March is Women's History Month and is set aside to honor women's contributions in American history. Mary Hays McCauley, also known as Molly Pitcher, is perhaps one of Cumberland Valley’s most famous women. Below we commemorate the vital role these equally important but often overlooked women played in Cumberland Valley's rich history.
Rosemarie Peiffer & Evelyn G. Sharp
The Peiffer Memorial Arboretum and Nature Preserve, in Lower Allen Township and New Cumberland, is dedicated to the memory of Rosemarie Peiffer, the first female Cumberland County Commissioner, and her husband, Howard. Rosemarie was raised on a farm in Schuylkill County and was a licensed registered nurse. She developed an interest in politics and was elected to the New Cumberland Borough Council before being elected as a county commissioner in 1979. Both Rosemarie and Howard were strong advocates of land preservation and the arboretum and nature preserve consist of 35 wooded acres with nature trails and some of the largest trees in the state.
The arboretum and nature preserve also honors the memory of aviatrix Evelyn G. Sharp, from Nebraska, who received her first commercial pilot’s license at the age of 18 and became an airplane instructor at the age of 20. She was one of the original Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron pilots and served until April 3, 1944, when the P-38 Lightning she was piloting lost an engine on takeoff from what is now Capital City Airport and crashed into land now owned by the arboretum, saving the lives of countless civilians by choosing an uninhabited location. Only 24 years old at the time of her death, she was a squadron commander and only three flights from her fifth rating, the highest certificate then available to women. Her fellow aviators, some of the best fliers in the country, raised money to pay for her coffin to be returned to Nebraska. Whistlestop Bookshop in Carlisle carries the only biography of her, Sharpie: The Life Story of Evelyn Sharp, Nebraska's Aviatrix by Diane Ruth Armour Bartels (1996).
Though not currently open to the public, the arboretum is available for educational purposes, meetings, special events, and weddings.
Poet Marianne Moore was born in Missouri, eventually moving with her mother and older brothers to Carlisle in 1896. After graduating from Bryn Mawr College, Moore made her way back to Carlisle where she taught business subjects at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School from 1911 to 1914. Her first professionally published poems appeared in the spring of 1915 and, in 1916, she moved with her mother to New Jersey. After a distinguished career as an eminent poet, author, essayist, and teacher, including the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, she died in 1971 and her ashes were interred at the family’s burial plot at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg. A state historical marker was dedicated to Moore in 2002 and is located at 343 N. Hanover Street in Carlisle.
Irving Female College
Irving Female College was chartered in 1856 by Mechanicsburg businessman Solomon Gorgas, who named the college after author Washington Irving. It was the first women’s college in Pennsylvania to grant degrees in arts and sciences. In 1895, the college changed its name to Irving College and Conservatory for Music. Two noted graduates of the school are Ida Kast, Class of 1892, who became the first woman admitted to the practice of law in Cumberland County, and Mechanicsburg native Jane Deeter Rippin, Class of 1902, who became national executive director of the Girl Scouts and introduced the sale of Girl Scout cookies, With increasing competition and limited financial resources, the college closed in 1929. A state historical marker at the site of the college can be found at E. Main Street (PA 641) near Filbert Street in Mechanicsburg.
Until recently, the five higher education institutions located in Cumberland Valley – Dickinson College, Messiah University, Shippensburg University, Central Penn College, and Penn State Dickinson School of Law – were all headed by women. Currently, three of five are headed by women.