Breaking The Mold


Martha Harnly

© Copyright 2023 by Martha Harnly 

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

My grandmother, Ora Buel Leopard Smith, tirelessly traced her ancestors. She found birth, marriage, death records, and the family names in history books (and kept copies of the book pages!) as far back as thirteen generations. Her eldest daughter, my mother, Eleanor Allin Smith Harnly added to it, typing notes and making multiple trips to the genealogical library at Salt Lake City, devoting days to reading microfiche. In her late eighties, my mother was infirm, spending most of her time in a chair. I craved to hear her intelligent, witty, and educated mind. I asked her to review her family tree.

There are literally hundreds of names, and many more dates and places, any of which we could have paused and pondered and imagined a different world. To focus, we first followed my mother’s interests trying to find traces of property and unidentified ancestors. Unraveling the transfer of property across generations is difficult. Only a few wills have survived. Finding traces of unidentified ancestors is overwhelming: at thirteen generations, there are thousands of multi-great grandparents. Yet my mother is eager and asks, in particular, for information on the parents of her great-great grandfather, Jacob Leopard. I search the internet and an ancestry database:1 For most ancestors, my mother and grandmother have more information than those sources and we find nothing new on Jacob Leopard.

What is readily apparent, however, is that many of the hundreds of people on the family tree are highly educated. One went to Cambridge University in London in the early 1600s. As you move across the generations--surveyors, lawyers, a state senator, a doctor--populate the family tree. They are all men.

Always captivated by someone who breaks the mold, I am drawn to my grandmother. To pay her own way through the University of Missouri (UM), she attended a teacher training institute in Warrensburg Mo., then taught in a one-room public school under a cluster of hardwood trees surrounded by prairie outside her hometown, Gallatin, MO, in rural northwestern Missouri. She then went to UM ultimately writing a 144-page dissertation detailing the votes of Missouri legislators that first eliminated property, literacy, and racial voting qualifications but then struck down women’s suffrage.2 In 1919—before women had the right to vote in the U. S.—she was awarded a Master’s of Arts in Political Science from UM, the only person that year to receive an advanced degree in Political Science, and, my mother notes, the first woman. She did more, teaching at women’s colleges in Arkansas and Georgia, continuing her studies taking coursework for a PhD, and receiving a Guggenheim fellowship to study at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

I have only the vaguest of memories of her. We lived in California. She lived in Missouri. She passed when I was little. My mother said that my grandmother simply liked school and was “happy as a clam” when studying. Having paid my own way through graduate school, this explanation had always seemed sufficient. Yet, in my sixties, sitting with my mother in Fresno, California, in the heat of the summer of 2018, I was ever more cognizant that no one gets where they get in a vacuum. Questions tumbled from my mouth: Did her parents, Mary Ellen “Mollie” May and John Chapline Leopard, or their ancestors, support women’s education? Was it common for women to be literate, to move away from a rural town to attend college, to teach? Did the Methodist church, or greater community, encourage her educational efforts and/or the suffrage movement? Did my grandmother even vote in 1920?

My mother had sighed and said, “I wish I had asked my mother more questions.” And then, I looked back in time for clues.\\


Ora Buel’s ancestors knew upheaval. In the 1600s, they sailed across an ocean. Most were Episcopalians who settled in the Virginia area. One, a Chapline, was a British naval captain and re-supplier of Jamestown. Some started plantations encompassing tobacco farming, manors, and quarters for the enslaved. A few settled in the New York colonies. One turned Puritan. Another was a shoemaker who became a Quaker. Others, we simply know that they were born in the 1600s in the East Coast colonies.

In 1746, Henry May, the great-great-grandfather of Ora Buel’s mother, appeared in Virginia, being granted more than a thousand acres of land. We do not know his parents. We do know he was a surveyor and justice of peace, sat on many juries, and was notably rebellious, being cited for using reproachful language in court minutes. Henry May’s son subsequently left Virginia, with his wife and seven children, and traveled over 500 miles up and over the Cumberland Gap, probably on horseback, the trail not wide enough for wagons. They settled in Kentucky along the Salt River.

My grandmother found, and kept, the published diaries of her father’s maternal great-grandmother, born Elizabeth Nourse. When Elizabeth was four, in 1769, she sailed from England to Virginia. America changed her mother and her: they became members of the newly formed and burgeoning Methodist Church, founded with a devotion to study and aiding the poor. One of 21 children, Elizabeth married a descendent of the Jamestown re-supplier, the Chapline who had, in Maryland, a “large farm, good house, and everything that heart could wish.”3 Subsequently, one of Elizabeth’s four daughters, Ruhamah Chapline, would marry John Cravens, a Virginian physician who had learned medicine from his father.

In the early 1800s, Jacob Leopard, Ora Buel’s great-grandfather, appeared, purchasing land in Maryland. Although my grandmother, my mother, and I, have not been able to trace his parents, we do know that Jacob was known as a generous man, giving land for a church, canal, railroad, and school. Jacob and his wife raised three children including his only son, John Adams Leopard.

By the early 1800s, the Mays had fully embraced Kentucky, residing there and marrying fellow Kentuckians for four generations. The Leopards resided in Virginia and Maryland. When and why did they migrate to northwestern Missouri?

Google “Gallatin, Missouri history” and up will come dramatic tales of the tussle with the Mormons and the trial of Jesse James. My grandmother left a much fuller unfolding. She reviewed newspaper and historical documents, corresponded with residents and then co-authored a book volume with her father on the history of Daviess County, Missouri. Over a hundred years after publication in 1922, their book volume is in digital library collections.4 Honestly, the book is a bit of a slog, it takes a deep dive and lists many organizations, churches, schools. Yet I wade through it and find that the social structures that must have bolstered my grandmother’s endeavors were present from Gallatin’s inception. Further, the chapters on each war—there are many—provide a glimpse of my grandmother’s leanings.

Religious gatherings took place in Daviess County before any settler cabins were built. The first, in 1830, was under an oak tree and organized by the Methodist church. Sermons were hours long and portrayed vivid pictures of the hereafter. Hymns, including “How Tedious and Tasteless the Hour” and “Oh, Tell Me, Happy Sailor,” were first read by the preacher.5

Clusters of settler cabins began to spot Daviess County in the 1830s. The last Indian camp in the county disappeared around 1834; the county had been occupied by the Sacs, Foxes, Pottawatomie, and Musquake.6 In further research, I find that through a process of treaties, in the early 1800s, indigenous groups sold their land and left the state. Nonetheless, the Sac-Fox treaty was signed under duplicity (the four Sac-Fox signers were taken to St. Louis, given alcohol, and it is questionable whether the signers had the tribal authority to sign).7 The leader of the Sacs, Black Hawk, contested the treaties and war erupted throughout Northern Missouri. In Daviess County, settlers prepared for attack. However, my grandmother and her father reveal that accounts of atrocities, may have been invented by horse-stealing settler gangs and tribal visitors were “very peacefully inclined.”8

John Cravens, Ora Buel’s great-grandfather, was one of the early settlers of Daviess County, arriving from West Virginia, practicing medicine and pursuing farming. We can only guess why he moved his wife, Ruhamah Chapline, and his children: the plantations owned by his ancestors had passed to elder brothers, and, when he moved, he had eight children. Susan Caroline Cravens, the mother of Ora Buel’s father, was one of the eight.

Life in those cabins must have been harsh: dirt paths between cabins, large families in each, bleak winters. Yet, a county court, a post office, Etter Dry Goods Company, a Dram Shop were soon established.9 Enslaved people arrived in the County and the first free person of color was granted license to reside in the county.10

Education began with the first log cabins. In 1837, “subscription” teaching where the teacher’s salary could be paid in produce,corn, deerskins, honey was available. Institutes, to prepare teachers, including women, for certification examination were held. 11 Two years later, the UM opened as the first higher-education institution west of the Mississippi. And soon thereafter, not only were public schools started in the county but also Daviess County Gallatin Female Academy and, in neighboring Grundy County, Grand River College, the first college in the state to admit women on equal terms with men, were established.12

Many states to the east, Ora Buel’s grandfather, John Adams Leopard, became a Princeton-educated lawyer. At a relatively young age, twenty-five, in 1852, set out for Missouri via riverboat. Meeting a Gallatin mayor, D.H. Davis, on that boat, he was persuaded to move to Gallatin. In his second year as a Gallatin resident, John Adams Leopard married Ora Buel’s grandmother, Susan Caroline Cravens. John Adams Leopard would become known for his splendid scholarship and speaker capabilities and become a prominent lawyer having an office in the first brick building.

Missouri was “divided” during the Civil War. My mother had always described this history as being one where free/enslaved status was determined county-by-county. Yet, my grandmother and her father detail in their chapter on the Civil War that, in Gallatin, the war pitted violent father against son. The majority of residents were Confederate. However, when on the town square, Confederate men threatened Union supporters with hanging, the Union men decided that this could not be borne. They then rode through the town, two abreast, with rifles across their saddles. The Confederates watched with bulging eyes. The Union men left town and joined up with other Union forces. Months later, they returned to Gallatin and captured it without opposition. The rest of the war in Gallatin, was relatively peaceful, with only one “hide-and-seek” engagement and with Union men requiring Confederates to swear a Union oath. 13

During this challenging time, Ora Buel’s father was born on the twentieth day of July in 1862. John Cravens, the early Gallatin settler, served as a Confederate surgeon and Gabriel May, Ora Buel’s maternal great-grandfather, who resided in Kentucky, served in the Confederate army. At notice of the end of the war, my grandmother and her father recount that Gallatin residents donated money to illuminate all the windows in the courthouse to achieve an oyster effect.14

The same day as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Homestead Act of 1863 which distributed land to single women--but not married--went into effect. This brought about an influx of unmarried women into the West: a third of homesteaders were women. The arduousness of frontier life may have required men and women to work side-by-side, allowing more egalitarian beliefs. 15 Women were admitted very soon after UM had been secured as one of the nation’s land-grant Universities, in 1869. Western women in the U.S. became more educated, and were in more professions, than Eastern women.16

Like her ancestors, Ora Buel’s mother, Mollie May, knew upheaval and migration. In the 1880s, her father, Gabriel May, uprooted the family and moved his wife, his one son, and seven daughters from Kentucky to Gallatin to farm. Mollie May was one of the seven.

Mollie May met John Chapline Leopard while she was attending Gallatin High School. She, his star student. They married in Gallatin on the tenth day of December 1890. Ora Buel was born in late 1891, and her brother, Dean, in 1893. Mollie named my grandmother “Buel” after a female character in a popular young adult novel. The name stuck and my grandmother dropped the “Ora” enlisting at the University and publishing as “Buel.”

She would grow up with six aunts. We have a picture of the long-jawed seven sisters in their seventies. Taken around 1950, their hair is braided and coiled, they wear nylons and laced leather shoes, pearls and broaches. Their arms are entwined. Some hold hands. They all look pensive, although Mollie and others may be trying to suppress smiles.

By 1910, Gallatin, with a population of 1,825, was vibrant. Brass bands played on the public square. A gym and a YMCA had been built. Multiple societal organizations included the PEO sisterhood, the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, the Masonic Lodge, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Gallatin Rebekah Lodge, and the American Legion. Churches of various Christian denominations were active.17 During World War I, American Red Cross activities superseded all other organizational activities. Knitting needles clicked, constantly churning out garments.18 Women worked in the Gallatin newsroom.19

Ora Buel’s father had a law office on the Gallatin town square, served three terms as the prosecuting county attorney, and then became the mayor himself for two terms, between 1908 and 1912. Ora Buel’s younger brother, Dean Leopard, became a lawyer, his education paid for by his parents.


My grandmother was a scholar and academic, her 144-page thesis is thoroughly referenced. In recounting Daviess County history, she wrote as a historian/journalist, telling both sides of a story. Yet, I find I must go outside these documents, to discover the events surrounding the gains in women suffrage in Missouri when she was studying at the University, and which may have shaped her thinking.

The right to vote for women began in the West. By 1911, women in, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Washington, and California had gained the right to vote. During that year, the Missouri Equal Suffrage Association was founded, with local branches including ones in Kansas City and Warrensburg, where Ora Buel earned her initial teaching certificate. They rejected the violent methods of the English suffragettes. During the 1916 Democratic convention in St. Louis, women paraded and occupied the streets. When the male delegates emerged from breakfast, a mile of women greeted them. They were silent and not moving, blocking side streets, forcing the men to walk through them. On the steps of the art museum, stood figures in white gowns, representing the fully enfranchised states. 20 When women did gain the right to vote in the U.S in 1920, at least one Missouri woman snuck out of her home, not telling her husband, to vote with her friends like a “good Methodist woman that she was.”21


I do not know exactly what—beyond tenacity and a keen, eager to learn mind—propelled my grandmother to become an academic. She was raised in a resilient community with six aunts and educated parents. She probably did have a deeply engrained sense of independence fostered by a heritage of ancestors migrating across oceans and states. Female ancestors were literate, keeping diaries. Her father respected her abilities: she was a co-author on the Daviess County book. Public schools, teacher colleges, a public university, a statewide and national suffrage movement, and multiple societal organizations, including churches, all must have bolstered her efforts.

My mother said that my grandmother, by sharing her love of history, taught my mother to love history. I also like to think that my grandmother, in recounting history to the next generation and how peace--during times of violent war--could be maintained, found something akin to joy and awe. I did.

I still do not truly know if my grandmother voted in 1920. Yet, in the last sentence of her dissertation, she states “it is at least highly probable that women will be granted suffrage on the same terms as men.”22

Ora Buel, in 1925 at the age of 35, left her academic studies and teaching, and married a fellow law-class student, Gardner Smith (1893-1963). He was the son of parents whose ancestors were surveyors, doctors, and lawyers who also mostly migrated from England to Virginia to Kentucky to Missouri. My grandmother married my grandfather, in Gallatin, in her parent’s home, three blocks from the town square, where you could hear the courthouse bells.

My grandmother did not work outside the home after she married. She was active in various organizations and the Methodist church. My mother, and then her younger sister, went to and graduated from college. My mother married a fellow student and after graduation they moved to Northern California, where my father eventually left a business career to become a public school teacher.

My mother made financial investments which enabled my parents to support all three of their daughters through college (not to mention trips to Salt Lake City!) We became a college librarian, a senior home care specialist, and a research scientist. Before my mother passed in 2019, she had financially assisted her four grandchildren through college.

Almost to the day my mother passed, she would ask me if I had found anything more on Jacob Leopard, saying, “How do you know who you are unless you know where you came from?” I continue to check ancestry websites searching for familial strands. Among the many boxes of genealogical information, I do find a draft of a family tree, hand-written by Ora Buel. Flipping over the paper, the other side is a letter from the League of Women Voters, dated in 1948, asking members to support an initiative to raise the minimum wage. Eighty years later, I become a member myself. Ora Buel Leopard Smith not only broke the mold, she also forged a path.


1 Accessed 08/23/2023.

2Buel Leopard. “The Electoral Franchise in Missouri.” A.M. Thesis. University of Missouri. (1918)

3Quoted in “Chapter VIII. Elizabeth (Nourse) Chapline and Her Descendants.” in “James Nourse and His Descendants.” (Kentucky, Transylvania Printing Company, 1897), p. 77.

4John C. and Buel Leopard. “History of Daviess and Gentry Counties, Part I. History of Daviess County” (1922 Classic Reprint, 2017 ed).

5John C. and Beul Leopard. “Part I: History of Daviess County,” p. 133-135.

6Ibid., p.65.

7John K Flannigan “The Treaty of St. Louis and Black Hawk’s Bitterness.” Northern Illinois University Law Review. (2001) 21, p.405-409.

8John C. and Buel Leopard, “Part I. History of Daviess County,” p. 91.

9Ibid., p. 82.

10Ibid., p.169-170.

11Ibid., p. 146-147.

12Ibid., p. 151-153.

13Ibid., p. 102-105.

14Ibid., p. 115

15Hannah Haksgaard. “Including Unmarried Women in the Homestead Act of 1862.” Wayne Law Review. (2002) p. 67

16Holly J. McCammon and Karen E. Campbell. “Winning the Vote in the West: The Political Successes of the Women’s Suffrage Movements, 1866-1919.” Gender and Society. (2001) Vol. 21, p. 55-82.

17Ibid. p. 136-145.

18Ibid. p. 195-199.

19Daviess County Historical Society. Photo. Printing shop of the Gallatin North Missourian. 1908 (Accessed Feb 20,2023.)

20Margot McMillen. “The Golden Lane. How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History.” (The History Press. Charleston, SC, 2011), p. 55-60.

21Hardesty, Nancy A. Quoted in “The Best Temperance Organization in the Land. Southern Methodists and the W.C.T.U. in Georgia.” Methodist History 28:3 (1990) p. 194.

22Leopard, Buel. “The Electoral Franchise in Missouri.” 1918. A.M. Thesis. University of Missouri. p. 144.


Martha Harnly is now a retired environmental health scientist.  Her work focused  on the human health impacts of pesticides and climate change.  Currently, she is a volunteer at the Oakland International High School, an art docent at the Oakland Museum, and has updated her mother's work on the genealogy of her family, tracing back her ancestors eleven generations.  The piece of weaving she brought back from Lake Tequile is on display in her home along with knittings and weavings by her family.

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