This youngest daughter of Abram Walter Colton (#1089) and Catherine (Van Horne) Colton was born in a house located next to her father’s office building on Madison Avenue and Erie Street in Toledo, Lucas Co., OH on 2 September, 1873.
From this auspicious beginning her ancestral history on both her mother and father’s families were of the kind of things romantic and adventuresome novels might have been written. In fact, as we shall learn, writings would later become a big part in her life.
Her grandfather, Carlos Colton (#525), had served as a surgeon in the War of 1812 alongside his father, Dr. Walter Colton (#236). He was taken prisoners and detained on the slope H. M. Wolfe for a month before being released and returned to civilian life. He later engaged in the shipping business in Toledo, Ohio which later would involve his son Abram Walter Colton as the owner/general manager of the Lake Erie Transportation Company (a line of lake freighters). Her mother, Catherine (Van Horne) Colton was descended from the prominent Knickerbocker family of New York.
Her entire family was attuned to the more affluent lifestyle of the times, being well-to-do by any standards, but her father often took a young Olive with him to the docks and ware houses where he talked and joked with company’s employees. Later in her life there would be clandestine excursions to “Smoky Hollow,” a poor section of north Toledo that left a strong impression on the still young Olive Colton of those less fortunate than herself. She resolved then to try and help these folks when she got older.
First she would attend kindergarten at Miss Forsythe’s school, then a year in public school, and then she completed her formal education through high school at the Smead School for Girls (later the Maumee Valley Country Day School).
She continued to educate herself and having the luxury of being able to travel extensively she began by taking a trip to California in 1885, at 12 years of age, and her travels would grow into trips throughout America and abroad to Europe until she was well into her eighties.
Her summers were usually spent with her sister Cornelia and friends at the Curtis Hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts, where Cornelia was instrumental in organizing the “Berkshire Music Festival” in Tanglewood, and where the Colton sisters became friends with the director, Serge Koussevitzky, and his wife Olga.
Olive Colton’s life was not just dedicated to travel. She was deeply involved in social and political issues throughout her lifetime. She gained a reputation as a suffragist and a reformer. She helped organize the District Nurses Association, the League of Women Voters, the Social Service Federation (later became the Child Welfare Agency), Consumers League and participated in lobbying efforts for the minimum wage, child labor laws, women’s suffrage, protection for working women, unemployment relief and for world peace. All of this would seem like an overwhelming task for any individual. However, we find no place where Olive was ever gainfully employed and her time was for her own choosing. She had the luxury of being able to throw herself into projects and devote as much time as needed. She was totally involved in these activities where she met, befriended and worked with many of the prominent women of the Toledo area and they were all involved in social, civic and philanthropic work on behalf of the good for all walks of life.
Family Home of Abram Walter Colton at 450 West Woodruff
at the corner of Collingwood Boulevard, Toledo, Ohio, ca 1930.
This house has since been torn down.
Olive had lived in the family home, located at Woodruff and Collingwood Avenue in Toledo, Ohio until her mother’s death in 1931. She then moved to the Park Lane Hotel from 1931 to 1966, when she moved into the Cherry Hills Nursing Home where she lived until her death in 1972, just less than a month before her 99th birthday!
She was often sick, surviving several bouts with illness requiring hospitalization, including surgery for cancer. She did not allow her illnesses to deter her from her work and writing until late in life. A severe case of hives was the subject for one of her more humorous essays. Lois Coffin and Florence Diehl were private nurses who worked for Miss Colton and with whom she developed close friendships. Ms. Diehl frequently drove on automobile trips with Olive from Toledo to the eastern and southern parts of the United States
The League of Women’s Voters gives an award in her name, not for her longevity in the organization, but for her activity. The “Olive A. Colton Award” is so named because:
“Through the years, members of the League of Women Voters - here and elsewhere - have worked on a great many interrelated issues and have cooperated with other organizations having like or complementary objectives. When the yield from cooperation is more than addition - when it is synergistic, multiplying what we can accomplish - the Toledo League of Women Voters recognizes our collaborative partner with the Olive Colton award.”
Early in this story we mentioned writing would become a big part in Olive’s life. Photocopies of the collection of the papers of Olive A. Colton are on file at the Center for Archival Collections at the Bowling Green State University. Included in this collection are an autobiography and essays that chronicle her family background, her childhood, young adulthood, a romantic relationship with an Englishman, early recognition of poverty and problems of the poor, long political reforms for women, children and the working class, travels in Europe and the United States, her friends and colleagues, and memorable incidents and persons in her life (such as an audience with Pope Pius X and the visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth to Washington, D.C. in 1939).
Journal entries are scattered through the years 1919 and 1946 to 1961. Also included are newspaper clippings of poetry and prose, family social and political activities, various obituaries, and a few of her published essays and letters to the editor on contemporary issues. Additionally, a published work, “Rambles Abroad” was written by Olive in 1904, which describes her journeys abroad, along with “The Romance of Royalty” written in 1908 portraying the lives and personalities of members of the royal families of Denmark, Austria, Russia, Prussia, France and England. Also in the collection is an extensive assortment of picture post cards accumulated from many of the various places she had traveled to and visited over the years.
Her collections are currently located at the Ward M.. Canaday Center for Special Collections at the U. Of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio. She is also listed in “Ohio Authors and Their Books”.
Olive never married nor had a family of her own. She seemed content to find her enjoyments from her many travels and in doing for others and yet her accomplishments rank alongside many of her male counterparts and her story needs a rightful place preserved in our Colton archives.