THH Episode 4: Midwestern Making of Poet Kenneth Rexroth


 

Transcript for Midwestern Making of Poet Kenneth Rexroth

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from Research by Jill Weiss Simins

To most, Kenneth Rexroth’s influence is confined to the literary realm. Seeing as his work proceeded and inspired the Beat Generation poets of the 1950s, this isn’t all that surprising. And yet, the first edition of his autobiography ends when he is just 22, and a full 13 years before his first poetry collection was published in 1940. In this Episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll explore the Midwest roots of this literary icon and his connections with anarchists, burlesque dancers, criminals, and the leading thinkers of his age.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Lindsey Beckley: Hello and welcome to Talking Hoosier History this episode features the 2016 and 2017 Indian poet laureate Shari Wagner reading the works of Kenneth Rexroth. This podcast is brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m your host, Lindsey Beckley.

[Transition music]

Beckley: Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905 in South Bend, Indiana. According to his sometimes colorfully embellished autobiography, his birth was something of an adventure. He wrote:

Voice actor reading Rexroth: My mother was well past her time. She was sitting in a cabaret, eating breast of chicken on whole-wheat bread with a piece of lettuce and drinking a glass of champagne, as she always did in cabarets, and wondering when I was going to show up when she began to feel labor pains. My parents were visiting in Elkhart, but they had the curious idea of hurrying up to Chicago for the baby’s birth. My mother was taken off the train in South Bend, and I was born there.

Beckley: That scene, so rich in detail for an event Kenneth wasn’t even around to witness, is fairly typical for his autobiographical novel. While many of the broad strokes of his story can be corroborated with primary sources, some of these finer details we just kind of have to take his word on. Something to keep in mind when I refer back to his autobiography.

The Rexroth family; Charles, Delia, and Kennethenjoyed an upper middle class lifestyle in the early years of Kenneth’s life. They lived first in a house on Park Avenue in South Bend, described as “substantial and comfortable” and later, on Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart, where “all the best homes in the town were in those days.” Charles worked as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman and Delia began to see to Kenneth’s education, and something she did quite enthusiastically. According to Rexroth, she taught him to read between the ages of three and four, and he had read 100’s of books, including Charles Dickens,  at an early age. This early influence of his mother was a lasting one; he was a prolific reader for the rest of his life.

Circumstances soon changed for the small family, though. Charles suffered from alcoholism and Delia from a an unknown chronic illness.

In 1910, when Kenneth was 5, the family was forced to leave that Avenue where “all the best homes in the town were” due to financial difficulties. They moved more often thereafter, but young Kenneth continued to immerse himself in classical literature. He also learned French, explored the neighborhood, and, when he was just 6 or 7, fell in love with Helen, “the little girl next door.”

Charles’ drinking and Delia’s illness had a deteriorating effect of the couple’s relationship. When Rexroth was 9, the family moved briefly to Battle Creek Michigan, then to Chicago the following year to live with relatives. Around this time, Charles’ alcoholism had him on death’s doorstep and he left the family, likely going to some sort of sanitarium for treatment. Rexroth and his mother moved into a small apartment and rarely saw Charles. In 1916, Delia succumbed to what was most likely tuberculosis. Even in her last days, she was a positive influence in Kenneth’s life, stressing the importance of never allowing anyone to deter him from becoming an artist and writer. After his mother’s death, Rexroth went to live with his father and grandmother in Toledo, Ohio. Here, Rexroth began to seek trouble, and with little adult supervision, there was plenty of trouble to be found.

In Toledo, he ran errands for brothels and sold popcorn to the working girls. Although he was only 11, he frequented burlesque shows and set up side hustles all over the city. He ran with a gang of other boys, who did “a regular business in hot bicycles and automobile accessories” and spending their days “drinking homemade beer [they] had stolen from [their] parents cellars.” During this time he also witnessed the violent and deadly Willys Overland strike of 1919, a conflict where young Rexroth stood firmly on the side of the workers and which he considered his introduction to the labor movement. In that same year, perhaps when Rexroth most needed an authority figure in his life, his father succumbed to his alcoholism.

The 15 year old, now orphaned, Rexroth went to Chicago to live with his aunt. He enrolled in Englewood High School but, by his own account “had become a consummate master in the art of plausible hooky” and was soon expelled for his poor attendance. That was the end of his formal schooling, but he found a much more profound education awaited him outside the confines of the classroom.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: He gained access to the clubs of poets and writers gathered in Chicago during the second wave of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. His favorite of these was the Washington Park Bug Club. Also known as Bughouse Square, this club was a widely recognized center of free speech and Rexroth encountered radical political views of all types at the meetings held there.

While Bughouse Square expanded Rexroth’s political horizons, the amusingly named Dill Pickle Club helped him develop artistically. The Club hosted independent theater productions, lectures on various topics, and, on Saturday nights, the Jazz music and dancing lasted all night long. In these Chicago cultural hotspots, Rexroth started performing his poetry and rubbed elbows with political and literary giants.

Rexroth soon outgrew the “hustles” he ran as a youth and began working odd jobs. One of these jobs was at the Green Mask. There, Rexroth was able to see and perform poetry with some of the era’s best poets and jazz musicians, eventually combining the two art forms into what would later be recognized as jazz poetry. However, the club was raided by police and the owner arrested for being the “keeper of a disorderly house.” Rexroth was arrested in the same raid and sentenced to a year in jail. He emerged after a winter in The Chicago House of Correction having grown “a little closer to the underworld,” as he put it.

In late December 1926, after months spent pursuing various young women, Rexroth met the artist Andrée Schafer through friends. Although they had met just briefly, Rexroth pronounced that he intended to marry her afterwards. After just a few weeks, that pronouncement came true and the two were wed. Soon after, the couple left Chicago for a new life on the West Coast. After arriving in San Francisco in the summer of 1927, Rexroth wouldn’t just experience a cultural Renaissance, he would create one. But before we get to that, let’s pause for a quick break.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: Since you’re listening to this, chances are, you love Hoosier history just as much as we do. If you’re interested in conducting your own research, but don’t know where to start, check out Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s digital historic newspaper program, at hoosierstatechronicles.org. The project is operated by the Indiana state library with financial support from the US institute of museum and library services, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper program. You’ll find many great resources at Hoosier State Chronicles. You can explore yesteryears newspapers at your fingertips at Hoosierstatechronicles.org. Now, back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: Upon their arrival on the West Coast, Kenneth and Andree found exactly what they had hoped for: a rich cultural environment without the stuffiness they had sensed in the East Coast artistic communities. They settled into the San Francisco art community, living what he called “a sort of semi-monastic life devoted to writing and painting.” The duo also took time to explore the unique flora and fauna of the area surrounding them, feeding Rexroth’s love for nature. This deep seated respect for the natural world influenced Rexroth’s writing and by the mid-1930s his poetry was gaining notoriety for combining natural imagery with his radical political and anti-war sentiment.

While he was being published more and more regularly, it wasn’t enough to fully support the couple, even in their semi-monastic lifestyle. So, in the midst of the Great Depression, Rexroth was employed by the Work’s Progress Administration’s writing program.

The steady income provided by the WPA allowed Rexroth to continue focusing on his poetry, leading to the 1940 publication of his first major collection called In What Hour, in which he continued exploring his two passions, nature and politics. One reviewer from the Oakland Tribune lauded the work as something entirely different from everything that had come before it, saying “Rexroth is wholly and essentially a poet in the new manner…Rexroth’s poetical parents, if he has any, are not known.”

While his writing career was taking off, his marriage was dissolving. He and Andree fought often over politics and she began an affair. Rexroth moved out and began a relationship with Marie Kass, who he later married. While the marriage didn’t last, he was devastated when Andree died on October 17, 1940. Here is Shari Wagner reading an excerpt from the poem “Andree Rexroth.”

I know that spring again is splendid
As ever, the hidden thrush
As sweetly tongued, the sun as vital —
But these are the forest trails we walked together,
These paths, ten years together.
We thought the years would last forever,
They are all gone now, the days
We thought would not come for us are here.

 

Beckley: The idea expressed in that excerpt, that love and nature could serve as spiritual refuge in troubled times, became more poignant with the outbreak of the US entry into World War II the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Rexroth maintained his pacifist, anti-war stance and applied for Conscientious Objector status in 1943. He backed his beliefs with action by working with several pacifist groups and organizations providing aid to camps of conscientious objectors. He took his activism further by stepping in to help Japanese Americans avoid internment after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the relocation of Japanese Americans away from the West Coast to internment camps in the interior of the nation.

Rexroth explained how he and Maria had saved several Japanese-Americans from internment in his autobiography. He recounted that he contacted the Midwest Art Academy in Chicago, a school which he called a phony correspondence school. He convinced the school to sign registration papers for Japanese American students for a fee. He then contacted the colonel in charge of the “evacuation” in San Francisco, who agreed to provide educational passes for these students. Rexroth wrote, “We started shoveling people out of the West Coast on Educational passes.”  Since no official records were kept of this, it’s hard to say how many people were saved in this way. But the fact that the operation happened was corroborated by colleagues of Rexroth.

Rexroth incorporated his strongly held beliefs about pacifism, nature, and the power of love into his writing. In his 1944 work, the Phoenix and the Tortoise, he pondered the horrors of the recent war and holocaust but still maintained hope for humanity despite its failings.  The end of the war saw an influx of new artists and writers into the San Francisco area. Rexroth himself believed that their arrival was a direct result of the war itself. In the San Francisco Magazine, he wrote, “Just as London under the buzz bombs enjoyed a literary renaissance and a profound change of social relationships…so San Francisco during the War woke up from a long provincial sleep and became culturally a world capital.” Rexroth became the architect of that cultural world capital by hosting weekly gatherings at his home where he introduced poets to each other and hosted readings. Much like the Chicago Renaissance, the budding San Francisco Renaissance combined political discussion, poetry, and jazz. Over the next decade, the foundation laid by Rexroth gave rise to the Beat Generation and although Beat poetry was being produced on the east coast as well, San Francisco was the heart of the movement in the early 1950s.

The Beat Generation, much like Rexroth himself, rejected mainstream culture and politics and expressed themselves through new and non-conventional forms of poetry. One of those non-conventional forms of poetry was another hold over from his days in Chicago; jazz poetry. Rexroth was gaining fame for this form of poetry at this time and was integral in establishing jazz as an essential element of Beat poetry. He concluded with imagery of the ocean as sanctuary, and the love of his wife as sublime, cleansing, saving, and immortal. Again, Shari Wagner reading Rexroth, edited for length.

Shari Wagner Reading Rexroth:

And out of this
Shall I reclaim beauty, peace of soul,
The perfect gift of self-sacrifice,
Myself as act, as immortal person?

My wife has been swimming in the breakers,
She comes up the beach to meet me, nude,
Sparkling with water, singing high and clear
Against the surf. The sun crosses
The hills and fills her hair, as it lights
The moon and glorifies the sea
And deep in the empty mountains melts
The snow of Winter and the glaciers
Of ten thousand thousand years.

 

Beckley: The end of the war saw an influx of writers and artists into the San Francisco area. Rexroth himself believed that their arrival was the direct result of the horrors of the war. In the San Francisco magazine, he wrote:

Voice actor reading from Rexroth: Just as London under the buzz bombs enjoyed a literary renaissance and a profound sense of change in social relationships, so San Francisco during the war woke up from a long, provincial sleep and became culturally a world capitol.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: And Rexroth became the architect of that cultural world capitol by holding weekly gatherings where he hosted readings and introduced poets to each other. Much like the Chicago renaissance, the budding San Francisco renaissance combined political discussion, poetry, and jazz.

Over the next decade, the foundation laid by Rexroth gave rise to the Beat generation. And while Beat poetry was being produced on the East Coast as well, San Francisco became the heart of the movement in the early 1950s. The Beat Generation, much like Rexroth himself, rejected the mainstream culture and politics and expressed themselves through new and non-conventional forms of poetry.

One of these non-conventional forms of poetry was decendend from Rexroth’s days in Chicago: Jazz Poetry. He was gaining fame for this kind of poetry at the time and was integral in establishing jazz as an element of Beat poetry. This melding of jazz and poetry can be heard in this clip from the Black Hawk in 1955.

Recording of Rexroth: We were falling like meteor. Down two black holes toward each other. Then compact, blazing through air into the earth.

Beckley: Rexroth was influential in the early years of the Beat Generation. In fact, he was at the October 7, 1955 poetry reading at the Six Gallery where Allen Ginsberg read his revolutionary poem “Howl.”

Recording of Ginsberg: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness. Starving, hysterical…[fades out]

Beckley: Scholars point to this as a culminating event of the San Francisco Renaissance and solidification of the Beat movement.

This resulted in his gaining the title “Father of the Beat Poets,” a title he eventually rejected. Ultimately, he rejected the movement as a whole, claiming that it had turned from a literary movement into a “hipster lifestyle” of pursuing fashionable trends rather than larger truths and he distanced himself from it.

Eventually, the Beat movement melted into the counterculture movements of the sixties and rock and roll replaced poetry and jazz as the dominant outlet for rebellious youth. Nonetheless, Rexroth continued to be a central figure in American literature. He continued writing poetry as well as cultural and literary criticism and began dedicating more of his time to translating poetry from other languages, primarily Japanese and Chinese. He paid special attention to translating the works of women poets starting in the 70s, a practice which has a lot of influence on his own original works from that time.

It’s hard to summarize such a complex individual with such varied interests. After his death in 1982, Kenneth Rexroth received acclaim from both mainstream and radical literary circles. While he’s probably best known for the influence he had on the voice and worldview of some of the country’s best poets, it’s his own unique voice that will forever hold his place in America’s literary cannon.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, visit Blogging Hoosier History to read the two part post by Jill Weiss. Her research for the Indiana state historical marker formed the basis of this episode. And thanks again to the Indiana poet laureate Shari Wagner, who read the poems in this episode. If you would like to hear more from Shari, visit our website, in.gov/history/talkinghoosierhistory. As usual, thanks to Jill for engineering the sound and Justin Clark for lending his voice to this podcast. Follow us on our brand new Facebook and twitter accounts, both at @TalkingHoosierHist, that H-I-S-T. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History on iTunes, stitcher, soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Midwestern Making of Poet Kenneth Rexroth

Blog Posts

Jill Weiss, “The Midwestern Making of Kenneth Rexroth: Robbing Cash Registers and Reading the Classics” and “Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation” accessed Blogging Hoosier History, Indiana Historical Bureau

 Articles

Academy of American Poets, “Kenneth Rexroth,” accessed https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/kenneth-rexroth

Poetry Foundation, “Kenneth Rexroth,” accessed https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/kenneth-rexroth

Books

Kenneth Rexroth, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth: An Autobiographical Novel, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966).

Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).

Kenneth Rexroth, The Phoenix and the Tortoise, (Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1944).

 

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

Jill wrote the blog posts “The Midwestern Making of Kenneth Rexroth: Robbing Cash Registers and Reading the Classics” and “Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation” which formed the basis of the research for this episode. Jill is the Digital Outreach Manager for the Indiana Historical Bureau. She also serves as the recording engineer, editor, and general master of the recording room.

Justin Clark

Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. In this episode, he read for Kenneth Rexroth. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Shari Wagner

Shari is the 2016-2017 Indiana Poet Laureate. In this episode, we were honored to have Wagner read excerpts of poetry by Kenneth Rexroth.

Music Notes

Mermaids, Giant Turtles, and Wild Men…Oh My!

EDITOR’S NOTE: While the Indiana Historical Bureau does not research folklore and cryptozoology, in the course of doing historical research in newspapers about other topics, we sometimes come across odd stories like we have collected here. We thought some people would find these strange accounts from historical records interesting.

A cryptid is defined as “An animal whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated.” The most famous cryptids include Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, the Pacific Northwest’s Bigfoot, and the Chupacabra of Central and North America. These mysterious animals tend to inhabit mysterious places; deep, dark lakes, impenetrable forests, and wide open desserts. It’s a bit surprising, then, that there is such a long and rich history of Hoosier cryptids. From Ohio River “mud mermaids” in southern Indiana to a Michigan City “wild child” up north, historic newspapers are riddled with reports of unexplained (and mostly unconfirmed) creatures in the wilds of Indiana.

Some of the most commonly reported sightings fall into the category of humanoid creatures. The most widely known of these is Bigfoot and while they’re most often associated with the Pacific Northwest, there have been some sightings here in the Hoosier State. Stories of Bigfoot have their roots in the legends of Native Americans and predate the arrival of Europeans to the continent. These stories existed long before there was one single term to describe all large, hairy, humanoid creatures, making it difficult to suss out reports of early sightings in newspapers. Reports of “wild men,” are probably the predecessors to modern Bigfoot sightings. Here, we will examine four of these reports which span over a century.

The Adams Sentinel, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 30 Dec 1839, pg 1. Accessed Newspapers.com.

In late 1839, a Pennsylvania newspaper picked up the story of a “Wild Child” sighting in Michigan City, Indiana. About four feet tall and covered in light brown hair, the child apparently was a very fast runner and swimmer and very fond of water. The report theorizes that the “creature” may have been the child of immigrants who wandered too far from camp and, left to his own devices, grew wild and (apparently) very hairy. The report concludes by declaring “It would be nothing but an act of Humanity on the part of our young men to turn out and help to capture it.”

 

 

 

The Weekly Republican, Plymouth Indiana. June 14, 1860, p1. Accessed Newspapers.com

Twenty-one years later, in 1860, the young men of Carroll County had
turned out to help capture another “Wild Child.” This article from The Weekly Republican in Plymouth, Indiana reports that a search party of 300 has formed to help look for a male child between the ages of 7 and 10 who had been sighted several times. Since this is the only account of the sightings found in newspapers and there are no reports indicating that this child had an unusual amount of hair, it’s quite possible that this was nothing but a lost child rather than a small Bigfoot. Even the newspaper expresses doubts, saying “we think we smell a rat.”

The Daily Reporter, Boonville IN, Aug 16, 1937, p.2. Accessed Newspapers.com.

 

It was suggested that the Boonville monster was actually a giant sloth, or Megatherium, pictured here.

In 1937, an animal alternately described as a “monster hairy ape,” a “giant sloth,” a “cross between an ape and a sloth,” and simply a “monster” was reported in Boonville, Indiana. In some articles, the beast was described as harmless but in one article, it was said that the beast “mauled a police dog so bad it had to be shot.” Community members banded together to search for the beast, mothers kept their children inside, and traps with raw meat in them were laid with hopes of luring the creature in. All was for naught as on August 19 newspapers announced that the search was being “temporarily abandoned” and no mentions of resuming search was found in the following months. One article, written about a month later, points out that the rumors began to spread just as blackberry season started and suggests that “Boonville folk” spread the tale to keep people away from their blackberry patches.

Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, IN July 18, 1949, pg 3. Accessed Newspapers.com.

Twelve years later, there was a rash of sightings of a large, hairy, humanoid animal around Thorntown, in Boone County. The papers
reported nearly 30 and claim the town was so terrorized that residents weren’t venturing out at night. An article ran on June 22, 1949 in the Lafayette Journal and Courier reporting that the “Thorntown Gorilla,” as it was being called, was nothing more than a hoax planned by members of the Sportsmen and Wild Life club. The mystery apparently persisted because on July 17, the Richmond Palladium headline read “Safari Seeks ‘gorilla’ at Thorntown.” This “safari” consisted of four posses, including State Conservation officers and nearly 30 Thorntown residents. What they found wasn’t a gorilla. Nor was it a hoax. What they found was much more tragic; a woman described as “deranged” and “mentally ill.”

Big Foot-like creatures aren’t the only kind of humanoids in the cryptozoology field. Mermaids also fit into the subdivision. It may seem unlikely for a land locked state like Indiana to have produced mermaid stories, but in late 1894 Ohio newspapers reported that a pair of “mud mermaids” had taken up residence on a sand bar in the Ohio River near Vevay, Indiana. The Cincinnati Enquirer gave a very detailed description of the rather monstrous sounding creature:

Artist rendering from the description given of the Mud Mermaids, from “Weird Indiana: Your Travel Guide to Indiana’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.”

“The beast is about five feet in length…Its (sic) general color is yellowish. The body between the four legs resembles that of a human being. Back of the hind legs it tapers to a point…The extremities resemble hands and are webbed and furnished with sharp claws…it is devoid of hair…Its (sic) ears are sharp-pointed and stand up like those of a dog…”

While newspapers report that sightings of the duo had started four year earlier, no newspaper reports can be found recounting earlier sightings and the mermaid craze ends as quickly as it began, with the first report in September and the last just under two months later in November.

The Telegraph, Logansport, IN, August 11, 1838 pg 1. Indiana State Library microfilm.

Of course, humanoid creatures aren’t the only kind of cryptid that has been reported to dwell in Indiana. Eye witness reports of a lake monster have been coming out of Lake Manitou, near present day Rochester, for many years. In an 1838 article, the Logansport Telegraph described a “well known tradition of the Indians respecting the Monster in the ‘Devil’s Lake.'” Witnesses estimated the monster “measured sixty feet” and described the Lake Manitou monster as having a head about three feet across with the contour of a cow’s head, a tapering neck, and being “dingy” colored with large bright yellow spots. Below is a depiction of the terror of Manitou Lake, published August 11, 1838 in the Logansport Telegraph.

Welcome to Churubusco sign, still taken from youtube.com video “Churubusco, Indiana”

Perhaps the most famous Indiana cryptid, definitely the one most thoroughly covered by newspapers, is a giant turtle called the “Beast of Busco” which was reported to live in a 10 acre lake near Churubusco, Indiana. Also called Oscar, the turtle’s shell was said to be as big around as a dining room table. Gale Harris, the owner of the lake Oscar called home, first saw the beast a year after purchasing the farmland the lake sat on, 1948. In early March 1949 the Columbia City Commercial Mail demanded a hunt for the reptile, running headlines like “Five Hundred Pound Turtle Would Make Lots of Good Turtle Soup.” The residents of the small town turned into turtle hunters; they proposed building a turtle house in the middle of town to display him in if they caught him. They tried everything to get the turtle out of the lake including using a crane, bringing in divers, draining most of the water from the lake, and using a female turtle to lure it out. They even offered a $1,800 reward for the capture of the beast, all to no avail. Eventually, it was concluded that the Beast of Busco either never existed or escaped to another lake. Dubbed “Turtle Town USA,” Churubusco still celebrates its famous reptilian resident with the annual Churubusco Turtle Days festival. 

These are just a few of the many unexplainable creatures that have been sighted in Indiana. So, the next time you’re hiking in the woods or swimming in the Ohio River, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might find.

THH Episode 3: George Washington Julian vs. Slavery


 

Transcript for George Washington Julian vs. Slavery

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from the research and blog posts of Jill Weiss Simins

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

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

[Music]

Beckley: A political leader defined by his moral convictions – an advocate for the abolition of slavery – a tireless worker for equal rights and land reform – a Whig – a Free Soiler – a Republican – A Liberal Republican – and a Democrat. It’s hard to believe that all of these labels could refer to the same person, but during the course of his long career, the 19th century Hoosier politician George Washington Julian could be described as all of these. Through half a century and five political parties, Julian worked toward greater equality for Americans regardless of race or gender. With the 200th anniversary of his birth on May 5, 2017, it’s the perfect time to tell the story of this brave Hoosier reformer and leader.

George Washington Julian was born to Quaker parents Issac and Rebecca Julian on May 5, 1817 in Centreville, Indiana. After the death of his father, Julian’s older brother John took on the role of head of the family. John often read to them from the works of famous politicians and ideologues, which may be where George Julian first came to contemplate political questions. In 1835, at the age of 18, Julian decided to follow the same career path as his father and brother John and became a teacher. But soon, he grew disenchanted with teaching and began searching for an occupation better suited to his ever expanding intellectual interests. During a trip to Iowa in 1839 Dr. Thomas Willets, a former resident of Wayne County and Julian family friend, advised him to study law. Julian apparently took that advice to heart as he was licensed to practice the next fall.

In 1841, Julian moved to Greenfield, Indiana. There, he became very close friends with George Pattison, another young lawyer in the area. Julian had always been a timid and nervous public speaker, an unfortunate attribute for a lawyer, and Pattison must have also suffered from the same anxieties because together, the young men formed a club to hone their public speaking skills. They named this benign club the rather sinister sounding name Dark Lyceum, since meetings were held in total darkness. At meetings, the members, just Julian and Pattison at this time, would orate to one another on legal and political topics. On his move back to Centerville in 1843, Julian continued and expanded the club while practicing law with his brother Jacob.

The Dark Lyceum must have improved his confidence because during the 1844 presidential election, Julian gave local stump speeches in support of the Whig ticket. On March 12, 1845 he announced his candidacy for the Indiana House of representatives, again on the Whig ticket. Julian disagreed with the party on some economic and land policy issues, but for him the issue of slavery was paramount and the anti-slavery faction of the Whigs offered him the best platform to fight from. Despite opposition from some fellow Whigs, Julian’s campaign was successful. And so Julian embarked on a political career which would span over 50 years.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Being raised in a Quaker household, it would be easy to assume that Julian came to his anti-slavery political convictions from the influence of the Society of Friends and it’s probable that the seeds of these sentiments were planted very early, but Julian himself credits the influence of the Unitarian preacher Dr. William Channing with connecting anti-slavery ideals with politics. Julian came to the works of Channing struggling with some aspects of Christianity but also spiritually unsatisfied with religious skepticism. In Unitarianism, Julian found a religion that both satisfied his spiritual needs and his sense of reason. As far as Channing’s influence on his political career, Julian said:

Voice actor reading from Julian: His anti-slavery tracts and addresses set me to thinking, and roused within me a spirit and purpose kindred to his own. Hostility to slavery was henceforward to be the controlling principle of my politics.

Beckley: And so, when he set out on his political career path, he did so as an ardent abolitionist.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Julian left the Whig party after their nomination of slaveholder Zachary Taylor for president in 1848. He was one of many so called “Conscience” Whigs who, along with the alienated anti-slavery wing of the Democratic Party, formed the Free Soil party, which focused on halting the expansion of slavery. Julian served as a delegate from Indiana to the first Free Soil national convention, where the new party nominated Martin Van Buren for president. After returning home, Julian began a vigorous campaign stumping for the Free Soil ticket, a bold move considering his brother and law partner Jacob, and many of their clients remained Whigs. By the end of the election, political tensions lead Jacob to request that their partnership be dissolved, perhaps the first of many sacrifices Julian made in pursuit of freedom and equality.

Julian ran as a Free Soil candidate for the United States House of Representatives in 1849 and won a close victory in what was traditionally a very Whiggish district by garnering votes from Democrats, Free Soilers, and Independent Whigs. He and his wife Anne traveled to Washington DC so he could take up his post. During what would be his only term in the Congress as a Free Soiler, Julian presented antislavery petitions from abolitionists throughout the country, argued strongly against the passage of the Compromise of 1850, and gave what was possibly his most poignant anti-slavery speech, “The Slavery Question.” In this speech he responded to several Southern representatives who had decried the anti-slavery movement as fanatical, then said:

Voice actor reading from Julian: Mr. Chairman, I will speak seriously. I need not further multiply these examples of Southern opinion and feeling. I have brought them forward because, while the cry of “Northern Fanaticism” is incessantly ringing in our ears, I desire the country to judge whether a much larger share of fanaticism does not exist in the Southern States; and whether this slaveholding fanaticism is not infinitely less excusable than that which prevails in the North. Sir, I can respect the man who, under the impulse of philanthropy or patriotism, deals his ill-judged blows at an institution which is crushing the dearest rights of millions, and now seeks at all hazards to curse new regions with its presence; but it is difficult to respect the slaveholder who, with his foot upon the neck of his brother, sits down with his Bible in one hand and his metaphysics in the other, to argue with me, that the truths of the Declaration of Independence are mere sophisms, and that the forcible stripping of three millions of human beings of all their rights, even their humanity itself, receives the sanction of the Almighty, and is a blessing to both tyrant and slave.

Beckley: Despite the best efforts of Julian and other Free Soilers, Congress passed the Compromise of 1850 near the end of the session. The compromise temporarily defused the growing tensions between free and slave states regarding the status of slavery in new territories in the west. However, it convinced many Americans that the issue of slavery had been permanently settled, causing the anti-slavery movement to lose steam and greatly weakening the Free Soil Party. This contributed to Julian’s loss when he ran for re-election in 1851. The party, though weak, held a convention to nominate their 1852 candidates for president and vice president. When the party convened in Pittsburgh that August, it was no surprise when John P. Hale was nominated as presidential candidate. What was a surprise, though, was the almost unanimous nomination of Julian for Vice Presidential candidate. Julian traveled to six states of the Old Northwest on the campaign trail, speaking as passionately as ever on the issue of slavery. Ultimately, the free soil party only received 5% of the popular vote in that election.

The passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which put the question of slavery in those states to a popular vote, dispelled the balance between north and south provided by the Compromise of 1850 and provided the various fractured political parties in the north with a goal worth uniting over: the repeal of the act. To that end, Northern Whigs, Free Soilers, Know Nothings, and some anti-slavery Democrats abandoned their largely failing political parties and formed a new party which they hoped would have the combined strength to overthrow the Democratic majority in the next election. In Indiana, this party adopted the name People’s Party. Nationally, they were called the “Republicans”.

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Beckley: Although consisting of the same basic factions as the national party, the Hoosier People’s Party was more conservative than the national Republican Party and resisted the association with the eastern anti-slavery factions of the party. Julian, of course, was a staunch abolitionist and the platform that lead to a People’s party success in the 1854 state election was not nearly tough enough on slavery for his liking.

Julian blamed the party’s weak stance on slavery on the Know Nothing members and started a crusade against them in June of 1855. A large part of the Know Nothing platform was based on anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant sentiments and Julian opposed their nativist, xenophobia policies. In a speech delivered in Indianapolis, Julian argued the merits of immigration, saying

Voice actor reading from Julian: Let them come. Trodden down by kingly power, and hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of our free institutions, let them have a welcome on these shores. Their motive is a very natural and at the same time honorable one, –that of bettering their lot. They prefer our country and its government to every other…To proscribe him on account of his birthplace is as mean and cowardly as to proscribe him for his religious faith or color of his skin. It is the rankest injustice, the most downright inhumanity.

Beckley: Overall, Julian found that he had little power in the new political party since his views on slavery were more radical than most of the party, which opposed only the extension of slavery and not slavery itself and were more likely to drive away voters than to attract them. This tendency towards conservatism meant that Julian had a fraught relationship with the Indiana party. So, while he was active at the state and national level, attending conventions and delivering speeches, he did not hold an elected office at this time and returned to practicing law. He continued to work towards the goal of freedom for African Americans by devoting some of his time defending people charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act. In these cases, Julian represented both white citizens accused of aiding enslaved persons seeking freedom and African Americans charged with being runaways by southern slave-owners.

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Beckley: Since you’re listening to this, chances are you love Hoosier history just as much as we do. If you’re interested in conducting your own research, but don’t know where to start, check out Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s digital historic newspaper program, at hoosierstatechronicles.org. The project is operated by the Indiana state library with financial support from the US institute of museum and library services, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper program. You’ll find many great resources at Hoosier State Chronicles. You can explore yesteryears newspapers at your fingertips at Hoosierstatechronicles.org. Now, back to the show.

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Beckley: In perhaps the most interesting set of fugitive slave cases Julian worked on during this time, he represented an African American man known as West. A Kentucky slaveholder named Austin Vallandingham claimed that West was his slave who had escaped into Illinois, although evidence would prove this highly unlikely. Vallandingham sent a slavecatcher to apprehend West and bring him back to Kentucky. On their way from Illinois to Kentucky, the two passed through Indianapolis, giving Julian and other abolitionist lawyers in the area an opportunity to challenge the Fugitive Slave Act while attempting to aid West. The group of lawyers first charged Vallandingham with kidnapping a free man. An Indianapolis judge released West but he was immediately rearrested by a U.S. marshal on accusations from Vallandingham that he was an escaped slave. In an odd attempt to prove West was indeed his slave, Vallandingham testified that he had cut off one of West’s finger joints. However, West had no such injury. Julian and the other lawyers cited the Dred Scott case and argued that by bringing west into Indiana, where slavery was illegal, Vallandingham had unwittingly released West. Despite defending west through multiple trials at the local and federal levels, their tactics were unsuccessful and West was ordered to be sent to Kentucky. When all hope that West would be lawfully released had been lost, Julian and the other lawyers hatched a plan for his escape.

[Dramatic music]

Beckley: On the day when West was to be transported back to Kentucky, Julian and the rest of his defense counsel arrived at the jail and asked the marshal for permission to bid West goodbye. Two or three of them went inside while the rest stayed and spoke with the marshal, distracting him. While he was preoccupied talking and rigging his horse to the cart which would be used to take West to the Indiana Kentucky border, West made his break for liberty. Darting out of the jail to what he thought was his get-away horse, West mounted and rode north. Unfortunately, West had taken the wrong horse and was a clumsy rider to boot. The marshal soon realized that his prisoner had escapred and, unhitching his horse from the cart, took off in pursuit. Hot on West’s heels, the marshal fired two shots, and while neither hit him, they were enough to frighten him into surrender. Thus ended the escape attempt, which Julian stated was “the only felony in which [he] was ever involved.”

In 1860, Julian was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, this time as a Republican. This was the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Presidency and just in time for the secession crisis. That was the 4 month period between the succession of the first state from the union in December 1860 and the start of the Civil War in April 1861. While it is safely said that Julian opposed the various compromise measures put fourth during this time, there is little to indicate more than that about his views on the situation. He was, as one biographer stated, “still so involved in local politics that his role in the secession crisis was somewhat parochial.” By this, he meant that Julian’s fixation on those issues he held dear limited his ability to get along with many of his colleagues.

Due to his stubborn convictions, he was often embroiled in personal feuds which were often covered extensively by the press. Even in his youth, he’d lost jobs due to his quarrelsome tendencies and those tendencies hadn’t lessened with age. Visiting Lincoln in Springfield in 1861 before leaving for D.C., Julian tried to block three fellow Hoosiers, whom he though incompetent, from political appointments in Washington. The most violent of his disputes was between Julian and Solomon Meredith, future Colonel and leader of the Iron Brigade. The animosity culminated in an 1865 incident when Meredith cornered Julian in a train station, hit him over the head, took a cowhide whip from his coat and began lashing him, this was something the newspapers described as the “Julian and Meredith Difficulty” and at various times labeled both men cowards for their involvement.

Given his relations with other people who he had political disagreements with, Julian’s writings on Lincoln were surprisingly affable. While he and other Radical Republicans, as the pro-abolitionist republicans were called, were critical of many of the President’s strategies that were seen as conciliatory, Julian wrote about his first meeting with Lincoln in fairly kind words. He remembered,

Voice actor reading from Julian: He was full of anecdote and humor, and readily found his way to the hearts of those who enjoyed a welcome to his fireside…On the subject of slavery I was gratified to find him less reserved and more emphatic than I expected.

Beckley: Personal affinity aside, Radicals criticized Lincoln especially harshly on his border state policy which treated slaveholding southern states with too much tenderness in their eyes, and on his dismissal of General John Fremont. Fremont had issued an unauthorized proclamation which put all of the Missouri territory under marshal saw and freed the slaves of any rebels in the state and then refused to reverse the order when asked to do so by Lincoln. Fremont’s actions and staunch anti-slavery stance had only served to further endear him to the radicals and his dismissal sowed seeds of animosity in the radicals.

One tool used by the radicals to pressure the administration to adopt more uncompromising policies was the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Julian had a spot in that committee from its beginning in December 1861 following a disastrous union loss at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Originally, the committee was charged with investigating errors in the military and civil conduct of the war but later got the power all aspects of the Union War effort and to make recommendations on policies, generals, and persecution of misconduct. Considering Julian’s only military service was an 8 day stint in 1863 when he volunteered to help defend Indiana during Morgan’s Raid, and considering that the rest of the committee members also lacked significant military experience the complaints that such men weren’t qualified to advise on military conduct may have held some truth.

However, they continued to advise and investigate. They championed emancipation and the employment of African Americans as laborers and soldiers, which was eventually done. They advocated for the dismissal of General George McClellan from his command of the Army of the Potomac, which was eventually done. And they argued for making emancipation a war aim, which was also eventually done. To what degree these actions were taken due to their recommendations is disputable, but the fact that they were proposing what were then radical measures that eventually became accepted policies is noteworthy in and of itself. The committee also investigated many Union officers for misconduct, often without permitting them to face their accusers or informing them of the source of the allegations against them, something they received criticism for then and now.

Aside from his work on the committee, Julian campaigned to make clear that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and that only complete freedom and equality for all people would justify the losses caused by it. In an 1862 speech to congress, Julian said:

Voice actor reading from Julian: The people of the loyal states understand…they know that slavery lies at the bottom of all our troubles. They know that but for this curse this horrid revolt against liberty and law would not have occurred. They know that all the unutterable agonies of our many battlefields, all the terrible sorrows which rend so many thousands of loving hearts, all the ravages and desolation on this stupendous conflict, are to be charged to slavery.

[Transition music]

Beckley: A little over 6 months after Julian spoke those words to congress, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, making the statement that this war for the union had officially become a war for freedom, a sentiment he reinforced in his second inaugural speech when he said “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war.” While the proclamation declared freedom for all enslaved persons residing in actively rebellious states, it left slavery untouched in Border States and areas already under Union control. These limits were not overlooked by Julian and the other radicals but they were pleased that Lincoln had finally came around to their stance that this war was being fought in the name of freedom.

Julian was ahead of many people in this conclusion, as he was on so many issues. More than a year before the end of the war, he began looking towards reconstruction, advocating for African American suffrage, and supporting a bill that would grant soldiers and freedmen tracts of land confiscated from southern rebels. It was his belief that this would have the twofold effect of allowing freedmen to better their own fortunes through farming and break the hold which the plantation system had on the south. To fail to do so would mean “The proprietors of the great estates…will be feudal lords, while the poor will have no feudal rights.” Although this bill did not pass, land reform would be something that Julian continued to promote throughout and after the war, seeing it as a tool for equality.

Julian’s re-election campaign of 1864 was a contentious one back home in the eastern Indiana. His opponent was his old enemy General Solomon Meredith, a wounded Civil War veteran who even before running against Julian had been quoted in one newspaper saying

Voice actor reading from a newspaper: I denounce this man, and publish him to the world as a coward, a liar, and a humbug who should receive a kick from every honest man who passes him

Beckley: Meredith didn’t soften his words now that the stakes were higher than ever. Julian was accused of participating in a plot to select an Ohio politician for republican nominee over Lincoln as well as forming a party within the party with the goal of keeping him in his position as representative. Despite all the accusations, Julian came out the victor and returned to Washington for his 3rd term as a U.S. representative.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Upon their return to Congress, the Radical Republicans were met with good news; in a welcoming address, President Lincoln announced his intention to stand by the emancipation proclamation and work to ensure that emancipation spread beyond the borders of the rebellious South to all enslaved people in America. Julian and his cohorts were pleased that the President seemed to be inching ever closer to their aims for the end of the war. But relations once again broke down when Lincoln pocket vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, which would have excluded ex-Confederate sympathizers from the government and made re-admittance of confederate states more difficult than the lenient plan proposed by Lincoln. This would fuel contentions between conservatives, moderates and radicals through the end of the war and into reconstruction.

On January 31, 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery in all states passed in the House. In his personal journal, Julian described the scene in the House: Voice actor reading from Julian: The greatest event of this century occurred yesterday in the passage of the Constitutional Amendment in the House. The spectacle during the vote was the most solemn and impressive I ever witnessed. The result for a good while remained in doubt, and the suspense produced perfect stillness. When it was certainly known that the measure had carried, the cheering in the hall and densely packed galleries exceeded anything I ever before saw and beggared description. Members joined in shouting, and kept it up for some minutes. Some embraced one another, others wept like children. I never before felt as I then did, and thanked God for the blessed opportunity of recording my name where it will be as honored as those of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Beckley: While Julian remained in the House until 1871, and fought for land reform, African American suffrage, and women’s suffrage, the passage of the 13th amendment marked the conclusion of George Julian’s lifelong campaign against the practice of slavery in the United States.

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Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about George Washington Julian’s later work or the formation of the Republican Party in Indiana, you can see a list of sources I used in researching this episode in the show notes. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss for answering my many many questions I had while writing and for being an awesome recording engineer and editor. Also, thanks to Justin Clark who is the voice of all newspaper clips here on Talking Hoosier History. He’s a project assistant for the Hoosier State Chronicles and works hard every day to bring you new issues of old Indiana Newspapers. And, lastly, thank you to Steve Barnet, Marion County Historian and executive director of the Irvington Historical Society, for giving a voice to George Julian. Find us on facebook at Indiana Historical Bureau and twitter at in_bureau. Read blog posts on this subject and many more on our blog, Blogging Hoosier History. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts!

Now, let’s hear one more time from Justin, in a new segment we’re calling newspaper corner. In this segment, Justin will cover something related to the main topic but that didn’t quite fit into the episode.

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Justin Clark: Hey there! This is Justin Clark, project assistant of Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s state-wide digital newspaper program. I help Hoosiers understand the history of our state one newspaper issue at a time. This episode, we’ll be talking about Grace Julian Clarke, daughter of abolitionist and political visionary George Washington Julian.

Born on September 11, 1865, Grace Julian Clarke came from a long line of public servants. Both Clarke’s father and grandfather served in Congress, as abolitionists. After her father’s retirement from Congress, the family settled in Irvington, a suburb of Indianapolis. Gifted academically and fortunate to have been born into a prominent political family, Grace cultivated her talents at Butler University, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s in philosophy.

She married attorney Charles B. Clarke, whose own political appointment under Grace’s father in New Mexico likely facilitated their connection. Besides the usual, domestic engagements the Grace Julian Clarke attended to, her work in philanthropy and political activism became her enduring passion. Over the next 40 years of her life, Clarke devoted her time and energies to a variety of political and social organizations

However, one of her most influential positions within the political sphere of Indianapolis was the Legislative Council of Indiana Women. Originally founded by activist Luella Frances Smith McWhirter, the Legislative Council maintained a membership of 1,000 and played an integral role in the passage of women’s suffrage legislation in Indiana. As the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis noted, the Council even “offered home study classes to educate women on the voting process and the issues before the electorate. . . .” Clarke served as the first president of the Legislative Council of Indiana Women, touring the state giving lectures on the value of women’s suffrage and advocating for legislation before the Indiana General Assembly.

This episode’s article from Hoosier State Chronicles highlights Grace Julian Clarke’s commitment to women’s suffrage. In an article entitled “Rejoicing by Women on Suffrage Success” from the February 6, 1919 issue if the Indianapolis News, Clarke and other women’s suffrage activists commented on the Indiana legislature’s passage of the “presidential suffrage bill.” This bill, as described by historian Clifton J. Phillips, granted women the vote in the presidential election but also called “for the passage of the Federal Women’s suffrage amendment then pending in the United States Senate, the House of Representatives having acted upon it in the previous year.”

The article described the scene of the legislature:

Rejoicing was great in the Indiana woman suffrage camp today over the final passage in the legislature Wednesday afternoon of the presidential suffrage bill. Leaders in the fight for enactment of the measure are confident that the measure is constitutional, and Mrs. Edward Franklin White, president of the Legislative Council of Indiana Women, expressed the belief that the law will not even be tested in the courts.

 

Furthermore, the article quoted Grace Julian Clarke, who had since stepped down as council president:

Pioneers in the suffrage movement are gratified to see their efforts bearing fruit. Mrs. Grace Julian Clarke, who worked steadily through the dark days when suffrage was very unpopular, said:

 

‘I am delighted with the success of the measure, although a little sorry that the vote was not unanimous. I believe there is no danger that the law is unconstitutional.’

 

The lack of unanimity she referred to stemmed from state Senator Oliver Kline, who “spoke bitterly and at length against the bill,” when it was facing passage in the legislature.

While the suffrage law was passed, the suffrage fight continued on for nearly a year until the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was approved by Congress and subsequently ratified by Indiana on January 16, 1920. It became the law of the US on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify it, cementing the two-thirds majority of states needed. Due to the efforts of generations of women’s suffrage activists, which Grace Julian Clarke was one of, women achieved the right to vote.

After her suffrage activism, Clarke continued her philanthropy and leadership in the community, particularly Irvington. She served as a member of the Marion County Board of Charities, the City Plan Commission, and Indianapolis’s employment office (she was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson). She also continued her newspaper column for the Indianapolis Star until 1929 and wrote pieces for the Indiana Magazine of History.

Grace Julian Clarke died of pneumonia on June 18, 1938, at the age of 72. Her legacy of philanthropy, publishing, and activism, in some respects, equals her father’s own immense impact. Her dedication to women’s suffrage certainly advanced the cause here in Indiana and helped to make it a national political right.

If you search her name in Hoosier State Chronicles, you get 478 hits covering 50 years of newspaper pieces. I have only shared one, integral piece in her larger story. To learn more about Grace Julian Clarke, visit www.newspapers.in.gov to read more about one of Indiana’s most influential female voices. Until next time, this is Justin Clark and this has been Newspaper Corner.

Show Notes for George Washington Julian vs. Slavery

Books

                Julian, George W. Political Recollections. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Company, 1884.

Julian, George W. Speeches on Political Questions. New York: Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1872.

Julian, George W. The Slavery Question, Delivered in the House of Representatives, May, 14, 1850. Washington D.C: The Congressional Globe Office, 1850.

                Nation, Richard and Towne, Stephen. Indiana’s War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009.

                Riddleberger, Patrick. George Washington Julian: Radical Republican (Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. 45. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1966.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana in the Civil War, 1850-1880 (The History of Indiana Vol. III).  Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1965.

Clarke, Grace Julian. George W. Julian (Biographical Series Vol I). Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1923.

Newspapers

                “To the Public,” The Indiana State Sentinel, Indianapolis, July 10, 1861, 1, Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Rejoicing by Women on Suffrage Success,” The Indianapolis News, February 6, 1919, 1, Accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Blog Posts

“Jill Weiss, “George Washington Julian: Radical Representative of Moral Conviction,” Blogging Hoosier History.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

Jill wrote the blog post “George Washington Julian: Radical Representative of Moral Conviction,” which I read in preparing for my research on this topic. She was               incredibly patient with me when I asked my many questions about this time period. Jill is the Digital Outreach Manager for the Indiana Historical Bureau. She also serves as my recording engineer, editor, and general master of the recording room.

Justin Clark

Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. In this episode, he played the part of newspaper announcer. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Steve Barnet

Steve is the Marion County Historian and Executive Director of the Irvington Historical Society. We were honored to have him join us on this episode playing the role of George Washington Julian.

Music Notes

Our featured track of Episode Two is “Look Back In” by the award-winning musician Moby. Hear it around the 18:20 mark.  The song was licensed to IHB for this production courtesy of MobyGratis, a unique resource providing Moby songs for creative projects.

“Look Back In” by Moby, courtesy of MobyGratis, www.mobygratis.com

The Talking Hoosier History theme song is:

“Rock and Gravel” by Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids, courtesy PublicDomain4U, accessed publicdomain4u.com/syd-valentines-patent-leather-kids-rock-gravel-instrumental-jazz-ragtime-mp3-music-download

Indianapolis trio Syd Valentine recorded “Rock and Gravel” in 1929 in Richmond, Indiana.

Other Music from Episode Two:

“Cease” by A Himitsu, Soundcloud, accessed soundcloud.com/a-himitsu, creative commons

“Ether” by Silent Partner, YouTube Audio Library, accessed http://goo.gl/YmnOAx, creative commons

“Tomorrow” by Bensound, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music, creative commons

“Morning Walk” by Jingle Punks, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed youtu.be/yPEVG7YFBeQ, creative commons

“War” by GoSountrack, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed www.gosoundtrack.com, creative commons

Norman Norell: Dean of American Fashion

Norman Norell with models wearing Traina-Norell designs from his spring/summer 1949 collection. Image courtesy of New School Archives and Special Collections Digital Archives.

During his 50 year career, Norman Norell crafted beautiful costumes, worked under war-time limitations, resisted pressure to substitute quality for quantity, and worked to bring the NYC fashion houses on Seventh Avenue on par with those of Paris. During his time in the industry, Norell managed to escape the pomp and circumstance of New York City and is remembered for leading a simple, “moral” life in the often cutthroat world of high-class fashion design.

Norman Norell was born Norman David Levinson on April 20, 1900 in Noblesville, Indiana. His father, Harry, owned and operated a men’s clothing store in the town and this is undoubtedly where he developed an eye for fashion. Harry soon opened a men’s hat store in Indianapolis, and in 1905 moved the family to the city once the business experienced success.  Norman completed high school in Indianapolis then moved to New York to begin his fashion education at Parsons Institute. At 19, he began studying at the Pratt Institute, where he studied drawing and fashion illustration. It was here that he combined the first syllable of his first name with the “l” sound of the beginning of his last name and adopted the name Norell.

Gloria Swanson in “Zaza.” Norman Norell designed the costumes for Swanson in this 1939 silent film. Photo courtesy of “Glorious Gloria Swanson.”

His early years in the fashion industry were spent designing costumes. He designed for a variety of projects, including silent film, burlesque, vaudeville, and nightclub acts. Norell costumed Rudolph Valentino in The Sainted Devil and Gloria Swanson in Zaza, but soon shifted his focus to women’s apparel. In 1928 he began a 12 year stint working for Hattie Carnegie. While a “fierce perfectionist . . . brilliant in her own way,” her process was considered fairly unoriginal – she bought pieces from Parisian couturiers, pulled them apart in New York, and turned them into more affordable clothes for her American clientele. Original or not, working with Carnegie gave Norell invaluable experience by visiting the Paris fashion houses and allowed him to fully understand the construction of women’s clothing. After a falling out with Carnegie over his designs for the Broadway production Lady in the Dark, Norell left and joined forces with Anthony Triana to form Triana-Norell in 1941.

Although he was a salaried employee of Triana, Norell was the designer of the company and as such was making waves in the fashion world. Bonwit Teller said of the new fashion house in the October 1941 edition of VOGUE, “The House of Traina-Norell comes on the season like an electrical storm. Its designer, young Mr. Norell, creates a collection so alive that everyone’s talking.” Just two months after that article ran, the United States’ entry into World War II changed nearly every industry in America, including fashion.

Cover of January 1942 edition of VOGUE. This, their first issue after US entry into WWII, addressed the changes fashion experienced due to the war. Image: Mason, Meghann, “The impact of World War II on women’s fashion in the United States and Britain” master’s thesis, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2011.

Up until this point in the 20th century, women’s clothing styles changed at a faster pace than ever before. Silhouettes changed entirely about every 10 years, much more quickly than in previous eras. War time restrictions stopped this fast progress in its tracks. On March 8, 1942 the War Production Board issued limitation order number 85, or L-85, which set rules for the production of women’s clothing. Manufactures were banned from making blouses with hoods, blouses with more than one pocket, coats with epaulets, coats with sleeve circumference larger than 16 ½ inches, and reversible skirts. All of these measures reduced the use of material used for clothing production. Hems, which for the previous years had been widening from the sleek, narrow skirts of the 1920s, were reduced from 81 inches to 78 inches. These restrictions challenged American fashion designers, one which Norman Norell met.

Norman Norell design “Subway” from the 1942 Traina-Norell collection. This piece is an example of Norell’s war time work, with the simple neck and sleek, waist-less design he helped popularize. Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Drawing inspiration from his favorite era of fashion, the 1920s, Norell introduced the chemise dress, or shirt dress in 1942. This design featured a simple round neckline, a departure from the “fussy” necklines of the time. The simplicity of this trend worked well within the restrictions imposed by L-85 and chemise dresses, along with a fur-trimmed trench coat, became the staple of the Traina-Norell label.

World War II cut American designers off from their long time inspirational lifeline of the Paris fashion houses. Until this point, American designers took their lead almost exclusively from Paris (recall Hattie Carnegie’s method of deconstructing Parisian pieces previously discussed). In 1942, Coty, Inc. introduced the Coty American Fashion Critic’s Awards to address this issue by promoting original American fashion design during the war. Fashion editor Bernadine Morris later wrote, “What Norman Norell had accomplished in the first collection was to give American fashion – producers and wearers alike – a freedom from dependence on foreign sources of inspiration. The American industry felt it could set its own directions, its own styles.”

Norell never compromised on quality; oftentimes, a single suit jacket would take a week to stitch. This quality came with a price tag, though. One article said, “Women purchasing a Traina-Norell garment were buying, at great cost, an American-made status symbol that would likely remain in their closets for decades.” The prices for a Traina-Norell piece ranged from $500 for a simple jersey dress to upwards of $4,000 for an evening gown.

The Traina-Norell brand continued to set trends throughout it’s nearly twenty year existence. Oftentimes, competitors would copy his designs and sell them for much less. This was so common that the year before he introduced his revolutionary wool culottes suit, he offered the pattern to any manufacturer who wanted it in order to prevent the manufacture of inferior versions of the design. One of his signature evening looks, the “mermaid dress” would not look out-of-place at a gala today. Other signature designs of Norell included the 1961 wide-flaring skirt, impeccably designed coats, the evening jumpsuit, and sweater topped dresses.

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In 1960, Anthony Traina retired and Norell began his solo carter with the Norell fashion house. Although the name of the brand had changed, the reputation for high quality, long-lasting clothing stayed the same. During his career, Norell won the Coty award three times and was inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame. When the Coty Awards were discontinued in 1985, Coty’s parent company said it was because they had achieved their goal of bringing American fashion houses to the same level of those in Paris, and there’s little doubt that Norell played a big role in that.

Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, wearing a Norman Norell dress in 2010.

Norman Norell became known as the dean of American Fashion and was active in the industry up until his death on October 25, 1972, just before a retrospective exhibit of his work was to open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was to open. Even today, Norell pieces are highly sought after and sell for high prices in vintage clothing shops. In December 2010, former First Lady Michelle Obama wore a vintage Norell dress at a White House Christmas party, one of the few times a first lady has worn a vintage piece at an official White House event.

View over 200 Traina-Norell and Norell pieces on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

THH Episode 2: Physicist Melba Phillips Vs. the Atomic Bomb and Cold War


 

Transcript of Melba Phillips vs. the Atomic Bomb and the Cold War

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from the research and blogs by Jill Weiss Simins

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[general Talking Hoosier History Intro]

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

Beckley: Melba Phillips…a groundbreaking physicist in a heroic age of physics, yet very few people have heard of her. In fact, few people have heard the names of many women who dedicated their life’s work to the sciences. For years, scientists and educators have been asking, ‘why are there so few women in physics?’ and offering up various possible reasons and accompanying statistics. But by taking an historical view and looking at the bigger picture, you start seeing that that’s the wrong question to ask. Instead, we should be asking ‘Why are there so few women that we know about in physics?’ Women have always been there, but many times their contributions have been lost to time. Phillips’ story is one of brilliance, perseverance, and bravery and it’s undoubtedly a story we want to preserve.

Melba Phillips’ story begins and ends in Indiana, but the chapters in between were set on a world stage. Born in Hazleton, Indiana on February 1, 1907, Phillips came from a long line of teachers. That was a tradition that she would continue. She attended Union High School in Union, Indiana, where she gained a love of learning and appreciation for quality education. This would eventually lead her to the fields of physics and physics education.

Skipping “a grade or two” and graduating at just 16 years old, Phillips wanted to go immediately into teaching.  But, while she passed the state-required qualification examination with flying colors, the law required teachers to be at least eighteen years old. Instead, she enrolled at Oakland City College in Oakland City, Indiana, saying that it was “the least expensive and nearest college.” Here, Phillips enrolled in her first formal physics course; though she had fallen in love with physics in high school there was a lack of scholarship on the subject available for her in those early years. In fact, in one interview she said, “I do not remember being aware that the profession existed as a possible career.” After she had graduated from Oakland College, she began teaching at Battle Creek College in Michigan. While teaching, Phillips also filled in the considerable gaps in her education and earned a master’s degree in physics in 1928, at the impressive age of 21.

During her time in Michigan, the young physics teacher first encountered quantum mechanics, a field in which she would later work. On recommendation from one of her professors, she was accepted to the PhD program at the University of California. And there couldn’t have been a better place for a young physicist in the 1930s than UC Berkeley.

[transitional music]

Beckley: The university was chock-full of preeminent physicists including several Nobel Prize winners. Berkley was also home to J. Robert Oppenheimer, who later would become the lead scientist on the Manhattan project. At this time though, he was a newly hired assistant professor and had begun work at the university just before Phillips had arrived. When Phillips started her dissertation work, she chose two topics within the field of experimental physics to work on. Since Oppenheimer’s area of expertise complemented her choice of topics, he became her advisor, and soon, her friend. Oppenheimer was loved by his students. This was in part because he made efforts to incorporate them into his own social life, treating them more like equals than pupils. Phillips recalled that

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “The graduate students included a congenial lot, and the faculty were not distant. Robert Oppenheimer became famous for including his students and post-docs in a considerable part of his social life…On a social level the gulf between students and faculty seemed almost non-existent.”

Beckely: By 1933, Phillips had finished her dissertation. Even before that, her work was being published in academic journals. Just 10 years after taking her first ever physics class, Melba Phillips was making a name for herself in the rapidly expanding field and had transformed from a pupil to a peer of some of the most prominent physicists in America.

[transitional music]

Beckley: Fortunately, Berkeley was able to keep Phillips employed as a research assistant and part-time instructor after graduation. Together, Oppenheimer and Phillips published a paper describing the process that became a staple of nuclear physics, one that the New York Times called a “basic contribution to quantum theory.” Called the Oppenheimer-Phillips process, the discovery cemented Phillips’ place in the history of physics and by all accounts should have ensured her a faculty appointment.

It should have, but it didn’t. Whether this was because of a lack of open positions due to the Great Depression or a lack of opportunities for female physicists is hard to tell. Phillips herself, despite the long history of women’s exclusion from the field, generally denied personally facing gender discrimination. In one interview about her experiences at Berkley, she walked a fine line by admitting that there were few women in the field while still maintaining that there was no gender discrimination.

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “I was often the only woman in the class, but classes were never large, and the competition was fun rather than otherwise…during the five years I lived in Berkeley four women took PhD’s in physics . . . perhaps an equal number stopped with the M.A…. Were women discriminated against in the department? It did not seem so, certainly not as students. We had teaching fellowships on par with everyone else. It is true that there was one professor who would not take women assistants but it was no hardship to miss that option.”

Beckley: Despite maintaining this viewpoint throughout her life, one incident tells a bleaker story. This story is literally ripped from the headlines and demonstrates the demeaning light in which a brilliant woman could find herself cast by society. On February 14, 1934, the Associated Press reported:

Voice actor reading extract from newspaper article: “J. Robert Oppenheimer, 30, physics professor of the University of California, took Miss Melba Phillips of Berkeley, a research assistant, for a ride in the Berkeley hills Monday night. Professor Oppenheimer then parked the automobile, made Miss Phillips comfortable by wrapping a blanket around her, and said he was going for a walk. Time passed but Miss Phillips waited and waited. Two hours later Policeman Albert Nevin passed by. “My escort went for a walk hours ago and he hasn’t returned,” Miss Phillips told the officer tearfully. The policeman turned in an alarm and officers in automobiles searched the vicinity but could find no trace of the absent professor. So Miss Phillips drove home and the police, just on a hunch, went to the faculty club, where Professor Oppenheimer lived. And there they found him- fast asleep in bed. “Miss Phillips?” He exclaimed to the officers. “Oh, my word! I forgot all about her. I just walked and walked, and I was home and I went to bed. I’m so sorry.”

Beckley: Other outlets picked up the story, describing Phillips as “Pretty Miss Melba” as opposed to “Dr. Melba Phillips, noted physicist.” Many of the stories allude to some sort of sexual affair taking place by emphasizing the fact that it was the “early morning hours,” in an automobile, parked in a remote location. They describe Phillips as though she were a helpless woman who was driven to tears by the fact that she had been left alone by her chaperone. However, it seems a little doubtful that Phillips, who was very comfortable in the driver’s seat of a car and could even could change a flat tire with ease, would have been driven to tears over the matter when she could have just driven home if she were so inclined. As far as the allusions to an intimate relationship between the two, Phillips only ever spoke of a friendship and mutual respect between herself and Oppenheimer and there’s no evidence to the contrary.

So, in her first appearance on the national stage, Phillips, who by this time had completed her PhD and published a series of scholarly articles, was cast as a tearful, helpless woman with possibly questionable morals. But this was far from the last time that Melba Phillips’ name appeared in print and the more damaging stories were yet to come.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, Phillips advanced her professional career while also becoming more mindful of social justice issues and active in various movements aimed at improving those issues.

After the entry into World War II, the demand for scientists grew exponentially. Wars have always been times of unprecedented technological advancement but no previous war had been as dependent on the role of science and technology as this one. Many scientists, including Phillips, aided in the war-time work. But many were also concerned with the responsible use of the technology being developed. Many advocated the need to work towards knowledge for its own sake, and not just in an effort to develop new and ever more destructive military technology.

In July 1945, the Manhattan Project scientists successfully detonated an atomic bomb in the desert of New Mexico. One month later, the U.S. military dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, forcing the country to surrender and effectively ending World War II. Over 135,000 people were killed in Hiroshima and 64,000 in Nagasaki. Many thousands more died from fires, radiation, and illness in the aftermath.

A horrified public debated whether the bomb saved further casualties by ending the war or whether it was fundamentally immoral, and many scientists dealt with the remorse and responsibility of creating such a weapon.

[somber music]

Beckley: In order to escape, many physicists retreated to academia, but some became politically active, with the goal of preventing further destruction through scientific invention. Melba Phillips was part of that latter group.

As an officer in the American Association of Scientific Workers, or AASW, Phillips’ was one of several signatures on a letter sent to President Truman just one week after the bombs were dropped. The purpose of this letter was to give Truman “eight recommendations to help prevent the use of atomic bombs in the future warfare and to facilitate the application of atomic energy to peacetime uses.”

The AASW also worked to oppose the May-Johnson Bill, which if passed would have placed nuclear research under the control of the military. When the bill was defeated, President Truman wrote to Phillips thanking her work in the association. The note was addressed to one Mr. M. Phillips.

[transitional music]

Beckley: In 1945, Phillips and leading Manhattan Project scientists organized the first meeting of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington D.C. The goal of the federation was to prevent further nuclear war and to “undertake a program of education to influence legislation on scientific matters.” Phillips, who was elected to the administration council of the federation, took this mission to educate in the wake of the bomb quite seriously. At the New York Federation of Science Teachers Association meeting, she said

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “Since the birth of the atomic bomb, science has become a political matter, and that means students must be taught that science is no longer an individual matter but belongs to everyone. Great discoveries are now in the eyes of all nations.”

Beckley: The birth of the atomic bomb also brought about the Cold War. Living in the shadow of the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union induced anxiety among Americans and their political leaders. Fear of communists in America reached a fever pitch resulting in a period of political repression during which the government formed special committees to persecute alleged communists. This period is known as the Red Scare.

Senator Joseph McCarthy is the figure most widely associated with the Red Scare but he was far from the only politician who participated in the paranoia-fueled witch-hunts of the post war era. In 1950, Senator Pat McCarran put himself in the spotlight when he sponsored the McCarran Internal Security Act. The act allowed for investigation of subversive activities, made an emergency allowance for detaining people suspected of such activity, and even went so far as to make picketing a courthouse a felony if it intended to obstruct proceedings. The act also set up a five-member committee officially called the Subversive Activities Control Board, but more commonly referred to as the McCarran Committee. It was headed by, who else, but Senator McCarran himself. The committee set to their task of rooting out communists, communist-sympathizers, and other so-called subversives without delay. They started with the persecution of Americans who were in positions which they had deemed as potentially ideologically subversive. This group included educators and journalists, and, more specifically, it eventually came to include Melba Phillips.

The persecution of Phillips began two years before her U.S. Senate hearing. The United States government was far from the only entity focused on sussing out people involved in “un-American activity.” The government of New York, where Phillips was teaching at Brooklyn College, passed laws requiring educational institutions to purge all faculty with communist affiliations. As you might suspect, their definition of a communist affiliate was quite loose. Many colleges and universities demanded that their faculty sign so called “loyalty pledges” or take “loyalty oaths” in order to prove that they weren’t communists. This was a demand which Phillips was strongly against. She and a colleague from the American Association of Scientific Workers published an article opposing these oaths. In it they wrote:

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “The integrity of science and scientific education in this country is seriously jeopardized and can be maintained only if scientists…are alerted to the dangers inherent in the requirement of clearance and “loyalty oaths” for research fellowships and nonsecret work. It would be folly to expect that these oaths would not be followed by some sort of investigation…Oaths of this kind open the possibilities of irresponsible accusations, and of legal procedure based not on acts but on opinions… The chain of associations is endless.”

Beckley: Her prediction that persecution and investigation would follow on the heels of these loyalty oaths was alarmingly accurate. On March 12, 1950 the Brooklyn Eagle published a column which questioned Phillips’ involvement with the Congress of American Women, which had been labeled a communist-front organization by the [House] Committee on Un-American Activities the previous fall. He concludes his tirade by clarifying that his scathing article was produced not out of animosity but to protect the students who could be influenced by this woman, saying:

Voice actor reading extract from newspaper article: “The point I want to make is this: Is Dr. Phillips, a well-educated woman and well versed in world affairs, gullible? Is she the innocent victim of the slick organization so well described by the House Committee? When she saw her picture in the Daily Worker was she still blissfully unaware of the background of that rally? I ask the questions not in the spirit of malice but on behalf of the 10,000 students of Brooklyn College and specifically those who are taught directly by Dr. Phillips. And in conclusion I say that their parents have the right to know why Dr. Phillips spoke at that meeting. Why did you, Dr. Phillips?”

Beckley: Obviously, the author did not think Melba Phillips was a gullible, innocent victim. He thought she was a communist! And he was starting the crusade against her.

[music transition]

Beckley: Skip ahead to December 1951; Phillips received a letter from the New York Joint Committee Against Communism, endorsed by 50 people and listing 11 organizations and events she had joined or participated in which were suspected of having communist affiliations. The offending actions included sponsoring a Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace, sponsoring a Bill of Rights Conference, and opposing laws designed to root out suspected communists in academia, which were considered by many academics as an attack on open-mindedness. Over all, reading the list of grievances doesn’t raise any red flags for a modern reader but in the middle of the Red Scare it was enough to raise a whole host of them. Instead of denying or explaining her involvement in the activities like most people would do, she returned the letter but not before adding a conference which she had sponsored but hadn’t been listed by her accusers. It was a sort of protest.

In the fall of the next year, Phillips was summoned to testify before the McCarran Committee. The summons read: “United States of America, Congress of the United States, to Melba Phillips…Pursuant to the lawful authority, YOU ARE HEREBY COMMANDED to appear before the Internal Security Sub-Committee of the Judiciary Committee of the Senate of the United States, 1952…then there to testify what you may know relative to the subject matter under consideration by said Committee. Signed, Pat McCarran.”

While preparing to meet this summons, Phillips had the guidance of those who had been tried before her. The early victims of this committee, including the famous Hollywood 10, had tried to defend themselves using the First Amendment and argued for their right to associate as they pleased as long as they obeyed U.S. laws. They had received jail sentences. Since then, most witnesses invoked the Fifth Amendment, citing their right not to incriminate themselves. While this did manage to keep them out of prison, their refusal to cooperate lead the committee, and the public, to believe that they were guilty. Many people lost their jobs, if not their freedom.

Phillips stood in front of the McCarran Committee on October 13, 1952. Over and over again, she explained to her accusers that invoking the Fifth Amendment should not be equated with her guilt. When asked if she had ever been a member of the Communist Party, Phillips answered:

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “My response to that question is dictated by my view of professional and personal ethics, first to do my professional job as well as it is humanly possible, and second, to defend and maintain my individual and personal right which I thought was my right so long as I was a law-abiding citizen. I know you conduct these hearings by certain rules which make it necessary for me, in order to stand on my principles, to invoke the Bill of Rights.”

Beckley: When she was pressed to admit that she was invoking the fifth because her answers would incriminate her, she said:

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “My ancestors fought for that Bill of Rights and I am very glad to make use of the first, fifth, and sixth amendments.

Beckley: In fact, to many people in the country, the persecution of teachers for the so-called crime of unionizing was seen as a witch-hunt. On the day that Phillips gave her testimony, 200 college students marched outside, denouncing the happenings in the courtroom.  One of the chants used by the picketers was “Pat McCarran, hit the sack. We want our professors back!”

Despite this protest and others like them, and despite the outpouring of support in the form of letters from colleagues, Phillips was fired from her university positions at Brooklyn College and Columbia University. This was due to a law requiring the termination of any public employee who invoked the Fifth Amendment. Papers across the country announced her termination with headlines like “Three Teachers Linked with Reds” and “Teachers Discharged on Loyalty Suspicion,” showing a distinct lack of compassion and without acknowledging the complexity of the situation.

[Interlude/break promoting Hoosier State Chronicles]

Beckley: Since you’re listening to this, chances are you love Hoosier history just as much as we do. If you’re interested in conducting your own research and don’t know where to start, check out Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s digital historic newspaper program at hoosierstatechronicles.org.  The project is operated by the Indiana State Library with financial support from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services along with the National Endowment for Humanities’ National Digital Newspaper Program.  At Hoosier State Chronicles you can search nearly a million pages for FREE! You’ll find many great resources at Hoosier State Chronicles, including the article about Phillips we just referred to, titled “Three Teachers Linked with Reds” from the Daily Banner in Greencastle, Indiana. You can explore “Yesteryear’s Newspapers at Your Fingertips” at hoosierstatechronicles.org.

[Episode resumes, somber music]

Beckley: In an eloquent response to the inquisition, Phillips wrote an essay in the magazine Science published that same October. In the essay, she wrote about science and ethics and all the ways they had been changed in the era of McCarthyism and the Cold War. She wrote:

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “Freedom of thought and of communication has always been considered essential to science. Yet it is taken for granted that the scientist, as a valuable but untrustworthy piece of property, must have his speech constrained and his freedom of movement restricted…Restrictions of scientific intercourse, both domestic and international, further infringe on the freedom of the scientist and limit the advance of science itself… The Cold war is invoked to justify an evident corruption of ethical standards.”

Beckley: In the essay, Phillips also called fellow scientists to guard and uphold the standards by which they live and to make no compromises on moral values.

[Music]

Beckley: Phillips took her opposition to the oppression of McCarthyism to another level in 1953 when she, along with others, organized a public protest of the continued investigations. During the protest, the group put McCarthy himself on trial. Newspapers from the time labeled the group secret communists but all we can tell for sure is that it consisted of academics, union leaders, students, and clergymen. During this mock trial the witnesses for the prosecution included a Columbia University professor, two local union leaders, the reverend of a Brooklyn church, and Phillips, among others. Unsurprisingly, the press was not supportive of the demonstration. One journalist called the trial “one of the most evil and un-American activities I have ever heard about.”

The mock trial took place on January 6, 1954 in New York City and convicted McCarthy for being a fascist and for government by terrorization and accusation. Phillips was one of three main speakers and she “warned of the danger that a new generation may be brought up with never a chance to learn freedom or other scruples.” Even the critical papers of the time begrudgingly admitted that the event was a success.

Just a few months later, in the real courtroom, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision to fire Phillips. And on February 7, 1955 the battle was lost when the [New York] Supreme Court denied the appeal.

While her university employment was officially lost, she had stuck to her morals and eventually persevered professionally as well. One of her early mentors offered her the associate director position of a teacher-training school in St. Louis. From there, she joined the faculty of the University of Chicago and she soon rose to the position of president of the American Association of Physics Teachers. Here she was the first female president and one of its most memorable and effective leaders. While she officially retired in 1972, she continued to teach at other schools as a visiting professor.

In the early years after her brush with the McCarran Committee, Phillips received more awards and honors than I can mention here, but a few are quite noteworthy. In 1981, the American Association of Physics Teachers awarded her the first Melba Phillips Award, created in her honor “for exceptional contributions to physics education.” In 1987, 35 years after she was terminated for exercising her constitutional right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, Brooklyn College publicly apologized for firing Phillips. In 1997, a scholarship was created in her name at the school.

Through all of these adventures, Phillips somehow maintained a piece of her family’s farm back in Pike County, Indiana. She returned there to live with her niece towards the end of her life. There, she died on November 8, 2004 at the age of 97, not far from her birthplace.

Phillips faced obstacles with dignity, persistence, and even humor. She was passionate about sharing knowledge in the hopes that it would encourage the ethical and peaceful application of science, and in sharing that knowledge touched the lives of many young scientists. In 2008, two of her former student published the article “In Appreciation: Professional and Personal Coherence: The Life and Work of Melba Phillips.” In it they said, “The dedication she poured into the understanding of Nature, the responsible stewardship of science, and the welfare of her students, are enduring monuments to her devotion and integrity.”

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. I’d like to give a shout out to Jill Weiss, whose paper “Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience” was the basis for most of the research for this episode. Jill is also my recording engineer, editor and general master of all things in the studio.  Also, a big thanks to Justin Clark who is the voice of all newspaper clips here on Talking Hoosier History. He’s a project assistant for Hoosier State Chronicles and works hard every day to bring you new issues of old Indiana newspapers. And lastly, thanks to Dani Pfaff, retiree of and volunteer for the Indiana Historical Bureau, who played the part of Melba Phillips in this episode. Find us on Facebook at Indiana Historical Bureau and Twitter @in_bureau. Read blog posts on this subject and many more on our blog, Blogging Hoosier History. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts!

Before we go, let’s hear once more from Dani, as Melba Phillips, reading from her article in Science Magazine.

Voice actor reading quote from Phillips: “We believe that it is the responsibility of scientists, as citizens and beneficiaries of the humanistic traditions of our culture, to guard and uphold the standards by which they live. We do not think it possible to maintain anything of value while yielding these standards, since they are themselves among ultimate values. Specifically, we believe that there are certain conditions for the advancement of science that permit no compromise.”

Show Notes for Physicist Melba Phillips Vs. the Atomic Bomb and the Cold War

Newspapers

“Three Teachers Linked with Reds,” The Daily Banner, Greencastle, October 29, 1952, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

“Professor in Adage’s Proof,” Sun Bernardino County Sun, February 14, 1934, 2, accessed Newspapers.com

“Absent Minded Professor Leaves Girl in Car, Walks Home and Retires,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 14, 1934, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Peace Rests of Science Use, Says Professor,” Brooklyn Eagle, November 1, 1944, 4, Newspapers.com.

“Calendar,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 15, 1946, 7, Newspapers.com.

Peggy O’Reilly and Ken Johnston, “Leftists ‘Convict’ A Senator; Mock Trial Brands McCarthy a ‘Fascist,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 7, 1954, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Papers

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

Jill Weiss, “Melba Phillips, Leader in Science and Conscience,” accessed Indiana Historical Bureau Files.

Blog Posts

Jill Weiss, “Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience Part One,” Blogging Hoosier History.

Jill Weiss, “Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience Part Two,” Blogging Hoosier History. 

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

Jill did all of the primary source research on this topic for her paper “Melba Phillips, Leader in Science and Conscience.” She has presented her research in a variety of venues and I appreciate her allowing me to present it here. Jill is the Digital Outreach Manager for the Indiana Historical Bureau. She also serves as my recording engineer, editor, and general master of the recording room.

Justin Clark

Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. In this episode, he played the part of newspaper announcer. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Dani Pfaff

Dani retired from the Indiana Historical Bureau in January, 2017 but has graciously donated her time to come in and volunteer for us. In this episode, she makes her debut as the voice of Melba Phillips.

Music Notes

Our featured track of Episode Two is “Look Back In” by the award-winning musician Moby. Hear it around the 18:20 mark.  The song was licensed to IHB for this production courtesy of MobyGratis, a unique resource providing Moby songs for creative projects.

“Look Back In” by Moby, courtesy of MobyGratis, www.mobygratis.com

The Talking Hoosier History theme song is:

“Rock and Gravel” by Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids, courtesy PublicDomain4U, accessed publicdomain4u.com/syd-valentines-patent-leather-kids-rock-gravel-instrumental-jazz-ragtime-mp3-music-download

Indianapolis trio Syd Valentine recorded “Rock and Gravel” in 1929 in Richmond, Indiana.

Other Music from Episode Two:

“Cease” by A Himitsu, Soundcloud, accessed soundcloud.com/a-himitsu, creative commons

“Ether” by Silent Partner, YouTube Audio Library, accessed http://goo.gl/YmnOAx, creative commons

“Tomorrow” by Bensound, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed www.bensound.com/royalty-free-music, creative commons

“Morning Walk” by Jingle Punks, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed youtu.be/yPEVG7YFBeQ, creative commons

“War” by GoSountrack, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed www.gosoundtrack.com, creative commons

Irene Ray: Alleged “Witch” of Rochester

Irene Ray. Courtesy of the Indiana Album: Joan Hostetler Collection.

In the spring of 1692, a small village in Massachusetts was swept with a hysteria that started after a group of young girls accused several local women of participating in witchcraft and forging pacts with the devil. That hysteria, of course, would lead to the infamous Salem witch trials and in the following months, approximately 150 people would face witchcraft accusations; over 20 of those would be found guilty and put to the gallows.

The Republic, Columbus, Indiana, May 12, 1938, accessed Newspapers.com

Two hundred and forty-six years later, newspapers across the country would once again run headlines including words like “witch”, “hex”, and “spells” and yet another woman’s life would be ruined due to false accusations of witchcraft.

On May 11, 1938, Irene Ray and her husband Charles were driven from the town of Rochester, Indiana due to allegations that Irene was a practitioner of witchcraft and had hexed several town folk. It was alleged that her hexes had caused personal property damage, serious illness, and even death. Irene and Charles had moved to the town six years prior to this unfortunate episode along with their daughter, Iloe, and their cat (a strange fact that many of the newspaper stories were sure to include). What could have happened in the intervening years that would cause the townspeople to call for her removal?

When the Ray family moved to Rochester, they settled in a shack on the outskirts of town. One article in the Logansport Tribune even claims that the couple were forced from the nearby town of Plymouth, Indiana before finding themselves in rather dire circumstances in Rochester. Soon, they applied for and were given “relief” or welfare support. They were placed in a house on Audubon Street, where their neighbors soon came to resent them. They were seen as outsiders who were living off of the tax money of the citizens of Rochester who, although themselves poor, did not apply for relief.

Georgia Conrad, “victim” of Irene Ray, The Tennessean, June 19, 1938, accessed, Newspaper.com.

It may be that Irene herself started the rumors of witchcraft as a way to scare people away from her, relieving the family from taunts and other attacks. No matter how the rumors started, though, soon they spread like wildfire. At first, the townsfolk merely murmured about the witch but after the sudden illness of Georgia Knight Conrad, those murmurs became shouts. Irene had been trying to purchase some antiques from Georgia and had made several visits to her house to pressure the 24-year-old into selling them. On one of these visits, it is said that Irene slipped into Georgia’s bedroom and plucked some hairs from her brush. When leaving, Irene pronounced, “You’ll be sorry soon!” That evening, Georgia fell into a faint and was soon diagnosed as having a “leaking heart valve.” It wasn’t long before the family connected the dots.

Another alleged victim of Mrs. Ray was Chief of Police Clay Sheets. After the chief oversaw the removal of Irene’s granddaughter from her home due to charges against the “morals of the household,” newspapers reported that “dancing with rage, Irene screamed: ‘You are just a tool of that Knight Woman and you will be sorry, too!’” A few days later, Chief Sheets died of what appeared to be a heart attack.

In addition to human hearts, she was accused of hexing one man’s crops. Mrs. Ray made a habit of taking a shortcut through a field owned by Mr. “Friday” Castle, who didn’t appreciate the alleged witch trespassing on his property. When he confronted her she “ran her eyes back and forth over the patch until they had covered every inch of it. Then she . . . said ‘It won’t make a bit of difference now whether anybody walks on it or not.’” According to Castle, no potatoes sprouted that spring.

Other accusations included Mrs. Ray inducing insomnia, nervous indigestion, fires, floods, and more. The alleged methods of hexing ranged from using voodoo dolls to taking hairs of the victim, intertwining them with hairs from her cat, placing them in vinegar and burying them. It was also said that she consulted a more powerful witch from Plymouth when the hex she wanted to perform was above her ability. This consultant would “chew a dime into somewhat the shape of a nail to drive it into a dead tree, by blows of the horny heel of his palm . . . the victim would surely drop dead as soon as the magician had time to say three times: ‘Black Jack of baccarat, hominy domini, corpse.’”

The allegations against Irene Ray mounted and police were increasingly pressured to charge her with witchcraft. Fortunately, unlike Salem Massachusetts in 1692, Indiana had no laws against witchcraft. The state did have vagrancy laws, in essence making it illegal to be homeless. Irene was charged with vagrancy and arrested, only to be released when she promised the new Chief of Police that she and her family would leave town.

Irene Ray press release, May 12, 1938. Courtesy of the Indiana Album: Joan Hostetler Collection.

Although Irene denied the accusations against her, saying “The whole thing is wrong. I can’t do anything like that,” she and her husband Charles moved from the town and settled near Manitou Lake. The story of a “witch” being driven from town spread across the country and appeared in newspaper headlines from California to New York. Most were skeptical of the allegations and cast the whole affair in a grim light. In many of the articles, it is mentioned that Irene was of American Indian descent, although Irene admitted that even she wasn’t sure if this was accurate. The inclusion of this fact, along with that of her alleged consultant was African American, suggests that the incident was as much about race as it was about the financial situation of the family.

Logansport Pharos-Tribune, November 05, 1938, Accessed Newspaper.com.

Just six months later, Irene was hit by a car and died from the injuries. The accusations of witchcraft would outlive the alleged witch. In every article about the accident, her death takes a backseat to the story of her being forced out of Rochester as a witch. Later, when her daughter petitioned to have her stepfather declared of unsound mind (he had sustained a head injury in the accident which killed Irene) the headline focused on the fact that he was the widower of “Rochester’s Noted ‘Witch-Woman.’” It is safe to say now that Irene Ray was no witch, but rather a woman whose neighbors’ dislike and resentment ran so deep that they convinced themselves that she was at the root of their problems.

Meet The Crew

YOUR HOST

Lindsey Beckley is a born and raised Hoosier. She attended Ball State University, where she obtained a degree in public history. She fell in love with history after a visit to Connor Prairie in 4th grade and made it her life goal to work there one day. Directly after college, she achieved that goal and so everything since then has been icing on the cake. She joined the IHB team in 2015 and has loved having the opportunity to learn all the unique stories the history of her state holds. Now, she’s beyond excited to bring those stories to you in her favorite form of media, podcasts.

THH PRODUCER/ENGINEER

Jill Weiss Simins is also a lifelong Hoosier, hailing from “the Region.” She’s been with IHB for almost a decade and especially loves Indiana art and music history.  Her master’s thesis on Indiana artist William Merritt Chase is coming soon, she swears. Jilly is also a musician and lends her ear to recording, editing, and mixing  all of the great voices, music, and sound effects that makes THH a lively story-telling podcast. She posts on the Hoosier State Chronicles blog and at Blogging Hoosier History.

THH VOICE OF NEWSPAPERS

Justin Clark is the project assistant for Hoosier State Chronicles and host of our podcast’s “Newspaper Corner.” Born in Shelbyville, Justin is another life-long Hoosier with a passion for history, sparked by his first trip to the Lincoln boyhood home when he was just seven. He holds an MA in Public History from IUPUI and wrote his thesis on the freethinking orator Robert Ingersoll. He loves religious history,  intellectual history, reading, spending time with his wife, Kalie and their cat, Bowie, and geeking out to hard rock and heavy metal. He also posts on on the Hoosier State Chronicles blog. Follow him @HS_Chronicles

Mesmerism, Rappings, & Trance Speaking: Spiritualism in Indiana

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Indiana has been home to a lively Spiritualist community since the very early days of the religion. Although Spiritualism, in the broad sense of the term, has existed for thousands of years, Modern American Spiritualism began in the late 1840s in upstate New York with the Fox Sisters. Margaret and Catherine Fox first claimed to have direct communication with the spirit world in late March 1848. In the next two years they would tour much of the country demonstrating these communications, which came in the form of rappings or knockings, to thousands of Americans, inviting anyone to come test the claims for themselves.

Spiritualism was championed by many reformers and intellectuals of the day as a means to find “scientific ground on which to rest every real Christian doctrine.” Although Margaret and Catherine would confess in 1888 that they themselves were the source of the rappings, (they made the sounds by popping their toes) the movement had a life of its own at that point and the confessions were seen as ploys for attention and money by most dedicated spiritualists.

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Early attendants of Camp Chesterfield reclining near one of the many tents which made up the camp at the time. Circa 1890. Photo Courtesy of “Chesterfield Lives!”

In Anderson, Indiana, a group of free thinkers began to meet in the meeting hall of J.W. Westerfield in the 1880s. Westerfield organized a lecture series which included lecturers on mesmerism, phrenology, trance speaking, healing, clairvoyance, and spirit contact. Many of the attendants at these lectures soon became spiritualists and after attending a Spiritualist Camp meeting in Michigan, members of this group set themselves to the task of creating a Spiritualist camp in Indiana. In 1890, Westerfield became the president of the Indiana Association of Spiritualists and under his leadership founded a camp in Chesterfield. Beginning as a sort of tent city, more and more buildings and infrastructure were added to Camp Chesterfield over the years until it became almost a city unto itself. The grounds included cottages for many of the mediums of the camp as well as a grocery store, ice cream parlor, and a band stand.

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Camp Chesterfield cottage with a group of attendants lounging on the porch. Sign advertising a Materializing Medium hangs out front. Image courtesy of “Chesterfield Lives!”

Many spiritual happenings were reported at Camp Chesterfield. Between 1901 and 1908, the camp’s programs advertised mediums with a wide variety of abilities. These abilities included trumpet mediumship, slate writing, spirit photography, materializing mediumship, and precipitated spirit portraits. Examples of each of these forms of mediumship can be seen below.

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Camp Chesterfield faced many hardships throughout its history, including a mass arrest of 14 mediums in 1925 (the charges of false pretense were eventually thrown out), dwindling interest in Spiritualism, and the 1997 release of the expose The Psychic Mafia by former Chesterfield medium Lamar Keene. Through it all, Champ Chesterfield endured. In fact, it is still open and active today as one of the oldest continually active Spiritualism camps in America. In 2015 and 2016, the camp was listed as one of the top 10 most endangered historical sites in Indiana by Indiana Landmarks. The Friends of Camp Chesterfield Foundation is a non-profit working to restore, renew, preserve, and maintain historic Camp Chesterfield for future generations. To see the work being done by the Friends of Camp Chesterfield, join their Facebook page! Visit Camp Chesterfield’s website here to learn more about the work they are currently doing.

Dr. Harvey “Old Borax” Wiley and His Poison Squad

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Harvey Washington Wiley, M.D. Image courtesy of U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For many people, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the early Pure Food movement is Upton Sinclair’s 1906 book The Jungle. However, Hoosier Harvey Wiley’s work in the field was already at its apex when Sinclair’s exposé was released. When Dr. Wiley started his career in the mid- to late-19th century, the production of processed foods in the US was on the rise due to the increasing number of urban dwellers unable to produce their own fresh food. With little to no federal regulation in this manufacturing, food adulteration was rampant. Dr. Wiley made it his mission prove the importance of food regulation. With the help of a group of men known as the Poison Squad, he did just that.

Harvey Washington Wiley was born on a small farmstead near Kent, Indiana on October 18, 1844. He attended Hanover College from 1863-1867, with the exception of a few months in 1864 when he served in Company I of 137th Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War. After graduating in 1867, Wiley moved to Indianapolis and began teaching at Butler University while earning his Ph.D. from the Medical College of Indiana. It was in 1874 that Dr. Wiley began his work as a chemist at Purdue University, where he developed an interest in adulterated food. Wiley argued that mass-produced food, as opposed to food produced locally in small quantities, contained harmful additives and preservatives and misled consumers about what they were actually eating. In the coming decades, Wiley would prove that this theory was correct and serve as one of the public faces of the pure food movement. As a 1917 advertisement in The (New York) Sun put it:

“Dr. Wiley it was who, at Washington, first roused the country to an appreciation of purity and wholesomeness in foods. He has been the one conspicuous figure in food betterment and food conservation in the present generation.”

In 1883, Wiley was appointed Chief Chemist of the Bureau of Chemistry, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture. While serving in this capacity, Wiley made the establishment of federal standards of food, beverages, and medication his priority. To this end, governmental testing of food, beverages, and ingredients began in 1902. The most famous of these tests were the “hygienic table trials,” better known by the name given to them by the media: “The Poison Squad.”

The Poison Squad
The “twelve young clerks, vigorous and voracious,” who made up the Poison Squad, sit six to a table. Image courtesy of U.S. Food and Drug Administration Flickr page.

During these trials, “twelve young clerks, vigorous and voracious” were fed and boarded in the basement of the Agricultural Department building in Washington D.C. Before each meal the men would strip and be weighed, any alteration in their condition being noted. At any one time, six of the group would be fed wholesome, unadulterated food. The other six were fed food laced with commonly used additives such as borax and formaldehyde. Every two weeks, the two groups would be switched. While the position of poison squad member may sound like it would be a hard one to fill, volunteers were lining up to participate in the tests, even writing letters such as the following to Dr. Wiley:

Image courtesy of U.S. Food and Drug Administration Flickr page.

The experiments commenced in November of 1902 and by Christmas, spirits among the Squad members were low. According to a Washington Post article from December 26,

“The borax diet is beginning to show its effect on Dr. Wiley’s government-fed boarders at the Bureau of Chemistry, and last night when the official weights were taken just before the Christmas dinner the six guests who are taking the chemical course showed a slight decrease in avoirdupois . . . To have lost flesh on Christmas Day, when probably everybody else in Washington gained more or less from feasting, was regarded by the boarders themselves as doubly significant.”

A look at the “unprinted and unofficial menu” from the Christmas meal, also printed in the Post, sheds some light on what may have given the boarders pause in their Christmas feasting.

Image courtesy of The Washington Post: Dec 26, 1902; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post pg. 2. 

Much of the information reported by the press during this time came from the members of the squad themselves, until “Old Borax” as Wiley came to be known, issued a gag-order in order to preserve the sanctity of the scientific studies happening. Despite the order, public interest had been peaked and tongues and pens wagged around the country. As one Columbia University scholar put it, “Supreme County justices could be heard jesting about the Squad in public, and even minstrel shows got in on the act.” There were even poems and songs written about the trials.

If ever you should visit the Smithsonian Institute,
Look out that Professor Wiley doesn’t make you a recruit.
He’s got a lot of fellows there that tell him how they feel,
They take a batch of poison every time they eat a meal.
For breakfast they get cyanide of liver, coffin shaped,
For dinner, undertaker’s pie, all trimmed with crepe;
For supper, arsenic fritters, fried in appetizing shade,
And late at night they get a prussic acid lemonade.

They may get over it, but they’ll never look the same.
That kind of a bill of fare would drive most men insane.
Next week he’ll give them moth balls,
a LA Newburgh, or else plain.
They may get over it, but they’ll never look the same.

-Lew Dockstade, “They’ll Never Look the Same”

At the close of the Borax trials in 1903, Wiley began cultivating relationships with some journalists, perhaps in hopes of turning the reports from jovial, and sometimes untrue, conjectures to something more closely resembling the serious work being done.

Along with borax and formaldehyde, the effects of salicylic acid, saccharin, sodium benzoate and copper salts were all studied during the Hygienic Table Trials. The reports generated during the Hygienic Table Trials and the media coverage that followed set the stage for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the same year in which the trials were concluded. According to the FDA, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, also known as The Wiley Act, serves the purpose of “preventing the manufacture, sale, or transportation of adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs, medicines, and liquors, and for regulating traffic therein.”

By requiring companies to clearly indicate what their products contained and setting standards for the labeling and packaging of food and drugs, the Act helped consumers make informed decisions about products that could affect their health. While controversies over additives and government regulations continue to this day, Dr. Harvey Wiley and his Poison Squad played a major role in making the food on our tables safe to eat.

Check out our historical marker and corresponding review report to learn
more about Wiley.                            marker picLearn about the history of public health in Indiana and Wiley’s contributions with our publication The Indiana Historian.