NAME: Margaret Skapes (Arhondula Skapetorahis)
BIRTH DATE: March, 1892
BIRTH PLACE: Doumenia, Patras, Greece
EDUCATION: Middle school/high school - 5 years in Greece. She was taught to read, write and speak English in New York in 1917. Thereafter, she was self-educated and also learned from her children's textbooks and materials from the public library.
FAMILY BACKGROUND: Arhondula's father, Thanassi Panayotocopoulos, was a fairly successful traveling tool salesman. He owned several hundred acres of farmland in Doumenia and had a summer home in the seaport city of Patras. He married Eleni, whose last name has been lost to current generations. They had four daughters and a son. The children's names were Arhondula, Frosini, Paraskevi and Panayioli (male). The other female child died in infancy. Arhondula was the oldest of the daughters and the most spirited, independent and bright. She insisted on going to school and would not be content to play the role of dutiful daughter or wife that Greek, Victorian society had designated for her. She was on a constant quest to find ways to escape her fate. The role of promised bride, obedient, uneducated and instant mother, subservient to the males of her family, and confined to the small-mindedness of her village, made her rebellious and a disgrace to her mother. Whe was determined that somehow, someday she would escape. Her mother, unbeknownst to her, arranged a marriage for her to a family that would overlook Arhondula's outspokenness for the right amount of dowry. When Arhondula found out she flew into a rage, but not before berating her mother and future mother-in-law. She even attempted to wound the would-be groom as he hastily exited her father's home. She worked out a plan with her older brother, Panayioti, to go to America as soon as her brother, who would precede her, could send her a ticket. So began her odyssey for freedom.
DESCRIPTION OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Arhondula received an education in Greece, much to her mother's chagrin. She did escape to America to live with her brother and a cousin for three years before marrying. She secretly worked as a seamstress in the garment district of New York to save money to move on if she felt so inclined. While working, she hired a woman to teach her how to read, write and speak English. She was determined not to be considered a "dumb foreigner."
She also joined forces with the suffragettes in New York to work for the equality of women. She marched in their parades and protested wherever they need her. Her family still has the cape and flag that she carried in those marches.
Love had entered her life and when she decided that the time had come to consider marriage she did two very significant things. First, she told her beloved that she would not marry him until women got the vote. She wanted to be assured that she would have the backing of the laws of the United States of America in any actions that prior to the vote would not have been possible. Secondly, she designed a marriage contract that stipulated that she was to be her husband's full partner in any business ventures he had or would have. In the contract also, was a provision that stated, should she have any daughters, they too would be entitled to the same shares in the businesses as the sons, and that the girls would have a college education, should they so desire.
When she settled in Cleveland, she became a leader in the Greek community. She helped found the first school to teach English to Greek immigrants. The school also had Greek classes for the children born in America so they would not lose their cultural heritage. At the school they also taught job skills and networked to provide employment for newcomers.
During the Depression she and her children organized the wealthy Greeks to donate food, money and clothing to the poor in the neighborhood. World War II saw her organize the Greek women into a volunteer force for the Red Cross. She would march them downtown to roll bandages, knit, sew and cook for the Red Cross.
She also taught herself how to drive by rolling the car out of the driveway in the dead of night, pushing it down the street and then starting its engine. This was one thing that her husband insisted that she not attempt due to her small size (she was only 4 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed about 95 pounds). He truly feared that the cars would "strain" her. Also, her fiery temperament may have been a factor he might have considered negative to driving etiquette. In any case, he should have known better than to tell her she could not do something.
She became an American citizen long before her husband did and claimed it to be her proudest accomplishment. She did send her daughter to college and encouraged her to take flying lessons in order to help the war effort. When she arrived in America, the immigration officers at Ellis Island gave her a new American name because they could not pronounce, let alone spell her Greek name. Margaret Peterson. After her marriage she took on the anglicized form of her husband's name Skapes. She refused to be called by any other name the rest of her life -- she was an American. The family members returned to Greece frequently to visit family and friends, but not Margaret. America was her home.
DATE OF DEATH: July, 1968
PLACE OF DEATH: Cleveland, Ohio. She is buried at Saint Theodosius Cemetery
PREVIOUSLY PORTRAYED BY: Sophia Mastrandreas-Dadas, Margaret's granddaughter.
Presented by Lakewood Public Library