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.
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.
Social media today disseminates news faster than any other time in history. Our contemporary political atmosphere, dominated by the 24/7 news cycle and social media, often churns through stories faster than bills can be drafted and carefully-worded messages honed. One article from Mashable, entitled “The Future of Social Media and Politics”, examined how important social media outlets are to current grassroots campaigns and shaping political influence through direct communication with candidates. Another article, this time from The Atlantic, examines how charisma influences our perceptions of leaders and in what standing we hold them in.
These strategies, while utilizing the most up-to-date technology, are not new. The rise of John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon was as much a response to his policies as it was his appearance in the first televised debates. The charismatic and good-looking Kennedy swayed many followers away from the established politician Nixon, and helped to shift the public perception on his ability to lead the country. The power of messaging and personality is certainly a powerful tool in getting many leaders elected and crafting their image once in office.
Politics in Indiana during the first part of the 20th century was serious business. It was often dominated by political machines, the Ku Klux Klan, and larger-than-life political figures. However, two-time Republican Indianapolis mayor Samuel Lewis Shank, had no interest in either machine politics or joining the Klan. “Lew,” as he was called, did, however, like the idea of being a larger-than-life politician. Particularly during his first term as mayor, he frequently used the media as an outlet for showy political stunts and self-promotions. While he garnered a reputation as a colorful and outspoken figure, his well-covered tactics were not enough for him to go down in Indiana history as a masterful politician. Indeed, he resigned in late November 1913 with one month left of his mayoral term and was not elected to another political position for nearly a decade before one more stint as mayor.
The popularity of Lew Shank derived from the crafted image of his plainspoken nature, and the fact that he presented himself as the common man. This folksy-geniality endeared himself to the public, and the papers, for years. His career in auctioneering (which continued during both terms as mayor) and time on the stage as a vaudeville performer also provided him the skills to captivate crowds with outrageous stories. The unusual press Shank received during his years in politics, as demonstrated in Hoosier State Chronicles, certainly kept his name in the headlines, for better or worse.
Despite these somewhat unusual headlines, Shank was serious about politics. Shank’s political aspirations began at the age of eighteen. Shank attempted a campaign to become city councilor but was defeated. Undaunted, Shank mounted an ambitious campaign to not only raise his political profile, but also capture the seat of county recorder, wherein he was responsible for maintaining legal documents and records. This campaign included taking out self-promotional advertisements in local papers, partnering with companies to produce objects with his name imprinted on them, (like cigars and chewing gum), and engaging in several publicity stunts. These tactics not only won him the seat of county recorder, but also raised his popularity in local and national papers.
Although a long shot (even for the Republican nomination spot), Shank was able to turn his success as county recorder into a viable campaign for mayor of Indianapolis in 1909. Edging out the favored Republican nominee and then his Democratic opponent, Shank won nine of fifteen wards of Indianapolis with a total of 1,625 votes.  Yet he was not above resorting to dishonest tactics to win. Shank recalled to the New-York Tribune in 1912 that he gained an advantage in the mayoral election with the African-American community by stating that his political opponent removed his daughter from an integrated school. He openly admitted lying—his opponent had no daughters at all. 
Once arriving in office, Shank had a great deal to prove to the citizens of Indianapolis and within his own party. He relied on theatrics and courted the media. One such effort included the enforcement of saloon laws in Indianapolis, particularly laws which prevented the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Shank, of course, handled the issue with his own particular brand of showmanship. Indeed, he insisted that Indianapolis saloon keepers’ licenses were revoked until they sat through a Sunday church service, among other requirements:
Shank again entered the spotlight with his “High Cost of Living” campaign, a reaction to food pricing throughout the state. Shank, believing the mark-up of food to be excessive, went straight to the suppliers, purchased sundries, and then sold the products to the public at cost on the steps of the State Capitol building. What many could see as a cheap publicity stunt proved to be a boon to Shank’s popularity and actually led to lower prices of groceries in Indianapolis.
However, his flashier tactics could not resolve the streetcar strikes in November of 1913, which ultimately led to his downfall. The Indianapolis Traction and Terminal employees began a wage and benefit strike. On November 2, the company president brought in strikebreakers, which led to open warfare. A violent clash between strikebreakers and striking workers led to injuries and two deaths. The owners of the line called in strike-breakers to get the lines running again, and requested help from the Indianapolis police department to protect the company men. Due to disagreements between Shank, the police chief, and officers, law enforcement did not provide an adequate response. This did not aid Shank’s standing for many in the city.
Eventually, after threats of impeachment and another impending strike, Shank resigned his job as mayor, one month short of the end of his term. It is possible this too was a publicity stunt, as he had already signed a contract for, as the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis notes, “the vaudeville circuit with a monologue about his time as mayor.” It would be nearly nine years until Shank would be elected again to public office, and his exit was met with a generally negative response:
During his second stint as mayor of Indianapolis in the early 1920s, he actively opposed the Klan through such methods as banning masked parades and burning crosses.  Although easily defeated, he ran in the Republican primary for governor in 1923 against the Klan-backed nominee (and eventual winner), Ed Jackson, in an effort to stem the statewide power of the Klan. Despite his non-traditional career path and aspirations for higher office, Shank’s rise in politics, led by his ability to capture media attention, was an improbable example of both the powers and limits of charismatic politics.
Summer is upon us, and one of the staples of American summers is fast food. It’s always a blast to roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, and head on over to your favorite drive-thru. Now, we all know about the classics: McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC. But there’s one fast-food giant, wildly popular from 1950s through the 70s, which almost beat them all. That was Indianapolis-based Burger Chef.
A short article from the June 24, 1842 issue of the Brookville, Indiana American noted that Van Buren’s horse carriage, traveling on the National Road, took a tumble (and so did the former commander-in-chief). As the American described:
Martin Van Buren, it is known, always opposed appropriations to the National Road. On his journey west last week he was compelled to travel that road, when it was in its worst situation; and when 10 miles west of Indianapolis the stage upset, and very much injured the Dutchman’s shoulder. We are disposed to believe he will hereafter acknowledge the necessity, if not the justice, of appropriations to that road.
Over the years, Van Buren’s fall evolved into a local legend for the Plainfield community, so much so that a memorial plaque was placed on a boulder near a tree. As with many local stories, the tree has taken on a level of significance. A story by NPR elaborated on the tree’s importance:
The report is of the carriage coming down that hill and gaining speed and gaining speed and then hitting the tree roots here and tipping over. . . .
At the base of the tree was a large mud hole where pigs wallowed. There were two routes to get around it, but the carriage driver deliberately took the rough route knowing the elm’s roots would overturn the carriage and send Van Buren flying into the mud. The plan was executed perfectly. The carriage tipped over, and Van Buren went into the muck, soiling his starched white clothes and filling his boots with thick mud.
That night a mysterious chap partially sawed the underside of the doubletree crossbar of the stage that Van Buren and his party were to travel west in so that it would snap on the first hard pull… When Mr. Van Buren left on Friday morning for Indianapolis, before the stage had gone two miles it was swamped in a mud hole and he had to take it on foot.
Despite the apocryphal nature of the story’s details, the tree’s legendary status nonetheless encouraged the community to install a marker nearby.
The Indianapolis Times began publication as the Sun in 1888, described by the Ayer’s newspaper directory as the “only one-cent paper in Indiana.” Fred L. Purdy served as its first editor and owned a minority stake in its publishing; J. S. Sweeney owned the majority stake. It ran daily under this title until 1899 and its circulation grew to 12,823 by 1898. In 1899, it was renamed the Indianapolis Sun and continued its daily publication. During this time, it also maintained a professional partnership with the Scripps-McRae wire service out of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In 1922, Scripps-Howard publishing purchased the Times and it was renamed the Indianapolis Times, the title it kept until it ceased publication in 1965. Roy W. Howard served as the president of Scripps-Howard publishing from 1922-1964, overseeing not only the Times but the United Press International worldwide wire service. Alongside in-house journalism by Times staff, many articles published during this period came from the Scripps-Howard wire service, Newspaper Enterprise Association.
During the 1930s, the Times advocated for children’s needs, raising money for charities that supplied coats and other clothing items to children hit hard by the Great Depression. In the recession of 1961-62, the Times helped 4,000 Indiana residents find jobs through its publishing of free employment ads. Alongside its Klan coverage, the Times also covered multiple scandals, from corruption in the state’s highway fund and voter fraud in congressional districts to exposing falsely reported Indianapolis crime statistics. It even published coverage during the 1960s that advocated for better lunches in public schools, through the use of the federal school surplus program.
Despite its successful journalism and philanthropy, the Times lacked the resources and circulation to compete with Indianapolis’s rival dailies, the News and the Star. On October 11, 1965, the Indianapolis Times ran its final issue and suspended publication. Its final daily circulation totaled 89,374, with a Sunday circulation of 101,000.
While the Indianapolis Times ceased publication over 50 years ago, it maintains a legacy of good journalism and civic integrity. Due to its immense impact on the community, the Indiana Historical Bureau shared the newspaper’s history with future generations of Hoosiers via a historical marker originally placed in 1979, and replaced in 2013.
With the 2016 presidential primaries upon us, there’s more buzz than usual this year about a word with deep roots in Hoosier history — socialism. And, as always, religion remains a factor at the polling booths. This is also the first time in about a century that a major presidential candidate has openly disavowed “organized” religion. The last candidate to do so was Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist, skeptic, and native Hoosier who ran for president five times just before and after World War I. (Debs ran his last campaign from a federal prison in Atlanta in 1920, where he’d been sent for opposing the military draft.)
The topics of socialism and religion were hot as ever back in Debs’ day. In some ways, that debate looks eerily familiar, with skeptics accusing churches of abetting social inequality, and believers often firing back with equally broad strokes about the dangers of revolution. While plenty of American labor activists were religious — including major voices like Mother Jones and Terence Powderly — Debs and many more were agnostic. Indiana Socialist, the newspaper of the Marion County Socialist Party in Indianapolis, tended toward religious skepticism, often printing ads for books that questioned Christian beliefs and especially church authorities. Since most American workers were Christian, however, Socialist leaders were wary of alienating them, and Debs found much in the ethics of the New Testament to applaud.
(The “Socialist literature wagon” once sat at the corner of Market and Pennsylvania streets in downtown Indianapolis. Indiana Socialist, April 26, 1913. The Socialist Party of Indianapolis’s 1913 campaign platform called for such things as public playgrounds, urban beautification, and equal pay for equal work. The newspaper estimated that Marion County, Indiana, alone had about 8,000 Socialist voters in 1913, plus others whom it alleged were kept from voting by their employers.)
The poem’s author was Henry M. Tichenor (1858-1924). Along with fellow Midwesterners Clarence Darrow and Robert Ingersoll, Tichenor was one of the most outspoken American freethinkers of his time. An influential Socialist writer and editor in Missouri, Tichenor loathed organized Christianity. Contrary to popular belief, many Americans were disgruntled with churches a century ago, and Tichenor’s popular, down-to-earth style made him popular even in the Midwest, whose radical history runs almost as deep as its reputation for staunch conservatism.
(Harry M. Tichenor in 1914.)
Unlike the Marxist intellectuals who twisted Socialism to serve the greed of dictators and party elites, Tichenor was no high-falutin’ “comrade” inventing totalitarian “Newspeak” — the language of George Orwell’s memorable dystopian lampoon, 1984. Yet his long, comic tirades against “holy humbug” (books with titles like The Life and Exploits of Jehovah) are basically the scribblings of a humorist, not a serious historian. They probably never bothered anyone except fundamentalists who insisted on a literal reading of every story in the Bible.
In 1913, Tichenor was a regular poetry contributor to the St. Louis-based National Rip-Saw, “America’s Greatest Socialist Monthly.” He was also cranking out fiery anti-capitalist pamphlets with titles like “The Rip-Saw Mother Goose,” “Rip-Saw Socialism Songs,” and “Woman Under Capitalism.” That year he started printing a socialist journal of his own, The Melting Pot, a political and comic firecracker.
From 1917 into the 1920s, Hoosier movie-goers had a chance to see one of the most controversial — and arguably infamous — silent films ever produced, The Black Stork, later renamed Are You Fit To Marry? Identified by one film historian as among the earliest horror movies, TheBlack Stork was based on a real and gut-wrenching medical drama from 1915.
Billed as a “eugenics love story,” the movie’s script was authored by Chicago journalist, muckraker and theater critic Jack Lait. Lait worked for news mogul William Randolph Hearst, the very man who inspired the lead figure in Orson Welles’ great 1941 movie Citizen Kane. Hearst, king of American “yellow journalism,” relished controversies, which sold newspapers and theater tickets. His film company, International Film Service, produced The Black Stork.
Many Americans today have never heard the word “eugenics,” a once-popular scientific theory spawned by Victorian understandings of evolution and heredity in the wake of Charles Darwin. The word comes from the Greek for “well-born” or “good stock” and refers to the social interpretation of scientific discoveries purporting to show how harmful genetic traits are passed on from parents to children — and how healthy children could be bred. Eugenics wasn’t strictly the same as science itself, but a social philosophy based on the discoveries of Darwin, the monk-botanist Gregor Mendel, and Darwin’s nephew, geneticist Francis Galton. Yet many scientists and doctors got involved with this social philosophy.
Once fairly mainstream, support for eugenic theories plummeted after the defeat of Hitler, its most notorious advocate. Aspects of eugenics — like the forced sterilization of repeat criminals, rapists, epileptics, the poor, and some African Americans — continued in twenty-seven American states into the 1950s and even later in a few. The last forced sterilization in the U.S. was performed in Oregon in 1981.
Indiana played an enormous role in the history of eugenics when the Hoosier State became the first to enact a compulsory sterilization law in 1907 — a law that lumped the mentally handicapped in with sex offenders, made it virtually illegal for whole classes deemed “unfit” to reproduce, segregated many of the disabled into mental hospitals, and enshrined white supremacy. Though the Indiana law was struck down in 1921, those ideas were hugely popular with many academics and activists all across the political spectrum.
Especially notable, the Indiana Eugenics Law wasn’t pushed by those designated as white racist “hillbillies.” “Poor white” Indianapolis slum-dwellers, in fact, were very much targeted by the eugenicists of the early 20th century. Promoters of these spurious theories included mainstream biologists, doctors, many reform-minded Progressives, women’s rights advocates, college presidents, even a few Christian ministers and Socialists. The list of widely-admired people who spoke out in favor of simplistic eugenic proposals included Helen Keller, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Sir Winston Churchill, Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, author Jack London, IU and Stanford University president David Starr Jordan, Alexander Graham Bell, and the civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois. One of the few well-known anti-eugenics crusaders was Senator William Jennings Bryan, a Christian Fundamentalist who lost caste with Progressives in the 1920s for opposing the teaching of evolution.
Eugenics, however, was neither “liberal” nor “conservative.” Americans of all political stripes supported its basic premise — the preservation of social order and the engineering of more a “humane” society. Strong support for eugenics came from Americans concerned about the proliferation of poverty and urban crime and who sought a reason to keep certain nationalities from entering the U.S. Eugenics did not begin to go out of favor until 1935, when scientists from the Carnegie Institute in Washington demonstrated the flimsiness of other scientists’ work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. Yet even as eugenicists placed human reproduction on the level of horse- and livestock-breeding, the genetic abolition of any individual deemed “feeble-minded” — and the destruction of hereditary and sexually-transmitted diseases — was packaged as a positive goal, a social benefit to all, even to those who underwent involuntary sterilization and were occasionally killed.
Euthanasia was one component of eugenics. Alongside the “positive eugenics” campaign for “Better Babies and Fitter Families,” “negative eugenics” partly revolved around the controversial view that infants born with severe disabilities should be left to die or killed outright. In 1915, a case in Chicago plunged Americans into a heated debate about medical ethics.
That November, Dr. Harry J. Haiselden, chief surgeon at the German-American Hospital in Chicago, was faced with a tough dilemma. A woman named Anna Bollinger had just given birth to a child, John, who suffered from severe birth defects. John had no neck or right ear and suffered from a serious skin ailment, all judged to be the result of syphilis likely passed on by his father. Dr. Haiselden knew that he could save the child’s life through a surgical procedure. But since he was familiar with the conditions into which Illinois’ “feeble-minded” were thrown after birth, he convinced the child’s parents to let John die at the hospital. When the news came out that the doctor wasn’t going to perform the necessary surgery, an unknown person tried to kidnap the child and take it to another hospital. The kidnapping attempt failed and John Bollinger died.
While the Catholic Church, one of the few vocal critics of eugenics, was the only major group to initially protest the surgeon’s decision, Haiselden was soon called before a medical ethics board in Chicago. He nearly lost his medical license, but managed to keep it. Public opinion was sharply divided. Chicago social worker and suffragette Jane Addams came out against Haiselden. Short of the death penalty for murder, Addams said, no doctor had the right to be an unwilling person’s executioner. “It is not for me to decide whether a child should be put to death. If it is a defective, it should be treated as such, and be taught all it can learn,” she added.
Many of Haiselden’s critics, such as Addams, pointed out that if eugenicists had had their way, they would have killed some of the great “defectives” in history, like Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevksy, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, children’s writer Edward Lear, and even the eugenicist Harry Laughlin himself — all of them epileptics. (Biologist Laughlin, Superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor and one of the science’s greatest advocates, had suffered from epilepsy since childhood.)
Support for Dr. Haiselden, however, came from many famous social activists. Among them was Helen Keller — advocate for the disabled, a Socialist, and a eugenics supporter (at least in 1915.) Keller, who was blind and deaf since the age of one but thrived against all odds, published her views on the Haiselden case in The New Republic. She thought that children proven to be “idiots” by a “jury of expert physicians” could and perhaps should be put to death. Chicago lawyer and civil liberties crusader Clarence Darrow — who famously went up against eugenics critic William Jennings Bryan at the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial — made no bones about his support for the surgeon: “Chloroform unfit children,” Darrow said. “Show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.” Indiana Socialist Eugene V. Debs also supported Haiselden’s decision.
(Clarence Darrow and Helen Keller supported Haiselden.)
Harry Haiselden held onto his job, but bolstered his position and kept the firestorm of public discussion brewing by starring as himself in a silent film based on the Bollinger case. The Black Stork came to hundreds of American theaters, including many Hoosier ones. Because public health workers and eugenicists often gave admonitory lectures before and after the movie, separate showings were offered for men and women. Young children weren’t allowed to attend, but a South Carolina minister encouraged parents to bring their teenage children — so they could see what might come from sexual promiscuity, criminality, drinking and “race mixing.” Some theater bills added the catchy subtitle: “The Scourge of Humanity.”
The movie’s plot was partly fictional and not entirely based on the 1915 Bollinger euthanasia case. TheFort Wayne Journal-Gazette gave its readers the basic story line, which came with an interesting twist near the end:
The “taint of the Black Stork” was obviously bad genes and heritable diseases. Haiselden’s silent film has been called one of the earliest horror movies, though its promoters billed it as educational and even romantic in nature. It fueled the eugenics movement’s campaign about defectives but also tackled an ethical dilemma that’s still alive today: is it ever humane to kill a person without their permission, on the grounds that the victim is doomed to live a miserable life and be only a “burden on society”?
Since American eugenics was supported by known racists and would later be directly cited by the Nazis as inspiration for their “racial science,” it’s uncomfortable to look deeper into it and realize how much turf it shares with Progressivists’ real concern for the treatment of the poor — and of mothers, some of whom would have been forced to raise severely disabled children. Some Americans thought the best way to eradicate poverty and disease was to eradicate the poor themselves by restricting their right to pass on the human “germ plasm” to the next generation. Eugenics and even euthanasia became, for some, a way to avoid social reforms. “Nurture vs. nature” lost out to inescapable hereditary destiny.
The Black Stork’s title was eventually changed to Are You Fit To Marry? It ran in theaters and roadshows well into the Roaring Twenties. It’s hard to believe that eugenicists begged Americans to ask themselves honestly if they were “fit to marry.” One wonders how many Americans voluntarily abstained from having children after deeming themselves “unfit”?
Ads show that the film was screened at at least three theaters in Indianapolis (including English’s Theatre on Monument Circle) as well as at movie halls in Fort Wayne, East Chicago, Whiting, Hammond, Evansville, Richmond and probably many other Hoosier towns.
The “eugenics photo-drama” reminded Americans of the dangers that “bad” heredity posed not only to their own families, but to the nation. When The Black Stork was shown in Elyria, Ohio, just a few months into America’s involvement in World War I, it clearly drew from the well of fear-mongering that linked crime and disease to alcohol, immigration, prostitution and rumors about German traitors and saboteurs — all clear threats to Anglo-Saxon ideals. Eugenics and euthanasia, by “saving our nation from misery and decay,” clearly got hitched to the wagon of nationalist politics. Viewing The Black Stork, like supporting the war effort, became “a solemn duty.”
German scientists were promoting “racial hygiene” long before the Nazis came to power in the 1930s. Fascism’s scientists and propagandists would also draw heavily on the work of British and American eugenicists — and point to laws like Indiana’s when opponents criticized them. Racial Hygiene, in fact, was the title of an influential textbook by Hoosier doctor Thurman B. Rice, a professor at IU Bloomington, a colleague of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and one of the founders of IU Medical School in Indianapolis. In April 1929, Rice wrote an editorial in the Indiana State Board of Health’s monthly bulletin, entitled “If I Were Mussolini,” where he supported compulsory sterilization of “defectives.”
The Black Stork wasn’t the last film about euthanasia and eugenics. In 1941, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, commissioned one of the classics of Nazi cinema, Ich klage an (I Accuse). The plot revolves around a husband who learns that his wife has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He gives her a drug that causes her death, then undergoes a trial for murder. The film’s producers argued that death was not only a right but a social duty. A tearjerker, Ich klage an was intended to soften up the German public for the Nazis’ T4 euthanasia campaign, which led to the deaths of as many as 200,000 adults and children deemed a burden to the nation. (There’s some further irony that Ich klage an’s cinematic parent, The Black Stork, was based on events at Chicago’s German-American Hospital.)
Eugenics captivated Americans and Europeans for a few more decades after the Bollinger case. British writer G.K. Chesterton, a Catholic convert and a fierce opponent of eugenics, probably deserves the last word here. Chesterton called eugenics “terrorism by tenth-rate professors.”
In his 1922 book Eugenics and Other Evils: An Argument Against the Scientifically Organized State, Chesterton quipped that society has never really had all that much to fear from the “feeble-minded.” Rather, it’s the “strong-minded” who hurt society the most. Tearing into eugenics advocates in Britain, Germany and America, Chesterton spotlighted their frequent class prejudices, then skewered them brilliantly:
Why do not the promoters of the Feeble-Minded Bill call at the many grand houses in town and country where such nightmares notoriously are? Why do they not knock at the door and take the bad squire away? Why do they not ring the bell and remove the dipsomaniac prize-fighter? I do not know; and there is only one reason I can think of, which must remain a matter of speculation. When I was at school, the kind of boy who liked teasing half-wits was not the sort that stood up to bullies.
Dr. Harry J. Haiselden was involved in the deaths of at least three more disabled infants. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage while on vacation in Havana, Cuba, in 1919.