1937 Ohio River Flood

1937 Ohio River Flood

Circular letters were a traditional way for Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in different parts of the world to share their stories. One dated January 31, 1937, from the Sisters living at the Summit, East Walnut Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio recently appeared in our office. It sent the Archivist scurrying to the Summit Annals. Page 170 of Volume 2 (pictured above) begins the story:
January 21 Alarm in the city.  The Ohio River has reached its flood stage.  52 feet.  We have been having heavy rains.
January 22 River rising rapidly.  Snow has fallen all day.  People abandoning houses that are near the river.
January 23 Snow turned to ice.  River is 70 feet.  People warned to secure all the water possible.  If the river rises to 72 feet the power plants will not work.  Sisters filled all tubs and pails.
January 24 Sunday – a day of anxiety and prayer.  Holy Hour in churches & convents.  
January 25 The 19th centenary of the conversion of St. Paul.  The celebration has, of course, been postponed.  No heat, light, or water.  Our chaplain, Rev. Charles Hickey found his way to the convent for Mass.  In the sanctuary were four seven branch candlesticks, two were outside the railing plus a large kerosene lamp furnished light enough at the Communion time.   We did not need missals, nor meditation books that morning to help us pray.  We had points enough in our minds. (1)

The river would reach 80 feet on January 26th and not fall below flood stage until February 5th.(2) The Summit was a community of around 142 Sisters, including 46 Postulants and Novices. The letter speaks of the challenges and God's goodness during the crisis:
Today, Sunday, January 31, 1937, the Sisters of Our Lady’s Summit start a second week of providential existence under flood conditions. The Good God has taken such extraordinary care of us that of all residents of East Walnut Hills, I believe we have suffered least. Our greatest inconvenience has been a lack of water. Plenty of drinking water has been sent to us, but even our most solicitous friends could not supply our needs for washing and sanitation. Even in this line we have been helped in ways little short of miraculous. A heavy fall of snow, that fell one day only, has kept our hands clean and smooth all the week. Today, one Sister, who has been filling buckets with the precious snow, is begging prayers that the bit that still remains on the ground may last until the city gets power enough to pump the water to our height. This, the officials say, will be in ten or twelve days provided the machinery of the power house has not been too badly damaged by the flood.

It also speaks of the relief efforts:
The Catholic and Jewish (and Chinese) Charities of Cincinnati are working nobly. Fifteen parochial schools are filled with refugees. Five hundred are in St. Peter’s Cathedral where 2800 meals are served daily. The Sisters of Notre Dame (at Sixth Street) are giving hospitality to a community of Franciscans from the flooded district. Being down in the business section of the city they can draw water twice every day. We are up on East Walnut Hills where the water is never turned on. This prevents us from acting as hostesses, but our young Sisters, by the second day of their school holiday had made and sent to Catholic Charities, or Red Cross, sixteen comforters, and thirty-four pairs of foot warmers.

The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to challenge our world and change our lives. Reflecting on the experience of 1937 might help us see God's goodness with us and around us in 2020.

(1) Summit Annals Volume 2 1923-1938, pages 170-177
(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_River_flood_of_1937
(3) Summit Circular Letter, January 31, 1937