Category Archives: Sports

Ray Bronson: “The Indianapolis Pugilist”

Ray Bronson, circa 1911. Library of Congress.

Boxing holds a revered place in the history of American life. From Jack Johnson and Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali, the sport has captivated audiences and broken barriers. One boxer who did just that was Ray Bronson, known as the “Indianapolis Pugilist.” Starting his boxing career in his teens, Bronson fought in 104 matches, with 48 wins and 22 Knock-Outs. His skill in the ring took him all over the world, from Sydney to London, where he was one of the first American boxers to fight abroad. Later in life, he cultivated upstart boxers, acting as their manager, and worked to promote the sport. Bronson’s name has largely been forgotten by sports aficionados, but his mark on boxing remains.

Bronson circa 1912, in an article from Horseshoer’s Magazine. Google Books.

Ray Bronson was born on August 2, 1887 in Webster City, Iowa. As an article in the May 1912 issue of Horseshoers’ Magazine wrote, “When Ray was just a little kid he was thrown upon his own resources.” It is unclear as to how he ended up in Indianapolis, but what is clear is his chosen profession before life in the ring: horseshoeing. Working as an apprentice to Indianapolis “horsehoer” (or farrier) Dennis Egan, young Bronson learned his craft as well as built up his physique. Within six months on the job, it was said that “there was never a horse too frisky for Ray to shoe.” He belonged to the International Journeymen Horseshoers and served as the Vice-President of its local lodge 24 until 1906. After that, the boxing gig took off.

Ray Bronson at the age of 18. 1906. Newspapers.com.

He began his boxing career in 1905, as a seventeen-year-old kid, and racked up wins almost immediately. As the Indianapolis News wrote on February 21, 1905, “Young Bronson made a splendid showing in the first preliminary of four rounds. His opponent was Billy Hinkle. Bronson had the better of each of the rounds, in which there was hardly an idle moment, and easily won the decision.” A month later he fought Jimmy Casey to a draw, where he was willing to “rough it with his smaller opponent” but couldn’t secure a clear victory.

Indianapolis News, January 25, 1906, Newspapers.com.

Nevertheless, Bronson was on his way to becoming one of the country’s most capable fighters. About a year later, in another article in the Indianapolis News, Bronson’s budding prowess was described in detail:

Bronson apparently has all the requisites of a successful fighter. He has appeared in almost every boxing entertainment held in this city during the last two years, and has nearly always won by the knockout route. He can weigh in at 120 pounds. A blacksmith by profession, he is as strong as a bull and has hands like a heavyweight. Although there has been a great deal of boxing in this city, the good fighters that have been developed are extremely rare.

Bronson’s victory against Willie Riley in 1906 at the Empire Theater in Indianapolis cemented the newspaper’s opinion of the upstart boxer. In another editorial, Bronson was described as “all muscle and bone” and lauded for his defeat of Tommy Grant, which took him only “one minute and fifty seconds.” He “appears to be most promising candidate for high pugilistic honors this city [Indianapolis] has produced in a long time.”

Hammond Times, May 9 1907, Hoosier State Chronicles.

After continued success in the ring, Bronson went professional in 1909. When he didn’t knock them out or win by points, Bronson came out of matches with a draw. On January 22, 1909, Bronson fought Jimmy Dunn in ten rounds that resulted in said draw. “Dunn seemed heaver and his work in the earlier rounds gave promise . . .,” reported the Hammond Times, “. . . But Bronson was the aggressor all the way.” A match later that month caused a stir among the boxing world. Ollie Chill, “an ex-prize fighter and umpire[],” posed as “Julius Stein” and let Bronson knock him out in one round in exchange for “considerable money” in Atlanta, Georgia. While evidence suggests that Bronson was aware of Chill’s motives, since he fought to a draw against the real Julius Stein in three separate matches, it nonetheless gave the young Indianapolis fighter one of his more peculiar wins.

Hammond Times, February 2, 1909, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In February of 1909, Bronson suffered one of his first major defeats, when he was knocked out by Freddie Welsh in the thirteenth round of “what was to have been a twenty round bout before the West Side Athletic Club” in New Orleans. However, he bounced back with a victory against Jack Redmond and a strong bout against Packey McFarland that ended in a draw decision. As the Hammond Times concluded, “For fifteen rounds, Bronson had a shade the better of the bout, and had it ended at the close of the tenth victory would have gone to the Indianapolis man.” Over the next year, Bronson continued to rack up victories, including a knock-out victory against Tommy O’Keefe, and even opened his own boxing club in Indianapolis.

Hammond Times, August 2, 1910, Hoosier State Chronicles.

While Ray Bronson enjoyed success in boxing here at home, it was his fights abroad that gave him his renowned reputation as well as his legacy. In the fall of 1910, boxing promoter Hugh D. McIntosh organized a group of boxers to travel to Australia for an extended campaign. Bronson was one of these boxers, alongside such well-known names as Packey McFarland, Jimmy Clabby (also from Indiana—Hammond), and Billy Papke. They left for Australia in September on the steamer Zealandia, arriving in Honolulu, Hawaii for a brief resupply, before their final leg to the land down under. They landed in Brisbane, Australia on October 2, 1910. Upon his arrival, the Sydney Sun declared Bronson the “most promising of the coming lightweights.”

The group of boxers who traveled to Australia with promoter Hugh McIntosh, 1910. Bronson is in the front row, first on the right. Terapeak.

In many respects, they would be quite right. Of the six bouts during his 1910-11 Australian tour, Bronson only lost one. Of the other five, there were three knock-outs and two won on points. His first match against Tommy Jones ended with a points victory, with Bronson doing “most of the forcing, using the right hand mainly to the body.” His next victory came via points against Sydney’s Sid Sullivan. The Sydney Referee referred to the match’s attendance as “possibly the biggest crowd attracted to the Stadium so far this season” and that Bronson’s style was “high-pressure,” but “chivalrous.” He secured his first knock-out win against Frank Thorn, in a match so intense, that Thorn actually broke his arm in the third round.

Sydney Referee, November 23, 1910, National Library of Australia.

His only defeat came at the hands of Hughie Mehegan, then lightweight champion of Australia, likely the result of his physical condition, which was described by the press as “drawn and pocky around the face, his eyes [were] sunk deeply, and a plainly visible black ring [shown] under both ribs.” Nevertheless, he “staved off serious trouble, and remained on his feet until the end,” losing only by points. His final two bouts, against Arthur Douglas and Jim Armstrong, ended with knock-out victories for the Indianapolis lightweight. Before returning home, he had a final overseas bout in London, England, fighting against Sid Burns at the Olympia. He would have won this fight had it not been for a foul called in the eighteenth round against him. Nevertheless, he returned home to a hero’s welcome, having cemented his place in the boxing world.

Hammond Times, April 19, 1911, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Within a year after coming home from Australia, Bronson achieved his greatest triumph when he won the welterweight championship against “Young” Erne in Indianapolis on February 24, 1912. As the Hammond Times reported, the two “battled ten furious rounds” and while “No decision was rendered by the referee, [but] on points Bronson had the lead and earned the unanimous newspaper verdict.” That same year, he fought career rival Packey McFarland again, to a capacity crowd during the week of the Indianapolis 500. While they fought to what amounted to a draw, McFarland was given a slight points edge and awarded the victory. The Indianapolis News reported that Bronson “did not put up his usual exhibition of good boxing, and about his only damage was done at infighting and at close range.”

Hammond Times, May 29, 1912, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Packey McFarland, circa 1910. Library of Congress.

This was the beginning of Bronson’s decline as a professional boxer; he would never again stack up wins as he did before he held the championship. He lost the welterweight title on January 13, 1913 against Spike Kelly in Memphis, Tennessee and continued to have lackluster showings against Tommy Howell and Hillard Lang, despite Bronson holding his own in the latter match until the eighth round. He even returned to Australia in 1914 to try recapture his former edge, but to no avail. His first match against Waldemar Holberg on New Year’s Day 1914 in Melbourne ended in defeat, with Bronson taking most of the damage during twenty rounds. His second match against Frank Picato was especially disappointing. As the Sydney Referee reported, “Neither Ray Bronson nor Frank Picato was in condition to do justice to his reputation,” and “at one stay the galleryites counted both men out.” His final match in Australia against Matt Wells on February 28, 1914 ended in defeat, with Wells knocking him out in the seventh round. His days as a prime boxer were over.

An advertising card for the Bronson-Wells match featuring Ray Bronson, 1914. National Museum of Australia.
An advertising card for the Bronson-Wells match featuring Matt Wells, 1914. National Museum of Australia.

However, with endings come beginnings, and Bronson reconfigured his career with the same determination outside of the ring as he had shown in. On a personal level, he finally settled down. Bronson married Marguerite Ryan on June 26, 1913, and as the Hammond Times noted, “Bronson has done well financially in the fighting game and will probably devote himself to business interests with which he is now connected.” In 1914, he began devoting more of his energies to managing boxers. As the Tacoma Times reported, “Ray Bronson, Indianapolis welterweight champion, [is] now managing Milburn Saylor. . . and has a number of crack battlers under his wing. . . .” Saylor became one of Bronson’s key fighters during his years as a manager. Under Bronson’s wing, Saylor had many victories, including a knockout of New York fighter Leach Cross and a ten round romp against Jimmy Murphy.

Tacoma Times, July 18, 1914, Chronicling America.
Ray Bronson and protege Milburn Saylor. Indianapolis News, February 24, 1916, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1916, Bronson started managing young Philadelphian Jack McCarron, a middleweight who “started fighting in 1909 and has never been knocked out.” McCarron also had a slew of wins under Bronson’s management, including his “lacing” of Joe Borrell, noted as “one of the fastest bouts ever staged here” by the Indianapolis News. He also gained victories against Silent Martin and Tommy Burke, with the latter bout being “the worst lacing that the blond haired boy [Burke] ever received.” Managing and promoting boxers became Bronson’s second life within the sport and continued to provide him with a generous income. However, as the Indianapolis News editorialized, Bronson “believes the boxing game is getting into the seer and yellow,” and that boxing’s key fighters should treat it as a “business” rather than “side-show attractions.” It is interesting to contemplate what Bronson would have thought of the sport’s big-time spectacle today, given his opinion in 1916.

Indianapolis News, September 7, 1920, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Despite all his success as a manager, he wanted to try fighting one more time. On September 7, 1920, after nearly six years out of the ring, Bronson fought Jack Britton in Cedar Point, Ohio. The Indianapolis News’s coverage of the bout wasn’t kind to the veteran boxer:

Jack Britton, welterweight champion, jogged along to an easy victory over Ray Bronson who essayed a comeback after six years out of the ring.

Bronson apparently lasted the full ten rounds through generosity of Britton, who toyed with his opponent throughout the fight and never appeared to be in danger. In a statement, the champion claimed he could have knocked Bronson out in the first round, had he been so disposed.

His comeback was short-lived. Within a month, Bronson announced his formal retirement from boxing. As the Collyer’s Eye in Chicago reported, “Ray Bronson, welterweight, has retired from boxing to devote his time to managing football and basketball teams and promoting bouts.” While his name did appear on a boxing card in 1922, according to the Richmond Palladium, it is unclear whether he was there as a manager or fighter. Either way, Ray Bronson’s boxing career was finally done.

Collyer’s Eye, October 16, 1920, Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.

After his retirement, Bronson’s story is rather difficult to piece together. By the 1920s, he was living in Portage, Ohio in a boarding house with his wife, according to Census Records. He then apparently moved to Jacksonville, Florida by 1935; he also applied for Social Security in 1942. Based on secondary sources, as well as a listing in the Florida death index, Ray Bronson died in 1948. His cause of death or exact date are currently unknown. For a man so widely covered in the national and international press, his death is ironically elusive.

With a “young man’s clean-cut face” and a “horseshoe punch,” Ray Bronson rocked the boxing world during the early 20th century. His considerable wins, international bouts, and successful management of other boxers put him a cut above most fighters. He was also a Hoosier, with a Midwestern work ethic and dedication to clean living, that buttressed his success in and out of the ring. As the Horseshoer’s Magazine wrote in 1912, “The Horseshoer’s Union may well be proud of this boy, for every one [sic] in Indianapolis is.”

Ray Bronson, 1921 Exhibit Card, BoxRec.com.

Indiana’s Earliest Known Basketball Games

On this day in history, one of the earliest mentions of basketball appeared in Indiana newspapers.  This was a momentous occasion for a sport that would become so important to Indiana culture.

Despite popular belief, Indiana’s first basketball game did not take place in Crawfordsville.  In fact, Evansville newspapers reported on basketball being played in their city nearly sixteen months before the Crawfordsville game occurred.  Evansville even played an inter-city game against Terre Haute seven weeks before the Crawfordsville-Lafayette game on March 16, 1894.  I made these discovery using digitized newspapers, and published my findings last December in the Indiana Magazine of History.

Here are a few newspaper clippings from Indiana basketball’s beginnings in Evansville.

Indianapolis Sun
Indianapolis Sun, 23 November 1892
EC18921124
Evansville Courier, 24 November 1892

 

ec18921125
Evansville Courier, 25 November 1892. Foreshadowing holidays to come, a sports contest was the feature of this Thanksgiving Day’s entertainment.
Evansville Journal, 14 February 1893
Evansville Journal, 14 February 1893
Evansville Journal, 18 March 1893
Evansville Journal, 18 March 1893. The business men, in protest of rough play, refused to finish the game.
Evansville Journal, 20 January 1894. The Stars and Crescents played a game of "science and muscle."
Evansville Journal, 20 January 1894. The Stars and Crescents played a game of “science and muscle.”
Evansville Journal, 28 January 1894. In what is currently the earliest known inter-city basketball game in Indiana, the Evansville YMCA team defeated the visiting Terre Haute YMCA team, 26-15.
Evansville Journal, 28 January 1894. In what is currently the earliest known inter-city basketball game in Indiana, the Evansville YMCA team defeated the visiting Terre Haute YMCA team.

Note: Because most of these newspapers were digitized by a commercial firm for the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library (EVPL), they are not freely available through Hoosier State Chronicles.  However, EVPL resident cardholders can access the content for free.  Visitors to EVPL can also access the digitized newspaper collection on-site.

 

The Swimsuit Civil War

South Bend News Times June 15 1914

Summer heat wave?  One-hundred and one years ago in the Windy City, women would have had to tough it out,  wind or no wind,  due to living in “the most  censored city in the United States.”

Actually, while Chicago, Illinois, pioneered many forms of public censorship — legislators there passed the first movie censorship law in America in 1907 — the swimsuit civil war was a widespread American phenomenon.  Yet even as newspapers like the Chicago Daily Tribune protested wartime censorship in Parisonly French over the phone, s’il vous plait! (the paper called this “a form of censorship that was hard on Americans”) — as well as government ownership of telegraph wires in the United States, police officers on Chicago’s Lake Michigan beaches were on the prowl.

The above newspaper clip appeared on June 15, 1914, in the South Bend News-Times in South Bend, Indiana.  It referred to a new “Paris bathing suit” that had been called immodest over in Chicago.  Police officers were enforcing strict codes on the length of skirts allowed on Chicago public beaches.  These fashions are hardly considered risqué today.  It also seems like the Hoosier paper, by boldly publishing an image of the offending bathing suit on page 2, had different views altogether about ladies’ swimwear from the folks in charge over in the big city.

As Ragtime fashion took hold, America’s testy swimwear situation continued well into the 1920s.  Yet it’s an interesting fact that many officers who served in urban swimwear patrols were women.  This fabulous photo, taken on a Chicago beach in April 1922, speaks volumes about the complex fashion dilemmas that have always caused an uproar in America.  The figure in the straw hat, wearing pants and a jacket and hauling off two offending bathers, is a woman.  A generation earlier, in such an outfit, she herself might have been hauled off as a public offender and a threat to decency:


Swimwear Civil War -- Chicago 1920s
Mashable: 1920s: The Swimwear Police

The South Bend News-Times was a fairly modern paper.  Its editors had a sense of humor, and as they followed the fashion trends of the World War I era into the Jazz Age, they often took the side of the “modern girl.”   Though the late Victorian Age — and what Mark Twain satirized as the Gilded Age, a time period he thought incredibly corrupt — could be far racier than it usually gets credit for, the News-Times offers some pretty good documentation of American public opinion as social mores began to change faster than ever.

The News-Times stands out for one other reason:  it had a regular women’s page and was one of the first Hoosier newspapers to publish an abundance of photographs, a tactic largely intended to drive up sales.  (The News-Times often struggled to stay in business and folded for good in 1938.)

On August 15, 1920, in the section “Camera News,” the editors printed this photo of San Francisco police “claiming war” on the one-piece bathing suit out West.  “The girls insist that they are both sensible and artistic,” the caption read, “but the police are hard-hearted.”  It’s hard not to believe the editors in South Bend sided with the bathers.


SB News Times - Camera News - August 15, 1920
South Bend News-Times, August 15, 1920.

Back in 1913, the News-Times published a photo of Mrs. Charles Lanning of Burlington, New Jersey.  This case was more sobering.

In September 1913, Lanning was beaten by a mob on the Jersey Shore for wearing a “short vivid purple affair.”  The caption reads: “An extreme slit on one side of the skirt is what started the trouble.”  The New York Times carried the further information that Mrs. Lanning, who was married to a hotel proprietor, “was beset by 200 men at Atlantic City.”  Lifeguards managed to break through the crowd and get her away from the “rowdies” who had apparently pelted her unconscious with sand and their fists.  The crowd then followed her to the hospital “to get another glimpse at the suit.”  When she got out of the hospital, some of her assailants were still standing there and Mrs. Lanning fainted.


SB News Times - September 12, 1913
Mrs. Charles Lanning was assaulted on the Jersey Shore in 1913. South Bend News-Times, September 12, 1913.

American bathing suit ordinances, of course, met plenty of resistance.  In March 1922, Norma Mayo, a 17-year-old girl living on Long Island, was already getting ready to  commit civil disobedience the next summer against a New York judge, who had barely let her off the hook the previous summer for wearing an illegal swimsuit on the beach.  Fittingly, the Norma Mayo clip appeared right next to an article about Mohandas Gandhi, “chief leader of the Indian non-conformists” against British control of his country.


SB News Times - March 19, 1922
South Bend News-Times, March 19, 1922.

Here’s a few more colorful stories from the annals of Hoosier State Chronicles about the Battle of the Beaches.  Enjoy.   And remember, suits may be getting smaller, but we’re a-growin’.

Woman’s Sports Change Fashion” (December 4, 1921)

Statuesque Dancer Won Health By Dancing in Bathing Suit on Shore” (November 27, 1921)

Hawaiian Solons Debate Bathing Suit Legislation” (May 1, 1921)

With Hands and Feet Bound She Swam 600 Yards Across a River” (August 11, 1913)

Whether There Shall Be A Double Standard of Bathing Suits. . .” I’ll (July 29, 1913)


SB News Times - September 7 1921(South Bend News-Times, September 7, 1921)


John Dillinger -- Bathing Suits - 1934

Betty Nelson and Rosella Nelson, dressed in bathing suits, view the body of Indianapolis gangster John Dillinger, aged 32, at the Cook County Morgue, Chicago, Illinois.  Dillinger was killed outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, July 22, 1934 — the height of the summer bathing season.  (Chicago Tribune historical photo.)

OK, now TAKE TWO:

John Dillinger -- Bathing Suits - 1934 (2)

(Chicago Tribune historical photo.)


Bathing Beauty - UNT

(She likes newspapers!  University of North Texas Libraries/Austin Public Library.)

The Where and the What of The When

THE WHEN (3)

Hoosier State Chronicles is getting ready to upload a large run of issues of the Indianapolis Journal from the mid-1890s.  Dominating the front page of Sunday editions in those days are massive, elephantine ads for one of the most colorful clothing stores ever to exist anywhere in the U.S.  This was downtown Indy’s great shopping emporium, The When.

In the days before parking garages and flight to the suburbs plunged downtowns into decline, urban cores all over America were a fascinating architectural wonderland.  Panoramic images of Indianapolis 120 years ago often leave me wondering if I live in the same town, so devastating has been the toll of the wrecking ball, the termite, and (yes) bad urban planning.  Before the auto, pedestrians walked or were funneled down to the business district on trolleys or carriages from neighborhoods not very far out.  And amid the amazing visual spectacle that met shoppers’ eyes at the turn of the century, there stands the ingenuity, humor, and incredible marketing smarts of John Tomlinson Brush.

Born in upstate New York in 1845 and orphaned at age four, Brush was raised by his grandfather, went to business college, then served in the 1st New York Artillery during the Civil War.  Moving from Troy to Indianapolis in 1875 at age thirty, he purchased a brand new, Napoleon the Third-style building at 36 N. Pennsylvania St. and planned to open a branch store of a New York City clothing wholesaler there.

Brush kept changing the opening date.  Probably as a tease to drum up interest, in February 1875 he hung a huge sign outside the store with the simple word (more an exclamation than a question) “WHEN?”  Advertisements in the local newspapers also carried just that one-word tease.  The name stuck, and the lavishly decorated clothing outlet became an instant consumer hit, soon ranked as the biggest of its kind in Indiana.


When Building

(Bass Photo Company.)


the when November 23 1890

(Ads for The When dominated the front page of the Indianapolis Sunday Journal for over two decades.)


2163764238_f458a71d30_o

(New York native John Tomlinson Brush, 1845-1912, was a savvy salesman, razor-sharp humorist, and baseball magnate.)


John T. Brush (some thought his name was John “Tooth” Brush) was gifted with an ample sense of humor and, I hear, was also a clever cartoonist, though I haven’t seen any of his illustrations.  His knack for marketing was far-reaching.  Not only did he see The When “elegantly appointed” with iron balustrades, gas lighting, and a courtyard, he also outfitted it with an array of unusual attractions meant to lure shoppers.  The When had a baseball team, called The When Store team, and a resident brass band, The When Band.  Brush’s musicians played in a second-floor band shell and gave Saturday evening concerts outside on the street and even up on the roof.  As we’ll see below, other colorful attractions also greeted shoppers.

Brush got rich quick in Indianapolis, but unlike many capitalists with Eastern roots, he stuck around for good.  And in the 1880s, The When’s owner became a prominent pioneer of baseball both in the Hoosier State and around the country.

Originally conceived to drum up business for the store, the Indianapolis Hoosiers were a short-lived local baseball team bankrolled by the clothing merchant.  In 1882, he financed the creation of a ball park, Seventh Street Park, also called Tinker Park, at a site now occupied by Methodist Hospital.  The Hoosiers played in the National League from about 1885 to 1889, when they folded.  Brush later bought the St. Louis Maroons, the Cincinnati Reds, and eventually the great New York Giants, which he owned from 1902 until his death in 1912.

Baseball historian Bill Lamb writes:

Local legend has it that Brush first became enthusiastic about the game after reading a Spalding Guide confiscated from an idle store clerk. Or that Brush’s interest stemmed from acceptance of stock in an Indianapolis ball club as payment for a debt. The facts are more prosaic. Brush was first exposed to baseball while working at company stores in upstate New York, a hotbed of the early game. Later he seized upon baseball as a vehicle for advertising The When Store. In 1882 Brush organized a municipal baseball league, building a diamond with a grandstand in northwestern Indianapolis for league games and engaging Jack Kerins as player-manager of the When Store team.


1888_Indianapolis_Hoosiers

(The Indianapolis Hoosiers at Tinker Park, 1888.  I assume Jack Kerins is the man in the center.)


hoosiers 1


As a kind of New Year’s gift to his loyal shoppers in 1895, Brush helped bring a clever attraction to downtown Indy:  a pair of leopard cubs.  The adorable creatures, named Carl and Amanda, were loaned from the great Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, which wintered in its home base of Peru, Indiana.  The cubs spent about a week as a window attraction at Brush’s store while the circus performed at English’s Opera House nearby.


the when january 6 1895


the when january 8 1895


On January 9, the baby leopards got a letter from a bear — and from their mother down the street.  (Mrs. Puss Leopard was quite the gossiper.) The feline correspondence was featured on the front page, in The When’s usual space:

the when january 10 1895


the when january 11 1895


the when january 12 1895


chad ballard

(Chad Ballard, son of Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus owner Ed Ballard, around 1915, possibly in French Lick, Indiana.  French Lick West Baden Museum.)


john t. brush (2)

John Brush lived to see the New York Giants play in three World Series and was married to stage actress Elsie Lombard. Suffering from a nerve ailment after 1902, he died in his private railroad car near Louisiana, Missouri, in 1912.  He came home to a lavish funeral in Indianapolis, attended by many of the greats of the baseball world.

The When Building, which also housed Indianapolis Business College, was sold off to C.S. Ober in the 1940s and came to be known as the Ober Building.  Like much of the city’s former architectural splendor, it was demolished by a wrecking ball and is now the site of a parking garage.


WHEN building


30 N. Pennsylvania St


When Building 2

(Bass Photo Company.)


Though the When is “Gone With the When,” it’s worthy of our deepest praise.  Here are some of my favorite advertisements from Way Back When.


the when December 25 1892 (2)


the when November 9 1890


the When November 22 1891


the when May 20 1888


the when january 14 1895


the when january 22 1895


THE WHEN (4)

(The When Clothing Store stands in the right foreground in this panoramic image of Indianapolis from 1907.)


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

A Skirt Divided

two women on cycle

Rummaging through the always-interesting (and sometimes shockingly relevant) news of the 1890s, I recently ran across a Sunday extra in the Indianapolis Journal.  On April 28, 1895, an eight-page supplement — the “Bicycle Edition” — was devoted entirely to the cycling craze that engulfed the Hoosier State and the rest of the country.

Later this spring, we’ll be uploading the “Bicycle Edition” to Hoosier State Chronicles.  Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at the early days of folks on spokes.

Bicycles’ huge role in the women’s rights movement was common news a hundred years ago and, in the 1890s, stirred up a ton of buzz in American newspapers.  While our great-grandmothers would not have needed much reminding about how important mobility on wheels had been to achieving equal rights with men, the turn-of-the-century female cycling phenomenon was later mostly forgotten.  (A great book published by National Geographic in 2011 has helped bring it back into the light:  check out Sue Macy’s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom.)

Every generation has its great social debates, and Indiana was no stranger to hot discussions about women on wheels.

Hostility toward the newfangled bicycle took on many forms: from horse salesmen and carriage drivers who thought it hurt their business, to ministers who complained about cyclists skipping church on Sunday to go out on country rides and break the Sabbath.  But at the center of the debate was women’s dress and embattled notions about female “purity.”

The ample dresses worn by nineteenth-century women made riding around on spokes outright dangerous — as even a sympathetic male, Lieutenant Defrees of the Indiana National Guard, admitted to the Indianapolis Journal in 1895.  As a safety issue, Defrees supported women’s preference for “bloomers,” or “athletic knickerbockers” as they were also called.

A sort of divided skirt that resembled both baggy pants and a dress, bloomers were first adopted in England in the 1850’s, when women rejected Parisian fashions in favor of styles from the Middle East, especially Turkey, where females actually had many surprising freedoms not enjoyed in Europe and America at the time.  (In the U.S., the practical new clothing item was nicknamed bloomers after Amelia Bloomer, a suffragette from Iowa who fought the prejudice against revealing female attire.)

Lieutenant Defrees, too, opposed the endless ridicule directed at this eminently rational item of clothing.  (In fact, some women called them “rationals.”)  He put it this way:

He Favors Bloomers - Indianapolis Journal April 28 1895


awful effects of velocipeding

(A Victorian cartoonist satirized “The Awful Effects of Velocipeding” in the New Comic Times, a British magazine from the mid-1800s.  Men feared that in addition to going down the slippery slope of cycling, women would adopt another “vice” from Asia: smoking cheroots.)


Dr. Henry J. Garrigues, a specialist on women’s health, was another early male who advocated the benefits of bloomers for female riders.  Dr. Garrigues authored a fascinating defense — “Woman and the Bicycle” — originally published in The Forum, one of the great “social issue” magazines of the day.  An excerpt from Garrigues’ piece appeared in the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail on January 25, 1896.

Touting the many health benefits of cycling, Garrigues writes: “Bicycle-riding has changed the habits of hundreds of thousands who formerly took little or no exercise in the open air.  It has widened the mental horizon for many by inducing them to undertake long rides far away from their homes.”

About bloomers specifically, Garrigues was pretty frank:

The usual long skirt is objectionable in every respect. It impedes the free movement of the legs, pumps air up against the abdomen, and is in great danger of being caught by projecting parts of their own machines or those of other riders, as well as by other obstructions found on the road. To avoid these inconveniences many women have shortened their skirts, and some have done away with them altogether, wearing so-called ” bloomers,” a wide, bifurcated garment extending from the waist to the knee. This garment, combined with a waist and leggings, forms a neat, practical dress for a woman rider. True, it is at present ridiculed and even condemned by some as immodest. However, before men say anything against the decency of bloomers, they had better reform their own trousers, which are not much more decent than becoming. . .

From a medical standpoint bicycling is valuable both as a prophylactic and as a curative agent. Like other outdoor exercises it takes its votaries away from the vitiated air of closed rooms; but it has several advantages peculiarly its own. It is less expensive and safer than horseback-riding. For the female sex it is also healthier, since horseback-riding, if indulged in too much or at too early an age, is apt to produce a funnel-shaped pelvis, which abnormality may prove a serious obstacle to childbirth.

And for an age that seemed leery of even mentioning women’s bodies in so many ways, it’s interesting that Garrigues went into a long, detailed description of what he believed was another benefit of cycling.  The New York doctor claimed that the womb, “being of muscular construction, is, like all other muscles, strengthened by bicycling.”  He also touted the benefits for men and women suffering from an array of ills, including asthma, neuralgia, headache, insomnia, and “diseases of the intestinal canal — such as dyspepsia, constipation, and haemorrhoids.”


bicycle built for two (2)

(A couple rides an early tandem bike outside the White House, circa 1890.)


bloomers

(Wearing bloomers, she was a daredevil in more ways than one.)


ariel cycling manufacturing co 1895

(An 1895 trade catalog of the Ariel Cycle Manufacturing Company in Goshen, Indiana.  The Hoosier bicycle industry was centered mostly in Indianapolis and the northeastern part of the state.)


New Ulm Review July 8 1896

(New Ulm Review, New Ulm, Minnesota, July 8, 1896.)


Though opposition to bloomers (and wheeling in general) often dragged religion into the fray, liberal-minded Christians spoke out against more conservative ones, just as they do today.  But whatever animosity was directed toward pants from the pulpit, preachers could hardly match the sheer weirdness of Chicago’s “Jack the Whipper,” whom the Terre Haute paper thought to be a truly distinguished “crank of the first water.”

Jack the Whipper

But less than a year later, in 1895, bloomers were still new enough to Terre Haute to cause many men there to stretch their necks in wonder and possibly even in admiration, as the Saturday Evening Mail noted:

Bloomers have not come into such general use in this city as to be common, and the sight of a pair of them in broad daylight very frequently causes a great deal of what the small boy calls “rubber necking.”  The other day a young lady was coming up Seventh street on a wheel, and she made quite an attractive figure in her bloomers.  A man walking along the street, going in the opposite direction, evidently had never seen bloomers before, and he stretched his neck in the effort to follow her with his eyes.  He was so much interested that he paid no attention to where he was going, and presently he ran into a tree on the sidewalk with such force as to peel all the skin off one side of his face.

On the topic of rubber. . .  In the 1890s, Indianapolis was especially well-poised to become a bicycle-manufacturing mecca: the capitol city was once a major rubber-producing town.  (The local industry tanked in the 1950s.)  At the turn of the century, Indianapolis could boast of at least nine bicycle manufacturers, and the demand for pneumatic tires was a major spur to the creation of the Indianapolis Rubber Company.


rubber tires


In addition to being able to get a quick local replacement for a bad tire, in 1895 riders who worked in downtown offices could also take advantage of a “bicycle livery and boarding stable” located under the Brunswick Hotel on Monument Circle.  A nearby bike hospital  also offered a cure for “the last stages of consumption.”


bike livery stable


bicycle hospital


Harry T. Hearsey, born in London, England, in 1863, grew up in Boston, then moved to Indianapolis at age 22.  An early Hoosier cycling pioneer, he ran his own manufacturing company, which made not only bikes, but carriages, sleighs, portable heaters, and eventually automobiles.

Hearsey also operated a riding school, which catered in large part to women.  Walter Marshall “Major” Taylor, the great African-American cyclist and Indianapolis native, worked as an instructor at Harry Hearsey’s Riding School, located at 116/118 N. Pennsylvania St.  This ad from the German-language Indiana Tribüne touts Hearsey’s Reitschule (“often Tag und Abend.”)


hearsey ad -- Indiana Tribune July 27 1896


Though he was a businessman with an obvious profit to turn, Hearsey may have been one of the many Americans who thought that women at the wheel was something to be praised.  Even many who believed in “womanly purity” found something positive in cycling, as a writer in Lincoln, Nebraska, admitted:  “The modern bicycle is one of the modern safeties of womanly purity,” he or she wrote.  “She no longer needs to jostle through a crowd of men on the street corner or in the street car.  The primest little maid of this city wears bloomers, rides a bicycle, and works in a printing office.”

Bike sales in Indiana boomed in the 1890s.  Thomas Hay, of the firm of Hay & Willits at 113 W. Washington St., told the Indianapolis Journal in 1895 that “At the present time about 20 per cent of the wheels sold are for ladies, while two years ago I doubt if the sales of the ladies’ wheels reached 2 percent of the total.”  Hay attributed part of the surge in sales to improvements in the manufacture of women’s bicycles, which had previously been neglected.  In 1897, women were so important to the industry that the Central Cycle Manufacturing Company put them on the cover of their gorgeous trade catalog, designed and printed in “Arts and Crafts” style.  It is a beautiful illustration of the generational gap between the old woman in skirts and the dashing Belle on Wheels.


ben hur bicycle


ben hur bicycle 5


ben hur bicycle 1

(The Central Cycling Company of Indianapolis built the once-popular “Ben-Hur Bicycle,” named for the novel written by Hoosier literary giant Lew Wallace.)


bicycling in fort wayne (2)

(These wheelmen in Fort Wayne, Indiana, were some of the last aficionados of the highwheeler, old-fashioned even in 1900.)


Gradually, of course, the sight of women in bloomers wasn’t shocking to most Americans at all.  Times changed fast, so fast that the great Hoosier songwriter Cole Porter could easily lampoon an earlier generation in the immortal lyrics of “Anything Goes”:

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes. . .
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose.

Yet even before the Roaring Twenties and the day in 1934 when Cole Porter penned those lines, the ladies of the 1890s had already paved the way.  Sportswomen in baseball and basketball literally “followed suit.”  We salute them all.


ariel cycling manufacturing co 1896


bloomers basketball chicago 1097

(Women in Chicago play basketball in 1906.)


star bloomers ca 1900

(The Star Bloomer Girls were an Indianapolis baseball team that toured the country around 1914.  The pitcher and catcher, far right, were male but the whole team wore the same outfit.)


women fencers

(Women of the Indianapolis Socialer Turnverein appear at a fencing match in Fort Wayne in the 1920’s.  Athenaeum Turners Collection, IUPUI.)


Indiana newspapers are full of stories about women, cycling, and sports.  Do a search at Hoosier State Chronicles to unearth more tales like these.  Contact:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com