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

The Crusader: J. Frank Hanly and the Election of 1916

Indiana Governor J. Frank Hanly. Courtesy of WikiCommons.
Indiana Governor J. Frank Hanly. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Did you know that three Hoosiers appeared on national tickets for president or vice president in 1916?  The Democrats ran Thomas R. Marshall of Columbia City for re-election in 1916 alongside President Woodrow Wilson.  The Republican Party tabbed President Theodore Roosevelt‘s former vice president Charles W. Fairbanks of Indianapolis as the running mate of GOP presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes.  You may ask, who was the third Hoosier running for president or vice president in 1916?  If you guessed Terre Haute-native Eugene V. Debs, you would be wrong.  After being the  Socialist Party presidential nominee four times from 1900-1912, Debs sat out the 1916 campaign before running again (from prison) in 1920.

The third Hoosier and national party candidate in 1916 was a man who is not well-known today, but was a former governor of Indiana, and an influential leader in the prohibition movement.  As a third-party challenger, J. Frank Hanly ran as the Prohibition Party presidential nominee during the 1916 election. Founded in 1869, the Prohibition Party campaigned for laws to limit or ban the sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquors.  The party nominated candidates for office, but only found real success with local elections.  For Hanly, his candidacy in 1916 served as the culmination of decades of advocacy for making Indiana, and the nation, dry as a desert.

The Hanly Family Home in Williamsport, Indiana. Courtesy of Newspapers.com.
The Hanly Family Home in Williamsport, Indiana. Source: Indianapolis Star, May 7, 1904.

According to a 1904 profile in the Indianapolis News, James Frank Hanly was born on April 4, 1863 in Champaign County, Illinois. His early life exemplified the rough-hewn stereotype that politicians of the era both yearned to have and exploit when useful. As the News wrote, “The world had nothing to offer the cabin boy but poverty. His parents lived on a rented place and sometimes the Hanly’s wondered where the sustenance of coming days was to come from.” Hanly, described as a bookish child, reveled in debate during his schoolhouse days and had “victory perched on his banner very often.” With his mother blinded early in his life and the family thrown into even more intense poverty, Hanly was sent to live with friends of the family in Williamsport, Warren County, Indiana.

He held odd-jobs throughout his early years in Indiana, most notably ditch digging and teaching, before gaining an opportunity from a local judge named Joseph Rabb. Rabb provided Hanly with the tools to take the bar exam. After passing the exam, Hanly began work at Rabb’s office. Nearly two years later in 1890, he founded a law office with partner Ele Stansbury. Equipped with skills of law and oratory, Hanly was a natural fit for the role of public service. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1894 and served one term; his reelection was dashed due to redistricting. After some considerations for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Hanly decided to run for governor of Indiana in 1904 and won, defeating Democrat John W. Kern by 84,000 votes, according to the Plymouth Tribune.

Indianapolis Journal, November 8, 1894. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Journal, November 8, 1894, from Hoosier State Chronicles.
Governor J. Frank Hanly and military officers at Fort Benjamin Harrison Camp of Instruction, 1906. Courtesy of Indiana Memory.
Governor J. Frank Hanly (Center) and military officers at Fort Benjamin Harrison Camp of Instruction, 1906. Courtesy of Indiana Memory.

Hanly served as Indiana’s Governor from 1905-1909 and his tenure was marked by a controversial fight over Hanly’s central political issue: the sale of alcohol. He committed his tenure to enacting a stronger form of public policy in regards to the liquor traffic. In an op-ed for the Jasper Weekly Courier, Hanly wrote:

Personally, I have seen so much of the evils of the liquor traffic in the last four years, so much of its economic waste, so much of the physical ruin, so much of its mental blight, so much of its tears and heartache, that I have come to regard the business as one that must be held and controlled by strong and effective laws.

Jasper Weekly Courier, April 10, 1908, from Hoosier State Chronicles.

The type of “strong and effective laws” that Hanly wanted came in the form of a “county local option bill,” which Hanly foisted upon the Indiana General Assembly via a special session. This law strengthened the intent of the Nicholson Law, which required extended waiting periods for liquor licenses. Hanly saw this as the first step towards state-wide prohibition, but his opposition saw it as an opportunity. Due to his heavy-handed use of executive power during 1908, the Republican gubernatorial candidate James E. Watson was easily defeated by the Democratic challenger, Thomas Marshall.

Plymouth Tribune, September 24, 1908. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Plymouth Tribune, September 24, 1908, from Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hanly was undeterred. He reaffirmed his position against alcohol in a rousing speech at the 1908 Republican National Convention reprinted in the Indianapolis News. Concerning the liquor traffic, Hanly declared:

I hate it as Abraham Lincoln hated slavery. And as he sometimes saw in prophetic vision the end of slavery and the coming of the time when the sun should shine and the rain should fall upon no slave in all the republic, so I sometimes seem to see the end of this unholy traffic; the coming of the time when, if it does not wholly cease to be, it shall find no safe habitation anywhere beneath Old Glory’s stainless stars.

To Hanly, the sale of alcohol equaled slavery in its immorality, and akin to his political hero, viewed his indictment of alcohol as righteous as Lincoln’s position on slavery (at least on the surface).

Over the next eight years, Hanly dedicated himself to his cause with a near-religious fervor. He wrote and published pamphlets calling for stricter laws for state liquor trafficking and for nation-wide prohibition. He also formed an organization called the Flying Squadron Foundation that routinely gave speeches throughout the country in defense of outlawing alcohol.  He also founded a prohibitionist newspaper, the National Enquirer (not to be confused with the supermarket tabloid).

Lecturers of the Flying Squadron, a prohibitionist organization founded by J. Frank Hanly, 1917. Courtesy of Indiana Memory.
Lecturers of the Flying Squadron, a prohibitionist organization founded by J. Frank Hanly, 1917. Courtesy of Indiana Memory.

All of his activism proved valuable by the election of 1916. Originally, Hanly received the Progressive Party’s nomination for governor, after he ran unopposed in the March primary. Despite support from the party and the voters, Hanly felt ambivalent about his nomination. As the Indianapolis News reported, Hanly “spent nothing and made no promises when a candidate before the primary for the Progressive nomination as Governor.” The Progressive Party, in some respects, was a poor fit. Even though Hanly alienated himself from mainstream Republican politics due to his strict prohibitionist views, his dedication to fiscal conservatism and limited government did not align with the Progressives. While Hanly internally debated accepting the Progressives’ gubernatorial nomination, another political party began recruiting him for an even higher office.

Indianapolis News, June 15, 1916. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, June 15, 1916, from Hoosier State Chronicles.

In June 1916, Hanly abandoned the Progressive Party, and declined the nomination for governor. Later that summer, he received the Prohibition Party nomination for President of the United States. The Indianapolis News and the Indianapolis Star reported that Hanly would gladly accept this charge only after the party decided to abandon a plank in their party platform supporting “initiative, referendum, and recall” elections, which Hanly saw as anathema to his limited government views. The party acquiesced to Hanly’s demands, which later drew criticism from an editorial in the Indianapolis Star and later reprinted in the Jasper Weekly Courier.  On the day of his nomination, Hanly reiterated his resolve to the cause of Prohibition and argued that “legislative enactments, administrative action, judicial decision and constitutional amendment—all shall be used for its [alcohol’s] dethronement.” In eight short years, Hanly went from Republican, to reluctant Progressive, to ardent Prohibitionist.

Dr. Ira Landrith (Left) and J. Frank Hanly (Right) shaking hands at their nomination ceremony for the Vice-Presidential and Presidential nominations for the Prohibition Party, respectively. Source: Indianapolis Star, August 9, 1916.

His disassociation with the Republican Party led to a fairly embarrassing episode reported in the August 15 issue of the Indianapolis News. The paper wrote that, “state officials are wondering how a picture of J. Frank Hanly got on the wall in [Ed] Donnell’s office [at the state printing board’s office]. Mr. Hanly, former Governor of Indiana, is now the nominee for President on the Prohibition national ticket.” A little over a week later, on August 28, the portrait disappeared. When asked how it left, Donnell “referred questioners to [J. Roy] Strickland, who disclaimed all knowledge of any theft, other than to declare that he understood the picture had been confiscated by the Democratic state committee.” The installation and later removal of the painting remains a mystery, but this story exemplified one conclusion that many political observers were making about the Prohibition Party candidate: the major parties were done with him too.

Indianapolis News, August 28, 1916. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, August 28, 1916, from Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hanly’s presidential campaign began later that August with an announcement from Hanly and his Vice-Presidential running mate, Dr. Ira Landrith, that they would conduct a “two-months’ tour of the country, will stop at approximately 600 towns.” The slogan for their campaign was “A Million Votes for Prohibition.” As part of the Prohibition Party’s push for a million votes, Hanly heavily criticized the major party candidates, Republican Charles Evans Hughes and incumbent Democratic President Woodrow Wilson. On the issue of prohibition, Hanly said that “President Wilson has not changed his mind on the liquor question, not in the last six years, at least, but we know that during these six years he has changed his mind on every other question which has come before him.” Of Hughes, Hanly remarked that the Republican nominee “stands for nothing.” By supposed contrast, Hanly and Landrith stood for women’s suffrage, an eight-hour work day, environmental protections, and military preparedness in line with the Monroe Doctrine alongside its desire to end the liquor trade.

Indianapolis News, November 10, 1916, Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, November 10, 1916, from Hoosier State Chronicles.

By November 1916, the Prohibition Party appeared confident in their chances for some electoral success. The Indianapolis News covered their claims of success at a rally in Auburn, Indiana. “Ira Landrith, the vice-presidential candidate,” the News reported, “declared there now are 167 electoral votes in “dry” states; that next year there will be 200, and in 1930 there will be 300.” Their optimism was misplaced, for the election returns told a different story. Hanly and Landrith only captured 221,302 votes, or only 1.19 percent of the popular vote. They neither secured the one million votes they campaigned on, nor picked up a single electoral vote. Wilson won the election with 277 electoral votes and 49.25 percent of the popular vote. The Indianapolis News highlighted that the level of the vote for the Prohibition Party had dropped in Marion County alone by nearly 500 votes, from 1241 to 744, and throughout the State of Indiana, Hanly only garnered 16,680.

Indianapolis News, November 20, 1916. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, November 20, 1916, from Hoosier State Chronicles.

Of the returns, Hanly was delighted despite his small showing at the polls.  He stated, “I believe that of all the presidential candidates at the last election, I am the happiest. The returns were no disappointment to me.” Despite the Prohibition Party’s electoral loss, the prohibition movement made great strides after the election. The News wrote“More than one-third of the people of the whole nation now live in territory where prohibition will be effective.” After the election Hanly remained an active prohibition proponent.  He played a key role in lobbying for the state-wide prohibition of alcohol by 1918, two years before the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution mandated prohibition across the United States. Hanly celebrated its implementation by introducing National Dry Federation President William Jennings Bryan at a meeting in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis News, August 2, 1920. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, August 2, 1920, from Hoosier State Chronicles.

Hanly’s lifelong efforts advocating for prohibition came to an end with his untimely death on August 1, 1920, at the age of 57. He had been “fatally injured in an automobile accident near Dennison [Ohio],” reported the Indianapolis News. His funeral was held at Meridian Street Methodist Episcopal Church and he was buried in Williamsport, Indiana. In a eulogy by Indianapolis Phalanx publisher Edward Clark, Hanly was hailed as a “a national leader in the greatest moral and political reform of the century.” Clark concluded, “[Hanly] has ended life’s combat and laid down the weapons he wielded so heroically and so valiantly.”

Historian Jan Shipps argued that the choices Hanly made during his political career may have been pure opportunism, the mark of a true believer, or somewhere in the middle. The last argument seems to be the most accurate, because Hanly appeared to be a bit of both, at least in the press. He was an astute, masterful politician who used the workings of power to achieve his own prerogatives. At the same time, he was a deeply religious man whose moral judgement animated him to act as a crusader against alcohol. As Edward Clark’s eulogy intimated, Hanly knew that “to announce himself as a party prohibitionist meant unpopularity, scorn, ridicule, abuse, and political oblivion—but he hesitated not.” While he never saw the effects of Prohibition, both good and bad, in his state or in the country, Hanly’s contributions to the movement should not be neglected in our understanding of the era.

Wheels of Corruption: Bicycles, Billy Blodgett, and the Allen Manufacturing Company

An "outing bicycle." Indiana Historical Society.
Hay & Willit’s Outing Bicycle, 1896, Indiana Historical Society.

During his long and storied career, Indianapolis-based investigative journalist William H. “Billy” Blodgett exhibited a penchant for exposing local corruption and unlawful business practices. One not entirely aboveboard business in particular caught his attention in the 1890s.

"Bicycling Etiquette," Indianapolis News, August 18, 1894, Hoosier State Chronicles.
“Bicycling Etiquette,” Indianapolis News, August 18, 1894, Hoosier State Chronicles.

During the Gilded Age, bicycles became a national phenomenon. With ever-changing designs and the lowering of costs, bicycles spurred social clubs, faced religious blow back, and even influenced clothing trends. As such, the need for bicycles exploded, with hundreds of different companies competing for their share of the marketplace. There were dozens of companies in Indiana alone.

Of these companies, the Allen Manufacturing Company garnered moderate success but attracted controversy. Founded in 1894 and later incorporated in 1895 by David F. Allen, David A. Coulter, James Murdock, and William B. Hutchinson, Allen Manufacturing maintained a peculiar corporate structure and political affiliation with the Democratic party. In some respects, you could have called the company a “Government-Sponsored Enterprise,” wherein the products made were sold in the marketplace but the labor and capital costs were funneled through government institutions. This is especially true of its labor force, comprised exclusively of prisoners from the State prison north in Michigan City. As reported by the Indianapolis News, “the convicts who work in the factory are to be paid 42 cents a day. Mr. French [the prison’s warden] says that 150 men will be employed in the factory.”

James Murdock, one of the founders of the Allen Manufacturing Company. Biographical Record and Portrait Album of Tippecanoe County, Indiana, Google Books.
James Murdock, one of the founders of the Allen Manufacturing Company. Biographical Record and Portrait Album of Tippecanoe County, Indiana, Google Books.

Before Blodgett’s investigative reporting on the company, the Indianapolis Journal published a pointed critique of Allen Manufacturing’s labor force. The piece referred to the venture as a “blow to honest labor” and argued that the lack of skilled bicycle makers will “glut the market with cheap wheels.” The article emphasized this point in a further passage:

At the price paid [for labor] the company will have a great advantage over the manufacturers of Indiana, and their employees will, of course, share in the loss by reason, if not through cheapened wages, then of less opportunity for work. The new venture is not likely to decrease their hostility to the prison labor system and the Democratic party of Indiana.

Indianapolis Journal, October 29, 1894, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Journal, October 29, 1894, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Another piece in the Indianapolis News, possibly written by Blodgett, also criticized the company’s deep ties to political operatives, and in particular, founder David F. Allen. Allen was serving on the State Board of Tax Commissioners when the company was founded (but not incorporated), and if he didn’t leave the Board, he would be violating section 2,049 of the Indiana legal code. In other words, Allen and his business partners kept the public existence of the company private for nearly a year, incorporating on March 14, 1895, so as to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Public record of Allen Manufacturing's labor agreement with Indiana prison north, Google Books.
Public record of Allen Manufacturing’s labor agreement with Indiana prison north, Google Books.

While Allen Manufacturing was still an unincorporated entity, it struck a deal with the Indiana prison north in October 1894 to employ 150 prisoners at forty cents a day (lower than forty-two cents, as mentioned in the papers) for the next five years. The agreement was then amended in 1896 to remove twenty-five workers from the contract for another project. Again, this is a private consortium of well-connected political operatives setting up a business to take advantage of the state’s prison labor system .

At least the prisoners made a quality product. While I couldn’t find photographs of the bicycles, they were apparently made well enough to appear in a state-wide bicycle exhibition on January 28, 1896 at the Indianapolis Y.M.C.A. According to the Indianapolis Journal, the Allen Manufacturing Company displayed its bicycles with 14 other firms and the show also displayed artwork by T.C. Steele, among others. Allen Manufacturing also acquired the Meteor Bicycle Company, a nationally recognized firm located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and began manufacturing bikes under the name from 1896 to 1898. While the public face of their company seemed bright, its internal workings quickly began to unravel.

Indianapolis Journal, January 25, 1894, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Journal, January 25, 1894, Hoosier State Chronicles.

By 1897, Allen Manufacturing’s financial problems began bubbling to the surface. After the release of twenty-five prisoners from their contract at Indiana state prison north, its labor force wasn’t big enough to keep up with an order for 2,000 bicycles wheels. From there, the company ran up debts that were nearly impossible to reverse, taking out a mortgage to offset their losses. As reported by the Indianapolis News:

Edward Hawkins, of this city [Indianapolis], who has been appointed trustee under the mortgage, returned to-day from a meeting of the officers and directors of the company at Michigan City. The company, he says, found itself unable to pay its paper due, and executed a mortgage on the plant for the benefit of the banks that hold the paper.

Even though it paid off $6,500 owed to the state in October of 1897, Allen’s troubles continued. Hawkins was removed as mortgage trustee, more and more creditors were filing claims, and two court-appointed receivers stepped in to try to clean up the mess.

Indianapolis News, October 9, 1897, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, October 9, 1897, Hoosier State Chronicles.

This is where Billy Blodgett’s articles began to shed light on the corruption. In January of 1898, Blodgett began a series of hard-hitting exposes in the Indianapolis News against Allen Manufacturing, writing of alleged abuses of state power, graft, and fraud. His first article, published on January 13, 1898, alleged that whole train-cars of bicycles were purchased by individual owners of the company, such as D. F. Allen and D. A. Coulter, and then shuffled around the assets for accounting purposes. Specifically, Allen purchased “$4,000 worth of bicycles,” transferred ownership to his son, and then “applied [the amount] on notes given to the Merchants’ National Bank of Lafayette.” The article also reaffirmed what many had suggested since the company’s founding. Namely, its public incorporation was made after key leaders removed themselves from conflicts of interest yet acted as an incorporated entity when it negotiated its labor contract with the prison.

The headline from Billy Blodgett's first major piece on the company in the Indianapolis News, January 13, 1898, Hoosier State Chronicles.
The headline from Billy Blodgett’s first major piece on the company in the Indianapolis News, January 13, 1898, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The next day, Blodgett published the next installment, writing of the company’s alleged fraud in connection to its stocks. The Chicago firm Morgan & Wright, who purchased the company’s manufacturing plant during its initial financial woes, alleged that Allen Manufacturing had used backdoor loans from the Merchant’s National Bank of Lafayette in order to inflate its asset value. “In other words,” Blodgett wrote, “Morgan & Wright will try to show [in court] that the total amount of money paid for the stock was $300,” rather than the $4,000 or $5,000 the company claimed.

Judge William Biddle, History of LaPorte County, Google Books.
Judge William Biddle, A Twentieth Century History and Biographical Record of LaPorte County, Indiana, Google Books.

Blodgett also reported another fascinating case of company misdirection. On October 15, 1897, LaPorte County Judge William B. Biddle ordered the company to stop selling any products and hand the reins over to receiver Alonzo Nichols. This order was ignored by Henry Schwager, another receiver appointed to the company in Michigan City. Biddle retaliated on November 23, issuing an order against the company at large and reaffirmed his previous decision. What came next is shocking:

. . . Sheriff McCormick went to Michigan City to take possession of the property. When he got there, he found the building of the Allen Manufacturing Company locked up, and he could not get in to make the levy, without using force. He was warned not to do this, so the sheriff and his deputies stood around on the outside of the prison, and as the carloads of property came out they seized them. He found the property at different points, and turned it all over to Nichols as receiver.

In other words, Sheriff N. D. McCormick and his deputies had to wait until the company didn’t think the authorities were looking before they could seize the goods. Even in the face of court orders, the Allen Manufacturing Company still tried to do things its own way, to disastrous results.

Headline for Blodgett's third and final major piece on Allen Manufacturing, January 15, 1898, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Headline for Blodgett’s third and final major piece on Allen Manufacturing, January 15, 1898, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Billy Blodgett’s final big piece on Allen Manufacturing appeared in the Indianapolis News on January 15, 1898. In it, Blodgett tries to track down and interview company big-wigs David Coulter and David Allen. Blodgett wrote of Coulter that, “He is pleasant and affable, courteous and polite, but I might as well have talked to the Sphynx in Egypt, so far as getting any information from him.” Over the course of a short, frosty conversation between Blodgett and Coulter, the businessman declined to speak about any of the charges leveled against him and maintained his innocence. When Blodgett pressed him on some of the specific charges of defrauding investors, his “demeanor demonstrated that the interview was at an end. . . .”

As for Allen, he was unable to interview the man directly but spoke to one of his colleagues. Blodgett chronicled the exchange:

A few weeks ago Mr. Allen met this friend and said to him:

“You remember the evening you asked me to dinner with you in Chicago?”

“Yes, I remember.it distinctly.”

“Well, that failure to take dinner with you has cost me $5,000, and may cost me more.”

The friend understood from this that if Allen had not gone to the meeting at which the company was formed he would have been money ahead. This friend gives it as his opinion that every member of the Allen Manufacturing Company lost from $3,000 to $5,000 each.

In one corner, you have Coulter trying to hold things together and denying changes against him and Allen in the other allegedly remarking on how he and many others lost money. This inconsistency in the press didn’t help to make the public or the company’s shareholders feel any better about the situation.

Indianapolis News, July 12, 1900, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, July 12, 1900, Hoosier State Chronicles.

By 1898, the company was defunct in all but name. Bicycles manufactured under the “Meteor” brand ceased and the company’s remains were being settled in numerous court cases. In 1900, a Louisville, Kentucky court ruled that Allen Manufacturing had in fact defrauded Morgan & Wright out of at least one payment for a shipment of product. Another lawsuit, clearing Sherriff Nathan McCormick of any wrongdoing against court-appointed receivers, was settled in 1901 in U.S. Court and upheld in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1902.

Indianapolis News, September 14, 1901, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, September 14, 1901, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Blodgett did write a follow up article in 1901, noting that Indiana state prison north Warden Shideler resigned over allegations that he was a stockholder in the company at the time he was serving as Warden. It also indicated that labor contract developed by Allen, Coulter and others in 1894 was binding until 1904, with other companies stepping in to fill the void left by the demise of the Allen Manufacturing Company. Newspaper evidence suggests that Allen, Coulter, and many of the other big players never faced serious charges and that the company’s multiple lawsuits distracted from the other allegations leveled against them. Allen himself would eventually pursue other political offices, including Indiana Secretary of State, as well as serve in the Spanish-American War. He died in 1911, with the failure of his company firmly behind him.

Memorial plaque at David F. Allen's grave, Frankfort, Indiana, FindAGrave.com.
Memorial plaque at David F. Allen’s grave, Frankfort, Indiana, FindAGrave.com.

So what do we make of the Allen Manufacturing Company? In some ways, you can look at it as a quasi-private, quasi-public boondoggle, destined to fail. In other ways, you can look at it as a company created to enrich its leadership by taking advantage of sub-contracted labor. However, these may be the symptoms of a larger malady. The major take-away from this episode was that a rapidly changing industrial economy and a national fad in bicycles spurred a slapdash attempt to create a company that benefited from public connections. Furthermore, the episode highlights how determined and detailed journalism helps to keep the public and private sectors of society accountable, both to citizens and shareholders. While some of the key players never faced accountability, Blodgett’s success in investigating Allen Manufacturing’s corruption nevertheless exemplified how an individual citizen, and a free press, can check some of our more abject motivations.

A Communist in Terre Haute: Earl Browder and Free Speech

This video was originally published on the Hoosier State Chronicles blog.

Five men are sitting in a jail cell in Terre Haute, Indiana. The leader of the group—a middle-aged, mustached, and unassuming figure—had been arrested on charges of “vagrancy and ‘for investigation’,” according to the local police chief. But it wasn’t a drunk or an unlucky drifter sitting in the cell. It was the leader of an American political party and its nominee for President of the United States. He had tried to give a speech in Terre Haute when arrested by the local authorities. His case became a statewide and even national discussion on the importance and limits of free speech. Now, who could’ve caused all of this ruckus? It was Earl Browder, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United States.

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Credits:

Written and produced by Justin Clark. 

Music: “And Then She Left” by Kinoton, “Echo Sclavi” by the Mini Vandals, “Namaste” by Audionautix, “Myositis” by the United States Marine Band, “Finding the Balance” by Kevin MacLeod, and “Dana” by Vibe Tracks

Continue reading “A Communist in Terre Haute: Earl Browder and Free Speech”

“Unswerving Integrity”: The Radical Friendship of Eugene V. Debs and Robert Ingersoll

This post is dedicated to Tom Flynn—freethinker, friend, and keeper of the Ingersoll flame.

On July 22, 1899, Hoosier Eugene Victor Debs, a radical labor organizer and the future socialist party candidate for president, published a tribute to one of his biggest influences and close friends—the orator and freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll. Known as the “Great Agnostic” for his decades-long public critique of organized religion, Ingersoll became the leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought” in the United States, a movement dedicated to secularism that began after the Civil War and ended around World War I. His death on July 21, 1899, at the age of 65, left an irreplaceable void in the hearts of many who saw Ingersoll as the leader of a new rationalist awakening in America.

Eugene V. Debs, 1897. Library of Congress.

In his tribute to Ingersoll, printed in the Terre Haute Gazette and later in the Social Democratic Herald, Debs reflected on their decades-long friendship and the lasting impact the freethinker had on his life. He wrote:

For 23 years it has been my privilege to know Colonel Ingersoll, and the announcement of his sudden death is so touching and shocking to me that I can hardly bring myself to realize the awful calamity. Like thousands of others who personally knew Colonel Ingersoll, I loved him as if he had been my elder brother. He was, without doubt, the most lovable character, the tenderest and greatest soul I have ever known.

He also noted the amount of charity work Ingersoll did, both for organizations and for individuals, such as a woman he aided after the financial collapse of her father and abandonment by her church. “Such incidents of kindness to the distressed and help to the needy,” Debs observed, “might be multiplied indefinitely, for Colonel Ingersoll’s whole life was replete with them and they constitute a religion compared with which all creeds and dogmas become meaningless and empty phrases.”

Robert Ingersoll portraits. Library of Congress.

Later, on January 17, 1900, Debs wrote to Ingersoll’s publisher C.P. Farrell that “I have never loved another mortal as I have loved Robert Ingersoll, and I never shall another.” While this language may seem a bit saccharine for us today, Debs meant every word of it. From his initial meetings with Ingersoll as a young man in Terre Haute, Indiana to the Great Agnostic’s defense of him during the Pullman railroad workers strike of 1894, Eugene Debs always felt a deep kinship with the heretical orator. While they took different spiritual tracks—with Ingersoll a dedicated agnostic and Debs a social-gospel Christian—both saw the importance of caring for others in this life, despite what might come after, and believed in the power of human reason as a vehicle for transcending outmoded superstitions. Debs learned the power of effective oratory from Ingersoll, routinely citing him as one of his biggest rhetorical influences. Ingersoll also had views on labor and capital that went far beyond the traditional liberalism of his day, something that likely played a role in the radicalization of Debs. As such, their unique friendship left a lasting imprint on American life during the turn of the twentieth century.

They first met in the spring of 1878, after Debs invited Ingersoll to give a lecture to the Occidental Literary Club in Terre Haute, an organization that the former helped organize. The Terre Haute Weekly Gazette reported on May 2, 1878 that Ingersoll’s oration the previous evening was on the “religion of the past, present, and future” and noted that “Mr. Ingersoll was introduced by Mr. E. V. Debs, in well chosen and well delivered words.” Years later, in his “Recollections on Ingersoll” (1917), Debs reflected on his first encounter with the legendary orator. In fact, the lecture that Ingersoll gave that evening, according to Debs, was one of his most important, “The Liberty of Man, Woman, and Child.” In it, Ingersoll excoriates those who held humanity in the bondage of superstition and called for freedom of intellectual development. As he declared, “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself. Keep your mind open to the influences of nature. Receive new thoughts with hospitality. Let us advance.” Debs was amazed by this speech. Writing decades later, “Never until that night had I heard real oratory; never before had I listened enthralled to such a flow of genuine eloquence.” Ingersoll’s words, which “pleaded for every right and protested against every wrong,” galvanized the budding orator and political activist.

Robert Ingersoll addressing an audience. Peoria Magazine.

Also in 1878, Ingersoll used his considerable speaking talents towards another issue of grave importance: the condition of labor. While it would be too much to say that Ingersoll was a socialist like Debs, he was nevertheless a socially-conscious liberal Republican who understood the inequities between workers and owners in a capitalist society. In a speech entitled “Hard Times and the Way Out,” delivered in Boston, Massachusetts on October 20, 1878, Ingersoll laid out his views on the subject. While he reiterated his belief that “there is no conflict, and can be no conflict, in the United States between capital and labor,” he nevertheless chastised the capitalists who would impugn the dignity and quality of life of their laborers. “The man who wants others to work to such an extent that their lives are burdens, is utterly heartless,” he bellowed to the crowd in Boston. He also called for the use of improved technology to lower the overall workday. Additionally, in a passage that could’ve been composed by Eugene V. Debs decades later, Ingersoll declared:

I sympathize with every honest effort made by the children of labor to improve their condition. That is a poorly governed country in which those who do the most have the least. There is something wrong when men are obliged to beg for leave to toil. We are not yet a civilized people; when we are, pauperism and crime will vanish from our land.

This speech left a lasting impression on Debs, so much so that he quoted it at length in an 1886 article in the Locomotive Firemen’s Magazine calling for the eight-hour workday. It is safe to say that Ingersoll’s own progressive views on labor influenced Debs’s own labor advocacy, especially during his time leading the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W).

Eugene V. Debs, 1897. Indiana Memory.

Years later, in 1894, Eugene V. Debs and the American Railway Union (ARU) led a massive labor strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company in the outskirts of Chicago. Approximately 2,000 employees walked off the job in May, demanding an end to the 33 1/3% pay cut they took the year prior. When the strikes escalated into violence, largely due to the aggressive tactics of the Chicago police, the United States Court in Chicago filed an injunction against Debs and the ARU. The injunction claimed that Debs, as head of the ARU, violated federal law by “block[ing] the progress of the United States mails,” the Indianapolis Journal reported. Debs was later arrested for his actions, using legendary civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow for his defense. Some speculated at the time that Robert Ingersoll, himself a lawyer, would defend Debs in court, but that never came to pass. Instead, Ingersoll defended Debs in the court of public opinion, when the press reported his previous treatment for alcoholism in an effort to discredit his cause.

Workers leaving the Pullman Palace Car Works, 1893. Wikimedia Commons.

An article in the July 9, 1894 issue of the Jersey City News reported that Dr. Thomas S. Robertson treated Debs in 1892 for “neurasthenia” and “dipsomania,” terms used in the era to describe anxiety due to spinal cord injury and alcoholism, respectively. To help his friend, Ingersoll had written a letter of introduction for Debs to Dr. Robertson, as he had used the physician’s services before. The article quotes Dr. Robertson at length, who claimed that Debs suffered from exhaustion, which had been exacerbated by drinking, but he had improved in the two years since. When asked if Debs was of sound mind, Dr. Robertson said, “in ordinary times, yes, but he is likely to be carried away by excitement and enthusiasm.” In essence, Debs suffered from what today we might call stress-induced anxiety, which became more pronounced by substance abuse. However, it is important to note that charges of alcoholism were common in this era, and Debs might have exhibited symptoms of it without ever being intoxicated.

Sensing the intention of the press with this story, Ingersoll released a statement to the Philadelphia Observer, later reprinted in the Unionville, Nevada Silver State on August 27, 1894. In it, he stood up for his friend and the causes he fought for. “I have known Mr. Debs for about twelve years,” Ingersoll said, and “I believe, [he] is a perfectly sincere man—very enthusiastic in the cause of labor—and his sympathies are all with the workingman.” When asked about Debs’s drinking, Ingersoll pushed back on the claims, saying “I never met him when he appeared to be under the influence of stimulants. He was always in good health and in full possession of his faculties.” He also commented on the attempts at scandal in the newspapers, adding that his “testimony is important in view of gossip and denunciation that everywhere attend the public mention of the strike leader.” In one of Debs’ darkest hours, when his character and cause came under fire, Ingersoll publicly defended his friend and challenged the claims made against him. Such was the nature of their bond.

Harper’s Weekly, July 14, 1894. Library of Congress.

While Robert Ingersoll certainly influenced Debs on the importance of oratory and the cause of labor, he also left a profound intellectual influence on the future socialist. Early in his life, Debs developed an iconoclastic view of religion, which primed him for a rewarding relationship with Ingersoll. In conversations with Larry Karsner, published in book form in 1922, Debs reflected on the event that made him weary of organized religion. At the age of 15, Debs attended a sermon at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Terre Haute. The priest’s vivid descriptions of hell, with a “thousand demons and devils with horns and bristling tails, clutching pitchforks, steeped in brimstone,” completely soured him on institutionalized Christianity. “I left that church with rich and royal hatred of the priest as a person, and a loathing for the church as an institution,” Debs said, “and I vowed that I would never go inside a church again.” Furthermore, when asked by Karsner if he was a disbeliever at that time, Debs replied, “Oh yes, a strong one.”

He furthered his views on hell in a February 19, 1880 article in the Terre Haute Weekly Gazette. “I do not believe in hell as a place of torment or punishment after death,” he wrote, “. . . the hell of popular conception exists solely in the imagination.” He further argues that while the idea of hell may have served a beneficial function in the past, “as soon, however, as people become good enough to be just and honorable for the simple satisfaction it affords them, and avoid evil for the same reason, then there is no further necessity of hell.” With these words, Debs actually echoed much of what Ingersoll said on the subject in an 1878 lecture. “The idea of a hell,” Ingersoll noted, “was born of revenge and brutality on the one side, and cowardice on the other. In my judgment the American people are too brave, too charitable, too generous, too magnanimous, to believe in the infamous dogma of an eternal hell.”

Robert Ingersoll pamphlet on Hell, 1882. Google Books.

While the doctrine of hell and the strictures of the church left Debs cold, he nevertheless adopted a liberal, nondenominational form of Christianity later in his life, one molded by his exposure to Ingersoll and freethought. In a 1917 article entitled “Jesus the Supreme Leader,” published in the Call Magazine and later reprinted in pamphlet form, Debs shared his thoughts on the prophet from Nazareth. Debs saw Christ not as a distant, ethereal presence, but rather as a revolutionary figure whose own humanity made him divine. “Jesus was not divine because he was less human than his fellow-men,” he wrote, “but for the opposite reason, that he was supremely human, and it is this of which his divinity consists, the fullness and perfection of him as an intellectual, moral and spiritual human being.” He placed Jesus in the same pantheon of transformative figures as abolitionist John Brown, President Abraham Lincoln, and philosopher Karl Marx.

For Debs, Christ’s appeal to “love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” was the same in spirit as Marx’s famous dictum in the Communist Manifesto: “Workers of all countries unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win.” Both statements are about solidarity—of people coming together, helping one another, and fighting for a better world. In this sense, Debs interpreted Christ like many humanists and non-sectarian Christians do today—as a deeply human figure that preached love, peace, and harmony with others.

Eugene V. Debs and Jesus of Nazareth pamphlet. Internet Archive.

While Debs and Ingersoll did not share the exact same views on Christianity, they did share a commitment to secularism, tolerance, freethought, and social justice. Debs would parlay his knowledge from Ingersoll and others into a successful political career, running five times on the socialist party ticket and earning nearly a million votes in 1920 while imprisoned for speaking out against America’s involvement in WWI. As Ingersoll was the leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought,” Debs was the leader of the “Golden Age of American Socialism,” with thousands attending his speeches and joining socialist organizations. Despite their friendship being tragically cut short by Robert Ingersoll’s death in 1899, Debs honored the legacy of the Great Agnostic for the rest of his life. Writing in his “Recollections of Ingersoll” in 1917, Debs said:

He was absolutely true to the highest principles of his exalted character and to the loftiest aspirations of his own unfettered soul. He bore the crudest misrepresentation, the foulest abuse, the vilest calumny, and the most heartless persecution without resentment or complaint. He measured up to his true stature in every hour of trial, he served with fidelity and without compromise to the last hour of his noble life, he paid in full the price of his unswerving integrity to his own soul, and each passing century to come will add fresh luster to his immortal fame.

In studying their lives and their friendship, one might say these words for Robert Green Ingersoll could equally apply to Eugene Victor Debs.

Eugene V. Debs standing by pillar. Indiana Memory.

The Unlikely Civil Rights Legacy of Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton

“Sherman Minton,” photograph, n.d., Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

Sherman Minton’s willingness to find flexibility in the law and his own thinking helped end state-sanctioned discrimination toward African Americans in housing, employment, and education. Considering his rigid stance on judicial restraint, Minton’s reformist civil rights record is surprising at first glance. He believed that Congress, not the courts, should define the country’s laws. As an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1949-1956, Minton invariably deferred to both congressional and judicial precedent, opposing activism by the Court. A closer look at his role in several landmark desegregation cases shows how Minton was able to stretch precedent in order to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. His much-lauded judicial opinion on Barrows v. Jackson, the Supreme Court decision that ended discriminatory housing covenants, is particularly relevant. Today, much work remains to fully end discriminatory policies that create disparity in income and living conditions for millions of Black Americans, a sort of de facto segregation that lingers more than sixty years after these Civil Rights Era desegregation cases. The civil rights work of Sherman Minton is worth considering here, if for no other reason, because it remains unfinished.

New Albany High School, The Vista, 1909, accessed Maurer School of Law History and Archives, Indiana University. Sherman Minton is second from the left.
Indiana University, The Arbutus for Nineteen Thirteen, “U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012,” accessed AncestryLibrary.com

Young Minton, better known as “Shay,” was a troublemaker. Born in Georgetown, Indiana, in 1890, he had to work from a young age to help support his struggling family. Yet, he somehow still found the energy to knock neighbors hats off with snowballs or loosen a wheel on his brother’s wagon, causing it to fall off and ruin his date. While Minton may have been rambunctious in his spare time, he was a serious student with a love of learning. He graduated from New Albany High School in 1910 and worked a series of jobs before enrolling at Indiana University in 1911.[1]

At IU, Minton excelled in football, baseball, and debate. He took two years of undergraduate classes before entering the IU School of Law, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 1915.[2] He then won a scholarship to Yale University School of Law where he earned his Master of Laws degree in 1916.[3] While at Yale, Minton came under the tutelage of former President William Howard Taft, who himself would go on to serve as a Supreme Court justice (the only president to boast this accomplishment). Reportedly, after Shay argued with Taft over a lesson about a certain Supreme Court ruling, Taft told his student:

I’m afraid, Mr. Minton, that if you don’t like the way this law has been interpreted, you will have to get on the Supreme Court and change it.[4]

Minton would later take the former president up on this suggestion.

Upon graduation from Yale, Minton set up a law practice in New Albany. Soon after, the United States entered WWI and Minton immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was commissioned as an infantry officer, trained at Fort Benjamin Harrison, and sent overseas in July of 1918 where he served on the French front.[5]

Indianapolis Star, May 24, 1932, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

After returning from war, Minton entered the Democratic primary to seek a congressional Senate seat. While he was unsuccessful in this 1920 election, he would remain active or interested in Democratic Party politics his entire life.[6] For the following decade, he practiced law before making another unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1930.[7] During the 1930s, he became even more politically active, campaigning for Paul McNutt in the 1932 gubernatorial race.[8] After McNutt was elected, the new governor rewarded Minton with his first public office, appointing him public counselor to the Public Service Commission. Minton began his work March 8, 1933, representing the public against utilities companies, and securing rate reductions in hundreds of cases.[9]

In 1934, Minton again ran for Congress on a platform of staunch support for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. That November 6th, Indiana voters finally sent Minton to Washington.[10] He took his seat in the U.S. Senate next to future President Harry Truman in January 1935.

Tampa Morning Tribune, January 3, 1935, 2, accessed Newspapers.com

Minton would serve only one term in Congress, but the experience influenced his later judicial positions. As a member of a committee that investigated utility companies, he helped break up monopolies, work he would later continue from the bench. He was a vocal critic of the Supreme Court decisions that declared several New Deal policies unconstitutional, establishing his long-held view that the Court shouldn’t overturn the will of the people as expressed through their elected officials. And he became a spokesman for the administration, explaining complicated issues (like Roosevelt’s court packing plan) in plain language, a strength he would later bring to his written judicial opinions.[11]

When it came to increasing or strengthening the rights of  African Americans, he was swayed neither by the administration nor legislative precedent. Instead, Minton took a moral stand for civil rights. For example, he broke with the administration’s lack of action against lynching by advocating for anti-lynching legislation throughout his term.[12] When opponents to a 1938 anti-lynching bill claimed that the states should regulate lynching, not Congress, Minton noted that there had been eight lynchings the previous year and none were prosecuted. “In other words,” Minton told his fellow senators, “there was 100 percent failure to prosecute the most heinous crime.”[13] He finished with a moral argument for legislative interference to stop lynching, stating:

I am interested in State rights, but I am much more interested in human rights.[14]

Minton was again nominated for his Senate seat in 1940, but lost as the Republican Party swept the Indiana elections. Recognizing his service to the Democratic Party and the administration, in January 1941, President Roosevelt made Minton his administrative assistant. Soon a position on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a busy federal court located  in Chicago, opened, and FDR nominated Minton for this prestigious judgeship. On May 7, 1941, the Senate confirmed the nomination and that October Minton joined the Seventh Circuit bench. [15]

Chicago Tribune, October 7, 1941, 2, accessed Newspapers.com

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard a large number of cases and Minton wrote his share of opinions and dissents in his eight years on the bench in Chicago. Yet, even drawing on this large sample of cases, it can be difficult to understand his judicial philosophy. He seems full of contradictions at times.

An ardent New Dealer, Minton believed the government was responsible for improving the lives of its citizens, which included protecting consumers. Thus, Minton often decided against corporations engaging in monopolistic practices and usually decided for the rights of labor unions. However, it was the greater good of the majority of citizens that moved Minton, not necessarily the rights of individuals. Thus, he often decided in favor of government agencies at the expense of individual rights. This was especially true when the decision could potentially impact national security. Perhaps this is not surprising considering for much of his time on the Seventh Circuit bench, the world was at war and many in the United States feared both foreign and domestic enemy agents.[16]

New York Daily News, March 30, 1948, 57, accessed Newspapers.com.

Minton was dedicated to judicial restraint and  upholding legislative intent – two sides of the same coin. In other words, Minton believed that the courts should not overturn congressional legislation which was the will of the people made law. This dovetails with his interest in protecting the rights of the majority. By deferring to Congress, Minton believed he was deferring to the people of the United States who elected the congressmen. But in cases of individual freedoms, his position sometimes put him out of step with his colleagues who saw an opportunity to expand civil liberties through their decisions. Minton was not opposed to increased civil liberties, he just believed that such issues were under the purview of Congress, not the courts. He would adhere to this view as he ascended to the nation’s highest court.[17]

Indianapolis Times, October 12, 1949, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In September 1949, President Harry Truman nominated Sherman Minton, his old friend from their years in the Senate, for the Supreme Court of the United States. Minton was confirmed and took his place on the bench that October.[18] As an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Minton maintained his general position of restraint, tendency to side with legislative precedent and the administration against individuals, and his disinclination to overturn the rulings of state courts. Despite this determination, Minton maintained a consistently strong, activist position when it came to civil rights issues, especially desegregation, as evidenced by landmark cases such as McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, Sweatt v. Painter, Brown v. Board of Education, and Barrows v. Jackson.

“George W. McLaurin,” photograph, n.d., Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, accessed Oklahoma Historical Society.

On June 5, 1950, the Supreme Court decided both McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents and Sweatt v. Painter. These cases overturned the “separate but equal” precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson with the Court unanimously deciding that, at the level of graduate school and law school, segregation denied Black students equal educational opportunities, violating their Fourteenth Amendment rights to “equal protection of the laws.”[19] Referring to the separate areas where a Black student was forced to eat and study, Chief Justice Fred Vinson wrote in the Court opinion:

Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession . . . State imposed restrictions which produce such inequalities cannot be sustained.[20]

Alabama Tribune, February 17, 1950, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

These cases provided precedent for the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. In this historic case, the Court determined that, like the earlier cases dealing with higher education, segregation in public schools also violated the Fourteenth Amendment. In short, the justices determined that there was no such thing as “separate but equal” education. In his opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:

We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.[21]

“English Class at Moton High School,” photograph, 1914, Brown v. Board of Education, National Archives. National Archives caption: English class at Moton High School, a school for Black students, one of several photographs entered as evidence in the case Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, which was one of five cases that the Supreme Court consolidated under Brown v. Board of Education, ca. 1951

Chief Justice Warren felt that an unanimous decision was essential in Brown in order to convey to the public that the Court was taking a moral as well as a constitutional stand against segregation and that the issue was now decided unequivocally. Imparting that moral argument in the opinion for Brown, Justice Warren wrote:

To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.[22]

Legal historians Linda Gugin and James St. Clair argued that Sherman Minton played a vital role in making these decisions unanimous. The scholars called him “the Court’s strongest team player” because of the warm personal relationships he fostered with his colleagues.[23] Minton was reportedly the only justice welcome in every one of their offices. He regularly organized group lunches and made sure to express his respect for his fellow justices when he dissented from their opinions. It was, therefore, quite possible that Minton was able to convey the importance of a united front on the Brown decision to his undecided colleagues.

Greencastle Daily Banner, November 17, 1953, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Because the opinions in the aforementioned cases were written by the Chief Justice (Vinson for the 1950 cases and Warren in 1954), it is impossible to definitively analyze Minton’s impact on the decisions. However, in the 1953 case of Barrows v. Jackson, Minton penned the Court’s opinion, allowing us a rare opportunity to dissect his thinking and interpret his own views on segregation and civil rights. To summarize the complicated case of Barrows v. Jackson briefly, the white neighbors of Los Angeles resident Leola Jackson were suing her for damages after she sold her house to African American buyers. This sale violated the neighborhood’s “restrictive property covenant,” a clause forbidding the sale of property in the neighborhood to non-white buyers.[24]

In the 1948 case Shelley v. Kraemer, the Supreme Court had ruled that while private discrimination was not unconstitutional, state courts could not enforce restrictive covenants because this would constitute state action in discrimination. Such state involvement would violate the State Action Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which affirms that “a state cannot make or enforce any law that abridges the privileges or immunities of any citizen.” In other words, white people were free to discriminate against African Americans by refusing to sell them homes in segregated neighborhoods, but the courts could not enforce such segregation or it would be the state itself that was discriminating against African Americans, which was unconstitutional.[25]

White supporters of segregated neighborhoods quickly identified a weakness to exploit in the Shelley decision – the issue of damages. Was it legal for white home owners to sue for damages when their restrictive covenants were violated? If so, this blatant attempt to intimidate white sellers into not selling to Black buyers would make the spirit of Shelley, which was intended to end covenants, null and unenforceable. The Barrows v. Jackson case would decide if state-sanctioned segregated neighborhoods could continue.[26]

Alabama Tribune, April 24, 1953, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

Minton’s decision in Barrows v. Jackson drew on this idea of state action as defined in Shelley and expanded it to finally end restrictive covenants for good. This required an advanced understanding of the technical aspects involved in the case, as well as a morally-based desire to end injustice in housing for African Americans. In order to end the unjust covenant practice, Minton had to engage in some complex legal maneuvering and creative use of precedent.

The first issue Minton addressed in his majority opinion in Barrows v. Jackson was a relatively straightforward application of the “state action” determination in the Shelley decision. He argued that if the state were to award damages to Jackson’s neighbors for her violation of the covenant, this would constitute “state action.” This would then violate the Fourteenth Amendment State Action Clause.[27]

The major legal challenge Minton resolved with his opinion, was that of the petitioners’ attempt to circumvent Shelley altogether. The white petitioners were not suing the Black buyers for damages, which would have made the discrimination obvious. They were suing the white seller. This was a carefully chosen legal strategy. Traditionally, the Court would not hear cases where the party being impacted, in this case discriminated against, was not present. The attorneys for the neighbors hoped that the case would be dismissed because the rights being violated were that of a third party (the Black buyers), who were not present in the courtroom. Here, Minton flipped the question. He asked the Barrows’ attorneys, “whose constitutional rights would be violated if California failed to award contract damages to the petitioners?” They had to reply “that no one’s rights would be violated.” So, where then was the damage? The petitioners would have to bring the racial issue into the courtroom if they were claiming some damage had been done in selling to a Black buyer.[28]

Indianapolis Recorder, June 20, 1953, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Minton extended the Shelley decision to cover the missing third party issue by explaining that Jackson had a right to protect herself against the “coercion” of the petitioner. In short, the Shelley decision was intended to stop discrimination against African American buyers. If Jackson had to pay damages for violating the discriminatory covenant that Shelley had intended to invalidate then she would, in fact, be paying for failing to discriminate – a direct contradiction of the intent of Shelley. He determined that the interests of Jackson and the Black buyers were closely enough aligned that Jackson represented the buyers. Thus there was no missing third party and racial discrimination was the inherent issue.[29]

Minton had little tolerance for the petitioners’ blatant attempt to circumvent the Shelley decision through such lawsuits aimed at technicalities. And he had no tolerance for continued discrimination against African Americans. He summed up his thinking eloquently and passionately in his written opinion:

The relation between the coercion exerted on respondent [Jackson] and her possible pecuniary loss thereby is so close to the purpose of the restrictive covenant to violate the constitutional rights of those discriminated against, that respondent is the only effective adversary of the unworthy covenant in its last stand. She will be permitted to protect herself and, by so doing, close the gap to the use of this covenant, so universally condemned by the courts.[30]

Minton and his clerks cited several other cases, notably Pierce v. Society of Sisters, and wrote careful clauses further defining the third party issue. [See complete legal analysis here]. In summary, Minton closed the last loophole allowing restrictive covenants and state-sanctioned segregation. Legal scholars Gugin and St. Clair summarized the final decision thusly:

The court moved to make restrictive covenants virtually unenforceable in state courts by ruling that state courts cannot award damages when a restrictive covenant is violated because it is tantamount to the state itself discriminating on the basis of race, which it may not do under the Fourteenth Amendment.[31]

California Eagle, June 18, 1953, 2, accessed Newspapers.com

Minton’s arguments as forwarded in his written opinion in Barrows v. Jackson may stand as his finest judicial moment. Gugin and St. Clair called it “Minton’s most memorable opinion” and noted that “he was praised in law review articles for his imaginative approach.”[32]  In fact, the Barrows decision has been classed among the most important desegregation events of the Civil Rights Era. Although Barrows determined that the state would not discriminate, de facto segregation continued.

Tracy Hadden Loh, Christopher Coes, and Becca Buthe, “The Great Real Estate Reset,” December 16, 2020, accessed Brookings.

In fact, neighborhoods remain segregated to this day. The real estate opportunities afforded white Americans and denied Black Americans in the 1950s helped widen the economic disparity between races. “White flight” from cities and government subsidies for suburbs have created new segregated neighborhoods. Zoning, housing codes, gentrification, and low-income housing areas have further separated economic classes, divided along racial lines. Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic further highlighted this disparity. More than twice as many Black Americans died as a result of “the inequitable living conditions, work circumstances, underlying conditions, and lower access to health care that characterize segregated neighborhoods.” According to the Brookings Institute:

Public policy and industry practice have produced a separate and unequal landscape of American neighborhoods, propagating multigenerational negative impacts on health, social mobility, and wealth for people of color as well as harmful divisions in our economy and society.[33]

As the Supreme Court decided in the desegregation cases when Minton sat on the bench in the 1950s, there is no such thing as separate but equal. The work for equal rights for Black Americans and the perfection of the promises made in the United States Constitution continues.

Notes

[1] 1900 United States Federal Census, Georgetown Township, Floyd County, Indiana, page 8, line 36, Enumeration District: 0054; FHL microfilm: 1240371, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.; “Twenty Pupils Suspended,” Plymouth Tribune, February 25, 1909, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.; Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, Sherman Minton: New Deal Senator, Cold War Justice (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1997), 38-44.

[2] “Indiana University Debaters Who Will Meet Illinois and Ohio Orators in Annual Contest,” Indianapolis News, March 13, 1913, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton, Star Half Appears on Field,” South Bend Tribune, November 19, 1913, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Bryan Prize is Awarded,” Indianapolis Star, April 9, 1914, 18, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Lineup for Sunday’s Game,” Bloomington Evening World, April 23, 1915, 1, Newspapers.com.; “Medic and Law Graduate List,” Bloomington Evening World, May 28, 1915, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

[3] “News of the Colleges,” Indianapolis News, September 29, 1915, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Enters Yale,” Bloomington Evening World, September 29, 1915, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; 1920 Alumni Directory of Yale University (New Haven: Yale University, 1920), 541, accessed  HathiTrust.

[4] Gugin and St. Clair, 52.

[5] Sherman Minton Draft Registration Card, June 1, 1917, Floyd County, Indiana, Form 522, No. 46, U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.; “In Second Training Camp,” Indianapolis News, August 14, 1917, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.; U.S. Army, Passenger List of Organizations and Casuals Returning to the United States, July 7, 1919, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985; National Archives at College Park, Record Group 92, Roll or Box 125, U.S., Army Transport Service Arriving and Departing Passenger Lists, 1910-1939, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.

[6] “Soldier Announces His Candidacy for Congress,” Jasper Herald, December 5, 1919, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “J. W. Ewing Wins Third District Nomination,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, May 8, 1920, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

[7] “Democrats to Open Campaign Sept. 18,” Seymour Daily Tribune, September 13, 1914, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Democratic Speakings Announced for County,” Brownstown Banner, September 17, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Sherman Minton Has Brilliant Record,” Jeffersonville Evening News, reprinted Jasper Herald, January 24, 1930, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; Sherman Minton, “To The Voters of Dubois Co,” Jasper Herald, May 16, 1930, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Democrats in Jasper Rally,” Bedford Daily Mail, October 15, 1930, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[8] “Meeting Shows M’Nutt Backing,” Indianapolis Star, February 8, 1932, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “McNutt Meeting Set for Tonight,” Boonville Enquirer, April 29, 1932, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[9] Ralph L. Brooks, “State’s Commerce-Industry Division Affects All Citizens,” Indianapolis Sunday Star, September 17, 1933, 57, accessed Newspapers.com.

[10] “Republicans Sweep City, County; Minton Beats Robinson in Race for Senate Seat,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, November 7, 1934, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Leads Lake Ticket,” Hammond Times, November 8, 1934, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Winner,” Boonville Enquirer, November 9, 1934, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[11] Gugin and St. Clair, Chapter Four: “Fulfilling His New Deal Promise.”

[12] “Senators Agree on One Point,” Muncie Evening Press,” August 6, 1937, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.; “May Use Anti-Lynch Bill in Filibuster,” Baltimore Sun, November 25, 1940, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

[13] Congressional Record, 75th Congress, 3rd Session, 1938, vol. 83:2. 1931-45, cited in Gugin and St. Clair, 115.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Sherman Minton Is Named to Circuit Court of Appeals,” Muncie Evening Press, May 7, 1941, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Sworn In as U.S. Judge,” Indianapolis Star, May 31, 1941, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Induction Today,” Chicago Tribune, October 7, 1941, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Becomes U.S. Judge, Says Good-by, Politics,” Chicago Tribune, October 8, 1941, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[16] Gugin and St. Clair, Chapter Seven: “A Faithful Disciple of Judicial Restraint.”

[17] Ibid.

[18] “Names Minton to High Court,” Terre Haute Tribune, September 15, 1949, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Is Confirmed for Court, 48 to 16,” New York Times, October 5, 1949, 1, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.; “Hoosier Sworn In As Supreme Court Justice,” Muncie Evening Press, October 12, 1949, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Sworn In As Supreme Court Justice,” New York Times, October 13, 1949, 18, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.

[19] Supreme Court of the United States, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education et al., Decided June 5, 1950, 339 U.S. 637, Legal Information Institute.; Supreme Court of the United States, Sweatt v. Painter et al., Decided June 5, 1950, 339 U.S. 629, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.

[20] Supreme Court, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State.

[21] Supreme Court of the United States, Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al., Decided May 17, 1954, 347 U.S. 483, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Gugin and St. Clair, 263.

[24] Supreme Court of the United States, Barrows et al. v. Jackson, Decided June 15, 1953, 346 U.S. 249, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.

[25] Supreme Court of the United States, Shelley et ux. v. Kraemer et ux. McGhee et ux. v. Sipes et al., Decided May 3, 1948, 334 U.S. 1, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.

[26] David N. Atkinson, “Justice Sherman Minton and the Protection of Minority Rights,” Washington and Lee Law Review 34, iss. 1 (1997): 97-117, accessed Washington and Lee University School of Law Scholarly Commons.

[27] Supreme Court, Barrows et al. v. Jackson.

[28] Ibid.; Atkinson, 109.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Supreme Court, Barrows et al. v. Jackson.

[31] Gugin and St. Clair, 248.

[32] Ibid., 248-49.

[33] Tracy Hadden Loh, Christopher Coes, and Becca Buthe, “The Great Real Estate Reset,” December 16, 2020, Brookings Institute.

Injustice, Genocide, and “Survivance”: Re-centering the Potawatomi at Sycamore Row, Part Two

This is Part Two of a two-part post.

In Part One we presented the text for a new marker at Sycamore Row in Carroll County, Indiana which will replace a 1963 marker that was recently damaged. This new text focuses less on unverifiable legends about sycamore trees sprouting along the Old Michigan Road told by the original marker text, in order to make room for the history of the Potawatomi that is intertwined with the creation of the road. The new marker still tells the story of the trees and their preservation—history that the local community values—but it now also hints at the complex history of the injustices the U.S. perpetuated against the Potawatomi. The marker’s limited space doesn’t allow IHB to tell the larger story, so we are expanding on that here. This story of injustice, genocide, and survivance* is often lost by historians presenting a version of Indiana history as a march towards progress. To truly understand our state’s history and the atrocities perpetuated in the name of that “progress,” we must re-center the Potawatomi and other indigenous People in that story.

“Me-Te-A, A Pottawatimie Chief,” n.d., lithograph, Allen County – Fort Wayne Historical Society Collection, Purdue University Fort Wayne, accessed Indiana Memory.

Potawatomi Removal, Genocide, Resistance, and Survivance

The Potawatomi lived in the land now called the United States for centuries before European people settled here. By the 13th century, but likely earlier, the Potawatomi (then the Bodewadmi) were living in what is now Eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States. They were one of a group of Algonquin-speaking tribes united with the Odawa (Ottawa) and Ojibwe (Chippewa) into a collective called Nishnabe, which still exists to this day. (Learn more about the history of the Potawatomi through the Citizen Potawatomi Cultural Heritage Center). [1]

Over the centuries, the Potawatomi migrated inland as their prophets had predicted, settling around the Great Lakes Region.  Potawatomi men fished and hunted deer, elk, and beaver. Potawatomi women maintained areas of cultivated crops, which have usually been referred to as gardens, but according to historian and professor Jeffrey Ostler, these plots should be recognized as farms. Some of them were as large as 100 acres or more, surrounded by fences and producing bounties of corn, beans, pumpkins, and wheat. According to the Milwaukee Public Museum, in the winter, the Potawatomi lived in small groups coordinated with specific hunting territories. In the spring, they gathered in large villages for communal hunting and food production. Required to marry outside of one’s own community, Potawatomi people created a network of social bonds through these marriages. Trade also strengthened these relationships between communities. The Potawatomi did not have a chief that spoke for the entire tribe, but instead, village heads who met in council with the leaders of other Potawatomi communities to make decisions through intricate diplomatic negotiations. Recognizing this decentralized system of government is important in understanding the duplicitous treatymaking explained later in this post.[2]

After clashes with the Iroquois in the 17th century, the Potawatomi lived peacefully, and for a time, enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership with French trappers in the 18th century, according to John Boursaw, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and former director of the Citizen Potawatomi Cultural Heritage Center (CPCHC). However, when hundreds of Potawatomi men joined the French to fight in the Seven Year’s War starting in 1757, some returned carrying smallpox. The Great Lakes Potawatomi were devastated by the epidemic. They were also impacted by the defeat of the French by the British in 1763, with different indigenous communities supporting the French, the British, and the fledgling United States. [3]

After the American Revolutionary War, the new United States government began pushing West, surveying and selling land.  The U.S. government worked towards this end through military action, economic pressure, treaty negotiations, and sanctioned genocide in order to make space for white male settlers to farm the land. White squatters and militias also murdered indigenous peoples for their land. (Learn more about 18th and early 19th-century removal and persecution of indigenous peoples in the Midwest). [4]

The Potawatomi resisted U.S. expansion in multiple ways. For example, they fought against the U.S. in the Ohio Indian Wars, they joined Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh’s resistance after 1805, and allied with the British during the War of 1812. Many of the gains the Potawatomi made were lost after the British defeat when the crown ceded its midwestern lands to the U.S. [5]

George Winter, “Pottawattamie Indians,” 1837, watercolor, Tippecanoe County Historical Association Collection, Purdue University, accessed Indiana Memory.

By 1825, the state and federal governments were applying severe pressure on the Potawatomi to leave Indiana. The government systematically worked to extinguish Indian-held land titles negotiated through previous treaties. And there was always the threat of violence, both from encroaching white settlers and the U.S. military. The state government viewed the Miami lands as blocking the development of the Wabash, and Erie Canal and Potawatomi lands as blocking the creation of the Michigan Road. Indiana legislators pushed for removal of both peoples. [6]

U. S. Government Strategies for Indigenous Land Theft

The U.S. government had several strategies for forcing Native Peoples to cede land. According to Blake Norton, curator of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center,

U.S. leaders exploited tribal autonomy by making treaties with individual villages, rather than large regional bands. This tactic helped divide communities, as gifts and annuities were leveraged against those unwilling to go. [7]

The loss of land in areas where Native Peoples were removed impacted those who remained. They could no longer self-sufficiently live off the land and they became reliant on annuities while being pushed into debt. This was intentional. As Thomas Jefferson explained to William Henry Harrison in an 1803 letter:

We shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among [Great Lakes Indians] run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands. [8]

Nellie Armstrong Robertson and Dorothy Riker, eds., John Tipton Papers Volume I: 1809-1827 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1942, Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

By 1826, the United States government tasked three commissioners, including General John Tipton, an Indian agent working out of Fort Wayne, with securing land cessions from the Potawatomi. The proposed treaty would make way for what would become the Michigan Road. John Tipton would benefit professionally and financially from this suppression and disenfranchisement of the Potawatomi—a microcosm of the larger story about the United States building its empire on the stolen lands of Indigenous People. [9]

The U.S. commissioners tasked with treatymaking presented these land cessions to the bands as a way for the Potawatomi to pay off debts claimed against them. Again, the Potawatomi only owed these debts to traders and Indian agents because they had been forced from their traditional livelihoods—an intentional part of the larger government plan to remove them. In addition to clearing accrued debt, the U.S. commissioners also promised the Potawatomi a group of eighty-six land reserves where they would hold title. [10]

According to educator and historian Juanita Hunter, other techniques used by government officials to take the Potawatomi ancestral land included: negotiating with members not authorized to speak on behalf of a tribe while referring to them in treaties as “chiefs;” making treaties with rival tribes with no claims to the land; introducing alcohol into negotiations; and encouraging encroachment of settlers onto Indian land. The threat of military intervention was also ever present. [11]

“Deceitful Lips”: The 1826 Treaty with the Potawatomi

James Otto Lewis, “Me-No-Quet, A Distinguish’d Pottowatomie Chief,” 1827, lithograph, Allen County – Fort Wayne Historical Society Collections, Purdue University Fort Wayne Digital Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

Under these conditions, twenty-four bands of Potawatomi gathered near the Mississinewa River in Wabash County, Indiana, on October 5, 1826. Bands of Miami were also present for similar negotiations. The commissioners began the proceedings by pushing for complete removal. They painted a bright picture of life beyond the Mississippi River and promised white settlement would never touch them there. Commissioner Lewis Cass, also governor of Michigan Territory, claimed:

We are authorized to offer you a residence there, equal in extent to your land here, and to pay you an annuity, which will make you comfortable, and to provide the means of your removal . . . You will then have a country abounding in game . . . Your Great Father will never suffer any of his white children to reside there, for it is reserved for the red poeple [sic]. It will be yours, as long as the sun shines, and the rain falls. [12]

These were empty promises, and the indigenous leaders knew it. They responded that the white men had caused the problems that the indigenous bands were now facing. They explained that they could not go West because there were already people living there—other native groups with their own claims to the land. Speaking for himself and Potawatomi leader Aubanaubee, Miami leader Legro stated:

You speak to us with deceitful lips, and not from your hearts. You say the game is going away and we must follow it; who drove it away?  . . . Before you came, the game was plenty . . . We own there is game there, but the Great Spirit has made and put men there, who have a right to that game, and it is not ours. [13]

James Otto Lewis, “Pe-Che-Co, A Pottowattomie Chief, Painted at the Treaty of Mississinewa,” 1827, Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society Collection, Purdue University Fort Wayne Digital Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

The secretary documenting the details of the treaty negotiations recorded no more of the proceedings, which continued for several days. It is clear from Legro’s words that they did not want to cede more land, and yet they ultimately did. The terms of the 1826 Treaty with the Potawatomi can give us some clues to what happened. [14]

Article I provided over $30,000 in goods to the Potawatomi. With this provision, white stakeholders profited twice. The traders providing the goods received payment from the government, while the government would turn around and sell the land to settlers for profit. These annuities also furthered Potawatomi dependence on the U.S. government, which would ultimately push them further into debt. [15]

Article I also provided $9,573 in payments for debts that traders claimed the Potawatomi owed them. In a blatant conflict of interest, it was Tipton, a commissioner who regularly befitted from suppressing and removing the Potawatomi through his speculative land dealings, who decided (in his role as Indian agent) just how much debt the Potawatomi owed. [16]

The Potawatomi pushed back for larger payments and succeeded to some extent. They were able to negotiate for an annual payment of $2,000 over a period of twenty-two years with additional money provided for education and for a mill built at government expense. But Legro’s prediction was correct. The government spoke with “deceitful lips,” and the Indigenous Peoples would not receive twenty-two years of payments. Instead, the government would force them off their ancestral land within only twelve years. [17]

Article II of the treaty was even more disastrous for the Potawatomi. In this section, which included the provisions for the future Michigan Road, the treaty makers were careful not to define the route of the road. The Potawatomi thought they were ceding a mile-wide strip of land in a straight, contiguous line for the route. Even Tipton, in private correspondence, admitted that this was also his understanding of the provision. He told the land office commissioner Elijah Hayward:

I feel bound to state to you, and through you to the President, that, at the time of negotiating this treaty, these Indians did not understand that their land, not embraced within the bounds of the tract then ceded, would be required to construct this road, except where the road passed through the country retained by them . . . This was also my understanding of this treaty at the time it was made. [18]

Instead, when the State of Indiana began surveying the route, they chose a circuitous route around swamps and other undesirable land. The Potawatomi resisted this change, stopping and confronting surveyors, and delaying the road-building operation. Other councils were held between commissioners and some Potawatomi members while settlers and government officials continued to press for complete removal. In September 1831, Potawatomi members of dubious authority ceded the land for the circuitous route. Without information from the indigenous perspective it is hard to know exactly how this happened. Reports of U.S. officials claim that through an interpreter “of mixed blood,” who was educated in white schools and worked for a fur trading company, they were able to get “a few young chiefs” intoxicated and convince them to cede more land. Looking at the history of U.S. negotiation tactics, it is likely that these young men were not authorized to make such a deal. [19]

The new route for the Michigan Road cut through the remaining Potawatomi lands, further isolating and cordoning off the indigenous bands. According to Hunter, ” The commissioners, in fact, saw this fractionalization as one reason for the ratification of the treaty.” John Tipton wrote:

It was then important that the Indians be separated into bands, by the intervention of our settlements . . . We could not purchase any particular district near the centre of the Pattawatamie [sic] country; but that tribe freely consented to give us land for the road described in the treaty, and for the settlement along it. Such a road . . . will sever their possessions, and lead them at no distant day to place their dependence upon agricultural pursuits, or to abandon the country. [20]

The Potawatomi refused to sell the bulk of their lands. However, the commissioners planned the road so that it cut through the middle of indigenous lands. This purposeful intercession combined with white settlement along the road, cut Potawatomi territory into unconnected pieces, weakening their holdings. State and government officials then turned their attention to removal.

Map, “Potowatomie Reserves by Treaty of 27th October 1832,” March 27, 1832, Indiana State Archives, accessed Indiana Memory.

Trail of Death

In May 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing “an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi.” [21] The state and federal government, along with white settlers and squatters, continued to apply pressure for Potawatomi removal. In the 1832 Treaty of Tippecanoe, Potawatomi “chiefs” supposedly sold much of the remaining land. Menominee, an important Potawatomi leader, denied the validity of this treaty and resisted removal. [22] He wrote to a federal Indian agent, referring optimistically to President Van Buren:

The President does not know the truth . . . He does not know that you made my young chiefs drunk and got their consent and pretended to get mine. He would not drive me from my home and the graves of my tribe, and my children, who have gone to the Great Spirit, nor allow you to tell me that your braves will take me, tied like a dog. [23]

Menominee stood his ground and gathered followers. In response, Indiana Governor David Wallace had him arrested and ordered the forced removal at gunpoint of most of the remaining Potawatomi. The CPCHC explained:

On the morning of September 4, 1838, a band of 859 Potawatomi, with their leaders shackled and restrained in the back of a wagon, set out on a forced march from their homeland in northern Indiana for a small reserve in present-day Kansas. To minimize the temptation for the Potawatomi to try to escape and return home, militia members burned both fields and houses as the dejected members of the wagon train departed. [24]

George Winter, “Pottawattamie Emigration,” 1838, Tippecanoe County Historical Association Collection, accessed Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center, https://www.potawatomiheritage.com/encyclopedia/trail-of-death/

A white witness described the scene:

The whitemen were gathering thick around them, which was but a sad necessity for their departure. Still they clung to their homes. But the flames of the torch were applied—their villages and wigwams were annihilated. [25]

It was John Tipton who led the militia group that forced the Potawatomi on this Trail of Death. In a horrific twist of irony, the route they took followed part of the Michigan Road. According to the CPCHC:

The journey was a 660-mile trek for which the Potawatomi were not prepared and through terrain to which they were not accustomed. The heat was oppressive and water was often scarce. They had only a few hundred horses to carry people and supplies, and promised additional wagons did not arrive before their departure; so, even the weak and elderly were forced to walk. The pace and conditions of the march debilitated the health of travelers. A day rarely passed that a member of the party did not die, usually a child, forcing their bereft and exhausted families to leave the bodies behind in hastily dug graves. In the end, more than forty people died during what the Potawatomi came to call the Trail of Death. [26]

This tragedy was not some unintended consequence of settlement. Removal was the plan from the beginning. The U.S. government, state governments, and white settlers chose the systematic genocide of Indigenous Peoples in order to take their native lands for their own use. Methods for the perpetuation of this crime included the tactics seen here: making treaties with people not authorized to speak on behalf of indigenous bands, pushing Indigenous Peoples into debt and dependence through encroachment and over hunting, flagrantly violating treaties, and finally, violence and murder. White people benefited directly from this genocide, taking the fertile land and prospering while continuing the persecution of Native Peoples. [27]

For example, Tipton, who helped negotiate the 1826 Treaty and led the forced removal of the Potawatomi, bought several sections of land along the Michigan Road. He later benefited financially from the sales of these lands as businesses and residences sprung up along the road. In 1831, John Tipton purchased the land surrounding the section of the Old Michigan Road called Sycamore Row, where IHB and local partners will install a new historical marker. We can only hope that the phrases on that marker about the 1826 Treaty and the pressure put on the Potawatomi will spur interest in learning more about this enduring people. [28]

George Winter, “Sinisqua,” 1842, watercolor, Tippecanoe County Historical Association, Purdue University, accessed Indiana Memory.

Survivance

And they did endure. Even in the face of persecution and genocide, the Potawatomi continue today as sovereign nations, including the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation located in Kansas and the Pokégnek Bodéwadmik, or Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, located in Michigan and Indiana. These tribal governments maintain their own educational and health systems, infrastructure, housing developments, law enforcement, and more. The Potawatomi people also continue to teach future generations traditional culture, arts, history, and language. In 1994, the U.S. government finally recognized the sovereignty of the Pokagon Band through an act of Congress signed by President Bill Clinton. [29]

“Pokagon Band of Potawatomi commemorate 25th anniversary of Reaffirmation of Sovereignty,” (Winnipeg, Canada) Indian Life, November 4, 2019, https://www.newspaper.indianlife.org/.

According to the Pokagon Band:

The Pokagon people have endured thanks in part to their values of Wisdom, Love, Respect, Truth, Honesty, Humility, and Bravery. Adapting these deeply-rooted ideals to contemporary circumstances has made the Band an engine for economic development and a model for sustainable living in the region. [30]

Learn more about the Potawatomi culture through the Pokagon Band Potawatomi website and the Citizen Potawatomi Cultural Heritage Center.

http://www.pokagonband-nsn.gov/

* “Survivance” is a term coined by White Earth Ojibwe scholar Gerald Vizenor to explain that Indigenous People survived and resisted white colonization and genocide and continue as a people to this day. Theirs is not a history of decline. Their work preserving and forwarding their culture, traditions, language, religions, and struggle for rights and land continues.

Sources:

[1] Citizen Potawatomi Cultural Heritage Center, “History,” https://www.potawatomiheritage.com/history/; Jon Boursaw, “The Flint Hills: A Major Chapter in Potawatomi Migration,” Symphony in the Flint Hills Field Journal (2011): 28-37, Kansas State University Library, newprairiepress.org/sfh/2011/flinthills/3/.

[2] Citizen Potawatomi Cultural Heritage Center, “History,” https://www.potawatomiheritage.com/history/; “Potawatomi,” Milwaukee Public Museum, http://www.mpm.edu/content/wirp/ICW-56.

[3] Boursaw, 29-30; Jeffrey Ostler, Surviving Genocide: Native Nations and the United States from the American Revolution to Bleeding Kansas (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2019), 34-35.

[4] Jill Weiss Simins, “Democracy for Some: Defining the Indiana Landscape through the Rectangular Survey System,” Indiana History Blog, December 2017, https://blog.history.in.gov/democracy-for-some-defining-the-indiana-landscape-through-the-rectangular-survey-system/. For a more thorough study of the genocidal policies and actions of the United States government, area militias, and squatter-settlers, see Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014).

[5]”Potawatomi,” Milwaukee Public Museum.

[6] Juanita Hunter, “Indians and the Michigan Road,” Indiana Magazine of History 83, No. 3 (September 1987): 244-266.

[7] “The United States’ Handling of the ‘Indian Problem’,” Citizen Potawatomi Nation, September 7, 2018, https://www.potawatomi.org/the-united-states-handling-of-the-indian-problem/.

[8] Thomas Jefferson to William Henry Harrison, February 27, 1803, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-39-02-0500.

[9] John Tipton, Land Deed, State Volume Patent, Indiana, Issued January 3, 1831, Document Number: 11836, Accession Number: IN1110_.054, U.S. Department of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, accessed glorecords.blm.gov/; John Tipton, Land Deed, State Volume Patent, Indiana, Issued January 3, 1831, Document Number: 11837, Accession Number: IN1110_.055, U.S. Department of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, accessed glorecords.blm.gov/; Nellie Armstrong Robertson and Dorothy Riker, eds., John Tipton Papers, Volume I: 1809-1827 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1942), accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections; “Trail of Death,” Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center, https://www.potawatomiheritage.com/encyclopedia/trail-of-death/.

[10] Armstrong Robertson and Riker, Tipton Papers: Vol. I, 537; Ratified Indian Treaty 146: Potawatomi – Near Mouth of Mississinewa Upon the Wabash, October 16, 1826, National Archives Catalogue No. 121651643, Record Group 11, National Archives, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/121651643; Hunter 244-45.

[11] Hunter, 246.

[12] Armstrong Robertson and Riker, Tipton Papers: Vol. I, 578-80; Hunter, 252.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.; Ratified Indian Treaty 146: Potawatomi.

[15] Ibid.; Hunter, 254; Tipton Land Deed 11836; Tipton Land Deed 11837.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ratified Indian Treaty 146: Potawatomi; Hunter 254-56.

[18] Armstrong Robertson and Riker, Tipton Papers: Vol. II, 419; Hunter, 256.

[19] Hunter, 256-57.

[20] Armstrong Robertson and Riker, Tipton Papers: Vol. I, 602; Hunter, 266.

[21] “An Act to Provide for an Exchange of Lands with the Indians Residing in Any of the States or Territories, and for Their Removal West of the River Mississippi,” May 28, 1830, Twenty-First Congress, Session I, Chapter 148, 411, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, American Memory, Library of Congress.

[22] “Articles of a Treaty Made and Concluded on Tippecanoe River, in the State of Indiana, between Jonathan Jennings, John W. Davis and Marks Crume, Commissioners on the Part of the United States, and the Chiefs, Headmen and Warriors, of the Pottawatimie Indians” (Treaty with the Potawatomi, 1832), The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, https://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/pot1832.asp.

[23] “Potawatomi Trail of Death,” Kansapedia, 2012, Kansas Historical Society, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/potawatomi-trail-of-death/17944.

[24] “Trail of Death,” Citizen Potawatomi Cultural Heritage Center, https://www.potawatomiheritage.com/encyclopedia/trail-of-death/.

[25] “Potawatomi Trail of Death,” Kansas Historical Society.

[26] “Trail of Death,” Citizen Potawatomi Cultural Heritage Center.

[27] See footnote 4.

[28] Tipton Land Deed 11836; Tipton Land Deed 11837. See also footnote 9.

[29] Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, The Official Website of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, https://www.pbpindiantribe.com/; Pokégnek Bodéwadmik, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, https://www.pokagonband-nsn.gov/; “Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Commemorate 25th Anniversary of Reaffirmation of Sovereignty,” (Winnipeg, Canada) Indian Life, November 4, 2019, https://www.newspaper.indianlife.org/.

[30]“Our Culture,” Pokégnek Bodéwadmik, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, https://www.pokagonband-nsn.gov/our-culture.

THH Episode 35: Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

Transcript for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly

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Crouch: The new day comes slowly, it is true, but none can fail to see that it approaches . . . the women who are asking for political liberty want it chiefly because it will enable them to get certain things . . . When enough women awake to the necessity of these things, then the battle will be won . . . We must reach the ‘women of the long gray streets,’ as well as . . . women of wealth and leisure. This will take time, patience, and tireless effort. A great responsibility rests upon those of us who have heard the call and have taken the yoke upon us. We have the consolation of knowing that ours is perhaps the greatest cause that has ever engaged the attention of the world – it is the cause of human liberty, which will not be attained until woman is recognized as joint partner with man in all the affairs of life.

Beckley: That was Indiana’s Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch reading from a speech given in 1911 by Hoosier suffragist Grace Julian Clarke.

By 1911, Indiana suffragists crackled with energy, hope, anxiety, and intention. They were a new generation of young activists determined to be the last struggling for the vote. They were peaceful, but radical, both in their demands and the innovative techniques used to gain support for their cause. They were, according to the Indianapolis News, “engaged in warfare—moral warfare—an assault on prejudice and ignorance.”

In this episode, we’ll meet the diverse suffragists who led Hoosier women’s fight for the vote during the re-invigoration of the movement starting around 1911. We’ll follow them as they organize, educate, lobby, protest, and march in the streets. And as we commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage, we can learn from their struggle. After all, women are still fighting for equality, from equal pay to equal representation in government. And while it may be disheartening that women still haven’t secured an Equal Rights Amendment after generations of work, today’s activists can take some solace in looking to the generations that came before. Suffragists have taught the next generation to organize, agitate, lobby, and most importantly, in the words of Terre Haute suffragist Mabel Curry, they taught us: “We must be fearless.”

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

Since 1851, Hoosiers from all backgrounds had been clearly, loudly, and bravely demanding the vote. That year, a small group of men and women held Indiana’s first Woman’s Rights Convention in Dublin, Wayne County. There, they passed resolutions that seem surprisingly modern – equal access to employment and education, equal pay for equal work, and the abolishment of laws which discriminated against women. Most importantly, they demanded “the same rights of citizenship with man,” or, simply put, they demanded suffrage.The following year they established the Indiana Woman’s Rights Association (IWRA).

Shrewd leaders emerged. In 1859, Dr. Mary Thomas became the first woman to address the Indiana General Assembly, pointing out the injustice that

Ellis reading Thomas: the law, with its ruthless hand, undertakes to ‘settle her business for her,’ when she had no voice in making that law.

Beckley: Just how frustrating that would be – working to change the laws denying your rights, but being stymied at every turn because you don’t have those very rights you’re working towards.

The Civil War gave Hoosier suffragists hope that they would finally gain their rights. They believed that their work nursing soldiers, running the farms, and raising funds for the war would force lawmakers to recognize their citizenship. They even put their suffrage work on hold to serve their country, proving their dedication to the nation. When the war ended and they were not rewarded with suffrage, they resumed the fight.

The first IWRA meeting after the Civil War, held in 1869, was also the first time historians have been able to document African American women’s participation in the state’s suffrage organizations. At the meeting one woman demanded assurance that Black voices would be included as well. The IWRA agreed. Black women would remain an essential part of the fight for suffrage, especially in Indianapolis. When Black men gained suffrage with the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and women were still left without the vote, disappointed Hoosier women were determined to work more directly for change.

By the 1880s, they shifted their approach to directly lobbying their representatives. Historian Anita Morgan explained that by this point, women recognized that “the path to success for suffrage was persistence and continuous pressure.” But they couldn’t have known just how long it would take to travel that path.

In 1881, it looked like all of their work lobbying and delivering impassioned speeches before the Indiana General Assembly had paid off. A women’s suffrage bill passed both the House and the Senate. Only one, seemingly small technicality stood between Hoosier women and the ballot box. At that time, bills for constitutional amendments had to pass two legislative sessions, so it would have to be brought up for another vote in 1883. Again, Indiana women wrote letters, signed petitions, delivered speeches, and lobbied their representatives, and hundreds of suffragists, both Black and white, gathered at a mass meeting in Indianapolis to make their voices heard. Despite all of this, the suffrage bill wouldn’t even get a hearing in 1883.

In what Dr. Morgan called “a clear case of political chicanery,” suffrage opponents brushed off a dusty rule that stated pending legislation must be printed in full in the House and Senate Journals before it could be voted on in the following session. The suffrage bill somehow-mysteriously-wasn’t printed in 1881 and thus couldn’t be considered in 1883. To get so close to the vote only to be unjustly thwarted was a huge blow to the movement.

Nevertheless, they persisted. Over the following decades, Indiana’s suffragists used political and legal strategies to further their cause. Hoosier women solidified partnerships with national suffrage organizations and spoke before the U.S. Congress. In 1894, Indiana women attempted to vote without a suffrage law, knowing they would be denied, in order to sue for their rights through the court system. Helen Gougar of Lafayette took her case all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court. Despite her argument for the “Constitutional Right[s] of the Women of Indiana,” in which she declared that a “right withheld is a wrong inflicted,”  her appeal failed.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the women’s club movement helped make suffrage more mainstream. It became increasingly clear to the highly educated clubwomen who were interested in political reform that only the vote would allow them to completely achieve their goals.

However, despite being a more mainstream idea, by the turn of the 20th century, after more than fifty years of struggle, the Indiana suffrage movement itself had stagnated. It’s not surprising that after half a century of work, some women were beginning to feel apathetic by the slow pace of change. But that wasn’t the only reason for this stagnation – the movement was also divided along ideological lines and  by the strong personalities of its leaders, who clashed over goals and the methods for achieving them.

Some believed prohibition went hand in hand with suffrage in protecting women from abusive situations and loss of property. Others, including the large number of German immigrants whose cultural celebrations included beer, believed prohibition would drive many away from the cause. Some suffrage supporters thought women should first work for partial suffrage – or the right to vote in limited, local elections. Others believed full suffrage was their natural right and they would settle for nothing less. Some wanted to work for suffrage at the local and state level; others thought only an amendment to the U.S. constitution would guarantee the vote.

It’s really no surprise their views were diverse because so were suffragists. The heroes of Indiana’s suffrage movement were immigrants, African Americans, and union members. They were rich women, poor women, working women – Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Prohibitionists, and Socialists. They were Quakers, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics. Indiana’s movement included everyone who believed that women who paid taxes, contributed to their communities, and aided in war efforts when called – women who had proved their worth as citizens time and again – deserved a say in who represented their interests.

After years of stagnation, and with a richly diverse pool of potential supporters, Indianapolis firebrands Grace Julian Clarke and Dr. Amelia Keller put a defibrillator on the weakly-beating heart of Indiana’s suffrage movement in 1911. After lobbyists failed to convince the legislature to pass partial or municipal suffrage bills, the two women recognized the need to overcome apathy and seriously mobilize, forming the Indiana Woman’s Franchise League (WFL). At the same time, Indiana’s Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) ramped up efforts to gain support for women’s enfranchisement. While the groups shared the same underlying goals,  the Equal Suffrage Association embraced different tactics and audiences. Unlike the WFL, it welcomed men. It also worked more closely with labor unions and African American women, especially early in its history. Within the reinvigorated movement emerged new leaders from both groups, who embraced savvy political and promotional tactics. Suffragists, long familiar with statehouse chambers, increasingly spread their message to public squares, street corners and even the skies.

Long maligned as being militant or overbearing, the suffragists decided to generate public interest with a variety of innovative approaches throughout 1912. Among these, there were a few stand outs. The spring brought a “Funfest,” which featured peanuts, a fortune teller, and a satirical “opray,” which had even anti-suffragists laughing against their will. More importantly, it provided an influx of much-needed funding. In June, suffragists led by Grace Julian Clarke, undertook an automobile tour of Hamilton County, distributing flyers and spreading information about suffrage with fantastic results. Perhaps most innovative of all, suffragists took to the skies in May and June, flying over events in hot air balloons showering spectators with “votes for women” buttons and circulars reading,

Ellis reading circular: Women of Indiana . . . come and show that you are no longer satisfied to be ignored and that you insist in having a voice in this government.

As these tactics helped the movement grow, Hoosier reformers recognized the need to be more representative as many of Indiana’s suffragists were white and financially well-off. The Equal Suffrage Association sought new partners in the historic fight for equal rights, with association president Dr. Hannah Graham speaking to working women around the city about how the vote could help the labor cause.  The diversity of the ESA was even more obvious at a meeting held in Indianapolis in the summer of 1912. There, members of over a dozen unions, representatives of Black organizations, members of various political parties, and Indianapolis Mayor Lew Shank converged to hear speeches and debate about suffrage. The argument made by African American civil rights leader Freeman Ransom, that without the ballot women were forced to pay taxes without representation, was one of the most applauded speeches of the day.

But the ESA wasn’t alone in diversifying their membership. The Woman’s Franchise League also made laboring classes a priority at its 1913 state convention. At the convention, there was the following reading of Luluabelle Kern’s “Factory Meetings and the Working Woman,” :

Ellis reading Kern: The answer is that the working woman must study the Constitution of the United States and see just where she stands. Working women are in the majority and we must get them interested in suffrage. We cannot gain the ballot without them.

Later that year, WFL member Harriet Noble spoke before attendees of the Central Labor Union’s meeting in Indianapolis. There, she implored working women to support the movement, saying that it was them who would benefit the most from the vote if it were secured.

Along with members of organized labor, suffrage groups also sought to work with those members of Indiana’s African American community who supported the cause.  With these relationships forged, Dr. Graham, along with Black leaders like Freeman Ransom, helped found Indianapolis’s African American branch of the ESA, No. 7, in 1912. None other than revered Black entrepreneur, Madame C.J. Walker, hosted the branch’s first meeting at her home, where public school teacher Carrie Barnes was elected president. Of the branch’s work, Barnes proclaimed

Ellis reading Barnes: We all feel that colored women have need for the ballot that white women have, and a great many needs that they have not.

Beckley: Black suffragists hosted debates at the Senate Avenue YMCA and local African American churches and worked with white ESA branches and trade unions to forward women’s right to vote. While historians are still working to discover more about Black suffragists and their role in the movement, it’s clear that their work led to greater citizenship for women. The unlikely collaboration of Indiana’s privileged white women, laboring classes, and African American community—one which was uncommon in other Midwestern states—would help lead to the ratification of women’s suffrage.

These coalitions were needed more than ever when in 1913 Governor Thomas Marshall proposed a new, increasingly restrictive state constitution that would further cement women’s disenfranchisement.

Suffragists needed to convince the General Assembly to create equal suffrage legislation before it was too late. Despite the shared goals of the ESA and the WFL, the two groups took opposing positions during a January discussion before a legislative committee weighing a partial suffrage bill. The debate at this commission meeting was simple: should suffragists support this limited suffrage bill in hopes it would lead to more rights in the future or should they hold out for full suffrage? The ESA supported the former solution, while the WFL insisted on the latter.

This division grew fierce. ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham was an outspoken proponent of full suffrage, but put her ideological stance aside. She felt like Hoosier women couldn’t miss the opportunity that this bill afforded. According to the Indianapolis Star, ESA members voted to support the partial suffrage bill because “such franchise is as much as can be expected at this time.” Simply put, a little suffrage was better than none and may help in winning full suffrage down the road.

WFL leaders vehemently disagreed. Digne Miller noted first that the bill would only grant this partial suffrage to women in Indianapolis and Terre Haute – more a fractional suffrage bill than a partial one. Dr. Amelia Keller expressed her fear that the bill could actually hurt the larger movement. Before the legislative committee, Dr. Keller argued:

Ellis reading Keller: If that bill goes through it will be immediately sent into the courts on protest of being unconstitutional and then when the vote for full suffrage really comes we will receive our answer, ‘O that question is now in court. Wait until that is settled and we’ll see about it then.’

Beckley: Even members of the same organization voiced their disagreement during the meeting. Prominent WFL member Belle Tutewiler broke with her WFL colleagues to support the bill. Her argument in favor of partial suffrage was to use this limited franchise to pry open the door of full suffrage. Her point may have been overshadowed by her fiery language. She called the league’s opposition “childish” and stated:

Ellis readiness Tuttewiler: It is mere child’s play to say that if we can not get all, we will take nothing. I think it would be better to take school suffrage now and use that as an entering wedge for full suffrage later.

Beckley: As the debate continued, the women’s language grew more contentious. In the midst of the discussion, Elizabeth Stanley of Liberty threw open a suitcase “scattering yards and yards of cards bearing a petition for full suffrage” and “ridiculed the idea of using school suffrage as a wedge.”

The women exchanged more heated words before the ineffective meeting was adjourned and the partial suffrage bill abandoned.

Public clashes such as these weren’t great press, and the WFL and ESA knew it. The organizations, both experienced in publicity, realized they needed to present a united front before the General Assembly. After all, both groups supported a proposed amendment to the constitution that would remove the word “male” as criteria to vote.  The WFL and ESA would march to the Indiana statehouse on March 3, 1913, the same day 5,000 suffragists paraded through the nation’s capital. Five hundred Hoosier suffragists from across the state walked into the statehouse that Monday afternoon.  As historian Jill Weiss Simins points out, this was not a celebratory parade, nor was it a raucous demonstration.  It was a protest. The suffrage bills being considered by the General Assembly were unlikely to pass and the Senate had already rejected at least one of the pending propositions earlier in the day. The suffragists were there not because they thought any “immediate good” would come from the day’s session. Rather, hundreds of women marched into their capitol that day to make their collective power felt.

In fact, even in the unlikely event that one of the measures were to pass on that day, it had to be approved again at the next session in 1915, and then voted on in a statewide referendum in 1916 at the earliest. Hoosier suffragists had lost this battle before, celebrating the passage of suffrage bills at one session, just to be disappointed at the next. The women marching in the Indiana statehouse that day would have, if anything, been cautiously hopeful, rather than celebratory if the bill passed, because they knew passage of a bill didn’t always lead to a change in law. Their spirit would have been somber and determined.

The women were there to “work on the legislature,” to show them that suffrage was not a fringe movement, that a large number of Hoosier women demanded the vote. Decked in yellow “Votes for Women” lapel ribbons, the women walked through the statehouse, stopping to pin ribbons on a few willing lawmakers, like Governor Samuel Ralston. Most Indiana lawmakers didn’t take a ribbon, and pages mocked the women’s efforts.

Because their march was a protest, they chose to silently file first into the House and then to the Senate. Lawmakers would have to face legions of the state’s most upstanding Hoosiers before voting to continue to deny them their right as citizens. As predicted, the suffragists didn’t achieve their legislative aims, but they didaccomplish their goal in marching: they presented a united front. Even in the face of this success, suffragists were mocked as ignorant women with the Indianapolis News writing,

Clark reading from Newspaper: Although hundreds of suffragists were jammed in the senate when Senator Grube introduced to the state Constitution to allow women suffrage, no one of them seemed to realize what ‘was doing.’ No demonstrations of any sort took place.

Beckley: This claim that the women didn’t realize what was happening is preposterous. Many of these women had dedicated their life to the cause – does it seem likely that they would have been ignorant of any upcoming legislation that would lead to victory? Of course not. What’s more, the leaders of the WFL and ESA had been working with members of the General Assembly on the legislation in question. But this protest wasn’t about legislation. It was about perseverance. And they would need that perseverance. Hoosier suffragists had a long road ahead of them.

If anything, this legislative defeat galvanized the suffragists and weeks after the march, Dr. Keller stated:

Ellis reading Keller: Against this new spirit of women nothing can stand. The wave of their determination cannot be stayed by any legislature bidding it make no further progress. It will come on and on, sweeping all obstacles which attempt to bar its path.

Beckley: Once the women made their presence known in the statehouse, they were determined to make it felt constantly. In 1914, Grace Julian Clarke formed a lobbying group, the Legislative Council of Indiana Women. The council held lawmakers’ feet to the fire regarding women’s rights bills and represented 50,000 Hoosier women from various and diverse groups. Securing an office in the statehouse, suffragists worked alongside AP statehouse reporters.

Suffragists also worked to keep the issue in front of the public. Between Illinois Street and Monument Circle a bugle sounded in the spring of 1914, summoning 300 men and women. They listened, some on foot and others in cars, as Luella McWhirter read the Woman’s Declaration of Independence and the Anthony Amendment (what would become the 19th Amendment). Suffragists like Clarke used the power of the press to inform the public about women’s right to vote. Others continued to court the laboring classes, slipping pro-suffrage literature into the hands of reform-minded celebrants at Fountain Square’s May Day festivities.In 1915, Anna Dunn Noland secured the endorsement of 1,600 miners at a national convention in Indianapolis. Support for the cause seemed to be increasing daily.

In working for the right  vote, women in Indiana and across the nation found their civic and political voice as never before. Decades of winning and then losing the right to vote didn’t quell their determination. It gave them a chance to hone their organizational skills, articulate the many rationales for women’s enfranchisement, and learn how to weather criticism. In the reinvigorated movement of the early 20th century empowered Hoosier suffragists enrolled in public speaking courses and hosted citizenship classes in their homes. Surely, as the audacious women pressed forward, the fear that the ballot would always be just out of reach lingered. But on the horizon was an event that would change the course of history, and the fortunes of suffragists: World War I.

In the next episode, we’ll discuss how Hoosier women clenched the long-awaited vote, in part, by leveraging war relief work.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is produced by the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. I’d like to thank Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and the director of the Propylaeum Liz Ellis for lending their voices to the show. This episode was written by Nicole Politika and Jill Weiss Simins. Sound engineering by Justin Clark and production by Jill Weiss Simins. We’ll be back in two weeks with another installment of Giving Voice. Until then, find us on Faceook and twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to like, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

Listen to part two here.

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

Music:

If you’re interested in the story of Indiana’s Suffrage Movement, we highly suggest reading Dr. Anita Morgan’s book, We Must Be Fearless.

Read more about the suffrage movement in Indiana with the Indiana History Blog.

Newspapers

Indianapolis News, June 10, 1913, 5.

Indianapolis News, May 2, 1913, 23.

Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1914, 5.

Blog Posts

Jill Weiss Simins, “A Silent Roar: Indiana Suffragists’ 1913 March to the Statehouse,” Indiana History Blog.

Jill Weiss Simins, ”Suffrage Up in the Air:” The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign,” Indiana History Blog.

Books

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

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, History of Woman Suffrage, Volume 6, Susan B. Anthony, 1922.

A Silent Roar: Indiana Suffragists’ 1913 March to the Statehouse

The Indiana woman’s suffrage movement was not a monolith. Its supporters held a spectrum of beliefs formed from their different backgrounds and perspectives. Nowhere was this more apparent than in rifts over strategy. Hoosier suffragists all believed women should have the vote, but clashed over the best course of action for winning it.

By 1912, Indiana’s organizations most assiduously acting in the political arena were the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL) and the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA). Both groups had strong leaders and experience with organizing, lobbying, and publicizing their views, meetings, and arguments for suffrage. Their work had recently become more urgent as Governor Thomas Marshall proposed a new, increasingly-restrictive state constitution that would further cement women’s disenfranchisement. They needed to influence the new 1913 Indiana General Assembly to create equal suffrage legislation before it was too late. They disagreed, however, on where to start. [1]

On the heels of its successful state convention in 1912 and success organizing new branches (including African American and labor branches), the ESA was well-positioned to unite the movement. Dr. Hannah Graham rallied ESA members behind the “Woman’s Declaration of Independence,” which called on women to break ties with any politician not willing to make a public declaration of their support for women’s suffrage. Suffrage took precedent over political alliances. [2]

Indianapolis News, June 6, 1912, 12, Newspapers.com

The WFL also had a banner year in 1912. Prominent members traveled the state in automobile tours, handing out literature and reaching women in smaller towns. They organized high profile events that garnered press attention and signatures for suffrage petitions. And the WFL took on the important work of convincing women who were indifferent to suffrage that they could improve their everyday lives, their children’s schools, and the health of their communities with the vote. Despite the shared goals of the ESA and the WFL, they took opposing positions on a bill introduced by Indiana Senator Evan B. Stotsenberg in January 1913 that proposed granting women partial suffrage to vote in school board elections. [3]

The clash between the ESA and WFL over this bill embodied a major conflict within the larger suffrage movement. Should suffragists accept partial suffrage to get their foot in the door and later work for full suffrage or demand full suffrage as their inalienable democratic right? While both Indiana suffrage organizations had taken different stances on this issue previously, in January 1913, the ESA supported the partial suffrage bill, while the WFL opposed it as inadequate. [4] The debate between ESA and WFL leaders before the Senate committee on rights and privileges got . . . heated.

ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham was an outspoken proponent of full suffrage, but put her ideological stance aside. She felt like Hoosier women couldn’t miss the opportunity that this bill afforded. According to the Indianapolis Star, ESA members voted to support the partial suffrage bill because “such franchise is as much as can be expected at this time.” [5] Simply put, a little suffrage was better than none and might help in garnering full suffrage down the road.

WFL leaders vehemently disagreed. Digne Miller noted first that the bill would only grant this partial suffrage to women in Indianapolis and Terre Haute – more a fractional suffrage bill than a partial one. Dr. Amelia Keller expressed her fear that the bill could actually hurt the larger movement. [6] Dr. Keller argued:

If that bill goes through it will be immediately sent into the courts on protest of being unconstitutional and then when the vote for full suffrage really comes we will receive our answer, ‘O that question is now in court. Wait until that is settled and we’ll see about it then.’ [7]

In fact, some WFL members thought that delaying the full suffrage vote was the senator’s reason for introducing the bill in the fist place. Sen. Stotsenberg had also introduced a full suffrage bill that would have had to pass two legislative sessions and then go to a statewide referendum, a process that would take years. So it was not entirely unreasonable to think that he wanted to kick the problem down the road. [8]

Even within the organizations, there was disagreement. Prominent league member Belle Tutewiler broke with her WFL colleagues to support the bill. Her argument in favor of partial suffrage was to use this limited franchise to pry open the door of full suffrage. Her valid point may have been overshadowed by her fiery language. She called the league’s opposition “childish” and stated:

It is mere child’s play to say that if we can not get all, we will take nothing. I think it would be better to take school suffrage now and use that as an entering wedge for full suffrage later. [9]

Muncie Star Press, October 21, 1912, 3, Newspapers.com

As discussion continued, the women’s language grew more contentious. In the midst of the discussion, Elizabeth Stanley of Liberty threw open a suitcase “scattering yards and yards of cards bearing a petition for full suffrage” and “ridiculed the idea of using school suffrage as a wedge.” [10] The women exchanged more heated words before the ineffective meeting was adjourned and the partial suffrage bill abandoned.

The Indianapolis Star clearly delighted in the drama. The newspaper devoted long articles to the debate, written in a patronizing tone. Front page headlines read:

Suffrage Hosts Scorn Offerings

Resentful Women in Public Meeting Condemn Bill to Give Vote on Schools

“Childish” Starts Storm

Accusation from Lone Defender of Measure Brings Heated Denial of “Imbecility” [11]

Indianapolis Star, August 2, 1912, 7, Newspapers.com.

This public disharmony was not a good look and both organizations knew it. The WFL and the ESA were experienced publicists and aware that they needed a major public event to draw positive press coverage. The groups had to come together, if only briefly, and present a united front before the General Assembly. The WFL took the lead. The group organized a march to the Indiana statehouse for March 3, 1913, the same day 5,000 suffragists marched through the nation’s capital. [12] This was the perfect opportunity to present a united front and ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham contacted the WFL asking to join forces. The WFL agreed. Just two months after their public disagreement over partial suffrage, the groups would march shoulder to shoulder before the Indiana General Assembly. [13]

It’s unclear if Black suffragists joined the march. African American ESA Branch #7 wouldn’t be organized until that summer. Newspapers catering to a white audience made no mention of their participation and the Indianapolis Recorder seemed to have been frustrated by the lack of Black suffrage information. A vexed Recorder writer, who went only by her first name of Dorothy, wrote on March 8:

What part did the colored women take in the suffrage movement at Washington last Monday? What part are they taking at any time? What are they, women or mice? Let us hear from you. Speak up! [14]

It is likely that Black suffragists at least knew about the march. The Woman’s Civic Club was an African American organization that worked to oppose race and gender discrimination in 1913. The Indianapolis branch had ninety-one members and promoted their events with the words of W. E. B. DuBois: “Protest, Reveal the truth and refuse to be silenced.” [15] The club had recently hosted Mary Tarkington Jameson at their regular meeting. Jameson was a prominent WFL member and spoke to the Woman’s Civic Club prior to departing for Washington D.C. to represent Indiana in the suffrage parade. The Recorder reported that Jameson delivered a “splendid address on Woman’s Suffrage” for the club. [16] It seems unlikely that Jameson would not have talked about current issues and upcoming events. Whether the Black suffragists in attendance would have been welcomed or felt safe in attending, would have been another matter. Unfortunately, this information is absent from sources.

Indianapolis Recorder, March 8, 1913, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

On Monday afternoon, March 3, 1913, Hoosier suffragists from across the state, 500 strong, marched into the statehouse. [17] This was not a celebratory parade, nor was it a raucous demonstration.  It was a protest. The suffrage bills being considered by the General Assembly were unlikely to pass “as the house of representatives was known to be unfriendly to equal suffrage,” and the Senate had already rejected at least one of the pending propositions earlier in the day. The suffragists were there not because they thought any “immediate good” would come from the day’s session. [18] Five hundred women marched into their capitol that day to make their presence known. They were there to “work on the legislature,” to show them that this was not a fringe movement, that a large number of Hoosier women demanded the vote. [19] WFL president Dr. Amelia Keller stated,

We wanted to show the legislators that we are in earnest and that ‘we’ means not a handful of enthusiasts, but hundreds of women. [20]

A pro-suffrage stance was edging towards the mainstream in 1913 but needed a push. It wasn’t a view that needed to be kept secret like it was when the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society first met conspiratorially in 1878, but nor was it ubiquitous. [21] The more conservative members of the Indiana Federation of Clubs, for example, still had not endorsed suffrage at the time of the march, though they would later that year. [22] Suffrage in Indiana was at a tipping point and so they marched.

Indianapolis Star, March 4, 1913, 3, Newspapers.com

Several unlikely suffrage measures were before the Indiana General Assembly on the day of the march. Representative Earl K. Friend had introduced a resolution to amend the constitution, removing the word “male.” This resolution was pending in the House Judiciary Committee B, also known as the “graveyard committee” because it is where dead bills were buried. There was no hope for the suffragists there. The identical resolution introduced by Senator Harry E. Grube had already failed in the Senate that morning. [23]

The United Press wire service reported that several suffrage leaders had also been working with Rep. Friend on an amendment to the bill introduced by Rep. Stotsenburg, which also aimed to amend the constitution to remove the word “male.” Some of the women may have warily hoped that this proposal would gain support, but were not expecting any immediate results. Even if the bill passed, it had to be approved again at the next session in 1915, and then voted on in a statewide referendum in 1916 at the earliest. [24] Hoosier suffragists had lost this battle before, celebrating the passage of suffrage bills at one session, just to be disappointed at the next. [25] The women marching in the statehouse that day would not have had anything to celebrate, even if the bill passed, because they would have been made again to wait for equality. Their spirit would have been somber and determined, not hopeful. Their solemn march matched the moment.

The 500 Hoosier suffragists walked through the statehouse stopping to pin suffrage ribbons on a few willing lawmakers. Governor Samuel Ralston “cheerily” accepted a ribbon as did the legislators representing the Progressive Party, the only party to add a suffrage plank to their platform. [26] Most Indiana lawmakers did not take a ribbon, and pages mocked the women’s efforts. [27]

Indianapolis News, March 1, 1913, 11, Newspapers.com.

Indianapolis newspapers either misunderstood the suffragists’ goals or reporters intentionally decided to recast the scene through a condescending lens. The Indianapolis Star called their attempt to distribute ribbons to lawmakers “a game of hide and seek.” [28]  The newspaper claimed that prominent writer and WFL leader Grace Julian Clarke “moaned in grief” because her husband, Senator Charles B. Clarke refused a ribbon. [29] The Indianapolis News was even more patronizing.

The News sarcastically described the suffragists as wearing “warpaint of fine feathers and pretty gowns” and commented on the group’s choice to walk up the stairs en masse instead of splitting up to take the elevators. [30] The News claimed that one woman stated that by taking the stairs they hoped “the men will see that we are not afraid of some of the hardships,” but that if they gained the vote “one of the first things that we will do will be to add more elevators to the statehouse.” [31] This quote is dubious in authenticity, and the jab was certainly patronizing, but all in all, a comparatively harmless aside. The rest of the News article, however, must have been infuriating to these politically savvy suffragists.

The Indianapolis News claimed that while the suffragists marched around the statehouse, they had no idea what legislation was pending, or that the suffrage amendments were being dismissed. The newspaper claimed that the suffragists were in the chambers when Sen. Grube introduced the resolution calling for the constitutional amendment but that “it was done so unobtrusively that the women did not seem to know that it had been done.”[32]  And about the identical resolution introduced in the House by Rep. Friend, the writer scoffed:

The women had hardly been out of the state house more than an hour, however, when the house judiciary committee B voted in favor of killing the Friend house resolution . . . [33]

In case the newspaper’s readers missed this claim of female ignorance, the writer drove home the point:

Although hundreds of suffragists were jammed in the senate when Senator Grube introduced a resolution providing for an amendment to the state Constitution to allow women suffrage, not one of them seemed to realize what ‘was doing.’ No demonstrations of any sort took place. [34]

This claim is certainly false. First, these suffrage leaders were the most prominent women in the state. Indiana legislators were their friends, husbands, and family members. Second, the leaders of the WFL and ESA kept current on political issues related to suffrage at the state and national level. They wrote articles, gave speeches, organized meetings, and gathered signatures for petitions based on this knowledge. Most importantly, they had been working with members of the General Assembly on the legislation pending that day. The UP reported:

The leaders of the women planned to have Friend introduce a new resolution in the form of an amendment . . . [35]

They didn’t just know about the resolution, they were integral in its introduction to the legislature.

They knew the General Assembly would fail them that day. Their march was a protest, and this is why they chose silence. They came to make it clear to lawmakers that large numbers of the state’s most upstanding citizens were watching them. The General Assembly would have to face them before voting to continue to deny them their right as citizens. The UP reported that “dignity marked the demonstration,” as women representing “the best type of Indiana’s womanhood” gathered in the statehouse corridors.[36] They silently filed first into the House and then to the Senate. The UP reporter continued,

It was a silent demonstration. The leaders of the women attempted to make no speeches. They merely hoped that the number of mothers, wives and daughters, society leaders, professional women and working girls would cause the legislature to think about woman suffrage. [37]

The Indianapolis newspapers interpreted or framed their silence as ignorance, but it was the opposite. The suffragists knew that March 3, 1913 was not their day, but they made it clear that they would not stop their work until it was.

Indianapolis News, March 4, 1913, 4, Newspapers.com.

They did, in fact, achieve their goal in marching. The ESA and WFL presented a united front, countering the picture painted by their clash over partial versus full suffrage months earlier. All of the newspapers, even the condescending ones, that covered the march noted the joint appearance by the state’s major suffrage organizations. The UP reported that the event “was said to evidence the friendly relations between the two societies.”[38] Dr. Graham explained that this show of solidarity meant that “the legislators can no longer doubt the sincerity of the request of the women.” [39]

While Hoosier suffragists had a long road ahead of them, organized protests like this one, combined with lobbying, street meetings, sharp speeches, and savvy publicity stunts, helped to move public opinion and force lawmakers to give in to their demands. The press painted them at times as flighty, catty, or any other manner of stereotype, but their actions showed otherwise.  While their methods sometimes produced discord between them, it was through the constant political work of these knowledgeable, experienced, calculating suffragists that they won for themselves the vote. As they marched on the statehouse, they chose silence, but through their numbers, dignity, and righteousness, they roared for the vote.

Notes and Sources

[1] Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2020), 101, 111.
[2] Ibid., 112-13, 117-18; Jill Weiss Simins, “‘Suffrage Up In The Air:’ The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign,” accessed Indiana History Blog.
[3] Anita Morgan, “Taking It to the Streets: Hoosier Women’s Suffrage Automobile Tour,” accessed Indiana History Blog. Prior to the discussion, Senator Stotsenberg withdrew his school suffrage bill and replaced it with a bill that would allow women to serve on school boards but not vote in the elections. Despite this change, the suffragists debated partial school suffrage versus full suffrage.
[4] Morgan, We Must Be Fearless, 118-19.
[5] “Bill Is Approved: Equal Suffrage Association Board Favors School Franchise Measure,” Indianapolis Star, January 25, 1913, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[6] “Suffrage Hosts Scorn Offering,” Indianapolis Star, January 25, 1913, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid. Stotsenberg’s full suffrage bill, even if it passed in 1913, would have had to pass again in 1915, and then go to a statewide referendum in 1916 or 1917.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Women Divided on Ballot Bill,” Indianapolis Star, January 28, 1913, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.
[11] “Suffrage Hosts Scorn Offering,” 1.
[12] “Woman’s Franchise League Will Go to Statehouse Monday and Ask Suffrage Amendment,” Indianapolis News, March 1, 1913, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.
[13] Morgan, 122.
[14] Dorothy, “Of Interest to All Women,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 8, 1913, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[15] “Woman’s Civic Club Notes,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 8, 1913, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[16] “Woman’s Civic Club Notes,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 1, 1913, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[17] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” Indianapolis Star, March 4, 1913, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.
[18] “Indiana Women Work on the Legislature,” Huntington Herald, March 3, 1913, 1, accessed Newspapers.com. The Herald ran the article received from the United Press wire service.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” 3.
[21] Morgan, 62.
[22] Ibid., 95.
[23] “Indiana Women Work on the Legislature,” 1.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Morgan, 75. See Morgan for the political tricks that killed a suffrage bill in 1881 only to disappear from consideration in 1883.
[26] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” 3.
[27] Ibid.
[28]Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] “Assembly Besieged by Nearly 500 Women,” Indianapolis News, March 4, 1913, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] “Indiana Women Work on the Legislature,” 1.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] “500 Suffragists Invade Capitol,” 3.

 

“Suffrage Up In The Air:” The Equal Suffrage Association’s 1912 Publicity Campaign

By the start of the twentieth century, Hoosier suffragists were experienced political actors. They had spent decades exerting pressure on public officials to end discriminatory practices against women and lobbying for the vote. They delivered speeches and petitions to the Indiana General Assembly and the United States Congress. They marched, organized, lobbied, and strategized. But their success was limited because of one infuriating Catch-22: the women trying to gain the vote were often ignored by politicians because they were not voters. It became clear that they needed to change public opinion on a grand scale. They did this through broad public actions like demonstrations and parades, but they were not above the occasional publicity stunt.

During the summer of 1912, the women of the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) had become “masters of publicity,” according to historian Dr. Anita Morgan.[1] The stakes were high. Governor Thomas Marshall was attempting to introduce a new state constitution with stricter voter requirements that would continue to exclude women from the ballot box. In response, the ESA worked to expand its organization, adding labor and African American branches, and reach women across the state.[2] In the spring and summer of 1912, during the weeks leading up to the state convention, the ESA got especially innovative.

Indianapolis News, January 11, 1912, 3, Newspapers.com.

In May, physician and ESA leader Dr. Hannah Graham of Indianapolis invited sociologist and suffrage lecturer Elizabeth N. Barr of Topeka, Kansas to speak at an upcoming meeting. Barr planned to deliver her speech, “Active and Passive Opposition to Suffrage.” Barr hoped this would draw some anti-suffragists to the meetings as she was “anxious to debate with some person who is opposed to woman suffrage.”[3]

Indianapolis Star, August 2, 1912, 7, Newspapers.com.

Determined to draw press attention to this important talk, Dr. Graham came up with a creative strategy. She proposed they charter a hot air balloon to carry Barr high above Indianapolis and drop suffrage buttons to curious onlookers below. Barr agreed to the stunt, “declared that all true suffragists are ‘game,’ and was glad to prove the contention to the public.”[4]

Dr. Graham and other ESA leaders followed the balloon through the city in a parade of automobiles, drawing even more attention to their campaign. Her strategy worked and the press reported widely on the “Balloon Jaunt,” as the Indianapolis Star called it.[5] Fortunately, the stunt didn’t overshadow their message as newspapers reported on the upcoming meeting and Barr’s speech, as well as Graham’s goals with the airdrop:

Dr. Graham said the association encouraged the flight in order to show that woman was capable of entering any sphere of life, even a high one.[6]

“Votes for Women Button Early 1900s,” Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

Interestingly, the balloon, the Duesseldforfer II, was donated for the trip by the Indianapolis Brewing Company. This is notable as some suffrage organizations were also prohibitionists, an alliance that had regularly hurt the suffrage cause throughout Indiana history. The ESA was likely making a public statement that they were working only for the vote not for prohibition. They likely hoped this public collaboration with a brewing company would draw people to their cause who supported women’s rights and enjoyed their beer.

“The Successful Start for Westminster,” photomechanical print, Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Rare Book And Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.
“Mureil Matters,” photomechanical print, 1909, NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Rare Book And Special Collections Division, Library of Congress.

Dr. Graham and ESA leaders were evidently studying the tactics of other suffrage organizations around the globe, as there were a few recent precedents for the balloon stunt. In 1909, Australian-born British suffragist Muriel Matters chartered an airship (similar to a blimp) to fly over West Minster during a procession of the members of Parliament led by King Edward VII. Her balloon, branded with a large “Votes for Women,” was blown off course and did not make an appearance over Parliament. Nonetheless, Matters garnered an enormous amount of publicity for the Women’s Freedom League.[7]

The ESA’s May 1912 success in drawing press attention with the balloon air drop would have been on their minds as they prepared for their statewide conference in June.

[Anna Dunn Noland] Indianapolis Star, June 18, 1916, 47, Newspapers.com.
For the state convention they pulled out all the stops. ESA organizers posted “press notices in every daily and weekly paper” and ensured “large posters [were] put up at the cross roads in every county” with “banners stretched across Broadway announcing the date.”[8]  They created circulars that were sent to women’s club and suffrage meetings across the state. On June 22, 1912, the Saturday before the state convention, the ESA arranged for “the meeting circulars announcing it and a parade were dropped over the city from an airship.”[9] The circulars were written by Anna Dunn Noland, a leading Logansport suffragist and the ESA’s publicity chairman. Her words remain powerful:

To the Progressive Women of Indiana, Greetings:

On June 28 and 29, 1912, the equal suffragists of Indiana will assemble in state convention at Logansport, Ind. To report the progress of the woman suffrage and to confer upon existing conditions and the best methods to work in the state.

Since the purpose of the Indiana Equal Suffrage Association is to secure for the women of the state the right to vote, we have called this convention.

Six of the states of the Union have granted full suffrage to women, and many of our neighboring states are in the midst of active campaigns, but Indiana still refuses to allow her voters to consider this question.

This will not be a convention of an exclusive class, but a democratic meeting of all classes.

Come and take part in the discussions and give the stimulating influence of your presence to the work.

Women of Indiana, this is your organization and this is your work. Come and show that you are no longer satisfied to be ignored and that you insist in having a voice in this government.[10]

The ESA’s hard work paid off. Over 50,000 Hoosiers watched the suffragists parade through the streets of Logansport and “every business house was beautifully dressed in suffrage colors.”[11] In addition, “the convention was widely noticed by the press” and other suffrage organizations. In fact,that September, Wisconsin suffragists hired a “great air pilot,” who “scattered suffrage flyers from the airship which he took up into the clouds at the State Fair in 1912.”[12] The ESA’s success with their suffrage circular airdrop may have been their inspiration.

Fort Wayne News, August 7, 1912, 1, Newspapers.com.

The ESA’s much anticipated state convention was progressive and productive. The organization committed to further political action. Dr. Graham reported to the large convention audience that ESA representatives recently attended the Democratic State Convention to pressure the party to add a women’s suffrage plank to its platform. Unfortunately, only “one or two of them thought of putting such a plank in the platform worth considering.”[13] In response, they would be attending the Republican State Convention to again advocate for a suffrage plank. Dr. Graham called on ESA members to pressure candidates to make public statements in support of suffrage and to sever ties with political candidates who did not support their right to vote. She called this the “Woman’s Declaration of Independence” and the convention voted to adopt it. The ESA declared:

We believe that women will attain their inherent right by agitation and organization, and that they may have influence in the political world; be it

Resolved, That the delegates of the third annual convention of the Indiana Equal Suffrage association hereby instruct our incoming officers to forward a communication to each candidate for the Indiana state legislature of each political party, requesting an expression from said candidate on the subject of equal suffrage for the purpose of placing all candidates for the Indiana general assembly on record.[14]

Finally, the convention circulated a petition to present to the next Indiana General Assembly calling for a suffrage amendment to the state constitution. The ESA continued their publicity campaign throughout the summer. According to the History of Woman Suffrage:

Billboards were covered with posters and barns, fences and stones along the country roadways were decorated with ‘Votes for Women.’ Free literature was distributed and handbills were given out at every opportunity. Sunday afternoon meetings were held in picture show halls in many towns. Booths were secured at county and street fairs. Tents were placed on Chautauqua grounds with speakers and all kinds of suffrage supplies. This program was kept up until the World War called the women to other duties.[15]

In 1912, women’s suffrage was truly “up in the air.” It was not just a “matter of time.” Many people, including Indiana’s governor and many lawmakers, opposed women’s right to vote. Women gained suffrage because of their hard work and shrewd politicking, but the odd stunt in some sort of aircraft probably didn’t hurt either.

Further Reading

Read more about Hoosier suffrage publicity campaigns in Dr. Anita Morgan’s Indiana History Blog post: “Taking It to the Streets: Hoosier Women’s Suffrage Automobile Tour.”

This post was inspired by Dr. Morgan’s mention of the air drop on page 102 of her book, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana.

Notes

[1] Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2020), 102.
[2] Ibid., 102, 110-112.
[3] “Suffragist to Take Balloon Jaunt Here,” Indianapolis Star, May 11, 1912, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Suffrage Up In The Air,” Indianapolis News, May 11, 1912, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.
[7] “The Successful Start for Westminster,” photomechanical print, Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911, Rare Book And Special Collections Division, accessed Library of Congress; Beverley Cook, “Shades of Militancy,” January 31, 2018, Museum of London, accessed https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/shades-militancy-forgotten-suffragettes.
[8] Chapter 13: Indiana, Part 1, in History of Woman Suffrage, ed. Ida Husted Harper (New York: J. J. Little & Ives Company, 1922), 168, accessed  GoogleBooks.
[9] Ibid.
[10] “Suffragets [sic] Held Meeting,” Elwood Call-Leader, June 25, 1912, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[11] Chapter 13: Indiana, Part 1, 168.
[12] Theodora W. Youmans, “How Wisconsin Women Won the Ballot,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 5, No. 1 (September 1921): 21, accessed JSTOR.
[13] “Meeting of Suffragists,” Tipton Daily Tribune, June 29, 1912, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.
[14] “Mrs. Nolan Again Head of Equal Suffragists,” Muncie Star Press, June 30, 1912, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.
[15] Chapter 13: Indiana, Part 1, 168.