“THE DAMNED THING WORKS!:” Philo T. Farnsworth & the Invention of Television

Philo T. Farnsworth with early television camera, 1930s
Philo T. Farnsworth with early television camera, 1930s, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library, University of Utah.

It is notable that in this age of celebrity worship, most people cannot name the inventor of the television. Even the meticulous Aaron Sorkin confused the details of Farnsworth’s life in his stage play. Woefully unrecognized, Farnsworth conceived of the idea for electronic television at the age of 14 and brought his conception to fruition in 1927 with his first electronic transmission.

Like Apple founder Steve Jobs, Farnsworth nurtured a broad, idealistic vision of how his invention would change the world, envisioning how television might increase literacy, facilitate the sharing of cultures and even prevent wars through global discourse. Farnsworth’s greatest resource, much like Jobs’, was unconventional thinking and an ability to assemble a small team of determined ingénues like himself. Farnsworth’s wife, Elma “Pem” Farnsworth, attributed her husband’s success to “intuitive thinking, logic, and hard work,” as well as his ability to combine “seemingly unrelated elements into new instruments of amazing effectiveness.”

Farnsworth's childhood home in Indian Springs Utah
Farnsworth’s childhood home in Indian Springs Utah, courtesy of The Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

The inventor of television grew up in Utah prior to the existence of power lines, making his radical electronic concepts all the more remarkable. Farnsworth’s family moved to a farm in Rigby, Idaho, where Farnsworth delighted at the sight of a Delco power system, immersed himself in scientific magazines and invented tools that facilitated household chores. While working on the farm, a teenaged Farnsworth observed the straight rows created by the horses as he plowed, and abruptly thought “he could build the image like a page of print and paint the image line after line . . . with the speed of the electron, this could be done so rapidly the eye would view it as a solid picture.”

According to Pem, Farnsworth reasoned that by using an image dissector tube, he could manipulate electrons to “change a visual image into a stream of electrical current, transmit that to another vacuum tube at the receiver, and on a fluorescent screen turn the current back into the visual image again.” Farnsworth sketched his idea on the blackboard of his high school chemistry teacher, Justin Tolman, and presented him with a drawing of it, which would prove invaluable years later during a 1935 patent suit ruling.

Philo T. Farnsworth's sketch for teacher Justin Tolman
Philo T. Farnsworth’s sketch for teacher Justin Tolman, courtesy of philointhehall.com.

In 1923, Farnsworth moved to Provo, Utah and pursued formal education, enrolling at Brigham Young University (BYU) to study mathematics and physics, although, like Jobs, never graduated. Ironically, his lack of formal training contributed to his success, as fundraiser George Everson recalled that Farnsworth “attacked the whole assignment with no engineering experience and little engineering knowledge, but to compensate for these inadequacies he had courage and genius.” After leaving BYU, Farnsworth worked for Everson as an organizer at the Community Chest Campaign, who, along with fundraiser Leslie Gorrell, funded Farnsworth’s electronic television idea. With this financial backing, Farnsworth moved to California, eventually establishing a lab on Green Street in San Francisco and hand-picking a team of scientists and innovators.

In the team’s early days, engineers shuffled in and out of the lab with various instruments, a “glittering array of crystals, prisms, and lenses.” This activity attracted the attention of police in the Prohibition era and Pem stated “it’s not hard to imagine how suspicious our operation must have looked to an outsider. Strange packages were being brought in, and the curtains were drawn for demonstrating the light relay.” Pem reassured two policemen, who came to investigate the lab, that she and her husband were not operating a still and continued their electronic experiments.

Farnsworth’s 202 Green Street lab in San Fransisco, courtesy of The Philo T. Farnsworth Archives.

Farnsworth focused on perfecting the image dissector tube with the help of Pem’s glassblowing brother, Cliff Gardner. The scientific team constructed numerous models before developing a bulb that was delicate, yet strong enough to transmit an image electronically. After years of failed experiments and twelve hour work days, on September 27, 1927 Farnsworth transmitted the first “electronic television image.” With Farnsworth and his staff at the receiver, Cliff inserted the slide into the Dissector and a small line materialized in the receiver room, ushering in the television age. Farnsworth wired Gorrell a simple message: “THE DAMNED THING WORKS!” and applied for his first television patent on January 7, 1927.

Farnsworth was “the first to form and manipulate an electron beam” and according to his biographer Paul Schatzkin “that accomplishment represents a quantum leap in human knowledge that is still in use today.” Farnsworth’s ability to harness electrons negated the need for mechanical objects to transmit images and later contributed to breakthroughs in radar and electron microscopy.

Farnsworth Television Model, 1936, courtesy of the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library at the University of Utah.

However, transforming his historic achievement into a commercial product involved years of financial and legal problems. Farnsworth struggled to maintain a balance between scientific experimentation and his financial backers’ desire for a return on investment. In 1928, Farnsworth met with impatient investors who demanded to see “some dollars” in his invention, and stunned them when an image of a dollar sign materialized in the screen before them. This presentation bought Farnsworth more time, but later that year the backers repealed their support, forcing Farnsworth to rally his team to continue with the development of television.

In the period between his first transmission and first public demonstration of the television in 1934, Farnsworth continued to navigate around financial problems, company reorganization, and protests by radio and film actors fearing the new medium could jeopardize their jobs. The primary obstacle to commercialization was RCA’s lawsuit regarding his 1927 television system patent. Russian scientist Dr. Vladimir Zworykin attempted to devise an electronic television system and applied for a patent in 1923, despite lacking proof of its feasibility. Farnsworth invited Zworykin, a former employee of Westinghouse, to see his San Francisco lab in 1930 in hopes that Westinghouse might fund his invention. Unbeknownst to Farnsworth, Zworykin no longer worked for the company and his visit to the lab was motivated by personal objectives.

Farnsworth’s television system patent, contested over in the 1935 patent suit against RCA, accessed Google Patents.

Farnsworth demonstrated how to construct an Image Dissector for Zworykin, who later replicated the tube and presented it to RCA. Farnsworth’s refusal to sell his patents to RCA prompted the company to sue for priority of invention, so as to introduce commercial television to the public. The U.S. Patent Office settled the “David and Goliath confrontation,” as described by Farnsworth’s wife Pem, when it ruled in Farnsworth’s favor based on Justin Tolman’s presentation of Farnsworth’s high school Image Dissector sketch. For the first time in RCA’s history, the company had to pay patent royalties, rather than receive them. The ruling also established Farnsworth as the inventor of television, despite ongoing debate and distortions to the historical record like Aaron Sorkin’s stage play proclaiming RCA the victor of the suit. Schatzkin provides a superb synopsis of the debate about the inventor of television and errors punctuating the narrative in The Boy Who Invented Television.

Farnsworth continued to fight against RCA’s appeals and his refusal to bow to the corporation taxed his mental and physical health. While struggling with depression, exhaustion and a dependence on liquor to cope with the stress, Farnsworth vowed to bring television from conception to commercialization. He aimed to get into broadcasting, but because the FCC would not yet allocate spectrum space for television, Farnsworth decided to enter into manufacturing, which would lead him to Fort Wayne, Indiana.

According to the J. Willard Marriott Digital Library at the University of Utah, in 1938 the Farnsworth television show was taken on a country- wide tour and was very well received.

Read part II: Philo T. Farnsworth: Conversing with Einstein & Achieving Fusion in Fort Wayne here.

Etheridge Knight: “can there anything good come out of prison”

A sketch of Etheridge Knight in prison by Terrance Hayes, accessed theparisreview.org.

“I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.” This is how poet Etheridge Knight Jr. described his experience at the Indiana State Prison, where he served eight years for armed robbery. This post focuses on the years 1960-1968, in which the man “with something to say” began sharing his voice through poetry.

Born in 1931 in Corinth, Mississippi, Knight’s family moved to Paducah, Kentucky before moving to Indianapolis. He dropped out of school as a teenager and enlisted in the army in 1947. Knight served as a medical technician in the Korean War until 1950, when a serious injury would indirectly serve as a catalyst for his revolutionary Poems from Prison. His wounds proved so physically and psychologically traumatic that Knight soon developed an addiction to morphine. Or as Knight put it, “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound and narcotics resurrected me.” Following his army discharge, Knight supported his habit by dealing drugs and stealing, which led to his sentence in the Michigan City, Indiana prison.

Betty De Ramus wrote in the Detroit Free Press that black poets of the 1960s, including those writing behind bars, were not trying to

pass civil rights laws or integrate bathrooms or even to trouble America’s conscience. They were battling for the minds of blacks, bent on persuading them of their potential and power, trying to open them, layer by layer, to their own lost beauty.

She argued that this movement, comprised also of African American music, theater, films, and novels were black artists’ way of “lighting candles in the darkness.” Knight would become a quintessential voice of the Black Arts Movement, described by Larry Neal as “’radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Arts is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America.’”

Knight did not immediately illuminate the darkness at the Indiana State Prison, where he became embittered by “racist guards and racist parole boards.” According to a 1972 Baltimore Sun article, he began writing poetry 18 months into his sentence, inspired by other black poets like Gwendolyn Brooks (who later visited him in prison) and Langston Hughes. He recalled “I read Walt Whitman and the European poets, too . . . I could never really get to them as I got to Hughes and Brooks.”

According to the Poetry Foundation, Knight “was already an accomplished reciter of “‘toasts'” before he entered the penitentiary. These toasts were long, narrative poems spoken from memory that related to “‘sexual exploits, drug activities, and violent aggressive conflicts involving a cast of familiar folk . . . using street slang, drug and other specialized argot, and often obscenities.'” At the Indiana State Prison, he “toasted,” amidst cell doors slamming and prisoners shouting. Other times, Knight recalled, “Sometimes in the joint . . . I’d back people up against the wall and say, ‘Here, you want to hear this?’ After all budding poets do need an audience, and where better to find one with time to listen?”

Knight later stated that “Poetry and a few people in there trying to stay human saved me . . . I knew that I couldn’t just deaden all my feeling the way some people did.” This poetry explored themes like “suffering and survival, trial and tribute, loss and love.” The Richmond Palladium-Item reported that through his words he “lashed out at the power brokers in prison and in literature with equal intensity and humor.” At first the budding poet encountered no trouble mailing out his poetry in an attempt to get published. The authorities did not resist, he recalled, because they considered James Whitcomb Riley to be a poet and “they didn’t understand what I was all about.”

His first published piece, a tribute to Dinah Washington, appeared in the Negro Digest about a year after he started writing from prison. Once published, prison officials began censoring his mail and prohibited him from mailing out his poetry. Knight responded by “smuggling material out to friends . . . who worked on the outside.” This resistance to prison life manifested not only in words, but in behavior and he spent time in solitary confinement, or, as he termed it the “hole” and “on the rock.”

Courtesy of The Paris Review article “Terence Hayes Brings Etheridge Knight Into Focus”

“The more oppressive the system you live under, the louder the poets scream,” Knight contended in 1989. And scream he did. His short stories and verses written in the penitentiary, were published in periodicals, anthologies, and the Journal of Black Poetry. Most famously, he published his book Poems from Prison, which included poems like “Cell Song” and “A Wasp Woman Visits a Black Junkie in Prison.” When he left prison in 1968 he worked as a punch press operator at a factory in Indianapolis. By 1972 his scream had been heard across the country and he had taught students creative writing at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and the University of Pittsburgh, and served as poet-in-residence at Lincoln University in Springfield, MO. He alleged that year that “There is more creativity going on in college campuses and prisons than any other places in the country.”

Knight assessed his years in prison, “My time made me see that prisons don’t rehabilitate. If you come out with any degree of sanity at all, you’re lucky. Prison is inhuman. It kills you.”

But poetry brought him back to life. Knight went on to establish Free People’s Poetry Workshops to counteract the “domination of the publishing industry by moneyed white males.” His books and spoken word garnered popular and critical acclaim and he received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, won the American Book Award, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Knight at typewriter, ca. 1960s, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The poet, described by modern African American poet Terrence Hayes, as a “talented, ex-con, con man, blues-blooded rambling romantic” died in 1991 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery. For an in-depth examination of Knight’s works, see thepoetryfoundation.org.

 

Material for this post was derived from:
“Poet Gains Worldwide Acclaim,” Indianapolis Recorder, July 27, 1968, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Helen Fogel, Detroit Free Press, February 22, 1969, accessed Newspapers.com.

Randi M. Pollack, “Etheridge Knight Talks on Prison,” The Baltimore Sun, February 18, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Mike Fitzgerald, Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana), March 18, 1984, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Etheridge Knight: Going Against Safe Literary Doctrine,” The Indianapolis Star, March 12, 1989, accessed Newspapers.com.

THH Episode 3: George Washington Julian vs. Slavery

Transcript for George Washington Julian vs. Slavery

Jump to Show Notes

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

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

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

[Music]

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

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

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

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

[Transitional music]

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

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

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

[Transitional music]

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

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

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

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

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

[Transitional music]

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

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

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

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

[Advertisement music]

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

[Advertisement music]

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

[Dramatic music]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Transition music]

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

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

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

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

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

[Transitional music]

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

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

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

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

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

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

[Transitional music]

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

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

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

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

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

The article described the scene of the legislature:

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Show Notes for George Washington Julian vs. Slavery

Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspapers

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

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

Blog Posts

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

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

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

Justin Clark

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

Steve Barnet

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

Music Notes

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

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

The Talking Hoosier History theme song is:

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

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

Other Music from Episode Two:

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

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

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

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

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

The Midwestern Making of Kenneth Rexroth: Robbing Cash Registers and Reading the Classics

At times described as cantankerous, paranoid, and bitter, Kenneth Rexroth, the trail-blazing Hoosier poet, cajoled and harangued some of the best poets of the Beat Generation. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to promote their work. Rexroth’s own radical poetry both preceded and inspired the Beats, though at times he refused to be associated with the movement that he thought had lost its meaning by the late 1950s, and especially that “hipster” Jack Kerouac.

Kenneth Rexroth, accessed via Poetry Foundation.

As important as Rexroth’s poetry is to American literature, his life story is perhaps even more fascinating. And while much has been written about his years in San Francisco laying the groundwork for a literary renaissance in that city that grew into the larger Beat movement, little has been written about his time in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio – a period when the budding poet rubbed elbows with anarchists, burlesque dancers, criminals, and the artistic and literary elite of the Midwest and the world.

Kenneth Rexroth Home, South Bend, Indiana, 2016, accessed Google Maps

Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905 in South Bend, Indiana. Young Rexroth’s first residence was a house at 828 Park Avenue in South Bend which still stands and will soon be the site of an Indiana State Historical Marker commemorating his life and career. In Kenneth Rexroth: An Autobiographical Novel, he described the house as “substantial and comfortable,” near to the Oliver Hotel and Mr. Eliel’s drug store. According to a 1905 article in the Elkhart Daily Review, Rexroth’s father was working as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman.

In 1908, the Rexroth family moved to a home on East Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart, Indiana, a relocation that made the local newspaper.

Elkhart Daily Review, June 29, 1908, 1, accessed NewspaperArchive.com
“Surface Car Terminal, Elkhart, Indiana,” photograph, ca. 1910, The Indiana Album.

Rexroth wrote a description of the Elkhart home as well:

This was a quiet residential street above the river where all the best homes in the town were in those days, where the patent-medicine people, the musical-instrument people, the buggy-works people, the corset people, and all the other leading citizens of the town lived in their wooden, sometimes Palladian or Romanesque mansions, and we had our own little Palladian house.

While Rexroth was born into a comfortable life, his family’s circumstances soon deteriorated. His parents, Charles Marion and Delia Rexroth, had difficulties with alcohol, chronic illness, and each other. Rexroth wrote that his mother was drinking champagne when she went into labor and bluntly called his father a “drunk” and a “constant gambler.” When he was five, circa 1910, they left the lovely house on East Beardsley due to his father’s diminishing finances. The family moved more often then, mostly renting, but Rexroth remembers living in a “run-down Victorian house” on Second Street that he believed they owned. Despite setbacks, he remembered his childhood in Elkhart fondly. His mother taught him to read early and immersed him in classical literature. He spent time at the library, learned French, explored the neighborhood, and fell in love with Helen, “the little girl next door,” when they were just six or seven. His parents were able to afford a family tour of Europe, which made quite an impression on young Rexroth.

However, his mother continued to succumb to a chronic illness that multiple doctors were unable to diagnose, and his father intensified his drinking and gambling. Sometime around 1914, when Rexroth was nine, the family moved briefly to Battle Creek, Michigan, and then to Chicago the following year, where they lived with relatives. Rexroth’s father’s alcoholism put him near death on at least one occasion and he left the family, likely for some sort of sanitarium. Rexroth moved with his mother into a small apartment and they rarely saw his father. After a painful period fighting what was likely tuberculosis, Delia Rexroth died in 1916. Eleven-year-old Rexroth went to live with his father and grandmother in Toledo, Ohio. Here, Rexroth began to seek and find trouble.

Photograph, 1916, accessed Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 120.

Rexroth had little supervision in Toledo. He began running around town with a gang of boys who would rob cash registers and, despite his young age, he ran various money-making hustles that involved running errands for “brothels, cardrooms, and burlesque shows.” He also witnessed the Willys-Overland labor strike that turned riotous. Rexroth wrote that this was a significant moment in his youth and he “started off in the labor movement.” In 1919, at this uncertain juncture in Rexroth’s early adolescence, his father also died.

Rexroth’s aunt, Minnie Monaham, retrieved the thirteen-year-old trouble maker and brought him back to Chicago to live with the rest of the Monahams. The 1920 U.S. Census shows that the nine person household was located on Indiana Avenue, but they soon moved to an apartment on South Michigan Avenue in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Rexroth enrolled in the nearby Englewood High School. School administrators quickly expelled him for his poor attitude and attendance. It was outside of the Chicago public school system, however, that Rexroth pursued a more profound education.

Carl Sandburg, “Chicago,” 1916, Chicago Historical Society, accessed via Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Perhaps in the same manner he was able to gain access to the burlesque theaters of Toledo, Rexroth found access to the clubs of the poets and writers gathered in this Midwest city during the second wave of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. Among these were important local poets such as Carl Sandburg and Harriet Monroe, writers and intellectuals such as Hoosier-born Theodore Dreiser, and political thinkers such as famous Hoosier socialist, Eugene Debs, as well as the “big names” of the international art and literature worlds. This intellectual elite met at formal and informal clubs and locations around the city.

Rexroth also explored the radical political movements of the period at venues such as the Washington Park Bug Club, also known as Bughouse Square, which met in a “a shallow grassy amphitheater beside a lagoon off in the middle of the park,” according to Rexroth. Bughouse Square was, for a time, “the most celebrated outdoor free-speech center in the nation and a popular Chicago tourist attraction,” according to the Chicago Historical Society. Here, people with a host of different ideas would get on their soapboxes (sometimes literally) and orate to the crowds that would gather. Rexroth wrote that “here, every night until midnight could be heard passionate exponents of every variety of human lunacy” such as:

“Anarchist-Single-Taxers, British-Israelites [or Anglo-Israelite], sell-anointed archbishops of the American Catholic Church, Druids, Anthroposophists, mad geologists who had proven the world was flat or that the surface of the earth was the inside of a hollow sphere, and people who were in communication with the inhabitants of Mars, Atlantis, and Tibet, severally and sometimes simultaneously. Besides, struggling for a hearing was the whole body of orthodox heterodoxy — Socialists, communists (still with a small “c”), IWWs [International Workers of the World], De Leonites, Anarchists, Single Taxers (separately, not in contradictory combination), Catholic Guild Socialists, Schopenhauerians, Nietzscheans — of whom there were quite a few — Stirnerites, and what later were to be called Fascists.”

“Dill Pickle Club Entrance,” photograph, n.d., Newberry Library, Dill Pickle, Box 2, Folder 32, Chicago Historical Society, accessed via Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Another inspiring haunt for Rexroth was the Dill Pickle Club, not far from Bughouse Square, where artists and writers along with socialists and anarchists gathered for social and artistic experimentation. Rexroth wrote that there were independent theater productions Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Sunday night, there were lectures on various topics. On Saturday nights “the chairs were cleared away and the Chicago jazzmen of the early Twenties played for a dance which lasted all night.” Rexroth remembered the actors and sets as being awful but somehow they produced plays that were “the very best.” Lectures were given by “every important scholar who came through the town, and all those who were attached to the universities.”

Most significantly, however, Rexroth gained entrée to the salon at the home of Jake Loeb, where he encountered the leaders of the local literary movement, international visitors such as D. H. Lawrence, and access to books of artists and writers who would greatly influence him, such as Gertrude Stein. In his autobiography, Rexroth referred to Loeb’s home as “a more important Middle Western cultural institution in 1923 than the University of Chicago, the Art Institute, the Symphony, and the Chicago Tribune put together.” He wrote that he met “everybody who was anybody in the Chicago of the Twenties and everybody who was anybody who was passing through town.” He continued:

“Besides the famous transients, many of whom stayed in the place, the house was full every night of the cream of Chicago’s intellectuals in the brief postwar period of Chicago’s second renaissance. It seems rather pointless even to list them — any of them — because they were all there. . . It is not that I met famous people — it is that I learned by listening to impassioned discussion among mature people, all of whom were out in the world putting their ideas into effect.”

Rexroth was also starting to put his ideas into effect. Although he had shown little academic or literary promise thus far, Rexroth became “a prolific painter and poet by age seventeen,” according to the Poetry Foundation. By this point he was running from one cultural hot-spot to another, performing the poetry to which he was being exposed. He wrote in his autobiography that if he hustled he could make over fifty dollars in a weekend. He continued, “Thus began my career as a boy soapboxer, bringing poetry to the masses.”

“Self Portrait” by Kenneth Rexroth, published in Chicago Review 55.2/¾, accessed via Chicago Review tumblr.

He began working a number of odd jobs, and in his free time, experimenting with oil paints and piano. One such job was at the Green Mask on Grand Avenue and State Street. Rexroth referred to the Green Mask as a “tearoom,” but it was probably more accurately a cabaret, and it was located in the basement of a brothel. Rexroth wrote, “The place was a hangout for bona-fide artists, writers, musicians, and people from show business.” He continued, “In the Mask there gradually formed a small, permanent family of oddities who were there every night and never paid for their coffee.” Here Rexroth was able to see and perform poetry with some of the era’s best poets and musicians, both black and white, local and national. These included the “seclusive and asocial” poet Edgar Lee Masters, local African American poet Fenton Johnson, nationally-acclaimed black poet and playwright Langston Hughes, the local jazz drummer Dave Tough (who Rexroth called Dick Rough in his autobiography), and an assortment of dancers, singers, and drag queens. This group held weekly poetry readings and lectures and jazz performances. Rexroth and others began combining jazz and poetry, a technique he would become known for by the time he headed out west and one that would greatly influence the Beat Generation. He wrote that here, at the Green Mask, “happened the first reading of poetry to jazz that I know of.” About this early Chicago jazz scene, he wrote:

“I’m afraid that I can’t provide any inside information about the formative years of jazz, for the simple reason that none of us knew that this was what was happening. We didn’t know we were making history and we didn’t think we were important. . . Jazz was pretty hot and made a lot of noise. People talked loud to be heard above it, got thirsty and drank too much and made trouble, so we tried to keep the jazz small and cool . . . I remember many nights going over to the piano and saying, ‘For Christ’s sake, cool it or you’ll get us all busted!'”

Chicago Tribune, January 11, 1923, 1, accessed Chicago Tribune Archives.

As he predicted, the Green Mask did get busted. In 1923, the Chicago Tribune reported that thirty-five “Bohemians” were arrested in a raid at the Green Mask. The Tribune article stated: “The police entered the place after standing outside for some time listening to what they say was the reading of indecent poetry by George Lexington.” The owner was booked as “keeper of a disorderly house.” Rexroth was also arrested because he was considered part owner for investing some small amount of money into the place. He was sentenced to a year in jail.

Photograph, 1922, in G. A. Claussenius, The House of Correction of the City of Chicago : a retrospect covering a half century of endeavor from the founding of the institution to the present time, 1871-1921 (City of Chicago, 1922), 7, accessed via Internet Archive.

He described the conditions on his arrival to the Chicago House of Corrections, or the “Bandhouse” as it was called:

This was quite a place. It had been built back in the Seventies or Eighties, with long, narrow windows like the archers’ slots in medieval castles, and a warped and muddy stone floor where the water oozed up in winter between the paving blocks. This was the only running water in the place. Each cell was given a one-gallon pail of water once a day and provided with a battered old bucket for a privy. It was a cage-type cell house. The cells were all in the center about thirty feet away from the walls, so the only view was through the heavy iron grilles and door which looked out on brick walls and filthy windows through which it was impossible to see anything. The inner cells looked out on the tier opposite. The whole thing was built of iron, and any movement in it resounded as though it had happened inside a bell; any cough or groan or cry was magnified as if by an immense megaphone. In each cell there were four iron-slatted bunks that folded up against the wall. There were no mattresses, and each fish [inmate] was provided, along with his slops, with a filthy khaki Army blanket full of holes.

Rexroth spent the winter in these circumstances and explained that he “got a little closer to the underworld.” When he got out of the Bandhouse, he spent most of his time pursuing various young women, two of whom lived in the same building, and writing them poetry. He became more involved in local theater productions and continued pursuing radical social theories and chasing down works of avant-garde literature. He began reading more spiritual works and even spent a few months in a monastery. He also began a period of traveling and recording his observations of nature in his poetry – something else he would become known as a master of in later life.

Photo accessed Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 120.

In late December 1926, Rexroth met the artist Andrée Schafer through friends, just briefly outside their door. When his friends asked him what he thought about her, Rexroth replied, “I intend to marry her.” They began working on paintings together, both of them working on the same canvas, “like one person,” according to Rexroth. They married a few weeks later in January 1927 and left for a new life on the West Coast that spring. In San Francisco, instead of experiencing a cultural Renaissance, Rexroth would create one.

Check back next week for more about this Hoosier rebel in part two of this story: Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation

For more information:

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

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

Marches, Gas Masks, and Trash Sculptures: The First Hoosier Earth Day

Centerville High School students marching in Centerville, Indiana to demonstrate against automobile pollution for Earth Day, Palladium-Item, April 22, 1970, accessed newspapers.com.

Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar proclaimed April 22, 1970 as “a day for contemplation, conversation, and action to halt and reverse the impending crisis of the decay of man’s environment.” Throughout Indiana, Hoosiers acted to raise awareness about the imminent pollution crisis.  In addition to general clean up campaigns, panel discussions, and seminars, students built monuments made of trash and participated in marches. Some even donned gas masks or abandoned their cars, all to dramatize the need for citizens to “Give Earth a Chance.”

This was the first Earth Day. Historian Adam Rome describes the day as “the most famous little-known event in modern U.S. history.” He notes it was “bigger by far than any civil rights march or antiwar demonstration or woman’s liberation protest in the 1960s.” A whopping 22 million Americans took part in the first Earth Day. About 1,500 colleges and 10,000 schools, in addition to numerous churches, temples, city parks, and lawns in front of various government and corporate buildings hosted Earth Day activities. The event was so popular that Congress even shut down on Earth Day. About two-thirds of congressmen, both Democrats and Republicans, returned home to speak to their constituents at Earth Day rallies. President Richard Nixon, one of the only major politicians not to make a public speech on Earth Day, even admitted in a press release that he felt “the activities show the concern of people of all walks of life over the dangers to our environment.”

Earth Day participants blocked Fifth Avenue in New York, front page of The New York Times, April 23, 1970, accessed Project for Public Spaces.
Senator Gaylord Nelson, accessed Congress.gov

Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, conceived Earth Day in 1969. After the Santa Barbara oil spill in January and February of that year, Nelson decided to ignite a mass protest in support of increased environmental action. He had crafted environmental legislation throughout the 1960s, including efforts to ban harmful chemical products, like the pesticide DDT and non-biodegradable detergents. He found few supporters for his initiatives in Congress. However, he surmised many citizens, worried about radioactive fallout, suburban sprawl, and smog, would care. Inspired by anti-war teach-ins in the 1960s, Nelson envisioned a nationwide teach-in event to educate people about pollution and encourage them to take action. If constituents supported environmental regulation, it was reasoned, politicians would follow.

Judy Hoody working at Environmental Teach-In Inc, 1970, Associated Press, accessed USATODAY.

Though Nelson came up with the general premise of Earth Day, he knew the movement would not flourish if he dictated the event. Instead, he announced plans for the teach-in in September 1969 and enlisted the help of Pete McCloskey, a Republican, as co-chair. Soon, individuals all over the country called Nelson’s office, asking for more information. To handle all the activity, Nelson set up a separate organization, Environmental Teach-In Inc., in December 1969. A small staff of twenty-somethings ran the organization. Though Nelson originally created the organization to help local organizers implement ideas and make contacts, Environmental Teach-In mainly became a publicity hub. Community organizers, which often included housewives, students, and scientists started planning Earth Day events before the organization opened.

Thus, the national office spent most of their time fielding calls from journalists to inform them about Earth Day plans in locales across the nation. Organizers planned programs to explore a variety of topics including population growth, pesticide use, nuclear fallout, waste disposal, suburban sprawl, in addition to mainstays like air, water, and land pollution.

Back in the Hoosier state, Governor Whitcomb issued an executive order endorsing Earth Day activities in Indiana. He wrote “I urge all of our citizens to act responsibly to alleviate the pollution menace to the environment.” In particular, Whitcomb noted:

Our educational institutions have the expertise and capability both to inform us of present dangers resulting from the ways we use our natural resources and to define and develop new technologies and systems needed to abate the pollution problem.

Whitcomb’s emphasis on educational institutions highlighted the primary role students played in Indiana Earth Day. Most of these activities took place at universities, colleges, and schools, which were all open to broader community members. However, it was mostly students, rather than faculty that organized the day’s events. Elizabeth Young, a sophomore at St.-Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute summarized why young Hoosiers rallied around Earth Day. She told the Indianapolis Star “if the kids our age don’t do something, we won’t live to be the age of our professors.”

LS Ayres sponsored Earth Day ad, Indianapolis Star, April 19, 1970 accessed newspapers.com.

Though most activities took place on April 22, students and community members often could attend ecological events at their local university or college throughout the week. Almost all the major secondary education institutions in Indiana sponsored panels, lectures and discussions featuring a variety of speakers, including politicians, scientists, and industry representatives. Senator Nelson even spoke at rallies at IU Bloomington and Notre Dame. Most of the Indiana congressional delegation returned from Washington, D.C. to speak to their constituents. At Purdue, industry representatives from Inland Steel, Eli Lilly, and General Motors participated in a panel discussion. Each talked about the measures their company was taking to abate pollution and answered questions from audience members. Many universities organized tree planting ceremonies or litter clean-up operations along Indiana waterways.

A student adding cans to the non-disposable monument in front of the Arts Terrance; Daily News, April 23, 1970, 4 accessed Ball State University Archives and Special Collections.

A few students staged more dramatic events to draw attention to environmentalism. At Ball State University, students constructed a pile of cans and bottles they collected from Muncie residents and created a “non-disposable, non-returnable monument” on the terrace of the Art Building. The monument symbolized junk, which students perceived as one of America’s primary pollution problems. At Purdue, students picked up litter along the Wabash River and displayed it all in front of the Lafayette courthouse for the public and local government representatives to see. DePauw students sponsored bus tours for community members to take throughout Greencastle, which would showcase Putnam County’s dirtiest and cleanest spots, including a junkyard, a pig feed next to a stream, homes designed specially to preserve the terrain, and an industrial plant featuring the latest pollution control measures. Others specifically tackled air pollution issues. Tri-State College in Angola (now Trine University), initiated a campaign urging students and faculty to leave their cars at home and walk to campus. One DePauw student rode a horse to campus bearing the sign “Ban the automobile.” DePauw also put an electric car on display.

Litter along the Indianapolis Canal looking South on Vermont Street with the State Office Building in the background, Indianapolis Star, April 22, 1970, accessed newspapers.com

Numerous younger students participated as well. Schools received packets detailing available speakers, films, materials, and suggested programs and activities to coordinate for Earth Day activities. Elementary school students picked up litter and participated in art and essay contests about environmental issues. In Portland, elementary students started a “Be a Pollution Policeman” campaign and created posters advising community members to report polluters that they later put up all over town.

Christy Miller, a student at Northwestern High School in Kokomo, stands among trash picked up around the school and asks other students to sign a petition against pollution, Kokomo Tribune, April 23, 1970, accessed newspapers.com.

North Central High School students in Indianapolis hosted an Earth Day program filled with speakers, seminars, and films. Students created a pollution themed skit and a collage made with all the litter they collected in the area. Several student musicians played music alongside a slide show of photographs of local pollution. At Southport High School, a group of students all wore gasmasks to class to highlight air pollution. Logansport physics students marched through town sporting posters and signs. At Edinburgh, high school students even produced a television program “Project Earth Day,” aired on a Columbus news station that examined water, air, and land pollution in the area.

Despite the major successes of Earth Day, a lot of issues remained unsolved. Whitney M. Young Jr. addressed the major deficit of the Earth Day celebration and of the ensuing environmental movement, in the Indianapolis Recorder in 1970: Earth Day programs often failed to incorporate race or class into the problem of pollution. Though pollution was finally spreading to the suburbs, people of color had often been forced to live and work in places containing dangerous pollutants for years through zoning ordinances and prejudiced real estate practices. He noted, “I get the uneasy feeling that some people who have suddenly discovered the pollution issue embrace it because its basic concern is improving middle class life.” He concluded:

The choice isn’t between the physical environment and the human. Both go hand in hand, and the widespread concern with pollution must be joined by a similar concern for wiping out the pollutants of racism and poverty.

Earth Day did, however, inspire landmark legislation and institutions to address pollution. In later years, some environmental justice organizations tackled the issues Young brought up. Adam Rome notes Earth Day “inspired the formation of lobbying groups, recycling centers, and environmental studies programs. Earth Day also turned thousands of participants into committed environmentalists.” Before Earth Day, Americans addressed environmental issues in disjointed ways. Old conservation groups from the Progressive era focused mainly on wilderness preservation. Other groups focused on single issue campaigns, like air pollution. Earth Day pushed numerous related environmental concerns into one platform and provided a space for concerned citizens to come together and decide how America should fight the environmental crisis of the 1970s. The constituent support Earth Day garnered encouraged Congress to enact a swell of landmark environmental legislation after Earth Day, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970, the Clean Air Act amendments of 1970, the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Advertisement for Marlin McDaniel for State Senate, emphasizing his work with the environment, including checking Gary air pollution and sampling industrial pollution in the White River, Palladium-Item, May 5, 1974, 56 accessed newspapers.com.

Indiana politicians also dedicated more of their time to environmental issues after Earth Day. Governor Whitcomb started “Operation Cleansweep” in May 1970, a massive campaign to clean up polluted and littered landscapes across the state. On the first anniversary of Earth Day in 1971, Mayor Lugar launched Indianapolis’s first recycling program to collect cardboard and metal.  Indiana also became the first state in the nation to ban phosphate detergents, which scientists discovered as a major polluter of waterways, in 1971. Additionally, more Hoosiers joined or formed environmental organizations to make sure the state government stayed on top of environmental regulation. For example, the Indiana Eco-Coalition formed in 1971 to serve as an umbrella organization to represent the majority of Indiana’s environmental activist groups and provide information on impending environmental legislation.

Clearly, when people shouted “Give Earth a Chance,” it worked.

Putting Children Back into the Story: Indenture Contracts at the Indianapolis Orphans Asylum

Indianapolis Orphans Home , 1909
Indianapolis Orphans Home postcard, postmarked 1909, accessed HistoricIndianapolis.com.

Eddie Anderson had been at the asylum for a mere fifteen days, and it already looked like he would be leaving. On September 15, 1882, a man known as Dr. Harvey brought the ten-year-old boy from Hendricks County to the Indianapolis Orphans Asylum, the city’s first and oldest orphanage. Now a Mrs. Skillman, who had traveled over seventy miles from her home in Peru, Indiana, took Eddie from the orphanage. On September 30, 1882, the president of the Board of Directors, Hannah Hadley, and Mrs. Skillman signed an indenture for Eddie Anderson, essentially agreeing that Eddie would work for Mrs. Skillman in exchange for room and board. Mrs. Skillman agreed to “carefully keep and rear” the ten-year-old boy until he reached the age of twenty-one and give him $100 at that age. After signing the contract, Mrs. Skillman left as Eddie’s new guardian.

More than twenty years later, in December 1903, Eddie wrote to the Indianapolis Orphans Asylum from Sharpe, Kansas. He received no answer. After waiting several months, he wrote again.

                                                                                                Sharpe Kansas

Mar. 23 1904

Superintendent of the Orphants [sic] Home

            Kind Sir-

            I wrote to you in Dec. 1903 and as yet I have not heard from you and fearing my letter or yours was misplaced I now write again, as I am interested to find out about my record and in what condition I was taken out of the Orphants [sic] home by mrs [sic] Skillman some 20 years ago.

Eddie begins his letter in a somewhat neutral tone but quickly becomes distressed as he recounts his experience with Mrs. Skillman.

My name… I know was Edd Anderson but they changed it to Elmer Anderson and did me other meaness [sic]. I am totally ignorant of myself. they used to pretend as though I was adopted and was to get part of their estate… [when] I was of age then they turned me off without clothes hardly good enough to wear and not a cent to go on; now please do what you can for me if you have any knowledge as where my folks are please let me know and all that is of interest to me as I have been informed that my name, age, and record you will have in your ledger. some of mrs Skillmans relatives say she had papers that I should of got concerning me and my relatives but they distroyed [sic] them so please now help me all you can…

Eddie’s letter does not reveal the story of a child who was “carefully kept and reared” and given $100 dollars when he turned twenty-one. Rather, it reveals the story of an individual searching for his past and his identity. Unfortunately, Eddie’s letter to the Indianapolis Orphans Asylum (IOA) is an exception—few children left behind written records of their indenture experiences. Nevertheless, the indenture documents contain vital information—such as demographic information and expectations for both the adults and children—that allows the historian to piece together a lost story (like Eddie’s) and refocus the narrative on the ones who were affected most by 19th-century orphanages—the children.

The Indianapolis News, March 4, 1874.

During the 19th century, indenturing children was a relatively common method to care for dependent children. At the IOA, an indenture was signed between the institution and an adult—the child, arguably the one affected most by the indenture, was not involved in that process. The Indiana Historical Society contains 152 indenture contracts (including Eddie’s) from the years 1875 to 1885 in their collections. An examination of these records reveals insight into 19th-century childcare practices in Indiana.

IOA indenture contracts began by identifying “the parties”—the institution and the adult guardian. An IOA indenture from the 1870s states “This indenture . . . witnesseth that the said parties of the first part [the IOA], in consideration of the covenants and agreements of the said party of the second part [the individual receiving the child] . . . do put and bind . . . an orphan child . . . unto the said party of the second part.”  At the very outset of the contract, it is stipulated that the child is “put and bound” to the individual and that the individual receives the child’s “service and custody during said period, which by the laws of the State a master has over an indentured apprentice.” The indenture contracts used by the IOA clearly show that children in the care of the institution were placed in homes in exchange for their labor.

1941 map shows location of the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum, courtesy of Indianapolis Sanborn Map and Baist Atlas Collection, IUPUI, accessed HistoricIndianapolis.com.

While the indenture contracts clearly state that a child’s service is given to an adult guardian, they also identify the responsibilities of the new guardian. At least one-third of the contract stipulated requirements for the adult. The asylum required the new guardian to “covenant and agree” to “carefully keep and rear” the child; “provide for [him/her] in sickness and health”; and “supply [him/her] with suitable food and clothing.” In addition to these vital necessities, the indentured child’s new guardian was also required to “teach [him/her] to read and write the English language, and to know and practice the general rules of arithmetic, including ‘to the double rule of three inclusive.’” Thus, in addition to providing for the child’s physical needs, adult guardians had to educate an indentured child as well. In an ideal setting, the child would also learn “some useful trade or occupation,” but only if the guardian “deemed [it] best.” The IOA clearly stated its expectations of adult guardians.

In addition to providing information about the expectations regarding 19th-century indentures, the contracts reveal insight notions of gender during the era. Of the 152 IOA indentures, 91 of the children (sixty percent) were female, and 61 of the children (forty percent) were male. This number is not representative of the ratio of girls to boys at the IOA, because, during the same time frame, there were significantly more boys than girls at the asylum. Throughout the 1870s, there were on average sixteen more boys than girls per month at the IOA. In 1878, the average number of girls per month at the asylum was less than half of the number of boys.

Based on asylum admission records from the 1870s, which listed the number of boys and girls at the asylum each month.

Intriguingly, the number of boys and girls indentured does not reflect the number of boys and girls at the asylum—if anything, it is the opposite.

In 1878 for example, fifteen children were indentured with the number of boys indentured drastically lower than the number of girls. In 1878—a year when there was an average of twenty-eight more boys than girls per month (see figure 1)—four of the fifteen children indentured (twenty-seven percent) were boys. The remaining eleven children (seventy-three percent) were girls. Despite the much higher percentage of boys at the asylum, a higher number of girls were indentured.

The higher number of girls indentured could be because adult guardians had to give boys more money when they completed their indentures. With the IOA indentures, boys almost always received $100 to $150 upon completion of their indentures, while girls received $5, $10, $25, $50, or simply a bed, bedding, and two suits of clothing. Lizzie Young Conversa was one year old when she was indentured on April 12, 1876. The IOA agreed to indenture her for the next seventeen years, with only the promise of five dollars and “a good bed and bedding and two suits of suitable clothing” at the end of her indenture. According to the contracts, boys were indentured until the age of twenty-one while girls were indentured until the age of eighteen (or until they got married). This could be another reason why adult guardians preferred girls over boys—they did not have to commit to caring for a girl as long as they had to commit to caring for a boy.

The Indianapolis News, May 16, 1881.

The preference for indentured girls over boys indicates that notions of gender and masculinity limited the tasks a boy could perform. According to Birk, “While boys helped as physical laborers, farmers and their wives wanted girls who could assist with housework. Placed-out girls often performed jobs identical to those of the women of the house.” These jobs included “making breakfast before moving on to tasks such as laundry, ironing, mending, cooking, and farm chores such as milking, caring for chickens, gardening, or aiding in field work.” So, while boys only helped with farm work, girls helped with housework and farm work. Because of notions of gender responsibilities and masculinity, it is extremely unlikely that a boy would have helped with laundry, cooking, or cleaning. However, a girl could help with gardening, field work, milking, and caring for animals in addition to laundry, cooking, and cleaning. It comes as no surprise then that adult guardians preferred indentured girls over indentured boys, since they did not have to provide for girls as long; they did not have to pay girls as much (if anything); and they could use girls to work in both the house and on the farm.

Overall, the IOA indenture records tell only a small portion of a child’s story. Of the 152 children, how many fulfilled their indentures in a home-like environment? How many were treated as free labor and shown no love? How many ended up like Eddie, searching for their family, their past, and their very identity? Although these indenture contracts do not contain the answers, they do provide a means for putting children back into the story of nineteenth-century orphanage policies.

The Cleveland Clique’s Bee Line Railroad Control Strategy to St. Louis: John Brough

See Part III to learn about how the Bee Line and other Midwest railroads reset, and sought to accomplish, their goal – to reach St. Louis.

Bee Line railroads map, excerpt from Bellefontaine and Indiana 1852 Railroad Map

Proposed Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad route map, excerpt from 1852 Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad Map
Top: Map of the Bee Line component railroads. Bottom: Map of the proposed route of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad (both excerpts from “Map of the Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad and connecting lines,” 1852, courtesy of the Library of Congress).

With John Brough’s elevation to the presidency of the Bee Line’s Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad [I&B] segment – between Indianapolis and Union – on June 30, 1853, the Cleveland Clique was understandably euphoric. Brough’s newly arranged presidential authority there and at the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A], about to begin construction between Terre Haute and St. Louis, personified the Clique’s growing regional dominance. By all appearances they, through the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C) and president Henry B. Payne, would soon control the key Midwest rail corridor linking the East Coast and the West.

At the same time, the closer-to-home Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I] – linking the I&B at Union with the Clique’s marquee railway, the CC&C, at Galion OH – had already found itself under the financial sway of the Cleveland band.  Incredibly, the strategy to command a string of railroads tying St. Louis to the Eastern truck lines then breaching Ohio’s eastern boundary had been orchestrated by the CC&C’s Henry Payne in little more than two years.

image of John Brough, image of Henry B. Payne
(L) John Brough, courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. (R) Henry B. Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the almost giddy atmosphere that prevailed following John Brough’s coronation, an impromptu trip was arranged. Why not visit Terre Haute, and the Illinois state line for that matter, and then travel in a single day from Terre Haute to Cleveland? It would underscore what the Clique had accomplished, provide an on-the-ground view of the new western terminus of the coordinated lines, and draw them closer to the independently minded stockholder/management team at the controls of the Terre Haute and Richmond Railroad [TH&R] – the only gap in the Clique’s string of pearls between Cleveland and St. Louis.

image of James H. Godman, image of Calvin Fletcher
(L) James H. Godman, courtesy of the Marion (Ohio) County Historical Society (R) Calvin Fletcher, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Members of the Cleveland Clique along with president James H. Godman of the B&I, newly minted I&B president John Brough as well as board member Calvin Fletcher and secretary Douglass Maguire boarded a special train destined for Terre Haute on July 1st. It had been less than twenty-four hours since the Clique’s I&B annual meeting coup. None of the original I&B Hoosier board members went along for the ride.

In one respect the trip was a success. They drank brandy and wine with Samuel Crawford, president of the TH&R, supped together and made it to a symbolic bridge spanning the Wabash—peering across wide stretches of western Indiana farmland toward Illinois. Truman P. Handy and William Case, board members of the Cleveland Clique’s cornerstone CC&C railroad, continued on to the Illinois line by horse and returned to Terre Haute by 3 a.m. Now they could boast of having made it from the Illinois line to Cleveland in a single day.

image of Truman P. Handy, image of William Case
(L) Truman P. Handy, Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery of the State of Ohio, Vol 2. (Cincinnati: John C Yorston & Co, 1880). (R) William Case, courtesy of Cleveland Public Library.

A private train left Terre Haute before dawn on July 2nd. It ran at a blistering thirty miles per hour until hitting a cow near Belleville—knocking the engine and car off the track. It was a near-death experience, as Calvin Fletcher recounted. Still, they were in Indianapolis by 6:30 a.m.

Fletcher did not record whether they accomplished the lofty goal of making it to Cleveland that day, as he remained in Indianapolis. All the same, except for the lack of participation by original I&B board members, it had been a notable start to John Brough’s presidency – and provided a glimpse of the Clique’s mechanism for expansion. The Hoosier Partisan’s absence would prove to be a telling sign of issues looming ahead.

Two weeks later Calvin Fletcher was among a sizable number of Indiana business and political nobility who, along with their spouses, received an invitation from the Cleveland Clique. The request was to join them for an all-paid junket to Niagara Falls. “I had an invitation with our citizens, those of Lafayette, Crawfordsville, Terre Haute, Dayton, Cleveland, Bellefontaine &c…a number have an invitation here.”

image of Daniel Yandes, image of David Kilgore, image of Thomas A. Morris
(L) Daniel Yandes, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. (M) David Kilgore, author’s personal collection. (R) Thomas A. Morris, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Hoosier Partisans Alfred Harrison, Daniel Yandes and David Kilgore as well as ubiquitous Indiana railroad construction engineer and soon to be I&B board member Thomas A. Morris were among the throng. They all boarded a special train awaiting them in Indianapolis on the morning of July 20th. In his diary, Calvin Fletcher would capture both the spectacle of the excursion and the travails of travel during this era.

Map of railroads between Indianapolis to Niagara Falls, annotated to show 1853 excursion route.
Map of Cleveland Clique junket from Indianapolis to Niagara Falls, over the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Bellefontaine and Indiana (both in red), Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati (blue), by ship to Buffalo (orange dash), and rail to Niagara Falls (orange). Cities visited in colored rectangles. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartogarphy.

The conductor to Union was none other than Fletcher’s recently hired son Stoughton Jr., who helped the party around a derailed freight train along the way. They arrived at Union about 10:30 a.m. Connection delays added to a tardiness that precluded the Hoosier contingent from stopping at Marion, Ohio, for a B&I board–arranged dinner. Instead, they raced on to Galion to connect with CC&C cars coming from Columbus. The crowd reached Cleveland at 7:30 p.m., only to find the boat hired to take the assembled masses to Buffalo had broken down.

image of Cleveland Railway Station and Docks, 1854
Cleveland Railway Station and Docks, 1854. (James Harrison Kennedy, A History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise and Progress 1796-1896. Cleveland: Imperial Press, 1896.)

Because the politicians of Erie, Pennsylvania had made smooth rail travel between Cleveland and Buffalo nearly impossible during the early 1850s, going by this route was not a viable option. To force passengers and freight to overnight in Erie, city fathers had mandated different track ‘gauges’ (the lateral distance between iron rails) for railways entering/leaving the city from the east and west. The Erie “war of the gauges”, in combination with intentionally and poorly synchronized railroad schedules, wreaked havoc on passengers and shippers alike. Erie thrived on this senselessness until 1855, during which time near-riots by local merchants and warehouse workers nearly scuttled a move to finally synchronize schedules and re-lay rails to a uniform gauge.

It was midnight before more than 750 passengers stranded in Cleveland boarded a replacement vessel to Buffalo – arriving the next day at noon. There, a train of nearly fifteen cars met the ship and whisked its guests the final miles to Niagara Falls. They took in the falls and were awestruck by the engineering feat of the recently completed railway suspension bridge traversing the Niagara River. The revelers were then ferried behind the tumultuous sheets of water before dinner and a moonlit trip to Goat Island. The excursion lasted less than twenty-four hours. On the return boat trip to Cleveland the assembled guests lunched, ironically, at Erie, Pennsylvania.

image of Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge, c1876
Postcard image of the Suspension Bridge across Niagara Falls circa 1876, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

That evening Cleveland’s mayor hosted what Fletcher referred to as a “soirée” of dinner, music, and speeches. He called it “a most splendid affair that I ever witnessed.” As might have been expected, newspaper editors and writers had been invited gratis. They clearly earned their passage by publishing effusive articles in the regional and national press.

The editor of the Indianapolis-based Locomotive gushed: “We have never taken an excursion with which we were so well pleased. Every arrangement was made in princely style for the accommodation of the invited guests; and everything free as air, from our railroad bills down to our omnibus bills, including hotels and everything necessary.” It had proved to be the most incredible public relations feat of its day.

Finally, on the return leg from Cleveland to Indianapolis, the B&I board hosted the earlier-deferred dinner party at Marion, Ohio. Toasts were exchanged, a “three cheers” shouted, and the Hoosiers were off to Union the next morning. There they waited an hour for connecting passengers coming from Cincinnati. Exhausted, the entourage supped at Muncie and finally arrived back in Indianapolis by 11 p.m.

Still, for the people of the era, it had been both an awe-inspiring event and a technological marvel. To the parochial Hoosier Partisans, it brought home the sobering reality that the Cleveland Clique outgunned them financially and politically. The sheer number of interconnected board, business, banking, and government relationships represented at the Cleveland festivities was astounding. And they had gathered with a single purpose: to focus their wide-ranging powers on dominating the Midwest rail corridor between Cleveland and St. Louis.

The I&B, basking in the afterglow of this landmark event, which drew investor attention to its pivotal role as a funnel for traffic from Ohio to Indianapolis, saw its stock and bond prices jump. Nonetheless, Calvin Fletcher decided to sell all but $5,000 of his stock in August. He found a ready market: “I distributed among my friends who seemed to want it & one demanded, as a matter of right as I had offered to others, that he should have a portion. The stock soon fell & it was fortunate I let it go.”

Fletcher’s unemotional view was sprinkled with a candid and ominous reality, however: “Brough the president has failed to establish his right to go through to St. Louis straight. This I think will effect [sic] the road materially.” And he was right.

Whatever the reason for the I&B’s price bounce, it did not reflect the financial or business reality with which John Brough and the Cleveland Clique were faced.  Brough’s usefulness to the Cleveland Clique appeared, for the moment, to be in question.

Check back for Part V to learn more about how the Cleveland Clique turned their attention to binding the various component parts of the Bee Line together both physically and legally – to the irritation of the Hoosier Partisans.

Continue reading “The Cleveland Clique’s Bee Line Railroad Control Strategy to St. Louis: John Brough”

The Decades-Long Struggle to Electrify Rural Hoosierdom

The Daily Banner, September 30, 1936, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On Wednesday September 30, 1936, The Greencastle Daily Banner heralded the announcement that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially started his reelection campaign the day before. On the same page came news of another federal concern, the allocation of over $800,000 to projects of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). The news was an important victory for Indiana’s rural electrification projects, which had received a boost in the previous year.

IHB historical marker.

Indiana has a long history with electrical power. In March 1880, the Wabash County Courthouse installed electrically powered lamps, reportedly becoming the First Electrically Lighted City. By the late 1880s, companies were providing electrical services to Indianapolis proper. In 1887, Purdue University hired its first Head of the School of Applied Electricity, and the next year formally opened its School of Electrical Engineering. These engineers continued pursuing the development of better systems for electrical use during the era of Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla.

According to Hoosiers and the American Story (2014), in 1900 the creation of a massive electrically-powered interurban train system carried Hoosiers throughout the state, linking towns to Indianapolis and other areas with close to 400 trains running on a daily basis. In 1912, one of Edison’s former employees, Samuel Insull created the Interstate Public Service Company by combining the resources of several predecessors into a single Indianapolis-based company (the company would eventually come to be known as Duke Energy). By this time, the interurban system began to recede in light of the introduction of automobiles.

Around the same period, Purdue began doing outreach to rural communities through the Co-Operative Extension Service (Extension) first through state funding, and then as a part of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. These programs were facilitated by County Extension Agents who served as journeymen experts, arranging workshops and showcases to spread agricultural, and eventually home-economics, lessons from techniques developed at Purdue. It took until the early 1920s, though, before research literature began to tackle the question of rural electrification.

Ad, South Bend News-Times, November 30, 1915, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

This is not to imply that efforts were not consistently underway to encourage electrical use. On the contrary, the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company hosted an Electrical Prosperity Week in November 1915; their advertisement on page four of the November 30, South Bend News-Times announced “You can spend a couple of hours most enjoyably—and very profitably—at the Electric Show, and it will cost you nothing.” Beyond the showcase, the next page announced a $10.00 prize for the best 200-word essay on the utility of electricity. The Swartz Electric Company ran a promotional train with examples of the modern conveniences provided by electricity, “under the auspices of Purdue University, with equipment suggested for modern farm homes.”

Ad, Indianapolis News, May 29, 1920, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Yet, with all this promotion, the vast distances and relatively low potential for return on investment limited most electrification to cities and larger towns. As late as 1925, one researcher noted this problem in “Electrifying the Farm and Home,” stating “in order to make a profit they [power companies] have charged the farmers so high a rate that it has kept them from using the service.” Indiana had begun to reach out to their rural communities, just not with power, yet.

Historian Audra J. Wolfe’s “‘How Not to Electrocute the Farmer:’ Assessing Attitudes Towards Electrification on American Farms, 1920–1940,” tracks the process and problems of making this rollout happen. Several early research reports document the hazards of incorporating electrical equipment, particularly generators and batteries, into farming homes, as Wolfe notes, “many women avoided them [substations and gas-powered electric appliances] as they had a tendency to explode.”

Muncie Post-Democrat, June 5, 1925, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On June 5, 1925, The Muncie Post-Democrat carried news of an announcement by researchers at Purdue that they would be undertaking the experimental electrification of two farms, one in northern part of the state run by the Calumet Gas & Electric Company and one in the southern part of the state run by the Interstate Public Service Company. These experiments would include checking on the efficacy of implementing electrical components into crop, animal, and household farm operations, as well as to begin developing the resources necessary for statewide electrification. Starting in January 1927, the Daily Banner announced that Purdue would be sending out a “traveling school on wheels” via the interurban system to “demonstrate the employment of electricity” and included experts in agriculture as well as presentations by a home economist, “to attract the feminine eye.” In 1933, Extension published and distributed Leaflet No. 187, “Care and Operation of Electric Household Equipment.” In it, the author outlines some of the variety of electrical appliances and tools which were becoming available to rural homemakers, and notes that “More than 30,000 Indiana farms are now using electricity . . .” Certainly, the university believed that rural electrification was a matter of probability and time, not a question of possibility.

The Daily Banner, January 18,1927, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

More assistance was needed though for rural electrification to become a reality in the homes of Indiana farmers. Researchers continued to push and though it took some time, by the middle of the next decade, Hoosier lawmakers decided that the time had come to intervene. In 1935, Indiana became part of a growing number of states to enact legislation aimed at developing electrification capacity. According to statistics from the Indiana Law Journal, when Indiana passed its act allowing for the incorporation of rural electric membership corporations who could seek federal financing, almost 150,000 farm homes lacked the ability to access electric power.

The Daily Banner, August 6, 1935, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On July 22, 1935, the Boone County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) became one of the first funded federal electric projects in the country, and the first in the state. On August 6, the Daily Banner announced the creation of the Indiana Statewide Rural Electric Membership Corporation. In January 1936, Boone County REMC ran its first 5 miles of power lines to the Clark Woody farm.

This legislation was given an important boost when in 1936, President Roosevelt established the REA and began allowing for distribution of public support dollars. In Indiana, the process of establishing REMCs and encouraging electrification fell to the Extension Service. Over the next four years, Extension Agents helped to form numerous REMCs across the state. In 1937, Extension began distributing Bulletin 215, “Selection, Operation, and Care of Electric Household Equipment,” an update to their 1933 publication which boasted “More than 35,000 Indiana farms are now using electricity . . .” This progress was not always consistent, but it was certainly effective. According to Dwight W. Hoover, between 1930 and 1940 electrified Hoosier farms went from 1-in-10 to 1-in-3. According to Teresa Baer, “By 1965, nearly all Hoosier farms had electricity.” Thus, it took nearly eight decades of sustained effort for most rural Hoosiers to gain access to one of the utilities that we so often take for granted today.

Suggested Reading:

D.L. Marlett and W.M. Strickler, “Rural Electrification Authorities and Electric Cooperatives: State Legislation Analyzed,” Journal of Land and Public Utility Economics, 12, no. 3 (Aug. 1936), pages 287–301).

Barbara Steinson, “Rural Life in Indiana, 1800–1950,” Indiana Magazine of History, XC (1964), pages 203–250.

Audra J. Wolfe, “ ‘How Not to Electrocute the Farmer:’ Assessing Attitudes Towards Electrification on American Farms, 1920–1940,” Agricultural History, 74, no. 2 (Spring 2000), pages 515–529.

The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control

Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad 1853 advertisement-schedule
Indianapolis & Bellefontaine RR train schedule, printed in Calvin Fletcher’s diary, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

See Part I to learn about the origins of the Bee Line and the men who brought it to life.

The Bee Line Railroad almost never was. At the dawn of the Midwest railroad era Hoosiers were slow to embrace what became the technological marvel of the 19th century. Dependent on state funds or newly emerging Wall Street for cash, initial railroad financing prospects looked dim. Instead, canals were the preferred method of transportation in the mind of the public.

The State of Indiana began planning for a litany of “internal improvements” from its inception in 1816.  In his 1827 message to the General Assembly, Governor James B. Ray (1825-1831) admonished the legislators, noting that railways could convey “equal burdens to any that can be transported on a Canal . . . and with double the velocity.” However, at the time, the legislature was not moved by his argument.

Indiana Governor James B Ray and Wall Street financier James F. D. Lanier
(L) Governor James B. Ray, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society (R) James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier (self-published, 1877).

Finally, as interest in railroads began to percolate by 1832, legislators approved charters for eight – including the Madison, Indianapolis and Lafayette Rail-Road Company. Prominent among its board members was Madison banker James F. D. Lanier, destined to become the leading Wall Street financier of virtually all Midwest railroad era lines during the mania of the 1850s, including the Bee Line.

More than thirty Indiana railroads were chartered between 1832 and 1838. Nonetheless, attempts to lure private capital via stock subscriptions fizzled. Only a mile and a quarter of experimental track had been laid near Shelbyville by the end of the decade.

Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road 1850 Annual Report Cover
Annual Report Cover, Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road Company, 1850, courtesy of the Indiana State Library.

Indiana’s infatuation with canals was reflected in the Mammoth Internal Improvements Act of 1836, which appropriated one-sixth of the state’s wealth for the effort. Of eight state projects funded, only one was for a railroad – what became Indiana’s first: the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I].

Much of the debt to fund these efforts was taken up by the financial barons and financiers of Europe. Rolling mills and metal fabricators in the United Kingdom (UK) were then seeking new markets for their locomotive and rolled rail products. American manufacturers capable of producing such articles were only just beginning, as the Industrial Revolution reached its peak in Europe a full generation before doing so in the U.S. It became a mutually dependent relationship through the 1850s: English products for American dollars.

By the early 1840s Indiana’s failed internal improvements push had become obvious. The state called on Lanier to extricate it from near financial ruin. Before Lanier sailed to Europe in 1847 to negotiate Indiana’s financial exit plan, it had already jettisoned its canal and railroad holdings.

Beyond his success ensuring the state’s survival, Lanier returned from Europe with the confidence of the barons of Continental and English finance. Since the UK was America’s primary source for finished iron rails until the Civil War, the importance of such developed trust was pivotal. These relationships became the cornerstone of Lanier’s success as the Midwest’s preeminent member of Wall Street’s new financial sector: investment banking.

Wall Street Investment House floor circa 1865
Wall Street Investment House, circa 1865.

As part of its privatizing move in 1842, the Indiana legislature had authorized the M&I to borrow money and issue bonds to complete the line to Indianapolis not later than 1848. In his role on the M&I’s reconstituted board, Lanier orchestrated placement of $50,000 (in 1845) and $100,000 (in 1846) of private bonds through the Wall Street firm which would soon bear his name: Winslow, Perkins & Co.

With funds in hand, the M&I finished the final fifty-six miles of track to Indianapolis by October 1847, at a cost of $628,000. Daniel Yandes, subsequently the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad’s primary stockholder, had won a bid to construct ten miles of the road. The whole task was finished nearly a year before its targeted completion date. In comparison, as a state-run company, it had taken seven years and over $1.5 million to lay the line’s first twenty-eight miles.

The M&I’s Wall Street firm of Winslow, Perkins & Co. began to weigh in on the railroad’s managerial approach after suffusing it with cash. It foretold the more active role financiers would take in operational decision-making of businesses they were funding. To that end, a new president arrived at the M&I in August 1848: John Brough of Ohio, whose life would revolve around the Bee Line railroad.

John Brough image
John Brough. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

Brough had been a youthful and powerful member of Ohio’s legislature. As a freshman legislator at the age of 26, he chaired the Committee on Banks and Currency. Subsequently he was chosen the state’s auditor, a position he held until 1845. Brough had come to Madison, Indiana from Cincinnati, after a three year stint with his brother running the emerging Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper.

By the time Brough issued his first report to shareholders in January 1849, the newly christened Wall Street financial firm of Winslow, Lanier & Co. held more than $92,000 of M&I cash equivalents. Both Merssrs. Winslow and Lanier held positions on the board of directors.

Wall Street was fast becoming the financial clearinghouse for matching Eastern Seaboard and European investors with Midwest railroad securities. A new class of private bankers arose, backed by European firms, which began to serve as investment middlemen. These newly coined “investment bankers” evaluated the quality of securities, served as investment advisers to individuals with surplus capital, acted as financial agents for the railroads, and frequently took investment positions themselves. They also allocated investment capital among the many railroads seeking cash infusions.

Map of Midwest Railroads, with Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Bellefontaine and Indiana, and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati railroads annotated in color
Map of Midwest Railroads, with the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], and Bee Line component lines: Indianapolis and Bellefontaine [I&B], Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I], and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C] annotated in color. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Initially, Brough developed a strategy to build, invest in, or otherwise secure favorable operating agreements with a planned web of railroads radiating from Indianapolis. And invest he did. The M&I, Brough reasoned, would gather agricultural goods from the southern two-thirds of Indiana and funnel them via Indianapolis to Madison for transport on the Ohio River.

To assure its dominant position, Brough used his politically powerful board to block a railroad charter for a rail line headed from Indianapolis toward Cincinnati (Lawrenceburg). He also rejiggered timetables to prevent convenient connections over a newly chartered branch line extending toward Louisville (Jeffersonville) from Columbus, Indiana.

David Kilgore image
David Kilgore, from the author’s personal collection.

David Kilgore, director of the 1848-chartered Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad [I&B] – first leg of the Bee Line extending from Indianapolis to the Ohio state line – noted Brough’s aggressive, anti-competitive tactics: “now they would put their feet upon the neck of competition . . . And why? . . . Rival interests are springing up at other points, and if they can be crippled, so much the better for this city [Indianapolis] and Madison.” It would not be long, however, before Brough would prove unable to stem the tide of competition.

Brough’s involvement planning Indianapolis’ Union Station in the early 1850s, with M&I’s investment in the Indianapolis Union Railway Company, yielded insights about the financial health and intentions of other lines terminating there. Unfortunately for him, in 1851 Indiana’s new constitution was adopted, including a mandate to craft general incorporation laws. No longer would special charters be required to form new railroads. It signaled the end of the M&I’s political agility to stifle competition.

Indianapolis Union Station image circa 1906
Indianapolis Union Station, circa 1906, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

As a result, Brough shifted strategies. He now sought to make two of the newborn and financially anemic lines dependent on the M&I. Brough would set his sights on the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, building northeast from Indianapolis. It was already making plans to connect with roads angling to another key center of economic growth: Cleveland. And with the help of Lanier and his Wall Street firm, the lure would prove to be almost irresistible.

Cleveland Railway Station and Docks 1854
Cleveland Railway Station and Docks, 1854 (James Harrison Kennedy, A History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise and Progress 1796-1896. Cleveland: Imperial Press, 1896).

To the surprise of investors, as well as the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s board, costs of funding construction and operation of the new railroad had been grossly underestimated. Without access to substantial credit facilities, motive power equipment, rolling stock, iron rails and operating personnel, the I&B was going nowhere. There to “help” was Brough and Winslow, Lanier & Co.

The M&I, as orchestrated by Brough, guaranteed newly issued I&B bonds that Lanier had floated.  Now, it could purchase the M&I’s surplus iron rails, and lease its motive power and rolling stock equipment. The basis of the bargain was a lucrative five-year operating agreement, which commenced in 1850. The M&I would not only supply all personnel, but also collect and distribute ticket and freight receipts, paying itself from the proceeds it handled.

Whose railroad was it anyway? By the time the I&B started partial service between Indianapolis and Pendleton in 1851, the railroad was the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine in name only. It was all as Brough had planned.

image of Henry B Payne, president of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad 1851-1854
Henry B Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

There was another important aspect of the new line’s financial health. By 1853, when the I&B commenced service all the way to Union, the dominant regional player – the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C] through its president Henry B. Payne – had loaned the I&B and its sister Bellefontaine and Indiana line in Ohio a combined sum of over $100,000.

Thus, no sooner had the smaller combined Bellefontaine lines, now known collectively as the Bee Line, begun full service than they began to lose a grasp on their own destiny. Pulling the financial strings were John Brough, James F. D. Lanier, and a Cleveland Clique of businessmen and bankers headed by Henry B. Payne, then at the controls of the CC&C. The resulting tug of war between the Cleveland Clique and Hoosier Partisans for control of the Bee Line would continue throughout the 1850s.

Map of the Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Mississippi and Atlantic, Terre Haute and Richmond railroads annotated
Map of the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I] and involved lines: Indianapolis and Bellefonatine [I&B] and Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A] annotated in color, as well as the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R]. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
But Henry Payne and the Cleveland Clique had other aspirations as well. Controlling rail lines all the way to St. Louis would cement its dominant role among Midwest railroads. And John Brough, recognizing the need for the M&I to control other railroads heading to more viable destinations, had – with the help of James Lanier – already turned his gaze to St. Louis.

Check back for Part III to learn more about John Brough and the Cleveland Clique’s pivotal play to reach St. Louis, as well as the resulting impact on the Bee Line and its Hoosier Partisans.

Continue reading “The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control”

Norman Norell: Dean of American Fashion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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