Who was Clara Hamma and what was her connection to Wittenberg?
Clara Keesey married Rev. Michael Wolfe Hamma in 1906. She was his second wife and was born in Hamma’s hometown of Altoona, PA. Hamma is one of Wittenberg’s most famous graduates and is the namesake for the Hamma Divinity School, which once stood at Wittenberg.
Read the Deed to Clara Hamma for the property at Lot 3777.
Clara Hamma appears in multiple sources from newspaper clippings, letters, and The Wittenberger. Clarissa “Clara” V. Keesey was born March 27th, 1862 in Mifflin County, PA, to Thomas and Margaret Keesey of Mifflin County, PA. The earliest records of Clara’s past come in the 1860 U.S Federal Census. At age 2, Clara lived with her mother Margaret and 5 other siblings. These children included the oldest Elizabeth (11), John (9), Emma (5), Miles (3), and Laura (2). Her mother was 32 years old and worked as a seamstress but what is interesting about this record is that the father, Thomas Keesey, is not listed as residing in the residence in 1860. This could indicate that he no longer lived with the family and possibly left or died, but Margaret kept her name Keesey.
In the 1880 census, Clara, now age 22 years lives with her brother Miles (23) and two of her sisters Emma and Alice. They do not live with their mother and Miles is listed as head of the household, working as a laborer while the eldest sister, Emma manages the house. There was previously never an Alice mentioned in other records, this could be an error in the census and could actually be Laura who is around the same age as Clara. All of the siblings now lived in Altoona, PA as of 1882 at 1118 13th Avenue. Clara and her other sisters were dressmakers as seen in the U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 records.
In 1900, Clara applied for a passport to travel abroad. This source of information gives a physical description of Clara; she was 5 ft, 4 ½ in tall, large/hazel eyes, medium mouth, a round chin, long face, and she was a brunette. Since she filled this information out herself on an application, her birth date would seem to be more accurate than census workers information.
Clara married Rev. Michael Wolfe Hamma on March 7, 1906 in Clark County, Ohio. They traveled abroad in the fall of 1907 returning on the USS Pennsylvania from Cuxhaven, Germany. They traveled again to Germany, returning on August 29, 1910, to New York on a German steamer, Prinz Friedrich Wilhem, from the port at Bremen, Germany.
In 1908, Clara bought the house on 529 N. Wittenberg Ave in 1908 from Elmer and Ollie Abbott for $6,800. Interestingly, only Clara’s name appears on the deed. Perhaps Rev. Hamma realized the age difference between them and they elected to have the property put in her name. In 1913, Rev. Hamma died and Clara continued to live in the house. At times she and Michael had domestic help. For example, Mary McQuire, a maid, lived at 529 N. Wittenberg in 1912 and 1915. Then in 1916, Emma Sigler, a second maid, worked for a year for Clara after Michael’s death. In the campus yearbook, The Wittenberger, for the same years we can see Clara was one of the “Patronesses” of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. This explains why in 1919 she would sell the property to the “Springfield Alumni Chapter of the Alpha Xi Delta Fraternity” for $1. After 1919, she was one of the five patronesses of the house and was described as very outgoing and social by throwing parties for the sorority in the 1910-11 Wittenberger (vol 36). Clara relocated to 40 West College; the former chapter house for the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. There is a wide gap from 1910-1940 in which Clara’s activities are uncertain but based upon the Springfield City Directories and census data, we know she moved a total of six times in Springfield alone.
In the 1920 U.S. census Clara is recorded as 57 years old, residing at 40 W. College as a boarder and widowed. She was the only member of the household at 40 W. College (photo left). After one year of living on College Ave, she moved to 611 Woodlawn Ave. She spent two years there and in 1923 she moved to 632 Woodlawn Ave and found a job as a “Corres Secy” (correspondence secretary). In 1925 she moved to 641 North Fountain Ave and lived there for fifteen years before dying in 1940. The house is no longer standing. We can gather from the 1940 census that she died at age 77 and rented the house at a monthly cost of $60. The date of her death is July 3, 1940 and the Springfield Daily News and her nurse recount that she had struggled with an illness in the last year.
A letter in the “Michael & Clara Hamma file” in the Wittenberg University Archives was from Clara’s nurse, Mrs. Brennan. Entitled “In Memory of Mrs. Clara Hamma,” Mrs. Brennan gives a description of Clara’s life while she was battling her long illness and how she was “heroic” through the process. From this we can tell that these two women had a close and personal bond. This letter was sent to the president of Wittenberg, Dr. Tulloss to give him an account of how Clara lived during her time of illness. So we can speculate from this that Dr. Tulloss and Clara were mutual friends especially since Clara and Mr. Hamma left so much to Wittenberg.
From a press release from Wittenberg College in 1940 entitled “Loyal Friend Called Home,” we can gather the basic sketch of her life at Wittenberg. She married Rev. Michael Hamma in 1906 and took residence in Springfield in 1908. She was a member of the Fourth Lutheran Church, now called Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 712 N. Fountain. Clara supported several church initiatives including missions, educational ministries, and Wittenberg College. After Rev. Hamma’s death, Clara supported Oesterlen Orphans’s Home, in Springfield, by hosting sewing events to provide clothes for the children. She was described as a caring and devout Christian who was an active member of Fourth Lutheran Church in Springfield.
Springfield Daily News recorded that she and her husband “gave Wittenberg College the divinity school which bears their name.” Thee honorary and active pallbearers for Clara Hamma’s funeral included: “Honorary—John L. Zimmerman, Sr., Dr. E. W. Sackett; Dean L. H. Larimer; Dean C. G. Shatzer; E. S. Heiserman; John B. McGrew; Dr. Clement L. Jones; C. A. Young; and Dr. J. L. Neve. Active—Dr. Gilbert P. Voigy; E. A. Jensen; Dean-elect E. E. Flack of Hamma Divinity School; Russell Ulery; Ross Greenawalt and Prof. P. F. Bloomhart.”
She is buried at Ferncliff cemetery in the Crothers and Hamma plot along with Almira and Michael Hamma.
Profile by Mark Swope, Class of 2014, and D. Brooks Hedstrom, History.
Wittenberg University Archives, Clara Hamma file
Obituary: “Clara Hamma,” Springfield Daily News July 5, 1940, p. 9.
1860 Source Citation: Year: 1860; Census Place: Oliver, Mifflin, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1141; Page: 272; Image: 278; Family History Library Film: 805141.
1880 Source Citation: Year: 1880; Census Place: Altoona, Blair, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1102; Family History Film: 1255102; Page: 23B; Enumeration District: 152; Image: 0379.
1882 Source Citation: National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 566612 / MLR Number A1 508; NARA Series: M1372; Roll #: 551.
1900 Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Altoona Ward 1, Blair, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1380; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0037; FHL microfilm: 1241380.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, 1795-1905; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 566612 / MLR Number A1 508; NARA Series: M1372; Roll #: 551.
1907; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715; Microfilm Roll: 995; Line: 4; Page Number: 12.
1920 Source Citation: Year: 1920; Census Place: Springfield Ward 3, Clark,Ohio; Roll: T625_1354; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 72; Image: 569.
1940 Source Citation: Year: 1940; Census Place: Springfield, Clark,Ohio; Roll: T627_3039; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 12-47.
3 July 1940 Source Information: Ancestry.com and Ohio Department of Health. Ohio, Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.