Katherine Houk Talbott

Katherine Houk Talbott was born in 1864 at Runnymede, her family’s home in what is now the northwestern corner of Oakwood, into an influential local family. Her father was Congressman George Houk, and her mother was Eliza Phillips Thruston; Oakwood residents will recognize these names as they were later given to Runnymede Road, Houk Stream and Thruston Boulevard. At 23, Katherine married Harry E. Talbott, who was later Oakwood’s first mayor.[1] As Mr. Talbott had to travel a great deal for his work as an engineer, his wife raised their nine children and ran the family farm with the help of her extended family.[2]


In spite of the many demands on her time, however, Mrs. Talbott was known for her generosity and civic involvement. She stands out among early community leaders as a spacemaker, a person who consistently went out of her way to open her family home (the Runnymede property, which she and her husband had inherited) to all who could use it, not only other Oakwood residents but others from throughout the Dayton area as well.


After Oakwood’s incorporation in 1908, the town’s first school met in a barn, which the local population of children quickly outgrew. While what is now Harman Elementary School was being built, Mrs. Talbott offered to let the young children’s classes meet on the third floor of her house.[3] Perhaps it is not surprising that she was also a generous supporter of the school construction project.


In the days following the 1913 flood, Mrs. Talbott sheltered 300 displaced survivors in her home.[1] In quieter times, the Garden Club of Dayton regularly met at Runnymede.[4] Mrs. Talbott also supported two local bands which performed for the public on her family’s front lawn.[5]

For many years she hosted public concerts and community events in the house at Runnymede, but in 1927, she decided the growing community needed more space. She built a large social and entertainment center, including a ballroom, a stage, and an indoor tennis court, in her backyard. The Runnymede Playhouse, as this early community center was known, became a center for all kinds of musical and artistic performances, club meetings, lectures, and other cultural and community events. As her children recalled, “almost every week-end used to be ‘open house’ there — people played tennis and squash, and [Katherine] Talbott served a buffet lunch for all and sundry. Any organization that wanted to use the Playhouse had only to call Mrs. Talbott to be welcomed unless there was a prior claim for that exact hour.”[2] A good friend of hers wrote in 1935 that “[t]he playhouse is a meeting house for all interests, regardless of rank or race, regardless even of the presence of the hostess, who might be in Russia but her home hospitality did not suffer. Welcome was assured to all who asked it, from card players to Negro choristers, from literary benefits to debutante dances.”[6] During the Second World War, the Playhouse was leased to a chemical company, converted into a scientific laboratory for nuclear weapons research, and subsequently demolished.


Interestingly, Mrs. Talbott supported a few causes that were permanently defeated within her lifetime. She was president of the Anti-Saloon League, which lobbied for the prohibition of alcohol, and of the Ohio Anti-Suffrage Association. As her life shows, however, her stand against women’s suffrage did not stem from a belief that women should be uninvolved in community matters. Rather, her involvement with both causes suggests a keen interest in public morality and family stability. Her lifelong practice of welcoming others into the home where she grew up shows that, for Katherine Houk Talbott, life was lived best by making space for family, friends and strangers alike.

[1] Ronald, Bruce W., and Virginia Ronald. Oakwood: The Far Hills. Dayton, Ohio: Reflections Press, 1983. [2] https://archive.org/stream/katharinehouktal00unse/katharinehouktal00unse_djvu.txt [3] https://www.oakwoodhistory.org/downloads/Town_of_Oakwood.pdf [4] https://gardenclubofdayton.org/about-us/ [5] “Will Conduct Mrs. Talbott Rites Friday.” Dayton Daily News. October 3, 1935. [6] Conover, Charlotte Reeve. “Tribute Paid Mrs. Talbott By Friend Since Childhood.” Dayton Daily News. October 3, 1935.