Every now and then, a woman comes along whose life is a testament to service and outstanding civic achievements undertaken for the improvement of the city. The Bradford Branch of American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Bradford Landmark Society are honored to present a truly extraordinary woman, Emma Bovaird. It was said “she arose each morning to a new, fresh world, filled with a multitude of interesting things…and made every day a full one.”
Described as a dynamo in social work, Emma Bovaird believed in the possibility of a better Bradford and devoted her life to achieving that goal.
She was born in 1871 in Petroleum Center, Pa., came to Bradford with her parents Theodore and Alveretta Griffith in 1884 and graduated from Bradford High School in 1888. She attended Cornell University, but returned to Bradford after a year to attend to her sick mother. Alveretta died in April 1898 and her father died in October 1900.
Emma married Joseph Bovaird in February 1900. Although they had no children, the welfare and health of the city’s children was paramount throughout her life. Bovaird was the first in Pennsylvania to introduce the importance of milk to undernourished children in the public schools and established an experimental milk program in the Fifth Ward school, testing to see if giving a child milk in the morning and afternoon would improve his mental and physical state. Through her efforts and influence among community leaders, private donations completely funded this project.
Bovaird was also instrumental in working with the state Dental Association in 1920. She noted that while schools in the state had doctors and nurses, and most towns had Well Baby Clinics (as did Bradford), few had dental care programs. By writing letters to dentists and hygienists throughout the state and by her persistent efforts, Emma got a bill passed through the state legislature, requiring a dental hygienist in public schools. A school dental clinic opened in Bradford in March of that year, with city dentists taking turns in school visits.
One of her favorite projects was her work with the Mother’s Assistance Association, a group which offered aid to widows with dependent children less than 16 years of age and also gave assistance to aged and blind persons. She was president of this organization for 25 years. Later, when the group was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Public Assistance Committee, she served on the McKean County board.
She was one of three women appointed by Governor Gifford Pinchot in 1923 to the Child Welfare Commission, to study laws regarding child welfare, rewriting old laws and recommending new ones.
Rufus Barrett Stone mentioned her in his book “McKean, the Governor’s County”, written in 1925 and she is listed in the 1914 edition of “Woman’s Who’s Who in America” published by the American Commonwealth Company.
Bovaird pushed for the replacement of the often rough truant officer in the schools, advocating for a school attendance officer instead. She discovered the reason that many children who missed school was because they were needed at home to look after younger siblings while their parents worked. Corrective measures were taken so that the children could remain in school full time.
Another project she undertook and which required canvassing the town, was the making of honor cards for veterans of World War One so that they could receive government subsistence checks. She checked every man in Bradford and sent in cards for them as the records had been previously lost by the government.
In addition, she was president of the Women’s Literary Club and served as treasurer of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs for four years, and as a director for ten years.
Bovaird is credited with founding the Bradford Hospital Resale Shop as a source of revenue for the hospital. She was president of the Hospital Auxiliary for thirteen years. The Resale Shop, which operated for 80 years at various locations in the city, closed in 2013.
In 1937, during her tenure as president of the Hospital Auxiliary, Bovaird announced the complete redecorating of the Hamsher House, the dormitory home for student nurses at the Bradford Hospital to create a more “homelike atmosphere” for the forty students, and personally donated enough furniture, curtains, drapes and floor coverings to decorate two corridors.
Emma Bovaird was also chosen as one of a group of prominent women featured in a 1950 Bradford Era series titled “Women of Bradford and McKean” and was awarded the Golden Deeds Award by the Exchange Club in 1954 for outstanding service to the community and extolled her contributions to many charities, which were “generous but unpublicized.”
Bovaird was frequently urged to run for mayor of Bradford as well as the state legislature, but she always declined, endeavoring to make clear that she sought no public honors, but only wished to further the improvement of Bradford and the welfare of its citizens and children.
She died at her home at 119 Jackson Avenue on November 19, 1960. She was 89 years old. An editorial in the Bradford Era wrote: “Mrs. Bovaird had the unique combination of characteristics that sees things to be done and takes the needed steps to do them. Her record of accomplishment might well have been that of four or five people. The world greatly needs many more people like Mrs. Bovaird — talented, alert, understanding and active citizens, who are willing to come forward and meet the many challenges of our times.”