All posts by Stephanie Riley

“Indiana’s Literature: The State in the Republic of Letters”

The Indiana State Sentinel - November 27, 1889 - Page 4Between 1880 and 1920, Indiana produced authors such as James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, and Meredith Nicholson. This period became known as the Golden Age of Literature in Indiana. However, as J. W. Carr points out in his Indiana State Sentinel newspaper article, “Indiana’s Literature: The State in the Republic of Letters,” Indiana was the birthplace and home to numerous authors throughout the state’s history. Carr acknowledged that beyond the breathtaking landscapes and the hard working men who transformed the state from forests to homes, schools, churches, and the like, all connected by the man-made railroad, sat a far greater achievement produced by the State of Indiana: a man of culture, scholar, and genius.

Weaving a brief synopsis of Indiana’s history with biographical sketches and sample pieces from early Indiana authors, Carr discussed why Indiana’s literature deserved special attention.

First, Carr stated the territory of Indiana did not receive its first governor until 1800, thereby limiting the development of the state for the past seventy-five years. Carr exclaimed, “How short a time in which to uproot savagery and plant civilization in which to produce a literature! Such progress is wonderful. If it had occurred in ancient times it might probably have been called the eighth and greatest wonder of antiquity, but occurring in the nineteen century it is only a part of the last and greatest wonder of the world—the development of a great American state.”

Second, he pointed out the difference between the authors of Indiana and other states. Indiana produced so many poets or prose writers that “genius is the rule and not the exception.” Furthermore, Indiana had more than just poets and prose writers, the state’s writers encompassed historians, novelists, journalists, those who write on the subjects of legal, philosophy, and science. This was important to note because despite producing “more than 200 writers who have achieved at least a local reputation in the republic of letters,” very few authors achieved national recognition and praise.

The Republic of Letters is an overarching term for philosophical ideas and principles spread through the written word. Particularly prevalent during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, ideas, concepts, and critiques were spread internationally where it then transformed/merged to fit various political, social, culture, religious, etc. groups. Overall, the Republic of Letters is a term used to describe the way ideas were spread within societies.

Third, within his biographical sketches of the authors, in particular those who also taught, Carr compared their work to well-known poets and teachers of Milton, Longfellow, and Lowell. By doing so, he drew the connection between well-known poets and Indiana poets to show why Indiana authors deserved fame and recognition.

The biographical sketches and sample works of five poets from Indiana’s early history Carr provides are: Julia L. Dumont, John Finley, John B. Dillon, Laura M. Thurston, and M. Louisa Chitwood.

Julia L. Dumont (neé Corey) was one of the first writers in Indiana’s history. She was born in October 1794, in Waterford, Ohio and received an education at Milton Academy, in Saratoga County, New York. In August 1812, she married John Dumont, and in March 1814, the couple moved to Vevay, Indiana, where she resided until her death on January 2, 1857. Carr states, “she was a poet of considerable ability, but she is chiefly remembered as the preceptress [a female teacher] of Edward Eggleston.” Carr published a few lines from her poem, “Poverty.”

Julia L. Dumont

John Finley was a state and local politician (he served as a member of Indiana Legislature, Enrolling Clerk of the State Senate, Clerk of Wayne County Courts, and the Mayor of Richmond, Indiana for eight years) and the editor of the Richmond Palladium. However, primarily, he was remembered for his poems, “The Hoosier’s Nest” and “Bachelors Hall.” He was born on January 11, 1797 in Brownsburg, Virginia and moved to Richmond, Indiana in his early twenties. He was married twice; first in 1826 to Rachel H. Knott in Yellow Springs, Ohio and after her death, he married Julia Hanson on April 9, 1830 in Indianapolis. In 1830, Finley wrote “The Hoosier’s Nest” for the Indianapolis Journal, which Carr published a portion of in his newspaper article. Additional information on John Finley can be found here.

John Finley

John B. Dillon was an historian, state librarian, secretary of the State Historical Society, and an early poet of the State of Indiana. He was born in Virginia, relocated to Cincinnati as a child where he subsequently learned the printer’s trade, and moved to Logansport, Indiana when he was 30 years old. Between 1846 and 1857, Dillon wrote the first history of Indiana, which received high praise and literary merit. Part of Dillon’s poem, “The Burial of the Beautiful,” was published in Carr’s article. Additional information on Dillon can be found here.

John B. Dillon

Laura M. Thurston (neé Hawley) was not only a poet, but also one of Indiana’s early teachers. She was born in Norfolk, Connecticut in December 1912 and educated at the Hartford Female Seminary. She taught in Hartford, New Bedford, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and New Albany, Indiana. In September 1839, she married Franklin Thurston, a New Albany merchant. On July 21, 1842, just shy of being 30 years old, she died in New Albany, Indiana. Two of her most popular poems are “Green Hills of My Fatherland” and “Crossing the Alleghanies.” Carr published a portion of “The Paths of Life,” which he described as “a farewell address, or rather, a parting song to a graduating class. This poem is a model of its kind—beautiful, didactic—a literary gem—a sermon.”

Laura M. Thurston

M. Louisa Chitwood was born on October 29, 1832 and educated in the small village of Mt. Carmel, Indiana in Franklin County. Prior to dying at the age of 23 on December 17, 1855 in Mount Carmel, Indiana from typhoid fever, Chitwood wrote beautiful poems that showed her extraordinary gifts as a writer. George D. Prentice, an editor, politician, and Chitwood’s friend, published her poems after she died. Carr included a stanza of “The Graves of the Flowers” to highlight Chitwood’s gift as a poet.

M. Louisa Chitwood

In addition to a stanza of “The Graves of the Flowers,” Carr included a sonnet that Benjamin S. Parker wrote as a tribute to Chitwood.

Benjamin S. Parker

For additional information on Indiana’s early poets and poetry, see Poets and Poetry of Indiana: A Representative Collection of the Poetry of Indiana During the First Hundred Years of its History as Territory and State, 1800-1900. Compiled and Edited by Benjamin S. Parker and Enos B. Heiney. (New York: Silver, Burdett and Company, 1900).

Today, in August 13, 1881, “The Land of Used-To-Be” by James Whitcomb Riley published in the Indianapolis Leader

On August 13, 1881, the Indianapolis Leader published “The Land of Used-To-Be” by James Whitcomb Riley.

Indianapolis Leader, August 13, 1881. Chronicling America.

Born on October 7, 1849 to Reuben and Elizabeth Riley in Greenfield, Indiana, James Whitcomb Riley became one of the most popular authors of his time and belonged to the Golden Age of Indiana Literature.

When Riley was 16 years old, he dropped out of school and began working a variety of jobs until he achieved success as a poet. He found success as a sign painter but quickly tired of the mundane work. Riley found more pleasure when he worked for traveling travel medicine shows because he was able to perform impressions, play the guitar, sing, recite stories, and hone his writing skills. However, the work was unstable and Riley often had to scrounge for money in order to support himself.

In 1877, The Anderson Democrat, a newspaper in Anderson, Indiana, hired Riley as an editor. Within weeks of him starting, the newspaper’s circulation doubled and Riley’s editing style was a hit with the newspaper’s readers. However, Riley’s true passion was writing poems, not editing newspapers. He constantly submitted poems to newspapers, but was frequently rejected. This did not deter Riley from continuing to submit poems, though. Rather, he devised a plan with John Henderson, the editor of the Kokomo Dispatch, a newspaper in Kokomo, Indiana, to publish his poem, “Leonainie” in the Kokomo Dispatch under the name of E.A.P., the initials of Edgar Allen Poe. Excited over the lost Poe poem, newspapers across the country republished “Leonainie,” which sparked interest and controversy over the poem’s style and lyrics. Ultimately, another local newspaper exposed Riley as the poem’s author and disgruntled people across the country condemned and chastised Riley for his actions.

The negative press contributed to Riley’s success and led him to become one of the most celebrated Indiana writers. After the scandal, the Indianapolis Journal hired Riley as the newspaper’s full-time poet and in the winter of 1880-1881, Riley toured Indiana, reciting his poetry wherever he was welcomed.

In 1883, Riley wrote and published his first book, The Old Swimmin’-Hole and ‘Leven More Poems, in what would become his iconic style of writing, the “Hoosier dialect.” By using language that resonated with the every day man and woman and Indiana culture, landscape, and people as his subject, the state of Indiana quickly fell in love with Riley and he became known as “The Hoosier Poet.”

Even though the Midwest recognized Riley for his talent, the literary elites on the east coast, who ultimately had the power to determine if a poet was or was not successful, did not recognize Riley’s talent. It was not until 1887 when the east coast literary critics recognized Riley’s poetic gift. In 1887, the International Copyright League invited Riley, among other writers such as Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, to speak at a program. Originally, Riley was only to speak one night, but after he read his poem, “When the Frost is on the Punkin,” the League asked Riley to recite another poem the following evening. Riley enchanted other several highly respected poets that night, including James Russell Lowell, who introduced Riley on his second night reciting his poems. Ultimately, Lowell’s approval of Riley was what sparked the east coast literary elites to acknowledge Riley for his talents.

Throughout his lifetime, James Whitcomb Riley published over 90 books and wrote more than 1,000 poems. Some of his most well-known poems include, “Little Orphant Annie,” “The Raggedy Man,” “The Runaway Boy,” and “When the Frost is on the Punkin.” Riley died on July 22, 1916 in Lockerbie, an Indianapolis neighborhood, and buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.

Additional Resources

In June 1912, Victor Talking Machine Company recorded James Whitcomb Riley reading roughly twenty of his poems. However, the Victor Talking Machine Company only released a limited number of recordings. The Indianapolis Public Library digitized seventeen previously unreleased recordings on its website, including “When the Frost is on the Punkin.” To listen to Riley read some of his most beloved poems, click here.

The Indiana State Library Treasures collection contains a wealth of sources pertaining to James Whitcomb Riley and is accessible to the public here.


The Indianapolis Leader, volume 3, number 1, August 13, 1881, page 3. Accessed August 12, 2014.

About The Kokomo Dispatch (Kokomo, IN). Chronicling America: Historic American Newspaper. Library of Congress. Accessed August 12, 2014.

Indiana State Museum. Uncovering an Indiana Treasure: James Whitcomb Riley. Accessed August 12, 2014.

The Indianapolis Public Library. “James Whitcomb Riley Recordings,” in the Digital Recordings. Accessed August 12, 2014.

Lilly Library at Indiana University. “‘…and touch the universal heart.’: The Appeal of James Whitcomb Riley.” Accessed August 12, 2014.

“The Land of Used-To-Be” 

by James Whitcomb Riley

And where’s the land of Used-to-be, does little baby wonder?
O, we will clap a magic saddle over papa’s knee,
And ride away around the world, and in and out and under
The whole of the golden sunny summer-time, and see!

Leisurely and lady-like we’ll jostle on our journey.
And let the pony bathe his hooves and cool them in the dew,
As he slides down the shady way, and lags along the ferny
And the green grassy ledges of the lane we travel through

And then we’ll canter on to catch the bubble of the thistle
As it bumps among the butterflies, and glimmers down the sun,
To leave us laughing, all content to hear the robin whistle.
Or guess what Katydid is saying little Kathy’s done.

And pausing here a minute, where we hear the squirrel chuckle
As he darts from out the underbush, leaves and honeysuckle
To wreathe around our forheads, riding into Used-to-be;

For here’s the very rim of it that we go swinging over—
Don’t you hear the fairy bugles, and the tinkle of the bells?
And the baby bumble-bees that tumble in the clover,
And dangle from the titled pinks and tipsy pimpernels?

And don’t you see the merry faces of the Daffodillies,
And the jolly John-jump-ups, and the butter-cups a-glee,
And the low, lolling ripples ring around the water-lilies,
All greeting us with laughter to the land of Used-to-be?

And here among the blossoms of the blooming vines and grasses,
With a haze forever hanging in a sky forever blue,
And with a breeze from over seas to kiss us as it passes,
We will romp around forever as the little fancies do;

For all the elves of earth and air are swarming here together—
The prankish Puck, King Oberon, and Queen Titania, too;
And dear old Mother Goose, herself, as sunny as the weather,
Comes dancing down the dewy walls to welcome you and me.

Indiana Makes International News and History with its Pivotal 1907 Eugenics Law

Between 1890 and 1920, the Progressive Era awoke one movement after another that advocated for better social, cultural, and political reforms that shook the core of American society. Even though part of the progressive movement was to create and enact new laws and policies, its primary purpose was to improve the morality and purification of Americans. One way to achieve that goal was to segregate those who were considered racially inferior to the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic races, meaning anyone who was not a descendant of a Northern European or English race.

Through the concept of eugenics, individuals in the Progressive Era began to segregate not only those who were inferior to the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic races, but also those who possessed undesirable characteristics. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines eugenics as “a science that tries to improve the human race by controlling which people become parents” and as “a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed.” At this time, medical professionals wrote articles stating that certain genes and traits were passed down from father and mother to their children. In particular, doctors, such as Harry C. Sharp, argued that if certain individuals who possessed undesirable characteristics procreated, the future of society looked bleak. As a result, on March 9, 1907, Indiana Governor J. Frank Hanly signed and enacted the eugenic sterilization law. Part of the law reads:

AN ACT entitled an act to prevent procreation of confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists; providing that superintendents and boards of managers of institutions where such persons are confined shall have the authority and are empowered to appoint a committee of experts, consisting of two (2) physicians, to examine into the mental condition of such inmates.

As long as two physicians verified an inmate had a mental illness, the law states that the prison or state mental hospital was required by law to sterilize said inmate.

The Plymouth Tribune - March 14, 1907, Page 5
The Plymouth Tribune, March 14 1907. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1921, the Indiana Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional, thus making it illegal to involuntarily sterilize anyone who was thought to be undesirable or unfit to procreate. However, in 1927, Indiana repealed the 1921 decision and modified the 1907 law to state that as long as the individual had thirty days’ notice and the ability to make an appeal if he or she desired, the State of Indiana could continue to sterilize incarcerated individuals. It was not until 1974 that Indiana outlawed all forms of involuntary sterilization. The exact number of individuals who were involuntarily sterilized is unknown. However, an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 people were sterilized between 1907 and 1974. Since the repealing of the 1907 eugenics law, the State of Indiana has sought to rectify this piece of historic legislation through formal apologies and enacting historical markers.

Even though the concept of eugenics or sterilization was not new in the early twentieth century, Indiana made history when it became the first state both in the United States and in the world to pass a law that involuntarily sterilized incarcerated individuals. This landmark legislation helped pave the way for other states and countries to pass similar laws and policies, including laws that led to the Holocaust and other genocides.

1907 Indiana Eugenics Law 2
Location of the Historical Marker: East lawn of the Indiana State Library, 140 North Senate Avenue, Indianapolis. (Marion County, Indiana)
1907 Indiana Eugenics Law 1
Location of the Historical Marker: East lawn of the Indiana State Library, 140 North Senate Avenue, Indianapolis. (Marion County, Indiana)


General Laws of Indiana, chapter 215, House Document 364. Accessed August 1, 2014.

Heale, M. J. Twentieth-Century America: Politics and Power in the United States 1900-2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Indiana Historic Bureau. “Historical Marker of the 1907 Indiana Eugenics Law.” Accessed August 1, 2014.

Indiana State Library. “Eugenics Materials.” Accessed August 1, 2014.

Indiana University-Purdue University. “Indiana Eugenics History and Legacy, 1907-2007.” Accessed August 1, 2014.

Lears, Jackson. Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920. NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

The Plymouth Tribune. Volume 6, Number 23, 14 March 1907. Page 5. Accessed August 1, 2014. Indiana Digital Historic Newspaper Program

Sharp, Harry C. “Vasectomy as a Means Preventing Procreation in Defectives.” Buck v Bell Documents. Paper 4. Accessed August 1, 2014.


Today, in 1915, the S.S. Eastland, a Cranky, Hoodoo Tub, Capsized and Dragged 844 of its 2,500 Passengers to their Watery Grave

On the gray, cloudy, and rainy Saturday morning of July 24, 1915, thousands of eager employees of Hawthorne Works and their family members, along with Chicago citizens who did not work for the company, flocked to downtown Chicago. They were to embark on the Hawthorne Club’s Fifth Annual Picnic for a day of parades, games, contests, and relaxation in Michigan City, Indiana. The first of five ships to leave was the S.S. Eastland, located at docks between Clark and LaSalle Streets, and by six forty-five in the morning, approximately 5,000 people were waiting to board the ship. However, by seven-thirty in the morning, this day of fun and laughter had turned into a scene of chaos, death, and despair when the Eastland capsized in the Chicago, River, killing 844 of its 2,500 passengers, which made it one of the worst naval catastrophes in American history.

Western Electric Company was one of the leading telephone and telegraph manufacturers in the world during the early twentieth century. One of its chief manufacturing plants was the Hawthorne Works, located right outside of the Chicago city limits in Cicero, Illinois. Hawthorne Works offered a variety of social activities for its employees, including the Hawthorne Club’s annual picnic excursion. The picnic committee promoted the fifth annual picnic relentlessly until the night before the excursion with parades through the Hawthorne Works and posters. The consequence of the promotions contributed to the rise of attendees from approximately 6,000 in 1914 to over 7,000 in 1915, and resulted in the need to charter five ships through the Indiana Transportation Company: the Eastland, the Roosevelt, the Petoskey, the Racine, and the Rochester.

The disaster quickly became a media sensation when newspapers immediately began to cover the rescue and relief efforts, as well as the court cases that followed.

As soon as the Eastland capsized, rescue efforts poured in from Chicago companies, the Red Cross, state and federal agencies, and Western Electric Company. The mayor of Chicago, William Hall Thompson (1915-1923 and 1927-1931), Western Electric Company, and newspapers established several monetary relief funds. Western Electric worked with local Chicago companies to set up information bureaus and temporary morgues, provided medical treatment, and gave $100,000 to pay for the funeral expenses of Western Electric employees. Overall, through the various relief efforts, over $500,000 was raised for the survivors’ and victims’ family members.

At the same time that businesses and individuals in the Chicagoland area came together to help with the rescue and relief efforts, speculations as to who was to blame and the causes of the disaster circulated around the city. The local Chicago newspapers published statements by prominent government and union leaders, such as Maclay Hoyne, the Illinois State Attorney, and Victor Olander, a union delegate leader who advocated for the American Federation of Labor, the International Seaman’s Union of America, and various other unions, placing blame and naming causes for the disaster. That led to a public outcry for justice, which encouraged the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, and the federal government to intervene and investigate the cause of the disaster. Seven investigations and court cases, at both the local and federal levels, began on the afternoon of July 24, 1915. Speculations of why the Eastland capsized was not only a debate during the investigation, but also is a debate that continues today. Some of the causes include the Eastland’s history of stabilization (which came from its poor construction), human negligence, laws that emerged after the Titanic sank, in particular the La Follette Seamen’s Act, and the overcrowding of passengers on the vessel.

On November 21, 1917, the United States Navy purchased the Eastland, rebuilt her as a naval training vessel, and renamed her the U.S.S. Wilmette. Even though the disaster is not well-remembered today, hidden beneath the weight of two world wars and other disasters, the sinking of the Eastland was imprinted onto the regional and national psyches during the early twentieth century. In addition, several local historic societies and associations are actively commemorating those who lost their lives on the tragic S.S. Eastland and making this horrific event more well-known.

To learn more about the Eastland catastrophe and to read various newspaper’s accounts of the disaster, please see the following links:


The Jasper Weekly Courier, Volume 57, Number 43, July 30, 1915

The Library of Congress’s digitization project, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, has a plethora of newspapers articles on the Eastland catastrophe. For an alternative perspective of the disaster, The Day Book, a socialist newspaper in Chicago, provides an extensive coverage of the disaster from the working class perspective. Some of the other newspapers who covered the disaster include: the Chicago Eagle (Chicago, IL), the Evening World (New York), the New York Tribune, The Sun (New York, NY), Washington Herald (Washington, D.C.), and the Washington Times (Washington, D.C.).



Adams, Stephen B. and Orville R. Butler. Manufacturing the Future: A History of Western Electric. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Grossman, James R., Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff, eds. Michael P. Conzen, cartographic ed. The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Hilton, George W. Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995.

Wachholz, Ted. Images of America: The Eastland Disaster. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005.

Western Electric News 4, no. 6 (August 1915).