Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Ella Kerber (Resch) Perrin

Washington Evening Star, March16, 1930. Screen capture from Library of Congress

Edith Hamilton was not the only amazing newspaper woman that wrote for the Youngstown Vindicator. And like Esther Hamilton, Ella Kerber came from nearby New Castle, descended from German immigrants who arrived during the Civil War. She joined the staff of the Youngstown Vindicator in 1918. In 1922, she was acclaimed at the Ohio Newspaper Woman’s Association Convention in Columbus as the only woman court reporter in the state. She was known for her ability to scoop other reporters and was on a first name basis with politicians and other national figures across the country.

In 1926, she was honored by the Youngstown Police Department for raising the money to provide every policeman with a $5000 paid up life insurance, raised through amateur shows. I wonder if this is where Esther Hamilton came up with her idea for her Christmas fund-raisers. She lead efforts to establish the Youngstown Little Theater which eventually became the Youngstown Playhouse.

However, there was one event for which she was probably the most famous. She was the first newspaper woman to go to jail to protect the confidentiality of a source. In 1930, Irene Schroeder was on trial for the murder of a highway patrolman in New Castle. Kerber had provided “The Story of Irene Schroeder” to newspapers across the country, which was being published serially during the trial. She refused to testify as to the source of the story, and spent 52 hours in a New Castle jail cited with contempt of court. Because of some quirks in the law, she was unable to obtain bail. One newspaper account said, “She appeared to be unconcerned as she was escorted to a cell in the county jail.”

Also like Esther Hamilton, she had a long career, stretching from 1918 into the 1970’s. Along the way, she was a city council candidate for Youngstown’s Fifth Ward and active in Republican party affairs. In later years for papers in Warren, Boardman, and Austintown as well as doing stints in radio in Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia.

I wonder what it was like around the newsroom of the Vindicator when both Esther and Ella were there. I don’t how long Kerber was around after the Telegram merged with the Vindicator in 1936 and Hamilton joined the paper. My hunch is that the paper wasn’t big enough for both of them, though I do not know the reason Ella Kerber moved on. What I do know is that she was a pathbreaker, showing that women could do all men could do as reporters, covering courts, scooping stories, and even going to jail to protect sources. She’s one I’d love to know a lot more about.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

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