THH Episode 48: Giving Voice: Cheryl Cooky

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Transcript for Giving Voice: Cheryl Cooky

[Music Intro]

Marino: Hello and welcome. I’m Michella Marino.

Pfeiffer: And I’m Casey Pfeiffer.

Marino: And this is Giving Voice. For today’s episode we’ll be talking with Cheryl Cooky, a professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University. Dr. Cooky teaches courses in the American Studies Program and the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, on topics of sport, American culture, and feminism. She earned her doctorate degree from the University of Southern California in Sociology and is the co-author of the 2018 book No Slam Dunk: Gender, Sport, and the Unevenness of Social Change.

Pfeiffer: Dr. Cooky has written numerous book chapters, has been published in a wide array of academic journals and is frequently quoted in both national and international news media outlets. She is the past President of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport and a member of the National Policy Advisory Board for the Women’s Sports Foundation. We’re so excited to speak with you today, Dr. Cooky. Thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you began studying uh gender and sports?

Cooky: Yeah, thank you. That’s a tough question to answer, because how I got into studying gender and sport isn’t really uh a linear narrative that I can tell, which I think will be probably a theme for this conversation today. But long story short, um I was uh undergraduate at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, had aspirations to go to medical school. Um and didn’t quite do as well as you needed to do in some of those courses, uh and realized that maybe that wasn’t the the pathway for me. Uh however, I really found myself interested in studying human movements, I thought maybe physical therapy would be a track for me. Um and over the course of my education, I came to take courses in um various disciplines related to, you know kind of sport, uh motor development, and sports psychology. Anyway, I graduate with a degree, I don’t really have uh sort of conventional career path, but I knew I loved studying. I knew I loved being a student. I knew I loved doing research, I had some opportunities to work as an assistant in some of the lab’s um at uh Illinois. And, thought maybe graduate school, might be a good route for me. And I had never really taken a class on women’s studies. I hadn’t really um thought that much about gender and gender issues, until it was uh a couple of classes that I took in my master’s program at Miami, Ohio that really got me, thinking about sport and its role in our culture and really um for me quite different ways. Um then I had either thought about before or even been socialized to think about and, you know I grew up playing sports. Um I loved being physically active. Uh my parents weren’t really that involved so I didn’t have you know the helicopter parents on the sideline going to all of my games. Um, I also grew up in a time, in uh place where um you know girls participation in sports wasn’t really valued um in the culture and in the community and in my peer group. And so, I received these very subtle messages that you know while I wasn’t necessarily being told I couldn’t play sport. I was certainly getting messages that it really didn’t matter. And so, I found myself, freshman year of high school um dropping out of sport and joining then what was then called the pom pom squad, essentially the dance team. Um, and it became sort of a supporter of men’s sports, rather than an athlete in it of my own right. And so that experience, really kind of informs um the way I think about sports, um the kinds of topics that I seek out. I’ve done some research looking at girls’ experiences in sport to see if, you know to what extent things have changed over time. To look at the ways in which kind of culture uh sends messages about women’s sports and female athleticism. And so, I think you know again, and not a nice, neat narrative, but uh sort of uh this is where I am today, I guess, you know the rest is history as we would say.

Marino: Well, that sort of segues nicely into talking about our most recent Talking Hoosier History episode, which featured the history of the South Bend Blue Sox, which was a women’s professional baseball team in the 1940s and 50s. Um, the Blue Sox were one of four original teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and this was obviously several decades before the passage of Title IX. Um can you speak a little on the status of women’s sports generally in the early to mid-20th century? You know, what opportunities were there for girls and women to compete?

Cooky: I that’s uh an important question to ask and I hope to communicate to the listeners that I think there’s a way in which, for those of us who don’t study history, and I’m not a historian by training, uh but certainly I think that the kind of narratives we tell around women’s sports or the stories we tell around women’s sports, are really informed by a kind of um historical lens, such that we tend to see women’s sports in uh kind of linear trajectory and sort of a progressive development of change overtime. In other words, you know I hear this all the time from my students, like oh well you know back in whenever it is were talking about right. At the turn of the 19th or 20th century or during World War II, or you know before Title IX girls and women didn’t play sports, girls and women didn’t have opportunities and they certainly did. Not to the extent which they do today, but I think that when we look at the turn of the 20th century and up and through World War II, certainly girls and women were playing sports. The kinds of opportunities that they had really varied though, with respect to race, social class, the sports itself, and so um, if we look at higher education for example. Women had opportunities to participate in either competitive or non-competitive sports opportunities were happening in that space, certainly I think for women of color, black women in particular, there were different kinds of opportunities to participate in sports. Women were participating in the Olympics, although the events they participated in were certainly shaped by gender and gender ideologies. So, I think when we are looking at…Oh and I should say to, you know social class right. Women of more affluent means were uh able to participate in leisure activities like lawn sports, golf, tennis, so I think that there’s really important distinctions that we need to make when we are talking about women. Uh and scholars use the term intersectionality. Some people may have seen that in uh popular culture and media, but it’s really kind of thinking about the ways in which gender and how gender is shaping our experiences, is also informed by these other social identities and social locations.

Pfeiffer: You talking about um, you know Olympic participation and it being shaped by gender ideology and you know this certain sports that women could participate in. I mean, were there certain ones that were more acceptable for women to play or conversely sports that were highly discouraged at the time?

Cooky: The sports that uh allowed for a kind of performative adherence to conventional femininity right, so when we think about tennis, uh when we think about gymnastics for example those are that we tend to…figure skating, right. Those are sports that we tend to associate more with the kind of ascetic dimensions, which really sort of then plays into our cultural notions of femininity and feminine value being really rooted in appearance right. And that’s particularly so for white affluent women who are able to, you know achieve and uphold right those conventional notions of femininity. Basketball was a sport that was quite popular at the time um, I think that it is one of the first sports that women really kind of gained a foothold in. Certainly, the way that basketball was played at the turn of the 20th century and you know kind of up and through the mid-20th century, is much different than how the game is played today um we hear stories about the different rules that were implemented to take out the contact elements in the sport. So that’s the other part, right. So, one is kind of sports that emphasize the ascetics. The other piece are sports that are perceived to be not contact sports, right and so those are might be more individual sports or even team sports that are played individually. Sports like track and field for example. Um or sports that were popular at the time. This is probably the case today, but certainly scholars have written about the ways in which gridiron American football is highly gendered as masculine, although there are and have been women’s professional football leagues. Certainly, they don’t reach the sort of status or cultural uh level that the National Football League does, right but I think football is one of those sports that have really been resistant to any of the broader changes in our culture with respect to um increasing uh acceptance of female athleticism and women’s sports participation.

Marino: There’s a lot of things I’d like to talk about that you just said in there, but particularly you know you just used that word acceptance and there is this misconception that women you know haven’t been playing sports through much of the you know late 19th and 20th century. And of course, as you note that’s not the case um sports were in fact modified for women or were sort of channeled into appropriate sports for women, um but often time when we’re talking about women’s sports of course you always hear about Title IX and that being sort of this landmark or watershed moment for women’s sports. So, I was wondering if you could just tell us a little bit about what Title IX was and how it alters the landscape for women’s athletics.

Cooky: So, Title IX is federal legislation that was passed in 1972 that essentially says that any educational institution that receives federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. So, often we associate Title IX with athletics and certainly the legislation had a really visible impact in terms of as you said kind of shifting the landscape for women’s sports and women’s sports participation, but Title IX itself doesn’t specify or isn’t exclusive to athletics and in fact pertains to any um educational opportunity that is apart of uh higher education or part of the high school educational experience right. So, that you can’t um you can’t have a club that would not allow girls or women to be members of that club. I think Title IX over time has expanded um into thinking about the ways in which things like sexual harassment and sexual assault can impact educational experiences, but really Title IX is about expanding opportunities for um for the underrepresented sex and in this case girls and women right. So, what Title IX did within the scope of athletics was to dramatically expand opportunities, such that the year prior to Title IX’s passage 1 out of every 27 girls participated in high school sports. Today, its I think its 1 out of ever 2.5 girls are participating in high school sports. Uh, its certainly had a significant impact in terms of expanding participation opportunities at the collegiate level as well. Title IX also applied to things like uh resources um and the quality of opportunity so its not just about giving girls and women a spot on a team, but its also about ensuring that that team has the resources to…you know access to practice fields, it has a team bus. It has um uh coach, the coach is paid. If it’s a scholarship sport, that the athletes are getting proportional amounts of scholarships and so on. So, I think for me what Title IX did was twofold, one was to expand opportunities right and that was really the intent of the law and then we had this sort of corresponding change that happened along with that when you get girls and women, now having the legal right to access to opportunities that comes with a sort of shift and change in the culture and so on a mass level, what we saw was an increasing acceptance of girls and women in sport and female athleticism. This didn’t happen overnight, it didn’t happen whole sale um its certainly an issue that we’re confronting, even today, but it definitely shifted the landscape so that the idea that girls and women shouldn’t be playing sport was really challenged in very powerful ways.

Pfeiffer: Yeah, I think that that is a great way to phrase it and you know I think we can all agree that obviously there’s been so much forward progress uh, so many gains made in women’s sport um, since Title IX passed in 1972, uh but their still is a lot of discussion, you know particularly through the end of the 20th century around this idea of apologetic or compensatory behavior for women athletes. Can you explain a little bit what that means for women athletes and how they’ve had to navigate social expectations surrounding athletics even in this post Title IX period?

Cooky: Sure, so the female apologetic is a term that was coined I believe by uh uh a historian um in the early 1970s to describe the ways in which, girl and women athletes have to sort of um navigate the gendered expectations of sport, with the gendered, broader gendered expectations of the culture. So, one of the really important things to understand about sport when were talking about gender and sport, um gender and history and sport, is that sport in the United States in terms of its modern development in the 20th century, was really uh uh, served a really important cultural function of socializing, young men and and boys and young men into what scholars call hegemonic masculinity or dominant forms of masculinity. So that during the great social upheavals, at the turn of the 20th century increased urbanization, industrialization, the expansion of education, all of these really fundamental social changes that were happening, were accompanied with a kind of so called crisis of masculinity, right, and so you know sort of long story short, sport is an institutional space by which our culture invests in the sort of maintenance of masculinity that’s kind of built on physicality, dominance, competitiveness, aggression, assertiveness, and so on. We know though that sort of broadly speaking those qualities and characteristics which are essentially human characteristics are highly gendered and gendered as masculine. So you take this institutional and cultural space of sport, which is really sort of steeped in these hegemonic understandings of masculinity and you put girls and women into that space. Right, and so there is this kind of conflicting message between the expectations that are required of girls and women on the playing field and the expectations for girls and women off the field and those expectations are not incongruence, as is the case with male athletes right, there’s actually a conflict. And so, the female apologetic, describes the ways that girls and women navigate those right and so there’s this cultural pressure, whether sort of real or perceived for girls and women to then really emphasize and highlight femininity. Right, so it’s through clothing, it’s through playing style, it’s through appearance and sort of portrayals um the roles that girls and women play on the field and off the field that then, sort of say I might be really tough and competitive and aggressive when I’m on the field, um but I’m gonna wear my hair in a ponytail. I’m gonna have long fingernails, I’m gonna wear uh you know are uniforms are gonna be such that they show that we are women or girls on the field. Were gonna have short skirts, were gonna have tight fitted jerseys, were gonna have short shorts, right to kind of show off our our bodies in ways that appeal to compulsory heterosexuality. And then off the field, I’m going to appear seminude in a photoshoot in a magazine. I’m gonna be, you know make sure I go out with my boyfriend or my husband, I’m gonna highlight in kind of the media things that I do. I’m gonna highlight that I’m a mother that I have children right and the media kind of plays into that. And that’s really, I think, sort of encapsulates the female apologetic. I think what’s important here though for me as a sociologist is to sort of think about agency. And so, its not that you know, that there are these cultural pressures, but certainly individual athletes have agency to either conform to those cultural pressures or resist those cultural pressures. So, I think female athletes particularly in this moment are much more able and willing to assert their own agency and to construct a kind of public image that may in fact actually run counter to what we would associate with conventional femininity or or the female apologetic and the increased visibility of lesbian athletes, I think is a great example of that. The increased visibility of athletes who are um embracing kind of more what we would call androgenous modes of appearance, I think is another way in which female athletes, women athletes are kind of resisting the hyper sexualization in sports. Um, we just saw that with the German gymnastics team, you know sort of resistant to wearing leotards and wearing the unitard instead. And so, I think that’s um, a really important point to acknowledge that those cultural pressures might exist, but athletes themselves have agency to either conform or resist.

Marino: Well, that’s really interesting because I mean I think, in a lot of ways this female apologetic, or this apologetic behavior has been going on even pre-Title IX of course as we saw in our episode with the South Bend Blue Sox, but you know continued at least through my time playing sports in the 90s and 2000s and I think you still do see it somewhat in sport today, but as you note, you know individual players and athletes do have that agency to make that decision and I think in some ways, you know are supported when they resist and pushback against that too. So, I think our final question here is what else needs to be done to sort of level the playing field for female athletes?

Cooky: Oh my gosh, so much work needs to be done (Laughs). That could be a whole other episode in it of itself, but I know we don’t have a whole lot of time. You know I think what’s important that I would want to communicate is, I think that there are ways in which many of the issues and problems and challenges that girls and women face at the beginning of the 20th century are not that different than the issues that girls and women face at the beginning of the 21st century. Certainly, there’s been a tremendous amount of change over that time frame, but there’s ways in which women I think still occupy a second-class status in sport. And so, you know I could talk more about the really important gains that we’ve made and the changes that we’ve seen and we talked a little bit about that with Title IX, but I think certainly the distribution of resources, um weather those are economic resources, whether that is cultural resources in the form of media attention and media coverage that is certainly an area that needs to be addressed. We talked about Title IX earlier and Title IX is important and has expanded opportunities, but when we look at all those resources and the quality of opportunities. What we find is that most institutions in higher education and in high schools as well do not comply with Title IX. In the sense of those resources, so certainly I think um expanding the investment uh economic investment and girls and women’s sports is important and I think the other piece that I’ll say here that I also think needs to be addressed and your podcast is helping to do that right, is to you know increase visibility of girls and women’s sports, within sort of the cultural discourse and within media spaces and so you know having the opportunity to learn about women’s sports um and to do so in consistent ways, I think is gonna go a long way in terms of hopefully seeing some real shifts and changes uh in the culture over the next 100 years. I think the other piece that I also want to say here, you know we needed to think about changing the way we think about gender in our society. Um, and I think that the issue of trans athlete participation um is really going to bring forward a number of really important conversations around the sex segregated nature of sports. Um and I think that’s uh really important space and potential for change uh as well.

Pfeiffer: Excellent, well this has been fantastic I think it’s a great follow up to our um most recent episode of Talking Hoosier History and I feel like what you said in terms of just sharing this information. Women have been participating in sports for well over 100 years and they will continue to participate in finding those opportunities for them too, uh whether it is, you know in terms of access, just making sure that those gains continue to be made, but really appreciate you sharing your insight with us today and really taking the time to talk with us.

Cooky: Thank you so much for having me its been a pleasure.

Marino: Yeah, thank you Cheryl. We appreciate it.

Cooky: Thanks.

[Music Outro]

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Cheryl Cooky

Learn more about Dr. Cooky’s work here: https://cla.purdue.edu/directory/profiles/cheryl-cooky.html

See more of Dr. Cooky’s work here: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=kw2zExYAAAAJ&hl=en

View a Ted Talk about women’s sports here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPS2YoXWMSs

2021 Marker Madness

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Learn more about each topic here!

To generate visibility of select Indiana history topics and encourage the public to apply for historical markers commemorating them, we’re kicking off the 4th annual Marker Madness bracket competition! This year’s topics include well-known names such as Charles “Chuck” Taylor and the Jackson 5, as well as Hoosier history deep-cuts such as queer activist Stan Berg and pitcher Amos “The Hoosier Thunderbolt” Rusie. Learn more about each topic here. Each day starting on March 1, there will be a featured match-up and YOU get to decide which topic will move forward.

Want to participate? Between now and March 1, fill out your own bracket and post it on social media using #MarkerMad2021. The person with the most correct individual matchups will win an Indiana history themed prize!

Vote on your favorite topic daily on both Facebook and Twitter. Check back here to see updated brackets!

Below is the final bracket. Thanks to all who participated this year!

 

THH Episode 42: Giving Voice: Dr. James Madison

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Transcript for Giving Voice: Dr. James Madison

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice.

On this installment of Giving Voice, I talk with Dr. James Madison, whose new book, Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland explores what the Klan of the 1920s in Indiana looked like, how they amassed and wielded their power, and how their legacy continues to be seen in the state today. If you haven’t listened to our latest episode, which covers the story of how the University of Notre Dame harnessed the popularity of their football program to combat a smear campaign carried out by the Klan, I encourage you to do so as it elaborates on some of the aspects we touch on in this conversation.

And now, Giving Voice.

I’m here today with Dr. James Madison, Emeritus Professor of History at Indiana University and the author of the new book, Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland. Thank you, Dr. Madison for being here with me today it’s a real pleasure speaking with you.

Madison: Well, thank you Lindsey. I’m always happy to talk history and I’m especially happy to be on this Indiana Historical Bureau program. So, thank you.

Beckley: So, I thought we’d start out with a simple question that might not have a simple answer. Who joined the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the 1920s? And why did they join?

Madison: That’s a very important question, Lindsey, and we are now able to answer that question. Thirty or 40 years ago, we couldn’t, but there’s been a lot of good scholarship on that and there’s more coming out in the future. White, native born Protestants is the answer to your question.

And that’s very important because the myth that prevails – the wrong headed assumption – that has been hailed for nearly 100 years was that members of the Klan in Indiana in the 1920s were, as the great journalist Elmer Davis called them, the “great unteachable’s.” That they were sort of a lower order, even ne’er do wells. We now know that’s not true. They were good Hoosiers. They were good citizens. Respectable people, for the most part. But they were all in their self-definition, 100% American – that is white, native born, Protestants.

Beckley: And why did they join this fraternal organization? What did they see in it that enticed them to join?

Madison: Here too there is a myth. That the Hoosiers that joined the Klan were manipulated by snake oil salesman like DC Stevenson, the grand dragon. That they were not very sophisticated and that they did not understand what the Klan was about. I think that’s simply not true. The evidence is overwhelming that most of the people who joined the Klan truly believed in the values, the goals of the Ku Klux Klan. That is, to redeem America, to return America to its greatness – return America to a place where the enemies were held in secondary status so that good, 100% Americans could really, really run the nation.

Lindsey: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Because I do think that a lot of people still have those ideas and their head that people were duped into joining the Klan or that it was a bunch of ne’er do wells, as you say, that joined. Whereas it was ordinary citizens going in with eyes wide open.

What conditions here in the state preceded the Klan’s arrival that kind of paved the way for them to gain such massive power in such a short amount of time?

Madison Well, there are deep traditions in Indiana history and in American history that were essential to the success of the Ku Klux Klan. And those include fear and hatred of immigrants an outsiders. Fear and hatred among Protestants of Catholics. Among Christians of Jews. All sorts of prejudices and divisions including prejudices against African Americans in particular. All of these ways of dividing Hoosiers and Americans into us and them had persisted in Indiana from the very beginning. So that’s one essential part of the Klan story in the 1920s.

More immediately, there’s World War One. And World War One was a horrible war in so many ways, including its domestic consequences because it exacerbated – it let forth all sorts of prejudices against them, against people who were others. And that persisted into the 1920s.

And then I’d say also that the decade of the 1920s was an unusual time where Indiana had a particularly mediocre political leadership. There were no men – and we’re talking almost entirely about men here in the 1920s – there were no men in political positions of leadership who had what we might call character or even charisma. They were mediocre. And they were mostly, in fact almost entirely, interested in getting reelected. So, policy issues, questions of central importance to our government and our state were not on their agenda. And when the Klan came along so very, very many of them, especially in the Republican Party, saw the Klan as a vehicle to increase their political power. To get reelected. To be more important in running national politics. So, all of those conditions created an atmosphere that was very, very ripe for the Klan to rise to power in Indiana in the early 1920s.

Beckley: So, that last point that you brought up about politics being more about being reelected than actually getting any agenda achieved, kind of flows well into my next question. Which is, it’s interesting to me that the Klan worked like a well-oiled machine to get sympathetic representatives elected to the General Assembly but then once they were actually there, they didn’t seem to get much actual policy or Klan-proposed policy achieved. Maybe one or two things, but it wasn’t quite the powerhouse that I think that they were intending. What do you think stopped them from achieving more in their short time in power?

Madison: That’s a very good point, and a very important part of this story because – let me speak just quickly to the first part, and that is that the Klan was often assumed to be a bunch of bumblers and not really knowing quite what they were doing. But that’s not true. The Klan was a very sophisticated organization. Hierarchal. Able to recruit large numbers of members. Able to bring in millions of dollars to its treasury. So, it’s a very sophisticated, powerful, well run organization by early 1924. So powerful that the Klan candidates sweep into office in the fall elections in 1924.

The General Assembly that sits in early 1925 is composed mostly of Klan members or supporters of the Klan. The governor of Indiana, Ed Jackson, far and away the worst governor in our history, was very very sympathetic to the Klan. So, a very powerful organization. And yet, as you say, Lindsey, in the General Assembly they proved to be a bunch of ineffectual’s, in particular because they started to fight among themselves. One of the blessings of this kind of movement often is that they are so selfish and power hungry that factions develop. That they split apart in their quest for power. And that’s exactly what happened in the late fall and early spring of 1925, particularly in the statehouse, because there are all sorts of factions and they just sort of fight each other. They were more interested in winning power than they were and passing Klan reform programs.

Beckley: It’s just so interesting how they worked so hard and just kind of slid into power there and then kind of fell apart at the most critical junction. Lucky for Indiana, of course.

Madison: Very, very lucky. Because the Klan program – the Klan legislative program – was serious and had they passed it then come back again in the following General Assembly, who knows what they would have put into the force of law and policy. It’s a dreadful, dreadful thing to contemplate.

Beckley: One quote from your book really jumped out at me and it is that, “Klan women and men saw themselves not as bigoted extremists but as good Christians and good Patriots joining proudly in a moral crusade.” Today, we see those same people as members of a terrorist organization. How did most Americans who weren’t part of the Klan but also weren’t part of the organized resistance, how did they view the Klan from the outside looking in?

Madison: That’s a hard question to answer because it’s very hard to find the primary sources that give voice to that. I think that it’s quite likely that many, many Hoosiers did not oppose the Klan and did not join the Klan. Perhaps a majority of Hoosiers were in that category. And within that category of not opposing and not joining or supporting, there are all ranges of possibilities, some were very, very unhappy about the Klan but unwilling to step up. And I think that’s a large number of Hoosiers. They were unwilling to stand up against the Klan. There were very few profiles in courage in this group. They were fearful because the Klan had such immense power. The Klan had the power to intimidate, to threaten, to make your life difficult if they chose to. But also, I think even those who did not join the Klan tended to think that, “well they’re sort of right. There’s really nothing wrong with this organization. We’re not going to pay our dues and march in a parade, but they are OK. They are normal.” And that’s a very important part of the Klan story in the 1920s. The Klan worked hard to be respected to be a normal part of America. And in the eyes of their members and supporters, they were exactly that. They were not on the margins. They were not a bunch of fools. They were normal, good, respectable Americans. And that’s a very hard thing for us to understand today because all sorts of myths and stories get in the way of that. But that is essential to understanding the Klan in Indiana in the 20s. Normal, respectable, Hoosiers.

Beckley: I think that a lot of people, when they’re thinking about the Klan, their ideas about the organization are kind of clouded by the Klan of the Reconstruction Era and then of the 1960s when it is much more violent and, in the case of the 60s, fragmented and kind of – it is those bumbling people, or at least it was closer to that. So, I think that we are thinking about it and we aren’t – a lot of folks aren’t separating out the three distinct versions of the Klan and the 1920s. It’s so hard to wrap your head around just because they were so respectable. And reading the first part of your book, it almost sounded like frivolous. The people were going to parades and having picnics and even cross burnings were a celebration. It wasn’t necessarily seen by them as a source of terror whereas it would have been seen by their victims as a source of terror, but something as iconic as a cross burning can be seen by members of the Klan as a festival almost. It’s just very hard to comprehend, I think.

Madison: Well, yes. And that’s the way in which the Klan was normal. Because, well the Klan had a very very straightforward purpose: to make America for 100% Americans. And to keep the enemies in their place. But at the same time, these were people who wanted to have a good time, who wanted to be with other like-minded people. It was a very social organization. They had picnics and all kinds of events. They got together in their weekly or semi-weekly Klavern meetings. There were Klavern’s in all 92 counties. They got together, they had a social program, they sang hymns, they had good conversation, they always had food – you know Hoosiers always have food at social events like that especially in the 1920s – so they had good food, good picnics, good times. They had fun and many of them joined in part because of that. But that wasn’t the only reason, or the major reason, that they joined. The idea of good Hoosiers enjoying life as members of the Ku Klux Klan is another one that is hard for us to understand. Because what gets in the way, as you said, was the Klan of the post-Civil War era which was a terrorist organization and the Klan of the 1960s, or that began in the 1960s and continued for decades afterwards, which was a horrible organization of white supremacists and getting towards acts of violence. But the Indiana Klan is not that way. Again, respectable and normal. They were not interested in violence. They were much more interested in having a parade, or a cross burning. Certainly those things intimidate people. It tells them that this is a very powerful organization. You see hundreds of robed people walking down Main Street and around the courthouse square in Indiana – that sends a message. You see a cross burning or several cross burnings on a hill outside of town or at the State Fairgrounds – that sends a message. And the Klan was very sophisticated and sending these kinds of messages. “We are powerful. Don’t cross us. Support us we are the good people and you better stay in your place if you are not one of us and not cause trouble.” So again, a sophisticated organization. A normal organization in Indiana in the 1920s. Not later on in the late 20th century not in the South after the Civil War. But in the 20s in Indiana? Absolutely.

Beckley: So, to close out the discussion today, I have another quote from your book. “The Klan was history. The legacy remains.” That’s a powerful quote and I was hoping that you could talk a little bit more about those legacies that you see remaining from the Klan.

Madison: Well, that’s another one of the many complexities of the Klan, because in some ways, I’ve argued, the Klan by 1930 was dead in Indiana. The Klan that we know in the 20s no longer existed. What happened was, as the Civil Rights movement began to grow in Indiana and in America in the late 50s and especially in the early 60s, it produced a space. It produced opposition. It produced blow back from some white Hoosiers and white Americans who said woah, woah, woah this Civil Rights movement has gone too far. These African Americans have gotten out of their place. They’re asking too much. And George Wallace came to Indiana in 1924 – the segregationist governor from Indiana* – and campaigned on that platform and got about 1/3 of the white vote. Horrible example of the responses to the idea that the Civil Rights went too far, as some whites in America an Indiana would claim. And that cleared a space for a revival, a renewal, of the Ku Klux Klan. Small groups mostly scattered across the state with some self-proclaimed Grand Dragons got a lot of publicity in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. They held rallies and parades in many places including Indianapolis in Kokomo and Madison, Indiana. Always at these rallies in the late 20th century, there were more opponents than supporters of the Klan. Far, far more people came out to protest. So that Klan that revived in the late 20th century really is a bunch of unteachable ne’er do wells. Really white supremacists par excellence. That was their reason for being. White supremacy. That Klan today has very little influence, very little presence. It can still intimidate us. A robe and mask of a burning cross can still cause us to fear. And African American families have stories handed down over the generations with that kind of terror, that kind of fear. But the real problem today I think is not in men and women who Don robes and hoods.

The issue today is respectable Americans, men and women and dark suits and silk blouses who say things that are on the outside may not look so horrible, but if you think a little bit, if you understand America and if you understand our past and our present, what they’re doing is using dog whistles. Coded language to say things that today are very similar to what the Klan said, much more explicitly, in the 1920s. The bigotry, prejudice, the notion that there are 100 percent Americans – that it’s US versus them – is still a notion that flourishes today in America and especially in the last four years. So, in the last four years we’ve seen an intensification of this kind of prejudice, this kind of bigotry, this kind of homophobia and xenophobia all of the things that contradict American ideals. It’s come from the White House, it is come from leaders in our political parties, especially one party in particular. And it has been the most significant attack to fundamental American values in my lifetime.

So, I think that we have in America a challenge of education. A challenge that requires that we understand our history from the very beginning to the present. Not a patriotic history. Not bedtime stories for children. Not myths. But the real history that we can now find and read not only in books but in museum exhibits and programs like this that are so very important to the future of our democracy, to our role as thinking, knowledgeable citizens.

Beckley: Yeah, we hope to always inform our listeners about their own past and how they can kind of utilized that to inform their present, so I appreciate you coming on and having this discussion today. This is such an important part of Indiana history that often gets overlooked or misunderstood. So, I’m I’m happy that we could clear some things up today.

Madison: Thank you Lindsey.

Beckley: A huge thank you, once again, to Dr. Madison. He’s one of the best Indiana historians out there and it was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to speak with him about such an important and prescient topic. If you’re interested in this period of Indiana history, I can’t recommend Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland highly enough – I know he did a lot of archival research in the past few years while working on it and it really shows.

This is the last episode of the year and we’ll be taking a little break over the holidays, but Talking Hoosier History will be back in February with more stories of the people, places, and events that shaped the Hoosier state. In the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and Twitter for daily doses of Indiana history tidbits. Subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

*George Wallace, the segregationist Senator, came to Indiana in 1964, rather than 1924, when he was running in the Democratic primaries. He was a Senator from Alabama, rather than Indiana.

Show Notes for Giving Voice: James Madison

Learn more about the Klan in Indiana:

Talking Hoosier History, The KKK, Political Corruption, and the Indianapolis Times, https://blog.history.in.gov/the-kkk-and-the-indianapolis-times/ 

Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana 1921-1928, University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part One: Opposition to the Klan at Notre Dame,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-one-notre-dame-opposition-to-the-klan/ 

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Two: Notre Dame’s 1924 Football Team Battles Klan Propaganda,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-two/

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Three: The Notre Dame Publicity Campaign that Crushed the Klan,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-three-the-notre-dame-publicity-campaign-that-crushed-the-klan/

James Madison, “The Klan’s Enemies Step Up, Slowly,” Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 116, No. 2 (June 2020), p. 93-120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/indimagahist.116.2.01?seq=1

THH Episode 41: Notre Dame Tackles the Klan

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Notre Dame Tackles the Klan

[Radio clips of Notre Dame football fades in and out]

Nineteen twenty-four was going to be their year. The Notre Dame football team was coming off a well-played 1923 season with just one loss, and they had their sights set on an even bigger goal that year – a perfect season. However, to get there, they faced some stiff competition – rivals like the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who had served up their only loss in 1923, loomed on the horizon. But looming even larger than rival teams was an off-the-field opponent that was in a different class altogether. That year, Notre Dame set out to defeat the Ku Klux Klan in a media crusade the likes of which had never been seen before.

[Radio clips of Notre Dame football]

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

The Ku Klux Klan arrived in the Hoosier State in 1920. By the mid-20s, more than 250,000 men had joined the organization throughout the state, and thousands of women and children had joined auxiliary clubs. While bearing the name, costume, and racist, xenophobic rhetoric of the Reconstruction Era Klan, this iteration of the terrorist organization differed in some key ways.

The Klan of the 1860s and 70s wielded clubs, guns, and nooses, while the Klan of the 1920s mostly wielded political power. The Klan of the mid-19th century terrorized the African American population of the southern United States, while that of the 20th century broadened their animus to include political radicals, feminists, intellectuals, Jews, and, most vociferously, Catholics and immigrants.

One other way in which the Klan of the 1920s differed from its predecessor, especially in Indiana, was just how interwoven it was with respectable society. Klansmen weren’t on the fringes, ostracized by their hatred. Rather, as Indiana University historian James Madison said in his new book, The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland, “The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was as dark as the night and as American as apple pie.”

Nativism and xenophobia were well established in the state before 1920 – Hoosiers were already asking if immigrants could really be American if they maintained traditions from their homeland. Or if Catholics could be loyal Americans while simultaneously being loyal to the Pope. These weren’t ideas introduced by the Klan, but rather they were ideas that paved the way for the Klan to quickly infiltrate society at a deep level.

Because the Klan was such an integral part of the fabric of everyday life in Indiana, there was very little widespread resistance to the organization. However, there were instances of individuals, communities, and religious groups taking a stand against the hatred. Dr. Madison explores some of these instances in his Indiana Magazine of History article titled “The Klan’s Enemies Step up, Slowly.” Various towns and cities around the state passed laws prohibiting the wearing of masks, targeting the white hood and mask worn during Klan events. They denied permits for Klan-affiliated speakers, and restricted public cross burnings and parades. Jewish Hoosiers organized a lecture series on tolerance in an area rife with Klan activity. Newspapers around the Midwest, including the Muncie Post-Democrat, the Chicago-based Tolerance and the Indianapolis Times wrote scathing editorials decrying the Klan’s practices.

It was Catholic Hoosiers who showed the most unified resistance, though – this was likely because they were the primary targets of the Klan’s intolerance. When the Tipton County Fair announced it would be hosting a “Klan Day,” Catholics boycotted the event. When the Knights of Columbus organized a protest against the Klan in Indianapolis, nearly 800 Catholic men attended. And perhaps the state’s most prominent anti-Klan demonstration took place in the town of South Bend in May 1924.

South Bend, home to Catholics of Irish, Polish, and Hungarian origin, as well as the traditionally Catholic University of Notre Dame, was one of the only major cities in Indiana without a Klan presence. The hate group was working hard to change that in the lead-up to the 1924 election using a two-pronged approach. First, Klan leaders worked to legitimize the organization through philanthropic and recreational family activities and to grow its power through infiltrating politics and local law enforcement. Second, they worked to demonize their target groups – in this case, Catholics and immigrants. To that end, the Klan published anti-Catholic, xenophobic propaganda in their widely circulated newspaper, The Fiery Cross, and, as the existing anti-Catholic sentiments of many Hoosiers were being stoked in that way, Klan leadership laid a kind of trap for the Catholic citizens of South Bend. They scheduled a mass Klan meeting, where members from the Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois Klans would gather to spread their hateful rhetoric. The hope was that Catholic students from the nearby University of Notre Dame and South Bend citizens, many of whom were of immigrant origin, would rise up in reaction to the Klan’s presence, giving the Klan the opportunity to paint them as violent, lawless, un-American immigrants in contrast to the peacefully assembled “100% American” Klansmen. The meeting was scheduled for May 17, 1924.

Fearful for the safety of their students and local residents, Notre Dame and South Bend officials worked to stop a potentially violent incident. South Bend Mayor Eli Seebirt refused to grant the Klan a parade permit, although he could not stop their peaceful assembly on public grounds. Notre Dame President Matthew Walsh issued a bulletin, imploring students to stay on campus and ignore the Klan activities in town. He wrote:

Clark reading from Walsh: Similar attempts of the Klan to flaunt its strength have resulted in riotous situations, sometimes in the loss of life. However aggravating the appearance of the Klan may be, remember that lawlessness begets lawlessness. Young blood and thoughtlessness may consider it a duty to show what a real American thinks of the Klan. There is only one duty that presents itself to Notre Dame men, under the circumstances, and that is to ignore whatever demonstration may take place today.

Beckley: Father Walsh was right. “Young blood” could not abide the humiliation of this anti-Catholic hate group taking over the town. The Fiery Cross had hurled insults and false accusations at the students for some time. The propaganda newspaper called them “hoodlums,” claimed that Notre Dame produced “nothing of value,” and blamed the students for crime in the area. As Klan members began arriving in the city on May 17, 1924, South Bend was ready to oppose them.

The South Bend Tribune reported:

Clark reading from Tribune: Trouble started early in the day when Klansmen in full regalia of hoods, masks and robes appeared on street corners in the business section, ostensibly to direct their brethren to the meeting ground, Island park, and giving South Bend its first glimpse of Klansmen in uniform.

Beckley: Not long after Klan members began arriving, young men, assumed to have been Notre Dame students, surrounded the masked intruders. The anti-Klan South Bend residents and students tore off several masks and robes, exposing the identities of “kluxers” who wished to spread their hate anonymously. The Tribune reported that some Klan members were “roughly handled.” The newspaper also reported that the anti-Klan force showed some evidence of organization. They formed a “flying column” that moved in unison “from corner to corner, wherever a white robe appeared.” By 11:30 a.m. students and residents of South Bend had purged the business district of any sign of the Klan.

Meanwhile, Klan leaders continued to lobby city officials for permission to parade, hold meetings in their downtown headquarters, and assemble en masse at Island Park. Just after noon, the group determined to protect South Bend turned their attention to Klan headquarters. This home base was the third floor of a building and was identifiable by the “fiery cross” made of red light bulbs in the window. The students and South Bend residents surrounded the building and focused on removing the glowing red symbol of hate. Several young men “hurled potatoes” at the building, breaking several windows and smashing the light bulbs in the cross. The young men then stormed up the stairs to the Klan den and were stopped by minister and Klan leader Reverend J.H. Horton with a revolver.

The students attempted to convince Klan members to agree not to parade in masks or with weapons. While convincing all parties to ditch the costumes wasn’t easy, they did eventually negotiate a truce. By 3:30 p.m., the protestors had left the headquarters and rallied at a local pool hall.  Here, a student leader spoke to the crowd and urged them to remain peaceful but vigilant in case they were needed by the local police to break up the parade. After all was said and done, despite Klan threats, the city never issued a parade license and the Klan never paraded. Looking at the outcomes of this clash, it may seem as though the Notre Dame students came out on top – they were able to clear much of the city of white-robed Klansmen, the parade had not happened, and they had faced their persecutors head-on, something that’s easy to root for. However, this show of resistance was exactly what they Klan wanted, and they ran with it, painting the students as a “reckless, fight loving gang of Hoodlums” and using the Fiery Cross to spread a narrative of law-abiding Protestant citizens being denied their right to peacefully assemble while being violently attacked by gangs of Catholics and immigrants working together.

Mixing outright lies into their media spin, the Klan newspaper claimed that the students ripped up American flags and attacked women and children. The Klan’s propaganda was picked up by many mainstream newspapers and widely reported. The Notre Dame students may have appeared to win the day, but the reputation of the University of Notre Dame, and the Catholic community as a whole, had been tarnished by the spread of Klan propaganda.

The university needed a way to combat this bad press, and luckily, they had just the thing: the wildly successful Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team. Since 1921, Father John O’Hara, the prefect of religion, had been working to link the players’ Catholicism with their success on the gridiron by arranging press coverage of the players attending mass before away games, providing medals of saints for them to wear during games, and writing about “the religious component in Notre Dame’s football success.” In essence, he drew on the idea of sport as a platform for social change, an idea that continues to be used in the 21st century. O’Hara planned to take this strategy up a notch for the 1924 season in an attempt to combat the smear campaign being waged by the Klan.

In order to put this plan into action, though, the Fighting Irish would have to make an even more impressive showing than they had in the 1923 season. This was a tall order, as their only loss that season was a devastating defeat by the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a game during which the Fighting Irish were subjected to anti-Catholic insults. This would have to be a year like no other – a perfect, undefeated season.

Coach Knute Rockne had his work cut out for him, but he came to the 1924 season with a plan – instead of starting his first-string players, he would send in his second-string “shock troops” to tire out their opponents. Then he would send in his best players, still fresh and ready to make up any ground that had been lost and more. The strategy was deployed with great success in the first two games of the season – Lombard College and Wabash College were defeated with a combined score of 74 to zero. The first real test for both the team and the press strategy came on October 25, when the Fighting Irish faced one of their biggest rivals – the Army team.

[Radio coverage from Army game]

In the lead up to the game, alumni living in the city fed Notre Dame-produced press statements to New York newspapers and drummed up support for the Fighting Irish at local Catholic organizations. As 60,000 fans…

Clark with old-time radio effects:  60,000 fans have descended upon the New York City Polo Grounds to watch this match-up …

Beckley: it was clear that the good press had paid off – the New York Times reported that the crowd was the largest ever seen in the city. When the Irish pulled off a relatively tight 13-7 victory, the press raved and reporter Grantland Rice of the New York Herald Tribune delivered one of the most famous lines in sports history, writing about the Notre Dame’s backfield lineup:

Clark reading from Tribune: Outlined against a blue, gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore, they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden.

Beckley: The “four horsemen” nickname immediately gained traction. Upon the team’s return, the university arranged to have a photographer shoot a picture of the “horsemen” in uniform on horseback – just another card in the media playbook

One-third of the way through their regular season, the plan was right on track – the team had won some decisive victories and the media coverage was overwhelmingly positive, despite the fact that the Fiery Cross continued to re-hash the events of May 24, smearing the Catholic and immigrant community of South Bend every chance they got. As the season continued, it became clear that this Notre Dame team was a force to be reckoned with – they emerged from their mid-season games with three more decisive victories against Princeton, Georgia Tech, and University of Wisconsin. Their next, and perhaps largest, hurdle still loomed ahead in the form of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who had delivered their only defeat of the 1923 season.

In their last match-up, the Fighting Irish had encountered prejudice and xenophobic epithets from the Nebraska fanbase. This meant that a victory against the Huskers would not only get the Irish one win closer to a perfect season, but the victory of the hardworking and stoic Irish Catholic school over a team with anti-Catholic fans would be symbolic of a larger Catholic victory over prejudice.

This game had been the focus of the entire season for Notre Dame, and when the two teams took the field in South Bend on November 15, the Fighting Irish were out for revenge…

Clark with old time radio effects: …the Fighting Irish are out for revenge. Coach Rockne may be re-thinking his shock troop tactics this game… and the Huskers advance to the four-yard line after the Irish give up a fumble … The crowd goes wild as the first stringers take the field … and the Huskers drive it in for an early touchdown, Huskers lead 6-0 at the end of the first period! The Irish come out strong in the second quarter … the Four Horsemen are putting on a fine show … and we go to the half with the Irish ahead 14-6. … The Irish Eleven are really putting on a show now … Notre Dame 21, Nebraska 6 at the end of the third period … and Layden plunges through the center for a touchdown! … 34-6. The Irish win! The Irish win!!

Beckley: Finally, they had defeated the team that had not only ruined their otherwise perfect 1923 season, but had maligned them with anti-Catholic, anti-Irish slurs as well.

With that win in the books, the Irish swept through the remaining two games on their schedule – against Northwestern and Carnegie Tech – with relative ease, achieving their goal of a perfect season. This perfect record was everything the university administration had hoped for in order to engage their publicity machine and improve the school’s unfairly marred reputation. Giving them an even better opportunity for good press, the team was invited to play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Father O’Hara, who had orchestrated press coverage of the team throughout the season, saw this as an unprecedented public relations opportunity.

Rather than travel to California a week before the game and practice a few times on the Rose Bowl field, the team was put through a grueling three-week schedule of practices, press conferences, public appearances, and daily Mass – all while snaking their way across the country by train. At the same time, the Klan continued to churn out hateful propaganda painting Catholics and immigrants as un-American troublemakers. And major outlets had picked up the narrative, lending credibility to the slanderous claims. This was what these young men, who were already facing the biggest game of their careers, were up against. Not only did they have to be at the top of their game, they also had to be on the moral high ground – they were representatives not only of Notre Dame, but of the larger Catholic and Irish American communities.

Finally, the team arrived in Los Angeles to a train platform crowded with fans – it seemed their press tour was working.

After checking into the hotel, the team went to the Rose Bowl field for practice. Standing in the stadium, the Irish focused on their goal: a Rose Bowl championship. After one more practice, the Fighting Irish returned to their hotel to rest for the night. In the meantime, newspapers across the country reported on the practice, debated who would win the following day, and discussed just how evenly matched the two teams were. The excitement was building. The Chicago Tribune reported:

Clark reading from Tribune: Every arriving train brings more football fans, and the great majority favor Notre Dame to win. Coaches from all sections of the country are here to get a line on the Rockne style of play and see what all expect to be a great exhibition of open football.

Beckley: On the warm and sunny New Year’s Day of 1925, the team attended Mass and took Holy Communion before heading to the Rose Bowl. Over 53,000 fans filled the stands and others sat in trees outside the stadium. The game started at 2:15 p.m. As usual, Coach Rockne started his second string “shock troops…

Clark with old time radio effects: …Coach Rockne has started his second string “shock troops.” That might be a mistake with this Stanford offense … and the Cardinals score first with a field goal – score 3-0 Stanford … And the first string players enter the fray … Even the usually unstoppable Four Horsemen seem to be unable to make a drive against this Stanford line …  Oh! And the Irish get a break as Stanford flubs the punt, placing the Irish on the Stanford 32 yard-line! … The Irish drive it in for their first score of the game – Irish lead 6-3! … Notre Dame full-back Elmer Layden intercepts the pass and runs it back for a 70 yard touchdown!! … Irish lead 13-3 going into the second half!

And the Cardinals fumble the ball – Irishman Edward Huntsinger picks it up and runs it 20 yards for another touchdown!! … Stanford has the ball inside the Notre Dame 1-yard line … and they’re stopped mere inches from the endzone!! Stanford goes for a pass and it’s intercepted by Layden … he’s going, he’s going, he’s gone!!! Layden runs it back for another 70 yard touchdown … And the Irish win the Rose Bowl 27-10! What a way to top off a perfect season!!

Beckley: The season was over, but the public relations machine was still in full force. The team set off on a “victory lap” from California to Indiana on January 2, a 10-day journey where the players met adoring crowds, rubbed shoulders with celebrities, and shook hands with politicians. This was a victory lap for the Notre Dame football squad, yes, but also for Catholicism. After all, what’s more American than football? And here was a group of scholar-athletes demonstrating for the nation that their faith didn’t stand in the way of being American.

Perhaps everyone who had been discriminated against in this era of the Klan was feeling a little Irish in the wake of the Notre Dame victory. Herbert Fleishacker, a prominent Jewish San Francisco banker, wrote in a telegram to the alumni group:

Clark reading telegram: WE IRISH MUST STAND TOGETHER.

Beckley: By the time they arrived back at the university on January 12, the players were completely exhausted, but triumphant. The Fighting Irish had delivered an undefeated season and a national championship to their university. Notre Dame officials, in turn, leveraged the opportunity into a publicity spectacle. Father O’Hara’s plan to use football successes to reform the school’s reputation had worked. Notre Dame historian Robert Burns noted that:

Clark reading from Burns: By playing very hard, but always according to the rules, never complaining or making excuses, and winning, Notre Dame players would show the American public what Catholics and Catholic education was all about.

Beckley: The Klan’s Fiery Cross continued to spread lies about Catholic plots and tales of Notre Dame hoodlums, but the country had just witnessed an extended and public display of honorable play, sportsmanship, and model behavior from these young Catholic men – the American public were largely over the story.

The publicity campaign organized by the University of Notre Dame forever crushed the Klan’s plans for infiltrating South Bend and tainting the school’s reputation. South Bend refused to be baited into further physical confrontations with the Klan, school officials refused to accept the insults hurled at them through Klan propaganda, and the Fighting Irish refused to play the Klan’s game. They played football instead – just one example in a long history of sports being used as a platform for social change and social justice in America.

However, while the Klan was defeated in South Bend, they remained dominant throughout much of Indiana, and their anti-Immigrant views were popular throughout the nation. The same year that this story takes place – 1924 – the Klan’s championing of white supremacist principles yielded real world consequences in the form of the national Immigration Act of 1924, which resulted in a quota system that reduced immigration by 80%. We saw the effects of this legislation most poignantly in the 1930s, when hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, who applied to the United States for immigration visas, were denied entry. Many of those people were later murdered in the Holocaust.

In the 1920s, the Klan claimed to be the sole proprietor of who was “American:” native born, white Protestants were, and foreign-born Catholics were not.  Although today the Klan has lost much of their power, their vision of white supremacy and exclusion still simmers right beneath the surface of American politics, and in some cases boils over. In the 1920s, we allowed hate groups to define who was and wasn’t considered American. Today, as we see hate groups on the rise, we must be vigilant not to let the mistakes of our past be repeated.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. This episode of Talking Hoosier History was adapted from “Integrity on the Gridiron,” three original posts written by IHB historian Jill Weiss Simins for the Indiana History Blog. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thank you to Justin Clark for lending his voice to today’s episode. We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode of Giving Voice, where I’ll be talking with Indiana University historian and author of the new book, The Ku Klux Klan in the Heartland, Dr. James Madison. In the meantime, find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Show Notes for Notre Dame Tackles the Klan

Learn about the Indianapolis Times crusade against the Klan with this episode of Talking Hoosier History. 

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part One: Opposition to the Klan at Notre Dame,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-one-notre-dame-opposition-to-the-klan/ 

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Two: Notre Dame’s 1924 Football Team Battles Klan Propaganda,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-two/

Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Three: The Notre Dame Publicity Campaign that Crushed the Klan,” Indiana History Blog, https://blog.history.in.gov/integrity-on-the-gridiron-part-three-the-notre-dame-publicity-campaign-that-crushed-the-klan/

James Madison, “The Klan’s Enemies Step Up, Slowly,” Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 116, No. 2 (June 2020), p. 93-120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/indimagahist.116.2.01?seq=1

THH Episode 40: Giving Voice: Sarah Halter

Transcript for Giving Voice: Sarah Halter

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice.

On today’s installment of Giving Voice, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sarah Halter, the executive director of the Indiana medical History Museum. If you haven’t listened to our latest episode, which covered the story of Rufus Cantrell, the so called King of Ghouls, I suggest you go do so now as we reference that story during our conversation and it might be helpful to be familiar with the story before going in. In this episode, we talk about the history of Central State Hospital and the steps the museum has taken to reintroduce the stories of the patients of Central State into the interpretation of the museum.

And now, Giving Voice.

I’m here today with Sarah Halter of the Indiana medical History Museum. We are so excited to have you on today Sarah, thanks for joining us.

Halter: Thank you.

Beckley: So I reached out to you because in our main episode, which is about Rufus Cantrell who was also known as the ghoul – or the King Ghouls – he, in his confession, in his long and varied confessions, claimed to have stolen upwards of 100 bodies from the cemetery on the site of what is now the Indiana Medical History Museum, but at that point would have been Central State Hospital. I was wondering, do you know if there is any truth in that claim or if he was just kind of blustering?

Halter: There certainly could be. It’s certainly possible. He also was supposed to have, I think he described it as something like he virtually emptied Mount Jackson Cemetery too, which is right west of the former grounds, just south of the later parts of the Central State Hospital Cemetery. The problem with Rufus Cantrell is that he was an interesting guy, he was quite a showman, and he was thought to have exaggerated or even made up things  One of the first things he did when he got out of prison, for example, was to try to get the gang back together to start a vaudeville act. He bragged a lot and it’s hard to know for sure. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he had.

Beckley: Yeah, I got a little bit of a sense of that from reading the newspaper reports. There was some truth definitely in there because there were a lot of graves that were found empty, but there was also at least a little bit of blustering in there as well. So, I thought that as far as with Central State Hospital, I was hoping that you would give a little bit of a general history on the hospital and how it became the Indiana Medical History Museum.

Halter: Sure, I’d love to. Central State Hospital opened in 1848 as the Indiana Hospital for the Insane, and that name doesn’t really sound very progressive to modern ears, but just using the word hospital in the name implied that the goal was to help patients recover, which was a far cry from the asylum system that had been pretty widespread before, where patients were just confined and sort of kept out of sight and out of the mind of the public and usually treated more as prisoners than as patients. So, this whole idea of treating mental illness as just that – these are something like other diseases, they can be understood and treated. So, the hospital opened in line with these new ideas and what was called moral treatment. And physicians and administrators had pretty high hopes for success. They had a lot of confidence in their own abilities. And it was a big step in the right direction, but unfortunately it was largely ineffective in many cases. It provided more humane treatment for patients and improved living conditions, and it certainly eased burdens on families, and in some ways it began a slow change in medical and public perceptions about mental illness and the people who suffer from mental illnesses , but they had a grossly deficient understanding of the nature of the diseases that they were working with. They didn’t have any effective arsenal of therapies and so the doctors really just kind of couldn’t do much regardless of their intentions. And many of the staff, including doctors, nurses, and attendants were poorly paid, poorly trained, and poorly equipped emotionally for the really high stress situations that they found themselves in.

So, from the beginning there were also serious allegations of abuse and neglect as well as mismanagement and misuse of funds, nepotism, political cronyism, all of those things. In the 19th century, hospitals were perpetually overcrowded and underfunded and most of the patients really couldn’t expect a quick recovery and these hospitals, you know, this was the 1st in Indiana, they would fill up with patience and they weren’t likely to go home, and so a new hospital would be needed. So, by the late 1880s, early 1890s, these massive state hospitals were popping up all over Indiana. They were huge, they were expensive to build and to operate, and one of their responses to this which happened here at Central State Hospital was the establishment of pathological departments.

So, Dr. George Edenharter, who was the Superintendent at the time, had this idea that by learning about these diseases using this new field of pathology that was just emerging, it was pretty unheard of in the United States, it was something that was being studied in Europe, especially in Germany and in France, we could use these new ideas and these new technologies to study physical causes of mental diseases. We could learn about them learn what causes them and how to treat them, and that way we can improve outcomes for patients, which weren’t that great at the time, but we could also save the state a lot of money by eliminating this seemingly constant need for new hospitals. And so, the Pathological Department here at Central State was established in 1896 for that reason. They were studying things like tumors, lesions, circulatory problems, inflammation, hermetic injuries, congenital defects – all of these things – to learn about them, to learn about the things that can go wrong with a person’s central nervous system and to develop treatments, hopefully, for them. And to ease the burden both on the patients and on the state of Indiana.

Beckley: I have this memory of one of the first times I went to the medical History Museum and, I can’t suss out whether it is a false memory or not, that the treatment for syphilis – the malarial treatment for syphilis – was that discovered at that pathology lab, or was it just , is that some weird memory that I’ve come up with?

Halter: It was not discovered there, but that was kind of their claim to fame. That’s one of the areas that I researched quite a lot. I don’t like this, but people sometimes refer to me as the Queen of syphilis. But yeah, it was introduced there in 1925 by doctor Walter Bruetsch, who was the chief pathologist there at the time, and he had learned about it from – he was from Germany – and he had learned about it there an brought the treatment to the US. He was one of the first in the US to use it and he used it so much and so successfully that when the US public health service started their research on the topic in 1936 they invited doctor Bruetsch and Central State Hospital to participate not only by testing the efficacy of various treatments, but also by supplying all of the data that they had accumulated over the decade or more that they were using this treatment. And then when penicillin was available for research beginning in 1943, they also participated in penicillin trials. So, though malaria therapy –

Beckley: So, just for listeners at home, what is the malarial treatment for syphilis if they have never heard of it, what all does that encompass?

Halter: It sounds like a pretty scary thing, and it was potentially disastrous. Essentially, there weren’t ways to treat neurosyphilis – third stage tertiary neurosyphilis – and that was a leading cause of institutionalization before penicillin was available. So the treatment for syphilis – the first big manmade miracle drug that was on the market – was Salvarsan 606 , which was introduced in 1910. And it was pretty effective, though it had some pretty horrible side effects, and even killed some people. It was an arsenical compound that would be injected into the patient. It was more effective with primary and secondary syphilis infections, but because it couldn’t penetrate the blood brain barrier, it was useless against neurosyphilis. And so, throughout the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, there were a couple of doctors who were sort of dabbling in this idea that you could use one disease to treat another.

So, we could intentionally infect patients with malaria, which induces a high fever, and in fact cycles of fever, and at the time they thought that it was the heat from the temperature of the fever itself that was killing the spirochete, but it was actually discovered later to be an immunological response of the body. But at any rate, they had noticed over the decades that people who had recovered from bad fever diseases often saw improvement in their psychiatric symptoms. And so, by the mid World War One and into the early 1920s, this was sort of being developed into an actual therapeutic option for patients with tertiary syphilis.

So, you would infect the patient with a particular strain of malaria that was pretty weak and fairly easy to treat with quinine – this was before penicillin, this was before any of the sulfa drugs – there really weren’t any antibiotics at the time and malaria was one of the few infectious diseases that they could actually treat because of quinine. So they used this week strain – they would inject the patient with malarial blood, so someone else’s blood who had malarial infection in their blood, would be injected into the patient to kind of give them the disease and then after 8 or 10 or maybe 12 cycles of fever, again they thought that was the mechanism by which it worked, they would then treat the patient with quinine, but not before drawing blood from them to inject into the next patient. So, that’s where it could have been really ugly, and there were instances over the years where contamination was a problem, and there were at least three instances that I know of where patients died from other infections that they contracted that way. But that was the idea that you are using one potentially deadly infectious disease to treat another.

Beckley: That’s so interesting and kind of sounds medieval to a lot of people’s ears, but it was such an advancement from absolutely no treatment to a disease that was almost a death sentence and to at least you have some hope to recover from an awful disease.

Halter: Right.

Beckley: I guess this is a good time to kind of turn to some of your work that you’ve been doing incorporating the stories of the patients of Central State into your interpretation of the museum. Because, I know that you all have a lot of specimens and I know some of maybe the more popular ones are the brain slides that you can see the tumors and stuff. Could you talk a little bit about your reinterpretation of some of those things and how you’re introducing a little bit of humanity into what goes into your interpretations?

Halter: Sure. Well, we have those because when the laboratory closed in 1968, within the year it re opened as a museum and so, there wasn’t a lot of time in between for all of this wonderful stuff to be lost. So, when it reopened in 1969 as the museum it had all of the original furnishings and equipment and some of the chemical jars and records and all of these things. And it also had all of these specimens. So, we have histological specimens, we have tissue blocks, we have some skeletal material, and then what we’re really known for are these specimen jars. They are like glass specimen jars that are on display in the museum with various organs – most of them are brains, but there are a few other organs sort of here and there – and these are organs that were collected from patients to study these different physical causes of mental illness, and also to teach students about them, about the research that was being done there. So, for the first 40 years or so that we were a museum, a lot of the interpretation of those was based on how they were interpreted when it was a functioning lab.

So, it was a place for medical students and practicing physicians could come and learn about these different problems that can develop in the brain and spinal cord and to learn about the research that was being done. So, the labels that were next to these specimen jars were very clinical descriptions of tumors and lesions. Most of them did not really give you any sense that it was even a person that was being referred to in the label. They didn’t have names, only initials and an autopsy number. They had the year and then they had these very technical descriptions of what it was that was preserved and why it was important for the students.

And so, in the last five or six years, we’ve been doing a lot here to kind of expand our focus beyond the science and the technology that was used in the building and beyond the doctors and administrators who worked here at the hospital and beyond the architecture of what, really is a pretty amazing and well preserved 19th century laboratory, to really focus more on the patients themselves and their experience. You know, this was a very vulnerable an often forgotten – and all too often mistreated – group of people who were isolated and stigmatized from their lives. There were very few people who would speak up for them and they had no real voice of their own. And so, we’ve done a lot to kind of shed more light on what their experiences were like, what their lives were like, and this was just one component of this larger effort. So, when we were working to rehumanize these specimens, it started with just a lot of research. We have a lot of records here and a lot of the medical records and autopsy records are also at the Indiana State Archives . So, we started with what we knew, and then used more genealogical and historical methods to find out more about these people. We wanted to know who they were as people, what their lives were like, what their family dynamics were. We wanted to know about their diseases, but from their perspective. So, not what went wrong inside of their brains but what were the symptoms that impacted their daily lives and their ability to build friendships and raise families and hold a job and all of those things? And we were also very curious about how their prognosis, diagnosis, treatment, and all of those things would be different today. We’ve come a long way since many of these specimens were collected and when many of these patients died, so a lot of things that might be a death sentence today – or would have been then – are not really so much now. Some of the diagnosis have changed, there are things that patients were diagnosed with which are no longer accepted diagnosis, and for a lot of things our understanding has changed. So, a person with a particular type of tumor today would have a very different experience than someone who had the same kind of tumor 100 years ago. So, we just wanted to kind of tell those stories.

It took us about five years to get all that research done. We have 53 specimens on display in our anatomical museum, and we learned a lot more about some than others, but we have information about each of them. And, last year, July 2019, we unveiled this new interpretation of the specimens. We kept the old labels, those are important too, it’s part of the specimen’s history in terms of kind of the specimen as an object, if you will, and it’s important for the medical folks who come to visit the museum to see those as well because they understand more of it than a layperson who comes in. So, we didn’t want to get rid of that interpretation, but we wanted to tell the whole story. And so, the new labels tell the human story next to the old labels with those clinical details.

Beckley: That’s an amazing project and I imagined visitors can connect on a whole different level to your new labels, even if those two labels are side by side, you’re going to learn one thing from the older labels but then you’re going to connect at a whole different level to seeing the details of somebody’s life and how their diagnosis affected their daily life and their relationships and everything like that. I imagine it just brings a whole new depth to the museum.

Halter: Yeah, I think it does. I like to kind of listen in when groups are in there. It’s very interesting. I mean, the project is something that I tried to do before I was the director, but it wasn’t a priority for the organization, so until I was the director of the museum, we weren’t really able to move forward with it, but it’s something that has been really important to me personally for a very long time . And the process of learning about these people, I mean it was emotional and it was overwhelming at times, it was just very inspiring, and it felt well worth the effort. So I like to see how other people kind of relate to these stories. It’s very interesting.

Beckley: If our listeners are wanting to learn more about these stories and see them than ourselves, could you tell them how to do that, whether that be online during covid era or whether that be in person if you guys are open – do some plugs. Where can folks find you guys?

Halter: Sure, we have reopened. We have a pretty limited capacity at the moment because we have small spaces in the building and we have an older volunteer core and want to make sure that we keep everybody here safe and all of the visitors as well. We also want to, frankly, set a good example for the community as a medical museum. We felt a responsibility to do that. So we can’t have drop-ins like we used to, but we are open by appointment. You can call to make an appointment or visit our website for more information . It’s IMHM.org. You can see all of the specimens here on site. We also are adding new stories to the website periodically. If you go to www.imhm.org/speciman, you can find an online version of this exhibit and there is a lot of interpretive material and all of that, but also all of the individual specimens, and you can see photographs of the specimens and then read both the new labels and the old labels right there on our website and we add a few of those every once in a while. I think there are maybe 10 or 15 of them right now.

Beckley: I will make sure that we will go in and link all of those links in the show notes which can be found at blog.history.in.gov and we will make sure that we get all of those in there. Thank you so much, Sarah, for coming on the show today. It was a real pleasure to talk to you.

Halter: Thank you.

Once again, I want to thank Sarah for taking the time to talk with me today. Remember, if you are interested in learning more about the work being done at the Indiana Medical History Museum, you can visit their website at IMHM.org or find the links to their site in the transcripts for this episode which can be found at blog.history.in.gov. We’ll be back next month with the final episode of 2020. In the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and Twitter for daily doses of Indiana history tidbits. Subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

“King of Ghouls” Rufus Cantrell & Grave-Robbing in Indianapolis

Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 29, 1902, 1.

In the fall of 1902, a crime syndicate was uncovered in the city of Indianapolis – not a syndicate of gambling, booze, or other illicit activities. No, this was a gang of “ghouls,” or men who robbed graves and sold bodies to medical schools on the black market.

Practitioners of this trade have been called many things – grave robbers, body snatchers, resurrection men, ghouls. Regardless of what they go by, they have a long and dark history tied inextricably to the advancement of medical science. In the 14th century, a professor at the University of Bologna began teaching anatomy using dissection as a tool of instruction. Soon after, four students at the university committed the first documented case of body snatching. The need for corpses had outpaced the legal means of obtaining them, driving students to procure cadavers by unlawful means. The rest, as they say, is history.

Anatomical Dissection Scene, courtesy of Thomas Jefferson University.

As medical education advanced, the need for human specimens rose at a dramatic pace. For centuries, however, the supply was met mostly by legal means – largely, the remains of criminals condemned to death. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries a confluence of two factors – a reduction of executions and the proliferation of medical schools – created a massive shortage. One which would be filled by a barely underground network of so-called “Resurrection Men.”

While illegal, the practice of stealing corpses to sell to medical schools often went unprosecuted as it was perceived as being “for the greater good.” The dissection of cadavers – weather obtained legally or otherwise – has been used to train new physicians in anatomy, lending them an unprecedented level of understanding of the human body.  This, along with the fact that most of the victims were poor or people of color also helped law enforcement turn a blind eye. However, as the practice continued and more prominent families were victimized by the traumatizing act, states began expanding the legal channels through which medical schools could procure specimens. These acts are referred to as anatomy laws.

Indiana’s first anatomy law was enacted in 1879, perhaps not-so-coincidentally a year after the grave of John Scott Harrison, son of former President William Henry Harrison and father of future President Benjamin Harrison, was robbed and his body discovered at the Ohio Medical College. The 1879 law provided that:

the body of any person who shall die in any state, city or county prison, or jail, or county asylum or infirmary, or public hospital, within this State, shall remain unclaimed. . .for twenty-four hours after death. . .may be used as a subject for anatomical dissection and scientific examination.

While the law was meant to provide a morally sound avenue for medical schools to obtain bodies for dissection,  that avenue still took advantage of the poor and mentally ill as it was highly unlikely that any of the deceased were ever given the opportunity to consent to their remains being used in this way.

Central College of Physician and Surgeons in Indianapolis, circa 1902, courtesy of IUPUI University Libraries.

But even with this law in place, there were still sometimes shortages. The early 20th century was one of those times. In 1902, at least five institutions in Indianapolis needed a steady supply of corpses. As the winter semester of the 1902-03 school year approached, these institutions vied for the inadequate lawful supply and eventually turned to the black market to fill their needs.

Mug shot of Rufus Cantrell, courtesy of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration.

Dominating the black market was Rufus Cantrell. Having been a driver, porter, clerk, and even an undertaker, in 1902, he added a new title: The King of Ghouls. He, along with approximately seven other men, ran one of the most successful body-snatching syndicates in the city. According to the September 30, 1902 issue of the Indianapolis Journal:

He did not use hooks in pulling out corpses, as was done years ago. He only used hooks when a corpse was fastened in a coffin. Instead of digging down at the head of the grave, as was the former custom, he adopted the plan of digging in the center. The covering of the box was then sawed through and the small lid on the coffin shoved back. No lights are used by the ghouls . . . except an occasional match, which is lighted down in the grave.

It was hard, grim, and dirty work, but it paid off. Cantrell reported that between July and September of 1902, he and each of his men had earned $420 from their nighttime exploits, nearly as much as the average American made in a whole year. But their profits wouldn’t last long.

At least three different Indianapolis residents received anonymous tips that the graves of their recently buried loved ones may be found empty. Upon further investigation, the families discovered that this was indeed the case, and, more horrifying still, they discovered the missing remains in the basement of the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons. Panic gripped the city as newspapers published these stories. Families began guarding the graves of their recently interred relatives. Citizens called for investigations. Detectives staked out cemeteries and medical schools, waiting for the Ghouls to show themselves.

Indianapolis Journal, September 20, 1902, 3.

However, a break came from an unexpected source. A pawnbroker by the name of Emil Mantel grew suspicious of a customer after loaning him $28 in return for four shotguns. Mantel contacted his attorney, Taylor Gronniger for advice on the situation. When Mantel gave the name of the suspicious customer as Rufus Cantrell, Gronniger connected the dots. He had heard rumors about Cantrell’s unsavory practices, and here Cantrell was, pawning off more shotguns than any one person would need – shotguns that could be used to scare off any unwanted observers intruding on illegal happenings – and just when the grave robbing business was too hot to continue. So, Gronniger relayed his hunch to Detectives Asch and Manning of the Indianapolis Police Department. By the end of the next day, the detectives had arrested Rufus Cantrell and six of his associates and extracted full, corroborating confessions from each man.

Cantrell, the leader of the “gang of ghouls,” gave his confession in excruciating detail, seemingly proud of his escapades. He and his assistants had plied their gruesome trade at Crown Hill Cemetery, the German Catholic graveyard, Mount Jackson Cemetery, Traders Point Cemetery, and the Old Anderson graveyard, as well as the cemetery at the Central Indiana hospital for the Insane, where, Cantrell confessed, he and his posse had emptied over 100 graves.

Dr. Joseph Alexander, Indianapolis News, February 13, 1903, 13.

He went on to implicate Dr. Joseph Alexander of the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons as his principal buyer. However, while most medical men simply feigned ignorance of the source for the bodies they were buying, Cantrell described Alexander as playing a much more hands-on role in the operation. Not only did Alexander knowingly buy stolen bodies, he identified potential targets, accompanied Cantrell on scouting missions, and even joined the gang in their nightly expeditions. Alexander was arrested, but quickly posted bail.

As Cantrell’s confessions continued, more empty graves were unearthed. The various medical schools around the city were searched thoroughly, but the bodies were nowhere to be found. Detectives Asch and Manning received a tip that Dr. Alexander had commissioned twenty pine boxes from a local box-builder to be delivered to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons just days after the arrests had been made. This seemed like just the break they were looking for – surely the boxes had to be connected to the missing bodies. However, upon further investigation, it was discovered that Central College was in the process of moving locations and the boxes had been commissioned for the mundane purpose of packing away delicate medical instruments.

Indianapolis Journal, October 14, 1902, 10.

In mid-October, just as a grand jury was called to make indictments in the case, the mystery of the missing bodies was solved, at least in part. On October 14, 1902, the Indianapolis Journal reported:

Amos Smith . . . on his way to work, yesterday morning about 6 o’clock, partially cleared up the mystery of the bodies recently spirited away from the medical colleges. He found two bodies tied in sacks in a dry goods box at the side of Hibben, Holloweg & Co.’s store . . . The same young man, in walking farther south noticed two more bodies at the rear door of the Central Medical College.

After being positively identified by family members, there was speculation that a competing medical college in the city had disposed of the bodies near the Central Medical College in an attempt to throw all suspicion on that institution while dissuading further investigation. While these grizzly details were being spread in newspapers throughout the city, the grand jury received its instructions and began hearing testimony in the case. By the end of the grand jury’s investigation, twenty-five indictments were handed down and allegations had been made against seventy-five different people who were all part of three additional body-snatching syndicates in the city. Among the indicted were Cantrell and his associates, Dr. Alexander, four physicians from other schools, cemetery workers who facilitated the robberies, and various low-ranking employees of medical schools who had played some small part in the operation.

Indianapolis News, February 5, 1903, 3.

After several delays, the first Ghoul Gang trial, that of Dr. Joseph Alexander, began in early February. Alexander’s defense attorney’s strategy seemed to be to cast as much doubt on the character of the star witness, Rufus Cantrell, as possible. First, they attempted to link him to the unsolved murder of a Chinese immigrant who had been killed a year earlier. When that didn’t stick, the defense brought into question the sanity of the King of the Ghouls by introducing evidence that Cantrell had been diagnosed with epilepsy, at that time a broad diagnosis encompassing several mental illnesses.

Multiple physicians were brought to testify on Cantrell’s mental health. Each in turn pronounced Cantrell “insane.” Cantrell and the state begged to differ. Upon cross examination, each doctor admitted to having ties, past or present, to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons, the same college which employed Dr. Joseph Alexander. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Coincidence or not, the evidence presented by the defense seems to have been enough to sway at least some of the jurors. The February 16, 1903 issue of the Indianapolis Journal reported:

Dr. Joseph C. Alexander’s status in the community is unchanged. He is neither the convicted felon of the heinous crime of complicity with ghouls and neither is he wholly absolved from the accusations made against him by the state’s attorney. . . Yesterday morning at 10 o’clock, after deliberating since the same hour Friday morning, the jury reported through its foreman . . . that it had not arrived at a verdict and undoubtedly would be unable to do so, and it was discharged from further service.

The result of one of the most anticipated trials of the year resulted in a hung jury. While the state’s attorney promised a retrial, it never came to fruition. Cantrell, who had all along hoped that his cooperation would result in a lighter sentence, saw the writing on the wall and refused to testify in the retrial. With their star witness gone, the state had little evidence against the doctor – or any of the other four physicians originally indicted, who had maintained their innocence throughout and whose only accuser was the now silent Cantrell. The next big trial was that of the King Ghoul himself.

Taking a page from Dr. Alexander, Cantrell’s defense team entered a plea of insanity at the onset of the trial. The state, of course, used the testimony of Cantrell himself given in interviews with police as well as during the grand jury investigation. The question of the trial was not if Cantrell had robbed graves, but why? Was he a greedy criminal just trying to make a buck, or was he criminally insane?

To make the case for the latter, Cantrell’s own mother was put on the stand. Through her testimony, the defense told the jury:

that they proposed to show Cantrell to be insane . . . that while Cantrell lived in Gallatin, Tenn., from the age of one to fifteen years, he suffered from epilepsy; that when twelve years old he was thrown from a horse and his head was injured; that when he was ten or twelve years old he had a delusion that he was called by God to preach, and told his friends that he talked with God face to face; that while at work in the field he would kneel at the plow and pray and preach from a Biblical text; that he still suffers from delusions and in the jail has preached to prisoners; that when taunted by his friends in Tennessee over his inability to preach he would become profane and once assaulted a minister with his tongue when he refused to ordain him; that he has a violent temper and has attempted the lives of himself and others; that he delighted to call himself the “King of the Bryan campaign,” and had cards printed with the words, ‘Rufus Cantrell – the Democratic hero;’ that he suffered a sunstroke in Indianapolis, which incapacitated him for work in hot places, and that he succumbed to heat while employed in the Malleable iron works. All these things, Cantrell’s attorneys would prove.

It should be noted that traumatic brain injuries can affect the mental health of those who experience them – they can cause mood swings, agitation, combativeness, and other cognitive symptoms. And both epilepsy and sunstroke were used in the 19th century to describe various mental illnesses. That being said, it’s difficult to tell from newspaper reports alone how much the testimony given was exaggerated in an attempt to keep Cantrell out of jail. After all, he did deny having any mental illness during the trial of Dr. Alexander.

Yet another topic that may have played a part in the trial, and certainly played a part in the sensationalized coverage of the case, is race. Rufus Cantrell and his associates were all Black men. Alexander and the other physicians, all of whom would eventually walk free, were white.  It’s important to note that people of color, facing systematic discrimination, were often driven to find income in alternative ways. These alternative ways were, in some cases, illegal. This could have influenced Cantrell’s decision to enter the profession of grave robbing. However, there were gangs of white ghouls in the city working right alongside Cantrell’s gang – grave robbing was a lucrative business if you could get past your moral qualms.

So, the influence of race on Cantrell choosing this line of work isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is that his associates, and not the white physicians, were prosecuted for their crimes. It’s also clear that newspapers took every chance they could to point out the race of the accused. In the end, race can’t not have played a role in the trial, but it’s difficult to tell through reports – all written for white newspapers – how extensive that role was.

Indianapolis Journal, April 26, 1903, 8.

On April 26, 1903, Rufus Cantrell, the King of the Ghouls, was found guilty of two charges and sentenced to three to ten years in the Jeffersonville State Reformatory. In the end, Cantrell and four of his associates were convicted and sentenced to between one and ten years each. The twenty other men indicted by the Grand Jury were cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence.

Convictions weren’t the only thing to emerge from this tale, though. The system of public institutions delivering the unclaimed bodies of the deceased directly to medical schools was clearly not working as desired. As a result of this and other similar trials, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Anatomical Education Act in 1903, establishing the State Anatomical Board, which would oversee the distribution of bodies to medical schools. The State Anatomical Board is still in existence today, continuing to oversee the distribution of donated bodies to medical schools. According to anatomist Sanjib Kumar Ghosh, body donation constitutes the sole source of cadavers used in teaching anatomy in the vast majority of the world, including in the United States. Learn more about the history of dissection here.

Find all sources for this blog post here.

THH Episode 39: Rufus Cantrell: King of Ghouls

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Rufus Cantrell: King of Ghouls

Clark: Dear listener, some of the topics covered in this episode are of a slightly more gruesome nature than we typically cover here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re not in the mood for a tale of dissection, grave robbing, and body snatching, you might skip this one. Otherwise, let’s get to it.

Beckley: The fall of 1902 brought a series of mysterious happenings to the citizens of Indianapolis. An unsigned letter was slipped under the crack of a door while Mrs. Middleton attended church services. A shadowy stranger summoned Wesley Gates to a nearby carriage. An anonymous man telephoned Mason Neidlinger in the dead of night. All three of these people had something in common – they had each recently lost and buried a loved one. But that wasn’t all. They would soon realize that they were connected in an even more loathsome way – each was the victim of the “King of Ghouls.”

In this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we follow the exceptional case of confessed body snatcher Rufus Cantrell, who admitted to the desecration of more than of 100 graves around Indianapolis in 1902, and attempted to bring down some of the most prominent men in the city with him.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Grave Robbers. Body Snatchers. Resurrection Men. Ghouls. Whatever you want to call them, they have a long and dark history – one which is tied inextricably to the advancement of medical science. In the 14th century, a professor at the University of Bologna began teaching anatomy using dissection as a tool of instruction. Soon after, four students at the university committed the first documented case of body snatching– the need for corpses had outpaced the legal means of obtaining them, driving the students to procure cadavers by unlawful means. The rest, as they say, is history.

As medical education advanced, the need for human specimens rose at a dramatic pace. For centuries, however, the supply was met mostly by legal means – largely, the remains of criminals condemned to death. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries a confluence of two factors – a reduction of executions and the proliferation of medical schools – created a massive shortage. A shortage which would be filled by a barely underground network of so-called “Resurrection Men.”

While illegal, the practice of stealing corpses and selling them to medical schools often went unprosecuted as it was seen as being for the greater good. The fact that most of the victims were poor or people of color also helped law enforcement turn a blind eye. However, as the practice continued and more prominent families fell victim to the traumatizing act, states began expanding the legal channels through which medical schools could procure specimens. These acts were often referred to as anatomy laws.

Indiana’s first anatomy law came in 1879, perhaps not-so-coincidentally a year after the grave of John Scott Harrison, son of former president William Henry Harrison and father of future president Benjamin Harrison, was robbed and his body discovered at the Ohio Medical College. The 1879 law provided that:

Clark: “the body of any person who shall die in any state, city or county prison, or jail, or county asylum or infirmary, or public hospital, within this State, shall remain unclaimed . . . for twenty-four hours after death . . . may be used as a subject for anatomical dissection and scientific examination.”

Beckley: Basically, it provided a legal means of obtaining cadavers for dissection from tax-funded institutions, meaning even the lawful avenues for medical schools to obtain bodies for dissection took advantage of the poor and mentally ill. After all, it’s hard to imagine that any of these people were even given the opportunity to consent to their remains being used in this way. Even with this law in place, there were shortages from time to time. Apparently, the first years of the 20th century was one of those times. In 1902, there were at least five institutions in Indianapolis alone in need of a steady supply of corpses. As the winter semester of the 1902-1903 school year approached, these institutions vied for the inadequate lawful supply and eventually turned to the black market to fill their needs.

Enter Rufus Cantrell. Rufus Cantrell was a lot of things during his lifetime. A driver. A porter. A clerk. An undertaker. In 1902, he added a new title to that list: The King of Ghouls. He, along with approximately seven other men, ran one of the most successful body-snatching syndicates in the city. And he knew his business:

Clark: “He did not use hooks in pulling out corpses, as was done years ago. He only used hooks when a corpse was fastened in a coffin. Instead of digging down at the head of the grave, as was the former custom, he adopted the plan of digging in the center. The covering of the box was then sawed through and the small lid on the coffin shoved back. No lights are used by the ghouls . . . except an occasional match, which is lighted down in the grave.”

Beckley: It was hard, grim, and dirty work, but it paid off. Cantrell reported that between July and September of 1902, he and each of his men had earned $420 from their nighttime exploits– that’s nearly as much as the average American made in a whole year, in just three months. But the boom wasn’t to last long.

As those Indianapolis residents from the top of the show began receiving anonymous tips that the graves of their loved ones might be found empty upon inspection, a sense of anxiety gripped the city. When those residents and their friends and families dug up those graves and proved that they had been desecrated that anxiety turned to dread. Newspapers reported that families were guarding the graves of their recently interred relatives. Citizens called for investigations. Detectives staked out cemeteries and medical schools, just waiting for the Ghouls to show themselves.

But the break came from an unexpected source. A pawnbroker by the name of Emil Mantel grew suspicious of a customer after loaning him $28 in return for four shotguns. Mantel contacted his attorney, Taylor Gronniger, for advice on the situation. When Mantel gave the name of the suspicious customer as Rufus Cantrell, Gronniger connected the dots. He had heard rumors about Cantrell’s unsavory practices, and here he was, pawning off more shotguns than any one person would need – shotguns that could be used to scare off any unwanted observers intruding on illegal happenings – and this just when the grave robbing business was too hot to continue. It was too much of a coincidence. So, Gronniger relayed his hunch to Detectives Asch and Manning of the Indianapolis Police Department. By the end of the next day, the detectives had arrested Rufus Cantrell and six of his associates and extracted full, corroborating confessions from each man.

Cantrell, the leader of the “gang of ghouls,” gave his confession in excruciating detail – almost seeming proud of his escapades. He admitted that he and his assistants had plied their gruesome trade at Crown Hill, the German Catholic graveyard, Mount Jackson Cemetery, Traders Point Cemetery, and the Old Anderson graveyard, as well as the cemetery at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane where, Cantrell confessed:

Clark: “More than one hundred graves had been emptied of bodies.”

Beckley: He went on to implicate Dr. Joseph Alexander of the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons as his principal buyer. However, while most medical men simply feigned ignorance of the source for the bodies they were buying, Cantrell described Alexander as playing a much more hands-on role in the operation. Not only did Alexander knowingly buy stolen bodies, he identified potential targets, accompanied Cantrell on scouting missions, and even joined the gang in their nightly expeditions. Alexander was arrested, but quickly posted bail.

As Cantrell’s confessions continued, more empty graves were unearthed. The various medical schools in the city were searched thoroughly, but the bodies were nowhere to be found. Detectives Asch and Manning received a tip that Dr. Alexander had commissioned twenty pine boxes from a local box-builder – to be delivered to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons just days after the arrests had been made. Surely this would be the clue they were searching for. Surely in those boxes would lie the remains so cruelly disinterred by the gang of ghouls. But it was not to be.  Apparently, the Central College was in the process of moving locations and the boxes had been commissioned for the mundane purpose of packing away delicate medical instruments.

In mid-October, just as a grand jury was called to make indictments in the case, the mystery of the missing bodies was solved, at least in part:

Clark: “Amos Smith . . . on his way to work, yesterday morning about 6 o’clock, partially cleared up the mystery of the bodies recently spirited away from the medical colleges. He found two bodies tied in sacks in a dry goods box at the side of Hibben, Holloweg & Co.’s store . . . The same young man, in walking farther south noticed two more bodies at the rear door of the Central Medical College.”

Beckley: After being positively identified by family members as those souls missing from what was supposed to be their final resting places, it was speculated that a competing medical college in the city had disposed of the bodies near the Central Medical College in an attempt to throw all suspicion on that institution while dissuading any further investigations elsewhere.

While these grizzly details were being spread in newspapers throughout the city, the grand jury was receiving its instructions and began hearing testimony in the case. By the end of the grand jury’s investigation, twenty-five indictments were handed down and allegations had been made against seventy-five different people, supposedly all part of three additional body-snatching syndicates in the city.

Among the indicted were Cantrell and his associates, Dr. Alexander and four additional physicians from other schools, cemetery workers who facilitated the robberies, and various low-ranking employees of medical schools who had played some small part in the operation.

After several delays, the first Ghoul Gang trial, that of Dr. Joseph Alexander, began in early February. Alexander’s defense attorney’s strategy seemed to be to cast as much doubt on the character of the star witness, Rufus Cantrell, as possible. First, they attempted to link him with the unsolved murder of a Chinese immigrant who had been killed a year earlier. When that didn’t stick, the defense brought into question the sanity of the King of the Ghouls by introducing evidence that Cantrell had been diagnosed with epilepsy, at that time a broad diagnosis encompassing several mental illnesses.

Multiple physicians were brought to testify on Cantrell’s mental health. Each in turn pronounced Cantrell “insane.” Cantrell and the state begged to differ. Upon cross examination, each doctor admitted to having ties, past or present, to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons, the same college which employed Dr. Joseph Alexander. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Coincidence or not, the evidence presented by the defense seems to have been enough to sway at least some of the jurors:

Clark: “Dr. Joseph C. Alexander’s status in the community is unchanged. He is neither the convicted felon of the heinous crime of complicity with ghouls and neither is he wholly absolved from the accusations made against him by the state’s attorney. . . . Yesterday morning at 10 o’clock, after deliberating since the same hour Friday morning, the jury reported through its foreman . . . that it had not arrived at a verdict and undoubtedly would be unable to do so, [since] it was discharged from further service.”

Beckley: A hung jury. While the state’s attorney promised a retrial, it never came to fruition. Cantrell, who had all along hoped that his cooperation would result in a lighter sentence, saw the writing on the wall and refused to testify in the retrial. With their star witness gone, the state had little evidence against the doctor – or any of the other four physicians originally indicted, who had maintained their innocence throughout and whose only accuser was the now silent Cantrell. The next big trial was that of the King Ghoul himself – Rufus Cantrell.

Taking a page from Dr. Alexander’s defense team, Cantrell’s defense entered a plea of insanity at the onset of the trial. The state, of course, used the testimony of Cantrell himself given in interviews with police as well as during the grand jury investigation. The question of the trial was not if Cantrell had robbed graves, but why? Was he a greedy criminal just trying to make a buck, or was he criminally insane?

To make the case for the latter, Cantrell’s own mother was put on the stand. Through her testimony, the defense told the jury:

Clark: “that they proposed to show Cantrell to be insane . . . that while Cantrell lived in Gallatin, Tenn., from the age of one to fifteen years, he suffered from epilepsy; that when twelve years old he was thrown from a horse and his head was injured; that when he was ten or twelve years old he had a delusion that he was called by God to preach, and told his friends that he talked with God face to face; that while at work in the field he would kneel at the plow and pray and preach from a Biblical text; that he still suffers from delusions and in the jail has preached to prisoners; that when taunted by his friends in Tennessee over his inability to preach he would become profane and once assaulted a minister with his tongue when he refused to ordain him; that he has a violent temper and has attempted the lives of himself and others; that he delighted to call himself the ‘King of the Bryan campaign,’ and had cards printed with the words, ‘Rufus Cantrell – the Democratic hero;’ that he suffered a sunstroke in Indianapolis, which incapacitated him for work in hot places, and that he succumbed to heat while employed in the Malleable iron works. All these things, Cantrell’s attorneys would prove.”

Beckley: Traumatic brain injuries can absolutely affect the mental health of those who experience them – they can cause mood swings, agitation, combativeness, and other cognitive symptoms. And both epilepsy and sunstroke were used in the 19th century to describe various mental illnesses. That being said, it’s difficult to tell from newspaper reports alone how much the testimony may have been exaggerated in an attempt to keep Cantrell out of jail. After all, he did deny having any mental illness during the trial of Dr. Alexander.

Yet another topic that may have played a part in the trial, and absolutely did play a part in the sensationalized coverage of the case, is race. Rufus Cantrell and his associates were all Black men. Alexander and the other physicians, all of whom would eventually walk free, were white.

It’s important to note that people of color, facing systematic discrimination, were often driven to find income in alternative ways. These alternative ways were, in some cases, illegal. This absolutely could have played a part in Rufus Cantrell’s decision to take up this line of work. However, there were gangs of white ghouls in the city working right alongside Cantrell’s gang – grave robbing was a lucrative business if you could get past the morality of it. So, the influence of race on Cantrell choosing this line of work isn’t clear. What is clear is that his associates, and not the white physicians, were prosecuted for their crimes. It’s also clear that newspapers took every chance they could to point out the race of the accused. In the end, race can’t not have played a role in the trial, but it’s difficult to tell through reports – all written for white newspapers – how extensive that role may have been.

On April 26, 1903, Rufus Cantrell, the King of the Ghouls, was found guilty of two charges and sentenced to three to ten years in the Jeffersonville State Reformatory. In the end, Cantrell and four of his associates were convicted and sentenced to between one and ten years each. The twenty other men indicted by the Grand Jury were cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence.

Convictions weren’t the only thing to come from this tale, though. The system of public institutions delivering the unclaimed bodies of the deceased directly to medical schools was clearly not working as desired. As a result of this and other similar stories, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Anatomical Education Act in 1903, establishing the State Anatomical Board. The State Anatomical Board is still in existence today, mostly overseeing the distribution of donated bodies to medical schools.

In the dozens of newspaper articles written about this sensational trial, one thing seems to be missing more often than not: the victims. Ebenezer Perry. John Sargant. Edward Pedigo. Stella Middleton. Rose Neidlinger. Caroline Tyler. Catherine Doehring. Johanna Stilz. Wallace Johnson. Glendore Gates. It was the families of these Hoosiers who were re-traumatized after already experiencing the loss of a parent, spouse, or child. Many of them had searched the premises of the medical schools themselves, discovering the bodies of their beloved family members stuffed unceremoniously in pickling barrels or laid out on tables, ready for dissection. And it was the families of these people who, after all that, experienced the emotional turmoil of testifying at the trials. While it can be tempting to discuss the salacious details of this case, we should remember that the crimes in this story were not victimless and we should remember the names of those affected by it.

The Indiana Medical History Museum is doing just that. Located in what was the Central State Hospital for the Insane, from which Rufus Cantrell claimed to have taken upwards of 100 bodies, the museum has committed itself to rehumanizing the individuals represented in their extensive specimen collection. Much of their collection comes from the dissection of former patients in the hospital. While not the victims of body snatchers, these people were the victims of a time and society which saw value not in who they were as people, but what their bodies could reveal through examination and dissection after their death. For so long, these people have been nameless, identified by a specimen label, but now, their names, and their stories are being heard. This is just one project of several undertaken by the museum in the last several years – all part of a larger effort to tell the stories of the patients themselves. Join us in two weeks to learn more about this initiative when I talk to Indiana Medical History Museum Executive Director Sarah Halter on the next episode of Giving Voice.

But there is still something missing in this story – who was the mysterious man who precipitated the whole wild tale? Who was the man who slipped letters under doors, called grieving families in the middle of the night, and showed up in shadowy carriages carrying news of desecrated graves? Well, according to Rufus Cantrell, that man was no one other than himself. According to testimony given during the trial of Dr. Alexander, the story goes something like this:

Rufus Cantrell was in love – he was the luckiest man in the world. Sure, he had a grizzly job, but he made good money . . . and he was in love. His girl had it all – she was beautiful, smart – the very picture of perfection. In late summer 1902, Cantrell had to attend to some business in Spencer, Indiana and would be gone from the city for some time. Before he left, he saw his love one last time – her final words to him before his departure were for him to return soon.

Some days later, weary from his trip, he did just that. He arrived home with thoughts for none other than his sweetheart. But before he could wash the travel from his face, he received a message from his boss, Dr. Alexander, instructing him that there was work to be done – a fresh grave at Anderson Cemetery was too good of an opportunity to pass up and must be attended to that very night. Sighing and pushing thoughts of his beloved aside, he set out for the job.

He’d done this work for so long, it was almost mechanical. Remove the flowers from the burial site. Wait for the men to dig out the center of the grave. Saw the coffin covering in half. Bring the body out of the hole. Load it in the wagon while the men cleaned up the area. Drive the wagon to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons. Take the body in the back way. Lay it on the table.

He didn’t often make a habit of looking at the faces of the lifeless bodies from which he made his living – but as he laid this particular body on that particular table, and the light fell upon her face, he realized in horror that it was that face he loved so well – it was Stella Middleton, his sweetheart, who just days before he had promised to rush back home to.

In his shock, he decided then and there that this had to stop. He would right the wrongs, even if it cost him his freedom. He wrote a note to Stella’s mother, Mrs. Middleton slipped it under her door while he knew she was out at church, and sealed his fate.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. A huge thank you to Jeannie Regan-Dinius, who suggested the topic for this episode and to the Indiana State Archives and Records Administration for sending me some very useful research to get me started. And last, but not least, thank you to Justin Clark for lending his voice to today’s episode. We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode of Giving Voice, where I’ll be talking with Sarah Halter, the Director of the Indiana Medical History Museum. In the meantime, find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for Listening.

Show Notes for Rufus Cantrell: King of Ghouls

Websites

“The Grave Robbing of Benjamin Harrison’s Father,” Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, October 31, 2018, https://bhpsite.org/the-grave-robbing-of-benjamin-harrisons-father/.

“Body Snatching Around the World,” PBS.org, https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/body-snatching-around-the-world/.

Books

Laws of The State of Indiana Passed at the Fifty-First Regular Session of the General Assembly (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Journal Company, State Printers and Binders, 1879), 157-160.

Laws of The State of Indiana Passed at the Sixty-Third Regular Session of the General Assembly (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Journal Company, State Printers and Binders, 1903), 84-88.

Newspaper Articles

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1901, p. 262, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1896, p. 242, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1899, p. 252, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1898, p. 247, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1902, p. 275, accessed Ancestry.com.

“City News Items,” Indianapolis Journal, November 1, 1901, 2.

“Body in a Street,” Indianapolis News, November 16, 1901, 1.

“Watch Kept at a Cemetery,” Indianapolis News, December 5, 1901, 3.

“Found in an Old Barrel,” Indianapolis News, December 14, 1901, 14.

“Ghouls in a Graveyard,” Indianapolis Journal, September 20, 1902, 3.

“Feared that Many Graves are Empty,” Indianapolis News, September 20, 1902, 1.

“Body is Recovered,” Indianapolis Journal, September 22, 1902, 12.

“Another Stolen Body at Central College,” Indianapolis News, September 22, 1902, 10.

“Confession of Ghouls,” Indianapolis Journal, September 30, 1902, 1.

“The Law’s Strong Arm,” Indianapolis Journal, October 2, 1902, 10.

“Another Body Gone,” Indianapolis Journal, October 9, 1902, 10.

“Four Bodies Found,” Indianapolis Journal, October 14, 1902, 10.

“Threats Were Made, Says The Prosecutor,” Indianapolis News, October 17, 1902, 9.

“Grave Robber Inquiry,” Indianapolis Journal, October 22, 1902, 3.

“Grave Robbery Investigation,” Indianapolis Journal, October 23, 1902, 8.

“Ghouls are Indicted,” Indianapolis Journal, October 26, 1902, 10.

“Negro Porter Suspected,” Indianapolis Journal, October 26, 1902, 10.

“The Ghouls in Court,” Indianapolis Journal, October 28, 1902, 1.

“Alexander’s Trial to Begin Monday,” Indianapolis News, January 31, 1903, 1.

“Turned Light on Face of His Sweetheart,” Indianapolis News, February 3, 1903, 10.

“Contract with Alexander,” Indianapolis News, February 5, 1903, 3.

“Took His Girl Riding,” Indianapolis News, February 5, 1903, 3.

“Fate of Alexander,” Indianapolis Journal, February 12, 1903, 10.

“Jury Discharged,” Indianapolis Journal, February 16, 1903, 1.

“Alienists Will Testify,” Indianapolis Journal, April 20, 1903, 8.

“Cantrell in Court,” Indianapolis Journal, April 21, 1903, 10.

“State Closes Case,” Indianapolis Journal, April 22, 1903, 10.

“Arguments in Trial of Cantrell Made,” Indianapolis News, April 23, 1903, 3.

“Prison for Cantrell,” Indianapolis Journal, April 24, 1903, 10.

“Ghouls Will Not Testify,” Indianapolis Journal, April 25, 1903, 10.

“Cantrell is Sentenced,” Indianapolis Journal, April 26, 1903, 8.

“Cantrell off to Prison,” Indianapolis Journal, May 2, 1903, 10.

“Release of the Ghouls,” Indianapolis News, June 25, 1903, 9.

THH Episode 38: Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Transcript for Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice. On today’s installment of Giving Voice, I have the pleasure of speaking with Susan Hall-Dotson, the African American history collections coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society, and Kisha Tandy, the curator of social history at the Indiana State Museum. After our two-part series covering the women’s suffrage movement in Indiana, we wanted to take some time to talk about the suffrage movement in the African American communities at the state and national level.  In this episode we talked about inclusion, storytelling, and the importance of telling a richer version of the suffrage story than what is often heard.

And now, Giving Voice.

Alright, I’m here today with Kisha Tandy and Susan Hall Dotson and I’m so excited to be talking with the two of you today and thank you so much for coming on.

Tandy: Thank you.

Hall-Dotson: Thank you.

Beckley: Of course. So, I think that starting with a little bit of the national context of the relationship between white and Black suffragists would be a good place to start. Susan, could you talk a little bit about how that how that relationship between white and Black suffragists evolved over the decades leading up to the 19th Amendment?

Hall-Dotson: Big question!  But a brief answer is that in different places and at different times it was minimal. It is less inclusive, accepting, embracing than we would like to think about in modern times. It’s really hard to have a backward glance and say that people were marginalized – that people were left out. But they were.  Because if you look at the bigger scope of the country and how people were, say from the post-Civil War to 1920, there was lots of segregation. There was lots of discrimination. And it went from slavery and enslavement and who was free and who was not and where you could live and where you couldn’t and what legal privileges that you were able to enjoy. Which didn’t happen – Black men didn’t get the right to vote until after slavery, after emancipation. And there were white women who were upset that Black men got the right to vote before women – before white women – got the right to vote.  They didn’t live, work, play, worship in the same spaces, so it’s really hard to imagine that we had this level of camaraderie out of womanhood that superseded other modes and means of relationships.

Beckley: Yea, and I know the same goes for here in Indiana. We were still segregated up until well past the 19th Amendment, so I know that a lot of the same can be said for here in Indiana.

Kisha, could you introduce us to some of the prominent African American suffragists here in Indiana?

Tandy: Yea, so, there were many women who had been working to achieve the right to vote, who had been working for suffrage. And many of those women we’re individuals who were active in clubs and the temperance movement. And so, African American – Black women – had been fighting for so many things leading up to this and working just for suffrage – not only for themselves but just in general African American suffrage. And some of those women who were doing that were individuals like Naomi Talbert Bowmen Anderson, who was born in Michigan City, Indiana. She was born in 1843. she would leave Indiana in 1868 and go to Chicago. She would have a long history of working in the suffrage movement. And it’s interesting because she went to Chicago in 1868 and by 1869, she was speaking at a national suffrage convention. And it was also interesting because this was one of those presentations in speaking where there was some issue with her speaking there and I love to use quotes so I’ll use a quote from her – it’s one of the things said speaking in 1869, and this comes from the Chicago Tribune, from February 13, 1869. It’s – the heading from the article was “Progress of the Female Suffrage Movement in Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune reports this. They say:

“She came on behalf of the colored women of Chicago and of the State of Illinois, believing that God was on their side, and that the day was not far distant when the opponents of universal suffrage would [illegible] before the wind. The power of women would be felt and she would have the right to vote.”]

Because, when I started looking into this, this was very much a research project. This individual, Naomi Bowmen Talbert Anderson, there was information about her in a book by Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, and she looked at African American women and the struggle for the vote from 1850 to 1920. She talks about her, so it was great to already have information by an African American female scholar already in place so that I can go in and find and look for other information. And she notes in her research and in her efforts that there was – her  appearance at this convention had some issue and that because the Fifteenth Amendment hadn’t passed yet and there was some contention there and that there was some concern. So, you know, even as early as 1890, this had been written about. You know, her being there at the –  this moment and speaking about it and she did come back and have, you know, explain why she was doing and try to explain herself and different things like that. But, she was not deterred and she continued to press on towards the vote – pressing on, working in various areas. For example, she moved to Ohio, she later moved to Kansas, and to California. And she continued to speak for suffrage, continued to work towards getting African American women the right to vote – for women to vote – and we are able to follow her –  to follow what she is doing just looking through newspaper articles and getting different Snippets and different pieces of information from her in there. And even just being able to get additional information about her story, so she is one of those individuals very early on that was out and sharing and fighting for the right to vote.

Another individual, Martha Mary Harris Mason Mccurdy. She was an advocate for temperance, for a span she was a writer, and she was a suffragist. She was born in Carthage, Indiana in 1852 and her belief, what she believed in, was that the temperance movement aided in the work for women to obtain the right to vote. And she believed that ridding alcohol and having temperance would help her community, would help the African American community, the Black community. And her writing allowed her the opportunity to share and to speak out and to call attention to what was going on. She would be a writer, not only in Indiana but also she would move to Georgia and she would write for a newspaper there. She was part of the WCTU, at one point she was president of the local chapter where she was living in Georgia. And so, she was using all these various uses to, again, help to get the right to vote for African American women and she would work for a very long time for this effort. So, she was writing as early as 1895, talking about getting the right to vote. But even over 20 years later, she would still be attending a suffrage meeting after – and I should step back, after she left Georgia she returned to Indiana and was in Richmond, Indiana. By 1917, she was attending a suffrage meeting here in Indianapolis giving a presentation, so you can see that she had a very long history of working for the right to vote. And again she was one of those people early on who was identified as a suffragist and someone who was working for African Americans to have the right to vote and being able to find information about her, again through the newspaper, but then also and one of the early examinations of African Americans in history. And so those were two of the earlier women that were working – you can see that both of them have the temperance movement in common as well.

Another individual would be Lillian Thomas-Fox and here in Indianapolis we know a lot about Mrs. Fox. We talked a lot about her. She wrote for the Indianapolis Freemannewspaper, which was the first Illustrated Black newspaper in the country, she was a correspondent for the Indianapolis Newsand she was a very active woman in the club movement. She established the woman’s Improvement Club in 1904* and the state Federation of colored women’s clubs and 1905*. She worked for her community she worked for the people of Indianapolis and not only of Indianapolis, but nationally as well. Again I like quotes so I’m going to share one. Gurley Brewer, who wrote for the Indianapolis world, he was the editor, and he said of her and 1905:

“By the success she has made in a field until recently closed to women, removed the false idea of the intellectual and executive inferiority of women and has shown that fame is attained by a single standard, the standard of excellence she has demonstrated the fact that she is a woman of great force of character, will, and strong intellectuality.”

I paraphrased a little at the end, but you can get an idea of the respect he has for her. And that is great. And I go back to her involvement and being very active, she was involved in the National Afro-American Council, and this was an organization that did work for suffrage. Looking at the Indianapolis Recorder, September 1, 1900, she was elected as a vice presidents – one of the vice presidents – of the organization. And during this – this happened during the third National Convention, and in the Recorderthey had different fragments of some of the speeches and things that were made during this convention and one of the quotes that I just thought was so – that so fit the moment – I don’t have the actual person but it was recorded in the Recorder:

“Let the Afro-American people set unflinchingly by their suffrage rights. It is a life-and-death struggle.”

And that was going back to 1900. So, you can see that these early women were really working to achieve at various levels.

Beckley: Yea, so I’m that we could get a little bit of an introduction to some of those women and then the national context and we’ve met some of these women. Could one or both of you talk a little bit about how the African American suffrage movement at the national level compares to the state level? And what the relationship between the Black and white suffragists here and Indiana look like in comparison to that National level.

Hall-Dotson:  Well, I’ll take a stab for now and I’ll pass off to Kisha. I think that they looked very similar. The evidence that I’ve seen from the scholarship that’s been done, says that, although there was some  inclusion – more tokenism, if you will, van full sisterhood, inclusion, and the rallying of all the women, if you will, to join. Women of certain classes did not go and get women of other classes, whether they were Black or white to necessarily come into the fold – into the fray. And during the suffrage eras, white women from the north and the Midwest were concerned with ruffling the feathers and alienating their white sisters from the south if there was too much integration and inclusion of African American women in the movement.  So, if you look at the images, when you look at the pictures, not just the stories, but use the imagery of the day that we have, that way see, you don’t see the fully-integrated march. You don’t see large swaths and pockets of Black women at meetings, in pictures. Because we were largely, not to say can white women could not and did not ever work together or get along, but in general, the society was so polarized and separate that even in the struggle for womanhood –  for women to vote as a big block, there was still a large segment that suggested that, “No, let us get this and we’ll give it to you later.  this is not for you.”  And many white women – Northern as well as Southern, if you will – weren’t happy that Black men had received the right to vote. So, I think they paralleled – there’s not some anomaly in Indiana that suggests that it was any different than New York or Mississippi and Atlanta, as far as how people came together. So, people were working, even within the white women in the suffrage movement, there wasn’t just one monolithic group that –  maybe one group was bigger than the other in a certain place, but all types of women and different clubs and in different segments of the society were working toward achieving the right to vote. And enfranchisement, if you will, meant the same and different things to each. I would say some wanted to have voice, and particularly after Black men received the right, if you don’t see yourself as below all men, you’re fighting for that right even harder. And Black women are fighting for the right the same as they were still fighting for the right for the right to vote for the men in their lives. So, their right to vote didn’t mean that they got it. The moment they got it, they were being disenfranchised.

Beckley:  I mean, obviously, a lot of the times when we think about disenfranchisement, we’re thinking of Southern Jim Crow laws and things like that. Would you say that this applies just as much here in Indiana as it did in the south?

Hall-Dotson: I would say so, in different ways. And I think that when we use modern terms, right now we talked about implicit and explicit bias, so you may not have walked up to the courthouse and had a big sign that said, “no coloreds,” “coloreds only,”  I believe there was intimidation –  you don’t have this run on people being able to vote that’s changing the electorate –  and we could talk about that a little later –  what happens because we vote? So, people’s jobs were on the line. People were threatened with unemployment and arrested for vagrancy or some other make-up, trumped-up, charges that created this environment where everybody didn’t vote. And there were poll taxes. And there were literacy tests. And I’m sure some of those existed – and I’m not a scholar on voting rights in Indiana, but I can’t imagine, especially with the Resurgence and the emergence of the Klan in Indiana –

Beckley: Yea, On the heels of the 19th Amendment –

Hall-Dotson: Right, so, it didn’t just happen in an instant – in a vacuum. People’s beliefs and behaviors existed before even the establishment of maybe organized organizations. And if you look at 1851 and the amendments to the Constitution that say no Negroes and mulattos should enter the state, it was really clear that it was not a welcoming inviting environment. Weather was enforced and how it was enforced, it changes from place to place and date today thereafter. But even after emancipation, it took until 1874 a vote – back to why we need to vote – vote to overturn that Amendment, to have it in line with federal guidelines and amendments at that point. And in 1869 it was overturned. So, there was already this overarching, codified behavior in laws in the state to suggest that African Americans were not fully vested, fully privileged voting and other laws –  where you could live, where you can work, where you could  play, where you could worship. So, segregation and discrimination were heightened and real. And it was really no different throughout anywhere in this country. There is no place that we can look to that is some utopian state that did not have all of the above. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to have kept fighting until 1965. So, the bull Connors of the 50s and 60s in the South existed in the North, just in different ways. And maybe and more subtle ways, but just the same.

Beckley:  I think that what you said about all of this not happening in a vacuum and  acknowledging what was going on around these women or men, just in general African Americans trying to vote, is really important to contextualize some of this. Even if there aren’t outlaw right laws like there were in the South prohibiting  r obstructing the vote, it was nonetheless intimidation and job security and things like that that are less visible, especially to historians, but still very important to keep in the context.

Hall-Dotson: Yes.

Beckley:  Kisha, did you have anything to add?

Tandy:  Yes, listening to Susan speak about this reminded me of another quote, and bear with me, Adella Hunt-Logan, and she said the following and the crisis magazine in September 1912. It was looking at Colored women as voters. Listening to Susan talk about everything that Black women and African American women were dealing with just in their lives it made me think about this cool idea that Black women have always been active, always doing, always emoting, trying to get better not only for themselves, but for their family. And so, Adella Hunt Logan really expressed this:

“More and more Colored Women are studying public questions and Civics. As they gain information and have experience in their daily vocations, and in their efforts for human betterment, they are convinced, as many other women have long ago been convinced, that their efforts would be more telling if women had the vote. Having no vote, they need not be feared or heeded. The right of petition is good, but it is much better when well voted in. Not only is the colored woman awake to reforms that may be hastened by good legislation and wise administration, but she is reported as using it for the uplift of society and for the advancement of the state.”

I mean, and that’s going back to the Crisis, which was part of the NAACP from September 1912. This idea just working not only for yourself but for all. And listening to Susan speak about that – that just stuck out to me again. And then also, just talking about that it was, you know, that, yes they were parallel, but there were also different things that were going on. So, for example, we know here in Indianapolis in June 1912 that there was a call for an African American branch of the suffrage association, so, going back to the Indianapolis recorder, African American newspaper here in Indianapolis that continues to be published today, there was a call for a suffrage meeting, and this quotation came from F. B. Ransom, he was of course, the attorney for Madam CJ Walker, and the goal of this meeting was to consider the organization of a branch colored people to be affiliated with the state organization among white people. The object of having a separate organization. It goes on explaining it is only because it is believed that the idea will be more heartily entered into, and so we look at this great call to action and we see the additional women who would work for suffrage, but in the Indianapolis Star, also in 1912, I believe the day is June 22, 1912, there was a letter that was written anonymously that was unsigned to dr. Hannah Graham who at the time was president of the Equal Suffrage Association, and the individual who wrote this letter expressed that,

“It was with deep regret that I read the announcement that a woman’s franchise League of Black women was to be formed in the city. And that you, the president of the Equal Suffrage Association, are going to show your approval of such an action by addressing them.”

So, you can see in this moment there was at least this one person. Dr. Graham expressed being more determined after receiving the letter and ridicules this unsigned note, but at least one item was published in the Indianapolis Stargoing against that, and I listen to Susan talk about and that brings up that point that you know, it was not all, as Susan said, we weren’t all living, playing, worshipping, doing all these things together. there were some concerns there. At least by some people.

Beckley: Yea, I’d never heard that quote before, so thanks for bringing that to us. That’s really interesting. I think something that a lot of especially white historians are struggling with, here in the centennial of women’s suffrage is how to celebrate the accomplishments of both white and Black suffragists while also acknowledging this unsavory part of it that Black women were excluded and that white women did make the choice to exclude them. It wasn’t just happenstance. And kind of acknowledging that the fight for suffrage wasn’t over with the 19th Amendment. How do we balance those two narratives, how do we make sure that we are telling a more full story?

Dotson: Well I suggest, what you just said though, is an interesting word choice. That because of unsavory behaviors. And as much as I agree with that statement, I also posit that it was also the lay of the land. It was how it was. So, to suggest that all of the sudden this one movement for the common good of all women eradicated, eliminated, all these other structures and systems and mores and behaviors of the day, so that women could vote – women behaved the way society behaved. And I think the narrative is what it is. The narrative will speak for itself. And I think that’s where we get caught in this emotionalism. When we are doing a backwards glance at things that are less than flattering to a group or a society or an individual –  nobody wants to be that one. Nobody wants to be that bad guy. And it’s not so much being bad guys, it’s just how people were. It is how they country and individuals, municipalities, states, how people behaved. And you may not dislike me and one suffragist didn’t dislike the other on a personal level, but they weren’t friends. They weren’t colleagues, generally speaking. The newspapers were separated for a reason, where you could live was separated by law and by de facto, de jure segregation and by behaviors. So, why are we upset about what it was? That’s what it was. And, even when someone, I’m going to take it to a national level and then bring it back to local. Let’s look at Ida B. Wells. Ida B. Wells is a national figure –  Is traveling around the country –  she was a woman, a writer, a journalist, an author, an activist, a wife, a mother, and she knows some of the leaders of these suffrage movements. She knew Frederick Douglass. She knew Stanton, and others. And guess what? So what? They were not totally embarking and embracing on her friendship. She was asked to march during the 1913 suffrage march at the back of the line. She said no. And so she waited and, as the story’s been told often, that she waited on the sidewalk until the delegates from her state of Illinois came past and then she got off the sidewalk and got in line with them. It changes what? It changes nothing. Now, there were other women who marched at the back of a line. Who did – do we know all of whom they were? No, sadly we don’t. But we do know that the founding members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, who were collegiate from Howard University, and their advisor Mary Church Terell, was also and activists and a suffragist in her own right, marched – they decided to March at the back. Now, who else was there, we don’t know unfortunately. Do they get more credit for coming? No. In an overall National narrative? Generally, no. in the southern women, that was one of the reasons, that was the main reason why they were being asked not to come,  was as not to disenfranchised the women and I sat the women in the Southern States from coming. So, then you have Ida B. Wells who was an activist, and not just for suffrage, fighting for anti- lynching legislation, and writing about it. And traveling the country. And she too, is friends to madam C.J. Walker and they are contemporaries and their fight and struggle for equity, parody, anti-lynching legislation, anti-racism. And because of our dividing line and how we live – as I said, how we live, work, play, and worship – there are lots of people in the general populace who don’t know who Ida B. Wells is. Who may not know who Madame Walker is, right here in Indianapolis, besides from the theater Legacy that has been left behind on the footprint. And that Miss Barnes and she and others were colleagues, compatriots, writing checks, putting money where their mouth is, and not just for the Black community, but for also for women. But the question then is how do you fix a narrative? I don’t know that you fix a narrative, you just tell the truth. The truth and distinctive facts. Could people get along? Most certainly. But where people encouraging each other to come and join the frey and the fight? Clearly they weren’t. Or we would see more evidence of it. And it’s not just because the documents were lost. That’s just not how people were aligning themselves. And I guess in some regards, no different than what we see even today. Where people live, although we can come and go and live and work and play relatively fluidly, but we still tend to not always intersect in these very mixed environments. So, then it was not permissible by mores, standards, laws, the written and the unwritten. So, I don’t know that it – I don’t know that there will be more evidence that has ever presented that will make the movement look like the women’s march that we saw in 2016. Because it’s just not how we lived.

Beckley:  So, I’m kind of hearing that just tell the story how they happened and we don’t need to tiptoe around it but we just need to tell the facts and, you know, celebrate what they did and include all parts of the stories and include that context of the time that is so important. We keep coming back to the context of the time and I acknowledged and how people lived influenced how they did suffrage work. So, I think that’s really an interesting and very simple way of looking at it. It doesn’t need to be some big breakthrough that we have. We’ve just got to tell all of the stories.

Hall-Dotson:  Yeah, there isn’t a Kumbaya quote-unquote breakthrough.  there isn’t a moment where we can look back and say, “see I told you, there is an equal amount of Black women and white women all and the room fighting for suffrage.”  And if there was one, it was one. Maybe a one and done. And so the quotes that we get in the scholarship where the women are included – where there were Black women at a meeting – it wasn’t often and it wasn’t unilateral across the Nation. And one or two or three or five out of, say, 55 is not an equitable illustration of integration in the movement. And inclusion. So, I’m not suggesting that there isn’t any. There is some. But, it is far and few between and it is one in a few and it is not what we saw for example, and Washington and 2016. So, it is very different. And for a very different reasons. Not just because I don’t want to be with you because you’re Black. I don’t want to be with you because you’re a working-class woman. You know, women who were sitting at the Propylaeum having tea were not socializing with the women who were their help. Whether they were Black or white. Did they want them to have the vote? I don’t know. Probably not. So, there’s layers to this moment. Because not most Black women were like Madam Walker, but there is a community across this country of affluent educated, African Americans. As well as working class and under-educated, and in some cases still uneducated, from the vestiges of it being illegal to be educated, Black Americans who have now migrated from the south clear across the Midwest and the North. And people’s relationships are based on so many other things and not just on the color of their skin.

Beckley: Kisha, Did you have anything to add?

Tandy:  I am in complete agreement with Susan and I would just add that going back to where Black women, African American women, we’re looking at their clubs, looking at their organizations, is how we tell our story. And how we share that history. I think about Lillian Thomas Fox and her involvement with the National Association of Colored Women –  the work and effort that she was doing here in Indianapolis –  helping to establish with other Black women a clinic and a camp for- a place for patients for Black patients with TB, and just all the work that she did. Those important stories and her activism that led to, not necessarily led to but helped her to be involved and working for these things. And the idea that she was fighting against Jim Crow laws. Fighting against so many things that not only she had to deal with, but Black women, Black men, her family, her community, her fighting, just fighting for all of those different things. And so, we have to look at so many things as we tell and share that story. And knowing that, I know it’s been brought up already, but 1965 is such an important moment and such an important place in time, and even looking at today, as far as the vote and African Americans and African American women having the right to vote. So, those things and, you know, looking at that time frame and at that time span and saying, I’m going historically way back and also looking forward and beyond 1920. Because that is so important to the story and to the history. And telling a fuller story. I appreciate you, Susan, for bringing this relationship and network among women and then having friendships and working together. And striving for achievement and you mentioned Carrie Barnes, who was president of that chapter that started back in 1912. But, she and Madame Walker had been in – had participated in a number of other meetings where they were together and 1911, so a year before this meeting which was called. And Madame Walker talks about having extreme care for Carrie Barnes when she died, Carrie Barnes Ross died in 1918 and there is a letter at the Indiana Historical Society and they digitized collections where it talks, Madame Walker is writing to F. B. Ransom and it’s dated April 30th 1918, and she talks about Kerry Barnes Ross dying and that she was sad and that she felt – she had this feeling  as though she had been a daughter to her. And she just had this extreme sadness. But it speaks to that point that Susan was making this whole idea of a network and community. And we see that historically, we see that continuing today. And so I think that those are very important points and things to bring up as we talk about African American women working for the right to vote.

Beckley: I think to kind of wrap up here, I was wondering if both of you would like to share one story or one and a goat that you wish more people knew about either here in Indiana or on the national stage, what is one thing that you wish more people knew about?

Hall-Dotson:  I don’t know that it’s a story about, but it’s definitely sentiments of what it means to get the right to vote and what we do with it. And as women, we are working together, in many cases, they don’t walk in a lock step. They don’t have the same beliefs. And they don’t vote the same ultimately. So there were some women who were very much against women voting. They felt that it was for their husbands, their fathers, their sons, so all women were not unilaterally working and fighting and advocating for women’s right to get the vote. And if we take that through our body politic, what I think is missing often in discussion of suffrage, is getting the right to vote and then what do you do with it. Exercising that right to vote when you can. So, throughout the hundred-year period, how many women elected officials have there been? And where? Who voted for them? Women don’t vote as a block. There’s women who are Republicans there’s women who are Democrats there are women who are independents. They are women who don’t vote at all, still. So, even in the fight what we never look at I don’t think as we celebrate women’s right to vote, there’s this assumption that all women were advocating for women’s right to vote. And I don’t believe that’s so. Cuz it’s not so today. And what did we do with it? And what was the impact and effect of our body electorate – on a national level,  the first woman elected to congress in Indiana was in 1933. The first African American woman was in 1982. That’s Katie Hall out of Gary Indiana, and Julia Carson, the first woman and Indianapolis to go to Congress. But the first Black woman in Congress was Shirley Chisum and that was in 1969. But Virginia Jencks and 1933 out of Tera ho was the first woman from Indiana to go to Congress. And how many more women can we really think about? Just off the top of our heads I think we would have to really take a deeper Deep dive and look, in general, and it’s not that many. And why is that? If we are perpetually covering at 50% of the population and if we take partisan politics out of the equation, why are there so little, so few? All across the nation. And we have come a mighty long way. Women in politics and you see us from in the Senate now even a candidate for vice president. And judges and attorney generals and city council representatives across the country. That why so few and why so hard when we are about 50% of the population and most cases.

Beckley:  Yeah, I think that well I hope, with the centennial kind of wrapping up here in the next few months, that will give us a chance to use the research done for that as a springboard into some of this, what you’re talking about, looking at voting patterns and women actually participating in the political process. Because I think that’s just as important. Getting the vote is obviously, a milestone, but it’s just a milestone on the road to what we’ve actually done with the vote. So, I’m interested to see the scholarship that is going to be coming up in the next few years on that sort of thing.

Kisha, did you have a story or an anecdote or anything that you wish more people knew about?

Tandy:  I would just like to add, tell the stories of African-American women. And invite women living today to come and to tell their stories. So that a more complete history can be shared. There is –  I was working on this project –  this was, truly, my research project for me, to see what I could find, what information was available, using African American newspapers, using African American manuscript collections or whatever I could find to be able to bring information to be able to share, and finding women who had been in Indiana, I was very specifically  focused on women from Indiana and trying to find as many people outside of Indianapolis as well to be able to help tell the stories. And finding women who have lived in Indiana, had gone on to other places and who were making a difference there. So, being able to have their voices, having their records, the narratives, being able to access that, is so important. And like you, I am also excited about the scholarship that is coming. One individual that I am looking forward to reading her book, I have not read the book yet, but it was actually just published, but I have been listening to her talk and to share the information that she has found and she did look nationally, is Martha S. Jones  and her book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. And so, I am definitely looking forward to continuing to research to see what else I can find about what happened in Indiana and looking forward to seeing what else is out there. But also, just researching and telling the stories of African American women and Indiana.

Beckley:  I know that the Indiana Historical Bureau is also very interested in those stories and we’re looking to you and to others to find those stories and we are doing our own work so, hopefully this is, while it is the centennial celebration, it’s also the spark that we needed to kind of start a lot of these conversations like the one that we’re having today, to continue into the future and the future historians will pick up the threads and be able to work off of what we’re doing now.

Thank you both so much for being on the show today and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

Hall-Dotson: Thanks for having me.

Tandy: Thank you so much.

Beckley:  Once again, I want to thank both Kisha and Susan for taking the time to talk with me today. If you’re interested in learning more about what their work or about Black stop or just here in Indiana or nationally, we have some useful links in the show notes which can be found at blog.history.in.gov. we’ll be back next month with a new episode of talking Hoosier history. And in the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and Twitter for daily doses of Indiana history tidbits. Subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier history wherever you get your podcast. Thanks for listening!

*Should be 1903

*Should be 1904

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Learn more about this topic with the sources below:

Martha Jones, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, Basic Books, 2020.

Christine Fernando, “Black History is American History: How Black Hoosiers Contributed to Suffrage Movement,” Indianapolis Star. 

Melissa Block, “Yes, Women Could Vote After the 19th Amendment – But Not All Women. Or Men,” NPR. 

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle For the Vote, 1850-1920Indiana University Press, 1998.

Lillian Thomas Fox, Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Mr. A, Majors, M.D., Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and ActivitiesDonohue & Henneberry, Printers, 1983.

Afro-American Encyclopedia; Thoughts, Doings, and Sayings of the Race, Haley & Florida, 1895.

Indiana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs marker: https://www.in.gov/history/markers/227.htm

THH Episode 37: Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Transcript and Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Jump to Show Notes

Beckley: This is the second of a two-part series covering the long path to women’s suffrage in Indiana. If you haven’t listened to the first installment of this episode – Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly, you might want to do that now as it covers the roots of the suffrage movement in the Hoosier state.

[Cannon blast]

Beckley: The sound of cannon fire rang out in the gloomy pre-dawn air of a neighborhood just northwest of downtown Indianapolis. People sprang from bed, ready for a day that loomed large before them. But this wasn’t the beginning of a battle, rather, it was the end of a war – the war for the 19th amendment. The women of the fifth ward, a predominately African American voting district, rose with the sun, donned their hats, coats, and shoes, and by the time polls opened at 8:00, were waiting in lines to cast their first ever ballot. Some of these women may have been involved in the suffrage movement for decades– had been marching, speaking, petitioning…demanding the vote – and now, on November 2, 1920, their voices would finally, officially be heard. A few of these women appear in that day’s issue of the Indianapolis News under the headline “Waiting their turn to vote.” They had been waiting long enough, now was the time for action.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

When we left off in the last episode, we were on the precipice of a global event that would change the landscape of the suffrage fight – World War I. But even before U.S. entry into the war, there was a lot for Hoosier women to be hopeful about when it came to suffrage. The 1917 legislative session brought about three major suffrage measures, all of which passed.

Each of the these differed slightly – the Woman’s Suffrage Act proposed partial Suffrage, allowing women to vote for some state and local officials, presidential electors, and delegates to the proposed state Constitutional Convention while leaving out voting for higher offices such as governor, state representatives, or senators. The second measure, the Beardsley Amendment, would strike the word “male” as criteria to vote from the state constitution, ultimately granting women the same suffrage rights as men. If passed, the amendment would be heard again in the 1919 legislative session before being put to a referendum where, ironically, only men would vote on whether women would earn the full rights of citizenship. The third and final measure took the form of a Constitutional Convention Bill. The hope was that with a brand-new constitution, universal suffrage could be written into the new document, making women’s suffrage less susceptible to being overturned. Each of these bills passed relatively easily and each held the tantalizing possibility of expanded voting rights for women.

Well, there it is. One year, three passed suffrage laws. That’s equal voting rights for women in Indiana, done and dusted, right? Of course not. When has it ever been that easy? In May, less than two months after the legislative session adjourned, the Constitutional Convention law was challenged in court on the grounds that it was an “unnecessary public expense.” In August, the partial suffrage law was also challenged on similar grounds – it would simply cost too much to effectively double the number of voters in the state. So, the two laws that would have immediately granted women in Indiana the right to vote were in jeopardy with the third stuck in limbo for at least two years.

Despite these blows, suffrage workers in the state pressed on. The Legislative Council of Indiana Women was crucial both in garnering support for the cause throughout the state and in getting the 1917 suffrage measures passed. Once that was done, they turned their sights to the next step – educating women about politics and registering them to vote. The LCIW and other suffrage groups weren’t going to let the uncertain future of the suffrage measures stop them from being prepared If the laws were to make it through the courts unscathed.

As historian Anita Morgan writes in her book, We Must be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, Cora Goodrich, first lady of Indiana, called for the political education of Hoosier Women at a celebration of the suffrage gains at the 1917 session, saying:

Goodrich read by Marino: We have been given the sacred power to help make a new constitution. We are not trained servants and it is most important that we study the need of the present constitution and that we make no mistake as to the attitude of the delegates toward prohibition and suffrage.

Beckley: Various suffrage organizations around the state – The Legislative Council, Equal Suffrage Association, Woman’s Franchise League, and others – answered that call. According to Morgan, the Equal Suffrage Association hosted civics courses, and included provisions for women who worked outside of the home who wished to attend. The Indianapolis Star began publishing a series of articles aimed at educating women about the mechanics of voting, authored by Franchise League member Kate Thompson. African American women’s groups invited Dr. Amelia Keller and Cora Goodrich to speak about citizenship issues at an Indianapolis church. Grant County held suffrage schools for both men and women at the local library. But all of that work to educate the women of Indiana would have been for naught if they weren’t registered to vote when election day finally arrived.

As registration opened, it was clear that this wouldn’t be an issue. Suffrage organizations mobilized to ensure that the women of Indiana would be ready for their day at the polls. Franchise League members became notaries and organized trips into rural farming communities, bringing with them blank registration forms to ensure women who were unable to register in person were able to vote. Franchise League member Celeste Barnhill spent all her spare time taking incorrectly filled out registration forms back to women to have them corrected, ensuring they would be able to vote when the time came. In one rather amusing instance, she returned a form to a woman who had failed to provide her year of birth on the form. When asked to correct it, the registrant in question stated,

[Record scratch]

Quote read by Marino: Oh, I didn’t forget it. I just thought it wasn’t any of your business.

Beckley: In the end, Mrs. Barnhill convinced the registrant to fill out the correct information, and one more woman was ready to make her voice heard.

In some places, women registrants outnumbered men. Women of all ages and from all backgrounds rushed to get their registration cards in. In Muncie, Nelle Reed registered to vote because her husband died of alcoholism and through Prohibition legislation, she hoped to prevent her son from suffering the same fate. She was illiterate, so she simply signed an “X” for her name. In Vanderburgh County, all women at the Rathbone Home, an institution for single women, registered to vote. Gary’s first registrant was a 23-year-old woman, while in Bedford, one woman in her 80s and another in her 90s were driven to their registration site, where they signed up with trembling hands. And, in Bartholomew County, Black women were at the front of the registration line.

Unfortunately, all of this mobilization, excitement, and anticipation was for nothing. Defeat came quick on the heels of the successes of the 1917 legislative session. In July, the Indiana Supreme Court declared the Constitutional Convention law unconstitutional and in October the Woman’s Suffrage Act of 1917, Hoosier women’s last hope for immediate, albeit partial suffrage, was ruled unconstitutional just 11 days before the election.

Interwoven through all of this – in between the education, the push for registration, and the ongoing court battles, women were engaged in war work. Upon the U.S. entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, suffrage organizations were in the ideal position to organize Hoosier women to help the war effort – after all, they’d been organizing women for decades.

Just as factories on the home front shifted from peacetime to wartime production, suffrage organizations utilized their pre-existing networks to efficiently adapt to war work. To them, war work and suffrage went hand in hand – what better way to convince skeptics of their loyalty and patriotism? Surely, if they assisted in this war, which was framed as a defense of Democratic principles, the injustice of the women’s disenfranchisement couldn’t persist much longer.

Women around the state threw themselves into their work. Before the state itself organized for defense, Julia E. Landers of Indianapolis organized the Indiana League for Woman’s Service, which was tasked with helping the Jeffersonville quartermaster locate women willing to make 2 million shirts for the army. Ten thousand southern Indiana women answered the call and made the garments in their homes.

Katherine Greenough of Indianapolis led Woman’s Franchise League Liberty Loan drives and devised a plan to encourage League members to purchase bonds. Her efforts raised over one and a half million dollars in bonds. When the state did organize for defense, one woman was named to serve on each county defense council. That woman would establish a Woman’s Committee who would then organize the women throughout the county. Franchise League member Julia Henderson organized the Fourteen-Minute women, who traveled throughout the state giving talks on war-related topics such as food conservation, food production, registration of women for war work, child welfare, liberty loans, and home economics.

Marion County’s African American woman’s committee, made up of the Black members of the Marion County Council of Defense Woman’s Committee’s, named chairwomen to oversee food production, child welfare, foreign relief, education, public speaking, and more. Indianapolis’s Ella Clay organized Black women to deliver talks throughout the city, similar to those given by the Fourteen Minute Women. Flanner House, an African American Community Center, hosted first-aid and nurse training classes, where over 200 women were instructed. Flanner House also hosted its own Red Cross unit, which, according to Dr. Morgan, made items like pajamas, shirts, and surgical bags for the war effort.

When it was all said and done, 626,292 Hoosier women had registered for war work, the second highest number in the nation. Unlike during the Civil War, women didn’t drop the suffrage cause completely during this crisis.

Members of the Indianapolis branch of the Franchise League spent much of their time at the Red Cross workroom at the W.H. Block Department Store knitting socks and slippers for soldiers alongside volunteers from local charities and churches. But more than knitting was happening in the workroom – as the Hoosier Suffragist put it,

Suffragist read by Marino: A great opportunity is at hand, not to make suffragists into Red Cross workers, but to make workers into suffragists.

Beckley: When there was a lull in war work, League members hit the streets to recruit new members, collected signatures for a petition to Congress regarding a federal amendment, went on suffrage auto tours similar to those mentioned in the last episode, and created suffrage schools to prepare speakers.

One such “Suffrage School” was organized in June 1918 in Merom, Indiana. This week-long course taught attendees how to spread the “suffrage doctrine,” as they put it. The women studied topics such as the history of suffrage, speaking, organizing, and finances. Students took a journalism class and practiced writing for publications. They would debate each other about suffrage, one taking the pro and one the anti side. They practiced their public speaking skills in front of crowds in nearby towns, and there was even day care provided for attendees with young children.

It was essential for Hoosier suffragists to be prepared – the 1919 legislative session was just around the corner and with it came another chance to finally secure the vote. As the 1919 session opened, the playing field was set:  two of the three suffrage measures passed in 1917 had been ruled unconstitutional. The Beardsley Amendment, which would remove the “male” qualifier from the Indiana state constitution, was up for the second vote in the General Assembly. If it passed again, it would go to a referendum. World War I had ended just two months earlier, and women, who had worked tirelessly throughout the war in support of their government, expected equal voting rights to follow. Both the house and senate had expressed support for increased woman suffrage. Governor Goodrich himself urged the General Assembly to enact suffrage legislation in his opening address. Change was in the air.

But, this was the fight for suffrage. It had been dragging on and on for well over half a century, and by this time, after so many defeats, many suffragists saw a federal amendment as their only hope for a suffrage measure that wouldn’t inevitably be overturned in the courts. And there was a version of the Anthony Amendment – which would become the 19th Amendment – winding its way through the United States Congress after having failed to pass in September 1918 by just two votes. However, suffragists had learned not to put all their eggs in one basket – they continued to push for suffrage measures at the state level.

The first new suffrage measure, created by Franchise League leaders, was for partial suffrage. Similar to that passed in the 1917 session but revised to resolve the issues deemed unconstitutional, this bill passed easily. Then came a bit of a curve ball that’s hard to understand, even with the hindsight we have today.

On January 14, 1919, the Indianapolis News announced that the Beardsley Amendment, which was up for the second and final vote before going to a referendum, would be withdrawn and re-introduced as a new amendment, which would have to once again pass two separate legislative sessions and a referendum. This was being done with the support of the Woman’s Franchise League. From our standpoint, this seems unthinkable – suffragists had been working to secure the vote for nearly 70 years and this was the closest they had ever come to getting a constitutional amendment passed. Why allow it to be delayed for at least another two years? The answer seems to be two-fold.

First, the General Assembly had several other amendments it wanted to vote on in the 1919 session, but if the suffrage bill was passed and put to a referendum, all others would be put on hold until the next session, two years later. Thus, a new Beardsley amendment could be proposed in 1919 and passed in 1921 without obstructing the other proposals.

The second reason for the withdrawal and re-introduction of the Beardsley Amendment is . . . less bureaucratic and more distasteful.  The new version of the amendment, like the original, struck out the word “male,” thus providing full suffrage to women. It also removed suffrage rights from immigrants voting on what was called “first papers,” which were basically forms proving that an immigrant intended to apply for citizenship. Throughout the war, suffragists had often used anti-immigrant language to make a case for the vote, capitalizing on increased nativism brought about by the war. They painted immigrants as ignorant, disloyal, and undeserving of a say in governing a country that was not “theirs,” and they contrasted them with the educated, loyal, all-American women who had worked so hard for the war effort. In August 1918, Indianapolis Suffragist Grace Julian Clarke wrote:

Clarke read by Marino: Another reason for considering suffrage a war measure is found in the fact that while we are sending millions of our young men across the water to fight for democracy and civilization, being thereby deprived of their votes in important elections here at home, we yet permit millions of pro-Germans to exercise this function.

Beckley: It’s hard, even for me, to look at my historical heroes and see their flaws. It would be easy for us to avoid the nativism of the suffrage movement and celebrate women’s suffrage wholeheartedly. It would also be easy to portray Indiana’s suffrage movement as being integrated harmoniously – Black and white suffragists working side by side for a common goal. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. There were Black suffragists across the state, but particularly in Indianapolis, and Black women attended large, integrated suffrage meetings and hosted white suffragists at their own meetings– but in reality, Black and White suffragists often worked parallel to each other (even if fighting for the same goal) and operated out of separate groups.  As Susan Hall-Dotson, African-American history collections coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society, points out in an interview with the Anderson Herald Bulletin, Black and white women living in Indiana in the early 20th century were segregated, and we had a largely segregated suffrage movement as a result.

Ignoring these unsavory elements of historical events and figures to only focus on the positives is dishonest and just bad history – we must recognize the flaws of these figures and doing so doesn’t erase their achievements – it makes them human.

This new Beardsley Amendment, which at once expanded and contracted voting rights throughout the state, passed easily and would be voted on again in 1921. However, by then, the “Suffrage question” was settled, or at least, so it seemed.

The United States Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in June 1919, after five failed attempts in as many months. Indiana suffragists immediately began calling for the governor to convene a special session of the General Assembly to ratify the 19th Amendment. The governor, however, wanted to wait to see what other states would do before spending time and money on a special session. Months later, with still no sign of a special session, Franchise League president Helen Benbridge delivered petitions signed by 86,000 Hoosiers, saying,

Benbridge read by Marino: As we believe that the calling of a special session of the Indiana legislature is a matter of a few days away, or at the outside, a few weeks, we want you to realize what an enormous demand there is over the state for ratification.

Beckley: Finally, Governor Goodrich agreed to call a special session, as long as suffrage was the only topic of discussion.

On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The vote was 43 to 3 in the Senate and 93 to 0 in the House.  Hundreds of women were in attendance, adorned with the yellow flower that represented suffrage. The Indianapolis News reported:

News read by Marino: The main floor and gallery of the senate were packed when the suffrage resolution was taken up. Several hundred women were in the chamber, and standing room was at a premium.

Beckley: The News continued:

News read by Marino: As soon as the house passed the resolution, a band in the hall began playing ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah.’ Women joined in the singing. Scores rushed into the corridor and began embracing. Many shook hands and scenes of wildest joy and confusion prevailed.

Beckley: Women literally danced in the halls – Indiana’s first lady Cora Goodrich was seen waltzing with Mary Tarkington Jameson as the band played “Until We Meet Again.”

Governor Goodrich signed the ratification resolution surrounded by the state’s leading suffrage workers, who had dedicated their lives to this very achievement.

Seven months later, on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and the measure became law, women around the Hoosier state celebrated. In Terre Haute, women staged a “whale of a parade,” and families lined the streets shouting and cheering as they passed. Suffrage workers in Fort Wayne hired an airplane to drop thousands of circulars over the city announcing the victory and encouraging women to register. In Indianapolis, women hosted a “jollification luncheon” at the Claypool hotel where the state song of Tennessee was sung as a tribute to the state that sealed the suffrage deal. On August 28 at noon, cities and town around the state sounded factory steam whistles and church bells in a collective celebration of the end of a struggle that had lasted lifetimes.

The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, imbuing women with the full rights of citizenship. It expanded voting rights to millions. But not to all people living in America.  Barriers preventing Native men and women from voting weren’t removed nation-wide until 1947. Asian Americans weren’t eligible for citizenship, and thus to vote, until 1952. While there were no state-wide legal restrictions placed on Black voters in Indiana, voter suppression laws in southern states limited Black men and women from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even in northern states, like Indiana, intimidation tactics employed by groups like the KKK suppressed Black turnout throughout the 1920s. Today, American citizens living in Washington D.C. and U.S. territories have no vote in congress, while voter I.D. laws, voter purges, and the disenfranchisement of felons disproportionately affect people of color. The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, but it was just a step on the long road to equality that we’re still travelling today.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is produced by the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library This episode was written me, Lindsey Beckley, with research supplied by Jill Weiss Simins and Nicole Poletika. Sound engineering by Justin Clark and production by Jill Weiss Simins. We’ll be back in two weeks with another installment of Giving Voice. Until then, find us on Facebook and Twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to like, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Newspapers

“Suffrage Petitions are Signed by 86,000,” Indianapolis News, November 18, 1916, 23, Newspapers.com.

“Senate Passes Bill to Remodel Capitol,” Indianapolis News, January 25, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Convention Bill Is Signed,” Indianapolis Star, February 2, 1917, 10, Newspapers.com.

“House Now to Act on Suffrage, Richmond Item, February 9, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Department Club Action,” Indianapolis News, February 6, 1917, 22, Newspapers.com.

“Governor to Sign Maston Bill Monday,” Richmond Item, February 25, 1917, I, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Suffrage Victory Important, Says Mrs. Catt,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 22, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Resolution Adopted by the House,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 16, Newspapers.com.

“The Star’s Home Study Class for Women Voters,” Indianapolis Star, March 25, 1917, 33, Newspapers.com.

“First Women to Register,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Women Vitally Interested in the Constitutional Convention as Shown by Their Rush to Qualify as Voters at the Special Elections,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Stiff Blow Is Given by High Court,” (Muncie) Star Press, July 14, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Women Denied the Right to Vote; Marion Superior Court Holds the Law Is Unconstitutional,” Princeton Daily Clarion, September 17, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Will Talk Wherever They Get the Chance,” Indianapolis News, October 16, 1917, 1.

“Suffrage Law Is Invalid; Women Rest Hope on Congress,” Indianapolis Star, October 27, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage School is in Full Swing Today,” Rushville Republican, June 25, 1918, 6, Newspapers.com.

Grace Julian Clarke, “Public Opinion Much Changed as to Suffrage” Indianapolis Star, August 11, 1918, 37.

“Suffrage Amendment of 1917 to Give Way,” Indianapolis News, January 14, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Suffrage Plans Started,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Act Is Now Signed by Governor,” Indianapolis News, February 7, 1919, 20, Newspapers.com.

“Senate Adopts Suffrage by Vote of 56 to 25,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Women After Extra Session,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“G.O.P. Assembly leaders Seek Quiet Session” Indianapolis Star, January 16, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Scores of Women Attend Session,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“In Any Event This was a Parade. An All-Auto Victory Procession,” Indianapolis News, August 21, 1920, 1.

“Women Parade at Terre Haute, Indianapolis Times, August 21, 1920, 3, Newspapers.com.

“Suffragists Jollify Over Ratification,” Indianapolis News, August 28, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Celebrate for Suffrage Today,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 28, 1920, 2, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Workers Celebrate Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 29, 1920, 12, Newspapers.com.

“Women Celebrate Suffrage Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 9, 1920, 13, Newspapers.com.

“Voters of Indiana Go to Polls Early,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Riot of Colors in Voting Line,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Voting Described as Heavy and Fast,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, 10, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Publications

The Hoosier Suffragist, August 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 2.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, October 1917, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, April 1918, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 2.

Books

Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2020.

Further Reading

On Black Suffragists:

Melissa Block, Yes, Women Could Vote After the 19th Amendment – But Not All Women. Or MenNPR, August 26, 2020.

Rebecca R. Bibbs, Historian: Suffrage largely was white women’s movement(Anderson) Herald Bulletin, August 22, 2020.

Christine Fernando, ‘Black history is American history’: How Black Hoosiers contributed to suffrage movementIndyStar, August 27, 2020.

“Leaving Party Politics to Man:” How Some Hoosier Women Worked Against Suffrage

Anti-suffrage booth at the 1915 Old Home Days in Skaneateles, New York, courtesy of New York Heritage Digital Collections.

It is easy to assume that women unanimously supported woman’s suffrage, while men, clinging to their role as the households’ sole political actor, opposed it. However, this was not the case. In 1914, suffrage leader Alice Stone Blackwell wrote, “the struggle has never been a fight of woman against man, but always of broad-minded men and women on the one side against narrow-minded men and women on the other.”[i]

With the centennial of women’s suffrage upon us, we celebrate the determination of those women who fought for so long to secure their own enfranchisement. Understandably, many examinations of the suffrage movement only briefly touch on organized opposition of the movement, if at all. This is likely because it is much easier for us to identify with suffragists than it is with their counterparts. However, this lack of coverage can lead to the assumption that the anti-suffrage movement was weak or inconsequential compared to that of the pro-suffrage masses. That assumption would be incorrect. According to Historian Joe C. Miller, organized anti-suffragists outnumbered organized pro-suffragists until 1915, just five years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. [ii]

Suffrage Madonna postcard from 1909, showing the fear of anti-suffragists that women with the vote would leave men to care for their families. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.

In the wake of suffrage gains in western states, anti-suffragists began to organize in 1895, forming the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women. Later, women formed similar organizations in New York (1895) and Illinois (1906). In 1911, leaders within these groups came together to establish the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS), which led to increasing organization on a national scale. By 1916, when pro-suffragists finally outnumbered antis, NAOWS claimed to have organized resistance in 25 of the 48 states.[iii]

You may be wondering why so many women felt strongly about legislation that we would consider to go against their best interests. That’s a difficult question to answer since, as with any movement, each woman would have had her own reasons to oppose suffrage. The various pamphlets and broadsides distributed by NAOWS, such as the one below, shed light on their reasoning.

“Why We Oppose Votes for Women,” courtesy of Tennessee Virtual Archive.

Views like those expressed in “Why We Oppose Votes for Women” became even more pervasive throughout 1916 and 1917 in response to a national spike of suffrage activity across the nation.[iv] Some Indiana women belonged to this opposition movement. Hoosier suffragists were working tirelessly to promote three separate bills that could lead to their enfranchisement. In the midst of the 1917 legislative session, anti-suffragists made their appearance in the form of “The Remonstrance,” a petition sent to State Senator Dwight M. Kinder of Indianapolis.

Indianapolis News, January 20, 1917, 7.

This “Remonstrance,” presented to the Indiana General Assembly on January 19, 1917, and subsequently reprinted in Indianapolis newspapers, laid out arguments against suffrage in three broad strokes:

  1. We Believe it is the demand of a minority of the women of our state.
  2. We are opposed to woman suffrage because we believe that women can best serve their state and community by leaving party politics to man and directing their gifts along the lines largely denied to men because of their obligations involved in the necessary machinery of political suffrage.
  3. We believe that with women in party politics there will arise a new party machine with the woman boss in control.

While these are the core arguments presented in the petition, it’s worth reading it in its entirety, as the supporting statements are fascinating. The petition’s arguments are similar to some of those put forth by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and there is a reason for that. On January 13, the Indianapolis News reported that anti-suffragists from Boston had been in the city for two weeks,

prepared to do a big and brave work. They went from house to house telling the poor misguided women of Indianapolis what a dreadful thing would befall them if they obtained equal suffrage. They asked that the women sign a petition against this particular brand of punishment the men of the legislature might mete out to them.

This was the same petition that would land on Senator Kinder’s desk days later. These East Coast anti-suffrage activists, either from the national organization or the closely-related Massachusetts group, came to Indiana, where no anti-suffrage organization existed, to turn women against their own enfranchisement.

While this work did convince some Hoosier women to submit the petition, it wasn’t particularly successful—if anything, the petition generated more support than ever for the suffrage bills before the Indiana General Assembly. While the document claimed to represent the “great majority of women” in the state, it was signed by just nineteen women, all of whom lived in the same upper-class Indianapolis neighborhood and who would likely have traveled in the same social circles. The response from suffrage activists around the state was swift.

Just two days after “The Remonstrance” appeared in Indianapolis papers, the Indianapolis News published an article penned by Charity Dye, an Indianapolis educator, activist, and member of the Indiana Historical Commission (which eventually became the Indiana Historical Bureau). Responding to the antis’ claim that they represented ninety percent of Hoosier women, Dye released the results of a poll taken in the fall of 1916. The women polled were all residents of the Eighth Ward of Indianapolis and each woman could select from “pro,” “anti,” and “neutral,” options. Of 1,044 women polled, 628 (60%) were in favor of suffrage. Dye ends the article, “In view of the fact that nineteen Indianapolis women asserted in The News Saturday that 90 per cent of Indiana women are opposed to suffrage, this is interesting reading.”[v]

Indianapolis News, January 23, 1917, 3.

The next day, women from around the state began sending their own list of nineteen names to newspapers—all in favor of suffrage. First, nineteen librarians and stenographers declared their support for suffrage “for what it will mean to them in the business world.”[vi] Next came nineteen Vassar College graduates, who signed their names “in protest against the assertion of nineteen anti-suffragists that women do not want suffrage.”[vii] Finally, nineteen “professional women,” who held medical degrees added their names “just because it is right.”

As lists of names continued to pour in from around the state, Joint Resolution Number 2, which would have granted Hoosier women full suffrage if passed, was winding its way through the Indiana General Assembly session. Just as enthusiasm for the bill reached its zenith, a new, even more promising prospect appeared when the legislature enacted a Constitutional Convention bill on February 1. According to Historian Anita Morgan, “A new Indiana Constitution could have full suffrage included in the document and eliminate the need to rely on a state law that could be overturned.” Pro-suffrage support for the convention flooded in.

Anti-suffragists saw this as possibly their last chance to block the enfranchisement of women in Indiana and called for a legislative hearing, where they could voice to their grievances.  Their goal was to persuade future members of the Constitutional Convention not to add women’s suffrage to the newly penned constitution. They got their hearing, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. On February 13, 1917, men and women, who supported and opposed suffrage, flooded the statehouse. What followed was hours of “speeches for and against votes for women [which] flashed humor, keen wit and an occasional bit of raillery or pungent sarcasm that brought laughter or stormy cheering.” First, state representatives heard from pro-suffragists, who pointed out that both the House and Senate had already expressed support for suffrage – all that was left now was to hammer out the details. The crowd, overwhelmingly composed of suffrage supporters, cheered throughout the address. Then Mary Ella Lyon Swift, leader of the original nineteen anti-suffrage remonstrants, spoke. She opined:

Suffrage, in my opinion, is one of the most serious menaces in the country today. With suffrage, you give the ballot to a large, unknown, untested class – terribly emotional and terribly unstable. . . If you thrust suffrage upon me you dissipate my usefulness, and in the same way you dissipate the usefulness of the most unselfish, most earnest and most capable women, who are working in their way, attracting no attention to themselves for the good of their country and mankind.

When one representative asked Swift to explain that last statement, she replied that suffrage would make “it necessary for us to fight the woman boss and the woman machine.”

Minnie Bronson, Buffalo Times, March 27, 1909, 2.

There again appears that talking point from the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, that once women get the vote, they’ll be irrevocably corrupted, with all-female political machines being run by female political bosses. One of the only other female speakers opposing women’s suffrage was Minnie Bronson, the secretary of NAOWS. Bronson addressed the overwhelming presence of pro-suffragists, quipping, “[Anti-suffragists] are not here pestering or threatening you, but are at home caring for their children.” Finally, after hours of  debating, Charles A. Bookwalter, former mayor of Indianapolis, delivered the decisive line, “It is 10:35 o’clock. Suffrage is right and hence inevitable.”[viii]

This hearing seems to have been the last gasp of the anti-suffrage movement in Indiana. While suffrage detractors continued to voice their opposition from time to time, the organized efforts of NAOWS in Indianapolis had come to an end. The nineteen women who sent “The Remonstrance” to the Indiana General Assembly went back to hosting parties, attending literary club meetings, doing charity work and, presumably, not exercising their newly-granted rights when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920.

[i] Joe Miller, “Never a Fight of Woman Against Man: What Textbooks Don’t Say about Women’s Suffrage,” The History Teacher 48, no. 3 (May 2015): 437.

[ii] Ibid., 440.

[iii] Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge, “Keynote of Opposition to Votes for Women,” Boston Globe, October 15, 1916, 54, accessed Newspapers.com.

[iv] Dr. Anita Morgan, “We Must Be Fearless”: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2020), p. 137-138.

[v] Charity Dye, “Gives Suffrage Vote for the Eighth Ward,” Indianapolis News, January 22, 1917, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vi] “Petition of ‘Nineteen’ Stirs the Suffragists,” Indianapolis News, January 23, 1917, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vii] “Protest of Vassar Women in Factor of Equal Suffrage,” Indianapolis News, January 24, 1917, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[viii] “Sparks Fly at Hearing for Women,” Indianapolis Star, February 14, 1917, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.