The Raiderettes: The Women Who Built Evansville’s P-47 Thunderbolts

Sometimes when you think back over your old history texts, and remember that the accounts there relate the deeds of men- not women- doesn’t it give you a marvelous feeling to realize that the greatest chapter of history of mankind is being written today, and that you women are going to have your names in the headlines?

-LaVerne Heady, columnist for Republic Aviation News

Reliable, versatile, and fast, the P-47 Thunderbolt is considered one of the most important fighter-bombers in World War II. Manufactured by Republic Aviation Corporation and debuted in 1943, the P-47 served in both the European and Pacific theaters and quickly became the Allied Forces’ main workhorse. By the end of the war, Republic Aviation produced 15,683 Thunderbolts, which performed more than half a million missions, shooting down more Luftwaffe aircrafts than any other Allied fighter. What’s more impressive than its statistics, however, is the pilots’ testimonials on the durability of these planes, which quickly gained a reputation for their ability to deliver a pilot safely home after sustaining otherwise catastrophic amounts of damage.[i] One of the most dramatic examples of the Thunderbolts’ durability occurred in 1945, when the entirety of a P-47s right wing was sheared off during a bombing mission. The pilot returned to base unharmed, and the plane was reportedly repaired and flown for another 50 missions.[ii]

Headshot of Heady, Republic Aviation News, Indiana State Library.

Military history often focuses on aircraft design and the pilots who flew them. However, who built these planes is equally intriguing. Almost half of the manpower behind P-47 production were women. Known as “Raiderettes,” these women served in a wide array of positions at Republic. This piece will examine the lived experiences of the Raiderettes at the Republic plant in Evansville, Indiana and how their hard work, sacrifices, and patriotism contributed to the production of over one-third of the Thunderbolts manufactured during World War II.


ON THE ASSEMBLY LINE: WOMEN’S ROLES AT REPUBLIC AVIATION

Evansville played a major role in the home front effort throughout the war. In total, fifty different Evansville companies received over $580 million in defense contracts. This included Sunbeam, Serval Inc., Chrysler, and the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Co. Shipyard, which produced critical defense industry products such as ammunition, tracer rounds, and landing ship tanks. This booming industry nearly tripled Evansville’s manufacturing workforce and revitalized the previously struggling city. [iii] In 1942, Republic and the U.S. War Department announced they would build a second P-47 factory south of the Evansville Regional Airport. The first facility was located in Farmingdale, New Jersey. Construction commenced at a rapid pace and the plant was finished in August of 1943, three months ahead of schedule. However, P-47 construction was already underway before the factory was even finished, with newly hired workers manufacturing parts in garages, rented factory spaces, and other facilities. Evansville’s first P-47 dubbed “The Hoosier Spirit” flew from the plant on September 19, 1942. The Hoosier Spirit marked the first of over 6,000 Thunderbolts manufactured in Evansville during the span of three years.

Hoosier Spirit P-47 Thunderbolt, September 19, 1942, Evansville Courier and Press, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.

From the beginning, Republic sought to hire a substantial number of women workers because men were fighting overseas. Republic recruited women through newspaper advertisements and provided free, educational opportunities. Evansville College (now the University of Evansville) partnered with Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Education to offer twenty-two-night classes in engineering, science, mathematics, aircraft drafting, and other industrial skills. Notably, the Evansville Press wrote that, for the night classes, “Women especially are urged to enroll… The War Manpower Commission estimates that at least two million more women must enter war industries this year.”[iv] Soon after night classes began, Evansville College and Purdue began to offer daytime classes as well to fulfill the needs of night shift workers at Republic and other defense companies. E. C. Surat, district manager of the Purdue war training program, told the Evansville Courier and Press that “Women with mathematical training may be placed at once” in factory positions and urged that women seeking a defense industry job “enroll in the qualifying mathematics course.”[v]

The Evansville Mechanic Arts School also recruited women for their industrial classes. Previously, the school designed courses solely for men, but, upon the outbreak of the war, opened to women “without a halt.” The school especially appealed to homemakers and unemployed women to enroll.[vi]  In her article, “Diary of a Riveter,” Raiderette Mary Ellen Ward describes the challenges of these types of training courses and adjusting to the “nerve wracking” noise as they learned drilling techniques, how to measure rivets, and built physical strength to rivet for fourteen plus hours a day.[vii]  The City of Evansville and the Republic Aviation Corporation recognized early on the integral role women would play in the home front effort and began recruiting them and providing key training and education for them to succeed in manufacturing roles.

Women from the “tri-state” area of Illinois, Kentucky, and Southern Indiana performed a diverse number of roles, including managerial positions, across the Republic plant. Raiderettes could be found working side by side with men in machining parts, welding metal, wiring electrical components, inspecting aircrafts, and transporting supplies. This makes it impossible to describe a singular, definitive experience among the Raiderettes. However, women across the plant embraced their roles, seeing it as a patriotic duty, and exceeded the expectations of the public. The Muncie Evening Press reported that, in some tasks, women workers across the country exceeded men’s production output by 10 percent or more.[viii] Day-to-day life in the plant consisted of 10 to 14-hour shifts across various departments and, for many, included long commutes of up to 80 miles away a day. Beyond production work, women actively participated in work-adjacent roles, leading the charge on key social services for all Republic employees. Given the amount of time spent at both work and Republic-related events, almost all Raiderettes experienced World War II primarily through the lens of their position at the Evansville plant, making it a key experience to analyze in order to better understand the Indiana home front during World War II.

Article showcasing “Who’s Who” among the Raiderettes and their various positions at Republic, January 29, 1943, Republic Aviation News, photo cropped by IHB, accessed via the Indiana State Library.

One Raiderette, Mildred F. Harris, participated in an oral history interview in 2002, providing key insight into the subjective experience of women at Republic. A schoolteacher, Harris entered war work when her husband was drafted in 1943, commuting 55 miles a day, six days a week from her home in Kentucky to work at the Evansville plant. Harris was placed in a supervisory role managing other aircraft inspectors and supervising factory operations. She stated that men respected her and other female inspectors’ position of authority “as long as the inspectors had this army badge on,” and that they recognized the need for women to work in factories as “they couldn’t get enough men to do it.” Despite this, Harris still experienced sexism in the workplace with some of the men calling her nicknames like “Rose,” “Buttercup,” or “Daisy,” despite her position supervising them. Harris largely ignored these nicknames and kept to herself while she performed her job. Like many women, Harris felt a duty to support both her country and male relatives who served in the war, underlining the importance of her position as an aircraft inspector and the pressures of such long days and high stakes. Her experiences also demonstrated that, simply because women now appeared in “male roles,” that sexism and gender roles still pervaded most Raiderettes experiences. [ix]

Harris in 1943, courtesy of Mildred F. Harris, courtesy The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Women also contributed to the company culture at Republic, actively participating in clubs, the company newspaper, and sports leagues for basketball, softball, bowling, golf, and ping pong. Republic’s clubs competed against other manufacturing companies in Evansville. In addition, women led the charge on hosting social functions like skating nights, formal dances, and even a holiday musical production called “Flying High.” A daycare service was provided for working mothers at the reduced price of 50 cents per week.[x] This proved to be critical as women often found themselves to be “two-job” workers, working at Republic for fourteen hours a day while also continuing to maintain the domestic sphere and raise children, often without the support of their spouse who may have been drafted. Women also formed the “war matrons club,” which catered specifically to older Raiderettes whose sons were serving overseas. This club tracked soldier’s birthdays, wrote to them, and provided a support system for mothers separated from their children due to the war.[xi] While easily overlooked, these services provided necessary social outlets during a period of great change and anxiety in the United States and fostered a strong sense of community for all Republic employees. They also provided workers, many of whom had family members serving overseas, with vital social connections and filled a key gap in societal recreation and relaxation.

Members of the War Matrons Club, June 18, 1943, Republic Aviation News, accessed the Indiana State Library.

Republic Aviation News. v. 6 n. 3-v. 11 (1944-1945): 3, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive.

While women were praised for their patriotism and largely welcomed into the plant, gender roles still defined the Raiderettes’ wartime experiences. Often, the work of women was more heavily scrutinized than men’s and feminine traits characterized as a detriment to wartime production. This can be seen in Republic Aviation News through warnings against “super-sensitiveness” in the workplace and constant reminders that a woman must uphold or surpass the standards of the men who worked alongside them.[xii] Additionally, extra emphasis was placed on women’s fashion and social life with an entire column called Strictly Feminine. The column reported on social news, like who danced with whom at the canteen, what women were wearing to social functions, and other, non-work related, news. Women were often expected to meet their position’s expectations and perform social and emotional labor while doing so. Republic Aviation News paints a more nuanced picture than that of the one-dimensional and patriotic “Rosie the Riveter,” who flawlessly steps into a traditionally male position just as a man would. Women’s positions and experiences in home front factories were distinct and laced with gender roles and bias as they were expected to do a “man’s job” but in a traditionally feminine manner.

A major point of friction between women and men in the factory was whether women would continue working after the war concluded or if their jobs ought to be relinquished back to male workers. Inspector Harris, upon reflecting on the closure of the plant, stated “Now, what they [the male factory workers] expected them to do, what they wanted them to do when the war was over, [was] to go back home and wash dishes like they had been doing.”[xiii] This attitude is reflected in the fact that, after the government cancelled their wartime contracts with Republic, women disproportionately lost their jobs compared to male workers.[xiv] While it is debated whether women truly desired to return home or sought to continue working in the factories- likely a mix of both- they unilaterally faced unfair obstacles in remaining in the workforce post-war.

Pictured is restricted radio operator Naomi Johnson, September 3, 1943, Republic Aviation News, accessed the Indiana State Library.

Despite the continued presence of gender bias in the factory, Raiderettes pushed against and broke the glass ceiling in various ways. For example, Naomi Johnson was notable for being the first woman restricted radio operator- a position that allows users to utilize advanced aircraft radios to communicate and direct pilots- in the region. Originally from Marion, Kentucky, Johnson moved to Evansville in 1937 and earned her operator license in 1940 from the Federal Communications Commission. Johnson originally tested police radios in cars but, upon the outbreak of the war, transitioned to Republic Aviation. She began working on electrical equipment but, after nine months, was transferred to a radio control board, where she communicated with pilots flying and landing P-47s at the Evansville Regional Airport. Due to her strong interest in and advanced knowledge of aviation, she was made an honorary member of the Civil Air Patrol. When interviewed by Republic Aviation News, Johnson expressed her strong passion for her work, stating, “The thing I like best about radio work is the fact that it’s something you can never learn enough about. You can just keep studying and studying. But I wouldn’t mind being called a book-worm if I could read about radio.”[xv]

Reclamation agent Eunice Hall, January 7, 1944, Republic Aviation News, accessed the Indiana State Library.

Another woman, Eunice Hall of Newburgh, Indiana, became the first “reclamation agent” at the Evansville plant, a new position that encouraged the conservation of factory materials to reduce waste in the various plant divisions. Working with the Utility Shop division, Hall also served as the division’s Safety Council representative. While Republic Aviation News minimized her position by comparing it to a “housekeeping” role, Hall excelled at leadership by defining this new company role and taking the lead on both shop safety and material conservation, a key aspect of the home front’s defense industry economy.[xvi]

Other women broke into aviation and flew P-47s domestically. The Women Airforce Service Pilots, (WASPs) were elite civilian pilots who supported the war effort by ferrying, testing, and transporting planes. Described as “polished” and having perfect uniforms, the WASPs visited the Evansville plant numerous times to transport Thunderbolts to military bases.[xvii] On October 10, 1943, Theresa James and Betty Gillies landed in Evansville to deliver two Thunderbolts and transport two others. Gillies is notable as the first ever woman to fly a P-47 aircraft.[xviii] In 1944, WASPs regularly began transporting P-47s from the Evansville plant, with Republic Aviation News stating that 85 women would participate and, each month, 16 of them would fly to the Evansville plant to ferry completed planes to military bases.[xix]  While the activities of the WASPs generated much interest both in the news and amongst factory workers, it is reported that the WASPs largely stayed separated from the rest of the factory and focused on their positions.[xx]

Raiderettes continue to work after the announcement of V-E Day, Republic Aviation News, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive.

As evidenced by the previous examples, women held diverse roles within Republic Aviation and navigated their new, public-facing roles in a variety of ways. Some women, like those in the War Matrons club or Eunice Hall, embraced social responsibilities at the plant by serving on committees and clubs and embracing a more “traditionally feminine” role at Republic. Meanwhile, others, such as the WASPs or Harris, were more reserved in their roles and attempted to ignore or minimize gender roles and bias. However, the common thread of all of these women is that they collaborated with both male workers and one another, pushing against traditional gender roles to best serve the United States during World War II. Their sacrifices were largely recognized and praised by the public. However, it was also expected that they would revert to traditional roles upon the end of the war which, generally, is what occurred. Despite this, these women successfully navigated a challenging period in American history to provide a vital service on the home front and ought to be remembered for their work.


Republic Aviation News. v. 6 n. 3-v. 11 (1944-1945): 6, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive.

On August 21, 1945, Republic Aviation announced they would be ending all production at Evansville and the plant was soon listed for sale. Upon its closure, the plant had produced over one-third of all the P-47 Thunderbolts in the world, hired thousands of employees, and infused millions of dollars into the local economy. In addition, the plant had gained national recognition, earning three Army-Navy E awards for “excellence in production.”[xxi] This prestigious award was granted to 5% of all eligible plants and represented the top echelon of home front production.[xxii] The plant’s production was considered so outstanding, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt even visited the plant on April 27, 1943 as part of a 17-day, 20-state tour of America’s defense industry, presenting awards to multiple employees.[xxiii]

Without the thousands of women who worked at the Republic plant, these national honors would not have been achieved. Similarly, the quality and reliability of the P-47, which is world-renowned and contributed to Allied Forces’ air superiority during WWII, would not have been possible without the dedicated hands that constructed the planes at an unprecedented pace. While the lives and roles of the Raiderettes at the Republic factory did not ascribe to the simplified “Rosie the Riveter” archetype, they were critical to the defense effort nonetheless, and ought to be commemorated as both Indiana and national heroes.

 

Notes:

[i] “Republic P-47 Thunderbolt,” National Museum of World War II Aviation, accessed https://www.worldwariiaviation.org/aircraft/republic-p47-thunderbolt; National Air and Space Museum, “Republic P-47D-30-RA Thunderbolt,” Smithsonian Institution, n.d., accessed https://www.si.edu/object/republic-p-47d-30-ra-thunderbolt%3Anasm_A19600306000.

[ii] Dario Leone, “The Story of the P-47 that Safely RTB after it Had a Wing Sheared off Against a Chimney during a Strafing Run and its Tail Damaged by Spitfires that Mistook it for a German Fighter,” The Aviation Geek Club, September 20, 2023, accessed https://theaviationgeekclub.com/the-story-of-the-brazilian-p-47-that-safely-rtb-after-it-had-a-wing-sheared-off-against-a-chimney-on-a-strafing-run-and-its-tail-damaged-by-spitfires-that-mistook-it-for-a-german-fighter/.

[iii] James Lachlan MacLeod, Evansville in World War II (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2015); David E. Bigham, “The Evansville Economy,” Traces of Indiana And Midwestern History 3, no. 4 (Fall 1991): 26-29, accessed https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/p16797coll39/id/7111/rec/3; Hugh M. Ayer, “Hoosier Labor in the Second World War,” Indiana Magazine of History 59, no. 2 (June 1963): 95-120, accessed https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/8960/11634.

[iv] “College to give Classes in War Work,” Evansville Press, September 12, 1943, accessed Newspapers.com.

[v] “Day War Training Classes Planned,” Evansville Courier, October 15, 1943, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vi] “These Doors Never Close: Mechanic Arts School Has Prominent Part in War Work Training Program,” Evansville Courier and Press, July 2, 1942, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vii] Mary Ellen Ward, “Diary of a Riveter,” Republic Aviation News, February 12, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[viii] “Two-Job War Worker: She Does a Man-Sized Job on Production Line Plus ‘Women’s Work’ of Maintaining a Home,” Muncie Evening Press, November 5, 1942, accessed Newspapers.com.

[ix] James Russell Harris, “Rolling Bandages and Building Thunderbolts: A Woman’s Memories of the Kentucky Home Front, 1941-1945,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, (Spring 2002): 167-194, accessed JSTOR.

[x] “New Plan for Child Care Offered: Play Center Fills Need Before and After School,” Republic Aviation News, November 26, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xi] “War Mothers Organized at Republic Plant,” Evansville Press, April 29, 1943, accessed Newspapers.com.

[xii] “A Message from Ellen J. Dilger,” Republic Aviation News 100, no. 2, January 29, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xiii] Harris, “Rolling Bandages,” 182.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] “First Woman Restricted Radio Operator in This Region is Republic’s Naomi Johnson,” Republic Aviation News, September 3, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xvi] “Utility Shop Girl Becomes First Official Reclamation Agent at Indiana Division,” Republic Aviation News, January 7, 1944, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xvii] Harris, “Rolling Bandages,” 184-185.

[xviii] “First Woman Ever to Fly a Thunderbolt is One of Two Girls Landing Here in P-47s,” Republic Aviation News, October 15, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xix] “First Squadron of Girl Pilots Here to Fly P-47’s,” Republic Aviation News, August 1, 1944, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xx] Harris, “Rolling Bandages,” 184-185.

[xxi] “Raiders Win Army-Navy ‘E’ I.D. [Indiana Division] Gains Highest Production Honor,” Republic Aviation News, May 5, 1944, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library; “Your Army-Navy ‘E,’” Republic Aviation News, May 5, 1944, p. 2, accessed Indiana State Library; “Army, Navy Honor Raiders,” Republic Aviation News, May 26, 1944, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library; “Raiders Win 2nd ‘E’ Award: Achievement lauded by Marchev,” Republic Aviation News, November 3, 1944, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library; “I.D. Earns 2nd Army-Navy ‘E’ for Outstanding Work,” Republic Aviation News, November 3, 1944, p. 2, accessed Indiana State Library; “Raiders Win 3rd Army-Navy “E,” Republic Aviation News, May 25, 1945, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xxii] “Army-Navy E Award,” Naval History and Heritage Command, September 15, 2020, accessed https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/a/army-navy-e-award.html.

[xxiii] “Camera Highlights of the President’s Visit to the Indiana Division on Tuesday, April 27,” Republic Aviation News, May 21, 1943, p. 4-5, accessed Indiana State Library; “Roosevelt visits Evansville; Sees P-47 Dive at 500 M.P.H,” Indianapolis News, April 29, 1943, p. 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Evansville Aircraft Plant Receives Visit of President,” Muncie Evening Press, April 29, 1943, p. 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

Henry Victor: The Father of the South Side Turnverein

On January 11, 1898, a special meeting occurred of the South Side Turnverein, one of Indianapolis’ premier social clubs for German Americans. It was the sixtieth birthday of the organization’s president, Henry Victor. The group heaped “tokens of esteem” on their beloved leader, according to the Indianapolis Journal, which further wrote, “the occasion had the effect of bringing Mr. Victor to tears.” The esteem afforded to Victor was no faint praise; in many respects, he was the main reason the South Side Turnverein met that night, and many others, at all.

Indianapolis Journal, January 12, 1898. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Only a few years earlier, previous leadership had barely gotten the organization off the ground. It wasn’t until Henry Victor took over in 1894 that the South Side Turnverein expanded and flourished, providing its members with athletic activities, social functions, and cultural events. Years later in a glowing article, the Journal noted Victor’s work for the organization, calling him the “‘Father’ of the South Side Turnverein” and writing, “to Henry Victor is due the success the club has attained.”

A German immigrant with a passion of business, Victor epitomized the promise that America held for so many newcomers in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. His successful management of Mozart Hall, one for Indianapolis’s top bars and restaurants, the growth of the South Side Turnverein, and his involvement in numerous civic organizations spoke to his energy and talent for bringing people together to build vibrant communities. As such, the impact he left on the people he served, both at his businesses and with his leadership, provides us with a compelling example of the German American experience in Indiana.

Indianapolis Journal, April 21 1904. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Victor was born on January 11, 1838, in Pommern, Germany, which today sits between Eastern Poland and Western Germany. He lived in Europe for most of his life, becoming “a successful businessman, dealing in silks and dress goods, [and] was also connected with a private bank and was worth considerable money,” noted the Indianapolis News. He likely immigrated to the United States and moved to Indianapolis sometime between 1887 and 1891, as a relatively older man. What would spur a successful businessman in his native land to come to the U.S.? Like a major reversal of fortune. As the News added, “he was stricken with an affliction of the eyes which threatened him with total blindness. He was taken to a hospital, where he remained for several months, during which time losses occurred in his business, and he left Germany practically a broken man.” Like so many who left for the shores of America during that age, he left to restart, and hopefully improve, his life.

Map of Pommern, 1849. Geographicus Rare Antique Maps.

Once in Indianapolis, he got involved in the brewery business, working as a collector for the Terre Haute Brewing Company, which led to his entry into the saloon business. It was in this field that he made his name in the Circle City, with his management of Mozart Hall. In 1892, Victor took over as manager of the decades-old Indianapolis bar and restaurant at 37 South Delaware Street. It didn’t take long for the press to sing his praises. The Indianapolis Journal wrote, “Mr. Victor is one of those whole souled persons who makes friends with everyone he meets, and will not lack in entertaining his customers in that inimitable way he was in conferring with his fellow citizens.” Of Mozart Hall, the article further noted that “none will find a more congenial place in the city to spend a few minutes to pass away the idle moments of the day.”

Indianapolis Journal, May 13, 1892. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Upon assuming management of Mozart Hall, Victor placed ads in Indianapolis’s premier German-language newspaper, the Indiana Tribüne, which described for his community what patrons could expect.

The ad read, roughly translated:

Mozart Hall!

Henry Victor.

The biggest, prettiest and oldest beer-style eatery in town. The spacious and beautifully furnished hall is available for clubs, lodges and private individuals to hold balls, concerts and meetings under liberal conditions.

As the ad declared, Mozart Hall not only served individual customers, but became a meeting place for many organizations, such as unions and benevolent associations. In today’s language, Mozart Hall would be called a “maker space,” a congenial, well-furnished building for work, philanthropy, and entertainment.

Indiana Tribüne, March 18, 1892. Hoosier State Chronicles.

When he wasn’t hosting civil society, Henry Victor actively participated in it. In 1894, he served as the secretary of the Indiana Liquor Dealer’s Association, which met at Mozart Hall. The association advocated policies they believed would “clean up” the liquor business, including regulations on liquor licenses. As the Indianapolis News reported, “a feeling is growing that only decent people should be granted liquor licenses, and that a protest will be entered against granting liquor licenses to ex-convicts, gamblers, violators of the law, and immoral characters.” Additionally, Victor advocated for policies that would make it easier for breweries to start up and provide its product to local businesses, something that clearly benefitted the German immigrant community he was a part of.

However, his involvement in organizations didn’t always go smoothly. In 1895, he very publicly resigned from the Saloon Keeper’s Union, over disagreements about the implementation of a new liquor law, called the “Nicholson Law,” which placed limitations on gambling, saloons, and underage drinking. Before the national experiment of Prohibition, many state and local laws were implemented in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, as a way to control the ill effects of the liquor trade. However, fierce debates ensued as to how these laws should be followed. In his resignation letter, Victor argued that he was in favor of following these laws and challenging his critics. He wrote:

Many of you members have seen fit to criticize myself and others who have constantly labored for the interest and elevation of the retail trade; and such criticisms have practically gone in public print, and I do not want to be further annoyed this way as in the past, so I will in the future use what influence I possibly have to elevate and regulate the retail business according to my own way.

Former union colleague William G. Weiss, in the Indianapolis Journal, shot back at Victor, arguing that he withdrew because “Mr. Victor is not in sympathy with the union in regard to obeying the law.” Who was right? In the murky territory of pre-Prohibition liquor law, it was often difficult to effectively determine the letter of the law, which led to fierce debates like Victor’s with the Saloon Union. Nevertheless, Victor successfully ran Mozart Hall for many years, earning a reputation as an honest and friendly businessman.

Henry Victor’s notice of his departure from Mozart Hall, Indianapolis News, May 3, 1900. Hoosier State Chronicles.

As his stature in the community grew, so did his involvement in a variety of organizations, the most important of which was the South Side Turnverein. Turnvereins, or Turner Clubs, were a mainstay of German American life during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. Founded on the principle of “sound body and mind,” the Turnverein movement was spearheaded by German educator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who believed physical exercise and cultural activities led to a healthy life. The South Side Turnverein in Indianapolis, founded on September 24, 1893, began as an offshoot of another organization when about 200 German Americans left the Socialer Turnverein to form their own gymnastics club on the south side. During its first few months, the South Side Turnverein and its members experienced challenges growing the group. That all changed when the membership elected Henry Victor as President, or “First Speaker,” of the organization in September of 1894. He threw himself into the role, rapidly expanding the club’s memberships and activities.

A page of the South Side Turnverein minutes, September 1894. It shows Victor’s election to “First Speaker,” or President of the organization. Indiana State Library Manuscripts Collection, Indiana Memory.

As the Indianapolis Journal wrote of Victor:

Mr. Victor took charge of the work in the spring of 1894, when all efforts to complete the organization and make it a success had failed, and at a time when those supporting the society were losing faith in the undertaking. The enthusiasm and the effectiveness with which he assumed control of the work inspired those interested, and at once new life was put into the organization, and in less than a year a membership of had been secured.

In the next few years, the South Side Turnverein participated in a wide variety of athletic and cultural events. In 1894 alone, the Turnverein hosted a “gymnastic entertainment” at English’s Opera House, produced a “two-act play” called “He Lost His Gloves,” and participated in Indianapolis “Wald-Fest” or “forest festival.” The club was also heavily involved in the larger German community, supporting other Turnvereins and social clubs. In 1898, members of the South Side Turnverein attended a “kommers,” or “students’ entertainment” at the newly opened German House in Indianapolis and some of its members served on the leadership committee of the North American Turnerbund, which decided to move its national headquarters from St. Louis to Indianapolis. Leading by example, Victor’s energy and dedication to the club galvanized the South Side Turnverein and its members.

Indianapolis South Side Turnverein Men’s Class. Victor is the second man standing from the left. Indianapolis South Side Turners Collection, IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.

Arguably his greatest accomplishment as South Side Turnverein president was overseeing the building of its hall, serving as one of the South Side Turnverein Hall Association’s directors. Leading such a large financial endeavor proved natural to Victor, as his experience with Mozart Hall as well as the German Mutual Insurance Company prepared him for the task. Plans to build the hall started on February 20, 1900, when the South Side Turnverein decided to purchase 150 feet of property on Prospect Street at a cost of $5,000. On March 7, Victor and others filed articles of incorporation for the South Side Turnverein Hall Association, whose charge was to “purchase real estate and to sell the same and particularly to construct and erect for the South Side Turnverein a suitable gymnasium.”

The Association chose Vonnegut & Bohn, one of Indianapolis’s best architecture firms, to design and build their hall, and by June 1900, the Association held the groundbreaking ceremony. Victor, the man responsible for so much of the organization’s success, “dug the first spade of full of dirt and in his speech wished the building progress,” according to the Indianapolis Journal. An illustration of the prospective building appeared in the Indianapolis News on June 7, 1900, with further details on its facilities:

The interior will be arranged with all the appointments of a modern club house. The basement, which will be a full story in hight [sic], will contain the kneipe [bar], bowling alleys, dining-room, women’s parlor, women’s and men’s dressing rooms and shower baths. The main floor will be almost entirely taken up by the large hall, which is also to be used as a gymnasium. This hall will seat, together with gallery, about 700 people. At the east end of the hall there will be a large and well equipped stage. Stretching along the other end of the hall will be a large foyer, with stairways leading to the basement and gallery.

After months of intense work, the South Side Turnverein Hall was completed, and on December 2, the club opened its hall to the public, on the organization’s eight-year anniversary. “In the afternoon the new building was thrown open to the public,” the News reported, “and it was inspected by a large number of visitors.”

South Side Turnverein Hall in the Journal Handbook of Indianapolis by Max Robinson Hyman, 1902. Google Books.

The South Side Turnverein formally dedicated its new hall on January 20, 1901, with 3,000 people in attendance. Victor christened the new building along with Fred Mark, chairman of the building committee, Herman Lieber, president of the North American Turnerbund, and Charles E. Emmerich, superintendent of the Manual Training School, among others. The building and grounds had a cumulative cost of $25,000, raised through its members by the association. A banquet for around 400 people was held the night after the dedication, with the News writing, “Henry Victor, as master of ceremonies, welcomed the representatives of the various German societies at the ‘kommers,’ [or students’ entertainment] with which the South Side Turnverein last night closed the dedicatory services of its new hall. Many women were among the 400 guests and the evening was enjoyable.” In only a a few years, Henry Victor transformed the South Side Turnverein from a small but promising organization into one of Indianapolis’ leading social clubs for the German American community.

Indianapolis News, January 15, 1902. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The membership of the South Side Turnverein reelected Henry Victor to President many times and he continued to serve with distinction until 1905. However, towards the end of this life, he shifted gears to help organize a singing society. A long-time singer with the Fourth Christian Church with a “good voice,” as described by the Indianapolis News, Victor helped incorporate the “The Suedsite Liedertafel,” or “South Side Singing Society” in 1910. He served as the president and the organization performed regularly at the South Side Turnverein. Boasting over 200 members and nearly fifty active members, the organization maintained a men’s chorus, a women’s chorus, and a children’s chorus. The society served as more than just an outlet for those who loved to sing; it also wanted to preserve German culture. As the News reported, “in addition to the singing, the society endeavors to conserve a correct use of the German language.”

Unfortunately, his work with the South Side Singing Society was tragically cut short when he died on September 24, 1910, after a week in the hospital following a stroke. Many German American societies attended his funeral at the South Side Turnverein Hall, and some sang music in tribute, something he likely would have appreciated. The Indianapolis Star wrote in his obituary that “Mr. Victor was interested in the South Side Turnverein and the flourishing condition of the society is attributed largely to his efforts.” In addition to the South Side Turnverein, he belonged to the Columbia Lodge, the Knights of Pythias, and the German Heritage Society, to name a few. Newspaper accounts noted that he was a “marked personality among Germans of city” and “a man of mystery, and it was not known what were his family relations previous to coming to this city [Indianapolis].” He left behind a $60,000 estate, a testament to his acumen for business.

Indianapolis Star, September 25, 1910. Newspapers.com.

The life of Henry Victor is but one extraordinary story among the annals of the German American experience in Indiana. A man whose former home left him nearly destitute, he set out for United States to build a better life, and his decades in Indianapolis served as a prime example of his ability and devotion to the community he called his own. From his successful management of Mozart Hall to his trailblazing leadership of the South Side Turnverein, Victor left a large impression wherever he went in Indianapolis, gaining a reputation for hard work and honest entrepreneurialism. He also dedicated himself to the preservation of German culture through his South Side Singing Society, another fruitful organization he helped found merely months away from his death. In all that he was, Henry Victor personified not only German Americans, but German Hoosiers, an immigrant community that profoundly shaped the history of the State of Indiana.

Henry Victor (center) with colleagues in the Indianapolis South Side Turnverein Men’s Class. Indianapolis South Side Turners Collection, IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.

The Love Story That Built St. Mary Catholic Church

Tony Valainis, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 2008, IUPUI Image Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

St. Mary Catholic Church is an architectural gem. Its gothic towers help define the downtown Indianapolis skyline, while its bells call the faithful to worship. For its congregation certainly, but also for those dining and shopping in the Mass. Ave. Cultural District, the cathedral provides a moment of stately beauty in the urban landscape. But St. Mary’s is more than an elegant building. It is a love story—one set into motion by a kind matchmaking priest.

Hermann Joseph Gaul, n.d., personal collection of Lisa Dillman Wright, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

Herman (also spelled Hermann) J. Gaul was born in Germany in 1869 and immigrated to the United States in the late 1880s.[1] He was a devoted Catholic who loved the architecture of Germany’s churches, especially the Cathedral of Cologne. From an early age, he aimed to bring this gothic vision to the Midwest. In the early 1890s, he began an apprenticeship with the renowned Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.[2] In 1891, Sullivan’s Chicago firm sent Gaul to Indianapolis for several months to supervise the building of a new plant for the Home Brewing Company.[3]

Home Brewing Company Brew-House, 1900-1910, Ray Hinz Collection, courtesy of Indiana Album, accessed Indiana Memory.

The beer company incorporated in the summer of 1891 with $200,000 in stocks from notable residents. Construction, at a cost of $70,000, began soon after. The company was influential enough to garner city permission to construct a switch that would allow shipping via railroad right out of its backyard—not without some objection over this “bow to the brewers” from temperance factions in the city. The Home Brewing Company began operations early in 1892 and was a huge financial success.[4]

Indiana Tribüne, July 24, 1892, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

For the local business community, this ambitious and visible project made Gaul a young architect to watch. For the ladies of Indianapolis’s German Catholic community, it would have made him a fetching romantic prospect. And luckily for Gaul, the 1890s were actually a great time to fall in love.

Romance Card, 1912, Greeting Car Collection, Vigo County Historical Society, accessed Indiana Memory.

In previous eras, women’s labor was necessary for a couple’s survival and a man seeking a wife looked for someone who would make an economic contribution to the farm or family business—regardless of his personal feelings for her. On the flip side, a young woman’s family would make a similar financially-minded decision, using her to link two families together to build wealth — regardless of the bride’s feelings for her groom. Of course, financial concerns never disappeared from matchmaking, but by the eighteenth century, love became more central to a match, and romantic marriage became more common.

Nineteenth century conventions placed more emphasis on the husband as breadwinner and wife as homemaker. And while this social construct had some serious political and economic disadvantages for women, it did allow for the consideration of romantic love in choosing one’s spouse. [5] Gaul’s luck at being born in this period and his dedication to his faith soon led to his own romantic match.

Anthony Scheideler, German-Language Family Bible, 1830-1885, Indiana State Library Genealogy Collection, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

When he arrived in Indianapolis in 1891, Gaul knew that he wanted to stay in the home of a respectable German Catholic family as opposed to a hotel or boarding house. He was also eager to find a spiritual home. He looked to St. Mary, the heart of the German Catholic community, located at that time on Maryland Street. Indianapolis German Catholics and regional Catholic leadership had organized this church for German-speaking congregants in the 1850s. In addition to serving the community’s spiritual needs, St. Mary was also the cultural hub for the local German immigrant community, hosting concerts, theatrical performances, and festivals featuring traditional German food and entertainment.[6]

Rev. Scheideler, Indianapolis News, October 11, 1918, 18, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Gaul’s first stop in his new city was the home of Father Anthony Scheideler, pastor at St. Mary since 1874. Father Scheideler knew his congregants well. So when Gaul asked him to recommend a nice family who might take him in as a boarder and who lived near the Home Brewing Company construction site, Scheideler immediately had the right fit: the Seiter family. They were also of German origin and described by Scheideler as “one of the best families in my parish.”[7] Christopher Seiter, the patriarch, owned a saloon, while his wife, Cecelia, took care of the home and their children. In his two months with the Seiters, the young architect fell in love with their daughter, Mary, who was about sixteen years old, seven years younger than Gaul. He was smitten but would have to be patient for several more years. With a smile on his face that the pastor remembered decades later, Gaul told Father Scheideler:

I am going back to Chicago, but I shall return soon. I have found the oldest daughter of Mr. Seiter very interesting.[8]

Father Scheideler was pleased with the match. It’s not clear how often Gaul returned to visit Mary or if they stayed in touch mainly by mail, but he kept his promise to return. On April 22, 1896, Father Scheideler officiated the wedding of Herman Gaul and Mary Seiter at St. Mary Catholic Church.[9]

“Personal and Society,” Indianapolis Journal, April 14, 1896, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On his wedding day, Gaul thanked the pastor for connecting him “to such an estimable family” and told him he would never forget his kindness. He vowed:

If you ever build a new church, Father Scheideler, I will be the architect.[10]

It seemed like the kind of lofty promise a young man would make on an emotional day, and the pastor “laughed and thanked the enthusiastic young architect but gave no further thought to his promise.”[11]

R.W.R. Capes, Sacred Heart Church, n.d., architect: Herman J. Gaul, Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection, Indiana University Bloomington, accessed Indiana Memory.

Gaul and his new wife moved to Chicago. He opened his own architecture firm and grew his career over the following decade, building a half dozen churches as well as schools, orphanages, and hospitals for German institutions around the Midwest. One major commission, St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, Illinois, stood proudly on an elevated site with “romantic ambience.”[12]

Over the following years, Herman and Mary Gaul welcomed seven children. Unsurprisingly, Mary’s name doesn’t appear in newspapers outside of a real estate transfer (along with Herman’s name). She seems to have been busy taking care of her large family with little time to lead a literary or church club that would have landed her coverage in newspapers. But we can assume their marriage was a happy one, since Gaul still felt inspired by it to fulfill the promise he made in Indianapolis.[13]

Turn Verein Eiche, n.d., American Turners Local Societies Collection, IUPUI Digital Collections, accessed Indiana Memory.

Meanwhile in the Circle City, the German immigrant population continued to grow, as did the congregation of St. Mary Catholic Church. Father Scheideler knew he would soon need a bigger building. In 1906, the pastorate purchased land at the intersection of Vermont and New Jersey as a future investment with “no thought of building immediately entertained.”[14] Nonetheless, local newspapers printed news of the transfer.

Sanborn Insurance Maps of Indianapolis, Vol. 1, 1914, Library of Congress, accessed Historical Information Gatherers via Indiana State Library.

Father Scheideler may have “practically forgot Herman Gaul and his promise to draw the plans for a new St. Mary’s,” but Gaul had not forgotten. When the architect read about the new St. Mary property in the newspaper, he quickly left for Indianapolis. Father Sheideler opened his door and there was Gaul, again wearing that memorable smile. The architect said, “I have come to make good my promise to draw plans for a new St. Mary’s.” Father Sheideler told him that unfortunately they did not yet have the funding to build, but Gaul was undeterred. He replied, “Well, I am going to draw the plans anyhow, true to my word.”[15]

James Palik, Cologne Cathedral, Germany, photograph, n.d., UNESCO World Heritage Centre, accessed https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/292/.

The two men spent hours chatting and catching up and soon discovered that they were both born near the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany. Gaul shared that he had dreamed of building a church like it since he was a boy—a building that would “bear the stamp of its beauty.” Father Sheideler doubted that such a feat was possible but the architect said simply, “Well, we shall try.”[16]

Several months later the driver of an express wagon arrived at the pastor’s door bearing a large package: Gaul’s plan for “a miniature cathedral of Cologne” in Indianapolis. Father Scheideler shared the plans with leading St. Mary congregants and “Herman Gaul’s dream for a new St. Mary’s spread through the parish.”[17]

Indianapolis News, September 9, 1912, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

In spring 1910, clergy and parishioners, assisted by hundreds of Catholic school children, broke ground on a new location for St. Mary’s at Vermont and New Jersey Streets.[18] That fall, the congregation laid the cornerstone.[19] By July 1912, the new building was complete. The Indianapolis News ran a feature on its architecture with the headline: “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge to Plan for the St. Mary’s Parish a Miniature Cathedral of Cologne.”[20]

Indianapolis News, July 6, 1912, accessed Newspapers.com.

While we don’t have a record of Herman’s love for his wife Mary in letters or diaries, we see their love reflected in his tribute to her and to his faith. Recorded for posterity in the architecture of St. Mary is one German immigrant’s joy at finding a partner to share his Catholic faith and German traditions, and with whom he built a family and home in addition to a church. And he owed it all to one savvy matchmaker, Father Scheideler, who just might have known what he was doing from the start.

Notes

[1] Passport Application, September 7, 1893, No. 4331,  Roll 410, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com;  Twelfth Census of the United States, June 14, 1900, Chicago Ward 14, Cook County, Illinois, roll 262, page 13, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com. On his passport application, Gaul declared he immigrated to the U.S. in 1886.

[2] Edward R. Kantowicz, “To Build the Catholic City,” Chicago History 14, No. 3 (Fall 1985): 14, accessed Chicago History Museum.

[3] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge to Plan for the St. Mary’s Parish A Miniature Cathedral of Cologne,” Indianapolis News, July 6, 1912, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

[4] “Articles of Incorporation,” Indianapolis Journal, June 23, 1891, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Minor City Matters,” Indianapolis Journal, August 26, 1891, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Bow to the Brewers,” Indianapolis Journal, November 3, 1891, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Industrial Notes,” Indianapolis Journal, January 4, 1892, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[5] “The History of Romance,” February 13, 2017, National Women’s History Museum, accessed https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/history-romance.

[6] “Religious Ceremony,” Indianapolis State Sentinel, August 26, 1857, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Laying of the Corner Stone of the German Catholic Church,” Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, September 1, 1857, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; No title, Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, May 14, 1858, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “The German Catholic Church, Maryland,” Daily State Sentinel, August 13, 1858, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; McEvoy’s Indianapolis City Directory and Business Mirror (Indianapolis: H. N. McEvoy Publisher, 1858), 219, accessed IUPUI Library Digital Collections; “Dedication,” Daily State Sentinel, September 12, 1859, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[7] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Personal and Society,” Indianapolis Journal, April 14, 1896, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[10] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kantowicz, 14.

[13] Conclusion gleaned from searching census records and Chicago newspapers.

[14] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[15-17] Ibid.

[18] “Church Ground Broken,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1910, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[19] “Lays Cornerstone of New St. Mary’s,” Indianapolis Star, October 24, 1910, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

[20] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

Foster the People: How One Entrepreneur Cultivated a More Equitable Indianapolis

Andrew Foster, Crispus Attucks High School, January 1, 1938, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, accessed digitalindy.org.

“Someone once suggested that the black man pull himself up by his bootstraps.”

“The black man agreed that it was a good idea, but he wasn’t exactly sure of how to go about it. First of all, he had no boots, and secondly, he considered himself lucky to be wearing shoes.”

Andrew “Bo” Foster perhaps related to the figurative Black man described by Skip Hess in his 1968 Indianapolis News article.[1] Foster’s adolescence was marked by hardship and instability. Despite this, he became a prominent entrepreneur and civic leader in Indianapolis. Not only did he manage to procure “boots,” but went on to ensure that others in the community had a pair. In doing so, he created opportunities for socioeconomic advancement.

According to his grandson, Charles Foster Jolivette, Foster was born along an alley near Riley Towers in 1919.[2] His father, Edward, died when Foster was a young child. For reasons that are unclear, he was not raised primarily by his mother, Eva. When not staying with father figure William W. Hyde, a local Black attorney, he spent his childhood in the Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children, which had a history of corporal punishment and unsanitary conditions.[3] Nevertheless, Foster kept up with his education, graduating from Crispus Attucks High School in 1938.[4]

Foster during World War II, courtesy of the Foster family.

The Indianapolis News reported that after graduation he “hauled scrap iron on a tonnage basis.”[5] Shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Foster was sent to Camp Wolters, an infantry replacement training center in Texas.[6] By 1943, he had graduated as a second lieutenant from officer candidate school at Camp Hood and went on to serve on a tank destroyer unit.

After Foster’s service, he established a lucrative Indianapolis trucking company, enabling him to open and manage several businesses that served Black patrons in the segregated city.[7] His work ethic was second to none, as he worked most holidays, and reportedly said “You must be willing to work 26 hours a day if you want to be in business.”[8] Reflecting on his prolific career in 1983, Foster told the Indianapolis Recorder that he had no formal training, “just high school, the Army and common sense. I came out of the Army and started hauling trash. I saw a need for a black hotel, then added a motel three years later in order to survive.”[9]

Postcard, Evan Finch Collection, accessed Indiana Album.

By 1949, he opened Foster Hotel and the Guest House at North Illinois Street.[10] Both were listed in The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, which published the names of safe, welcoming businesses and accommodations across the country.[11] At a time when Black Americans were turned away from hotels, Foster’s were one of the only in Indianapolis to serve them. In addition to Foster Hotel and Guest House, he opened the Manor House, Motor Lodge, Carrollton Hotel, and private rooming houses.[12] These businesses accommodated tourists, “permanent guests,” and famed customers, such as Muhammad Ali, LaWanda Page, Lionel Hampton, Nat King Cole, and Redd Foxx.[13] Unless these celebrities had friends or family in the city, they all stayed at a Foster establishment.

Patrons praised the facilities for their cleanliness, modern features, and hospitable staff. Foster opted against “frills” because “Negroes travel on a pretty tight budget” and he chose not to build a pool because of the liability insurance fees.[14] The Recorder attributed his “steady rise in the scale of fortune” to his “integrity, foresight, business acumen and high sense of fair play in his dealing with others.”[15] His bachelor pad reflected this burgeoning fortune. According to a 1954 Jet magazine profile, it was outfitted with “walls of black glass, a full-mirrored ceiling, monogrammed glass-enclosed tub and shower, and double lavatories in pink. The floor is pink and black marble and Foster had a lifelike nude painted on one wall.”[16]

Women dancing at Pearl’s Lounge, courtesy of the Foster family.

In addition to financial success, Foster founded his businesses to meet the need for a communal space in which to socialize, politically organize, and host civic and philanthropic events. According to the Recorder, Foster “saw blacks holding meetings at white-owned establishments ‘where they couldn’t always speak their peace’” and sought to provide a venue where they could.[17] Pearl’s Lounge, opened by 1970, did just that. Named for his wife, whom he married in 1962, the cocktail lounge at 118 West McLean Place (adjoining Foster Hotel). Foster later told the Recorder, “‘Many a black group has gotten its start here.”[18]

The Recorder considered the new addition “just about the most beautiful eating and drinking emporium in the Hoosier capital,” praising its “dim lighted lovers’ rooms of oriental design” and “beautiful mahogany bar with electronic stereo component for continuous music.” In a word, Pearl’s was “fantabulous.”[19]

Voting drive outside of Pearl’s, courtesy of the Foster family.

Pearl’s banquet hall and ballroom facilitated numerous events. These included a fashion show, voter registration program, and IU alumni meeting regarding how to best serve Black students. Pearl’s also hosted numerous NAACP events, including a businessmen’s luncheon, at which executive director Roy Wilkins spoke in favor of busing as a means to educational equality.[20] Pearl’s also served as a venue for furthering race relations. For example, the Recorder reported in 1975, “In their first major attempt to acquaint the owners, coaches and players with the black community, the Indiana Pacers will host a reception and a buffet dinner” at the lounge.[21]

Robert Briggs (far left), Huerta Tribble (fourth from left), Richard Lugar (fifth from the left), Andrew Foster (sixth from the left, Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society, accessed https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/p0303/id/409/rec/3.

Pearl’s lounge hosted numerous political campaign events and debates—including those of Mayor William Hudnut, Judge Rufus C. Kuykendall, Senator Julia Carson, and Senator Richard Lugar.[22] It accommodated events for groups across the political spectrum, including Indiana Black Republican Council meetings and a Socialist Workers Party rally.[23]


Indianapolis Star, February 17, 1970, 26, accessed Newspapers.com.

Foster not only uplifted the community through his businesses, but also as president of the Indianapolis chapter of the National Business League (NBL) in the 1960s and 70s. Through the NBL—described as the “chamber of commerce of Negro enterprise” and a “type of professional group therapy”—Foster mentored Black business owners.[24] He helped them obtain grants and matched minority-owned businesses with “established corporate buyers.” Under Foster’s leadership, the NBL worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket to provide entrepreneurs with seminars about topics like accounting trends and business law.

Of this work, Foster said “We’re living in a new day and working with a new Negro who is more professionally and economically mature . . .  Negro businessmen today realize that they can not stand a chance individually. They must unite and mobilize their resources for a stronger voice and larger economic base.”[25] He also worked to increase capital for minorities by co-founding the Midwest National Bank in 1972. The bank publicly objected to redlining practices, issued “inner-city” loans, and appointed women to several leadership positions.[26]


Despite cultivating a small empire and a reputation as a civic-minded leader, Foster’s proverbial boots were nearly confiscated. In 1974, he was arrested for allegedly operating an interstate heroin ring.[27] His arrest followed a “‘super secret'” investigation conducted by the FDA and Indianapolis Police Department narcotic squad, which purported that he violated the Indiana Controlled Substances Act. The following year, the Indianapolis Star reported that a Marion County grand jury exonerated Foster, claiming in an eight-page report that his arrest was “‘politically motivated.'”[28] The report concluded that he was arrested because two informants were promised leniency in other cases against them if they would implicate Foster. Jurors opined, “‘We believe Andrew Foster has personally suffered a great deal as a result of these indictments.'”

Foster elaborated on this suffering. He told the Indianapolis Star that his wife was afraid to stay at home, fearing that the allegations would induce individuals in the drug trade to “‘kidnap one of our children or break into our home to rob us.'”[29] Another ramification of the indictment was Foster’s resignation from the board of the Midwest National Bank. He told the Star, “‘I was a successful black businessman and the younger blacks could look up to me and see a model for success,'” but after the arrest and prosecutors’ statements “some of the younger blacks felt I was discredited.'”[30] In his pursuit of accountability, Foster filed suit against Marion County Prosecutor Noble Pearcy and Chief Trial Deputy Leroy New for defamation.[31] Over the course of years and various appeals, the state ruled against Foster, concluding that “‘the prosecutor and his assistant were immune from being sued for anything they said in their official capacity.'”[32] The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state.

Broadcasters Hall of Famer Amos Brown (right) celebrating “Bo Foster’s Day” with Bo (seated) in 1982, courtesy of the Foster family.

The arrest ultimately failed to tarnish his reputation, which he went to various length to defend, including voluntarily taking a lie detector test.[33] He certainly felt a sense of gratification when hundreds gathered to celebrate “Bo Foster Day” on August 24, 1982.[34] At the event, the Marion County Sherriff’s Department presented him with a plaque, and Joe Slash, the city’s first Black deputy mayor, presented him with a letter from Mayor William Hudnut. Foster was also bestowed with the prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash, which Governor Robert Orr awarded in recognition of his civic contributions.[35] The Indianapolis Recorder profiled the event and predicted “In the years to come the children and grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. Foster will remember him as a man who contributed endlessly to the well being of the Hoosier state and of his admiring contemporaries . . . a man who lived the American Dream.”[36]

Foster’s relatives at the 2023 historical marker dedication, former site of Foster Motor Lodge and Pearl’s Lounge, photo taken by author.

Andrew “Bo” Foster passed away in 1987, having increased capital and equity for Indianapolis’s Black community.[37] In the 1990s, Foster Motor Lodge and adjoining Pearl’s Lounge were demolished.[38] Fittingly, the site was replaced with the Hamilton Center, a non-profit mental health organization. This would be the location of a historical marker installed in 2023 to commemorate Foster. His family shares his sense of stewardship. His grandson, Charles, applied for the marker and manages a robust Instagram account documenting Foster’s life to ensure his legacy endures.

The marker dedication was a joyous occasion, one that resembled a family reunion. Relatives flew from across the country to commemorate the patriarch and learn about the Indianapolis of his time. Also in attendance was Joe Slash, who was effusive in his praise of Foster and his enduring impact. He and family members passed around a microphone, sharing memories and anecdotes that affirmed the Recorder‘s prediction.

Notes:

[1] Skip Hess, “No ‘Bootstraps,’ So NBL Evolves,” Indianapolis News, June 27, 1968, 56, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] Andrew Foster Legacy Inc. Instagram account, managed by Charles Foster Jolivette. The account includes several primary sources, including newspaper clippings and images.

[3] Robert Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, August 26, 1969, 24, accessed Newspapers.com; “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1983, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[4] Photograph, Andrew Foster, January 1, 1938, Crispus Attucks High School Collection, accessed Indianapolis Public Library Digital Collections; Photograph, Crispus Attucks Alumni, December 9, 1983, accessed Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collections.

[5] Robert Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, August 26, 1969, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.

[6] “Andrew Daniel Foster,” U.S. World War II Draft Cards, Young Men, 1940-1947, Registration Date: October 16, 1940, accessed Ancestry Library; “Service Roll: Inductions and Enlistments into U. S. Forces,” Indianapolis News, October 21, 1941, 8, accessed Newspapers.com; Indianapolis Star, March 2, 1943, 22, accessed Newspapers.com; Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, 24.

[7] The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 27, 1957, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, 24; “Andrew D. Foster, Owned Motor Lodge,” Indianapolis News, June 25, 1987, 39, accessed Newspapers.com; “The ‘New’ Pearl’s Management is Sponsoring Andrew ‘Bo’ Foster Memorial/Appreciation Day May 28,” Indianapolis Recorder, May 21, 1988, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[8] “Andrew Foster,” 1950 United States Federal Census, accessed Ancestry Library; George Vecsey, “For Many, It was Just Another Weekend,” New York Times, February 15, 1971, 13, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com; Andrew Foster Legacy Inc. Instagram account.

[9] “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1.

[10] Indianapolis Recorder, February 5, 1949, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “’House of Strangers’ at Walker Sunday,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 8, 1949, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[11] “Indianapolis,” The Negro Travelers’ Green Book: The Guide to Travel and Vacations (1955 Edition): 20, accessed New York Public Library Digital Collections; “Indianapolis,” Travelers’ Greek Book (New York City: Victor H. Green & Co., 1966-1967): 24, accessed New York Public Library Digital Collections; Alexandria Burris, “How the ‘Great Book’ Helped Black Motorists Travel across Indiana,” IndyStar, February 16, 2022, accessed indystar.com. (Foster Hotel and Guest House were printed in issues from 1955 to 1977).

[12] “Foster Opens Hotel in Downtown Section,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1955, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; Indianapolis Recorder, August 13, 1955, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 27, 1957, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, June 29, 1963, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Ad, Indianapolis Recorder, July 8, 1967, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[13] Ad, “Welcome Permanent Guest,” Indianapolis Recorder, February 6, 1954, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, September 24, 1966, 10, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, 24; “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1983, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[14] Robert Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, August 26, 1969, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.

[15] “Foster Opens Hotel in Downtown Section,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1955, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] Jet (November 11, 19540): 46, submitted by marker applicant.

[17] “Marriage Licenses,” Indianapolis Star, May 1, 1962, 30, accessed Newspapers.com; Ad, “Pearl’s Cocktail Lounge,” Indianapolis Recorder, May 9, 1970, 11, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1; “The ‘New’ Pearl’s Management is Sponsoring Andrew ‘Bo’ Foster Memorial/Appreciation Day May 28,” Indianapolis Recorder, May 21, 1988, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[18] “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1.

[19] Indianapolis Recorder, October 17, 1970, submitted by marker applicant.

[20] Renee Ferguson, “NAACP Leader Denounces Bills Prohibiting Busing,” Indianapolis News, February 23, 1972, 10, accessed Newspapers.com; “Women’s Luncheon Every Monday at Pearl’s Lounge,” Indianapolis Recorder, August 17, 1974, 5, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Indianapolis Recorder, October 9, 1976, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Let’s Go: Leisure Time Calendar,” Indianapolis Star, February 27, 1983, 83, accessed Newspapers.com; “Special Notices,” Indianapolis News, October 26, 1984, 33, accessed Newspapers.com.

[21] “Pacers Get-Acquainted Buffet at Pearl’s Nov. 3,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 25, 1975, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[22] “Black Republicans Enjoy Reception,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 2, 1971, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “One Man in Life,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 6, 1973, 15, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Group Raises $67,075 for Lugar Campaign,” Indianapolis News, March 13, 1974, 20, accessed Newspapers.com; “Hudnut, GOP Mayoral Candidate, Plans Active Recruitment Program for Blacks,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 4, 1975, 1, 17, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Black Republicans Cite Kuykendall, Ms. Holland,” Indianapolis Recorder, February 28, 1976, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “C. Delores Tucker Arranges Series of Weekend Talks,” Indianapolis Star, October 10, 1976, 86, accessed Newspapers.com; William J. Sedivy, “Socialist Workers Vice Presidential Candidate in City,” Indianapolis Star, September 15, 1984, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.

[23] “Black Republicans Enjoy Reception,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 2, 1971, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; Sedivy, “Socialist Workers Vice Presidential Candidate in City,” Indianapolis Star, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.

[24] Pat W. Stewart, “Operation Breadbasket Ministers Outline Broad Program for Action in the City,” Indianapolis Recorder, December 30, 1967, 1, 14, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; John H. Lyst, “Negro Firms to Get Push,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1968, 73, accessed Newspapers.com; L. J. Banks, “NBL Ready to Aid Negro Businessmen,” Indianapolis News, December 4, 1968, 78, accessed Newspapers.com; “Opportunity Fair to Aid Minorities,” Indianapolis News, July 29, 1970, 25, accessed Newspapers.com.

[25] Banks, “NBL Ready to Aid Negro Businessmen,” Indianapolis News, 78.

[26] Robert Corya, “80,000 Shares OK’d for Newest City Bank,” Indianapolis News, April 20, 1971, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; “New Midwest National Bank Gets Approval to Sell Common Stock,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 24, 1971, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “The Best Kept Secret in Town: Midwest National Bank,” Indianapolis Recorder, November 28, 1981, 22, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[27] “Health Board Member Among 7 Arrested on Drug Indictments,” Indianapolis Star, September 7, 1974, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

[28] Joseph Gelarden, “Jury Calls Indictment ‘Politics,'” Indianapolis Star, May 24, 1975, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Judge is Ordered to Consider Suit,” The Herald [Jasper, MI], June 21, 1978, 18, accessed Newspapers.com.

[32] “From Libel Suit: Court,” The Times [Munster, IN], April 4, 1979, 9, accessed Newspapers.com; “High Court Denies Hoosier’s Appeal,” Daily Reporter [Greenfield, IN], April 15, 1980, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[33] Andrew Foster Legacy Inc. Instagram account.

[34] “Bo Foster’s Day,” Indianapolis Recorder, September 4, 1982, 1, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[35] William “Skinny” Alexander, “Time for Talk,” Indianapolis Recorder, September 4, 1982, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[36] “Bo Foster’s Day,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1, 8.

[37] “Andrew Daniel Foster, Sr.,” Indiana State Board of Health Medical Certificate of Death, June 23, 1987, Indiana, U.S., Death Certificates, 1899-2011, accessed Ancestry Library; “Andrew D. Foster, Owned Motor Lodge,” Indianapolis News, June 25, 1987, 39, accessed Newspapers.

[38] Mary Francis, “McLean Place was Truly Foster’s Place, and Now It’s Official,” Indianapolis Star, November 16, 1994, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; Howard M. Smulevitz, “New Mental Health Center will Stand on Site of Historic Lounge and Lodge,” Indianapolis Star, September 7, 1996, 16, accessed Newspapers.com.

The 1978 Blizzard and an Unforgettable Political Campaign

Indianapolis Star, February 21, 1978, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.

When it comes to mobilizing a political campaign, candidates are always trying to stand out to get publicity, whether it be appearing in commercials, putting up billboards, or simply knocking on doors. Visibility is always crucial to getting elected to office. However, never in the history of the Indiana General Assembly had a candidate utilized a blizzard to help them get elected—that is, until 1978. This is the story of Bill Montgomery and a storm that made history.

It all began that winter. Bill Montgomery at this time was a law student trying to figure out what to do with his life. On one casual evening hanging out with friends in Indianapolis, he posed to them the following question: “What do you folks think I’m good at?” Eagerly, several of Montgomery’s friends chimed in that they felt he would be good in politics. And then, the stars began to align in Montgomery’s mind. Recently, he had watched “The Candidate,” a film about a lawyer who is recruited to run for office, and now his friends were encouraging him to launch a political career. So, Montgomery began to reflect more on the idea in the days to come, eventually deciding to give it a shot. In turn, he began reaching out to local community members connected to politics to see what may be possible.

Blizzard of 1978, courtesy of IU-Indianapolis.

After talking to several people, Montgomery officially decided to throw his hat in the ring, despite being unsure of his chances due to the lack of name recognition. Thinking about the need for publicity, Montgomery started brainstorming (no pun intended) ideas with his college roommate, Mel, at DePauw University, while simultaneously a blizzard swept across Indiana. According to Montgomery’s Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative interview, Mel brought up the fact that Montgomery’s father once completed the Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska and still had sled dogs. Mel proposed, “Why don’t you play on this blizzard and you know, come up with some energy themes, and drive a team of sled dogs to the statehouse and file your declaration of candidacy?”

Initially, Montgomery considered the idea too outlandish, but gave it some thought. Not long after, Montgomery started to warm up (pun intended) to the possibility of launching possibly the most unique candidacy announcement in the history of the Indiana General Assembly. He contacted his father, who agreed to loan him several sled dogs to transport him to the statehouse. However, Montgomery still had to ensure that this would generate good publicity, so he decided to utilize his connection as the sports editor of the campus paper, The DePauw, and informed the Sports Information Director at DePauw Pat Aikman about his plan. Aikman loved this idea and informed his contact at the Indianapolis Star, Tom Keating, about the plan. With his plan in motion, Montgomery managed to obtain a police permit for his six-block trip and convinced two people to help handle the dogs.

Thus, on February 16, 1978, the day had finally arrived to make campaign history in Indiana. Little did the City of Indianapolis know that Saint Nick was not the only man with a sleigh to make an appearance this winter. And so it began. At the young age of 27, Montgomery careened down snow-packed Senate Avenue with his sled dogs to announce his campaign for the Indiana House of Representatives. To his own surprise, one TV crew was already in the area when he arrived. This resulted in Montgomery being televised, creating buzz across the state about this mysterious new legislative candidate. Additionally, the following week Keating featured Montgomery in a Star article titled “Spotting Publicity Hounds.” Keating concluded that, while unfortunate, the “ability to attract attention from the media often transcends all other talents. . . . So, when a young man with an unknown name launches a political career, exposure has the be the first order of business.”[i]

Journal & Courier (Lafayette, IN), November 3, 1978, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

In the Star article detailing Montgomery’s innovative campaign strategy, Montgomery told the paper “’I know this was a gimmick. I needed something to set me apart. Maybe this isn’t the way it should be done, but I couldn’t think of anything else.’”[ii] Later, he took part in the Republican Primary in his district and went to bed learning he had lost by only four votes. The next morning though, his phone rang and shockingly he was told that the results were misreported. In fact, he had won the Republican Primary by eight votes.[iii] Montgomery would also win the general election, earning a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. He served from 1979 to 1982 before Governor Robert Orr appointed him to the Public Service Commission (known today as the Public Utilities Commission). However, he’ll likely be best remembered for his candidacy announcement, which serves as a reminder that sometimes fortune favors the bold in politics.

[i] Thomas R. Keating, “Spotting Publicity Hounds,” Indianapolis Star, February 21, 1978, 19, accessed ProQuest.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Thomas R. Keating, “Newcomers Hooked,” Indianapolis Star, May 4, 1978, 38, accessed ProQuest.

The Devil’s in the Details: How to Enhance Storytelling with Historical Newspapers

Central Library East Reading Room, 1920s, Indianapolis Public Library Digital Collections, accessed Digital Indy.

There’s no better place to learn about family stories than old newspapers. I learned this lesson as a child when I tagged along with my maternal grandmother, LeNore Hoard Enz. Four families in her line bought land patents in Whitley County before 1840. In her pursuit for more information, Grammy traveled to courthouses for deeds and wills, and libraries for city directories, historical history books, and periodicals. She visited state and local historical societies and centuries-old cemeteries.

I loved to visit the South Whitley Community Public Library basement. With Grammy’s encouragement, I spent hours reading bound volumes of historical weekly broadsheets. Even at age ten, I knew these old newspapers were important. After retirement, it was my turn to make sense of and preserve the family treasures. Today there are many options to save family history, from Snapfish books to NPR’s Storyworth. Some people, like me, author a book or two about their family, such as Centennial Farm Family: Cultivating Land and Community 1837-1937 and Always Carl: Letters from the Heartland.

No matter your chosen medium, facts can lack meaning without sensory details or context. I interviewed and kept notes with my grandmother, aunt, and father. But it wasn’t enough for my books, so I turned to historical newspapers. While I had legal documents, letters, pictures, charts, and family treasures, newspaper stories could corroborate or invalidate my research. Historical newspapers, now widely available online, supplement records and family stories with color and detail. Newspapers helped me identify the meaning behind a Valentine I found featuring my grandparents’ pictures. An article about my maternal grandparent’s engagement party noted that the found item was a party favor.

In 1922, my grandmother’s sister died in a car accident. As a child in the library basement, I discovered stories about Great Aunt Mae’s sudden death. The old-fashioned, over-the-top descriptive writing noted that the yellow roadster turned “turtle” into a ditch. But I forgot about this story until fifty years later, when I uncovered more newspaper stories, including a front-page piece with a large, dramatic headline from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. The level of detail in the articles about this accident was overwhelming. My grandmother was just fourteen when her sister was killed. I can now more fully appreciate the trauma she and her parents must have suffered at this horrendous loss of a young, lovely schoolteacher.

Philip Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post said, “Journalism is the first draft of history.” Without historical newspapers, I could not have completed my family projects. Details from multiple newspapers gave me the threads to weave disparate stories into my factual narrative.

Network with like-minded researchers

Historical newspapers are abundant (see below). In order to identify and access them, consult with librarians, genealogists, and like-minded friends who may know of resources you don’t. They may also belong to proprietary sites and can search for you. For example, a friend knew I had difficulty connecting the dots on an ancestor. Why did Reuben Long leave Dayton, Ohio, an established community for uninhabited Northeastern Indiana in the 1830s? My friend found an 1836 real estate ad in a Dayton newspaper using the location and date I suggested.

FARM FOR SALE—The subscribers will offer for sale on the premises, on Saturday, the 18th, at 10 a.m., a farm on which Reuben Long now resides, containing 80 acres six miles west of Dayton on Eaton Road. About one-half is improved. There is a dwelling house on the farm and a well of good water. Also—an apple orchard through which the National Road will undoubtedly pass—terms made known at the time of sale.

The National Road in Indiana, accessed Exploring Indianapolis.

What I didn’t know, and was crucial for my book’s narrative arc, is why Reuben left Ohio. The new National Road would cut through his apple orchard, which could be financially detrimental. The National Road was the new nation’s first sizeable federal highway project, and it ran from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois. I learned that the price of land in Indiana was half the price of land near Dayton. Thanks to a tiny 1836 classified in The Democratic Herald, I learned that Reuben sold his land and left for northeastern Indiana.

Indexes are your best friend.

Only some newspapers are indexed or even digitized. Some are available via microfilm and others via intact print copies at libraries and historical societies. When lucky enough to find an index, squeeze it for everything you can get by changing the way you search. I wanted to learn about my third great grandfather Jonas Baker. While his name was included in documents my grandmother shared, I never once heard her mention him. I looked in old newspapers for the answers to my questions: Did he have siblings?  Was he a successful farmer? What happened to his children? Was he religious or civic-minded? How did he die?

I soon discovered why my grandmother never mentioned her great-grandfather’s name, though he passed 18 years before her birth. Details quickly spilled from the pages. Baker’s life was nuanced. He struggled with alcohol use disorder and shot himself in front of his family. An Indianapolis newspaper printed a blurb about his death in an afternoon edition later that same day, complete with macabre details.

There was more to his tragic life and death, of course. His obituary revealed important dates, names, and other nuances of his life. Jonas walked barefoot—his pockets full of gold coins—to Indiana from Ohio in the 1830s, where he bought 320 acres of land. Based on a grandson’s written account via a national genealogy site, I learned that he exhibited unusual behavior, like burying a cow, which had been struck by lightning, with the family Bible. However, he also demonstrated care for the community, taking baskets of food to needy neighbors.

Go beyond your hometown.

Microtext reading room, genealogy department, September 1999, image taken by Carol Stolte Spallone, accessed Allen County Public Library Digital Collections.

While I have fond memories of reading newspapers on microfilm reels in my hometown, unfortunately, I now live three hundred miles away. With the librarians’ help, I obtained obituaries, as well as information about weddings and school activities. I also searched for other local newspapers available digitally. Surprisingly, I found multiple articles about my ancestors and their community in newspapers. Sometimes I found news items that were relevant on a larger scale. For example, an 1862 article in The Indiana Herald discussed the Union’s big push for volunteers on the Western Front. My great-great-great-uncle Lewis Long volunteered at that time and died of dysentery after participating in the Battle of Vicksburg. His early death changed the trajectory of farm ownership.[i]

Could you check the small columns?

In 1971, my first job was at my hometown’s weekly newspaper, the South Whitley Tribune, the same paper I had read in the library basement. Besides learning to count em and en spaces for ads and running the string machine to bundle the papers, I gathered information from local villages for news columns.

These long-running columns noted anything you could imagine, from wedding showers to hospital admissions and discharges (long before HIPPA). And most small newspapers printed a version of these columns: Mr. Carl Enz, Tunker [my maternal grandfather], was admitted to Fort Wayne’s Lutheran Hospital on Tuesday for gall bladder surgery. I knew from my late mother that she, age ten, was admitted to the same hospital the next day and shared a room with her father. I have a picture of them in their side-by-side hospital beds. Now I knew the exact date.

Joanne Schneider, Roger Gleitz, and Alberta Baker look through some of the Southern Indiana Genealogical Society’s indexes, March 1983, courtesy of The Floyd County Library, accessed Photo Collections Catalog.

Some newspapers featured columns called “Fifty Years Ago” and “Twenty-Five Years Ago.” If there is an index of the document you are searching, these columns are easily found. These articles—and I read dozens—often provided context for a particular date and time. One “Fifty Years Ago” column solved a family mystery. My grandmother had given me a picture of my great-grandfather Washington Long and his son standing beside a giant saguaro cactus. On the back of the photo, in my late mother’s handwriting, was the word “Tampa.” Great-Grandpa Long also went to Tampa every winter during the 1920s. I lived in Tampa during my husband’s graduate school years and didn’t remember seeing one saguaro cactus. This picture vexed me for many years until I found a tiny note in one of these columns, from November 1918, in a 1968 “Fifty Years Ago” column, reporting that Washington Long and his son Calvin had taken the train to Tempe, Arizona, where Calvin visited a tuberculosis sanitarium. Bingo! Tempe, not Tampa.

Although I used many sources in researching my articles and books, old newspapers elicited the most intriguing information, beyond what my grandmother had already discovered. Bringing the naïve reader into writing a family story, a magazine piece, or a novel means making it accessible. Readers must experience the lives of the people in their stories. Historical newspapers are a fantastic resource to find details to bring your narrative to life. What a gift for researchers to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste the world as those did in another time.

 

Where to find newspapers:

All Digitized Newspapers « Chronicling America « Library of Congress (loc.gov)

Google News Archive Search

Hoosier State Chronicles

Internet Archive

Genealogy Bank

Newspapers.com

Ancestry.com

Familysearch.org

My Heritage

Don’t forget your county historical society and Indiana State Library. Indiana has two excellent genealogical libraries of national renown, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Public Library and the Willard Library in Evansville.

[i] Reuben’s son Washington Long, my great-great-grandfather, was given the farm from his remaining siblings in 1873. In his will, he divided his acreage between his children Anna and Calvin. Anna Long Hoard was the mother of my grandmother, LeNore Hoard Enz who gave it in life estate to my mother.

Reflections and Remedies: The 1918 Influenza Outbreak in Indiana

United States Public Health Service leaflet, n.d., in Randi Richardson, “A Month in the Year of a Flu Epidemic in Monroe County,” October 7, 2019, accessed Monroe County History Center.

As many Hoosiers begin scheduling their vaccines, one cannot help but consider the similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 influenza outbreak, which spread through the state barely more than 100 years ago. The 1918 pandemic was initially confined to soldiers in Indiana bunking together in close quarters as they received training and prepared for deployment during World War I. The flu quickly spread beyond those confines and, in a turn of events eerily similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, touched almost every aspect of Hoosier lives. At the beginning of both pandemics, what was once thought to be only a minor respiratory infection quickly spiraled out of the control of even the most dedicated public health officials.

U.S. Surgeon General, Rupert Blue, n.d., in Sarah Richardson, “How Surgeon General Rupert Blue Became America’s Heroic Microbe Hunter,” accessed history.net.

On September 19, 1918, Surgeon General Rupert Blue from the United States Public Health Service requested a report on the prevalence of influenza in Indiana.[1] Two weeks later, on October 8, known civilian and military cases within Indianapolis had already exceeded 2,000. The rapid spread of influenza prompted closures of public spaces while factories stayed open to support the war effort. Local pharmaceutical business Eli Lilly & Company also remained open, with approximately 100 employees working tirelessly, if ultimately unsuccessfully, to produce an influenza vaccine to help combat the infection and prevent its spread.[2] To meet the staffing demands needed to continue production, the U.S. Employment Service published various advertisements to recruit women who could assist with the preparation and packaging of the influenza vaccine, as well as other medicinal products produced by the company.[3]

In late 1919, Eli Lilly & Company began production of a saline vaccine that was purported to treat both influenza and pneumonia. This combination vaccine was initially created by Dr. Edward C. Rosenow from the Mayo Foundation in 1918, and he put it to use extensively that year. The formula created by Dr. Rosenow was considered a “mixed, polyvalent” vaccine because it combined various types of pneumococci, streptococci, staphylococci, and influenza bacilli, all of which had been isolated from individuals with cases of influenza as well as associated complications.[4] Drawing from Rosenow’s success in combining various bacterial strains, Eli Lilly produced their vaccine using his same methods and formula. The company hoped to create an unlimited supply for distribution to the public as prophylaxis prior to each successive year’s flu epidemic.[5]

Advertisement from the Women’s Division, U.S. Employment Service calling for women to apply for positions at Eli Lilly & Co. to assist with preparing and packaging of medical supplies, October 20, 1918, accessed Proquest.com.

Unfortunately, the World Health Organization concluded that Dr. Rosenow, researchers at Eli Lilly, and countless others across the United States and Europe were targeting the wrong pathogens. At the time of the pandemic, influenza was believed to result from a bacterial pathogen. It was not until 1933, when researchers at London’s National Institute for Medical Research isolated the influenza virus, that scientists realized why earlier attempts to develop an influenza vaccine had failed.[6] With the identification of the causative virus and U.S. Army soldiers participating in the clinical testing, the first influenza vaccine was developed at the University of Michigan by Thomas Francis and Jonas Salk and was licensed for public use in 1945.[7]

Despite the lack of a vaccine, city-wide closures kept cases within Indianapolis low. Red Cross volunteer nurses were able to be sent elsewhere in the state to assist other communities. When minor surges of influenza recurred, Indianapolis Board of Health Secretary Dr. Herman G. Morgan advocated for masking mandates and for individuals with symptoms of colds or influenza to be barred from public transportation and public spaces. He argued that mask requirements would “permit the business and social activities to continue with as little hindrance as possible.”[8]

Temporary hospital in Terre Haute during the flu outbreak, 1918, in Dawn Mitchell, “Here’s how Indianapolis escaped the 1918 flu with one of the lowest death rates,” last updated January 9, 2019, accessed IndyStar.com.

As with the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Morgan was forced to issue a statement explaining that while he understood the masks were restrictive and bothersome, which led to much of the public outcry against them, they allowed the city to maintain as close to normal operations as possible without requiring significant closures as had been ordered months earlier. As cases decreased dramatically following these orders, the mask mandate was rescinded after only a month, and businesses were able to reopen to the public. However, the Board of Health recommended “that every care and precaution should be taken by individuals to protect their health, as the danger of infection is by no means passed.”[9]

Fort Wayne Sentinel, December 7, 1918, 7, in April Ludwig, Jessica Brabble, and E. Thomas Ewing, “Flu Masks in Indiana During the 1918 Epidemic,” accessed Social Science Research Council.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 people in the United States died due to the 1918 influenza pandemic, Indianapolis reported one of the lowest death rates in the nation, with only 290 per 100,000 people.[10] Indiana reported 3,266 total deaths, primarily among people 20 to 40 years of age, which is unusual compared to modern influenza mortality, with the highest mortality rates among young children and the elderly.[11] It is argued that such success was due to the coordinated efforts of city officials, who presented a united front for controlling the disease and explaining their positions clearly and persuasively to the public, even in the face of challenges from local business owners.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Indianapolis’s fight against the flu pandemic was the relative lack of knowledge regarding appropriate treatments for the condition. While in 2023, vaccines, antivirals against influenza, and antibiotics to treat opportunistic bacterial infections are standard practice, individuals during the 1918 influenza pandemic sought help wherever it could be found, whether from a physician, homeopath, naturopath, practitioners of traditional medicine, or others.[12]

In the early 1900s, there was far less distinction between traditional practices and medical science, and the most significant concern was to prevent or treat the illness by drawing on known characteristics of components used in formulations to treat other conditions. However, these treatments, such as mercury, arsenic, and strychnine, were not always safe or effective and often bordered on dangerous or even fatal. Medical professionals today advise a very different course of action, arguing that simple hydration, supportive care, and staying in quarantine are the best remedies against the infecting influenza virus and preventing its spread to others.

Newspaper article from 1918 reporting shortages of Vick’s VapoRub due to high demand for its reported efficacy in treating influenza, in Scott Woodsmall, “Lessons learned from the Spanish Flu,” accessed republictimes.net.

Although Surgeon General Blue mentioned some successes in other countries regarding the use of “salts of quinine and aspirin” to treat acute attacks, he and Dr. Morgan encouraged individuals to follow “ordinary rules of good health” and cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing rather than making any recommendation in favor of a specific medication or pharmaceutical remedy.[13] He, along with Dr. John Hurty, Secretary of the Indiana State Board of Health, also warned against alleged manufactured or homemade “cures” for the disease, recommending that individuals be aware of potential scams and instead focus efforts on avoiding people exhibiting signs or symptoms of infection.[14]

One “treatment” that gained popularity in Indiana during the 1918 influenza pandemic was Wilson’s Solution or “Anti-Flu,” developed as a preventative treatment for the Spanish Influenza. This product was developed by Robert C. Wilson, a college professor and head of the department of pharmacy at a southern university in Georgia. Consumers were encouraged to use a couple of drops of Wilson’s Solution on a handkerchief, which could then be carried with them and inhaled “when entering crowds or public places.”[15] It was believed that the antiseptic properties of the Solution’s vapors would kill the influenza germs in the nose and throat. Wilson’s Solution was sold by local drug stores in Indiana and distributed by Kiefer-Stewart, a wholesale drug firm in Indiana. Local druggists reported that this drug was difficult to keep on shelves due to high demand. Although the exact components of the Wilson’s Solution are unknown, Wilson’s Solution still in use today as a sinus rinse to treat sinusitis and chronic rhinosinusitis.[16] Regardless of what the product contained, it was marketed only as a preventative therapy and not as a cure for influenza. Consumers who contracted the flu were advised to contact their doctor immediately.


Influenza circular from the Indiana State Board of Health, n.d., in Dawn Mitchell, “Here’s how Indianapolis escaped the 1918 Spanish flu with one of the lowest death rates,” last updated January 9, 2019, accessed IndyStar.com.

One such treatment that has gained attention for its potential role in increasing mortality during the 1918 influenza pandemic is one that many Americans today regularly take for its cardiovascular benefits – the seemingly benign aspirin. As a licensed pharmacist, I was trained in school about the concerns associated with administering aspirin to children for whom there is a suspicion of a viral illness, such as chicken pox or influenza, due to a risk of Reye syndrome. This can initially manifest as personality changes or recurrent vomiting before progressing to coma or death with associated brain swelling and fat accumulation in the liver. For adults, toxicity usually presents as abnormal consciousness and respiratory distress.

Recommendations for limiting dosing and frequency of aspirin were lacking in 1918, which likely contributed to otherwise healthy young adults succumbing to influenza.[17] Given the lack of sophisticated medical knowledge at the time to distinguish drug toxicities from general illness, it is therefore unsurprising that aspirin overdose was not linked to influenza as a contributing factor in the deaths of individuals in Western countries.

Daily Tribune (Terre Haute), October 11, 1918, 7, in April Ludwig, Jessica Brabble, and E. Thomas Ewing, “Flu Masks in Indiana during the 1918 epidemic,” accessed Social Science Research Council.

As medical science advances, new knowledge of diseases and safe and effective treatments emerge. The hope is that medical professionals and the public learn from the past and continue to seek answers to questions that once seemed to have no possible solution. In 2020, Eli Lilly was once again at the forefront of a pandemic, undertaking the “world’s first study of a potential COVID-19 antibody treatment in humans” by early June. The company was also integral in early Covid testing, piloting a drive-through program in Indiana.

While the 1918 flu pandemic will likely never be traced to a definitive cause for why it was one of the deadliest the world had seen until the COVID-19 pandemic, research into factors that contributed to the increased mortality is a promising avenue for building an understanding of how we might approach treatment options in the future.

For a bibliography of sources used in this post, click here.

Notes:

[1] “Indianapolis, Indiana,” The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia, accessed https://www.influenzaarchive.org/cities/city-indianapolis.html#.

[2] “Indianapolis, Indiana,” The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia.

[3] “Classified Ad 11 — no Title,” Indianapolis Star, October 20, 1918.

[4] “Influenza-Pneumonia Vaccine,” (1919), American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record (1893-1922), 67 (12), 86, accessed https://www.proquest.com/docview/189108336?parentSessionId=5cr0scJFezskdS2R9pRBAIv8OzA959Vs3Dl%2FgtRdhd0%3D&accountid=7398#.

[5] “Influenza-Pneumonia Vaccine,” (1919).

[6] “History of the Influenza Vaccine: A Year-Round Disease Affecting Everyone,” World Health Organization, accessed https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/history-of-vaccination/history-of-influenza-vaccination.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Flu Mask Order Stands; Option is Permissible,” Indianapolis Star, November 24, 1918, 1, accessed https://www.proquest.com/docview/374979130?accountid=7398.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “1918 Pandemic (H1N1) Virus,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html; Terry Housholder, “Flu Pandemic a Century Ago Hit Northeast Indiana Hard,” KPCnews.com, March 29, 2020, accessed https://www.kpcnews.com/columnists/article_3eaae40e-bfca-5b02-b7bd-4e641e452daf.html; “Indianapolis, Indiana,” The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: A Digital Encyclopedia.

[11] Housholder, “Flu Pandemic;” Jill Weiss Simins, “War, Plague, and Courage: Spanish Influenza at Fort Benjamin Harrison & Indianapolis,” Untold Indiana, July 11, 2017, accessed https://blog.history.in.gov/tag/spanish-flu/.

[12] Laura Spinney, Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (New York: PublicAffairs, 2017).

[13] Celeste H. Jaffe, “The Spanish Influenza Epidemic in Indianapolis in 1918: A Study of Civic and Community Responses,” (Master’s Thesis, Indiana University, 1994), 44.

[14] Jaffe, 45.

[15] “Thousands Now Using Anti-Flu Treatment: New Solution Discovered By Georgia College Professor Designed To Kill Deadly ‘Flu’ Germ–First Used It To Protect Own Family–Just A Few Drops Inhaled From Pocked Handkerchief Disinfects Nose And Throat,” Indianapolis Star (1907-1922), Nov 20, 1918, accessed https://www.proquest.com/docview/751674358?parentSessionId=lfB6tV2GiV4OxiNGjM82VWZLbWGhtpwmeqKdm8Hb8bo%3D&accountid=7398.

[16] Ravneet R. Verma and Ravinder Verma, “Sinonasal Irrigation After Endoscopic Sinus Surgery – Past to Present and Future,” Indian Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery 75, no. 3 (2023): 2694.

[17] Starko, 1407.

“The Gentlest Memory of Our World”: Robert Ingersoll and the Memorialization of Abraham Lincoln

Indianapolis Journal, May 4 1893, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most written-about subjects in all of human history; thousands of books, articles, and speeches have been published about his life and legacy. As such, there is an interesting interplay between history and memory that manifests whenever the sixteenth President is discussed. Historian David Herbert Donald, one of the foremost Lincoln scholars of the 20th century, wrote in his essay, “The Folklore Lincoln,” that “the Lincoln cult is almost an American religion. It has its high priests in the Lincoln ‘authorities’ and its worshippers in the thousands of ‘fans’ who think, talk, and read Lincoln every day.” What we know about him is interpolated through decades of stories, recollections, and reflections that separate Lincoln “the man” from the Lincoln “the myth.” None of this is necessarily wrong, as all historical figures are subject to mythologizing and memorialization. The task of the historian is to identify the difference between myth and reality, but in a countervailing twist, recognize the historical importance of the development of myths.

President Abraham Lincoln, from Great Speeches of Ingersoll, Internet Archive.

One such figure who mythologized Lincoln while humanizing him was the orator Robert Green Ingersoll. Among the most sought-after public speakers and intellectuals of the late nineteenth century, Ingersoll is best remembered today for his excoriating lectures on religion. Known as the “Great Agnostic,” Ingersoll became the outstanding leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought,” the era between the Civil War and World War I which saw a groundswell of religious criticism and secular activism. But his lectures, which were attended by thousands over the decades, were not limited merely to religion. In fact, he spoke on a variety of subjects, from William Shakespeare to the history of the United States. As a veteran of the Civil War, Ingersoll’s life deeply intertwined with arguably the most important event in the history of nineteenth century America.

Robert Ingersoll, from Great Speeches of Ingersoll, Internet Archive.

His memorialization of Lincoln and the Civil War era started in earnest within a matter of years after the war ended. In September of 1876, Ingersoll delivered one of his most influential speeches in Indianapolis, referred to as the “Vision of War” speech. Introduced as “that dashing cavalry officer, that thunderbolt of war, that silver tongued orator” by Brevet Brigadier General Edward F. Noyes, Ingersoll commemorated the sacrifices of Union veterans, as well as stumped for Republican presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes in his remarks. Throughout his speech, Ingersoll used the memory of Lincoln to hit home his partisan political message. One such example: “Every man that cursed Abraham Lincoln because he issued the Proclamation of Emancipation—the grandest paper since the Declaration of Independence—every one of them was a Democrat.” Clearly the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a contentious document in its time, of which many politicos disagreed with. Nevertheless, Ingersoll’s rhetorical flourish used Lincoln’s political prescience to elevate the Republican party, which Ingersoll saw as the party of freedom and progress.

In the middle of his speech, Ingersoll’s tone shifted from partisan (and somewhat rancorous) to poetic and solemn as he reflected on the horrors of war, its fallen soldiers, and the society those who fought had left behind. “These heroes are dead,” he began:

They died for liberty — they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Palace of Rest. The Earth may run red with other wars — they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death! I have one sentiment for all soldiers living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.

As a man who fought at the Battle of Shiloh, who experienced horrors as a prisoner of war, Ingersoll’s words were not mere flights of rhetoric. He intimately understood the sacrifices his generation made in the service of saving the Union, and he wanted every person hearing his words that day to recognize those sacrifices.

The title page of the illustrated version of Ingersoll’s “Vision of War Speech,” published in 1899, Google Books.

His remarks received an immediate public reaction. The Indianapolis News praised his speech, albeit with slight criticism, writing “the orator justified all expectations by delivering a speech, bitter in perhaps of arraingment [sic], but comprehensive, eloquent, and inimitable.” The ‘vision of war’ section was later reprinted as a pamphlet with illustrations that reiterated many of its core themes. It was one of the orations that made Ingersoll a nationally-renowned public speaker.

By 1880, then a more accomplished orator, Ingersoll began to tackle Lincoln as a subject more directly, publishing a laudatory sketch of the president that was published in pamphlet form. This version focused less on biographical details and more on character impressions of the president. Right from the outset, Ingersoll was keenly aware of how Lincoln’s memory is shaped by the public, often to the negation of the real person. As he wrote, “Hundreds of people are now engaged in smoothing out the lines of Lincoln’s face—forcing all features to the common mold—so that he may be known, not as he really was, but, according to their poor standard, as he should have been.” The metaphor of “smoothing out” is certainly apt; upon his assassination in 1865, Lincoln’s visage appeared in countless artistic depictions which removed him from the realm of mortals and into the hands of providence. He became more of a symbol than a man.

A pamphlet of Ingersoll’s Lincoln Speech, 1880, Internet Archive.

Ingersoll sought to counter this with his 1880 pamphlet, reminding Americans that “Lincoln was a many-sided man, acquainted with smiles and tears, complex in brain, single in heart, direct as light; and his word, candid as mirrors, gave the perfect image of his thought. He was never afraid to ask—never too dignified to admit that he did not know.” Ingersoll’s portrait, while still quite laudatory, nevertheless centered Lincoln’s humility and complexity, reaffirming his humanity rather than attempting to deify him. Additionally, Ingersoll emphasized Lincoln’s dedication to education, despite the latter’s known history of scant instruction. “Lincoln never finished his education,” he noted, “To the night of his death he was a pupil, a learner, an enquirer, a seeker after knowledge.” This was in stark contrast to those who Ingersoll called “spoiled by what is called education. For the most part, colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed.” This revealed an influential parallel between Ingersoll and Lincoln. Both were Illinoisans who received little formal education and became lawyers through independent study, rather than going to a university. Ingersoll saw much of himself in Lincoln, which one suspects impacted the orator’s portrait of the president as a self-educated, self-made man unsullied by the indulgences of the established ways of acculturation. In all, Ingersoll’s 1880 pamphlet depicted Lincoln as a moral, and even righteous, figure, but still relatable— a man dedicated to education, honesty, and self-improvement.

Indianapolis News, April 29 1893, Hoosier State Chronicles.

By the 1890s, Ingersoll’s renown for oratory made him constantly in demand, and for the 1893 Lincoln Dinner of the Republican Club of New York on February 11, he delivered a revised version of his speech as a keynote speaker. While much of the text is similar to the 1880 version, Ingersoll added a section of Lincoln’s own oratory as a means of memorialization. The passage, which Ingersoll described lovingly as “sculptured speech,” was taken from Lincoln’s remarks in Edwardsville, Illinois on September 11, 1858, during his run for the Senate against Stephen A. Douglas:

And when, by all these means, you have succeeded in dehumanizing the negro; when you have put him down and made it impossible for him to be but as the beasts of the field; when you have extinguished his soul in this world and placed him where the ray of hope is blown out as in the darkness of the damned, are you quite sure that the demon you have roused will not turn and rend you? What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoast, our army and our navy.

These are not our reliance against tyranny. All of those may be turned against us without making us weaker for the struggle.

Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defence [sic] is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere.

Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you prepare your own limbs to wear them.

Lincoln’s words placed liberty, not mere power, at the heart of the American experiment of self-government, a heart which would be torn asunder by the barbarism of slavery. In reflecting on Lincoln’s use of language, Ingersoll declared, “The orator loves the real, the simple, the natural, and he places thought and feeling above all. He knows that the greatest ideas should be expressed in the shortest words. He knows that a great idea is like a great statue, and he knows that the greater the statue the less drapery it needs.” Among other attributes, Lincoln’s use of simple, but poetic language during a time of deep of crisis, in Ingersoll’s estimation, cemented his place in American history.

Robert Ingersoll delivered his speech on Lincoln during a nationwide tour in 1893, with one of the stops being Indianapolis. He had spoken many times in Indianapolis since his “vision of war” speech in 1876, but the venue in 1893 was the illustrious English Opera House, which was located on Monument Circle and was a mainstay of the entertainment industry during the era. The Indianapolis News and Journal ran flashy advertisements in advance of his appearance, with the latter stating “Colonel Ingersoll’s treatment of the subject is said to be one of those rarely intellectual things that is to be heard but a few times in a lifetime.” Ingersoll arrived in Indianapolis at noon on May 4, 1893, mere hours from his scheduled performance, according to the News. The Journal ran a final advertisement in its early edition, noting that it would be Ingersoll’s “only appearance this season.”

Ingersoll’s Lincoln Speech in Indianapolis,1893, Indiana Memory.

The Standard Publishing Company of Indianapolis reproduced his speech, with commentary, in pamphlet form (a digital version is available via Indiana Memory). Ingersoll opens his speech with a fascinating coincidence of history: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. “Eighty-four years ago two babes were born,” he began:

one in the woods of Kentucky amid the hardships and poverty of pioneers; one in England surrounded by wealth and culture. One was educated in the university of nature, the other at Oxford. One associated his name with the enfranchisement of labor, with the emancipation of millions, with the salvation of the Republic. He is known to us as Abraham Lincoln. The other broke the chains of superstition and filled the world with intellectual light, and he is known as Charles Darwin. Because of those two men the nineteenth century is illustrious.

Ingersoll viewed Darwin and Lincoln as emancipatory figures, with Lincoln the emancipator of people and Darwin the emancipator of minds. As one of the first to popularize the theory of evolution in America, Ingersoll comprehended the profound implications of Darwin’s ideas in a deeply religious country. Perhaps Ingersoll linked Darwin with Lincoln in an attempt to soften the intellectual blow of his concepts; conversely, linking Lincoln with Darwin emphasized the importance of the former’s contributions to humanity, ones with transformative consequences for his nation.

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, Galapagos Travel Center/Wikipedia.

Later in his lecture, Ingersoll painted a portrait of Lincoln as a man of contradictions who nevertheless transcended them. “The sympathies of Lincoln, his ties, his kindred, were with the South,” he noted, “His convictions, his sense of justice and his ideals were with the North.” Born of upland southern ancestry and marrying into a southern aristocratic family, Lincoln could have easily given into the currents of his experiences. Yet, “he knew the horrors of slavery, and he felt the unspeakable ecstasies and glories of freedom,” Ingersoll continued, and “he had the manhood and independence of true greatness, and he could not have been a slave.” Lincoln’s abhorrence of slavery, and the political road that conviction took him on, made him, in Ingersoll’s eyes, a statesman rather than mere politician. “A politician schemes and works in every way to make the people do something for him,” the orator declared, while “A statesman wishes to do something for the people. With him place and power are the means to an end, and the end is the good of his country.” For Ingersoll, Lincoln’s sense of higher purpose allowed him to transcend his age and become a leader for the ages.

Near the end of his speech, Ingersoll directly addressed the question of memory in regards to the “Great Emancipator.” “The memory of Lincoln,” he said, “is the strongest, tenderest tie that binds all hearts together now, and holds all States beneath a nation’s flag.” With this passage, Ingersoll positioned Lincoln as the force which connected the Union and transformed the United States from a loose conglomeration of states into a single, unified nation. The nationalism of late-nineteenth century America was on full-display, with Lincoln as the catalyzing agent melding heart and hearthstone across the land. (This is an image of Lincoln that persists to this day; in times of crisis, politicians and the media often look to Lincoln for insights on how to unify and connect the people of America.) To reaffirm the importance of memory, Ingersoll ended his speech with the moving words, “Lincoln was the grandest figure of the fiercest civil war. He was the gentlest memory of our world.”

Indiana State Sentinel, May 10 1893, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Ingersoll’s appearance was a resounding success, with the Indiana State Sentinel writing, “English’s opera house was packed from gallery to pit Thursday to hear America’s greatest orator in his famous lecture, ‘Abraham Lincoln’.” Of his performance, the Sentinel also said, “Col. Ingersoll has lost none of his great ‘personal magnetism’ that enables him to move his audience to the feeling of his every emotion.” Its publication in pamphlet form ensured more people would consume his lecture, thus furthering Ingersoll’s memorializing of the sixteenth President.

Despite his success with audiences and readers, Ingersoll caught the ire of critics concerning his treatment of Abraham Lincoln’s religious views. Ingersoll, a religious skeptic who gave public speeches denouncing Christianity, was accused of asserting that Lincoln was a nonbeliever. As a March 26, 1893 editorial in the Indianapolis Journal remarked, “The assertion of Colonel Ingersoll in his address on the character of Abraham Lincoln, to the effect that he was a freethinker after the manner of Voltaire and Paine, challenged emphatic contradiction which was no more conclusive than the Ingersoll declaration.” The article then provides numerous quotations which give credence to the claim that Lincoln was a believer in God, such as the speech he gave in 1861 in Springfield before he left for Washington, wherein he said:

A duty devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support, and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain.

At the same time, Lincoln may have not accepted the mainstream consensus on Christianity, which the editorial granted. “Abraham Lincoln may not have troubled himself about dogmas,” the Journal acknowledged, “but no man was ever more devout in his reliance upon the great power which controls human acts and events, or whose conduct was more thoroughly in harmony with the truths of the Sermon on the Mount.”

The Religion of Abraham Lincoln, a dialogue between Ingersoll and Gen. Charles H.T. Collis, Internet Archive.

Ingersoll addressed these concerns head on in a series of letters between himself and Colonel Charles H. T. Collis, an Irish immigrant to the United States who also served in the Civil War. A book compiling their correspondence was published in 1900, shortly after Ingersoll’s death. Collis attended Ingersoll’s performance of the Lincoln speech in New York on February 11, 1893 and immediately wrote to him challenging his conclusions on Lincoln’s faith. With passion and conviction, Collis wrote, “no man invoked ‘the gracious favor of Almighty God’ in every effort of his life with more apparent fervor than did he, and this God was not the Deists’ God, but the God whom he worshiped under the forms of the Christian Church, of which he was a member.” Ingersoll retorted in a follow up letter, writing, “Lincoln was never a member of any church,” and that “he denied the inspiration of the Scriptures, and that he always insisted that Christ was not the Son of God, and that the dogma of the Atonement was, and is, an absurdity.”

As with much of history, Lincoln’s religious beliefs fall somewhere between Ingersoll’s and Collis’s. It is true that he never formally joined a church or was baptized, but he often asked for counsel from religious leaders and infused his speeches, especially the Second Inaugural, with meditations that bordered on theology. As historian and Lincoln biographer David R. Contosta has written, “he was no Christian in any conventional sense of the term, since there is no evidence that he ever accepted the divinity of Christ or ever joined a church,” but “what he had come to embrace in the end was the inscrutable omnipotence of a God who worked his will in history though persons and events of his own time and choosing.”

Lincoln’s Meditation on the Divine Will, September, 1862, Brown University.

One striking piece of evidence to support Contosta’s conclusion is Lincoln’s “Meditation on the Divine Will,” written in September of 1862. “The will of God prevails,” Lincoln reflected:

In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party – and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

Lincoln’s theology centered the agency of God in human affairs, using people as agents of his divine plan. These musings emphasize Lincoln’s belief in fate, a holdover from his Primitive Baptist upbringing, which, Contosta noted, stressed “predestination and human sinfulness.” Lincoln was not an Agnostic like Ingersoll, but he also wasn’t the kind of Christian the Collis portrayed him as. As with many aspects of his life, Lincoln was a complex, often contradictory figure whose idiosyncratic religious views highlighted these tensions.

Lincoln’s Tomb, in Great Speeches of Ingersoll, Internet Archive.

The Civil War, with Lincoln as its central protagonist, was the defining event of Ingersoll’s life. It shaped his view of politics, oratory, and even religion. He placed a high priority on telling this story with eloquence, mastery, and tactfulness. As a result, it is not surprising that his lectures on Lincoln became so popular, as well as lauded. In commenting on his speech in Indianapolis, a pamphlet noted, “No man in the world could do justice to the memory of Abraham Lincoln with the same force and eloquence as Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll.” While many books and recollections were published during Ingersoll’s time, he kept the public memory of Lincoln alive as only an orator could do. In some respects, it was a logical outgrowth of Lincoln himself, who was one of the most influential public speakers in American history. Robert Ingersoll’s orations on Lincoln, while somewhat forgotten now, nevertheless provided a unique contribution to the memorialization and mythologization of the sixteenth President—a vast tapestry of remembrance which exists to this day.

“Where Are My People To Go?:” The West Baden “Race War”

Bellmen at the French Lick Hotel, accessed IndyStar.

Embroidered with resorts and mineral springs, French Lick Valley served as a veritable playground for Americans at the turn of the 20th century. Hotels in West Baden and French Lick offered all the creature comforts money could buy. One could luxuriate in mud baths, bird watch from marbled verandas, and be moved to tears at an opera house. When nestled in the hills of southwestern Indiana, daily responsibilities were but a glint in the rearview mirror. But for some, the Valley was a hotbed of violence and intimidation. In early June 1902, “Friends” penned a letter informing Black waiters, “There is 35 sticks of 45 per cent dynamite in hiding now to blow you up and there is also ammunition at the same place. Every house in West Baden, French Lick, Hillham and in the valley that has colored people in them will be blown up.”[1]

The letter reported that fifty-six locals had gathered in the countryside, plotting to drive out the region’s Black population. The conspirators were likely the same individuals who had recently installed a sign in West Baden bearing “the proverbial skull and cross bones” associated with sundown towns.[2] According to Lin Wagner, director emeritus of the French Lick West Baden Museum, “’The hotels were building and booming in the late 1800s, the south was undergoing reconstruction and a lot of blacks were moving north. West Baden Springs Hotel owner Lee W. Sinclair brought workers up from the south to work as nannies, bellmen, maids, porters and waiters; vital to the day to day operations and success of his West Baden resort.'”[3] As the Black community grew, the “laboring classes among the white people” conspired to dispel its workforce.

Pluto Spring interior, French Lick Springs, Indiana, circa 1910, courtesy Indiana Album, accessed Indiana Memory.

Between 1902 and 1908, newspapers reported on an emergent “race war” in the French Lick Valley. Just days after the letter was dispatched to Black waiters, as well as the property owners who rented to them, Secret Service officials descended on the area.[4] They warned the conspirators, who had appointed themselves the “Committee of Regulators,” that if they were caught with firearms they would be jailed for “inciting a riot.” And while “Uncle Sam” had taken “a Hand,” as the Huntington Weekly Herald phrased it, it is unclear if any of the “ringleaders” actually faced arrest or imprisonment.[5]

Punitive lip service was more likely, as Deputy U.S. Marshall John Ballard reportedly feared arrests would make the situation more volatile. In analyzing the “race war,” historian Emma Lou Thornbrough noted that “although there were no statutory laws forbidding black settlement,” it was “enforced not only by public opinion but also by sheriffs and other local officers, that decreed blacks could not settle in the town or stay overnight.” This aligns with the Bedford Weekly Mail‘s report that “several of the most objectionable” Black residents complied with a “quiet” order to leave the area during the conflict.[6]

Referencing the events in West Baden and similar occurrences in “several towns along the line of the Monon railroad,” Rev. Edward Gilliam wrote to the editor of the Indianapolis News, asking “Where are my people to go? What are we to do?”[7] He argued that these conflicts represented the larger struggle for Black people to support themselves in post-Reconstruction America. Rev. Gilliam wrote, “With factory doors, mercantile opportunities and other avenues of earning a livelihood closed against us,” it was particularly shameful to “be notified that we shall be permitted to choose our fields of labor only upon the approval and consent of a lot of men who defy the laws of the country.” He begged the question “is it not time for those who favor fair play to all men to speak out and emphatically say that Indiana shall not be disgraced  by such unlawful proceedings?” Black Americans were barred from employment and subsequently condemned for their destitution.

Group photo at West Baden Springs Hotel, 1906, Bretzman Collection, accessed Indiana Historical Society.

Just after midnight on June 5, 1908, sections of the Valley illuminated with gunfire. A few hours later, the sound of explosions plucked dozens of waiters from slumber at the Jersey European Hotel. “Frightened so badly that they could scarcely speak,” they rushed into the street as sticks of dynamite hammered the west side of the building.[8] Many boarders at the Jersey European—operated by Black proprietor Charles “Champ” Rice—were Black employees of the West Baden Springs Hotel.[9] While no one was physically harmed, the blast damaged the structure and succeeded in driving many residents from the area.

Journalists speculated about the perpetrators’ motive, but generally concurred that the violence was intended as retribution for the dismissal of white waitresses for the West Baden Springs Hotel, known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”[10] Reportedly, hotel manager Lee Sinclair had recently fired about forty waitresses and replaced them with Black men from Louisville.[11] According to Thornbrough, “Just as custom and prejudice, rather than law, assigned blacks to certain residential areas, so custom and prejudice decreed that only certain kinds of employment were open to ‘colored persons’—usually seasonal jobs that whites disdained.” U.S. Census reports at the time noted the majority of Black men worked as servants and porters.

Richmond Palladium (Daily), June 5, 1908, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Sinclair justified his decision to replace the waitstaff as “trying to better moral conditions.” However, an anonymous writer informed the Indianapolis News that Sinclair was induced by the “jealousy of a woman for the waitresses. She has been trying to make this change for the last year.”[12] It is unclear if the woman was part of hotel staff or had a personal relationship with Sinclair. Regardless of its impetus, the resultant hostility caused many of the waiters and residents to flee the area.[13] On the precipice of a “race war,” Marshall John Ballard returned to West Baden, seeking to identify those who initiated the attacks. He was generally met with silence, especially from fearful Black residents who had chosen to remain in the Valley. A night watchman also had little to offer, as he reportedly fled in search of law enforcement when the shots began ringing.

Tensions were so heightened that the Brazil Daily Times predicted the state militia would be dispatched.[14] The Muncie Evening Press echoed, “Other attacks upon the place are feared unless police protection is furnished in this place. The community has always been opposed to negroes.”[15] Nevertheless, John Felker, owner of a building that housed the displaced individuals, refused to expel them, “even if the alternative is leveling the building to the ground with dynamite.”[16]

Perhaps the war would not be so easily won. The violence seemed to disperse as quickly as it emerged, or at least reports of it ceased to appear in newspapers. And while many Black residents fled, refugees in their own country, others stayed and nurtured the remaining community. In 1909, Rev. Chas. Hunter wrote to the Indianapolis Recorder about the burgeoning Black-owned businesses in the French Lick Valley.[17] He noted that members of the “superior class,” like hotel porter S.C. Pitman and news dealer H.L. Babbage, lived in “good houses, furnished up-to-date.” W.O. Martin owned a tailoring business and Mrs. W.L. Alexander and Mrs. W. M. Scott did “a fine business” as dress makers. James Gibbs, “well known in Indianapolis,” excelled as head waiter at French Lick Springs Hotel. Rev. Hunter concluded his letter to the editor by quipping “my old friend Wiggington plays the ‘devil’ as usual'” in his role as the French Lick Springs Hotel’s mascot, Pluto Water.

Yarmouth Wiggington dressed as the hotel’s Pluto Water mascot, ca. 1910, accessed Indiana Album.

Rev. Hunter’s editorial resonated with a Recorder subscriber, who added in the following issue that George Jones operated a dry cleaning business and tailoring establishment, both of which did “a very heavy summer business.”[18] George’s wife, Myldred, started a music class, hoping to teach “her former pupils and also people musically interested.”

Recreation and the humanities kept pace with business endeavors in the Valley’s Black community. Members of the Ladies Culture Club met that spring to discuss issues of peace. They listened as Mrs. W.O. Martin delivered a talk “On why should we hustle for a living.”[19] Young residents organized a literary society to explore matters of art and culture. In April 1909, the First Baptist Church was dedicated. Hugh Rice and J.P. Cook presented tithes on behalf of their fellow waiters at the West Baden and French Lick hotels.[20] After church, one could watch the West Baden Sprudels (managed by hotel proprietor Champ Rice) play the French Lick Plutos.

Postcard collected by Kevin Pope, showing the Sprudels ca. 1910-1913, courtesy Gary Ashwill, accessed Agate Type.

Rice’s Jersey European Hotel withstood the Summer of 1908. In ads printed in The New York Age in 1912, he promised those “in bad health” the benefits of the Jersey’s spring waters for just $1.00 per day.[21] Indeed, those who hailed from the Big Apple took him up on the offer, as well as those from cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh, Little Rock, Cleveland, and Chattanooga. Providing the Jersey European with competition, the Waddy Hotel opened in 1913. It served Black patrons like noted Indianapolis journalist Lillian Thomas Fox and, years later, famed boxer Joe Louis.

Black communities and institutions continued to grow in Indiana cities during the Progressive Era. In trying to make a livelihood, Black Americans had to contend with displacement, vandalism, violence, and eventually the organized efforts of the Klan. By 1923, fiery crosses stretched across Southern Indiana’s “little valley,” as 100 members were initiated into the hate group.[22] Despite the shadow cast by Jim Crow discrimination, Black Americans continued to answer the questions “Where are my people to go? What are we to do?” through community-building and fellowship.

 

Sources:

[1] “Race Troubles Imminent,” The Daily Mail (Bedford, IN), June 17, 1902, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] The Huntingburgh Independent (IN), June 21, 1902, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[3] Dawn Mitchell, “Revival at the Last African American Church in West Baden,” IndyStar, September 19, 2018, accessed IndyStar.com.

[4] “Government Takes a Hand,” Fort Wayne News, June 24, 1902, 6, accessed Newspapers.com; “Uncle Sam Now Takes a Hand,” Huntington Weekly Herald, June 27, 1902, 6, accessed Newspapers.com; Bedford Weekly Mail, June 27, 1902, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

[5] “Uncle Sam Now Takes a Hand,” Huntington Weekly Herald, 6.

[6] Bedford Weekly Mail, June 27, 1902, 4; Emma Lou Thornbrough, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century (Bloomington, Indiana University Press: 2000), 3.

[7] “The Negro in Indiana,” Indianapolis News, June 24, 1902, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

[8] Quote from “Dynamite Used to Threaten Negroes,” Indianapolis News, June 5, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Attempt to Blow up Negro Hotel,” Richmond Palladium, June 5, 1908, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[9] “Use Dynamite on Hotel Owned by Colored Man,” Muncie Evening Press, June 5, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[10] “Attempt to Blow up Negro Hotel,” Richmond Palladium, 1; “Dynamite Explosion Frightens Negroes,” The Republic (Columbus, IN), June 5, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Dynamite Used to Threaten Negroes,” Indianapolis News, 1; “Race War at West Baden,” Greencastle Herald, June 5, 1908, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[11] Bedford Daily Mail, June 2, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Change to Male Waiters,” Indianapolis News, June 3, 1908, 10, accessed Newspapers.com; Thornbrough, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century, p. 6.

[12] “Dynamite Used to Threaten Negroes,” Indianapolis News, 1; Letter-to-the-Editor, X, “West Baden Waitresses,” Indianapolis News, June 12, 1908, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

[13] “Use Dynamite on Hotel Owned by Colored Man,” Muncie Evening Press, June 5, 1908, 1; “All Quiet at West Baden,” Indianapolis News, June 6, 1908, 15, accessed Newspapers.com.

[14] “Riot Quiets Down,” Brazil Daily Times, June 6, 1908, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[15] “Use Dynamite on Hotel Owned by Colored Man,” Muncie Evening Press, June 5, 1908, 1.

[16] “All Quiet at West Baden,” Indianapolis News, 15.

[17] Letter-to-the-Editor, Rev. Chas. Hunter, “French Lick,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 16, 1909, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[18] A Subscriber, “French Lick,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 23, 1909, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[19] “French Lick,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 10, 1909, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[20] “French Lick,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 24, 1909, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[21] “Jersey European Hotel, West Baden, Ind.,” New York Age, August 8, 1912, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; Ad, “Jersey European Hotel & Baths,” New York Age, October 3, 1912, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[22] “French Lick Shows Interest,” Fiery Cross, April 6, 1923, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “French Lick, Ind., Has Klan Ceremony,” Fiery Cross, July 6, 1923, 18, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Gas Boom, Sex Work, and Muncie’s Urban Economy

“Muncie, Indiana: The Natural Gas City of the West” (Muncie Natural Gas Land Improvement Company, ca. 1889), 15, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.
This post draws on more extensive research completed by the author, Cory Balkenbusch, and Jennifer Mara DeSilva. For a full article on this research, see “Toleration of Sex Work in East Central Indiana, 1880-1900” in the upcoming December 2023 edition of the Indiana Magazine of History.

In April of 1894, Muncie policemen Ball, Cole, and Coffey assisted Chief Miller on a raid of a “Palace o’ Pleasure.” When the officers arrived, they discovered “six very well-known young gentlemen,” who were “being entertained” by four women.[1] The Muncie Daily Herald revealed that the young men and their paid female company swiftly scraped together enough money and valuables to give bond, with one man even giving an officer a valuable diamond stud that was given to him by his mother.[2] The resort, located on Vine Street, was owned by a woman who went by the name of Rosenthal. It quickly became notorious for its illicit activities, with another raid occurring in May of 1894, in which four girls and seven men were arrested and charged with “associating.”[3]

Muncie newspaper readers during this era would not find the reports regarding Rosenthal’s “Palace O’ Pleasure” terribly shocking. During the Gas Boom, sex work was increasingly becoming a part of Muncie’s cultural and social landscape. By the end of the nineteenth century, a substantial reservoir of natural gas was discovered in East Central Indiana, prompting surrounding cities like Muncie, Anderson, and Kokomo to rush to discover their own supply.[4]  Despite commonly-held assumptions about American small towns and cities, they were not isolated from the influence of their distant metropolitan cousins. In the two decades before the twentieth century, new railway, telegraph, and telephone connections linked small towns and cities more intimately with the urban centers.

As historians Frank Felsenstein and James Connolly have argued, Muncie, Indiana reflected this rural-urban network. Their research has contrasted Robert and Helen Lynds’ depiction of a sleepy agricultural center recently industrialized in their landmark 1929 study Middletown.[5]  However, historians have chiefly focused on the city’s cultural achievements and technological progress brought upon by the Gas Boom, ignoring a large facet of the economy: the exchange of sexual services. Indeed, between 1880 to 1900, the Gas Boom and subsequent industrialization spearheaded the growth of Muncie’s sexual exchange network. This played an integral role within its growing economy.

The Gas Boom, Working Class Men, & The Rise of Sex Work

“Muncie, Indiana: The Natural Gas City of the West” (Muncie Natural Gas Land Improvement Company, ca. 1889), 28, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

By the spring of 1887, the Muncie Natural Gas Company laid gas mains across most sections of town and was piping inexpensive gas to individual households and businesses.[6] Within that same year, gas had replaced the need for coal, leaving the city free from soot and ash. Forward-thinking businessmen like James Boyce, a member of Muncie’s board of trade, energetically pursued business ventures both for personal gain and to bring new factories to town. Boyce persuaded the Over window glass plant, the Hemingray bottle plant, and the famed Ball Brothers Company to build in Muncie. The working population doubled from 5,500 in 1886 to 11,345 in 1890, and Muncie was quickly becoming the largest city in the Indiana Gas Belt.[7] In turn, the city’s industrial and demographic explosion after 1886 entirely transformed Muncie’s neighborhoods and entertainment districts.  By the end of the century, almost seven times the number of original saloons operated throughout the city and nearly double the number of boarding houses and hotels lined Walnut Street.[8]

As Muncie’s working-class male population grew, saloons became spaces for men to socialize and relieve the stresses of factory work. Relief could be found in conversation, intoxication, sport or musical entertainment, and female company. Sex work often accompanied the development of urban, commercial, and transportation infrastructure.[9] As the north-south artery running straight through the city, Walnut Street connected Muncie’s downtown district with the railway depot. It continued into a new residential area that grew beyond the railway tracks to support workers at the surrounding factories. The Southside neighborhood’s location, at the intersections of the C.C.C. & St. Louis Railroad Lines and the L.E. & W. Railroad Lines, coupled with its proximity to the commercial district, made it a hotbed for sex work. The steady flow of newcomers and addition of boarding houses and saloons around the train depots provided potential clients and encounter sites. As early as 1890, Muncie’s newspapers reported Southside sex workers and their clients being arrested and fined.

Establishing Networks & the Commercialization of a Sex Work

Boardinghouse located above a saloon at 815 South Walnut Street on the 1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, accessed Library of Congress.

While the Southside was largely cut off from Muncie’s wealthier commercial district by railway lines, the saloons that lined Walnut Street to the north continued to the south. The 1886 Sanborn map identifies a barber, grocer, jeweler, and three saloons that occupied a block between 1st and 2nd Streets. Sanborn maps show that east of Walnut Street, the Southside neighborhood was made up of houses, bringing businesses like the Muncie Lumber Company, the Artificial Gas Works, the Muncie Foundry & Machine Shop, and the Anheuser-Busch Beer Depot. Although it is hard to determine if these dwellings functioned as boarding houses, there was one known boarding house listed on the 1896 Sanborn map.

The boarding house was located off Walnut Street and might have offered factory men a livable space close to their place of employment. This boarding house occupied the same building as a saloon, with two additional saloons and one restaurant nearby, underlining the proximity to possible prostitution. Widows frequently ran boardinghouses to replace their lost husband’s income. However, the commercialization of women’s labor degraded her role as “keeper of the house.”[10] This highlights the effects of the Victorian middle-class ideals, as paid labor was viewed as a masculine activity.  Moreover, contemporaries viewed boarding houses with suspicion because they often sheltered single women and men in proximity, which undermined the idealized purity of middle-class homes. The possibility of sexual activity between unmarried men and women cast suspicion on boarding houses, and aligned them with brothels, which sometimes masqueraded as “female boarding houses” on Sanborn fire insurance maps.[11]

To find direct evidence of sex work, one needed only to follow South Walnut Street into Muncie’s Southside. Much like Chicago’s sex district, known as the Levee, Muncie’s Southside brothels operated openly, and some women used boardinghouses to meet clients.[12] Unlike middle-class neighborhoods in the northern half of the city that were cut off from factory development and train depots, the Southside sheltered working-class men and families that moved to Muncie as new factories opened. From the late 1880s, women engaging in the sex trade gravitated towards the neighborhood. The number of established brothels, sex workers employed in this area, and the prevalence of their arrests reported in the newspapers evinced this movement.

Walnut Street at Patterson Block railroad construction, Muncie, Indiana, ca. 1900s, Muncie and Delaware County Historic Photographs Collection, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

Not long after he acquired it from Henry Coppersmith, John Mullenix’s saloon earned a reputation for being an “awful, wicked, sinful joint,” and one of the “toughest holes in Indiana.” Mullenix arranged for Minnie White, also known as “Gas Well Minnie,” to use the saloon as a base for exchanging sexual services.[13] The saloon’s location positioned both Mullenix and White to make a profit from travelers, as well as local factory workers. The saloon, located about a block south of the railroad line, was surrounded by four large manufacturing plants, ensuring patronage.  Additionally, about twelve dwellings on the saloon’s block might have served as boarding houses for the men working close by. Elsewhere, tavern keepers relied on sex workers to attract customers, while women often relied on tavern keepers for a space to engage in their sexual services, much like Mullenix and White did in Muncie.[14]

However, women engaging in sex work did not limit themselves to working-class neighborhoods and saloons. Indeed, Muncie’s entertainment and business district offered some women the chance to profit from wealthier clientele. The High Street Theater reflected this trend noted by other historians, as concert halls and theaters became popular new venues for sex and entertainment by the beginning of the twentieth century.[15] Located directly across the street from Delaware County’s courthouse, the theater’s wine rooms were open all hours of the day. Initially, the newspapers portrayed wine rooms as a sign of the city’s metropolitan character, but by 1900 they were a source of communal outrage.[16]

(Delaware County) Courthouse square, Muncie, Indiana, ca. 1900, Muncie and Delaware County Historic Photographs Collection, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

Venues like the High Street Theater catered to a wealthier clientele than the Southside working-class. Clients paid an entrance fee, after which they climbed a stairwell that led to small apartments overlooking the theater’s main auditorium. These semi-private rooms were essentially pine boxes with lace curtains to conceal the activity from the audience down below. In these wine rooms, scantily clad women encouraged clients to buy drinks and other services. These costs required a clientele with sufficient disposable income, something most of Muncie’s factory workers could not claim.[17]

An undercover police officer noted that “Age and color [were] no disqualifications” to visit the theater, making it clear that vice activities attracted far more wealthier men than young factory workers. [18] While single factory workers might have money to spend, Muncie’s older and wealthier men also visited the theater. In 1895, Rhoda Jones arrived at the High Street Theater Restaurant and attempted to climb the staircase to find her husband, George Jones. Although the attendant claimed that the wine-rooms were closed at 11pm, Rhoda was insistent that her husband was present. She argued that each night he walked north from their grocery store on South Walnut Street to visit the wine-room women.[19] Although Rhoda’s arrival appeared in the next day’s newspaper, her husband’s departure was more covert. For men like George, the theater also had alleyway access to several city streets, allowing all clients to make easy escapes and discreet entrances.

Property Ownership & Economic Profitability

The Muncie Daily Times, January 26, 1896, accessed Newspapers.com.

Social reform efforts in the late 1890s underlined the development of a new vice district. By early 1896, Southside citizens had mobilized a reform campaign. On January 26, 1896, the Muncie Daily Times described an attempt to close organized brothels. Between Walnut and Vine Streets, stretching to the C.C.C. and St. Louis Railroad tracks, down towards Ninth Street, the Muncie Daily Times reported that citizens held a “feeling of disgrace” living among houses of “ill-repute.”[20] The tension and notoriety surrounding prostitution is apparent from the newspaper’s willingness to identify prominent brothel owners. Between 1887 and 1896, it had become clear to Muncie’s Southside that an extensive prostitution network had developed. Newspaper accounts sensationalized and corroborated citizens’ concerns. “Soiled Doves” and “Women of ill-repute,” such as Emma Bryant, Hazel Gray, and Kate Phinney, provided Muncie’s newspapers with frequent material for reports of their sexual escapades and commerce.

The effort to close brothels within the Southside neighborhood also revealed the prominent role that sex work played within Muncie’s booming economy. Numerous newspaper articles, like that published by The Muncie Daily Times on January 26, 1896, highlighted the extensive network of female-owned brothels and the way they generated city profits through county court fines. Despite the continuous raids these women faced, city officials never forced their brothels to shut down. Their services, and the fines that these raids produced, were an integral part of the Muncie’s urban economy.

“They Say It Is A Nuisance: Several Citizens File and Affidavit Against Kate Phinney,” Muncie Morning News, May 19, 1892, accessed Newspapers.com.

For example, in 1891, The Muncie Daily Times reported on a brothel raid that occurred on Third Street, outing five individual women working at the location, including the proprietress, Minnie Dwyer. Those arrested and put before the judge pleaded guilty to prostitution, paying fines of $16.85.[21] Dwyer was not the only woman running a brothel, however. In 1892, the Muncie Morning News reported that nearly “one hundred citizens” gathered to discuss Kate Phinney’s “house of ill-fame,” and ultimately decided it was a nuisance.[22] The Southside’s saloons, boarding houses, and brothels became woven into this area’s economy of leisure, transiency, and commercial sex.

Emma Bryant was one of the most prominent sex workers and brothel owners in the area, appearing six times in the Delaware County Court Records for her involvement in vice activity, including prostitution, witness to prostitution, and witness to violent crimes.[23] However, the newspapers revealed that Bryant often paid hefty fines rather than serving jail time. As early as 1894, Bryant’s “bawdy house” was raided by police, but remained opened.[24] Her brothel on Council Street, known as Gaiety Commons, appeared later in 1895 in The Muncie Morning News when Bryant along with seven young men and two young women were arrested on charges related to the illegal monetary exchange of sexual services.[25] That same year, Bryant was arrested for selling alcohol without a license, but she paid $200 (equivalent to $6,117.81 today) and was released.[26] Despite the continuous raids these women faced, city officials never forced their brothels to shut down. As historian Ruth Rosen has described, sex workers’ services, and the fines that these raids produced, were an integral part of the urban economy in many American cities.[27] Muncie sex workers produced considerable revenue for the city through the fines they paid.

Prostitution on the Southside bolstered the city’s real estate economy. Muncie sex workers actively engaged in purchasing and selling property and securing mortgages. Kate Phinney and Hazel Gray weathered frequent raids, but always found a new location for their businesses. Phinney faced a plethora of fines and charges related to prostitution but remained an integral part of the vice district, moving her brothel from South Plum Street into Shedtown (current-day Avondale neighborhood). Hazel Gray, appearing as early as 1894 in the newspapers, moved her brothel from Second Street to Third Street. Like Phinney, Gray also faced numerous prostitution charges until she left town in 1897. Phinney’s and Gray’s ability to move around the Southside suggest that there was a tolerance of the profession among city officials.

“After Questionable Houses: There Will Be None Left in Muncie After March 10,” Muncie Morning News, February 20, 1896, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Southside citizens were seemingly successful in their efforts to close the local brothels. The Muncie Morning News reported that by March 1896, brothels run by Emma Bryant, Kate Phinney, and others had been shut down.[28] However, many of these “businesswomen of ill-repute” did not leave Muncie. According to the Muncie City Directory, Emma Bryant was still living on South Willard Street in 1901. Muncie’s 1897 city directory listed Hazel Gray as living at 138 Kinney Street. These directories reveal that, although their brothels were initially shuttered, these women moved freely about Muncie, redefining the vice district limits.


Muncie and Portland Traction streetcar, n.d., Muncie and Delaware County Historic Photographs Collection, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

By 1900, 347 manufacturing establishments operated within the city and Muncie boasted a population of 20,942. However, the industrial optimism brought on by the discovery of natural gas would not last long. By the beginning of the 20th century, gas pressure dropped to nearly 100 pounds and many large factories could no longer obtain the natural gas they had so heavily utilized during the previous decade. This caused many factories to find other means of production or shut down.  Unlike smaller cities in Eastern Indiana, like Fairmount and Eaton, the growth of Muncie’s railway lines provided convenient access to coal, raw materials, and markets for finished manufactured products, which maintained its industrial prominence after the gas ran out.  The movement of factories closer to the railway lines prompted Muncie to grow in all directions, with new industrial areas materializing at both the north and south ends of the city.

Muncie’s sex work industry continued to follow the Walnut Street corridor, then flowing out towards industrial areas. As in other cities, the industry maintained a connection to the city’s entertainment district throughout the Gilded Age, providing clients with easy access to vice. However, during the Progressive Era, sex work was forced underground. As social reformers sought to solves issues created by Gilded Age industrialization, Gas Boom Muncie offers historians a chance to understand how Gilded Age vices took hold of smaller-scale urban spaces, creating a new narrative of how these areas reflect larger city trends when regarding the link between sex work and the local economy.

 

Notes:

[1] “A Large Catch,” The Muncie Daily Herald, April 5, 1894, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Vine Street Joint,” The Muncie Morning News, June 1, 1894, accessed Newspapers.com.

[4]  James Glass, “The Gas Boom in Central Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History 96, no. 4 (2000): 315.

[5] Frank Felsenstein and James J. Connolly, What Middletown Read: Print Culture in an American Small City (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2015), p. 17-20; Robert S. Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1929), p. 5-6.

[6] Remarkably, in 1892 the state reported that 2,500 square miles of natural gas could be located across Central Indiana making it the largest known gas field—larger than the Pennsylvania and Ohio fields combined. Glass, “The Gas Boom in Central Indiana,” 315.

[7] Glass, “The Gas Boom in Central Indiana,” 318.

[8] Charles Emerson, 1893-1894 Emerson’s Muncie Directory (Muncie: Carlon & Hollenbeck, 1893), accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

[9] Katie M. Hemphill, “Selling Sex and Intimacy in the City: The Changing Business of Prostitution in Nineteenth-Century Baltimore,” in Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America, eds. Brian P. Luskey and Wendy A. Woloson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), p. 169.

[10] Wendy Gamber, The Boardinghouse in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2007), p. 60.

[11] Kristi L. Palmer, “Fire Insurance Maps: Introduction and Glimpses into America’s Glass Manufacturing History,” The News Journal 20, no. 4 (2013): 4; Gamber, The Boardinghouse in the Nineteenth Century, p. 102-103.

[12] Cynthia M. Blair, I’ve Got to Make My Livin’: Black Women’s Sex Work in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), p. 27.

[13] “For Min White and Bomb Shell for The Quart Shop: The Police and Residents of South Walnut Street Very Sore on John Mullenix’s Wicked Joint,” The Muncie Morning News, March 12, 1893, accessed Newspapers.com.

[14] Hemphill, “Selling Sex and Intimacy in the City,” p. 172-173.

[15] Timothy J. Gilfoyle, City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994), p. 224; Ruth Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood: Prostitution in America, 1900 -1918 (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 83-84.

[16] “A Wine Room,” The Daily Muncie Herald, November 15, 1892, accessed Newspapers.com.

[17] “Muncie’s Den of Iniquity,” The Star Press, January 28, 1900, accessed Newspapers.com.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “After Hubby,” The Muncie Morning News, April 5, 1895, accessed Newspapers.com.

[20] “After the Resorts: Southside Citizens Organize to Fight Them,” The Muncie Daily Times, January 26, 1896, accessed Newspapers.com.

[21] “A Third Street Joint Raided and Ten Victims Gathered,” The Muncie Daily Times, October 26, 1891, accessed Newspapers.com.

[22] Phinney had been charged with keeping a house of ill-fame as early as 1890, and then again in 1895 and 1898; Delaware County Circuit Criminal Court, Cause #2547 (1890), 3031 (1895), 3480 (1898); “They Say It Is A Nuisance: Several Citizens File and Affidavit Against Kate Phinney,” Muncie Morning News, May 19, 1892, accessed Newspapers.com.

[23] Delaware County Circuit Criminal Court, Cause #3546 (1897), 3494 (1898), 3737 (1900), 8409 (1927).

[24] “Bawdy Houses Raided: The Inmates of Three Bagino’s [sic] in Courts To-Day,” The Muncie Daily Times, January 1, 1894, accessed Newspapers.com.

[25] “It Comes High: But the Boys Will Stray Into The Path That Leads to Headquarters,” Muncie Morning News, March 19, 1895, accessed Newspapers.com.

[26] “In The Hands of U.S. Officials,” The Muncie Daily Times, March 2, 1895, accessed Newspapers.com.

[27] Rosen, The Lost Sisterhood, p. 74-75.

[28] “After Questionable Houses: There Will Be None Left in Muncie After March 10,” Muncie Morning News, February 20, 1896, accessed Newspapers.com.