“We Like to See You Smile:” The Story of Hook’s Drug Stores

 

Terre Haute Tribune, November 6, 1958. Newspapers.com.

This splashy 1958 advertisement printed in the pages of the Terre Haute Tribune speaks to public health issues that remain relevant today, as shown by philanthropic entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s new Cost Plus Drugs company. When John A Hook established his first drug store in 1900, he “felt a need for a drugstore to fill the medical needs of his community at fair prices, [and] he put his integrity into the filling of his prescriptions.” Over five decades later, as John Hook’s small chain of stores expanded into a statewide brand, the company’s commitment to “filling the medical needs of the community” never wavered. In addition to offering affordable health care, the company advanced racial equality and worked to prevent drug abuse, proving that Hook’s was more than just a pharmacy.

Origins

While Hook’s was a state-wide brand by the 1950s, its beginnings in the German American community of Indianapolis were far humbler. John August Hook was born on December 17, 1880, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents, August J. Hook and Margaret Hook, were both German immigrants who came to the United States in 1869, looking for a better life. His father was a beer brewer, who first laid down roots in Cincinnati before moving the family to Indianapolis by 1891. At the age of 19, John A. Hook knew exactly what his profession would be—pharmaceuticals. He graduated from the Cincinnati College of Pharmacy on June 9, 1900, the Indianapolis News reported. There, he earned three medals for his academic work, including “a gold medal for highest general average, a gold medal for highest materia medica, and silver medal for chemistry.” As a wunderkind of pharmacological science, Hook was eager to start serving his adopted community of Indianapolis.

John A. Hook in 1926. Indiana Album.

Shortly after graduating, Hook purchased a “Deutsche Apotheke” at 1101 South East Street from Louis Mattill, according to the Indiana Tribüne. Mattill had established the apothecary with his brother John as early as 1890 and nine years later John A. Hook bought out the company. As the son of German immigrants, Hook saw it as vital that he serve that community, which had greatly expanded in the Fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis, a part of the over 19,000 immigrants in the city by 1890.

Indianapolis Times, October 24, 1940. Hoosier State Chronicles.

While formative years at South East Street were successful, it wasn’t until he partnered with the enterprising Edward F. Roesch, who he hired in 1905 to manage a second store, that Hook’s business spread across Indianapolis.

Edward F. Roesch. Newspapers.com.

The Early Years

Within 20 years, Hook and Roesch grew their drug store chain to over fourteen locations, and by the end of the 1920s, to forty-one. One essential component of this growth was prioritizing the design of new stores. It was here that Hook and Roesch partnered up with another legendary Indianapolis business, the architectural firm of Vonnegut, Bohn, & Mueller. Architects Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. (the father of acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.), Arthur Bohn, and Otto N. Mueller designed numerous drug stores for the company, either with completely new buildings or remodels of buildings that Hook’s Drugs previously purchased.

Hook’s Drugs at the Occidental Building, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1929. Indiana Album.

This partnership started as early as 1920, when Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller redesigned a saloon into a Hook’s drug store at Washington and Senate in Indianapolis. The next year, the firm remodeled a former storeroom at Pennsylvania and Washington.

Hook’s Drug Store in Illinois Building, Indianapolis, Indiana, circa 1935. Indiana Album.

Despite the upheaval of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Hook’s continued to expand, with the help of Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller. The Indianapolis Star reported on April 15, 1935 that the architectural firm was “making alterations to the new Hook drug store at the southeast corner of Illinois and Ohio streets. In addition, this company is preparing plans for alterations to the Hook Drug Company store to be located at the northwest corner of Illinois and Market streets.” The Star in its October 24, 1937 edition ran an extensive article on Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller’s plans for a Hook drug store in the Broad Ripple section of Indianapolis. “Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller are the architects and have given every thought and consideration to the comfort of the customer,” wrote the Star, “such as soundproof ceiling, lighting, and attractive floor design.” In 1939, Hook’s commissioned Vonnegut & Bohn to a store at the northwest corner of Meridian and 22nd Street, which John Hook told the Times would be “one of our most outstanding stores and will be the last word in store design and equipment.” The thriving partnership between Hook’s and Vonnegut, Bohn, and Mueller lasted for nearly 20 years, with the latter’s innovative and attractive designs aiding the growth of the drug store chain.

Astounding Growth

With John Hook’s death in 1943 and Edward F. Roesch’s subsequent death in a car accident, their sons, August F. “Bud” Hook and Edward J. F. Roesch, took over the family business, as president and vice president, respectively. Their combined leadership led to a profound expansion of the business. As the Indianapolis Star wrote, “under the joint leadership of the two men the chain grew from an Indianapolis operation to a state-wide chain of stores.” In 1958, Hook’s operated 50-plus stores throughout Indiana with more than 1,000 employees. The company expanded its stores to “80 communities” by 1973, according to the Nappanee Advance-News.

August F. “Bud” Hook, President of Hook Drugs, Inc., 1964. Indiana Memory.

This growth was not without its controversies. The employees of the Hook’s store in the Marwood neighborhood of Indianapolis ran a paid editorial in the Jewish Post on January 16, 1976, criticizing the company’s labor practices and its attempts to block unionization efforts. One hundred and fifty salesclerks of Hook’s “mann[ed] picket lines at many of the stores throughout Marion and Johnson Counties,” the editorial noted. It alleged that workers voted to be represented by the Retail Clerk’s Union-Local 725, and despite this vote’s certification by the local labor board, Hook’s “ignored this vote and refused to bargain” with them. It also accused Hook’s of hiring replacement labor and launching a public relations campaign against the strikers. The editorial declared “We ask that we be treated fairly and with respect by the Hook’s Drug Company . . . and that negotiations in good faith begin at once.” It is unclear whether the unionization effort was successful.

Hook’s Drugs at the Project A Shopping Center, Indianapolis, c. 1960. Indiana Memory.

Despite these issues, Hook’s established itself by 1982 as one of the nation’s oldest chain drug store corporations, ranking 14th nationally in number of sales units and exceeding $260 million annually. The Illinoisan also noted that 30% of the firm’s business came from the prescription department, which was “nearly twice the national average.” With over 260 stores in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio (its expansion outside of Indiana a result of the merger with SupeRx in 1986), Hook’s had become one of the largest drug store chains in the Midwest by the time it celebrated its 90th year of business in 1990.

A woman in front of Hook’s Drugs at New Castle Plaza, New Castle, Indiana, 1974. Wikimedia Commons.

The Innovative Community Leader

While labor disputes occurred during the company’s history, Hook’s nevertheless demonstrated a commitment to equal rights in Indianapolis. The firm desegregated its lunch counters at all locations in 1947, years before the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Black newspaper the Indianapolis Recorder carried coverage of Hook Drugs’ desegregation of their lunch counters, which the Indianapolis Civil Rights Committee fought tirelessly to achieve. As the Recorder noted, “committee members will continue going into various Hook’s stores in order to make certain that the new policy is put into practice.” Alongside equal access to its stores, the company promoted equal employment opportunities. In 1965, the Recorder wrote that Hook’s President Bud Hook served on a committee modeled after California’s Chamber of Commerce for Employment Opportunity. The committee’s goals included ensuring maximum employment of minority groups, improving communication “to make known employment need and opportunities,” and assisting other organizations in improving their minority employment programs.

Indianapolis Recorder, February 15, 1947. Hoosier State Chronicles.

By 1969, Hook’s put these recommendations into practice in Indianapolis, increasing minority management to 10%. This had a direct impact on the community, as Black manager W. Howard Bell implemented the innovative “Santa Claus Comes to the Ghetto” sales initiative, which “aimed at giving customers a chance to obtain some items at reduced cost without waiting for the after-Christmas discount.” By 1972, Bell would own four drugstores of his own. Hook’s also promoted Black staff to corporate positions. In 1973, the firm appointed Ray Crowe, acclaimed athlete, coach, and politician, to store employment supervisor in the personnel department, as noted by the Indianapolis Recorder.

Indianapolis Recorder, December 20, 1969. Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Recorder, December 8, 1973. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hook’s also promoted broader public health initiatives. Starting in the late 1960s, Hook’s implemented a protected packaging program, developing a child-proof, lock-on cap and amber colored bottles that protected medicine from sunlight. Both were offered to customers at no extra charge. Hook’s advertisements in newspapers, including the Rushville Republican, Alexandria Times-Tribune, and the Indianapolis Star, attest to the “protection in packaging” program. Additionally, Hook’s provided a “poison counterdose chart” that “could prevent serious injury or even save a life should accidental poisoning occur in your home,” as printed in the Indianapolis Star.

Rushville Republican, May 20, 1969. Newspapers.com.

Alongside drug safety, Hook’s was active in drug misuse/abuse prevention and education, which is more crucial than ever as drug abuse is at epidemic levels. Pharmacists routinely spoke to community organizations and received training from the Pharmacists Against Drug Abuse Foundation and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. As the Indianapolis Star reported in 1971, “Many Hook’s pharmacists serving in stores and in administrative positions have given countless talks to schools, churches, and other social action groups” about drug abuse and its prevention.

Indianapolis Star, January 10, 1971. Newspapers.com.

In 1980, Hook’s sponsored a state-wide poison control initiative that “include[d] a $40,000 grant. . . to establish a statewide network of regional hospital emergency treatment centers to provide close at hand emergency treatment throughout the state,” as noted in the Nappanee Advance-News. The next year, Hook’s co-sponsored a 10-week “anti-drug abuse public service campaign” entitled “It Takes Guts to Say No.” Hook’s Executive Vice President Newell Hall said of the initiative to the Indianapolis Recorder, “as a corporation we are committed to providing professional prescription service to our communities and feel it is our duty to inform the public about the hazards of substance abuse.”

Nappanee Advance-News, March 26, 1980. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hook’s also distributed informative brochures to customers about symptoms of drug abuse and what parents can do if they suspect their children of abusing drugs. James M. Rogers, Hook’s vice president of public relations, told the Banner, “Our brochure offers facts and common-sense information for parents and children alike. If prevention doesn’t work, early detection is critical.” Hook’s “Parent Guide to Drug Abuse” pamphlets were available for free in all their stores.

Knightstown Banner, August 22, 1984. Newspapers.com.

While not always progressive on labor issues, Hook’s advancements of civil rights, innovative packaging programs, and drug abuse and prevention initiatives solidified the company as a trusted community leader for decades.

Hook’s Legacy

The end of Hook’s Drugs came like the end of so many businesses during the 1980s and 1990s: through corporate mergers. In 1985, Hook Drugs, Inc. merged with the Cincinnati, Ohio-based grocery chain Kroger, which was the “second largest supermarket chain,” according to the Nappanee Advance-News. This merger would end in 1986, when Hook’s and the SupeRx drug store chain, both owned by Kroger, split off into their own firm, Hook-SupeRx, Inc.

A Hook’s Drugs location in Indianapolis, 1990s. Indiana Historical Society.

On April 4, 1994, Revco, a drugstore chain based out of Twinsburg, Ohio, announced its plan to buy Hook-SupeRx, Inc. for an estimated $600 million. The merger was finalized in July of that year. Unfortunately, this consolidation came with job cuts and store closures.

Richmond Palladium-Item, August 24, 1994. Newspapers.com.

Less than three years later, on February 7, 1997, Rhode-Island based CVS purchased Revco at a cost at $2.8 billion, according to the Indianapolis News, and with it, phased out the use of the Hook’s brand. While the legendary name is gone, many former Hook’s locations still operate today under the CVS banner.

Indianapolis News, February 7, 1997. Newspapers.com.

Although no longer being in business, the company’s history is tangible at the Hook’s Drug Store Museum, which opened at the 1966 Indiana State Fair. Originally a three-month exhibition, it eventually became a permanent attraction. The museum recreates what a Hook’s drug store was like in the early 1900s and remains in operation today at its original location at the fairgrounds. Reflecting on its success years later, journalist Judy observed, “the Hook’s Historical Drugstore and Pharmacy Museum has become a national acclaimed tourist attraction. It has garnered many awards from both pharmaceutical and historical organizations, and millions of individuals have visited from every state and many foreign countries.”

Hook’s Historical Drug Store and Pharmacy Museum, Indiana State Fairgrounds, Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana Memory.

In its 90-plus years, Hook’s Drugs went from one building in Fountain Square to one of the largest drug store chains in the United States, with over 380 locations and millions in sales. While the company faltered on labor issues, Hook’s commitment to civil rights and drug abuse prevention made the brand synonymous with fairness, kindness, and the personal touch. As the collective memory of Hook’s fades, it is important to recognize its special place in the history of Indiana businesses. Also, we must remember its motto from years ago, words that rang through its many ads and embodied its ethos— “We like to see you smile!”

Cultivating a “Usable Past:” Insights from the 2022 Queer History Conference

Conference program, a preliminary list of sessions can be found here.

From June 12-14, scholars from all corners of the globe—including Cape Town, New Delhi, Toronto, Berlin, Peru, and Amsterdam—convened at San Francisco State University. Among them were Indianapolis historians Sam Opsahl (he/him), Jordan Ryan (they/them), and myself (she/her). The reason for this meeting of the minds?: the second ever Queer History Conference (QHC). Amidst the surreal beauty of the campus, lined by Muir Woods’s iconic redwood trees, we discussed universal research questions, learned about novel methodologies, and shared valuable resources. Considering how new the field of queer history is, I would be remiss not to discuss the insights gleaned at the QHC, many of which could be applied to various historical projects.

QHC attendees were a uniquely welcoming and curious bunch, although we were slightly intimidated by the number of people who decided to forgo compelling sessions like “Queering Women, Sex, and Youth in Colonial Settings” and “Legal Consciousness in Mid-Twentieth Century Queer and Trans History” in order to attend our panel. However, we felt immediately at ease presenting about those living on the margins of Indianapolis’s queer community, especially because our moderator Dr. Eric Gonzaba gave credence to Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that “wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something important there.”* Now an Assistant Professor of American Studies at California State University-Fullerton, Dr. Gonzaba grew up in rural southern Indiana and earned his BA from Indiana University. In his introduction, Dr. Gonzaba aptly noted that Indiana’s place in American queer history has been cemented both by the groundbreaking work of the Kinsey Institute and the controversial passage of the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Jordan Ryan, architectural historian, activist-scholar, and founder of The History Concierge, kicked off our session. Ryan adapted their presentation from their paper, co-authored with Dr. Paul Mullins for the Journal for the Anthropology of North America, entitled “Imagining Musical Place: Race, Heritage, and African American Musical Landscapes.” Ryan focused on the erasure of Black cultural sites along Indiana Avenue, including venues like the Pink Poodle (later the Famous Door) and Log Cabin, which hosted popular drag shows in the first half of the 20th century. Ryan noted that although female impersonators were popular in vaudeville revues, “moral ideologues sometimes resisted openly queer drag performances.” This was reflected in one Indianapolis Recorder editorial about a show at the Paradise that attracted an audience of 2,000. The opiner wrote that “‘fairy’ (fag) (pansy) public stage show and dance . . . was a disgrace to this community.” Ryan concluded that:

Like much of the complex expressive culture that flourished on Indiana Avenue, female impersonators have not found a place in the public memory that has been crafted by ideologues whose representations of jazz have revolved around a very narrow dimension of the Indiana Avenue musical experience.

Following Ryan’s analysis of the built environment and public memory, I presented my work about the exclusion of gender non-conforming individuals at Indianapolis gay bars and the queer community’s effort to grapple with this discrimination. (A draft of my paper can be read here). On separate occasions in 1989, Our Place refused to serve patrons Kerry Gean and Roberta Alyson, resulting in public humiliation and, in Alyson’s case, arrest. Bar employees refused service on the grounds that Gean and Alyson—members of the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE)—did not meet dress code and their identification did not match their female-presenting appearance. Our Place was by no means the only Indianapolis gay bar to implement these policies and soon the pages of gay newsletter The Works teemed with editorials about the conflict. The majority of them condemned this discrimination, likening it to the prohibition of Black individuals at Riverside Park, while some agreed that such policies were necessary to preserve the bars’ masculine atmosphere.

Perhaps ironically, it was Indianapolis police officer and community liaison Shirley Purvitis who facilitated a meeting to try to resolve issues between “certain segments of the gay community.” Bar owners, IXE members, IPD vice officers, and members of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and Justice, Inc. shared their experiences and discussed excise law. Although contentious, such meetings, coverage in The Works, and one-on-one meetings between IXE members and bar owners, led to the reversal of policies at many bars. The conflict illuminated the value of forums and facilitators and demonstrated how amplifying multiple perspectives resulted in greater inclusion.

Sam Opsahl, program coordinator for Indiana Humanities, concluded our panel, presenting a paper adapted from his 2020 thesis, “Circle City Strife: Gay and Lesbian Activism during the Hudnut Era.” He highlighted the work of Justice, Inc. leader Kathy Sarris, noting that she “worked to insert the queer community’s narrative into public spaces by celebrating the gay and lesbian minority in public.” Opsahl positioned Sarris at the center of the local rights movement, ensuring that she will not be forgotten, unlike many lesbian activists whose work has been overshadowed by that of white, male leaders belonging to the middle class.

In 1983, through the Indianapolis Gay/Lesbian Coalition (IGLC), Berg and Sarris secured a meeting with Mayor William Hudnut, where they presented a list of seven recommendations. This marked the first time an Indianapolis mayor met with gay individuals to discuss issues facing the greater community. While the closed door meeting did not produce the results they hoped for, Berg and Sarris left feeling that “at least a dialogue had been initiated that they would continue to pursue should Hudnut be re-elected.” Opsahl contended that:

Mayor Hudnut, Berg, and Sarris contested the space on Monument Circle via protests and community celebrations, which rendered Indianapolis’ queer community impossible to ignore. Hudnut’s visions of an entrepreneurial city were endangered by the public debacles on Monument Circle, police discrimination, and the HIV crisis. Activists established their own dreams for citywide recognition that conflicted with Hudnut’s.

In listening to my colleagues’ presentations, fielding thoughtful audience questions, and receiving feedback from Dr. Gonzaba, I gained insight about Indianapolis’s queer past in real-time. It occurred to me that each of the individuals we studied had had to navigate the internalization of white, cisgender, heteronormative ideals by the LGBTQ community. We were left to ponder questions, like “What makes Indianapolis’s community unique?” and “How do we best document and memorialize queer history in a conservative region, in which anonymity provides safety?” The examination of intersectionality, as it relates to queer history, is relatively new and we hope our panel contributed to this field of study.

With our session mercifully scheduled for the first day, I was anxious to learn about others’ research findings and methodologies for the duration of the conference. I found the “Strategies for Documenting and Memorializing Queer History” panel to be particularly enlightening, as University of Toronto Professor Elspeth Brown’s presentation made me rethink how we conduct and use oral history interviews. Dr. Brown spoke about implementing novel interview strategies, such as utilizing guided meditation in order to engage interviewee’s senses. She found that this practice allowed subjects to both reinhabit and meaningfully relay the past.

Dr. Brown and her team have also given much thought to the question of utility, asking themselves: “Is the main purpose of conducting interviews to create a primary source for future historians to draw upon? Or is their value entrenched in telling relevant stories to modern audiences?” Regarding the latter, Dr. Brown is mindful of a study that found people listen to only half of an oral history interview, regardless of whether it is one minute or three hours long. Therefore, her team tried to think creatively about how to capture listeners’ attention. They hired an illustrator and sound engineer to recreate settings described by interview subjects. Pairing the animated sequences with two minute interview segments provided a multisensory experience. Dr. Brown played one such clip for the audience and I think we were all stunned by how immersed we were in the story.

Slide from Professor Elspeth Brown’s presentation about novel oral history interviewing techniques.

While attention has certainly been paid to illuminating history through social media, San Francisco State University Master’s student Jesse Ataide’s presentation “Imagining the Queer Past on Instagram” probed issues unique to queer history. Ataide initially created his account @queer_modernisms to share interesting images he came across in his research, which focused on the period between 1890 and 1969. However, when the account rapidly grew in followers (it is now up to 26,000), he realized he needed to be more intentional about how he curated content. He became ever-mindful of the question “who and what is queer?,” noting that many images circulated online appear queer to the “contemporary eye,” but can easily be misinterpreted. These include fascist/Nazi images that glorify the male body and “same sex intimacy across different eras and cultures.” Ataide noted that the subjects of such images may have actively resisted the “queer” designation and that “unambiguous self-identification” is certainly the exception, not the norm. So, in order to avoid outing or misinterpreting someone’s sexual identity, he tries to “find mention or evidence of queerness in academic, published, or other authoritative sources before posting.”

He also discussed the importance of representation. Images of white, masculine, middleclass male subjects garner the highest rates of engagement, so he is currently strategizing how to amplify diverse content without losing his platform. Ataide left us with many insightful questions to ponder, especially about how best to create a “useable past.”

Jesse Ataide presenting issues that he grapples with regarding queer history.

My time at SFSU concluded with a roundtable comprised of both academic press editors and scholars whose work has been published by such presses. Larin McLaughlin, Editor in Chief at the University of Washington Press, emphasized the importance of vision when crafting and pitching a book idea. It is not enough that your topic has never been written about before, but you should able to articulate to a publisher how your work moves the field forward. Finding an editor that shares your set of goals is also crucial in executing your vision. McLaughlin encouraged writers to focus on interdisciplinary topics, as they appeal to audiences outside of history. Dominique J. Moore, Acquisitions Editor for the University of Illinois Press, noted that a well-executed introduction chapter goes a long way in convincing an editor to publish your work. She also advised crafting a table of contents that contains a summary of each chapter’s arguments and sources, as well as how the chapters relate to one another. When considering your audience, ask yourself, “What conference do I want to see my book at?” Write for those attendees.

Panelists also articulated the differences between trade and university presses. They noted that whereas trade presses typically have much bigger marketing budgets that can be used to quickly advertise your book to a broad network, academic presses provide longevity, as they continue to publish books long after the first printing. Similarly, trade presses sometimes present more obstacles to publication, as aspiring authors have to convince an agent who then needs to convince an editor about your work. For the self-doubting historian, their reassurance about the peer review process was liberating: ultimately, you can and should push back against critiques that you vehemently disagree with. You are the expert, after all.

Sam Opsahl, Nicole Poletika, and Jordan Ryan at Indiana’s first LGBTQ historical marker, Monument Circle, courtesy of Jordan Ryan.

In a field dominated by stories of stigma, violence, and oppression, the 2022 QHC provided a much needed opportunity to learn about LGBTQ individuals who thrived, helped build community, and furthered human rights. It was invigorating to be around scholars equally humbled and excited to be part of this nascent field. The conference also provided reassurance that I am on the right track in terms of respectfully telling balanced, accurate histories about LGBTQ Hoosiers. Likewise, it revealed to me that people genuinely are curious about queer life in the Midwest. But before delving back into the pages of The Works, this midwestern historian is closing her eyes and revisiting San Francisco’s winding roads, dotted with colorful condominiums and flanked by glimmering beaches.

* IUPUI anthropology professor Paul Mullins was originally slated to moderate our session. Although Dr. Mullins was unable to make it, he was with us in spirit and scholarship.

Myth of the Mexican Monolith: Experiences of Bracero, Migrant, and U.S. Workers of Mexican Origin at Sechler’s Pickles Inc. Part One

Immigrants have long helped to create a healthier U.S. economy. The work of respected historians and economists has repeatedly dispelled the xenophobic myth that immigrants “steal American jobs.” Instead, immigrants (both those who arrive through documented and undocumented venues) increase the earning potential for all Americans. Pia Orrenius, Vice President and Senior Economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and Fellow at the John Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University, explains:

Immigration fuels the economy. When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives . . . In addition to the immigration surplus, immigrants grease the wheels of the labor market by flowing into industries and areas where there is a relative need for workers — where bottlenecks or shortages might otherwise damp growth. [1]

This was especially true of Mexican immigrants who came to the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Not only did they help stimulate the United States economy, but they were willing to move into areas like rural Indiana where farmers needed extra help at harvest time. And several Indiana businesses can attribute their success during the lean years of the Great Depression and the labor shortages of the Second World War to the contributions of workers of Mexican origin. [2]

Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., just outside the town of St. Joe in DeKalb County has become a successful company and nationally recognized brand over their last century of operations. In addition to the hard work, vision, and savvy of its founders, Ralph and Anne Sechler, the company attributes much of its success to the workers who helped them meet increasing demand over the years. Since the 1940s, many of these laborers have come from Mexico or have had Mexican ancestry. But within that group, there is much more diversity than newspapers and other sources have recognized. As immigration continues to diversify today, this nuance is worth understanding better. [3]

Sarah Miller, “Cool As A Cucumber at Sechler’s Pickles,” My Indiana Home, May 13, 2014, https://my-indiana-home.com/food/sechlers-pickles-preserves-tradition/

Some of these workers were U.S. citizens whose parents were born in Mexico, such as Carmen (Morales) Ortiz, who was born in Kansas. Some were born in Mexico and became U.S. citizens through naturalization, including Carmen’s husband Floyd Ortiz, who was a U.S. citizen for decades before starting at Sechler’s. Others, including Aurelio Rivera, were Mexican citizens who came to Indiana at the behest of the U.S. government via the Bracero Program to help meet increased wartime food production demands. And still others, such as Rosalio and Paula Luna, were migrant workers, travelling with the harvests through the Midwest, sometimes returning to Mexico to help family there.  Despite their varied backgrounds, contemporary sources, especially newspapers, often treated these individuals as a monolith. Thus, it can be difficult to record an accurate history of workers of Mexican origin and their experiences in Indiana. An exploration of this Hoosier pickle company, however, provides a glimpse into workers lives in a way that adds richness to the story of our state.

This post, the first of two, will look at the experiences of two U.S. citizens of Mexican origin at Sechler’s Pickles, Carmen and Floyd Ortiz. Notably, this study suffers from a lack of sources created by the Ortizes themselves. To address this hole in the record, I have juxtaposed newspapers, government records, contextual sources, and family and corporate histories. In doing so, this post also serves as a lesson in the importance of comparing sources created from different perspectives and how that creates more accurate history. This balance is especially important in telling the history of marginalized groups. Personal stories of the Ortizes and vital records, such as census and immigration papers, help to counter biased newspaper accounts given by Indiana newspapers. The rhetoric of these newspapers also provides insight into Hoosier opinions on immigration and how perspectives about Mexican immigrants changed depending on external forces such as the Great Depression and WWII. And finally, this concentrated study reinforces the fact that many immigrants arrived here because Hoosier farmers and the U.S. government asked them to, establishing the migration patterns that continue to shape the state and nation. The stories of the workers and their families at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., are part of the story of Indiana and a diversifying United States. Additionally, this story of how Sechlers got started, how the Ortizes arrived at Sechler’s Pickeles, and how these families formed a relationship that would last for generations is in interesting look into the lesser-explored agricultural history of the state.

Sechler’s Pickles

Ralph E. Sechler was born in 1894 in St. Joe, DeKalb County. He attended St. Joe and then Butler High School, graduating circa 1912. He taught at a local high school for three years and worked summers at a “pickle receiving and salting station in St. Joe” ran by the D.M. Sears Company of Fort Wayne. In 1915, he entered Indiana State Normal School in Terre Haute where he thrived. He played basketball, managed the track team, and served as secretary of the Daedalian Literary Society through which he participated in debates and delivered speeches. [4]

Indiana State Normal School, Program of Commencement Week, Terre Haute, Indiana, 1916, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, AncestryLibrary.com.

When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Ralph registered with the U.S. Army. When his name came up for service, he was one of only eighteen (out of 781 names) who did not attempt to claim an exemption. Before he left home for the war, he married Anna Florence Martindale, a Greenfield native two years his senior. [3]

Greenfield High School, The Elevenite, 1911, 18, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, AncestryLibrary.com.

Anna was just as sharp as Ralph and worked as a teacher at Seymour High School during her new husband’s absence. In September 1917, Ralph left for Camp Taylor in Louisville. His superiors quickly noticed his intelligence and aptitude for teaching. In October, the Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that “Ralph Sechler, another St. Joe boy, is still at Camp Taylor, engaged four nights in the week teaching night school for the benefit of Uncle Sam’s boys who have not learned to read and write.” [4] He was commissioned Second Lieutenant but did not serve overseas because of the Army’s need for competent teachers at the officer’s training camp.

“Ralph Sechler,” Registration Card, DeKalb County, Indiana, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

After his discharge from the Army in 1919, he went back to work for the D.M. Sears Company and was soon put in charge of approximately a dozen “receiving stations,” where farmers brought their produce to be processed. Between 1920 and 1923, he transitioned from managing these stations to leasing them and securing his own contracts with local cucumber growers. Soon Ralph and Anne Sechler had established their own pickle processing business at their home and farm just north of St. Joe. By 1925, local grocery stores carried “St. Joe Valley” pickles and by 1930, they were popular in local restaurants as well. [5]

Ralph and Anna Sechler Home, St. Joe, DeKalb County, Indiana, photograph, accessed “Touring the Sechler’s Pickle Factory,” Midwest Wanderer, October 25, 2016, https://midwestwanderer.com/sechlers-pickles/

The Sechlers employed creative strategies to stay afloat during the Great Depression. As one would expect, they worked with local cucumber growers, processing this produce into pickles. But they also worked with Chicago processors, purchasing goods to resell to Hoosier grocery stores and restaurants, and thus besting other businesses with the variety they could offer. They also brought barrels of pickles to homebound locals who would jar the goods. These neighbors worked for low wages, but also received income they would otherwise have not been able to access. [6]

South Bend Tribune, July 31, 1925, 30, Newspapers.com

Around 1933, Ralph and Anne turned their barn into a pickle processing factory and a driver began making deliveries to businesses in a new truck marked “St. Joe Valley Pickles.” In 1937, the Sechlers made major improvements to the processing facility, hooking up a steam engine to the threshing machines and pickling tanks and increasing production. Early on a late October morning in 1937, the Sechlers’ pickle processing center, which they had built in their barn, burned down. By the following Monday, workers were already building a new, larger facility. This larger facility helped the company grow; the following year, the company also purchased more delivery trucks. [7]

Waterloo Press, October 21, 1937, 1, Newspapers.com.

Over the following decade, Sechler’s added more varieties of products. One Indiana grocery store advertised in 1944: “St. Joe Valley sweet pickles, raisin crispies, sweet relish, sweet chips, sweet mixed dills, sweet orange marmalade, jellies, Apple butter, strained honey.” Thus, by the time the U.S. increased agricultural production for the war effort and the Bracero Program was in full swing, Sechler’s Pickles was a thriving Indiana business employing a number of local growers, packers, and delivery drivers and serving stores and restaurants across the state. [8]

Tina Bobilya, “Learn How Pickles Are Made on This Free Pickle Factory Tour,” Visit Indiana, May 7, 2019, https://www.visitindiana.com/blog/post/pickle-factory-tour/.

The Ortiz Family

Floyd Ortiz was born circa 1903 to John and Isabelle Gutierez-Ortiz in Salamanca in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. [9]  While today, Salamanca is a thriving manufacturing city with a renowned university, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the area was not economically or politically stable. President Porfirio Díaz made some economic improvements, increasing the mining output of the region, but it was mainly already wealthy people who benefited. His tax breaks for the rich and “unwillingness to recognize minority rights” of the indigenous people of the region led to a revolt against the administration in 1910. [10] In 1911, a coalition led by Francisco Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza ousted President Díaz and replaced him with Francisco Madero. However, battles between federal and rebel factions continued for years, destabilizing the region and making it hard for average citizens to make a living. Floyd Ortiz, like many others from Guanajuato, likely came to the United States as “displaced refugees fleeing the political upheaval and violence” of the 1910 revolution.[11]

Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929; NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85; Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration., accessed AncestryLibrary.com.

In 1919, Floyd Ortiz arrived in the United States at Laredo, Texas, where he received documentation for “lawful entry” into the country. He was just 16 years old. [12] Within four years, in 1923, Ortiz became a naturalized U.S. citizen. [13] Just one year later, the U.S. shut the door to refugees with the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act), the result of xenophobic ideas and no small amount of lobbying by the Ku Klux Klan. And while Mexican immigration was exempted from this exclusionary immigration act – for reasons we’ll examine further in part two – Mexican immigrants were not exempt from prejudices of pseudoscientific thinking influenced by eugenics and general racism and bigotry. They often endured low wages, poor living conditions, and hard labor to make a life in the United States. [14]

Marjory Collins, “Mexican Agricultural Laborer Topping Sugar Beets,” photograph, 1944, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, https://www.loc.gov/resource/fsa.8d29109/.

Carmen Morales was born circa 1908 in Kansas to parents of Mexican origin. Throughout her life, newspapers and even official government sources recorded her as “Mexican,” despite the fact that she was a native born U.S. citizen. We don’t know much about her family’s path to Indiana, but by the mid-1920s Carmen was “employed in beet work” in central Indiana and her mother and step father were living in northwest Indiana. [15] Perhaps she met Floyd Ortiz through work because he was also working the beet harvests in Tipton and Madison Counties. Or perhaps they met through family, friends, or church events, as later records show they were both devout Catholics.

Tipton Daily Tribune, December 28, 1927, 6, Newspapers.com

In 1927, Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, got married at the county clerk’s office in Tipton, Indiana. We’re lucky to have local newspaper coverage to supply some details of the day. However, the reporter for the Tipton Daily Tribune treated the event not as a wedding between two U.S. citizens living in Indiana but as an oddity, exaggerating the “foreignness” of the couple. The newspaper’s account of this “out of the ordinary” wedding focused on the Mexican heritage of the couple and their parents. [16]

The Tipton Daily Tribune called Floyd a “native born Mexican” and described Carmen as “full blooded Mexican, but who was born in the state of Kansas.” In other words, while Carmen was a United States citizen, the newspaper reporter still considered her Mexican. Despite Floyd’s almost ten years in the United States and his 1923 naturalization, and despite Carmen’s status as a native-born U.S. citizen, the 1927 newspaper article could only see their race and that construct made them Mexican and not American. The reporter further underscored the couple’s “foreignness” by detailing that their parents were both from Mexico. While both sets of parents were indeed born in Mexico, they were also Hoosiers by this point. The groom’s parents lived in Geneva, Indiana, and the bride’s mother and stepfather lived in Francisville, Indiana. Further research would be needed to determine if the parents were naturalized citizens, but it is likely they had also been in the United States for some time considering Carmen’s stepfather went by “John” as opposed to a “Juan” or another Spanish name. Without considering the citizenship information offered by the census and immigration agencies, one would come away from reading the newspaper article believing that two “Mexicans Married” as opposed to two U.S. citizens with families of Mexican origin. This theme of juxtaposing sources will continue to be important as we dig deeper into the story of workers of Mexican origin at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc. [17]

Why is it important to clarify that Floyd and Carmen are U.S. citizens? Because at the time, and even today, many treat all workers of Mexican origin as a monolith, usually assuming that they are Mexican citizens and migrant workers coming to the U.S. to make money at harvest time and then return to Mexico. This is, in fact, an assumption that allowed Mexico to avoid immigration restrictions that impacted other groups in the 1920s. However, Mexican immigrants and migrants of Mexican origin are not a monolithic group; there are a range of reasons people left Mexico and either returned home or stayed in the United States to brave the road to citizenship. Every Hoosier has their own family immigration story, creating a rich and diverse state history. Families of Mexican origin are not different. The array of migration experiences is as diverse as Hoosiers of Potawatomi, German, African, or Serbian heritage.

“Weeding Sugar Beet Fields Near Brighton,” photograph, 1959, Denver Public Library Special Collections, accessed Digital Public Library of America.

The Ortiz Family at Sechler’s Pickles

After Floyd and Carmen worked the beet harvests in Tipton and Madison Counties and got married in Adams County, Indiana, they moved to Paulding County, Ohio. The 1930 census listed Floyd as a “beet worker” here as well, while listing Carmen’s occupation as “none,” likely because she had recently given birth to their first daughter, Mary. Their family grew quickly and by 1940, the census reported that Floyd and Carmen were the parents of eight children. Times must have been very difficult; though the census reported that both Floyd and Carmen were beet workers, Floyd had been out of work for unknown reasons for thirty weeks. [18]

“Mexican Laborers Weed Sugar Beet Field,” photograph, 1943, Oregon History Project, Oregon Historical Society, https://www.oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/historical-records/mexican-laborers-weed-sugar-beet-field..

By 1944, however, Floyd was at work at the Paulding Sugar Beet Co. The company contacted Sechler’s Pickles about growing and processing beets for them and offered to send “a real good family,” as well as housing for them, in exchange for Sechler’s help with production. The Ortizes and the Sechlers accepted the arrangement. By this point, Floyd and Carmen had fourteen children and they moved the family to DeKalb County. Floyd and several of the children went to work for Sechler’s. The younger children worked in the field picking produce and then, after they turned sixteen, they worked in the processing factory. [19]

We don’t know too much about their life in DeKalb County except that they were able to take care of their family and save money, as eventually they purchased their own 80-acre farm just east of St. Joe on the Ohio border. Frank Sechler, son of Ralph and manager of the company by this point, speculated that the Ortizes picked the location because of it’s proximity to their church. Frank recalled Floyd’s devout faith:

I seldom walked up to Floyd in the field but what he didn’t reach in his pocket and pull out a stone he had just found, which would have a figure of Christ, a cross, or some other religious item on it. Sometimes I had a little trouble discerning it, but he would convince me!!!  [20]

By the 1960s, Floyd and Carmen Ortiz were living in Hicksville, Ohio where Floyd died in 1973. Several family members, including daughter Dorothy Chew, daughter-in-law Betty Ortiz, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren continued the Ortiz family connection with Sechler’s, working in the fields and factory. [21] In fact, the Ortiz family helped to fund the state historical marker for Sechler’s Pickles that will be installed this fall 2022. The text will read:

Ralph and Anne Sechler  established Sechler’s Pickles (first named St. Joe Valley)  on their homestead here in the 1920s.  Despite the Great Depression, they grew the business, selling many varieties of pickles to local restaurants  and building a larger processing facility in 1937.  By the early 1950s, grocery stores across Indiana and Ohio carried Sechler’s Pickles.

Workers of Mexican origin, including Braceros who arrived in the 1940s to aid the U.S. war effort, were essential to the Sechlers’ success.  Several of these families remained with the company for decades.  A network of salesmen, mail orders, church fundraisers, and partnerships with well-known companies made Sechler’s Pickles a respected and nationally recognized brand. [22]

Tina Bobilya, “Learn How Pickles Are Made on This Free Pickle Factory Tour,” Visit Indiana, May 7, 2019, https://www.visitindiana.com/blog/post/pickle-factory-tour/.

In addition to the Ortizes, Sechler’s Pickles, Inc. also employed Mexican migrant workers and dozens of Braceros. The experiences of workers who were Mexican citizens in Indiana were much different than that of the Ortiz family’s experiences as U.S. citizens. In Part Two of this post, we’ll examine the work and lives of Mexican migrant and Bracero workers at Sechler’s Pickles, Inc., their reception by their Hoosier neighbors, and how they were portrayed in Indiana newspapers. Check back for:

“Rancho Allegre:” Experiences of Bracero, Migrant, and U.S. Workers of Mexican Origin at Sechler’s Pickles Inc. Part Two.

Notes

Newspaper articles accessed Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.

[1] Pia Orrenius, “Benefits of Immigration Outweigh the Costs,” The Catalyst, Spring 2016, Issue 2, George W. Bush Institute, https://www.bushcenter.org/catalyst/north-american-century/benefits-of-immigration-outweigh-costs.html.
[2] Ibid.; Jorge Durand, Douglas S. Massey, and Emilio A. Parrado, “The New Era of Mexican Migration to the United States,” Rethinking History and the Nation State: Mexico and the United States, A Special Issue of the Journal of American History 86, No. 2 (September 1999): 518-536, accessed Organization of American Historians.
[3] Frank Sechler, History of Sechler Pickles, 1921-1996, Willennar Genealogy Center, Eckhart Public Library, copy in marker file. According to the corporate history written by founder Ralph Sechler’s son Frank Sechler, “Hispanics were very much a part of our operations, both in the field and in the plant.” This source is consulted throughout the post and compared with the other sources listed in the notes below.
[4] Ralph E. Sechler, Medical Certificate of Death, Indiana State Board of Health, December 12, 1962, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, Roll 19, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Grave of Ralph E. Sechler [photograph], Riverside Cemetery, Saint Joe, DeKalb County, Indiana, accessed Find-A-Grave; Butler High School Yearbook, 1912, p. 16, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Juniors and Sophs Wine in Normal Series,” Terre Haute Daily Tribune, November 13, 1915, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles; Edgar L. Morphet, “Freshies Finish Last,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute], December 2, 1915, 11, Hoosier State Chronicles; Indiana State Normal School, Program of Commencement Week, Terre Haute, Indiana, 1916, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, AncestryLibrary.com; “Literary Society Meets,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute], October 4, 1916, 12, Hoosier State Chronicles; “State Normal Presents Baseball Players with Letters,” Daily Tribune [Terre Haute}, June 11, 1917, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles.
[5] “Ralph Sechler,” Registration Card, DeKalb County, Indiana, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “DeKalb County Fails to Get Quota of Eighty-Eight,” Fort Wayne News, August 9, 1917, 1; “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 14, 1917, 11.
[6] “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Daily News, September 20, 1917, 11; “St. Joe News,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 29, 1917, 3; “Will Visit Camp Taylor,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, July 26, 1918, 11; “Newsy Paragraphs,” (Seymour) Tribune, September 12, 1918, 3; “Newsy Paragraphs,” (Seymour) Tribune, June 10, 1919, 8.
[7] “St. Joe News,” March 11, 1920, newspaper clipping, in Frank Sechler, History of Sechler Pickles, 1921-1996, 3, Willennar Genealogy Center, Eckhart Public Library, copy in marker file; Fort Wayne City and Allen County Directory, 1922 (Fort Wayne: R. L. Polk & Co. Publishers), 924, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Local and General,” Waterloo Press (DeKalb Co.), August 30, 1923, 5; Advertisement, South Bend Tribune, July 31, 1925, 30; Garrett Clipper, October 4, 1926, 7; Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Concord, De Kalb, Indiana; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 0003, FHL microfilm: 2340320, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Advertisement, South Bend Tribune, May 23, 1930, 36; Sechler, 4.
[8] Sechler, 10-11.
[9] “Thousands See Great Parade at County Fair,” Garrett Clipper, October 8, 1934, 2; “Pickle Plant at St. Joe Consumed,” Waterloo Press, October 21, 1937, 1; “Personal,” Garrett Clipper, November 1, 1937, 2; Sechler, 11-12.
[10] Advertisement, Daily Reporter (Greenfield), May 12, 1944, 5.
[11] Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929, NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85, Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, Marriage Registration, August 27, 1903, Tipton, Indiana, 88, Indiana Marriages 1810-2001, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[12] Victor Garcia and Laura Gonzalez Martinez, “Guanajuatense and Other Mexican Immigrants in the United States: New Communities in Non-Metropolitan and Agricultural Regions,” JSRI Research Report #47, Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 1999, accessed https://jsri.msu.edu/upload/working-papers/wp47.pdf.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Non-statistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at Laredo, Texas, May 1903-November 1929, NAI: 2843448, Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004., Record Group Number: 85, Microfilm Roll Number: 072, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[15] Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Jackson Township, Paulding County, Ohio, Page: 6B, Enumeration District: 0018, FHL microfilm: 2341594, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[16] Jill Weiss Simins, “Braceros in the Corn Belt Part Two: Ambassadors of Goodwill,” Indiana History Blog, March 13, 2019, https://blog.history.in.gov/braceros-in-the-corn-belt-part-two/.
[17] Floyd Ortiz and Carmen Morales, Marriage Registration, August 27, 1903, Tipton, Indiana, 88, Indiana Marriages 1810-2001, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Mexicans Married,” Tipton Daily Tribune, December 28, 1927, 6.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Jackson Township, Paulding County, Ohio, Page: 6B, Enumeration District: 0018, FHL microfilm: 2341594, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[20] Ibid; Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, Blackcreek Township, Mercer County, Ohio, Page: 11A, Enumeration District: 54-1, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
[21] Sechler, 26.
[22] Ibid.
[23] “Former Decatur Resident Dies,” Decatur Daily Democrat, October 8, 1973, 1.
[24] Learn more about the Indiana Historical Bureau and the state historical marker program: in.gov/history.

 

Moy Kee Part II: A Royal Visit

Royal Prince Pu Lun, future emperor of China, with Mayor Holtzman’s party attending Moy Kee’s reception, May 20, 1904, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
A Royal Lunch

Moy Kee was undoubtedly “One of the happiest persons in Indianapolis,” according to The Indianapolis News on May 26, 1904. It appears he was also one of the busiest. Moy Kee and his wife, Chin Fung, were preparing to host royalty. Chinese Prince Pu Lun, rumored heir to the Qing Dynasty imperial throne, was visiting America and agreed to have lunch at Moy Kee’s chop suey restaurant in Indianapolis before he departed from the city. According to news reports, Moy Kee’s house was “thrown into raptures over the honor,” as he, his wife, and servants frantically cleaned the restaurant, prepared their best ingredients, and laid out the finest decorations they had for the prince.

On May 27 at 1 o’clock the prince, Indianapolis Mayor John Holtzman, business tycoon and future Senator William Fortune, esteemed poet James Whitcomb Riley, and other notable guests bore witness to Moy Kee’s late night labors. Outside of the restaurant, traditional Chinese lamps were strung with brightly colored ribbons. The American and Chinese flag flew side by side. A May 28 Indianapolis News article described the interior of the building as:

Oriental rugs were spread from the street to a teakwood table, where were placed two beautiful inlaid chairs covered with crimson satin draperies. The carved table stood on beautiful rugs, and upon it were placed burning incense, chop suey, and Chinese wine.

The first course consisted of the restaurant’s signature chop suey paired with American beer. Ice cream and tea were served for the second course, and the luncheon ended with traditional Chinese wine. Upon departing, Chin Fung presented the prince with a hand-knitted scarf and Moy Kee gifted him a bouquet of flowers. The prince gave the Moy family a silk scarf bearing his name and, upon leaving, informed Moy Kee that he would elevate him to Mandarin of the Fifth Rank, a prestigious Chinese status that would allow Moy to entertain and be entertained by royalty, wear special regalia, and hold a certificate denoting his prestige. This honor was monumental for a Chinese immigrant like Moy and a status that many of the wealthiest men in China failed to achieve.

As discussed in part one of this series, Moy Kee was granted an American citizenship in 1897 and then rose to prominence in Indianapolis by becoming the unofficial leader for the small Chinese community in the city. Part two follows the rest of Moy’s life as he entertained Prince Pu Lun, achieved even more wealth and status in both China and America, and then struggled to retain that prominence later in life.

Royal Prince Pu Lun, future emperor of China, with Mayor Holtzman’s party attend Moy Kee’s reception, May 20, 1904, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Prince Pu Lun and the St. Louis World Exposition

During the early 1900s the Qing dynasty’s isolationist policies started thawing, and the nation began entering foreign affairs. This new administrative goal was evident when the government opted to not only participate in the St. Louis World’s Fair (China had declined to participate in the Chicago World Fair eleven years prior) but to appoint the nephew of the emperor, Prince Pu Lun, as the official fair commissioner. Pu Lun’s visit generated positive media coverage that helped warm American attitudes towards the Chinese. Domestically, Americans were fearful of “The Yellow Peril” of Chinese immigrants, whom many believed were impossible to assimilate into “The American Melting Pot.” Some accused the Chinese of flooding the labor market and stealing jobs from white Americans. Abroad, Americans believed the Chinese Empire was backwards and culturally stagnant. Rising racist attitudes towards the Chinese culminated in President Chester A. Arthur signing the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.

The Chinese Pavilion [large pagoda], Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Mo., circa 1904, courtesy of The Library of Congress.
Twenty-two years after the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted, China sought to dispel these stereotypes at the World Fair and built one of the most lavish exhibits in the entire event. The government spent a reported $500,000 (approximately $14.5 million by today’s standards) on their pavilion, with its highlight being a near exact replication of Prince Pu Lun’s summer palace. This visit expanded beyond St. Louis, and during his travels the prince visited several countries and American states, including Indianapolis. While visiting, the prince strengthened Chinese diplomatic relations and learned about other systems of government, education, technology, and culture. He would bring this newfound knowledge back to China to improve their own institutions. In America, he also reviewed the welfare of Chinese immigrants and success of Chinese business. The prince may have even forged business relations between China and successful merchants like Moy Kee.

Prince Pu Lun in Indianapolis

Prince Pu Lun arrived at Union Station in Indianapolis on May 18 for a ten-day tour of the Hoosier State. His schedule moved at a breakneck pace, with the press breathlessly reporting on his every move. Some highlights of the visit include the prince visiting the Columbia Club, meeting James Whitcomb Riley, touring Purdue University, and attending a commencement at May Wright Sewall’s Classical School for Girls.  Moy Kee had been anticipating Pu Lun’s visit for months now and tried to be as involved as possible. He was among the crowd of Chinese gathered to welcome the prince at Union Station. Afterwards, Moy attended a welcome reception held at the Statehouse where he presented the prince with a bouquet. Moy Kee and Chin Fung again met with the prince two days later, this time at the Local Council of Women’s reception. Technically, only Chin Fung was invited to this reception, but Moy Kee insisted on going, stating his wife needed an “escort.” Afterwards, Moy was granted a short audience with the Pu Lun at his hotel. While the specifics of the meeting were not discussed, the prince was likely interested in seeing how Moy Kee and other immigrants were faring in Indianapolis and may have developed a business relationship with Moy Kee.

The next few days there seems to have been little interaction between Moy and Prince Pu Lun as he traveled to Lafayette to tour the campus of Purdue University. During that time, Moy lobbied for the opportunity to host Prince Pu Lun one last time before his departure. He begged William Fortune that the prince grant him one more audience and “that he might stay for five minutes, a minute, or the least fraction of a minute.”  Upon hearing the request, the prince decided to not only call upon Moy but to visit his chop suey restaurant and lunch with the Moy family.

The lunch was brief but pleasant and provided Moy with a critical opportunity to leave a lasting impression on Prince Pu Lun and his Hoosier hosts. The three-course meal combined American cuisine such as ice cream and beer with traditional Chinese chop suey and freshly brewed tea. This interesting fusion of food and drink reflected Moy’s unique background as both a Chinese and American citizen and ensured all the guests received a dish or drink that they enjoyed. When the Prince recommended Moy Kee for the fifth rank, it seems that Moy was genuinely surprised and delighted. He profusely thanked the prince for the honor and bowed multiple times to show his appreciation. After exchanging gifts and pleasantries, Prince Pu Lun departed the restaurant. He climbed the Soldiers and Sailors monument and said his goodbyes to his hosts Mayor Holtzman and William Fortune before traveling to Union Station and departing for Buffalo, New York.

Moy Kee with wife Chin Fung and two toddlers (possibly grandchildren), courtesy of The Indiana Album.
Moy Kee is Named Mayor of Indianapolis’s Chinatown

While the prince’s visit lasted only ten days, it had a great impact on the Indianapolis’ Chinese community and Moy Kee. On the prince’s return trip from New York, he briefly stopped at Union Station. Moy Kee waited for his arrival and presented him with a handcrafted emblem he had commissioned as a thank you for granting him an audience. The emblem was a jeweled American flag with a Chinese dragon styled on its face. In the dragons’ fangs, it held a three-carat diamond. All in all, the emblem was rumored to cost 700 dollars, the equivalent of nearly $20,000 today. Newspapers reported that the prince and Moy chatted like “old friends” at the station. According to the Indianapolis News, in late July, Prince Pu Lun fulfilled his promise of elevating Moy Kee to fifth rank. Moy received a blue-bordered certificate embossed with the imperial seal that read:

This is to certify that, by the order of his imperial highness, Prince Pu Lun, Moy Kee, Indianapolis, ind., U. S. A., is hereby appointed mayor of Chinese. He is directed to attend to all the business of our people truthfully, honorably and honestly. To Moy Kee is hereby given the fifth rank and right to wear the crystal button.

The certificate is the first time Moy Kee is referred to as “Mayor” of the Chinese population in Indianapolis. While the term “Mayor of the Chinese” was an unofficial title that held no political power, the Chinese government often named a prominent leader of an immigrant community as the mayor. These leaders were expected to represent the Chinese people and act as an informal liaison between the Chinese government and American government. For the Chinese people itself, it also solidified the social hierarchy to be followed. For Moy, the title “Mayor” recognized his leadership within the American community while the fifth rank designation solidified his significance within Chinese society.

From that point onward, Moy constantly referenced his ties to Prince Pu Lun and his fifth rank designation. Later that fall, Moy attended the St. Louis Fair and spoke at the China Pavilion while publicly donning the robes and regalia that denoted him as fifth rank. At home, Moy conducted pricy home renovations and began ordering lavish items to decorate his home in a fashion that “befit his gentleman rank.” In 1906, Moy Kee traveled to Washington, D.C. where he met with Indiana Senator Charles Fairbanks. He even had an audience with President Theodore Roosevelt. Without a doubt, in the immediate years after Prince Pu Lun’s visit, Moy had reached the zenith of his power. He had successfully clawed his way up the social ladder of both Chinese and American society. Now, a much more difficult task presented itself to Moy Kee, retaining his hard-earned influence and social standing.

Moy Kee’s Fall from Prominence

Moy Kee once again received an imperial letter in October of 1907, but, unlike the last imperial letter Moy received, this one contained unwelcome news. It informed Moy that he had been stripped of his rank as Mandarin of the Fifth Degree and his status as the mayor of Indianapolis’ Chinese had been revoked. The succinct announcement refused to elaborate on why Moy’s statuses had been rescinded and led to widespread speculation.  Moy believed fellow Chinese in Indianapolis engineered his downfall. This paranoia stemmed from his role in 1902 as an interpreter in the murder trial of Doc Lung, a local Chinese laundryman. Some accused Moy of siding with the police and courts over the Chinese community. Newspapers speculated that the revocation was caused by accusations that Moy had raised relief funds for Chinese earthquake victims but had never donated them. It may have also been a result of shifting political powers in an increasingly unstable Chinese royal dynasty, which would collapse in 1911. Regardless of the reason, Moy was unable to protest the Chinese delegation’s decision. He and his wife had already arranged to set sail for Canton, China on October 21st to visit family and friends in a year-long visit. They decided to proceed with their trip, but Moy publicly expressed his disappointment that he would not be returning to China with his fifth rank status.

A year later, in March of 1909, Moy Kee and Chin Fung returned to America. However, after landing in Tacoma, Washington Moy’s citizenship papers were not accepted, and the couple was taken into custody. The Moy family was arrested because the Chinese Exclusion Act forbade Chinese from entering the country and officers believed Moy’s citizenship papers were not legitimate. During questioning by immigration officers, Moy allegedly declared himself to be a “citizen of Indianapolis, the best city in the country.” The couple was detained for over a month in deplorable conditions. Several times, it seemed that they were going to be deported back to China. Multiple figures in the Indianapolis community vouched for the Moy family’s right to reenter and the Indianapolis Star published several scathing stories criticizing the Seattle immigration office for detaining him despite his citizenship. Finally, on April 18, Moy was released and allowed to return to Indiana where he resumed operation of his chop suey restaurant. The month they spent in detention was a bleak reminder that outside of Indianapolis, their family and other Chinese were not welcome in America.

The Indianapolis Star, April 13, 1909, accessed Newspapers.com.
The Indianapolis Star, April 19, 1909, accessed Newspapers.com.

More trials awaited the Moy family in 1911. This time the bearer of bad news was the federal government. On August 4, Moy was informed that a petition asking for his citizenship to be revoked by the federal courts had been filed on the basis of his naturalization being awarded “wrongfully and without right,” fourteen years prior. According to an August 5 Indianapolis Star when Moy heard this news in his restaurant, he:

Dropped a dish which he had had in his hand and stared for several moments in silence. A look of anguish clouded his customarily smiling countenance. It was one of the saddest moments of his life. It was with difficulty that he spoke. ‘It’s no use to buck Uncle Sam… I’ll not fight it. If they don’t want me to be an American… it’s no use to fight them- I haven’t enough money to do that, even if I wanted to. It’s too bad.’ Then Moy fell silent. He would say no more.

Moy Kee was over sixty-three years old and the dogged vigor and determination to retain his citizenship, something he had lobbied tirelessly for as a young man, had faded. However, the Indianapolis community still stood by the former Chinese mayor, with local newspapers universally criticizing the investigation. Mayor Samuel L. Shank even wrote a letter to President Taft imploring him to allow Moy to retain his citizenship, calling him one of Indianapolis’s finest citizens. The letter fell on deaf ears and on October 9, 1911, Moy lost his beloved American citizenship.

The Indianapolis Star, August 5, 1911, accessed Newspapers.com.

Moy was not deported by the federal government and allowed to live and work in Indianapolis. While he was generally treated the same by Indianapolis residents, he now could no longer claim equal footing with Americans and was at constant risk for deportation. Symbolically, the federal courts had sent a message that there would be no exceptions to the Chinese Exclusion Act and, subsequently, that all Chinese remained unwelcome in America. For the next three years, Moy lived his life in Indianapolis much the same as he had lived before. He operated his restaurant, threw Chinese New Year parties, and remained a cornerstone of Indianapolis’ Chinese community. Newspapers noted that Moy still viewed himself as an American and outside his restaurant still hung a Chinese and an American flag, flying side by side.

In January of 1914, while eating dinner, Moy Ah Kee suffered a sudden heart attack and died on the floor of his Washington Street restaurant, the same place where he had hosted Prince Pu Lun seven years earlier. After putting the family’s affairs in order, the widowed Chin Fung set sail to China with Moy’s body, where she intended to bury him with his ancestors and live the remainder of her life. In his obituary, The Indianapolis Star recounted his life story and noted that he was one of the most prominent businessmen in the state with an estimated fortune of $25,000 (over $722,000 in today’s currency). The Star ended a two-decade partnership with the Chinese businessman by stating: “He was regarded as the prominent local source of information on questions relating to Chinese affairs and often was consulted by officials and newspaper writers of the city, among whom he had many friends.”

Conclusion
Portrait of Moy Kee and his wife, Indianapolis, Indiana, circa 1900, courtesy of The Indiana Album.

In 1943, twenty-six years after Moy Kee’s death, the United States repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act to signify diplomatic ties between the US and China during World War Two. However, the new immigration quota enacted allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants per year. The strict immigration quotas remained in place for Chinese until 1965, when the United States enacted the Immigration and Nationality Act that ended ethnic quotas. Instead, the United States began admitting immigrants based on education, employable skill, or the need for asylum. While this prevents blanket bans against entire ethnic groups or nationalities, these new admission standards create significant barriers for working-class immigrants, and American immigration policy remains hotly debated today.

This revised protocol led to an influx of highly educated and skilled Asians and, with this new population, the stereotype of Asians as the “model minority” arose. This characterization of East Asians, which generalizes them as smart, affluent, and hard-working, would have been unrecognizable to Moy Kee and other Chinese immigrants in the 1800s. While on the surface this stereotype is complimentary, it is still a negative and egregious overgeneralization of a diverse ethnic group and masks the sordid history of discrimination against Chinese people by the United States. After a series of Asian hate crimes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation is once again grappling with the impact of both modern and historical discrimination against people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

Moy Kee’s life serves as a staunch reminder of some of those inequities and how they consumed the entirety of America, not just the bio-coastal states, for well over a century.  An entrepreneur and businessman, Moy rose to prominence socially and fiscally in a way that was unimaginable to most immigrants. His life reached its zenith when he was granted the Chinese title of the fifth rank while also maintaining dual Chinese American citizenship. However, as Moy Kee put it himself, there was no use “fighting Uncle Sam” and he was stripped of both his fifth rank and citizenship late in life, a sad reflection of America’s political and social landscape during his life.

Ultimately, Moy Kee’s life provides an insightful window into the lives of Chinese immigrants in the Indianapolis community and showcases a story of resilience and fortitude in the face of insurmountable odds. As America continues to confront its tragic past and conflicted present regarding its treatment of Asian Americans and immigrants as whole, hopefully the national dialogue remembers the story of Moy Kee and thousands of other Chinese immigrants who were wrongly barred entry to America and denied citizenship due to their race and the prejudiced stereotypes that were perpetuated about their people.

Title IX: Hoosiers React

The Indiana Historical Bureau is celebrating the fifty year anniversary of the passage of Title IX all week! Title IX, which was authored by Hoosier Senator Birch Bayh, provided that:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”

As Title IX legislation worked its way through Congress, many questions arose – would this affect sororities and fraternities? Would colleges and universities be able to comply with the non-discriminatory laws while still turning a profit?

Many Hoosiers turned to their elected officials to voice their concerns in the lead up to the passage of Title IX and in the immediate aftermath. The Indiana State Library Rare Books and Manuscripts collection contains several of these letters in the Earl F. Landgrebe collection. In reading these letters, you can get a glimpse into the worries of average Americans and see how their elected officials addressed their concerns.


Moy Kee Part I: The “Mayor” of Indianapolis’s Chinese Community

Moy Key, courtesy of Scott D. Seligman, “The Hoosier of Mandarin,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 23, no. 4 (Fall 2011): 48, accessed Digital Images Collection, Indiana Historical Society.
A Disturbing Question

In 1901, The San Francisco Call urged the renewal of The Chinese Exclusion Act, the only legislation in American history that wholly banned the immigration of a specific ethnic group.  The Call emphatically supported this renewal stating that America ought to be doing everything in its power to “prevent the threatened invasion of Mongol hordes.” Sentiments like this were not uncommon. Racist cartoons, articles calling for Congress to defend America from the “Yellow Peril,” and state conventions or resolutions urging the renewal of the Exclusion Act were a dime a dozen in 1901. That same year, The Indianapolis News ran a very different story. This article criticized the Exclusion Act and threw its support behind Moy Kee, a Chinese immigrant and resident of Indianapolis, as he sought a federal government job, from which Chinese immigrants had been barred. The Indianapolis News noted on March 8, 1901:

Moy Jin Kee, Chinese Merchant and caterer at 211 Indiana avenue, is about to renew with the Government a disturbing question as to the effect of the Garry alien law passed by Congress . . . He has lived in this country over forty years, speaks excellent English . . . he was brought to this country from Canton when a mere child . . . Mr. Moy is an earnest seeker after appointment.

While Moy Kee never received a federal appointment, the Indianapolis community would prove to be staunch supporters of Moy Kee. The Marion County Circuit Court granted Moy his citizenship when federal law forbade it. Newspapers sold Moy ad space for his chop suey restaurant and frequently approached him for interviews. Later, when his citizenship was challenged by the federal government, Indianapolis Mayor Samuel L. Shank personally wrote a letter to President Taft defending Moy as “universally regarded as being one of the city’s best citizens.” These actions across the Indianapolis community demonstrate the level of prominence Moy Kee had attained in Indianapolis during a time when anti-Chinese attitudes in America were at an all-time high. This blog will outline the arduous path Moy traveled to obtain his American citizenship and how he used his personal assets to carve out a place in both the Chinese immigrant and Indianapolis community.

The Indianapolis News, March 8, 1901, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
Moy Kee Seeks American Citizenship

Moy Kee immigrated to the United States in the 1850’s as a young boy from Guangdong Province in China. Like many Chinese immigrants of the time, his family came to America seeking work and an escape from the political turmoil plaguing China. However, rather than wishing to build wealth and return to China in calmer times like most Chinese immigrants, Moy wanted to stay in America for the rest of his life. Not only that, but he also wanted to become an American citizen. To better assimilate with his new home, Moy converted to Christianity and attained fluency in English. In 1878 he moved to New York and ran a business selling imported Chinese goods. He also became involved in Christian ministry and began proselytizing the New York Chinese community. However, Moy was accused of stealing from one of his employers and jailed. While there are no records of a trial, Moy decided to shed his tarnished reputation by seeking a fresh start in Chicago. Critically, before Moy left New York he filed a declaration of intent to become an American citizen, the first step of the naturalization process. This would prove to be a watershed moment in Moy’s quest for citizenship because two years later the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was signed into law by President Chester A. Arthur.

The Chinese Exclusion Act is notably the only legislation in American history that provides an absolute ban on immigration against a specific ethnic group. It instated a ten-year ban on Chinese immigration, enacted severe restrictions on current immigrants – now at constant risk for deportation – and effectively blocked all Chinese from American citizenship. In 1892 the Exclusion Act was renewed for another decade via the Geary Act and then in 1902 it would become permanent legislation.

The Magic Washer, manufactured by Geo. Dee, Dixon, Illinois. The Chinese Must Go, printed circa 1886, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Chinese Exclusion Act and the anti-Chinese sentiments that spurred it would become a constant source of disruption and conflict in Moy Kee and thousands of other Chinese immigrants’ lives. In Chicago, Moy Kee opened a Chinese tea shop and began his protracted battle for his citizenship. In the community, he helped organize the Chicago Chinese Club, a political group aimed at bettering the lives of the Chicago Chinese and protesting the Chinese Exclusion Act. Individually, Moy spent years lobbying the local courts, arguing that because he filed his intent to become a citizen two years before the ratification of the Exclusion Act, the law did not apply to him, and therefore he was eligible for citizenship. Year after year the Chicago courts rejected his argument and Moy remained, legally at least, a stranger in his own home.

Moy’s legal luck changed in 1897 when he and his wife moved to Indianapolis, setting up a litmus test of Indiana’s proverbial “Hoosier Hospitality.” In Moy’s case at least, Hoosier Hospitality rang true and on October 18th, 1897, eighteen years after Moy had begun the naturalization process (By comparison, the naturalization process today lasts on average 12-16 months), the Marion County Court granted him his coveted American citizenship.

Moy Kee Climbs the Social Ladder in Indianapolis

While Moy Kee may have obtained his citizenship, his work to be accepted by the Indianapolis community was far from complete. Moy settled down in Indy and eventually opened a Chop Suey and Chinese restaurant at 506 East Washington Street. A sign hung outside his restaurant advertising it as “Moy Kee & Co. Chinese Restaurant,” though the papers frequently referred to it as “Mr. Moy’s Chop Suey House.” He intentionally began inserting himself into as many community functions as possible. There are news articles of Moy hosting large Chinese New Year’s parties, playing Chinese instruments at school functions, inviting local politicians to dine at his restaurant, and selling Chinese palm readings for fifty cents. He even planned to open a Chinese language school, though his idea never came to fruition. Entrepreneurial and outgoing, it seems Moy was willing to try everything at least once.

However, as diverse his activities may have seemed they always shared one common thread. All his actions served to further integrate himself into the Indianapolis community and they all hearkened back to his Chinese roots. In this way, Moy used his heritage as a source of novelty and entertainment for the community. Rather than divorce himself from his culture to “mix in” with the great American Melting Pot, he successfully mobilized his Chinese heritage as a vehicle for his accumulation of wealth and social standing in Indianapolis.

The Indianapolis Journal, March 25, 1900, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Compared to coastal states like Californian, Indianapolis had a small Chinese immigrant population. The 1910 Census estimates that only 273 Chinese lived in Indiana and, in Indianapolis specifically, the Indianapolis News, reported that the Chinese had a “local colony” of about 40 or so immigrants including Moy Kee. The miniscule population of Chinese immigrants in Indianapolis may have contributed to the city’s relative receptivity to the Chinese when compared to states with significant Chinese communities. Furthermore, the low population explains why Indianapolis never developed a centralized locale or “Chinatown” like New York or Chicago did. There simply were not enough Chinese to do so. Instead, the Chinese immigrants clustered around Indiana Avenue, a historic strip of downtown Indianapolis that was known primarily for housing a vibrant African American community. The decentralized nature of the Chinese community provided Moy Kee with the perfect opportunity to rise to power as the Chinese representative to the city and, in doing so, ensure his place in Indianapolis.

Moy Kee both stood for and apart from the Indianapolis Chinese community. This allowed him to rise to prominence in a fashion unfathomable for the average immigrant. For one, the census records list his wife Chin Fung as being the only Chinese woman to live in Indianapolis in the late 1890’s. Compared to other Chinese men who had to balance both work and domestic duties alone, Moy Kee’s wife helped him around the restaurant, entertaining guests and managing the house when Moy was away. Chin Fung’s extra support allowed Moy to be more experimental as he could divert attention to other tasks besides running his restaurant and house. Furthermore, as the only Chinese woman in the city, Chin Fung received attention from the news media, who described her as a graceful and poised woman and were fascinated by her traditionally bound feet, which caused a peculiar gait.

Second, Moy Kee separated himself from other Chinese in the community by owning a successful restaurant. He was wealthier than the average Hoosier and even employed his own servants to help run the household and restaurant. This contrasted with most Chinese men, who were stymied by language barriers and Sinophobia and, as a result, toiled in stagnant, low-level service industries such as laundry, cleaning, or construction. With paltry salaries that almost all were sent back to impoverished family in China, this left little wealth for the average Chinese immigrant and, as a result, they often lived hovering just above the poverty line. In contrast, Moy’s wealth allowed him to return home to China fairly frequently and keep in touch with relatives. He even was able to travel to China to marry Chin Fung before bringing her back to America. Moy’s wealth also enabled him to import several Chinese goods for his restaurant including traditional decorations, ebony wood, ivory China table sets, and unusual foods that attracted both Chinese and non-Chinese customers alike.

The Indianapolis Journal, September 20, 1903, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Moy’s most valuable asset in his rise to prominence was his ability to speak fluent English. This fluency cemented him as the unofficial spokesperson of the Indianapolis Chinese community, and he took full advantage of it. He spent years cultivating a positive relationship with the local newspapers by buying ad space for his restaurant and happily providing interviews and engaging stories about his many endeavors. When reporters wanted to cover a story about the Chinese community, they contacted Moy. This working relationship was a major factor in the divergent coverage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in Indianapolis compared to other cities. Most articles about Moy or the community positively portray the Chinese and avoid fear-mongering headlines about “the oriental wave,” or “yellow peril.” Indianapolis was not immune to xenophobic sentiments (Among other questionable coverage, The Indianapolis Morning Star accused Chinese royalty of visiting America to recruit American soldiers for the imperial army and The Indianapolis Journal often referred to the Chinese as “coolies”) but, compared to newspapers in California or other states, negative rhetoric was relatively muted.

Moy Kee Struggles to Balance His Ambition and the Chinese Community

In 1902, Moy Kee’s ambition to integrate with the Indianapolis community would put him at odds with the city’s Chinese population. In May, the small community would be rocked by the gruesome murder of Doc Lung, a local Chinese laundryman. The police immediately arrested Chin Hee, an immigrant who had just moved from Chicago and was employed by Doc Lung. This caused a major rift within the Chinese community, and they fragmented into two groups: Those who protested Chin Hee’s innocence and those who believed Chin Hee committed the murder. Moy Kee found himself in the crossfire of this rift when he began translating for the police and later grand jury and courts in the murder case. Many in the community felt that Moy Kee was betraying them by working as the government’s translator, the same institution that denied them citizenship and deported their people on a regular basis. The situation escalated to the point that Moy started receiving death threats attempting to coerce him into ending his translations for the government.

Despite the threats to his life, Moy Kee persisted, and the Grand Jury ultimately convicted three perpetrators, none of them Chinese, for the crime. The role he played in the court trial benefitted his relationships with the local government and police. He also received more media attention than he ever had before, further elevating his position in Indianapolis. However, this acceptance by local institutions came at the expense of Moy’s relationships with his fellow Chinese. Already separated from them due to his affluence and privileged status as an American citizen, working with the police led to some in community questioning whether Moy was loyal to the Chinese or the Americans. Rumors swirled and some whispered that E. Lung, the leader of the faction that defended Chin Hee, might be a better fit as the Chinese people’s representative. Subsequently, Moy would become increasingly paranoid about being ousted by the Chinese community as their unnamed leader. Later in life, when he was stripped of his high Chinese rank, he would immediately accuse fellow Chinese of engineering his social downfall.

Conclusion

By 1904, Moy Kee was undoubtedly the most prominent Chinese figure in Indianapolis and, despite a factionalized Chinese community, he was still recognized as the de facto leader. Better yet, Moy Kee had a home in Indianapolis that accepted him as both an American citizen and Hoosier. For a Chinese man to achieve this position was an incredible feat. Moy had hopscotched across the country, testified in multiple courts, accumulated a massive amount of wealth, and overcame duplicitous stereotypes to earn his citizenship and social standing. In many ways, it felt like Moy and his wife had achieved everything an immigrant to the United States could dream of.

However, no one could have predicted the actions of the Qing dynasty in the early 1900’s. A royal family infamous for their strict isolationism and rejection of Western diplomacy, they shocked the world by announcing that they would be participating in the 1904 St. Louis World Fair. Not only that, but they were appointing Prince Pu Lun, nephew of the emperor, as head of the Chinese fair commission. Critically for Moy, the Prince announced he would spend months before and after the fair touring America, including a ten-day visit to Indianapolis.

In the next installment, follow Prince Pu Lun’s royal visit to Indianapolis where he caused much fanfare. Additionally, we explore Moy Kee’s role in Pu Lun’s visit as he vies for an audience with the prince and eventually precipitates his “coronation” as the official Mayor of Indianapolis’ Chinese.

For further reading, see:

“Chinese,” The Polis Center, accessed May 2022, courtesy of IUPUI.edu.

Paul Mullins, “The Landscapes of Chinese Immigration in the Circle City,” October 16, 2016, accessed Invisible Indianapolis.

Scott D. Seligman, “The Hoosier of Mandarin,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 23, no. 4 (Fall 2011): 48-55, accessed Digital Images Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

“Wants a Federal Place: Moy Jin Kee Raises a Disturbing Question,” Indianapolis News, March 8, 1901, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Making Women’s History: BSU Blog-a-Thon Recap, Sneak Peak at “Notable Women” Posts, and Hoosier Women at Play Conference

www.bsu.edu/calendar

Last week, IHB staff joined Ball State University faculty and students for the Making History Blog-a-Thon, hosted by the Delaware County Historical Society and the Ball State University Library. The event encouraged researchers to bring to life the stories of notable women from Muncie and Delaware County. Not only was it a fun and productive day, but an active, hands-on way to celebrate Women’s History Month. So, we wanted to share a little more here about the event, as well as the story of one bold Muncie women whom I had the pleasure of researching at BSU. Her story is below the event description.

“Making History” Blog-a-Thon

Left to right: Melissa Gentry, Map Collections Supervisor at Ball State University Library: Jill Weiss Simins and Nicole Poletika, Historians, Indiana Historical Bureau

When my colleague Nicole Poletika and I arrived at the lively GIS Research and Map Collection room at Bracken Library, several Ball State students and professors were already at work. The collection supervisor Melissa Gentry, who we admiringly refer to as the “map queen” for her incredible mapping and imaging skills, helped us select a “notable woman of Muncie and Delaware County” to research. We were challenged not to just collect facts, but to tell a story. We had limited time (just over an hour) and space (entries were to be less than a typed page), but we were determined to try to bring some color to the story of at least one Muncie woman. Thanks to the extensive advance research undertaken by the organizers, we had information on scores of women that helped us choose someone who piqued our interest. I was drawn immediately to the story of a young aviator named Marjorie Kitselman, who defied convention to forge her own path.

All of the posts created for the Blog-a-Thon, including some written in the form of obituaries and even imagined diary entries, will eventually be posted on the Notable Women of Muncie and Delaware County website. Organizers will also begin posting the submissions on their Instagram account (@themuncienotables) starting on April 6. Make sure to follow them, as they hope to announce an upcoming virtual Blog-a-Thon soon. Until then, learn more about notable woman, Marjorie Kitselman.

Aviator Marjorie Kitselman on Her Own Terms

Marjorie Kitselman became a local celebrity practically from a birth, enthralling the Muncie press with her every move. She was born to Leslie Curtis Kitselman, an author and philanthropist, and Alva L. Kitselman, a wealthy industrialist. The family lived in a large home and estate known as “Hazelwood,” now a National Register site.

Muncie Evening Press, February 22, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

Kitselman was front page news at the age of two. The Muncie Evening Press printed a picture of her on vacation with her family, calling her the “society belle of the ‘younger set.’” As she grew up among the elite of Muncie and Indianapolis, where she attended Tudor Hall, the papers reported on her participation in school plays, attendance at parties, visits to friends, and vacations. The press continuously commented on her appearance, referring to a 16-year-old Marjorie as the “attractive young daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Kitselnman.” Even as a teenager she was a public figure.

When Kitselman came of age in the 1930s, a rather austere and Victorian set of expectations of decorum for women reemerged. After the increased freedoms many women found during the 1920s, the 1930s saw a partial return to domesticity and homemaking as ideals. For Kitselman, these social rules were applied to everything from the people she associated with, to how she presented herself in public, to which philanthropic causes she supported. A search of Muncie newspapers shows that everything about her was up for discussion and judgement. She must have known that she was under scrutiny from the press and Muncie society, but she seems to have made up her own mind about what was important to her.

Muncie Star Press, September 11, 1932, 12, Newspapers.com

In September 1932, sixteen-year-old Marjorie Kitselman earned her pilot’s license at the Muncie airport. The Muncie Star Press reported that this accomplishment made her “the youngest pilot in the state.” The reporter explained:

Miss Kitselman was required to make several ordinary landings, a deadstick landing, do a spiral from a height of three thousand feet, make figure 8’s and other flight requirements in addition to taking a written examination on air traffic rules and regulation.

The deadstick landing was an especially death-defying stunt. In this practice for an aircraft malfunction, the engines are turned off and the pilot attempts to glide into the landing. It was not for the faint of heart. She continued to fly throughout the 1930s, sometimes visiting the Muncie airfield where she earned her license “to see the boys and prove that she hasn’t forgotten all she learned as a student here.”

Muncie Evening Press, September 16, 1932, 1, Newspapers.com.

Kitselman continued to live on her own terms, surprising the public by marrying an Olympic athlete and later a famous aviator. She finished school, traveled, stayed close with her family, and eventually died in Curnavaca, Mexico in 1953 after a very short illness. She was gone much too young, at the age of 37, but she lived a full life on her own terms, leaving the expectations assigned to her far beneath her flight path.

More Women’s History! Hoosier Women At Play Conference

Join us for the next exciting women’s history event: the Hoosier Women at Play 2022 women’s history conference. This year’s event is a week-long series of lunch and learn talks Monday, April 18 – Friday, April 22, 2022.

Women’s activities have been undervalued throughout history by patriarchal economic, political, and social systems. Women’s play, pleasure, and creativity have even been treated as dangerous and devious, challenging demands that women’s worth was defined only through their roles as wives and mothers or later as (still undervalued) workers in the capitalist marketplace. This conference challenges presenters to explore women’s play and what it means for individual and collective happiness, health, liberation, and value.

This year’s conference features two keynote speakers.

Dr. Tony Jean Dickerson

Dr. Tony Jean Dickerson will speak on the significance of quilting in Black history throughout the African Diaspora and on her motivations and experience in founding the Central Indiana Akoma Ntsoso Modern Quilt Guild, which she serves as president. She will also address the importance of this art, traditionally upheld and passed on by women, in linking the younger generations to the past and, from the Akan (West Africa) name Akoma Ntoso, linking “hearts and understanding.”

Dr. Michella Marino

Dr. Michella Marino will be presenting her personal experience as well as the extensive research she conducted for her new book Roller Derby: The History of An American Sport (published in October 2021, University of Texas Press). She will speak to the unique gender relations and politics of roller derby, which historically centered women athletes, while struggling to be accepted as a mainstream sport. Dr. Marino will shine a feminist light on how participants used roller derby to navigate the male-dominated world of sports along with their identities as athletes, mothers, and women at play.

Learn more about and register for the Hoosier Women at Work Conference here.

When Indiana Banned the German Language in 1919

Warren Times Mirror (Warren, PA), February 26, 1919
Warren Times Mirror, Warren, Pennsylvania, February 26, 1919. Newspapers.com.

On February 25, 1919, three months after the armistice that ended World War I, the Hoosier State banned the teaching of German to children, one of 34 states to institute English-only requirements by the early 1920s.

Anti-German propaganda
“Times are hard your majesty – you leave us nothing to do” by Louis Raemaekers,

From 1914 to 1918, the U.S. and its allies in Britain, France and Italy took dehumanizing propaganda to new heights.  Cartoonists, U.S. Army posters, and newspapers stoked a bizarre, irrational distrust of Germans that engulfed America. The results were sometimes petty, like renaming sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” and German measles “liberty measles,” but the U.S. and Britain could also engage in acts of brutality.

One of the stranger instances of violence resulting from First World War propaganda was the war on dachshunds, considered to be a German breed. At the time the German language was being driven out of schools in England and the U.S., dachshunds were sometimes stoned or stomped to death in front of their owners.  (Novelist Graham Greene remembered this in his autobiography, A Sort of Life.) When “patriots” harassed a Chicago dog breeder, he shot every dachshund in his kennels. Bulldogs, a symbol of Britain and the mascot of the U.S. Marines, were turned loose to attack and kill the “German” pets.  The Jasper Weekly Courierprinted in a heavily German town in southern Indiana, carried a syndicated story about this:

Jasper Weekly Courier, August 30, 1918
Jasper Weekly Courier, August 30, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Help Your Uncle Sam Do This
WWI Anti-Dachshund Poster by Bernhardt Wall. Pinterest.

(A website on pet health claims that “In the United States the poor Dachshund went from one of the ten most popular breeds in 1913 to being represented by 12 survivors in 1919.”  A “lonely dachshund” showed up in Topeka, Kansas, that year in search of a home.)

With Allied print media insisting that the Kaiser’s soldiers were bayoneting and committing other outrages, it’s easy to see how anxiety got out of hand, even in areas like Pennsylvania and the Midwest, which had large German-American populations.

Indiana’s 1919 anti-German law wasn’t the first of its kind.  Parents and school boards had already been striking German classes from school curricula before the U.S. even entered the war.  And devaluing the German language was a coast-to-coast phenomenon.  Evanston, Illinois, banned the language in its schools in 1918.  California kept up a ban on high-school German into the 1920s and in 1941 banned it in churches.  At a speech on Long Island in 1917, Theodore Roosevelt urged Americans to rid the country of German, otherwise America risked becoming “a polyglot counting house for dollar chasers.”

A sign painter in Indianapolis who opposed Gothic lettering mentioned that Americans were already burning German textbooks. At Indianapolis’ Shortridge High School, a newspaperwoman connected to the Red Cross was applauded during a speech when she criticized the administration for not canceling German classes there.  The German teachers switched to teaching Latin.  Meanwhile, a new course on “contemporary war history” began and a hundred students enrolled.  At a time when the U.S. was claiming to oppose German militarism, Shortridge considered its military history course to be the first ever offered at an American public high school.


Lake County Times -- September 10, 1918 (2)
Hammond High School was already planning to phase out German by 1919 and was just waiting for the legislature to catch up. Lake County Times, September 10, 1918. Hoosier State Chronicles.

On the eve of the vote for banning German in schools, a visitor from Iowa spoke at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. Iowa’s Governor William L. Harding is considered one of the most controversial politicians in Iowa’s history.  Though he had curried favor with Iowa’s foreign-born citizens during his election campaign, when the war broke out he turned against them. Proponents of Indiana’s German-language ban were later accused of the same kind of hypocrisy.


WIlliam L. Harding
Iowa’s William L. Harding in 1915. Wikipedia.

Harding’s 1918 “Babel Proclamation” in Iowa did more than simply ban German instruction, though. The infamous law banned the speaking of all foreign languages in public, including Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and Czech, which were still common in the Midwest.  Fearing “spies,” Harding made having a foreign-language conversation on the telephone, on street corners, and in churches and schools a criminal offense.  Iowa’s law was no empty threat. Violators were arrested and jailed.

Harding had plenty of admirers.  “Liberty Leagues” and “councils of defense” wanted laws to keep German off the streets and even ban it in private homes.  The author of the “Babel Proclamation” spoke in Indianapolis on February 13, 1919, a few days before Indiana outlawed the teaching of German in Hoosier elementary schools.


The Call-Leader (Elwood, IN), February 13, 1919
Call-Leader, February 13, 1919. Newspapers.com.

The main proponent of Indiana’s bill was State Senator Franklin McCray of Indianapolis.  As Lieutenant Governor Edgar Bush reminded the General Assembly, this bill would overturn a long-standing law dating back to the 1860s.  Bush told the Senate:

Journal of the Indiana State Senate 1919
Journal of the Indiana State Senate, 1919. Google Books.

Indiana’s 1869 law likely had to do with teacher shortages and the fact that in German communities, it just made sense.

One of the most glaring oversights of the anti-German law was that many speakers of the language were Mennonites and Amish, Christian pacifists highly unlikely to be working as secret agents.

Though the German army committed real outrages in World War I and the bill’s proponents mentioned fear of “future German propaganda” aimed at American children, focusing on the atrocities of Germans was a sly way to pass a law that was deeply entangled with immigration, prohibition and labor unrest.  As 1919 dawned — one of the most turbulent years in American history — “wet” and “dry” advocates, capitalists and socialists, anarchists, pacifists and suffragettes battled for the “soul” of the country.

Many German-Americans were farmers or industrial laborers and had a history of being Socialists, pacifists and isolationists.  When the Socialist Party tried to steer America away from entering World War I, arguing that American entry would play into the hands of wealthy industrialists and bankers, pro-war advocates countered that anyone who opposed the war supported the Kaiser.  In 1924, Progressive Party presidential candidate Robert LaFollette carried Wisconsin, a heavily-German state, partly as a result of his anti-war record.

The perception of German fondness for beer and liquor also earned the hostility of many Prohibition advocates, who had spent decades slowly “shutting off the tap.”  A nationwide ban on booze was just around the corner, coming in January 1920.  Yet as Chicago’s Lager Beer Riot back in 1855 proved, the history of Prohibition was closely tied to anti-labor attitudes.  Squelching the German language was part of the process of extinguishing German sociability at a time when workers got together in pubs and beer gardens to talk about labor grievances and organize.


Hun Rule Association
A World War I-era cartoon slanders “Huns” — Germans — as booze-lovers who cause crime, poverty and waste. Historic Indianapolis.

Kaiser Wilson, 1916
Suffragist Virginia Arnold holding “Kaiser Wilson” banner, August 1917. Library of Congress.

While fear of “Huns” and “traitors” prompted anti-German legislation, America’s social problems were reflected in the Indiana bill. That year, Gary would be shut down by a national steel strike, a federal raid on Communists led to the deportation of hundreds of European immigrants (including Hoosiers), and an anarchist bomb plot nearly killed several major U.S. officials.

Although the language of the Indiana law would be more formal,  State Senator Luke W. Duffey, speaking on the Senate floor, lashed out at the “stupid heads” of Germany and their sympathizers in America, who threatened to strangle education and spread disloyalty.  Duffey finished off with a call for deporting traitors.  He didn’t know it yet, but he was sounding the keynote of 1919:

Journal of the Indiana State Senate 1919 (2)
Journal of the Indiana State Senate, 1919. Google Books.

The anti-German bill was about more than bigotry against German culture; it was also about stamping out the perception of political radicalism. Many people who supported the law had German last names, after all, like Speaker of the House Jesse E. Eschbach.  Lieutenant Governor Bush read a letter at the Statehouse from “150 residents of Seymour of German extraction” who favored the language ban and asked why it was taking so long.  The Germans of Seymour probably didn’t want to be associated with those deemed “subversives,” “traitors” and “terrorists.”

Urged by the Lieutenant Governor to enact “100 percent American” legislation, the Senate put the elementary-school bill up for a vote on February 17, 1919. Only one legislator, Senator Charles A. Hagerty of South Bend, voted against it.  Yet even Hagerty’s opposition seems to have been against the political opportunism of the bill’s promoters rather than a real concern for education. On February 25, the House also passed the bill and Governor James P. Goodrich signed the legislation.

The South Bend News-Times, a liberal paper, thought the bill a classic case of legislative overreach, since most German-Americans were already trying hard to adopt English in their churches and schools.  McCray had insisted that it would not interfere with the use of foreign languages in religious worship.  (Many Lutheran churches still used German, and it was the main language of instruction at a few major Catholic seminaries.)

The 1919 law completely banned German-language instruction up to the eighth grade.  The penalty for instructing children in German?  A fine of $25 to $100,  a jail sentence of up to six months, or both. It was followed by a law prohibiting high-school German courses.

Indianapolis News, February 18,1919. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Ironically, the anti-German bills were overturned in 1923 by another man named McCray — Governor Warren T. McCray, who also butted heads with the Klan.

A few months after Governor Goodrich signed Indiana’s law, an anti-German bill passed through Pennsylvania’s legislature, also by a large margin.  Pennsylvania Governor William C. Sproul, however, vetoed it Sproul’s remarks to the press were probably the most intelligent words to come out of the whole debate. They are below and well worth reading in full:

Mount Carmel Item, May 6, 1919. Newspapers.com.

Indiana’s anti-German bills were overturned in 1923 by another man named McCray — Governor Warren T. McCray, who is best remembered today for taking on another wave of intolerance in Indiana, the Ku Klux Klan. Despite their removal almost a century ago, Indiana’s anti-German laws serve as a powerful example of how extreme nationalism during wartime can lead to discriminatory government policy.

Hoosier State Chronicles has digitized over 8,000 issues of the Indiana Tribüne, once a major German-language newspaper. Published by The Gutenberg Company in Indianapolis, the Tribüne was silenced on June 1, 1918.

“A Hundred Years From Now—What?:” Mary Garrett Hay Predicts Life in 2022

San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 1923, p. 10, accessed via Newspapers.com.

The San Francisco Chronicle asked Americans “who have a wide experience and many points of contact with 1922” to predict the trials and triumphs Americans would experience 100 years later.* Probing prominent individuals like a pastor, architect, social reformer, author, film producer, educator, and politician, the paper concluded that there are “plenty of ifs and buts, but in general the prospect for a century hence seems rosy.” As a historian at the dawn of 2022, some of the predictions seem amusingly off-base, like author and critic Henry L. Mencken’s certainty that the U.S. “will be a British colony. . . . The American who will be most agreeably discussed by Anglo-American historians in 2022 will be Woodrow Wilson, the first premier of the United American Colonies.” Notorious moving picture producer D.W. Griffith was equally shortsighted when he stated, “I do not foresee the possibility of instantaneous transmission of living action to the screen within 100 years.” (Inventor-turned reluctant Fort Wayne businessman Philo Farnsworth would transmit the first “electronic television image” just a few years later in California).

Some musings proved surprisingly prescient, like those of architect Thomas Hastings, who wondered, “Will civilization relapse, perhaps through the medium of another world war, into semi-barbarism?” The telephone was only just beginning to be used in households—World Wide What?—when Hastings urged readers to consider “the probability of revolutionizing inventions—even the discovery of forces which we know nothing about now.” Famed birth control activist Margaret Sanger—who reportedly called upon Indianapolis reformer Roberta West Nicholson to help found the city’s first Planned Parenthood clinic—was arguably correct in her belief that access to birth control would result in:

happier homes, greater mutual respect between husband and wife, honeymoons lasting two or three years before children arrive, with husband and wife thoroughly equilibrated to one another, because there has been time for mutual understanding and development before parenthood is entered upon.

The Evening World (New York, New York, February 15, 1922, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

Among the soothsayers was Mary Garrett Hay, a Charlestown, Indiana native, trailblazing suffragist, and, by 1922, head of New York City’s League of Women Voters. The accuracy of her predictions prompt a look back at her life and career, both of which were far ahead of her time, so to speak. Hay informed the San Francisco Chronicle that in 2022:

The life of even the average woman will be broader and better. Woman’s drudgery in the household will be eliminated, her care of the family will be lessened, as new inventions come in and new methods of work. Women, like men, will do the tasks for which they are best fitted by temperament, gifts and training.

Technological advancements have certainly liberated women from household drudgery. And women have increasingly stepped away from the home and into the public sphere due to a redefinition of the “tasks for which they are best fitted by temperament, gifts and training.” Hay occupied this sphere throughout her life, beginning around 1880, when as a young woman she worked as a drug clerk in Charlestown.[1] Hay later supported herself as a writer, reform speaker, and political consultant in New York City, having eschewed the institution of marriage and accompanying division of labor (Again defying gender norms, she had a long-term relationship with renowned suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt).

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 21, 1908, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.

Described as a “born executive,” Hay flexed her entrepreneurial skills when in 1908 she formed the Women’s Travel Bureau. Drawing on twenty years of navigating railroad networks across the U.S. for her suffrage campaign, Hay formed a company that appealed to the unique needs of female travelers, such as featuring safe accommodations and advertising women’s events. Hay told the New-York Tribune that since the 1893 Columbian Exposition, women increasingly used rail travel for a brief reprieve from the demands of family life. This was made possible, she said, because “‘women have for the first time in history begun to earn good salaries.'”[2] The Travel Bureau is one of many examples of Hay carving out opportunities in a male-dominated field by pairing her expertise with public demand.

While Hay’s prediction alluded to shifting gender norms, she made clear in the Buffalo Times that the shift must be more immediate, telling the paper, “‘It is the right of every human to have a career in the home and in the field-and the two are not mutually exclusive.'” She stated bluntly, “‘If men are willing to let their wives go out in quest of careers in the field as well as in the home they are reasonable husbands.'” The paper added that Hay “advocates women taking paid positions even after they are married and employing servants to do the housework far more efficiently than they could ever do it themselves.” In 1926, she argued that not only should women be allowed in the workforce, but that some were better suited for it than the home, noting:

I’ve known many women who were very inefficient mothers but excellent business women. They could manage what we call a man’s job and make a conspicuous success of it, and be absolutely beaten by housework or the rearing of their children.[3]

Of course, in order to work in the professional field, jobs needed to be available. Hay worked to create these as a member of the Committee for Extending Business Opportunities to Women, formed around 1915, because “the entrance of women into various fields of work has been effected with so much difficulty.”[4] 

The Evening World (New York, New York), August 25, 1921, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

In the second half of her prophesy for the San Francisco Chronicle, Hay predicted:

Politically, women will be powerful. They will share with men the real constructive work of government. Many will hold office. If there is not a woman President, the thought of one will shock no one. It will seem natural and proper to elevate women to whatever positions they have the ability to fill. Co-operation will be the magic word in 2022.

Confirming Hay’s point, many Americans in 2016 were shocked not that Hillary Clinton was poised to become the country’s first female president, but that she lost the election in a stunning upset—despite winning the popular vote. The glass ceiling came closer to being shattered when Kamala Harris was elected the first female U.S. Vice President in 2020 and when she briefly became the first woman imbued with presidential power in 2021 when President Joe Biden went under anesthesia for a medical procedure.

In fact, Hay’s own name had been floated as a U.S. presidential candidate in the 1910s. This was, in large part, because of her organizational and political prowess, particularly in recruiting members for the Republican Party.[5] Described as “the big boss of New York,” the G.O.P. appointed Hay to influential positions, soliciting her insight about issues important to women and strategies for mobilizing them to the polls.[6] Friend and fellow Hoosier— and Warren Harding’s presidential campaign manager—Will Hays appointed her chairman of the Republican Women’s National Executive Committee.[7] In this role, she was tasked with organizing “the women in the nation for the Republican Party as she had organized for suffrage. She was sought after at all political gatherings, and was made a delegate to every kind of convention.”[8] 

Topeka Daily State Journal, January 29, 1920, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

From lobbying for Indiana W.C.T.U. branches to heading a West Coast speaking tour organized by Susan B. Anthony to bringing to the Albany legislature “tenement house suffragists to illustrate how much women need the vote on the lower East Side,” Hay evolved from a social reformer to a political organizer.[9] She envisioned women’s influence extending beyond ratification of the 19th Amendment and viewed the political realm as a source of women’s professional fulfilment.

In her “Politics, A Profession for Women” essay for Catherine Filene’s 1920 Careers for Women, Hay wrote that politics “lacks the stultifying effect attaching to most occupations for women. Politics for women means a life of real vitality and worth.” She noted that “women who were trained by suffrage campaigns” were qualified for “good positions” within political parties. Strengths inherent to women, Hay argued, intersected well with those required of the political sector, such as the “ability to judge and handle people . . . sagacity, resourcefulness, power to discern the true from the false, common sense, imperturbability, [and] wide experience with human nature.” Having earned a reputation as an exceptional orator, Hay delivered a speech in 1926 in which she stated governmental work was tantamount to “housekeeping on a large scale.”[10] Because of these convictions, Hay used her sway within the Republican Party to bring more women into politics, although, the Times-Tribune noted, “she frequently found herself a[t] storm center by her insistence that leaders of the party permit women workers to join in the inner councils.”[11]

While she predicted that “Politically, women will be powerful,” Hay wanted not only “political equality between the sexes,” but “equality in every single thing in life.” This sentiment paralleled U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s belief that “women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”[12] Hay worked for their systemic inclusion, including in higher education, law enforcement, jury duty, and prison reform.[13] 

Oakland Tribune (California), November 29, 1927, 28, accessed Newspapers.com.

In this sense, Hay’s approach to equality was unique for the period, as historian William O’Neil argued, “’the postsuffrage feminists failed to see that the woman problem was part of a larger social question involving sex roles in American society and the entire order.’” Furthermore, these reformers “’asked only for legal equality without addressing themselves to the whole range of problems facing women who tried to make a notch for themselves in a man’s world.’”[14] Hay, “one of the best known leaders in the fight for the emancipation of women,” proved the rare exception.[15]

Her 1928 death would exacerbate this void in leadership for women’s equality. But in the nearly 100 years since her passing, her vision has been realized to a meaningful extent, as women increasingly occupy significant roles in the workplace and government. Perhaps she was able to envision the ideals and gender norms that would become fairly commonplace by 2022 because she embodied them herself.

Sources:

This post draws on the research notes for the Mary Garrett Hay historical marker.

* Unless otherwise specified, all material is drawn from the San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 1923, p. 10, accessed via Newspapers.com.

[1] “Mary G. Hay,” Clark County, Indiana, Census, 1880, accessed Ancestry Library Edition.

[2] Departure of Trains Schedule, National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, New Orleans, March 19th to 25th, 1903, Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Scrapbook 3 (1897-1904), Rare Book and Special Collections Division.; “Women Conduct Tourist Bureau,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 21, 1908, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Women Who Travel,” New-York Tribune, August 4, 1908, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

[3] Cynthia Grey, “Cynthia Says Home and Country Should Be Managed Jointly,” Courier-Post (Camden, NJ), April 19, 1926, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

[4] “Mary G. Hay,” Clark County, Indiana, Census, 1880, accessed AncestryLibrary.; “Mary G. Hay,” 1910 United States Federal Census, New York, accessed AncestryLibrary.; “Women Form to Open New Fields,” Woman’s Journal and Suffrage News, January 2, 1915, accessed HeinOnline.

[5] Joan Moody, “What Will They Do With It?,” Everybody’s Magazine (November 1919): 113, accessed GoogleBooks.

[6] “Cheers Greet Women as They Enter Politics,” Indianapolis Star, April 3, 1919, 1, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

[7] “Mary Garrett Hay’s Watchword to Women in Politics Was: ‘Be Nice to the Men’; Fought for Suffrage from Girlhood,” Brooklyn Eagle, September 2, 1928.

[8] Indianapolis Star, April 3, 1919, 1, 8.; Brooklyn Eagle, September 2, 1928.

[9] “Suffrage Leaders Get Together Now,” Star-Gazette
(Almira, NY), March 5, 1910, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[10] Cynthia Grey, “Cynthia Says Home and Country Should be Managed Jointly,” Courier-Post (Camden, NJ), April 19, 1926, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

[11] “Mary Garrett Hay,” The Times Tribune (Scranton, PA), September 1, 1928, accessed Newspaper.com.

[12] “They Will Stand on Their Rights,” Boston Globe, February 27, 1908, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

[13] “Mainly About People,” Daily News (New York), January 6, 1922, 41, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Women and the Jury System,” The Scranton Republican, February 28, 1922, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Leagued Together for Law Enforcement,” Oakland Tribune,  November 29, 1927, 28, accessed Newspapers.com.

[14] Quoted in Winifred D. Wandersee, Women’s Work and Family Values, 1920-1940 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 119-120.

[15] Buffalo Times, July 9, 1922, 52, accessed Newspapers.com.

Ku Klux U: How the Klan Almost Bought a University

Hagerstown Exponent, October 4, 1923
Hagerstown Exponent, October 4, 1923. Newspapers.com.

When the Hagerstown Exponent published this headline in October 1923, the editor had slightly exaggerated. The Ku Klux Klan’s powerful “Indiana Realm” had not literally bought itself a venerable institution of higher learning that summer– but it had come close. For a few weeks, Valparaiso University — sixty miles from downtown Chicago and formerly one of the largest private schools in the U.S. — teetered on the brink of becoming a “Ku Klux Kollege.” Once praised as the “Poor Man’s Harvard,” in 1923, many feared the university was about to become a “hooded Harvard.”

“Valpo” is a thriving university today, with some of the best programs in Indiana — and has no connections whatsoever to the KKK.  Yet, a century ago, after its rapid rise to national fame, the highly-respected school experienced hard times that took many alumni and faculty by surprise.

Founded by Methodists in 1859, the original school — Valparaiso Male and Female College — took in students of all levels, from elementary to college age.  The pioneer school was also one of the few co-educational institutions in America before the Civil War. That war wreaked havoc on enrollment, leading the college to close its doors in 1871.  Two years later, it reopened as a teacher’s college. Until 1900, the school went by the name Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute.

Renowned for its economical tuition and low cost of living — as well as for admitting women and students from overseas — by 1905 “Old Valpo” enjoyed one of the highest enrollments of any private university in the U.S.  With over 5,000 students that year, the school ranked just behind Harvard.  Its affordability to working-class Americans led many to praise it as the aforementioned “Poor Man’s Harvard.”


Valparaiso University circa 1915
Valparaiso University, circa 1915. Flickr.com.

Students from all over the U.S. and the world trained to be public school teachers there. Some were later busy teaching English to immigrants employed at Gary’s new steel mills.  Valpo’s programs in law, engineering, medicine, and dentistry were well-regarded. Its College of Medicine and Surgery had been brought over from Northwestern University in Chicago.  When the college moved back to the Windy City in 1926, it formed the nucleus of Loyola’s medical program.

Harvard and Yale might have been too good to take out ads in Chicago newspapers.  But this ad from 1905 appeared next to one for another great school on the rise, the University of Notre Dame.


The Inter Ocean, August 1, 1905
The Inter Ocean, Chicago, August 1, 1905. Newspapers.com.

Yet, once enrollment peaked in 1907, venerable Valpo plunged into an unexpected, two-decade-long decline. After accreditation of American colleges and universities began at the turn of the century  — partly driven by a desire to standardize high-school education and thereby “unify” the country — Valparaiso failed to win accreditation. Suddenly unable to transfer their credits, current and prospective students found the school a harder sell, especially as affordable new state universities, teachers’ colleges, and urban night schools entered the competition.  Valpo’s lack of a football team and Greek life were another stumbling block, though it hurriedly scraped together a football program in the early 1920s and even played Harvard.  (It lost 22-0 in its first game.)


VU
Postcard from Valparaiso University, 1911. Flickr.com.

World War I issued another blow. The famously affordable university had always attracted international students.  (One of the more unusual of them was future Soviet Comintern agent Mikhail Borodin, “Stalin’s Man in China,” who would die in a Siberian gulag in 1951.)  But after 1914, many of these students left to fight for their European homelands in WWI.  When America entered the war against Germany in 1917, student military enlistment left Valpo’s academic and residence halls almost empty.  Also, with plenty of war-related jobs now available to women, female students also tended to skip out on college for the duration of the war.


Journal Gazette (Mattoon, IL), July 17, 1923
Journal Gazette, Mattoon, IL, July 17, 1923. Newspapers.com.

In 1919, Indiana passed a new law requiring private colleges to maintain a half-million dollar endowment.  Cash-strapped Valparaiso University, burdened with a $350,000 debt (almost $5 million in today’s money) faced the real prospect of bankruptcy.  The school’s trustees even tried to sell it to the state that year for use as a public teacher’s college, but the Indiana legislature declined the offer.

Holding on by a thread — and led by controversial president Daniel Russell Hodgdon, who turned out to hold fake medical degrees — desperate trustees and the equally-desperate citizens of Valparaiso sought new owners.  That list of potential “saviors” grew to include the Presbyterian Church, the International Order of the Moose, and the owner of Cook Laboratories in Chicago, who wanted to turn the campus into a syringe factory and provide 1,000 jobs to townsfolk.


Daily Republican (Rushville, IN), August 16, 1923
Daily Republican, Rushville, Indiana, August 16, 1923. Newspapers.com.

Then, in August 1923, a new bidder expressed interest. For some residents of Valparaiso — which hosted a parade of at least 6,000 Klansmen in May 1923 that attracted 50,000 visitors from around the Midwest — the offer from the Ku Klux Klan to take over the struggling school seemed like a God-send.  Academics, alumni, and students thought differently, especially Catholics and Jews, and many were ready to pack up and leave. Yet, as far as the trustees were concerned, the question of selling Valparaiso University to the Ku Klux Klan mostly came down to whether that organization itself had the resources to made good on its own offer.

The efforts of the revived Klan proved more durable than that which had died out in the 1870s.  Klan rallies and parades occurred all over the North and West, from Chicago and L.A. to Oregon and Maine.   KKK membership in those years peaked in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, “ground zero” for some of the biggest Klan activity.  D.C. Stephenson, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in 23 states, operated mostly out of his headquarters in Indianapolis, a city that was almost taken over by Klansmen and Klanswomen; It was also a city that fought a valiant battle in the press, courts, and churches to discredit the “Invisible Empire.”


KKK Members, Valparaiso, 1923
Klansmen on Franklin Street, Valparaiso, Indiana, 1923. Smithsonian Magazine (via Ancestry.com).

The Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923
Fiery Cross, May 11, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The “second wave” of the Klan defined itself as a hyper-patriotic organization of white Protestant Americans and was more mainstream than at any other point in its history. Instead of waving the Confederate flag at rallies and parades as had previous iterations of the Klan, they flew the red, white, and blue. During the 1920s, the Klan was less concerned with suppressing African Americans than with stemming the tide of new immigration coming from Southern and Eastern Europe — including to heavily-industrial towns like Gary, just thirty miles from Valparaiso.  The Klan sought to cripple an imaginary conspiracy contending that Catholics wanted to destroy American public schools and hand the U.S. government over to the Pope. It also warned of the activities of “Jewish Communists” and anarchists in the wake of the Russian Revolution and the 1919 Red Scare. Prohibition of alcohol, another cause taken up by the KKK, was a barely concealed way to crack down on immigrant culture.

Ku Klux Klan Rally in Washington, D.C. on September 13, 1926. Library of Congress.

These views were shared by thousands of Americans who didn’t belong to the Klan. The “Invisible Empire” even found strange bedfellows in the Progressive movement, including women’s suffrage advocates, who espoused some of the same “reform” ideals promoted by the Klan, albeit with different objectives. They also got involved in public health. In 1925, the organization helped fund a hospital in Logansport that catered only to Protestants. Alongside these initiatives, acquiring a university would have helped the Klan project a more legitimate image. Since Valparaiso was a teacher’s college, the Klan could also propagandize American children from within schools.


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923
The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (4)
The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

By July of 1923, the trustees of Valparaiso University and the Klan were talking. Representing the Klan was Milt Elrod, whom Stephenson had recently made editor of the Fiery Cross, the major KKK newspaper, printed at the Century Building on South Pennsylvania Street in downtown Indianapolis.

When encountering obvious concern from much of the faculty and student body, Elrod assured the press that a Ku Klux takeover of the school would change nothing except the trustee board, which was to be filled with Klan appointees.  The school would remain open to women and would be non-sectarian, Elrod insisted — though Catholic students were already beginning to drop out and enroll elsewhere.  Ludicrously, Elrod initially claimed that the Klan would admit any applicant who met the proper educational requirements, including African Americans, though he later admitted that the school would not have adequate facilities for them.  (The sad irony is that Valparaiso University did not admit African Americans even before the Klan tried to buy it.)


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923 (2)
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 16, 1923. Newspapers.com.

Few people (trustees excepted, it seems) took Elrod at his word when he said that nothing else would change at the university, except skyrocketing enrollment and the return of its once prestigious reputation.  Yet Elrod’s enemies had already come out. In the Fiery Cross on August 24, 1923, he was busy singling out “un-American” and “alien forces” as his opponents. Elrod may have been quick to pick up on campus rumors that Catholic priests from Notre Dame had visited town, spurring the Klan to act soon and not be outbid by the “agents of Rome.”


Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923 (3)
The Fiery Cross, August 24, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Heavy opposition came from the press.  Even in Indiana, major urban newspapers tended to be anti-Klan, including the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis News and most famously the Indianapolis Times, which won a Pulitzer for its battle against the group.  Some of the sharpest criticism, however, came from George R. Dale, the wildly colorful and energetic editor of the Muncie Post Democrat.  Dale, who endured death threats and assaults on his life and that of his family, ran a paper that was virtually one long, rambunctious op-ed piece, employing a folksy humor to give sucker-punches to the powerful “Indiana Realm.” Dale went on to become mayor of Muncie in 1930.


Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923
Muncie Post Democrat, August 3, 1923. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Editors and cartoonists nationwide– including E.H. Pomeroy, an illustrator for the Valparaiso Vidette — tore into Elrod’s proposal once it came out that he might, in fact, get hold of the $350,000 in cash needed to bail the school out of debt.  (Elrod also promised that the Klan would set it up on a million-dollar endowment, twice the amount required by Indiana law.)  As the story spread across the U.S., an illustrator in the New York Call went straight for the jugular, publishing a parody of Dante’s Inferno — “Abandon All Brains Ye Who Enter Here.”  The cartoon depicts book-burning, classes in whipping and tar-and-feathering, a “Klinik” to teach “100% Americanism,” and a commencement day ceremony where students sport an unconventional new style of cap and gown.


Abandon All Brains, Ye Who Enter Here. Republished in Literary Digest, September 15, 1923. UNZ.org.

Another critical broadside came from Helena, Montana.  The writer in Helena’s Independent Record thought that a bout of education for those in the Klan might at least have a few “salutary” side-effects.


The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923

The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), August 28, 1923 (2)
The Independent Record, Helena, Montana, August 28, 1923. Newspapers.com.

One editorial, “Ku Klux and Kolleges”, appeared in Robert W. Bingham’s Louisville Courier-JournalIt asks if there is no provision in the Indiana school’s original charter to prevent the sale to the Klan.  The Courier-Journal also pointed out that many teachers in Kentucky had been trained at Valparaiso in its better days, and that Kentuckians should be concerned about its ultimate fate.


Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923 (3)
Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1923. Newspapers.com.

Though excitement among some Valparaiso citizens allegedly ran high, Milt Elrod was probably too quick to make blustery promises about the Klan’s own financial strength.  His proposal to buy the school wasn’t completely baseless, but Elrod was a notorious booster and propagandist.

Through the sale of thousands of robes, newspaper subscriptions, and membership fees, the leadership of the Klan had amassed huge fortunes for itself.  D.C. Stephenson had gone from being a poor coal dealer in Evansville to a wealthy man by age 33, but he squandered Klan money on liquor, women, cars, and a yacht. Even the $350,000 needed to buy the Valparaiso campus — not to mention the $1,000,000 offered as an endowment — was apparently beyond the ability of the Klan to come up with (or hang onto).

The American press and higher education breathed a sigh of relief when, after just a few weeks, Elrod feebly announced that the Klan had changed its mind due to “legal technicalities.”  Some papers reported that — true to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s suggestion — a clause in the school’s original charter had been discovered, preventing control by any “fraternal, benevolent or charitable order” (an inaccurate description of the Klan, at any rate).


Fort Wayne Daily News, September 5, 1923. Newspapers.com.

“Legal technicalities” caused by the school’s charter might have been a myth, a clever way for both the university and the Klan to save face after the embarrassing episode.  Most newspapers ran with it, but there seems to be little evidence that university trustees would have called off the sale if enough cash had been put down in front of them.


Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923
Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 11, 1923. Newspapers.com.

Fortunately, Valparaiso University never fell into KKK hands. With the corrupt Klan itself in disarray by 1925, and with Stephenson headed to the nearby state prison at Michigan City for rape and murder, any future Klan bids were out of the question.

In the summer of 1925, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod rescued the run-down, almost abandoned school.  Lutherans at that time had several colleges and seminaries around the U.S., but no university. They announced vague plans to use it as a theology school or teachers’ college.  Securing the deal was assisted by Reverend John C. Baur, a Lutheran minister and noted opponent of the Ku Klux Klan in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


The Republic (Columbus, IN), May 18, 1925
The Republic, Columbus, Indiana, May 18, 1925. Newspapers.com.

Under Lutheran guidance, Valparaiso University’s fortunes gradually turned around, though it barely survived the Great Depression.  By the 1950s, “Old Valpo” once again ranked among Indiana’s and the nation’s best colleges, a reputation it still holds today.


Hoosier State Chronicles provides searchable access to several years of The Fiery Cross.

Other materials from the Indiana State Library on the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana can be found here.

Contact:  staylor336 [AT] gmail.com