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The legend behind the school: Ella P. Stewart

Black History Month is not the only time to remember Stewart's accomplishments.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Although Toledo is known for its famous Museum of Art, there's a museum inside a Toledo school that takes people on an eye-opening tour of the life of a local legend who changed lives while fighting for civil rights.

Her name is Ella P. Stewart and she's more than just the inspiration behind the Toledo Public School, the Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls

After you walk in the doors of the school, there are two more doors and a living history lesson. A museum is dedicated to teaching about the name behind the school.

When you walk in, you quickly learn who Ella P. Stewart was. There is a poster called her "Life and Times."

There are several artifacts Stewart collected as Goodwill Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State, from countries like Cuba, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan and China.

"Got out of the city, but in turn, to help the city as well and I think it's important that she was able to take her world travels and bring them back here to the city to do more good things," said school counselor Shannon Carter.

There is also an American flag Stewart proudly held for years and a lot of family photos. 

"It is amazing and every time I walk into this room, I am just in awe of all that she accomplished throughout her lifetime," Carter said.

Credit: WTOL11
The museum inside of Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls

When the school opened in 2003 on Avondale Avenue in central Toledo, it replaced the original Ella P. Stewart school. Toledo Public Schools made sure there was a designated space for the museum.

There's even a bed from her Toledo home, which belonged to her daughter, who passed away as a toddler.

Carter said it symbolizes Stewart's love for her daughter and that you can get through a tragedy.

There is also a major piece of pride for Ella P. Stewart. Her degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy is proudly displayed inside the museum.

It shows how she persevered at a time of racial discrimination when most African American women felt they had to back down.

"They told her no, several times. But she kept applying, kept writing letters and advocating for herself. Until she was admitted," Carter said.

Ella P. Stewart would become one of the first Black female pharmacists in the whole country. 

There is a framed photo from her School of Pharmacy Class of 1916 that shows Stewart sitting among her classmates. Most of them are men. Almost all of them are white.

Ella P. Stewart died in 1987, well before Legacy Triplett and Persia French were born.

But the sixth graders' eyes light up as they walk through the museum and when you ask about her.

"I want to be a lawyer and it's like, not many people like me that are lawyers, and when Ella P. Stewart pushed herself to do something that she wanted to, it made me want to push myself to do something I want to do. So I can become a lawyer," Triplett said.

When asked if it was inspiring to her that she can follow Stewart's example and not take 'no' for an answer, French said, "Yes, that's good because it's a good inspiration that could show, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want."

Ella P. Stewart and her husband ran Stewart's Pharmacy at City Park and Indiana Avenue for several years. 

They even lived upstairs. 

For about 25 years, she served a need in Toledo. A pharmacy that catered to African Americans had not been attempted before.

Yet Mrs. Stewart never forgot the school named for her. She would visit the kids many times.

Shannon Carter proudly showed off a picture in the museum.

"And this picture, we love, because it actually shows her in her element. Not here but in the old school building, the original school building, where she would visit with the children. And you can see how they're looking at her."

The students were looking at her with respect and admiration.

"From the character that we still read about, that we still share, I think that she would love to see that it's a school full of young girls that we are encouraging to follow in her footsteps to be great. And I think that she would be very happy," Carter said.

Sharon Olson was a teacher at the original school and remembers Ella P. Stewart bringing candy to the kids on one Halloween day.

"And she would say to them, 'Lift your head up. Be proud of yourself. Smile.' She told every child that came through, that that's what she wanted from them," Olson said.

Olson had a chance to interview Mrs. Stewart for a project she was working on. The experience made a big impression on her.

"I called her up. I called up Ella P. Stewart and I said, 'Can I come and talk to you' and she said yes. And invited me to her apartment.  

And she was wonderful, She was inviting. She was very calm, like she was to me, like an every day person."

Credit: WTOL 11

Ella P. Stewart was also a fighter for civil rights.

Her home was a hub for famous leaders in the area to talk over how they would bring about change.

Mrs. Stewart also led by example.

"Like here in Toledo, in the movie theater. It was still segregated at that time. And she said, she refused to sit where the ushers told her she had to sit. She said I'm going to sit where I want to sit. And she talked to the manager of the movie theater and she said, we are the same. I wanted to sit here, this is where I want to sit. And he let her," Olson said.

If Legacy and Persia had a chance to meet Ella P. Stewart, they would be ready with good questions.

"What were the steps that she took, like more detail that she took, to become a pharmacist?" Triplett asked.

"What was her dedication to it? Like what pushed her to do it?" French asked.

Ella P. Stewart's legacy lives on in the hallways of the school, not just during Black History Month, but also all year long.

"She was definitely an inspiration and continues to be an inspiration as we continuously share who she was with our students," Carter said. "And it's just a daily constant reminder of the thing that we do here, how we try to implement a lot of the things that she believed in.

"We would like her name to be one of those names that you hear every day. It should be a name that everybody is familiar with." 

"I don't know if you can tell but she is just, she's a star. She's a rock star to me," Olson said.

Ella P. Stewart's first love was teaching. Even when she became a pharmacist, she still stayed involved with kids at the school and in the community.


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