The first woman to be sheriff in Ohio held that office in my community. She did it back in the 1920s and her story is spectacular.
Her name was Maude Collins but everyone in the community called her Sheriff Maude.
This story begins when Maude was just a young wife and mother, married to Sheriff Fletcher Collins. At the time, the sheriff’s department served as county jail and home to the sheriff and his family. Maude served as jail matron while her husband was in office which was customary at the time.
But Fletcher was killed in the line of duty – shot by a suspect while attempting to serve a warrant. And with one gunshot on an October morning in 1925, the 32-year old Maude became a widow and single mother of five.
Because the next sheriff would soon need his new office and living quarters, she also lost her home. And so, it was not long after burying her husband, Maude was packing to leave when the county commissioners came knocking. She had been appointed to finish her husband’s unexpired term.
The job that made her a widow and single mother was now her own, at least for a little while.
But Maude had no experience, no training and her only knowledge of the office came from watching her husband.
Yet she turned out to be a great sheriff. She patrolled roads, investigated crimes, arrested suspects, testified against them in court and even earned the distinction of being the first woman to ever deliver a prisoner to the Ohio State Penitentiary.
Anything a male sheriff did, Maude did too.
Her first month in office, Sheriff Maude actually had to testify against the man who killed her husband. Not long after, her investigative skills proved to be innovative and impressive. That tale is enough for another story. Another day, perhaps.
Sheriff Maude went on to run for a term of her own, beating a man in a landslide that Primary Election and handily beating a man again in the General Election.
She was smart, she was tough and she was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever studied.
While her achievements would be impressive today, they were monumental in her lifetime.
After all, women had only won the right to vote in 1919. There was no daycare to keep her kids, no fast food to put dinner on the table, or government safety nets like we have today. Not to mention the scrutiny she must have faced from the community that, although they liked her, probably wondered if a woman really could be sheriff.
There’s a photo that shows Sheriff Maude, immersed in a man’s world, and preparing to bust a moonshine still. She’s standing next to the still, flanked by men on either side, and there’s a little girl clutching her skirt. That was Margaret- a toddler at the time – and Sheriff Maude’s youngest.
She clearly was the ultimate working mother in an age when women didn’t work, balancing it all with whatever means necessary.
Sheriff Maude finished her husband’s term and one of her own. She then went on to serve as Clerk of Courts before leaving elected office to work as a matron at the Columbus State School.
Yesterday I was honored to speak at a dedication ceremony for a new historic marker dedicated to Sheriff Maude. I had helped a friend with the research and application for this marker on behalf of our local historical and genealogical society and received far more credit than was deserved for the success of this project.
Sheriff Maude was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame several years ago but that has not prevented another county in Ohio from mistakenly claiming their 1970s era sheriff was the first. That woman wasn’t even alive when Sheriff Maude was out busting up moonshine stills.
I can’t tell you how happy many of us are that Sheriff Maude’s achievements are engraved in bronze and on the courthouse lawn for generations of people to see. A nice crowd came to the dedication on this hot July day and it was heartwarming to see this level of community support.
It feels good to know this remarkable woman will be remembered and that credit for her achievements can no longer be given to another.
I’ll tell you another day about the detective work Sheriff Maude did to make national headlines. It’s an incredible sorry!