All posts by Brock Stafford

“The Woman’s Kingdom”: Hoosier Journalists in the Suffrage Movement

The American fight for women’s suffrage pre-dated the Civil War by over a decade, yet the struggle continued well into the 20th century.  Both national and local suffrage groups utilized varying strategies to push for women’s right to vote, and it was the combination of tactics at both the national and state level that finally achieved universal suffrage through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. By this time, however, early leaders in the Suffrage Movement of the United States had passed, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and a new generation of leaders had taken up the torch.

In Indiana, several women pursued careers in journalism as a way to promote their cause, and their contributions are still visible in the newspapers of Hoosier State Chronicles. Three of these women, Ida Husted Harper, Mary Hannah Krout, and Esther Griffin White, represent Hoosier journalists with prestigious careers in education, non-fiction writing, and politics. Their articles and columns for newspapers like Terre Haute’s Saturday Evening Mail and Gazette, The Crawfordsville Journal, and the Richmond Palladium paint a picture of women moving beyond writing under pseudonyms while delving into issues of voting, cultural expectations, social norms, and the world outside of Indiana.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

 

Ida Husted Harper

The earliest of the three women, Ida Husted Harper, would be considered fairly conservative by modern viewers in her approach to suffrage, but her influence on the movement was certainly the most pronounced. A friend and frequent collaborator with Susan B. Anthony, Harper may be best known for her role as historian of the Suffrage Movement and biographer of Anthony, but her newspaper career in Terre Haute and other cities throughout the country was equally notable.

Born Ida Husted, she spent her part of her childhood in Franklin County, eventually moving to and attending high school in Muncie. She briefly attended Indiana University before taking a position as principal and educator in the City of Peru. She married Thomas Harper in 1871, and relocated for his career in law to Terre Haute, effectively ending her career in education. This change ended up being fortuitous, as her new social connections in Terre Haute brought her into communications with notable Hoosier politician and Terre Haute native, Eugene V. Debs. According to Indiana 200, Debs served in politics at the same time as Ida’s husband, Thomas. Debs was also heavily involved in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, (a civic organization advocating for improvements in the lives of railroad workers), taking a leadership role in the organization and as editor of their magazine, The Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine. At Debs’s urging, Harper became an editor of their “Woman’s Department” section of the magazine for nearly ten years. [i] [ii]

Excerpt from the “Woman’s Department” section in the February 1889 Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine, (volume 13), digitized by Google books, provided by the Hathi Trust via Cornell University

 

Harper also began writing for the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail in the early 1870s. Her early columns focused on various topics, from art to religion to social norms. Throughout her career, her columns eschewed conservatism and refinement, both in advocacy roles and in domestic spheres. For instance, one 1911 interview with Harper, published in the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegraph, decries the influence of immodest clothing as extremely detrimental to the cause of suffrage, stating, “nothing has done so much harm to suffrage in the last fifty years as the way women have dressed themselves in the last year or two.”[iii] This progressive duality was also displayed in another article in 1882, stating both that “nothing is impossible to a sensible, energetic, determined woman” but that “women have no love stronger than that of home, no ambition greater than to be a perfect housekeeper.”[iv]

However, she often wrote on cultural elevation for women, encouraging education and endeavors beyond the home.[v]  An article in 1878 focused on the importance of women seeking to better themselves, either with or without the support of their husbands:

Reading, writing and good society have a refining and elevating influence upon a woman. They lift her up from the household drudge, and make her the equal and companion of her husband (and frequently his superior). A woman who never reads, writes, or goes out into company must expect to detoriate. One who writes has, perhaps, the hardest time. She must expect to do like Harriet Beecher Stowe, who, ‘it is said, wrote the best pages of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “while watching the pot boil for dinner and trying to amuse the little children clinging to her skirts.”[vi]

“A Woman’s Opinions” was published for nearly twenty years during Harper’s time in Terre Haute. Harper briefly became the editor of the Terre Haute Daily News early in 1890, following her divorce from Thomas, but left the city and job within months of starting.[vii] Moving to Indianapolis, she began writing for the Indianapolis News, which she continued throughout the next few decades as a correspondence journalist.

However, it was the connection to Debs that led Harper to one of the most productive relationships in her career and her development in the Suffrage Movement. In 1878, Debs brought Susan B. Anthony to Terre Haute for a speaking engagement, which was the first occasion Anthony and Harper met. The two continued their professional relationship in the Suffrage Movement, but also became personal friends. It was Harper who wrote both volumes of Susan B. Anthony’s biography, and the two would co-write portions of the History of Woman Suffrage, (though the final two volumes would not be completed by Harper until after Anthony’s death and the passage of the 19th Amendment).

Harper became increasingly involved in statewide efforts towards suffrage, eventually becoming a leader in the National American Woman Suffrage Association and an International Council of Women representative at both the London and Berlin conferences. She also frequently appeared as a guest writer for papers throughout the country due to her prominence in the Suffrage Movement. Columns written by Harper appeared primarily in the areas in which she lived, including newspapers in Indiana, California, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as magazines like Harper’s Bazaar. She remained active in the field of women’s rights as an advocate, even after the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.

 

Mary Hannah Krout

While Ida Husted Harper became primarily known for her work throughout the nation, Mary Hannah Krout was best known for her travels outside of the continental United States. A contemporary of Harper, Krout was born and raised in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Krout was mentioned in a previous Hoosier State Chronicles blog post, but her influence in the newspaper and publishing world extended beyond her contributions in Indiana. Beginning in her teen years, Krout was an avid poet and writer. “Little Brown Hands” received wide circulation throughout the community and the United States, as did many of her other poems of lesser fame.[viii] Not only did she excel in poetry early on, but she also became known as a public speaker in the Crawfordsville area by her mid-teens. Additionally, her sister Caroline Virginia Krout followed her lead, writing for local papers as “Caroline Brown” and writing four books.

Krout also had the support of a benefactor and family friend: Susan Wallace, herself a writer and wife of Lew Wallace, famed author of Ben-Hur. In one article from the Cincinnati Gazette about Lew Wallace, Krout made sure to highlight the efforts of Susan:

General Wallace has been peculiarly fortunate in his marriage. His wife is a woman of rare mind and character. There is no doubt but that much of his success is due to her faith in his genius and to her intelligent sympathy; she has been a careful and discriminating critic, aiding him continually in his literary work.[ix]

Wallace’s and Krout’s friendship and collaboration continued throughout the years, and it was Krout that assisted Susan Wallace in completing and editing Lew Wallace’s autobiography after his death in 1906.

Krout’s newspaper work began with a column at the Crawfordsville Journal and periodical writing at the Indianapolis Herald, both under pen names.[x] She shifted to writing under her own name by the 1880s, taking positions as associate editor at the Crawfordsville Journal in 1883, as well as writing and editing the “After Breakfast Chat” column for the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette. Eventually, Krout moved to Chicago and took a position at the Chicago Inter-Ocean in 1887. It was during her time writing the “Woman’s Kingdom” column that Krout gained publicity for her international travels and perspectives on social issues affecting women. Krout’s travels to the Hawaiian Islands resulted in several books, not only about the territory, but about the end of the monarchy of Queen Liliʻuokalani, (whose rule Krout originally supported, before eventually shifting her opinion to American rule).

She also traveled to London, where she often discussed the social role of women in England for the Inter-Ocean. This article below argues for the equivalent of Knighthood for women in service to the Queen:

“Women Are Ignored”, The Inter Ocean, June 28th, 1897, p. 10. Newspapers.com (Subscription Required)

Her time abroad helped to inspire seven books relating to her travels, including A Looker On in London and Two Girls in China. While she continued writing columns for newspapers, her career shifted to speaking engagements about her travels and views on women’s rights. One speech in Chicago, published in the Crawfordsville Daily Journal in 1897, discussed her views on women’s voting:

Two years ago a woman living in one of the suburbs drove up to the polls and held the horses while her coachman, who could not read or write, went in and voted, and she was paying taxes on $1,000,000 worth of property… The husband who represents the woman must represent her always before the law. When he votes for her, if she violates the law… he should be made to represent her as he did at the polls, unless the men of this country will admit that they don’t represent women in everything. I think in time they will say: “God-speed to equal suffrage; let the woman vote for herself.”[xi]

Her chastisements were not only directed towards men, but also women who overly criticized other women in the cause:

It becomes necessary on occasion for a woman to speak sharply, sternly, unflatteringly; but this can be done only by those who desire for their sister women the highest excellence they are capable of achieving, and the greatest good they are capable of attaining- a right of censorship that they have humbly endeavored to earn by disinterested affection, and by constant and unquestionable sympathy.[xii]

Equity in education was also important to Krout. Like Harper, she too served as a school teacher for several years, and even unsuccessfully applied as a student to Wabash College. One article from 1894 even credited the early effort into the “admittance” of a woman to attend classes at Wabash that year, (despite her efforts and what the article dubbed “the inevitable,” Wabash College still only admits men today):

Article from Crawfordsville Daily Journal, September 19th, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles

While Krout was apparently not involved in national suffrage organizations, she was involved in Chicago press associations throughout her time in the city, including a Women’s Press Association. Her international reporting into the challenges faced by women in London, her public speeches throughout the United States, and bold reporting in newspapers in Crawfordsville, Indianapolis, and Chicago provided an active female voice in the news.

 

Esther Griffin White

While the western half of the state was influenced by the writings of Krout and Harper throughout the late 19th century, the early part of the 20th saw a rise of women’s political discourse in Richmond due to the work of art columnist Esther Griffin White. White wrote for the Richmond Palladium, and also pursued her own interests through an infrequent, self-published newspaper, referred to as The Little Paper.[xiii] In the 1910s and 20s, White sought political offices within Indiana.

Born to a Quaker family from Richmond, White was influenced at an early age by Mary F. Thomas, the first woman admitted to the Wayne County Medical Association and an early suffragist, and Louise Vickroy Boyd, an author, poet, and advocate for women’s rights.[xiv] Alongside these role models stood her family, an eccentric mix of educators and journalists, who likely influenced White’s own non-conformity. George Blakey details her public persona in his profile of White for the Indiana Magazine of History:

As early as 1915 she smoked publicly and criticized those who disapproved. Her fashion sense was either a step ahead or behind contemporary styles; her skirts were either shorter or longer and her hats larger or smaller than those worn by other women of the time. She often affected a masculine look, abetted by a cane carried in the manner of a swagger stick… Her opinions were firm, her wit caustic, her temper volatile; she demanded cooperation, favors, and applause, yet her self-conscious detachment made her appear aloof and unfriendly. Many people found her temperament endearing or considered it a reflection of her high standards and ambition. Others, less charitable, regarded her as rude, profane, and condescending.[xv]

Yet, this bold, (and slightly antagonistic), style carried over to her impressive writing career. In the late 1880s, White began her career with little formal secondary education, but gained experience through self-determined freelance jobs for multiple newspapers in Richmond, (a trend, Blakey contends, that continued for most of her career due to her adversarial writing style). Despite her reputation for dogged and direct journalism, her time at the Richmond Palladium began as a critic of arts and culture. An active member of the city’s arts community, White was as comfortable directing an orchestra as she was composing a poem:

This arts section of the Richmond Palladium displays White’s poetry (above) and directing skills (below). Richmond Palladium (Daily), December 5th, 1914, p.8. Hoosier State Chronicles

Her ability to passionately advocate for issues, particularly of women’s suffrage and African-American rights, are also prevalent in her articles, even when critical to approaches in the movements:

Richmond Palladium, September 27th, 1912, p. 7. Hoosier State Chronicles

“Revolution Not Evolution” urged an understanding of gaining and earning credibility for social reform through smaller gains and changes, rather than a dramatic and sudden shift in culture. Underlying this, however, is her critique of the Women’s Temperance Union, whose “personal crusade against the liquor traffic” missed the mark by trying to do too much all at once, rather than making manageable changes to society.

Richmond Palladium (Daily), September 13th, 1912, p. 6. Hoosier State Chronicles

In “Are They Sincere?,” White strongly advocates for the franchise of women in their roles as leaders and workers, but critiques anti-suffrage proponents as lacking motivation and merit.

By the end of the 1910s, White’s desire to affect change in the lives of women focused on action, rather than writing.  Joining the Women’s Franchise League, a local competitor of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, White became a fervent advocate of the movement in various campaigns throughout the state. However, her desire to seek greater political and social representation of women led her to run for a delegate seat at the 1920 Republican Convention. Despite strong opposition and no publicity in either the papers or political correspondence, a judge allowed White to appear on the ballot for the convention, making her the first woman to appear on a political ballot in Indiana history. She was eventually elected a delegate for the convention, receiving the second most votes in Richmond. Unfortunately, despite several campaigns for the position of Mayor of Richmond and a run for a 1926 seat in the US House of Representatives, White was never elected to office. By the 1930s, with her career in both newspapers and politics waning, Griffin’s social presence greatly relied on her connection to the Hoosier artists she befriended and lauded throughout the years rather than her contributions to social rights and political activism. Her collection of art and writings were left to Earlham College in Richmond, which recently featured an exhibit on her life and career.

 

Conclusion

Each of the women engaged in varying degrees of activism, and each reached a level of success within the field that was rare for the time. They were also dramatically different in how they approached the question of social equity and equality. For instance, White’s brash, politically-charged style certainly did not mesh with Ida Husted Harper’s conservative and restrained leadership, but both were heavily involved with local and international organizations. Mary Hannah Krout travelled the world and brought perspectives of women in London to the people of America, unlike the localized reporting of White, but Krout’s advocacy was much less formal. Though all three were involved in newspaper reporting at roughly the same time, Hoosier State Chronicles staff was unable to find evidence of these women crossing paths.[xvi]

However, their stories share more similarities than differences. All three women sought higher education at a time where women were limited in access. All three started off writing under assumed names to get their start in a male-dominated sphere of newspapers, and all three ended up writing for prominent organizations through their abilities and unique voices. Each had ambitions beyond their craft of journalism, and gave back to their communities through books, arts, and poetry. Most importantly, all three women gained the right to vote within their lifetimes.

The power of local newspapers gives voice to a community that may be minimized in national papers allow individuals to share lived experiences and opinions in a semi-permanent format. Through Hoosier State Chronicles, the public has widespread access to these stories and we are now able to connect the local stories to the larger narrative of suffrage in America. In this, we are highlighting the local individuals who fought for early 20th century women’s rights, extending far beyond the voting booth into political offices, employment, and acceptance in male-dominated spaces. More than that, digital newspapers allow us to better represent contemporary histories from communities throughout the state and country, bringing a better understanding of our shared past.

With the centennial of the 19th Amendment approaching, projects like the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial and the 2020 Hoosier Women at Work History Conference seek to bring these stories to the forefront. We encourage researchers to utilize Hoosier State Chronicles to uncover other Indiana women who helped shape the movement, and present their findings through these projects.

[i] Harper also published for the magazine under the name “John Smith”, according to the Jan 18, 2015 edition of “Historical Perspectives” in the Terre Haute Tribune Star: https://www.tribstar.com/features/history/historical-perspective-ida-harper-and-lenore-cox-among-local-suffrage/article_11864449-5a7f-584a-b8cf-602739e999b4.html

[ii] Leigh Darbee’s brief biography of Harper in Indiana 200 suggests Thomas Harper opposed his wife’s writing on the basis of being paid, which was considered inappropriate for a married woman at the time.

[iii] “Immodest and Freakish Clothes are Deplored by Women as Bar to Suffrage”, Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, November 22, 1911, p. 4. Hoosier State Chronicles

[iv] “A Woman’s Opinions: Cooking” from the Saturday Evening Mail, November 11th, 1882, p. 1. Hoosier State Chronicles

[v] Harper was a strong advocate for the education of women. She attended private schools as a child, briefly attended Indiana University in Bloomington before becoming a teacher and principal, and supported her daughter’s education with May Wright Sewell at the Girl’s Classical School in Indianapolis and at Stanford University in California.

[vi] “A Woman’s Opinions” from The Saturday Evening Mail, November 9th, 1878, p. 1. Hoosier State Chronicles

[vii] See endnote ii. The cause of the divorce is unknown, but her status as an advocate and public figure over the objections of her husband, a lawyer in the community, may have contributed to the end of their marriage.

[viii] An article from the Honolulu Times on February 1, 1911, (found on the Library of Congress Chronicling America website), discusses the process of writing the “Little Brown Hands”, as well as a complete copy of the poem: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85047211/1911-02-01/ed-1/seq-9.pdf

[ix] “The Author of Ben-Hur”, Date Unknown. Originally published in The Cincinnati Gazette, clipping part of the “Mary Hanna(h) Krout” collection at the Indiana State Library (L80)

[x] Author Kenneth Turchi noted in a 2013 speech to the Indianapolis Literary Club that Krout’s wrote under the names “Ben Offield” for the Herald and “Mynheer Heinrich Karl” for the Journal, backed up by the prodigious scrapbook of articles by these authors in her personal papers at the Indiana State Library. The collection of newspaper clippings alongside articles under these pen names may suggest she may have written under other pseudonyms not currently credited to her.

[xi] Crawfordsville Daily Journal, November 20, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles

[xii] The Inter-Ocean, June 28th, 1897, from Newspapers.com (Subscription required)

[xiii] Quite a few of the editions of The Little Paper still exist within personal papers of White within the special collections of Earlham University.

[xiv] For more information on Mary F. Thomas early role in women’s suffrage, read “A Public “Jollification”: The 1859 Women’s Rights Petition before the Indiana Legislature” from The Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 72, Issue 4, December 1976. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/9961

[xv] Blakey, George. “Esther Griffin White: An Awakener of Hoosier Potential,” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 86, No. 3 (September 1990), pp. 284, 286. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/11072

[xvi] There may be evidence of some of the women attending Chautauquas in Richmond, which were educational and social events designed to feature intellectual ideas and figures.

A special thank you to the Vigo County Library and Earlham College for information in preparing this blog post.

“You Will Know You Are At The Right Place”: The Innovative Care of the National Surgical Institute of Indianapolis

Advertisement for the National Surgical Institute, Indianapolis News, May, 26, 1887. Hoosier State Chronicles

During the latter half of the 1800s, Indianapolis was served by one of the best surgical institutions in the country. Dr. Horace R. Allen and his team at the National Surgical Institute focused on improving the lives and medical methods for the treatment of individuals with physical disabilities and orthopedic challenges. Originally founded in Charleston, IL in 1858, the institute grew when they moved their operation to the much larger city of Indianapolis in 1869. For nearly forty years, the organization drew patients from throughout the country to receive specialized treatment while also serving the emergency medical needs of the industrialized city, eventually expanding to other sites throughout the country. A tragedy cut short the mission of the Indianapolis location, but their efforts to improve the lives of the public changed the medical landscape and opportunities for the citizens of Indiana.

Physical deformations and muscular/skeletal damage are a major part of our modern culture, and pain relief resulting from these issues has become a major industry. The rise of prescription medicine usage to treat these conditions, particularly opioids, had led to serious questions about appropriate ways to treat pain. Alternative care, such as chiropractic treatments, orthotics, and physical therapy are now commonplace for both the general public and athletes. Congenital issues like cleft palates and club feet are rare in adults or teenagers in America, often being treated relatively soon after birth with surgery. Even when adults suffer from issues like rheumatoid arthritis, modern medicine can often prevent the characteristic deformity of hands and other joints.

This was not always the case. In the mid-19th century, surgeries were still experimental in many fields and fatalities were high. One Washington Post article describes some of the challenges from medical care at the time, including untrained physicians, poor hygiene, and limited pain relief or anesthesia. Sadly, this often meant a lifetime of pain and isolation for individuals with these conditions.[i]  An article from Collector’s Weekly in 2015 addressed the prevailing attitudes of the mid-1800s for individuals living with deformities, including the attempts of society to “fix,” ignore, mock, and experiment on this population.

The National Surgical Institute of Indianapolis, and its founders Dr. Horace R. Allan and Dr. W.P. Johnson, attempted to change both conditions and attitudes. They believed orthopedic surgery was a specialty that many family physicians and other surgeons didn’t understand fully, and that treatments were often ineffective due to improper equipment and training. An 1885 pamphlet from the organization articulates the purpose for founding this organization:

Upon arriving in Indianapolis in June of 1869, the Institute settled on the corner of Illinois and Georgia Streets in the former “Farmers’ Hotel” building. Upon reaching Indianapolis, they partnered with Dr. Charles L. Wilson, a specialist in ear and eye care, as well as other specialized physicians in the city. Dr. Allen became the face of the organization, and often took the lead in administrative matters.

Early Advertisement for the Indianapolis location, Daily State Sentinel, October 5, 1869, Hoosier State Chronicles

 

The first medical emergency handled at the new location was the Sinker-Davis boiler accident at the State Fair Grounds, which were located at 19th and Alabama Streets at the time.  The sudden explosion of a boiler during a steam-powered saw-mill demonstration on October 1, 1869 killed between twenty and thirty individuals and injured many more. The Institute took in a large number of those affected by the accident and offered care for free, a practice that continued throughout their time in the city.

“A Terrible Calamity”, Daily State Sentinel, October 2, 1869, Hoosier State Chronicles

 

In fact, the Surgical Institute frequently treated patients for accidents and injuries due to their central location in the city, as many other hospitals were further from the city center. This was particularly important in a period of rapid industrialization, when workplace accidents were common, often resulting in major injuries, amputations, or death.

Article citing some of the benefits of the National Surgical Institute, The Indianapolis News, September 1, 1874. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

While the institute often served the public in general care or emergency cases, the National Surgical Institute specialized in the treatment of individuals with physical deformities. More than that, as many of their promotional materials suggest, they sought to remove some of the concerns that prevented individuals from seeking care, such as trustworthiness, cost, and convenience, for their patients. Trustworthiness was of prime importance due to the prevalence of under-trained doctors or skeptics of the profession. This excerpt from their 1876 self-published trade book explains the qualifications of the organization:

In the treatment of ordinary fevers and diseases of the country, your physician would doubtless excel us; but with Institutions of original and most approved character, with ample means and every conceivable apparatus and facility, and with varied and valuable experience of having treated over thirty thousand cases, we do not consider ourselves vain or boastful in saying that it is in our power to excel, and effect cures impossible to them.

Illustration of the National Surgical Institute display case at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, from a promotional pamphlet, 1885

 

The Surgical Institute often focused on changing body mechanics to strengthen and utilize areas that may suffer from deformation to help overcome limitations, rather than focusing on drug usage or unnecessary surgeries.[ii] Techniques utilizing atmospheric pressure were often applied to stimulate areas where muscle loss or minimal movement existed previously. They treated everything from spina bifida, to club feet, to rheumatoid arthritis. According to “The History of Indianapolis and Marion County,” Dr. Allen’s “mechanical surgery” treatment methods were adapted in England. The technology he developed even won an award for “Instruments of Medicine, Surgery, Etc.” at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. However, newspapers of the time rarely covered the stories of therapeutic treatment, other than to say that patients were treated by the National Surgical Institute.

The success of the organization in Indianapolis led to the development of other locations in the country. By 1875, the organization expanded to three other locations in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Initially, sharing news of the Institute was difficult due to restrictions on taking out advertisements about medical treatments. However, heavy promotion in the 1870s, as well as direct promotion to potential patients, brought in many individuals. Rival surgical institutes began springing up throughout the country during the 1880s and ‘90s, including organizations in Terre Haute, Louisville, Champaign, Chicago, and Buffalo, all of whom sought publicity in Indiana newspapers:

German advertisement for a competing surgical institute in Buffalo, NY, Indiana Tribüne, February 13, 1886. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

This is not to say the Institute was beyond scrutiny. Several individuals reported patients on the sidewalks in front of the institute and were characterized as “advertisement” for the institute.  By the early 1890s, the NSI was still performing many successful surgeries, but a series of troubling incidents occurred with the building, including several small fires and the collapse of a chimney in 1891:

In an article discussing building failures in the early 1890s, the Surgical Institute was highlighted,
The Indianapolis News, June 26, 1891, Hoosier State Chronicles

 

This event was not isolated, and clearly there were issues with the safety of the building, despite assurances of safety from the owners. Unfortunately, a horrific fire in January of 1892 proved to be fatal, killing nearly twenty individuals and injuring several more. The Indiana State Sentinel, which had previously written glowing reviews of the Institute, was one of the local newspapers that called the building a “deathtrap” and suggested the building should have been condemned. Many blamed Drs. Allen and Wilson for allowing improper living conditions, but both were absolved from responsibility for the fire by the coroner a month later, (although not a popular decision at the time, as the deputy coroner resigned his post following the decision).

In March, Allen suggested he was considering moving the Institute out of Indianapolis in a letter to the Commercial Club, covered by the Indianapolis Journal. The letter indicated the weight that financial difficulties and public scrutiny from the fire put on Dr. Allen, and he did not feel supported in rebuilding the Institute in Indianapolis.[iii] Yet, by mid-May, plans for a new building were drawn up to be built on the corner of Ohio and Tennessee Streets (Capitol Avenue), directly across from the Indiana Statehouse. Dr. Wilson left the Institute by 1893 to start his own competing surgical institute in town, leaving Dr. Allen as the sole proprietor.

Image of the H.R. Allen National Surgical Institute on the corner of Ohio St and Capitol Ave, The Indianapolis News, December 6, 1894. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Renaming themselves the “H.R. Allen National Surgical Institute,” the organization continued on for a few more years under the control of Dr. Allen. However, the financial strain on the organization led to the eventual closure of the Institute by 1898. The building was sold, eventually becoming the Imperial Hotel. Dr. Allen passed away two years later in Chicago, and is buried in Crown Hill cemetery in Indianapolis.

Despite the sad ending to the National Surgical Institute, tens of thousands of individuals were bettered by the work of the organization. Being at the center of a major city allowed them to be connected to the needs of the public in the area and convenient to people travelling for treatment. The prominence of this organization may have helped inspire the boom of surgical institutes throughout America in the 1880s and ‘90s, offering a new level of care and supporting the work of specialized care for difficult-to-treat conditions, as well as treating serious accidents. Most importantly, the National Surgical Institute placed patient interests at the forefront of their mission and goals, and sought to serve them with innovative care.

 

Works Referenced

Hix, Lisa. “Healing Spas and Ugly Clubs: How Victorians Taught Us to Treat People With Disabilities” from Collector’s Weekly, July 21st, 2015. Website, accessed on 03/04/2019. https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/healing-spas-and-ugly-clubs-how-victorians-taught-us-to-treat-people-with-disabilities/

Imperial Hotel, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1907. (Postcard) From the Joan Hostetler Collection of Indiana Album, accessed on 03/07/2019, https://indianaalbum.pastperfectonline.com/photo/1C3EE72F-8329-4BFC-BFB0-914722026138  

List of awards made by the United States Centennial commission to the American exhibitors, International exhibition 1876, at Philadelphia. (S.T. Souder & Company, Philadelphia, 1876). Accessed from Archive.com via Library of Congress, 03/04/2019, https://archive.org/details/listofawardsmade00unit/page/112.

National Surgical Institute (National Surgical Institute (publisher), Indianapolis, IN, 1876), p 39. Accessed from the U.S. National Library of Medicine Digital Collection, 02/12/2019. https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-66811200R-bk

Sarner, Moya. “Back pain: how to live with one of the world’s biggest health problems” from The Guardian, June 14, 2018. Website, accessed 03/04/2018, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/14/back-pain-how-to-live-with-one-of-the-worlds-biggest-health-problems

Stone, Will. “Patients With Chronic Pain Feel Caught In An Opioid Prescribing Debate” from NPR (National Public Radio). Website, Accessed 03/04/2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/07/08/622729300/patients-with-chronic-pain-feel-caught-in-an-opioid-prescribing-debate

Sulgrove, B.R. History of Indianapolis and Marion County. (L. H Everts & Co.: Philadelphia, 1884)

The National Surgical Institute. Pamphlet, 1885. From the U.S. National Library of Medicine Digital Collection, accessed on 03/06/2019. https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/ext/dw/101532257/PDF/101532257.pdf

[i] Three previous Indiana History Blog articles, one focusing on Central State Hospital physician Dr. Sarah Stockton and a two-part article on Civil War surgeon and hospital designer, John Shaw Billings, help provide some context for medical conditions during and following the Civil War.

[ii] In fact, the Institute even suggested that they could cure opium addiction in the January 25, 1878 edition of the Indianapolis News. No details were provided of the treatment method, nor were there successful cases mentioned, but patients who attempted the cure were assured of “no charge” if it didn’t succeed.

[iii] For more information on the fire and the immediate reaction in the newspapers, read Libby Cierzniak’s Historic Indianapolis article, “Indianapolis Collected: After the Fire”.

The Politics of Publicity: Mayor “Lew” Shank and the Power of the Press

Social media today disseminates news faster than any other time in history. Our contemporary political atmosphere, dominated by the 24/7 news cycle and social media, often churns through stories faster than bills can be drafted and carefully-worded messages honed. One article from Mashable, entitled “The Future of Social Media and Politics”, examined how important social media outlets are to current grassroots campaigns and shaping political influence through direct communication with candidates. Another article, this time from The Atlantic, examines how charisma influences our perceptions of leaders and in what standing we hold them in.

These strategies, while utilizing the most up-to-date technology, are not new. The rise of John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon was as much a response to his policies as it was his appearance in the first televised debates. The charismatic and good-looking Kennedy swayed many followers away from the established politician Nixon, and helped to shift the public perception on his ability to lead the country.[1] The power of messaging and personality is certainly a powerful tool in getting many leaders elected and crafting their image once in office.

Politics in Indiana during the first part of the 20th century was serious business. It was often dominated by political machines, the Ku Klux Klan, and larger-than-life political figures. However, two-time Republican Indianapolis mayor Samuel Lewis Shank, had no interest in either machine politics or joining the Klan. “Lew,” as he was called, did, however, like the idea of being a larger-than-life politician. Particularly during his first term as mayor, he frequently used the media as an outlet for showy political stunts and self-promotions. While he garnered a reputation as a colorful and outspoken figure, his well-covered tactics were not enough for him to go down in Indiana history as a masterful politician. Indeed, he resigned in late November 1913 with one month left of his mayoral term and was not elected to another political position for nearly a decade before one more stint as mayor.

The popularity of Lew Shank derived from the crafted image of his plainspoken nature, and the fact that he presented himself as the common man. This folksy-geniality endeared himself to the public, and the papers, for years. His career in auctioneering (which continued during both terms as mayor) and time on the stage as a vaudeville performer also provided him the skills to captivate crowds with outrageous stories. The unusual press Shank received during his years in politics, as demonstrated in Hoosier State Chronicles, certainly kept his name in the headlines, for better or worse.

The Indianapolis Journal, May 14th, 1904, p 15. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Indianapolis Journal, June 27, 1903. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Despite these somewhat unusual headlines, Shank was serious about politics. Shank’s political aspirations began at the age of eighteen. Shank attempted a campaign to become city councilor but was defeated. Undaunted, Shank mounted an ambitious campaign to not only raise his political profile, but also capture the seat of county recorder, wherein he was responsible for maintaining legal documents and records. This campaign included taking out self-promotional advertisements in local papers, partnering with companies to produce objects with his name imprinted on them, (like cigars and chewing gum), and engaging in several publicity stunts. These tactics not only won him the seat of county recorder, but also raised his popularity in local and national papers.

Example of Shank’s self-promotional use of advertisements. Indianapolis News, October 27th, 1902, p.12. Hoosier State Chronicles
Omaha Daily Bee, December 7th, 1902, p.15. Chronicling America 

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 23rd, 1902, p. 44. Newspapers.com

 

Although a long shot (even for the Republican nomination spot), Shank was able to turn his success as county recorder into a viable campaign for mayor of Indianapolis in 1909. Edging out the favored Republican nominee and then his Democratic opponent, Shank won nine of fifteen wards of Indianapolis with a total of 1,625 votes. [2] Yet he was not above resorting to dishonest tactics to win. Shank recalled to the New-York Tribune in 1912 that he gained an advantage in the mayoral election with the African-American community by stating that his political opponent removed his daughter from an integrated school. He openly admitted lying—his opponent had no daughters at all. [3]

Once arriving in office, Shank had a great deal to prove to the citizens of Indianapolis and within his own party. He relied on theatrics and courted the media. One such effort included the enforcement of saloon laws in Indianapolis, particularly laws which prevented the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Shank, of course, handled the issue with his own particular brand of showmanship. Indeed, he insisted that Indianapolis saloon keepers’ licenses were revoked until they sat through a Sunday church service, among other requirements:

The Greenfield Republican, Greenfield, Indiana. February 3rd, 1910. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Shank again entered the spotlight with his “High Cost of Living” campaign, a reaction to food pricing throughout the state. Shank, believing the mark-up of food to be excessive, went straight to the suppliers, purchased sundries, and then sold the products to the public at cost on the steps of the State Capitol building. What many could see as a cheap publicity stunt proved to be a boon to Shank’s popularity and actually led to lower prices of groceries in Indianapolis.

The Lake County Times (Hammond Times), Hammond, IN. January 27th, 1912. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

The San Francisco Call, San Francisco, CA, September 30, 1911. Chronicling America

 

The Day Book, Chicago, IL. December 23rd, 1911, Image 11. Chronicling America

 

However, his flashier tactics could not resolve the streetcar strikes in November of 1913, which ultimately led to his downfall. The Indianapolis Traction and Terminal employees began a wage and benefit strike. On November 2, the company president brought in strikebreakers, which led to open warfare. A violent clash between strikebreakers and striking workers led to injuries and two deaths. The owners of the line called in strike-breakers to get the lines running again, and requested help from the Indianapolis police department to protect the company men. Due to disagreements between Shank, the police chief, and officers, law enforcement did not provide an adequate response. This did not aid Shank’s standing for many in the city.

Collection of articles about the police situation, Indianapolis Star, November 27, 2013, p 8. Newspapers.com

 

Eventually, after threats of impeachment and another impending strike, Shank resigned his job as mayor, one month short of the end of his term. It is possible this too was a publicity stunt, as he had already signed a contract for, as the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis notes, “the vaudeville circuit with a monologue about his time as mayor.” It would be nearly nine years until Shank would be elected again to public office, and his exit was met with a generally negative response:

The Lake County Times, November 29, 1913, p 1. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

Opinion piece from The Lake County Times, December 1, 1913, p 4. Hoosier State Chronicles

 

During his second stint as mayor of Indianapolis in the early 1920s, he actively opposed the Klan through such methods as banning masked parades and burning crosses. [4] Although easily defeated, he ran in the Republican primary for governor in 1923 against the Klan-backed nominee (and eventual winner), Ed Jackson, in an effort to stem the statewide power of the Klan. Despite his non-traditional career path and aspirations for higher office, Shank’s rise in politics, led by his ability to capture media attention, was an improbable example of both the powers and limits of charismatic politics.


[1] For more information about the Nixon-Kennedy debates, see Time magazine’s article, “How the Nixon-Kennedy Debate Changed the World”

[2] The Indianapolis News, Wednesday Evening edition, November 3, 1909, p. 1.

[3] “Mayor Shank Tells How a Brace of Imaginary Daughters Helped Elect Him”, The New-York Tribune, February 25, 1912, p. 19. Accessed February 2, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/467701598/

[4] “Samuel Lewis (Lew) Shank,” Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, edited by David J. Bodenhamer and Robert G. Barrows, (Bloomington:  Indiana University Press, 1994), 880.