Tag Archives: women’s rights

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.

A Skirt Divided

two women on cycle

Rummaging through the always-interesting (and sometimes shockingly relevant) news of the 1890s, I recently ran across a Sunday extra in the Indianapolis Journal.  On April 28, 1895, an eight-page supplement — the “Bicycle Edition” — was devoted entirely to the cycling craze that engulfed the Hoosier State and the rest of the country.

Later this spring, we’ll be uploading the “Bicycle Edition” to Hoosier State Chronicles.  Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek at the early days of folks on spokes.

Bicycles’ huge role in the women’s rights movement was common news a hundred years ago and, in the 1890s, stirred up a ton of buzz in American newspapers.  While our great-grandmothers would not have needed much reminding about how important mobility on wheels had been to achieving equal rights with men, the turn-of-the-century female cycling phenomenon was later mostly forgotten.  (A great book published by National Geographic in 2011 has helped bring it back into the light:  check out Sue Macy’s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom.)

Every generation has its great social debates, and Indiana was no stranger to hot discussions about women on wheels. Hostility toward the newfangled bicycle took on many forms: from horse salesmen and carriage drivers who thought it hurt their business, to ministers who complained about cyclists skipping church on Sunday to go out on country rides and break the Sabbath.  But at the center of the debate was women’s dress and embattled notions about female “purity.”

The ample dresses worn by nineteenth-century women made riding around on spokes outright dangerous — as even a sympathetic male, Lieutenant Defrees of the Indiana National Guard, admitted to the Indianapolis Journal in 1895.  As a safety issue, Defrees supported women’s preference for “bloomers,” or “athletic knickerbockers” as they were also called.

A sort of divided skirt that resembled both baggy pants and a dress, bloomers were first adopted in England in the 1850’s, when women rejected Parisian fashions in favor of styles from the Middle East, especially Turkey, where females actually had many surprising freedoms not enjoyed in Europe and America at the time.  (In the U.S., the practical new clothing item was nicknamed bloomers after Amelia Bloomer, a suffragette from Iowa who fought the prejudice against revealing female attire.)

Lieutenant Defrees, too, opposed the endless ridicule directed at this eminently rational item of clothing.  (In fact, some women called them “rationals.”)  He put it this way:

He Favors Bloomers - Indianapolis Journal April 28 1895


awful effects of velocipeding
A Victorian cartoonist satirized “The Awful Effects of Velocipeding” in the New Comic Times, a British magazine from the mid-1800s. Men feared that in addition to going down the slippery slope of cycling, women would adopt another “vice” from Asia: smoking cheroots.

Dr. Henry J. Garrigues, a specialist on women’s health, was another early male who advocated the benefits of bloomers for female riders.  Dr. Garrigues authored a fascinating defense — “Woman and the Bicycle” — originally published in The Forum, one of the great “social issue” magazines of the day.  An excerpt from Garrigues’ piece appeared in the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail on January 25, 1896.

Touting the many health benefits of cycling, Garrigues writes: “Bicycle-riding has changed the habits of hundreds of thousands who formerly took little or no exercise in the open air.  It has widened the mental horizon for many by inducing them to undertake long rides far away from their homes.”

About bloomers specifically, Garrigues was pretty frank:

The usual long skirt is objectionable in every respect. It impedes the free movement of the legs, pumps air up against the abdomen, and is in great danger of being caught by projecting parts of their own machines or those of other riders, as well as by other obstructions found on the road. To avoid these inconveniences many women have shortened their skirts, and some have done away with them altogether, wearing so-called ” bloomers,” a wide, bifurcated garment extending from the waist to the knee. This garment, combined with a waist and leggings, forms a neat, practical dress for a woman rider. True, it is at present ridiculed and even condemned by some as immodest. However, before men say anything against the decency of bloomers, they had better reform their own trousers, which are not much more decent than becoming. . .

From a medical standpoint bicycling is valuable both as a prophylactic and as a curative agent. Like other outdoor exercises it takes its votaries away from the vitiated air of closed rooms; but it has several advantages peculiarly its own. It is less expensive and safer than horseback-riding. For the female sex it is also healthier, since horseback-riding, if indulged in too much or at too early an age, is apt to produce a funnel-shaped pelvis, which abnormality may prove a serious obstacle to childbirth.

And for an age that seemed leery of even mentioning women’s bodies in so many ways, it’s interesting that Garrigues went into a long, detailed description of what he believed was another benefit of cycling.  The New York doctor claimed that the womb, “being of muscular construction, is, like all other muscles, strengthened by bicycling.”  He also touted the benefits for men and women suffering from an array of ills, including asthma, neuralgia, headache, insomnia, and “diseases of the intestinal canal — such as dyspepsia, constipation, and haemorrhoids.”


bicycle built for two (2)
A couple rides an early tandem bike outside the White House, circa 1890.

bloomers
Wearing bloomers, she was a daredevil in more ways than one.

ariel cycling manufacturing co 1895
An 1895 trade catalog of the Ariel Cycle Manufacturing Company in Goshen, Indiana. The Hoosier bicycle industry was centered mostly in Indianapolis and the northeastern part of the state.

New Ulm Review July 8 1896
New Ulm Review, New Ulm, Minnesota, July 8, 1896.

Though opposition to bloomers (and wheeling in general) often dragged religion into the fray, liberal-minded Christians spoke out against more conservative ones.  But whatever animosity was directed toward pants from the pulpit, preachers could hardly match the sheer weirdness of Chicago’s “Jack the Whipper,” whom the Terre Haute paper thought to be a truly distinguished “crank of the first water.”

Jack the Whipper

But less than a year later, in 1895, bloomers were still new enough to Terre Haute to cause many men there to stretch their necks in wonder and possibly even in admiration, as the Saturday Evening Mail noted:

Bloomers have not come into such general use in this city as to be common, and the sight of a pair of them in broad daylight very frequently causes a great deal of what the small boy calls “rubber necking.”  The other day a young lady was coming up Seventh street on a wheel, and she made quite an attractive figure in her bloomers.  A man walking along the street, going in the opposite direction, evidently had never seen bloomers before, and he stretched his neck in the effort to follow her with his eyes.  He was so much interested that he paid no attention to where he was going, and presently he ran into a tree on the sidewalk with such force as to peel all the skin off one side of his face.

On the topic of rubber. . .  In the 1890s, Indianapolis was especially well-poised to become a bicycle-manufacturing mecca: the capitol city was once a major rubber-producing town.  (The local industry tanked in the 1950s.)  At the turn of the century, Indianapolis could boast of at least nine bicycle manufacturers, and the demand for pneumatic tires was a major spur to the creation of the Indianapolis Rubber Company.


rubber tires


In addition to being able to get a quick local replacement for a bad tire, in 1895 riders who worked in downtown offices could also take advantage of a “bicycle livery and boarding stable” located under the Brunswick Hotel on Monument Circle.  A nearby bike hospital  also offered a cure for “the last stages of consumption.”


bike livery stable


bicycle hospital


Harry T. Hearsey, born in London, England, in 1863, grew up in Boston, then moved to Indianapolis at age 22.  An early Hoosier cycling pioneer, he ran his own manufacturing company, which made not only bikes, but carriages, sleighs, portable heaters, and eventually automobiles.

Hearsey also operated a riding school, which catered in large part to women.  Walter Marshall “Major” Taylor, the great African-American cyclist and Indianapolis native, worked as an instructor at Harry Hearsey’s Riding School, located at 116/118 N. Pennsylvania St.  This ad from the German-language Indiana Tribüne touts Hearsey’s Reitschule (“often Tag und Abend.”)


hearsey ad -- Indiana Tribune July 27 1896


Though he was a businessman with an obvious profit to turn, Hearsey may have been one of the many Americans who thought that women at the wheel was something to be praised.  Even many who believed in “womanly purity” found something positive in cycling, as a writer in Lincoln, Nebraska, admitted:  “The modern bicycle is one of the modern safeties of womanly purity,” he or she wrote.  “She no longer needs to jostle through a crowd of men on the street corner or in the street car.  The primest little maid of this city wears bloomers, rides a bicycle, and works in a printing office.”

Bike sales in Indiana boomed in the 1890s.  Thomas Hay, of the firm of Hay & Willits at 113 W. Washington St., told the Indianapolis Journal in 1895 that “At the present time about 20 per cent of the wheels sold are for ladies, while two years ago I doubt if the sales of the ladies’ wheels reached 2 percent of the total.”  Hay attributed part of the surge in sales to improvements in the manufacture of women’s bicycles, which had previously been neglected.  In 1897, women were so important to the industry that the Central Cycle Manufacturing Company put them on the cover of their gorgeous trade catalog, designed and printed in “Arts and Crafts” style.  It is a beautiful illustration of the generational gap between the old woman in skirts and the dashing Belle on Wheels.


ben hur bicycle


ben hur bicycle 5


ben hur bicycle 1
The Central Cycling Company of Indianapolis built the once-popular “Ben-Hur Bicycle,” named for the novel written by Hoosier literary giant Lew Wallace.

bicycling in fort wayne (2)
These wheelmen in Fort Wayne, Indiana, were some of the last aficionados of the highwheeler, old-fashioned even in 1900.

Gradually, of course, the sight of women in bloomers wasn’t shocking to most Americans at all.  Times changed fast, so fast that the great Hoosier songwriter Cole Porter could easily lampoon an earlier generation in the immortal lyrics of “Anything Goes”:

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes. . .
If driving fast cars you like,
If low bars you like,
If old hymns you like,
If bare limbs you like,
If Mae West you like,
Or me undressed you like,
Why, nobody will oppose.

Yet even before the Roaring Twenties and the day in 1934 when Cole Porter penned those lines, the ladies of the 1890s had already paved the way.  Sportswomen in baseball and basketball literally “followed suit.”  We salute them all.


ariel cycling manufacturing co 1896


bloomers basketball chicago 1097
Women in Chicago play basketball in 1906.

star bloomers ca 1900
The Star Bloomer Girls were an Indianapolis baseball team that toured the country around 1914. The pitcher and catcher, far right, were male but the whole team wore the same outfit.

women fencers
Women of the Indianapolis Socialer Turnverein appear at a fencing match in Fort Wayne in the 1920’s. Athenaeum Turners Collection, IUPUI.

Indiana newspapers are full of stories about women, cycling, and sports.  Do a search at Hoosier State Chronicles to unearth more tales like these.  Contact:  staylor336 [at] gmail.com

Susan B. Anthony Arrested for Voting: The Evening Journal, November 25, 1872

Susan B. Anthony, in her older years. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Susan B. Anthony, in her older years. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

“Miss Anthony in Court.”

First appearance of a woman on charge of illegal voting.
[Reprint from the Rochester Democrat, November 10, 1872] 

 

The Evening Journal, November 25, 1872. Hoosier State Chronicles.