By Rita Shelley
In honor of Women’s History Month, this week’s blog celebrates three Omaha-based women. Each had very different careers during different eras, but all accomplished remarkable feats of preserving historical artifacts and stories for generations to come.
Elia Peattie: Prolific Journalist (1857-1935)
“This is a story about some pigs and a woman,” Omaha journalist Elia (Wilkinson) Peattie wrote in 1896. The Poland China pigs belonged to Mrs. A.M. Edwards of rural Fremont, NE, whose heroism fascinated Elia enough to fill nearly two full newspaper columns. Edwards had relocated to Nebraska from New York City after her husband’s bankruptcy and went on to become a nationally prominent livestock breeder.  Without Elia, her lasting impact on agriculture would have been lost to history.
Born in Wisconsin in 1857, Elia began her career with words when, as a teenager, she set lead type at her father’s print shop. In her twenties, Peattie worked at the Chicago Tribune where she met her future husband, Robert Peattie. When Robert was hired as managing editor at the Omaha Daily Herald in 1888, the couple relocated to Omaha. During her time in Omaha, Elia wrote 800 editorials, columns, features, and works of fiction for the World-Herald and also published in Harper’s Bazaar, Atlantic Monthly, and Cosmopolitan.  She also served as President of the Omaha Women’s Club for a short period in 1896. Elia and Robert remained in Omaha until that year, when Robert’s ill health necessitated returning East.
The first two Peattie children, Edward and Barbara, were born during the Tribune years. Roderick was born in Omaha. Donald was born in 1898 during a period in which Elia wrote 100 stories in 100 days for the Tribune, lectured widely, and published three books. In a lesser-known book published by the Nebraska Press Association in 1895, Elia championed an emerging writer named Willa Cather. Cather later wrote that she’d first imagined becoming a journalist and author when she was inspired as a child by a work of Peattie’s that she read while growing up in Red Cloud. Elia died in Wellingford, Vermont, in 1935, at age 73.
Portrait of Elia Peattie, c. 1896. Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.
Josephine Platner Shear: Renowned Archaeologist (1901-1967)
No history of prominent women with origins in Omaha would be complete without honoring the legacy of archeologist Josephine Platner Shear Harwood. Josephine was born in 1901 to Martha and George Platner, owner of a lumberyard. She earned a B.A. from Wellesley College in 1924 and an M.A. from Columbia University in 1928. Her studies prepared her for a career in classical archeology, what she described as “the most thrilling study in the world.”
Beginning in her 20s, Josephine attained renown for her study of ancient Greece, focusing primarily on the ancient city of Corinth. The site had already been a site of worldwide interest since the 19th century. As a 27-year-old at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Josephine was the only woman on an expedition of thirty at Corinth. Her role was to record the exact locations of hundreds of artifacts, including pottery, coins, and statuary that bridged what had been a research gap between 1500 BC until 200 AD. Columbia and Princeton sponsored the expedition and published the survey’s results in textbooks used by the two universities’ archeology students.
The leader of the Corinth expedition was Theodore Leslie Shear, a Princeton professor who would become Josephine’s husband and lifelong colleague. They married in 1931 when she was 29 and he was 50. Their son, Theodore Jr., was born in 1939. During visits home to Omaha throughout the 1920s and 30s, Josephine described highlights of her experiences in Greece. Once, she was only three miles from an earthquake at Corinth that killed thirty. She cabled a one-word message home to Omaha: “Safe.”
A wine goblet, signed by its maker in about 500 B.C. was considered the only finding of its kind in the world and valued at $5,000 in 1929. Josephine’s discovery of jars and wine jugs in a Corinthian cemetery were reported in The Illustrated London News. Two artifacts uncovered at Sardis (modern-day Turkey) that are attributed to Josephine and her husband, archaeologist Theodore Shear are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: a drinking cup and a footed dish. Josephine’s and Theodore’s Corinth partnership continued until his death in 1945. Josephine married Floyd Harwood in 1955. She died in 1967.
The Agora Excavations staff and workforce, 1933. Archaeologists, staff, foremen, and workmen gathered under the Hephaisteion for a group photograph. Theodore Shear and Josephine Platner Shear are probably seated in the center of the second row, eighth and ninth from left. Image source.
Archeologists Theodore Leslie Shear (1880-1945) and Josephine Platner Shear, with statuette of Apollo Lykeios, July 27, 1936. Image source.
Rowena Moore: Civic Leader and Champion of Local History (1910-1998)
Over more than two decades, Rowena Moore never gave up on her campaign to establish a sustainable Malcom X Memorial at his birth site in North Omaha. It wasn’t the first campaign she took on, either. She’d learned a thing or two about tirelessly advocating for a cause from her previous lives as a labor organizer and civil rights activist.
Moore began working in a packinghouse as a teenager, but was fired in a round of layoffs. She returned to the meatpacking industry in the 1940s. Easter of 1948 found her on a picket line at the Armour plant in South Omaha where, as chairwoman of the strike recreation committee, she had organized a service of hymns and Bible readings. Later that year, she was one of 43 strikers and officers of the local CIO United Packinghouse Workers of America cited for violating a court order to end their strike.
In a 1979 interview, Moore recalled that after a round of layoffs, African-American women were not hired back. Management argued that white workers would refuse to work alongside or share bathrooms and dressing rooms with Black workers. In 1941, Moore organized a picket line. But the effort also encountered discrimination from within the Union when its [male] negotiating team discouraged the women from picketing. The men also positioned themselves to approach management on behalf of the women rather than women addressing management directly. In all, the federal government’s order that Armour hire Black women was an incomplete victory. In order to be hired, Black women had to be under 26 years old and weigh less than 145 lbs. By then 32 years old, Moore did not qualify.
No longer working for Armour, Moore turned her attention to civil rights causes in Omaha. She headed a drive that raised $1,000 for the NAACP’s legal defense fund. She ran for City Council. In 1966, she began a campaign for a park in North Omaha to buffer a residential area from an industrial zone. The park, with landscaping and a playground, wasn’t built until 1974. Fighting for her green space dream for eight years prepared her to sustain her efforts for the Malcolm X Memorial from 1971 until her death in 1998 at age 88. Today, the memorial’s 17-acre site continues as a work in progress with annual events and recognition as an official historical site by the State of Nebraska.
Rowena Moore at the Malcom X Memorial state historical marker. Image source.
 “Some Pigs and a Woman.” Omaha World-Herald. 9 February 1896, p. 16.
 Writer Elia Peattie Made Her Name in 1890s Omaha. Unidentified newspaper. 11 March 2007, p. 01E.
 Bloomfield, Susanne George. Impertinences: Selected Writings of Elia Peattie, a Journalist in the Gilded Age. University of Nebraska Press, 2005. pp. xix-xx.
 Bloomfield, p. 214.
 “United States Census, 1920.” Database with images, FamilySearch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCVB-3YJ : 2 February 2021), George W Platner, 1920.
 “Digs Into World’s Past: Josephine Platner, Home from Corinth, Tells of Finding Valued Relics.” Omaha World-Herald. 2 August 1929, p. 1.
 Shear, Josephine Platner. American Numismatic Society Authorities. 2016 http://numismatics.org/authority/shear_josephine_platner
 “Safe in Corinth Quake Josephine Platner, with Research Expedition, Cables Escaped Earth Shocks.” Omaha World-Herald. 23 April 1928, p. 1.
 “Digs Into World’s Past, Josephine Platner, Home from Corinth, Tells of Finding Valued Relics.” Omaha World-Herald. 2 August 1929, p. 1.
 “Wine Jugs and Jars Excavated from Corinthian Cemetery by a Party Which Included Josephine Platner.” Omaha World-Herald. 3 September 1930, p. 1.
 Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2022. Search Results – The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org)
 “Activist Rowena Moore Dies; Fought Discriminatory Hiring.” Omaha World-Herald. 1 January 1999, p. 13.
 OWH “Easter Going to Picket Line: Service to Start Near Armour Plant” Omaha World-Herald. 28 March 1948, p. 20.
 “Armour Tells Picket Names: Alleges 43 Violate Restraining Order.” Omaha World-Herald. 6 May 1948, p. 10.
 “Black Rights Leader Stopped Being Passive, Started Getting Results.” Omaha World-Herald. 23 June 1979, p. 13.
 “Rally to Hear Till’s Mother”. October 24 1955, p.28.
 Mrs. Moore Enters Race. Omaha World-Herald. 18 December 1972, p. 6.
 “Malcolm X Birthsite.” Visit Omaha, Omaha Visitors Center, https://www.visitomaha.com/listings/malcolm-x-birthsite/57385/.