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.

Subversion and Solidarity: A Pre-Roe History of Abortion in the Midwest

Chichester’s English Pennyroyal Pills advertising pamphlet, ca. 1887. New-York Historical Society Library, Bella C. Landauer Collection, accessed New-York Historical Society.

The 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health put the responsibility back on each individual state to determine abortion law for its citizens. In presenting a history of abortion in Indiana, I hope to share how both access and barriers to the termination of pregnancies have changed from the 19th century to the present. Due to the complexities of the abortion debate in Indiana, this article will only discuss the state of abortion prior to the 1970s.

While current laws seeking to ban abortion in Indiana and across the United States focus on the detection of a fetal heartbeat, legal cases between 1812 and 1926 were frequently concerned with “quickening,” which is defined as “the point in which the pregnant woman first feels the fetus move . . . usually between the sixteenth and eighteenth week of pregnancy.”[1] Prior to the point of quickening in a woman’s pregnancy, abortion was not considered a crime since the woman might not have been aware of the pregnancy, particularly if her menstrual cycle was irregular.[2] Instead, these women were often regarded as victims of their own actions in allowing themselves to become pregnant or as victims of an illegal abortion resulting in their death. It is this latter situation, unfortunately, that has allowed historians to learn about the history of abortion practices within the United States. The stories were often only publicly shared through inquest reports, which sought to investigate any deviations from acceptable medical practices that led to death.[3]

In the late 1800s, abortion became a statutory crime in Indiana, as in all states in America. This means that the criminality of the action was written into state laws rather than relying only on the precedent set by court decisions, also called “common law.”[4] The specific statute or law included the elements that an individual must satisfy to be found guilty of the crime, such as the action performed, their mental state when the act was performed, and proximate causation, which is defined as a link between the action and the effect of that action.[5] Despite statues and legal precedent asserting the criminal nature of abortions, women were frequently exempt from liability for their participation in terminating the pregnancy, with most charges instead filed against the individual who performed the abortion.[6]

Although women did not speak openly about abortions outside of their social circles, they did confide in their close friends and family members of their desire to be “fixed up” or to “bring their courses around.”[7] According to many historians’ investigations into the topic, women in the 18th and 19th centuries often turned to abortion as a common means of birth control, with some even asserting that it was safer than childbirth, which claimed the lives of numerous women annually. [8] Women often shared folk remedies or other methods for terminating the pregnancy in much the same way they would have discussed the treatments for other common illnesses.[9]

lady
The Post-Democrat (Muncie), March 20, 1936, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

At the turn of the 20th century, approaches to understanding and addressing the rate of abortions within the community involved comparing it with other birth control methods and encouraging the avoidance of pregnancy to prevent the need for an abortion. One such advocate was New York nurse Margaret Sanger,[10] who spearheaded the birth control movement, eventually leading to the approval of modern contraceptives. Sanger reportedly solicited the help of Roberta West Nicholson, a Hoosier legislator (1935-1936) and activist, who co-founded the Indiana Birth Control League in 1932, Indianapolis’s first Planned Parenthood center. A New York representative visited Nicholson in the city, describing the “very, very disappointing lack of progress they seemed to be making because there was apparently very little known about family planning and very little support in general terms for such a concept.” Nicholson was convinced that this should change and established a chapter in Indianapolis. Thus began her 18 years-long work as a family planning and social hygiene advocate.

Controversially, Sanger argued in favor of abortion for eugenics, though without the overtly racist undercurrent of most pro-eugenics writings. Instead, her arguments, which often referred to minority and immigrant women indirectly, called for increased access to contraception to assist in limiting the number of children born in their families.[11] At the core of Sanger’s arguments was the idea that “the ability to control family size was crucial to ending the cycle of women’s poverty.”[12] Indiana took Sanger’s beliefs a step further and passed a new law in 1907 that authorized the involuntary sterilization of “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles, and rapists,” following the argument that poverty, criminal behavior, and mental problems were hereditary.[13] According to the historical marker placed outside the Indiana State Library in 2007 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the law, approximately 2,500 people within state custody were sterilized under the mandatory sterilization approved by Governor J. Frank Hanly.[14]

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), accessed womenshistory.org.

In her work with minority, immigrant and working-class communities, Sanger often cared for women who were “relieved if there was a stillbirth, because they could not afford to raise any more children.”[15] As a result, it was these women that Sanger most commonly targeted with her advocacy for increased access to birth control in place of abortions; however, historians like Leslie Reagan and Joan Jacobs Brumberg have argued that abortions were sought by women in all sectors of society to prevent an unwanted birth or to protect a young woman’s reputation. Reagan found that mothers who helped their daughters seek illegal abortions often cited the double standard between males and females in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as the mother “knew that bearing an illegitimate child would stigmatize her daughter for life while the boyfriend could experience sexual pleasures without hurting his honor.”[16]

Alternatively, unmarried young women who were kicked out of their homes upon disclosure of their pregnancies were encouraged to bear their children in maternity homes, which often refused to admit Black women.[17] Women who lived in these homes until the birth of the children were required to repent of their sin, perform domestic tasks, participate in religious services, and breastfeed the infants for several months even if they planned to give the children up for adoption.[18] Historians like Regina Kunzel have uncovered evidence that many young women in maternity homes tried and failed to abort their pregnancies as opposed to remaining in the maternity homes.[19]

In the 1930s, particularly during the Great Depression, married Black and white women within similar socioeconomic classes sought abortions at approximately the same rate, often citing their employment or role as the family breadwinner as a critical factor in wishing to avoid another child.[20] Furthermore, data has indicated no significant distinction between abortion rates when classified by religious background; however, the timing of the abortions often differed. Catholic and Jewish women gave birth younger and chose abortion as they aged, whereas Protestant women often sought abortions at younger ages, choosing to give birth later in life.[21]

Throughout the 1920s and 1940s, women from Indiana and other midwestern states often visited downtown Chicago to obtain an abortion at the medical practice of Dr. Josephine Gabler, who had established herself as an expert in the field willing to accept referrals from other medical professionals, despite the practice being illegal in Illinois as well.[22] To protect her identity, that of her staff, and the women visiting the practice, Dr. Gabler and her staff instructed women not to call anyone else if they had issues following their procedure, with the clinic staffing a 24-hour phone line available to assist patients. When women arrived at the clinic, the receptionist, Ada Martin, would lead them back to the room and cover their eyes with a towel so they could not identify the physician performing the procedure prior to putting them to sleep. She would then provide them with instructions for aftercare. Dr. Gabler and her staff paid physicians a percentage of the procedure fees for referring patients to the clinics. The clinic also paid monthly bribes to police officers, which allowed them to continue providing abortions openly without criminal prosecution.[23]

Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1941, 23, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers

One police officer who received bribes from Gabler’s clinic was Indianapolis Detective Daniel Moriarity. In 1941, the clinic’s former receptionist Ada Martin, who had purchased the clinic from Dr. Gabler, was the victim of an attempted murder. Tragically, Moriarity murdered Dr. Gabler’s daughter, mistaking her for her mother. He was attempting to hide the bribes he had received from Gabler and Martin. His crimes exposed the clinic’s practices for the first time.[24] Despite raids on the office in August 1940 and February 1941, convictions against Martin and her receptionist, Josephine Kuder, were overturned because the evidence used to build the case had been drawn from illegally-seized patient medical records.[25] During the trial, numerous women were forced to take the witness stand, sharing their experiences and subjecting themselves to the scrutiny and stigma of the courts.[26] One woman’s medical record from the clinic was even published in the Chicago Daily Tribune as a “sample,” and other women had their names and photos printed, further exposing them to unwanted attention and questioning outside of the courts.[27]

From the late 1930s into the 1970s, poor white women and Black women in northern Indiana and Detroit began to visit Dr. Edgar Bass Keemer Jr., a Black physician practicing in Detroit. He was urged by his wife, another physician who had obtained an abortion herself while completing her medical training, to perform abortions.[28]  Dr. Keemer initially refused to perform an abortion for an unmarried woman, who later died by suicide, leading to his commitment to helping other women to prevent a similar tragedy. Many poor white women regarded Dr. Keemer as a preferable option despite his race and gender because he provided follow-up care and, in the case of the procedure failing, arranged for the woman to have care at a hospital, which he fully paid in addition to any lost wages from missing work.[29]

For women able to make the journey to either Chicago to see Dr. Gabler or Detroit to visit Dr. Keemer, there was often concern about the amount of time a woman would be away from home, leading to the risk of others finding out about her abortion and stigmatizing her for her choices.[30] Abortions at Dr. Gabler’s clinic ranged in price from $35 to $300, with most women paying $50.[31] The cost was higher for abortions performed later in the pregnancy due to the added complexity. This encouraged women to seek treatment as early in the pregnancy as possible to limit costs.[32] Dr. Keemer’s patients were charged $15 in the late 1930s, with fees increasing on a sliding scale to $125 by the 1960s. If the procedure failed, Keemer returned the fee paid and also covered all patient fees associated with the woman receiving a D&C at a local hospital.[33]

(L to R): Cincinnati Enquirer, November 25, 1879, 4; November 26, 1879, 4; November 27, 1879, 4, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Access to abortions was particularly difficult for women living south of Indianapolis without the opportunity to seek treatment from the Gabler-Martin or Keemer clinics. In this area, some women resorted to procedures performed secretly by other professionals. One such case that gained national attention was that of Eliza Francis Levesay from Decatur County, which is located southeast of Indianapolis.[34] Levesay had had an affair with a young man named William Myers, and she became pregnant. Because Levesay was from a poor family and Myers was from a wealthy family, they believed it was in the best interest of both of their reputations that she seek an abortion.[35] Her abortion was performed by Dr. C. C. Burns, a local dentist. When Levesay became ill and sought medical treatment, her physician reported the case to the state authorities. While an investigation was performed, the jury could not reach a unanimous decision against any of the parties, and the case was dismissed.[36]

Profiting from abortion restrictions and lack of access to safe clinics, entrepreneurs marketed various pills and remedies that women had shared with each other for free. Women either mixed their own concoctions or purchased various remedies through the mail, with them marketed under various different names to avoid seizure under the Comstock Act, which prohibited the sending of “obscene” or “unlawful” materials through the postal service.[37] Interestingly, such restrictions were often applied only to those packages crossing state lines, urging entrepreneurs to take up the cause within the state as well.[38] Such remedies were not regulated by the FDA; therefore, their safety and efficacy were not established.[39] It is unknown whether such treatments actually worked or how many people died or became ill from using these them. In fact, some state laws, such as those published in 1827 in Illinois, classified the treatments as poisons.[40]

Dr. Jackson’s English Tablets pill packet, 1880-1900. New-York Historical Society Library, Bella C. Landauer Collection, accessed New-York Historical Society.

In addition to physical harm resulting from such “treatments,” Dr. Keemer and others worried about women’s mental health should they be refused abortions. Despite state laws, demand for abortion increased in the decades following the Great Depression and World War II as more women entered college and the workplace.[41] Women needed to control when they would become pregnant because “once a woman was visibly pregnant, her school would expel her and her boss fire her . . . In short, pregnancy threatened to destroy a young woman’s life and ambitions.”[42] To protect their reputations and their futures, women from the 1930s to the 1960s sought illegal and unregulated abortions, which were often performed by individuals without medical training. Other women from the 1940 to the 1960s found sympathetic psychiatrists were able to secure abortions for “therapeutic reasons” to help prevent the “emotional distress and suicidal intentions” that women expressed in order to receive referrals for a medical hospital-performed abortion.[43]

Numerous state and national advocacy groups supported proposed changes to the laws in Indiana. In 1967, Robert Force, an Assistant Professor at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis, and Irving Rosenbaum Jr., a physician, drafted the new Indiana Bill (H.B. 1621) and published a statement in which they argued that physicians needed to fully assess a woman’s prognosis if not able to obtain a medical abortion, much as they would when considering treatment for any other medical condition.[44] Additionally, they encouraged the incorporation of protections for women who were victims of crimes, such as rape or incest, and women with mental conditions who could not adequately appreciate their conditions or care for a child after its birth.[45] [46]

Proposed amendments to the Indiana abortion law, 1967. Robert Force, “Legal Problems of Abortion Law Reform,” accessed JSTOR.

Some of the groups lobbying for change and supporting the Indiana Bill represented bipartisan, secular, and religious organizations, including the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, Indiana State Medical Association, American Protestant Hospital Association, Indiana Council of Churches, National Council of Jewish Women, the Indianapolis Star, and other independent advocates.[47] In 1967, these advocacy groups called on legislators to consider legal precedents in which suicidal tendencies had been grounds for granting an abortion in drafting laws that would protect both the mental and physical health of women seeking an abortion.[48] The Indiana Bill passed the House, but the Senate made substantial changes, which essentially removed most of the proposed amendments, which would have made abortion legal without exception, and it was ultimately vetoed by the governor. While abortion was not legal at this point, Indiana had relaxed its anti-abortion laws to protect the mother’s life.[49]

Ruth Mahaney (right), n.d., in Madison Stacey, ‘It was hidden, you had to hunt,’ accessed WTHR.com.
Women’s Crisis Service ad, Spring 1975, in Julia Kilgore, “Ruth Mahaney & Nancy Brand: Insight into IU’S History of Women’s Reproductive Rights,” accessed IUB Archives.

In 1968, the women’s liberation movement reached Bloomington. During weekly meetings of the IU Women’s Caucus, various women shared their challenges with being able to access abortions, which remained illegal.[50] In response to these challenges, including her friend’s horrifying experience in which an abortionist refused to perform the procedure until she had sex with him, Indiana University graduate student Ruth Mahaney started an abortion counseling center, which came to be known as the Midwest Abortion Counseling Service. This center fielded calls from women in surrounding rural areas, students, and women in Bloomington, and offered support from local ministers and doctors who provided counseling services.[51]

The Midwest Abortion Counseling Service center helped connect women to sympathetic providers both in southern Indiana at IU and in the Chicago area through referrals to the Jane Collective for women to receive safe abortions from respectable providers.[52] In an interview as part of the Indiana University Bicentennial Oral History Project, Mahaney recalled driving young women to a municipal airport in Bloomington to be able to get to Chicago as soon as possible for their procedures.[53] After the legalization of abortion under Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Midwest Abortion Counseling Service transitioned to become the Women’s Crisis Service, which not only continued Mahaney’s work in supporting women seeking abortions but also provided support for women in other crises, such as rape or divorce. The center also to connected women to legal resources, daycares, and other available resources.[54]

Protestors gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court building to support their position in the ongoing abortion debate, accessed law.harvard.edu.

Force’s and Rosenbaum’s changes to the laws remain present in modern Indiana abortion laws nearly 60 years later. The 2022 Dobbs decision spurred further debates about women’s reproductive rights. The Indiana Legislative Oral History Interview project provides a window into the perspectives of former Indiana lawmakers regarding abortion access.

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

Notes:

[1] Samuel W. Buell, “Criminal Abortion Revisited,” New York University Law Review 66, (1991): 1780.

[2] Buell, 1782; Julie Conger, “Abortion: The Five-Year Revolution and its Impact,” Ecology Law Quarterly 3, no. 2 (1973): 312.

[3] Leslie J. Reagan, When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 22.; Buell, 1782.

[4] “Criminal Law,” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, accessed May 7, 2023, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/criminal_law.

[5] “Criminal Law.”

[6] Buell, 1783.

[7] Reagan, 23.

[8] Tamara Dean, “Safer Than Childbirth: Abortion in the 19th Century Was Widely Accepted as a Means of Avoiding the Risks of Pregnancy,” The American Scholar, 97; Reagan, 22.

[9] Reagan, 26.

[10] Debra Michals, “Margaret Sanger (1879-1966),” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/margaret-sanger

[11] Melissa Murray, “Abortion, Sterilization, and the Universe of Reproductive Rights,” William & Mary Law Review 63, no. 5 (2022): 1607.

[12] Debra Michals, “Margaret Sanger (1879-1966),” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/margaret-sanger

[13] “Project Overview,” Indiana Eugenics History & Legacy 1907-2007, accessed June 28, 2023, https://eugenics.iupui.edu/ ; “1907 Indiana Eugenics Law,” Indiana Historical Bureau, accessed June 28, 2023, https://www.in.gov/history/state-historical-markers/find-a-marker/1907-indiana-eugenics-law/.

[14] “1907 Indiana Eugenics Law,” Indiana Historical Bureau.

[15] Ingrid Mundt, “Margaret Sanger, Taking a Stand for Birth Control,” History Teacher 51, no. 1 (2017): 124.

[16] Regan, 28.

[17] Regan, 28.

[18] Reagan, 28-9.

[19] Regina Kunzel, Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993): 68-69, 81.

[20] Reagan, 135.

[21] Reagan, 137.

[22] Reagan, 149.

[23] Reagan, 155.

[24] Reagan, 155.

[25] Reagan, 311. Mrs. Martin estimated in court testimony that she worked as a receptionist for Dr. Gabler for approximately 12-15 years. She purchased the practice from Dr. Gabler in January 1940 and later hired physicians, including Dr. Henry James Millstone, to perform abortions in the clinic. While under indictment following the raids, Dr. Millstone died by suicide from drinking poison on April 17, 1941, with his wife dying by suicide from drinking ammonia shortly after on May 1.

[26] Reagan, 167-168.

[27] Reagan, 167.

[28] Reagan, 156.

[29] Reagan, 157-158.

[30] Regan, 151. Dr. Gabler used surgical techniques for the abortion, including general anesthesia and dilation and curettage (D&C) similar to the procedure following a miscarriage, with after-instructions provided similar to those for women who had just given birth, such as avoiding hot baths or avoiding intercourse while they healed.

In contrast to Dr. Gabler, Dr. Keemer used the Leunbach method, which was reported to be safer and less painful.[30] The process utilized a compounded paste and potassium soap solution inserted into the uterus via a syringe.  The vagina was then packed with a sterile gauze tampon, which would be removed 18 hours later at home. Women receiving an abortion via the Leunbach method, on average, spent only 10 minutes on the doctor’s table and reported minimal cramps, with aspirin prescribed to blunt the pain. Women could return home the same day, and a nurse would visit women at home the following day. Dr. Keemer also arranged a follow-up visit as well to ensure all of the contents had been properly expelled to prevent infection.

[31] Reagan, 154-155.

[32] Reagan, 155.

[33] Regan, 157-158.

[34] Madeleine Boesche, “19th Century Anti-Abortion Laws Enforcement in the Rural United States,” Vassar College Clark Fellowship, accessed May 7, 2023, https://www.vassar.edu/history/clark-fellowship/2012/anti-abortion-laws-enforcement-rural-united-states.

[35] Various sources utilize different spellings for Mr. Myers’ last name, with “Myers” utilized in newspapers covering the case and “Miers” as the spelling in the Boesche article detailing her research into the case.

[36] Boesche, https://www.vassar.edu/history/clark-fellowship/2012/anti-abortion-laws-enforcement-rural-united-states.

[37] Reagan, 13.

[38] Melody Rose, Abortion: A Documentary and Reference Guide (London: Greenwood Press, 2008): 31.

[39] Sarah Gordon, “Female Remedies: A Little Show Draws a Big Response,” New York Historical Society Museum & Library, June 10, 2019,  https://www.nyhistory.org/blogs/female-remedies-a-little-show-draws-a-big-response.

[40] Reagan, 10.

[41] Reagan, 194.

[42] Reagan, 194-5.

[43] Reagan, 202.

[44] Robert Force, “Legal Problems of Abortion Law Reform,” Administrative Law Review 19, no. 4 (1967): 370-372.

[45] Force, 372.

[46] Force, 372.

[47] Force, 365.

[48] Force, 365.

[49] Force, 365.

[50] Mary Ann Wynkoop, Dissent in the Heartland: The Sixties at Indiana University (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002): 136.

[51] Julia Kilgore, “Ruth Mahaney & Nancy Brand: Insight into IU’s History of Women’s Reproductive Rights,” IUB Archives (blog), October 28, 2016, https://blogs.libraries.indiana.edu/iubarchives/2016/10/28/ruth-mahaney-nancy-brand-insight-into-ius-history-of-womens-reproductive-rights/.

[52] Madison Stacey, “’It was hidden, you had to hunt’ | How covert networks helped women access abortions before Roe v. Wade,” WTHR.com, last modified August 24, 2022, https://www.wthr.com/article/features/how-covert-networks-helped-women-access-abortions-before-roe-v-wade/531-8839cfb4-8eff-475f-bd6a-27643eea675b.

[53] Stacey.

[54] Kilgore.

Physicist Melba N. Phillips: Indiana’s Oppenheimer Connection

 

Melba Phillips at Berkley, 1930, photo courtesy of Ellen and John Vinson, accessed Physics in Perspective 10 (2008).

Physicist and educator Dr. Melba Phillips of Pike County, Indiana was an esteemed colleague of J. Robert Oppenheimer and important innovator in her own right. The two young scientists introduced a foundational physics principle, the Oppenheimer-Phillips Process, before taking separate paths. Phillips became an influential educator while Oppenheimer . . . well, I don’t want to spoil the movie for you. And while Phillips does not appear in the film, she did play an important role in the “heroic age” of physics, especially those exciting years that she and Oppenheimer spent at the University of California, Berkeley.

Melba Newell Phillips was born in 1907 in Pike County to a family of teachers. She graduated early from Union High School and enrolled at Oakland City College (now University) in Gibson County. There she benefitted from several important mentors, developed foundational math and science skills (though she recalled learning more physics from textbooks than her professor), and pushed back against conservative rules and instructors. This independence and refusal to compromise would serve her later in life. [1]

After graduating in 1926, Phillips taught briefly at Union High School before accepting a teaching fellowship at Battle Creek College in Michigan. She taught classes and filled in the gaps in her physics education by taking advanced courses. She earned her master’s degree in 1928 at the age of twenty one. In the summer of 1929 she attended a symposium on theoretical physics at the University of Michigan taught by Edward U. Condon, a distinguished and innovative physicist who would later join the Manhattan Project. Phillips impressed Condon and on his recommendation was accepted to the PhD program at the University of California Berkley in 1930. [2]

There was no better place for a young physicist in the 1930s than Berkeley. After World War I, the university devoted abundant resources to the physics department. They hired innovative scientists as teachers and built cutting-edge facilities to encourage experimentation. For example, the university hired renowned scientist Ernest Lawrence, who in 1931 invented the famous cyclotron, a particle accelerator that allowed the user to smash open atomic nuclei. Lawrence worked with his fellow faculty members Emilio Segre and Owen Chamberlain using both theoretical physics and the cyclotron to confirm the existence of the antiproton. All three received the Nobel Prize and joined the Manhattan Project.[3]

J. Robert Oppenheimer at Berkeley, 1948, gelatin silver print, Arnold Newman (American, 1918-2006), Gift of David Newman and Deirdre Steinberg, © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 1948, 2006.84.3, accessed the Portland Art Museum.

The faculty member who worked most closely with Phillips, greatly influenced her, and became a lifelong friend: the renowned J. Robert Oppenheimer. He had come to Berkeley as an assistant professor of physics in the summer of 1929, shortly before Phillips. He taught theoretical physics, an area in which Berkeley was weak. Oppenheimer explained that he didn’t teach students to prepare them for careers, but instead was motivated by including them in the unsolved problems of the physics world.  He stated:

I didn’t start to make a school. I didn’t start to look for students. I started really as a propagator of the theory which I loved, about which I continued to learn more, and which was not well understood and which was very rich. The pattern was not that of someone who takes on a course and teaches students preparing for a variety of careers but of explaining first to faculty, staff, and colleagues and then to anyone who would listen, what this was about, what had been learned, what the unsolved problems were. [4]

Phillips was profoundly drawn to solving the unknown, something she had ruminated on as an undergrad. Oppenheimer was the perfect mentor for her curious nature and ambition.

By 1931, Phillips had chosen two topics within the field of experimental physics to study and work into her doctoral dissertation.  (Experimental physics is the branch of the field dealing with observation of physical phenomenon through experimentation to test a theory. In turn, these experiments further shape new theories. They are symbiotic sub-disciplines.) As theoretical physics was Oppenheimer’s area of expertise, he became her advisor, and almost immediately, her friend. By 1933, she had worked both of her topics into a dissertation–each of which could had been a dissertation unto itself, according to her peers. [5] Physicists Dwight Neuenschwander and Sallie Watkins explained:

Melba was not the kind of physicist who enters a new field, picks all the low-hanging fruit, and moves on. Rather, the fruit that Melba harvested required her to climb high into some very tall trees. She solved difficult problems, and was a stickler for detail, to do the job right . . . Melba asked genuine questions in her papers. To answer them she invoked fundamental principles, then developed them with sophisticated calculations and insightful approximations and, quite often, with numerical integrations that had to be done by hand because programmable computers had not yet been invented.[6]

Even before her dissertation was finished, several academic journals published Phillips’s work. She had begun to make a name for herself in the physics world and had made herself the peer of her mentor. In 1933, Oppenheimer called her “an extraordinarily able woman” with “a genuine vocation for mathematics and theoretical physics, and an outstanding talent for it.” [7]  He praised her “difficult and important” contributions to theoretical physics while studying at Berkeley and stated that he could “fully recommend her as a valuable member of any university physics department in the country,” although he would “regard it as a very real loss” t0 his department.[8] A full-time job remained elusive, in part because of the Great Depression, but gender discrimination undoubtedly contributed. After earning her Ph.D. in 1933, Dr. Phillips stayed nominally employed with a combination of work as a research assistant and a part-time instructor. She used her extra time at the university to advance her career.

During this period, Phillips and Oppenheimer worked together on problems of theoretical physics, while their colleague Ernest Lawrence’s experiments using the university’s particle accelerator confirmed their theories. In a 1935 paper, Phillips and Oppenheimer proposed a process that was a type of deuteron-induced nuclear reaction, which became a staple of nuclear physics; the New York Times called the discovery a “basic contribution to quantum theory.” [9] This Oppenheimer-Phillips process, as it was called, explained “what was at the time unexpected behavior of accelerated deuterons (nuclei of deuterium, or ‘heavy hydrogen’ atoms) in reactions with other nuclei.” [10] The paper was widely circulated and praised. The Oppenheimer-Phillips process secured Phillips’s place in the history of physics.

Despite her accomplishments and praise from colleagues, Phillips faced challenges. While she had ascended to the peak of her field in a time of unprecedented progress, she bore the historical burden of gender discrimination within that field. According to science writer Margaret Wertheimer, physics has historically been more resistant to women than other scientific fields because of its quest to discover the truths of the universe that descend from theological traditions. While science and religion have been depicted as at odds during the last few centuries, this was not always the case. As the study of physics developed during the Middle Ages, its goal was a religious one: to understand the ultimate truths of the universe through mathematics. It followed then that the social, cultural, and political forces that prevented women from interpreting sacred texts or entering the clergy applied to the field of physics. [11] Some of these prejudices against women remained in the 1930s.

While Phillips clearly had to deal with the burden of exclusion in the field upon her arrival in Berkeley, she was not always comfortable talking about her experience. In interviews she was careful not to insult the many supportive colleagues while speaking of those who were not. Phillips stated:

As in my first college year I was often the only woman in the class, but classes were never large, and the competition was fun rather than otherwise . . . During the five years I lived in Berkeley four women took PhD’s in physics, and perhaps an equal number stopped with the M.A. . . . Were women discriminated against in the department? It did not seem so, certainly not as students. We had teaching fellowships on par with everyone else. It is true that there was one professor who would not take women assistants but it was no hardship to miss that option. [12]

In the same recollection Phillips referred vaguely to “unfair decisions” made by the university about salaries and stipends, but discounted “overt discrimination on account of sex.”[13] Clearly then, Phillips saw that women were not getting equal access to facilities, credit for discoveries, and pay. In fact, physicist and chemist Francis Bonner, who would go on to work on the Manhattan Project, explained that normally such an accomplishment as publishing a new physics principle considered “one of the classics of early nuclear physics,” would have meant a faculty appointment [14]. Phillips received no such appointment. This could be partly because of her gender and partly because of the depressed economy. So perhaps in interpreting the climate at Berkeley at this time, we should use Phillips’s own words whenever possible. She seemed to distinguish between “unfair practices” and “overt discrimination.” And while the former will persist throughout this examination of her career and its challenges, one example of the latter practically jumps off the pages of national newspapers.

In February 1934, Phillips’s name appeared in headlines across the country, but not for her groundbreaking work in physics. Instead, she appeared in the national press for the first time, infantilized and sexualized as a poor, tearful girl who was nearly scandalized by her professor. This incident is worth examining in some detail not only for further evidence of the prejudice Phillips faced, but also because the story continues to be retold without deeper examination in biographies of Oppenheimer.

On February 14, the Associated Press (AP) reported:

Robert Oppenheimer, 30, physics professor of the University of California, took Miss Melba Phillips of Berkeley, a research assistant, for a ride in the Berkeley hills Monday night. Prof. Oppenheimer then parked the automobile, made Miss Phillips comfortable by wrapping a blanket around her, and said he was going for a walk. Time passed but Miss Phillips waited and waited. Two hours later Policeman Albert Nevin passed by. “My escort went for a walk hours ago and he hasn’t returned,” Miss Phillips told the officer tearfully. [15]

The article continued to state that the police raised an alarm and searched the area to no avail.  Eventually, they looked for Oppenheimer at the faculty club where he lived.  The AP reported:

And there they found him – fast asleep in bed.  “Miss Phillips?” he exclaimed to the officers.  “Oh, my word! I forgot all about her. I just walked and walked, and I was home and I went to bed. I’m so sorry.”[16]

The International News Service (INS) also picked up the story, with some minor tweaks.  In the INS version “Pretty Miss Melba Phillips was found in an automobile in the Berkeley Hills by police at an early hour in the morning.” Oppenheimer had driven her “into the hills to watch the colorful panorama” of a sunrise. After he was found in his quarters, he supposedly stated, “Ah, I forgot Miss Phillips. I just walked home and went to bed.” [17]

Local newspapers included even more questionable details. One article was titled “Absent-Minded Prof. Parks Girl and Then Takes Self Home and to Bed While She Hails Cops For Aid.” The extra details in this article include the following:

Professor Oppenheimer parked the car, wrapped Miss Phillips in a blanket.
“Comfy?” inquired the prof.
“Uh-huh!” said Miss Phillips.
“I’ll be back presently,” said her escort. “I’m going for a walk.”
Miss Phillips waited and waited. The night was dark. Crickets yodled [sic] in the bushes. Insects whirred and crawled. Off in the distance a dog barked. . . Miss Phillips became jittery. Two hours later Policeman Albert Nevin was hailed by a faint feminine voice.
“My escort went for a walk hours ago and he hasn’t returned,” said Miss Phillips tearfully. [18]

The article–rife with action verbs–concludes with a description of the capable policemen.  The cops “hit” the phones, police cars “hurried to the spot,” the men “combed the bushes,” and “searched and sleuthed.” When the article got to the part where they found Oppenheimer at the faculty club, it reported that the professor stated, “Whazzat? Girl? Miss Phillips? Oh, Lord–my word! By George! I forgot all about her.”[19] The implication is that Dr. Phillips, an accomplished physicist and colleague, was solely an object of sexual interest and once the great man’s mind had moved on to other things, she was forgotten, disposable. By emphasizing the “early morning hours” and the automobile parked in a remote location, the newspapers were more than alluding to some sort of sexual relationship. Primary sources refute this allegation.

Phillips’s life experiences and attitude to this point show her as a brave and self-confident young woman. The idea that she would have been tearful because she was left waiting in a car seems unlikely.  Also, she was comfortable in nature. She grew up on a farm surrounded by woods where she knew all the wildflowers and where the morels grew. [20] It’s unlikely she was terrified by the “yodel” of crickets. She had successfully navigated much more trying challenges than spending some unexpected time alone by this by this point in her life.

Melba Phillips at Berkley with J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Car, photograph, circa 1930s, Courtesy of Ellen Vinson, accessed Physics in Perspective 10 (2008).

Another reason to doubt the wire services’ version of this story is that Phillips was an experienced driver. Several photographs of Phillips taken at Berkeley show her driving Oppenheimer’s car or posing confidently next to it. Another time, she and another colleague went out driving when they ran over a milk bottle and flattened a tire. Her colleague went to find a mechanic and when they returned Phillips had changed the tire and was relaxing in the car.  As her colleague remembered, “Melba could be handy with a wrench.” [21] If Phillips had wanted to go home or go searching for the missing Oppenheimer, she would have felt perfectly comfortable driving the car.

“Melba Phillips Sits at the Wheel of Robert Oppenheimer’s Car,” photograph, circa 1930s, Courtesy of AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, accessed Society of Physics Students, spsnational.org

Its perhaps not shocking that newspapers crafted such a salacious story in 1934. What is surprising is that biographers of Oppenheimer continued to cite these articles as evidence of a romantic relationship. For example, the authors of the Pulitzer Prize winning biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote: “For a short time, Robert dated his doctoral student Melba Phillips, and one evening he drove her out to Grizzly Peak, in the Berkeley hills.” The authors then go on to rely on the wire services’ version of events described previously. They cite no other sources as evidence that the colleagues had a romantic relationship. [22]

Further evidence of a strictly collegial relationship comes from Oppenheimer’s letters. Oppenheimer describes Phillips, or “Melber,” as he sometimes called her, as only a professional colleague or simply a friend.  In January 1932, Oppenheimer wrote Ernst Lawrence stating that Phillips was doing well and had written him “of some new evidence on the degree of disassociation of potassium . . . Her paper is nearly written up.”[23] In the Fall of 1932, he wrote his brother Frank that “Melber and Lawrence,” among others, “send you greetings.”[24] In January 1935, he wrote his brother concerning theoretical physics problems and noted that “as soon as I get back to Berkeley Melber & I will have a careful look at the calculations.”[25] In Spring 1935, he wrote Lawrence concerning the paper that would define the Oppenheimer-Phillips Process: “I am sending Melba today an outline of the calculations & plots I have made for the deuteron transmutations functions.”[26] In this letter, he noted that Phillips was working out the math calculations for the problem. There is no evidence in these published letters of anything but Oppenheimer’s respect for Phillips as a colleague.

Photo: Collection of Ellen Vinson.

In short, the portrait of Phillips painted by these articles looked nothing like the accomplished physicist and confident young woman she had become. In February of 1934, when these articles ran, Dr. Phillips had completed and defended her Ph.D. dissertation and published a series of papers in academic journals on multi-electron atoms. She was also working for the university as a part-time instructor, while she and Oppenheimer developed their famous process on the “transmutation function for deuterons” and preparing it for publication. But in her first appearance on the national stage, predating the publication of the Oppenheimer-Phillips process by only a few months, she was pretty, helpless, tearful Miss Melba Phillips, the forgotten assistant.  Newspapers across the country were still running the article as late as March.

Despite this wound to her pride, Phillips continued to achieve within her field and went on to become an influential physics educator. But many challenges still lay ahead of her, including advocating for the peaceful application of nuclear energy in the wake of the atomic bomb and facing a Senate subcommittee charging her with communist affiliation during the McCarthy Era. There is much more to learn about Melba Phillips. Check out the state historical marker, additional blog posts, and this podcast episode to learn more.  Or maybe we will see you at the movies this week to see Phillips’s friend Oppenheimer on the big screen.

 

Notes:

[1] Randy Mills, “A Source of Strength and Inspiration: Melba Phillips at Oakland City College,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 30, No. 3 (2018): 38-45.

[2] Dwight E. Neuenschwander and Sallie A. Watkins, “In Appreciation: Professional and Personal Coherence: The Life and Work of Melba Newell Phillips,” Physics in Perspective 10 (2008): 295-364, accessed INSPIRE, Indiana State Library.

[3] “Our History,” Berkeley Physics, University of California, Berkeley, accessed physics.berkeley.edu/about-us/history.

[4] “Oppenheimer: A Life,” J. Robert Oppenheimer Centennial Exhibition, Office for History of Science and Technology, University of California, Berkeley, accessed cstms.berkeley.edu/.

[5] Neuenschwander and Watkins, 305-8.

[6] Ibid., 305.

[7] J. Robert Oppenheimer to May L. Cheney, April 10, 1933 in Neuenschwander and Watkins, 308.

[8] Neuenschwander and Watkins, 302. The authors quote a private letter.

[9] “J. Robert Oppenheimer, Atom Bomb Pioneer, Dies,” New York Times, February 19, 1967, 1, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.

[10] Press release, “Melba Phillips, Physicist, 1907-2004,” University of Chicago News Office, November 16, 2004, accessed http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/04/041116.phillips.shtml.

[11] Margaret Wertheim, Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995), 9.

[12] Melba Phillips, “Studying Physics in the Thirties – A Personal Recollection,” April 24, 1978, Folder 2: Correspondence, 1948-1999, Box 1, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Press release, “Melba Phillips, Physicist, 1907-2004,” University of Chicago News Office, November 16, 2004, accessed http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/04/041116.phillips.shtml.

[15] “Professor in Adage’s Proof,” Sun Bernardino County Sun, February 14, 1934, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; “Absent Minded Professor Leaves Girl in Car, Walks Home and Retires,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 14, 1934, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Professor True to Form,” Indiana (PA) Gazette, February 14, 1934, accessed Newspapers.com; “Girl Is Left in Auto Parked in Hills By Absent Minded Prof,” (Lebanon, PA) Evening Report, February 14, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[18] “Absent-Minded Prof. Parks Girls And Then Takes Self Home and to Bed While She Hails Cops For Aid,” Santa Cruz Evening News, February 14, 1934, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Lisa L. Williams to Randy Mills, July 13, 2018, personal collection of Randy Mills, professor emeritus, Oakland City University.

[21] Neuenschwander and Watkins, 305.

[22] Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2006), 95-96.

[23] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Ernest Lawrence, January 3, 1932 in Alice Kimball Smith and Charles Weiner, eds., Robert Oppenheimer: Letters and Recollections (Harvard University Press, 1980), 147.

[34] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Frank Oppenheimer, Fall 1932 in Kimball and Weiner, 157-8.

[25] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Frank Oppenheimer, January 11, 1935 in Kimball and Weiner, 189.

[26] J. Robert Oppenheimer to Ernest Lawrence, Spring 1935 in Kimball and Weiner, 193.

“The Greater Creed:” How Suffragist Sara Messing Stern Overcame Antisemitism through Verse

Portions of this post first appeared as an article by the author in the Indiana Jewish History journal, published by the Indiana Jewish Historical Society. The complete article, which gives much more information on her suffrage work is available here along with annotations.

Sara Messing Stern, a dedicated suffrage worker and advocate for the poor, was accustomed to being the only Jewish woman in the room. Whether organizing housing relief or mobilizing women for the vote, she applied her steady hand and organizational skills to achieve progressive results. She lived her Jewish values through her work and expressed them through her poetry. She believed that no matter a person’s faith, God called them to care for those less fortunate. For the most part, Stern thrived in the suffrage and women’s club movements, which were dominated by women of various Christian sects. However, as is often the case for Jews, she was accepted by society until she wasn’t. That is, if her peers felt she had gained too much power or if they came into conflict with her ideas, these Christian women were not above using antisemitic language and ideas to dismiss and denigrate her. Yet Stern would rise above their defamation to help Hoosier women win the vote and rebut their slander through poetry.

Indianapolis Star, January 25, 1913, 9, Newspapers.com.

Sara was born to German Jewish immigrants Rica (née Naphtali) and Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Meyer Messing, who was himself an advocate of progressive reform and a supporter of women’s rights, in Indianapolis in 1879. In 1906, Sara married Leon Stern, an auditor for an Indianapolis coal company. While she took her husband’s surname “Stern,” she also kept her maiden name “Messing,” maintaining a link to the Messing ancestral line of prominent rabbis as well as her individual identity. While newspapers sometimes referred to her as “Mrs. Leon Stern,” primary sources show that within the organizations where she held power, she presented herself as “Sara Messing Stern.”

Stern first made her mark in Indianapolis through philanthropy and was especially concerned with the welfare of women and children.  She advocated for reforming child labor laws and tenement housing, and served as a probation officer, aiding juvenile offenders and guiding them back to a productive path. She believed in second chances and recognized that the poor faced great obstacles. She stated in 1912, “I have found in dealing with people who have sinned that we are too quick to judge by what we see done, rather than the things overcome.”

Bretzman, “Grace Julian Clarke,” photograph, 1909, Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

Stern worked with many city charities and was a leading member of the local section of the National Council of Jewish Women. As a Council representative, Stern attended a 1909 reception for the firebrand suffragist Grace Julian Clarke, who had been recently elected president of the Indiana Federation of Clubs. Stern and Clarke would continue to cross paths through club and charitable work over the next few years. In fact, a deepening friendship with Clarke may have brought Stern into more active suffrage work.

In 1911, Stern and her husband moved to Terre Haute, but the move did not prevent Stern from engaging in women’s rights work at a state level. Instead, she increased her influence through the Indiana General Federation of Clubs and the Women’s Franchise League (WFL) over the next several years.  She also served as an officer of the Terre Haute section of the National Council of Jewish Women and as the group’s representative to the other statewide women’s organizations. By 1912, Stern was one of several directors of the WFL and spoke on the organization’s behalf around the state, often joining other prominent suffragists. Stern also served as the treasurer of the Indiana Federation of Clubs, an important position for an outspoken suffragist.

Grace Julian Clarke Women’s Clubs and Suffrage Scrapbook, 1912-1914, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

The large and influential Federation, which was an umbrella organization for a myriad of women’s clubs, had not yet taken a stance on the suffrage issue. Stern and other suffragists who held leadership positions were able to educate their colleagues and advocate for the vote from inside the organization. For example, in October 1912, when the Federation of Clubs held their annual meeting in Fort Wayne, the WFL held a “suffrage luncheon” at the same hotel as the meeting, providing an opportunity for Federation members to learn about issues surrounding the vote. Clarke and Stern both gave toasts. Clarke’s speech was a straightforward one about lessons from her recent work campaigning for suffrage. Stern responded in jest with a mock anti-suffrage toast titled “I Do Not Need the Vote,” intended to show the absurdity of the opposition’s position, especially when that position was assumed by a woman who would only benefit from increased civic rights.

Indianapolis News, October 28, 1915, 20, Newspapers.com

In her work with the Indiana Federation of Clubs, Stern faced subtle but powerful antisemitism. Suffragists and club leaders were shrewd politicians. They had formed lobbying groups, penned legislation introduced in the Indiana General Assembly, changed the minds of important leaders such as Governor Ralston, and largely tipped the scales of public opinion towards enfranchisement. As with male politicians, the women’s politics sometimes got ugly. While disparaging comments and mudslinging was considered a regular part of campaigning for men, when women engaged in the same traditional, if “unseemly,” tactics, they were labelled as “catty.” The infighting surrounding the 1915 campaign for the Indiana General Federation of Women’s Clubs presidency was brutal, not because the women were especially petty, but because they were political actors vying for power in a large, influential organization. Despite her best efforts, even Stern was drawn into the fray. Notably, some of the damage inflicted on her character seems to be the result of latent antisemitism in some of her colleagues rather than any action or position that she took herself.

South Bend News-Times, October 27, 1915, 3, Newspapers.com

As Terre Haute clubwomen Lenore Hanna Cox and Stella Stimson clashed in the fight for the Federation, Grace Julian Clarke was often in the middle of the battle and was the recipient of many letters showing support for or opposition to the candidates. Clarke supported Cox for the presidency and worked hard to back her candidacy and oppose Stimson. Clarke’s main complaint about Stimson was that she felt Stimson’s temperance work interfered with her suffrage advocacy, potentially driving away supporters who did not support Prohibition.

Image accessed Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood.

In August, for reasons unknown, Stimson wrote Clarke suggesting Stern as Federation president. Since Stimson herself was vying for the office, this seems to be some sort of political chess move – perhaps positioning herself as uninterested in order not to seem overly ambitious. Stimson’s letter had a negative impact on Stern’s reputation amongst her Federation colleagues. It made Clarke worry that Stern was another potential obstacle to Cox’s presidency. As word got out, some Federation members suspected Stern to be Stimson’s “spy” at closed meetings and wanted to exclude Stern from the Federation and the Terre Haute WFL. Unfortunately, some of this suspicion seems to have been tinged with antisemitism.

Stern was never interested in the Federation presidency. In fact, she told a colleague that she “absolutely would not have it if it were handed to her on a platter.” Her résumé shows that she was more interested in philanthropy and women’s rights than club politics. And yet, Cox and another Terre Haute clubwoman, Helen C. Benbridge, attacked Stern in letters to Clarke. Benbridge wrote an especially hateful letter.

Indianapolis Star, May 7, 1914, 5, Newspapers.com.

Stimson’s tactic for beating Cox was to paint the latter as less “Christian,” by which Stimson meant less moral, because Stimson was a prohibitionist while Cox did not believe the liquor issue was as important as the vote. While campaigning, Stimson claimed that Cox was not Christian. Benbridge took this as an opportunity to attack Stern, bending Stimson’s words back to a more literal interpretation of what it meant to be Christian. Benbridge wrote, “If Mrs. S[timson] objects to Mrs. C[ox] because she is not a Christian why does Mrs. Stern strike her as a good candidate?” While Benbridge was certainly being somewhat sarcastic, the implication was that being Jewish should disqualify Stern from the presidency. It has just a hint of antisemitism, especially as Benbridge continued to write in a disparaging way about Stern’s influence in the Jewish community of Terre Haute.

Benbridge claimed that Stern was “furious” with Stimson “about several Jewish matters.” Stimson was a Christian and an active leader of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, so why she was involved in “Jewish matters” to the extent that she could anger Stern, a prominent Jewish leader, is unclear. Cox also wrote disparagingly about Stern, encouraging the baseless rumor that Stern was Stimson’s spy and pushing to remove her from the WFL and Federation. Cox wrote that by including Stern in the Federation leadership, they would be creating “a Frankenstein” of an organization. This dehumanizing language is also telling of Cox’s potential antisemitic feelings toward Stern.

Lenore Cox to Grace Julian Clarke, October 21, 1915, Grace Julian Clarke Correspondence and Papers, 1915 Oct.-Dec., Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

In another letter disparaging Stern and seeking Clarke’s support to remove Stern from the Terre Haute branches of the Federation and WFL, Cox claimed that she (Cox) had the support of the National Council of Jewish Women, not Stern. This was unlikely considering Stern was an officer of the Terre Haute Section of the Council while Cox was a Christian who attended an Episcopal church and thus not a Council member. However, the claim does show the necessity of securing the support of an active community of Jewish women and perhaps the threat Cox felt Stern might pose to her leadership in Terre Haute. Cox did have to admit to Clarke that Stern had graciously supported a motion that Cox had made during a recent meeting. Cox, who appeared to view things in black and white—allies and opponents—could not understand why Stern, whom she had labelled as her enemy, could possibly agree with her on an issue. Cox asked Clarke, “Is she really normal?” Again, using “othering” language that divested Stern of some humanity.

It is worth noting that while Clarke worried about Stern’s connection to Stimson in her private letters, Clarke did not descend into name calling like the others. Clarke often spoke positively of Stern in public, praising Stern’s philanthropic work and calling her “able and efficient in whatever she undertakes.” Clarke and Stern worked together successfully for many more years.

That any of these attacks were aimed more harshly at Stern because she was Jewish is, to some degree, speculation. Again, this was politics, and mudslinging was always part of the game. However, we can be certain that Stern did face antisemitism at various points in her career. According to historian Melissa R. Klapper, Jewish women had only recently, and only tepidly at that, been included in the suffrage movement. Meetings, resolutions, songs, and speeches were imbued with Christian rhetoric that could make Jewish women feel excluded. Rallies and conventions were often held on Friday evenings when observant Jewish women would have been prevented from attending or felt conflicted about participating. Some Jewish women were reluctant to work with Christian suffragists who used contact with Jews as an evangelizing opportunity.

The antisemitism imbued in the women’s suffrage movement was perhaps most clearly expressed through its leadership. Nationally prominent suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published an article referring to Jews as “a useless portion of society.” In her Woman’s Bible, Stanton went on to blame the “backward” ideas espoused by Judaism for women’s second-class status. Famed Methodist minister and suffrage orator Anna Howard Shaw blamed Jewish immigrants for failed suffrage campaigns and Quaker suffragist Alice Paul worked amicably with Jewish women in public, while privately expressing her “antagonism for Jews.” According to Klapper, the antisemitism of their colleagues meant that Jewish women felt an “unease with their place” and “occupied an ambiguous position” within the larger suffrage movement. So whether or not we interpret the hostility directed toward Stern by her fellow clubwomen as antisemitic, Stern would certainly have been familiar with the writings of the leaders of the women’s movements and received the message that she was an outsider in a Christian space.

We also know Stern faced antisemitism because she wrote about it in her own words. In 1911, Stern published her poem “The Greater Creed” in The Butterfly, a magazine concerned with Progressive Era reform, politics, and culture. Stern’s poem had three main points. First, she expressed the completeness Jews felt in worshipping one God, explaining to a Christian reader that Jews did not feel the need for “a mediator.” While this may seem like a dig at the complexity of Christian spiritual practices, her goal was not to be divisive. She paid respect to the equality of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, noting that they were God’s children. Her second goal in “The Greater Creed,” was to argue that while some people worshipped Allah, some Christ, and some “Reason,” one’s chosen belief system mattered less than one’s actions. She stated that it was work on behalf of one’s fellow man, not creeds, that made one holy. She wrote, “Fling afar your doctrine. Cast aside your fears.” Her final and most powerful message was that all people of faith should unite to serve those in need. She concluded:

Seek out the weeping ones and dry their tears.

The sick, the halt, the sinner and the blind,

Oh, pity them and love them and be kind.

For after all, the helpful human deed

By Christian, Turk or Jew to one in need

Can bring more souls to God than all man’s creed.

While Stern pushed back against the dominance of Christian culture at the start of the poem, she immediately moved on to her main point: doctrine doesn’t matter as much as serving the poor.

But by 1917, Stern had extensively revised this poem, doubling the stanzas, and drastically changing its tone. While she closed the poem, renamed “The Jew to the Gentile,” with the same eighteen lines that made up “The Greater Creed,” she added thirty additional lines to the beginning. In these new stanzas she boldly confronted the antisemitism she faced in the world around her. First, she addressed the condemnation she felt Christians delivered to Jews for not believing in the divinity of Jesus. Quoting a fictional priest, she wrote:

The priest bent angry gaze upon the Jew,

“What base ingratitude. Shame, shame that you

Who love the Father, should deny His Son.

Christ, Jesus, is Divine, with God is one.”

Still speaking in the voice of the judgmental priest character, she continued on the same theme: “Oh, stiff-necked race/ Forever shall the glory of God’s face / Be turned from you.” She then shifted her focus to what she perceived as a hypocritical characteristic of Christianity, that is, violently persecuting those who did not share Christian beliefs. She wrote from the perspective of a Jew responding to the condemnation of the fictional priest, stating that Christianity had forced belief in the divinity of Christ on the world “with rack and sword.” Again, after her attack, she softened her tone and in her next few lines, she explored the theme of Jewish forgiveness. She wrote:

And yet

Although you maimed us with the scourge and flame

And tortured and reviled us ‘in His name’;

We reach out arms in friendliness to you

And plead for peace.

After this stanza, Stern then repeated the lines of the 1911 version of the poem, which were focused on the importance of acting on behalf of the poor and needy as opposed to arguing over religious creed. So, what had changed between the uplifting lines of the 1911 work and the castigating revision of 1917? We can surmise that she came into greater contact and conflict with antisemitic language or ideas, likely in the context of the women’s organizations that occupied most of her time.

Despite the opposition of members of the Federation or any other potential antisemitic incidents she may have faced, Stern rose above the political backstabbing and continued to serve as a leader within the Federation. She also became the treasurer of the National Council of Jewish women (the nationwide organization, not just the Terre Haute section). She even found time to lead a local Vigo County organization dedicated to studying and protecting birds. As the suffrage movement headed into its final stretch, Stern made an important contribution to the final push for the vote through the Legislative Council of Indiana Women, a statewide organization dedicated to lobbying the General Assembly.

Indianapolis News, July 7, 1917, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Sara Messing Stern was among the “women who saw the culmination of a struggle in which they were pioneers,” according to the Indianapolis News. The following day, Governor Goodrich signed the ratification resolution surrounded by the “prominent suffrage workers of the state.” A photograph on the front page of the Indianapolis Star, shows Stern among them, looking on approvingly. As she stood in the governor’s office, she saw her life’s work for women’s suffrage achieved.

Indianapolis Star, January 17, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

Stern was only one of a large army of women fighting for full citizenship rights for women, yet she made an impact on Indiana history. She felt called to serve God by caring for those less fortunate, and she left a legacy of improving her communities in Indianapolis and Terre Haute. She overcame many obstacles, including the inherent antisemitism of Progressive Era women’s movements. Throughout her career, Sara Messing Stern maintained her Jewish faith and pushed back against antisemitism of her colleagues, powerfully expressing her defiance through her poetry. To Stern, the “Greater Creed” was not a specific religious doctrine, but instead helping others and striving for equality.

Notes:

For an extended and annotated version of this post, click here.

For an overview of the Federation controversy, read historian Jackie Swihart’s Indiana History Blog post: “A Petty Affair: Grace Julian Clarke and the 1915 Campaign for the Indiana General Federation of Women’s Clubs Presidency.”

View Grace Julian Clarke’s 1915 correspondence via the Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

“If Even a Sparrow Should Fall:” The Conservation Work of Ornithologist Jane L. Hine

Historians tend to write about the leaders of movements – the “big picture” people espousing new ideologies or courses of action. This focus makes sense. These larger-than-life historical figures had an outsized impact on our past and they lend themselves to more dramatic stories. But what about the lesser-known folks who make change at a local level? Can we make space to honor these quieter voices and their work putting big ideas into action? In this post we’ll look at the late-in-life work of Jane L. (Brooks) Hine to save Indiana’s native bird species. While not one of the major voices of the burgeoning conservation movement, Hine’s ornithological work helped convince Hoosiers that birds were worth protecting as part of delicate ecosystems, from forests to farms.

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed  GoogleBooks.
Photograph of Hines courtesy “Charlie Chat” from the Elkhart Public Library, accessed https://eplcharliechat.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/throwback-thursday-jane-brooks-hine/

Jane Levisa Brooks was born in Ohio in 1831 and studied literature at Oberlin College, graduating in the 1850s. She married her sister’s widower, Horatio Hine, adopting children from that union and having three more of her own. The family moved to a farm in Sedan, DeKalb County, Indiana in December 1861. Jane Hine focused on raising her children and helping with the farm work over the following decades. (The family also returned to Ohio for a time before circling back to the Sedan farm permanently). [1] It was not until the mid to late 1880s, when Hine was in her late fifties, that she began to study ornithology (the branch of zoology focused on birds). [2]

Photograph of Hine’s Farm in Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, GoogleBooks.

Women around the world were engaged in scientific work long before they were allowed to study at universities and gain accreditation. Hine joined an informal coterie of women doing physics equations, tinkering with inventions, and categorizing plant species at the kitchen table instead of the university laboratory. Without an avenue open for formal study, Hine simply followed her passion for birds. She became an ornithologist by doing ornithology. That is, she began keeping careful, scientific observations of the birds that populated the farmland and forests around her home in a journal. She also began attending the same meetings and reading the scientific journals of professionally-accredited ornithologists. For example, in 1890, Hine attended a meeting of ornithologists, mainly professors, which was part of a larger meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Indianapolis. [3]

Pamphlet, Amos W. Butler, Birds of Indiana with Illustrations of Many Species (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, First Published 1890), 29, accessed GoogleBooks.

Soon, other scientists came to respect and seek out her data. Amos Butler, a prominent ornithologist and a founder of the Indiana Academy of Science, sought Hine’s data for his Birds of Indiana report for the Indiana Horticultural Society. Amos extensively cited Hine’s observations on bird species around her Sedan home and called her “a faithful observer of nature and a careful recorder of her observations.” [4] Butler’s report was widely circulated by various organizations and the Horticultural Society made Hine a member. [5] After the publication of this report, Hine rocketed to prominence in naturalist circles.

By 1891, Hine was speaking regularly at Farmers’ Institutes, first in the nearby town of Waterloo, and then around the state.  [6] Through these talks, she made a significant impact on bird conservation. At this time, many farmers saw birds as pests, nothing more than thieves of seeds and fruits, and shot them on sight. Hine knew she wouldn’t be able to convince everyone to love birds for their own sake as she did, so she found a more practical approach. She painted a larger picture of the ecosystem around farms, with birds as an essential component. Most significantly, Hine told farmers, birds ate the insects that ruined crops. This got their attention. After presenting at the Waterloo Farmers’ Institute in February 1891, the local newspaper reported:

Mrs. Hine is well known not only in this State, but throughout the U.S. among ornithologists, as one [of] the best among them in everything that pertains to the life and habits of the different birds that inhabit the forests and fields on our farms. Her description of different species of birds that were valuable to farmers as insect destroyers was listened to with marked attention by the many farmers present. [7]

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

In addition to her talents as a reliable collector of scientific data and a convincing speaker for bird preservation, Hine was a colorful and engaging writer. While she continued contributing ornithological data for scientific reports, she also began writing articles for scientific and  general audiences. For example, she wrote “Tyrant Flycatchers” for the Waterloo Press in 1891 and contributed an article on thrushes, bluebirds, and robins to the Indiana Board of Agriculture report in 1893. [8] Most popular were the articles she penned for the Farmer’s Guide, which was published in Huntington, Indiana, but had statewide circulation and a large readership. She wrote “Birds That Befriend Our Trees” and “Farmers, Take Care of Your Birds,” both arguing for conservation of bird species. [9] In 1896, she contributed a series of articles under the title “Farm Birds in Northern Indiana,” carefully and colorfully describing bird species. [10] Readers, especially the young ones, couldn’t get enough of these articles from “Aunt Jane” and they clamored for more in their letters to the editor. [11]

The Farmer’s Guide 14, No. 7 (February 15, 1902), 97, accessed GoogleBooks.
Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, GoogleBooks.

By the turn of the twentieth century, Hine’s influence continued to grow. Butler again cited her data in a widely-circulated report for the Indiana Academy of Science. [12] She continued to present to Farmers’ Institutes but also to more general audiences, such as literary clubs, around the state. [13] Reporting on the 1899 meeting of the Indiana Audubon Society, the Waterloo Press called for several actions to protect birds. One of these was to have Hine speak widely to the public and especially school children to “awaken an interest in the dear birds by telling of their habits and her own experience watching them.” [14] The article highlights both her expertise and the regard to which her knowledge was held in her community, hinting at how contagious her enthusiasm must have been.

Hine also successfully advocated for the “Indiana Bird Law,” which protected insect-eating birds essential to the ecosystem and especially certain species of trees used in orchards and for timber. She told the Waterloo Press in 1904:

The people of DeKalb county have reason to be proud of our Indiana Bird Law. Only two counties of the state sent petitions, through their Farmer’s Institutes, to the State Legislature for its passage, without which no action could have been taken. Our county, DeKalb, was one of the two counties. The law provides for the protection of our insectivorous birds . . . Our timber and orchards have need of them. Sometimes, both before and since the passage of this law, there has been much slaughter among our woodpeckers . . . but that is in the past; and now boys let us loyally stand by our Indiana Bird Law. [15]

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

The farmers who attended the institutes where Hine regularly spoke had evolved from shooting the birds on their property to petitioning the Indiana General Assembly for their protection. Hine could have stopped there. She had influenced bird conservation and been accepted by the scientific community as an expert in her field. In fact, in 1906, she presented at the prestigious Twenty-Fourth Annual Congress of the American Ornithologists’ Union. [16] The Indianapolis Daily Sun referred to her as “one of the foremost authorities on native birds in the state.” [17] Fortunately for Hoosier bird lovers, she still had more to contribute.

In 1911, at the age of eighty, Hine made perhaps her most notable contribution to Indiana ornithology in the form of “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” published in the Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game. [18] In this collection of articles on twenty-nine families of birds, Hine wrote vividly on her personal experiences with the various species and their characteristics and habitats. Her serene and poetic writing painted an idyllic picture of her farm and its feathered residents. She wrote:

I have seen, on a misty morning, an Egret that seemed, as it rose white and beautiful in the mist, more like a spirit than a bird. [19]

Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

Each featured bird was accompanied by a full color photogravure (a type of photographic engraved print) taken by Hines. She also included a poem, “My Birds,” in which she made a passionate argument against the killing of birds for fashion or agriculture. [20] Instead she advocated for their protection, based in part on a religious argument and partly through descriptions of their unique beauty, characteristics, and contributions to the natural environment. The poem begins:

No bird that the Lord has created
Shall come to misfortune through me;
Not one of my jolly old Robins,
Though they take the fruit from my trees [21]

After several more stanzas describing all of “her” birds, she concluded:

Not one of my beautiful Wax-wings,
Though they take my cherries I know;
Not one of the birds God has given me;
Not even my jaunty old Crow.

Shall have from me aught but kind treatment,
When He who created them all,
Would feel both compassion and sorrow
If even a Sparrow should fall. [22]

Newspapers and magazines raved about the collection of articles, reprinted large sections, and included her poem as well. She became known far and wide as “the bird woman of Indiana.” [23] For the next few years she continued speaking to local clubs, but her major work was complete. Jane L. Hine died in Sedan on February 11, 1916. [24] The Waterloo Press praised her as “an authority” on ornithology and the natural sciences. [25] Other newspapers, scientific journals, and the Indiana Audubon Society also paid tribute to her contributions. [26]

Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 6, 1911, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” Biennial Report of the Indiana Commissioner of Fisheries and Game (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, accessed GoogleBooks.

It would be difficult to quantify Hine’s impact on the conservation movement or summarize her exact place in the history of women in science. But maybe each spring when we hear the birds chatter outside our windows we can just take a minute to thank Hine for protecting our native species at a time when they had few voices to speak for them.

Learn more about bird conservation in Indiana through the Indiana Audubon Society.

Notes

[1] 1850 United States Federal Census, Berlin Township, Erie County, Ohio, August 29, 1850, National Archives, Record Group 29, Series Number: M432, Page 460A, Line 10, AncestryLibrary.com; 1860 United States Federal Census, Berlin Township, Erie County, Ohio, June 14, 1860, National Archives, Record Group 19, Series Number: M653, Page 172, Line 38AncestryLibrary.com; 1870 United States Federal Census, Lawrence / Richland Township, DeKalb County, Indiana, Roll: M593_309, Page 364B, National Archives and Records Administration, Ancestry.com; Seventy-Fifth Anniversary General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1833—1908, (Cleveland, OH: O. S. Hubbell Printing Co., 1909), 121, HathiTrust; Marriage Record, Lake County Ohio Courthouse Records, p. 160, Various Ohio County Courthouses, 1853-1875, Film Number 000974916, AncestryLibrary.com; History of DeKalb County, Indiana (Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Company, 1914), 991-92, GoogleBooks; “Mrs. Jane L. Hine Died Early Saturday Morning,” Waterloo Press, February 16, 1916, 1, 8, Newspapers.com; “Jane L. Hine,” photograph of grave, Waterloo Cemetery, DeKalb County, Indiana, Find A Grave Index, AncestryLibrary.com.
[2] “Noblesville,” Waterloo Press, June 14, 1888, 8, Newspapers.com; Jane L. Hine, “Water Birds and Waders of Our Indiana Farm,” [Hine’s journal], circa 1880s, transcribed in Terri L. Gorney, Jane Brooks Hine: An Indiana Bird Woman (self-published, 2014), Indiana State Library.
[3] “The Men of Science,” Indianapolis News, August 21, 1890, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.
[4] Amos W. Butler, Birds of Indiana with Illustrations of Many Species, pamphlet (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, First Published 1890), 5, 59, 63, 83-84, 92, 100, 102, 104-105, 117, GoogleBooks; Amos W. Butler, “A Catalogue of the Birds of Indiana” in Transactions of the Indiana Horticultural Society for the Year 1890 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1891), Appendix C, GoogleBooks.
[5] Transactions of the Indiana Horticultural Society for the Year 1890 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1891), 12, GoogleBooks.
[6] “Farmers’ Institute,” Waterloo Press, March 5, 1891, 1, Newspapers.com; “Sedan,” Waterloo Press, January 28, 1892, Newspapers.com.
[7] “Farmers’ Institute,” 1.
[8] Jane L. Hine, “Tyrant Flycatchers,” Waterloo Press, March 19, 1891, 5, Newspapers.com; Jane L. Hine, “ A Family of Feathered Friends,” in Forty-Second Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, 1892-1893 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1893), 555-56, GoogleBooks.
[9] Jane L. Hine, “ A Family of Feathered Friends,” in Forty-Second Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, 1892-1893 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1893), 555-56, GoogleBooks; W. S. Blatchley, ed., Indiana Department of Geology and Natural Resources Twenty-Second Annual Report (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1897), 544, GoogleBooks.
[10] W. S. Blatchley, ed., Indiana Department of Geology and Natural Resources Twenty-Second Annual Report (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Buford, Contractor for State Printing and Binding, 1897), 544, GoogleBooks.
[11] Farmer’s Guide, July 3, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, July 17, 1897, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, August 28, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, September 4, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks;  Farmer’s Guide, September 11, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, November 13, 1897, 11, GoogleBooks; Farmer’s Guide, February 22, 1902, 123, GoogleBooks.
[12] A. W. Butler, “Additional Notes on Indiana Birds,” in Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, 1894 (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1898), 162-166, HathiTrust.
[13] No Title, Waterloo Press, January 20, 1898, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Institute Proceedings,” Albion Noble Democrat, February 10, 1898, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Sedan Bulleted,” Waterloo Press, October 13, 1904, 8, Newspapers.com; “Sedan,” Waterloo Press, October 12, 1905, 8, NewspaperArchive.com.
[14] “Our Native Birds,” Waterloo Press, March 9, 1899, 5, Newspapers.com.
[15] “Our Indiana Bird Law,” Waterloo Press, November 24, 1903, 1, Newspapers.com.
[16]“The Twenty-Fourth Annual Congress of the American Ornithologists’ Union: Program,” in Bird Lore, edited by Frank M. Chapman (Harrisburg, PA and New York City: D. Appleton & Co., 1906), 212, GoogleBooks.
[17] “Local and General,” Indianapolis Daily Sun reprinted in the Waterloo Press, August 3, 1911, 4, Newspapers.com.
[18] Jane L. Hine, “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm,” in Biennial Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries and Game for Indiana (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1911), 294-470, GoogleBooks.
[19-22] Ibid.
[23] “Game and Land Birds of an Indiana Farm, Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 6, 1911, 1, NewspaperArchive.com; “Talked on Birds,” Waterloo Press, May 16, 1912, 1, Newspapers.com.
[24] “Personal Mention,” Waterloo Press, April 25, 1912, 5, Newspapers.com; “Local and General,” Waterloo Press, January 28, 1915, 8, NewspaperArchive.com; “All Around Pick Up,” Waterloo Press, May 27, 1915, 4, Newspapers.com; Indiana State Board of Health, “Jane Hine, Certificate of Death, February 11, 1916, Richland Township, DeKalb County, Indiana, p. 127, Indiana State Board of Health Death Certificates, 1900-2017, microfilm, Indiana Archives and Records Administration Roll Number 04, AncestryLibrary.com; “Mrs. Jane L. Hine Died Early Saturday Morning,” Waterloo Press, February 16, 1916, 1, 8, Newspapers.com.
[25] “Mrs. Jane L. Hine Died Early Saturday Morning,” 1.
[26] “Reports of Affiliated State Societies and Bird Clubs: Indiana Audubon Society” in Bird Lore, edited by Frank M. Chapman (Harrisburg, PA and New York City: D. Appleton & Co., 1917), 447, GoogleBooks; John Hall Sage, “Thirty-Fourth Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union,” in The Auk: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology 42, (1917), 76-77, GoogleBooks.

“I’m Lonely! Please Write:” The Search for Solidarity and the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE)

Members of IXE, Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

A note on terminology: This post examines gender non-conforming or gender-questioning individuals. This includes those who identified as “cross-dressers [CDs],” male/female “impersonators,” “transvestites [TVs],” “transsexuals [TSs],” and, in modern terminology, “transgender.” When unsure about how individuals identified or what pronouns they preferred, they will be referred to as the name that appears in relevant publications.

For gender non-conforming Hoosiers, the pursuit of kinship and shared identity was often fruitless, if not outright dangerous. Before the connectivity of the internet and the advocacy of organizations like Indiana Youth Group and GenderNexus, many were bereft of social opportunities and emotional support. Beginning in 1987, the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE) served these Hoosiers by providing social forums and offering resources to individuals struggling with gender identity. The group also challenged instances of discrimination within and outside of the LGBTQ community.

The Works newsletter provides a bit of insight into early Hoosier female impersonators (at least in predominantly-white areas of Indianapolis), who performed at bars along Virginia Avenue from the early 1900s until World War II. Articles in 1982 remarked on the resurgence in popularity of impersonators, noting that the Alley Cat Lounge and Disco had begun hosting weekly shows. By the mid-1980s, however, The Works reported that the queer community had been gatekeeping gender non-conforming or gender-questioning individuals, approximately 20,000 of whom lived in Indianapolis. In a 1984 Works article, Jim Chaffin—a gay, cisgender man—chastised the “drag queen” mentality among Indiana’s LGBTQ community. He implied that because society considered gay individuals too effeminate “more ‘normal’ acting gays” needed to come out. Couching his criticism in masculine rhetoric, Chaffin alleged of those who kept their identities private: “you guys don’t have the b*lls to just go ahead and say what you are.”

In the following issue, Roy Pershing, also known as LaNora Takie, fired back at Chaffin’s narrow view of queerness and Chaffin’s insistence that masculine gay men live publicly. The author noted that while Chaffin likely had good intentions, it is the “individuals’ business and no one else’s,” that:

‘We are told that we are wrong everyday by straights and others; so is it necessary for this kind of behavior to go on within the community?’ Furthermore, ‘Could you please tell me what your idea of a normal acting gay person is? Is it an overweight, big mouth who runs a male wh*re house or is it someone who dresses in leather from head to toe? . . . To me, a normal acting gay person is a person who is himself and doesn’t run around forcing him or her lifestyle’ on others.’

The author also felt that Chaffin’s use of “drag queen” was derogatory, and that Pershing/Takie considered themself to be an “entertainer” and “impersonator.”

Facing alienation in the Indianapolis area, some Hoosiers like Betty and Lori attended meetings in Cincinnati hosted by Cross-Port, a group that provided support and social opportunities for gender non-conforming people. According to Cross-Port’s newsletter InnerView, Lori was one of the first Hoosiers to attend these meetings, where she “stood close to seven foot in those spike heels, and spent much time ducking the beams in Heather’s basement.” By early 1987, Betty and Lori helped form a similar group in Indianapolis, called Iota Chi Sigma, better known as the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE). About thirteen people attended this first meeting, presided over by Chairperson Laura, who “received special recognition for wearing a dress.” In a Q&A published in InnerView, IXE described itself as a “gender group interested in helping gender conflicted persons in the context of a social meeting.” This included a broad range of individuals, who could “be anybody from the transvestite who just wants to wear womans [sic] panties to the transexual person who believes themselves to be of the opposite sex.” Cross-Talk, the “gender community’s news and information monthly,” remarked that IXE members, feeling that the “gender community was always too hard on itself,” sought to “show a ‘happier’ side.”

Kyle Niederpruem, “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” Indianapolis Star, 1989, H1, accessed Newspapers.com.

After their first gathering, IXE met the first Thursday of every month at the 21 Club, and within a year, attendance outgrew that of Cross-Port. InnerView noted that Cross-Port members sometimes traveled from Cincinnati to Indianapolis to attend IXE meetings and Christmas parties. While in town, visitors shopped at Glendale Mall and Stuart’s Shoes, and participated in fashion shows at the downtown Hyatt Regency. One self-conscious visitor reported that they were treated courteously at these shops.

By 1989, IXE had over 100 members residing in the tri-state area—which included Kentucky—helping forge a social network of support for the marginalized community. According to an Indianapolis Star piece entitled “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” most members were heterosexual men experiencing “gender conflict,” and came from a variety of professions, including carpentry, business, and law enforcement. The paper noted that once a month, about thirty members socialized at a Westside apartment clubhouse, many bringing their spouses. At one meeting, cosmologists gave members make up tips. At another, police officers advised them on how to avoid a “scene” in public.

The Star piece profiled IXE member Sharon Allan, who spent about 30% of his life dressing as a woman, undergoing “painful electrolysis” to achieve smooth skin, perming his hair, and piercing his ears. Sharon married his high school sweetheart, Ann, who knew about his cross-dressing from the beginning of their relationship. On their first date, she removed the choker from her neck and placed it around his. Ultimately, the couple divorced because Ann felt that although Sharon “is a wonderful person . . . his cross-dressing left no room for me as a woman in the marriage.'” Despite this blow, Sharon chose to be transparent about his identity with his young son in order to facilitate trust, stating, “‘I came to decide there was nothing wrong with what I was doing. There was nothing wrong with feeling feminine, inside or out.'”

Adam, a middle-aged health care professional, did not share Sharon’s perspective. According to the Star article, he began wearing women’s clothes as a teenager, but reported, “It’s not something I want to do. I got tired of feeling bad about myself. There were times I couldn’t control it.” Despite undergoing aversion therapy, Adam continued to dress in feminine clothing. His wife divorced him when she found out, and Adam noted, “It felt degrading to her and me as well. The discovery certainly was unpleasant. And it didn’t feel good to me. It was shaming.” Rita could empathize with Adam’s despair, having experienced two painful divorces. The northern Indiana police officer considered ending his life. Unlike Adam, Rita ultimately concluded that, despite having to keep the crossdressing aspect of his life private, “I wouldn’t give it up. If there was a magic pill, I wouldn’t take it.” The Star profile noted that Rita had begun wearing feminine clothing in elementary school. While in the Marines, he was able to shave his arms and legs “without attracting undue attention from his fellow leathernecks.”

Despite their personal struggles with shame and acceptance, gay bars afforded gender non-conforming Hoosiers a degree of shelter from harassment and discrimination. The Star noted that the venues were particularly important to this minority group because they provided a “place where men won’t try to pick them up.” However, these spaces dwindled when the 21 Club and G.G.’s closed, which according to the New Works News, prompted an influx of gender non-conforming patrons to other local gay bars. As demographics changed, some bar owners implemented exclusionary policies, perhaps reflecting the assertion of transgender activist Evan Greer in her 2018 piece for The Washington Post, that historically “the predominantly white, cis, gay, male leadership saw trans people as a threat to their slowly but surely growing social and economic political power.” Perhaps these discriminatory measures were an attempt to safeguard this hard-fought increase in social “legitimacy.”

In 1989, the New Works News reported on the fallout of the bar closings. Articles reported instances in which bar owners refused to serve cross-dressing and transgender individuals like Roberta Alyson and Kerry Gean. Dressed as the “woman I am deep inside of my biological male self,” Gean and friends went to the Varsity Lounge in February 1989. After they were seated, their server singled out Gean with a request for identification. The server then informed her that she was breaking the law because the photo on her I.D. did not identically match her face. Humiliated and hurt, she returned home, changed into “male” clothes, and upon return was immediately served.

Roberta Alyson, courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 1, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

By June, things were no better for Roberta Alyson, described by The Works as a “pre-operative transsexual.” Alyson was denied entrance to the gay bar Our Place on the grounds of not meeting dress code and identification not matching Alyson’s face, despite having a doctor’s note confirming the necessity of dressing as a woman. Bar officials got an off-duty officer who worked security to check the 31-year-old’s ID. The officer crumpled up the doctor’s note and Alyson “regrettably began to panic,” walking away from the parking lot. The officer pursued and arrested Alyson, who later said one of the back-up officers was abusive and tried to lift Alyson’s skirt. Alyson was charged with and fined for fleeing an officer. Alyson addressed the implications of such discrimination in a letter to the editor of The New Works News, noting Our Place’s dress code “flies in the face of the Stonewall Riots and sends a terrifyingly repressive message to the ‘straight’ community.”

Alyson received assistance from IXE, of which she was a member. That year, IXE had “joined Justice, Inc., a statewide umbrella organization for support and activist groups working in and with the gay/lesbian community. Justice has a full time lobbyist at the state capital.” Forging such partnerships would prove critical in challenging discrimination. With Justice’s help, IXE initiated a series of meetings with bar owners, excise police, and allies like the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. These gatherings provided a forum to exchange perspectives and to gain a better understanding of excise laws.

The groups initially gathered in July for a meeting facilitated by police officer and community liaison Shirley Purvitis. Remarking on the conflict within the queer community, she noted in the Star profile that crossdressers are “‘professional people with good jobs. They’re taxpayers. A lot of them have families. It’s time we started learning about them.'” As expected, the meeting was tense. Some owners claimed that they implemented policies, like denying entrance to those whose photo I.D.s did not reflect their apparent gender, because they feared breaking excise laws and making their businesses vulnerable to legal issues. Responding to these concerns, Excise Chief Okey reassured that “the only requirement that excise has for a person being served alcohol is that they be 21 years of age or older. . . . crossdressing, either male or female, is not grounds for refusal of service.”

Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

Other bar owners stated blatantly that they refused to admit these patrons because they intended to “‘preserve the established atmosphere of their bars.’” A 501 Tavern spokesperson stated that these individuals “‘were not wanted there,’ and if they had been admitted violence might have resulted. The bar owners also voiced the fear that if they admitted people in drag their regular patrons might leave.” Our Place owner David Morse sympathized with the 501 Tavern representative. He complained at a later meeting that new patrons had filled his bar with “boisterous, outrageous drag queens in double Dolly Parton wigs and that their presence was very disruptive” to the bar’s masculine ethos.

Works writer E. Rumbarger came away from this first meeting with a greater understanding of those who had been excluded from gay bars. Prior to attending, he had mused, “Did they eat their young? . . . Did they have two heads?” However, he was “very surprised and pleased to find that they were simply a group of very relaxed and congenial people who were ‘doing their own thing. . . . These men quite simply looked and acted like women or to be more precise—ladies.” He added that he could not fathom how any establishment would “object to their presence” and urged that “Greater knowledge and understanding is needed (and quickly) in the gay community regarding the wide diversity of groups that make up the community.” Similarly, Stan Berg, Works publisher and owner of the Body Works bath house, addressed Dee Gordon’s editorial, which criticized the push for greater inclusion. Berg opined that Gordon had articulated the:

feelings and actions of another owner of a gay business who, at one time, and for many years, kept out drags. Now, whether old age, an increasing tolerance for gays of all persuasions, or just the realization that bigotry was wrong, actually changed this business owner’s mind, I can’t tell you. But, that business owner is me. The bottom line is that your arguments are bigoted bullsh*t. My own reasons for keeping drags out of THE WORKS for seven years were also bigoted bullsh*t.

Kyle Niederpruem, “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” Indianapolis Star, 1989, H1, accessed Newspapers.com.

While the initial meeting spurred greater understanding among certain individuals, it failed to resolve turmoil within the broader community or result in specific policy reform. Upon IXE’s request, Justice, Inc. conducted a survey of those parties involved in the conflict and hosted a subsequent workshop in September. This workshop provided an opportunity to discuss injustices experienced by various groups within the community. Many voiced their anguish about discrimination within the lesbian community, against persons with AIDS, and along racial lines. At the center of the meeting, however, remained the exclusion of gender non-conforming individuals. IXE vice president Sharon Allan detailed the trials faced by crossdressers and drag queens, noting that they “are currently experiencing problems which the gay community faced years ago.”

However contentious, these meetings led to the reversal of policies at some bars and helped open the door to acceptance for other gender non-conforming individuals in Indianapolis. IXE members reported in September that they encountered less hostility at local establishments. Although bars like The Varsity maintained stringent policies, Tomorrow’s was much more welcoming. And while Jimmy’s did not reverse its I.D. policy, employees were more lenient about its enforcement. Roberta Alyson patronized the bar with a friend, who was also dressed in “female attire.” When the server approached, this friend instinctively searched their purse for identification, to which their server said “’Don’t worry about that, honey, we don’t do that kind of discriminating here.’” The Works noted that this action “on the part of Jimmy’s shows that people can change their mind” and should be commended for doing so.

Booth at Pride Week Picnic, New Works News, August 1989, 13, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

As the 1980s came to a close, the queer community seemed more tolerant—and perhaps welcoming—of gender non-conforming individuals. The Works announced in January 1990 that the owner of the 21 Club was opening 3535 West, which would “cater to all segments of the gay community.” The piece added, “Now that Indianapolis will finally have a gay meeting place where everyone is welcome, perhaps our gay visitors from out of town who have avoided coming here in recent months because of all the discriminatory nonsense taking place in some of the local bars, will once again return to Indy for a renewal of good times shared in the past.”

In 1990, at the first large outdoor Pride celebration, which took place on Monument Circle, people who staffed IXE’s booth reported that they were generally accepted, if not entirely understood. An unidentified member mused in the Works:

‘We all had lots of fun watching and talking. More often than not people would come up to our table and say hello and then look at what was on display and read the titles of the magazines and books, see the word ‘crossdressing’ and then look up at us and then down at the book and then back at us as a look of surprise and realization passed across their faces. . . . One girl was talking with Emily for five minutes before she looked down and saw the title ‘Understanding the Crossdresser’ and said with utter surprise, ‘Oh, I get it! You’re a guy! That’s cool. You know, I never understood why I can wear anything I want and guys can’t wear skirts.’

Similarly, public acceptance of crossdressers increased slightly following media profiles like that published by the Indianapolis Star about IXE. The feature’s author marveled that not only did she not receive vitriolic phone calls from readers after its publication, but got calls asking for more information about IXE. Indeed, Genny Beemyn contended in “Transgender History of the United States,” that in the early 1990s a “larger rights movement” emerged. Beemyn noted that this movement was “facilitated by the increasing use of the term ‘transgender’ to encompass all individuals whose gender identity or expression differs from the social norms of the gender assigned to them at birth.”

Dan Riley, courtesy of Tapestry: The Journal for All Persons Interested in Crossdressing and Transsexualism 58 (1991): 129, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Reflecting this movement, the Louisville Gender Society was formed in 1992, serving people living in southern Indiana and Illinois, as well as Kentucky. At the same time, IXE’s membership notably increased, as gender non-conforming Hoosiers searched for solidarity. In a 1991 Tapestry issue, Gloria C., a 33 year-old “transvestite” who lived in a small town, pleaded “I’m lonely! Please Write.” The auto racing and fishing fan hoped to meet “TV/TS” friends. IXE drew members like Michelle Michaels, a 40-year-old self-described transvestite who struggled with addiction resulting from the “guilt, shame, & confusion” of crossdressing. After getting sober, Michaels—who had three children and a supportive wife—joined IXE because of an ongoing struggle with “acceptance, self-esteem and balance.” Member Vickie Mansfield, “a young 47,” was involved in the Catholic Church, enjoyed “fine wines,” and was only “recently out of the closet.” Dan Riley, a 40-year-old “female-to-male” crossdresser, who enjoyed hiking and t’ai chi, joined the organization, in part, because Dan liked “helping others ‘coming out.’” Indianapolis funeral service supplier Yvonne Cook was not only a lifetime member IXE, but a leader and board member of the International Foundation for Gender Education.

IXE served such members until at least 2005. Although, no longer an organization as of 2023, IXE provided solidarity to so many Hoosiers in distress or suffering from loneliness. Additionally, its members’ activism and willingness to facilitate discussion helped change public perceptions about gender non-conforming individuals and contributed to greater inclusivity within the LGBTQ community. The struggle to obtain societal acceptance and secure civil rights in Indiana endures, as evidenced by recent debates about gender-affirming medical practices. Like the Indiana Crossdresser Society, groups like Trans Solutions Resources and Research, continue to fight, in the words of Sharon Allan, for “‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s a fundamental right.'”

 

Sources:

Genny Beemyn, “Transgender History in the United States,” in ed. Laura Erickson-Schroth, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, p. 28, accessed UMass Amherst.

Cross-Port InnerView (March 1987, June 1987, July 1987, August 1987, December 1987, July 1988, November 1988, January 1991, August 1991, September 1991, December 1992, June 1995, June 1996), Digital Transgender Archive.

Cross-Talk: The Transgendered Community’s Newsletter (September 1991, July 1992), Digital Transgender Archive.

Editorial, Jim Chaffin, “‘Hoosier Gay Boy, Come on Down!,'” The Works (October 1984): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

“Indiana,” Tapestry: The Journal for All Persons Interested in Crossdressing and Transsexualism 78 (Winter 1996): D38, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

“National Gender News,” Renaissance News 3, no. 1 (January 1989): 9, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Kyle Niederpruem, “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” Indianapolis Star, November 26, 1989, 115, accessed Newspapers.com.

“North American Support Groups,” Lady Like (Winter 2005): 44, accessed Internet Archive.

Editorial, Roy Pershing/LaNora Takie, “Darts from a ‘Drag,'” The Works (November 1984): 6, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

JoAnn Roberts, “The Iconoclast,” Renaissance News 6, no. 9 (September 1992): 7, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Tapestry: The Journal for All Persons Interested in Crossdressing and Transsexualism 58 (1991): 129-130, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Nicole Poletika, “’Walk a Mile in Their Pumps:’ Combating Discrimination within Indy’s Queer Community,” October 7, 2020, accessed Indiana History Blog.

Draft, Nicole Poletika, “’Walk a Mile in their Pumps:’ Combating Discrimination within Indianapolis’s Queer Community,” 2022 Queer History Conference paper, accessible here.

When Harry Refused to Serve Harry: Belafonte’s Visit to Purdue

Clipping, Debris (Purdue University’s yearbook), 1957, p. 27, accessed Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.

In 1956, Black activist Harry Belafonte was one of the top performers in the United States and his album, Belafonte, reached #2 on the Billboard Chart. When he performed two shows of “Sing, Man, Sing” at the Purdue University Hall of Music on May 5, it was a major hit. Before the first performance,  Belafonte visited Purdue’s famous drinking establishment, Harry’s Chocolate Shop. However, proprietor Harry J. Marlack refused to serve him due to the color of his skin.

Born in Harlem to Jamaican parents, Belafonte experienced discrimination throughout his life. In 1944, while serving in the U.S. Navy, Belafonte was denied entry to New York’s famous Copa Cabana because he was Black. When Belafonte achieved stardom in the 1950s, the Copa Cabana offered him a lucrative contract to perform there. He infuriated the owner by spurning the offer, citing the discrimination he faced at their door years earlier in his decision.

In Spring 1956, Belafonte met Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time in the basement of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Belafonte committed to “help [King] in any way I could. And for the next twelve years, that’s what I did.”[i] When he concluded the first show at Purdue, Belafonte kept his promise to King and addressed the audience about the discriminatory act and what he thought of it. His words angered Purdue officials and the campus buzzed. While Purdue students and staff talked about the incident at Harry’s Chocolate Shop and Belafonte’s speech for weeks afterward[ii], nothing was written about the incident. This prompted a Ph.D. student, David Caplan, to write a letter to the editor of The Exponent, Purdue’s student newspaper. Caplan wrote:

Many Purdue students and staff members have been talking about a recent incident that took place in ‘Harry’s Chocolate Shop’ when Harry Belafonte and his troupe were in town. Why has no mention been made of this in the Exponent? Certainly an incident of such scope deserves at least a news item, if not an editorial. Burying one’s head in the sand does not change the facts that have occurred. Why has this story not been reported?

The Exponent editor responded to Caplan by writing, “the Exponent has followed and will continue to follow the accepted journalistic practice of not publishing ‘cold’ news or facts that have been distorted by personal opinion or hearsay. The Exponent staff refuses to yield to ‘rabble-rousers’ or free-publicity seekers.”[iii]

Behind the scenes, Purdue University officials had zero tolerance for Belafonte’s civil rights message. In a 1977 interview with the Lafayette Journal & Courier, former director of Purdue Musical Organizations, Al Stewart, talked about many famous people he had met during his long career. Of Belafonte, Stewart opined:

He finished a 7 p.m. show with an angry jab at racial discrimination at a local drinking place. I warned him never to do that again or he’d never get another booking anywhere in the U.S. Second show, Dr. Hovde (Purdue President Frederick L. Hovde) and I sat in the front row and tape-recorded the whole thing as evidence if we needed it. It was a beautiful show.

Stewart’s comments demonstrated stunning hubris. Belafonte was on top of the entertainment world in 1956. He had the #2 album in the United States. In June, he released a second album, Calypso, that spent a record ninety-nine weeks on the Billboard Chart. He headlined Broadway shows and top-tier venues across the country. He played the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles and the Palmer House in Chicago. He broke Lena Horne’s attendance record at the Venetian Room in San Francisco, and broke the color barrier and Frank Sinatra’s attendance record at Waldorf’s Empire Room in New York City. Furthermore, it’s impossible to imagine Stewart belittling Sinatra or Elvis Presley—Belafonte’s peers at the time.

By the time Stewart made his remarks in 1977, the Civil Rights Act had become law thirteen years earlier. Belafonte had recorded a campaign ad for John Kennedy, mediated between Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show ten times, hosted the Tonight Show for a full week, had four gold records, starred in movies, and was a world-renowned civil rights leader. For Stewart to think he could have curtailed this superstar’s career is laughable, had it not been so bigoted. In response to racism, university officials told a Black man “Shut up and sing.”

Belafonte (right) at the National Black Political Convention, cover of William Greaves’s Nationtime film.

Harry Belafonte would refuse to “shut up and sing.” Rather, upon his return visits to Indiana, he used his voice to advance racial justice. He donated significant funds to Gary candidate Richard Hatcher’s mayoral campaign and vocalized his support for the unlikely candidate in national media outlets. Belafonte’s efforts helped make Richard Hatcher one of the first Black mayors of a major American city. In 1972, Belafonte returned to Gary to perform at the unprecedented National Black Political Convention, taking the opportunity to implore the massive audience to engage in political reform.

In January 2017, Belafonte returned to Purdue University, serving as keynote speaker for the university’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s celebration, themed “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Where Do We Go From Here?” At age 89, he knew his life’s work was unfinished and he delivered a rousing speech on justice, civic engagement, and meaningful art. Audience member Sandra Sydnor told the Journal & Courier “’I was overwhelmed by his presence. . . . We were just staying rooted in spot, not wanting to leave after he left because of his persona, because of his spirit.’” Belafonte passed away April 25, 2023, but this spirit would endure, along with his legacy of racial justice and equal rights activism.

* This piece will be featured in the author’s upcoming book, Dispatches from a Northern Hoosier.

 

Notes:

[i] Harry Belafonte and Michael Shnayerson, My Song: A Memoir  (New York: Penguin Random House, 2011), 150.

[ii] Conversation between the author and All-American football player Bernie Flowers, 1995.

[iii] The Purdue Exponent, May 23, 1956.

[iv] Lafayette Journal & Courier, November 13, 1977.
Stewart’s judgment is questionable. Belafonte referred to Sing, Man, Sing as “my one indisputable career bomb.” My Song: A Memoir, 142.

The Plight of Desertion: Jewish Families at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Immigrants, Ellis Island, 1907, courtesy of Library of Congress.

The turn of the twentieth century was marked by record rates of family desertion in the United States, especially among eastern European Jewish immigrant families. A family was considered deserted if the male head of household withheld his wages or if he were to leave and no longer offer monetary support.[i] Jewish women who were deserted by their husbands were left in a particularly vulnerable and liminal state; they were neither widowed nor wed, yet Jewish law dictated that they were bound to their spouse until a divorce could be obtained.[ii]

Rates of family desertion, or the act of a primary caregiver leaving their family without providing support, have been shown to significantly rise in times of mass migration, which made it a pressing issue as over two million eastern European Jews immigrated to the United States at the turn of the twentieth century.[iii] While it is not known how many women were victims of desertion during this migration period, data from Jewish philanthropic organizations suggest it affected a large number  of women.[iv] Between 1900 and 1922, approximately 15% of aid distributed by Jewish charitable agencies in the United States was granted to deserted women and their families, most of which was granted to Jewish women and families due to their large migration numbers.[v]

The Struggles of Immigration

The pattern of Jewish migration was typically that of a family migration, though families were often disrupted throughout the process.[vi] The head of the household, who was generally the husband, would emigrate alone, later to be joined by their kin. The men would arrive in their new country, settle down, find a job, and build up the necessary funds to bring the remaining relatives to join them, typically in two to three years’ time.[vii] This separation placed great stress on families.

Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1904, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Upon arriving to the United States, the search for employment, long working hours, health issues, and poor living conditions took a heavy toll on immigrants. On top of these stressors, many Jewish immigrants did not know how to read or write, and therefore had to rely on the aid of others if they wished to write home. These limitations made contacting relatives difficult, if not impossible. Families were often left with silence for months or years at a time, waiting to hear that their loved one had made it to the United States, and that they were actively working towards a reunion in the New World.[viii]

Following immigration, many families experienced new tensions and challenges within the home, which threatened the stability of family units. Members of families, who were separated during the emigration process, often felt alienated from each other and their relationships became irreparable.[ix] American influences encouraged men to act more aggressively if they wished to thrive in their new capitalist country, while women were expected to behave in more submissive manners than the roles which they had previously assumed, drastically altering family dynamics.[x] Marriages established in eastern Europe were rarely the product of love and were more often based on tradition; after living in the United States for an extended period of time, it was not uncommon for married couples to simply drift apart to the point of incompatibility or to develop romantic relationships with new partners.[xi] Generational conflict, typically related to irreligiousness of children, placed stress on household relationships and generated feelings of shame, humiliation, and disconnectedness.[xii] As a result of the new tensions in their relationships, many men did not seek divorces and, instead, turned towards desertion as a solution. This became such an occurrence that National Desertion Bureau president Walter Liebman labeled the process a “poor man’s divorce.”[xiii]

For some men, however, desertion was an attempt to assist their families. They would leave their families behind to better their conditions and earn funds. By leaving without a word, though it caused much distress, many husbands felt confident that charities would offer assistance. Samuel Sorbel, a lawyer who worked on desertion cases in Indiana in 1908, reported in an August 29th, 1908 Evansville Courier and Press article that deserters often told him: “Well, as long as I was here the charities wouldn’t do anything for them, and I knew that if I went away they would feed the wife and children and keep a roof over their heads.” For these men, desertion felt like a mercy to their loved ones. By leaving their families and seeking employment in a different city, the men could save up money for their return home while local charities supported their families in the meantime. This outcome was preferable to making the difficult choice of whether to pay rent or to put food on the table with an inadequate income. Unfortunately, the aid given to deserted families during the man’s absence was not as grand as many men had hoped; Sorbel stated he had never met a case of desertion that was without destitution.

The Role of Philanthropic Organizations and the National Desertion Bureau

Evansville Courier and Press, August 29, 1908.

Jewish charitable organizations sought to assist deserted women in a number of ways. When working with a deserted family, most organizations hoped to locate missing husbands and reunite them with their families. This process, however, could take months, or even years, to complete. In the meantime, Jewish charitable organizations attempted to assist deserted families through financial and material charity, though the support was generally minimal.[xiv] The relationship between charitable organizations and immigrants—both the husbands and the wives— was tense and, at times, discriminatory and victim-blaming.

Anti-desertion campaigns were typically organized and managed by middle-class men who saw themselves as the protectors of women and children, many of whom were German Jewish Americans.[xv] These reformers had relative control over the public narrative surrounding desertion, spinning deserters as burdens to society. According to a May 12, 1920 Fort Wayne Sentinel article, deserters were “the arch villains of society, the primary cause of all social distress, the perpetrators rather than the victims of all social evils.” These reformers attempted to separate their own male identities from those of deserters by challenging the latter’s manhood, often painting working-class deserters as cowardly, unambitious, and incapable of becoming proper breadwinners for their families. Working-class families never fully adopted the ideal of having a male breadwinner due to their low wages, but this concept was of central importance to the middle-class’s understanding of manhood.[xvi]

Upon seeking external assistance, deserted women became subject to much public scrutiny and judgement. Philanthropic organizations consistently looked to categorize the people to whom they provide aid—a person’s marital status merited how much, if any, assistance should be granted to their case.[xvii] Immigrants who requested aid were studied for shortcomings or plausible blame for their being deserted. Nearly any characteristic or action of a woman could be twisted into rational for her circumstances; some women were criticized for their inability or unwillingness to forgo their traditions and customs to “Americanize” and assimilate to American customs, while others became too indulgent in material consumption and American trends.[xviii]

Jewish Welfare Federation of Indianapolis Relief Card for Mrs. Morris Cohen, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

In Indianapolis, the Jewish Welfare Federation (JWF) of Indianapolis provided a great deal of support to deserted families. One such case of support was that for the Cohen family. On August 17, 1914, applied for aid from the JWF of Indianapolis after Morris Cohen deserted her and six of their seven children. Mr. Cohen had left for St. Louis, taking along one of their sons, Isidor. By the time the Federation had made contact with the United Jewish Charities in St. Louis, the two Cohens had relocated once again with no indication of their destination.[xix]

Just over a year later on November 15, 1915, the JWF discovered that Morris and Isidor had moved to in Birmingham, Alabama, where the latter was employed at a department store. Isidor encouraged the family to join the two in Birmingham, but Mrs. Cohen* was hesitant to do so; Morris had habitually moved from city to city the prior fourteen years, thus she questioned the finality of the move. Additionally,  elder children were employed in positions they did not wish to lose, her three youngest children were well settled in school, and one was ill with pneumonia. The Federation contacted Isidor’s employers, Birmingham’s Federation of Jewish Charities, and a local Rabbi to gauge what would be the best action for the Cohen family. Following the correspondence, the JWF of Indianapolis agreed with Mrs. Cohen and believed it would be best for the family to stay in Indianapolis, and for her husband to send monetary support or to return to the city. Records suggest Morris obliged with the latter, and the family did not require further support from the JWF of Indianapolis.[xx]

Philanthropic organizations like the JWF quickly became inundated by the sheer number of women seeking assistance during the spike in immigration in the early 1900s. In 1909, the United Hebrew Charities reported that for every three relief applications received by widows, two were received from deserted women.[xxi] Desertion became such a strain on charitable organizations and state services that Jewish Americans feared, “Mah yomru hagoyim” (What will the gentiles say?”).[xxii] This concern contributed to the development of the United Hebrew Charities’ National Desertion Bureau (NDB) in 1905. The Bureau worked to locate deserters and return them home, or, if a deserter was unwilling to return, to negotiate support on behalf of his family.[xxiii] These negotiations would be finalized in front of a judge in the “Court of Tears,” aptly named due to the emotional distress associated with the hearings.

Gallery of Missing Husbands, printed in the Forward 9 June, 1912, accessed https://www.jewishgen.org/databases/usa/missinghusbands.html.

The NDB corresponded with local charities, organizations, religious institutions, and employers when attempting to locate missing husbands, much like the JWF had done in the case of the Cohen family. The NDB would gather the husband’s name, date of disappearance, physical description, photographs, and additional information that might be of assistance in locating him. Case descriptions and photos were frequently published in Yiddish newspapers in the cities of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Montreal, and Toronto—cities to which deserters often fled. These postings became part of the newspapers’ “Gallery of Missing Husbands,” which pleaded for members of the public to inform the NDB if a deserter was found. These public tips were then used to apprehend the men so a solution could be found to satisfy both him and his family. It served a secondary purpose of attempting to prevent  desertion; the gallery made it clear to men who read the paper that if they were to desert their families, they could be publicly humiliated.[xxiv]

Neglected Children

Indianapolis Orphan’s Asylum, circa 1885, courtesy of the Indiana Album.

Desertion not only took a toll on immigrant wives, but it also deeply affected their children. For every ten families which applied for relief from charitable organizations, one came from a deserted family. Additionally, one of four children committed to orphanages at the time had been deserted by one, or both, of their parents; after desertion, some women felt that giving up their child was the only option as they struggled to provide adequate care and daily necessities.[xxv] Children who remained in the home felt the effects of desertion through parental neglect and the need to work to help the household. These stressors led deserted children to struggle with emotional instability and/or delinquency later in their lives.[xxvi]

This is precisely what happened to the Behrman family Louis Behrman deserted his wife and children in the summer of 1905, leaving them behind in Indianapolis while he took refuge in Chicago. found herself without support from her husband and responsible for ten children, the youngest of which was three years old and the eldest twenty years old. She and two of her children attempted to support the family, making a total of $12.50 a week. Trying to ease the burden on their family, Nathan and Robert Behrman, twelve and eight years old respectively, were caught stealing and begging and were committed to a day nursery for seven months as consequence, adding yet another stressor to the family’s circumstances. The JWF assisted the Behrman family until the husband could be found. Louis Behrman was arrested for contributing to their delinquency, received a fine, and was sentenced to a workhouse. He returned to his family after serving his sentence. Charitable organizations like the JWF of Indianapolis provided much needed services to the struggling families affected by desertion, providing resources, support, and a chance for justice against deserters.[xxvii]

Letter from Stern Brothers Clothiers and Shoers regarding Louis Behrman’s desertion of his family, 1907, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, M0463, Box 264, Folder 26.

A History of Hardship

Early-twentieth-century Jewish immigrants were not alone in their hardships. Desertion and family neglection were an issue for many immigrants, regardless of their origin and background. Catholics, for example, addressed issues of desertion through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but Catholic charities aided deserted families on a case-by-case basis. Jewish charities, on the other hand, identified desertion as a greater social problem in need of fixing and established national connections, including those with charities and businesses across the country, with which to address it. This unique approach stemmed from the fear of American Jews, who believed widespread discussion of family desertion in the Jewish community could encourage new waves of antisemitism.[xxviii]

Despite the fact that immigrants founded the United States, the country has rarely welcomed newcomers with open arms. There is a common misconception in the twenty-first century that European immigrants in the twentieth century became Americans with ease, persevering and prospering in a growing economy. Historically, however, adversities plagued every step of the immigration process, and fear of how these challenges were perceived by the greater public caused much stress in both existing and developing communities. The same can be said of immigrants today. By recognizing this historic trend, America has the opportunity to reduce this burden and provide better support to future immigrants. It is clear through the efforts of organizations like the National Desertion Bureau that creating specialized departments for societal problems can help those in need, and doing so would positively impact both native and foreign-born Americans.

 

* The author was unable to locate the first name of Mrs. Cohen or Mrs. Behrman.

For a bibliography, click here.

Notes:

[i] Reena Sigman Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband Who Is In New York City:’ Husband Desertion in the American Jewish Immigrant Community 1900-1926,” Jewish Social Studies 44, no. 1 (1982): 4.

[ii] Anna R. Igra, Wives Without Husbands: Marriage, Desertion, & Welfare in New York, 1900-1935 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 2.; Gur Alroey, “‘And I Remained Alone in a Vast Land:’ Women in the Jewish Migration from Eastern Europe,” Jewish Social Studies 12, no. 3 (2006): 62; Bluma Goldstein, Enforced Marginality: Jewish Narratives on Abandoned Wives (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007), 2-6.

[iii] Alroey, “‘I Remained Alone,’” 60; Lindsey Mintz, “A Century of Jewish Education in Indianapolis: 1860 to 1960,” Indiana Jewish History 35, no. 1 (2003): 14-15.

[iv] Alroey, “‘I Remained Alone,’” 60.

[v] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 5.

[vi] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 10; Paula E. Hyman, “Eastern European Immigration,” in Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Paula E. Hyman (London: Routledge, 1998), 346-347.

[vii] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 10-11; Alroey, “‘I Remained Alone,’” 59-60; Hyman, “Eastern European Immigration,” 346-347.

[viii] Alroey, “‘I Remained Alone,’” 62; Hyman, “Eastern European Immigration,” 348-349.

[ix] Alroey, “‘I Remained Alone,’”59; Hyman, “Eastern European Immigration,” 349.

[x] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 3-4.

[xi] Alroey, “‘I Remained Alone,’” 286-287.

[xii] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 3-5.

[xiii] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 43; Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 4.

[xiv] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 7; Hyman, “Eastern European Immigration,” 346-347; Caroline Light, “‘A Predominant Cause of Distress:’ Gender, Benevolence, and the ‘Agunah’ in Regional Perspective,” American Jewish History 97, no. 2 (2013): 166-167.

[xv] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 3-4; Fridkis, “Desertion,” 289-291.

[xvi] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 3-5.

[xvii] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 2, 78-81; Light, “‘A Predominant Cause of Distress,’” 167.

[xviii] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 5-6; Light, “‘A Predominant Cause of Distress,’” 166-167.

[xix] Correspondence regarding Morris Cohen, 1913-1916, Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Records, 1880-() Collection (M0463, Box 264, Folder 40), Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN.

[xx] Correspondence regarding Morris Cohen, 1913-1916, Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Records, 1880-() Collection (M0463, Box 264, Folder 40).

[xxi] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 1.

[xxii] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 15.

[xxiii] Hyman, “Eastern European Immigration,” 349.

[xxiv] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 11; Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 23-26. Goldstein, Enforced Marginality, 92-100.

[xxv] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 8.; Goldstein, Enforced Marginality, 112-114.

[xxvi] Friedman, “‘Send Me My Husband,’” 8.

[xxvii] Correspondence regarding Louis Behrman, 1905-1912, Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Records, 1880-() Collection (M0463, Box 264, Folder 26), Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN.

[xxviii] Igra, “Wives Without Husbands,” 9.

 

Jewish Immigrant Assimilation and Labor in the Early Twentieth Century

Women from an Indianapolis citizens class, courtesy of the Neighborhood of Saturdays archive.

Since the early 1800s, Jews have lived and worked in the Hoosier State. Indiana’s Jewish population has fluctuated over time, with  immigration increasing at the turn of the twentieth century. As Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States, many settled in the Midwest, as new factories and businesses sought laborers. In comparison to their treatment in the South, the Midwest was more accepting of immigrants than other parts of the country. On December 22, 1907, the Indianapolis Star reported that upon arriving in Louisiana to look for work, a group of thirty immigrants from southern Europe were “attacked, beaten and robbed” not once, but twice. Such violence in the South was common and, therefore, encouraged immigrants to stay in the North and Midwest.

Jewish identity in America has changed over time. At times of early settlement and migration, Jewish communities were comprised of a variety of cultures, traditions, and practices. Early Jewish immigrants were mostly Ashkenazi Jews from Germany while immigrants who arrived later included Sephardic Jews from southern Europe and other Ashkenazi Jews from eastern Europe.[i] In the early twentieth century, as native-born Americans began to scrutinize and resist immigration, established Ashkenazi Jews began to push for the assimilation of Jewish immigrants in attempts to mitigate waves of antisemitism. As part of this initiative, Jewish philanthropic organizations provided the newcomers with aid and employment opportunities, forever changing the cultural landscape of the United States as philanthropic organizations relocated immigrants from New York to cities across the country like Indianapolis, Evansville, and Fort Wayne. While the newcomers were aided by organizations like the Jewish Federation, these same organizations often encouraged the erasure of cultural markers and traditions in an attempt to avoid increasing antisemitism in Indiana.

The “Jewish Question”

The “Jewish Question” was used by writers, philosophers, and theologians beginning in the nineteenth century to argue that a Jewish presence in society was a problem that must be solved. To many supporters of the belief, the “solution” was for Jews to discard their traditions and customs to assimilate into society. Racial antisemites, however, argued that there were no true solutions because Jews were members of a separate, unchangeable race who were incapable of assimilating.

Antisemitism has been encoded in texts throughout history on every continent, in different languages and in different cultures. Its reach is unparalleled both historically and in the present moment as the group is repeatedly depicted as the “other,” removed from society and painted as incapable of true integration.[ii] In an Evansville Journal October 24th, 1923 article, the Ku Klux Klan illustrated this point with the statement:

As a race the Jewish are law-abiding. They are of physically wholesome stock. They are mentally alert. They are a family people. But their homes are not American, but Jewish homes, into which we cannot go and from which they will never emerge for a real intermingling with America.

This statement was published nearly a century after Jews began emigrating to the United States. Yet, in that century, antisemitism in America persisted. In fact, antisemitism spread across the country and developed a strong foothold in this time, reaching a peak in the 1920s and 1930s.[iii] While the experiences of Jewish immigrants in the nineteenth century and those in the twentieth century differ, the persistence of antisemitism deeply affected both groups and influenced Jewish settlement trends.

Boston Globe, August 15, 1909, accessed Newspapers.com.

Early Jewish settlement in the United States began in the 1840s and 1850s, when German Jewish immigrants arrived with the hope of finding new opportunities. Many of these early arrivals became well established as merchants and business owners. These early immigrants experienced less systematic and social prejudice compared to that experienced by later waves of eastern and southern European Jews, who would arrive at the turn of the twentieth century.[iv] German Jewish immigrants frequently rejected the practices and behaviors associated with what they saw as “traditional” Jewish life; for their part, eastern European Jews were typically more invested in Jewish cultural practices, and they were more easily identifiable as members of Orthodox sects, such as the Hasidim. [v]

Incidents of antisemitism and nationalism began to escalate at the turn of the twentieth century as the U.S. experienced  a large influx of eastern European Jews—between the years of 1881 and 1924, roughly 2.5 million eastern European Jews emigrated to the country.[vi]  The September 29th, 1903 issue of the Indianapolis Journal published an article titled “Danger of Immigration,” which featured a sermon from New York Reverend Robert S. MacArthur, in which he cautioned against the influx of foreigners:

The recent marvelous expansion in American life has given a cosmopolitan character. . . . We must, however, teach the old world that it cannot empty its poorhouses and prisons by dumping its paupers, Anarchists and other criminals on American soil. American is worthy the best immigrants.

Jewish Americans feared these kinds of perceptions would grow in the public’s mind and thus took action. Jewish leaders created and expanded organizations and charities to aid Jews upon their arrival in New York. One such Jewish philanthropic organization assisted thousands of immigrants in relocating from New York to over 1,000 cities across the country.[vii] Together with this relocation initiative, community organizations—such as the Indiana Jewish Welfare Federation of Indianapolis—developed assimilation education resources intent on rapidly “Americanizing” the newcomers.

Assimilation, Acculturation, and Americanization

The concepts of “assimilation” and “acculturation” have long been central to discussions of immigration. Their definitions have continued to evolve over time, with historians and social scientists debating what it means to assimilate or acculturate.[viii] The literature on immigration typically defines acculturation as the process whereby a minority group or individual adopts elements of another cultural group and integrates them into their native cultural practices. Assimilation is an outcome of the acculturation process, in which the individual completely adopts the practices and lifestyles of another cultural group while losing those of their culture of origin.[ix]

These concepts became more mainstream at the turn of the twentieth century as the United States saw unprecedented rates of immigration. The country’s discussion was narrowed even further as the idea of “Americanization” emerged. Similar to assimilation, Americanization implied the adoption of “American” behaviors, practices, and values. What specific traits, however, identified a person as distinctly “American” versus “non-American” were difficult to pinpoint.[x]

Letter from Chas Graf, accessed Ancestry.com.

Upon their arrival in the United States, immigrants experienced culture shock in their new surroundings, regardless of their origin. For those who did not have family and friends already established in the country, it was difficult to move away from New York, as they were unfamiliar with the country and transportation systems. Outside of New York, it could be difficult to adhere to Jewish practices; Chas Graff reflected in a July 22nd, 1908 [xi] that it was impossible to find kosher meat anywhere near Logansport, Indiana (photo included). Because Jewish populations were small throughout Indiana, this issue consistently arose during the early twentieth century. Language barriers were an additional challenge, as many immigrants had limited proficiency in English. An Indianapolis Jewish immigrant named William Silberman reflected to the IRO in an undated letter, “I don’t know where to go and don’t master the English.”[xii]

Beginning in the late 1800s and gaining in popularity in the 1900s, an Americanization education movement took hold across the United States with the goal of expediting the assimilation process. A hierarchy of immigrants was established, with the light-skinned, blonde haired so-called “Old Stock” immigrants from northern and western Europe being viewed as superior to the dark-skinned southern and eastern Europeans. The former was considered to be model immigrants, known for their quick assimilation and gentile practices, while the latter were viewed as unrefined, poor-mannered individuals in dire need of education on how to “properly” behave.[xiii]

Labor: Barriers and Opportunities

At the time of this mass migration, the United States’s labor market was drastically changing. Manufacturers moved towards models of mass production, seeking to reduce employee downtime and increase production, and unions began to form to advocate for workers’ rights and workplace condition improvements. Unfortunately, many unions would not accept Jews into their organizations on the basis of not meeting a central criterion: being white.[xiv] While their predecessors, Ashkenazi German Jewish immigrants who arrived in the nineteenth century, were typically better accepted by their neighbors due to their practicing of Reform Judaism, Sephardic Jewish immigrants and Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe were more racialized. This racialization reduced opportunities for these groups, limiting what types of jobs and compensation were available to them to a greater extent than their German predecessors.[xv]

Jewish community members began to grow concerned about the gentile public’s perception of Jews changing due to these so-called ghettos. They were concerned that judgement of the new wave of immigrants would affect the livelihoods of the Jewish immigrants who had arrived years prior.[xvi] Journalistic entities were taking notice of the change, frequently publishing stories reflecting on the country’s Jewish presence. On August 8th, 1907, for instance, the Indianapolis News featured a story titled “Wave of Crime Due to Idle Immigrants.” The article suggested that immigrants in New York struggled to find and hold employment in the congested city and, as a result, the unemployed were “attacking children” because they were simply “floating around with nothing to do.” The author suggested immigrants would be of much more useful if they were sent elsewhere and utilized for labor, writing: “Now they are picking pockets, whereas if they were in the South, they would be picking cotton.”

Despite their desire to work and establish themselves in America, eastern and southern European immigrants were criticized and critiqued for their presence in the country and questioned for their work ethic. During this mass migration period, newspapers published numerous articles comparing the newcomers to previous immigrants, claiming that their predecessors were more intelligent, hardy, and industrious and “better stock.” This argument has persisted throughout history—every immigration period is met with resistance, and new arrivals are often compared to and classified as inferior to those who arrived years earlier. However, every generation of immigrants is burdened with problems similar to their predecessors. The United States continues to resist immigration today by using the same arguments as were seen in the early twentieth century, questioning the character of new arrivals, debating whether their labor was beneficial to the country, and making declarations that previous immigrants were better suited for life in America. Immigrants have historically been identified as burdens on society unless they were skilled in a trade or willing to work undesirable jobs, which has often led to their exploitation.

Many companies used this period of mass migration to exploit the labor of incoming immigrants, locking them into contracts with unlivable wages. Isaac Benjamin Cohen, a former resident of Indianapolis’s Southside, immigrated from Monastir in 1906. Upon landing at Ellis Island, Cohen was approached by representatives from a mining company, who offered him a position in Wheeling, West Virginia. Cohen accepted the offer, hoping to save up the money necessary to bring his wife and two daughters to join him in America. The work was laborious, and the wages were so little that after months of working for the company, Cohen was indebted to them and not permitted to leave. He felt that he had no choice but to escape in the night. Upon doing so, he rode a train to Chicago, where he was given word that jobs were available in Indianapolis. The Circle City provided him with better opportunities, allowing him to earn a livable wage and eventually pay for his family’s voyage to the country.[xvii]

The Industrial Removal Office

With the influx of eastern European immigrants arriving in New York, established Jewish Americans, many of them with their origins in western Europe, particularly Germany, feared the growing presence of Yiddish-speaking eastern European Jews and Sephardic southern European Jews in New York would create new waves of antisemitism, which in turn could threaten their own status as respected Americans. Beyond the concerns for their own reputations, Jewish Americans sympathized with immigrants and did not wish to see them exploited. These motivations inspired the creation of the Industrial Removal Office (IRO) in 1901.[xviii]  The organization was established to aid Jewish immigrants living in New York, providing transportation and temporary support to those who were willing to resettle in smaller cities across the country.

The IRO framed its mission in terms of how immigrant relocation could benefit cities of the United States by providing needed labor and stimulating local economies. This was not a unique initiative. A handful of Jewish charities had previously attempted to relocate immigrants to agricultural communities in states like Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and the Dakotas. However, these relocation programs were disorganized and typically unsuccessful in terms of long-term placements. The majority of Jewish immigrants had little knowledge about farming, lived in terrible conditions in the settlements, and preferred city life.[xix] The IRO, for its part, played to the immigrants’ strengths, placing them in cities with familiar work and supporting their establishment. It operated in a highly-organized manner and was in communication with many employers, religious leaders, and organizations throughout the country.

Upon seeking aid from the IRO, Jewish laborers were assessed on their character—the organization relocated only those immigrants whom officials deemed to be of respectable character and strong work ethic. The IRO was in constant communication with its own representatives, employers, and Jewish organizations in many major U.S. cities. The New York office received requests for laborers and would do its best to send qualified individuals—whom it called “removals” —to fill the positions. While many immigrants were eager to utilize the services of the IRO, others were hesitant to leave New York or were too frightened to pick up and move once again.[xx]

Map of immigrants relocated through the IRO. Photo via Robert Rockaway, “The Industrial Removal Office,” accessed Tablet Magazine.

The efforts of the IRO brought many Jewish immigrants to Indianapolis and other Indiana towns such as Anderson, Evansville, Logansport, Fort Wayne, and South Bend. The IRO worked with a handful of local businesses to secure employment for removals. Because many of the new arrivals were typically well trained in the garment trades, Kahn Tailoring Company became one of the IRO’s most valuable contacts in Indianapolis.

Kahn Tailoring Company had begun as a small tailor shop in 1886 and had rapidly expanded. As the son of German Jewish immigrants, its founder, Henry Kahn, was sympathetic to the Jewish immigrants arriving in New York. He attempted to assist in their resettlement processes by collaborating with the IRO to hire skilled workers. Kahn Tailoring Company was known for not only hiring new Sephardic immigrants, in particular, but also for providing them with generous benefits and educational opportunities which may have otherwise been unobtainable.

Call for coat makers, Industrial Removal Office Records, 1899-1922, Box 97, Folder 21, Series X: Correspondence of Immigrants, (1901-1921), accessed Ancestry.com.

After immigrants arrived in their new cities and secured employment, IRO officials would typically provide check-ins to evaluate the success of the removal. If problems arose, the representatives would meet with the immigrant to discuss potential solutions. If a city was deemed an ill fit for the worker, the IRO would assist in relocating him to a different city. Otherwise, the IRO would hand the case off to local Jewish charities, such as the Jewish Welfare Federation (JWF) of Indianapolis, who would provide further assistance. The JWF provided translators to bridge the language barrier of many immigrants, as well as offering legal aid, monetary allowances, and allotments of physical goods, such as coal, groceries, and clothing.[xxi]

Because of the industrial nature of many of the positions filled by the IRO, removals often found themselves in dangerous workplace environments. In the case of Russian immigrant Moses Cohen, within a month of being placed in a job at Connersville, Indiana, he lost his arm to a press machine accident. Cohen had a wife and child in Russia, a child in New York, and four children in Indianapolis to support. The JWF stepped in on Cohen’s behalf to secure him a moderate settlement for the injury and to protect his employment.[xxii] This intervention provided much needed support to the Cohen family, securing Mr. Cohen’s income which may have otherwise been lost due to his permanent injury.

Not every new arrival was satisfied to work in factories, however. Many people emigrated to the United States with the hopes of becoming entrepreneurs and business owners.  For the IRO removals who arrived in Indianapolis without trade skills but with dreams of self-employment, the JWF often provided loans or small allowances and encouraged peddling. In the early twentieth century, the Indianapolis streets were filled with horse-drawn wagons, pushcarts, and market stands. For some, this early peddling led to the development and establishment of full-fledged businesses.[xxiii] This was also an option for those who could no longer handle their jobs. Chas Cassalori immigrated to America in 1906 from the Ottoman Empire. He was employed as a presser at Kahn Tailoring Company in Indianapolis, but he developed severe rheumatism which made it impossible for him to work on his feet. The JWF connected Mr. Cassalori with someone who taught him the shoe trade, which allowed the man to open a shoe store at 529 Massachusetts Avenue.[xxiv]

The IRO continued its relocation efforts until its dissolution in 1922. Changes in U.S. immigration law at this time—particularly the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921—largely cut off the flow of European Jewish immigrants, reducing the need for the Office. Throughout its two decades of work, the organization assisted roughly 80,000 Jews in moving to more than 1,600 communities across the country. These communities continued to grow without the IRO’s direct involvement, as the removals’ kin and friends sought to join them after hearing of their settlement.[xxv] As a result, the IRO’s main correspondence cities developed sizable Jewish communities, rich in culture and history.

For some early twentieth century immigrants, the stress of migration, culture shock, and difficult employment was too much to handle. In July 1906, an Indianapolis man contacted the IRO, stating that a Russian immigrant by the name of Aaron Cohn was “on the verge of insanity from homesickness” and had threatened to end his life because he did not feel he could adapt to life in America.[xxvi] The IRO’s General Manager, David M. Bressler, responded that the Office had unfortunately dealt with numerous immigrants in similar situations, and that this homesickness was a “real disease” that could “be cured only by radical treatment, either by work or by return home.”[xxvii] In response to such situations, the IRO encouraged immigrants to participate in educational programs.

Community Education Initiatives

Cooking class at the Nathan Morris House, The Indianapolis Journal, May 8, 1904, accessed Newspapers.com.

In an attempt to better support new immigrants, and to prevent a new wave of antisemitism, philanthropic organizations, particularly those run by German Jewish Americans, established initiatives to educate and Americanize eastern European Jews across the country. The mission became central to much of the Jewish philanthropic work at the time; New York’s Harmonie Club, a prestigious German Jewish social club in the U.S., which mirrored the conduct of clubs across the country, used the unofficial slogan of “More polish, less Polish” when advertising their Americanization programs.[xxviii]

Immigrant education in Indianapolis was run by a handful of charities and philanthropic organizations, including the city’s National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), the of Indianapolis (JWF)[xxix], and the Workmen’s Circle.[xxx] On October 10, 1909, the Indianapolis Star declared the NCJW to be “among the most important local women’s organizations,” stating: “There is no club in the city that accomplishes more earnest philanthropical work than this council.”

Nathan Morris, The Indianapolis Journal, May 8, 1904, accessed Newspapers.com.

The NCJW established the Nathan Morris House with the Jewish Federation in 1904, named after a Jewish attorney who tragically perished while trying to save his nephew from a burning house. It served as both a social hub and educational settlement house for immigrants new to Indianapolis, offering classes designed to help their constituents acculturate to American life, particularly through English and American citizenship classes. It also sponsored vocational training and courses in dressmaking, millinery, typing, cooking, and dancing and held events to celebrate their patrons’ works. According to the Indianapolis News on April 28, 1905, the settlement house held a night of entertainment, featuring a play and an exhibit of hats made by its members to demonstrate the skills learned in millinery class, awarding prizes to Nellie Barrett and Ruth Rosenfield for their handiwork. The Nathan Morris House classes were of much interest to locals; the Indianapolis Journal reported on May 8, 1904 that the large number of members and their constant class attendance made it difficult to accommodate new guests.

Children of the Nathan Morris House on an outing to Wonderland Park, Indianapolis Star, June 23, 1907.

Local organizations would use the house’s meeting rooms while working with the settlement house’s patrons, such as the teachers from local kindergarten, whose monthly classes taught immigrant mothers “American child-rearing methods” and to discourage the use of “Old World” habits and patterns.[xxxi] The members had frequent social outings, which increased the settlement house’s visibility and piqued the interest of others in joining. The success of the settlement house created a shortage on space. By the end of 1912, the Jewish Federation purchased a new building with the intention of expanding community services even further. The new community center was named the Communal Building.

In 1913, the Communal Building opened on Indianapolis’s Southside. The Jewish Federation intended for the Communal Building to exist as a resource for all Indianapolis Jews, but the differing needs and interests of well-established Jewish Americans versus those of the newcomer immigrants made this goal difficult to reach. Instead of becoming a central hub to connect the city’s Jewish population, the Communal Building further divided German American Jews from eastern and southern European Jews as the former associated the building with poor, unrefined patrons.[xxxii]

The Southside Communal Building, 1950, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, accessed the Indiana Magazine of History 103, no. 1 (2007).

American Judaism

The Jewish Federation and NCJW constantly struggled to find a balance between integration and the retention of identity. While the philanthropic groups were pushing for immigrants to assimilate to American culture, the organization leaders hoped to preserve their patrons’ connection to Judaism. The leaders of these Jewish education initiatives did not want immigrants to abandon their religion, but instead wanted to create a new, distinctively American Jewish identity; however, they wished to build this identity from Ashkenazi Jewish traditions rather than those of the Sephardim.

The Indianapolis News, March 3, 1917.

The vocalization of the necessity for Jews to assimilate often came from within Jewish communities. Fort Wayne’s Rabbi Aaron Weinstein reflected in a sermon shared in the April 13, 1919 Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette that the future of American Judaism should be “moulded by American traditions and American standards of life,” and upheld “by its moral and spiritual outlook all that is highest and best in Americanism.” Pride for the United States was deeply rooted in Americanization programs, as evident from the March 3, 1917 Indianapolis News article featuring foreign children posed with American flags as part of their Americanization education. As a result of this connection, many Jewish immigrants and their families developed a home culture intertwined with Jewish and American characteristics. In a 1981 interview with anthropologist Jack Glazier, former Indianapolis Southside resident Lee Zuckerman shared that she had a number of memories of her mother completing routine tasks, like rocking a cradle or cutting green beans, while reciting the Preamble to the United States Constitution.[xxxiii]

While the Americanization movement was intended to better acclimate immigrants to life in America, it occasionally created turmoil in communities and immigrant homes. As a result of groups like the Jewish Federation and NCJW attempting to rapidly assimilate Jewish immigrants, organization involvement discouraged and effectively erased parts the immigrants’ Sephardic cultural identities. In a May 18, 1981 interview, Vickie Goldstein, a former resident of Indianapolis’s Southside and daughter of two Sephardic immigrants, stated that she felt like she was part of a “lost generation as far as religion is concerned.”[xxxiv] A similar statement was given by Max Cohen, a member of the same generation and neighborhood as Goldstein. Cohen felt that he was never aware of the richness of his Sephardic culture growing up, only developing a true pride for his heritage and Sephardic traditions as a young adult.[xxxv] In this regard, the rapid assimilation of Sephardic Jews in Indianapolis resulted in a sense of lost culture in second and third generation Jewish Americans.

By erasing cultural markers and traditions of Jewish immigrants in the twentieth century, philanthropic leaders hoped to avoid an increase in antisemitism. Unfortunately, antisemitism has continued to evolve and gain footholds in the United States, threatening the well-being of Jewish people’s lives every day. A 2022 audit by the Anti-Defamation League reported that since the organization began tracking them in 1979, antisemitic incidents in the United States reached an all-time high in 2021. The report showed an average of more than seven incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism every day, which is a 34% increase from 2020. It is not only antisemitism that has escalated in recent years. Hate of all kinds— against minorities and immigrants— has been fostered in the United States. According to a 2021 article by the Indy Star, hate crimes in Indiana spiked in 2020 with a 133% increase over 2019, making it the highest number of incidents in two decades. Through the 2016 presidential election, there was a steep increase of 20% in hate crimes against foreign-born minorities.[xxxvi]

The recent dramatic increase of hate crimes in the last decade is a major point of concern. The globalization of prejudice has created a sense of comfort among nationalists and, as a result, hate speech is widely expressed in the public sphere.[xxxvii] Political divides have drastically grown, and extremists have redefined the American freedom of speech as the acceptance of intolerance.[xxxviii] Social media has provided a platform for the formation of hateful spaces, allowing hate to grow through a “radicalization effect,” in which individuals can avoid real-life repercussions for hateful behavior due to online anonymity.[xxxix] Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center work tirelessly to combat this national growth of hate, documenting and exposing hate crimes and seeking justice for targeted victims.[xl]

America has long been dubbed a “nation of immigrants,” yet it has never been a nation truly welcoming of newcomers. Immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century were heavily scrutinized for their foreign characteristics and encouraged to leave behind their “Old World” values if they wished to fit into American society. They were assigned value based on their skills and willingness to work in poor conditions. Despite the passing of a century, immigrants today are burdened with the same barriers as their predecessors. The documentation of early twentieth century immigration experiences provides Americans with the opportunity to learn from the past. Philanthropic organizations urged early Jewish immigrants to rapidly assimilate to their new surroundings in order to avoid new waves of antisemitism. Many immigrants lost their traditions and heritage as a result, yet the antisemitic hate nonetheless persisted. By avoiding this narrative in the future, immigrants have the chance to retain and celebrate their heritage, making America a true nation of immigrants.

For a bibliography, click here.

Notes:

[i] Sephardic Jews trace origins to the Iberian Peninsula prior to the Inquisition.  After 1492, some of these Jews were invited by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Beyezid II, to settle in those lands.  The first Sephardic immigrants to Indianapolis arrived from cities that are now in North Macedonia and Greece, in the early decades of the twentieth century.

[ii] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013), 7-21.

[iii] Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says about Race in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 26.

[iv]  Robert Rockaway, Words of the Uprooted: Jewish Immigrants in Early Twentieth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), 5-6.

[v]  Jack Glazier, Dispersing the Ghetto: The Relocation of Jewish Immigrants Across America (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005), 6-12.

[vi] Jack Glazier, “‘Transplanted from Kiev to Hoosierdom’: How the Industrial Removal Office Directed Jewish Immigrants to Terre Haute,” Indiana Magazine of History 97, no. 1 (2001): 5.

[vii] Glazier, Dispersing the Ghetto, 16-17; Robert Rockaway, Words of the Uprooted, 29-30.

[viii] Russel A. Kazal, “Revisiting Assimilation: The Rise, Fall, and Reappraisal of a Concept in American Ethnic History,” American Historical Review 100, no. 2 (1995): 437.

[ix] Kazal, “Revisiting Assimilation,” 465-467; Robert A. Carlson, “Americanization as an Early Twentieth-Century Adult Education Movement,” History of Education Quarterly 10, no. 4 (1970): 440.

[x] Kazal, “Revisiting Assimilation,”468-470; Carlson, “Americanization,” 444.

[xi] Letter from Chas Graff [translated by IRO], 22 July, 1908, U.S., Industrial Removal Office Records, 1899-1922, Box 97, Folder 21, Series X: Correspondence of Immigrants, (1901-1921), Ancestry.com, accessed www.ancestry.com/search/collections/1613/.

[xii] Letter from William Silberman, n.d., U.S., Industrial Removal Office Records, 1899-1922, Box 97, Folder 18, Series X: Correspondence of Immigrants, (1901-1921), accessed Ancestry.com.

[xiii] Carlson, “Americanization,” 440-441.

[xiv] Broadkin, “Global Capitalism,” 241-242; Irwin Yellowitz, “Jewish Immigrants and the American Labor Movement, 1900-1920,” American Jewish History 71, no. 2 (1981): 189.

[xv] Glazier, “Transplanted,” 5; Broadkin, “Global Capitalism,” 241-242.

[xvi] Ibid., 6.

[xvii] Gladys Cohen Nisenbaum, interview by Jack Glazier, January 20, 1981.

[xviii] Rockaway, Words of the Uprooted, 1-3, 13-14; Glazier, “Transplanted,” 2-5, 15-16.

[xix] Rockaway, Words of the Uprooted, 7-8.

[xx] Ibid., 19-20; Glazier, “Transplanted,” 5-6.

[xxi] Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Records, 1880-Ongoing, Boxes 264-268, Collection # M0463, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, IN.

[xxii] Cohen, Moses and Simmie. 1912-1916.  [Federation Documentation]. Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Records, 1880-Ongoing, Box 264, Folder 5, Collection # M0463.

[xxiii] Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Records, 1880-Ongoing, Boxes 264-268, Collection # M0463.

[xxiv] Cassalori, Charles “Chas” and Masolto (1913-1918).  [Federation Documentation]. Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Records, 1880-Ongoing, Box 264, Folder 5, Collection # M0463.

[xxv] Rockaway, Words of the Uprooted, 27, 32; David Bressler, “Distributing Immigrants Throughout America,” Jewish Tribune, December 18, 1914, 6.

[xxvi] Letter to David M. Bressler from Sol. Kiser, 25 July,1906, U.S., Industrial Removal Office Records, 1899-1922, Box 97, Folder 18, Series X: Correspondence of Immigrants, (1901-1921), accessed Ancestry.com.

[xxvii] Bressler Response to Sol. Kiser, 27 July, 1906, U.S., Industrial Removal Office Records, 1899-1922, Box 97, Folder 18, Series X: Correspondence of Immigrants, (1901-1921), accessed Ancestry.com.

[xxviii] Gerald Sorin, “Mutual Contempt, Mutual Benefit: The Strained Encounter Between German and Eastern European Jews in America, 1880-1920,” American Jewish History 81, no. 1 (1993): 35.

[xxix] This organization was established with the name “Jewish Welfare Federation of Indianapolis.” It is later referred to as the “Jewish Federation of Indianapolis” in documentation, though it is unclear when this name change occurred.

[xxx] Judith E. Endelman, The Jewish Community of Indianapolis, 1849 to the Present (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), 71-72.

[xxxi] Endelman, Jewish Community, 93.

[xxxii] Richard Moss, “Creating a Jewish American Identity in Indianapolis: The Jewish Welfare Federation and the Regulation of Leisure, 1920-1934,” Indiana Magazine of History 103, no. 1 (2007): 46-47.

[xxxiii] Lee Cohen Zuckerman, interview by Jack Glazier, May 4, 1981.

[xxxiv] Vickie Calderon Goldstein, interview by Jack Glazier, May 18,1981.

[xxxv] Max Cohen, interview by Jack Glazier, April 18,1981.

[xxxvi] Jonathan Weisman, (((Semitism))) (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2018), 194-195.

[xxxvii] Goldhagen, The Devil, 163.

[xxxviii] Weisman, (((Semitism))), 21.

[xxxix] Deborah E. Lipstadt, Antisemitism: Here and Now (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 2019), 35; Weisman, (((Semitism))), 107-111, 121.

[xl] Weisman, (((Semitism))), 218.

 

Dissent and Patriotism: The Hungarian Community of Terre Haute during WWI

The renowned historian Howard Zinn called dissent “the highest form of patriotism.” He explained:

In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles. And if we’re exercising that right to dissent, it’s a patriotic act.[1]

The Hungarian immigrants who came to Terre Haute at the turn of the twentieth century made dissent their first act of patriotism, striking and organizing for equality in the workplace. After the U.S. declared war on Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary in 1917, however, these Hoosiers of Hungarian origin temporarily abandoned this cause for another – demonstrating their loyalty to the United States and becoming citizens. This battle for acceptance was almost as fierce as the violent skirmishes at the nearby coal mines.

Hungarian Family at Ellis Island, photograph, n.d., Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, statueofliberty.org.

Escaping impoverished conditions in Hungary, over a million Hungarians immigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1920, according to one study.[2] By 1910, over 14,000 Hungarian immigrants settled in Indiana with 452 in Vigo County, creating a vibrant community in Terre Haute.[3] The language barrier combined with local mistrust of Eastern European immigrants meant that their job options were limited. But industry in the city was booming, creating a demand for workers willing to take on the difficult and dangerous jobs in coal mining, manufacturing, and railroads.[4] Newspapers across the country are full of stories of workers killed in factory explosions or coal mine cave-ins.[5] Few companies had adequate safety regulations and none had insurance. So, the newcomers took care of each other.

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 18, 1916, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1909, they formed the First Terre Haute Hungarian Sick and Death Benefit Society, a self-funded insurance group (also known as the Verhovay Society).[6] The approximately 200 members paid regular dues with the funds going to the families of members when they were killed or injured at work.[7] Hungarian immigrants were willing to take the risk, hoping to improve the lives of their families. However, in addition to the dangers, companies were also paying the immigrants lower wages. These were people eager to become citizens of the United States – a country that promised “all men are created equal,” according to the Declaration of Independence.[8] This disparity in pay did not reflect the proclaimed values of their new country. In response, the Hungarian immigrant workers joined labor unions and Socialist Party organizations and went on strike for better wages.[9] Between 1905 and 1910, Hungarian immigrants participated in seventy-seven of the 113 strikes that occurred nationwide, according to one study.[10]

“Coal Miners,” photograph, n.d., Sullivan County Historical Society, Indiana Memory.

However, in the spring of 1909, they were violently suppressed. Several men of Hungarian origin worked at the nearby Bogle coal mine where they lived in camps. For several weeks they had clashed with the American-born workers. While there are plenty of newspaper articles covering the clashes, it’s unclear what generated the feuds.[11] Looking at other similar events across the country, it is likely that the immigrant workers were pushing for equal pay, while the American workers resented them for working for low wages, inhibiting their own ability to demand higher compensation. Many companies would gladly replace a higher American wage with a lower immigrant one.[12] Unfortunately for both groups of workers, deep-seated xenophobia prevented the two groups from uniting and demanding fair pay for all. Instead, they turned on each other. On March 31, the Associated Press reported that the American coal miners had driven the Hungarian immigrant workers from the Bogle mine after “a gun fight . . . in which eleven persons were wounded.”[13] The Hungarians would have to tend to their wounded and seek jobs elsewhere.

Indiana Socialist Bulletin, July 1, 1913, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Some of the Hungarian workers who remained in Terre Haute organized a local branch of the Indiana Socialist Party and attended meetings on workers’ rights.[14] But in 1914, the outbreak of war in Europe would curtail all such patriotic dissent. The newcomers would demonstrate a new kind of patriotism and their organizations and leadership quickly shifted their goals and tactics. The nationalism surrounding WWI required them to display their unquestioned allegiance to the United States in a public, performative manner. Following the activities of local Hungarian organizations and leaders in the Terre Haute Daily Tribune, it’s clear that the newcomers felt their main goal was to convince their neighbors that they were Americans first and foremost and Hungarians only culturally. In the pages of the Daily Tribune, they publicly disavowed their allegiance to the ruler of Austria-Hungary and made clear that they disagreed with the crown’s position in the war.[15]

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 20, 1914, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Verhovay Society also took on additional duties during WWI. They hosted English classes and events, displaying their patriotism by flying large American flags at their meetings and picnics.[16] Most importantly, many Hungarian-born Terre Haute residents pursued citizenship.  As soon as they met the residential requirements, they applied for first papers. At this time, in Indiana (and thirty-nine other states) immigrants with first papers could vote in all elections.[17] They would then study English, American history, and the workings of the U.S. government in preparation for their citizenship tests. The Daily Tribune regularly reported on their citizenship applications.[18]

New York Times, December 8, 1917, 1, https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1917/12/08/issue.html

These citizenship efforts became more important after the U.S. entered the global conflict, first declaring war on Germany, and then, in December 1917, on its ally Austria-Hungary. The U.S. federal government then declared Hungarian immigrants who had not yet achieved full citizenship to be “enemy aliens.” According to the National Archives:

The Federal Government instituted enemy alien control programs during wartime. This generally subjected aliens to additional regulations, increased scrutiny, and required registration and/or internment.[19]

Nationalism flared and immigrants, especially those from Germany and Austria-Hungary, felt the repercussions – often through the loss of rights. Indiana schools stopped teaching German, while German-language newspapers in Terre Haute and across the state folded.[20] Hoosiers consumed propaganda vilifying Germany and its ally Austria-Hungary. President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war included regulations for “alien enemies,” including barring firearm ownership and allowing for arrest and detainment for the duration of the war.[21] This was not an idle threat.

“Shop Mule,” photograph, n.d., Wisconsin Historical Society.

Many of the Hungarian immigrants to Terre Haute worked for Terre Haute Malleable & Manufacturing Company (incorporated in 1906) and settled in the neighborhood near the plant.[22] In June 1918, Terre Haute police arrested Austrian-born Malleable employee John Precpep. The Daily Tribune reported that he was charged with being “a suspected dangerous alien enemy” and would be “interned for the duration of the war.”[23] He was also made to turn over his property and the $1,000 he had in the bank. He was reported  to have bought no Liberty Bonds and to have “encouraged foreign born citizens to evade the draft law.” [24] It’s not clear who made these reports – neighbors or coworkers perhaps. But it is clear that one’s reputation as a loyal, patriotic American – one who bought war bonds and registered for the draft – mattered. But even enlisting in the U.S. Army didn’t necessarily protect one from suspicion.

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, January 31, 1918, 11, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hungarian Terre Haute resident James Kovac enlisted in the U.S. Army and proudly carried his registration card with him around town. He also went to a second hand store and bought himself an army coat and bayonet “so that the government would not have to furnish him one when he enlisted.”[25] Wearing his hand-me-down uniform with pride, Kovac attended a dance at a local establishment at 15th and Beech Streets. When the tavern owner identified Kovac as Hungarian, he called the police. Kovac was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. Local courts determined that he got his “army uniform too soon” and sentenced him to 100 days in jail, despite his eagerness to serve his new country.[26] So if enlisting wasn’t the ultimate expression of loyalty, what was? How could immigrants of Hungarian origin display their patriotism to neighbors and coworkers and avoid reprisals for failing to do so?

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 9, 1917, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Leading Terre Haute citizens of Hungarian origin organized highly visible displays of patriotism, which the local newspaper reported on approvingly. In June 1917, the Verhovay Society, led by Alexander Steele, “held a flag dedication” at the organization’s “picnic grounds” at Twenty-Second and Linden Streets (today the site of Hungarian Hall).[27] The Daily Tribune reported that “the affair was one of the biggest celebrations ever held by foreign organizations.”[28] In addition to the hundreds of local Verhovay members, Clinton (Vermillion County) also sent a delegation of 300 members. In addition to prominent members of the Hungarian community, the mayor of Terre Haute, the reverend of St. Ann’s Church, and the captain of a local military company also attended. During the ceremony the Society officially adopted the American flag and vowed to carry it “at all public demonstrations hereafter.”[29]

In June 1918, Alexander Steele led another display, this time “a patriotic parade” and an assembly at the Terre Haute Post Office where the resident of Hungarian origin would “renew their oaths of loyalty to this country under the American flag.”[30]  They also announced that they would be forming a Hungarian Loyalty League. Just a month later, the League marched in the Fourth of July parade. The Daily Tribune reported that the 160 members who marched carried a large American flag and “were repeatedly cheered along the line of the march.”[31] Later that month, they held their largest and most visible event yet.

Terre Haute Daily Tribune, July 30, 1918, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

On July 27, 1918, 250 members of Terre Haute’s Hungarian Loyalty League swore a public “oath of allegiance to the Stars and Stripes.”[32] This act was accompanied by hundreds more supporters marching in a patriotic parade from Ninth and Ohio Streets to the post office. Symbolizing the approval of the community and the sanction of local officials, the parade was headed by “a platoon of police.”[33] They were followed by “a party of mounted Hungarians and then came the First Regiment band.”[34] At least 200 Hungarian men marched as did an uncounted number of women and children, followed by decorated automobiles. They carried American flags and banners reading “Help Win the War,” “We Are Ready to Give Our All of America,” and “Hungarians by Birth, Americans by Choice.”[35] The Daily Tribune reported that the parade was directed by League President Alexander Steele, the local Postmaster John J. Cleary, and the Terre Haute mayor Charles R. Hunter. The newspaper noted approvingly:

Mr. Steele deserves great credit for the rousing display of patriotism shown by himself and his countrymen and their loyal support of the stars and stripes.[36]

After swearing the oath, Terre Haute residents gave them “a rousing cheer.” The party then “adjourned to their hall” (likely a precursor of the current Hungarian Hall) at 22nd and Linden.[37] There they celebrated with a banquet, dancing, and speechmaking.

Terre Haute News, October 12, 2009, tribstar.com.

Despite such performances of patriotism, Indiana soon moved to end the right of immigrants to vote on first papers and authorities broke up meetings of “foreign born . . . bolshevik agitators” as Hoosiers succumbed to the fear and nationalism of the First Red Scare.[38] Ku Klux Klan membership grew dramatically in the early 1920s and Indiana’s representatives in Congress voted for the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which effectively ended immigration from Eastern Europe.[39] But even in this cultural climate, the Hungarian community of Terre Haute thrived. They continued to pursue citizenship and improve their English, opening up more occupational opportunities for themselves and their children. They saved money and opened small shops, including a number of grocery stores. There are many examples of this trajectory, including that of Frank and Julia Koos.

Terre Haute Tribune Star, March 7, 2023, tribstar.com.

Ferencz Koos and Julianna Majoros immigrated through Ellis Island in 1907 and 1910, respectively. They married, Americanized their names, moved to North Carolina, and then Indiana. By the early 1920s, they had made Terre Haute their home. Frank worked as a miner and a farmer and the couple saved their money. By 1925, they had opened a small grocery store at 2401 Maple Ave in the Hungarian neighborhood. While the business was named Frank Koos Grocery & Meats, the city directories and census records show that Julia managed the day to day operations while Frank continued working in coal mines. Later in life, when the store was comfortably established, they shared the running the shop as well as a small farm.[40]

The site where Koos’s store once stood is the perfect location to place a historical marker with this family’s story symbolizing the experiences of many in the city’s Hungarian community. Thanks to a successful marker application by the Koos’s granddaughter Laura Loudermilk, and the work of IHB staff, a state historical marker will be dedicated later this year. The text will read:

Side One

Hungarians seeking economic opportunities settled in Terre Haute at the start of the 20th century and created a vibrant community. Many worked for coal mines, railroads, and manufacturing industries. In response to dangerous conditions and low wages, they joined unions and, in 1909, founded the Hungarian Sick and Death Benefit Society, a self-funded insurance group.

Side Two

Despite facing prejudice during WWI, many Hungarian immigrants enlisted in the military, formed patriotic groups, and gained citizenship. They also established businesses, including Frank and Julia Koos who opened a grocery store here in the 1920s. Nearby Hungarian Hall hosted celebrations, elections, and union meetings, and continues to preserve Hungarian traditions.

The marker will stand as a reminder that these Hungarian immigrants, once designated “alien enemies,” improved their community and local economy, served their new country in times of war, and made Terre Haute a more vibrant and diverse city. Immigrants revitalize local economies and make communities stronger, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). [41] The story of the contributions made by Terre Haute’s Hungarian community is a good reminder for us today as newcomers from other countries look to make Indiana their new home.

Further Contextual Reading:

Susan Papp and Joe Esterhaus, Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (Cleveland State University, 2010), electronic edition accessed Press Books at the Michael Schwartz Library, https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/hungarian-americans-and-their-communities-of-cleveland/.

Notes:

[1] Howard Zinn interviewed by Sharon Basco, July 3, 2002, HowardZinn.org.

[2] Leslie Konnyu, Hungarians in the U.S.A.: An Immigration Study (St. Louis, MO: American Hungarian Review), 1967, 22, Archive.org.

[3]”Foreigners in Indiana,” Bedford Weekly Mail, May 17, 1907, 3, Newspapers.com; Department of Commerce and Labor, Thirteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1910: Statistics for Indiana (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1913), 598, 614, census.gov.

[4] Table: “Fatal Accidents in Vigo County,” and Table: “Serious Accidents in Vigo County,” in “Summary of Accidents, 1913,” Second Annual Report of the State Bureau of Inspection (Indianapolis: Wm. B. Burford, State Printer, 1914), 404-06, HathiTrust.

[5]“Dead Hungarians,” Crawfordsville Weekly Journal, April 4, 1891, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Many Killed by Bursting Boilers,” Pittsburg Press, December 20, 1901, 1, Newspapers.com; “Fifty Bodies Still in Mine,” Miners Journal, January 29, 1904, 1, Newspapers.com; Beverly N. Sparks, “Brave Rescuers at the Darr Mine Face to Face with Awful Death” and C. H. Gillespie, “Disaster Blamed on Company,” Pittsburg Press, December 22, 1907, 1, Newspapers.com; “Nine More Bodies Taken from Monongah Mines Making the Total Recovered 52,” Daily Telegram, December 9, 1907, 1, Newspapers.com.

[6] R. L. Polk and Co’s Terre Haute City Directory 1912-1913 (Terre Haute: Moore-Langen Printing Co., 1912), 66, AncestryLibrary.com; R. L. Polk and Co’s Terre Haute City Directory 1915-1916 (Terre Haute: Moore-Langen Printing Co., 1915), 222, AncestryLibrary.com; “Notes of Local Lodges,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 14, 1914, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Hungarians Elect,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 7, 1915, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Hungarian Benefit Society Enjoys Outing,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 18, 1916, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[7] “Hungarian Aid Society Elects,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, December 20, 1914, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[8] Declaration of Independence, transcription, July 4, 1776, Founding Documents, National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript.

[9] “Hungarian Branches,” Indiana Socialist Party Bulletin, July 1, 1913, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Federal Authorities Probe Clinton Case,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 14, 1919, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Now on Trail of East Chicago Reds,” Indianapolis News, October 13, 1919, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Issues Injunction Against Molders,” Indianapolis Star, Mary 26, 1923, 5, Newspapers.com; “Labor Troubles Ripe in Three Indiana Cities,” Hammond Times, August 17, 1935, 6, Newspapers.com.

[10] Miklos Szantho, Magyarok a Nagyvilágban (Budapest: Kossuth Könyvkiadó, 1970), 66 in Susan Papp and Joe Esterhaus, Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland (Cleveland State University, 2010), electronic edition accessed Press Books at the Michael Schwartz Library, https://pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu/hungarian-americans-and-their-communities-of-cleveland/.

[11] “Eleven Wounded,” Daily Press (Newport News, VA), March 31, 1909, 1, Chronicling America, Library of Congress; “Mine Is Threatened,” Winchester News (KY), March 31, 1909, 5, Chronicling America, Library of Congress; “Threatened War between Miners Not So Critical,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, March 31, 1909, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[12] “The Great Immigration,” Section II: Hungarians in America in Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland,  pressbooks.ulib.csuohio.edu.

[13]”Eleven Wounded,” Daily Press (Newport News, VA), March 31, 1909, 1, Chronicling America, Library of Congress.

[14] Hungarian Branches,” Indiana Socialist Party Bulletin, July 1, 1913, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles; Partial Transcript of Interview with Frank Koos, 1968, Private Collection of Laura Beth Loudermilk, copy in IHB marker file.

[15] “Hungarian Position in War in Europe,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, August 21, 1914, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] “Hungarian Benefit Society Enjoys Outing,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 18, 1916, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles; Curt Bridwell, “What Terre Hauteans Read in the Newspapers of 40 Years Ago,” Terre Haute Tribune, December 11, 1949, Newspapers.com.

[17] “Naturalization Records,” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/naturalization.

[18] “New Citizens Are Sworn In,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, November 15, 1914, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Citizenship Applications of Four Are Turned Down, Terre Haute Daily Tribune, November 14, 1915, 21, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Four File Declarations,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, April 17, 1917, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Seeks Citizenship,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, May 24, 1917, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[19] “Enemy Alien Records,” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens.

[20] Indiana Historical Bureau, German Newspapers’ Demise, state historical marker #49.2017.2, in.gov.history.

[21] “World War I Enemy Alien Records,” National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens/ww1.

[22] “Incorporation” Indiana Tribune, August 4, 1906, 4, Hoosier State Chronicles; “Wanted,” Indianapolis News, December 22, 1906, 19, Newspapers.com.

[23] “Will Intern Austrian for War’s Duration,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 25, 1918, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Gets Army Uniform Too Soon, Says Court, Terre Haute Daily Tribune, 11, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Hungarians Dedicate the American Flag,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 9, 1917, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] “Hungarians Raise Flag,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 6, 1918, 10, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[31] “Bulgarians Are Loyal,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, July 5, 1918, 18, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[32] “Loyal Hungarians Pledge Allegiance,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, July 28, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] “Federal Authorities Probe Clinton Case,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, June 14, 1919, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles; “No Alien Enemy Voters,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, October 13, 1918, 4, Hoosier State Chronicles.

[39] Jill Weiss Simins, “‘America First:’ The Indiana Ku Klux Klan and Immigration Policy in the 1920s,” Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences 25, Issue 1 (Fall 2020), Oakland City University.

[40] Passenger Record: Ferencz Koos, May 1, 1907 Arrival Date, Ellis Island Passenger Records, ellisislandrecords.org; Passenger Record: Julianna Majoros, December 3, 1910 Arrival Date, Ellis Island Passenger Records, ellisislandrecords.org; Fourteenth Census of the United States, Burgaw Township, North Carolina, January 26, 1920, 17A, Lines 39-40, Bureau of the Census, National Archives and Records Administration,  AncestryLibrary.com; Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1922 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1922), 403, AncestryLibrary.com; Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1924 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1924), 423, AncestryLibrary.com; Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1925 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1925), 334, AncestryLibrary.com; Frank Koos Grocery and Meats, photograph, n.d. [circa 1929], Private Collection of Laura Beth Loudermilk, copy in IHB marker file; Fifteenth Census of the United States, Ward 7, Terre Haute, Vigo County, April 8, 1930, 4A Lines 44-45, Bureau of the Census, National Archives and Records Administration, AncestryLibrary.com; Sixteenth Census of the United States, Ward 7, Terre Haute, Vigo County, April 2, 1940, 1B, Lines 64-64, Bureau of the Census, National Archives and Records Administration, AncestryLibrary.com;  Polk’s Terre Haute City Directory 1947 (St. Louis: R. L. Polk & Co., Publishers, 1947), 269, AncestryLibrary.com; Partial Transcript of Interview with Frank Koos, 1968, Private Collection of Laura Beth Loudermilk, copy in IHB marker file.

[41] National Academy of Sciences, “Integration of Immigrants into American Society” (Washington, D.C.: NAS Press, 2015), https://nap.nationalacademies.org/read/21746/chapter/1.