PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Globe-trotting Fannie B. Ward came home to Ravenna

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

Fannie B. Ward made a name for herself traveling the globe and sharing her experiences with dozens of newspapers in an era when women had few opportunities in the field of journalism.

She braved primitive conditions and tropical diseases to report from Mexico and South America. She was in Cuba when the U.S. battleship "Maine" was blown up. She joined her friend, Red Cross founder Clara Barton, on humanitarian missions.

Prior to her globe-trotting existence, however, she lived in both Ravenna and Kent. And, following her death 100 years ago this month, she returned home to Ravenna, where she is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery.

Born Jan. 27, 1843, in Monroe, Mich., Fannie Brigham Ward found her way to Washington, D.C., in the early 1870s, where she was appointed to a temporary position with the U.S. Treasury Department in 1874.

She began writing for newspapers, sending dispatches from the capital initially to the Cleveland Leader and eventually adding other publications, building a syndicate of more than 40 newspapers that carried her writing at the height of her career. Among those was the Portage County Republican-Democrat, which was based in Ravenna.

Her career as a travel writer, which would occupy her for more than two decades, began in 1884, when she traveled to Mexico and Central America, where she lived for two and a half years. By then, she was divorced and apparently supporting herself by her writing.

Ward tackled her assignments with gusto. She crossed the Andes on mules. She climbed Mount Popacatepetl in Mexico. She endured conditions far different from the life she once lived in the nation's capital. And she paid a price for it, too -- she contracted yellow fever on her first trip to Mexico and later became ill with mountain fever, which forced her to return home.

It is uncertain when Ward resided in Kent and Ravenna. The Kent Courier, in her obituary, noted that she lived in the Williams residence on East Summit Street and that her home "was filled with curios gathered in foreign lands."

She had three children. One son was a photographer in Kent for a time, and a daughter, Nellie, was married to Dr. Walter Jex, who practiced in Kent. Another daughter, her youngest child, accompanied her on several of her travels.

Ward returned to Latin America in the late 1880s, visiting Guatemala and British Honduras before embarking on a 19-month journey with her daughter in 1891. She shared dispatches from Chile, where she reported on a civil war, made three trips across the Andes, and traveled throughout South America, visiting Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, Paraguay and Argentina, as well as the remote Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

"All my life I have gone on my own independent way, regardless of who might disapprove of my course," she wrote to Clara Barton, with whom she traveled to Cuba in 1898, where she reported on political conditions. She was in Havana to witness the sinking of the Maine, which led to the Spanish-American War.

Following her return from Cuba, she headed to Europe, where she visited Spain and Portugal in 1899. The following year, she traveled to Galveston, Texas, with Barton to take part in relief efforts following a devastating hurricane and flood there.

As the 20th Century dawned, Ward found herself working as hard as ever but facing financial and health challenges. She noted that newspapers were less willing to carry her writings when more compelling news was at hand, such as "political campaigns and summer resort news." But she still had 42 newspapers syndicating her work in 1904.

By then, Ward had returned to Washington, D.C., where her home took on the trappings of a museum, filled with items from her travels. Her health, strained by her travels, began failing, and she was forced to give up her home after suffering a stroke that left her blind in one eye in 1905.

She relocated to Maryland, where she lived with her son, then returned to Washington in 1908, where she made her home with her daughter, Mrs. Jex, whose husband had practiced medicine in Kent. That's where she died, at the age of 70, on Oct. 4, 1913.

After traveling the world, Fannie B. Ward chose Ravenna as her final resting place. She is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, where she lies next to the daughter who accompanied her on her journey across the Andes.

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