Tag Archives: women

The “Bird Bills”: A Tale of the Plume Boom

Woman's Feathered Hat circa 1913

Did you know that environmental laws, labor and women once clashed, causing feathers to fly?  One little known battle from the days of the “plume boom” took place in 1913.  The setting?  The Indiana State House.

Nineteen-thirteen happened to be the same year that W.T. Hornaday, one of America’s foremost wildlife biologists and conservationists, published a book called Our Vanishing Wildlife. Born on a farm near Plainfield west of Indianapolis but raised in Iowa, Hornaday had traveled around South Asia, served as Chief Taxidermist at the Smithsonian, then became the first director of the New York Zoological Society, later renamed the Bronx Zoo. In 1889, the former Hoosier published the first great book on the near-total destruction of the American bison — the species seen bounding across Indiana’s state seal but which was wiped out here long ago by the pioneers.

Already an expert on the buffalo’s demise, by 1913 Hornaday had begun lashing out at the wholesale slaughter of birds:

From the trackless jungles of New Guinea, round the world both ways to the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, no unprotected bird is safe. The humming-birds of Brazil, the egrets of the world at large, the rare birds of paradise, the toucan, the eagle, the condor and the emu, all are being exterminated to swell the annual profits of the millinery [hat-making] trade. The case is far more serious than the world at large knows, or even suspects. But for the profits, the birds would be safe; and no unprotected wild species can long escape the hounds of Commerce.

Feathers have been part of human attire for millennia.  But by the early 1900s, massive depredations by European and American hunters around the globe had wreaked havoc on avian populations. Bird hunters were now the arm of industrial capitalism, with the harvesting of birds for ladies’ hats belonging in the same category with other natural resources like coal, diamonds and oil.

Although the center of the global feather trade in 1913 was London — where feather merchants examined skins and quills in enormous sales rooms, then bid on them like other commodities — New York and Paris were involved a big part of the trade.  All three cities had become epicenters of women’s fashion.  And women weren’t only the consumers of feathers:  of the roughly 80,000 people employed in the millinery business in New York City in 1900, the majority were women.

In 1892, Punch, the British satirical magazine, took a jab at women, who it considered the driving force behind the decimation of wild bird species and their consumption in the West.  It failed to point out, of course, that the hunters themselves — the ones who did the slaughtering — were men.


A Bird of Prey, Punch, May 14, 1892

(“A Bird of Prey,” Punch, May 14, 1892.)


Woman's Feathered Hat 4

(Woman with an entire bird in her hat, circa 1890.  Late-Victorian and Edwardian fashions led to the deaths of several hundred million birds in the days before state, national, and international laws stepped in to help prevent the extinction of many of them.  A moral crusade among consumers and nature-lovers — as well as changing fashions — were even more important factors.)


Millinery advertisement, 1911

(Millinery advertisement, 1911.)


In the U.S. and Europe, bird-lovers created several societies to stem the global slaughter, with scientists helping to provide the grisly details that would provoke moral outrage.  Women made up most of the membership in these societies, including the new Audubon Society — named for John James Audubon, the French-American naturalist who lived for years along the Ohio River across from Evansville, Indiana.  An especially well-known voice was the great ornithologist and writer William Henry Hudson, born to American parents in Argentina, where he spent his childhood bird-watching in the South American grasslands.  Yet in the days before zoom lenses and advanced photography came along, even respected field naturalists like Audubon and Hudson had relied on guns to “collect” species and study them.

In 1913, W.T. Hornaday gave specifics on the “plume boom.”  At one London feather sale two years earlier, ten-thousand hummingbird skins were “on offer.”  About 192,000 herons had been killed to provide the packages of heron feathers sold at a single London auction in 1902.  Other popular feathers came from birds like the egret, eagle, condor, bustard, falcon, parrot, and bird of paradise. When exotic bird feathers weren’t available or affordable, millinery shops used the feathers of common barnyard fowl.


Hummingbird Skins at Millinery Sale, August 1912

(Hummingbird skins at a millinery sale, August 1912.)


While the Florida Everglades were a huge, popular hunting ground, the “Everglades of the North” — Indiana’s Kankakee Swamp, now mostly vanished — was another commercial source for feathers, mammal pelts, and another item that’s out of fashion today, frog legs.  Yet the worst of the commercial hunting was in Florida, where ornithologists wrote of how hunters shot mother birds, especially herons and egrets, and left nestlings to starve, endangering the entire population for quick profit, as the mother’s plumage was at its most spectacular during nursing.  Conservationist T. Gilbert Pearson described finding “heaps of dead Herons festering in the sun, with the back of each bird raw and bleeding” where the feathers had been torn off.  “Young herons had been left by scores in the nests to perish by exposure and starvation.”  The much-publicized murder of a young Florida game warden, Guy Bradley, in 1905 helped galvanize the anti-plumage campaign and spurred the creation of Everglades National Park.

Since bird feathers and skins were often valued at twice their weight in gold and were readily available to ordinary Americans and Europeans even in urban areas, women and children found a decent supplemental income in stoning birds to death or killing them with pea-shooters, stringing them up, and selling them to hat-makers. Children also robbed eggs for collections.  Farmers frequently shot or trapped even great birds like the eagle when they preyed on chickens, with one scowling, utilitarian farmer in New Hampshire blasting “sentimentalists” who thought the eagle had “any utility” at all.


Recreation, April 1902

(Recreation, April 1902.)


By 1913, legislators in the U.S. and Britain had been urged to consider “anti-plumage” bills.  Yet the profits involved in millinery — and the ability of consumers to buy hats in markets not covered by the laws — were big hurdles.  As early as 1908, anti-plumage bills were being debated in the British Parliament, but they took years to pass.  (Britain’s passed in 1921.)  States like New York and New Jersey were considering a ban on the trade in wild bird feathers around the same time.  New York’s went into effect in July 1911, but not without concern for its effects on feather workers, some of whom argued that they had no other way of supporting themselves.

The debate in New Jersey took a more comic turn.  If this news account can be trusted, women came to the Senate in Trenton and pelted legislators with paper balls.


The Inter Ocean, Chicago, April 8, 1910

The Inter Ocean, Chicago, April 8, 1910 (2)

The Inter Ocean, Chicago, April 8, 1910 (3)

(The Inter Ocean, Chicago, April 8, 1910.)


One crusader for wild birds was the former mayor of Crawfordsville, Indiana, Samuel Edgar Voris.  In 1913, he joined the likes of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Audubon Society by taking the battle to the Indiana Legislature.  For a few weeks early that year, Hoosier politicians and journalists debated what became known as the “Voris Bird Bill.”


Seymour Daily Republican, January 25, 1913

(Seymour Daily Republican, January 25, 1913.)


It was a strange fact that Voris authored the bill, since back in 1897 he’d been called “one of the crack shots of the United States,” often competing in shooting tournaments around the country.  Voris was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1854.  His father may have been the Jerry or Jeremiah Voris who ran a meat market in downtown Terre Haute. (According to one ad, that Jerry sold elk meat next door to the offices of the Daily Wabash Express, ran a grape farm, and might be identical with one of Crawfordsville’s first undertakers.  He also might have known something about preserving the bodies of birds — or at least had an interest in birds.  In 1870, the Terre Haute butcher offered one “fine healthy screech owl” to State Geologist John Collett to be put on display at the State Board of Agriculture.)

Samuel E. Voris was out West in 1876, the year the Sioux wiped out Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn.  The 21-year-old Voris must have seen the slaughter of American bison up close as he traveled in an overland wagon train to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  His 1920 obituary in the Crawfordsville Daily Journal mentions that Voris’ wagon team was attacked by Indians on the way out.  Yet the future Crawfordsville mayor “had the honor of being in the wigwam of Spotted Tail, one of the big chiefs of a noted tribe of Indians at that time.”


Spotted Tail

(Spotted Tail, Brulé Lakota Indian chief, liked feathers on his head.)


Voris came back to the Midwest, settling in Crawfordsville, where he was a member of General Lew Wallace’s “noted rifle team,” a group of crack recreational sharpshooters.  (The Hoosier soldier, ambassador and author of Ben-Hur was also an avid hunter and fisherman, often visiting the Kankakee Swamp.)  Voris’ obituary noted that the mayor “was a man of peaceful disposition in spite of his love for firearms.”  He knew about animals:  his investments in livestock and insurance made him one of the richest men in Crawfordsville.  He also served as postmaster and was involved in civic-minded masonic organizations, including the Tribe of Ben-Hur, Knights of Pythias and Knights Templar. General Wallace, former U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, probably had something to do with the fact that in 1898, Voris was granted an audience with the Turkish Sultan while traveling in the Middle East.  Voris apparently loved camels, too:  in 1914, he fell off one in Crawfordsville when the camel got spooked by an automobile.  The man landed on his head and suffered a scalp wound.

In 1911 and again in 1913, Montgomery County elected their former mayor to the Indiana House.  Representative Samuel E. Voris was the author of at least two bills in 1913 concerning the treatment of animals. (Another bill, written by a different representative, proposed “a fine of $500 for anyone who willfully poisons [domestic] animals.”)

The “Voris bird bill” won strong support from conservation and animals rights groups in the Hoosier State, but sparked a bit of humor on the floor of the House of Representatives.


Indianapolis News, February 4, 1913

(Indianapolis News, February 4, 1913.  Ostrich feathers often came from farms in South Africa, where Jewish feather merchants dominated the trade.  Jews and women also led the millinery business in the U.S.  In 1870, hat-making was the fourth-largest employer of American women.)


The “Voris bird bill” passed the Indiana House, but objections arose in the Senate, with a Senator Clarke arguing that it would harm Indiana milliners while not prohibiting the sale of hats made outside the state from being sold here.  Another senator objected on the grounds that national legislation was needed to make it truly effective — even though that was slow in coming.  The bird bill was killed in February.

Yet while some women opposed it, one correspondent for the Indianapolis Star came out in defense of the anti-plumage campaign.


Indianapolis Star, January 19, 1913


Marie Chomel, who wrote under the pen name Betty Blythe, had a weekly column in the Indianapolis Star for years.  (She came from a newspaper family.  Her father Alexandre Chomel, son of a nobleman exiled by the French Revolution, had been the first editor of the Indiana Catholic & Record.)  As a reporter for the Star, Betty Blythe became the first woman ever to lap the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a race car, riding shotgun with Wild Bob Burman “at a terrific speed” on a day when two drivers were killed there.  It happened in August 1909.

Chomel frequently wrote about fashion, but thought that exotic plumage was inhumane and had to go.  She published her views on the bird bill in the Star on February 13, 1913.


Indianapolis Star, February 13, 1913

(“Our Lawmakers as Betty Blythe Sees Them,” Indianapolis Star, February 13, 1913.)


Chomel agreed with Voris’ motives.  Yet like English novelist Virginia Woolf, who criticized a sexist statement from British radical journalist H.W. Massingham that pinned the blame for bird deaths squarely on irresponsible women, the Indianapolis Star didn’t let men off the hook, either.


Indianapolis Star, March 3, 1913 (2)

(Indianapolis Star, March 3, 1913.  The “feminine correspondent” was probably Betty Blythe.)


Though wildlife protection laws and groups like the Audubon Society helped make the case for saving birds, two other events were even more influential in ending the feather trade.

Oddly, the outbreak of World War I saved millions of birds. Disruptions to international shipping and wartime scarcity made the flamboyant fashions of the Edwardian period look extravagant and even unpatriotic.  Tragically, as women went into the workplace and needed more utilitarian clothing, “murderous millinery” gave way to murderous warfare, fueled by the same forces of imperialism and greed that had killed untold creatures of the sky.

Even more effective, fashion changes and class antagonism caused upper-class women to adopt new apparel like the “slouch” and “cloche” hats and new hairstyles like the bob.  As hair was being cut back, elaborate feather ornaments made no sense.  In the U.S. and the UK, where upper-class and upper-middle-class women made up most of the membership in groups like the Audubon Society, female conservationists sometimes targeted women of other classes for sporting feathers.  Slowly, they instigated change.

Fortunately, most fashion enthusiasts would probably agree that the cloche hats of the 1920s — which drove hunters and feather merchants out of business — are more natural and beautiful than the most literally “natural” hats of a decade or two before.


Cloche Hat

(The cloche hat of the 1920s and ’30s spelled extinction to commercial bird hunters.)


Contact: staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

Leap Year & “The Ladies’ Privilege”

Leap Year 1908

Only one in four Women’s History Months occurs in a Leap Year — or if you want to use the fancy name given by professional time-keepers and astronomers, you can call it an “intercalary” or “bissextile” year.

Hollywood has churned out a few bad movies about what was probably an old Celtic custom at first, whereby women could take the initiative in proposing to a man.  But American newspapers were having fun with this folk tradition well over a century ago.  And some women did take the opportunity.

Leap years have been around since Roman times, when Julius Caesar simplified the messy Roman calendar.  Since the earth doesn’t take a precise number of 24-hour days to go around the sun, fractions of days accrue.  Before Caesar’s time, Roman astronomers just added an entire 22-day-long month to their 355-day calendar every two years.  Caesar’s astronomers opted for 365 1/4 days, with the quarter-day adding up to a full day every four years. Yet even that extra quarter day isn’t exactly six hours long, a problem that led Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to fine-tune Caesar’s calendar.  More confusing still:  in the Gregorian system, not even every fourth year is a leap year.  In folk tradition, that accounts for the occasional year when women who want to pop the question have to be especially diligent — or else wait another eight.  At least if they care about tradition.


Indiana American, Brookville, April 29, 1836

(Indiana American, Brookville, April 29, 1836.)


The origin of the “ladies’ privilege” goes back a long time, though no one knows how long for sure.  A popular but doubtful origin myth hinges around a medieval Irish saint, St. Brigid of Kildare — who might never even have existed.

If she was a real woman, Brigid would have been born in the middle of the 5th century, allegedly to an enslaved Christian mother and a pagan Irish chieftain, who sold her mother to a Druid — a Celtic priest and shaman.  The life of St. Brigid might be one big folk legend, however, since she shares a name and many attributes with an old Irish fertility goddess.  Irish folklorist Lady Augusta Gregory wrote in 1904 that the goddess Brigid was “a woman of poetry, and poets worshiped her, for her sway was very great and very noble.  And she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith’s work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night.”  The same could be said for Saint Brigid.


St Brigid


Whether St. Brigid was real or not, many stories about her are clearly imaginary. But folklore and poetry have a truth all their own. Several tales tell of how the saint protected women and gave marriage advice to men — often while guarding her own virginity and independence amid the violence of the remote, rugged Emerald Isle.  When Brigid dedicated herself to the service of God and others as a nun, her greedy brothers, one story goes, hated her for denying them the “bride price” they would have been entitled to.  As a crowd taunted Brigid for not marrying, one Irishman shouted: “The beautiful eye which is in your head will be betrothed to a man — though you like it or not.”  Brigid’s reply was shocking:  she jabbed a finger into her eye and blinded herself, then cried out, with blood spurting everywhere: “Here is that beautiful eye for you.  I deem it unlikely that anyone will ask you for a blind girl.” Miraculously, Brigid’s vision healed.  As for the man who taunted the saint, both his eyeballs burst in his head.

In legend, at least, Brigid was probably the most powerful woman in Ireland. Even in the afterlife, she supposedly still watches over midwives, illegitimate children, abused women, sailors, poets, chicken farmers, scholars and the poor.  But what about Brigid and Leap Year?

Out of concern for women — and probably for children born out of wedlock — the angry saint fumed about men dragging their feet when it came to proposing marriage and committing to a partner.  (Nineteenth-century feminists would later oppose the liberalization of American divorce laws for reasons not unlike what spurred St. Brigid to action over a thousand years earlier: slipping out of marriage was a way for lecherous and abusive men to escape their duties.)  Brigid, according to legend, asked St. Patrick to make an exception to custom and allow women to “pop the question” every leap year. The new custom still seems sexist to some, perhaps, but the Irish tale is almost definitely fable as far as Brigid goes:  if she ever lived, she would have been about ten years old when St. Patrick died.

Variants on the tale show up in Scottish folklore and English common law.  According to an English book from 1606, Courtship, Love and Matrimonie, any Englishman who refused “the offers of a laydie” on leap year could be fined and even denied “the benefits of the clergy.”  Two-hundred years later, the Indiana American quoted that passage:


Indiana American, Brookville, March 1, 1844 (2)

(Indiana American, Brookville, March 1, 1844.)


“Common” law or not, the custom was rare in America even as newspapers began to pick up on it in the mid-1800s.  Rising Irish immigration might have been a factor in the sudden interest in the custom, but newspapers themselves could have been the ones spreading the “folk” idea.  (After all, Sadie Hawkins Day, a “pseudo-folk tradition” where girls ask boys out to a dance, originated with Al Capp’s popular hillbilly comic strip Li’l Abner in the 1930s.  Sadie Hawkins Day, however, comes every year, usually November 15, the date she first appeared in a cartoon in 1937.)


Sadie Hawkins Dance

(A Sadie Hawkins dance in Virginia, 1950s.)


By the 1840s, the American press was mentioning leap year marriage proposals — and anything else like them that seemed out-of-the-ordinary.  A clip from the Evansville Daily Journal, published just before the Mexican War, reported a similar tradition in Panama, a story that might have been brought back by American sailors.


Evansville Journal, April 24, 1845

(Evansville Daily Journal, April 24, 1845.)


In the leap year 1848 — a year of tumultuous revolutions in politics and love — the Brookville Indiana American reprinted this clip from a Hoosier wag in Richmond, Indiana, who obviously enjoyed the idea of women proposing to men.  They had fifteen days left, since the tradition didn’t require women to propose on February 29.  Any time before midnight on New Years’ Eve was good enough.


Indiana American, Brookville, December 15, 1848

(Indiana American, Brookville, December 15, 1848.)


Also in 1848, the Indianapolis Locomotive, an “entertainment” paper written in the vein of Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers (a bestseller at the time) and filled with more wit and poetry than news, published a strange story about sexual role-reversal.  A lot of tales like this were taken out of Eastern newspapers that came off steamboats or trains.  “A Story of Leap Year,” by Joe Miller, Jr., probably first appeared in the St. Louis Reveille.  The story, which satirizes conventional courtship and sentimental wooing, is funny, if also a bit sexist.  The bold Susan comes over to ask the bashful Sam for his hand in holy matrimony:


The Locomotive, March 11, 1848

(The Locomotive, March 11, 1848.)


Every year, a few women really did ask men to tie the knot, though most couples were already “courting” to begin with. Yet every four years, illustrators, cartoonists, and postcard makers played around with a major source of male fear and trembling, anxiety and dread:  a proposal coming from an unwanted woman “out of the blue.”

In popular culture and superstition, any man who turned down a woman — even a total stranger — ran the risk of being cursed or at least having to stumble through an awkward, hopefully gentleman-like, rejection.  (No “spite and contumely,” as the 17th-century English book put it.)   A lot of drawings and postcards played on economic, class, age, and physical differences, though not all did:


All Men Beware


Many women today consider the Leap Year tradition degrading and insulting, and they may be right.  But as the women’s rights movement gathered steam in the 1800s, not every woman thought the overall gist of the tradition was bad.  One was the famous suffragette and news correspondent Inez Milholland.

Born in 1886, Milholland came from a wealthy family in Brooklyn and graduated from prestigious Vassar College, a women’s college in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1909.  She became a radical and socialist at Vassar, educating fellow students about  socialist principles — which brought her into conflict with the school’s leadership.  Milholland also served as captain of the hockey team at  Vassar.  She was denied admission to Yale, Harvard and Cambridge law schools because of her gender, but earned a law degree at NYU in 1912.

As a trained lawyer and activist, Milholland was especially interested in prison reform, ending child labor and prostitution, and achieving equality for women and African Americans.  In her late twenties, she helped investigate conditions at New York’s Sing Sing prison, handled divorce and criminal cases, and supported female factory workers on strike in New York and Philadelphia. While reporting from the frontlines in Italy during World War I, the Socialist news correspondent wrote anti-war articles and was expelled by the Italian government, at war with Germany and Austria.


Inez Milholland

(Inez Milholland.)


As a supporter of “free speech in love,” honesty, dignity, and open communication between the sexes, Inez Milholland made a famous marriage proposal — though it didn’t happen during a leap year.  She stressed that a woman should be free to ask a man to marry her on any day of any year, not just every fourth year.  Milholland lived up to her principles.

In 1913, while on a cruise in Europe, the woman’s rights activist proposed to Eugen Jan Boissevain, a Dutch coffee importer who came from one of the wealthiest families in Amsterdam. (Boissevain’s uncle, however, was, like Milholland, a Socialist who gave up his fortune and moved to Alberta to be a farmer and labor organizer.)  The two had known each other for just a month but got married within days.  He moved to New York with her.


Inez Milholland and Eugen Boissevain


Sadly, their marriage was short.  At age 30, Inez Milholland died of anemia in Los Angeles in 1916 while campaigning for the National Woman’s Party.  Seven years later, Eugen Boissevain married the great American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.  He died in Boston in 1949.

The Day Book of Chicago told some of the unusual story, published the year of her death — a leap year:


Inez Milholland 2


Inez Milholland 3

(The Day Book, Chicago, January 3, 1916, Noon Edition.)


Milholland’s husband agreed, and had this to add:


Eugen Jan Boissevain

(The Day Book, Chicago, January 3, 1916, Noon Edition.)


 

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

“No Venus Needed”: Lonesome Hearts, Vintage Edition

Women 2

Taking out an ad to find a marriageable mate long pre-dates (pun intended) the days of the internet.  While American men, especially out West, were more likely to have to resort to “mail-order brides” and the advertising columns of newspapers, a surprising number of women were also willing to do something unconventional to reel in a good husband.  Chicago marriage bureaus in the 1880s had more female clients than male.

In the mid-1800s, before newspapers were able to print photographs alongside “Wife Wanted” or “Husband Wanted” ads, a witty writing style was essential to vintage seekers of Cupid. And while Americans back then certainly ranked each other according to social standing and wealth — as they still do today — money, physical beauty, and professional promise weren’t always absolutely required in a partner.

Some of the most highly valued traits, in fact, were common sense, practicality, and a good sense of humor.  Many prospective spouses — male and female — made no secret about their preference for “no-frills” applicants.  Heart palpitations, “foppery,” “extravagance,” and “a pocket full of musk”?  No, thanks!

Some of what follows was probably meant as a joke, but these caught our eye, anyway.

Here’s some of our favorite historic “lonesome hearts” ads — from the Hoosier State and all over.  If you can find a time machine, this may be your chance.


Weekly Messenger, November 24, 1832(Weekly Messenger, Printer’s Retreat, Indiana, November 24, 1832.)


Vincennes Western Sun & General Advertiser, May 29, 1824

(Western Sun & General Advertiser, Vincennes, Indiana, May 29, 1824.)


Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), March 11, 1853

(Evening Star, Washington, D.C., March 11, 1853.)


Nashville Union and American (Nashville, TN), November 23, 1855

(Nashville Union and American, Nashville, Tennessee, November 23, 1855.)


Pittson Gazette (Pittston, Pennsylvania), August 8, 1856

(Pittson Gazette, Pittston, Pennsylvania, August 8, 1856.)


The Tarborough Southerner (Tarboro, NC), May 5, 1855(The Tarborough Southerner, Tarboro, North Carolina, May 5, 1855.)


(Crawfordsville Record, Crawfordsville, Indiana, June 6, 1835.)


Reading Times (Reading, Pennsylvania), February 26, 1863 (2)

(Reading Times, Reading, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1863 .)


Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, January 25, 1873(Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, January 25, 1873.)


Here’s our personal comic favorite, originally printed in a St. Louis, Missouri, newspaper.  The ad even went “viral,” appearing all over the South in 1866.


Staunton Spectator (Staunton, Virginia), April 24, 1866(Staunton Spectator, Staunton, Virginia, April 24, 1866.)


The New York Times, May 28, 1860

(The New York Times, May 28, 1860.)


One of the most long-winded “matrimonials” was actually written up by the staff of the Lake County Times in northwest Indiana.  Sam Crow, who was out looking for a wife on March 6, 1914, brings us up into the twentieth century.


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914


Sam Crow, March 6, 1914


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (3)


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (4)


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (5)


Sadly, Sam Crow never found a wife — and no little crows ever “hopped and skipped over that splendid western land of his.”  He died in Greencastle in January 1916, still unmarried.

Eugene Debs, Jesus & the “Woman in Scarlet”

Eugene V. Debs

American politics often repeats itself every generation or two.  In light of some of the top stories in the media in 2015 — including Pope Francis’ U.S. visit and the first major candidacy of a Socialist for the White House since 1920, that of Vermont’s Bernie Sanders — one fascinating, overlooked tale from the Indiana press is worth retrieving from the archives.

The story starts in Terre Haute, hometown of Eugene V. Debs, the great American labor leader who, as a Socialist, ran for president not once, but five times.  A passionate leader of railroad strikes — Terre Haute a century ago was one of the major railroad hubs of the nation — Debs was also a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World and a vocal opponent of American entry into World War I. When he clashed with President Wilson over the military draft in 1918, he was sent to prison under an espionage act.  Debs spent over two years of a ten-year sentence at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta, where he ran for the presidency in 1920 — the only candidate ever to run a campaign from a jail cell.


ireland is free why not debs
“Ireland is Free, Why Not Debs? Bring Debs Home for Christmas.” A scene on Wabash Avenue in Terre Haute, 1921. President Harding commuted his sentence, effective Christmas Day.

In the summer of 1913, however, Eugene Debs came to the defense of a scorned young woman tossed into Terre Haute’s own city jail. Slandered in the press, she’d been called a “woman in scarlet,” a “modern Magdalene” and a street-walker.  Local papers and the American Socialist press jumped on the story of how Debs showed compassion for her, but today the tale is almost unknown.

The alleged prostitute was Helen Hollingsworth Cox (sometimes spelled Hollinsworth in the papers.)  Born in Indiana around 1888, she would have been about 25 when her case electrified the city, including its gossips. Helen was the daughter of the Reverend J.H. Hollingsworth, a Methodist minister in Greencastle, Newport, Terre Haute and probably several other Wabash Valley towns.

As Mont Casey, a writer for the Clinton Clintonian, explained, the Reverend Hollingsworth had angered some of his flock by preaching the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth rather than giving “more attention to society and the golf links.” Though Debs was a famous “non-professor” when it came to religion, he and Hollingsworth saw eye-to-eye on issues like poverty, it seems. (In fact, the agnostic Debs, son of French immigrants, had been given the middle name Victor to honor Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, the great novel of the poor.)  Yet Mont Casey wrote that the Socialist and the Methodist were close friends.


Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913(Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913.)


Some papers had apparently gotten their version of Helen’s “fall from grace” wrong, prompting Casey to explain her “true history.”  Set among the debauched wine rooms and saloons of Terre Haute, Casey’s version ventures into the city’s once-flourishing red light district near the Wabash River and the world of the “soiled doves,” a popular euphemism for prostitutes.  The scene could have come straight from the urban novels of Terre Haute’s other famous son in those days, Theodore Dreiser, whose Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt were banned for their sexual frankness and honesty.


Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913 (5)Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913 (6)Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913 (7)

(Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913.)


Helen’s minister father may have been denied a pulpit because of his interpretations of the gospel.  He also may have been living in poverty and unable to help his daughter.  This isn’t clear.

Whatever the truth is, the story went international, perhaps through the efforts of Milwaukee’s Socialist press.  (The Socialist mayor of Milwaukee, Emil Seidel, had been Debs’ vice-presidential running mate in 1912.)  The tale eventually made it overseas, as far away as New Zealand, in fact, where The Maoriland Worker, published out of Wellington or Christchurch, mentions that Debs was a designated “emergency probation officer” in Terre Haute.


Maoriland Worker 2
(New Zealand’s major labor newspaper carried “Did Debs Do Right?” on October 3, 1913.)

The fires were being stoked.  Terre Haute’s well-heeled “Pharisees” — the same type, many pointed out, who had killed “the rebel Jesus,” as Jackson Browne and the Chieftains put it in an Irish Christmas song — apparently weren’t happy about Debs coming to Helen Cox’s defense.  When he took the “modern Magdalene” directly into his home (the phrase refers to Jesus’ female disciple, who was also falsely labeled a prostitute in popular memory),  Debs declared that his “friends must receive her.”

Son of a formerly Catholic French mother but a freethinker himself, this was a remarkable moment for Debs — who famously said that he would rather entrust himself to a saloon keeper than the average preacher but who was anything but hostile to religion at its best.


Lake County Times, June 22, 1913


Lake County Times, June 22, 1913 (2)
Lake County Times, June 22, 1913 (3)Lake County Times, June 22, 1913 (4) (Lake County Times, June 22, 1913. Hoosier State Chronicles recently portrayed Muncie’s Alfaretta Hart, a Catholic reformer and policewoman who would have agreed heartily with Debs’ take on Imitatio Dei.)

A clip from the Washington Post added this excerpt from the labor leader’s remarks to the press:

Washington Post 1

That summer, Debs’ healthy “challenge to the Christianity of Terre Haute” was taken up in the pages of a unique monthly called The Flaming Sword.  Published at a religious commune near Fort Myers, Florida, the periodical was the mouthpiece of the Koreshan Unity, an experimental utopian community based partly on Socialist and Christian principles.  The celibate group living on the outskirts of the Everglades had been founded by Dr. Cyrus Teed (1839-1908), a former Civil War doctor turned alchemist and messiah who came down to Florida from Chicago in the 1890s.  Teed also propounded a curious “Hollow Earth” theory.

Dr. Teed was dead by the time Debs threw down his challenge to the churches, but the Koreshans printed a spirited, sympathetic editorial about it — written by fellow utopian John S. Sargent, a former Civil War soldier and Wabash Valley native.

The Flaming Sword 2
The Flaming Sword, Estero, Florida, August 1913. The Koreshan Unity lingered on until 1961, when Hedwig Michel, a refugee from Nazi Germany who had joined the group, donated the property for use as a Florida state park.

The Flaming Sword 1


Helen Hollingsworth apparently got back on her feet thanks to Debs’ help.  But she did lose her daughter, Dorothy, born in 1908, who was raised by the wealthy Cox family and Helen’s “reprobate betrayer.”  That was Newton Cox, “petted profligate of an aristocratic family,” who died in 1934.  During the Great Depression, Dorothy Cox married a banker named Morris Bobrow.  She died in New York City in 2000.

Helen’s father, Reverend J.H. Hollingsworth, passed away in 1943. The Methodist pastor had followed his daughter up to Michigan, where in the early 1930’s, she was living in Lansing and Grand Rapids, having married a news broadcaster named King Bard.  The 1940 Census shows that the Bards had a 17-year-old “step-daughter” named Joan.  The 1930 Census states that Joan was adopted, and that — confusingly — the married couple’s name was Guerrier, at first.  It’s not clear why they changed their last name to Bard during the Depression.  King’s birth name had been John Clarence Guerrier, the same name on his World War II draft registration card, which lists him as “alias King Bard.”

Eugene V. Debs died in 1926.  Helen Bard retired with her husband to Bradenton, Florida, where she appears to have passed away in May 1974, aged 86.


Indianapolis Star, July 20, 1913
Indianapolis Star, July 20, 1913.

Indiana’s Millionaire Policewoman

Indianapolis News, July 8, 1914

In 1914, a fascinating and controversial woman in Muncie, Indiana, threatened to “tear the town wide open.”  At least that was her credible claim, made during a speech in Columbus on July 8, 1914.

Toting a mace around Muncie’s streets, a pistol at night, and wearing a police uniform designed and made by herself, Alfaretta Hart — Badge Number 9 —  was on a personal crusade to redeem “fallen women” and clean up the “commercialized vice district.”  She was also married to one of the city’s great industrialists.  The swirl of controversy around her, which involved everyone from teetotaling ministers to the Socialist press, is an incredible glimpse into the shifting landscape of American politics and feminism.


Vampires


For a millionaire, it’s ironic that Alfaretta Hart was born Alfaretta Martha Poorman in 1860 in St. Clairsville,  Ohio, an Appalachian mining town just over the river from Wheeling, West Virginia.  Poorman married Pittsburgh businessman Thomas F. Hart (1851-1934), who later ran several big factories in Muncie during its lost heyday as a manufacturing town.  Hart’s industries included the Inter-State Automobile Company — where glass-maker Frank Ball, of Ball State fame, was a major investor — and several Hoosier paper mills and glass factories that turned out windows and jars.  Alfaretta Hart served on the board of these industries and ranked among the wealthiest Hoosier women.

Yet there is little information about her in the newspapers until 1914, when the 53-year-old became Muncie’s first — and at that time only — policewoman.


Lake County Times, February 7, 1914 (2)(Lake County Times, Hammond, Indiana, February 7, 1914.)


The history of policewomen is fascinating in itself.  Closely tied to Progressive politics and the women’s rights movement, the inclusion of females on American police forces was specifically meant to help combat big social problems like juvenile crime, prostitution, rape and sex trafficking.  Unfortunately, some of the more sensational early 20th-century news stories about women in law enforcement focus on what seem like silly distractions today — like the years when they enforced the size of bathing suits on beaches.  During World War I, women officers were even drawn into the popular hysteria about German spies and saboteurs stalking the United States. The South Bend News-Times ran an especially bizarre piece in 1918 about how New York City’s policewomen were helping uncover other “women” who just happened to be the Kaiser’s cross-dressers.  A hundred years later, it’s tough to say if this story is truth or urban legend.


South Bend News-Times, September 18, 1918 (2)

(“A Pictorial Diagram Showing Just How the Little Policewoman Knew That the Woman Next to Her Was a Man — All Points Which Would Have Failed to Register Upon the Slower-Moving, Less Sensitive Masculine Intelligence.”  The full story appeared in the South Bend News-Times on September 18, 1918.)


Side-shows like these took away from the truly valuable work of female police officers.  Minnie Evans, who served on South Bend’s police force in 1917, consistently urged that “Only a Woman Judge Can Handle Women’s Cases,” especially in “cases involving a woman’s honor” (i.e., sexual in nature.)  Many of those “honor” cases began at dance halls, which older American females considered hot-beds of vice.  Cigarettes, booze and dancing were the feared “gateway drugs” to extra-marital affairs and out-of-wedlock pregnancies which often ended in botched abortions.  If you scour newspapers from the early 1900s, it doesn’t take long to find some truth behind these accusations.  But lecherous men, of course, were a huge part of the problem.

Mary Clark, a writer for the South Bend News-Times, interviewed a Miss Anderson, “present custodian of our accused women in the [St. Joseph] county jail.”  When Clark asked if South Bend needed a policewoman — like Chicago, which already had several on its force and asked for fifteen more that year — Anderson replied with a vigorous yes.  So did the city’s male police chief, Millard Kerr.  Female police, Anderson believed, were most valuable in protecting lone women from the sexual advances of men in train stations and other public places.  The interview still makes for fascinating — and relevant — reading today.


South Bend News-Time, January 21, 1914

(South Bend News-Times, January 21, 1914.  The South Bend paper often took up the cause of equality for women.  In March 1914, it reprinted an editorial from the Elkhart Progressive Democrat written in defense of women’s role as police officers, primarily in preventing sexual harassment and exploitation of the young.)


Chicago Policewomen, March 1914

(Group portrait of Chicago policewomen, March 1914.  These women were selected by the Chicago Police Department to learn jiu-jitsu, a form of Japanese wrestling.)


It’s unclear if any specific event spurred Alfaretta Hart to seek the post, but in January 1914 she was appointed Muncie’s first policewoman by Mayor Rollin Bunch.  Citing “health reasons,” Hart would end up leaving the job in December.  But almost immediately, the reformer began making enemies as she threatened to throw the doors of hypocrisy and corruption wide open.


Indianapolis News, January 7, 1914(Indianapolis News, January 7, 1914.)


One of the ironic things about Hart — who always went under the name “Mrs. Thomas F. Hart” — is how little she fits the stereotypical image of what a “matronly” policewoman might be like.  “Liberal” and “conservative” aren’t useful words here, since today they evoke a different set of political views than what might have gone together in 1914.  Whereas Hart considered herself a crusader trying to help the wayward, her enemies portrayed her as a nosy prude and even, surprisingly, as a friend of the liquor interests.


South Bend News-Times, February 5, 1914(Alfaretta Hart was featured in the South Bend News-Times, February 5, 1914.  “I adopted a uniform for my own protection, as my work takes me into public places, and many strange ones, and if I were dressed in citizen’s dress I would have to be continually explaining who I am.”)


At a time when many reformers, especially women, were in favor of Prohibition and supported “dry” laws, Alfaretta Hart was “wet.”  This may have had something to do with the fact that she was a Roman Catholic.

The always-complicated relationship between Catholics and booze surfaces again here.  It was Protestants who almost always spearheaded local and state Prohibition laws — partly because they had seen good men and families destroyed by drink, but partly also because some of the biggest imbibers were working-class Catholic immigrants, who evoked both old European animosities and the specter of Socialism and labor unions.  Tragically for the Protestant churches, Prohibitionists later filed en masse into the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan.  During its heyday in the 1920s, the Klan was at least as much anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic as anti-African American.

By the ’20s, the Indiana Klan reached the height of its power and had a large following in Muncie.  Muncie’s Klan is especially fascinating, since a large number of Klansmen there were actually Klanswomen.  One of the leaders of the WKKK — “the Women of the Ku Klux Klan” — was Daisy Barr, a Muncie Quaker who became a well-known “Klan Klucker.”


Daisy Douglass Barr(The Reverend Daisy Douglass Barr, Imperial Empress of the WKKK in Indiana, was responsible for asking the mayor of Muncie to install its first female police officer.  Barr was also a well-known Quaker evangelist and temperance advocate.  Pastor of a Friends church in Fairmount, Indiana — hometown of actor James Dean — one writer asserts that she was also his great aunt.)


In addition to the KKK’s opposition to liquor and perceived Catholic interference in American schools, ideas about guarding female purity spurred many Hoosier women to join the infamous organization, which dominated state politics at the beginning of the Jazz Age.


Women of the Klan, Muncie, Indiana, 1924

(Women of the Ku Klux Klan, Muncie, Indiana, 1924.)


Oddly, it was the Quaker Klucker Daisy Barr who first pressed Muncie’s Mayor Bunch to appoint a policewoman.  Most women agreed that the city’s brothels, illicit drug dealers, “blind tigers,” etc., needed to be driven out or regulated, and that prostitutes and “fallen women” should be reformed.  Yet the anti-Catholic Quaker Prohibitionist and local women’s groups were shocked that the mayor chose the “wet” Catholic Alfaretta Hart for the job.

On March 4, 1914, Hart went to war against Muncie’s hypocritical “drys.”  To a packed hall at the Wysor Grand Opera House, the new policewoman skewered the opposition, accusing Prohibitionist men of frequenting the red light district, cheating on their wives, and seducing young girls on the street.  She had little more sympathy for what she saw as moralizing, puffed-up women.

In fact, the Klan’s hyper-patriotic ideals, which actually led to a few beneficial reforms in Indiana in the ’20s, were dashed by the huge amount of corruption in its ranks.  Most famously, D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Hoosier Klan, would go on trial in 1925 for the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, an Indianapolis schoolteacher. The sex and booze scandals that rocked the organization a decade after Alfaretta Hart went to work were, ironically, exactly the kind of things she warned Muncie about back in 1914.  When she threatened to “tear the town apart,” it was over the hypocrisy of a society that ignored the abuse of women.  She received many threatening letters in return.

Hart took to the newspapers, referencing her religion as she defended “Magdalenes” and arguing that “wayward” girls and drunkards were often just “un-moral rather than immoral.”  To give them a helping hand, she called for wholesale reform of Indiana’s criminal justice system.


Huntington Herald, February 9, 1914

(Huntington Herald, February 9, 1914.  Hart also wrote: “To me it is a shocking thing for a woman to sell her body for money, but I truly believe that the woman who married a man for his wealth, without love, as truly sells her body for gain as she who is known to the world as a Magdalene.”)


Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 26, 1914(Pittsburgh Daily Post, May 26, 1914.)


“Badge Number 9” had been a voice crying in the wilderness since at least 1911.  That year, part of another colorful speech where she lashed out at the drys appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer:

Cincinnati Enquirer, April 30, 1911

(“Lashing is Handed to the Drys,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 30, 1911.)


Taking on social conformity, Hart proclaimed: “A person who would participate in a dry parade for policy or business reasons would follow a brass band to Hades.”

Yet the valiant, perhaps even quixotic Hart was no “modern woman” per se.  Some of her views would probably clash with 21st-century feminism.  She announced, for instance, that “I am no suffragette. Muncie already has enough troubles with the women trying to vote.”  (Voting rights for American women didn’t come until 1920, the year nationwide Prohibition also began.)  And at the dawn of the Flappers, she had this to say about young people and sex:

I would rather take my chances with the self-educated young man who knows how to work with his hands than I would with the vast majority of high school and college graduates.

The young people of the present day know too much already about sex matters.  We need more “old-fashioned” mothers who are fully awake.

Girls?  Why, we have no girls today, for as soon as they are out of swaddling clothes they are ushered into society with all the airs of grown-up women.

When not defending herself against the barbs of Muncie’s “dry” press and the broadsides of hostile Protestant churches — both of which later morphed into the powerful Indiana Klan — Hart was dodging shots from the Socialist press, which normally might have stood behind her.

One fervent attack came from Girard, Kansas, where a major Socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, took a jab at Hart’s millionaire status and the “rip-snortin’, high-flying tutelary team” she formed with her industrialist husband.  Thomas Hart had had bad times with his workers during labor strikes.  The editorial is a fascinating commentary on how low wages figure into the birth of crime:

Appeal to Reason, Girard, KS, February 21, 1914(Appeal to Reason, Girard, Kansas, February 21, 1914.  The radical Kansas newspaper’s ancestral roots were actually in Greensburg, Indiana, where Hoosier editor Julius Wayland began The Coming Nation, a major Socialist paper, in 1893.  Wayland, who was once driven out of Versailles, Indiana, by a lynch mob for his Socialist views, also commissioned Upton Sinclair’s great labor novel The Jungle — first serialized in Appeal to Reason in 1905.)


Though Policewoman Hart gave up her position at the end of 1914, citing “health reasons,” many considered that she had been “singularly successful” in reforming the “fallen,” though attacks continued.  The Indianapolis News praised Hart for maintaining a downtown office and devoting her salary as policewoman “to the aid of fallen girls and women.  In addition she has spent much from her private income.”

The Harts went on a tour of the world in 1915.  Their only son Lawrence, a graduate of Notre Dame, Columbia and Yale, later went into the furniture-making business in Dallas,  Texas, where he died in 1929.  His parents also moved South.

Widowed in 1934 and already past the age of seventy, Alfaretta Hart became a Texas newspaperwoman, writing for the Dallas Journal under the name “Martha,” her middle name.  She died at the Melrose Hotel in Dallas on January 16, 1951, aged ninety.  Her funeral was held at St. Lawrence Catholic Church back in Muncie.  Burial was at Beech Grove Cemetery, just south of Ball State University.

Lubbock Morning Avalanche (Lubbock, TX), January 17, 1951(Lubbock Morning Avalanche, January 17, 1951.)

Kisses of the Sun

Lewis Hine - Freckles (1)

What do folklore, lemon juice, Amelia Earhart and Calvin Coolidge all have in common?  They all battled freckles.

As summertime dwindles to a close, you might have developed some of these kisses of the sun yourself, especially if you’re fair-skinned and female.  Though scientists have determined that susceptibility to freckles depends on genes — most famously as a result of Irish DNA — anyone can get these marks, which are concentrations of melanin brought about by exposure to UV rays.

Today, definitions of male and female beauty actively embrace what was once considered a serious physical blemish.  Many even think a superficially bespeckled face is a mark of character deep-down.  One beauty commentator considers freckles helpful in building up women’s self-confidence.  “Outside the realm of ‘normal’ beauty,” she writes, “we freckled ladies have had to go against the grain and build our self-esteem without the help of the media.”

A hundred years ago, things were different.  Anti-freckle cream was a commonly advertised beauty product.  (It’s still sold today.)  Mostly directed toward women, nothing, however, prevented men from trying out this solution for “blemished” skin.  As you’ll see below, one man died trying to get “beautified.”

For generations, folklore and popular medicine provided alternatives to commercial freckle cream.  American newspapers promoted a variety of cures both from folk practice and the chemist’s lab.


Brazil Daily Times, October 25, 1912 (1)(Wilson’s Freckle Cream was manufactured in Charleston, South Carolina, but sold nationally.  Brazil Daily Times, October 25, 1912.)


In the early years of the twentieth century, Hoosiers read about some of these popular remedies.

One of the least-scientifically credible cures was, needless to say, superstition, but it peaked the interest of the American Folklore Society, whose findings were syndicated in a Wayne County, Indiana, newspaper in 1928.  Even if this cure had worked, it was far more time-consuming than daubing cream on your face.  Yet Hoosier youth probably gave it a shot.


Cambridge City Tribune, March 15, 1928(Cambridge City Tribune, March 15, 1928)


Twenty-five years earlier, a more plausible-sounding all-natural freckle cure had come out in the Indianapolis News at summer’s end:

Before going out in the sun it is advisable to rub on a little cucumber balm or any good old cream.  At night the face should be bathed with elderflower water, which cools and benefits the skin.

Never bathe the face while it is hot.  Wait until night, then touch up the freckles with a lotion.

One cure is a lotion made by adding half an ounce of lemon juice to half a pint of rosewater, and adding two drams of powdered alum.  Apply with a camels-hair brush.

Another remedy is to wash the face, neck and arms, and hands, too, if necessary, with elderflower water, and apply an ointment made by simmering gently together one ounce of venise soap and one dram each of deliquated oil of tartar and oil of bitter almonds.  When the mixture acquires consistency, two drops of rhodium may be added.  Wash the emollient off in the morning with elderflower water.  (Indianapolis News, September 3, 1903)

In 1916, the South Bend News-Times divulged another solution:


South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916 (3)South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916 (2)

(South Bend News-Times, July 24, 1916)


One common commercial anti-freckle ointment was called Othine, sometimes sold “double-strength” at drug stores.  Yet the beauty columnist Lucille Daudet, syndicated in the columns of the Fort Wayne Sentinel in 1916, was concerned about the potentially damaging effects of this kind of patent medicine.  A forerunner to today’s “pro-freckle” approach to beauty, Daudet spoke up against the very need for such products:

Just why these light brown marks of health should be so scorned is an open question, as they are usually more becoming than not.  But the fact is that most girls look upon freckles as the greatest bar between them and good looks.  In their anxiety to rid themselves of these brown “beauty marks” they go to the most ridiculous and often dangerous extremes — dangerous indeed in many cases, for scores of lovely skins have been ruined by the use of so-called freckle removers. . .

A great many of the patent removers contain either bismuth, which is apt to blacken the skin, or mercury or lead, which are active mineral poisons.  (Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 12, 1916)

Daudet recommended, instead, a concoction of horseradish root mixed with buttermilk and strained through a fine cheesecloth.


Huntington Herald, August 2, 1923(Huntington Herald, Huntington, Indiana, August 2, 1923)


One of the potentially “ridiculous and often dangerous extremes” Daudet decried was mentioned in a 1921 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The journal isn’t specific about what went wrong, but the incident concerned an apparently quack “naturopath” in Venice, California.  (For the record, laser treatment and cryosurgery — “a light freeze with liquid nitrogen” –are the more extreme procedures today.)


Journal of the American Medical Association, April 16, 1921

(Journal of the American Medical Association, April 16, 1921)


South Bend News-Times, October 31, 1921 (3)(Toots & Casper.  South Bend News-Times, October 31, 1921.)


Two well-known Americans of the Jazz Age had a reputation for their freckles.  One case was slightly mythic — and a Hoosier woman tried to sleuth her way to the bottom of it.

In 1923, Clara C. Gilbert, a Republican women’s organizer in Kendallville, Indiana, traveled to Washington, D.C., partly to discover if President Calvin Coolidge’s freckles, accentuated in news films, were as “real” in life as they looked on “reels.”  “People have brought reasons and reasons for wanting to see President Coolidge,” quipped the Fort Wayne Daily News, “but no one before had ever seemed interested in the freckle question.”

“Cal” Coolidge had, in fact, been a red-headed, freckle-faced kid back in Vermont, but his hair turned a sandy brown as a teenager and most of the spots on his face went away.  The silver screen’s lighting effects apparently brought them back.


Fort Wayne Daily News, September 15, 1923 (1)

(“Also, I want to see you because I want to see you…”  Fort Wayne Daily News, September 15, 1923.  Click to enlarge.)


Calvin Coolidge 3


A more famous example of sun-kisses was aviator Amelia Earhart, whose battle against freckles might have gone with her to own mysterious death.

In 2012, a broken jar of 1930’s freckle-cream was discovered on Nikumaroro Island in the Pacific Ocean.  Some investigators think this jar is a major clue toward unlocking the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance in July 1937 while flying around the world.  (The trip was funded by Purdue University, where she became a visiting faculty member and women’s career counselor in 1935.  She also spoke at DePauw University later that year.)

The dominant theory that Earhart’s plane ran out of gas and crashed into the Pacific was already called into question in 1940, when the skeletal remains of a castaway turned up on the remote island.  That the famous aviator was also known to have hated her own mild case of freckles provides a tantalizing link to researchers intent on establishing forensic evidence about her demise.  And as Lucille Daudet warned women two decades before, the cream found on Nikumaroro was found to contain mercury.

Though the theory has its critics, it’s fascinating to think that Earhart’s pointillistic sun-kisses might ultimately shine a light on her last voyage — and her still unknown whereabouts.


Amelia Earhart 2

(Amelia Earhart’s flight license, 1923.)


Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 16, 1922

(Joe Zucco, freckle contender of Fort Wayne.  Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 16, 1922.)

The Swearing o’ the Green?

Lake County Times, March 8, 1920

Hoosier State Chronicles is about to fix one big gap in our online newspaper archives — the absence of northwestern Indiana, that colorful region of steel mills and dunes beaches and the pulse of Chicago throbbing out there in the distance.  In the next few months, we’ll bring you a long run of Hammond’s Lake County Times from 1906 into the early days of Prohibition.

Hammond’s proximity to the Windy City means that its reporters covered plenty of stories from America’s Jazz Age — the heady days of flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, marriage mills, divorce courts, and the rise and fall of Indiana’s powerful Ku Klux Klan. You’ll see how the Roaring Twenties played out in towns like Hammond, Gary, Crown Point, East Chicago, Hobart and Munster.  But until we’re done digitizing, we’ll just tantalize you with a story here and there.

Here’s a funny clip about the history of impatience… on both ends of the line.  Published in the Lake County Times on February 10, 1923, this story is from Whiting, a Lake Michigan town right on the Illinois state line.

Irish eyes might be smiling.  But you’ve been forewarned: never swear at an Irish “hello girl.”


telephone 1920s 2


Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (1)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (2)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (3)

Lake County Times, February 10, 1923 (4)


telephone 1920s 4


telephone 1920s 5

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.)

Harriet Colfax, Guardian of the Indiana Shore

Harriet A Colfax - Chicago Daily Tribune October 2 1904 (2)

Some people are shocked to find out that Indiana has a coastline, let alone six lighthouses.  You might be even more surprised to discover that for over forty years, the keeper of the Old Michigan City Lighthouse was a woman — and that in 1904, she was “the oldest lighthouse keeper in America.”

Harriet Colfax was born in 1824 in Ogdensburg, New York, a town on the St. Lawrence River looking over into Ontario.  As a young woman, she taught voice and piano in her hometown.  In the early 1850’s, Harriet moved west to Michigan City, Indiana, with her younger brother, Richard Wilson Colfax, who became editor of the Michigan City Transcript, a Whig journal.  (Richard died just after his twentieth-sixth birthday in February 1856 and is buried in the town’s Greenwood Cemetery.)  Some sources say Harriet worked at her brother’s newspaper as a typesetter, then taught school.  She never married, and after her brother’s death had few means of support.  So by 1861, when she was thirty-seven, she decided to do something totally different.

And the job would bring a house with it.

Until the 1890s, being a lighthouse keeper was still a political position, relying on appointments and sometimes even corruption.  On the Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast, these jobs were scarce and hard to come by.  Fortunately, Harriet had a relative who could pull some major political strings.

Her cousin Schuyler Colfax, born and raised in New York City, had also moved out to the promising new Hoosier State, where by age 19 he was editing the South Bend Free Press.  (In 1845, as the paper’s new owner, he changed its name to the St. Joseph Valley Register.)  In the 1840s, Schuyler Colfax wrote about Indiana politics for the influential editor Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune and as State Senator wrote for the Indiana State Journal.  In 1855, he got elected to Congress, where he spoke out against the extension of slavery into the West.  Nicknamed “The Smiler” — partly for his affability, partly for his intrigue — he was also one of the few people you ever see grinning in 19th-century photographs!


Schuyler Colfax

(Harriet’s cousin, South Bend newspaperman Schuyler Colfax, represented Indiana in the House of Representatives during the Civil War, served as Speaker of the House, then went on to become Ulysses S. Grant’s first Vice-President.  The Hoosier V.P. also helped found the Daughters of Rebekah, the women’s auxiliary of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.  Photo by Matthew Brady, National Archives.)

In March 1861, two years before he became Speaker of the House, Harriet’s cousin got her an appointment as the keeper of the Old Michigan City Lighthouse.

Contemporary accounts constantly referred to Harriet as small in stature and rather frail, so her cousin in Washington, D.C., might have had to exert some pressure — or selectively leave out that information — to get the family favor done.  Yet getting a post as lighthouse keeper wasn’t necessarily hard.  If we can believe one of his letters, in 1822 the English actor Junius Brutus Booth, father of John Wilkes Booth, was offered the position of lighthouse keeper at Cape Hatteras on North Carolina’s remote Outer Banks — a job he almost accepted.


Old Michigan City Lighthouse

(This photo from July 20, 1914, shows the Old Michigan City Lighthouse after it was converted into a duplex for the lightkeeper’s family and his assistant.  The tower and lantern dating from 1858 were removed.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.)


Michigan City lighthouse

(Harriet Colfax also tended the East Pier Lighthouse, which required a perilous walk down a long, icy causeway in winter.  The light is situated at the end of the breakwater at the mouth of Michigan City harbor, once a minor fishing and lumbering port.  Flickr Creative Commons photo, Tom Gill.)


Harriet A Colfax - Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail January 19 1895(Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail, January 19, 1895.)


In the opening year of the Civil War, with her new appointment in hand, Harriet moved into the three-year-old lighthouse built among cottonwoods and willows by the Lifesaving Service just back from the harbor.  (The plan was almost identical to two other light stations — Grand Traverse Light on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula, and the station at Port Washington, Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee.)  A new Fresnel lens up top was visible for fifteen miles out on Lake Michigan.  Harriet Colfax had become the newest guardian of sailors along the occasionally storm-wracked Hoosier Coast.  She kept the difficult job for forty-three years.

Colfax’s most challenging task was getting out to the East and West Pier lights.  Until it collapsed in a windstorm in 1886, Colfax reached the West Pier beacon by rowboat.  Built in 1871 and situated at the end of a 1,500-foot long breakwater, the East Pier Light was replaced in 1904 and is still standing.  This light had to be lit every evening, fair weather or foul.  When “The Witch of November” blew in and Lake Michigan’s waves froze solid on top of the causeway, Harriet had her work cut out for her, and she had many harrowing brushes with a frigid death.  As the 49-year-old wrote in her logbook on May 28, 1873: “A terrible hurricane to-night at about the time of lighting up.  Narrowly escaped being swept into the lake.”

One of her main challenges in the days before kerosene was used to light lamps (a hazard in itself) was keeping oil from freezing while she carried it out to the beacons.  The West Pier could only be reached by rowboat.  In wintertime, whether she was walking or rowing, Colfax had to heat the lard oil at home, then act fast.  As she told the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1904 (the year of her retirement at age eighty):

The lard oil would get hard before I could get the lamp lighted, but once lit it never went out, you may be sure.  My lights never went out till I quenched them myself. . . I love the lamps, the old lighthouse, and the work. They are the habit, the home, everything dear I have known for so long. I could not bear to see anyone else light my lamp. I would rather die here than live elsewhere.

(Her cousin, Vice-President “Smiler” Colfax, lacked Harriet’s stamina.  He died in 1885, of a heart attack brought on by exposure to extreme cold after walking three-quarters of a mile in January weather in Minnesota.)


lighthouse lantern(Harper’s Young People: An Illustrated Weekly, May 2, 1882)


Harriet Colfax’s job, of course, wasn’t all hardship.  Life on the lake had plenty of attractions.  In her journals, she described spectacular rainbows and eclipses of the moon over the water.  Winter’s icy grip brought impressive displays of the Northern Lights.  And she sometimes got leaves of absence.  In 1876, she visited the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Nor did she live by herself.  In the 1860’s, a friend of Harriet’s named Ann C. Hartwell moved into the station.  Born in Ontario in 1828, Ann had known Harriet back in upstate New York as  a child and, like her, moved out to Michigan City in the 1850’s.  A story, possibly folklore, about a dead lover being the reason why neither of the two women ever married made it into the Indianapolis Journal on December 21, 1884:

Harriet Colfax - Indianapolis Journal December 21 1884 (2)

Though they lived together as friends, Colfax and Hartwell worked side-by-side to keep the lanterns lit.  The bravery of the famous Ida Lewis, who kept Lime Rock Light in Newport, Rhode Island, stirred up a lot of public fascination — some of it annoying — about females in the Lifesaving Service and helped propel the two Michigan City women to local fame.  (They weren’t the only women involved with keeping the Hoosier coast safe, by the way.  Harriet C. Towner was Colfax’s successor from 1844 to 1853, and Mary Ryan was stationed at Calumet City, Indiana, from 1873 to 1880.)

When Colfax finally retired from her job in October 1904, she and Ann had to move out of the lighthouse, which was owned by the Lifesaving Service.  Separated from her old home, Ann’s mental and physical health immediately broke down.  On November 4, a report made it into the Jasper Weekly Courier in southern Indiana that she had gone insane from grief — and of course, love:

Ann Hartwell - Jasper Weekly Courier, November 4 1904

Ann died just a few months later, on January 22, 1905, aged 77.  John Hazen White, the Episcopal Bishop of Indiana, presided at her funeral at Michigan City’s Trinity Cathedral.  Harriet, also struck with grief at the loss of her home and long-time companion, passed away on April 16.  The two are buried next to each other at the Greenwood Cemetery.

Their names shine bright on the long list of women lighthouse keepers of the Great Lakes.  But lest you think that Harriet’s story is impressive, here’s one even better:  Kathleen Moore, keeper of the Black Rock Harbor Light on Long Island Sound in Connecticut, was credited with saving twenty-one lives.  She retired in 1878.  Claims about her age differ, but Moore was born sometime between 1795 and 1812, took up lighthouse keeping before she was a teenager, and died in 1899.  You do the math!


Harriet A Colfax - Chicago Daily Tribune October 2 1904

Harriet A Colfax - Chicago Daily Tribune October 2 1904 (3)

(Chicago Daily Tribune, October 2, 1904)

Harry L. Kramer and the Candy Cathartic

Cascarets ad 2

In the sometimes not-so-good old days, Hoosier newspapers were overflowing with ads for what today we’d call snake oil.  Before the Civil War, when these papers typically only ran to four pages and often lacked enough subscribers to stay afloat, vast amounts of newsprint went to work advertising spurious quack panaceas.  As late as 1900, editors in need of underwriters for the news had no qualms about giving ad space to “doctors” who thought that cocaine could cure a sore throat or that an effervescent ginger “summer drink” could get rid of your cholera.

Nor did the amount of medical ads diminish after the war.

From the turn of the century until World War I, a massive national advertising campaign directed at mothers and kids touted a tasty cure-all with roots in the Wabash Valley:  Kramer’s Cascarets, “The Candy Cathartic.”

Born in Keokuk, Iowa, in 1861, to parents who hailed from Richmond, Indiana, Harry Lewis Kramer was a clever businessman and one of the most energetic and revolutionary advertisers of his day.

In 1890, the 29-year-old entrepreneur, who lived in Attica in Fountain County, attracted investors and started up a health resort at a spot near the spectacular Fall Creek Gorge in neighboring Warren County.

Built around a mineral spring discovered in 1884 by Civil War veteran Samuel Story (a victim of severe arthritis who noticed his ailment getting better when he sloshed around in the mud), the lavish hotel Kramer constructed first went by the name Indiana Mineral Springs, then as the Hotel Mudlavia, after the soothing mud-baths offered there.  A service town that popped up next door to the resort took the name of its postmaster, Kramer, and is still on the map, though the hotel has faded into legend.


Harry L Kramer - Fair Play Sainte Genevieve Missouri September 17 1904

(Kramer made sure his face was all over small-town American newspapers.  This clip appeared in Fair Play in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, on September 17, 1904.  Printer’s Ink hailed Kramer as “a man of almost superhuman energy — a new Napoleon, perhaps. . . He writes his own advertisements, all of which are characterized by wonderful originality and a desire to get out of the beaten track.”)


Mudlavia Hotel 1

(Hotel Mudlavia near Williamsport, Indiana, around 1917.  This photo was taken by Anna Marie Landis, who worked at the famous resort.  Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library.)


Kramer’s sprawling Mudlavia health spa attracted the rich and famous — including boxing champion John L. Sullivan, Indianapolis poet James Whitcomb Riley, and Hoosier songwriter Paul Dresser. Papers lauded it at as “one of the finest sanatariums in the United States.”  Mudlavia ranked with the great mineral baths at French Lick, Indiana; Bedford, Pennsylvania; and Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The lure?  Not just nature — or the elaborate Chinese garden out back.  Pure mineral waters bubbling out of the Warren County hills offered relief from a vast array of bodily ailments.  Infusing water with mud, doctors and their assistants at Kramer’s resort offered a therapeutic “Magno-Mud” cure (sometimes misspelled “mango mud” in the papers), giving blissful relief to aching joints and muscles.  Kidneys and livers also went away from Mudlavia feeling much happier.


Mudlavia Hotel 2

(A guest at Mudlavia gets a mud bath, circa 1917.  An ad for Kramer’s chewing gum, “No-To-Bac,” hangs on the wall behind him.  Click to enlarge.  Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library.)


Closely tied to Kramer’s investment in this tranquil health spa in the luscious Hoosier woods was his other main business interest: a sugary substitute for the dreaded dose of castor oil once administered by American mothers everywhere.  This was Kramer’s nationally-famous “candy cathartic,” Cascarets.

Dozens of speedy and sure-fire purgatives feature in the annals of 19th-century medicine and journalism.  From a spoonful of old-fashioned castor oil itself to a gentler “Castoria” and a wide variety of sarsaparillas and “fig liver syrups,” our ancestors knew plenty of ways to achieve what they rightly saw as the highly-desirable result of these over-the-counter drugs:  a vigorous flush of the intestines.


warner's log cabin sarsaparilla

(Hoosiers William Henry Harrison and his grandson Benjamin Harrison appeared on this 1880’s ad for a cure-all wonderworker.)


I’m not sure if Kramer ever studied chemistry and medicine or just stuck to the business end of things.  But in the 1890s he made a fortune selling laxatives.  (The Attica entrepreneur also marketed a chewing gum called No-To-Bac, which claimed to help smokers kick the habit.)  Pioneered at a lab in Attica, by 1899 five million boxes of octagonal, chocolaty-tasting Cascarets were pouring out of Kramer’s factories in Chicago and New York.

“Cascaret Kramer” revolutionized American advertising, but he was no medical Napoleon.  Plant-based laxatives, used to flush out the bowels, had figured for millennia into folk medical practice.  The jolt to the nether regions customers got from these candy cathartics came from the drug’s most potent ingredient, the bark of a species of buckthorn tree — the cascara, native to the Pacific Northwest, northern California, and Idaho.  Early Spanish explorers called this diminutive tree the cascara sagrada (“sacred bark”).  Mixed with aloe and the roots of rhubarb, Native Americans on the Pacific Coast and in the Northern Rockies used it as a natural purgative.

By the late 1800s, trainloads of buckthorn bark were being shipped out of the Northwest to pharmaceutical companies around the world in quantities that endangered the tree’s survival.  Much of the bark went to the factories of the Sterling Remedy Company, Kramer’s wildly successful over-the-counter pharmaceutical enterprise.

Like other Americans,  Hoosiers were wild for a good clean-out.  Kramer helped create the craze.  On April 25, 1907, the Indianapolis News ran a full page-length ad (really a medical manifesto). “The Curse of Constipation” was almost certainly written by Harry Kramer.


Indianapolis News April 25 1907


Often Caused by Castor Oil and Salts

A Warning That All Should Read and Heed

Constipation is indeed the curse of mankind.  From a simple bit of carelessness this dreadful destroyer of life gets a hold on its victim and slowly but surely tortures him to a horrible death.

It is a fact that all people at some time or other become constipated, and if the warning be not instantly heeded, and the system put back into working order without delay, the victim is marked for death — a long, lingering one, often so disguised that no one would dream of its original cause.

It is also true that nearly every disease recorded by medical science has its beginning in constipation.  Yes, great learned men have said that if people would learn to keep their bowels in order there would be no disease.  Professor B. Howard Rand, the great professor of chemistry in the famous Jefferson Medical College, as a farewell advice to the newly graduating class of young doctors, always said “Trust in God and keep your patients’ bowels open!”

Going into amazing detail in the pages of the News, Kramer went on to describe how Cascarets “begin to cure the moment you begin to chew them.”  These buckthorn candies give “tone and strength” to the walls of the intestines and (so the ad went) help purify the blood, give “a ruddy complexion; bright eyes; clear, active brain; everything that makes life worth living.”  Kramer promoted his tablets as useful against ills far beyond those affecting the intestines.  Children’s diseases, headaches, nervous ailments, female complaints, skin diseases, appendicitis, oral thrush, and worms could all be kept in check or cured.

Some of the drug’s benefits were almost certainly mythic.  One of many printed endorsements ran: “After taking Cascarets for a few nights before writing, I was able to pass a tape-worm 24 feet in length.  Cascarets have our praise. . . — Mrs. Harry Wood, Kenneth, Indiana.”

Kramer sold his candy cathartic for a dime in handy, pocket-sized metal boxes.  “You don’t know until you try how much good is crowded into a little 10-cent box.”


Gunters Magazine Advertiser

(“Grandfather’s Cure for Constipation,” one of Kramer’s humorous ads, appeared in Gunter’s Magazine Advertiser in 1906.)


Cascarets - South Bend News Times November 20 1918

(Kramer’s clever marketing extended to kids, who often didn’t realize they were taking “medication” when they downed a sweet Cascaret.  “They are harmless and safe for the little folks.”  This ad from the South Bend News-Times on November 20, 1918, shows a “Kid’s Indignation Meeting.”  A marketing genius, Kramer often paid to have his ads run in the regular news columns of papers.)


South Bend News Times November 19 1918 (3)

(South Bend News-Times, November 19, 1918.)


Cascarets - South Bend News Times November 30 1918

(South Bend News-Times, November 30, 1918.)


Cascarets - Plymouth Tribune January 16 1908

(Plymouth Tribune, January 16, 1908.)


The name and popularity of the sugar-coated laxative became so widespread that it entered the popular vocabulary.  A polo team in Anderson, Indiana, took the name “Anderson Cascarets” around 1904.  In New York City, night-workers at banks began to be known as “Cascarets” because they “work while you sleep.”


Cascarets -- Lake County Times, April 5, 1920

(Lake County Times, Hammond, Indiana, April 5, 1920)


Cascarets ad 4


Kramer sold his product rights for the drug to the Sterling Remedy Company around 1918 so that he could focus on his health resort at Mudlavia.  (The company was then based in Wheeling, West Virginia.)

Tragically, on February 29, 1920, a fire in a linen closet reduced the vast wooden hotel to ashes.  Many sick patients at the sanitarium, unable to walk due to rheumatism, were barely able to get out alive.  Some guests jumped from third-story windows, then suffered in the February cold even as Mudlavia smoldered in front of them.  Over fifty-thousand dollars in jewels perished in the flames.

Harry Kramer planned to rebuild the hotel, but never did.  The advent of antibiotics and the coming of the Great Depression effectively ended the heyday of the great American health spas.  (The owners of the French Lick resort in southern Indiana sold it to the Jesuits for use as a school in the 1930s for $1.00.)

Kramer retired to 1012 Ferry Street in Lafayette and died of a heart attack in 1935, apparently while visiting the license branch of the Tippecanoe County DMV.  The inventor of Cascarets is buried at Lafayette’s Greenbush Cemetery.

A retirement home and restaurant were built on the site of Mudlavia.  They, too, burned down in 1974.  (Some ghost hunters claim the site is haunted.)  As late as 2008, the natural spring that once made this place famous was still being tapped by an Indianapolis-based mineral water company.  The FDA banned the use of cascara bark in 2008, when researchers discovered the plant has carcinogenic properties and (ironically enough) may contribute to liver ailments.

Harry L Kramer at Mudlavia

(Kramer in his office at Mudlavia around 1917.)


Mudlavia Hotel 7

(Mudlavia Hotel, Attica, Indiana.  Allen County Public Library.)


staylor336 [at] gmail.com