“Indiana history is the product of local events, and local events tend to be captured within the pages of the community newspapers. The Indiana State Library has worked tirelessly to provide Hoosiers with free access to this information, traditionally on microfilm. Digitization of these newspapers is the ‘next step’ in providing 21st century access for Hoosiers to local events in Indiana history.”
We are proud to announce that the Nappanee Advance-News is now available on Hoosier State Chronicles! The collection, spanning 1879-2018, comprises 7,155 issues and over 84,000 pages. You can check it out here.
We are proud to announce that the Indianapolis Times is now available on Hoosier State Chronicles! The collection, spanning 1920-1952, comprises 10,283 issues and over 234,000 pages. The iconic daily newspaper, which ran for over fifty years, became known for its “crusading” journalism, exposing the collusion and corruption between the Indiana state government, governor Ed Jackson, and the Ku Klux Klan. The Timesearned the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for “exposing political corruption in Indiana, prosecuting the guilty and bringing about a more wholesome state of affairs in civil government.” You can check it out here.
One of the most important features of Hoosier State Chronicles is the use of Optimal Character Recognition, or OCR. It is created by automated computer software that “finds” characters (letters, numbers, etc.) in digitized images and then transcribes them into searchable text. OCR allows users to search within the text of digitized newspapers for names, dates, or any other term that is relevant to their research. While OCR adds tremendous value to digitized materials, it doesn’t always correctly transcribe words or characters. You will frequently come across OCR that looks like the image below. (Click on images to enlarge them in separate tab.)
This is where our users come in. When you create a free account on Hoosier State Chronicles, you can actually edit the OCR text of a given page, which improves the functionality of our digitized newspapers. To date, our users have corrected over 315,000 lines of text; one user alone has corrected over 40,000 lines of text—more than anyone else! This blog post will show you how to create an account on Hoosier State Chronicles and how to correct OCR text in our digitized newspapers. With the tools provided here, we hope you will correct as many lines as possible. Who knows, you may even top the current record holder. Regardless of how many lines you correct, each one will make Hoosier State Chronicles a better platform for researchers delving into Indiana’s past through newspapers.
Creating a Free Account on Hoosier State Chronicles
Before you can edit OCR-generated text in Hoosier State Chronicles, you need to create a free account. To do this, click the “Register” link in the upper right-hand corner of the Hoosier State Chronicles homepage.
Fill in the required fields (email, display name, password) and click “go.” You’ll then receive an email to confirm your new account. Click the link in the email to confirm your account. You can now login via the account confirmation page and you’re ready to go!
OCR Text Correction
To correct OCR text, you can choose any issue or page you’d like. In this blog, we’ll work on the issue shown earlier, the February 1, 1916 edition of the South Bend News-Times. Choose a page of the issue either by clicking on the image itself or the page link on the left hand side. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see a “Correct this text” link; the text correction feature is accessed by clicking that link when viewing section text. This feature is split into two parts: the right side shows the page images that make up the document, and the left side is used for editing the lines of text.
When you move over the page images on the right, sections of the page will be highlighted. You can change this view by dragging with the mouse, or zoom in/out using the buttons above the images on the right-hand side. Clicking a highlighted section will select it and generate a form for editing that specific section on the left-hand side of the page.
You can now correct the text line by line. A red box is displayed on the right-hand side to help you determine what text should be included in the line on the left-hand side. Once you have finished correcting the text, click “Save.” The changes you make will take effect immediately. Alternatively, clicking the “Cancel” button will discard any unsaved changes you have made.
You can then make further corrections to the same block, move onto the next block by clicking the “Next” button, select another block in the right-hand side, or exit the text correction view by clicking the “Return to viewing mode” link. Clicking “Save & exit” instead of “Save” will save the changes and automatically return you to the normal viewing mode.
While our text correction feature is pretty robust, it has one limitation that we hope to change in the future. Currently, you can only edit existing fields generated by OCR; it doesn’t allow for the creation of new text fields. Even though this is a limitation, the OCR fields on our newspapers are fairly exhaustive and still give us substantial editing abilities.
Here’s another useful tip: many web browsers include spell-checking functionality and this can assist with your text correction by identifying misspelled words. If your web browser does not have this functionality, it’s likely there is a spell-checking add-on available (see your web browser’s help for information on how to install add-ons).
Now armed with the knowledge of text editing on Hoosier State Chronicles, you can improve the quality of our digital newspaper collection. Happy editing! If you have any other follow-up questions or concerns, please contact Justin Clark, Indiana State Library’s Digital Initiatives Director, via email at email@example.com.
Thanks to ISL’s Brittany Kropf for the blog’s title.
Newspapers are an essential historical resource for researchers, journalists, and genealogists by capturing the lives and events of individuals in a particular area throughout the years as well as reporting national news. However, even under the best climate and preservation circumstances, the longevity of newspapers is hindered by the relatively short lifespan of newsprint, a thinner and lower quality of paper. One solution in the past was the use of microfilm or microforms. According to Managing Microforms in the Digital Age from the American Library Association, “microfilm has been used since the 1940s for the long-term storage of newspaper content because the medium preserves file integrity, maintains the proper sequence of the data, and discourages theft.”[i] Libraries and historical organizations have used these tools for years, but even microfilm has limitations. It takes up a great deal of space, is expensive to produce, and often requires on-site access.
Over the past twenty years, institutions have shifted their focus from microfilm to digital formats. To aid this transition, the Library of Congress, with funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), executed a nationwide newspaper project from 1982 to 2011 called the United States Newspaper Program, which cataloged and collected newspapers nationwide. However, in 2005, the Library of Congress and NEH formed the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP) and its digital newspaper database, Chronicling America, which offers free access to digitized historic newspapers from across the country via partnerships with statewide organizations.[ii] Indiana’s largest collection of digitized newspapers are housed within the Indiana State Library’s own database, Hoosier State Chronicles.
As a project, Hoosier State Chronicles focused on digitizing newspapers at the state and local levels- sometimes through the NDNP or institutional partners, but often by partnering with groups endeavoring to save their local papers. The efforts of these smaller organizations have been hindered by the lack of information about how to begin such a process, as well as securing the necessary resources to handle storage, digitization costs, and labor. This blog provides an introduction to the entire process of how newspapers are selected, organized, digitized, and publicly shared through Hoosier State Chronicles. To begin, let us start with the formation of Hoosier State Chronicles and its collection of digitized newspapers.
OUR HISTORY AND COLLECTION
Indiana’s largest public repository of microfilmed newspapers is managed at the Indiana State Library and contains over 3,000 titles. In 2011, the Indiana State Library, Indiana Historical Bureau, and Indiana Historical Society collaborated on the first grant for Chronicling America, which digitized over 100,000 pages of Indiana newspapers. After the initial two-year grant cycle, the Indiana State Library and Indiana Historical Bureau, (now part of the Indiana State Library,) took over future efforts to digitize Indiana papers, eventually creating the Hoosier State Chronicles website in 2015 and receiving three more NDNP grants for digitizing newspapers. This included collaborations with Indiana colleges and universities to digitize partial collections, as well as partnerships with community organizations to digitize local papers through grants.
Today, Hoosier State Chronicles has a collection of over 950,000 pages and 124,000 issues, ranging from pre-statehood (The Indiana Gazette, 1804) to contemporary newspapers (The Muncie Gazette, 2011). The Indianapolis Recorder contains the longest run in the collection with 96 years of newspapers, but because it was a weekly paper, the whole run only contains around 5,000 issues. The largest number of issues for a single newspaper belongs to the Indianapolis News, with over 12,304 issues over 38 years, though The Daily Banner from Greencastle comes in a close second with 10,649 issues spread over 68 years.
An important element of Hoosier State Chronicles is an effort to digitize newspapers across all of Indiana. Of the state’s 92 counties, Hoosier State Chronicles contains newspapers from 54. This is not to say every county in our collection offers an equal number of newspapers or pages. The largest county in our collection by both number of newspapers and pages is easily Marion County, with 25 newspapers and over 43,000 issues. And the smallest? Posey County’s New-Harmony and Nashoba Gazette, or, Free Enquirer with one solitary issue. Does this mean that the counties with lower representation in Chronicles are less important? By no means! Limitations in access to historic newspapers, financial resources, or the quality of the papers have hindered our efforts to share titles from every area in the state. However, smaller or scattered issues may come to us as a part of a community effort to preserve some part of their history digitally. If even one newspaper represents a unique region, time-period, or subject, we absolutely want it to be a part of our collection.
Our collection covers a broad range of eras in Indiana history. The oldest newspapers in our collection begin prior to statehood in 1804 with Vincennes’ Indiana Gazette, the earliest newspaper in the state, as well as its successor, the Western Sun. Two areas of strength for the collection are pre-Civil War and late 1800s newspapers, including early runs of the Indianapolis News, Indianapolis Journal, Indiana State Sentinel, Crawfordsville Daily Journal, and several in Terre Haute and Evansville. In the early 1900s, titles like the Richmond Palladium and Hammond Times provide terrific materials from eastern and northwest Indiana. Greencastle is also an area with multiple papers during these eras, particularly The Daily Banner and associated papers. The latest title in our collection is that of the Muncie Times in 2011, giving us 207 years of collections to share.
Another facet of our newspaper collection is the variety of materials in the collection. Politically, the collection displays contrasting perspectives, with newspapers supporting Republicans and Democrats, Whigs and Socialists. These feature both local and national news, often sharing the statewide perspectives of several parties. In regards to ethnic and racial diversity, we still have a long way to go. As mentioned previously, The Indianapolis Recorder, an African American newspaper, is the longest run in our collection. Additionally, the Evansville Argus and Muncie Times also share African American culture in Indiana throughout the late 30s-early 40s and the 1990s-early 2010s, respectively. Another long run of ethnic and cultural newspapers is the Jewish Post, later called The Indiana Jewish Post & Opinion, with issues from 1933 until 2005. Finally, the Indiana Tribüne has the distinction of being both the only predominantly-German newspaper and the only foreign language newspaper in Hoosier State Chronicles.
While every newspaper occasionally offers controversial news, Hoosier State Chronicles contains one newspaper that is especially difficult for modern readers. The Fiery Cross, a Ku Klux Klan newspaper out of Indianapolis, was published during the early 1920s. Despite its nature as an official newspaper of a hate group, it nevertheless provides insights to the rise of the organization during the 1920s, when they gained immense political power. It also highlights both the explicit and subtle racism and cultural biases of the Klan, particularly against African American, Jewish, Catholic, and immigrant individuals and groups.
One newspaper not included in this list, but that is coming soon to Hoosier State Chronicles is the Indianapolis Times. The Times was an influential newspaper from the 1920s through the 1960s, whose exposure of the Ku Klux Klan’s influence on Indiana politics won them the Pulitzer Prize for journalism in 1928. They also covered other social issues like corruption in the prison system during the 1930s as well as inadequate care in the mental health-care system and corruption in state road projects in the 1950s.[iii] We are currently digitizing a large portion of the newspaper in two steps. First, 1922 through 1936 is being digitized through a NEH-funded partnership with the Library of Congress Chronicling America project, where these resources will be shared. Later issues between 1936 and the early 1950s are currently being digitized through a partnership with Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and a grant from the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Once completed, close to thirty years of this daily newspaper will be available on Hoosier State Chronicles.
DIGITIZING PAPERS: SELECTION
Selecting newspapers can be challenging due to several factors. When assessing where our collection needs to grow, meeting community needs is first and foremost to the process. For the past eight years, Chronicling America and the Library of Congress assisted Hoosier State Chronicles through a NEH grant to digitize nearly fifty newspapers. Yet, sometimes the desire to digitize Indiana newspapers comes from communities. We assist them through the process of securing grants, selecting vendors, and creating appropriate digital resources that can be added to Hoosier State Chronicles. [iv]
Next comes determining what newspapers are readily available for scanning and processing. Oftentimes, this comes from the collection at the Indiana State Library, with over 3,000 newspapers from the state available on microfilm. Using microfilmed reels (1st/2nd generation negative master reels or 2nd generation positive service reels) makes processing faster and the materials easier to ship. However, some newspapers have limited availability due to scarcity of service copies or the lack of original master reels. Creating new-microfilm copies can be difficult due to few companies offering the service at a manageable cost.
Though we may have microfilmed copies of newspapers in the State Library, it does not necessarily mean all are available for digitization. First and foremost, copyright restrictions limit which newspapers are candidates. Justin Clark, former Project Manager for Hoosier State Chronicles, wrote an extensive blog on the subject last year:
Have you ever wondered why the vast majority of NDNP’s content, and most digitized newspaper content, ends around 1923? It’s for a very simple reason: all works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. No copyright research is necessary for this material; it’s free and clear for you to use. However, NDNP announced in 2016 that it has expanded its date range for newspaper titles, from 1836-1922 to 1690-1963. Thus, post-1923 works are in the public domain if a copyright claim was never filed from 1923 through 1977 or if the copyright was never renewed from 1923 through 1963.
This means that more recent newspapers may be wholly or partially unavailable due to copyright concerns, including advertisements or cartoons that could fall under intellectual property laws. That is why only three newspapers appear in our collection after 1971: the Indianapolis Recorder, the Jewish Post and Opinion, and the Muncie Times. These papers are available in Hoosier State Chronicles with the permission of the newspapers’ owners.
However, even newspapers that fall outside the copyright permissions may have other restrictions. Some newspapers have been sold or given to for-profit organizations for digitization or distribution, giving them exclusive access for digital distribution as long as the copyright is in place. Local communities who digitize through for-profit companies often gain access to the files in perpetuity, but at the detriment to those outside of the community who must pay for the digital version through a subscription. The cost of subscription, as well as restrictions on use, limits the average consumer from being able to view these for research or genealogy. Oftentimes, they are marketed as subscriptions to libraries or other organizations for popular use. Hoosier State Chronicles, Chronicling America, and other organizations involved with the NDNP offer newspapers in their collections for free to the public, giving alternatives to researchers, the public, and local communities.[v]
The last two concerns are intertwined: cost and time. Digitization can be a lengthy process, often taking months or years for larger collections. We will cover more in the next section, but the hours required to create a high-quality digital copy may be beyond the resources of smaller organizations. Additionally, the various costs involved with the acquisition, shipping, scanning, processing, and completing a run of newspapers may be daunting, but finding programs and grants to help relieve the burden is often a major part of starting such a program.
DIGITIZING NEWSPAPERS: PROCESSING
Once a newspaper is selected and deemed eligible for digitization with no restrictions, the process of assessing the collection can begin. The initial process often involves cataloging each newspaper issue to verify its condition, making sure all pages are included and duplicates are noted, sorting to make sure all images are in order, notating any errors in the original print run, and marking flaws in the microfilm. This step can take months to complete in order to provide a thorough template for individuals digitizing the information and adding metadata (the data that organizes and makes the pages and newspapers searchable), as well as keeping meticulous records to assure everything leaving can be accounted for when it returns.
There are several potential options for the digitization process, and many of these depend on the size and number of reels for the newspaper. If the number of newspapers is small enough, or in a physical medium, it may be handled by a local or state agency like the Indiana State Library, who have on-site digital scanning capabilities. However, for larger runs of newspapers, outside companies will likely be required to handle both the digitization and metadata. While there are many options for vendors, the quality requirements, size of the order, and cost may dictate which vendor to go with.
While the scale of work may vary, the system of digitizing large and small projects is very similar. The images are photographed by a high-quality digital scanner that scans the whole document, captures the fine details, and avoids capturing text bleeding through from the other side. From there, the images will be modified for readability, removing flaws and cropping out extraneous space. Files are usually saved in multiple formats for different uses: TIFF files are the highest quality and provide the archival copy, but are extremely large; JPG or JPG2 files provide usable quality copies at a lower resolution and size than TIFF files; and PDF files, which can vary in quality and size, can be downloaded by the public.
Metadata creation is distinctive from the digital scanning process, and while both systems need to work collaboratively, each could be performed by separate vendors. Metadata is the “data about your data” that gives images their descriptions, allows them to be easily sorted, and provides an order and structure to the files. If you are not familiar with metadata, think about how newspapers are numbered. Each issue of a newspaper has a volume number, an edition and a date that gives you a newspaper’s order of publication. Within each issue, page numbers also keep the newspaper in sequential order. All of these numbers are points of metadata that help us sort and organize the newspaper on a daily basis. They are also points that a computer system needs to know to organize the information when putting the files in order and allowing them to be searched and indexed. XML files act as the directory for metadata to be able to sort these files (see image on right.)
Another aspect of metadata for newspapers is making sure the text in the body of the newspaper is readable and searchable. Thankfully, one tool that makes this process easier is Optimal Character Recognition software, or OCR. OCR scans the printed pages in the images, translates them to text, and allows that text to be searched. Not only does this make the newspapers much easier to use, but it also adds a rough transcription of the pages (see image below).
Unfortunately, OCR is not perfect. The system works best when text is in standard fonts, in straight lines and columns, contains no illustrations, and is relatively the same size. As you may guess, this is rarely the case, particularly in modern or larger newspapers that contain advertisements, comics, or unusual text fonts. These can also be caused by the condition of the documents when they are scanned or the contrast of images. This occasionally results in gibberish translations or incorrect transcriptions from items the software recognizes as text (like an image). Still, like most technology, the systems improve as time goes on, and OCR is an essential part of making the information in newspapers more accessible.
Without metadata, digital newspapers are nothing more than images. Metadata orders these images to replicate the experience of reading a newspaper while adding searchable information. The process of adding metadata requires a team with keen eyes to monitor the organization and placement of files during the digitization process, specialized technology that accurately recognizes text, and maintaining the image quality of every single newspaper.
DIGITIZING NEWSPAPERS: REVIEW AND UPLOADING
The process of creating a digital copy and adding layers of metadata can take the same amount of time as the initial review of the collection. Yet, after these are completed, the individual agencies who accept these digital copies must review as much as they can to assure that the highest standards are maintained. If this is done internally, the control process may be easily assured by spot checking the creation process. However, on a larger scale where vendors are utilized, checking to make sure each batch, or group, of digitized newspapers is correct as soon as they are available means you can request corrections before they return the microfilm.
What kind of issues come up? Sometimes the scanning is not at the right quality or resolution, which necessitates a rescan. Maybe the dates, page numbers, or page orders are incorrect in the metadata and the information needs to be reorganized or edited. Occasionally, missing pages or issues that should be there need to be tracked down between the original film reels, the digitized files, and the metadata files. This is why it is important to review and revise everything in smaller groups, or batches, so the process of digitizing, adding metadata, and reviewing the completed material can take place simultaneously. Locally saved materials can be revised as you go, but larger-scale batches may require a remote digital transfer before you begin, or physically shipping off a hard drive.
Maintaining a digital collection of any kind, with thousands of individual newspapers saved in multiple formats, means investing in both external hard drives and backup drives. For example, our current digitization project with the Library of Congress contains portions of the Indianapolis Journal, The Daily Times, and the Indianapolis Times, which collectively require roughly eleven external hard drives and nearly seven terabytes of storage. To make sure everyone who needs these materials has them, we often have three copies: one on an external hard-drive that is shipped to the Library of Congress, one back-up copy on our local computer system for immediate access, and one copy maintained on our website. All three have associated costs, but it is good practice to maintain each for future use.
Finally, after all batches undergo quality review of their images and metadata, revisions are completed, and the batches are ready, they are sent to the appropriate locations. For the newspapers that are part of the Chronicling America project, they are sent to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., where they undergo a second review to assure the files meet their specifications. Once everything is approved by all organizations, the files can finally be sent to either Chronicling America and/or Hoosier State Chronicles, where they are uploaded for public access.
Starting a new digital newspaper collection is often a large undertaking, but the established specifications, technologies, vendors, and programs throughout the United States show interested organizations that it can be done. If you are looking for how other organizations have handled this process, check out the list of organizations that have been awarded NDNP grants on the Library of Congress website: https://www.loc.gov/ndnp/awards/. Ultimately, the goal of digitization is making documents more accessible to the public, reducing damage to original sources, thus providing more contextual resources to our understanding of history.
A special thanks to Connie Rendfeld, Chandler Lighty, Justin Clark, Leigh Anne Johnson, and Jill Black in the creation of this document.
[iv] One source of funding is that of Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants, which are funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Science (IMLS), of which the State of Indiana distributes funds. For more information on the availability of these grants, check out the State Library page at https://www.in.gov/library/lsta.htm, or contact Angela Fox at (317) 234-6550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[v] The Indiana State Library and Hoosier State Chronicles have partnered with Newspapers.com in the past to digitize a large number of newspapers. In exchange for three years of exclusive access, over 1.5 million pages of Indiana newspapers are now digitized and accessible via the Indiana State Library’s Inspire website by following the links to Newspapers.com.
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.
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]
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:
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):
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:
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:
“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.
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.
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.
[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
[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.
[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.
[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
The Holocaust did not start with gas chambers. It started with stereotyping and hateful words, escalated to stigmatization and discrimination, and culminated in genocide, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). Thus the September 1941 order forcing Jews in Germany and occupied territories to wear a yellow star sewn onto their clothes, marked an important shift in the state-sponsored persecution of Jews. The bright yellow star with mock Hebrew lettering clearly identified Jews, marking them for discrimination, violence, and eventually, deportation to concentration camps.
In 1939, even before the general order, German authorities in occupied Poland required Jews to wear a blue Star of David sewn on a white armband. By the summer of 1941, Nazis required Jews to wear a yellow star badge in areas of the German-invaded Soviet Union. Indiana newspapers reported widely on the imposition of the badge and the worsening of conditions for Jews in occupied territories.* In July 1941, newspapers published in Munster, Valparaiso, Kokomo, and South Bend, Indiana, ran a lengthy United Press (UP) article by Jack Fleischer, a war correspondent based in Germany, who would later be interred by the Nazis for six months.
Fleischer reported from Krakow, Poland (which he spelled Cracow). He described taking a tour for foreign correspondents given by General Karl Frank, a high-ranking SS officer who would be executed after the war for his leadership in several massacres in Czechoslovakia. Frank showed off his “beautiful 14th century castle headquarters” and boasted of the improvements in the area since the Nazi occupation. According to Frank, “German experts” were “teaching Polish farmers modern agricultural methods” and had conscripted Polish laborers who were at work “repairing streets and public buildings,” as well as dredging a river and building parks.
Fleischer also reported that he “drove through Cracow’s ghetto several times.” Fleischer wrote that Jews could leave the ghetto during the day to work, but were required to return at night. He continued: “They are required to wear white arm bands bearing the star of David.” He learned that the Jewish population of Krakow “which was 70,000 before the occupation, now is 11,000.” Most were transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto. A year later, German police and SS would begin deportations from Warsaw to the Treblinka killing center. The star badge played an important role in such deportations. According to the USHMM:
When Nazi officials implemented the Jewish badge between 1939 and 1945, they did so in an intensified, systematic manner, as a prelude to deporting Jews to ghettos and killing centers in German-occupied eastern Europe.
By September 1941, the badge had been implemented systematically throughout the Greater German Reich. Many Indiana newspapers reported the story. The Kokomo Tribune ran a UP report on September 6 under the headline “Oppression”:
Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Berlin secret police, today ordered all Jews over six years of age to wear the star of David in yellow on their coats together with the inscription “Jew” in black.
The following day, the (Richmond) Palladium-Item ran an International News Service report (INS) and the Indianapolis Star ran an Associate Press (AP) report, both from Berlin, providing more information. These wire services noted that the badge was required to be large, “the size of the palm of their hand,” and worn on the left side. The paper reported that, starting September 19, Jews would not be allowed to leave their districts without police permission. The report concluded by noting that this decree was ordered just days before Rosh Hashanah, a time of introspection for Jews, but also a celebration of the year completed. At any other time, most Jews in Berlin would have been preparing prayers and baking challah.
Also on September 7, the South Bend Tribune ran a more extensive UP article, reiterating most of the information given by the other newspapers and adding more alarming details. This article reported that German authorities had already “banned exit permission from Germany.” The UP reported that the decree was accompanied by severe penalties, large fines and imprisonment, for failure to wear the badge. The writer concluded that the order was “the sharpest official measure against Jews since those introduced following the anti-Semitic outbreaks of November 9, 1938,” referring to Kistallnacht.
The (Indianapolis) Jewish Post ran an editorial by Rabbi Saul E. White on September 19, which attempted to comfort American Jews by explaining to them why the antisemitism that had manifested in Europe could never take root in the United States. He argued that (1) the U.S. lacked respected antisemitic writers or historians that could influence the nation’s thinking; (2) no political party espoused antisemitism as part of their platform; (3) there was no repressed minority seeking a scapegoat for problems because the Roosevelt administration had rescued the economy; (4) no churches were sympathetic to antisemitism; and (5) the U. S. was built on religious freedom and racial tolerance.
Meanwhile, newspapers and radio broadcasts carried the vitriolic antisemitic messages of Father Charles Coughlin who defended Nazi violence against Jews and gave a platform to Charles Lindbergh who blamed Jews for conspiring to bring the U.S. into the war. Many members of the U.S. State Department and several congressman worked to block Jewish refugees from seeking safety in the United States. Respected organizations such as the American Legion actively worked to keep Jewish refugees out, even children. African Americans struggled for basic civil rights, while the U.S. government would soon begin imprisoning its own citizens of Japanese descent in concentration camps.
Rabbi White encouraged his readers not to worry and even chided Jewish activists who combatted antisemitism with education, as well as those who shared reports of the tragedies occurring in Europe with increasing regularity. Rabbi White sarcastically rebuked those Jewish activists who “have turned amateur detectives and go about with an air of knowing it all and occasionally hint at a threatening calamity.” Rabbi White would later become an important force in fighting antisemitism and an active participant in the civil rights movement. However, it is clear from his 1941 column that despite the extensive coverage in newspapers, many American Jewish newspaper readers had no idea that the “threatening calamity” had already arrived.
On September 21, the South Bend Tribune ran a UP story showing that a glimmer of humanity remained in Berlin. The UP reported that a silent protest had broke out in response to “the new rigid anti-Jewish laws” requiring Jews to wear the star badge. According to the article, non-Jewish Germans “were seen on the streets of Berlin today approaching Jewish acquaintances and ostentatiously shaking hands with them.” This expression of solidarity was “an obvious gesture of sympathy.”
This response was widespread enough that the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment felt compelled to issue pamphlets instructing Germans on how they should respond when encountering neighbors wearing the yellow star.
The Nazi propaganda machine also responded to criticism of the new restrictions with false reports blaming the United States for the new law. These manufactured stories were especially well-covered in Indiana newspapers through AP and UP reports and dispatches received directly from war correspondents. On September 26, the Indianapolis News, Kokomo Tribune, (Richmond) Palladium-Item, South Bend Tribune, and the (Columbus) Republic all reported on the propaganda reports, sometimes on their front pages. The AP relayed reports from Americans in Berlin of “a story going the rounds of the German capital that every German national in the United States has been compelled to wear the swastika, leading to orders that Jews in Germany must wear a yellow Star of David on their left breasts.” American newspaper offices reported that they were receiving “frequent inquiries as to whether the rumor is based on fact” and Americans in Berlin were trying to dispel the rumor as nonsense. Of course, it wasn’t nonsense, it was propaganda. However, the AP reported, “Official [Reich] press officers said the government had nothing to do with the story and insisted they knew nothing about it.” Nonetheless, it was working. According to an AP story published by the Richmond Palladium, the average Berliner believed the rumor. The AP reported, “Whoever launched this whispering campaign a few days ago did a good job of it. It is all over Berlin and people are repeating it everywhere.”
By October, the (Indianapolis) Jewish Postpublished a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that German authorities were increasing their antisemitic propaganda output. The JTA wrote that “the Nazi press throughout the Reich is conducting violent anti-Jewish propaganda to back up Hitler’s manifesto to his army that ‘the Jews and only Jews’ are to be blamed for the German soldiers killed on the Eastern front.” However, the JTA also reported that the enforcement of the star badge was having as unintended effect. The article stated:
The change of mood among the German people towards the Jews is reported to be the result of the introduction of the yellow Mogen David [Shield of David] for the Jews in the Reich. This anti-Jewish measure has, according to the report, had an opposite effect than that desired. It has provoked sympathy for the Jews instead of hatred.
According to the report, Christian ministers were especially given pause, pondering publicly: “Who knows? We Christians might soon find ourselves wearing the cross where Jews now wear the yellow star.” This reflection resembles the famous quotation by Martin Niemöller which is part of the USHMM’s permanent exhibition:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
On October 3, 1941, the (Indianapolis) Jewish Postshared a report from Amsterdam via Stockholm, that “Nazi authorities in Holland have issued an order compelling all Jews there to wear a yellow Star of David over their heart” and that the accompanying restrictions imposed on Jews in Germany prohibiting travel and instilling a curfew would also apply in Holland.
The Nazi propaganda machine was at work in Holland as well. German occupying authorities ordered the showing of the 1940 film The Eternal Jew, a horribly antisemitic piece of Nazi propaganda and a pet project of Joseph Goebbels. But also at work was a quiet resistance. The (Indianapolis) Jewish Postreported:
Demonstrating their contempt for the anti-Jewish propaganda which the Nazis are conducting in the Netherlands, crowds of Hollanders flock to the theaters where the Nazi anti-Jewish film “The Eternal Jew” is being shown under orders from Berlin, and sit through the entire performance with their backs to the screen.
According to the USHMM, the badge was systematically enforced throughout Belgium and the Netherlands by the spring of 1942 and in occupied France by June. In each place the badge was introduced, deportations to ghettos and then killing centers soon followed. The badge was only a piece of cloth. But the intent was to mark Jews as different, less than human, and designate them for deportation and murder. The Nazi imposition of the star badge serves as a reminder that we must confront antisemitism and other forms of hate on contact. According to the USHMM:
More than 70 years after the Holocaust, the horrors of Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Darfur are sobering reminders that preventing future genocides and mass atrocities remains an enormous challenge. Yet genocide is not the inevitable result of ancient hatreds or irrational leaders. As we learn more about the risk factors, warning signs, and triggering events that have led to it in the past, we are also learning ways to prevent it in the future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
[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.