She was a Youngstown legend. Dressed in a tailored suit and felt hat, you might see her in the dining room of the Pick-Ohio or perhaps at lunch at the Strouss’ Grille. Spelling-adept school children encountered her as the person in charge of annual Vindicator Spelling Bee. Generations of Youngstown residents saw her head shot on her daily community news column, “Around Town,” first in the Youngstown Telegram and later, the Youngstown Vindicator.
Esther Hamilton was born August 8, 1897 in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Her brother, Edmond Moore Hamilton, also was a writer, one of the early science fiction writers, creating what is now called “space opera.” Esther came to Youngstown in 1918 to work as a reporter for the Youngstown Telegram. In 1936, the paper, and its staff, were acquired by the Youngstown Vindicator, where Esther, as she was known to everyone, continued to write her column, enjoyed by a wide area readership. For a time, beginning in 1946, she did a weekly radio program on WFMJ as well. She continued writing “Around the Town” on a daily basis until retiring to Florida in 1970. Even then, she continued to send in a Sunday “Around Town” each week until 1987, drawing on news she collected from her many Youngstown connections. That is nearly seventy years of columns, and 52 years of daily columns.
One of her early assignments was to cover the Youngstown schools. A 1921 publication, The Ohio Teacher included this item about Esther Hamilton:
“Believing that it would be of interest to its older readers to know a little bit about modern methods of teaching school and the progress made in the general system of education, the Youngstown Telegram sends Miss Esther Hamilton, a member of its editorial staff, to school each day and her detailed accounts are delightful and show the character of the work of the different grades in a most interesting manner.”
Detailed, delightful accounts characterized her writing. Here is an example of her column from the August 6, 1954 Vindicator.
You can see news about naming the YWCA swimming pool, new babies, news of retirees, people returning from vacations, an urgent need for a refrigerator, and her memories of interviewing Al Smith, a New York governor and presidential candidate. And there’s the picture of her in her trademark suit and hat!
We tend to remember Esther for her local writing, but she covered national stories as well. In 1929, a Pennsylvania State Patrolman was murdered in New Castle, Pennsylvania. When the murderers were apprehended in Arizona, Esther accompanied the authorities who were bringing them back to stand trial. In 1934, she went to New Jersey to cover the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, sitting in the courtroom every day, providing Youngstown readers first hand coverage. In researching this post, I came across a 1948 letter from Esther to Ida Tarbell, who lived in Poland, Ohio for a period of time, and was one of the “muckraking” reporters who investigated Standard Oil and contributed to the breakup of their monopoly. She asked Tarbell for a “complete and colorful biography,” along with two pictures, one autographed for herself!
In addition to her role in the Vindicator Spelling Bees, she was perhaps best know for her “Esther Hamilton Alias Santa Claus Show,” a fundraiser to provide food baskets to Youngstown’s poor, that was held annually from 1931 to 1965. The show was a variety program that featured a number of top flight entertainers. Local business and civic leaders would dress in aprons as “candy butchers,” selling bags of candy each year (no change given), and the proceeds from these sales were a major part of the money raised.
She garnered numerous awards over the years. In 1929, the Ohio Newspaper Women’s Association cited her for her great ingenuity in handling a difficult assignment and for the originality of her newspaper column. In 1955 she received the Frank Purnell Memorial Award for her outstanding community service from the Junior Chamber of Commerce. In October of 1966, she was named “Woman of the Year” by the Youngstown Business and Professional Women’s Club.
Esther Hamilton lived until May 9, 1989. If she wrote daily columns for 52 years, that would amount to over 18,000 columns. She told the stories of not only the well known but the little known who did something exceptional or interesting. She cared about education and worked for the relief of the poor. She was one of a kind!