Reluctant Renegade: Sarah Parke Morrison and Women’s Equality at Indiana University

Scholar and reformer Sarah Parke Morrison is best remembered as the first female student and then professor at Indiana University. But she took on the role of trailblazer reluctantly, as she feared being the target of backlash against this furthering of women’s equality. Her fears were not unfounded. Unsurprisingly perhaps, she faced discrimination as she entered this previously all-male space. What was surprising as we dove into research for a new state historical marker honoring Morrison, was the intensity of the vitriol that some male students directed toward this groundbreaking scholar. While Morrison would continue to work to advance women’s educational opportunities at IU, she was for a time, driven from from her chosen profession by these students’ misogyny. Despite this difficulty, Morrison’s willingness to serve as the first woman at IU opened the doors for the many women who followed, each one furthering the cause of equality.

This and other stories of defeats, setbacks, small advancements, and modest gains are also important to women’s history as they show us the breadth of the movement and the perseverance required of its pioneers – women who challenged injustice in their small realm of influence. These local efforts, multiplied by the work of women across the United States, eventually created a sea change in women’s rights, roles, and power.

“Sarah Parke Morrison,” photograph, ca. 1869, accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.

Sarah Parke Morrison was born in Salem, Indiana, in 1833, into a family that highly valued education and believed in equal opportunities for women. In 1825, her parents opened Salem Female Seminary and hired female teachers, “a rarity at this time.”[1] After extensive study at home with her professor parents, she pursued an advanced education at several colleges, including Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in Massachusetts. After graduating in 1857, she continued to study and began teaching at Vassar College in New York. Morrison thrived in a college atmosphere. Reflecting on her Holyoke and Vassar professors, Morrison wrote that “their wide knowledge of Latin and Greek, and in the sciences, were eye and heart openers to such as thirsted for fuller draughts of knowledge.”[2] Over the following years, she served on the faculty of several colleges, including Glendale Female College and the Western Female Seminary, both in Ohio.[3]

“Glendale Female College,” [Advertisement], Washington Democrat (Salem, Indiana), February 24, 1859, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.
Morrison consistently expressed her support for women’s equality in education, but her desire to work more directly for sweeping women’s rights was tempered by fear of a negative response from her community. In 1851, she wrote a poem praising social reformer and former Indiana representative for the U.S. House, Robert Dale Owen for his women’s rights advocacy during the constitutional convention, which was published in the Indianapolis Sentinel.[4] She chose to sign the poem with the pseudonym, “Fannie,” and we only know of her authorship because she described the work in a 1911 autobiographical essay. In this later essay, Morrison explained that she wrote this poem while she “cultivated the muse in secret,” meaning she had come to believe in women’s equality but determined it was not yet the time for her “coming out on the woman question.” She was moved by Owen’s work, but wrote that like the groundhog, she needed “to retreat for further security and more genial conditions until a later day.”

Morrison also wrote that as a young woman, she was aware of the work of Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony, “but their position was too peculiar, too audacious to be received wholy [sic] by such as had no courage and a rather sensitive imagination respecting mobs, sneers, hisses, mud-slinging and rotten eggs.” Instead, Morrison held a “secret respect” for these suffragists, as well as a desire to strengthen her nerve and awaken her conscience. Her fears of a negative response were she to enter the battle for women’s rights would be substantiated.[5]

(Indianapolis) Sentinel, March 27, 1851, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
“John Irwin Morrison,” photograph, n.d., accessed Indiana University Archives Photograph Collection.

Morrison had completed her advanced education and served as a professor at several colleges, but by the 1860s, she was again living back home because of the limited occupational opportunities available to a highly-educated woman. At this time, the Indiana University Board of Trustees had been debating the admission of women. Sarah Morrison’s father John, who was the State Treasurer as well as a former IU board president, advocated for women’s admission and persuaded his daughter to petition the board for entrance. Morrison had to be convinced. She was not an eager, young girl just out of primary school, hoping to expand her knowledge. She was a 34-year-old scholar and teacher with a lifetime of education and an advanced knowledge of ancient languages. She had little desire to be the first woman student at IU, or the subject of controversy, but she conceded for the larger good – and a five dollar bribe. Morrison wrote:

Father . . . said to me that he thought the time was about ripe for the admission of women; and that if I would prepare an appeal to that effect he would present it, and to show his interest would give me Five Dollars.[6]

“Indiana State University,” [Advertisement], Evansville Daily Journal, December 19, 1867, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
The IU Board of Trustees narrowly voted to admit women, first with some restrictions, but soon after announced: “Ladies are admitted to College classes on the same terms as males.”[7] Morrison would have been happy to leave it at that and to watch with satisfaction as young women entered IU. But she again found herself in the position of reluctant trailblazer. No women applied for the fall 1867 semester and one professor told her, “Miss Morrison, you will have to come to fill the breach.” While she considered this responsibility “rather a cloud” on her horizon, she feared the implications for the struggle for women’s equality if she didn’t rise to the occasion.

She wrote that she was tired of going to school, but she was more tired of the old arguments about why women shouldn’t attend a university. According to Morrison, these arguments included the idea that the “Female Colleges” were good enough for young women, there were too many “risks” in women and men attending the same schools, and male students and professors should be saved from the “embarrassment – yea scandal” of women’s presence. Morrison looked at the IU catalogue and determined she could complete the four-year course in two. She was worried though. “To fail would be worse than not to try,” she wrote. The first female student at IU would be representing her entire gender to the masses, not all who believed she deserved to be there.[8]

Sarah Parke Morrison, “My Experience at State University,” 1911, Box 1, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, accessed Indiana University Archives Online.

Morrison entered Indiana University along with three hundred young men in the fall of 1867.[9] She wore a large sun hat to protect herself “from six hundred eyes” trying to cast “a sly glance” at the school’s first female student. She soared through her Latin and Greek classes and by the second semester of her first year she became a sophomore.[10] More importantly, during that spring semester of 1868, a dozen women followed Morrison’s lead, entering Indiana University as freshmen students. In a powerful contemporary photograph, Morrison is seated front and center, surrounded by the women who followed in her wake.[11]

“Women Students,” accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits. IU Archives caption: “Sarah Parke Morrison pictured in the front row, fourth from left, was the first woman to become a student at Indiana University in 1867. The remaining women pictured became students in 1868.”

The next year, Morrison continued her accelerated course of study, beginning the fall semester as a junior and becoming a senior spring semester. She wrote that she could probably have skipped Latin “if I had chosen to make a point of it,” but instead “read more than really required” so no one could claim that she would “lower the standard.” At one point during her first semester, the students could choose to write an essay or make an oral argument for a final exam. The professor assumed Morrison would prefer an essay so as not to speak in front of an audience of male students. She responded simply, “why?” Her second semester, a professor discouraged her from making her “declamation” at examinations, which would be attended by the general public. Morrison told him that she had appealed to the Board, not him, for her position and he could not stop her from making her declamation in the same manner as her male colleagues. Yet another professor acknowledged her ability for public speaking, but discouraged her from engaging in an exercise where she would debate her male colleagues. She again responded, “why?” and entered the debate. Finally, before graduation, a professor encouraged her to submit an essay and not to speak at commencement. She again asked him simply, but pointedly, “why?” Morrison explained:

‘Why?’ became my one and only, but effective ammunition when approach to the ‘Woman question,’ was bold enough to lift its head.[12]

By this, Morrison meant that when faced with the question of whether her gender should prevent her from equal participation at the university, she simply asked the professor “why” because her continued success and proficiency left no answer that could be based on anything but gender discrimination.

Similarly, when she received a “slighting remark” from a fellow student, whom she described sarcastically as “a rather superior young gentleman,” she “lost her temper” but managed to bite her tongue. She chose not to retort, explaining: “It was probably intended as a test. If I was mad internally, I could not suffer my cause to suffer.” Instead, she chose to focus her efforts on her commencement address. She knew many had low expectations for her performance. She wrote:

To have a performance at Commencement that would pass a general critical public, was an undertaking, indeed for me. I could not come down to their notions, could I lift them up to mine?[13]

Morrison became the first woman to graduate Indiana University in the spring of 1869 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.[14] Indiana newspapers reported that Morrison “graduated in the Classical course with great credit to herself, delivering in a splendid manner a very fine oration.”[15] Newspapers across the country picked up the story, reporting on “the first female graduate of Indiana State University.”[16] She demonstrated that there was indeed no reason “why?” a woman couldn’t succeed at Indiana University.

“Educational,” [Advertisement], Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, September 3, 1869, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
After graduation, Morrison moved to Indianapolis and began teaching Greek language classes.[17]  She was active in the education field, attending a “special session” for teachers at the State Normal School in Terre Haute in the summer of 1870.[18] In 1872, she was elected as an “alumni orator” and spoke at the 1873 Indiana University commencement ceremony.[19] By this point, IU had also granted Morrison a Master of Arts degree, which was at that time “conferred upon such graduates of three years’ standing as have, in the meantime, pursued professional or general studies.”[20] In 1873, Indiana University hired Morrison as a “tutor” in the “Collegiate Department.”[21] And, by 1874, Morrison became an Adjunct Professor of English Literature, making her the first female professor at Indiana University.[22]

Like the stories of other women trailblazers, the moment where the glass ceiling shattered, is often the point where Morrison’s story ends for historians. But what was it like for Morrison and other women once they became the first and only woman in their place of employment? What did it feel like to be the only woman in the lecture hall, laboratory, or operating theater? Of course experiences vary, but all faced some level of discrimination, opposition, or misogyny. Morrison faced all of these, delivered with a maliciousness some might find surprising for a genteel, academic setting.

“Literary Building constructed in 1855 on the Seminary Square campus,” photograph, 1855, accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.

Several of her male students refused to recite to her, recitation being the manner in which students orally showed their comprehension of the class material. By refusing to recite, they were showing that they refused to recognize her authority. They deemed that, as a woman, she was unqualified to teach them as men. Despite her years of schooling, mastery of several languages, experience teaching, advanced degrees, and praise from professors, these undergraduate students claimed that she was undeserving of their respect because of her gender. Newspapers in Indiana and then across the country, picked up the story. Taking an amused tone over her “awkward predicament,” newspapers reported on her appointment to IU faculty and the student discrimination in the same article.[23] The Chicago Tribune reported:

Miss Sarah P. Morrison, daughter of the President of the Board to Trustees and adjutant Professor of English Literature in the State University, has been struck against by a portion of the students, who refuse to recite to her. No adjustment of the difficulty has yet been made.[24]

Not content to demonstrate their disrespect for their professor through silence, some of the students in the fraternity Beta Theta Pi published an article slandering her character and qualifications. At the end of the school year, the fraternity published an issue of their newspaper the Dagger, which Indiana University Archives referred to as “the 19th century version of Rate My Professor.”[25] For Morrison, who had long moderated her work for women’s advancement for fear of backlash, the 1875 issue would have been humiliating and devastating.

The Dagger, 1875, accessed Archives Online at Indiana University.

Sarcastically referring to Morrison as “the Queen of the University,” these male students published a horribly sexist, misogynistic criticism of Morrison’s teaching and intelligence. They claimed she had no right to her professorship because she lacked even “some shadow of reputation, a few reliable words of recommendation; or at least the outward appearance of an intelligent being.” They claimed she barely taught any classes, was “pinned to the coat tail of our faculty,” and got paid to do “nothing whatever.” They wrote, “Never before in all the history of the institution, has there been so gross and imposition practiced upon the taxpayers of Indiana.” They continued with base name calling, referring to her in turn as “impudent,” lacking “all common sense,” “idiotic,” and an “uneducated ape.” The students claimed:

Petitions for her removal have been thrust in the faces of both her and her father. But shame has lost its sting upon this impudent creature, dead to the pointing finger of withering scorn.[26]

They wrote  that “their diplomas are disgraced by her contemptible name” and that the senior class would be marking her name out on their diplomas. They concluded the article:

We close with the warning to our idiotic subject. O! Sallie that you may not make a consummate ass of yourself, hast-to your mothers [sic] breast, sieze [sic] the nipple of advice and fill your old wrinkled carcass with the milk of common sense.[27]

The condescension and entitlement mixed with sexism is hard to read, especially knowing how qualified and intelligent Morrison was, but also how timidly she accepted the responsibilities that came with her groundbreaking position. Perhaps one element makes this misogynistic slander slightly bearable today: unintended humor. In short, the young men were terrible writers. Ironically, these students who claimed that Morrison did not posses the intelligence to be their teacher, populated their vicious article with spelling and grammar errors. Undoubtedly, they should have listened to what she could have taught them.

“Class of 1875,” composite photograph, 1875, accessed Archives Photograph Collection, Indiana University.

It would be much more satisfying to report that Morrison persevered in the face of this misogyny and went on to teach for many more years, but not all stories of women who furthered the fight for equality end with professional success and empowerment. Morrison left the university and the profession that she loved after the 1874-75 school year. She instead became an active advocate for the temperance movement, traveling throughout the country, including into Indian territory, and spoke at the national level.[28] She became a leader within the Society of Friends, speaking at state meetings.[29] And she penned poems and family histories.[30]

Though she never returned to teach at IU, she stayed involved with the university. She spoke at alumni events and commencements and wrote regular letters to the administration. Through these letters, she advocated for placing women on the Board of Trustees and the Board of Visitors, as well as hiring women professors. These letters show her finding strength in herself in demanding greater opportunities for women. For example, in 1906, she submitted her vote to the Board of Trustees “For Some Woman” and wrote on her ballot: “Every new man who allows his name to appear does that much to keep out some woman.”[31]

Sarah Parke Morrison to IU Board of Trustees, June 3, 1906 [Ballot for Board of Trustee Vote], Box 1, Correspondence, accessed Archives at Indiana University.
In 1908, Morrison returned to IU at the age of 75 . . . as a student. Reminiscent of her 1867 entry into the university as its first female student, newspapers across the country covered her latest adventure as a sort of novelty. The New York Times reported that Morrison enrolled in a post-graduate course on Greek during the summer term. The newspaper reported:

Though Miss Morrison is 75 years of age, she is as sprightly of body and mind, apparently, as she was when a student at the university nearly fifty years ago. She has never lost her interest in the classics nor in poetry.[32]

She must have continued to impress IU staff and administration because she delivered the alumni address at the 1909 commencement.[33] Morrison also continued to write to the IU administration in her later years. In 1911, she advised the university’s president and the Board of Trustees on filling a teaching position upon the death of a female professor. It’s likely that this advice was unsolicited, but she chose strong and clear words. She stated that the woman the Board chose to fill the vacant position should possess “very decided views respecting the equal [underline] privilege granted the young women of our University, and accepting suffrage for women as a matter of course.”[34] Before her death in 1916, Morrison found the courage to outwardly support women’s suffrage, something she had feared as a younger women.

This year, while commemorating the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, historians have enthusiastically shared stories of bold suffragists who marched in the streets and spoke passionately to large crowds – those women who stood unafraid before the Indiana Supreme Court or the Indiana General Assembly to demand their rights. But not all of the women who blazed the path toward equality loudly beat the drums of reform. Morrison shied from controversy and rightfully feared backlash from entering previously all-male spaces, but she ventured forward anyway. This is the very definition of courage – to persevere in the face of fear. While sometimes reluctant, she made important gains for women at Indiana University. Hers was the foot in the door, wedging it open for other women to follow her. And they did. Sarah Parke Morrison should be remembered not only for her “firsts,” but for her selflessness, determination, and quiet audacity.

Notes:

[1] 1850 U.S. Federal Census, Washington Township, Washington County, Indiana, September 20, 1850, roll 179, page 37 (338A), line 35, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Raysville Monthly Meeting, Henry County,” 1876, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana Minutes, Indiana Yearly Meeting Minutes, accessed AncestryLibrary;  “Indiana University,” [Alumni Form], 1887, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Indiana University Archives, submitted by marker applicant.; Indiana State Board of Health, “Certificate of Death,” (Sarah Parke Morrison), July 9, 1919, Roll 13, page 532, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Biographical Note,” Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Archives at Indiana University. The quoted text comes from the “Biographical Note” written by the Archives at Indiana University.

[2] Annual Catalogues of the Teachers and Pupils of the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary from 1847-1857 (Northampton: Hopkins, Bridgman & Co., n.d.), 44, accessed HathiTrust.; “Indiana University,” [Alumni Form], 1887, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Indiana University Archives, copy available in IHB marker file.; Indiana University, Arbutus [yearbook], 1896 (Chicago: A.L. Swift & Co. College Publications, 1896), accessed HathiTrust.

[3] Advertisement, “Glendale Female College,” Washington Democrat (Salem, Indiana), February 24, 1859, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; Memorial: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Western Female Seminary, Oxford, Ohio, 1880 (Indianapolis: Carlon & Hollenbeck, Printers and Binders, 1881), 208, accessed GoogleBooks.

[4] Fannie (Morrison), “Lines to Robert Dale Owen,” Indiana State Sentinel, March 27, 1851, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[5] Sarah Parke Morrison, “My Experience at State University,” 1911, Box 1, Series: Writings, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Archives at Indiana University.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Advertisement, “Indiana State University,” Evansville Daily Journal, December 19, 1867, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[8] Morrison, “My Experience at State University.”

[9] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1867 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1868), Indiana State Library.

[10] Morrison, “My Experience at State University.”

[11] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1867 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1868), Indiana State Library.; “Women Students,” accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.

[12] Morrison, “My Experience at State University.”

[13] Ibid.

[14] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1868-69 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1869), Indiana State Library.

[15] “Commencement at the State University,” (Greencastle) Putnam Republican Banner, July 8, 1869, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] “Digest of Latest News,” Galveston Daily News, July 24, 1869, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.; Fair Haven (Vermont), July 31, 1869, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[17] Advertisement, “Educational,” Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, September 3, 1869, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[18] “Normal School,” Terre Haute Daily Gazette, July 20, 1870, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[19] “All Sorts and Sizes,” Bangor Daily Whig and Courier (Bangor, Maine) July 30, 1872, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Ireland), September 11, 1872, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

[20] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1872-73 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1873), Indiana State Library.

[21] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1873-74 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1874), Indiana State Library.

[22] Annual Report of Indiana University, Including the Catalogue for the Academical Year, 1874-75 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1875), Indiana State Library.

[23] Chicago Weekly Post and Mail, November 26, 1874, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[24] “Indiana,” Chicago Tribune, November 19, 1874, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Former Trustees,” Indiana University Board of Trustees, https://trustees.iu.edu/the-trustees/former-trustees.html.
While Sarah Morrison’s Father John I. Morrison was an IU Board member 1874-75, he was not the president.

[25] “The Dagger: The 19th Century Version of Rate My Professor,” January 26, 2016, accessed Indiana University Archives.

[26] “Faculty Reviewed: Sarah P. Morrison,” The Dagger, 1875, 2, Box OS3, accessed Archives Online at Indiana University.

[27] Ibid.

[28] “Woman’s Temperance Union,” Vermont Chronicle (Bellows Falls) November 15, 1879, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Noble Women,” Washington Evening Critic (Washington, D.C.), October 29, 1881, 1, Newspapers.com.; “Work for Women,” Indianapolis Journal, January 30, 1886, 8, accessed Chronicling America, Library of Congress.; Izumi Ishi, Bad Fruits of the Civilized Tree: Alcohol & the Sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 136, accessed Google Books.

[29] “The Quakers,” Chicago Tribune, November 15, 1877, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.; “The Yearly Meeting,” Richmond Item, October 1, 1892, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “At Plainfield,” (Chicago) Inter Ocean, September 17, 1894, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

[30] “Current Literature,” (Chicago) Inter Ocean, June 18, 1892, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Literary Notes,” Friends Intelligencer and Journal 60 (Philadelphia: Friends Intelligencer Association, 1903), 187, accessed Google Books.

[31] Sarah Parke Morrison to “Alma Mater,” January 16, 1905, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.; Sarah Parke Morrison to William L. Bryan, February 22, 1905, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.; Sarah Parke Morrison to William L. Bryan, December 4, 1905, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.; Sarah Parke Morrison to Isaac Jenkinson, January 19, 1906, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.

[32] “Still A Student at 75,” New York Times, June 28, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[33] “Alumni Day at the State University,” Indianapolis News, June 22, 1909, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Indiana College News,” Indianapolis Star, June 17, 1909, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

[34] Sarah Parke Morrison to Indiana University President and Board, March 7, 1911, Sarah Parke Morrison Papers, Box 1, Correspondence, Archives at Indiana University.

THH Episode 36: Giving Voice: Dr. Nadia Brown

Transcript for Giving Voice: Dr. Nadia Brown

Jump to Show Notes

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice.

On today’s installment of Giving Voice, I talk with Nadia E. Brown, a University Faculty Scholar and Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Purdue University. She specializes in Black women’s politics and holds a graduate certificate in women’s and gender studies. Dr. Brown’s research interests lay broadly in identity politics, legislative studies, and Black women’s studies. Her award-winning book, Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making, is how I first came across her work. In this episode, we talk about intersectionality, political representation, and how representation in our country is shifting at this very moment.

And now, Giving Voice.

[intro music]

Beckley: Nadia, thank you so much for being with us today. I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to speak with us.

Brown:  I’m thrilled. Thank you so much for having me.

Beckley: Awesome. So, I think that to get started, we can kind of start with your work – can you talk a little bit about the work you’ve done with intersectionality and politics? And maybe even give a little bit of a definition for intersectionality. I feel like it’s a big word that is intimidating, but kind of has a simple explanation.

Brown: Sure, yes, so intersectionality is a term that was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is a law professor, to really describe the ways that Black women and other marginalized women by race, ethnicity, or class status have difficulty accessing legal remedies to discrimination that they face. And intersectionality is described as the intersections in which – like a street, right? Like, with the intersections in which one meets – racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and if a car accident were to happen in the middle of that street – in the middle of that intersection – can we blame the outcome on a car coming down racism road, or is it the car coming down sexism road? But if it happens at the middle of that intersection, is it not the confluence of all those different identities that form the multiple layers of oppression?

And intersectionality comes to us, really, out of this Black feminist home truth: that Black women do not have the luxury of fighting racism or sexism – that they must do both, and that they have a unique identity because of these combined influences of race, sex, class, age, sexual orientation, nativity. And all of these identities make up this one singular identity.

So, in my work, I look at Black women as undertheorized political subjects and use political science to understand how they think and how they operate in our democracy. My work primarily focuses on Black women political elites, mostly elected officials and candidates. However, I’ve started to branch out and do some work in mass political behavior – so what do every day Black women think and how do they relate that to political phenomenon? But I’ve also started to reach out to start to do some broader, I think, more fun work in some ways, on popular culture. And what this work really seeks to do is to challenge the narrative that we can understand through only a race, or a gender, or a class, or a generational viewpoint, how people experience politics and policy. And instead my work wants to make this intervention and say, “no, it’s a lot more complicated – it’s a lot more messy and nuanced.” We have to understand the roles that these other identities play to understand and interact with political phenomenon.

Beckley: That’s great – it sounds like really interesting work. So, kind of going back to our main topic for our main episode, we talked about women’s suffrage in Indiana and women’s suffrage in general. I was wondering – the women who were fighting for that suffrage, they often stated that they wanted the vote in order to enact some of the issues that are more directly related to them and that they felt that they could influence some of those issues better, obviously, with the vote than without. And I was wondering – when women did get the vote, they were able to enact some of those measures – and now that you see – now that we see – more Black women than ever being elected to political positions, what kind of issues do you see them working towards, what are they representing? What are their specific life experiences kind of pushing them to push for?

Brown: Yea, that’s a really important question. Because most times, my research shows that most times policy makers are trying to solve a problem that is informed through their own worldview, okay, so how are we going to think about a political problem that will require a policy solution? And most times, it’s animated out of our own lived experiences or those of others that we’ve come in contact with. And what my research has found is that issues that Black women face are often not championed by white women or Black men. So again, this idea that sharing a race or gender identity will lead elected officials to a set of policy prescriptions that will be impactful for a particular group is just not the case.

So, in my first book, Sisters in the State House, I give an example of domestic violence policy where Black women saw domestic violence advocacy as really failing to prioritize the needs of Black women as survivors and victims. And again, it wasn’t that the elected officials that were not Black women had any kind of malice or ill will – they just had these blind spots up. They didn’t see how domestic violence legislation that they were passing trying to help victims of domestic violence, in many ways, could have unintentional consequences and hurt Black women.

So, an example of that was gun measures, right? And trying to protect people – domestic violence victims – from having guns in the house. But the younger Black women legislators in my study showed that most often the guns that are used against Black women, in terms of intimidation or violence are often not registered in the first place, and if they are registered, they’re usually registered in the name of women, right? So, having their own registered gun used against them.

A more clear cut, kind of easy to see issue happened in the Maryland State Legislature where Maryland had quotas for businesses that should to business with the state. They had quotas for women and quotas for minorities, and this was a long-standing policy in the state for almost 30 years and the state really prided itself on trying to open up avenues for women and minority business owners. And Black women, once elected, came in and said, “What about Black women business owners? Do they fill out the forms as a woman contractor or as a minority contractor?” And the state really scratched their heads here and thought, “Well, this is really a personal issue. Maybe women – Black women – can decide which they want to do. Let them figure out how they want to be assigned.” And this put undue mechanisms that Black women contractors had to go through. Which meant that these women had to go talk to the gendered quota side and say, “Hey, do you guys have any room? Okay, you know, great, we’ll file with you.” Or, if they said no, they’d have to go over to the race side and they’d say, “Hey, contractors who are filling out these forms for being a minority, do you have room over here?” And if they didn’t, they’d have to go back and figure something else out. And so what the Black women legislators said, “Why don’t we just make an exception – or changes the law, so that Black women and women of color don’t have to do all of this extra leg work and that there are quotas written within both this minority and women’s quotas for contracts?”

So, when I started doing this research, it was so telling because the chair of the subcommittee that had worked so hard to put forward these minority contractors as a minority business enterprise was so proud of his work. I mean – I still see his smile when he’s describing to me how he got this through the state legislature and the work he did to expand this program. And when I asked him to talk about challenges that women of color face, he was just crestfallen and he said, “Yea, maybe that’s something.” And kind of abruptly stopped the interview at that point. So, again, I don’t think that anyone was trying to be – you know, have some kind of ill will or bad intention, it was just an oversight. And so, we see that these things happen time and time again in policy making because legislators in a deliberative body in our democracy, come from us, come from our people. And we bring our life experiences into government and if you are only around a certain subset of people, or if you’ve only seen a certain set of experiences, there is a tendency to think that there is not a problem if it doesn’t happen to you or to those that you are most intimately connected with.

And this project that I’m working on now, with the CROWN Act, which is an act that would ban legal discrimination based on the way that Afro-textured hair naturally grows out of people’s heads. And the legislators told me that they held community events, these kind of open town halls where constituents came in and wanted to talk about their own experiences with having their natural Afro-textured hair and being discriminated against. And in some ways it was cathartic for constituents to come in, particularly I was told a story about young med students who were really pushing for this bill in New Jersey because they were afraid that they would not be seen as professional and that they would be unlikely to match – what would this mean for their careers when they had done everything right? You know, go to school, work hard, all those things. And now to be on the precipice of the beginning of their careers and to say, “Well, I might not be able to find a job.” And so, the legislators who help these town halls said it did two things. One, it was cathartic for community members to kind of talk about and explain their challenges with hair. Then, to also have legislators convene this and want to find a way to try to solve this problem. But the other thing that was so eye opening was that legislators who do not have afro-textured hair or do not represent communities with large numbers of people with afro-textured hair said that they never thought that this was a problem. And seeing the outpouring of people who came to tell their stories, who came to implore government officials to do something about this, really changed their mind.

And so, this book that I’m working on now around hair and politics really illuminates how much we, as communities, are still in silos. As people of color, we don’t do hair in public places, you know, we don’t take out braids. So, these are things that majority communities don’t know much about, so had not thought about hair discrimination as a racial issue, right, as part of expanding anti-discrimination things. So, things that were on the books, weather it was with the U.S. military, from school districts, from employers, from other industries like the airlines and food service industries, that had all of these discriminatory policies on the books that said those with Afro-textured hair cannot wear braids, cannot wear dread locks, or would be subject to fines, suspensions, expulsions, for wearing their hair in ways that are culturally significant and can grow and protect ones hair. That was really out of step, right? But without having Black women at the forefront pushing this CROWN Act, this bill would never have happened, and right now, the bill has made its way through 23 states that have either pre-filed or filed this bill.  But it just shows that without other voices at the table, we miss the opportunity to legislate on things that are disproportionately hurting people that have been historically marginalized from politics and policy creation.

Beckley: Absolutely, and I think what you said about not having those experiences yourself – it’s not necessarily that you are intentionally discriminating or intentionally overlooking these issues, it’s just that if you haven’t lived it, you just might not know that it’s even an issue for a lot of people. I know that as a white woman myself, I might not have ever known that natural textured hair is something to be discriminated against until I started looking into the natural hair movement. It’s just so mind-blowing that something as little to me, or, should be to anybody, as wearing your hair as it naturally grows out of your head, can be discriminated against, that’s just kind of mind-blowing, I think to a lot of people. And it shouldn’t be because it happens every day.

Brown: Right. You hit the nail on the head. These are the kind of experiences that require legislation and that require policy makers to take a proactive stance, because they’ve been overlooked for so long, and, again, like you said, this is not something that is done out of malice, but it’s just a blind spot, right? These are spaces where, without walking in someone else’s shoes, we’re ignorant to their experiences and how politics and policies might marginalize them.

Beckley:  Absolutely, and I think that that is one reason that equal representation in government is obviously so very important, because having equal representation in government also means having equal representation of life experiences, and I know that we are very far away from equal representation right now. I was wondering if you see a path forward to help shift that a little bit. And in your studies, have you seen a path that we can take to help even things up a little bit?

Brown: Yea, so I am more optimistic than I have been in a very long time about equal representation. Which sounds so ironic in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a presidency where the country has become much more divided, but on the sheer numbers side, right, we’re seeing more women that are running for elected office and for the first time in about 10-15 years, we’re seeing more Republican women running for this upcoming 2020 election. The Republican Party has really been hemorrhaging women’s voices and women in leadership and Republican women in the early ‘90s were really a safeguard – again not framing these women as feminists for as championing women’s rights as we see them more popularly, but really in stopping some conservative or really Republican far-right policies that would be detrimental to women’s health and to children’s wellbeing.

So, I am excited to see that. I’m excited, really, on the Democratic side, about the number of women of color that are running. The number of Black women in particular are outpacing other demographic groups of women of color and women that are running on the Democratic side. So, I think that there is hope that average, everyday citizens are seeing that they have something to contribute to politics and are willing to offer themselves up for service. The Women’s March in 2016 – excuse me, 2017 – was the largest single day march, protest, in American history, and has been a sustained movement. The organic Black Lives Matter march and the continued spotlight on the murder of Breanna Taylor that has helped Americans have a conversation on state sponsored violence on Black women kind of vis a vi the say her name movement but in some ways just the spotlight on Breonna Taylor and that has helped us think about other Black women. These are things that are changing the national conversation.

And then, couple this with the Me Too Movement, which was started by a Black woman, Tarana Burke, to really talk about sexual violence towards women of color, and particularly economically marginalized women of color in urban areas, have changed politics and policy, right? Me Too and sexual harassment is at the forefront. Candidates are having to talk about this. Joe Biden, as we know, has vowed to name a woman as his vice-presidential nominee. There’s a large, large push to have him pick a woman of color. And I think none of this would have been possible without the social movements and average everyday citizens saying enough is enough. I’m going to run. I don’t see my issues, my voice, people in my community, people that care about things that animate my life in national politics or in state and local politics, are now stepping up.

So, again, I’m positive, I’m optimistic. The downside – the tremendous downside is, well, what will this look like in reality? I think there’s going to be so many problems with voting that there might be a lot of delays and confusion and opportunity for controlling, white patriarchal, white supremist figures to step in and kind of de-legitimate our election process and to kind of call into question the validity of these candidates and the will of the people.

Beckley:  So, it sounds like overall optimistic, but still cautious of what that might bring in and some of the problems that we might run into in the future.

Brown: Yes. That’s a good way to put it.

Beckley: I think that we’re going to end on that note. I really appreciate you talking with me and taking the time out of your day to discuss some of these issues and I really appreciate your time.

Brown: No problem. This was really enjoyable, and I am happy to do this.

Beckley: Well, thank you again.

Brown: Thanks, Lindsey.

Beckley: Once again, I want to take the time to thank Dr. Brown to take the time to talk with me. If you’re interested in Dr. Brown’s work, we’ve posted links to where you can find it in our show notes, which can be found at blog.history.in.gov. We’ll be back later this month with the second installment of our Indiana women’s suffrage series. In the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and Twitter for daily doses of Indiana history tidbits. Subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

Show Notes Giving Voice: Dr. Nadia Brown

To learn more about Dr. Brown’s work, visit her website here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffrage Hosts Scorn Offerings

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

“Childish” Starts Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes and Sources

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the Progressive Women of Indiana, Greetings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

Notes

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

THH Episode 25: Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Transcript of Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Jill Weiss Simins

Voice actor reading from newspaper: The town of Andrews [Indiana] . . . is much disturbed over the result of several spiritualistic séances, which have been held there by a medium named Johnson.

The first séance was held last Saturday night. At the meeting the terrible wreck at Keller’s station some years ago was called up. The five men killed in that wreck, including Trainmaster Wilcox, were talked to, and the noise made by the fated train, the puffing of the engine and the crash of the wreck were plainly reproduced. Those who were present in the room were terribly frightened, so realistic was the scene. A second séance was held at the residence of Robert Hart, with twenty people present. At this séance there were the customary exhibitions of tambourine playing, bell ringing, etc. While the bell was ringing someone requested that it be thrown, and it was hurled across the room with great violence, breaking a lamp chimney in its flight. After the séance was over the medium requested his audience never again to ask the spirits to throw anything, because that was one thing they always did when commanded.

Beckley: Scenes such as this, described in the July 11, 1893 issue of the Indianapolis News, were more common place in the Hoosier state than you might imagine at this time. By the late 19th century, American Spiritualism had swept the nation, including Indiana. And if you look past the spectacle described in that article – the tambourine playing, bell ringing, and flying furniture – you can glimpse the complexities surrounding Spiritualist beliefs. That story, like so many stories in Spiritualism, begins with tragedy. Five local men were killed in a dreadful accident, and here were their neighbors and friends still trying to find closure by calling them back from the dead. In this episode, we’ll explore a movement that meant different things to different people. For some, a night of entertainment. For others, a coping mechanism for unbearable grief.

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

Beckley: American Spiritualism, as opposed to spiritualism in the general sense of the word, was a religious movement based in the belief that not only do spirits exist, but they’re able and willing to communicate with the living through mediums. The root of the movement can be traced to the spring of 1848 when the Fox family began to hear knocking noises coming from the walls of their Hydesville, New York home. As the knockings continued, two of the Fox children, Margaret and Catherine, discovered that they could communicate with what they had come to believe was a spirit. Soon, the sisters took this new-found talent to nearby Rochester, New York, where they met prominent Quaker abolitionists Isaac and Amy Post.

In turn, the Posts introduced the young women and their ability to communicate with spirits to their prominent Quaker, Abolitionist, and Methodist friends. Through this network, Spiritualist beliefs were introduced into the highly mobile upper crust of East Coast society. This, alongside the accessible nature of the new movement which replaced the hierarchy and specialized facilities of other religions with a more informal structure, allowed Spiritualism to spread rapidly. Just months after the initial rappings were heard in Hydesville, there were thousands of so called “spirit circles” communicating with sprits in drawing rooms and kitchens up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Spirit circles, or séances, were a part of Spiritualism from the very beginning. Early séances conducted by the Fox sisters were described by historian David Chapman.

Voice actor reading from Chapman: Séances would begin with a prayer, while the party sat around a wooden table in a darkened room. If a spirit made its presence felt, participants could ask it yes-or-no questions, or the spirit might ‘call for the alphabet’ by knocking five times in rapid succession. If this happened someone would recite the alphabet until a knock was heard on a particular letter. This would be repeated until words and sentences were spelled out. The spirits had to be treated with great respect, or else they might refuse to participate.

Beckley: Soon, public demonstrations where hundreds of people gathered to witness the Fox sisters communicating with the spirits were organized.

[Eerie music]

Beckley: This is yet another factor in the rapid dissemination of American Spiritualism – each and every person who attended a séance or public demonstration was able to go back to their home town and hold a similar circle in their own home, with their own friends, who could in turn repeat the pattern, spreading the movement even further.

In this way, Spiritualism quickly reached the Midwest. By the mid-1850s, less than a decade after the Fox Sisters first made contact with the spirits in upstate New York, Spiritualism was fairly widespread in Indiana. It’s hard to estimate the number of practitioners since there was no formal system of reporting, but one historian claims that by the 1860s, 90% of Angola, Indiana residents were practicing Spiritualists. Of course, that’s an extreme case and the rest of the state was by no means majority-Spiritualist, but it shows how deeply the new religion had permeated Hoosier society. To get an idea of what at least some Indiana spirit circles were like, let’s look at Charles Cathcart, a judge and ex-congressman turned spiritualist.

[Music box music]

Beckley: Originally a skeptic, Cathcart attended his first spirit circle at the home of Mr. Poston of La Porte County, Indiana, with the goal of exposing the fraud he was sure was taking place there. The séances held at this particular circle were much different from those held by the Fox sisters which I described earlier – you see this a lot in Spiritualism since there was no official church structure and practitioners were able to just kind of make things up as they went along. The Poston circle, styled after circles held in Ohio, was a lively affair, similar to that described in the newspaper article at the top of the show.

[Dramatic music]

Beckley: Cathcart arrived to the séance armed with a homemade device that, when deployed, would light up the room in a flash. The lights were put out and the show started with a spirit referred to as “old king” taking up a bass drum. Cathcart deployed his flash device and described what he saw next in the Spiritual Telegraph, a New York-based spiritualist newspaper.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: What a picture for an artist! . . . [I] witnessed the stick beating the drum as if handled from above, and no mortal nearer than about eight feet of it! After striking a few blows by itself, in the light, the stick rose yet higher and leisurely, a curve in the air, gingerly fell on the shoulder of Miss Poston.

Beckley: With this shocking turn of events, Cathcart was a convert. He started his own spirit circle, also in LaPorte County, which was attended by many of his affluent acquaintances. Unsurprisingly, given the theatrical nature of his first encounter with Spiritualism, Cathcart’s own circles were quite showy with flying furniture, disembodied voices, and a veritable ensemble of spirits playing everything from a triangle to the guitar.  Obviously, this strain of Spiritualism is much closer to entertainment than to the expression of grief it was for many others. This included May Wright Sewall, who is better known as Indiana’s preeminent suffragist.

In 1895, Sewall’s husband and work partner, Theodore Lovett Sewall died. In the wake of his death, she wrote:

Voice actor reading from Sewall: Unlike many bereaved, I did not seek to forget my sorrow or him whose removal had caused it; on the contrary, I strove to keep the memory of him always present in my own mind.

Beckley: This reluctance to “move on” or forget is prevalent in many who eventually find themselves face to face with a medium, attempting to contact the dead. So it was with Sewall. In August 1897, after delivering a suffrage speech at Lily Dale, one of the largest Spiritualist camps in the country, a series of misfortunes stranded her in the camp for several days. During that time, she met with a medium, a meeting which she describes in her book Neither Dead Nor Sleeping.

Voice actor reading from Sewall: In that sitting, quite contrary to my own expectations, and equally so to any conscious desire, I received letters written upon slates which I had carefully selected from a high pile of apparently quite new and empty ones, had carefully sponged off, tied together with my own handkerchief, and held in my own hands, no other hand touching them. These letters, when read later in my room. . . were found to contain perfectly coherent, intelligent and characteristic replies to questions which I had written upon bits of paper that had not passed out of my hands.

Beckley: From that first experience, Sewall began visiting mediums on a regular basis and kept in regular communication with her deceased husband for the remaining two decades of her life. This was a something she did not share publicly. Neither Dead Nor Sleeping wasn’t published until July, 1920, twenty-three years after she first made contact with her deceased husband. In it, she revealed her Spiritualist beliefs and experiences and laid out her reasons for that belief.

The book was fairly well received, being heralded as an exceptionally logical exploration of the practice of Spiritualism, if a surprising subject for a woman of Sewall’s esteemed reputation to write on. But just two months after its release, with the revelation of Sewall’s convictions still fresh in the minds of Americans, Sewall died in Indianapolis. Her death following so close on the heels of Neither Dead Nor Sleeping resulted in the majority of her obituaries giving an inordinate amount of weight to that part of her life, leaving some of her very impressive accomplishments in the shadows.

Of course, Sewall wasn’t the only prominent Hoosier Spiritualist. Long before Neither Dead Nor Sleeping revealed May Wright Sewall as a convert, Dr. John and Mary Westerfield of Anderson, Indiana, were introduced to the movement. This introduction would eventually lead to the establishment of what would become one of the nation’s most prominent Spiritualist centers.

In 1855, John’s and Mary’s only son, John Jr. died at the age of fourteen. The couple, who organized lectures on various topics of a scientific and pseudo-scientific nature, were already familiar with the idea of Spiritualism. So, perhaps it was natural that they turned to the comfort offered by mediums in their grief. Over the next months, many of those who had attended their lecture series also converted to Spiritualism and this small group began to advocate for a state-wide organization of Spiritualists.

[Music]

Beckley: Alongside this effort to organize, the Westerfields also began searching for a location for a Spiritualist camp, where believers could congregate and commune.

[Music]

Beckley: From these efforts, the Indiana Association of Spiritualists was founded in the late 1880s, and in 1890, thirty acres of land was purchased in Chesterfield, Indiana where their Spiritualist camp – Camp Chesterfield – was established.

If you’re imagining a small, backwoods operation, you’re mistaken. When the camp opened, there was a dining hall, lodging house, two séance rooms, a few small cottages, and a tent auditorium structure that seated 500 people. By 1895, an office building, Bazaar building, stables, a grocery store, an ice cream parlor, and a wooden auditorium building had been added to the site, showing a phenomenal amount of growth.

This was far from the last growth spurt that the camp experienced. Under the leadership of Mable Riffle, the camp reached its zenith in the 1920s. Two fully furnished hotels were constructed, as well as a chapel, several more cottages, and a decorative outdoor area. By 1927, the six week season at Champ Chesterfield was drawing an average of 20,000 people. Some of these visitors came seeking the thrill of communing with the spirits and others looking to reach deceased loved ones during a time a grief, illustrated by the increase in attendance in the wake of both World War I and World War II.

Throughout its history, Camp Chesterfield hosted mediums with a wide variety of different Spiritualistic abilities. These included materializing mediumship, a phenomena where a medium summons the physical form of a spirit, and spirit photography, in which the forms of dead loved ones can be seen in the presence of their living family members. And also slate writing, or writing done without the aid of human hands – usually on a slate using chalk.

Yet, not everyone who experienced these supposedly otherworldly happenings were convinced by their experiences at the camp.

[Music]

Beckley: In 1925, at the height of its popularity, reporter Virginia Swain attended the camp and participated in several séances, which seem to have quite missed the mark on all accounts. The first of a long series of articles written about her time there starts.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: I have met a brother whom I had never heard of before. Nevertheless he died in my arms six months ago – he told me so himself!

Beckley: She goes on to detail a long list of almost laughably bad readings she received at the camp, but even more damaging than the bad press – she reported the perceived fraud to the police and on the very same day her first article ran, news of a mass arrest of 14 mediums was reported. The charges were dropped just weeks later, but the exposé and the arrests left a wake of soured public sentiment in its wake.

In 1960, scandal arose once again when Tom O’Neill, editor of the popular Spiritualist magazine the Psychic Observer and researcher Dr. Andriga Puharrich uncovered fraud while trying to capture the first motion pictures of the materialization of a spirit. With the full knowledge and permission of the mediums conducting the séance, the two men took an infrared camera into the séance room. Looking through the lens of the camera, they saw that what in the dark had looked to be wispy figures emerging from nowhere were actually workers of the camp entering the séance room from a hidden door.

When these findings, and the images captured during the séance, were published in the Psychic Observer under the headline “Fraud Uncovered at Chesterfield Spiritualism Camp,” something rather surprising happened. It was O’Neill, rather than the camp, that came under fire, with droves of advertisers dropping their support for the magazine, eventually leading to its demise. I suppose that’s a clear demonstration of just how deeply adherents to Spiritualism hold their beliefs.

Perhaps the worst blow to the camp came in 1976, when medium Lamar Keene wrote his exposé The Psychic Mafia, in which he laid bare allegations of widespread fraud throughout the camp. According to his claims, there were rooms full of tens of thousands of notecards with information on every person who had ever had a reading at the camp. He told stories of stealing, pickpocketing, and more, all in the name of a good spiritualist reading.

But, of course, even this exposé didn’t spell the end for Champ Chesterfield, which is now considered to be the longest continually active Spiritualist camp in the nation. The camp, like Spiritualism itself, has persisted through scandal, bad press, and more. Today, the camp is a mixture of American Spiritualism, with several resident mediums available for readings, New Age Spiritualism, with meditation retreats and Tai Chi classes, and a training center for up and coming Spiritualist leaders.

Even outside of historical camps like Chesterfield, of which there are a handful left scattered across the country, we still hear the echoes of Spiritualism in modern America. Take, for instance, mediums such as TLC’s “Long Island Medium,” Theresa Caputo, or if you’re a 90s kid like me, Sylvia Brown. Like the Fox sisters in the mid-1800s, these women mix entertainment with amateur grief counseling, helping people through difficult times by giving them the chance to communicate with lost loved ones. Or, if one wants to be cynical about it, using people’s grief for financial gain and personal fame.

But that’s what makes Spiritualism such a wonderfully complex topic. It can be a coping mechanism. It can be entertainment. It has film-flam men and sincere practitioners. Some people feel genuinely helped, and others feel helplessly duped. And we didn’t even get to this, but it was led, in large, by women and had close ties with both the abolition and women’s suffrage movements. But many of its practitioners, like May Wright Sewall, were tarnished by their association with it. Spiritualism is often used as an entry point into ghost stories and ghastly tales, something to be trotted out for Halloween and then put back into the closet with the paper skeletons on November 1, but that paints a much more one dimensional picture of it than in reality. Join us in two weeks when we dig further into this topic with Ball State University professor Rachel Smith, who studies the intersection of Spiritualism and feminism.

[THH theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thank you to Justin Clark and Dr. Michella Marino of IHB for lending their voices to today’s episode. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to Subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for Listening.

Show Notes for Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Braude, Ann, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Britten, Emma Hardinge, Modern American Spiritualism, New York: MDCCCLXX,

Chapin, David, “Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane, and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity, Amhurst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004.

Keene, M. Lamar, The Psychic Mafia, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1997.

Sewall, May Wright, Neither Dead Nor Sleeping, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1920.

Newspapers

                “Events in Hoosierdom,” Indianapolis News, July 11, 1893, 6.

“Mediums Under Bond After Raid,” Muncie Evening Press, August 24, 1925, 1.

Websites

                “Camp Chesterfield: A Spiritual Center of Light,” campchesterfield.net.

 

“Underrated” First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison: Advocate for the Arts, Women’s Interests, and Preservation of the White House

 

Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison, accessed First Ladies National Library

Susan Swain, host of C-SPAN’s special TV series from 2013-2014 on the lives and influence of the nation’s First Ladies, described Caroline Harrison as “one of the more underrated” First Ladies. Caroline Harrison, wife of Hoosier President Benjamin Harrison, served as First Lady from 1889-1892. Previously cast off as simply a tactful housekeeper, historians now recognize that Caroline did more, including using her influence to advocate for the arts, women’s interests, and the preservation of the White House.

Harrison home in Indianapolis, 1888, accessed Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collections

On July 4, 1888, Caroline stood next to her husband Benjamin in the parlor of their home on North Delaware Street in Indianapolis surrounded by guests. Caroline had filled the house with patriotic decorations, including red, white, and blue flags and flowers. However, this was not a normal 4th of July celebration: at the party, Benjamin gave a speech, accepting the Republican nomination for president. For the next four months, their home became the center of Benjamin’s political campaign. Parades marched up and down the street in front of the house Benjamin gave more than 80 speeches on their front porch.

Campaign outside the Harrison Home, 1888. According to the Indiana Historical Society, “Harrison replicated a ball used by his Grandfather, William Henry Harrison during his 1840 Presidential campaign. It was used with the slogan “keep the ball rolling” and rolled some 5,000 miles.” Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collections

On Election Day, the Harrison family waited anxiously for a telegraph operator set up temporarily in a nearby bay window for election results. The next morning, Caroline and Benjamin discovered they had won. The Harrison family was moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Caroline and Benjamin Harrison, Accessed Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collection, WH Bass Photo Company Collection

Though the Harrisons had lived in Indianapolis since 1854, the couple’s story began in Ohio. Benjamin had been a student of Caroline’s father at the Farmer’s College in Pleasant Hill, Ohio. Benjamin followed Caroline to Oxford, Ohio. She enrolled in the Oxford Female Institute and he attended Miami University. Soon after they earned degrees, the two got married and moved to Indianapolis.

A young Caroline Harrison, 1860s, accessed Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

As Benjamin built up his law practice, Caroline became an integral part of Indianapolis’ charity network. Through membership at the Presbyterian Church, Benjamin and Caroline became active in the Indianapolis Benevolent Society, one of the city’s earliest charity organizations. Members were assigned their own district in the city, serving as “donors, fundraisers, friendly visitors and distributors of aid” in their assigned area. During the Civil War, Caroline expanded her efforts, volunteering with various women’s organizations that aided the war effort, like the Ladies Patriotic Association and the Ladies Sanitary Committee. She also started her 30 year long career with the Indianapolis Orphans Asylum, joining the board of managers in 1862. After the war, she became involved with a new charity, the Home for Friendless Women, created to care for an influx of widowed and transient women who flocked to the city after the war. The home operated until 2003, most recently under the name Indianapolis Retirement Home.

Indianapolis Orphans Asylum, ca. 1885, accessed the Indiana Album

Throughout the 1870s, Caroline’s reputation as a capable organizer for charities grew. She sat on the board of many temporary relief funds and charitable events. When Benjamin served as Senator, she added a number of Washington, D.C. charities to her roster, including the Washington City Orphans Asylum and the Ladies Aid Society for Garfield Hospital. An avid painter, she also found time to make pieces to display at early exhibits for the Indianapolis Art Association, which pioneered formal art education in Indiana and influenced the development of fine arts in the state.

Caroline Harrison in her inauguration dress, 1889, accessed Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

When the Harrisons moved to Washington, D.C. for the Presidency, Caroline worked hard to have impact as a First Lady. Though her predecessor, the young and fashionable Frances Cleveland made Harrison look old and dowdy by comparison in the press, Harrison became a more publicly active figure than Cleveland had by advocating for the arts, women’s interests, and the preservation of the White House.

Four generations of Caroline Harrison’s family who lived at the White House, including her father, her daughter, and two grandchildren. Accessed White House Historical Association.

Four generations of relatives moved into the White House when Benjamin took office, which brought the household total up to 12. After the whole family crowded into the White House, Caroline became “concerned over the condition of the house provided for the Chief Executive and his family.” The private spaces for the family amounted to five bedrooms, one bathroom, and a hallway. The rest of the building was reserved for offices and public functions. In addition to the lack of space, the White House had fallen into disrepair. The threadbare carpets, shabby furniture, unwelcome presence of vermin made the White House unsatisfactory to say the least. Caroline reached out to former First Ladies and discovered that previous administrations had struggled with coming up with enough space to entertain and host important foreign leaders and dignitaries. There had been an embarrassing situation during the Buchanan administration where the Prince of Wales and the rest of the royal family could not all be accommodated because of the lack of space.

Some of the Harrison family outside the White House, including Caroline and Benjamin’s son Russell and three grandchildren with their pet goat and dog, ca. 1890. Accessed White House Historical Association.

Caroline began lobbying for congressional funds to refurbish and expand the White House. She gave interviews with journalists and took Senators and Representatives on personal tours of the White House to plead her case. She told reporters,

We are here four years. I do not look beyond that, as many things occur in that time, but I am anxious to see the family of the President provided for properly, and while I am here I hope to get the present building into good condition.

A few Representatives on the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds had already kicked around the idea of expanding the White House. The building had remained largely unchanged since its completion in 1800 (though it was rebuilt after the War of 1812 after the British set fire to it). These Representatives had voiced a number of plans, including adding another story to the White House or constructing an exact replica of the building across the lawn. Some even wondered if an entirely new mansion for the President should be built. Caroline, however, recognized the historical significance of the mansion and articulated a new plan that would preserve the structure. Architect Frederick D. Owen drew up her ideas, which included adding wings to either side of the White House. The press widely circulated her plans, which Owen even titled “Mrs. Harrison’s Suggestion for the Extension of the Executive Mansion.”

Aerial view of Caroline Harrison’s plans to expand the White House, accessed National Archives and Records Administration
Photo of the White House kitchen, a few years after the renovation in 1893. Accessed White House Historical Association.

Despite Caroline’s lobbying, her bill to provide funding to expand the White House did not pass. Though it went through the Senate, it failed in the House because President Harrison had ignored the Speaker of the House’s choice for collectorship of Portland, Maine. However, she did receive approximately $60,000 in appropriations to redecorate and renovate the interior and add the first electric lighting. Throughout her First Ladyship, Harrison directed painting, installing additional private bathrooms, renovating the kitchen, replacing all the dirty and moldy floors, rebuilding the old conservatory, adding greenhouses, and redecorating many of the public parlors.

During the renovations, Caroline had the entire contents of the White House inventoried. The Cleveland Leader reported,

Even the old bits stored away in the attic are to be listed, for Mrs. Harrison is anxious that pieces which have historic value or connection with presidential families of the past shall be preserved.

Three pieces from the Harrison china set, accessed White House Historical Association

She stopped the old practice of selling off furniture, china, and silver at the end of each president’s administration, not only to save money, but so the historic mansion would maintain pieces from past presidents. Through this process, Harrison laid the foundation for the celebrated White House China Collection. Harrison’s acquaintance, Harriet Foster wrote “she immediately began a valuable collection to be preserved, in cabinets, of the scattered remnants of the china of former Presidents.” She even designed the Harrison china set, which featured corn ears, stocks, and tassels.

Harrison didn’t stop at the White House, but took on additional causes. As First Lady, Harrison advocated the federal government place more emphasis on fine art. She told the Evening Star,

this government has reached that point where it should give more attention to the fine arts—that is, a judicious expenditure for works of merit.

National Art Association Catalogue. Accessed Smithsonian Libraries.

She made sure to include a large gallery of historical paintings in her plans for the White House expansion and supported the addition of paintings to the White House’s fine arts collection, including the first example of a non-portrait piece purchased for the mansion with federal funds. Her plans and actions set precedent for the introduction of a professional curator to care for the White House’s art collection, a position filled during the Kennedy Administration seventy years later. Lastly, in 1892 she became Honorary President of the National Art Association, joining forces with prominent artists like William Merritt Chase and Albert Bierdstadt, to lobby to exempt imported works of art from taxation. The tariff was eventually lifted.

Harrison lent her name to other organizations that promoted women’s interests. She agreed to head a local Washington, D.C. committee of women dedicated to securing women’s admission to the new Johns Hopkins Medical School. Johns Hopkins trustees promised five Baltimore women connected to the institution if they raised $100,000 (later increased to $500,000), the school would accept women on the same terms as male applicants. These women began recruiting prominent women across the nation to raise money in their own locales. According to historian Kathleen Waters Sanders, Caroline’s agreement to help the cause “was important, lending the campaign credibility and national visibility.” Due to women’s work, the medical school opened in 1893 as the first coeducational, graduate-level medical school in the nation.

Announcement for the DAR, The Scranton Republication, October 13, 1890, accessed newspapers.com

Harrison also agreed to become the first President General of a new organization, the Daughters of the American Revolution. The organization formed in 1890 after the Sons of the American Revolution refused to accept female applicants. The DAR’s goals were “the securing and preserving of the historical spots of America and the erection thereon of suitable monuments to perpetuate the memories of the heroic deeds of the men and women who aided the revolution and created constitutional government in America.”

The founders of the organization asked Harrison to lead, hoping her status as First Lady would elevate the DAR, give it credibility, and attract more members. Though she delegated day-to-day operations to other DAR board members, Harrison helped guide the fledgling organization through its early years and helped it become a political force. In 1892, the DAR had grown from a handful to over 1,300 members. Since 1890, the DAR has accepted over 950,000 members and served as an important political lobbying group. It has also restored and maintained numerous historic sites and preserved countless genealogical records and artifacts.

Portrait of Caroline Scott Harrison, Accessed White House Historical Association

Unfortunately, Caroline’s career as First Lady was cut short. She died in the White House from tuberculosis October 25, 1892. Benjamin lost reelection soon after. However, a new historical marker at the Benjamin Harrison house in downtown Indianapolis will honor Caroline Harrison’s achievements, both in Indiana and as First Lady. Please check our website and Facebook page for more information about the marker dedication ceremony, scheduled to take place in October.

Hoosier Women’s Fight for Clean Air

William A. Oates, South Indianapolis, 1967, Indianapolis Star, December 3, 1967, accessed newspapers.com

On February 5, 1970, the Franklin Daily Journal in Franklin, Indiana proclaimed air pollution the “Disease of the Seventies.” It predicted that “gas masks, domed cities, special contact lenses to prevent burned eyes” would become “standard equipment if life is to exist” by 2000, unless action against widespread air pollution was taken soon.

Neal Boenzi, New York City Smog, 1966, accessed Wikipedia.

The Daily Journal’s predictions were not off mark. Dense smog filled with toxic pollutants had already killed and sickened thousands of people in Donora, Pennsylvania in 1948, in London in 1952, and New York City in 1966. By the late 1960s, this type of deadly smog had begun to appear in nearly every metropolitan area in the US.

However, it’s now 2017, no gas masks, domed cities, or protective eye wear needed. Why? You can thank Hoosier women, who fought for air pollution control measures since the 1910s.

Comic that appeared in the Indianapolis Star, April 3, 1968, accessed newspapers.com

Women first entered the fight against coal to combat air pollution. When burned, coal releases a significant amount of smoke and soot. Londoners began burning coal for fuel as early as the 1200s. Virtually every Londoner relied on coal for fuel and heat by the 1600s as England’s forests became depleted. As industries and factories powered by coal emerged across England during the Industrial Revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries, many British cities developed air pollution problems. By 1800, a chronic cloud of smoke enveloped London. Soot and smoke dusted the streets, ruined clothing, and corroded buildings.

Major American cities did not escape the smoky air that plagued the Brits. European settlers cleared much of America’s forests for firewood, construction materials, and to make room for crops and cities. As the Industrial Revolution began on the East Coast at the end of the 18th century, industries, homes, and businesses began to rely on coal for heat and power. Dirty air followed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Dark smoke palls drifted through many urban areas at noon that reduced visibility to less than a block. The dirty, dark atmosphere caused traffic accidents, injuries, and even death. Doctors increasingly linked the drab, polluted air to depression and tuberculosis.

Indianapolis was no exception. The Indianapolis News reported on February 11, 1904 that “for a year or more, the smoke cloud has constantly been increasing until during the last two or three months, the city has taken a place among the smoke cities of the country and by some visitors is credited with being as dirty as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or St. Louis.”  That summer, the News described “dense volumes of black soot and smoke” blowing through business and residential districts across the city. A journalist wrote “Eyes and lungs are filled and as for wearing clean linen any length of time, that is one of the impossibilities.” The journalist noted that the smoke damaged goods in downtown shops and observed “every article in them to be thickly dotted with soot.”

“Aerial View of Indianapolis, 1913,” Panoramic Photograph Images, Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collections.

Despite these issues, fighting smoke pollution in Indiana would be hard. Coal is one of Indiana’s natural resources and became a mainstay of the Hoosier economy during the early 20th century. It was discovered along the Wabash River in 1736. Organized coal production began in the 1830s and after World War I, production exceeded 30 million tons. Furthermore, coal and the smoke it produced became a symbol for economic prosperity nationwide. Often, postcards and promotional imagery for cities featured pictures of smokestacks emitting billowing, black clouds of smoke across the urban landscape. A writer for the Indianapolis News in defense of coal wrote in 1906, “But if the coal smokes, let it smoke . . . Wherever there is smoke there is fire, and the flames that make coal smoke brighten the world of industry and bring comfort to the untold hundreds of thousands of toilers. Let it smoke. The clouds of smoke that ascend to heaven are the pennants of prosperity.”

Bledsoe Coal Company Mine near Center Point, Indiana, 1931, Martin’s Photo Shop Collection, Indiana Historical Society Digital Images Collection

Indiana produces bituminous coal, a soft coal that often creates a lot of smoke when burned. Many cities had begun to abate smoke pollution simply by requiring residents and industry to burn anthracite coal, a harder coal that burned cleaner. Since bituminous coal was a major source of wealth for Indiana, many Indianapolis residents and businessmen did not want to take this course of action, even though they did support cleaner air for the city.

One method to abate smoke, but still burn Indiana bituminous coal was to install automatic stoking devices in factories and homes. These devices distributed the coal in furnaces more evenly so it produced less smoke. In 1904, the American Brewing Company on Ohio Street downtown installed one of these devices. According to the Indianapolis News, this device allowed the company to burn just as much bituminous Indiana coal as it had last year, but produce far less smoke: the journalist described the company’s smokestacks as “practically smokeless.”

However, few businesses followed in the American Brewing Company’s footsteps. In 1910, Indianapolis women formed the Smoke Abatement Association operating under the slogan “Better and Cleaner Indianapolis” to try to get housewives and manufacturers to stop burning bituminous coal. These women became part of a nationwide movement of middle and upper class housewives practicing “Civic Motherhood” or “Municipal Housekeeping” that drew on women’s traditional roles as protectors of the home. These women reformers argued they could use their skills as household managers to improve the health of the communities their families lived in and thus began to participate in political discussions surrounding health, pollution, and sanitation, like air pollution.

Announcement from Smoke Abatement Association, Indianapolis Star, January 31, 1911, p. 16, accessed newspapers.com

The group first asked women to reduce smoke produced in their homes by installing smoke control devices. The group offered demonstrations for proper coal firing and issued reports on local residences and factories that issued a lot of smoke. In 1913, the group succeeded in getting a city ordinance passed which banned burning bituminous coal in a downtown district bordered by Maryland Street, East Street, New York Street, and Capitol Avenue. To honor Indiana’s coal production industry, bituminous coal could be burned if a smoke prevention device was installed. It was hoped this ordinance would create a clean, smoke free section of the city to improve health and help merchants preserve goods otherwise ruined by the sooty air.

“Our Three Lines of National Defense,” World War I Propaganda Poster, accessed http://www.ww1propaganda.com/

Though the Smoke Abatement Association remained active throughout the 1910s, US entry into World War I reverted smoke pollution’s image. Black and gray smoke churning out of smokestacks once again became symbolic of progress, this time in support of the war effort. Throughout the 1920s until the 1950s, air pollution remained regulated at the local level; state and federal governments largely remained aloof of the issue.

 

However, a more complex air pollution emerged in the 1940s that became a struggle for locals to solve on their own. In the summer of 1940, a thick eye-stinging, tear-producing, throat-irritating haze never before experienced enveloped Los Angeles. Though it eventually cleared, episodes continued as America entered World War II: the effects on health were so irritating, some Los Angelinos speculated it was a chemical attack from the Japanese. The problem persisted into 1943: various industries were suspected of causing the issue, but when they were shut down, the harmful air remained. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, this phenomenon, known increasingly as “smog,” afflicted almost every major urban area in the United States.

Los Angeles Street filled with smog, 1943, accessed http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist383/LosAngeles.html

This was a complex type of pollution: growth in industry during World War II and the postwar era increased the amounts of emissions released into the air from factories as they burned oil and coal to create goods for the war effort, and later refrigerators, household appliances, and other consumer goods. During this time, the development of new chemicals, drugs, pesticides, food additives, and plastics also proliferated the consumer market. When manufactured, these products released a number of synthetic chemicals into the atmosphere that decomposed much more slowly than those emitted by older industries and remained hazardous longer. Lastly, the rise in population and expansion of the suburbs increased the use of automobiles. Cars blew out gasoline vapor that became a major ingredient in smog formation. All these combined emissions created a much more complex air pollution that was much harder to get rid of that would require cooperation from consumers, industry, and government regulation at all levels.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument, 1967 Indianapolis Star November 19, 1967, p. 29, accessed newspapers.com

This type of pollution first appeared in Indianapolis in the mid-1940s, but did not become much of a chronic problem until the late 1960s. The pollution became so bad that it stained and eroded the limestone on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument downtown, as well as the façade of the Statehouse. It also became tied to increased rates of emphysema, lung cancer, and other serious diseases. Again, Hoosier women stepped up to try to improve the air in their neighborhoods, communities, and the state at large. They became part of a larger movement of women concerned with air pollution across the country and helped make it a national issue during the 1970s.

Letter League of Women Voters of Indianapolis sent out lobbying for stronger air pollution control, League Bulletin, May 1970, accessed University of Indianapolis Digital Mayoral Archives.

Many women fought air pollution through the League of Women Voters. League members traditionally conducted extensive research on political issues, conducted educational campaigns, and lobbied local, state and federal governments to make sure appropriate regulation was enacted. League of Women Voters members in Indianapolis, Richmond, and Seymour branches attended and testified at local air quality hearings, wrote to representatives urging more stringent air quality regulations, and sponsored programs and produced literature to teach the public about air pollution, current regulations, and what they could do to improve the solution. For example, these methods encouraged people to stop open burning of waste and carpool, bike, or walk to reduce automobile emissions.

HELP meeting, 1965, Terre Haute Tribune, September 18, 1965, p. 2, accessed newspapers.com

Other women’s groups in the state took similar action. Housewives Effort for Local Progress, or HELP, a women’s group in Terre Haute dedicated to improving the city, took on air pollution as one of its major agendas. They lobbied local commissioners and educated the public on air pollution. The Richmond Women’s Club organized funds to purchase educational materials on air pollution to distribute to local students. Other women joined ecology groups, such as the Environmental Coalition of Metropolitan Indianapolis and fought for the passage of many regulations to control harmful gasses emitted by industry, such as Sulphur oxides. Chairwoman Elaine Fisher summarized the important role of the public in abating pollution: “Industry is pressuring . . . on one side. The only hope is for the public to give equal pressure on the other side.”

These women’s groups, and others across the nation, raised awareness of air pollution and made it a national issue. Most groups encouraged the federal government to get involved with air pollution. Since air pollution spreads across local and state boundaries, it made sense for increased federal oversight to control the issue. It is not a surprise that women’s fight against air pollution coincided with the passage of key federal environmental legislation, such as the Clean Air Act amendments of 1970, which gave federal officials authority over reducing air pollution throughout the nation and the power to set federal emissions states have to comply with. The Clean Air Act has produced purer air for all Americans: since 1970 its regulations reduced the levels of common pollutants, and thus prevented deaths from disease and cancer and decreased damage to plants, crops, and forests previously caused by air pollution. Thank you, Hoosier women.

Women at Work in Science, Technology, and Medicine

Historians, Get to Work!

Women have been consistently left out of the story of the Hoosier state. On paper, historians agree that including the histories of women and other marginalized groups provides a more complete understanding of the events that shaped our communities, state, and world.  However, in practice, few historians are researching, publishing, or posting on women’s history.  Having identified a dearth of resources on Indiana women’s history, organizers from various institutions, both public and private, came together to develop an annual conference. This conference strives to energize the discussion of Indiana women’s history and make the papers, presentations, and other resources resulting from the conference available to all Hoosiers. This year, the Indiana Historical Bureau and the Indiana State Library will host the second annual Hoosier Women at Work Conference.

This conference also aims to address and work towards correcting the pervasive lack of resources on Indiana women’s history. Even historians sensitive to the issue often follow established practices of treating the history of government and business and military as the “real” and “significant” history. However, these are areas where women have been categorically denied entrance or discriminated against directly or through lack of education or opportunities.  These areas exclude women of color, poor women, and native women even more disproportionately than white women of means.  To point out our own complicity, of the over 600 state historical markers created by our agency, only thirty-nine are dedicated to women’s history.  Several are simply wives or mothers of influential male notable Hoosiers, some only tangentially include women, and only ten include native women or women of color. We have work to do too.

It is essential that we, as historians who want a complete picture of the history of our state, do the work – the digging through newspapers, letters, photographs, and interviews; the comparing, analyzing, interpreting, writing, posting, and publishing; and the pushing back, organizing, and speaking up – to tell these stories at the local level.  These are the stories that in turn inform the national narrative of who we are as Americans and world citizens.  Half the story is missing!

Write an article, make a podcast, start a blog, edit a Wikipedia page, and join us for the Hoosier Women at Work Conference to hear speakers on a myriad of women’s topics and get inspired to contribute to the Hoosier story.

The Hoosier Women at Work 2017 Conference: Science, Technology, and Medicine

On April 1, 2017, the Indiana Historical Bureau and the Indiana State Library will host a symposium on the history of Indiana women at work in the fields of science, technology, and medicine.  The one-day conference aims to expand the scholarship and ignite discussion on topics as diverse as inventors/inventions; medical breakthroughs; agriculture and technology; public health; sanitation; exposure to hazardous materials in the work place; access to medical care; hospitals; women’s access to training and employment in any of these fields; and the impact of science, technology, and medicine on complicating or improving women’s lives.

The keynote speaker is Sharra Vostral, Associate Professor of History, Purdue University and author of Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology. The conference will take place at the Indiana State Library and Historical Building in downtown Indianapolis and registration is open now. Visit www.in.gov/history/hoosierwomenatwork to register and check back for updates.

Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience Part Two

Melba Philips, photograph, n.d., University of Chicago News Office, accessed http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/04/041116.phillips.shtml
Melba Phillips, photograph, n.d., University of Chicago News Office, accessed University of Chicago News Office.

See Part One to learn about Phillips’s contributions to physics via the Oppenheimer-Phillips effect and her work to prevent the future use of atomic energy for war.

The Second World War, particularly the use of the atomic bomb, gave way to the Cold War. Living in the shadow of the threat of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union induced anxiety among many Americans. While Senator Joseph McCarthy became the public face of fear of homegrown communists, many other paranoid and xenophobic senators participated in the witch hunts. In 1950, Nevada Senator Pat McCarran sponsored the McCarran Internal Security Act, which allowed for investigation of “subversive activities;” made an “emergency” allowance for detaining people suspected of such activity; and even made picketing a courthouse a felony if it “intended” to obstruct proceedings. The act also provided for a five-member committee with the Orwellian title of the Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB), which was headed by McCarran and tasked with rooting out communists, communist-sympathizers, and other “subversives.” The SACB, or the McCarran Committee as it was more commonly called, went to work immediately.

Demonstrators demand repeal of the Smith and McCarran Acts, circa July 19, 1950, Los Angeles, Charlotta Bass / California Eagle Photograph Collection, 1880-1986, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research, http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15799coll102/id/1320
Demonstrators demand repeal of the Smith and McCarran Acts, circa July 19, 1950, Los Angeles, Charlotta Bass / California Eagle Photograph Collection, 1880-1986, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research.

In 1952, Melba Phillips was called to testify before the McCarran Committee of New York, the state version of the U.S. congressional committee, on her political activity. She was called because of her involvement with the Teachers Union. According to an October 14, 1952 New York Times article, a witness claiming to be “a former Communist official” testified that “he helped set up secret units of Communist teachers” and that “300 of the 500 dues-paying Communist teachers in this city went into a secret set-up whose top unit consisted of leaders of the Teachers Union.” Several prominent New York teachers refused to confirm or deny communist leanings, while outside of the courthouse students and teachers gathered in protest, chanting “Pat McCarran, hit the sack. We want our professors back!”

According Dr. George Salzman, a University of Massachusetts at Boston professor who was a student of Phillips’s at that time ,

“She let the Committee counsel know that her lineage went back to the Mayflower, and she wasn’t about to take part in the witch hunt.”

Phillips was subsequently fired from her university positions due to a law which required the termination of any New York City employee who invoked the Fifth Amendment. Bonner explained, “McCarran was a specialist at putting people in the position in which they had to invoke the Fifth Amendment. It was a deliberate expression of the McCarthyism of the time.” In a 1977 interview, Phillips briefly discussed the incident (although she was reluctant because she was trying to keep the interviewer focused on her scientific accomplishments). She stated: “I was fired from Brooklyn College for failure to cooperate with the McCarran Committee, and I think that ought to go into the record . . . city colleges were particularly vulnerable, and the administration was particularly McCarthyite.” Phillips stated that she wasn’t particularly political. Her objection to cooperating had been a matter of principle.

New York Times, October 14, 1952, 1, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
New York Times, October 14, 1952, 1, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Phillips did not let her dismissal extinguish her passion for science education. While unemployed, she wrote two textbooks, which became university classroom standards: Classical Electricity and Magnetism (1955) and Principles of Physical Science (1957).

Melab Phillips and Francis T. Bonner, Principles of Physical Science (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1957)
Melba Phillips and Francis T. Bonner, Principles of Physical Science (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1957).

In 1957, Phillips became the associate director of the Academic Year Institute of Washington University in St. Louis, a teacher-training school.  Her appointment came at the behest of Edward Condon who had also been named as a security risk by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s. On Condon’s decision to hire her, Phillips stated, “there was much discrimination against people who had had any trouble of a ‘political’ kind, and it took a lot of courage, It took courage to hire any of the people in trouble during that time.”

Edward Condon, photograph, n.d., accessed National Institute of Standards and Technology, https://www.nist.gov/news-events/events/2016/01/government-science-cold-war-america-edward-condon-and-transformation-nbs
Edward Condon, photograph, n.d., accessed National Institute of Standards and Technology.

At the institute she developed programs instructing high school teachers about how to teach elementary science and physics. She remained at Washington until 1962 when she joined the faculty of the University of Chicago. Among her accomplishments there, she worked to make science accessible to non-science majors. She also made laboratory work an important part of the student experience. She explained that “we worked very hard in our laboratory in Chicago . . . unless the students get ‘hands on,’ it seems they don’t fully understand the material.”

In 1966, she became president of the American Association of Physics Teachers, of which she had been a member since 1943. This respected organization was founded in 1930 as “a professional membership association of scientists dedicated to enhancing the understanding and appreciation of physics through teaching.” Phillips became not only AAPT’s first female president, but one of its most memorable and effective leaders. Phillips was proud of the work of the organization and wrote the official History of the AAPT. She worked to make physics more important to teachers at the high school level in addition to college. She stated,

“The people in the universities whose future depends on their writing more and more research papers have very little patience with the problems of education at a lower level. This has to do in part with why the Association of Physics Teachers ever got started.”

Phillips remained at the University of Chicago until she retired as Professor Emerita in 1972. Even after her retirement from the University of Chicago, she continued to teach at other schools as a visiting professor. She taught at the State University of New York, Stony Brook from 1972 to 1975, and at the Chinese Academy of Science in Beijing in 1980. Phillips was awarded more honors than can be mentioned without compiling an extensive list. Notably, however, in 1981, the AAPT awarded her the first Melba Phillips Award, created in her honor, “for exceptional contributions to physics education.”

book
Image courtesy of alibris.com.

In 1987, Brooklyn College publicly apologized for firing Phillips, and in 1997 created a scholarship in her name. Melba Phillips died on November 8, 2004 in Petersburg, Indiana at the age of 97. The New York Times referred to Phillips in her obituary as “a pioneer in science education” and noted that “at a time when there were few women working as scientists, Dr. Phillips was leader among her peers.” Her accomplishments helped pave the way for other women in the sciences. In a 1977 interview, Phillips addressed the problems women face in aspiring to science careers an a 1977 interview, stating:

We’re not going to solve them, but, as I’ve been saying all the time; if we make enough effort, we’ll make progress; and I think progress has been made. We sometimes slip back, but we never quite slip all the way back; or we never slip back to the same place. There’s a great deal of truth in saying that progress is not steady no matter how inevitable.

Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience Part One

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Indiana native Melba Newell Phillips pioneered new physics theories, studied under the famous J. Robert Oppenheimer, worked passionately to improve science education, and advocated for women’s place at the forefront of science research. After the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II, Phillips and other scientists organized to prevent future nuclear wars.  She took a great hit to her career during the Cold War as she stood up for the freedom to dissent in the oppressive atmosphere of McCarthyism. Colleagues and students have noted her “intellectual honesty, self-criticism, and style,” and called her “a role model for principle and perseverance.”

Phillips was born February 1, 1907 in Hazleton, Gibson County. According to Women in Physics, Phillips graduated from high school at 15, earned a B.S. from Oakland City College in Indiana, taught for one year at her former high school, and went on to graduate school. In 1928, she earned a master’s degree in physics from Battle Creek College in Michigan and stayed there to teach for two years. In 1929 she attended summer sessions on quantum mechanics at the University of Michigan under Edward U. Condon.  When she sought Condon’s help on a physics problem, her solution, rather than his, ended up being the correct one. This led to a lifelong friendship and Condon recommended Phillips for further graduate study at the University of California, Berkley. Here she pursued graduate research under Oppenheimer and earned her Ph.D. in 1933. Within a few years she was known throughout the physics world because of her contribution to the field via the Oppenheimer-Phillips effect.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, photograph, in Ray Monk, Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2014)
J. Robert Oppenheimer, photograph, in Ray Monk, Inside the Centre: The Life of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2014)

The 1935 Oppenheimer-Phillips Effect explained “what was at the time unexpected behavior of accelerated deuterons (nuclei of deuterium, or ‘heavy hydrogen’ atoms) in reactions with other nuclei,” according to a University of Chicago press release. When Oppenheimer died in 1967, his New York Times obituary noted his and Phillips’s discovery as a “basic contribution to quantum theory.” Manhattan Project scientist and professor emeritus of chemistry at the State University of New York, Stony Brook Francis Bonner explained in the release that normally such an accomplishment, now considered “one of the classics of early nuclear physics, “would have meant a faculty appointment. However, Phillips received no such appointment, perhaps due in part to the Great Depression, but also likely because of her gender.

Oppenheimer-Phillips Effect

Instead, Phillips left Berkley to teach briefly at Bryn Mawr College (PA), the Institute for Advanced Study (NJ), and the Connecticut College for Women. On February 16, 1936, the New York Times reported that she was one of six women to receive research fellowships for the 1936-1937 academic year as announced by the American Association of University Women.  The announcement read: “Melba Phillips, research fellow at Bryn Mawr, received the Margaret E. Maltby fellowship of $1,500 for research on problems of the application of quantum mechanics to nuclear physics.”

New York Times, February 16, 1936, N6, ProQuest Historical New York Times
New York Times, February 16, 1936, N6, ProQuest Historical New York Times

In October of 1937 Phillips served as a delegate to the fall conference of the association at Harvard, where the discussion centered around the prejudices against women scientists that halted not only their careers, but scientific progress more generally. According to a 1937 New York Times article, Dr. Cecelia Gaposchkin, a Harvard astronomer, detailed the “bitter disappointments and discouragements” that faced women professionals in the field of science.  Certainly, Phillips related, as her career moved forward slowly despite her achievements in physics.

Pupin Physics Laboratory, Columbia University, "Short History of Columbia Physics," accessed http://physics.columbia.edu/about-us/short-history-columbia-physics
Pupin Physics Laboratory, Columbia University, “Short History of Columbia Physics,” accessed http://physics.columbia.edu/about-us/short-history-columbia-physics

Finally, in 1938, she received a permanent teaching position at Brooklyn College. In 1944, she also began research at the Columbia University Radiation Laboratory. Phillips was highly regarded as a teacher and Bonner noted she became “a major figure in science education” who “stimulated many students who went on from there to very stellar careers.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. officially entered World War II with the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. No previous war had been so dependent on the role of science and technology. From coding machines to microwave radar to advances in rocket technology, scientists were in demand by the war effort.

In July 1945, the Manhattan Project scientists successfully detonated an atomic bomb in the desert of Los Alamos, New Mexico.  In August 1945, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, forcing the country to surrender and effectively ending World War II. Over 135,000 people were killed in Hiroshima and 64,000 in Nagasaki.  Many thousands more died from fires, radiation, and illness. While a horrified public debated whether the bomb saved further causalities by ending the war or whether it was fundamentally immoral, scientists also dealt with remorse and responsibility.

atomic-bomb
Leslie Jones, “1st Atomic Bomb Test,” photograph, Boston Public Library

Henry Stimson, Secretary of War in the Truman administration, stated, “this deliberate, premeditated destruction was our least abhorrent choice.” Oppenheimer, however, reflected, “If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and of Hiroshima.” More bluntly, Oppenheimer told Truman, “Mr. President, I feel I have blood on my hands.” Many physicists retreated to academia, but some became politically active, especially in regard to preventing further destruction through scientific invention.

Representing the Association of New York Scientists, Phillips and leading Manhattan Project scientists helped organize the first Federation of American Scientists meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1945. The goal of the Federation was to prevent further nuclear war. That same year Phillips served as an officer in the American Association of Scientific Workers, an organization working to involve scientists in government and politics, to educate the public in the science, and to stand against the misapplication of science by industry and government. On August 16, 1945 the New York Times reported that Phillips and the other officers of the Association signed a letter to President Truman giving “eight recommendations to help prevent the use of atomic bombs in future warfare and to facilitate the application of atomic energy to peacetime uses.”

By the end of the 1940s, Melba Phillips’s accomplishments in physics and science education were well-known throughout the academic physics community. However, by the early 1950s, she was accused of being affiliated with communist subversives and fired from her university positions.  What happened to this Hoosier physics pioneer?

Find out with Part Two, Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience.