupying that site, agitating for a right that would finally become a reality in 1920.

“Out of the Parlor” focuses on the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when women were moving out of the domestic sphere and into the wider world—not only claiming the right to vote, but also entering previously male-dominated professions. We think telling stories about these women and visiting some of the physical spaces their lives touched is a good way to commemorate the 2020 centennial of the 19th Amendment to the federal constitution, giving the vote to American women. For PHLF, it’s also an interesting way to consider history’s role in creating meaningful places.

“Out of the Parlor: Women Trailblazers and Game Changers Downtown” will be offered in August and September. Stay tuned for additional information when PHLF’s programs return.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633