Tag Archives: women’s history

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

 

Ida Husted Harper

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Mary Hannah Krout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Esther Griffin White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman's Feathered Hat circa 1913

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Woman's Feathered Hat 4
Woman with an entire bird in her hat, circa 1890. Late-Victorian and Edwardian fashions led to the deaths of several hundred million birds in the days before state, national, and international laws stepped in to help prevent the extinction of many of them. A moral crusade among consumers and nature-lovers — as well as changing fashions — were even more important factors.

Millinery advertisement, 1911
Millinery advertisement, 1911.

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

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


Hummingbird Skins at Millinery Sale, August 1912
Hummingbird skins at a millinery sale, August 1912.

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

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


Recreation, April 1902
Recreation, April 1902.

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

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


The Inter Ocean, Chicago, April 8, 1910

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

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

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


Seymour Daily Republican, January 25, 1913
Seymour Daily Republican, January 25, 1913.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Indianapolis Star, January 19, 1913


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

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


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

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


Indianapolis Star, March 3, 1913 (2)
Indianapolis Star, March 3, 1913. The “feminine correspondent” was probably Betty Blythe.

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

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

Even more effective, fashion changes and class antagonism caused upper-class women to adopt new apparel like the “slouch” and “cloche” hats and new hairstyles like the bob.  As hair was being cut back, elaborate feather ornaments made little sense.  In the U.S. and the UK, where upper-class and upper-middle-class women made up most of the membership in groups like the Audubon Society, female conservationists sometimes targeted women of other classes for sporting feathers.  Slowly, they instigated change.

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


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

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Leap Year & “The Ladies’ Privilege”

Leap Year 1908

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

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

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


Indiana American, Brookville, April 29, 1836

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


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

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


St Brigid


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


Sadie Hawkins Dance

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


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


Evansville Journal, April 24, 1845

(Evansville Daily Journal, April 24, 1845.)


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


Indiana American, Brookville, December 15, 1848

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


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


The Locomotive, March 11, 1848

(The Locomotive, March 11, 1848.)


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

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


All Men Beware


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

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

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


Inez Milholland

(Inez Milholland.)


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

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


Inez Milholland and Eugen Boissevain


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

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


Inez Milholland 2


Inez Milholland 3

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


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


Eugen Jan Boissevain

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


 

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Onions vs. Cancer

anti-onion gas mask

What’s the connection between Quakers, whalers, cancer and onions?  Here’s some unexpected medical history from the Hoosier State.

While flipping through a few of the oldest Indiana newspapers, we ran across several “vintage cures” — including a couple of surprising ones for cancer, a disease that was as feared in 1816 as it is now, though the pioneers suffered from exponentially lower rates of it.

Oddly enough, the first remedy here, which claims to be able to treat cancer with onions, might not be bogus.

Modern medical research agrees with “folk” doctors on one thing, at least:  regardless of the real havoc wreaked on your breath, garlic and onions are potent cancer-fighting foods.  These veggies rank up there with broccoli, wild berries, ginger, olive oil, and a daily glass of wine as one of nature’s best weapons against tumors.

Onions have figured into medical practice for far longer than chemotherapy and radiation.  Alternative practitioners and cancer patients often claim that vegetable-based remedies are at least as effective as chemo and radiation therapy — and they avoid the psychological side effects.  Red onions, containing high amounts of a “flavonoid” called quercetin, are a strong antioxidant, antihistamine, and natural antibiotic.  Quercetin helps protect cells and DNA against damage and reduces cholesterol and inflammation. Not only do onions lend a hand in preventing cancer to begin with, they seem to help rid the body of it.


onions 2


Believe it or not, an onion remedy for cancer appears (as a reprint) in Indiana’s oldest newspaper, the Vincennes Western Sun.  This 1811 remedy — published when Vincennes was still the capital of Indiana Territory and just a few months before the Battle of Tippecanoe — isn’t too far off from the “onion juice therapy” still touted in alternative medicine.

It’s doubly interesting that the list of “signers” who vouched for the cure is headed by a woman, Jane Starbuck.


starbuck

(Western Sun, Vincennes, Indiana, June 29, 1811.)


Genealogical records indicate that the Jane Starbuck who had apparently gotten involved in “folk medicine” and tried to help cancer patients was probably a Quaker named Jane Taylor Starbuck (1755-1834).   Her “receipt” (i.e., recipe) for an onion-based cure made its way into the Vincennes Western Sun by way of a copy of the Raleigh Star that was brought from North Carolina to the Wabash Valley and read by editor Elihu Stout.  (The Western Sun contains almost no local news, which would have traveled by word of mouth in a small place like Vincennes.  Stout, however, was always eager to pass on news from back East and down South.)

Jane Taylor Starbuck lived in Guilford County, North Carolina, birthplace of several thousand Quakers who began moving north to Indiana just before the War of 1812.  Most came for new land, but many came to get away from slavery, which most — not all — Quakers opposed.  Jane Taylor Starbuck seems to have stayed in the South, but her son Edward Starbuck, who also endorsed the cancer cure, joined the Quaker exodus to the Midwest.  Edward, born in 1777, settled just east of Fountain City in Wayne County.  His brother William Starbuck, another Quaker pioneer, is thought to have bought twenty-one slaves in North Carolina before he came north — a clever move against slavery, perhaps, since he set them all free when they got to Indiana.  (Even free African Americans moving north often traveled with and settled near Quakers for protection.)

If the name “Starbuck” means more to you than coffee, you’ve probably read Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  The Starbuck family, into which Jane Taylor married in 1776, were prominent whalers on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.  While the Starbuck who served as chief mate of Captain Ahab’s doomed Pequod — sunk by the white whale in the South Seas — was a fictional cousin of these Hoosier pioneers, Melville’s story was based on the very real fate of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship that was crushed and sunk by a sperm whale in 1820.  The Essex’s crew, floating around the Pacific Ocean on rowboats, were reduced to cannibalism and drew lots to see who would die next.  One of the unlucky victims was a teenage sailor from Nantucket, Owen Coffin.


moby dick 2


Now if the name “Coffin” means more to you than a casket, maybe you’ve visited the home of the “President” of the Underground Railroad, Levi Coffin, in Fountain City, Indiana.  Coffin’s house is just a few miles from Edward Starbuck’s farm.  One of the bravest men in Hoosier history, Levi Coffin was another ardent Quaker from Guilford County, North Carolina.  He moved to Indiana in 1826 and began funneling escaped slaves toward Canada almost as soon as he arrived.

Like the Starbucks, Levi Coffin was originally from New Garden, North Carolina, but had Nantucket family roots. He almost definitely knew Jane Taylor Starbuck and her son Edward. (Both families belonged to the New Garden Quaker Meeting.) Coffin himself was a cousin of Jane Starbuck’s husband, William, who was a Nantucket native, reared among the whalers and seafarers of colonial Massachusetts.  From his Indiana farmhouse, Levi Coffin showed as much fearlessness as his New England cousins and grandparents did sailing the remote seas.


Levi Coffin

(Levi Coffin, 1798-1877, who with his wife Catherine fought the cancer of slavery and survived to see its death, lived just north of Richmond. Their Indiana home has been called the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad.  They helped thousands evade slave catchers.)


In his memoirs, Coffin mentions an Edward Starbuck.  He and the man who offered a cancer remedy in 1811 appear to be one and the same. (Coffin wrote that an Edward Starbuck also helped him found an anti-liquor society in Fountain City — then called Newport — in 1830, when the fugitive slave conductor was also beginning a “War on King Alcohol.”)  Edward Starbuck himself lived on a farm between Whitewater and Fountain City, a few miles from Ohio.  At some point, Starbuck apparently left the Quakers to become a Methodist minister.

Here’s the onion cure — which called for more than onions, by the way.  It also required puccoon root (blood root), used in both European and American Indian pharmacology for generations as an antibiotic.  (American Indians also used it as a dye.) The Western Sun of Vincennes printed this alleged cure on June 9, 1811.


Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (1)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (2)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (3)

Western Sun, June 29, 1811 (4)

(Western Sun, Vincennes, Indiana, June 29, 1811.)


A decade later, “cures for cancer” were still coming out in American newspapers.  The 19th century turned out to be a golden age of questionable — if not downright dangerous — panaceas, some of them offered by doctors, some by quacks.  Even some university-trained practitioners swore they could make a patient cancer-free.

It’s hard to blame anybody for trying, but this cure, reprinted in the Richmond Weekly Intelligencer in 1822 and which seems to recommend some kind of cauterization, would be impossible to vouch for.


Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822 (1)

Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822 (2)

(Richmond Weekly Intelligencer, August 28, 1822.)


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A Short History of Hammond’s Lake County Times

It’s not cold enough in Indiana this year to get your tongue stuck to an icy flagpole.  But every holiday season, we Hoosiers are reminded that the comedy classic A Christmas Story (1983) is set in our fair state.

Though filmed in Cleveland, Ohio — where the original Ralphie Parker residence was sold on eBay in 2004, restored to its 1940 appearance, and turned into a museum — the tale is based on the semi-fictional remembrances of Hoosier writer Jean Shepherd. Born on Chicago’s South Side, Shepherd grew up just over the state line in East Chicago and Hammond, Indiana, where he graduated from high school in 1939.  After serving with the Army Signal Corps in World War II, the future author began his radio broadcast career at WJOB in Hammond before moving to Cincinnati and New York. Many of Shepherd’s stories began as on-the-air reminiscences before they appeared in Playboy.  Some would have been picked up by listeners in the Midwest.

If Ralphie’s dad, played by the late Darren McGavin, read any newspaper by the light of that short-lived leg lamp, it would probably have been the Hammond Times.  Hoosier State Chronicles will soon be uploading a long run of the Lake County Times, renamed the Times in 1933. Meanwhile, here’s a bit of its history. Who knows? It might even turn up some colorful background material on Jean Shepherd’s classic A Christmas Story.


June 12, 1920
Lake County Times, June 12, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Seventy years before Ralphie Parker came onto the scene, the young lumber port of State Line, Indiana, wasn’t producing enough news to keep a local newspaper afloat.  Most of its early settlers came from Germany and spoke and read English poorly.  The town’s success — and eventual name change — was overwhelmingly due to George H. Hammond, a Detroit butcher whose 1868 patent for refrigerated rail cars helped him rival Chicago’s great slaughterhouses. Mammoth stockyards along Lake Michigan attracted both immigrants and tourists to the greater Chicago area.  (When Rudyard Kipling visited the Windy City in 1899, he wrote a horrified description of the “disassembly line” at Philip Armour’s slaughterhouse.)  Abundant local lakes and rivers provided the ice that helped meatpacking thrive.

Yet the Hammond Packing Company’s preference for hiring German butchers and sausage-makers indirectly handicapped the development of an English-language press in northern Lake County. Most German residents of the “Hoosier Coast” got their news from thriving German-language newspapers in Chicago and Milwaukee. Even Hammond’s own Deutsche Volks-Zeitung didn’t start publishing until 1891.  It died out sometime before 1911.


Hammond Harbor
Hammond harbor during its days as a minor lumber port.

Though northwest Indiana soon became an industrial powerhouse, this was one of the last corners of the state to be settled.  In 1900, lumbermen, farmers, and engineers had barely cleared the forests and drained the swamps that defined the landscape of the Calumet region (or simply “Da Region,” in local parlance.)  Gary, whose steel mills made it Lake County’s most important city, was founded only in 1906.

The Hammond Packing Company burned down in 1901 and was never rebuilt.  Steel, railroads, and retail took over.   Ironically, the rapid development of Lake County led to “Da Region” becoming a cradle of American conservation, as nature enthusiasts and city dwellers successfully fought to save the famous Indiana Dunes — a favorite Chicago playground — from destruction.


April 17, 1920
Lake County Times, April 17, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1906, Hammond’s floundering English press got a boost when Sidmon McHie (1863-1944), a wealthy Chicago grain and stock broker, bought the struggling Hammond Times.  The enterprising McHie turned the paper around, using it to promote Lake County’s young industries and businesses.  At that time,  Calumet was fertile ground for venture capitalists like McHie.  As a 1943 tribute to him put it, the energetic owner used the paper to “get Hammond to believe in itself.”


Sidmon and Isabel McHie
Sidmon and Isabel McHie had a marriage even more colorful and tempestuous than Ralphie’s parents. U.S. Passport application, 1921.

Not content with marketing the news only to Hammond, McHie changed the paper’s name to the Lake County Times and pushed sales in Whiting, Gary, Indiana Harbor, and East Chicago. The daily’s circulation, which stood at just 137 when McHie bought it in 1906, jumped to 5,000 within a year and almost exceeded 10,000 in 1920.  As an investment scheme, McHie circulated many copies for free simply to promote the city.  By the time A Christmas Story was set in the early 1940s, the paper was reaching 130,000 readers — probably including “Old Man Parker” himself.

McHie (whose first name is often misspelled Simon and even Sidney) hired Chicago sportswriter Hugh E. Keough to be the Lake County Times’ first editor.  Best known for his Chicago Tribune sports column (“In the Wake of the News”), Keough served as an official at Midwestern and Southern horse-racing tracks, whose decline led him back into newspaper work by 1906.  Keough and the witty Ring Lardner were two of Chicago’s best writers on baseball.  Keough’s tenure on the Lake County Times was short-lived, however.  He was replaced by Percy A. Parry (who had emigrated to the U.S. from Wales at age nine.)  For decades, Parry and his brothers were part of a “dynasty” of Lake County news editors.

While Gary was becoming known for its mills, Sidmon McHie and his editors on the Lake County Times helped transform Hammond into a shopping mecca for northwest Indiana.  It’s no coincidence that the plot of A Christmas Story revolves around one of Hammond’s great department stores — where the line to see a drunken Santa Claus and some evil elves “stretched all the way back to Terre Haute.”


Lake County Times, July 9, 1920
Lake County Times, July 9, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

1937 Hammond Indiana directory
Though Hammond is referred to as “Hohman” in A Christmas Story, this was an avenue named after one of the city’s German founders. 1937 Hammond City Directory.

With a stock broker and capitalist at the helm, the Lake County Times became a colorful, flamboyant paper and enjoyed strong sales. While not known for deep investigative journalism at the time, the paper does provide a window into the social issues of the 1910s and ’20s – from the scandalous rise in American divorce rates to labor struggles at Indiana’s burgeoning steel mills.  Much of its “reporting,” however, was syndicated — and wasn’t serious news, anyway.


Lake County Times, December 6, 1922
Lake County Times, December 6, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Dick -- Lake County Times, March 25, 1920
Lake County Times, March 25, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Lake County Times wasn’t especially friendly to labor movements or to socialism.  During the lead-up to America’s entry into World War I in 1917, it also joined in the vilification of Germany.  The Hammond paper helped stoke up public fears during the 1919 “Red Scare,” which involved a crackdown by U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer on anarchists, Communists, and immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, whose politics were suspect in the wake of the Russian Revolution and a wave of anarchist bomb plots.  Gary, which participated in the great steel strike of 1919 and was home to thousands of Eastern Europeans, was deeply involved in the “Red Scare.”


January 3, 1920
Lake County Times, January 3, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Lake County Times, January 16, 1920 (1)
The “Red Raids” took place just a few weeks before Prohibition came into effect nationally. Though still too early for a Red Ryder BB gun, “Red Rye” and its dangerous bootleg derivatives drove liquor underground until the law’s repeal in 1933. Lake County Times, January 16, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.

November 22, 1919
Lake County Times, November 22, 1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

That last clip reminds us that women were at the forefront of Prohibition.  Yet even during the days of “Saharization,” the Lake County Times published colorful stories about the Jazz Age’s rejection of Victorian norms.  Divorcées, flappers, fast cars, and heartbreaks worthy of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel were often sprawled across the front page.

Publisher Sidmon McHie made national news in 1923 and again in 1935, when aspects of his own tempestuous marriage came to light. Daughter of a St. Louis multimillionaire and reportedly also a beauty queen at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Isabel Mulhall had briefly been a theater actress, got divorced, and “hastily” married Sidmon McHie in New York in 1906, when he was living at the Waldorf Astoria.  By the 1930s, however, the wealthy couple, who lived in New York and Illinois, ended up estranged.

Part of their divorce proceedings centered on a generous winter-time gift that Isabel had made to farmers near Battle Creek, Michigan, in March 1935.  But long before her flamboyant Depression-era “giveaway,” she had been generous to dogs.

In 1923, Isabel announced that she was willing her vast fortune to create a hospital for abused animals. While an earlier free animal hospital in New York City actually predated the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children by a good eight years, the American public and press unfairly lampooned Mrs. McHie as a sour old eccentric who hated human beings.


The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923

(The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, February 11, 1923.)


The Ogden Standard-Examiner was one of the few papers to treat her with any kind of fairness.  Speaking to a reporter, she told about a cruel child that had mercilessly tortured a puppy, a scene that could have come straight out of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.    As she began to think about her own mortality and draw up a will, Isabel McHie considered leaving a large bequest to a “home for incurable children.”  But if the newspapers are correct, the hideous “screechings” of an Episcopal boy’s choir in New York put an end to that — or was it the child that broke a puppy’s leg on purpose?  (The McHies had no children of their own.)


Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), May 1, 1923
Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, May 1, 1923.

Though it never came into being, rumors had it that this would have been the largest animal hospital in the world.  A provision in the will specified that McHie’s own ashes be placed next to a marble bust of herself, carved by an Italian sculptor, and that the honored bust and ashes would sit in the entrance to the animal hospital.

In return for her generosity, she got hate mail.  Letters accused Isabel McHie of being “wicked” and that the money could have done more good for humans.   Why give money to “dumb animals”?  Some critics speculated that her motives came from a desire to have “revenge on mankind.”  McHie’s response?  Animals taught humans to be more humane.  (It’s ironic, however, that some of her fortune probably derived from the prosperity of Hammond, named for a butcher.)


Lenoir News-Topic (Lenoir, NC), February 27, 1923
Lenoir News-Topic, Lenoir, North Carolina, February 27, 1923.

Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL), January 16, 1923
Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, January 16, 1923.

The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923 (5)
The Ogden Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT), February 11, 1923 (6) The Ogden Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah, February 11, 1923.

Maybe the sneering news stories had an effect on her.  Maybe it was her pending divorce suit or ill health.  Or maybe she was just tired of being rich.  In any case, in March 1935, the 60-year-old Isabel McHie decided to dispose of a large amount of her wealth — before anybody else criticized her will.

On March 20, she withdrew $175,000 of her own or her husband’s money and boarded a passenger train from Chicago’s Dearborn Street Station to Montreal.  She was also carrying about $500,000 worth of jewels with her in a bag.

Somewhere outside Battle Creek, Michigan, a conductor noticed Mrs. McHie feeding unbelievably large bills through a ventilator — in currency denominations “as high as $10,000.”  This, after all, was one of the worst years of the Great Depression, and the wealthy philanthropist was literally throwing a fortune out the window. Reporters wrote that she also tossed $100 bills into the aisle of a Pullman car.  Most of the money seems to have been recovered, but farmers along the railroad tracks in southern Michigan eagerly joined the search for anything left of the money-throwing spree.


Marshall Evening Chronicle (Marshall, Michigan), March 21, 1935
Marshall Evening Chronicle, Marshall, Michigan, March 21, 1935.

Decatur Herald (Decatur, IL), March 21, 1935
Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, March 21, 1935.

Arrested as “hysterical,” Isabel McHie was taken to a hotel in Hammond, where police wanted to investigate hospital records that she tried to withhold.  She later sued the Grand Trunk Western Railway for physical assault and false imprisonment — for a million dollars. Sidmon McHie was vacationing at the mineral springs in French Lick, Indiana, when his wife started throwing money away.  Their divorce was soon finalized.  Isabel McHie died in New York City on April 25, 1939. Contrary to the belief that she hated human beings, most of her estate went to Seeing Eye, Inc., an organization that trained guide dogs for the blind.

The Hammond Times’ owner didn’t survive his ex-wife by long. Sidmon McHie owned a vast stock farm and golf course on the Kankakee River near Momence, Illinois.  His obituary notes that “McHie, despite his advanced age, insisted on driving his own automobile because he said that to employ a private chauffeur would remove a man from an essential occupation.”  (World War II was still on.)  On August 25, 1944, the 81-year-old McHie was hit by a train while driving his car.  He died five days later.  McHie’s nephew, James S. DeLaurier, took control of the Hammond Times.

The Times dropped Hammond from its name in 1967 and began representing all of northwestern Indiana.  It moved its offices to Munster in 1989. Today, the Times of Northwest Indiana is the second-largest newspaper in the state, ranking only behind the Indianapolis Star. Local editions cover Munster, Crown Point, and Valparaiso.

Hoosier State Chronicles expects to have almost two decades of the Lake County Times uploaded and searchable on our website by mid-January 2016.


Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

“Koo Koo Side Lights”: George Dale vs. the Klan

Dale obit

If you enjoy today’s “farcical newspaper” The Onion, in 1922 you might have sent in two dollars for a subscription to George R. Dale’s eccentric and fascinating Muncie Post-Democrat.

While The Onion lampoons everything from politicians to microwaves to bad tippers, George Dale — Indiana’s Jazz Age version of a Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart — focused his ridicule on a powerful group famous for wearing nighties and “mother goose caps” around cornfields at night.  That group, of course, was the Ku Klux Klan, whose grip on big cities and small towns alike led to its near-domination of state politics in the 1920s.

Muncie and neighboring towns like Marion, Elwood, Fairmount and New Castle were once a stronghold of the Klan.  Warding off physical assaults and threats on his life, Dale fought in the belly of the beast, bravely using humor to expose a group that lured in tens of thousands of Hoosiers, many from the middle class, under the banner of “100% Americanism.”


November 9, 1923
Muncie Post-Democrat, November 9, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

December 15, 1922
Dale ridiculed Klan recruitment in the Muncie Post-Democrat, December 15, 1922. The “ten bucks” was for a Klan robe, which made millions of dollars for the Klan’s hierarchy.

Hoosier State Chronicles, in cooperation with Ball State University Libraries’ Digital Media Repository, is proud to bring a long run of Dale’s Muncie Post-Democrat online, from 1921 through 1950. Here’s a brief bio of the man whose war on the Klan is still little-known outside Muncie, where he served as mayor from 1930 to 1935.  We’re including some of his best comic barbs here, lobbed at the not-so-Invisible Empire.

In 1930, a writer named W.A.S. Douglas wrote a long piece in The American Mercury, a magazine edited by the acerbic literary critic H.L. Mencken.  (Mencken was a famous enemy of the Klan, though his own views bordered on anti-Semitism.)  Douglas recalled that he first met George Dale during the 1925 trial of D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Klan in Indiana and many other Northern states.  Though Stephenson was indicted for the kidnap, rape and murder of an Indianapolis stenographer, a crime that involved her near-cannibalization while he was raping her, since the trial was held in Klan-dominated Noblesville, the Klansman seemed confident that his political machine could get him off the hook.  Stephenson, still in his thirties, was their “Old Man.”


Stephenson and Jackson
D.C. Stephenson and Indiana’s Klansman governor, Ed Jackson.

“There were Klansmen all around [Stephenson],” Douglas wrote about the courtroom in Hamilton County, “at the counsel-table, in the jury box, in the audience, and guarding the doors of the courtroom.  All were brothers in the secret bond.”  Then Stephenson looked over and saw a “shabby little old man,” scribbling with a pencil while casting a look that seemed to bore “right into his brain.”

This was George Dale, “a white-haired little man, well into his sixties and with the seat worn out of his pants — a man who had become a joke all over the state because alone, broke, and kicked from pillar to post, he dared to fight. . .”


George R. Dale and Family
George R. Dale and family, circa 1925.

Born in 1867 in Monticello, Indiana, Dale — son of a Civil War veteran — was orphaned by age 18.  He moved to Hartford City around 1885, where he worked for an uncle who owned the town’s first electric power plant.  In his twenties, Dale founded the Hartford City Times, then the Montpelier Call.  He married Lena Mohler in 1900 and the couple had seven children.  Around 1920, the Dales came to Muncie on the eve of the Klan’s takeover there.

In a study conducted by Hoosier-born sociologist Robert Staughton Lynd and his wife Helen, Muncie became the first American town to ever be systematically dissected on a sociologist’s “operating table.”  The Lynds chose Muncie mostly for its averageness.  Their 1929 book Middletown wasn’t flattering.  Nor was the description that W.A.S. Douglas left:  “I well remember this Indiana city when it weltered in starkness; when it tucked its tail between its legs and ran from the sound and the smell of cowshed-perfumed klansmen…”

Douglas’ stereotype wasn’t totally accurate.  Muncie wasn’t all Klan.  And the most influential Klansmen weren’t farmers.  Klan influence was strong in big cities, too, with large membership in Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis, where D.C. Stephenson turned out his own newspaper, The Fiery CrossAnd in the ’20s, the Klan had more support in the Midwest than in the Deep South.


Klansman at Union Station
“Klansman at Union Station,” Indiana, circa 1930. Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.

Klan ideology in the ’20s also differed from its focus during the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ’60s. While never friendly to African Americans, the “second wave” of the Klan was mostly interested in halting immigration, undermining perceived Catholic and Jewish influence in American politics and schools, enforcing Prohibition, and protecting the “purity of American womanhood.”  A new religious movement, Protestant fundamentalism, also fueled the Klan’s rise, with ideologues hijacking religion to stir up nativism.  It’s no coincidence that 1925 was the year both of Stephenson’s trial in Indiana and the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee.

George Dale and others went to work documenting the hypocrisy of the Klan’s basic principles — from “100% Americanism” to a ludicrous KKK resolution passed in Muncie proclaiming that Jesus Christ was a white Protestant native-born American and not a Jew.


March 28, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan didn’t invent nativism.  Waves of immigrants like the Germans, Irish, Italians and Eastern European Jews all suffered the slander of earlier settlers. Anti-Semitism came into the mix whenever Jews joined labor unions, the Socialist Party, and supported the Russian Revolution.  (D.C. Stephenson himself, however, had briefly been a Socialist in Oklahoma.)

When Dale turned the spotlight on anti-Catholicism, he had to deal with fears going back decades, all the way back to the Reformation and the roots of the war in Northern Ireland.  As late as the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960, many Americans feared that Catholics would take over American politics and schools, then hand the country over to the Pope.

Dale thought the Northern Irish roots of bigotry worth pointing out, especially when it turned out that a busy anti-Catholic editor had taken a long time to get American citizenship, something prized by the Klan.


April 11, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, April 11, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles. Dale noticed that many professional anti-Catholics, like the editor of the The American Citizen, had serious moral failings.

When Dale took jabs at the shady goings-on in Newark, Ohio he was criticizing his own town on the sly.  It’s hard to say how truthful Dale’s “reportage” was, but his satire cut to the bone.


May 16, 1924 (2)
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Muncie Post-Democrat, May 4, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Helen Jackson -- January 4, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, January 4, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles. Anti-Catholicism was probably stronger in parts of the Midwest than in the Deep South. At the height of Klan influence in 1928, Al Smith, the first Catholic and Italian-American to run for president on a major party ticket, carried six states in the Deep South.  He won just two in the North and none in the West, losing to Herbert Hoover.

When it came to mocking the thousands of women who got involved with the KKK, conventions regarding the treatment of “ladies” didn’t hold him back.  Dale even used two prominent “Camelias” — as the Women of the Ku Klux Klan were known — as journalistic target practice. One was the infamous Helen Jackson (mentioned above), a bogus “escaped nun” who helped spread Klan propaganda around the Midwest.  Jackson, daughter of Polish immigrants, had actually been a teenage prostitute who was sent to a Catholic reform school for “wayward” girls in Detroit.  In fairness, her experience there was probably harsh, but her stories of escaping from a convent — stories she told in a book called Convent Cruelties — drew on generations of anti-Catholic fiction and folklore.


Fiery Cross 12-08-1922-3
The Fiery Cross, December 8, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

In the 1920s, Helen Jackson and a sidekick “ex-priest” — a French-Canadian Holiness preacher, L.J. King — gave lectures in American auditoriums and churches, where they mocked Catholic religious practices, spread fear about priestly tortures and Vatican takeover of the U.S., and incited riots, some of them deadly.  Jackson and King were busy stirring up religious hatred in Indiana just before the crucial 1924 election, when Hoosiers put a Klansman, Ed Jackson — no relation to Helen — in the governor’s seat.

Dale lampooned her as just another fraudulent “Koo Koo klucker” interested in profiting off the sale of hate.  He was eager to announce her arrival in Muncie in November 1922, when he could debunk her.  The “ex-nun” Helen Jackson actually visited Muncie several times, causing so much trouble there that she eventually got kicked even by Muncie’s Klan-friendly police.  Her companion, L.J. King, was also well-known to cops.  When he started charging extra admission rates for “men’s only” lectures — where he made lurid allegations about sex in confessionals — a few towns, like Phoenix, drove him out for insulting women and for spreading “verbal filth.” George Dale, who was not Catholic, relished the rumor that King had once had links to  an “Indian medicine show” and that his mother in Canada thought “he had always been a bad boy.”  Jackson and King were on the road throughout the 1920s, critical operatives of the Klan.


Helen Jackson -- November 10, 1922
Muncie Post-Democrat, November 10, 1922. Hoosier State Chronicles.

May 16, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 16, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

A favorite target for Dale, however, was the influential Hoosier Quaker minister Daisy Douglass Barr, who headed the women’s auxiliary of the KKK.  Barr had once been a well-known reformer in central Indiana, espousing Prohibition, shutting down red-light districts, and reforming prostitutes.  Well-meaning reformers like her often had their dark side, however, as the history of the Indiana Women’s Prison illustrates.  In theory, Klan rhetoric supported “womanly purity” and the banning of booze though a plethora of sex abusers, bootleggers, and rapists joined the rank and file of the Klan, including Stephenson, its leader.  (W.S.A. Douglass referred to Indiana’s Grand Dragon as a “booze-soaked printer.”)

George Dale despised Daisy Barr, who lived in Indianapolis for years but was influential in Muncie politics and in her native Grant County next door.  Dale put some of his best comic language to work to help take down Barr.  Mocking the Klan’s absurd titles, he called her the “Quakeress Fakeress,” “Daisy Doodle Barr,” “champion Kluxerino of Indiana,” and “prize gold digger of the Klan.”


December 7, 1923
Muncie Post-Democrat, December 7, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Women of the KKK — known as “Camelias” or “Kamelias” — attend a funeral in Muncie, circa 1923. They flew the Stars & Stripes, not the Confederate flag. Courtesy Indiana Memory/Ball State University Libraries.

Investigations eventually exposed the Reverend Barr’s greed.  The influential Quaker minister had pocketed a fortune from the sale of Klan robes to women.  George Dale was quick to argue that the business of the KKK’s leadership, in fact, was just that — a business, one that fleeced “suckers” out of their “boob money.”  Members got “nighties” in return.


June 6, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, June 6, 1924. “Hi” was Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans of Atlanta.

March 28, 1924 (5)
Muncie Post-Democrat, March 28, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The editor of the Muncie Post-Democrat wasn’t making millions from his poetry.  Nor did exposing the “Ku Klux Quaker” or anybody else help ensure his personal safety.   Yet in spite of death threats made against him and his family — with Klansmen shooting at him and attacking his home — Dale had the courage to continue publishing the names of Klansfolk in Ohio and Indiana as soon as he got his hands on membership lists.  For all their parading through the streets, many members still wanted their involvement with the Invisible Empire kept secret — including gubernatorial candidate Ed Jackson himself.  When the extent of Daisy Barr’s business with the Klan came out, she was forced to step down as chaplain of the Indiana War Mothers.


May 2, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 2, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, August 1, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

May 9, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, May 9, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

June 13, 1924
Muncie Post-Democrat, June 13, 1924. Hoosier State Chronicles.

George Dale’s campaign against the KKK was part of a national movement to discredit it.  Newspapers and religious leaders led the campaign.  While religion had played a disturbing role in fueling the Klan’s growth, it also played a major role in debunking it.  Over the next few decades, the opposition of Protestant ministers like Reinhold Niebuhr — not to mention Martin Luther King — helped erode support for the Klan, though the organization survives.

In 1923, Catholic members of the Indianapolis police force did their own part, breaking into a Klan office on College Avenue, stealing a membership list, and publishing it in Tolerance, an anti-KKK paper in Chicago.  (In light of the deadly Paris attacks in November 2015, the activist group Anonymous is doing something similar, hacking websites and publishing the personal details, addresses and Twitter handles of suspected ISIS extremists.)   Other Hoosier newspapers, including the Indiana Jewish Chronicle, the Indianapolis Freeman, the Indiana Catholic & Record, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Indianapolis Times all attacked the misinformation and bigotry spouted by the Klan.  D.C. Stephenson’s murder trial, which exposed the organization’s hypocrisy at its worst, also helped debunk the Klan credo.

Even in Muncie, the tide had begun to turn.  Embattled and fearing for his life in the mid-1920s, George R. Dale won the 1929 mayor’s race. His first action was to fire the forty-two members of the Muncie police force.

An indictment for violating Prohibition laws in 1932 overshadowed Dale’s mayoral career.  When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt repealed Prohibition soon after coming into office, he issued Dale a presidential pardon on Christmas Eve 1933.

The editor’s journalistic battle for civil decency had taken a toll on his health and finances.  He had also gone blind in one eye.  Yet Dale was at work at a typewriter right up to the moment of his death.  Surrounded by his family, and having just typed out one last editorial, George Dale died of a cerebral hemorrhage on March 27, 1936, at his home in Muncie.


Dale obit 2
Muncie Post-Democrat, March 27, 1936. Hoosier State Chronicles.

 

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com

“No Venus Needed”: Lonesome Hearts, Vintage Edition

Women 2

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

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

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

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

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


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


Vincennes Western Sun & General Advertiser, May 29, 1824

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


The New York Times, May 28, 1860

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


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


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914


Sam Crow, March 6, 1914


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (3)


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (4)


Lake County Times, March 6, 1914 (5)


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

Eugene Debs, Jesus & the “Woman in Scarlet”

Eugene V. Debs

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

(Greencastle Herald, July 28, 1913.)


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

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


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

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

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


Lake County Times, June 22, 1913


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

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

Washington Post 1

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

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

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

The Flaming Sword 1


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

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

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


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

Indiana’s Millionaire Policewoman

Indianapolis News, July 8, 1914

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

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


Vampires


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

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


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

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


South Bend News-Times, September 18, 1918 (2)
“A Pictorial Diagram Showing Just How the Little Policewoman Knew That the Woman Next to Her Was a Man — All Points Which Would Have Failed to Register Upon the Slower-Moving, Less Sensitive Masculine Intelligence.” The full story appeared in the South Bend News-Times on September 18, 1918.

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

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


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

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

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


Indianapolis News, January 7, 1914
Indianapolis News, January 7, 1914.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The Lusitania Connection

Queenstown mass grave

The Lusitania disaster seems impossibly remote to some, but the great maritime tragedy occurred just a hundred years ago — within the living memory of our oldest citizens.

Photography was unable to capture the sinking itself.  Torpedoed by a German submarine eleven miles off the south coast of Ireland on a beautiful May afternoon in 1915, the ship went to the bottom in just fifteen minutes, with the loss of 1,200 lives.  Many still believe the ship’s unusually fast demise was caused by contraband explosives it carried in its hold, en route from the U.S. to Britain.  If true, the Germans would still be guilty of a war crime, having fired the torpedo that ignited the illegal cargo, though the behavior of the British government, smuggling weapons on a passenger liner, would be hard to excuse.

While the meticulous, body-by-body photographic record of the drowned victims is stashed away in the Cunard Line Archives in Liverpool, hundreds of the dead were never recovered at all.  Others remained unidentified.  A series of stark photos documented their burial in a mass grave in the town of Cobh (formerly called Queenstown) on Ireland’s south coast. Remarkably few American newspapers ever reprinted these somber photographs, which show a pile of old-fashioned “pincher coffins,” the kind that was beginning to go out of style in favor of modern, less “haunted-looking” caskets.

An exception was the Lake County Times in Hammond, Indiana, which published one of the gloomy images on May 25, 1915, almost three weeks after the sinking.

Lake County Times, May 25, 1915
Lake County Times, May 25, 1915.

(Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, County Cork, Ireland, where 169 bodies from the Lusitania were buried.)


South Bend News-Times, May 13, 1915
South Bend News-Times, May 13, 1915. Hoosier State Chronicles.

One of the anonymous victims who might lie in the Irish earth — but who probably went to the bottom of the sea — was a Hoosier man sailing aboard the doomed vessel.

Elbridge Blish Thompson was a promising 32-year-old sales manager from Seymour, Indiana, traveling to Holland with his wife Maude.  Though Maude survived and went on to have a remarkable, unusual life, Thompson drowned and his body was never officially recovered.

Born in southern Indiana in 1882, Thompson came from a family of prominent millers who ran the Blish Milling Company, one of the main businesses in Seymour.  Educated in Illinois and at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Thompson went on to study at Yale, then metallurgy at the Sheffield Scientific School in New Haven.  Popular at Yale, he defended his home state by saying “A man from Indiana can do no wrong.”  In 1904, he married Maude Robinson of Long Branch, New Jersey.  Thompson’s work as a metallurgist took the couple out to Breckenridge, Colorado, but after a few years, they came back to Seymour, where he took charge of the Blish Milling Company and the Seymour Water Company.  It was the flour milling business that eventually led him to embark on a fateful trip to Holland in May 1915.

Elbridge Blish Thompson

In 1914, a strange instance of what the Indianapolis News called “kismet” (fate) led Thompson to disguise one of his cars in a strange costume — as a German U-boat.  The automobile was a blue National roadster built at the National Motor Vehicle Company in Indianapolis, a company headed by Arthur C. Newby, one of the founders of the Indianapolis 500.  Three days after the Lusitania was torpedoed by a real U-boat, the News carried an almost eerie story about the “mimic submarine” that Thompson once drove through a parade in Seymour:

Mr. Thompson is of an adventurous disposition and prolific with original ideas.  He was impressed with the work of submarines in the European war, and decided to imitate one in decorating this auto for the parade.  His submarine attracted much attention, and he was complimented for his originality.  When he started for Europe with his wife on the Lusitania May 1, his friends warned him he might learn what a real submarine could accomplish, but he ridiculed the idea of danger.  Now that he has felt the effects of a submarine’s torpedo, his friends are saying it was a “case of fate.”


Indianapolis News, May 10, 1915
Indianapolis News, May 10, 1915. Newspapers.com.

The News incorrectly reported that Blish Thompson had been saved. On the morning of May 15, he and Maude rose at 4:30 to watch the sunrise.  That afternoon, they were in the first class dining room when the torpedo struck, signaled by a thud, then followed by a huge explosion that was either a coal bunker or a cache of illegal ammunition going off, the alleged contraband being smuggled to the Western Front which had led the Germans to target the ship to begin with.  On deck, Blish gave his lifebelt to a woman.  Unable to get into lifeboats as the ship lurched almost perpendicular, the Thompsons were swept down the deck and sucked into the water.  Then the couple’s grasp was torn apart by the suction of the plunging vessel.

While a memorial service was held for Thompson in Seymour on June 18, his body never turned up.  The stone monument in Seymour’s Riverview Cemetery was erected over an empty grave.


Thompson grave 1

(Thompson’s memorial at the Riverview Cemetery, Seymour, Indiana.)


Indianapolis Star, May 11, 1915

(Indianapolis Star, May 11, 1915.)


A more interesting fate than “Blish” Thompson’s is that of his wife.  By the end of World War I, Maude Thompson had remarried, becoming one of that fascinating bunch of Americans who joined the European aristocracy.  For years, Seymour — a humble Hoosier farm town — had a direct connection to France’s old nobility.

Widowed by the Lusitania disaster, Maude Thompson went back to Europe to volunteer with the Red Cross in France.  On the boat with her this time, she brought not her husband, but Blish Thompson’s two automobiles — the National roadster he had disguised as a “mimic submarine” for the parade through Seymour and a National touring car.  Maude donated these Indianapolis-built vehicles to the French cause.  The re-outfitted roadster served as a scout car on the Western Front.  The touring car was given to the Red Cross.  During World War I, Maude met and fell in love with an ace French fighter pilot, Count Jean de Gennes (pronounced “Zhen.”)  Although she was twelve years his senior, the two were married in Paris in November 1917.


Jean de Gennes

(Count Jean de Gennes, second husband of Maude Thompson, served in the French air force and transatlantic air mail service.  His son was born in Seymour, Indiana.)


After the Allied victory over the Germans, the new Countess de Gennes moved to her husband’s spectacular Loire Valley estate, the historic Château de Longue Plaine, located 30 miles south of Tours in western France.  It was a fairy-tale twist to a marriage due in part to the deadly sinking of the Lusitania.  Their son, named after his father, was born in 1919 while his mother was on a visit back home to Seymour, where she served on the board of the Blish Milling Company.  The young Indiana-born count would later serve during World War II as a pilot in the French Resistance, also flying in night-time bombing raids over Germany with the R.A.F.’s Bomber Command.

Maude’s husband was often away from home.  During the 1920s, Count de Gennes was one of the great pioneer airmail pilots, navigating the dangerous South American and North African routes between France, Casablanca, and Buenos Aires.  One of his colleagues at the Compagnie Aéropostale was the great French pilot and novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince and several great early non-fiction classics of flight.  Like Saint-Exupéry, who vanished into the Mediterranean during World War II, Count Jean de Gennes — member of the French Legion d’Honneur — died in a plane crash off the coast of Morocco in 1929.

Six years before the count’s death, an unnamed reporter from the Indianapolis News paid a visit to the de Gennes family at their sprawling chateau near the Loire.


Indianapolis News, December 29, 1923 (1)
Indianapolis News, December 29, 1923. Newspapers.com.

As the Hoosier reporter described it, Maude — “a former Indiana woman” — had refurbished much of the old 17th-century castle, which had been revamped in the early 1800s but originally dated back to the Middle Ages.  Maude installed its first electric lights, a central heating system to replace “big hungry-mouthed fireplaces,” and put in a power plant out back.  She also brought over bits of the Hoosier State with her, incorporated into the house or stowed away.

It was a delightful experience to live in this charming old place in the midst of American furniture — for the complete contents of the Seymour home had been transported to France. . . While it may seem like carrying coals to Newcastle, to take our furniture to a country famous a thousand years for its beautiful cabinet work, the old Indiana bureaus and tables and other pieces fitted admirably into the delightful old French setting. . .

Baby Jean lives in a suite of his own that was all paneled and cupboarded with Indiana wood.  Even his furniture was built from Indiana lumber.

Much of this wood from Jackson County is probably still there today.

The reporter also found. . . Indiana newspapers:

Indianapolis News, December 29, 1923 (2)
Indianapolis News, December 29, 1923. Newspapers.com.

Chateau de Longue Plaine

(Château de Longue Plaine, where Maude Thompson lived into the 1940s.)


Jean de Gennes (World War II)(Hoosier-born French pilot Count Jean de Gennes served as a bombardier in the “Groupe Guyenne,” a segment of the R.A.F.’s Bomber Command that flew out of Tunisia and Britain, carrying out the controversial night-time raids over German cities that killed thousands of civilians.  Half of the squadron itself died in action.)


The Miami News, February 6, 1947
The Miami News, February 6, 1947.

Though she could easily have found refuge in the U.S., the Countess de Gennes stayed in France during the Nazi occupation of her adopted country.  In 1946, she moved to New York City with her son, who was working for Air France.  Maude lived out her remaining days in Queens.  She died on May 17, 1951.  According to her last wishes, she was buried in France.

RMS Lusitania


South Bend News-Times, August 8, 1920
South Bend News-Times, August 8, 1920. Hoosier State Chronicles.