“Tired of Going to Funerals:” The 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary

Delegates, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, marching into the National Black Political Convention, courtesy of Gene Pesek/Chicago Sun-Times, accessed wbez.org.

They agreed that black prisoners should receive fair trials, that black Americans should not die years earlier than white counterparts, that black workers should be afforded a living wage, and that black candidates should be given opportunities to craft legislation that affected their communities. They shared a collective outrage. In 1972, organizers asked them – Americans of color affiliated with Socialists, Democrats, Republicans, Nationalists, and the Black Panthers- if they could overcome differing ideologies to channel this outrage into political action at the National Black Political Convention (NBPC) held in Gary, Indiana. Black poet and activist Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) advocated for the gathering to practice “unity without conformity.”

According to an essay in Major Problems in African American History, the Gary convention was the culmination of a series of uprisings in protest of discrimination, which historians refer to collectively as the Black Revolt. Black Americans were emboldened by tragic events, such as the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, as well as legislative progress, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In an interview, North Carolina convention delegate Ben Chavis recalled:

I had gotten tired of going to funerals. . . . so much of the Movement had been tragic. You know. And I have to emphasize [Rev. Martin Luther] King’s assassination was a tragic blow to the Movement. And so four years later, March of ’72, for us to be gathering up our wherewithal to go to Gary, Indiana–hey, that was a good shot in the arm for the Movement.

Historian Stephen Grant Meyer identified 1968, when King was assassinated, as the year in which the modern civil rights movement began to diverge. No longer was integration the primary means to make political and economic gains.  This fracture gave rise to a Nationalist faction, which sought to promote black identity and improve living conditions through a separate black nation. The polarization was reminiscent of the late-19th and early-20th century debates between reformer Booker T. Washington and intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, who both worked to ease the economic and social plight of African Americans. Washington believed this was best achieved by earning the respect of white citizens through hard work and self-help. Du Bois, on the other hand, believed white oppression should be cast off by protests and political activism, in large part through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization he co-founded.

Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale. According to the NWI Times, he declared “all black people, involved in any way with survival programs for the black community, [to be] revolutionaries at the National Black Political Convention,” AP Photo, courtesy of the NWI Times.
NBPC organizers, who had begun planning the conference in 1970, struggled to find a city willing to accommodate an influx of politically-engaged black Americans. Gary Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, an advocate of civil rights and minorities and one of the first African American mayors of a major U.S. city, volunteered his predominantly black city. Not since the 1930s, with the first meeting of the National Negros Congress in Chicago, had such a massive and diverse gathering of people of color convened to advance their rights. Approximately 3,000 official delegates and 7,000 attendees from across the United States met at Gary’s West Side High School from March 10 to March 12. The attendees included a prolific group of black leaders, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, U.S. presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, Amiri Baraka, Muslim leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, Black Panthther co-founder Bobby Seale, and Malcolm X’s widow Betty Shabazz. Organizers sought to create a cohesive political strategy for black Americans by the convention’s end.

Television crews waiting for convention to start, courtesy of the NWI Times.

A bomb threat was called into convention headquarters at the Holiday Inn and a local gang reportedly deposited guns in school lockers. These threats to disrupt the convention necessitated additional security. Uniformed and plainclothes policemen reinforced the northwestern Indiana city. Armed civil defense personnel supplemented the police presence and boxer-turned-activist Muhammad Ali served as sergeant-at-arms.

The high school, decorated with red, white, and blue bunting, thrummed with activity. As vendors sold books, banners, and souvenirs, a band prompted snapping and feet-tapping with “gutsy,” drum-driven music. The Munster Times reported “Two or three white reporters, their faces split with grins, were lost somewhere with the music. A policeman absentmindedly slapped the butt of his pistol to the beat.” Delegates ranging from “pinstripe-suited conservatives to youngsters in colorful flowing robe-type shirts [dashikis] and mod fashions to the black-uniformed para-military” milled about the gym waiting for the delayed convention to finally start. Organizers scrambled to respond to complaints that the elevated platform for journalists blocked the stage.

Welcome poster, courtesy of the NWI Times.

Entertainers like James Brown and Harry Belafonte lent their support to the convention by performing. Comic and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, weighing 90 pounds as a result of fasting to protest the Vietnam War, addressed the audience about issues of policing and drug access and asked, “‘[H]ow can a black kid in Harlem find a heroin pusher and the FBI can’t?'”

State delegations, national organizations, and individuals proposed resolutions in the creation of “A National Black Agenda” (Muncie Evening Press). This agenda would extend the movement beyond the convention. As convention attendee and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York Dr. Ron Daniels noted, the Black Agenda was “integral to holding candidates, who would seek Black votes, accountable to the interests and aspirations of Black people.”

Delegates from Illinois suggested fines and prison sentences for businessmen found guilty of discriminatory practices. North Carolina attendees proposed a bill of prisoners’ rights that included humane treatment and fair trials. Delegates from Indiana and other states demanded that the U.S. dedicate resources to the plight of black Americans rather than the Vietnam War and end the conflict immediately. North Carolina representatives also urged that black men receive Social Security benefits earlier than white men since their life expectancy was eight years shorter. The Muncie Evening Press noted that “Politicking was intense . . . as state delegations tried to compromise their own views with positions they felt other delegations could support.” Tensions ran so high that part of the Michigan delegation walked out of the convention.

Muncie Evening Press, March 11, 1972, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Keynote speakers Reverend Jackson, executive director of P.U.S.H. and Operation Breadbasket, and Mayor Hatcher ignited the crowd and “stoked rhetorical fires aimed at molding the diverse black communities represented here into a solid unit that can tip the political balance this presidential election year and from now on” (Munster Times).

While similar in many aspects, the men’s speeches hinted at the divergence in philosophies pervading the convention. Hatcher believed change could come from within the existing two-party system, so long as the parties responded to the needs of African Americans. However, if legislators continued to neglect black constituents, black Americans would create a third party and, he told attendees, “we shall take with us the best of White America . . . many a white youth nauseated by the corrupt values rotting the innards of this society . . . many of the white poor . . . many a White G.I. . . . and many of the white working class, too.” The party would also welcome “chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Indians [and] Orientals” (Indianapolis Recorder).

However, Jackson, appealing to Nationalists, urged the immediate formation of a black party, potentially called the “Liberation Party.” He asserted “‘Without the option of a black political party, we are doomed to remain in the hip pocket of the Democratic party and in the rumble seat of the Republican party'” (Kokomo Tribune). Jackson also called for the establishment of black institutions to oversee black educational, economic, and judicial matters. He asked the crowd “what time is it?” and the audience, electrified, shouted “It’s Nation Time!”

Harry Williams, “Convention Raps Busing,” The Republic (Columbus, Indiana), March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Jackson’s proposal drew criticism from some black organizations, like the NAACP, which believed that continued segregation, albeit black-led, would impede progress. According to Major Problems in African American History, the NAACP circulated a memo at the convention denouncing the proposal of a separate nationhood for African Americans and criticizing the rhetoric for being “‘that of revolution rather than of reform.'” An Indianapolis Recorder editorial articulated this point, noting “The only road to nationwide achievement by a minority is through cooperation with the majority.”

Presidential campaign poster courtesy of the Library of Congress, accessed BBC.com.

Another contentious issue in the 1970s: school desegregation through the forced busing of black children to white schools. The Jackson faction opposed busing and defined successful black education not as being able to attend white schools, but rather as children attending black-led schools. The endorsement of the presidential candidate that would best represent black interests also generated conflict at the convention. Some delegations supported Democrat Shirley Chisholm, America’s first black Congresswoman, while many Nationalists wanted a leader from a black party.

After intense debate, a steering committee tentatively adopted a National Black Agenda. The committee officially published the 68-page document on May 19, Malcolm X’s birthday. The resolutions included black representation in Congress proportionate to the U.S. black population, a guaranteed minimum income of $6,500 for four-person households, a 50% cut in the defense and space budgets, and an end to national trade with countries that supplied the U.S. drug market. The resolutions, designed to move black Americans towards “self-determination and true independence,” represented major, yet tenuous compromise among the black community.

Image courtesy of NWI Times.

The steering committee also formed the National Black Political Assembly, a body tasked with implementing the Black Agenda. Dr. Daniels noted that, although many of the agenda’s resolutions never materialized, “thousands of Black people left Gary energized and committed to making electoral politics a more relevant/meaningful exercise to promote Black interests.” He attributed the quadrupling of elected black officials by the end of the 1970s, in large part, to the Gary convention and the “audacity of Black people to . . .  defend black interests.” The NBPC was notable too for its inclusion of black Americans from all walks of life, rather than just prominent black figures, in formulating how to ease the struggles of the black community. The Recorder also noted that Mayor Hatcher’s reputation “has been considerably burnished in the white community as well as the black by the success of the historic event” (Indianapolis Recorder).

In 2012, Gary hosted the 40th anniversary of the National Black Political Convention. Speakers discussed the issues that had prevailed into the 21st century, such as a disparity in prison sentencing and poverty. One speaker remarked that without Shirley Chisholm, America’s first black president Barack Obama would not have occupied the White House. Another speaker, who ran for mayor of Baltimore, lamented that forty years after the convention “we’re still asking what to do instead of how to do it.” When asked if it was still “nation time” one speaker responded “it’s muted nation time.” Black Americans, they agreed, needed to “have the audacity.”

Contact: npoletika@history.in.gov

 

SOURCES USED:

“Black Convention Split Over Separation,” Terre Haute Tribune, March 11, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Black Meet Without Incident Bodyguards, Police Vigilant,” Munster Times, March 12, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Black Political Movement Born in Gary,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Creation of ‘The National Assembly’ Concludes Black Political Convention,” Kokomo Tribune, March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Dr. Ron Daniels, “It’s Nation Time: The 40th Anniversary of the Gary National Black Political Convention,” Institute of the Black World 21st Century, March 28, 2012.

Harry Williams, “Convention Raps Busing,” Columbus Republic, March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Hatcher to Keynote Black Convention,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 11, 1972, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jay Harris, “Black Political Agenda Hit on Busing, Israel,” Wilmington (DE) Evening Journal, May 19, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

John Hopkins, “Leaders Mold Black Power: Warn Parties” and James Parker, “Blacks Marching to Different Drums,” Munster Times, March 12, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Keeping Watch,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, March 10, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Major Problems in African American History: Documents and Essays, Second Edition, eds. Barbara Krauthamer, Chad Williams, and Thomas G. Paterson (Cengage Learning, 2016): 510-515.

“National Black Agenda Calls for Permanent Political Movement,” Kokomo Tribune, March 12, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Plans Span Wide Range of Opinion,” Muncie Evening Press, March 11, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Wants Changes,” Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger, March 11, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Wayne County Seminary: Higher Education for Higher Aspirations

A farmer woke up on a cool fall day in the 1820s, not long after Indiana became a state, with a lot on his mind. He worried that he might not get all of the crops in before the first frost and that his hogs wouldn’t fetch as high a price at the market this year. His wife worried about whisperings in town that the milk sickness had claimed another neighbor. Their children didn’t have much time to worry though. They were up before the sun to feed the animals and clear the wild back acres. Whatever their specific trials, they had more immediate concerns than learning algebra, astronomy, philosophy, or the history of ancient Greece.

History of Wayne County Indiana, Together with Sketches of Its Cities, Villages and Towns…, Vol. I (Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1884), 362, accessed Google Books.

For many Hoosiers, education was not a priority compared to the immediate needs of the family farm or business. But others craved knowledge beyond the basic reading and arithmetic taught in one-room school houses. These ambitious students desired knowledge of the wider world, and fortunately for them, the State of Indiana worked to provide institutions of learning to meet their aspirations. In the case of the Wayne County Seminary, in the small but thriving town of Centreville (later Centerville), the mission was an incredible success. Over several decades hundreds of young men and women pursued advanced education within its walls.

ONE ROOM SCHOOLHOUSES. Left: “Old Schoolhouse and Students,” December 1882, Syracuse-Wawasee Historical Museum,  Indiana Memory Digital Collections; Center: “One-Room Schoolhouse, Hope, Indiana,” 1908, postcard, Dortha C. May Collection, Indiana Album; Right: Children at a One-Room Schoohouse, Lafayette, Indiana,” c. 1880,stereograph, Joan Hostetler Collection, Indiana Album. All images accessed via Indiana Memory.

The 1816 Indiana Constitution and subsequent acts of the Indiana General Assembly encouraged and provided for the creation of an educational center in each county open to all citizens (although not free of tuition) known as a “county seminary.” By the late 1820s, many Indiana counties had established such an institution. While today “seminary” refers to a theological school preparing students for ministry, the county seminaries were non-denominational. They included primary and secondary classes and in some cases even collegiate and classical courses of study. In counties where the township schools flourished, the seminaries offered only the higher education classes . In January 1827, the Indiana General Assembly passed an act requiring the appointment of “County Seminary Trustees,” who were charged with acquiring land and contracting a building. Wayne County appointed its trustees in June 1827. Over the following year and a half, the trustees secured a location and built a fine brick structure that would house eager students for over sixty years.

COUNTY AND TOWNSHIP SEMINARIES Left: “Seminary Building: Copy of a photograph of the the Vigo County Seminary,” n.d. Indiana State University Archives, Cunningham Memorial Library, Wabash Valley Visions & Voices: A Digital Memory Project; Center: “Seminary Place, Hope, Indiana,” 1909, Dortha May Collection, Indiana Album; Right: “Sand Creek Tsp. Seminary, Bartholow County,” photograph, 1932, Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection,” Lilly Library, Indiana University Image Collections Online. All images accessed Indiana Memory.
(Richmond) Western Times, October 17, 1829, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Wayne County Seminary opened humbly. Teacher and administrator Nathan Smith announced via local newspapers that  he would, “commence teaching a school in the Seminary in this town” on October 26, 1829, for a term of “three months, or longer, if the pleasure of those concerned requires it.” Tuition during this first term ran parents two dollars if their young scholar studied geography and English grammar and two dollars and fifty cents if mathematics was included. At the time, this was a good amount of money. For comparison sake, on the same page of the Western Times that the seminary announcement appeared, the Centreville Market advertised a dozen eggs for three to four cents and “Hams, good” for four to five cents, while whiskey would have cost you a whopping eighteen to twenty cents for a gallon. So, in 1829, fifty good hams could get you into Wayne County Seminary. This calculation is more than an exercise. Over the following years, the school would allow the mainly agrarian locals to trade produce and farm products for education.

Wayne County Record, May 31, 1843, 3, accessed NewspaperArchive.com
History of Wayne County, Indiana: Together with Sketches of Its Cities, Villages and Towns…(Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1884), 349, accessed Archive.org.

By 1835, the school blossomed into a more advanced academy, though several newspaper articles imply this did not happen with ease. The greatest challenge was likely promoting  the need for higher education to the residents of the surrounding regions. In a public announcement, the Wayne County Seminary Trustees stated: “An academy in which the higher branches are taught has long been wanted in our county, and we should be pleased to see the present attempt to establish one, patronized.” By this point, the school was attracting some students “residing distant from Centreville” and the trustees noted that boarding could be found in town for “as cheap as in any other town in the west.”

By this point, the school was “under the superintendence” of Giles C. Smith. The new superintendent had a stronger educational background than the average Indiana teacher at this time, evidenced by the fact that he went on to become a respected Methodist minister and leader within the Methodist Episcopal conference. In fact, for much of the school’s history, notable Methodist leaders made up the board and administration. The school, however, remained non-denominational, with no religious classes and with boarders attending the Sunday church service chosen by their parents. The trustees described the growing institution as “commodious and pleasantly situated,” and noted that the seminary trustees, if they did say so themselves, were “gentleman of liberality and integrity.”

This “liberality and integrity” was not simply promotional. It  extended into the trustees’ educational philosophy as evidenced by one important element of the school: Wayne County Seminary provided young women the same educational opportunities as the young men. In 1835, the trustees made their case to local parents in the Richmond Palladium:

Considering, that the reputation and utility of the Seminary stand closely allied with the literary interests of this county, and knowing that the location of the one is nearly equidistant to the boundaries of the other, [the trustees] do earnestly invite those gentlemen, who know and appreciate the worth of a good education in the youth of the country, to place their sons, daughters and wards within this institution.

From the casual tone of appeal to parents to send their daughters, it seems likely that women had been included for some time, if not from the start. This 1835 trustees’ statement is no declaration that the school recently started accepting young women. Instead, it assumes some sort of general knowledge that young women had already been attending the school and expresses their hope that more young women would enroll.

The Register and Annual Catalogue of Centreville Collegiate Institute (Richmond, Indiana: Crawley & Maag Printers and Binders, July 1866), 33, Indiana State Library.

Also from this 1835 announcement, we’re offered a look at the elementary and higher education curriculum. The elementary students could study reading, penmanship, orthography (spelling), and arithmetic. The secondary classes included English grammar, history, bookkeeping, geography, “and the use of the Globes.” Finally, the higher education classes included algebra, geometry, surveying, astronomy, Greek and Latin, and “Natural and Moral Philosophy.”

The Register and Annual Catalogue of Centreville Collegiate Institute (Richmond, Indiana: Crawley & Maag Printers and Binders, July 1866), 33, Indiana State Library.

The trustees also announced in 1835 that superintendent Smith would “be aided in his labors by the additional services of Mr. S. K. Hoshour.” By the following year, Samuel K. Hoshour took charge of the seminary and became perhaps the school’s most influential administrator. During Hoshour’s time at the Wayne County Seminary, he mentored several students who went on to become important Hoosiers, including Jacob Julian, Oliver P. Morton, and Lew Wallace. It’s worth stepping away from the seminary story to look briefly at the careers of these Wayne County luminaries.

“Jacob Julian [James T. Layman] House, 29 S. Audubon Rd. (Irvington) Indianapolis,” photograph, 1929, Indiana Landmarks Wilbur D. Peat Collection, Center for Digital Scholarship, IUPUI University Library, accessed Indiana Memory.
After completing his schooling, Jacob Julian became a prominent Centerville lawyer and briefly the law partner of his brother George Washington Julian. Jacob was involved in local politics as a staunch supporter of the Whig party. In 1846, Wayne County residents elected Jacob Julian to the Indiana House of Representatives and reelected him in 1848. Later Julian co-founded the town of Irvington, just east of Indianapolis.

History of Wayne County Indiana, Together with Sketches of Its Cities, Villages and Towns…, Vol. I (Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1884), 362, accessed Archive.org.

Oliver P. Morton also began his career as a lawyer in Centreville. He represented Wayne County at the seminal first convention of the new national Republican Party in 1856. He was elected lieutenant governor of Indiana in 1860, but almost immediately became governor when Henry S. Lane left the position for a U.S. Senate seat. Morton served as governor throughout the Civil War and won election to a second term in 1864. He completed Lane’s term in the U.S. Senate in 1867 and was reelected again in 1873.

Lew Wallace, the son of an Indiana governor and grandson of a congressman, began a law practice in 1849, and settled in Crawfordsville in 1853. With the start of the Civil War in 1861, he volunteered for service and before the war’s end was a major general. Wallace later served as governor of the New Mexico Territory and U.S. minister to Turkey (the Ottoman Empire). He is best remembered and acclaimed as the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880).

Snippet from one of the many versions of Ben-Hur. This one was taken from an illustrated volume “The Chariot Race from Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace,” Illustrated by Sigismond Ivanowski (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1908, accessed Google Books.

Later in life, Wallace expressed how important his time at the Wayne County Seminary was to his creation of his famous novel. In his autobiography, Wallace described the profound influence that Professor Hoshour had on his writing. Wallace remembered attending the seminary in his “thirteenth year” because “there was a teacher of such repute that my father decided to send me to him.” Wallace wrote:

Professor Hoshour was the first to observe a glimmer of writing capacity in me. An indifferent teacher would have allowed the discovery to pass without account; but he set about making the most of it, and in his method there was so much wisdom that it were wrong not to give it with particularity… The general principle on which the professor acted is plan to me now. The lack of aptitude for mathematics in my case was too decided not to be apparent to him; instead of beating me for it, he humanely applied to cultivating a faculty he thought within my powers and to my taste.

“Lew Wallace, Age 21,” photograph, in Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Vol. I (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1906), 208, accessed Google Books.

Hoshour gave Wallace great works of literature and advice on writing. Wallace remembered Hoshour explaining the most important rule of writing: “In writing, everything is to be sacrificed for clearness of expression – everything.” Finally, Hoshour encouraged Wallace to read the Bible through a literary lens as opposed to a dogmatic focus. Wallace recalled:

This was entirely new to me, and I recall the impression made by the small part given to the three wise men. Little did I dream then what those few verses were to bring me – that out of them Ben-Hur was one day to be evoked.

Wallace referred to his time with Hoshour as “the turning-point of my life.”

While the seminary forged some great Hoosier men, the young women of the Wayne County Seminary thrived as well. Although the prejudices and legal obstacles of the period kept them from the public successes of their male peers, sources show the female students equaled the male students’ academic achievement, and perhaps even exceeded them in some areas. The young women took classes on the same subjects as the young men, but their classes were separate and taught by female teachers.

Several sources show that these women were highly respected in their community, praised by newspaper writers, and in in many ways treated as peers by their male colleagues. For example, when the county’s teachers formed the Wayne County Education Society in the early 1840s, seminary teachers Mary Thorpe and Sarah Dickson were not only included, they served on various committees that decided appropriate school texts, punishments, and funding. They served side by side with their male colleagues and prominent community members such as Levi Coffin, George Washington Julian, and Solomon Meredith.

Richmond Palladium, October 8, 1845, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Female teachers also served as the administrators of the girls’ school, which maintained a surprising degree of autonomy. Evidence of this autonomy can be gleaned from Wayne County newspapers. For example, in February 1842, the Richmond Palladium reported that a new principal, Rawson Vaile, had replaced the former seminary administrator, George Rea. The following month, Rea placed an announcement in the Wayne County Record somewhat dramatically decrying his removal and announcing his plan to open a rival school. Through this unrest at the seminary, teacher and administrator Mary Thorpe, calmly steered the girls’ school through the storm. She ran her own advertisement in the Wayne County Record, assuring her students:

Miss Thorpe Respectfully informs the Citizens of Centreville, that the late change in the Wayne County Seminary, will in no way affect her School; but that it will, as heretofore, remain under her exclusive control.

Throughout the 1840s, the Wayne County Record covered the “public examinations” of both the male and female students. During these student exhibitions, parents and other Wayne County residents packed into the nearby Methodist church as it was the only building large enough to hold the interested crowds. The program featured original essays, debates, as well as musical and dramatic performances. In March 1842, the Wayne County Record covered the examination of the male students and praised Principal Vaile, focusing on his penchant for strict discipline. However, the newspaper was harshly critical of the enunciation and articulation of the male students.

In contrast, a month later on April 13, the same newspaper raved about the “Female Department of the Wayne County Seminary” and called their public exhibition “one of the best examinations we have ever attended in this place.” The writer noted that the students did not just repeat rote, memorized facts, but had a deep understanding of their subject matter. The article stated:

From the lowest classes, studying the simple elements of Geography, or numbers, up to those in the higher branches of Natural Philosophy, Grammar, Astronomy, Algebra and Political Geography, all, as far as they had severally* advanced, seemed to understand the ground over which they had traveled. They did not possess a mere smattering knowledge but could readily tell the why and wherefore of the question propounded to them.

“United Terrestrial Globe,” 1854, Hollbrook’s Apparatus Mfg. Co., David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, Cartography Associates.The collection caption states: This three inch solid wood, paper covered globe is hinged to open and reveal the western and eastern hemispheres on a flat globular projection on the two inside surfaces. It was used as a teaching device to show students how a globe can be represented on a flat surface.

The Wayne County Record also praised Sarah Dickinson, the able teacher of these impressive young women: “We feel assured that no one has ever taught here, either Male or Female, that has given more general satisfaction.” Let’s hazard a guess that the young women would have been quite pleased with their success, and maybe even by their besting of the young men in the press’s estimation.

The Wayne County Seminary continued to flourish and grow in both enrollment and size. By 1843, the school expanded classroom space and lodging and the addition of more upper level classes in languages and sciences. The women could also now pursue a music focused curriculum if desired. The article noted that the seminary included “Three several Schools,* one Male and two Female,” and reiterated that “Pupils, in either the Male or Female departments” could pursue “the ordinary branches of an English Education” or the higher level courses of “Astronomy, Botany, Natural Philosophy, Mathematics, Geology, and the Latin and French Languages.”

By the late 1840s, the institution reorganized and the new board of trustees changed its name to Whitewater Female College and Academy. Despite this somewhat misleading name, the school continued to educate both young men and women. While the board was now under the administration of the Methodist Episcopal Northern Indiana conference, classes remained secular and boarding students could still attend the church of their parents’ choice on Sundays. Notably, in 1849, the female students founded the prestigious Sigournian Society, a literary organization with its own library at the school. The society held exhibitions of original essays, hosted lively political debates, and performed music. The crest of the society featured an open book with a halo of light with their motto: “Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4).

Richmond Weekly Palladium, January 12, 1855, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Over the following decades the school saw many changes but ardently continued its lofty educational mission. By the 1850s, the school, still under the “patronage” of the Methodist Conference, became known simply as “White Water College.” By this point, over 200 students attended the institution. In the early 1860s, after some financial trouble, the board sold the institution to Wiliam H. Barnes who remodeled and reopened the school and served as its president for a time. In 1865, the academy again changed administration and name, reopening in September 1865 as the Centerville Collegiate Institute. In the early 1870s, the site that once hosted the prestigious Wayne County Seminary became a public school. All signs of the original school were destroyed by fire in 1891.

Register of Centreville Collegiate Institute, 1866, submitted by applicant for the Wayne County Seminary state historical marker, 4-5. Available in Indiana Historical Bureau marker file.
William Holmes McGuffey, The Ecclectic First Reader (Cincinnati: Truman and Smith, 1841), accessed Wikipedia.

Today, not far from the site of the seminary, local kids attend Centerville Elementary School. If the teachers were to have their kids look out of the school’s east facing windows, perhaps they can imagine their distant relatives walking into the old seminary carrying “McGuffey’s Eclectic Series of School Books” and maybe even “country produce or building materials . . . in payment of Tuition.” And the teachers can appreciate that, while they might still have the same problems that Professor Vaile had in 1842 in getting his students to enunciate clearly, at least they don’t have to “procure all the fuel necessary” this icy winter as Professor Smith did back in 1829 at the opening of the ambitious, progressive, and democratic Wayne County Seminary.

Sources and Research Note:

Most of the primary sources referenced in this are newspaper articles accessed via Hoosier State Chronicles. A complete list of all articles used can be downloaded here: Wayne County Seminary timeline.

Most secondary information came from: Richard G. Boone, A History of Education in Indiana (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1892), 42-86.

*I came across scattered mentions of the term “several schools” in the contemporary newspapers. Though I was not able to find a precise definition, I gleaned from the context of the articles that the term refers to the level of education after primary and before college, roughly equivalent to what would be middle school through high school today.

Forgotten Hoosier Hero Samuel Woodfill

Portrait of Woodfill by Joseph Cummings Chase, 1919. Image courtesy Lowell Thomas, Woodfill of the Regulars, 1929.

Perhaps one of the most heroic soldiers of World War I, Samuel Woodfill is largely forgotten today. He would have preferred it that way. Modest and a skilled marksman, Woodfill was born in Jefferson County, near Madison, in January 1883.  Growing up, he watched his father and older brothers use guns to hunt, observing how they shot. By the age of ten, he was secretly taking a gun out to hunt squirrels and telling his mother the squirrels were from a neighbor. When he was caught, his veteran father (John Woodfill served in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War), was so impressed with Woodfill’s marksmanship he was allowed to take the gun whenever he pleased.

At 15, Woodfill tried to enlist during the Spanish-American War. He was turned down, but enlisted in 1901 at the age of 18. He served in the Philippines until 1904, and returned home for only a few months before he volunteered to be stationed at Fort Egbert in Alaska. It was in Alaska that Woodfill worked on his marksmanship, hunting caribou, moose, and brown bears in the snowy landscape of the Last Frontier until 1912. Upon his return to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Woodfill was promoted to sergeant due to his impeccable record. In 1914, he was sent to defend the Mexican border until his return to Fort Thomas in 1917. While Woodfill showed great discipline and marksmanship as a soldier, World War I would prove how exceptional he really was.

Woodfill (left) and his comrades in Alaska. Image courtesy Lowell Thomas, Woodfill of the Regulars, 1929.

In April 1917, Woodfill was promoted to Second Lieutenant and he prepared to go to Europe to fight on the front. Before leaving, he married his longtime sweetheart, Lorena “Blossom” Wiltshire, of Covington, Kentucky. Woodfill was part of the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.), Company M, 60th Infantry, 5th Division and was promoted to First Lieutenant while in Europe.

“Lieut. Woodfill used his rifle as a club.” New Castle Herald (New Castle, Pennsylvania), April 5, 1919, accessed Newspapers.com

Woodfill’s most defining moment, and one that brought him international fame, occurred on October 12, 1918 near Cunel, France during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Leading his men through enemy territory, Woodfill’s company was attacked by German soldiers. Not wanting to put any of his men in danger, Woodfill proceeded ahead alone to face the enemy. Using his marksman skills, he identified the probable locations for German nests, and took out several snipers and their replacements. As he moved forward, his men managed to keep up with him and together they braced themselves for the shelling that would continue throughout the afternoon. When it finally stopped, Woodfill went back to retrieve the pack he had left behind, discovering that the jar of strawberry jam he had been saving was gone. Hearing Woodfill grumble about the “yellow-bellied son of a sea cook” who stole it, the company cook gave Woodfill a fresh apple pie. Remembering the pie years later, Woodfill said “I don’t think any medal I ever got pleased me half as much as that apple pie.” Woodfill spent ten weeks in the hospital, recovering from the mustard gas he breathed in while taking out the German snipers.

Woodfill received the Medal of Honor for his actions in January 1919 before returning home to Kentucky. Several other medals followed, including the Croix de Guerre with palm (France, 1919), and the Croce di Guerra (Italy, 1921).

Samuel Woodfill. Image courtesy of Jefferson County Historical Society

He left the Army in November 1919, but quickly realized that after such a long time in the forces, finding a job would be difficult. Three weeks later, he reenlisted as a sergeant, losing his rank of captain he had achieved during the war. But as long as Woodfill was in the Army and living a quiet life, he was happy. Soon, his heroic actions during the war were forgotten by the public. This changed in 1921 when Woodfill was chosen to be a pallbearer to the Unknown Soldier by General Pershing. Upon seeing Woodfill’s name on the list to choose from, he exclaimed,

“Why, I have already picked that man as the greatest single hero in the American forces.”

Interest in Woodfill and his story gained popularity, and the fact that he had lost his rank as captain bothered many. Appeals as to his rank would appear in the Senate, but proved fruitless. Woodfill’s rank did not bother him, but the pay did. He wanted to provide for anything his wife wanted, and could not do that on a sergeant’s pay. In 1922, he took a three months’ leave from the Army and worked as a carpenter on a dam in Silver Grove to make enough money to pay the mortgage. By 1923, Woodfill was able to retire from the Army with a pension. Author Lowell Thomas took an interest in Woodfill and published a biography titled Woodfill of the Regulars in 1929 in an attempt to help Woodfill pay his mortgage. Framed as Woodfill telling the story of his life, Thomas had to add an epilogue to include the prestigious honors he received because Woodfill only included the Medal of Honor.

Woodfill on the rifle range at Fort Benning, Georgia, 1942. Image courtesy The Cincinnati Enquirer, via newspapers.com

In 1942, the War Department reenlisted Woodfill and Sergeant Alvin York, another WWI hero. Having lost his wife a few months earlier, Woodfill sold everything he owned and went off to serve in WWII. Woodfill passed most of the entrance exams, but had to be given special clearance because he did not have the minimum number of teeth required to serve. (Check back to learn about Hoosier dentist Dr. Otto U. King, who, through the National Council of Defense, mobilized dentists to treat military recruits rejected due to dental issues during World War I). At 59 years old, Woodfill was still an excellent marksman, hitting “bull’s-eye after bull’s-eye” on a rifle range in Fort Benning, Georgia. He did not serve long, as he hit the mandatory retirement age of 60 in 1943.

Rather than returning to Kentucky, Woodfill settled in an apartment in Vevay, Indiana. He spent his remaining years in solitude, enjoying the anonymity that he had craved throughout his career. He died on August 10, 1951 and was buried in a cemetery between Madison and Vevay. In 1955, Woodfill’s story resurfaced and a push to honor the WWI hero resulted in Woodfill’s body moving to Arlington National Cemetery. He was buried near General Pershing with full military honors in October 1955.

Woodfill did not enjoy the spotlight, but after taking on the enemy singlehandedly in the midst of a battle, he deserved it. He worked hard throughout his life with little expectation of recognition for his great accomplishments.