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

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

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.

THH Episode 11: Lincoln the Boy, the man, and the Myth

­­­­Transcript of Lincoln the Boy, the Man, and the Myth

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research by Bill Bartelt

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

Lindsey Beckley: Hey, this is your host Lindsey here. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been doing the podcast for over a year. And we’ve learned a lot in that time but we’re wanting to learn more. The best way for us to do that is to get feedback from you, our listeners. The number one thing you can do to help us is to let us know what you like…and what you don’t like….about the show. Review us on iTunes, post on our facebook, email us at, or even tweet at us on twitter. However you do it, we’d love to hear from you. Now, let’s get to the show.

[Folk style music]

Beckley: Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life.” In subsequent years, many, many people have attempted to make something out of his early life. And on this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we will, once again, attempt to make something out of his early life as we explore the myth, the man, and the grey area in-between.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

It was December, 1816. Indiana was a brand new state and the Lincoln family was moving to the Little Pigeon Creek Community in what later became Spencer County, Indiana. The Lincolns – parents Thomas and Nancy and their children, 9 year old Sarah, and 7 year old Abraham– had lived in Kentucky until then, but Indiana offered an opportunity not available to Thomas before: the chance to hold clear title on a tract of land without dispute. As an added bonus, Indiana was a free state, something which aligned with the Lincoln’s Baptist views.

[Sound effects]

Beckley: Once they arrived at their new home, the family set to work building a modest shelter and clearing the land to make way for crops such as corn and wheat. And Abraham, while young, did his fair share of the work and could wield an axe quite well. He later recalled that:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: He was large for his age, and had an ax put in his hands at once; he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument.

Beckley: The work required to meet the basic needs of food and shelter took up much of the family’s focus, but they still made time for other pursuits.

[Transition music]

Both Abraham and Sarah learned to read and write while attending school in Kentucky and Abraham especially liked to practice his letters. One account said:

Voice actor reading from account: He scrawled them with charcoal, he scored them in the dust, in the sand, in the snow – anywhere and everywhere that lines could be drawn, there he improved his capacity for writing.

Beckley: Because of this fondness for writing, and because neither Thomas nor Nancy had ever quite mastered the skill, Abraham became the de facto letter writer of the family, penning letters to neighbors and family left behind in Kentucky.

Reading hearthside in the evenings, the children adventured with Robinson Crusoe, visited a faraway land with The Arabian Nights, and learned many valuable lessons through Aesop’s Fables and the Bible. Many people who knew Abraham in his youth recounted how much he loved to read and indeed, many images of Lincoln’s time in Indiana feature the young, lanky boy with a book in one hand and an ax in the other.

Literature may have opened a world of imagination to the Lincoln children, but there was much left to learn. Luckily, Andrew Crawford came to town around 1819 and took up the role of school master. Over the next 5 years, Abraham attended school under at least three different school masters, where he learned “readin, writin, and cipherin to the rule of 3.”

[Nature sound effect]

Beckley: Now a young man, it was time for Abraham to find employment. First, he labored on neighboring farms doing the same kind of work he did on his father’s farm – splitting rails for fencing, clearing land, helping with crops, and slaughtering hogs. While working for neighbor Josiah Crawford, Lincoln noticed that he owned a biography of George Washington which Lincoln had been longing to read. He borrow it, but while reading, he accidently left it on a windowsill, where it was soaked through by rain. Embarrassed by his carelessness, Honest Abe went to Mr. Crawford to tell him the truth – he had ruined the book and couldn’t pay for it. Instead, he worked the debt off with three days of hard labor.

For the most part, Abraham pursued jobs that gave him a chance to interact with new and interesting people. For example, he worked on a ferry taking people and cargo across the Anderson River. During this time, he also took the initiative to build a small row boat which he used to carry travelers from the banks of the river to catch passing boats. It was while doing this that he first made a whole dollar in one day – something he reminisced about later, saying

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: You may think it was a very little thing, but it was a most important incident in my life. I could scarcely believe that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a more hopeful and confident being from that time.

Beckley: Perhaps the most exciting and influential part of Lincoln’s time in Indiana was a two month span in 1828, when Abraham accompanied Allen Gentry on a flatboat trip to New Orleans. Lincoln seized the opportunity to get away from rural southern Indiana and see more of the world by travelling down the Mississippi River with a boatload of agricultural products such as corn, pork, and corn meal.

Abraham encountered many new things on this journey; settlements ranging in size from a few families to thousands of people, Spanish moss hanging from the trees, sprawling sugar plantations, and architecture much different than the rustic wooden structures he was accustomed to. One experience in particular from this trip made a lasting impression on the future president.

Once they had reached New Orleans, the two young men had a few free days to tour the city before they caught a steam ship back to Indiana. One day, while exploring the city, the two came across something else Lincoln probably had never saw before – a slave market.


Beckley: New Orleans was home to the largest slave market in America. In that district of the city, the streets were lined with African American men dressed in blue suits and women wearing in calico dresses. Behind the buildings, there were small, fenced in yards where fifty to one hundred men, women, and children waited to be torn from their families and sent to labor in strange and often cruel circumstances. The streets rang with the sounds of slave traders shouting about the attributes of the people being sold and the din of the crowd below, scrutinizing their appearance and making their offers.

Gentry later recalled visiting the market, saying

Voice actor reading from Gentry account: We stood and watched the slaves sold in New Orleans and Abraham was very angry…

Beckley: It’s hard to know how much this encounter by a 19 year old Abraham Lincoln informed the views of 52 year old President Lincoln, but such an experience surely made its mark on his later political beliefs.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Lincoln first found his interest in law and politics while living in the Hoosier state. The Lincoln farm was situated relatively near 2 different county court houses. It was common at this time for people to attend court hearings for socializing and hearing the latest news. Living near multiple courthouses, Lincoln had ample opportunity to witness skilled lawyers practicing their craft. He also borrowed law books and newspapers, both of which greatly influenced his political development. Nineteenth century papers were highly partisan and when Lincoln first ran for political office in Illinois, his views reflected political arguments he likely leaned from newspaper pages.

While Lincoln’s first forays into politics wouldn’t be in Indiana, he did here for 14 years before the family moved to Illinois in 1830. Long after his departure from the state, Indiana governor Otis Bowen said

Voice actor reading from Bowen: Lincoln made Illinois but Indiana made Lincoln.

Beckley: And that certainly strikes a chord. He came to Indiana a 7 year old boy and left a 21 year old man. While in the state, he learned the value of hard work and honesty, had his first up close encounter with the horrors of slavery, and developed an interest in law: all of which came together to build the character of one of the greatest US presidents of all time.

[Record scratch]

Now, you might be thinking that story I just told, with little exception, sounds very charming…idyllic, even. But, as is often the case, there’s another side to the story. Let’s start back at the beginning.

[Folk music blended with modern music]

The Lincoln’s left Kentucky for Indiana due to land disputes. Lincoln later said:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: This removal was partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Kentucky.

Beckley: Given what Lincoln went on to do as president, many people play up the first clause of that statement and all but ignore the second. While the Lincolns were, in all probability, anti-slavery, the sentiment probably had less to do with moral outrage about the practice and more to do with economics. Nevertheless, the bigger issue for the family was land titles – 2 different times, Thomas Lincoln purchased property, only to have the titles challenged, and he lost money each time. He decided to move to Indiana over frustration with the lackadaisical way Kentucky land was parceled, rather than over any sort of moral problem with slavery.

[Folk music]

Beckley: Regardless of why they moved to Indiana, once they settled here, life was hard. Lincoln may have been “large for his age,” but the fact remains that he was a 7 year old who “had an ax put in his hands” to tackle the physically demanding task of clearing land for subsistence farming. What’s more, if he and his father failed to clear enough land, it could spell disaster for the family…the kind of disaster that ends in a slow, horrible death by starvation. The Lincoln’s were in a slightly better position than some, since Thomas was a skilled carpenter with an alternate source of income, but their Indiana existence was still one largely of subsistence farming and hunting.

[Music continues]

Beckley: And starvation wasn’t the only danger of frontier life. Lincoln remembered the area being populated with bears and panthers.

[Music continues]

Beckley: Even domesticated animals posed a risk; once Lincoln recalled that he was kicked in the head by a horse when he was 10 years old and was “apparently killed for a time,” which most likely means that he was rendered unconscious…in any case, he wasn’t seen by a doctor to assess the extent of the damage – most likely because there were no – or at least very few – doctors in the area.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Yet another ever present danger was illness. In the Autumn of 1818, the Little Pigeon Creek Community was struck by an illness which went by many names – puking fever, bilious fever, swamp fever, the slows, but most commonly, it was called milk sickness. The cause is now known to be drinking milk from a cow that ate a plant called white snake root, which contains the poison tremetol. But in 1818, they only knew that it seemed to come from drinking milk. That fall, several families in the area were plagued by the sickness, and soon it struck the Lincoln household; Nancy started showing the first symptoms of the illness in late September – that’s weakness, dizziness, and loss of appetite – and on October 5, 1818, Nancy died. Afterwards, 11 year old Sarah took on the duties of her mother, at least until Thomas married Sarah Bush-Johnston, a widow from Kentucky with three children, and that must have made things a bit tight in the household, what with the 3 Lincolns, 4 Johnstons, and 2 orphaned cousins all living in a one-room cabin with a single shared loft for sleeping.

[Transitional music]

Lincoln spent some time in his autobiographical sketches outlining his education…or lack thereof. While in Indiana, he attended subscription schools, where families in a community built a school house and paid the teacher directly. And even when there was a school to attend, children wouldn’t have gone as regularly as they do today. They went, as Lincoln later said, “by littles.” A week here, a month there…whenever they had the time and availability. The teachers weren’t necessarily professionally trained educators, either. Lincoln said:

Voice actor reading Lincoln: There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond “readin, writin, and cipherin to the rule of three.

Beckley: All told, Lincoln estimated that all of his schooling, when added together, didn’t even amount to a full year, and when he filled out his biographical survey for the Dictionary of Congress, he summed up his education with one word: defective.

[Transitional music]

The fact that Abraham Lincoln could read put him in the vast minority in frontier Indiana. Even 16 years after the Lincolns left Indiana, only 1 in 7 Hoosiers were literate. And, to set him apart even further, Lincoln enjoyed reading. Many relatives and neighbors recalled this unique trait, some with respect, like Nathanial Grigsby, who was a schoolmate of Lincoln’s. He recalled that Lincoln…

Voice actor reading from account: …would carry his books with and would always read whilst resting…

Beckley: during the work day and would…

Voice actor reading from account: …set up late reading & rise early doing the same.

Beckley: Others in the community, however, saw his penchant for reading and intellectual nature as signs of laziness. For example, one neighbor, when recounting Lincoln’s work ethic, said

Voice actor reading from account: Abe was awful lazy; he worked for me, was always reading and thinking…

Beckley: As most of Lincoln’s other employers described him as a hard, honest worker, it’s unlikely that Lincoln actually slacked off in his work; more likely, the neighbor equated traits of intelligence with poor work ethic. Being one of the few introspective, thoughtful people in the area must have been a fairly lonely and frustrating existence for the young Lincoln.

With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that Lincoln sought employment on the river since it got him away from the small community and introduced him to people from a variety of backgrounds. I mean, who could blame him? And after his sister Sarah died in childbirth in 1828, who could blame him for taking the chance to get as far away from his grief as he could by accepting the position on Gentry’s flatboat trip to New Orleans. As I said earlier, this trip may have been the most influential part of Lincoln’s time in Indiana…and it wasn’t even in Indiana. While in the state, he probably felt surrounded by undereducated, uninspired people, being forced to do menial labor, all of which motivated him to “Escape the frontier,” as historian Mark Neely would put it. It was in spite of his Indiana roots that Lincoln became who he was, not because of them.

[Record scratch]

Beckley: Ok, That’s quite a different story than the first one, isn’t it? And yet, everything I said in both is supported by evidence. Each version of the story represents a different interpretation of Lincoln in Indiana. The first is, somewhat amusingly, called the “Chin-fly Theory” and is derived from author Ida Tarbell’s statement:

Voice actor reading Tarbell: The horse, the dog, the ox, the chin fly, the plow, the hog, these companions of his youth became interpreters of his meaning, solvers of his problems in his great necessity, of making men understand and follow him. Beckley: The second is, just as amusingly, called the dung-hill theory. That name comes from historian Chauncey Black’s remark:

Voice actor reading Black: It is our duty to show the world the Majesty and beauty of his character, as it grew by itself and unassisted, out of this unpromising soil…We must point mankind to the diamonds glowing on the dunghill.

Beckley: These two theories differ so much that both cannot be the correct interpretation of the facts. In reality, the truth of the matter is probably somewhere in the middle.

[Transition music]

Beckley: It’s hard to quantify Indiana’s impact on Lincoln as there are so many variables that come together to form someone’s character. But, we can judge the effect his time in the state had on his politics, as he first ran for public office just two years after leaving the Hoosier state. In his first known political address, the 23 year old candidate for the Illinois General Assembly chose to focus on three issues: high interest rate loans, internal improvements, and education.

While Lincoln specifies that the root of that first issue was a personal incident from his time in Illinois, the other two platform issues can be directly linked to his time in Indiana. The most obvious way Lincoln’s experience in Indiana influenced his politics was in his support of public education. In his 1832 address, he said:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: I view [education] as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other counties, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance.

Beckley: This focus on education came directly from his sore lack of public schooling in southern Indiana.

Now, his support of internal improvements isn’t quite as obviously connected to his boyhood, but when you consider the fact that his means of access to the broader world was primarily through the Ohio River – and the goods, information, and people it transported – and that at this point in history “internal improvements” mostly referred to development of canals to connect small communities to large waterways, it’s reasonable to assume that seeing firsthand how that kind of access to the larger world could change lives influenced his stance on the matter.

Ultimately, it’s unreasonable to say that Lincoln wasn’t influenced by his time in Indiana. He was here from ages 7 to 21. It would be hard to walk away from a place you spent 14 years without being changed by that place. However, it’s also difficult to measure how Indiana shaped Lincoln’s character. His views changed dramatically after leaving Indiana due to life experiences and navigating major political events in American History.

He returned only once, in 1844, to his boyhood home. His visit brought back memories of the losses he experienced here, as well as some of the more joyous times. Inspired, he wrote the poem, “My Childhood’s home I see again.” I’ll leave you with a few stanzas.

Voice actor reading from Lincoln:

My childhood-home I see again,

And Gladden with the view;

And still as mem’ries crowd my brain,

There’s sadness in it too.

The very spot where grew the bread

That formed my bones, I see.

How strange, old field, on thee to tread,

And feel I’m part of thee!

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this had been Talking Hoosier History.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: To learn more about Abraham Lincoln in Indiana, check out the book “There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth” by William E. Bartelt. The featred song of this episode was “Living Things” by Bloomington songwriter Tom Roznowski. It’s from the album “Wilderness Plots.” Visit to learn more. As always, a huge thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire. And Tom Mackie, formerly director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, who did an amazing job bringing life to the world of Lincoln in this episode. Also, thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show. Stay connected on social media…We can’t wait to hear from you. Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Lincoln the Boy, the Man, the Myth


Bartelt, William. “There I Grew Up.” Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.

Campanella, William. Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2010.

Warren, Louis. Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years, 1816-1860. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 1959.


Greenwald, Erin. “The Price of Life.” The Historic New Orleans Collections Quarterly, Spring, 2015.

Lighty, Chandler. “Research Summary.” Research file, Indiana Historical Bureau. July, 2008.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss Simins is the producer and sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She records the audio, chooses the music and samples, and engineers the mix.

Bill Mackie, formerly director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, who voiced Abraham Lincoln in this episode.

Justin Clark, project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project, lent his voice to Lincoln’s neighbors and other “extra’s” in the episode.

Music Notes

Theme Song

The Talking Hoosier History Theme Song is “Rock and Gravel” by Indianapolis band Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids. The trio recorded this song in Richmond, Indiana, in 1929. Used courtesy PublicDomain4U, accessed

Featured Song

The featured song of Episode 11 is “Living Things” by Bloomington songwriter Tom Roznowski. It’s off the album Wilderness Plots. Learn more about Tom and listen to more tracks at his website:

Other Audio

Ed Lewis, “I Be So Glad When The Sun Goes Down,” recorded Parchman Farm, Camp B, Mississippi, 1959, Association for Cultural Equity, accessed

Pat Ford, “Swedish Fiddle from Wisconsin Woods,” 1938, Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, accessed

“Indiana Polka,” Edmud Jaeger, composer, Frederick Fennell, conductor, recorded September 1974, Library of Congress, accessed

Kevin MacLeod, “Sneaky Snitch,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed

Bensound, “Funny Song,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed

Ross Bugden, “Solstice,” Copyright and Royalty Free, accessed

AShamaluevMusic, “Free Romantic Background Music for Videos,” No Copyright Music, accessed

Ikson, “Walk,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed

Lobo Loco, “Visions of 2018,” Free Music Archive, ID 783, accessed

Lobo Loco, “All Night Long – Guitarversion,” Free Music Archive, ID 775, accessed

Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage, 1945-1987

Photograph from Nancy Poling’s personal collection.
  •  Out of courtesy to their descendants, the names of the Richmond couple have been changed.

Twenty-two years before Loving v. Virginia, Anna Harley, a white woman, and Daniel Winters, an African American man, sacrificed family, friends, and even country, to live together as husband and wife. In 1986, the Winters allowed me to interview them at their Mexico City home. It took me nearly 30 years to write Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987). As the trust between us developed and they shared a part of their life they’d intended not to speak of, theirs became a more difficult narrative to put to paper. Looking back on their forty-two-year marriage—a tape recorder between them on their green sofa—they reflected on their relationship with startling honesty.*

On February 2, 1945, the Richmond, Indiana couple drove to Chicago, where they could legally marry. In Indiana “marriage between a white person and a person with one-eighth or more Negro blood” was a felony, punishable by a heavy fine, imprisonment, and the voiding of the marriage. Not until two years later, when Daniel’s mother, in Richmond, became ill, did the couple return to Indiana. During the eleven years they lived there, they were never prosecuted, but faced persecution.

Daniel was born in Richmond in 1908. The town he remembered was as segregated as most southern cities, with restaurants, beaches, and hotels off-limits to the city’s black population. When African American celebrities like Louis Armstrong, Joe Lewis, and Marian Anderson, visited the Indiana city they had to spend the night with a local widow, who rented out rooms.

A precocious child and an outstanding athlete, Daniel wasn’t bothered by the community’s discrimination until he was old enough to participate in team sports at school. A particularly painful memory included a frigid evening in which he had to change into his basketball uniform outside in the shadows of the YMCA building, because the association prohibited him from using its locker room. Although he took all of the advanced classes in high school, his white teachers never encouraged him to attend college. Yet in 1933, during the Great Depression, he graduated from Earlham College with a teaching degree in Spanish. While at the school, President William Cullen Dennis’s office chided Daniel for walking into town with groups of white women on his way home from classes. Daniel could not participate in Earlham’s social events that took place at the YMCA or Richmond hotels. After a long period of working menial jobs, he was able to teach Spanish in the federally-funded Works Progress Administration (WPA) program.

The Richmond Item, August 30, 1935, 11, accessed

Anna, born near Lima, Ohio, was seven when her mother died. Six years later her father took off to California without her. Abandoned, she went to live with her older sister, Violet, in Brookville, Ohio, near Dayton. She grew up independent and with an adventuresome spirit. Following her 1938 graduation from Manchester College, in Indiana, she became a social worker.

Daniel and Anna met in Richmond. The WPA office he worked out of was located in the same building as the Unemployment Relief Agency, which Anna supervised. A gregarious man, Daniel went downstairs to visit the young women who worked there. He and Anna began meeting at night in the privacy of her car, where they talked, kissed, and held each other. When Anna was transferred to northern Indiana and attended meetings in Indianapolis, Daniel rode there by bus. Indianapolis was large enough for them to appear in public and maintain anonymity. Yet people stared when they walked arm in arm along the sidewalk. Men sneered, “whore” in passing.

Only one of Anna’s friends, Inez, met Daniel before the marriage. Inez was quickly drawn to his charm and urbane demeanor, but she warned in letters that Anna should follow her head instead of her heart. A daughter of Anna’s sister, Violet, later said, “Mom practically had a nervous breakdown,” upon learning of the approaching marriage.

Daniel working at International Harvester, courtesy of Nancy Poling’s personal collection.

With World War II boosting production, International Harvester hired Daniel as a janitor at its Richmond plant- some company leaders were convinced that African Americans lacked the intelligence to operate machinery. The labor union, however, valued his education and elected him to leadership positions. During the McCarthy era, like other union activists, he was labeled a communist and intimidated by the FBI.

When Harvester closed its Richmond plant in 1957, no one in town would hire the “n— commie troublemaker.” By now the family included two school-age daughters. A move to Mexico offered Daniel the opportunity to practice the profession he’d been trained for and their daughters a chance to grow up free of racial prejudice.

But the move put new stressors on the couple’s relationship. Daniel, who taught English at a prestigious boys’ school, was soon saying he felt “as Mexican as chili verde.” Anna, a reserved, blond woman, felt at odds with the effusive culture whose language she never fully mastered. Daniel resented her not being outgoing; she resented his making little effort to help her adjust.

While personal in nature, Daniel’s and Anna’s story is also cultural. It speaks to the discriminatory attitudes resulting from the Ku Klux Klan’s influence during the 1920s and of McCarthyism in the 1950s. It is not the happily-ever-after story I anticipated, but an honest portrayal of the love and hurt any two people, not just a biracial couple, can encounter in an intimate relationship.

Learn more about the struggles Daniel and Anna faced as a biracial couple in Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987), available wherever books are sold.

* Daniel died five months after the interview; Anna is also deceased.

Bertita Carla Camille Leonarz de Harding: Jewels, War, and Writing in Indianapolis

Bertita Harding
“Bertita Harding Is Satisfied With Movie Based on Her Book,” Indianapolis News, June 5, 1939, accessed

Before social media instantly familiarized people with new cultures, Bertita Harding endowed Americans, and specifically Hoosiers, in the 1930s and 40s with illuminating accounts of Europe’s and South America’s rich, sometimes volatile past and present. The Hungarian author spoke five languages, interviewed dictators, and witnessed the gleam of royal jewels. Her experiences compelled her to author more than a dozen lucrative books, mostly biographies. Indianapolis firm Bobbs-Merrill published most of her books. Bertita brought a fresh approach to biography, giving depth to royal figures, illuminating their motives, and endowing them with humanity. Her life was as interesting and tragic as the royal figures about which she so aptly wrote.

The “adopted Hoosier” was born in Hungary and moved to Mexico when her father was solicited to work as an engineer in Mexico City.  As a child, she grew intrigued with the story of ill-fated Carlotta and Maximilian, Emperor and Empress of Mexico. The story is worthy of a Shakespearean quarto:

Austrian archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph accepted the offer of the Mexican throne in 1863, having been assured that the Mexican people voted for his governance. However, he was installed into power through the collusion of Mexican conservatives and the French emperor, against the wishes of many Mexicans. He and his beloved wife Carlotta traveled to Mexico, where the liberal-minded emperor tried to rule with “paternal benevolence,” working to abolish the peonage system. When French troops pulled out of Mexico, and former Mexican president Benito Juarez returned, Carlotta fled to Europe to fruitlessly plead for support of her husband. Unwilling to abandon the impoverished people he had advocated for, Maximilian refused to abdicate the throne. He was executed near Queretaro, devastating his wife who remained in Europe. She fell into a debilitating depression and never recovered, refusing to acknowledge his death.

Chapultepec castle, courtesy of the National History Museum.

Bertita’s house was adjacent to the city’s Chapultepec castle, where the royal couple lived. The Indianapolis Star noted that “Each night as she went to bed she saw from her nursery window a light gleaming on the terrace of the somber castle, and she learned that there the beautiful Empress and her imperial husband had walked on starry nights.”

In 1909, Bertita, along with her mother and two brothers, journeyed to Vienna with a “mysterious black trunk.” Emperor Maximilian’s brother Frans-Joseph received the trunk, revealing to Bertita’s mother the jewels and insignia worn by the tragic royal couple. For returning the goods to the House of Hapsburg, Frans-Joseph bestowed Bertita’s mother with the signum laudis award for service to the crown. Bertita’s brushes with royalty proved to be the inspiration for many of her works.

Bertita traveled to the United States for school, training to be a pianist at the University of Wisconsin, where she met her husband Jack Harding. The couple moved to Indianapolis, where he worked as an executive at Harding Advertising Company. Eventually, the pair applied their literary gifts to writing film scripts in Hollywood. The Indianapolis News recalled in 1957, that Bertita “espoused the role of a young Hoosier wife and blithely entered local activities . . . She had a rare gift for being folksy and fabulous, cozy and continental at the same time.” Here, they participated in the Lambs Club, Athenaeum, and Players Club.

In a 1958 Anderson Herald article, Bertita stated that after her children were killed in an accident her husband encouraged her to write, an endeavor she found more convenient than practicing the piano. She mused “‘I’ve put a cake in the oven and gone over in my desk to write. If the cake burned, the chapter turned out to be a masterpiece. If the chapter was bad, the cake was delicious. And many times both turned out just right.'”

Ill-fated royal couple Empress Carlota and Emperor Maximilian, photographic print on carte de visite mount, created ca. 1864-1880, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1934, Bobbs-Merrill published her literary jewel, Phantom Crown: The Story of Maximilian and Carlotta of Mexico. At a talk for the Women’s Club in Richmond, Indiana in 1934, Harding stated that as a little girl in Mexico City she interrogated former ladies-in-waiting for the royal couple about their fates. The adopted Hoosier added “I could visualize how they felt-transplanted Europeans, somewhat bewildered.” Harding penned the impeccably-researched biography in her Indianapolis apartment, writing methodically from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. She recalled “As I wrote the book sometimes I would laugh at my own jokes, and sometimes I would cry with sympathy for them, and I loved to think my own book could arouse such sympathy in myself.”

With the success of Phantom Crown, Harding cemented her place in the Hoosier literary canon, residing among a prolific list of Indiana poets, playwrights, novelists, travel writers, and journalists. These included novelist Booth Tarkington, author Gene Stratton-Porter, and poet James Whitcomb Riley. The book she described as “manifest destiny” created a demand for Bertita’s unique perspective. She went on the lecture circuit, speaking to clubs around the country about her experiences. The Muncie Evening Press noted in 1935 that with these lectures she took audiences on a vivid tour through Mexico and Europe, showing them “‘the small out-of-the way, pieces of art and works of beauty to be found in such travel.'” Listeners traveled down the Danube into Hungary and then Vienna, where they experienced picturesque domes and woodcarvings, before arriving at French convents. Of Germany, she remarked it “‘is too far advanced, with far too much intellect as well as sentiment, to provide the obscure forms of art . . . Their great capacity is for work.'”

Juarez promotional material, accessed IMDb.

By 1939, the story of the ill-fated lovers proved so popular that Warner Brothers adapted Harding’s book into a film called “Juarez,” starring Bette Davis. According to the Indianapolis News, Harding threatened to sue the studio for failing to give her screen credit, but the parties came to an agreement and Harding described “Juarez” as a “‘beautiful picture.'” Harding noted that the film’s theme had been adapted to “fit modern conditions” and that, during a time of Hitler-led German aggression, Warner Brothers was advocating for “America and the Constitution right now, so ‘Juarez’ just had to fit in.” Harding contended that “Juarez” was obviously made in the vein of anti-fascist film Confessions of a Nazi Spy.

Harding followed Phantom Crown with additional biographies about the House of Hapsburg, such as  Golden Fleece: The Story of Franz-Joseph and Elizabeth of Austria and Imperial Twilight: The Story of Karl and Zita of Hungary. The Indianapolis Recorder, an African-American newspaper, praised Harding’s writing, noting “Stiff, regal figures become understandable, human-beings. Royal mazes are unraveled. Motives for strange actions grow lucid.” The newspaper added that “A flawless instinct for drama makes the utmost of every event without the slightest strain.”


Harding’s life and books seemed to place her on the perimeter of political and military upheaval. In October 1940, she traveled to Brazil to gather material for a forthcoming book. By this time, Nazi Germany had captured France, and the Allied Powers feared that Brazil, which had been fairly politically neutral, could be susceptible to Nazi attack. Harding interviewed Brazilian dictator President Getulio Vargas, concluding that although Vargas was a dictator, Brazilians would never permit a European dictatorship. According to the Indianapolis Star, Harding asserted “I am convinced that, for reasons both sentimental and practical, Brazilians would resist any attempt to give either Naziism or Fascism a foothold in their country.'”

Jack Harding
Lt. Col. Jack Harding, Indianapolis News, August 10, 1944, accessed

By 1944, Bertita and her husband Lieutenant Colonel Jack Harding, an executive officer of public relations, were fully entrenched in the war effort. That year, the Indianapolis News reported on Jack’s work in England, noting that as an intelligence officer he briefed and interrogated combat crews and laid out the operational plan for air force public relations for the D-Day invasion. In a letter published by the Indianapolis News,  the lieutenant colonel illuminated for Americans the sacrifices made by soldiers in France on D-Day.

He wrote stirringly “it is still true that aircraft, artillery, warships and other auxiliary arms all radiate from a common center, one little man with one little gun. This day belongs to the infantryman, may God protect him.” Following the pivotal invasion, Jack accompanied war correspondents on a journey through France. They witnessed the fall of Cherbourg, where “Street fighting, snipers, artillery attacks, as well as a ride through crossfire, added up to part of the night’s work.” While her husband wrote about “those kids of ours,” Bertita helped sell war bonds through a literary group.

She continued to do what she did best–write about royal exiles. Harding published Lost Waltz in 1944, centering around Austria’s Leopold Salvator and his family of ten. The Indianapolis News praised her ability to “place for us these Hapsburgs in the broad movement of our own eventful times, her unusual ability to recreate past scenes and make them live again with the verve and sparkle of fiction, though she never deviates from sober fact.” Other books written by Harding after the war include Magic Fire: Scenes around Richard Wagner and The Land Columbus Loved: The Dominican Republic.

After the death of her beloved first husband, she married Count Josef Radetsky in Vienna in 1957, an ancestor of Austrian nobility. The Indianapolis News reported that the Count’s family estates had been “reduced to poverty” when Communists seized Czechoslovakia in 1948 and that he was working as a taxi driver in Vienna when he met Harding. By 1958, Bertita had made such a name for herself that the Orlando Executives Club nominated her to speak, among other nominees such as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In 1958, her life took another somber twist when a Vienna court found Radetsky guilty of trying to defraud her, sentencing him to eighteen months in an Austrian prison.

Adamant that “age cannot wither you,” Bertita began work on a book about German musician Clara Schumann, which Bobbs-Merrill published in 1961. Bertita passed away in Mexico in 1971, having fulfilled her 1935 dictum that “‘Life comes before letters . . . If life results in writing, that is good: but writing without living is worthless.”

THH: Episode 10: Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings

Transcription of Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

[Gospel music]

Voice actor reading newspaper headlines: Jackie Robinson hits bias in Monster Meeting talk. Secretary of State to talk at Monster Meeting at YMCA. Monster Meeting series schedule famous persons. Noted engineer to speak for YMCA. Martin Luther King like Moses. International singer to speak at Monster Meeting. Young Scientist on Monster Meeting. Educator of International fame opens Monster Meeting Governor Schriker to address Monster Meeting at YMCA.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now, it’s time to start talking Hoosier history. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]


Lindsey Beckley: Before we get to the topic on hand, I wanted to give a bit of a disclaimer. In this episode, as in most episodes, we’ll be using quotes from early and mid-twentieth century newspapers. Some of the language in those excerpts concerning race, while widely used at that time, would not be acceptable today. In the interest of preserving the historical authenticity of these sources, we have left them unchanged and uncensored, but please know that we do not condone nor would we use this language.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, young men flocked to the bustling metropolis of London, England in search of jobs in the growing industrial sector. While they found their way into the factories, they also discovered the city’s more unsavory gathering places, like brothels and taverns, and one suspects, a decent amount of trouble.

One London newcomer, George Williams, dreamed of a more wholesome gathering place for these young industrial workers with the idea that, given a suitable alternative, they would steer clear of London’s underbelly. In 1844 those ideas came to fruition with the establishment of the Young Men’s Christian Association, otherwise known as the YMCA.

By 1851, less than a decade later the new association had spread around the world with chapters in Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Two years later a formerly enslaved man, Anthony Bowen organized the first YMCA serving African American men and boys in Washington D.C. For nearly a century afterwards the United States YMCA would promote, but not mandate, segregated facilities for its black and white members.

White YMCA activities in central Indiana can be traced back as far as 1854. In the early years, up until the late 1880s, black men weren’t officially barred from membership, as in, there was no rule on the books saying they weren’t allowed…but none had actually tried to join so the issue hadn’t been raised. In 1888, two or three black men attempted to join the Indianapolis Y. When their applications were denied, the de facto segregation of the Indianapolis YMCA was brought into sharp focus and it became clear that African Americans would not be welcomed in the association, weather there was an official rule or not.

In 1900, a group of African Americans formed a Young Men’s Prayer Band in Indianapolis. Two years later, the band merged into a “colored Y.M.C.A.” The establishment of this YMCA provided facilities for those men who had been excluded from the central organization. In an Indiana Magazine of History article, Dr. Stanley Warren points out that “the necessity of finding a way to survive within a limiting system driven by segregationist tendencies has been the base from which many great African-American traditions and organizations have begun.” In the capital city, the organization then called “The Indianapolis Colored YMCA” is a shining example of this. Emerging due to the discriminatory practices of Indianapolis, this branch of the “Y” would become one of the largest and most influential black YMCAs in the country.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Before that could happen though, they needed a building able to accommodate their rapidly growing membership. By 1911, just 9 years after its formation, the YMCA outgrew its building located at California and North Streets in the city. To remedy this, they proposed the construction of a new building.

The estimated building cost was $100,000, a figure that seemed unobtainable to many in the community, where even the working professionals were barely getting by due to the limited job opportunities available to them. Fortunately, just as the YMCA members began planning their fund raising strategy, they gained a rather unlikely ally in a white, Jewish, Chicago businessman. Julius Rosenwald, part-owner of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, announced that he would give $25,000 to any community able to rise $75,000 towards the construction of a Colored Young Men’s Christian Association building.

With this motivation, the members of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA joined forces with the white members of the Central YMCA for what would be an incredible fund raising push. Two teams were formed, one for the white members and one for the black, and they set out on their mission. In just 10 days, the $75,000 goal was surpassed.

On July 28, 1912 with a crowd of over 5,000 people in attendance YMCA committee men broke ground on the site of the new building. Three months later another celebration with thousands of spectators was held for the laying of the cornerstone. Construction was completed on the building, located at the corner of Michigan Street and Senate Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, in July, 1913.

[Crowd noises]

Beckley: YMCA members held a week of festivities and ceremonies in celebration of the opening of the new Senate Avenue Y, including a ladies night, a fraternal night, and athletic night. The highlight of the week, though, was Tuesday July 8 – the official dedication, which featured an address by Booker T. Washington, civil rights activist and founder of Tuskegee institute.

In his address, Washington commended the citizens of the city, black and white, for banding together to make the Senate Avenue Y a reality. Then, he said:

Voice actor reading from Washington: I am proud of being a member of the Negro race and never more so than tonight. I spurn the men who sympathize with me because I am a member of the Negro race. We have work to do and difficulties to overcome…Let the white people know about the good deeds in our race. In too many cases white people hear only of crime. They do not hear about the hard-working, industrious, sober colored men, and Indianapolis has many of the latter class.

[Transition music]

Beckley: In many cases, African American churches were at the heart of the community. The Indianapolis Colored YMCA, itself a Christian organization, became another center of the African American community in Indianapolis. The Y opened at the tail end of a major influx of African Americans to the city following the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the 40 years between 1860 and 1900, the African American population of Indianapolis grew 3000 percent. White residents did not welcome these newcomers. Oftentimes, they were relegated to segregated areas of the city due to housing discrimination and exclusion from facilities. Indiana Avenue was at the center of the largest African American community in the city, with 30,000 black residents living within a 10 mile radius of the Avenue by the 1950s.

Majority black neighborhoods such as this did not have access to the same social, recreational, and charitable organizations as the white communities. Because of these segregationist policies, black communities had long provided these things for themselves, often led by their churches. This is where the Senate Avenue Y stepped in, building on and expanding the work of African American churches.  The Y was located in the heart of the Indiana Avenue African American community and offered adult education classes, held bible studies, provided meeting space for a variety of organizations, and even established an amateur basketball team. These programs, according to historians, “fostered self-respect and self-reliance and tried to provide young men with proper role models and male companionship…[they] served as sanctuaries which preserved African American Masculinity and prepared black men and boys for their leadership role in the struggle for equality that lay ahead.”

In order to reach more and more young men and boys, the Y held annual membership drives.

[Military music]

Beckley: These campaigns borrowed military organizational structures, dividing members into divisions of “enlisted men.” These men worked hard to recruit as many new members as possible. Those groups that enlisted the most new members were inducted into the Society of High Producers and The Royal Order of the Spizzerinktum which, I looked it up, and it’s a real word meaning “the will to succeed,” which is rather fitting. These tactics worked fabulously! Membership jumped from just 52 in 1903 to over 5000 by 1930.


These wildly successful membership drives turned the Senate Avenue Y into one of the largest African American YMCA branches in the country. But being large doesn’t necessarily make an organization important or influential. To understand the influence of the Y, we need to go right back to the very beginning of the branch, to the establishment of what were called Monster Meetings.

[Modern music]

The roots of what would become the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings can be traced to the very early years of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA, and executive secretary Thomas Taylor. He instituted public forums where first men, and later all people, would gather on Sunday afternoons between November and March to listen to lectures on a wide variety of topics. Originally, Taylor wanted to call the forums “Big Meetings” but the proposal was rejected by the Central YMCA board because their annual meeting was already called the Big Meeting. So, Taylor one-upped them and labeled his forum series the Monster Meetings. Taylor couldn’t have known just how fitting that name would become.

In the Taylor years, the meetings featured local religious leaders speaking almost exclusively on religious matters but in 1916 a new executive secretary took the meetings to a whole new level. That executive secretary was Faburn Defrantz. Long time listeners of the podcast may remember from our first episode that DeFrantz led the campaign against the segregation of the Indiana University men’s basketball team in the 1940s. In 1916, he had been in Indianapolis for just 3 years and advanced to the top position of the Senate Avenue YMCA with ambitious goals.

During DeFrantz’s tenure, Monster Meetings continued to feature local ministers delivering religious messages. But they soon expanded to include some of the most well-known African American leaders of the nation speaking on a variety of hot-button issues. In his seminal article “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis,” Dr. Stanley Warren provides a list that sampled a few of the hundreds of speakers and topics featured at Monster Meetings during the DeFrantz years. When reading this list, the thing that initially jumped out at me was the variety of speakers included; there were authors, NAACP leaders, professors, University Presidents, politicians, newspapermen, famous athletes, religious leaders, and a former first lady.

When analyzing the list a bit further, I started to notice trends. You can see history unfolding before you just in the titles of the lectures.


Beckley: In early 1930, at the very beginning of the Great Depression, Freeman Ransom gave a lecture on…

Voice actor fades in: “Unemployment and How to Solve It.”

Beckley: In 1931, 11 years into America’s “great experiment” of prohibition, Reverend Charles H. Winders and Boyd Gurley debated the question

Voice actor fades in: “Prohibition: Shall Indiana Stay Dry?”

Beckley: In 1940, as World War II raged in Europe, Dr. Max Yergan spoke on

Voice actor fades in: “Democracy: A Goal to Defend.”

Beckley: And after US entry into World War II , Dr. Lorenzo Greene spoke on

Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in National Defense,”

Beckley: Phillip Randolph lectured on:

Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in War and Peace,”

and William Hastie talked on

Voice actor fades in: “The Fight Against Discrimination in the Armed Forces.”

Beckley: Then, in the post-war era, you see

Voice actor fades in: “The Colonies in the Post-War World”

Beckley: by Freida Newgabower, and

Voice actor fades in: “Implications of the Atomic Bomb”

Beckley: by Mordecai Johnson.

In 1947, one year after the Froebel School Board in Gary, Indiana voted for desegregation after hundreds of white students staged a walk out in protest of integration, Joseph Chapman spoke on “Democracy in Gary Schools.” Leading up to and during the Civil Rights movement, speeches such as “This is the Hour,” “Integrated Society or a Segregated Society,” “The Civil Rights Crisis and American Democracy,” and “The Civil Rights Resolution in America” demonstrate that the black citizens of Indianapolis were having the same discussions and debates as black citizens around the nation.

Unfortunately, there is no collection or archive of the speeches given at these monster meetings, at least not that I have been able to locate. Luckily, preserved in the pages of newspapers like the Indianapolis Recorder, there are snippets of some of the lectures. And there was no way we could do a podcast about Monster Meetings and not include the words of the leaders who spoke at those meetings. Now let’s reach back into the pages of the recorder and hear from a few of the powerful speakers to have graced the stage of the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings.

Dr. Mordecai Johnson was a fixture of the Monster Meeting schedule, opening the meeting season for over 40 consecutive years. He became involved with the YMCA in 1916, when he served as a student secretary and was a life-long supporter of the association. Dr. Johnson became the first African American president of Howard University, one of the nation’s historically black universities, in 1926. He served in that capacity until 1960. During his decades speaking at the Monster Meetings, he covered a wide range of topics, including

Voice actor: “Anti-Semitism and the Negro Ministry,” “Civilization’s Civil War,” “Freedom’s Challenge,” “Implications of the Atomic Bomb,” “Ghandi and the Liberation of India,” “A Troubled World in the Middle East,” and “Segregation is Suicide.”

Beckley: Described as a man who “made people listen even when they did not believe,” Johnson was a powerful speaker and he lent his skill to important topics. For example, as Cold War tensions mounted, he spoke of the dangers American segregation posed to the nation. He said:

Voice actor reading from Johnson: Through our nation’s moral weakness caused by segregation, we are committing scientific and technical suicide. We are five years behind militarily due to this moral weakness. Oh my brothers, let us pray it is not too late – only Almighty God knows whether it is not too late already…:

Beckley: He went on to address the recent affirmation of Brown vs. Board of Education seen in the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock.

Voice actor reading from Johnson: It is my judgement that the death knell of segregation has been sounded. I see no disposition on the part of the Supreme Court to yield to the opponents of integration. The Court is informed by a sense of world duty which is inexorable.

Beckley: Another name which appears more than once in the list of prominent figures featured at Monster Meetings is that of A. Philips Randolph. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was the first labor union comprised principally of African American workers. He was a major Civil Rights activist, and played a large part in pressuring President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order that banned discrimination in World War II defense industries. He also pressured President Harry Truman to issue an Executive Order to end segregation in the armed forces. Randolph wasn’t satisfied with those successes, though. In 1955, he stood in the Senate Avenue YMCA and declared:

Voice actor reading from Randolph: Negroes are yet second class citizens. Civil revolution was never completed, free public schools were never established, Negroes cannot buy property where they wish, nor can they enter certain businesses. They cannot join all the various unions. The Negroes cannot vote in some parts of this county; therefore they are not yet free.

Beckley: Later, in 1963, Randolph organized the March on Washington, where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, a speech which highlighted the injustice of many of the same racist, segregationist policies Randolph underscored in his Monster Meeting lecture.

In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. himself, possibly the most widely recognized name of the Civil Rights Movement, also made an appearance on the YMCA Monster Meeting roster. Due to high interest in King’s lecture, the venue was moved to Cadle Tabernacle to accommodate a larger audience. In one of his first public appearances since he suffered a brutal attack, the Baptist minister kept his message of nonviolence, urging the use of love in the face of violence.

Voice actor reading from King: A new age of justice is challenging us to love our oppressors…We must not assume this new freedom with attitudes of bitterness and recrimination, for, if we do, the new age will be nothing but a duplicate of the old one…A new world is being born, and the old world will die. We must be prepared for the new world to come. Segregation is nothing but slavery covered up with certain niceties and complexities. If our democracy is to live, segregation must die.

Beckley: He went on, saying:

Voice actor reading from King: Use love. Love is a sure winner. Remember that as Christians we are working with god. If we do it the way God wants us to do it, we will be able to sing with pride, ‘My Country ‘tis of thee’ for Freedom must ring from every mountainside.


Beckley: The Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings played a central role in not only educating members about topics of local, national, and international importance, but also in galvanizing the community into action. According to Dr. Warren, “As the popularity and importance of these mass education meetings grew, both the public and YMCA members exhibited a higher level of community activism.”


For those who regularly attended Monster Meetings, the YMCA became a foundation for the changes that they worked towards in the coming decades. The meetings were a place where, in the words of Dr. Mordecai Johnson,

Voice actor reading from Johnson: The redcap and the lawyer, the laborer and the doctor, seek together to find answers to social and political questions…


[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this had been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about the Senate Avenue YMCA or Monster meetings, check out Dr. Stanley Warren’s book “The Senate Avenue YMCA for African American Men and Boys.” A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, for being the voice of the various civil rights leaders quoted in this episode. And as always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, for bringing our words to life. Stay connected by liking us on facebook or following us at @TalkHoosierHist on twitter and if you like what you hear, subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings


Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Mjagkij, Nina. Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946. University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.


                Pierce, Richard. “’Little Progress Happens’: Faburn E. DeFrantz and the Indianapolis Senate Avenue YMCA.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 108, Issue 2, June 2012.

Warren, Stanley. “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 91, Issue 1, March 1995.


                “Martin Luther King ‘Like Moses of Old.” The Indianapolis Recorder, December 20, 1958.

“New Y.M.C.A. Opened.” The Indianapolis Freeman, July 2, 1913

“Voice of the Eastside.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 26, 1955.

                “Segregation Is Suicide, Mordecai Johnson Warns.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 16, 1957.


Senate Avenue YMCA Historical Marker File, Indiana Historical Bureau

Special Thanks

             Frank Thomas

A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis for giving voice to the Civil Rights leaders quoted in this episode.

                Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music and Audio Notes

Featured Songs

“We Are Americans, Praise the Lord,” performed by Bertha Houston, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

“Oh Jonah,” performed by Golden Jubilee Quartet, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

“Death Is An Awful Thing,” performed by Middle Georgia Four, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

“Recording of A Capella Singing Convention at Stranger Homer Baptist Church, Part 1,” recorded by Beverly J. Robinson, Chicago, Illinois, May 22, 1977, Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

Other Music

“Hip Hop Instrumental (Crying Over You),” Chris Morrow 4 No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed

“Better Days,” Bensound No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed

“Acoustic Inspiring,” OrangeHead No Copyright  / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed

“Crossing the Divide,” Kevin MacLeod No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, published by Filmmaking Free Music, YouTube, accessed

“Days Are Long,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed

“March to Victory,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed

“Military March,” Monviando Royalty Free Production Music, YouTube, accessed

“Upbeat Jazz Music (New York, 1924),” Ross Bugden No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed

Other Audio

Clip of Booker T. Washington accessed “Voices from the Past: Booker T. Washington,” Talk of the Nation, NPR, accessed

Clips of A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. accessed “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Open Vault, WBGH Media Library and Archives, accessed

Clip of Marian Anderson singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” accessed “Denied A Stage, She Sang for a Nation, Morning Edition, NPR, accessed

Democracy for Some: Defining the Indiana Landscape through the Rectangular Survey System

“Drawing of George Washington as Surveyor” in Andrew G. Gardner, “How Did Washington Make His Millions?” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Winter 2013) accessed

A small group of men made their way through the thick southern Indiana forest dragging chains in their wake. Once in a while, they stopped to score a tree, plant a post, and record their progress. For those residents of the Indiana Territory who witnessed this bizarre parade in the fall of 1804, this group represented vastly different futures. For Thomas Jefferson and other leaders of the young United States, this group of men sent to survey the Indiana Territory represented the spread of democracy. For the indigenous people who first called this land home, the marks cut and burned into the trees represented the impending and permanent loss of that home. Despite their disparate perspectives, both would soon see the redefinition and reorganization of the landscape by the rectangular survey system.

Indiana Historical Bureau, “Indiana Territory,” The Indiana Historian (March 1999), 4, accessed

After the American Revolutionary War and via the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the British surrendered their claim to the thirteen colonies and ceded a vast amount of western and southern territory to the young United States. In order to grow the republic and repay war debt, the new government needed a system of organizing this land for sale. In response to these needs, the Continental Congress created a committee chaired by Thomas Jefferson to create a system for surveying the new territory.

Jefferson passionately believed that the system had to make small plots of land available to the individual farmer (as opposed to large plots available only to the wealthy, to speculators, or to large companies) in order to spread democracy throughout the territory. In 1785, Jefferson wrote:

We have now lands enough to employ an infinite number of people in their cultivation. Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to it’s [sic] liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.

“Jefferson” engraving by William Holl, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The committee’s answer was the Land Ordinance of 1784 which attempted to define and standardize surveying methods to create a grid of small plots of land across the territories. These surveyed squares could then be subdivided, numbered, and recorded for sale. In this manner, the landscape could be divided and sold to settlers unseen — that is, without the surveyor having to physically walk the entire area, mapping the land in the old system of metes and bounds (which used natural markers like trees and rivers to define property). This older system was time consuming, required the surveyor’s physical presence in a sometimes dangerous landscape, and often led to land disputes as natural markers were altered or disappeared. While the 1784 Ordinance did not become law, it did define the rectangular system and laid out the principles that would measure and divide the landscape into what it is today.

“Surveyor’s Compass” in Andrew G. Gardner, “How Did Washington Make His Millions?” Colonial Williamsburg Journal (Winter 2013) accessed

On May 20, 1785, Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785, a revised version of the 1784 plan which further described the system and codified a detailed survey plan which used mathematics and standardized chains for measuring. The ordinance stated that surveying would begin on the Ohio River, at a point that shall be found to be due north from the termination of a line which has been run as the southern boundary of the state of Pennsylvania.” According to historian Matthew Dennis, this rectangular survey system allowed the leaders of the young government to apply  their “nationalistic, scientific, and engineering mentality in transforming the continental landscape of North America, reconceptualizing its space, subduing and organizing it, and distributing it to white yeoman farmers in the interest of national expansion, and, they believed, democracy.”

Committee of Congress. Draft Report of Northwest Ordinance, March 1784. Broadside with emendations by Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

The removal of the native tribes living in the territories was the first step of the survey process.  Both the proposed 1784 Land Ordinance and the adopted 1785 Land Ordinance called for American Indian removal. The United States government worked towards this end through both military action, economic pressure, and treaties in order to make space for white male settlers to farm the land. On July 13, 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, an act which created the Northwest Territory (an area that would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota) and provided a system for settling the area to create new states.

Map of the Northwest Territory, Indiana Historical Bureau, “Indiana Territory,” The Indiana Historian (March 1999), 4, accessed

The U.S. government viewed conflict with indigenous populations in the area as the greatest obstacle to the expansion and settlement of white Americans in the territory. According to historian Eric Hemenway of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians:

Between 1774 and 1794, Indian villages in New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio were constantly attacked by the American army and militias. The Shawnee, Delaware, Iroquois, Miami, Odawa, Wyandot and Mingo saw unspeakable violence committed against their villages during this time period. Over 100 Indian villages were burned and destroyed, leaving an unknown number of civilian casualties.

“Battle of Fallen Timbers,” engraving, 1846, in John Frost. Pictorial History of the United States, accessed

The U.S. government applied military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on native peoples to cede land and create a peace, no matter how tenuous. The military pressure was applied by President George Washington’s assignment of General Anthony Wayne to battle a confederacy led by Miami, Shawnee, and Lenape (Delaware) chiefs. After suffering major losses at the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, many tribes living in the Northwest Territory were resigned to settling for peace. This resulted in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville, in which some tribal leaders ceded large sections of land in Ohio and Indiana to the United States and opened much of the area to white settlement. Many Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa, Miami, Eel River, Wea, Chippewa, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Piankashaw, and Kaskaskia lost large portions of their homeland. Still other native leaders resisted and contested this and subsequent treaties, and would later fight to regain their land under the leadership of Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa.

Detail of “Painting of Indian Treaty of Greenville,” oil on canvas, 1795, Chicago History Museum, accessed

While the U.S. government offered payment in goods for signing the treaty, some Native Americans became dependent on these annuities as the land on which they made their living was taken from them. In some cases, they fell into debt and lost even more land as a result. This situation was often exploited by the United States government. For example, in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson wrote William Henry Harrison:

We shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among [Great Lakes Indians] run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.

After the Treaty of Greenville provided prospective colonists the security of peaceful settlement, Congress passed the Land Act of 1796. This legislation provided for the sale of land in the Northwest Territory. It reiterated that surveys would be conducted in areas “in which the titles of the Indian tribes have been extinguished.” It also appointed a Surveyor General directed to employ deputy surveyors.

Jared Mansfield, Essays, mathematical and physical : containing new theories and illustrations of some very important and difficult subjects of the sciences, New-Haven : Printed by William W. Morse, [1801], accessed HathiTrust.
General Rufus Putnam, a Revolutionary War veteran and an organizer of the Ohio Company, became the country’s first Surveyor General in 1796. Jefferson, however, became unhappy with Putnam’s irregular results and soon began to seek a more mathematically minded candidate who could factor in the curvature of the earth among other issues. Jared Mansfield (1759-1830) came to the attention of President Jefferson in 1801 upon the publication of his book Essays, Mathematical and Physical, one of the earliest works of original mathematics by an American. On May 21, 1803, Jefferson wrote to Mansfield, and conveyed his disappointment with Putnam for errors in “laying off the townships, not having been able to run parallel East & West Lines.” Jefferson expressed his confidence in Mansfield: “I am happy in possessing satisfactory proof of your being entirely master of this subject, and therefore in proposing to you to undertake the office.” Mansfield began his work as Surveyor General in the fall of 1803 as Congress and other U.S. government officials worked to open up the territories to settlement.

“Roger Woodfill, Greenville & Grouseland Treaty Lines,” accessed Virtual Museum of Surveying.

The land which would become Indiana was difficult to survey because much of it had yet to be acquired through treaty. The Vincennes Tract, an area ceded by local tribal authorities to French settlers in 1742, provided another unique obstacle. This area ran along the Wabash River and thus had been surveyed at an angle, and French settlers acquired titles to the land based upon this survey. Since 1787, the inhabitants of the Vincennes Tract regularly petitioned Congress to validate their titles. In May 1802, Congress determined that the territory should be surveyed by the rectangular method except where it had been previously surveyed. In other words, the Vincennes Tract would sit like an oddly angled puzzle piece within the rest of the rectangular pieces. The lines forming the rectangles would stop at the edge of the Vincennes Tract and then continue after it on all sides. According to survey historian Bill Hubbard, since the purpose of the rectangular survey was to organize the land for sale, there was no need to resurvey the tract.

Map of the Northwest Territory, Indiana Historical Bureau, “Indiana Territory,” The Indiana Historian (March 1999), 4, accessed

Meanwhile, in March 1803, Ohio attained statehood, which left the rest of the former Northwest Territory as the Indiana Territory. Congress wanted the Indiana Territory surveyed in full in preparation for American colonization. In June 1803, the Vincennes Tract’s boundaries were confirmed through Indian treaties and the edges surveyed. Surveying the Indiana Territory around the irregular tract became Mansfield’s first challenge as Surveyor General. U.S. government officials assumed it was a matter of time before the rest of the territory would be acquired from the Native Americans, and thus Mansfield needed to develop a technique for surveying this vast landscape that did not include the time-consuming and even dangerous physical trek through the entire landscape measuring with steps and chains. Instead, he determined that he could create a meridian and a baseline ran off the corners of the Vincennes Tract which would be the foundation of a grid made up of six-mile by six mile square plots of land called townships.

Mansfield planned a baseline that would start at the southwestern corner of the Vincennes Tract and run east-west to the edge of the territory and a meridian which ran from the southeastern edge of the tract north through the territory. The north-south line was called the Second Principal Meridian and coincides with 86° 28’ west longitude. The base line coincides with 38° 28’ 20” north latitude and became known locally as Buckingham’s Base Line. From the intersection of these lines, survey lines could be calculated every six miles in all four directions to create the grid of townships. Each township could then be further divided into one mile squares creating thirty-six sections of land. Each section contained 640 acres of land which could then be divided further in half, quarter, half-quarter, and quarter-quarter sections as needed. These plots would then be numbered and sold to settlers without the surveyor hiking the entire territory, the running of the two lines being the only physical surveying needed.

While Mansfield mathematically planned the baseline which would serve as a foundational line for the survey of the Indiana Territory, someone still had to mark the line into the landscape and take measurements. That task fell to a small crew led by deputy surveyor Ebenezer Buckingham, Jr., and he would long be remembered for his efforts. Originally from Connecticut, Buckingham migrated to Ohio in 1796 and began work as a farmhand for General Putnam. He assisted Putnum on survey trips in several Ohio counties, and in 1799, Putnam swore in Buckingham as a deputy surveyor.

Michael P. Conzen, The Making of the American Landscape (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), 143.

In 1804, Mansfield appointed Ebenezer Buckingham to lead a crew to run the base line. They began at a point on the south-side of the Vincennes Tract and ran a line east for 67.5 miles, marking off miles and half-miles on trees. Buckingham and crew then went to the southeast corner of the Vincennes Tract and ran a line due north until they reached the baseline. When they intersected the baseline, they marked the initial point. Then, they marked section corners and half-section corners until they reached the east end of the Vincennes Tract again. They packed up for the winter and returned the next season to finish extending the baseline east twelve miles and the meridian north in September 1805. The placement of the baseline and meridian in these locations allowed Buckingham and his crew to lay the foundations for the survey system and include the Vincennes Tract in it, all without encroaching on lands that still belonged to Native Americans. After this, the townships could be numbered and the land further divided. The township numbers would be increased east and west away from the Principal Meridian and be numbered away from the Baseline north and south, starting at the Initial Point where the two lines crossed.

“Abraham Lincoln, Congressman-elect from Illinois,” daguerreotype, circa 1846-7,Daguerreotype collection, ibrary of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed

Because the rectangular survey clearly mapped the land, organized, and numbered it, settlers knew that any land they purchased had a secure title. This was not true in states not mapped in such a standardized way.  For example, in Kentucky, the same land was sometimes surveyed multiple times in different ways giving rise to title disputes. For example, in 1808, a carpenter and cabinet maker named Thomas Lincoln purchased a farm near Nolin Creek, Kentucky. The following year, in the cabin that Thomas built on his land, his son Abraham Lincoln was born. The family soon moved to another farm, along Knob Creek for which Thomas paid cash years later in 1815. However, the titles of both his farms were challenged by competing claimants. According to Abraham Lincoln biographer William E. Gienapp, because Thomas did not have the resources to fight a possibly extensive court battle, “he simply sold out at a loss and in December 1816 moved to Indiana, where the federal government had surveyed the land.” Thus, the survey system played no small role in bringing the studious young man who would become the sixteenth President of the United States to Indiana.

Survey Map (left)accessed Elkhart County Surveyor,;
Aerial View of Indiana (right) accessed Indiana Public Media,

The legacy of the survey system still defines how Hoosiers interact with the landscape today and is seen in our counties, townships, and the quilted pattern of Indiana farmland. In fact, much of the country is organized by this system. According to historian Michael P. Conzen, “Except for the original 13 colonies, Texas, and some western mountainous areas, most of the country is parceled out on the township and range system.” The methods perfected by Mansfield and executed by men like Buckingham were applied throughout the vast landscape of the United States to the benefit of some and the anguish of others. In 2018, IHB will place a state historical marker for Buckingham’s Base Line in Dubois County at one point of the line, literally inserting the story of this complex landscape back into the landscape itself – a reminder that as Hoosiers we share both the legacy of those industrious settlers who arrived following a dream of a better life in a bright new democracy and the legacy of those native peoples who were harmed to make that dream a reality.

Photo from Miami Nation of Indiana, accessed

Special thanks to Annette Scherber who contributed research for this post.

Digging into History: Hoosier Archaeologist Glenn A. Black

Glenn Black, 1959. Image courtesy Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology Photographs and the Trustees of Indiana University

Glenn A. Black (1900-1964), native of Indianapolis, became one of Indiana’s leading archaeologists in the midst of the Great Depression. He was essentially self-taught, having only a small amount of formal training with Henry C. Shetrone of the Ohio Historical Society (now Ohio History Connection). Black’s work redefined archaeological field methodology, and brought systematic excavations and innovative technology to the field.

Black began his archaeological career by serving as a guide for Warren K. Moorehead and Eli Lilly Jr. in May 1931. Impressed with Black’s knowledge, they encouraged him to become an archaeologist. Lilly funded Black’s work with his own money initially, and later arranged for him to be paid through the Indiana Historical Society’s archaeological department. Lilly also helped Black with his formal training, sending him to Columbus, Ohio from October 1931 to May 1932 to train with Henry C. Shetrone. During this training, Black married Ida May Hazzard, who joined in his digs. He became especially close with Eli Lilly, forming a bond that would last for the rest of his lifetime.

Lilly and Black on Lilly’s boat on Lake Wawasee in 1951. Photo courtesy Angel Mounds Historic Site

Black and Lilly worked together on many projects, but one of their more controversial projects concerned the Walam Olum, a historically disputed story of the creation of the Delaware tribe. Lilly and Black “had a hunch that the Walam Olum may possibly have in it the key that will open the riddle of the Mound Builders.” In short, they were “trying to connect the prehistoric people who had built the great mounds of the Ohio Valley with the historic Delaware tribe.”

The Walam Olum story was first told by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque in 1836. Rafinesque announced that he had acquired some “tablets” that depicted the “ancient record of the peopling of North America that had been written by the early Lenape (Delaware) Indians and passed down in the tribe for generations.” He had translated the tablets into English, and called it the “Walam Olum” or “painted record” in Lenape. In the years following his death, notable historians, linguists, and ethnologists believed that it “contained crucial evidence for prehistoric Amerindian migrations and the identity of the mysterious Midwestern Mound Builders.” Lilly and Black believed in this theory, and began analyzing the Walam Olum with a team of experts. Their report, published in 1954, claimed “all confidence in the historical value of the Walam Olum.” More recently, historians believe that the Walam Olum was a hoax created by Rafinesque to prove his belief that the Indians came to North America from the Old World.

Nowlin Mound Site, 1935. Image courtesy Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology Photographs and the Trustees of Indiana University

In 1934, Black was asked by the Indiana Historical Society to excavate the Nowlin Mound in Dearborn County. Ida joined him on this dig, as she was “deeply interested in delving into the archaeological as her talented husband.” It was here that his intensely methodical process of excavating is evident. In his report on the mound, he wrote, “If the results of any excavation are to provide an unimpeachable historical record of a prehistoric work, too much stress cannot be placed upon methodical technique and exactness of detail, no matter how trivial the feature may be.” He felt very strongly about following a methodical excavation system, believing that it would lead to improved results and a better historical record.

“if the description of the methods used in staking and surveying the mound seems unnecessarily extensive, it should be remembered that a mound once dug is a mound destroyed; if the story it has to tell be lost on the initial attempt it is lost forever.”

Works Progress Administration (WPA) excavation of Y-7-C at Angel Mounds. Image courtesy Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology Photographs and the Trustees of Indiana University

In 1938, the Indiana Historical Society purchased Angel Mounds with the help of Eli Lilly. Lilly contemplated purchasing the site since 1931, but when the site was in danger of being incorporated by the City of Evansville in 1938, he acted. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) conducted excavations from 1939-1942, and IU’s field program excavated beginning in 1945 (work temporarily ceased during WWII). Black held his students in the field program to very high standards.

In a letter to his students, Black wrote:

You will be living for ten weeks in very close association with your fellow students and you will be expected to get along with one another in an agreeable manner. This is one of the very few field camps which accepts mixed groups. As such we are under constant surveyance by those in this neighborhood and at the University who do not believe in girls attending field schools. I do not subscribe to this thesis but that I may be proved right, and my critics wrong, I am dependent on you. I expect the girls be ladies and the boys gentlemen and all of you to be discreet and orderly at all times. It is requested that you do not wear shorts on the dig—they are neither practical or appropriate.

William S. Merimer, Robert Lorenson, Glenn A. Black, William R. Adams, Vernon Helmen, 1946. Image courtesy Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology Photographs and the Trustees of Indiana University

In the spring of 1939, Black moved to a house on the Angel Mounds site and began supervising the excavations. He and Lilly used the WPA to supply workers to excavate from 1939-1942. Two-hundred and seventy-seven men and 120,000 square feet later, Black and the WPA recovered and processed more than 2.3 million archaeological items. From 1945-1962, students worked at the site in the summer to extend the work of the WPA. The years 1945-1947 were used as “trial runs” of the program, and the first official class began in June 1948. Stemming from this work, an organization was created in 1948 called The Trowel and Brush Society. This society limited membership to students enrolled in the Angel Mounds Field School, but created an honorary category for those who were unable to join formally, but had “contributed to American Archaeology in general and Indiana Archaeology in particular.” The purpose of this society was “to promote good techniques in archaeological research; to maintain contact between students who attend Indiana University’s Archaeological Field School.”

Through his excavations, Black concluded that Angel Mounds existed long before the discovery of America, and was most likely still a “lively community during and after the period of DeSoto,” and does not have evidence to suggest that the site was visited by white men. He believed that Angel Mounds was the site of the “farthest north existence of an agricultural Indian folk who were a part of the long settled tribes of southern and southeastern United States.” An encyclopedia entry about Angel Mounds estimates that the community flourished between AD 1050 and 1450 and that the settlement was geographically and culturally central during Angel Phase, the portion of time from AD 1050-1350 characterized by the Mississippian culture’s use of ceramic, of which there is plenty at Angel Mounds.

Proton Magnetometer, 1959. Image courtesy Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology and the Trustees of Indiana University

Even after concluding this from his excavation, Black said in 1947 that “There’s plenty here to keep me busy the rest of my life.” In 1958, Black became interested in locational devices to detect features of the mounds. He saw that the use of a proton magnetometer was announced in Britain by the Oxford University Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art. Reportedly the device was successful in locating features at Roman sites. Black began looking for one to use at Angel Mounds. In September 1960, the Indiana Historical Society purchased a magnetometer instrument for use at Angel Mounds. The purpose of this project was “to evaluate the application of the proton magnetometer to the problem of locating subsurface features on archaeological sites in this part of the world, and to extend the work begun by the Oxford Group.”

Magnetometry Survey, 1962. Image courtesy Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology and the Trustees of Indiana University

In 1946, the site was transferred to the State of Indiana. After Black’s death in 1964, the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources transferred the site to Indiana University in an attempt at “making Indiana university the archaeological center of the state” and to use the site as a research and teaching facility. In 1964, Angel Mounds was registered as a national historic landmark. Today, the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Corporation manages the site.

Black’s other notable achievements included: vice-president and president of the Society for American Archaeology; Archaeology Divisional Chairman for the Indiana Academy of Science; member of the National Research Council; awarded an honorary doctorate by Wabash College.

Glenn Black died September 2, 1964 in Evansville, following a heart attack. Lilly used the Lilly Endowment to create the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology after his friend’s death, dedicating it on April 21, 1971. When Black died, he was almost done with his report on the Angel Site. Former student James A. Kellar and editor Gayle Thornbrough finished it. The Indiana Historical Society published it in 1967 in two volumes, titling it Angel Site: An Archaeological, Historical, and Ethnological Study. The sections that Black completed before his death include the “historical background, chronological account of its excavation, ethnological relationships, and the ecology of the area.” After his death, Kellar wrote the section that dealt with material that had been recovered from the site. Indeed, plenty at Angel Mounds to keep him busy for the rest of his life.

Learn more about Lilly and Black’s investigation into the Walam Olum, see Walam Olum, or Red Score: The Migration Legend of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians: A New Translation, Interpreted by Linguistic, Historical, Archaeological, Ethnological, and Physical Anthropological Studies.

Check back for information about IHB’s forthcoming marker dedication ceremony honoring Glenn A. Black.

“A Satirist with a Heart, a Moralist with a Whoopee Cushion:” Kurt Vonnegut in Indiana

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., “The Annual,” Shortridge High School Yearbook, 1940, accessed Indy Public Library.

Indianapolis author and satirist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. would have turned 95 on November 11, 2017, just five  years shy of his centennial.  Few people on this earth have had a birthday of such significance; a World War veteran himself, Kurt was born on the 4th anniversary of Armistice Day.  The writer who was once described as “a satirist with a heart, a moralist with a whoopee cushion,” was born into an incredibly prominent Indianapolis family. His great-grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, founded Vonnegut Hardware Store and was a major civic leader. His grandfather and father were both prominent architects, responsible for the former All Souls Unitarian Church on Alabama Street, the Athenaeum, the clock at the corner of Washington and Meridian, and many more Indianapolis landmarks. (Visit the Vonnegut Library and pick up a copy of our Vonnegut Walking Tour pamphlets).

Kurt’s childhood home in Indianapolis at 44th and Illinois streets, courtesy of Century 21 Sheetz, accessed Indianapolis Monthly.

Kurt was raised in luxury at 4401 North Illinois Street, a house designed by his father Kurt Vonnegut Sr. in 1922. According to Indianapolis Monthly, “original details like a stained-glass window with the initials ‘KV’ and Rookwood tile in the dining room” still remain. Kurt Jr. spent summer vacations at Lake Maxinkuckee, located in Culver, Marshall County. The Vonnegut family owned a cottage at the lake, where, according to the Culver-Union Township Library, Hoosier author Meredith Nicholson conceived of the idea for his The House of a Thousand Candles.

Vonnegut-Mueller cottage, pictured in an 1898 edition of the Culver City Herald, accessed Culver-Union Township Library.

Reportedly, Kurt noted in an Architectural Digest article:

“…I made my first mental maps of the world, when I was a little child in the summertime, on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee, which is in northern Indiana, halfway between Chicago and Indianapolis, where we lived in the wintertime. Maxinkuckee is five miles long and two and a half miles across at its widest. Its shores are a closed loop. No matter where I was on its circumference, all I had to do was keep walking in one direction to find my way home again. What a confident Marco Polo I could be when setting out for a day’s adventures!”

Kurt’s parents lost a significant amount of money during the Great Depression, resulting in Kurt leaving his private gradeschool and attending James Whitcomb Riley School, named after the Hoosier poet. He received an excellent education at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis. Here, he badly played clarinet in the jazz band, served on the school newspaper and, upon graduation, was offered a job with the Indianapolis Times.  His father and brother talked him out of accepting it, saying he would never make a living as a writer.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. next to Madelyn Pugh, headwriter of I Love Lucy, “The Annual,” Shortridge High School Yearbook, 1938, accessed Indy Public Library.

According to the Indiana Historical Society, “Along with instilling Vonnegut with a strong sense of ideals and pacifism, his time in Indianapolis’s schools started him on the path to a writing career. . . . His duties with the newspaper, then one of the few daily high school newspapers in the country, offered Vonnegut a unique opportunity to write for a large audience – his fellow students. It was an experience he described as being ‘fun and easy.’” Kurt noted, “‘that I could write better than a lot of other people. Each person has something he can do easily and can’t imagine why everybody else has so much trouble doing it.’ In his case that something was writing.” He also admired Indianapolis’s system of free libraries, many established by business magnate Andrew Carnegie.

Fall out from the Dresden bombing in 1945, courtesy of Walter Hahn/Library of Congress, accessed

Kurt ended up attending five total colleges, receiving zero degrees for the majority of his life, and ending up in World War II.  It’s no coincidence that he spent his life writing about the unintended consequences of good intentions! Captured at the Battle of the Bulge and taken to Dresden, he survived the bombing that killed (by modern day estimates) 25,000 people, while held in a meat locker called Slaughterhouse-Five.  He survived the war, though stricken with combat trauma, and returned here to marry his school sweetheart Jane Cox. After they moved to Chicago, he would not return to Indianapolis to live, although he visited with some frequency.  Suffice it to say, the Hoosier city was where he learned the arts and humanities and loved his family dearly. It was a place of tragedy as well, as his family had lost their wealth and his mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day Eve in 1944.  He had to move on.

Advertisement for book signing, Indianapolis News, May 1, 1969, accessed

Kurt spent the next twenty-four years writing what many would call one of the most significant novels of the 20th century, Slaughterhouse-Five. The semi-autobiographical satire of his experiences during World War II was released at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement. With this novel, Kurt became quite famous, at the age of 46.  His books, short stories, essays, and artwork have provided comfort to those who have grown weary of a world of war and poverty.

Kurt’s work affected me profoundly, first reading Breakfast of Champions as an undergraduate.  I continued to read Kurt Vonnegut constantly, throughout life’s trials and triumphs, always finding very coherent and succinct sentences that seemed to address exactly how I was feeling about the world at the moment. As an individual growing up in Indiana, I loved how my home state featured as a character in nearly all of his work, from the beautiful, heart wrenching final scene in the novel The Sirens of Titan, to the hilarious airplane conversation in Cat’s Cradle, to the economically downtrodden fictional town of Rosewater, Indiana in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, to the planet Tralfamadore from Slaughterhouse-Five (I personally think he took it from Trafalgar, Indiana.  While I have no proof, his father did spent the last two years of his life living in Brown County, not very far away)!

Kurt Vonnegut mural in Indianapolis, courtesy of Flickr, accessed National Endowment for the Arts.

So it was the honor of a lifetime in 2011 to join the staff of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in downtown Indianapolis.  Throughout the years we have tirelessly drawn attention to issues Kurt Vonnegut cared about, the struggle against censorship, the war on poverty, the desire to live in a more peaceful and humane world, campaigning to help veterans heal from the wounds of war through the arts and humanities. These pursuits are inspired by a man who wrote about these issues for eighty-four years, until a fall outside his Manhattan brownstone “scrambled his precious egg,” as his son Mark Vonnegut described it. To me, Kurt Vonnegut is not gone, he is alive in the minds of our visitors, who themselves all have interesting stories about how they came to the work of Mr. Vonnegut, or are simply curious to learn more.  Time being flexible is an idea Kurt himself seemed to espouse in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five:

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

In 2017, the Year of Vonnegut, we focused on the issue of Common Decency. Our 2018 programming will focus on the theme Lonesome No More, which we took from Kurt’s criminally underrated 1976 novel Slapstick, in which he runs for President under that slogan, in attempt to defeat the disease of loneliness.  We’re going to give it our best shot, I humbly request that you join us!

Edited and co-researched by Nicole Poletika, Research & Digital Content Editor at the Indiana Historical Bureau.

THH Episode 9: Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book

Transcript of Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Gospel music]

Lindsey Beckley: Zerelda Wallace, described as “the sweet-tonged apostle of temperance,” The “Rarest, noblest woman of her generation,” and “Indiana’s Best Loved Woman,” arrived on the national political stage rather late in her life. She had been married and widowed, raised nearly a dozen children, and attended the same church for 41 years, all before becoming one of Indiana’s most distinguished and respected social reformers of the 19th century. During the 14 years she was active in local and national reform movements, Wallace co-founded the Indiana Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association. She spoke at conferences and conventions across the nation. And affected change in the Disciples of Christ church on a national level. During her time on the lecture circuit, she developed an approach which enabled her to address and influence people with vastly different political ideas than her own. With these methods, she personally brought many people to the causes of suffrage and temperance, proving once and for all that it’s never too late to become politically engaged and effect change.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now, it’s time to start talking Hoosier history. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Born Zerelda Grey Sanders on August 6, 1817 in Millersburg, Kentucky, Zerelda was raised in an environment that fostered intelligence and a deep commitment to faith. She attended boarding school in nearby Versailles, Kentucky, before the family moved to the newly established city of Indianapolis in 1830. Her father, John Sanders, was a physician, a profession in high demand in Indiana as the young state wouldn’t have its own medical college for over a decade. Dr. Sanders took his eldest daughter along on some of his more serious cases to act as his nurse, and soon Zerelda found herself acquainted with prominent citizens of the city who encouraged her to study works by great thinkers such as philosopher John Locke and writer Harriet Martineau.

The most important book in the household, though, was always the Bible. The early 19th century was a time of religious revival in the United States. Often referred to as the Second Great Awakening, this religious resurgence reflected the sentiments of romanticism – it emphasized emotion and feeling over logic and reasoning. One popular tenet of the Second Great Awakening was the pursuit of Christian perfection. Zerelda grew up right in the midst of this movement – both in time and place. Stretching from around 1790 to the early 20th century, it had several hot spots, one of which was just 10 miles from Zerelda’s hometown, in Cane Ridge Kentucky.

Eventually, the ideals expressed in the movement would be central to her social reform activities. From a young age, she was encouraged to memorize bible passages and some sources say that she had memorized the first 14 books of the bible by age twelve. In 1833, when Zerelda was 16, she and her parents were among the 20 charter members of the Church of Christ in Indianapolis. Zerelda’s faith was the foundation upon which her social activism rested…but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves in the story.

[Transition music]

Beckley: In December 1836, at just 19 years old, Zerelda Sanders married lieutenant governor of Indiana David Wallace, a widower 15 years her senior with 3 children. One of those children would grow up to be the bestselling author of Ben-Hur, General Lew Wallace, who wrote of the first time the three boys met their new step-mother,

Voice actor reading from General Wallace: I was inclined…to have nothing to do with this mother which our father was giving us. We were not given time enough to wash our hands and to put on clean clothing, which probably had something to do with our ruffled feelings. Our stepmother was then very young, but she seemed to know exactly what to do under the circumstances and just how to talk to us. She showed us infinite gentleness and tact and made us feel that she was interested in us for our own sakes.

Beckley: The next year, David Wallace became the governor of Indiana. He later served a term in the US House of Representatives and as a judge in the Marion County court of common pleas. While not much has been written about this time in Zerelda Wallace’s life, it is said that she advised her husband on political issues and reviewed and critiqued his speeches and writings, something which almost certainly helped to hone her rhetoric. Pair that experience with the fact that she glimpsed the inner workings of government at the state, and national level during these years and there is little doubt that this time in her life facilitated her later political activism.

In 1859, 42 year old Zerelda Wallace was widowed and left with few financial assets. Even with young children to care for, she declined her family’s offer of financial help and relied instead upon her own initiative and resources by taking in boarders to make ends meet. Eventually, children were out of the house and she began turning her attention to improving society.

Wallace’s adherence to the ideals of her faith – in particular the aspiration to Christian perfection – made the church the ideal place to make her first forays into social reform. In her mind, and in the mind of many reformers, a root of many societal ills was intemperance, making it the perfect problem for her to tackle. On March 3, 1874, Wallace and other reformers organized the Indiana branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, in Indianapolis. Wallace served as the first president of the Indiana chapter and held the position for 7 years. The constitution of the association stated their goals – to provide support for victims of intemperance and to educate the public about the “evils” of alcohol sales, distribution, and especially, consumption. In pursuit of these objectives, they declared that they would “religiously employ all the means which God has placed within our reach, and constantly invoke His aid and guidance.” In conclusion, they called “upon all good men to join hands with us in our work, and with each other in the endeavor to secure temperance laws thoroughly enforced.”

In comparison to more…radical…figures like Carrie Nation, the members of the Indiana WCTU were fairly reserved. While Nation would gain wide spread fame through her rather violent tactics, such as using rocks, bricks, and (most famously) hatchets, to destroy the liquor supplies in saloons and put an end to drinking, Indiana’s WCTU used literature, missionary outreach, and petitions to reach that same goal.

It was during this time of growing activism in Wallace’s life that, at the age of 57, she delivered her first public address.


Beckley: One source claims that “her first attempt to speak in public…was a fiasco when she managed only to choke and then sit down, overcome.” While this may have been true, she very quickly found her courage; after one of her earliest forays into lecturing, she said:

Voice actor reading from Wallace:  the moment I began to speak all terror left me, and the devotion I felt for my theme gave me an almost superhuman confidence.

Beckley: Almost at once, Wallace became widely known as a powerful and eloquent public speaker. One Washington D.C. Newspaper described her during a speech given at the National Suffrage Convention of 1887:

Voice actor reading from newspaper: As she stood upon the platform, holding her hearers as in her hand, she looked a veritable queen in Israel in the personification of womanly dignity and lofty bearing. The line of her argument was irresistible, and her eloquence and pathos perfectly bewildering. Round after round of applause greeted her as she poured out her words with telling effect upon the great congregation before her…

[Transition music]

Beckley: Wallace did not live to see the prohibition era. However, through her temperance work, she became the catalyst of a similar outcome, on a much smaller scale, within her own church. Years into her temperance crusade, Zerelda Wallace stood up in her Disciples of Christ church service and announced that she found it inconsistent with the congregation’s beliefs to use wine for communion and that she would no longer take communion unless unfermented grape juice was substituted. The church council, which Wallace was a member of, met and it was decided that the Indianapolis church would no longer use fermented wine for communion. In short order, all Disciples of Christ churches in America followed suit.

Temperance wasn’t the only cause Zerelda Wallace dedicated the later years of her life to. We’ll get to Wallace’s work in woman’s suffrage after we take a quick break.

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Beckley: We’re always looking for ways to learn, improve, and grow here at Talking Hoosier History. If you’d like to help us in that goal, please consider taking our online survey! You can find the survey on our website at For the survey, we’ll ask you to re-listen to 3 of our episode and answer just 2 questions about each. Once you complete the survey, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Notorious Mrs. Clem: Murder and Money in the Gilded Age, the book featured in the author interview episode. That’s right: you could win a free book for answering just 6 questions. Once again, to find the survey visit Now, let’s get back to the show.

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Beckley: When first reading about Zerelda Wallace, one thing that really stuck in my mind was her dramatic transformation from temperance worker to suffragist. This “conversion story,” as it’s called in some sources, depicts the one moment when she shifted from a temperance leader to a suffrage leader. In doing more research on her life, I’ve found that it wasn’t so much a conversion; that word implies that she left one cause behind when she took up the next. In reality, her suffrage work developed out of her temperance work, just as her temperance work developed out of her faith. Nevertheless, suffragists discussed this watershed moment in Wallace’s political involvement even many years after her death.

Her “great awakening” as some have called it, took place in 1875 in the Indiana State House. Wallace and other Indiana WCTU leaders presented a petition signed by 10,000 women from around the state. Wallace took the floor and delivered what was by many accounts a very persuasive and moving argument for temperance. She was met with open contempt and derision from the senators; one senator rose and declared that her petition “might as well have been signed by ten thousand mice.” He went on, saying that the lawmakers were there “not to represent their consciences, but to represent their constituents.” Wallace walked away from the experience changed. She later described it as a light breaking over her…Why wasn’t she a constituent? She was an adult citizen of Indiana. She was affected by the laws these men were making. So why did she not have the right to influence those laws? She later summed up these thoughts beautifully,

Voice actor reading from Wallace: If we women are citizens, if we are governed, if we are a part of the people, according to the plain declarations of the fundamental principles which underlie this nation, we are as much entitled to vote as you, and you cannot make an argument against us that would not disfranchise yourselves.

Beckley: So, on that day, she added suffrage to her agenda, as she saw that temperance wouldn’t be achieved if women didn’t have the vote. Before leaving the State House, she found the offending senator and thanked him for making her a suffragist.

[Modern music]

Wallace’s suffrage work, much like her Temperance advocacy, was very moderate. To modern ears, some of her speeches are maddening. She often massaged the egos of the men she was speaking to, expounding on their accomplishments and expressing gratitude to them for building the great world around her. But it’s important not to bring a modern bias into analysis of a 19th century figure. Wallace’s views may best be understood through the lens of republican motherhood.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Republican motherhood is a term used by historians to describe ideas that go back to 18th century philosophers, including John Locke, whose work, as previously mentioned, Wallace was familiar with. Simply put, republican motherhood turned woman’s domestic and moral roles into an argument for political power. The thinking went like this: Women raise boys into men and so presumably have a hand in shaping their political and moral identities. Surely, then, women who are able to participate in the political system not only raise more politically savvy men, but also introduce into politics that same morality that they instill into their children. It was a way for women to gain more political power without threatening the existing patriarchal system. Wallace’s background fit perfectly into this school of thought; it was only after she fulfilled her duties as wife and mother that she began devoting her time to social reform. She didn’t shirk her domestic responsibilities to take up politics. And it was only for moral betterment that she took up the cause at all. In short, she was a perfect picture of republican motherhood.

[Transition music]

Beckley: We can see many of these ideas reflected clearly in speech she delivered in 1890:

Voice actor reading Wallace: …pre-eminently woman is the teacher of the race; in virtue of her motherhood she is the character builder; she forms the soul life; she rears the generations. It is not part of woman’s work to contend with man for supremacy over the material forces. It was never told to woman that she should earn her bread by the sweat of her brow.

Beckley: Using these sentiments, Wallace attempted to steer Indiana and the nation towards greater equality. In May 1875, just months after she had stood in front of the Indiana senate with her temperance petition, Wallace began to incorporate suffrage sentiments into her temperance speeches. She presented a resolution at the second temperance convention in Cincinnati calling for a national vote of men and women on the issue of prohibition, subtly calling for universal suffrage. Due in large part to her astute manner of speaking on the issue, the measure passed, and even gained support from anti-suffragists. From there, Wallace began traveling the country stumping for the cause of universal suffrage. These activities both increased her prominence within the movement and provided her with a much needed income.

Wallace was by no means a pioneer in the fight for suffrage equality. As far back as 1851, there was enough interest in the cause to warrant the formation of the Indiana Woman’s Rights Association. Unfortunately, though, the movement had stagnated due to the Civil War. In March 1878, May Wright Sewell, probably Indiana’s most prominent suffragist, discreetly circulated a summons to Hoosiers with “advanced ideas” about women’s rights to a meeting where a new organization would be formed. Ten people, including Zerelda Wallace attended that first, rather secretive meeting. The only matter decided, though, was the name; The Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association, a name which the group agonized over, debating whether to state their goal openly in the name or to mask their intentions. Obviously, they decided on the first option and set another meeting for April, in Wallace’s living room.

That second meeting was much more fruitful; the 26 attendees drafted a constitution and elected Zerelda Wallace president. Unsurprisingly, this new organization shunned the more radical approaches taken by other entities, such as open protest and rabble-rousing speeches. Rather, they worked within the established system, one which Wallace became familiar with through her late husband. The Association turned to lobbying, organized letter-writing campaigns, well-reasoned speeches, and projected an overall reserved version of the suffrage movement in order to achieve their goals.

In 1881, their calm determination paid off; The Indiana General Assembly voted in favor of woman’s suffrage. However, the proposed amendment required the resolution to pass in the next General Assembly and by 1883, the close connection between suffrage and temperance swayed enough assembly members away from the cause that the measure failed to pass. With that great disappointment behind her, Wallace kept at her work on both the state and national level.

In the late 1880s, the national suffrage movement was split over ideology. On one side, there was the National Woman Suffrage Association, or NWSA, which sought a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. The NWSA also campaigned for other issues, not directly related to suffrage. On the other side was the American Woman’s Suffrage Association, or AWSA, which fought solely for suffrage on a state to state basis. Until this point, Wallace and the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association had stayed apart from any other suffrage group but, perhaps due to the continued failure of the group, despite monumental effort, to get suffrage passed in Indiana, it was decided that The Association would join the NWSA in the fight for a constitutional amendment in 1887. Soon after, Wallace was elected the vice-president of the NWSA. In a speech at the National Suffrage Convention of 1887, Wallace made quite the impression, saying:

Voice actor reading from Wallace: It took a hundred years and a Civil War to evolve the principle in our nation that all men were created free and equal. Will it require another century and another Civil War before there is secured to humanity the God-given inalienable right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?’” “Men say women are not fit to govern because they cannot fight. When men live upon a very low plane so there is only one way to manage them and that is to knock them on the head that is true. It probably was true of government in the beginning, but we are able to grow up out of this low state.” “I have nothing but pity for that woman who can fold her hands and say she has all the rights she wants.

Beckley: Wallace continued to travel the US speaking in favor of universal suffrage until she was forced to retire to her daughter’s home near Cloverdale, in Putnam County after collapsing on-stage in 1888.

Unfortunately, Wallace did not live long enough to see the actualization of the two causes she had dedicated her life to as she died on March 19, 1901. On January 1, 1920, the United States of America went dry after the passage of the 18th amendment. Less than a year later, on November 2, 1920, the first presidential election in which all Americans, regardless of gender, could legally vote, was held.

Wallace’s republican motherhood-esqe take on the suffrage issue may not fit well into today’s views of women’s roles in politics, but her measured, thoughtful, and principled approach to the subject is what made her such an effective advocate. She could, and did, go into a room full of anti-suffragists and give a speech appealing to their hearts, to their minds, and, most importantly, to their morality and leave some changed opinions in her wake. Someone more radical, who pushed more boundaries, may not have had such success.

After Wallace’s 1901 death, a “meeting of women” was organized to pay tribute to the respected reformer. One speaker explained how she was able to accomplish so much: “This woman, with her wonderful clearness of vision, was able to see the end from the beginning. She organized, encouraged, and inspired her comrades. She infused loyalty into the ranks by her own loyalty – loyalty to husband, children, loyalty to the thing she believed…loyalty in Christ.”

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been talking Hoosier History. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, in this episode, she had her voice acting debut as Zerelda Wallace. And thanks to Justin Clark, the voice of all newspapers here on the podcast. Remember you have a chance to win a FREE book by taking our survey. You can find the survey at Stay connected on by liking us on facebook or following us at @TalkHoosierHist and if you like what you hear, subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book


Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Pg. 1708-1409

Cady, Elizabeth and Anthony, Susan. History of Woman Suffrage, Volumes I-V. Rochester: Anthony, 1887-1902.

James, Edward. Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume III. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. Pg 535-536.

Riker, Dorothy. Messages and Papers of David Wallace. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1963.

Rudolph, L.C. Hoosier Faiths: A History of Indiana’s Churches and Religious Groups. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Pg 61-106.


Kerber, Linda. “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment: An American Perspective.” American Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Summer, 1976): 187-205

Vogelgesang, Susan. “Zerelda Wallace: Indiana’s Conservative Radical.” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Vol4 No. 3 (Summer 1992): 34-41


Zerelda G. Wallace Historical Marker File, Indiana Historical Bureau

Special Thanks

                Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing. In this episode, Jill also played the part of Zerelda Wallace, making her voice acting debut.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music Notes

Featured Historical Songs:

Edwin Christie, “Daughters of Freedom,” performed by Music for the Nation Singers, Library of Congress, accessed

Jimmie Rodger and Andrew Jenkins, “A Drunkard’s Child,” Victor Records, Discography of American Historical Recordings, accessed

Other Audio:

Hyde, “Acoustically Driven Instrumental,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube

Joakim Harud, “Say Good Night,” Audio Library – No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

Myuu, “You,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube

Crimson Mourn, “Your Heart Beats Like Mine,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube

OrangeHead, “Acoustic Inspiring,” No Copyright Music, Royalty Free Music, accessed YouTube

AShamaluevMusic, “Cinematic Background Music,” No Copyright Music, accessed Soundcloud

Roby Ardiyansah, “Cinematic Film Scores” Framelens AudioVisual, accessed YouTube

Huma-Huma, “Clouds,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

Jingle Punks, “The Story Unfolds,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

Kevin MacLeod, “Americana,” Free Music Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

Charles Gordone: Finding His Place to Be Somebody

Charles Gordone
Charles Gordone, accessed

The unified efforts of the Civil Rights Movement began to fracture when in 1966 a new strategy and ideology emerged, known as the Black Power Movement.  This new movement also influenced the development of the Black Arts Movement.  According to historian Ann Chambers, the Black Arts Movement did not speak for the entire black community; however, the movement gave a “new sense of racial pride to many young African-American artists.” One African-American writer and actor who opposed the Black Arts Movement was Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Charles Gordone.

Gordone was born Charles Fleming in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 12, 1925.  In 1927, his mother moved with her children to Elkhart, Indiana.  By 1931, she married, changing Charles Fleming’s name to Charles Gordon.  He attended Elkhart High School and, although popular at school, faced racial discrimination while living in Indiana because of the divide between white and African-American children.  According to Gordon, both races rejected him.  White children avoided him because he was black, and the town’s African-American community shunned him because his family “lived on the other side of the tracks and . . . thought we [the Gordons] were trying to be white.”

After serving in the US Army Air Corps, he enrolled in Los Angeles City College, and graduated in 1952. Gordon stated that he majored in performing arts because “I couldn’t keep myself away from the drama department.”  His experiences in college influenced his outlook on race in America.  Gordon stated “I was always cast in subservient or stereotypical roles,” and he began wondering why he was not given prominent parts in Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello plays. After graduation, Gordon moved to New York City. Once on the east-coast, Charles Gordon added an “e” to the end of his name, and became Charles Gordone when he joined Actor’s Equity Association; a labor union for theater actors and stage managers.

Supporters of the Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers picketing a theater in New York City, 1962, courtesy of

Two months after Gordone’s arrival in New York, he performed in Moss Hart’s Broadway play, The Climate of Eden, the “first of many Broadway and off-Broadway productions” for Gordone. He soon realized that black actors had a hard time earning a living in the entertainment business, and he claimed he “began to get really intense” about the lack of acting jobs for African Americans.  He started conversing with many “young black actors,” and soon started picketing theaters on Broadway for better job opportunities. Similarly, fellow Hoosier actor William Walker, who portrayed Reverend Sykes in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, became a fierce civil rights advocate in Hollywood after being relegated to roles as a domestic servant because of his race. Walker worked with actor and future president Ronald Reagan to obtain more roles for African Americans.

Around 1963, Gordone became the chairman of the Committee for Employment of Negro Performers (CENP). Gordone claimed in 1962 and 1963 that television producers feared the withdrawal of corporate sponsorship if they “put Negroes in their shows” and that “discrimination took more forms in the entertainment field than in any other industry.”

Although the Civil Rights Movement had made extensive strides toward improving equality among the races, civil rights laws did not deter de facto segregation, or forms of segregation not “codified in law but practiced through unwritten custom.” In most of America, social norms excluded African Americans from decent schools, exclusive clubs, suburban housing divisions, and “all but the most menial jobs.”  Federal laws also did not address the various factors causing urban black poverty. As racial tension mounted throughout the United States, Gordone struggled to survive in New York City.  During the last half of the 1950s, out of work and broke, Gordone took a job as a waiter for Johnny Romero in the first African-American owned bar in Greenwich Village.  His experiences there inspired his play No Place to Be Somebody, which he began scripting in 1960.

During the next seven years writing his play, Gordone sporadically worked in the theater industry.  He was an original member of the cast for Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show.  The playwright, a white man, intended the play for an all African-American cast and a white audience.  He states in his script that “One evening an actor asked me to write a play for an all-black cast.  But what exactly is a black?  First of all, what’s his color?”

In The Blacks: A Clown Show, African Americans wage war against the “white power structure,” and the oppressed evolve into the oppressor. Warner noted that Genet’s play put Gordone “in touch with his black anger.”  In 1969, Gordone claimed that his experience as part of the cast changed his life because the play dealt with problems about race, enabled him to confront the “hatred and fear I [Gordone] had inside me about being black,” and introduced a talented group of African-American actors to the entertainment media including James Earl Jones and Maya Angelou.

1970 play bill, accessed

Gordone finished his own play, No Place to Be Somebody, in 1967. The plot of the play revolves around an African-American bar owner named Johnny Williams.  Other characters include a mixed-race actor, a black homosexual dancer, a Jewish strumpet, a black prostitute, an Irish hipster, an aging black hustler, a member of the Italian mafia, an influential white judge, and the judge’s idealistic daughter. Johnny Williams, is a tavern-owner, pimp and wannabe racketeer.  His foil, Gabriel, also an African-American, is an intellectual struggling to be accepted as a legitimate actor.

According to a New York Times reviewer, the characters are forced to try and survive in a society controlled by white standards.  Johnny Williams possesses a desire to become “somebody” in Italian-run organized crime; Gabriel fails in his attempts to be cast in African American roles because he is light-skinned. The characters’ actions in No Place to Be Somebody are influenced by racial and cultural pressures directed towards characters of opposing races.  According to Gordone, “It [the play] is the story of power, about somebody who is stifled who was born in a subculture and feels the only out is through the subculture.”  By the end of the play, most of the characters fail in obtaining their goals because they have all set their “ambitions in excess of their immediate limitations.”

Gordone originally offered the play to the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC); an acting group rooted in the Black Arts Movement. He claimed the co-founder, Robert Hooks, turned it down because the NEC did not allow white actors in their theater troupe. Gordone and Warner produced a “showcase version” of the play at the Sheridan Square Playhouse in 1967, but “the response wasn’t too good.”  Gordone and Warner lost all their money in the venture. But in 1969, the play was accepted for the “Other Stage Workshop,” in Joseph Papp’s Public Theater, at the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Charles Gordone
Gordone directing his Pulitzer Prize-winning play at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre in New York, courtesy of

No Place to Be Somebody opened on May 4, 1969 to mixed reviews.  New York Times reviewer, Walter Kerr, compared Gordone’s work to Edward Albee’s masterpiece, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Other reviews called the play “engrossing,” “powerful,” and hailed it as one of the “unique” plays of 1969.  On the contrary, influential African-American critic, Clayton Riley, blasted the play’s poor production and directorial choices.  Riley also questioned Gordone’s “incomprehensible” dialogue, depiction of “self-hatred,” “contempt for Black people,” and his “desire to say too much.”  Yet, Riley did state that Gordone possessed “splendid talents.”  According to Gordone, Riley’s review “hurt Riley more than me [Gordone] … brother Clayton is uptight.  He can’t face it that The [white] Man is helping one of his brothers.”

Headline from The [Arkansas] Hope Star, May 6, 1970, 5, accessed
After the play’s opening, No Place to Be Somebody quickly moved to the Anspacher Theater for an extended period of time and opened for a limited run on Broadway in the ANTA Theater. Exactly one year after the play opened at the Shakespeare Festival, May 4, 1970, Gordone won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  The play was the first off-Broadway winner, and Gordone became known as the first African-American playwright to win the award.  Yet he did not appreciate being categorized as a member of “black theater” or the Black Arts Movement, unlike Indianapolis poet Etheridge Knight.

According to a 1982 interview, Gordone’s views on race “alienated many blacks.” Gordone argued, in a 1970 New York Times editorial piece, that writers like LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) should write about more than “how badly the black man is treated and how angry he is.”  Gordone believed such theater intensified the split amongst the races, and he questioned “Is black really ‘beautiful’?  Or is that beauty always hidden underneath the anger and resentment?”  According to Gordone, Jones’ writing was “egotistical, smug, angry (never violent), frightened, and damning of every white man in the world,” and Gordone took offense that Jones was “attempting to speak for all people of color in this country.”

According to Mance Williams, Gordone opposed the Black Arts Movement’s notion that the “Black Experience is a singular and unique phenomenon.”  Gordone believed that African-American culture was one part of the larger American Culture, reasoning that without the “white experience,” there cannot be a “black experience.” Williams states that Gordone believed the races were interrelated, and helped create the unique qualities that defined the “white” and “black” races. In a 1992 interview, Gordone said “We need to redefine multiculturalism.  There’s only one culture—the American culture, and we have many ethnic groups who contribute.”

Poet Amiri Baraka, a major figure in the Black Arts Movement, courtesy of

One possible explanation for Gordone’s belief in multiculturalism is the fact that he claimed his ancestral makeup consisted of “part Indian, part French, part Irish, and part nigger,” and he jokingly called himself “a North American mestizo.” Williams claims the playwright deemed the “color problem” could only be resolved through cooperation between the races, and that is why Gordone shied away from any radical political movements that could further divide the races.  However, according to Gordone, his exclusion from the Black Arts Movement left him “Dazed, hurt, confused, and filled with self-pity.”

Gordone claimed his professional success put tremendous pressure on him. Winning the Pulitzer Prize made Gordone unhappy because he was acclaimed as a writer, rather than a director. According to Gordone, “every time you sit down at a typewriter, you’re writing a Pulitzer Prize. You’re always competing with yourself and you have to write something that’s as good or better.” In 1969, he began drinking heavily, hoping “get the muse out of the bottle” after the “long struggle.” During Gordone’s battle with alcoholism, he still worked in the theater industry.  He got involved with a group called Cell Block Theater, which used theater as therapy as part of an inmate rehabilitation program.

In 1981, Gordone met Susan Kouyomjian and in 1982 they founded The American Stage, an organization devoted to casting minorities into non-traditional roles, in Berkeley, California.  The American Stage productions included A Streetcar Named Desire with a Creole actor playing Stanley; Of Mice and Men with two Mexican-American actors playing George and Lenny; and The Night of the Iguana with an African American actor in the lead role of Shannon.  According to Gordone, he and Kouyomjian never overtly wanted to provide more opportunities for “black, Hispanic and Asian actors,” but Gordone said “it is now very much my thing.”  Their goal was to logically cast actors “so that you don’t insult the work’s integrity.”  Gordone believed “innovative casting enhances the plays,” and makes them so exciting that “it’s almost like you’re seeing them for the first time.”

Charles Gordone, photo by Susan Kouyomjian Gordone, accessed African American Registry.

In a 1988 interview, Gordone continued commenting about the portrayal of race in contemporary literature and theater.  Susan Harris Smith asked if theater critics viewed Gordone as “black first and a writer second?”  He replied “Yes” and commented the practice was “racist.”  He claimed he was a playwright trying to “write about all people . . . and to say I [Gordone] have a black point of view is putting me in a corner.” He believed African-American critics finally reached a “significant realization” about the theme of No Place to Be Somebody, that “if blacks walk willingly into the mainstream without scrutiny their identity will die or they will go mad.”

In 1987, Texas A&M University hired Gordone to teach in the English and Speech Communications Department. There, Gordone began embracing the American-western lifestyle or “cowboy culture.”  The playwright stated, “The West had always represented a welcoming place for those in search of a new life,” and he found a “spirit of newfound personal freedom” within the American West.  Gordone remained in Texas until his death on November 16, 1995.  Friends and family scattered his ashes in a “traditional cowboy ceremony, with a riderless horse” near Spring Creek Ranch, Texas.

Learn more about Gordone via the Indiana Historical Bureau’s historical marker.