Dr. Scholl’s… or “Dr.” Scholl’s?: A Hoosier’s Empire Built on Advertising

50th Anniversary Advertisement, Life Magazine, June 14, 1954, 3, accessed Google Books.
50th Anniversary Advertisement, Life Magazine, June 14, 1954, 3, accessed Google Books.

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

Many companies choose a face for their brand and then build a mythology around it. For example, the Converted Rice Company marketed their new parboiled, vacuum-dried rice as the homey-sounding “Uncle Ben’s Rice.”  The company used the racially charged nomenclature “uncle” and an image of a distinguished-looking African American man to imply that the product would be like a friendly servant for the housewife.  The company  has claimed at various times that “Uncle Ben” was a respected rice grower or a hotel maitre d’, but more likely he never existed — much like Mr. Clean, Sara Lee, or Mr. Goodwrench.

William M. Scholl, passport photo, 1921, accessed AncestryLibrary.
William M. Scholl, passport photo, 1921, accessed AncestryLibrary.

While there are plenty of questions surrounding his origin story, the man called “Dr. Scholl,” was not only the founder of one of the most famous companies in the world and the inventor of many of its products, but he was a master of the world of advertising — changing the business in innovative ways. Scholl may (or may not) have been a quack doctor, but he was a crackerjack businessman.

William Scholl, passport photograph, 1915, accessed AncestryLibrary
William M. Scholl, passport photograph, 1915, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

William Mathais Scholl was born on a farm in Kankakee, LaPorte County, Indiana in 1882.* According to the 1900 census, William spent his youth working as a laborer on his parents’ farm, along with many other siblings.  Sometime around 1900, Scholl moved to Chicago and found a job as a salesman at the popular Ruppert’s Shoe Store on Madison Street. Here, he encountered a variety of foot problems faced by his customers and became interested in podiatry. That same year, secondary sources claim, he enrolled in medical school at Loyola University. This has been hotly debated.

Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed GoogleBooks

Despite investigations beginning in the 1920s and continuing today, it is still unclear if Scholl graduated with a medical degree around 1904 as he claimed. The Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine in Chicago supports the Scholl Museum which is dedicated to memorializing his achievements and authoritatively refers to him as “Dr. William Mathias Scholl.” However, the records of the American Medical Association tell a different story.  According to Robert McClory’s investigative piece for the Chicago Reader in 1994:

“Visit the recently opened Scholl Museum . . . and you’ll find the doctor and his achievements raised to almost mythic levels . . . But check through the old AMA records and you’ll read about a man whose credentials are ‘entirely irregular,’ whose methods smack ‘strongly of quackery,’ and whose products ‘cannot be recommended’.”

There are also questions about his state medical license, as well as a later degree he claimed from the  Chicago Medical College, an institution described by the American Medical Association as “low grade.” The AMA described Scholl’s “whole record” as “entirely irregular.”

Instep-arch support patent [marketed as Foot-Eazer], Publication date April 25, 1911, accessed Google Patents
Instep-arch support patent [marketed as Foot-Eazer], Publication date April 25, 1911, accessed Google Patents.

Dr. Scholl, or “Dr.” Scholl,  built an empire which has made his name recognizable all over the world.  Degree in hand or not, at the turn of the twentieth century, young Scholl was busy inventing various devices intended to alleviate foot pain.  One such device was the “Foot-Eazer,” which was  a hit with the Ruppert’s Shoe Store customers. Supposedly one customer offered him several thousand dollars to start his business.  He declined the offer, but was inspired to start his own business.

Elevated Railroad Station at East Madison Boulevard and Wells Street [near Scholl's building] November 1, 1913, Chicago Daily News Photograph, Chicago History Museum, accessed Explore Chicago Collections, explore.chicagocollections.org/image/chicagohistory/71/qr4p14f/
Elevated Railroad Station at East Madison Boulevard and Wells Street [near Scholl’s first office] November 1, 1913, Chicago Daily News Photograph, Chicago History Museum, accessed Explore Chicago Collections.
In 1904, Scholl set up shop in a small office in a building at 283-285 E. Madison Street in Chicago – the first location of the Scholl Manufacturing  Company. By the next year, he began innovating new advertising techniques.  Scholl would purportedly travel to various shoe stores, ask for the manager, and take out a human foot skeleton and put it on the counter. He used the foot to show how complicated and delicate all of the tiny bones are that hold so much weight and take so much abuse.  He would demonstrate how supportive and comfortable his products worked.

Western Wheel Works, engraving, 1890, accessed chicagology.com/cycling/westernwheelworks
Western Wheel Works, engraving, 1890, accessed Chicagology.com.

Whether or not his products worked, his strategy of marketing directly to the store manager did. In addition to charging for the construction of the product, he also charged for consultations and fittings.  Business boomed and in 1907 he moved into five rooms in a building on Schiller Street which had been abandoned by Western Wheel Works, a bicycle company.  Almost immediately, he purchased the building and expanded the factory until it took up the entire block.  The building stands and is in use as the Cobbler Square apartment complex —  a nod to it’s former use.

By 1908, Scholl was using advertisements in trade journals to continue marketing his products directly to shoe store owners and managers.  His approach at this point was to set up a booth at various fairs and train these prospective clients on how to talk about the Foot-Eazer “from a scientific prospective.” The ad below addresses these shoe store managers with several lofty promises about the Foot-Eazer:

“It will pay you well to be an expert in correcting foot troubles. . . you can sell a pair to one customer out of every three. Your profit is a dollar a pair – if you have 3000 customers that’s a thousand dollars for you . . .You will understand the science of it the moment you see it . . . as I have been allowed sweeping patents on it no one else can make anything like it.”

Scholl explained to this clients that his product was backed by “science,”  would make them rich, and he was the only one who could provide it.

Advertisement for Shoe Fair by Scholl Manufacturing Co., The Shoe Retailer, August 22, 1908, accessed Google Books.
Advertisement for Shoe Fair by Scholl Manufacturing Co., The Shoe Retailer, August 22, 1908, accessed Google Books.
William Scholl, Practipedics : the science of giving foot comfort and correcting the cause of foot and shoe troubles (Chicago: 1917) accessed Archive.org
William Scholl, Practipedics : the Science of Giving Foot Comfort and Correcting the Cause of Foot and Shoe Troubles (Chicago: American School of Practipedics, 1917) accessed Archive.org

By 1909 he was recruiting teams of salespeople to approach the store owners for him.  He set up a correspondence course to teach them the anatomy of the foot and the “science” behind his products. The course was called “Practipedics” and was described as “The Science of Giving Foot Comfort and Correcting the Cause of Foot and Shoe Troubles Based on the Experience, Inventions and Methods of Dr. William M. Scholl.” The ads from this period show that he was marketing these classes and sales opportunities to both men and women, an interesting approach for a time when few women worked outside the home. The ad below shows a woman studying the Foot-Eazer and promises that “This Alone Should Pay Your Rent.”

Advertisement for Salespeople, Boot and Shoe Recorder, April 8, 1916, 52, accessed Google Books
Advertisement for Salespeople, Boot and Shoe Recorder, April 8, 1916, 52, accessed GoogleBooks

From here, Scholl’s business expanded even more quickly.  By the time the U.S. entered World War One, Scholl was marketing to three different audiences — managers and owners of shoe stores, retail customers, and potential sales recruits — all through extensive advertising.  Hoosier State Chronicles has a wealth of examples of ads for Scholl’s products, for stores selling them, and even for the Practipedics course. Indiana shoe stores often advertised special days where Scholl’s salespeople, presented as medical experts in foot care, would be at the store for personal fittings. In a 1917 issue of the Indianapolis News, the New York Store advertised their latest shoe styles and noted that they carried “A Complete Line of Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Appliances.” In 1920, the South Bend Shoe Company advertised in the South Bend News-Tribune: “Foot Expert Here . . . A specialist from Chicago loaned to this store by Dr. Wm. M. Scholl the recognized foot authority.” This “expert” was most likely trained via correspondence course or week-long class and almost certainly never met Scholl.

Indianapolis News, May 10, 1917, 8, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, May 10, 1917, 8, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Tribune, October 1, 1920, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.
South Bend News-Tribune, October 1, 1920, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Sometimes all three of Scholl’s audiences were targeted in one message, such as in the advertisement below from the Indianapolis News.  First, the ad promises foot comfort to the average reader and pedestrian and  explains to them the product while emphasizing the availability of “medically” trained dealers. Second, it advertises Marott’s Shoe Shop on East Washington who’s owners will have to stock up on Scholl’s products and provide the  “foot expert.”  Finally, the ad explains to the shoe dealers and other potential Scholl’s salespeople how to register for the next Scholl’s training course in Indianapolis. Additionally, Marrott’s Shoe Shop was a “Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Store” which was supposed to consistently staff such  “trained” foot experts — not just for special events.  In Marrott’s advertisement which ran below the Scholl’s advertisement, the store claims that “Dr Scholl’s Foot Appliances are handled exclusively in Indianapolis by Marott’s Shoe Shop.”  However, a search of Hoosier State Chronicles shows several other Indianapolis stores schilling for Scholl — including the New York Store from the advertisement above.

Indianapolis News, March 27, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles
Indianapolis News, March 27, 1918, 9, Hoosier State Chronicles

Another  Indiana “Dr. Scholl’s Foot Comfort Store” was the Lion Store in Hammond.  They were one of many stores around the country to participate in Scholl’s marketing plan for “Foot Comfort Week.” They advertised their participation and “foot expert” in the Hammond Times on June 12, 1917. Even general clothing stores participated in the marketing scheme.  On June 21, 1917, the E. C. Minas Company, which called itself “Hammond’s Greatest Department Store,” advertised “Foot Comfort Week” in the Hammond Times which the ad claimed was happening “throughout the continent.”  They noted that their store carried “the complete line” of Scholl’s appliances and “experts at fitting them to individual needs.”  Later ads for the week-long event had more outrageous marketing schemes such advertisements for “Prettiest Foot” contests. Search Hoosier State Chronicles for more.

Hammond Times, June 12, 1920, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Hammond Times, June 12, 1920, 7, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books
Dr. William M. Scholl, The Human Foot: Anatomy, Deformities and Treatment (Chicago: Foot Specialist Publishing Co., 1915), accessed Google Books

By the end of the war, Scholl’s company was established across the U.S, Europe, Egypt, and even Australia.  He had also established a Podiatry College and written a text book. However, medical doctors working in the field were quick to criticize Scholl’s entangled business and medical operations and began to publicly question his qualifications. In 1923, the National Association of Chiropodists passed a resolution condemning Scholl’s work and banning him from advertising in their publications. Again, Robert McClory’s investigative article is the best source for more information on the controversy stirred up around Scholl’s standing in the medical community.

Toe-Straightening Device, US1055810, Publication Date March 11, 1913, accessed Google Patents
Toe-Straightening Device, US1055810, Publication Date March 11, 1913, accessed Google Patents

Scholl was not slowed down by the nay-saying in the least. He continued to invent, patent foot products, and open new stores around the world.  According to McClory:

“In his lifetime Scholl would create more than 1,000 patented ointments, sprays, cushions, pads, supports, shields, springs and other mechanical and chemical gizmos for the feet. Eventually the Scholl empire would include more than 400 outlet stores and employ some 6,000 people worldwide.”

According to a short essay by Fred Cavinder in Forgotten Hoosiers (2009), during World War II, the Scholl plant in England made surgical and hospital equipment while the Chicago plant converted to the manufacture of military equipment. Cavinder writes, “As Word War II ended, Dr. Scholl invented the compact display fixture with the familiar blue and yellow colors.”

Advertisement, Life Magazine, Jun 12, 1939, 41, accessed Google Books
Advertisement, Life Magazine, Jun 12, 1939, 41, accessed Google Books

Scholl remained connected to the northwest region of Indiana throughout his life.  He resided primarily in a single rented room at the downtown Chicago Illinois Athletic Club.  However, later in life he purchased a home in Michigan City, Indiana, where he had moved  his side business, Arno Adhesive Tapes. This company made all of the plaster and tape for the Dr. Scholl products. In the 1960s, Arno also expanded greatly and Scholl, now in his seventies, remained just as active in its management.

Greencastle Daily Banner, November 30, 1954, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
Greencastle Daily Banner, November 30, 1954, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Scholl died in 1968 and is buried in Pine Lake Cemetery in La Porte Indiana.  His family sold the Scholl’s brand to a large pharmaceutical company in 1979 and it remains successful to this day. So whether we remember him as “Dr.” or Dr. Scholl, he created an empire, changed an industry, and invented new ways to market and advertise.  Search Hoosier State Chronicles for the many more advertisements.

Richmond Daily Palladium, April 26, 1922, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Richmond Daily Palladium, April 26, 1922, 6, Hoosier State Chronicles.

* The 1900 census gives his birth year as 1884, but all other records including passport applications, WWI draft card, and death records cite 1882 as the correct year.

For further information, especially on the controversy surrounding Scholl’s medical qualifications see:

Robert McClory, “Best Foot Forward,” Chicago Reader, January 13, 1994,  accessed ChicagoReader.com

THH Episode 50: Giving Voice: Allison Perlman

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Giving Voice: Allison Perlman

Beckley: Hi, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is giving voice and I’m here today with Dr. Allison Perlman, associate professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Irvine. Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Perlman.

Perlman: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to talk with you.

Beckley: Course, and I obviously brought you on because you are interested in film, media studies, the history of television and broadcasting. And we definitely touch on, obviously, the history of the technological side of TV in our episode about Philo Farnsworth, and we also talk about some of his expectations for the television, he kind of had these lofty ideals that he wanted television to be able to meet. And we kind of talked about the idea of television giving us a way to share human moments in a way that we never could before, or at least not in the same way with newspapers and radio and things like that. We touch on that. And we talk about the Vietnam War and the Beatles Ed Sullivan appearance, things like that were really moments in time that kind of brought Americans together. And I was wondering if you could kind of talk about other ways that broadcast and television has have shaped our society?

Perlman: Sure, I think there are certainly events like you’ve described of moments of celebration, or trauma or rupture that allowed people especially in the mid decades of the 20th century, to collectively feel a sense of shared community through simultaneous viewing practices. And this is something quite extraordinary. So one of the events that often is a hallmark of TV history, and especially its national importance, is the television coverage of the assassination of President John Kennedy, which happened in November 1963. And that’s important from the history of televisions perspective, because by the early 1960s, over 90% of American households had television sets. And most communities would have maybe two to three television channels. Larger cities might have somewhere between four to seven, potentially in really large cities like LA or New York. And so when people were sitting down in their living rooms at night, they had few options about what to watch if they wanted to watch television. And most of those stations were affiliated with national networks. And so when something like a presidential assassination happens, all television channels are trying to report as quickly as they can to their viewing public what’s going on. And so everyone simultaneously, is receiving similar news and then experiencing a shared grief. And this is somewhat remarkable, because even though I think there had been a strong sense of nation and national identity before the emergence of radio and TV, one of the things that the medium does, is it connects people who might never meet, who might live in very different regions who might have very different politics, in a shared collective memory of these tremendous traumatic events like an assassination. We also, you know, have celebratory events that television can bring into household simultaneously – inaugurations of new presidents, Royal weddings in the 1980s, in particular, with the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. And so on the one hand, one of the things that TV can do is in these moments of anomaly, you know, something really wonderful, something really tragic, can bind a shared national and sometimes even global community through a shared viewing practice. But one of things that’s always been interesting to me about television, especially in this period, it also creates a sense of collective identity through shared experiences of entertainment texts, in a way that I think would be almost inconceivable to us today. But a show like I Love Lucy was viewed by over half of the country simultaneously. And so if you grew up in Indiana, if you grew up in Maryland, if you grew up in California, you would have had the experience of watching Lucille Ball’s antics each week and would have been exposed to the comedy that she and her husband Desi Arnez is put together about this couple in New York and the antics of a wife being frustrated was staying at home all the time. And so even just the quotidian aspects of television, they everyday viewing of it helped to bring together a sense of collective identity through the consumption of shared narratives.

Beckley: That’s so interesting, I never really thought of television as a tool of nation building, and that way of like, creating a national identity almost, especially I think that looking at it through a modern lens. I think it’s not controversial to say that television is at least a factor in some of the divisions that are kind of racking our nation right now. It seems like we’ve kind of run the gambit of it bringing us together, and then maybe now with 24 hour news coverage and things like that, that it’s kind of bringing us apart a little bit now, which I think we hit on a little bit in the episode as far as, yes, it’s created unity and also created division. Just think that’s an interesting dichotomy that has been created through one medium.

Perlman: Yeah, well, a TV itself has changed so dramatically from when it first emerged as a mass commercial device, right after World War Two, to what we think of as this thing called television today, which is diverse and capacious and can be watched on a computer or a smartphone or a television set. And so in this earlier period of what we will think of as broadcasting, where television meant sitting in front of a box, plugged into an electrical outlet, in your home with an antenna on your roof to be able to get a broadcast signal, there were far fewer, far fewer options than what we had today. And there was primarily stations that were affiliated with national networks that were trying to bring in the largest possible audience. And so there’s a, I think, a certain nostalgia that we can have for a period of almost consensus values that were being being disseminated through television, because there was this desire not to offend anyone to be able to articulate viewpoints or perspectives that most people would see as intellectually or politically defensible, to try to attract the largest audiences, in particular, to be able to charge the highest advertising rates to sponsors that are allowing the shows to come on the air. And so I think there there was a way that television could act as a unifying device. There are a number of TV historians whose work I admire and in whose work I affirm that also see that moment as building consensus through moods of exclusion as well, right. So television networks, and television stations were overwhelmed well, and television stations in particular, were almost exclusively run by white controlled entities, exclusively run by men. Their imagined audience tended to be a white middle class family. And so how they imagined what are the values? What are the politics, what are the issues that matter to this audience, were based on a collective sense of the nation that was tethered to a very particular understanding of the TV viewer. So if you were a poor person, if you were a socialist, in particular, if you were a worker who was active in your union, if you were a Black citizen seeking certain kinds of civil rights that didn’t line up with sort of a consensus views of what legitimate forms of civil rights activism took, your perspective, your values, your stories, would be somewhat invisible on on television, and so when cable expands in the 70s, and especially in the 1980s. And then when we get the capacity for over the top streaming video in the 21st century, and we have this diversity of options, there is this hope that this will lead to a diversity of stories, diversity of perspectives, and a sort of better understanding of the diversity of the national community through different people being able to create different stories and share different perspectives. But I think what happened that might have been unanticipated in these utopian discourses about how expanding our viewing options is going to make everything better, was the way that it could foster political polarization, informational and opinion silos and that in fracturing, the collective community that broadcast television brought together it wasn’t that we started to know each other better and all of our complexity and diversity, it’s that we started to understand each other less because we were anchoring ourselves in particular ideological or political viewing habits.

Beckley: Yeah, that’s so interesting that like, almost by diversifying the, you know, options for viewers, you kind of, it’s so easy to find yourself in a silo and an information silo now that all of the media I consume, whether it be television, or the websites I go to, the YouTube videos I watched, they all affirm my own beliefs. So it’s very easy to believe that everybody holds those beliefs and therefore any beliefs that aren’t my beliefs are crazy because, of course, everybody that I know thinks this way. And I think that it’s easy to forget that when you’re caught up in your own silo.

Perlman: Yeah. And it’s what’s fascinating to me is it in some ways, we’ve returned to a 19th century model of media, where, you know, through much of the 19th century newspapers were explicitly partisan, you know, so you had no expectation of norms of journalistic objectivity when you read a newspaper, because they were run by political parties, or they were run by businessmen who had strong ties to political parties. And so, so there was this very robust news environment, but it was explicitly partisan and explicitly ideological. But I think most of us grew up in a period where norms of journalistic objectivity, the sense that there was, like news to be reported, or sets of opinion that could be discussed that most people would agree upon, or had a shared sense of their veracity of that that was presumed to be the norm, I think from I would say, for most of my, you know, lived lived history. And what we’re seeing now is a really different paradigm. You know, it’s one that has a historical precedent, but it can feel a little bit disconcerting if you had grown up in an era of broadcast television, broadcast radio, nationally circulating newspapers that in some ways have similar political, but not so much political perspectives as similar commitments to notions of journalistic objectivity and producing news for an ideologically neutral audience.

Beckley: Yeah, and I think that yeah, it seems I’ve noticed the similarities between politically driven media, you know, newspapers, outright, like this is the Post Democrat or the Monthly Republican or you know, what have you. And then now we have, it seems like political parties have their own news stations, or somewhat, at least, to some extent, I suppose. But kind of circling back around to Farnsworth kind of ideal for television, I just want to get your impression of if you think that any of his ideals were met. And so basically, he has a quote, where he’s saying that he believes that television could increase literacy, facilitate the sharing of cultures and even prevent wars through global discourse. And obviously, that last one especially is quite a quite a big ask, but I was wondering if you could, like, just kind of evaluate if you think any of that has been met in any way? Or if we’ve kind of like, totally missed the mark.

Perlman: Yeah, well, certainly I think one of the successes of public television has been its role in providing early childhood education, to children who otherwise might not be able to go to a pre-k program. And really historically, like whenever PBS’s budget has been threatened by members of Congress who no longer see a need for federally supported broadcasting, Sesame Street is always the best way to mobilize people to say, actually, television and public television is really crucial, because of how crucial a show like television, excuse me, like Sesame Street is to enabling all children that have access to TV to get this form of early childhood education that will set them up for success as they enter into their formal schooling. And there had been just so many experiments with educational television prior to Sesame Street, that similarly were trying to use the medium as a way, for example, to supplement curriculum in schools to provide subjects to students that school districts didn’t have sufficient teachers to provide. There’s a long history of thinking about television as a way to democratize access to certain forms of cultural expression, that either by location or by income, you might not have the ability to access, Symphony, opera, theatre, and so on. And the public television sector, historically, there’s always been a segment of that community that’s been very invested in those values of seeing television as primarily an educational medium, that can use its technological capacities to be able to give people access to teachers to forms of cultural expression, that otherwise would be inaccessible to them. So I think it’s it’s always been an element of US television history. It’s never been, like blockbuster rating. Lots of people. Were excited to watch, you know, the opera on PBS and to watch you know, The Love Boat on ABC, but, but it’s always been, I think, for folks who, who desire that kind of programming. There’s always been a community of people who have been very intent to try to provide it to them. There was an early experiment in the 1960s that I’m very interested in, called inter tell, which was a transnational television consortium of five broadcasting companies from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. And their very goal was exactly what Farnsworth was intending. These were people who in the early 1960s, were very concerned about the Cold War and this global cleavage between communist and capitalist nations. They were especially concerned that a Cold War was taking place, and the nuclear age where combatants had the capacity to, you know, basically devastate human life. And they were concerned about just the uneven effects of World War II and nations across the world. And they thought that if you could create television programs, especially public affairs, documentaries, that explained national cultures of different countries across the world, and if you distributed them globally, you would create shared cultural understanding. And this would be to world peace, you know, and so there was a sense that the problems of the world are based in people not knowing about one another, not being able to apprehend or appreciate cultural difference. And so if you could just use television, to make people legible to each other, there’d be no more war, you know, and we could solve global problems. And it didn’t work. But it was a very utopic understanding of how television as a technology could work.

Beckley: Absolutely. And I must say that Sesame Street, I have a seven-month-old at home, big hit in our house still so still going strong, which actually kind of leave then to my last kind of question, with like, streaming, I know that you’re a historian, so this might be out of your wheelhouse. But with streaming and the Internet, and all these other ways to access what used to be only accessible through broadcast, including Sesame Street now being owned by HBO, things like that. Do you see an ongoing need for broadcast television? Do you think that that is something that is kind of going by the wayside? Or do you think that there is that niche niche or people that still need access to that, and will continue driving enough demand to keep it around?

Perlman: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I mean, local broadcast stations are often the conduits, or the historically had been the conduits for national network programming. And although certainly almost all of the national networks have their own streaming apps now, right, so So obviously, you can access NBC programming through peacock or CBS programming through Paramount plus, often the argument on behalf of local broadcasting has been focused on local news reporting. And I think that there’s been such a seduction of being able to access programming from across the globe. And anytime you want. And sites like Netflix, or Hulu have these vast, incredible libraries, where there’s so much content you can view at all times. That’s an incredibly seductive model of what we ought to be using our televisions for. But for many people, local news from local TV stations is still a pretty important way for them to learn about their communities. And in a moment where newspapers are folding left and right, and we do see a few newspaper chains owning many of the local newspapers that still exist. There’s a, I think, a legitimate anxiety over who is going to support the journalists that are reporting on local school board issues that are following local municipal decisions about you know, how to regulate public utilities, or how to deal with concerns over housing or how to support unhoused people or you know, or whatever issue is, is very live and urgent for local communities. And that’s a topic that Netflix is not going to fund, you know, or that Hulu is not going to support or that HBO is really not very interested in. And so there is, I think, a civic need for local broadcasting. Whether there’s an economic model to make sure that those stations survive is a bigger question that we probably collectively have to think about, along with trying to figure out the best way to support local journalists who might want to write for local newspapers and, you know, have beats that they’re experts in and they know the local officials and they know the local community leaders to be able to inform people citizens about what’s happening in their own communities. And so while there’s so I’m I myself am so enraptured by Just the tremendous range of content is accessible to me all the time. The local aspect of broadcasting, which has always been central to its public service obligations is the one facet of the local station that I think we need to be really focused on in terms of the future of broadcasting.

Beckley: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Allison. I really appreciate your time. And I am sure listeners will as well. Thank you.

Perlman: Great. Thanks so much, Lindsay. It was great.

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Dr. Allison Perlman

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THH Episode 49: Philo T. Farnsworth: Father of Television

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Philo T. Farnsworth: Father of Television

Mans’s voice: High speed facsimile transmission and reception of both words and pictures…

[Click]

…planned research to anticipate the demands of a growing nation…

[Click]

Here in this modern workshop of science can be found some of the true pioneers of our time…

Beckley: Sitting on a desk in an office in Fort Wayne, Indiana was a small plaque that read, “Men and trees die – Ideas live on for the ages.” The slightly built man with dark hair and a thin mustache in the chair behind the desk, knew this better than most. At the age of 14, he had an idea that would, in time, change the world in innumerable ways. His idea would bring people together and cause divisions. It would influence national and international politics, introduce people around the world to new cultures and viewpoints, change how businesses make money…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

That man? Philo T. Farnsworth. And his idea?

Man’s voice: Television. An unparalleled blending of science and art.

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

Inventors often hold lofty ideals for their inventions. Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin in 1793 with the hope of relieving the poverty in southern states. Instead, the Cotton Gin increased the need for enslaved labor and is considered one contributing factor of the American Civil War. Othmar Zeidler invented DDT in 1873 to rid the world of insect-borne diseases like malaria. But widespread use of the chemical has caused cancer, infertility, and has devastated ecosystems. Tim Berners-Lee had visions of a free information utopia when he invented the World Wide Web in 1989. Yet, many point to the internet as one of the driving forces of misinformation in modern society.

Similarly, Philo T. Farnsworth believed that the television could prevent wars through global discourse, increase literacy and facilitate the sharing of cultures. And it has.

Fred Rogers: You make each day a special day. You know how? By just being yourself. That’s right…there’s only one person in this…

Beckley: That was, of course, Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Educational programming like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street, as well as documentaries have gone a long way to democratize knowledge. Shows like Modern Family have increased acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community in recent decades. Television also drives socialization, with friends gathering to watch the “big game” or joining forums to discuss their favorite shows. But, as is usually the case, there is another side of the coin.

[clips from the Jerry Springer Show]

Experts have linked watching reality TV with an increase in aggression in real life. And television in general has been shown to cause everything from a rise in childhood obesity to a decline in quality family time.

Of course, when Philo Farnsworth dreamed up electronic television as a teenager, he could hardly have predicted these disparate outcomes.

[Music]

Beckley: Farnsworth was born and spent his early life in Utah. When he and his family moved to a potato farm in Rigby, Idaho in 1918, eleven-year-old Philo was delighted to find that their new home was powered with a Delco system, the first time the budding scientist had ever lived with electricity. In the attic of the farmhouse, he found a stash of scientific magazines and ravenously consumed anything he could find about electricity. One idea contained within the pages of those magazines was “Pictures That Could Fly Through the Air,” a concept that captured young Farnsworth’s imagination and started him on a journey that would last decades and culminate in modern television.

Man’s voice: Here is the ultimate in television…let me do it again, right now, keep rolling…

Beckley: Farnsworth dove into the existing work on the technology, learning all there was to know about experiments in the field, which stretched back to the 1870s. Early experiments in television relied on a mechanical method of producing and disseminating images. This used a spinning disc called a Nipkow disc. After reading everything he could about this technology, Farnsworth deduced that it could never produce a high-quality image. And he was right – even the very highly engineered mechanical televisions that were made in the 1930s were only capable of 60 lines per frame. To put that into perspective – modern televisions have over 1000 lines per frame.

Farnsworth became obsessed with finding a solution to this problem. He began meeting with a high school chemistry teacher named Justin Tolman after school to ask questions and discuss possible answers. In this relentless pursuit of knowledge, he hit on three topics – electrons, magnetic deflection, and cathode ray rubes – that, when put together, he thought would present an answer to what he was looking for. Finally, everything he had been thinking about crystalized into a profound idea in a most unlikely place – on a horse drawn plow in the middle of a potato field.

[Music]

Beckley: As Farnsworth surveyed the work he was doing – turning over the earth row by row – it dawned on him. Farnsworth biographer Paul Schatzkin noted:

Clark from Schatzkin: “He suddenly imagined trapping light in an empty jar and transmitting it one line at a time on a magnetically deflected beam of electrons.”

Beckley: And so the initial conception for modern electronic television came into the world in the middle of an Idaho potato field from the mind of a 14 year old boy.

Man’s voice: Silent. Invisible. Instantly. Human speech, movement, and appearance invade the airways together, to be received in magic boxes for distant reproductions.

Beckley: Philo shared his idea with the only person he thought might be able to understand and confirm his theory – Justin Tolman.

While Tolman couldn’t grasp every facet of the intricate electronic scheme, he knew enough to encourage the young inventor in his work. At the end of their discussion, Philo jotted a simple sketch of his brainchild on a small piece of notebook paper and handed it to Tolman, who tucked it away for safekeeping. Little did he know just how important that scrap of paper would become.

[Music]

Beckley: Farnsworth nurtured his idea through his teen years and as he attended Brigham Young University.  While working for a fundraising organization, the Community Chest Campaign in 1926, he secured financial backing for his idea. With the support of fundraisers George Everson and Leslie Gorell, he moved to California and eventually established a lab on Green Street in San Francisco. It was here that he, his new wife Pem, and his brother-in-law Cliff set about building the first prototype of an electronic television.

Man’s voice: Television. The newest miracle of modern electric engineering.

Beckley: It wasn’t an easy road to travel. While Philo had a clear vision of what needed to be done to make electronic television a reality, actually accomplishing it was a different story altogether. Each step of the way, Farnsworth and the Green Street crew were inventing new techniques and tools, any one of which would have been an impressive accomplishment on its own. When Cliff was told it was impossible to create a glass tube built to the specifications required by Philo, Cliff developed his own technique of glass blowing that allowed him to create exactly what was needed. While working on techniques to amplify their image, Philo developed what he called the Image Analyzer, and laid the groundwork for the electron microscope, one of the most important tools in laboratories to this day.

Finally, on September 7, 1927, countless experiments and twelve-hour workdays paid off. Farnsworth and his staff stood with bated breath in front of a receiver in one room. In another, Cliff inserted a slide with a thick black line painted on it in front of a device Farnsworth called an “Image Dissector.”

Man’s voice: Mr. Philo T. Farnsworth is working on the Image Dissector tube.

Beckley: The image on the receiver flickered and bounced for a moment before a line became visible on the screen. As Cliff rotated the slide, the line on the screen rotated. The first electronic television picture had been transmitted. In his journal, Farnsworth noted this breakthrough with the reserved tone of a scientist;

Clark as Farnsworth: “The received line picture was evident this time.”

Beckley: Financial backer George Everson had no such reserve. He wired fellow backer Leslie Gorrell;

Clark as Gorrell: “The damned thing works!”

Beckley: But transforming this historic achievement into a commercial product involved years of technical, legal, and financial problems.

While Farnsworth had proved that his idea worked and applied for a patent for his design, he struggled to refine it – those first transmissions were plagued with shadowy double images, black smudges, and amplification problems. Farnsworth accepted these complications as simply part of the process, but it was more difficult to convince his financial backers of that, and many withdrew their support. Looking for alternate funding, Farnsworth invited Russian scientist Dr. Vladimir Zworykin to the Green Street lab to see a demonstration of the Image Dissector. Zworkyin had been working on electronic television just as long as Farnsworth. In fact, he submitted a patent application for an electronic television in 1923, although he was unable to prove that it worked, and the patent was not granted.

As far as Farnsworth knew, Zworykin worked for Westinghouse, a Pittsburgh-based electronic manufacturing company. The hope was that Zworykin would be impressed by what he saw and convince Westinghouse to provide some much-needed funding.

However, Zworykin was not visiting with the interests of Westinghouse at heart –he had travelled to San Francisco on a circuitous route to his new employer – the Radio Corporation of America, something he had neglected to tell Farnsworth.

The Radio Corporation of America, better known as RCA, had established a virtual monopoly on radio technology throughout the early 20th century.

Man’s voice: Nowhere did the challenge provoke more unending experiment and research then at RCA.

Beckley: They bought up what patents they could and sued the holders of others out of business and then acquired the patents in settlements. Looking forward, the behemoth of a company was hoping to establish a similar strangle hold on television, and they recognized Farnsworth’s patent as a potentially important step in that direction.

Zworykin was tasked with finding out if the work being done on Green Street was indeed something RCA would need to try to acquire. And apparently he decided it was. Directly after leaving the lab, he dictated a 700-word telegram to his colleagues – instructions for building an Image Dissector of their very own. Weeks later, when he showed up at RCA to report for duty, he brought with him a replica of the piece of equipment Farnsworth had been working on for four years.

Man’s Voice: The turning point came in 1923 when Dr. Zworykin invented the iconiscope.

Beckley: After the pretense of offering to buy out Farnsworth’s lab for the paltry sum of $100,000, RCA began claiming that Zworykin’s 1923 patent filing was for a device similar enough to the Image Dissector to claim priority of invention. When Farnsworth realized that they were maneuvering into position to launch a lawsuit, he went on the offensive and launched his own claim with the U.S. Patent Office. What followed was described by Philo’s wife as a “David and Goliath confrontation.”

The respective lawyers representing Farnsworth and RCA interviewed key players and collected reams of testimony. RCA focused on the claim that Farnsworth had dreamed up electronic television when he was barely even a teenager. It seemed absurd, not to mention impossible to prove. That was, until they tracked down a now retired Justin Tolman.

When Tolman was asked if he remembered a student by the name of Philo Farnsworth he replied,

Clark as Tolman: “I surely do . . . he was the brightest student I ever had.”

He went on to recount in detail the day a fourteen-year-old Philo had described his idea for electronic television. At the end of the interview, in a scene reminiscent of a dramatic TV procedural, Tolman pulled from his pocket Philo’s sketch of an image dissector, drawn one year before Zworykin’s patent claim. The U.S. Patent Office ruled in favor of Philo T. Farnsworth as the inventor of electronic television.

However, that ruling didn’t mean that RCA was thwarted – they still had appeals to make. The appeal process would drag out for years, causing massive amounts of mental stress for Farnsworth, who struggled with bouts of depression and alcoholism as a result. The stress was also financial – each appeal would need to be defended on Farnsworth’s part by costly patent attorneys. Luckily, Farnsworth had secured financial backing by one of RCAs biggest rivals – Philco.

Man’s voice: Just an example of what’s in store for you right now at your Philco dealer. Another example of quality first by Philco!

Beckley: His partnership with the electronic engineering giant necessitated a move to Philadelphia where Farnsworth and his team continued to refine their technology until finally it was ready for public demonstration.

On August 24, 1934, the doors of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia opened, and Farnsworth watched as the public poured in for their first glimpse of the long dreamed of television. As visitors entered the building, they were immediately confronted with what must have been a truly astonishing sight – themselves, caught on camera and broadcast to a screen. In the auditorium, they were treated to a wide variety of programming, which was being filmed and transmitted from the roof of the Institute. Vaudeville acts, political speeches, popular athletes, and other local celebrities were featured in those early television transmissions. Thousands of Philadelphians attended the demonstrations and an exhibition that was supposed to last 10 days stretched into three weeks.

The phenomenal success of that exhibition proved what the Farnsworth team had suspected for years – the public was ready for television.

Man’s voice: Technicians at Farnsworth’s Philadelphia laboratory have helped make television, the dazzling dream of the decade, a practical reality for today . . . you are about to witness the most excitingly different concept in the history of television.

Beckley: Farnsworth himself was sure that a fortune lay in television broadcasting rather than manufacturing. To this end, he established W3XPF, an experimental TV station which blanketed Philadelphia with some of the earliest electronic television signals. As television sets were still not commercially available, very few residents had receivers. Those who did, mostly engineers who were working for Farnsworth, became very popular with their neighbors.

While Farnsworth’s work with W3XPF was promising, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, was slow to allocate air space and create other institutional standards that would need to be in place before commercial broadcasting was feasible. In the meantime, Farnsworth reluctantly turned to manufacturing. Investors looked for a suitable plant to purchase and eventually landed on a building in Fort Wayne, Indiana once occupied by the Capehart Phonograph Company. According to Schatzkin, the location was chosen because,

Clark from Schatzkin: “the company’s plant was an ideal facility, and the name ‘Capehart’ was expected to lend a certain cachet to the eventual Farnsworth product line.”

Beckley: The Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, or FTRC, opened shop on Pontiac Street in Fort Wayne in 1939 and launched into production of television, radio, and phonograph equipment.

Man’s voice: …that’s where Hoosier ingenuity took over…

Beckley: FTRC wasn’t the only company producing commercial televisions – companies such as RCA and International Telephone & Telegraph, or ITT, had established licensing agreements with Farnsworth and were also working to bring the new technology into American homes. However, just as the commercialization of the television was starting to take off, yet another obstacle presented itself – World War II.

Man’s Voice: New weapons of war add to the increasing thrills captured by intrepid cameramen.

Beckley: During the war, FTRC, along with most of American industry, turned to wartime production. While a blow to commercial TV, this was a boon for FTRC. During the war years, the company expanded greatly. Farnsworth himself spent much of his time at his home in Maine, working in a home laboratory and allowing others to run the day-to-day operations of the plants – that’s plants plural, as FTRC operated seven factories – four in Fort Wayne and one each in Marion, Huntington, and Bluffton – by the end of the war in 1945.

Much of this expansion was achieved with the help of loans that came due a year after the end of the war, just as the company was struggling to shift back to peacetime operations. Farnsworth and his shareholders did everything they could to remain an independent company – even going so far as to offer RCA use of Farnsworth’s patents “in perpetuity” for two and a half million dollars, an offer which RCA declined. In the end, to avoid bankruptcy, FTRC was sold to ITT for the rather meager sum of $1.7 million.

Despite losing independence, the company continued to produce televisions and Farnsworth continued to conduct research and experiments, although by this time he had shifted his focus from television to his next obsession, one that was equally forward thinking in the 1950s as television was in the 1920s – Fusion.

Man’s voice: Today atomic scientists produce radioactivity in large amounts . . .

Beckley: Philo’s interest in fusion, which is an experimental form of power that harnesses the energy of nuclear reactions, began to develop while he was working in his home laboratory in Maine during the early 1940s, and he continued to work on it in a basement laboratory in Fort Wayne.

After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII, interest in fusion went into overdrive. Farnsworth, like many others, including Hoosier physicist and former THH podcast topic Melba Phillips, wanted to see the peaceful application of the science used to power our cities. He dreamed of harnessing fusion to power the nation cheaply and, more importantly, cleanly.

In 1947, a mutual friend set up a phone call between Farnsworth and Albert Einstein. Einstein had worked on Fusion during the war only to vow never again to revisit it after his work contributed to the development of nuclear weapons. Pem, Farnsworth’s wife, later said that he found Einstein to be a

Clark: fellow traveler in the rarefied regions of the physical universe where his mind now dwelt.

Beckley: Einstein asked Farnsworth to send him the math behind his theories once he had worked it out. This conversation bolstered Farnsworth’s inventive energy– after a lifetime of being surrounded by people who just didn’t understand how his mind worked and suffering from loneliness and depression because of it, here was an equal. Much like he did with television back in Rigby, Idaho, he set about learning all he could about the budding field of fusion.

By 1953, the father of television felt on the brink of a new discovery. One summer day, the whole Farnsworth family was piled into a Cadillac on their way to Utah for a banquet. Schatzkin describes the scene as told by Farnsworth’s son and namesake Philo Farnsworth III:

Clark: “Pem was driving, with four-year-old Kent asleep with his head in her lap. Phil was slumped in the front seat, his head down, his fedora pulled down over his eyes. All of a sudden, ‘Dad practically jumped out of his seat in one fluid movement and punched his fist forward, saying ‘I’ve got it.’”

Beckley: The feat had been repeated – just like in that potato field in Idaho all those years ago, in an instant, everything he had been studying suddenly came into focus. And Philo T. Farnsworth was off on yet another years-long quest for scientific invention. One that would eventually produce the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor. This was the first device of its kind in the world, and it continues to be the most widely used type of fusor in experimentation today.

In 1957, Farnsworth made his one and only television appearance on a gameshow called “I’ve Got a Secret.” At the end of his appearance, he talks about where he sees television going in the future;

Man’s Voice: This is the famous Dr. Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of the television.

[Applause]

Man’s Voice: Let’s go from the past – the not too distant past – to the future. What are you working on now?

Farnsworth: Well, in television, we’re attempting to make better utilization of the bandwidth because we think we can eventually get in excess of 2000 lines instead of 525 and do it on an even narrower cannel, possibly, than we’re doing it today, which would make for a much sharper picture. Then we hope…we believe in the picture frame type of television where the visual display will be just a screen. Then we hope for a memory so that the picture will be just as it was pasted on there, and many different improvements will result in a camera when you use such devices because part of the scene that you can remember, and you practically have a memory card of it, and it will simplify production of it.

Beckley: In that one-minute clip, he outlines HDTV, Flatscreen televisions, and digital video cameras decades before any of those technologies would be developed – the very definition of a visionary.

Man’s voice: Converting the dreams of yesterday into the reality of tomorrow . . . here is a look into the future of communication . . .

Beckley: It would be an understatement to say that the world has embraced Farnworth’s creation. Globally, 79 percent79 percent of households have at least one television set. That’s astounding. People from around the world are able to share experiences in a way that newspapers, radio, and even motion pictures could never rival and those shared experiences have shaped our society in huge ways. The Vietnam War was the first war to be covered on television and coverage of the conflict – the images of the dead and injured contrasted with the lack of progress being made – sparked an antiwar movement in the United States which eventually shifted public opinion.

The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show created a craze in America which would change the music scene forever. It inspired countless young people to start bands and went a long way to unify a generation we now call the Baby Boomers.

Nearly every American of a certain age can clearly remember where they were on September 11, 2001 when we watched the Twin Towers fall. And we continued to watch as that day changed our society – we watched as the United States went to war, as Congress passed the Patriot Act, and as Islamophobia spread like wildfire.

Television has brought us together in good times and in bad. This was the promise Farnsworth saw for the television. True – he would likely have been disappointed seeing his invention used for misinformation and reality television. But he would have reveled in seeing the world sharing in our triumphs and tragedies – in fact, he and Pem watched the 1969 moon landing, after which Philo declared,

Clark at Farnsworth:  That has made it all worthwhile.

Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. This episode of Talking Hoosier History was adapted from IHB historian Nicole Poletika’s two-part blog post about Farnsworth on the Indiana History Blog. If you want to learn even more about Farnsworth’s life and work, I highly recommend Schatzkin’s biography, “The Boy Who Invented Television: A Story of Inspiration, Persistence, and Quiet Passion.” Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show. We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode of Giving Voice. In the meantime, find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Philo T. Farnsworth: Father of Television

Blog Posts

Poletika, Nicole, “’The Damned Thing Works!:’ Philo T. Farnsworth & the Invention of Television,” Indiana History Blog.

Poletika, Nicole, “Philo T. Farnworth: Conversing with Einstein & Achieving Fusion in Fort Wayne,” Indiana History Blog.

Books

Schatzkin, Paul, The Boy Who Invented the Television, Tanglewood Books, 2008.

Indiana State Historical Markers

Philo T. Farnsworth Indiana State historical Marker Review

Articles

Butts, Tom, “The State of Television, Worldwide,” TVTechnology.com.

Viewer Beware: Watching Reality TV Can Impact Real-Life Behavior,” All Things Considered, National Public Radio.

Indianapolis’s Foreign House: “A Mixture of Protection and Coercion”

Indianapolis News, March 3, 1917, 28, accessed Newspapers.com.

As John H. Holliday strolled through Indianapolis’s Hungarian Quarter, he observed windows caked with grime, street corners lined with rubbish, and the toothy grin of fences whose boards had been pried off and used for fuel. While reporting on the nearby “Kingan District,” Holliday watched plumes of smoke cling to the meat packing plant, for which the area was named. The philanthropist and businessman noted that in the district “boards take the place of window-panes, doors are without knobs and locks, large holes are in the floors, and the filthy walls are minus much of the plastering.”[1] Houses swollen with residents threatened outbreaks of typhoid fever and tuberculosis.

Those unfortunate enough to live in these conditions were primarily men from Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, and Hungary who hoped to provide a better life for family still living in the “Old World.”[2] Alarmed by what he witnessed, Holliday published his report “The Life of Our Foreign Population” around 1908. He hoped to raise awareness about the neighborhoods’ dilapidation, which, in his opinion, had been wrought by landlords’ rent gouging, the city’s failure to provide sanitation and plumbing, and immigrants’ inherent slovenliness (a common prejudice at the time). Holliday feared that disease and overcrowding in immigrant neighborhoods could spill into other Indianapolis communities.[3] Perhaps a bigger threat to contain was the immigrants’ susceptibility to political radicalism, given the squalor in which they had been reduced to living. Holliday wrote, “If permitted to live in the present manner, they will be bad citizens.”[4] 

Dan and Mary Simon’s Romanian parents settled in Indiana Harbor, ca 1915, Jane Ammeson Collection, Indiana Album.

Motivated by a desire to both aid and control immigrants, a coalition of local businessmen-including Holliday-philanthropists, and city officials formed the Immigrant Aid Association in 1911.[5] Later that year, the association established the Foreign House on 617 West Pearl Street, which provided newcomers with social services like child care and communal baths, but also worked to assimilate and “Americanize” them. The Foreign House reflected the dual purposes of immigrant settlements in this period: what historian Ruth Hutchinson Crocker called “a mixture of protection and coercion.”


The first week of April 1908 was one of discord for northern Indiana. Hundreds of immigrant laborers stormed the Lake County Superior Court, “crying for bread” after the closing of Calumet Region mills. In Hammond, armed immigrants drilled together, causing police to fear the emergence of a riot. In neighboring Indiana Harbor, masses of desperate immigrants, many living in destitution, thronged the streets in search of employment. Blood spilled in Syracuse, when Hungarian laborers stabbed Sandusky Portland Cement Co. employee Bert Cripe. Apparently this was retribution for local employers’ refusal to hire Romanians, Hungarians, and “other laborers of the same class.” The stabbing set off a sequence of street fights between immigrants and locals, and resulted in the bombing of a hotel where laborers stayed. The Indianapolis News reported that the explosion “wrecked a portion of the building, shattered many windows, and not only terrified the occupants, but also the citizens of the town and country.”[6]

These alarming events made an impression on a nameless employee at Indianapolis’s Foreign House, who referenced the Indianapolis News article in the margin of a ledger three years after the foment.[7] The employee seemed acutely aware of the potential for unrest if the basic needs of Indianapolis’s estimated 20,000 immigrants went unmet.[8]

South Bend Tribune, January 5, 1911, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

According to Crocker, by 1910, 80% of Indianapolis’s newcomers had originated from Romania, Serbia, and Macedonia. Many of those who had recently settled in the Hoosier capital had migrated from Detroit, Kentucky, and Chicago, in search of jobs.[9] Many Americans viewed such immigrants with derision, believing, as Holliday did, that they “‘differ greatly in enterprise and intelligence from the average American citizen. They possess little pride in their personal appearance and live in dirt and squalor.'”[10] The 1911 Dillingham Commission Reports, funded by Congress to justify restrictive immigration policies, was designed to validate these beliefs. Using various studies and eugenics reports, the commission “scientifically” concluded that Eastern and Southern Europeans were incapable of assimilating and thereby diluted American society.[11] 

Reflecting the Report’s conclusions, a 1911 South Bend Tribune piece noted urgently, “A big portion of the immigrants are undesirable—very undesirable. . . . Mark this. If we don’t begin to really exclude undesirable immigration, the Anglo-Saxon in this Government will be submerged.” Its author continued that these “undesirables” would “soon become voters. Men who need votes see to that.”[12] The founders of Indianapolis’s Foreign House hoped to bring together various nationalities, as their isolation made them a “political and cultural menace.”[13]

Indianapolis Star, December 15, 1929, 75.

In fact, the House’s very foundations belied the American ideals of business philanthropy and civic volunteerism. Kingan & Co. essentially donated the settlement’s structure, the local community funded citizenship classes, and work was furnished partly through “personal subscriptions and the assistance of teachers who have volunteered their services.”[14] The settlement house would be modeled after YMCAs, offering baths, “reading and smoking rooms,” a health clinic, and night classes in which patrons could learn English.[15] Additionally, civics courses and an information bureau, where “all the dialects of the foreign population will be spoken,” helped immigrants understand American laws and navigate the citizenship process.

These classes were crucial, as ignorance about American customs resulted in many newcomers placing their money and trust in corner saloons, whose owners often mismanaged or pocketed the funds.  Immigrant Aid Association officers hoped that “opportunities for grafting and theft among the gullible class of foreigners will be reduced when the settlement house is in working order.”[16] An understanding of the English language and the legal system could also help challenge the stereotype that immigrants were criminals because most offenses were committed due to their “ignorance of the law.”[17]  Furthermore, the Star noted in 1914 that, according to those in charge, classes about American government “have given the students an increased earning capacity and have been of great benefit in fitting them for work in this country.”[18]

Questions about their intellectual aptitude persisted, as noted by the Indianapolis Star‘s 1915 observation of immigrants in night school: “It is an interesting sight to watch the swarthy men bending over their books and making awkward attempts to follow the pronunciation of their teachers.” Despite such evaluations, it is clear than many immigrants were grateful for the quality of education afforded in America. As relayed by an interpreter and printed pejoratively in the Indianapolis Star, a young Macedonian man who had recently arrived to Indianapolis “says he thankful most for the education he is gettin’ in America. He wants to bring father and mother here to free country.”[19]

Indianapolis News, February 21, 1916, 16, accessed Newspapers.com.

While the Foreign House introduced men to American cultural and political norms through these courses, immigrant women were indoctrinated through home visits by Foreign House staff.[20]  Ellen Hanes, resident secretary of the organization, made 2,714 trips to women’s homes in 1913, “teaching the care of children and teaching domestic economy as practiced by American housewives.”[21] Historian Ruth Hutchinson Crocker contended that such services:

were the medium for teaching ‘correct’ ideas about a variety of subjects, from the meaning of citizenship to the best way to cook potatoes; thus they always involved the abandonment by immigrant women of traditional ways of doing things.[22]

Indianapolis News, March 3, 1915, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

In addition to providing instruction about American customs, the House offered a space for fellowship and recreation. Likely feeling isolated in their new country, immigrants could socialize there and enjoy musical programs, as well as literary clubs with fellow newcomers. They could don costumes from their homeland, often “rich and heavy with gold and embroidery,” and perform folk dances and native music. Conversely, much of the entertainment centered around American patriotism, like a program for George Washington’s birthday, in which men dressed like the first president and women the first lady. The Indianapolis Star noted, “Probably at no place in Indianapolis are holidays celebrated more earnestly.”[23] Crocker contended that this blended programming “showed the settlement in the dual role of Americanizer and preserver of immigrant culture.”[24]

Recreational opportunities also lowered the possibility that immigrants would become a societal “liability.” One man who dropped by the house said, “‘We used play poker and go saloon and dance when we come Indianapolis. . . but now we read home books in our library, read English, do athletes, play music and do like Americans.'”[25]


Sidney Joseph Greene, Newman Library, CUNY, accessed Wikipedia.

America’s entry into World War I in 1917 intensified suspicion of immigrants and spurred questions about their loyalty. This hostility impacted foreign institutions like Indianapolis’s German-language paper, the Täglicher Telegraph und Tribüne, which, despite trying to present balanced war coverage, ceased publication by 1918. In the years following World War I, the Foreign House was “practically abandoned,” perhaps another victim of xenophobia surfacing from the war’s wake. The emerging nationalist impulse likely accounted for the organization’s name change.[26] The Foreign House became the American Settlement House in 1923, when the organization merged with the Cosmopolitan Mission and moved to 511 Maryland Street (where the Indiana Convention Center now sits).[27]

Post-war labor strikes, anarchists’ bombing of American leaders, and fears that Eastern European immigrants would replicate the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution increased suspicion of and reduced support for immigrants. It also helped inspire the 1924 Immigration Act, which set an annual immigrant quota of 150,000 and drastically curtailed admittance of people from “undesirable” countries.[28]  A sense of isolation must have intensified for Indianapolis’s immigrants, now deprived of the settlement house’s resources and contending with renewed nativism. That is until Mary Rigg, a young, idealistic social worker was put in command of the American Settlement House in 1923. While conducting research for her thesis about the settlement, Rigg developed an affinity and deep empathy for its visitors. She began to envision a robust image of their future. With the assistance of the House, immigrant neighborhoods blossomed with colorful flowerbeds, giggling children shimmied up gleaming jungle gyms, and neighbors shared the bounties of a communal garden.

Mary Rigg, courtesy of the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center, accessed Encyclopedia of Indianapolis.

The goal would not simply be to help newcomers find employment, obtain citizenship papers, or avoid disease, but to experience, as Rigg stated, “true neighborliness,” where they “could play the game of daily living together in peace and harmony.” Rigg would be chief architect of this idyllic vision, in which immigrants could taste the fruits of capitalism, while embracing their native customs, language, and dress. After all, she believed that living “in a country in which we have the privilege of climbing higher” applied to its immigrants and that it was the settlement’s responsibility to help them ascend its steps. [29] 

* Read Part II to learn how “Mother” Mary helped engineer a vibrant urban community and hear from those who thrived in it.

Sources:

*All newspapers were accessed via Newspapers.com.

[1] Sarah Wagner, “From Settlement House to Slum Clearance: Social Reform in an Immigrant Neighborhood,” 1-4 in 1911-2001: Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center, 90 Years of Service, given to the author by Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center staff.

[2] Ruth Hutchinson Crocker, Social Work and Social Order: The Settlement Movement in Two Industrial Cities, 1889-1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 47.

[3] Wagner, 2-6.

[4] Crocker, 49.

[5] “Foreign Quarters in City to be Improved,” Indianapolis News, July 29, 1911, 16.

[6] “Foreigners Clamoring for Something to Eat,” Indianapolis News, April 8, 1908, 8.; “Riot at Syracuse Ends without Loss of Life,” Indianapolis News, April 8, 1908, 8.

[7] Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center Records, 1911-1979, L130, Indiana State Library.

[8] Foreign population estimate is from “Library Orders Foreign Works,” Indianapolis Star, April 19, 1914, 51.

[9] Crocker, 14, 47.

[10] Wagner, 5-6.

[11] “Dillingham Commission Reports (1911),” accessed Immigrationhistory.org.

[12] “The Latin Will Overcome the Anglo-Saxon in this Country in a Few Year,” South Bend Tribune, January 5, 1911, 3.

[13] Crocker, 48.

[14] Wagner, 6.; Indianapolis Star, February 21, 1915, 3.; “Library Orders Foreign Works,” Indianapolis Star, April 19, 1914, 51.; Quotation from “Members of Civic League Criticise [sic] School Board in Not Giving Assistance,” Indianapolis Star, January 7, 1913, 9.

[15] “Foreign Quarters in City to be Improved,” Indianapolis News, July 29, 1911, 16.

[16] “Advise Foreigners to Avoid Saloons,” Indianapolis Star, October 7, 1911, 7.; “Foreign Quarters in City to be Improved,” Indianapolis News, July 29, 1911, 16.; “Members of Civic League Criticise [sic] School Board in Not Giving Assistance,” Indianapolis Star, January 7, 1913, 9.

[17] “Advise Foreigners to Avoid Saloons,” Indianapolis Star, October 7, 1911, 7.

[18] “Scope of Night Schools for Foreigners Broadened,” Indianapolis Star, August 13, 1914, 16.

[19] “Thankful to be Free,” Indianapolis Star, December 1, 1911, 8.; Indianapolis Star, February 21, 1915, 3.

[20] “Advise Foreigners to Avoid Saloons,” Indianapolis Star, October 7, 1911, 7.

[21] Indianapolis Star, September 13, 1914, 38.

[22] Crocker, 59.

[23] Indianapolis Star, February 21, 1915, 3.; “School Popular with Foreigners,” Indianapolis Star, September 13, 1914, 38.

[24] Crocker, 58.

[25] Indianapolis Star, September 13, 1914, 38.; “School Popular with Foreigners,” Indianapolis Star, September 13, 1914, 38.

[26] Crocker, 60.; German Newspapers’ Demise historical marker, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Bureau.; “Xenophobia: Closing the Door,” The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, accessed pluralism.org.

[27] Crocker, 60-61.; Wagner, 7-8.

[28] “Sacco & Vanzetti: The Red Scare of 1919-1920,” accessed Mass.gov.; “The Immigration Act of 1924,” Historical Highlights, History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives, accessed history.house.gov.; David E. Hamilton, “The Red Scare and Civil Liberties,” accessed Bill of Rights Institute.

[29] Crocker, 60-65.; Master’s thesis, Mary Rigg, A.B., “A Survey of the Foreigners in the American Settlement District of Indianapolis,” (Indiana University, 1925), Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center Records.;  Bertha Scott, “Mary Rigg Busier Since ‘Retirement,'” Indianapolis News, November 3, 1961, 22.; Laura A. Smith, “Garden and Home First Wish of New Americans,” Indianapolis Star, July 6, 1924, 36.;  Letter, Mary Rigg, Executive Director, Southwest Social Centre to Mr. Joseph Bright, President, City Council, May 15, 1953,  Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center Records.

Helen Corey: Arab American Politician, Leader, Food Ambassador

Helen Corey welcomed John F. Kennedy to Terre Haute just fifteen days before he was elected U.S. president. Credit: Char Wade.

Helen Corey was perhaps the most noteworthy Arab American leader in central Indiana during the 1960s and 1970s. More than four decades before Mitch Daniels became Indiana governor, she was the first Arab American to hold a statewide elected office. It is a travesty that she has not received the attention that her accomplishments demand.

Born 1923 in Canton, Ohio, her Syrian parents, Maheeba (“Mabel”) and Mkhyal (“Mike”) Corey, were originally from the Damascus area. Her parents belonged to the generation of immigrants who arrived in the United States during what Mark Twain referred to as the Gilded Age. The country was booming economically, and employers were in desperate need of labor. Helen Corey’s family, like others, sought these opportunities. Like many Armenians and Turks, Corey’s Syrian parents were citizens of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean before World War I. Thousands of Ottoman citizens settled in Indiana, especially in Michigan City, South Bend, Indianapolis, and Terre Haute. The Indianapolis News noted in 1907 that these ethnic groups “have all made contributions to America’s making, though as a rule they have not been so welcome as other races.”

As a second-generation immigrant, Helen was raised to embrace both Arab and American cultures, as well as the family’s Antiochian Orthodox Christian roots. “When my sister, brother, and I were children,” she wrote, “our parents sent us to the Orthodox church hall following grade school classes where we learned to read and write the [Arabic] language from Arabic scholars Yusuf (Joseph) Sabb and Hunna (John) Shaheen. Our first lesson taught us that this was one of the richest languages in the world.” When the family was around Arabic-speaking friends, they used Arabic names and titles. Brother Albert was Abdullah. Her father was “Boo Abdullah [the father of Albert]” and her mother was addressed by the title, “Im Abdullah [the mother of Albert].”

She recalled in her 1962 The Art of Syrian Cookery:

When we lived in Canton, Ohio, as children, my sister, brother, and I used to get a great deal of pleasure watching my father and his friends take turns smoking the narghileh (Turkish water pipe) as they relaxed during the evenings, exchanging stories of their journey to this country. The narghileh had the sound of bubbling water and an incense aroma filled the house from the Persian tobacco that was used. Our narghileh was made of beautiful cut glass with an oriental brass stem, and the smoking pipe that was attached had an almost cobra look with its many variegated colors. . . The guests were served Turkish coffee and the hostess was ready to play the part of fortuneteller. The cups were inverted and left to stand so that the coffee sediment formed a pattern on the inside of the cup. Then the cups were turned up again and the hostess interpreted the future of each guest from the pattern in his cup.

Around 1947, the Corey family moved to Terre Haute, the home of a sizeable Arab American community. It was called “Little Syria.” Its proximity to the Wabash River facilitated the peddling of wares in Illinois and Kentucky. Historian Robert Hunter wrote that it was a “partial reconstruction of the one that existed in Ayn al-Shaara,” a village located not far from the city of Damascus. According to William Nasser, Indiana’s “father of cardiology” and the founder of the St. Vincent Hospital heart surgery program, Arab American youth faced discrimination in Terre Haute, where he was forced to ride in the back of the bus. Syrians were also barred from joining the country club. For these reasons, as Helen Corey noted in an interview with Robert Hunter, “in the 1920s and 1930s, Syrians did not have a prominent role in civic affairs and leadership of Terre Haute.” She and other second-generation immigrants opened the doors of opportunity for other Arab Americans. Corey’s political career began in 1948 when she worked as the secretary to the city’s longest serving mayor, Ralph Tucker. She would hold that position until 1961.

This job provided her a platform and the connections needed to become active in the Indiana Democratic Party. In 1956, Corey directed the speaker’s bureau of the Indiana Democratic State Central Committee, and in 1959, she was voted Indiana’s Outstanding Young Democratic Woman. On October 25, 1960, she was part of Vigo County’s welcoming committee for then Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic Party’s candidate for U.S. President. As a Young Democratic National Committeewoman, she was chosen to greet the “Kennedy Caravan” as it motored its way through Indiana and Illinois. She was also elected Indiana’s Young Democrat National Committeewoman and represented the state at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Helen Corey was going places. In 1961, she became director of the Bureau of Women and Children in the Indiana Division of Labor. She offered written guidance to Indiana employers on child labor laws and women’s issues in the workplace. She consulted with members of the Indiana General Assembly.

Among the dishes featured on the cover of Helen Corey’s 1962 classic are meat pies, stuffed grape leaves, raw kibbi, stuffed zucchini, assorted pastries, and fried kibbi. In the upper right corner there is a water pipe.

It almost unbelievable that, as she was working hard for the state and the Democratic Party, she also found the time to pen one of the most influential cookbooks on Syrian food ever written in English.

Published by New York’s Doubleday Press in its series on global cuisines, The Art of Syrian Cookery (1962) stayed in print for decades. By the middle of 1965, it had sold 17,000 copies. Its influence could be felt across North America, and it was perhaps the most successful book in its category until the publication of Claudia Roden’s The Book of Middle Eastern Food in 1972. Even then, its many fans kept it as an essential reference in their kitchen. Food writers from Los Angeles to Miami mentioned it in their columns. Syrians and other Arabs checked it out from their local public libraries. One Arab American in Morgan City, Louisiana, said that “it was as near as mama’s cooking as anything I have ever read.” In 1982, a well-known Lebanese cook in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, explained that though her grandmother taught to her cook, she also relied on The Art of Syrian Cookery.

The book was dedicated to Corey’s mother, Maheeba, who not only shared the technical aspects of how to make such food, but taught Helen and her sister, Kate, about the cultural, religious, and social meanings and functions of everything from araq (anise-flavored brandy) to zalabee (doughnuts). This was food meant to be shared with others on important occasions in the old country and in the new. Corey explained, for example, what dishes are traditionally offered at wedding receptions and during Arab Orthodox Christian celebrations of Easter and the Feast of the Epiphany.

If it had been published today, this nostalgic food memoir might have launched the career of the charismatic and hard-working Helen Corey as a celebrity chef. But it appeared one year before Julia Child made her debut on public television, and most upscale restaurants hired only male chefs at the time.

Cooking had to remain a side gig.

Indiana Gov. Roger D. Branigin swears in Helen Corey as the first Arab American statewide office holder, 1965. Credit: Sandy Kassis.

Fortunately, Helen Corey’s political career blossomed at the very same moment that the book was published. In 1963, she was appointed executive secretary of the state’s Commission on the Status of Women. The next year, she won the Democratic Party’s nomination to run for office and then Indiana voters elected Corey the 23rd Recorder of the Indiana Supreme and Appellate Courts. She received 1,110,390 votes, enough to unseat incumbent Recorder Virginia Caylor, who got 920,168 votes.

As Recorder, Helen Corey’s job was to edit, publish, and distribute all of the judicial rulings of the Supreme and Appellate Courts and distribute them to law libraries, universities, and law offices. She worked with just two staff members in the Capitol’s Room 416, where Benjamin Harrison once had his office. The significance of Corey’s election as the first Arab American office holder in Indiana was not lost on the U.S. Department of State, which featured her in its Life in America series distributed abroad.

Helen Corey constantly encouraged women to become politically active. In 1965, for example, she was a featured speaker at the Marion County Democratic women’s weekend retreat to French Lick. She addressed the Indiana Federation of Democratic Women in 1967.

In 1966, Helen Corey, Frank Kafoure, and Father Joseph Shaheen, presented Indiana Gov. Branigin with a commemorative license plate celebrating the state’s sesquicentennial and the 40th anniversary of the founding of St. George Orthodox Church. Credit: St. George Church.

That year, she was making $12,500 in her post. The job also came with an official parking spot at the Capitol, but when Corey was assigned spot no. 21 instead of spot no. 22, Republican Clerk Kendal Mathews went berserk. He complained to the governor and the motor vehicles commissioner about it, and he parked in Corey’s spot, even though the parking attendant told him not to. The Indianapolis Star dubbed the incident “Coreyography.” Corey said the whole thing was ridiculous.

This was not the only time her gender became an issue. She was often asked why she wasn’t married, and she gave the answer that one had to give at the time: she believed that women should be married, but that they could have a career, too. Her good looks were also frequently addressed in public; the Indianapolis News referred to her as a “model” and a “pixie politician.”

Helen Corey campaigned hard in 1968, but it was a Republican year in Indiana statewide elections. Credit: Indiana Historical Society.

When Helen Corey stood for reelection in 1968, she campaigned hard, giving four speeches a day and traveling over 3,000 miles throughout the state to ask for Hoosiers’ votes. But with the exception of Democratic U.S. Senator Birch Bayh, Republicans dominated statewide offices that year. Helen Corey’s opponent, Marilou Wertzler, got 1,067,357 votes. Corey received 925,616.

After leaving office, Corey remained active with Democratic women’s causes, but by the middle 1970s she turned her attention, at least in part, to political organizing on behalf of Arab American causes. Arab issues were front and center in U.S. public life at the time. For example, in 1973, the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) stopped selling oil to nations that supported Israel in its dispute with Egypt. This embargo caused fuel shortages in the United States. Despite the fact that OPEC included non-Arab countries such as Iran and Venezuela–not to mention the fact that most Arab countries are not large oil producers–Arabs in general were blamed for making Americans wait in lines at gas stations. Prejudice and discrimination against Arab Americans increased. The social acceptance that Arab-descended Americans had achieved was at risk.

Second- and third-generation Arab Americans established the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) to lobby national legislators on the foreign issues that affected their lives and livelihoods. One of its programs was “A Day on the Hill,” during which Arab Americans from each state would travel to Washington to meet with their members of Congress. Helen Corey was an obvious choice to coordinate the effort in Indiana. Working with George Halaby, Zeldia Hanna, Vicki Mesalam, and Faye Williams, she kicked off the Central Indiana NAAA chapter’s effort to gain members with a huge hafli (party) at the Stouffer Hotel in 1975. It featured Arab dancing, music, and food.

Over time, the membership of the NAAA decreased as the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee became the largest Arab American national organization. But Helen Corey and other Arab Hoosiers still fought anti-Arab prejudice. In 1990 future Vice President Mike Pence, then a candidate for the U.S. Congress, ran a campaign ad in which a white actor donned Arab head gear, a black robe, dark sunglasses, and used a fake Arab accent to intimate that Democrats were unwitting collaborators of the country’s Arab enemies. Helen Corey spoke out. “It’s degrading a culture,” she said, explaining that the use of racial stereotyping would drive many voters away. (Pence defended the ad.)

Helen Corey’s later cookbooks included meatless menus and an emphasis on the health benefits and Biblical origins of a Mediterranean diet.

In the final decades of the 1900s, Helen Corey did not focus as much on explicit political organizing as she did on culinary diplomacy. A leading authority on Syrian and Lebanese food and cooking, Helen Corey used food not only to bridge ethnic differences among Americans but also to educate Americans about her Antiochian Orthodox Christian faith. In 1990, she self-published her second cookbook, Food from Biblical Lands, and made a 70-minute documentary to promote it. In 2004, she published Healthy Syrian and Lebanese Cooking. These books repeated some of the original recipes from the 1962 classic, but also incorporated new dishes from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Palestine. There were also new stories of Helen Corey’s travels in Syria and new pictures of her family members, including one of her mother’s 100th birthday party.

Helen Corey (second from left) at historical marker dedication in Terre Haute, courtesy of the Tribune-Star.

Corey loved to share that heritage with her nieces. Robert Hunter wrote that Corey preserved and passed on “a big collection of folk stories, songs, and poems, most of which she got from her mother.” Corey told Hunter that “much has been lost,” but she insisted that “a lot has remained…  a ‘Syrianness,’ a sense of who you are and wanting to hold onto it even though you do not have much actual knowledge.”

During her long career, Helen Corey gained recognition and respect for her people, for her culture, and for herself. She is an unsung figure of Arab American and Indiana history whose life is just waiting for greater illumination.

Jay Brodzeller was the chief researcher of this post. Three of Helen Corey’s nieces, Cathy Azar, Sandy Kassis, and Char Wade, provided invaluable assistance. Thanks, as well, to Joan Bey, Matt Holdzkom, Mina Khoury, Rev. Joseph Olas, Father Paul Fuller, Julie Slaymaker, and Father Anthony Yazge.

Additional Sources:

“Armenians and Syrians,” Indianapolis News, March 8, 1907, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Little Syria on the Wabash” historical marker file, 84.2018.1, accessed Indiana Historical Bureau.

Interview with Helen Corey, conducted by Dr. Robert Hunter, Indiana State University, June 25, 2009, Indiana Historical Bureau marker file.

What Former Legislators Want You to Know

While conducting interviews for the Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative, I discussed with former Indiana state legislators quite a bit about the ins and outs of state politics. Our conversations covered topics like how legislators find themselves in politics, how the Indiana General Assembly has evolved over the years, and how elections are won and lost. Another interesting thing I learned, though, was how former legislators perceived of the general public during their time in office. In fact, during interviews I often asked former legislators about what they think the general public does not know about the Indiana General Assembly, as well as what they should know. Over the course of many interviews, I received a variety of answers. However, several important themes emerged, which some could argue, reflect a problematic trend for the State of Indiana.

Thomas Teague, courtesy of “Senator Quits Bill,” Indianapolis News, July 16, 1971, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

For starters, the majority of former legislators that I interviewed told me point blank that the average Hoosier knows nothing or very little about the Indiana General Assembly and how it operates. Former Democratic Senator Thomas Teague, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1971 to 1978 and was the Senate Majority leader, stated the following when asked what the public does not know about the Indiana General Assembly: “Well, that would take about a library full . . . I don’t think the public knows very much at all about it. Maybe they don’t care. I think some do.” This belief was echoed by former Republican Representative Stephen Moberly, who served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1973 to 1990 and said “Well, they don’t know a lot about it…it’s a pretty superficial understanding of government, which is a shame.” This is obviously a big statement to make in regard to the Hoosier population and one that needs to be taken seriously, as it certainly does not bode well for our democracy and our ability to effect change in our state. Additionally, this lack of awareness limits our ability to hold legislators accountable for policies we may not like as citizens.

Indianapolis Star, January 6, 1967, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

What exactly do Hoosiers not know about state government? First, interviewees noted that many people confuse state legislators for members of the U.S. Congress. This was pointed out by Indiana  State Senator Frank Biddinger, who served from 1967 to 1969. He recounted the following story: “I would be at home, on a weekend, and . . . almost always, people would say to me, well, aren’t you supposed to be in Washington? They all thought I was a U.S. senator, I guess—they didn’t know the difference between a state senator and a U.S. senator.”

William Vobach, a Republican senator who served from 1983 to 1990, pointed out that because the public often conflates state legislators with U.S. lawmakers, there is an “idea that you have a staff that can run around and fix things and take care of agency problems…We haven’t got any of that.” He added that “there was just not understanding that we weren’t there all the time if something came up in the summer or something, you know? That, ‘why can’t you just go over and do it?’ [mentality].” This lack of understanding about basic civics and the functioning of state government is not relegated to Indiana. Recently, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation published a survey concluding that two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass the test immigrants take to become U.S. citizens. This is an alarming fact, considering test-takers are asked to name various ways to participate in democracy.[1]

Former legislators also felt not enough citizens understand the nuances of government and how complex it is to get a bill passed into law. This was highlighted by former Republican Senator Farrell Duckworth, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1981 to 1984. He said:

They don’t realize what it takes to get a bill passed. They just don’t realize that . . . All of the hearings and everything to get the bill through and then get it kicked back in your face from the other house and have to go through it again or it completely dies and next year you’ve got to bring it back again. They don’t understand that. They think we just go up there and write the bills and that’s it. And get a big check [chuckles]. You’d be surprised how many people think that.

This observation was reiterated by former state legislators. This fact is unsurprising; if most Americans can’t pass a basic civics test, it’s unlikely they understand the complex process of how a bill becomes a law.

“Emergency Powers House Bill 1123 sees Failed Amendments as it Moves Forward,” The Statehouse File, February 8, 2021, accessed thestatehousefile.com.

Additionally, a political majority—or even supermajority—does not ensure the passage of a bill. Recently in Indiana there has been disagreement within the Republican party, specifically between the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Eric Holcomb. The controversy centers around the ability of the governor to declare a state of emergency, without the intervention of the Indiana General Assembly.[2] Essentially, a Republican in the House authored a bill that would allow the Indiana General Assembly to convene for an emergency legislative session, in the event that the governor declares a state of emergency. The process of getting this bill passed into law proved incredibly complicated.

To summarize, after being authored it was sent to the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures and passed through committee. Then it was sent to the House floor for a vote and was passed by the Indiana House of Representatives. Next, it was sent to the Indiana Senate’s Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures, where it passed committee and was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. On the Senate floor, two amendments were made to the bill before it was finally passed by the Senate. As a result, it was sent back to the House, which disagreed with these amendments. Thus, it was then sent to the conference committee where leaders of the Indiana House and Senate get together to make agreements on bills in which they disagree. Finally, a conference committee version of the bill was agreed on and sent to the Governor of Indiana, who then vetoed it. In turn, the bill was sent back to the Indiana House and Senate, which voted to overrule the governor’s veto, which officially made the bill law. But, it is still technically not over yet because now the Governor of Indiana is suing the Indiana General Assembly over the legality of the law.[3]

This recent event perfectly highlights how complex the legislative process is and why many Hoosiers, as well as Americans in general, may not quite grasp the ins and outs of how bills become law. And this is only a simplified version of the events. There are many other complexities of how bills become law because there are so many ways a bill can be killed or passed into law due to various legislative tactics. Republican Senator Robert Meeks, who served from 1983 to 1990, described the sometimes gritty legislative process:

Makin’ laws is like makin’ sausage. Doesn’t look good. And you know, General Assembly’s— the legislature was created to take the fighting off the streets and move it into a confined area called the chambers. That’s why it was done, take it off the streets and bring it in here. That’s exactly the way it was. So what goes on in there, in those meetings is generally not general knowledge of the public, they shouldn’t know about all that. Not that it’s bad, but it’s just that it’s sausage.

Conversely, Democratic legislator Earline Rogers noted that while there could be conflict among lawmakers, she told ILOHI that she doesn’t think the public recognizes “the camaraderie that’s there.” Political differences might complicate legislation, but “there’s a bond that political parties just can’t break up,” like the period when she and Republican colleague Tom Wyss were both caring for loved ones diagnosed with cancer.”

“Railroad Crossing Haunts Parents of Victims,” May 26, 1982, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

The last and perhaps most important thing many legislators wanted Hoosiers to know: don’t hesitate to contact your legislator. As former Indiana Senator Dennis Neary, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1976 to 1992, argued:

They need to know that their voice does count, and legislators will listen to them. They won’t always agree with them, but they will listen to them. And the more legislators hear from their constituents, the more they will react on an issue . . . that the person thinks is important.

This may seem like a basic idea, but many Hoosiers and Americans are actually quite passive politically, and don’t seem to be as interested as they could be in employing their political voices. Rep. Charlie Brown, a Democrat who served from 1982 to 2018 and member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, described in practical terms how his constituents made their voices heard. He noted that during and after session, he attended public forums and mailed out surveys asking what legislative issues constituents wanted to pass. Rep. Brown noted that the information was “compiled by the staff and then it shows us the issues that are most important to the constituents back home.”

Indiana’s former legislators seem to emphasize that not enough is being done by everyday Hoosiers to nurture the health of the State of Indiana. Citizens should strive to be more politically active. Political passiveness towards state government may seem harmless, but bills that could one day affect your life, for better or worse, are being passed every session. We must remember that many around the world are fighting just for the opportunity to have a fraction of the amount of political influence that Hoosiers possess. The enactment of laws may not seem to be the most pressing issue in our day to day lives, but it has the potential to dramatically affect us whether we want it to or not. So it is critical to look into potential legislation and to weigh in by bringing your concerns and experiences to lawmakers. After all, they work for us.

 

Sources:

[1] Patrick Riccards, “National Survey Finds Just 1 in 3 Americans Would Pass Citizenship Test,” October 3, 2018, accessed Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

[2] Tom Davies, “Indiana Lawmakers Override Governor’s Emergency Powers Veto,” April 15, 2021, accessed AP News.

[3] Indiana House Bill 1123, passed April 15, 2021, accessed LegiScan.

The Associated Press, “Judge Letting Gov. Holcomb Sue Indiana’s Legislature to Block Emergency Law,” July 6, 2021, accessed WTHR.

The Intersection of War Work & Women’s Enfranchisement

Indianapolis women sewing Red Cross hospital garments, 1917, Indiana Red Cross Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

On the precipice of World War I, Hoosier women had reason to be hopeful that they had, at last, won their long fight for suffrage. The 1917 legislative session brought about three major suffrage measures, all of which passed. But the constitutionality of suffrage bills would soon be challenged, and when the United States formally entered the war on April 6, 1917, Hoosier suffragists and clubwomen stood at a crossroads. Should they continue fighting for the vote or should they pause their efforts to focus attention on assisting the homefront?

Historian Anita Morgan noted that during the Civil War, “women had dropped suffrage campaigning in exchange for tackling war work and thought, erroneously, that war work would win them suffrage. That disappointment yet festered, and this time, they would not make the same mistake.”[i] In fact, Dr. Morgan asserted that “what the war managed to do was to finally focus the energies of all these suffragists and club women so they acted in concert for one goal—win the war and in the process win suffrage for themselves.”[ii] Leaders believed that their best response to the U.S. entering World War I would be to support its efforts entirely while simultaneously continuing the fight for suffrage. Doing so would put President Wilson in their debt and earn the National American Woman Suffrage Association valuable supporters.[iii] It would also, incidentally, afford women a unique experience in which to hone their public speaking and organizational skills.

***

World War I Poster Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

“Never again will suffrage be decried or ignored in Indiana,” declared fliers sent to women across Indiana by Marie Stuart Edwards, president of the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL). Edwards wrote to Indiana Federation of Clubs’ members around the state reporting that suffragists were intensifying their efforts, regardless of the war, writing: “plans are being made to carry the fight and you will hear about them.” She encouraged Hoosier women to “emphasize the relations between suffrage and patriotism” to enhance their credibility as future-voters. By combining the war effort with suffrage efforts, women could now band together and show the country and government why they were worthy of the vote. Edwards went on to say that “real patriotism demands that we serve the Government no matter how out of patience we get with state authorities. If possible, make a showing as a LEAGUE.”[i]

Indiana women, following Edwards’s suggestion, quickly mobilized. Reports from the WFL show that Lenore Hannah Cox requested names of prominent women from across the state, who might telegraph congressmen in regards to the passage of the federal suffrage amendment when called upon to do so.[ii] Financial reports of the Woman’s Franchise League similarly show that the league began collecting Liberty Bond donations as part of its budget, promoting the drive through their newspaper, The Hoosier Suffragist.[iii]

Grace Julian Clarke broadsides and flyers, 1910-1930s, L033: Grace Julian Clarke papers, Women in Hoosier History, Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

Prolific columnist and Indianapolis suffragist Grace Julian Clarke wrote in the Indianapolis Star, “more depends upon us in this matter than many persons realize, and it is a work that only women can perform.”[iv] She quickly assumed a leadership role in her community and volunteered to lead a sign-up station for the Red Cross at the Irvington post office. Other prominent club women around Indianapolis followed suit.[v] Clarke also introduced a resolution at a “patriotic meeting” held at the Y.W.C.A. in Indianapolis that urged local women to “pledge . . . to do our bit in war emergency relief work, and to induce others to do the same.”[vi] About 400 women registered their intent to take part in war relief work after Clarke’s address. By May 1917, Clarke had been appointed to supervise WFL war work, which required Clarke to process all of the records from the war work registration drive.[vii] Registrars had asked women to complete registration cards promising to help with some type of government service if called upon during the war.[viii]

In October of 1917, Hoosier suffragists like Clarke joined the “fourteen-minute women,” speaking before clubs, church societies, and other women’s organizations for about—you guessed it—fourteen minutes on the subject of food conservation. The group was “one wing of the army of talkers, pledgers, advertisers and boosters” that the local branch of the United States food administration, led by future U.S. president Herbert Hoover, expected to disseminate important facts regarding food conservation. The “fourteen-minute women,” organized by suffragist and former WFL secretary Julia C. Henderson as part of the speakers’ bureau for the Seventh District for food conservation work, collaborated with “four-minute men.”[ix]

“Fourteen-Minute Women” Speakers’ Bureau Conference Program, May 10, 1918, (State Council of Defense), accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

Members of the “fourteen-minute women” included other locally prominent women in hundreds of speaking tours during the war, which helped develop their public speaking skills.[x] In January of 1918, the “fourteen-minute women” were enlisted in state service after their effort had been found to be “so effective that it was deemed advisable to enlarge and extend it beyond the 7th District.”[xi] This expansion included training women to speak on activities that were expected of women in the General Federation of Clubs as an aid in prosecuting the war, with an emphasis on food conservation. Clarke, among others, received unique training and experience in public speaking as a result, further elevating her reputation as a public figure. Of this link between war work and the drive for enfranchisement, she contended:

we [women] are truly patriotic, not only by knitting and doing the conventional kinds of war work, but by the utmost exertions to secure for the women of our country their rightful place as equal partners in the tremendously important enterprise of government . . . Women of all religious denominations, club women, women who work whether in the home or in the many fields outside, young women and old, colored women and white, all women with sufficient wit to discern right from wrong, daylight from night, should enlist in the present suffrage drive.[xii]

Women quite literally utilized war work to demonstrate their deservedness of full-enfranchisement. The state’s Constitutional Convention law was challenged in court on the grounds that it was an “unnecessary public expense,” and the partial suffrage law was challenged for simply costing too much to effectively double the number of voters in the state. Responding to these assertions, Hoosier suffragists attended an Indiana Supreme Court hearing, bringing supplies most likely as part of their “knitting for soldiers campaign to support the war effort, and stayed through four hours of arguments.” In their newsletter, The Hoosier Suffragist, WFL members further challenged these claims, writing “‘Mr. Hoover says he expects the women of this country to save enough to pay for the war,” and yet some men complained that “ballot boxes and ‘fixings’ for women to vote will cost at least six thousand dollars.” The author quipped “If we pay for the war can’t the men scrape up the money for those ballot boxes?”[xiii]

***

Red Cross nurses in the foreground with soldiers in the center, marching beneath a replica of the Arc de Triomphe, which had been constructed for the celebration on Monument Circle, courtesy of the Indiana State Library Rare Books and Manuscripts collections.

On May 7, 1919, 20,000 jubilant men and women cheered returning soldiers at the Welcome Home Parade in Indianapolis. The parade stretched for thirty-three blocks, and left the city awash in red, white, and blue. Trains unloaded returning Hoosier soldiers who displayed their regimental colors. Many attendees had survived the 1918 influenza pandemic, nursed the sick at Fort Harrison, or lost friends and relatives to the pandemic. While suffragists celebrated the end of the war and the dwindling of a catastrophic pandemic, their struggle for full-enfranchisement endured.

According to Talking Hoosier History, Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in June 1919, which then required thirty-six states to ratify in order to become law. Indiana suffragists immediately began calling for Governor Goodrich to convene a special session of the General Assembly to ratify the 19th Amendment. The governor, however, wanted to wait to see what other states would do before spending time and money on a special session. Months later, with still no sign of a special session, suffragists turned up the pressure and Franchise League president Helen Benbridge delivered petitions signed by 86,000 Hoosiers.

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

Their determination proved effective and Governor Goodrich agreed to call a special session. Historian Anita Morgan noted that Hoosier “legislators who spoke in favor of the [suffrage] measure gave women’s war work, which to them signified women’s loyalty, as the reason to support.”[i] On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Indianapolis News reported on the reaction of women at the statehouse when they heard the news:

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

The celebrations continued when, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and the measure became law.

Increasing patriotism, in alignment with a united outward appearance by suffragists, proved a calculated and successful political strategy used by women during the war. The war had illuminated women’s ability to use genuine patriotism as a political tactic to achieve the vote through club and suffrage work. Although women were challenged during a time when they were so close to achieving the goal that they had been working on for nearly a century, loyalty to their country ultimately advanced the “cause of humanity and progress.”

 

Notes:

[i] Anita Morgan, “We Must Be Fearless:” The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2020), 196.

[i] Copy of flier attached to Mrs. Richard E. Edwards to Clarke, Nov. 3, 1917, GJC, Box 2, Folder 1, ISL.

[ii] Printed board letter and reports, Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana, Nov. 3, 1917, GJC, Box 2, Folder 1, ISL.

[iii] “Mrs. Fred M’Collough Head of Loan Drive,” The Hoosier Suffragist, October 26, 1917, p. 1.

[iv] Grace Julian Clarke, “Making Study of League to Enforce Peace,” Indianapolis Star, Oct. 27, 1918, 38.

[v] “Gaining Members Rapidly,” Indianapolis Star, April 7, 1917, 11.

[vi] “Many Women Enroll For War Relief Work,” Indianapolis News, April 12, 1917, 7.

[vii] “Supervisor of War Work,” Indianapolis News, May 9, 1917, 9.

[viii] “Census of Women Will Learn Qualifications for Aiding Government,” The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana), May 12, 1917, 1.

[ix] “Hoover Luncheon and Dinner,” Indianapolis News, October 19, 1917, 18.

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

[xi] “To Organize Speakers,” South Bend Tribune, January 18, 1918, 5.

[xii] Scrapbook regarding World War I, League of Nations, and suffrage, Grace Julian Clarke, vol. 422-11, Indiana State Library.

[xiii] Morgan, 160-161.

[i] Morgan, (unpublished manuscript), Chapter 7, p. 1.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Lynn Dumenil, The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 274-275.

Old Settlers’ Day & the Victorious Washington Long

Three generations of the Long family in front of Washington’s home, ca. 1915. The author’s grandmother, LeNore Alice Hoard Enz, is the “little scowling” girl at left. Washington is in the center and his daughter and LeNore’s mother, Anna Long Hoard, is to his left with her hair up. Image courtesy of the author.

Washington Long woke up early at his daughter Anna’s house. He had not even heard the rooster crow yet, and the sky was still a dark blue as night faded away into the dawn. The old man slept in the front bedroom that Anna and Kellis Hoard added when he moved in. In the latter years of his life, Washington seemed aged and often forgetful. He moved in with his daughter and son-in-law in the new house down the hill from his own around 1919. Anna washed and ironed his clothes, as he set great store by how he looked, especially on a big day like today.

He noted his only daughter had set out his good summer suit, with freshly-pressed trousers and his Sunday shoes. A crisp white dress shirt and tie hung next to the suit. Washington dug into the dresser drawer and found his gold watch and chain. Today, he was going to look remarkable, a real gentleman farmer.

Washington no longer worked his land. Instead, his son-in-law, Kellis, and the hired man managed the farming at both the Hoard farm and Washington’s farm on the other side of Sugar Creek, Washington Township, Whitley County.

It was Thursday, August 19, 1926. Today might be a special day for Washington. He didn’t yet know. Since 1909, Whitley County had awarded loving cups to the oldest registered settler and the longest continuous resident at Old Settlers’ Days.

Would he be first in line to register at the Old Settlers’ tent near the Courthouse? Would this be the year he won a silver cup?

Washington is about the fourth on the right, image courtesy of the author.

After a family breakfast, Kellis pulled his reliable Ford machine in front of the farmhouse door. The early morning sky was cloud-free and blue as the perennial periwinkles that overgrew on the south side of the summer kitchen—a perfect day for a festival. Granddaughter Zoe, Anna, and Washington got in the car, and they were off, east on the Washington Center Road past the school where the Long children had graduated. Then, they headed north on Indiana State Road 11 (later Indiana State Road 9) to the Whitley County Courthouse.

The stately courthouse in the middle of town was the center of Old Settlers’ Day events. The French Renaissance-style building rose to three stories of Indiana limestone, topped with an iron-covered dome. A few people wandered inside to see the relics room, treasures belonging to the first white settlers of Whitley County.

Registration began at 9 a.m. The South Whitley and Columbia City high school bands played lively music for those waiting in line.

The day featured events for the whole family, a greased pole climbing contest, free children’s show at the Columbia Theatre, and a horseshoe pitching contest with cash prizes at the Gun Club.

Washington with his wife, Albina, and children, Anna, (the author’s great-grandmother), Franklin, and Calvin, ca. 1890, courtesy of the author.

For Washington, the highlight was the official, early afternoon Old Settlers’ Day ceremony in front of the courthouse. Ralph Gates, a local attorney, and future governor of Indiana, gave a welcoming address, followed by the Baptist Reverend Charles Watkins of Muncie, who gave a lengthy speech entitled, “Faith of our Fathers.”

Reverend Watkins urged the large crowd to remember that the first structure in pioneer life was the home, followed by the church, followed by the school. “It is just a short distance to a church nowadays by machine. The importance of religion cannot be overestimated,” said Reverend Watkins.[1]

“How much faith have the people in the future generation of boys and girls today?,” the speaker asked.[2]

Washington was widely known to enjoy liberal religious views and supported several religious organizations financially. He may have thoroughly enjoyed the zeal of the speaker. Or his attention might have wandered to the Civil War monument on the courthouse lawn, which honored the Whitley County Civil War dead. Washington’s brother, Lewis Reuben Long, died of dysentery after Vicksburg on the western front in 1863.

Reverend Watkins answered his question about the future generation of boys and girls. “I do not feel the flapper, or the drug store sheik would fall when they came to meet their duties and responsibilities of life. One evidence of age frequently manifested was to begin to criticize the younger generation because they do not do like the other person did when he was a boy and to think that they are going pell-mell to the devil.”[3]

Image courtesy of the author.

The sun was still high above on this early August afternoon. Underneath its’ warm rays, some elders nodded off during the featured address and lunch.

Watkins concluded his remarks by saying that the boys and girls who make love in automobiles are no different than their parents who used to tie their reins around the whip and let Old Dobbin find his way home.[4]

Finally, Reverend L.A. Luckenbill rose to present the two loving cups, one for the oldest resident and one for the most senior continuous resident.

“The winner of the oldest resident is Isaiah Johnson of Thorncreek Town-ship,” said Reverend Luckenbill. “Mr. Johnson was born on December 10, 1835, and is now 90 years, five months, and nine days.”

So much for being the most senior resident. The family held its collective breath. How many others here today had been born in a log cabin in Whitley County? In 1845?

“The longest continuous resident for 1926 is Washington Long of Washington Township. Mr. Long was born in Washington Township on February 23, 1845, and is 81 years, five months, and 27 days.”[5]

Image courtesy of the author.

Washington walked proudly to the bandstand, his green registration tag attached to his jacket lapel, his gold watch chain glimmering in the afternoon sun. He surveyed the large crowd that had gathered all along Van Buren from Main to Chauncey Street.

Reverend Luckenbill asked him to say a few words about his coveted award.

“Things ain’t like they used to was,” said the 81-year resident of Whitley County. And then he went back to his chair and sat to thunderous applause. Washington’s statement on constant change has become a family saying for generations.

The Hoards enjoyed visiting with friends into the evening as Washington accepted congratulations.

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants played the Columbia City Modern Woodmen at Carter Field in baseball. Others attended the Hog Calling Contest at the Band Stand, which offered cash prizes for the best call. For people who missed her afternoon show, Grace Gage, contortionist, and her two trained dogs gave a special performance on the courthouse lawn. Darkness came, and an illuminated aeroplane flew low over the crowd, followed by a 25-minute display of fireworks over Columbia City.

After a memorable day, the family returned home, still delighted Washington had finally received his due as a pioneer. He would not compete again, believing others should have their chance. His loving cup, however, became a treasured family heirloom.

Notes:

[1] “The Aftermath of the Annual Old Settlers’ Day,” The Post (Columbia City, IN), August 20, 1926.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Program, Old Settlers’ Day, Columbia City, Indiana, Thursday, August 19, 1926, Peabody Library, Columbia City, Indiana.
[5] “The Aftermath of the Annual Old Settlers’ Day,” August 20, 1926.

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.

THH Episode 48: Giving Voice: Cheryl Cooky

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Giving Voice: Cheryl Cooky

[Music Intro]

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

Pfeiffer: And I’m Casey Pfeiffer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooky: Thanks.

[Music Outro]

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Cheryl Cooky

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

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

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