“King of Ghouls” Rufus Cantrell & Grave-Robbing in Indianapolis

Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 29, 1902, 1.

In the fall of 1902, a crime syndicate was uncovered in the city of Indianapolis – not a syndicate of gambling, booze, or other illicit activities. No, this was a gang of “ghouls,” or men who robbed graves and sold bodies to medical schools on the black market.

Practitioners of this trade have been called many things – grave robbers, body snatchers, resurrection men, ghouls. Regardless of what they go by, they have a long and dark history tied inextricably to the advancement of medical science. In the 14th century, a professor at the University of Bologna began teaching anatomy using dissection as a tool of instruction. Soon after, four students at the university committed the first documented case of body snatching. The need for corpses had outpaced the legal means of obtaining them, driving students to procure cadavers by unlawful means. The rest, as they say, is history.

Anatomical Dissection Scene, courtesy of Thomas Jefferson University.

As medical education advanced, the need for human specimens rose at a dramatic pace. For centuries, however, the supply was met mostly by legal means – largely, the remains of criminals condemned to death. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries a confluence of two factors – a reduction of executions and the proliferation of medical schools – created a massive shortage. One which would be filled by a barely underground network of so-called “Resurrection Men.”

While illegal, the practice of stealing corpses to sell to medical schools often went unprosecuted as it was perceived as being “for the greater good.” The dissection of cadavers – weather obtained legally or otherwise – has been used to train new physicians in anatomy, lending them an unprecedented level of understanding of the human body.  This, along with the fact that most of the victims were poor or people of color also helped law enforcement turn a blind eye. However, as the practice continued and more prominent families were victimized by the traumatizing act, states began expanding the legal channels through which medical schools could procure specimens. These acts are referred to as anatomy laws.

Indiana’s first anatomy law was enacted in 1879, perhaps not-so-coincidentally a year after the grave of John Scott Harrison, son of former President William Henry Harrison and father of future President Benjamin Harrison, was robbed and his body discovered at the Ohio Medical College. The 1879 law provided that:

the body of any person who shall die in any state, city or county prison, or jail, or county asylum or infirmary, or public hospital, within this State, shall remain unclaimed. . .for twenty-four hours after death. . .may be used as a subject for anatomical dissection and scientific examination.

While the law was meant to provide a morally sound avenue for medical schools to obtain bodies for dissection,  that avenue still took advantage of the poor and mentally ill as it was highly unlikely that any of the deceased were ever given the opportunity to consent to their remains being used in this way.

Central College of Physician and Surgeons in Indianapolis, circa 1902, courtesy of IUPUI University Libraries.

But even with this law in place, there were still sometimes shortages. The early 20th century was one of those times. In 1902, at least five institutions in Indianapolis needed a steady supply of corpses. As the winter semester of the 1902-03 school year approached, these institutions vied for the inadequate lawful supply and eventually turned to the black market to fill their needs.

Mug shot of Rufus Cantrell, courtesy of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration.

Dominating the black market was Rufus Cantrell. Having been a driver, porter, clerk, and even an undertaker, in 1902, he added a new title: The King of Ghouls. He, along with approximately seven other men, ran one of the most successful body-snatching syndicates in the city. According to the September 30, 1902 issue of the Indianapolis Journal:

He did not use hooks in pulling out corpses, as was done years ago. He only used hooks when a corpse was fastened in a coffin. Instead of digging down at the head of the grave, as was the former custom, he adopted the plan of digging in the center. The covering of the box was then sawed through and the small lid on the coffin shoved back. No lights are used by the ghouls . . . except an occasional match, which is lighted down in the grave.

It was hard, grim, and dirty work, but it paid off. Cantrell reported that between July and September of 1902, he and each of his men had earned $420 from their nighttime exploits, nearly as much as the average American made in a whole year. But their profits wouldn’t last long.

At least three different Indianapolis residents received anonymous tips that the graves of their recently buried loved ones may be found empty. Upon further investigation, the families discovered that this was indeed the case, and, more horrifying still, they discovered the missing remains in the basement of the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons. Panic gripped the city as newspapers published these stories. Families began guarding the graves of their recently interred relatives. Citizens called for investigations. Detectives staked out cemeteries and medical schools, waiting for the Ghouls to show themselves.

Indianapolis Journal, September 20, 1902, 3.

However, a break came from an unexpected source. A pawnbroker by the name of Emil Mantel grew suspicious of a customer after loaning him $28 in return for four shotguns. Mantel contacted his attorney, Taylor Gronniger for advice on the situation. When Mantel gave the name of the suspicious customer as Rufus Cantrell, Gronniger connected the dots. He had heard rumors about Cantrell’s unsavory practices, and here Cantrell was, pawning off more shotguns than any one person would need – shotguns that could be used to scare off any unwanted observers intruding on illegal happenings – and just when the grave robbing business was too hot to continue. So, Gronniger relayed his hunch to Detectives Asch and Manning of the Indianapolis Police Department. By the end of the next day, the detectives had arrested Rufus Cantrell and six of his associates and extracted full, corroborating confessions from each man.

Cantrell, the leader of the “gang of ghouls,” gave his confession in excruciating detail, seemingly proud of his escapades. He and his assistants had plied their gruesome trade at Crown Hill Cemetery, the German Catholic graveyard, Mount Jackson Cemetery, Traders Point Cemetery, and the Old Anderson graveyard, as well as the cemetery at the Central Indiana hospital for the Insane, where, Cantrell confessed, he and his posse had emptied over 100 graves.

Dr. Joseph Alexander, Indianapolis News, February 13, 1903, 13.

He went on to implicate Dr. Joseph Alexander of the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons as his principal buyer. However, while most medical men simply feigned ignorance of the source for the bodies they were buying, Cantrell described Alexander as playing a much more hands-on role in the operation. Not only did Alexander knowingly buy stolen bodies, he identified potential targets, accompanied Cantrell on scouting missions, and even joined the gang in their nightly expeditions. Alexander was arrested, but quickly posted bail.

As Cantrell’s confessions continued, more empty graves were unearthed. The various medical schools around the city were searched thoroughly, but the bodies were nowhere to be found. Detectives Asch and Manning received a tip that Dr. Alexander had commissioned twenty pine boxes from a local box-builder to be delivered to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons just days after the arrests had been made. This seemed like just the break they were looking for – surely the boxes had to be connected to the missing bodies. However, upon further investigation, it was discovered that Central College was in the process of moving locations and the boxes had been commissioned for the mundane purpose of packing away delicate medical instruments.

Indianapolis Journal, October 14, 1902, 10.

In mid-October, just as a grand jury was called to make indictments in the case, the mystery of the missing bodies was solved, at least in part. On October 14, 1902, the Indianapolis Journal reported:

Amos Smith . . . on his way to work, yesterday morning about 6 o’clock, partially cleared up the mystery of the bodies recently spirited away from the medical colleges. He found two bodies tied in sacks in a dry goods box at the side of Hibben, Holloweg & Co.’s store . . . The same young man, in walking farther south noticed two more bodies at the rear door of the Central Medical College.

After being positively identified by family members, there was speculation that a competing medical college in the city had disposed of the bodies near the Central Medical College in an attempt to throw all suspicion on that institution while dissuading further investigation. While these grizzly details were being spread in newspapers throughout the city, the grand jury received its instructions and began hearing testimony in the case. By the end of the grand jury’s investigation, twenty-five indictments were handed down and allegations had been made against seventy-five different people who were all part of three additional body-snatching syndicates in the city. Among the indicted were Cantrell and his associates, Dr. Alexander, four physicians from other schools, cemetery workers who facilitated the robberies, and various low-ranking employees of medical schools who had played some small part in the operation.

Indianapolis News, February 5, 1903, 3.

After several delays, the first Ghoul Gang trial, that of Dr. Joseph Alexander, began in early February. Alexander’s defense attorney’s strategy seemed to be to cast as much doubt on the character of the star witness, Rufus Cantrell, as possible. First, they attempted to link him to the unsolved murder of a Chinese immigrant who had been killed a year earlier. When that didn’t stick, the defense brought into question the sanity of the King of the Ghouls by introducing evidence that Cantrell had been diagnosed with epilepsy, at that time a broad diagnosis encompassing several mental illnesses.

Multiple physicians were brought to testify on Cantrell’s mental health. Each in turn pronounced Cantrell “insane.” Cantrell and the state begged to differ. Upon cross examination, each doctor admitted to having ties, past or present, to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons, the same college which employed Dr. Joseph Alexander. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Coincidence or not, the evidence presented by the defense seems to have been enough to sway at least some of the jurors. The February 16, 1903 issue of the Indianapolis Journal reported:

Dr. Joseph C. Alexander’s status in the community is unchanged. He is neither the convicted felon of the heinous crime of complicity with ghouls and neither is he wholly absolved from the accusations made against him by the state’s attorney. . . Yesterday morning at 10 o’clock, after deliberating since the same hour Friday morning, the jury reported through its foreman . . . that it had not arrived at a verdict and undoubtedly would be unable to do so, and it was discharged from further service.

The result of one of the most anticipated trials of the year resulted in a hung jury. While the state’s attorney promised a retrial, it never came to fruition. Cantrell, who had all along hoped that his cooperation would result in a lighter sentence, saw the writing on the wall and refused to testify in the retrial. With their star witness gone, the state had little evidence against the doctor – or any of the other four physicians originally indicted, who had maintained their innocence throughout and whose only accuser was the now silent Cantrell. The next big trial was that of the King Ghoul himself.

Taking a page from Dr. Alexander, Cantrell’s defense team entered a plea of insanity at the onset of the trial. The state, of course, used the testimony of Cantrell himself given in interviews with police as well as during the grand jury investigation. The question of the trial was not if Cantrell had robbed graves, but why? Was he a greedy criminal just trying to make a buck, or was he criminally insane?

To make the case for the latter, Cantrell’s own mother was put on the stand. Through her testimony, the defense told the jury:

that they proposed to show Cantrell to be insane . . . that while Cantrell lived in Gallatin, Tenn., from the age of one to fifteen years, he suffered from epilepsy; that when twelve years old he was thrown from a horse and his head was injured; that when he was ten or twelve years old he had a delusion that he was called by God to preach, and told his friends that he talked with God face to face; that while at work in the field he would kneel at the plow and pray and preach from a Biblical text; that he still suffers from delusions and in the jail has preached to prisoners; that when taunted by his friends in Tennessee over his inability to preach he would become profane and once assaulted a minister with his tongue when he refused to ordain him; that he has a violent temper and has attempted the lives of himself and others; that he delighted to call himself the “King of the Bryan campaign,” and had cards printed with the words, ‘Rufus Cantrell – the Democratic hero;’ that he suffered a sunstroke in Indianapolis, which incapacitated him for work in hot places, and that he succumbed to heat while employed in the Malleable iron works. All these things, Cantrell’s attorneys would prove.

It should be noted that traumatic brain injuries can affect the mental health of those who experience them – they can cause mood swings, agitation, combativeness, and other cognitive symptoms. And both epilepsy and sunstroke were used in the 19th century to describe various mental illnesses. That being said, it’s difficult to tell from newspaper reports alone how much the testimony given was exaggerated in an attempt to keep Cantrell out of jail. After all, he did deny having any mental illness during the trial of Dr. Alexander.

Yet another topic that may have played a part in the trial, and certainly played a part in the sensationalized coverage of the case, is race. Rufus Cantrell and his associates were all Black men. Alexander and the other physicians, all of whom would eventually walk free, were white.  It’s important to note that people of color, facing systematic discrimination, were often driven to find income in alternative ways. These alternative ways were, in some cases, illegal. This could have influenced Cantrell’s decision to enter the profession of grave robbing. However, there were gangs of white ghouls in the city working right alongside Cantrell’s gang – grave robbing was a lucrative business if you could get past your moral qualms.

So, the influence of race on Cantrell choosing this line of work isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is that his associates, and not the white physicians, were prosecuted for their crimes. It’s also clear that newspapers took every chance they could to point out the race of the accused. In the end, race can’t not have played a role in the trial, but it’s difficult to tell through reports – all written for white newspapers – how extensive that role was.

Indianapolis Journal, April 26, 1903, 8.

On April 26, 1903, Rufus Cantrell, the King of the Ghouls, was found guilty of two charges and sentenced to three to ten years in the Jeffersonville State Reformatory. In the end, Cantrell and four of his associates were convicted and sentenced to between one and ten years each. The twenty other men indicted by the Grand Jury were cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence.

Convictions weren’t the only thing to emerge from this tale, though. The system of public institutions delivering the unclaimed bodies of the deceased directly to medical schools was clearly not working as desired. As a result of this and other similar trials, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Anatomical Education Act in 1903, establishing the State Anatomical Board, which would oversee the distribution of bodies to medical schools. The State Anatomical Board is still in existence today, continuing to oversee the distribution of donated bodies to medical schools. According to anatomist Sanjib Kumar Ghosh, body donation constitutes the sole source of cadavers used in teaching anatomy in the vast majority of the world, including in the United States. Learn more about the history of dissection here.

Find all sources for this blog post here.

The Debate over “Decency:” How Hoosiers Challenged Anita Bryant’s Anti-Gay Rights Crusade

Advertisement, Indianapolis Star, October 1, 1977, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.

Pop singer, evangelical Christian, and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant symbolized the contentious battle over American civil rights and national mores in 1977. Grounded in her religious convictions, she launched the “Save Our Children” campaign, which led to the repeal of a Dade County ordinance that would protect the rights of homosexual residents. That October, Bryant flew to Indianapolis to perform and spread her anti-gay rights message at the “Rally for Decency,” alongside controversial southern pastor Jerry Falwell Sr. and Indiana lawmaker Don Boys, who planned to introduce a bill at the 1978 legislative session that would criminalize sodomy.[1]

From the moment Bryant’s plane touched down to the second she departed the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum, Hoosier journalists and activists pressed Bryant on her opposition to the employment of gay teachers and her advocacy of gay conversion therapy. Like in Indianapolis, her visits to Fort Wayne and South Bend later that month were met with protest, albeit characteristically polite in nature. One of the nation’s leading gay rights activists at the time, Bob Kunst, credited Anita Bryant’s 1977 crusade with forwarding the gay rights movement by normalizing discussions about homosexuality.[2]

Indeed, her efforts to keep gay individuals from obtaining their rights inspired organized resistance in Indiana. The Michiana Human Rights Coalition formed in direct response to her appearance in South Bend. Her visits to the Hoosier state also catalyzed support for gay rights from those outside of the queer community, many of whom may not have given much thought to the plight of this minority group previously. Catholic and cisgender University of Notre Dame Library employee Charles Early explained why he protested her performance on campus in The South Bend Tribune, noting “I joined in a demonstration opposing Anita Bryant on an issue which did not affect me personally because I believe that the spirit which she represents is ultimately a threat to everyone’s rights.”[3]

Here, we examine Hoosier protest to Bryant’s 1977 visits and how similar resistance across the country effectively ended her entertainment career, resulted in the loss of lucrative endorsement deals, and reflected changing national mores.


Schlafly at the Illinois State Capitol, June 19, 1978, photo: Bettman/Getty Images, accessed Town and Country.

It could be said that the conflicting movements of 1977 constituted a fight for the nation’s soul. Journalist Gloria Steinem, bearing her trademark aviator eyeglasses, mobilized feminists in support of women’s reproductive rights and long-awaited ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would guarantee equal legal rights for women. Leading counter-protests, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, “STOP ERA” button dutifully pinned to her lapel, rallied “pro-family” troops at the White House.[4] Occupying the same battlefield as Schlafly was Anita Bryant, who shared her desire to quell the winds of cultural change and safeguard “traditional” American family values. Of this resistance, Early theorized “Many people today are frightened and disturbed by the unrest and rapid change in American society, and they want to go back to a time when things were simpler and more understandable.”[5]

While Steinem and Schlafly sparred over the role and rights of women, Bryant focused on safeguarding the American family by suppressing the rights of gay Americans. Fearing her children would be exposed to the “perversion” of gay teachers, she successfully led a movement to repeal a Dade County, Florida ordinance that would prohibit teachers from being fired due to their sexual orientation.[6]

The Works (May 1985), 31, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives.

Anita and her husband Bob Green insisted that they loved gay individuals, so much so that they dedicated themselves to converting them to heterosexuality in order to save them from hell and the “sad” lifestyle they lived. Green recalled:

‘When we were kids, we used to say if a guy was a homosexual, all we had to do was fix him up with a girl and the next day he’d be heterosexual. . . . Well it’s not like that. Anita and I have led many, many homosexuals to the light. But it’s a slow process. It’s an area of sin Christians need to work on.’[7]

Feeling no love from the devout Christian couple was Ernest Rumbarger, an Indianapolis resident and gay contributor to The Works. He recalled that in the 1970s gay men “were finally learning how to communicate with each other in a social setting other than bars” and that “Gay businesses as such were beginning to flourish and, all in all, things seemed to be going rather well.”  That is, until Anita Bryant undertook her “Save Our Children” campaign. Indianapolis police officers arrested Rumbarger and two other men in 1977 for homosexual prostitution in Indianapolis. Rumbarger wrote that he and his partner were two of Bryant’s “better known local victims. We were taken from our home in the middle of the night and held for eight days in jail, incommunicado.” Despite receiving no assistance from the Indiana Civil Liberties Union or Gay People’s Union, a grand jury found Rumbarger not guilty and reportedly offered him an “unsolicited public apology.” The Hoosier wrote “On either coast we would have been carried through the streets and hailed as national heroes” for his triumph over persecution.[8]

The Daily Journal (Franklin, Ind.), October 8, 1977, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

As Bryant’s campaign emboldened harassment of queer individuals, Hoosier allies mounted resistance to her October 7 visit to Indianapolis. The day before the “Rally for Decency,” the Indiana Coalition for Human Rights hosted a news conference, attended by representatives of the Metropolitan Community Church of Indianapolis, Gay People’s Union, and the Sex Information and Education Council of Indiana. Coalition spokesperson Mary Byrne told the press that allies would picket Bryant’s performance “because she represents a force for evil and persecution. She has inflamed irrational prejudices and fostered fear and hatred.” Attending the protest would be Baptist minister Rev. Jeanine C. Rae, who believed that fundamentalists’ attempts to legislate sexuality threatened the separation of church and state. She argued that withholding human rights from certain communities “‘limits the freedom of all persons-including white heterosexual Baptists.'”[9]

Immediately after arriving at the Indianapolis International Airport on the day of her performance, Anita participated in a press conference, looking, in the words of journalist Robert Reed, “very much like an aging but attractive president of the local PTA.” She and her husband fielded questions about her work to repeal the Dade County ordinance, which she felt afforded gay individuals “special privileges” and would allow them to flaunt homosexuality in the classroom.[10] She believed “God put homosexuals in the same category as murderers, thieves and drunks. Homosexuality is a sin and I’m against all sin. I’m also against laws that give respectability and sanction to these types of individuals.”[11] Her crusade against these laws, she alleged, incited a “national conspiracy” against her. She reported receiving bomb threats and the loss of product endorsements. Reed wrote that her statements were ill-received by journalists, who left the press conference while she was still talking.[12]

Protesters at the Fairgrounds, Indianapolis Star, October 8, 1977, 32, accessed Newspapers.com.

That night, the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum thrummed with cheers and “Amens” as approximately 7,000 attendees absorbed the words of speakers who outlined their plans to “restore decency” in America. The Martinsville Reporter-Times noted that the event “took on the aura of a political rally and a Baptist revival.”[13] Local pastors emphasized the need to elect officials who supported causes like “Save Our Children,” some of whom sat in that very coliseum. Greenwood Rep. Donald Boys advocated for his anti-sodomy law, to be introduced the following year, and for lawmakers to expunge the Equal Rights Amendment. After his bill failed to pass in 1976, the persistent lawmaker wrote, “‘This is the day of equal rights unless you happen to be a Christian, conservative, white male, creationist.’”[14]

Outside of the coliseum, 500 protesters bore the rain, carrying dampened signs that read “Straights for gay rights” and “A day without human rights is a day without sunshine”— a play on the Florida Citrus Commission’s “Breakfast without orange juice is like a day without sunshine” slogan.[15] Protesters included Fritz Lieber, co-chairman of the Indiana Coalition for Human Rights, who lost his teaching position for being gay. Mary Hoffman, her husband, and three kids also attended the demonstration, believing that Bryant’s message “‘parallels McCarthyism, the Ku Klux Klan and Hitler.'” As protesters stoically made their presence known, Rev. Jerry Falwell quipped on the stage, “It’s a shame it’s raining. It might wash off their make up.”[16]

Bryant on stage at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, Indianapolis Star, October 8, 1977, 32, accessed Newspapers.com.

When at last Bryant took the stage, the audience was rapt, hanging onto every word she sang. She occasionally punctuated her religious and patriotic songs with oration—like warning the audience that “if parents don’t rise up and set standards for our children, the humanists, the ultra-liberals and the militant homosexuals will”—which inspired several standing ovations.[17] After her performance, the polarizing figure departed for Nashville, but the momentum generated at the rally carried over to the next day, when a parade of 500, led by U.S. Marine Cleve McClary, marched to Monument Circle. There, 2,000 Hoosiers joined them for an “encore” rally to “restore decency.” Local pastor Earl Lawson, who worked to reform homosexual individuals and sex workers, declared that he would organize similar rallies across the state.[18]

Opponents responded to the continued rallies through the press. Indianapolis newspapers printed an advertisement compiled by sixty-three clergy protesting “the crusade against persons with homosexual orientation.” A few days after the rally, Jerry Briscoe wrote to the Indianapolis News editor that Bryant’s judgment of others “has become devastating to their existence” and contradicted Christian theology. He stated, “God is our ultimate judge—that is, of course, before Anita Bryant came along.”[19]

Athletic and Convocation Center, University of Notre Dame, South Bend Tribune, October 28, 1977, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Hoosiers, joined by Cleveland and Chicago activists, again mounted resistance to Bryant when she returned to Indiana at the end of the month. The Michiana Human Rights Coalition formed ahead of her October 26th concert at the University of Notre Dame, with the motto that “All God’s Chillun Gotta Sing.” Protesters planned to march with signs bearing Bible verses and Shakespearean quotes reaffirming human rights.[20] That evening, only 500 of the arena’s 10,000 seats were occupied. The South Bend Tribune reported that Bryant, who led the audience in prayer for gay individuals, unwed couples living together, and divorced couples, “seemed lost in the vastness of the Athletic and Convocation Center.” The number of protesters, both in support of and opposition to Bryant, nearly matched that of concert-goers.[21]

About two weeks before her Notre Dame performance, a protester threw a pie at Bryant during a press conference in Des Moines, Iowa. Her face eclipsed by whipped cream, Bryant tried to pray for the man before breaking down into tears.[22] South Bend demonstrators determined to make their opinions known peacefully and by demonstrating love. They went so far as to invite Bryant to a “gay” reception in her honor, to which she declined. In lieu of pie, they gave her a bouquet of roses and dropped petals at the feet of counter-protesters.[23]

Charles Early, “Counter-protesters at Bryant Concert Warped by Hatred,” The South Bend Tribune, November 7, 1977, 15, accessed Newspapers.com.

According to Catholic Notre Dame employee Charles Early, the same kindness was not exhibited by counter-protesters, one of whom spat on the seven-year-old daughter of a Michiana Coalition leader. However, Early alleged the “fiasco” that was the concert showed a growing acceptance of the marginalized community.[24] Just three days later, demonstrators picketed Bryant’s performance at Fort Wayne’s Embassy Theater for the 60th anniversary celebration of the Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co. Some carried signs saying “Gay is Okay” and “Anita Bryant is Proof Orange Juice Causes Brain Damage.”[25]

Bryant was met with similar protests across the country and nationwide boycotts of orange juice, endorsed by entertainment titans like Barbara Streisand, John Waters, and Mary Tyler Moore.[26] Gay bars swapped orange juice for apple in screwdriver cocktails. The backlash effectively ended her entertainment career and endorsement deals. She reportedly lost $500,000 in television contracts, was no longer booked for performances, and lost her years-long endorsement deal with the Florida Citrus Commission.[27] Bryant’s crusade ultimately backfired and activists credit her with bringing the issue of gay rights to the forefront. One South Bend Tribune editorial noted that she “stirred a reaction among those whose awareness of and sympathy with the problem previously was minimal but who automatically throw up mental defenses against extremism.” The author wrote that her campaign also prompted examination of the “psychological and physical complexity of homosexuality.”[28]

Bryant promoting Florida orange juice, accessed South Florida Gay News.

In Louisville, Bryant’s crusade inspired some gay and lesbian residents to cautiously come out of the closet.  The thought that “‘We’re all monsters'” inspired one man to be open about his sexuality.[29] Another man interviewed noted that “Anita has made gays aware of themselves.” Reflecting increasingly-tolerant attitudes, that November Harvey Milk became the first openly-gay elected official in California, when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He introduced a gay rights ordinance similar to that which officials repealed in Dade County.[30]

By 1980, Anita Bryant was divorced and financially depleted.[31] Five years earlier, she described the agony of choosing whether to prioritize her family and Christian faith over a career in entertainment.[32] Although she experienced “depressions and doubts, caused by the many sides of me coming into conflict,” prayer revealed to her that she must relinquish ambition and submit to a life of service to her family and Christ. Now shunned by Christian fundamentalists for leaving her marriage, perhaps she related to the lyrics of a song she performed in 1964:

The world is full of lonely people
I know because I’m one of them [33]


Celebrations resounded in courthouses across the country in 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans in all states.[34] But the 2015 enactment of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the 2018 firing of a Roncalli High School guidance counselor upon discovery of her same-sex marriage, again set off passionate debate about religious and civil rights.[35] The events of October 1977 demonstrate that Hoosiers have historically participated in the debate and protested for what they believe is right.

Notes:
* All newspaper articles accessed via Newspapers.com.

[1] Mike Ellis, “‘Standards Must Be Set by Parents,'” Indianapolis News, October 8, 1977, 2.

[2] Interview, “Anita Bryant Confronted in 1977,” Who’s Who, accessed YouTube.

[3] Charles Early, “Counter-protesters at Bryant Concert Warped by Hatred,” South Bend Tribune, November 7, 1977, 15, accessed Newspapers.com.

[4] Karen Karbo, “How Gloria Steinem Became the ‘World’s Most Famous Feminist,'” March 25, 2019, accessed National Geographic.; Douglas Martin, “Phyllis Schlafly, ‘First Lady’ of a Political March to the Right, Dies at 92,” September 5, 2016, accessed New York Times.

[5] Early, “Counter-protesters at Bryant Concert Warped by Hatred.”

[6] Barney Seibert, “Perverts’ Hatred Makes Life Tough for Anita Bryant,” The Reporter-Times (Martinsville, IN), April 10, 1980, 5.

[7] Holly Miller, “‘Deliverance:’ Anita and Mate Tell Their Story,” Anderson Herald, October 8, 1977, 1.

[8] “3 Arrested in ’77 Freed of Charges,” Indianapolis Star, March 9, 1979, 20.; Editorial, E. Rumbarger, “What Do Hoosiers Have to Be Proud of?,” New Works News (June 1989), 4, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives.

[9] “Anita to Face Pickets Here,” Indianapolis News, October 6, 1977, 3.;  Jan Carroll, “Groups Call Miss Bryant Evil Force,” Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), October  7, 1977, 6.; “Protesters to Be on Hand to Picket Anti-Gay Rally,” Daily Journal (Franklin, IN), October 7, 1977, 5.

[10] Robert Reed, “Anita Bryant: She Draws Line for Hoosier Journalists,” Daily Journal (Franklin, IN), October 8, 1977, 2.

[11] Miller, “‘Deliverance:’ Anita and Mate Tell Their Story.”

[12] Reed, “Anita Bryant: She Draws Line for Hoosier Journalists.”

[13] “Protesters Picket Anita Bryant Decency Rally in Indianapolis,” Reporter-Times (Martinsville, IN), October 8, 1977, 1.

[14] Letter to the Editor, Donald Boys, State Representative, Reporter-Times (Martinsville, IN), June 9, 1977, 2.

[15] Ellis, “‘Standards Must Be Set by Parents.'”

[16] “Anita Stirs Emotions,” Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN), October 9, 1977, 9.; Ellis, “‘Standards Must Be Set by Parents.'”

[17] Ellis, “‘Standards Must Be Set by Parents.'”

[18] “‘Save Our Society’ Circle Rally Held,” Indianapolis Star, October 9, 1977, 59.

[19] “Anita Stirs Emotions,” Journal and Courier.; Letter to the Editor, Jerry Briscoe, “On Peaceful Coexistence,” Indianapolis News, October 10, 1977, 9.

[20] “Support Grows for Gay Rights, Promoter Says,” South Bend Tribune, October 26, 1977, 14.

[21] Edmund Lawler, “Anita Bryant Revival Draws 500 into ACC,” South Bend Tribune, October 28, 1977, 1.

[22] William Simbro, “Pie Shoved in Anita Bryant’s Face by Homosexual—She Cries,” Des Moines Register, October 16, 1977, 3.

[23] “Support Grows for Gay Rights, Promoter Says,” South Bend Tribune.; Jeanne Derbeck, “‘Gay’ Tactic: Show of Kindness,'” South Bend Tribune, October 17, 1977, 1.; Lawler, “Anita Bryant Revival Draws 500 into ACC.”

[24] Early, “Counter-protesters at Bryant Concert Warped by Hatred.”

[25] “Anita Picketed in Fort Wayne,” Indianapolis News, October 29, 1977, 15.

[26] Fred Fejes, “Gay Rights and Moral Panic: The origins of America’s Debate of Homosexuality (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), accessed Springer Link.

[27] Seibert, “Perverts’ Hatred Makes Life Tough for Anita Bryant.”; N.R. Kleinfield,” Tarnished Images: Publicity’s Great—Up to a Point,” Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA), May 26, 1981, 36.

[28] Editorial, “Anita’s Woes,” South Bend Tribune, October 31, 1977, 14.

[29] “Anita Bryant has Opened Doors for Gays,” The Courier-Journal (Louisville), October 6, 1977, 1, 4.

[30] “Milestones in the American Gay Rights Movement,” American Experience, accessed PBS.org.

[31] Seibert, “Perverts’ Hatred Makes Life Tough for Anita Bryant.”; Barry Bearak, “Turmoil Within  Ministry: Bryant Hears ‘Anita . . . Please Repent,” Miami Herald, June 8, 1980, 1A, 33A.; Steve Rothaus, “Bob Green: Anita’s Ex Paid Dearly in the Fight,” Steve Rothaus’ Gay South Florida, June 9, 2007, accessed Miami Herald.

[32] Alan Ebert, “For Easter: Anita Bryant’s Painful Progress Toward God,” Anderson Daily Bulletin, March 29, 1975, 30.

[33] Lyrics, “The World of Lonely People,” 1964, accessed Genius.com.

[34] Ed Payne, “Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act: What You Need to Know,” CNN, March 31, 2015, accessed CNN.com.; Bill Chappell, “Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal in All 50 States,” The Two-Way, June 26, 2015, accessed NPR.org.

[35] Arika Herron, “Shelly Fitzgerald, First Gay Guidance Counselor Suspended by Roncalli, Files Federal Suit,” IndyStar, October 22, 2019, accessed IndyStar.com.

THH Episode 39: Rufus Cantrell: King of Ghouls

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Transcript for Rufus Cantrell: King of Ghouls

Clark: Dear listener, some of the topics covered in this episode are of a slightly more gruesome nature than we typically cover here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re not in the mood for a tale of dissection, grave robbing, and body snatching, you might skip this one. Otherwise, let’s get to it.

Beckley: The fall of 1902 brought a series of mysterious happenings to the citizens of Indianapolis. An unsigned letter was slipped under the crack of a door while Mrs. Middleton attended church services. A shadowy stranger summoned Wesley Gates to a nearby carriage. An anonymous man telephoned Mason Neidlinger in the dead of night. All three of these people had something in common – they had each recently lost and buried a loved one. But that wasn’t all. They would soon realize that they were connected in an even more loathsome way – each was the victim of the “King of Ghouls.”

In this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we follow the exceptional case of confessed body snatcher Rufus Cantrell, who admitted to the desecration of more than of 100 graves around Indianapolis in 1902, and attempted to bring down some of the most prominent men in the city with him.

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

Grave Robbers. Body Snatchers. Resurrection Men. Ghouls. Whatever you want to call them, they have a long and dark history – one which is tied inextricably to the advancement of medical science. In the 14th century, a professor at the University of Bologna began teaching anatomy using dissection as a tool of instruction. Soon after, four students at the university committed the first documented case of body snatching– the need for corpses had outpaced the legal means of obtaining them, driving the students to procure cadavers by unlawful means. The rest, as they say, is history.

As medical education advanced, the need for human specimens rose at a dramatic pace. For centuries, however, the supply was met mostly by legal means – largely, the remains of criminals condemned to death. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries a confluence of two factors – a reduction of executions and the proliferation of medical schools – created a massive shortage. A shortage which would be filled by a barely underground network of so-called “Resurrection Men.”

While illegal, the practice of stealing corpses and selling them to medical schools often went unprosecuted as it was seen as being for the greater good. The fact that most of the victims were poor or people of color also helped law enforcement turn a blind eye. However, as the practice continued and more prominent families fell victim to the traumatizing act, states began expanding the legal channels through which medical schools could procure specimens. These acts were often referred to as anatomy laws.

Indiana’s first anatomy law came in 1879, perhaps not-so-coincidentally a year after the grave of John Scott Harrison, son of former president William Henry Harrison and father of future president Benjamin Harrison, was robbed and his body discovered at the Ohio Medical College. The 1879 law provided that:

Clark: “the body of any person who shall die in any state, city or county prison, or jail, or county asylum or infirmary, or public hospital, within this State, shall remain unclaimed . . . for twenty-four hours after death . . . may be used as a subject for anatomical dissection and scientific examination.”

Beckley: Basically, it provided a legal means of obtaining cadavers for dissection from tax-funded institutions, meaning even the lawful avenues for medical schools to obtain bodies for dissection took advantage of the poor and mentally ill. After all, it’s hard to imagine that any of these people were even given the opportunity to consent to their remains being used in this way. Even with this law in place, there were shortages from time to time. Apparently, the first years of the 20th century was one of those times. In 1902, there were at least five institutions in Indianapolis alone in need of a steady supply of corpses. As the winter semester of the 1902-1903 school year approached, these institutions vied for the inadequate lawful supply and eventually turned to the black market to fill their needs.

Enter Rufus Cantrell. Rufus Cantrell was a lot of things during his lifetime. A driver. A porter. A clerk. An undertaker. In 1902, he added a new title to that list: The King of Ghouls. He, along with approximately seven other men, ran one of the most successful body-snatching syndicates in the city. And he knew his business:

Clark: “He did not use hooks in pulling out corpses, as was done years ago. He only used hooks when a corpse was fastened in a coffin. Instead of digging down at the head of the grave, as was the former custom, he adopted the plan of digging in the center. The covering of the box was then sawed through and the small lid on the coffin shoved back. No lights are used by the ghouls . . . except an occasional match, which is lighted down in the grave.”

Beckley: It was hard, grim, and dirty work, but it paid off. Cantrell reported that between July and September of 1902, he and each of his men had earned $420 from their nighttime exploits– that’s nearly as much as the average American made in a whole year, in just three months. But the boom wasn’t to last long.

As those Indianapolis residents from the top of the show began receiving anonymous tips that the graves of their loved ones might be found empty upon inspection, a sense of anxiety gripped the city. When those residents and their friends and families dug up those graves and proved that they had been desecrated that anxiety turned to dread. Newspapers reported that families were guarding the graves of their recently interred relatives. Citizens called for investigations. Detectives staked out cemeteries and medical schools, just waiting for the Ghouls to show themselves.

But the break came from an unexpected source. A pawnbroker by the name of Emil Mantel grew suspicious of a customer after loaning him $28 in return for four shotguns. Mantel contacted his attorney, Taylor Gronniger, for advice on the situation. When Mantel gave the name of the suspicious customer as Rufus Cantrell, Gronniger connected the dots. He had heard rumors about Cantrell’s unsavory practices, and here he was, pawning off more shotguns than any one person would need – shotguns that could be used to scare off any unwanted observers intruding on illegal happenings – and this just when the grave robbing business was too hot to continue. It was too much of a coincidence. So, Gronniger relayed his hunch to Detectives Asch and Manning of the Indianapolis Police Department. By the end of the next day, the detectives had arrested Rufus Cantrell and six of his associates and extracted full, corroborating confessions from each man.

Cantrell, the leader of the “gang of ghouls,” gave his confession in excruciating detail – almost seeming proud of his escapades. He admitted that he and his assistants had plied their gruesome trade at Crown Hill, the German Catholic graveyard, Mount Jackson Cemetery, Traders Point Cemetery, and the Old Anderson graveyard, as well as the cemetery at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane where, Cantrell confessed:

Clark: “More than one hundred graves had been emptied of bodies.”

Beckley: He went on to implicate Dr. Joseph Alexander of the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons as his principal buyer. However, while most medical men simply feigned ignorance of the source for the bodies they were buying, Cantrell described Alexander as playing a much more hands-on role in the operation. Not only did Alexander knowingly buy stolen bodies, he identified potential targets, accompanied Cantrell on scouting missions, and even joined the gang in their nightly expeditions. Alexander was arrested, but quickly posted bail.

As Cantrell’s confessions continued, more empty graves were unearthed. The various medical schools in the city were searched thoroughly, but the bodies were nowhere to be found. Detectives Asch and Manning received a tip that Dr. Alexander had commissioned twenty pine boxes from a local box-builder – to be delivered to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons just days after the arrests had been made. Surely this would be the clue they were searching for. Surely in those boxes would lie the remains so cruelly disinterred by the gang of ghouls. But it was not to be.  Apparently, the Central College was in the process of moving locations and the boxes had been commissioned for the mundane purpose of packing away delicate medical instruments.

In mid-October, just as a grand jury was called to make indictments in the case, the mystery of the missing bodies was solved, at least in part:

Clark: “Amos Smith . . . on his way to work, yesterday morning about 6 o’clock, partially cleared up the mystery of the bodies recently spirited away from the medical colleges. He found two bodies tied in sacks in a dry goods box at the side of Hibben, Holloweg & Co.’s store . . . The same young man, in walking farther south noticed two more bodies at the rear door of the Central Medical College.”

Beckley: After being positively identified by family members as those souls missing from what was supposed to be their final resting places, it was speculated that a competing medical college in the city had disposed of the bodies near the Central Medical College in an attempt to throw all suspicion on that institution while dissuading any further investigations elsewhere.

While these grizzly details were being spread in newspapers throughout the city, the grand jury was receiving its instructions and began hearing testimony in the case. By the end of the grand jury’s investigation, twenty-five indictments were handed down and allegations had been made against seventy-five different people, supposedly all part of three additional body-snatching syndicates in the city.

Among the indicted were Cantrell and his associates, Dr. Alexander and four additional physicians from other schools, cemetery workers who facilitated the robberies, and various low-ranking employees of medical schools who had played some small part in the operation.

After several delays, the first Ghoul Gang trial, that of Dr. Joseph Alexander, began in early February. Alexander’s defense attorney’s strategy seemed to be to cast as much doubt on the character of the star witness, Rufus Cantrell, as possible. First, they attempted to link him with the unsolved murder of a Chinese immigrant who had been killed a year earlier. When that didn’t stick, the defense brought into question the sanity of the King of the Ghouls by introducing evidence that Cantrell had been diagnosed with epilepsy, at that time a broad diagnosis encompassing several mental illnesses.

Multiple physicians were brought to testify on Cantrell’s mental health. Each in turn pronounced Cantrell “insane.” Cantrell and the state begged to differ. Upon cross examination, each doctor admitted to having ties, past or present, to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons, the same college which employed Dr. Joseph Alexander. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Coincidence or not, the evidence presented by the defense seems to have been enough to sway at least some of the jurors:

Clark: “Dr. Joseph C. Alexander’s status in the community is unchanged. He is neither the convicted felon of the heinous crime of complicity with ghouls and neither is he wholly absolved from the accusations made against him by the state’s attorney. . . . Yesterday morning at 10 o’clock, after deliberating since the same hour Friday morning, the jury reported through its foreman . . . that it had not arrived at a verdict and undoubtedly would be unable to do so, [since] it was discharged from further service.”

Beckley: A hung jury. While the state’s attorney promised a retrial, it never came to fruition. Cantrell, who had all along hoped that his cooperation would result in a lighter sentence, saw the writing on the wall and refused to testify in the retrial. With their star witness gone, the state had little evidence against the doctor – or any of the other four physicians originally indicted, who had maintained their innocence throughout and whose only accuser was the now silent Cantrell. The next big trial was that of the King Ghoul himself – Rufus Cantrell.

Taking a page from Dr. Alexander’s defense team, Cantrell’s defense entered a plea of insanity at the onset of the trial. The state, of course, used the testimony of Cantrell himself given in interviews with police as well as during the grand jury investigation. The question of the trial was not if Cantrell had robbed graves, but why? Was he a greedy criminal just trying to make a buck, or was he criminally insane?

To make the case for the latter, Cantrell’s own mother was put on the stand. Through her testimony, the defense told the jury:

Clark: “that they proposed to show Cantrell to be insane . . . that while Cantrell lived in Gallatin, Tenn., from the age of one to fifteen years, he suffered from epilepsy; that when twelve years old he was thrown from a horse and his head was injured; that when he was ten or twelve years old he had a delusion that he was called by God to preach, and told his friends that he talked with God face to face; that while at work in the field he would kneel at the plow and pray and preach from a Biblical text; that he still suffers from delusions and in the jail has preached to prisoners; that when taunted by his friends in Tennessee over his inability to preach he would become profane and once assaulted a minister with his tongue when he refused to ordain him; that he has a violent temper and has attempted the lives of himself and others; that he delighted to call himself the ‘King of the Bryan campaign,’ and had cards printed with the words, ‘Rufus Cantrell – the Democratic hero;’ that he suffered a sunstroke in Indianapolis, which incapacitated him for work in hot places, and that he succumbed to heat while employed in the Malleable iron works. All these things, Cantrell’s attorneys would prove.”

Beckley: Traumatic brain injuries can absolutely affect the mental health of those who experience them – they can cause mood swings, agitation, combativeness, and other cognitive symptoms. And both epilepsy and sunstroke were used in the 19th century to describe various mental illnesses. That being said, it’s difficult to tell from newspaper reports alone how much the testimony may have been exaggerated in an attempt to keep Cantrell out of jail. After all, he did deny having any mental illness during the trial of Dr. Alexander.

Yet another topic that may have played a part in the trial, and absolutely did play a part in the sensationalized coverage of the case, is race. Rufus Cantrell and his associates were all Black men. Alexander and the other physicians, all of whom would eventually walk free, were white.

It’s important to note that people of color, facing systematic discrimination, were often driven to find income in alternative ways. These alternative ways were, in some cases, illegal. This absolutely could have played a part in Rufus Cantrell’s decision to take up this line of work. However, there were gangs of white ghouls in the city working right alongside Cantrell’s gang – grave robbing was a lucrative business if you could get past the morality of it. So, the influence of race on Cantrell choosing this line of work isn’t clear. What is clear is that his associates, and not the white physicians, were prosecuted for their crimes. It’s also clear that newspapers took every chance they could to point out the race of the accused. In the end, race can’t not have played a role in the trial, but it’s difficult to tell through reports – all written for white newspapers – how extensive that role may have been.

On April 26, 1903, Rufus Cantrell, the King of the Ghouls, was found guilty of two charges and sentenced to three to ten years in the Jeffersonville State Reformatory. In the end, Cantrell and four of his associates were convicted and sentenced to between one and ten years each. The twenty other men indicted by the Grand Jury were cleared of all charges due to lack of evidence.

Convictions weren’t the only thing to come from this tale, though. The system of public institutions delivering the unclaimed bodies of the deceased directly to medical schools was clearly not working as desired. As a result of this and other similar stories, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Anatomical Education Act in 1903, establishing the State Anatomical Board. The State Anatomical Board is still in existence today, mostly overseeing the distribution of donated bodies to medical schools.

In the dozens of newspaper articles written about this sensational trial, one thing seems to be missing more often than not: the victims. Ebenezer Perry. John Sargant. Edward Pedigo. Stella Middleton. Rose Neidlinger. Caroline Tyler. Catherine Doehring. Johanna Stilz. Wallace Johnson. Glendore Gates. It was the families of these Hoosiers who were re-traumatized after already experiencing the loss of a parent, spouse, or child. Many of them had searched the premises of the medical schools themselves, discovering the bodies of their beloved family members stuffed unceremoniously in pickling barrels or laid out on tables, ready for dissection. And it was the families of these people who, after all that, experienced the emotional turmoil of testifying at the trials. While it can be tempting to discuss the salacious details of this case, we should remember that the crimes in this story were not victimless and we should remember the names of those affected by it.

The Indiana Medical History Museum is doing just that. Located in what was the Central State Hospital for the Insane, from which Rufus Cantrell claimed to have taken upwards of 100 bodies, the museum has committed itself to rehumanizing the individuals represented in their extensive specimen collection. Much of their collection comes from the dissection of former patients in the hospital. While not the victims of body snatchers, these people were the victims of a time and society which saw value not in who they were as people, but what their bodies could reveal through examination and dissection after their death. For so long, these people have been nameless, identified by a specimen label, but now, their names, and their stories are being heard. This is just one project of several undertaken by the museum in the last several years – all part of a larger effort to tell the stories of the patients themselves. Join us in two weeks to learn more about this initiative when I talk to Indiana Medical History Museum Executive Director Sarah Halter on the next episode of Giving Voice.

But there is still something missing in this story – who was the mysterious man who precipitated the whole wild tale? Who was the man who slipped letters under doors, called grieving families in the middle of the night, and showed up in shadowy carriages carrying news of desecrated graves? Well, according to Rufus Cantrell, that man was no one other than himself. According to testimony given during the trial of Dr. Alexander, the story goes something like this:

Rufus Cantrell was in love – he was the luckiest man in the world. Sure, he had a grizzly job, but he made good money . . . and he was in love. His girl had it all – she was beautiful, smart – the very picture of perfection. In late summer 1902, Cantrell had to attend to some business in Spencer, Indiana and would be gone from the city for some time. Before he left, he saw his love one last time – her final words to him before his departure were for him to return soon.

Some days later, weary from his trip, he did just that. He arrived home with thoughts for none other than his sweetheart. But before he could wash the travel from his face, he received a message from his boss, Dr. Alexander, instructing him that there was work to be done – a fresh grave at Anderson Cemetery was too good of an opportunity to pass up and must be attended to that very night. Sighing and pushing thoughts of his beloved aside, he set out for the job.

He’d done this work for so long, it was almost mechanical. Remove the flowers from the burial site. Wait for the men to dig out the center of the grave. Saw the coffin covering in half. Bring the body out of the hole. Load it in the wagon while the men cleaned up the area. Drive the wagon to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons. Take the body in the back way. Lay it on the table.

He didn’t often make a habit of looking at the faces of the lifeless bodies from which he made his living – but as he laid this particular body on that particular table, and the light fell upon her face, he realized in horror that it was that face he loved so well – it was Stella Middleton, his sweetheart, who just days before he had promised to rush back home to.

In his shock, he decided then and there that this had to stop. He would right the wrongs, even if it cost him his freedom. He wrote a note to Stella’s mother, Mrs. Middleton slipped it under her door while he knew she was out at church, and sealed his fate.

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. A huge thank you to Jeannie Regan-Dinius, who suggested the topic for this episode and to the Indiana State Archives and Records Administration for sending me some very useful research to get me started. And last, but not least, thank you to Justin Clark for lending his voice to today’s episode. We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode of Giving Voice, where I’ll be talking with Sarah Halter, the Director of the Indiana Medical History Museum. In the meantime, find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for Listening.

Show Notes for Rufus Cantrell: King of Ghouls

Websites

“The Grave Robbing of Benjamin Harrison’s Father,” Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, October 31, 2018, https://bhpsite.org/the-grave-robbing-of-benjamin-harrisons-father/.

“Body Snatching Around the World,” PBS.org, https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/body-snatching-around-the-world/.

Books

Laws of The State of Indiana Passed at the Fifty-First Regular Session of the General Assembly (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Journal Company, State Printers and Binders, 1879), 157-160.

Laws of The State of Indiana Passed at the Sixty-Third Regular Session of the General Assembly (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Journal Company, State Printers and Binders, 1903), 84-88.

Newspaper Articles

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1901, p. 262, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1896, p. 242, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1899, p. 252, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1898, p. 247, accessed Ancestry.com.

“Cantrell, Rufus,” Indiana, Indianapolis, City Directory, 1902, p. 275, accessed Ancestry.com.

“City News Items,” Indianapolis Journal, November 1, 1901, 2.

“Body in a Street,” Indianapolis News, November 16, 1901, 1.

“Watch Kept at a Cemetery,” Indianapolis News, December 5, 1901, 3.

“Found in an Old Barrel,” Indianapolis News, December 14, 1901, 14.

“Ghouls in a Graveyard,” Indianapolis Journal, September 20, 1902, 3.

“Feared that Many Graves are Empty,” Indianapolis News, September 20, 1902, 1.

“Body is Recovered,” Indianapolis Journal, September 22, 1902, 12.

“Another Stolen Body at Central College,” Indianapolis News, September 22, 1902, 10.

“Confession of Ghouls,” Indianapolis Journal, September 30, 1902, 1.

“The Law’s Strong Arm,” Indianapolis Journal, October 2, 1902, 10.

“Another Body Gone,” Indianapolis Journal, October 9, 1902, 10.

“Four Bodies Found,” Indianapolis Journal, October 14, 1902, 10.

“Threats Were Made, Says The Prosecutor,” Indianapolis News, October 17, 1902, 9.

“Grave Robber Inquiry,” Indianapolis Journal, October 22, 1902, 3.

“Grave Robbery Investigation,” Indianapolis Journal, October 23, 1902, 8.

“Ghouls are Indicted,” Indianapolis Journal, October 26, 1902, 10.

“Negro Porter Suspected,” Indianapolis Journal, October 26, 1902, 10.

“The Ghouls in Court,” Indianapolis Journal, October 28, 1902, 1.

“Alexander’s Trial to Begin Monday,” Indianapolis News, January 31, 1903, 1.

“Turned Light on Face of His Sweetheart,” Indianapolis News, February 3, 1903, 10.

“Contract with Alexander,” Indianapolis News, February 5, 1903, 3.

“Took His Girl Riding,” Indianapolis News, February 5, 1903, 3.

“Fate of Alexander,” Indianapolis Journal, February 12, 1903, 10.

“Jury Discharged,” Indianapolis Journal, February 16, 1903, 1.

“Alienists Will Testify,” Indianapolis Journal, April 20, 1903, 8.

“Cantrell in Court,” Indianapolis Journal, April 21, 1903, 10.

“State Closes Case,” Indianapolis Journal, April 22, 1903, 10.

“Arguments in Trial of Cantrell Made,” Indianapolis News, April 23, 1903, 3.

“Prison for Cantrell,” Indianapolis Journal, April 24, 1903, 10.

“Ghouls Will Not Testify,” Indianapolis Journal, April 25, 1903, 10.

“Cantrell is Sentenced,” Indianapolis Journal, April 26, 1903, 8.

“Cantrell off to Prison,” Indianapolis Journal, May 2, 1903, 10.

“Release of the Ghouls,” Indianapolis News, June 25, 1903, 9.

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.

“Walk a Mile in Their Pumps:” Combating Discrimination within Indy’s Queer Community

Famous Door Kick Line
Performers at The Famous Door, an Indianapolis club known for its drag shows, ca. 1975, accessed The Michael Bohr Collection of the Indy Pride Chris Gonzalez Library and Archives, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

“In our endeavors to attain social justice, we cannot afford the
destructive luxury of discriminating against one another.”

Justice, Inc., an LGBTQ+ rights organization, issued this statement in 1989 after some gay bars in Indianapolis refused to serve cross-dressing and transgender individuals.[1] The city’s queer community had already encountered and protested numerous challenges posed by law enforcement, including police harassment, surveillance of cruising sites, and possible prejudiced police work as homicide rates increased for gay men. Although gay bars afforded a degree of shelter from discrimination, not all were afforded the opportunity to patronize them.

While examining Indiana’s gay newsletter The Works, I came across recurring incidents of discrimination within Indianapolis’s queer population. In 1973, outspoken transgender rights activist Sylvia Rivera drew attention to these incidents on a national level at New York City’s Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally. Rivera had helped found the Gay Liberation Front and, with her friend Marsha P. Johnson, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in NYC, which provided desperately-needed shelter and food for homeless trans youth.

In addition to advocating for people of color and the impoverished, Rivera advocated for white, middle-class men and women jailed because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. She also fought for the women’s liberation movement. Despite this, she was shunned for her attempts to include trans individuals in the broader gay rights movement. She famously addressed this ostracism after pushing her way on stage at the Liberation Day Rally. There, she passionately addressed the crowd, stating “I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you all treat me this way?” Her speech was met with a smattering of jeers and applause.

However, marginalized individuals within the queer community have been increasingly recognized through public artwork, Netflix documentaries, and seminars like The New Republic’s recent “Sex Workers as Queer History”. Cecilia Gentili, founder of Trans Equity Consulting and transgender actress in the Netflix show POSE, recalled in the seminar that gay men had significant power over transwomen and if you “weren’t fabulous enough” then you couldn’t get in the bar. She likened these experiences to the “criminalization of gender.” In this post, I examine similar incidents in Indianapolis, as well as strategies employed by the victims of discrimination to help secure rights for all.


Kerry Gean, dressed as the “woman I am deep inside of my biological male self,” and friends went to the Varsity Lounge in February 1989. After they were seated, their server singled out Gean with a request for identification. The server then informed her that she was breaking the law because the photo on her I.D. did not identically match her face. Humiliated and hurt, she returned home, changed into “male” clothes, and upon return was immediately served. After Gean’s experience, she asked readers in an editorial for The New Works News “Are we now turning against ourselves? Can we forget what it feels like to be barred from a public place by the owner, or even a bartender, who has some reason to hate us for the hard but true choices we have made?”[2]

Roberta Alyson, courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 1, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

By June, things were no better for Roberta Alyson, described by The Works as a “pre-operative transsexual.” Alyson was denied entrance to the gay bar Our Place on the grounds of not meeting dress code and identification not matching Alyson’s face, despite having a doctor’s note confirming the necessity of dressing as a woman. Bar officials got an off-duty officer who worked security to check the 31-year-old’s ID. He crumpled up the doctor’s note and Alyson “regrettably began to panic,” walking away from the parking lot. When the officer pursued and arrested Alyson, who later said one of the back-up officers was abusive and tried to lift Alyson’s skirt. Alyson was charged with and fined for fleeing an officer.[3] 

Alyson addressed the implications of such discrimination in a letter to the editor of The New Works News, noting Our Place’s dress code “flies in the face of the Stonewall Riots and sends a terrifyingly repressive message to the ‘straight’ community.” Alyson noted, “There were ‘genetic females’ in the bar on the night I visited it” and asked “Am I somehow more of a ‘threat’ to the bar’s image than a woman born?” Reflecting Gentili’s recollection, Alyson wrote “We, the greater gay community, are seeing a disturbing trend in that ‘gay rights’ seem only to apply to gays and lesbians who ‘fit in.’” Simply put, “Gay rights are human rights, and they apply to all of us!”[4]

Indianapolis police liaison Shirley Purvitis, one of the first to be appointed in the nation, organized a meeting to try to resolve issues between “certain segments of the gay community” and local gay bars. These bars included Our Place, 501 Tavern, and The Varsity. She noted later that “one of the most effective ways to fight discrimination was to ‘shut up and listen to what the other person has to say.’” Bar Owners, members of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union and Justice, Inc., IPD vice officers, and members of the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE) attended the meeting, which was, “as expected, confrontational from beginning to end.”[5]

Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

As to claims that individuals were being denied entrance due to discrepancies between their photo I.D. and their physical features, Excise Chief Okey stated that “the only requirement that excise has for a person being served alcohol is that they be 21 years of age or older. . . . crossdressing, either male or female, is not grounds for refusal of service.” Other bar owners stated blatantly that they refused to admit these patrons, not because they feared breaking excise laws, but because they intended to “‘preserve the established atmosphere of their bars.'”[6] A 501 Tavern spokesperson stated that these individuals “‘were not wanted there,’ and if they had been admitted violence might have resulted. The bar owners also voiced the fear that if they admitted people in drag their regular patrons might leave.” Gay TV producer Gregory McDaniel denounced this reasoning, stating, “‘What I’m hearing now is exactly what I heard 20 years ago when attempts were being made to keep blacks out of Riverside Park and other public places.'”[7] Aside from being morally wrong, McDaniel alleged this discrimination halted momentum in the broader fight for gay equality, noting, “The wire services have picked up these stories. This shows the dominate [sic] society that we are not unified and that they are safe in oppressing us.”

David Morse, manager of Our Place, stated at the meeting that he felt “‘very much trapped in the middle.’” He tried to reconcile the needs of both parties, “perhaps naively,” by establishing the dress code and I.D. policy. However, he noted that he “‘learned many lessons'” from the ensuing discussions. [8] Perhaps fear of losing the bars they fought so hard to establish—whether by mistakenly breaking excise laws or drawing unwanted attention to the establishment—owners implemented discriminatory policies. Unfortunately, the meeting to discuss these policies ended without much resolution.

Members of IXE, Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

IXE met separately with Justice, Inc. to address the issue and one observer at the meeting speculated that “perhaps one reason that the crossdressers were causing such a stir in the ‘male’ bars” was because they looked:

‘too good and too much like natural, normal women and a far cry from the narrow gay-oriented perception of what “drag queens” look like. Perhaps some of the shakier ‘male’ egos couldn’t handle this unaccustomed image.’ [9]

By September, there seemed to be a bit more acceptance, as Our Place admitted Roberta Alyson, who by then had two pieces of “‘official’ feminine'” identification. The newsletter reported that Tomorrow’s and Jimmy’s had also been more welcoming.[10] McDaniel also commented that the The New Works News‘s extensive coverage of the discrimination showed that the community could be “introspective and self-correcting.”[11]

The New Works News (July 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archive, IUPUI Library.

Sharon Allan, of IXE, decided to affect change by sitting down with bar employees. She met with Brothers manager Michael David to ask if their policy that identification had to match one’s appearance was implemented uniformly. After he said yes, Allan informed him that she “had been in the bar four times, after work and in a tie and had never been asked for ID.” Allan reported to the New Works News that “Michael immediately saw the lack of universality in their policy and promised to speak with the owner at the next staff meeting.”[12]

Capitalizing on the positive momentum, Justice, Inc. hosted the second “Discrimination Within the Gay Community” workshop in December.[13] While the turnout was low, and bar employees noticeably absent from the meeting, attendees reported that most bars had “reversed” their discriminatory policies. At the meeting, Gary Mercer, of Goshen, quipped “’Before you judge other people in the gay community, you better walk a mile in their pumps.’” Gay Cable Network’s Eric Evans agreed, noting that “‘discrimination is usually the result of ignorance.'” He suggested ongoing education for “both the gay and straight communities.” This, he said, could be accomplished through television programming and by forming a Gay Community Center.[14]

While awareness and dialog did not end prejudice entirely within Indy’s queer community, reported incidents diminished in The New Works News. Genny Beemyn notes in “Transgender History of the United States,” that in the early 1990s a “larger rights movement” emerged, “facilitated by the increasing use of the term ‘transgender’ to encompass all individuals whose gender identity or expression differs from the social norms of the gender assigned to them at birth.”[15] Still, activists fought an uphill battle for inclusion, as the “March on Washington” steering committee voted overwhelmingly to leave them out of the  1993 “Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation” march, despite support from bisexual allies.[16]

New York dedicates East River State Park to LGBTQ activist Marsha P. Johnson
Rendering of Marsha P. Johnson State Park, courtesy of the New York State Parks, accessed timeout.com.

Discrimination and violence against transgender individuals, especially those of color, endures, although largely waged by those outside of the queer community. However, public recognition of those marginalized within the community has increased, to some extent. In 2019, New York City announced it would honor drag queens and transgender rights activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson with monuments. Scott W. Stern and Charles O’Malley noted in their 2019 “Remembering Stonewall as It Actually Was—and a Movement as It Really Is” that the decision:

reflects a dawning awareness (among those in positions of power) that the LGBTQ movement was always more diverse, more radical, and more closely connected with other social movements than is commonly believed.

Along with the statues of Rivera and Johnson, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in August 2020 that the Marsha P. Johnson State Park, located along the East River, would be dedicated. This will be the first state park in the US honoring an LGBTQ+ individual, as well as a transgender woman of color. Stern and O’Malley argue that we should examine and commemorate those at the margins of equal rights movements not simply for history’s sake, but because “More accurate renderings of the past inform the way we act in the future; they inform whose lives we prioritize in the present.”[17] That is why we should be aware of Roberta Alyson and Kerry Gean, whose determination to transform humiliating experiences into policy change helped open the door to acceptance for other transgendered and cross-dressing individuals in Indianapolis. They remind us of the importance in engaging in conversations with “the other.”

*The professional study of LGBTQ+ history is relatively new.  We welcome feedback regarding accuracy and terminology, especially given the challenges in locating primary sources and the evolving conception of what comprises the queer community. We are especially interested in documenting lived experiences from a variety of perspectives.

[1] “Justice Investigation Calls for Uniform Bar Policies,” The New Works (October 1989): 8, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[2] “Varsity Drag,” The New Works News (July 1989): 3, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[3] “O.P.’s Dress Code Causes Arrest of TS: Transsexual Arrested Trying to Gain Admittance,” The New Works News (August 1989): 1, 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[4] Roberta Alyson, “Crossdresser’s Visit to Our Place,” The New Works News (July 1989): 3, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[5] “O.P.’s Dress Code Causes Arrest of TS: Transsexual Arrested Trying to Gain Admittance,” The New Works News (August 1989): 1, 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “IXE Meets with Justice,” The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[10] Gregory McDaniel, “Courageous Clear Thinking,” The New Works News (September 1989): 6, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[11] Ibid., 3.

[12] Sharon Allan, “No Discrimination Intended at Brothers,” The New Works News (October 1989): 3, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[13] “Justice Discrimination Workshop,” The New Works News (December 1989): 6, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Genny Beemyn, “Transgender History of the United States,” in Laura Erickson-Schroth, ed., Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 28, accessed umass.edu.

[16] Ibid., 29.

[17] Scott W. Stern and Charles O’Malley, “Remembering Stonewall as It Actually Was—and a Movement as It Really Is,” The New Republic (June 24, 2019), accessed newrepublic.com.

[18] Ibid.

Challenging the “Double Standard of Morality:” Indiana’s First Women Lawyers

1) Adele Storck 2) M. Elizabeth Mason 3) Eleanor P. Barker 4) Jessie Levy 5) Ella M. Groninger 6) Mrs. “Peggy” Edward Franklin White, courtesy of The Indianapolis Star, August 11, 1923, 30, accessed Newspapers.com.

The results of a hotly challenged event, the first ever Women’s Safety Driving Contest made the front page of the August 12, 1923 Indianapolis Sunday Star. Sponsored by the newspaper and Indianapolis police department, the contest had drawn two hundred entrants. Competition proved fierce, with first place decided by a solitary point. Photos of the top eight “lady drivers” featured prominently, yet ten pages back, tucked between “Married Women Often Forget Maid Friends” and “Gotham Gossip About Hoosiers,” an event of arguably more significance would soon be taking place. The headline simply read: “Women Lawyers to Attend Convention.”

Fifty years before winning the right to vote in 1920, women began entering the legal profession. In 1899, a group of eighteen New York City women formed the Women Lawyers’ Club. Twenty-four years later, the newly-rechristened National Association of Women Lawyers planned to hold its first convention on August 28 – 29, 1923 in Minneapolis, with Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft in attendance. The six Hoosier lawyers highlighted in the Star’s story would play key roles in moving women into positions of power and public leadership.


Emma Eaton, 1894, courtesy University of Michigan Law School.

On October 7, 1894, the Sioux City Journal announced that “Miss Emma Eaton of Creston, Iowa, passed the examination at the head of the class.” The paper noted “She is a graduate of the state university [Iowa University] and the law department of Ann Arbor University [University of Michigan]. When her standing was announced, she was congratulated by the judges present and applauded by her classmates.”

Emma made a handful of court appearances in Iowa, assisting the Union County Attorney before settling on legal editorial work. In 1900, she married Edward Franklin White, a respected Indianapolis attorney and author. “Peggy” as she now called herself, was expected to put aside her professional career. For a few years she did just that, likely helping her husband edit law books. But in 1915, she got involved with a legislative bill to grant Indiana women partial suffrage; evidently not a universally popular position judging by the number of letters to the editor opposing it.

Historian Jill Weiss Simins noted that the two major state suffrage organizations—the Equal Suffrage Association (ESA) and the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL)—opposed one another regarding the question “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?” White toed the ESA’s line of thought in this regard. Responding to one particularly irate missive, White noted, “Some little independence of thought doesn’t hurt any cause.” That same year, White prepared arguments to the Indiana General Assembly for a bill to approve “the appointment of policewomen in twenty-five cities of the state.”  Supporting her would be another entrant into Indiana’s legal profession, Eleanor P. Barker. Through their work, Indiana became one of the first to inaugurate a statewide system of policewomen. When “the policewoman bill” introduced by Robert W. McClaskey failed in 1915, she used her involvement in the Women’s Legislative Council of Indiana to pressure lawmakers to revisit it.

While membership in the Women Lawyers’ Club had grown to 170 members by 1914, locally two women would graduate from the Indiana Law School, one of them being Barker. The Indianapolis trailblazer became the first woman to win highest honors from any Indiana law school and the only woman to accomplish that particular feat two years in succession.

Eleanor P. Barker, circa July 1918, courtesy of (Indiana) Angola Herald.

Like White, Barker dedicated herself to the cause of women’s enfranchisement. However, she toed the WFL’s line and felt it couldn’t be achieved on a state-by-state basis, opining that partial suffrage “took the steam out of the suffrage movement.” Instead, she supported the Anthony Amendment, which would become the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Along with her role as the Indiana standard-bearer in Washington, D.C. suffrage parades, Barker chose to picket the White House “to impress President (sic) Wilson with the vigor of the militant suffrage crusade.” She also traveled the state registering women to vote and giving free classes in civics and political science.

Like many suffragists, Barker committed to war work at the outbreak of the Great War. Dr. Anita Morgan noted in her “We Must Be Fearless:” The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana that “What the war managed to do was to finally focus the energies of all these suffragists and clubwomen, so they acted in concert for one goal—win the war and in the process win suffrage for themselves.” The February 24, 1918 issue of the Indianapolis Star reported on Barker’s work, noting “In a time of below-zero weather, stalled traffic, all but impassable roads and multiplied discomforts and difficulties she heroically kept on her schedule made by the 14 – Minute Women’s Speaker’s Bureau.” As head of the state’s Congressional Union/Woman’s Party, Barker delivered thirty-two speeches, fourteen minutes long of course, about food substitution and conservation to record crowds throughout the Midwest. She also led the Women in Industry Committee, advocating for women’s and children’s working conditions during the war.

The Sacramento Star, November 3, 1919, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Ella Groninger was the second graduate from the class of 1914 and joined the family law firm of Groninger, Groninger & Groninger. A native of Camden, Ella had taught school before moving to Indianapolis in 1900. There, she attended the East Business College, clerking at her brothers’ law firm before obtaining her law degree. On October 15, 1919, in Marion County Superior Court, room five, Ella M. Groninger became the first woman judge to preside in an Indiana courtroom, ruling on the Tenney v. Tenney case.

George Tenney arrived with a litany of grievances in his divorce petition against Ida M. Tenney, claiming his wife hadn’t sewed buttons on his clothes and left the house lights on when she went out at night. After careful consideration, Special Judge Groninger denied the petition, saying “From the evidence introduced here, this woman has given twenty-nine of the best years of her life to this man. There is no proof of wrong.” When questioned afterwards on her decision, Groninger remarked, “The double standard of morality should not be given a chance to grow out of our divorce courts.

The Indianapolis Star, August 28, 1920, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Groninger was judge and jury, serving on the first jury of women in an Indiana court, made possible by ratification of the 19th Amendment. The case, a replevin suit for the recovery of a Victrola, took place in the court of T. Ernest Maholm, Justice of the Peace, on August 28, 1920. Although the trial was scheduled to start at nine o’clock, Mary E. Boatwick, the first Indiana woman to be served with a jury summons, had to be excused due to pressing matters related to her work for the Indianapolis Star. A half hour later, twelve women were sworn in to a courtroom, which was decorated with a “bank of flowers” arranged around dusty law books in honor of the historic occasion. The women represented a variety of religions, races, and professions, and included African American suffragist and actuary Daneva Donnell.

Although Gronginger was listed as the only attorney, juror M. Elizabeth Mason had begun her final year at Benjamin Harrison Law School. Born in Ohio, she had attended the University of Chicago before relocating to teach at Indianapolis public schools in 1904. At the age of forty-four, she decided on a legal career, taking classes at night. The following year, “Minnie” Mason became one of three exceptional women to earn a degree from Hoosier law schools.

The Indianapolis News, August 28, 1920, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

The defense’s strategy, noted by the Indianapolis Star, was unique: “Louis Dulberger, in a snappy gray suit and white suede shoes, smilingly told the jury how he had ‘long awaited to see the time when women could sit on the jury in the court, and, now that the time has come, insisted that only women serve on the jury in this case.’” His platitudes did little to sway the jurors, who deliberated for five minutes before forewoman, Groninger, announced they’d reached a verdict—in favor of the plaintiff. As they filed out of the courtroom, the jurors were given a white chrysanthemum as a memento from the historic day.

Following Mason was Adele Storck, who became the second woman to graduate from Benjamin Harrison Law School in 1921, winning top honors for the best senior class thesis. Born in Kassel, Germany, Adele Storck immigrated with her family to Odell, Illinois. In 1900, similar to her friend, Mason, she took a teaching position within the Indianapolis public school system. Later, she attended DePauw University before entering law school at the age of forty-five.

After graduation, Storck became the first woman admitted to the Indianapolis Bar Association. She and her friend established Storck & Mason, credited as “the first woman’s law firm in Indiana” and one of the earliest in the country. On October 21, 1921, in one of the fledgling partnership’s first cases, Storck & Mason filed suit for the plaintiff, Hattie A. Storck, Adele’s sister in Marion County Circuit court. The outcome has been lost to history, but the law firm of Storck & Mason continued on for well over three decades with both partners considered “pioneer women attorneys.”

Advertisement, January 1, 1942, courtesy Indianapolis News, accessed Newspapers.com.

Officially, the law firm of Stork and Mason ended upon the death of “Minnie” Mason in 1955. Over the years, it had stood as a sterling example of equality, setting the stage for the emergence of numerous women-owned business nearly five decades later. Of equal note, Mason and Storck showed that it’s never too late in life to pursue your dreams.

The final woman from our group of trailblazers benefited from the others’ experience. Graduating in 1921 from the Indiana Law School, Jessie Levy eschewed the expected career “in estate planning, probate, and related tax matters,” instead gravitating towards criminal law. Her clientele included four members of the John Dillinger gang. Accused of trying to throw open “the doors of freedom to the most notorious public enemies in the Midwest,” Levy replied that her only interest was in obtaining a “fair trial,” but added, “When the time comes and I am challenged, I will have plenty to say.”

Jessie Levy and client, Russell Clark, in a Lima, Ohio courtroom, March 1934, courtesy of the author’s collection.

And that she did, becoming in May 1934, the first woman from Indiana admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. A month later, Levy became the first woman to deliver a stay of execution in Ohio. Reflecting back, she observed, “Oh, I had some pretty lurid cases in my time but I enjoyed what I was doing and found the cases challenging.” On February 1, 1951, a bill sat pending in the Indiana General Assembly with a clause allowing a husband to sell jointly-owned property without the signature of his wife. Contending that the proposed bill would make it easier for one spouse to cheat the other, Levy led a referendum for an amendment requiring the signatures of both spouses.

In 1971, after a half century practicing law and presiding over every Marion County court as either a special judge or judge pro tem, Levy would be honored by the Indianapolis Bar Association. When an Indianapolis Star reporter observed that fifty years in practice qualified her as a senior citizen, Jessie protested, “But I still feel young,” and then excused herself for a scheduled court appearance.


These six exceptional women epitomized the advice given by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who in 2015 told a group of young women at Harvard University: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” While the 19th Amendment increased women’s agency, it did not eliminate discrimination against them. Women still had to navigate a maze of state laws meant to keep them from exercising their rights. This is where the six Hoosier women made their most lasting contributions; each opposed discriminatory practices and laws restricting women’s access to the courtroom and the office. In the 1926 words of Eleanor P. Barker, “Women in Indiana have done more for politics and received less at the hands of politicians than the women of any other state.”

Click here for other firsts accomplished by these attorneys and a list of further reading sources.

THH Episode 38: Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Transcript for Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice. On today’s installment of Giving Voice, I have the pleasure of speaking with Susan Hall-Dotson, the African American history collections coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society, and Kisha Tandy, the curator of social history at the Indiana State Museum. After our two-part series covering the women’s suffrage movement in Indiana, we wanted to take some time to talk about the suffrage movement in the African American communities at the state and national level.  In this episode we talked about inclusion, storytelling, and the importance of telling a richer version of the suffrage story than what is often heard.

And now, Giving Voice.

Alright, I’m here today with Kisha Tandy and Susan Hall Dotson and I’m so excited to be talking with the two of you today and thank you so much for coming on.

Tandy: Thank you.

Hall-Dotson: Thank you.

Beckley: Of course. So, I think that starting with a little bit of the national context of the relationship between white and Black suffragists would be a good place to start. Susan, could you talk a little bit about how that how that relationship between white and Black suffragists evolved over the decades leading up to the 19th Amendment?

Hall-Dotson: Big question!  But a brief answer is that in different places and at different times it was minimal. It is less inclusive, accepting, embracing than we would like to think about in modern times. It’s really hard to have a backward glance and say that people were marginalized – that people were left out. But they were.  Because if you look at the bigger scope of the country and how people were, say from the post-Civil War to 1920, there was lots of segregation. There was lots of discrimination. And it went from slavery and enslavement and who was free and who was not and where you could live and where you couldn’t and what legal privileges that you were able to enjoy. Which didn’t happen – Black men didn’t get the right to vote until after slavery, after emancipation. And there were white women who were upset that Black men got the right to vote before women – before white women – got the right to vote.  They didn’t live, work, play, worship in the same spaces, so it’s really hard to imagine that we had this level of camaraderie out of womanhood that superseded other modes and means of relationships.

Beckley: Yea, and I know the same goes for here in Indiana. We were still segregated up until well past the 19th Amendment, so I know that a lot of the same can be said for here in Indiana.

Kisha, could you introduce us to some of the prominent African American suffragists here in Indiana?

Tandy: Yea, so, there were many women who had been working to achieve the right to vote, who had been working for suffrage. And many of those women we’re individuals who were active in clubs and the temperance movement. And so, African American – Black women – had been fighting for so many things leading up to this and working just for suffrage – not only for themselves but just in general African American suffrage. And some of those women who were doing that were individuals like Naomi Talbert Bowmen Anderson, who was born in Michigan City, Indiana. She was born in 1843. she would leave Indiana in 1868 and go to Chicago. She would have a long history of working in the suffrage movement. And it’s interesting because she went to Chicago in 1868 and by 1869, she was speaking at a national suffrage convention. And it was also interesting because this was one of those presentations in speaking where there was some issue with her speaking there and I love to use quotes so I’ll use a quote from her – it’s one of the things said speaking in 1869, and this comes from the Chicago Tribune, from February 13, 1869. It’s – the heading from the article was “Progress of the Female Suffrage Movement in Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune reports this. They say:

“She came on behalf of the colored women of Chicago and of the State of Illinois, believing that God was on their side, and that the day was not far distant when the opponents of universal suffrage would [illegible] before the wind. The power of women would be felt and she would have the right to vote.”]

Because, when I started looking into this, this was very much a research project. This individual, Naomi Bowmen Talbert Anderson, there was information about her in a book by Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, and she looked at African American women and the struggle for the vote from 1850 to 1920. She talks about her, so it was great to already have information by an African American female scholar already in place so that I can go in and find and look for other information. And she notes in her research and in her efforts that there was – her  appearance at this convention had some issue and that because the Fifteenth Amendment hadn’t passed yet and there was some contention there and that there was some concern. So, you know, even as early as 1890, this had been written about. You know, her being there at the –  this moment and speaking about it and she did come back and have, you know, explain why she was doing and try to explain herself and different things like that. But, she was not deterred and she continued to press on towards the vote – pressing on, working in various areas. For example, she moved to Ohio, she later moved to Kansas, and to California. And she continued to speak for suffrage, continued to work towards getting African American women the right to vote – for women to vote – and we are able to follow her –  to follow what she is doing just looking through newspaper articles and getting different Snippets and different pieces of information from her in there. And even just being able to get additional information about her story, so she is one of those individuals very early on that was out and sharing and fighting for the right to vote.

Another individual, Martha Mary Harris Mason Mccurdy. She was an advocate for temperance, for a span she was a writer, and she was a suffragist. She was born in Carthage, Indiana in 1852 and her belief, what she believed in, was that the temperance movement aided in the work for women to obtain the right to vote. And she believed that ridding alcohol and having temperance would help her community, would help the African American community, the Black community. And her writing allowed her the opportunity to share and to speak out and to call attention to what was going on. She would be a writer, not only in Indiana but also she would move to Georgia and she would write for a newspaper there. She was part of the WCTU, at one point she was president of the local chapter where she was living in Georgia. And so, she was using all these various uses to, again, help to get the right to vote for African American women and she would work for a very long time for this effort. So, she was writing as early as 1895, talking about getting the right to vote. But even over 20 years later, she would still be attending a suffrage meeting after – and I should step back, after she left Georgia she returned to Indiana and was in Richmond, Indiana. By 1917, she was attending a suffrage meeting here in Indianapolis giving a presentation, so you can see that she had a very long history of working for the right to vote. And again she was one of those people early on who was identified as a suffragist and someone who was working for African Americans to have the right to vote and being able to find information about her, again through the newspaper, but then also and one of the early examinations of African Americans in history. And so those were two of the earlier women that were working – you can see that both of them have the temperance movement in common as well.

Another individual would be Lillian Thomas-Fox and here in Indianapolis we know a lot about Mrs. Fox. We talked a lot about her. She wrote for the Indianapolis Freemannewspaper, which was the first Illustrated Black newspaper in the country, she was a correspondent for the Indianapolis Newsand she was a very active woman in the club movement. She established the woman’s Improvement Club in 1904* and the state Federation of colored women’s clubs and 1905*. She worked for her community she worked for the people of Indianapolis and not only of Indianapolis, but nationally as well. Again I like quotes so I’m going to share one. Gurley Brewer, who wrote for the Indianapolis world, he was the editor, and he said of her and 1905:

“By the success she has made in a field until recently closed to women, removed the false idea of the intellectual and executive inferiority of women and has shown that fame is attained by a single standard, the standard of excellence she has demonstrated the fact that she is a woman of great force of character, will, and strong intellectuality.”

I paraphrased a little at the end, but you can get an idea of the respect he has for her. And that is great. And I go back to her involvement and being very active, she was involved in the National Afro-American Council, and this was an organization that did work for suffrage. Looking at the Indianapolis Recorder, September 1, 1900, she was elected as a vice presidents – one of the vice presidents – of the organization. And during this – this happened during the third National Convention, and in the Recorderthey had different fragments of some of the speeches and things that were made during this convention and one of the quotes that I just thought was so – that so fit the moment – I don’t have the actual person but it was recorded in the Recorder:

“Let the Afro-American people set unflinchingly by their suffrage rights. It is a life-and-death struggle.”

And that was going back to 1900. So, you can see that these early women were really working to achieve at various levels.

Beckley: Yea, so I’m that we could get a little bit of an introduction to some of those women and then the national context and we’ve met some of these women. Could one or both of you talk a little bit about how the African American suffrage movement at the national level compares to the state level? And what the relationship between the Black and white suffragists here and Indiana look like in comparison to that National level.

Hall-Dotson:  Well, I’ll take a stab for now and I’ll pass off to Kisha. I think that they looked very similar. The evidence that I’ve seen from the scholarship that’s been done, says that, although there was some  inclusion – more tokenism, if you will, van full sisterhood, inclusion, and the rallying of all the women, if you will, to join. Women of certain classes did not go and get women of other classes, whether they were Black or white to necessarily come into the fold – into the fray. And during the suffrage eras, white women from the north and the Midwest were concerned with ruffling the feathers and alienating their white sisters from the south if there was too much integration and inclusion of African American women in the movement.  So, if you look at the images, when you look at the pictures, not just the stories, but use the imagery of the day that we have, that way see, you don’t see the fully-integrated march. You don’t see large swaths and pockets of Black women at meetings, in pictures. Because we were largely, not to say can white women could not and did not ever work together or get along, but in general, the society was so polarized and separate that even in the struggle for womanhood –  for women to vote as a big block, there was still a large segment that suggested that, “No, let us get this and we’ll give it to you later.  this is not for you.”  And many white women – Northern as well as Southern, if you will – weren’t happy that Black men had received the right to vote. So, I think they paralleled – there’s not some anomaly in Indiana that suggests that it was any different than New York or Mississippi and Atlanta, as far as how people came together. So, people were working, even within the white women in the suffrage movement, there wasn’t just one monolithic group that –  maybe one group was bigger than the other in a certain place, but all types of women and different clubs and in different segments of the society were working toward achieving the right to vote. And enfranchisement, if you will, meant the same and different things to each. I would say some wanted to have voice, and particularly after Black men received the right, if you don’t see yourself as below all men, you’re fighting for that right even harder. And Black women are fighting for the right the same as they were still fighting for the right for the right to vote for the men in their lives. So, their right to vote didn’t mean that they got it. The moment they got it, they were being disenfranchised.

Beckley:  I mean, obviously, a lot of the times when we think about disenfranchisement, we’re thinking of Southern Jim Crow laws and things like that. Would you say that this applies just as much here in Indiana as it did in the south?

Hall-Dotson: I would say so, in different ways. And I think that when we use modern terms, right now we talked about implicit and explicit bias, so you may not have walked up to the courthouse and had a big sign that said, “no coloreds,” “coloreds only,”  I believe there was intimidation –  you don’t have this run on people being able to vote that’s changing the electorate –  and we could talk about that a little later –  what happens because we vote? So, people’s jobs were on the line. People were threatened with unemployment and arrested for vagrancy or some other make-up, trumped-up, charges that created this environment where everybody didn’t vote. And there were poll taxes. And there were literacy tests. And I’m sure some of those existed – and I’m not a scholar on voting rights in Indiana, but I can’t imagine, especially with the Resurgence and the emergence of the Klan in Indiana –

Beckley: Yea, On the heels of the 19th Amendment –

Hall-Dotson: Right, so, it didn’t just happen in an instant – in a vacuum. People’s beliefs and behaviors existed before even the establishment of maybe organized organizations. And if you look at 1851 and the amendments to the Constitution that say no Negroes and mulattos should enter the state, it was really clear that it was not a welcoming inviting environment. Weather was enforced and how it was enforced, it changes from place to place and date today thereafter. But even after emancipation, it took until 1874 a vote – back to why we need to vote – vote to overturn that Amendment, to have it in line with federal guidelines and amendments at that point. And in 1869 it was overturned. So, there was already this overarching, codified behavior in laws in the state to suggest that African Americans were not fully vested, fully privileged voting and other laws –  where you could live, where you can work, where you could  play, where you could worship. So, segregation and discrimination were heightened and real. And it was really no different throughout anywhere in this country. There is no place that we can look to that is some utopian state that did not have all of the above. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to have kept fighting until 1965. So, the bull Connors of the 50s and 60s in the South existed in the North, just in different ways. And maybe and more subtle ways, but just the same.

Beckley:  I think that what you said about all of this not happening in a vacuum and  acknowledging what was going on around these women or men, just in general African Americans trying to vote, is really important to contextualize some of this. Even if there aren’t outlaw right laws like there were in the South prohibiting  r obstructing the vote, it was nonetheless intimidation and job security and things like that that are less visible, especially to historians, but still very important to keep in the context.

Hall-Dotson: Yes.

Beckley:  Kisha, did you have anything to add?

Tandy:  Yes, listening to Susan speak about this reminded me of another quote, and bear with me, Adella Hunt-Logan, and she said the following and the crisis magazine in September 1912. It was looking at Colored women as voters. Listening to Susan talk about everything that Black women and African American women were dealing with just in their lives it made me think about this cool idea that Black women have always been active, always doing, always emoting, trying to get better not only for themselves, but for their family. And so, Adella Hunt Logan really expressed this:

“More and more Colored Women are studying public questions and Civics. As they gain information and have experience in their daily vocations, and in their efforts for human betterment, they are convinced, as many other women have long ago been convinced, that their efforts would be more telling if women had the vote. Having no vote, they need not be feared or heeded. The right of petition is good, but it is much better when well voted in. Not only is the colored woman awake to reforms that may be hastened by good legislation and wise administration, but she is reported as using it for the uplift of society and for the advancement of the state.”

I mean, and that’s going back to the Crisis, which was part of the NAACP from September 1912. This idea just working not only for yourself but for all. And listening to Susan speak about that – that just stuck out to me again. And then also, just talking about that it was, you know, that, yes they were parallel, but there were also different things that were going on. So, for example, we know here in Indianapolis in June 1912 that there was a call for an African American branch of the suffrage association, so, going back to the Indianapolis recorder, African American newspaper here in Indianapolis that continues to be published today, there was a call for a suffrage meeting, and this quotation came from F. B. Ransom, he was of course, the attorney for Madam CJ Walker, and the goal of this meeting was to consider the organization of a branch colored people to be affiliated with the state organization among white people. The object of having a separate organization. It goes on explaining it is only because it is believed that the idea will be more heartily entered into, and so we look at this great call to action and we see the additional women who would work for suffrage, but in the Indianapolis Star, also in 1912, I believe the day is June 22, 1912, there was a letter that was written anonymously that was unsigned to dr. Hannah Graham who at the time was president of the Equal Suffrage Association, and the individual who wrote this letter expressed that,

“It was with deep regret that I read the announcement that a woman’s franchise League of Black women was to be formed in the city. And that you, the president of the Equal Suffrage Association, are going to show your approval of such an action by addressing them.”

So, you can see in this moment there was at least this one person. Dr. Graham expressed being more determined after receiving the letter and ridicules this unsigned note, but at least one item was published in the Indianapolis Stargoing against that, and I listen to Susan talk about and that brings up that point that you know, it was not all, as Susan said, we weren’t all living, playing, worshipping, doing all these things together. there were some concerns there. At least by some people.

Beckley: Yea, I’d never heard that quote before, so thanks for bringing that to us. That’s really interesting. I think something that a lot of especially white historians are struggling with, here in the centennial of women’s suffrage is how to celebrate the accomplishments of both white and Black suffragists while also acknowledging this unsavory part of it that Black women were excluded and that white women did make the choice to exclude them. It wasn’t just happenstance. And kind of acknowledging that the fight for suffrage wasn’t over with the 19th Amendment. How do we balance those two narratives, how do we make sure that we are telling a more full story?

Dotson: Well I suggest, what you just said though, is an interesting word choice. That because of unsavory behaviors. And as much as I agree with that statement, I also posit that it was also the lay of the land. It was how it was. So, to suggest that all of the sudden this one movement for the common good of all women eradicated, eliminated, all these other structures and systems and mores and behaviors of the day, so that women could vote – women behaved the way society behaved. And I think the narrative is what it is. The narrative will speak for itself. And I think that’s where we get caught in this emotionalism. When we are doing a backwards glance at things that are less than flattering to a group or a society or an individual –  nobody wants to be that one. Nobody wants to be that bad guy. And it’s not so much being bad guys, it’s just how people were. It is how they country and individuals, municipalities, states, how people behaved. And you may not dislike me and one suffragist didn’t dislike the other on a personal level, but they weren’t friends. They weren’t colleagues, generally speaking. The newspapers were separated for a reason, where you could live was separated by law and by de facto, de jure segregation and by behaviors. So, why are we upset about what it was? That’s what it was. And, even when someone, I’m going to take it to a national level and then bring it back to local. Let’s look at Ida B. Wells. Ida B. Wells is a national figure –  Is traveling around the country –  she was a woman, a writer, a journalist, an author, an activist, a wife, a mother, and she knows some of the leaders of these suffrage movements. She knew Frederick Douglass. She knew Stanton, and others. And guess what? So what? They were not totally embarking and embracing on her friendship. She was asked to march during the 1913 suffrage march at the back of the line. She said no. And so she waited and, as the story’s been told often, that she waited on the sidewalk until the delegates from her state of Illinois came past and then she got off the sidewalk and got in line with them. It changes what? It changes nothing. Now, there were other women who marched at the back of a line. Who did – do we know all of whom they were? No, sadly we don’t. But we do know that the founding members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, who were collegiate from Howard University, and their advisor Mary Church Terell, was also and activists and a suffragist in her own right, marched – they decided to March at the back. Now, who else was there, we don’t know unfortunately. Do they get more credit for coming? No. In an overall National narrative? Generally, no. in the southern women, that was one of the reasons, that was the main reason why they were being asked not to come,  was as not to disenfranchised the women and I sat the women in the Southern States from coming. So, then you have Ida B. Wells who was an activist, and not just for suffrage, fighting for anti- lynching legislation, and writing about it. And traveling the country. And she too, is friends to madam C.J. Walker and they are contemporaries and their fight and struggle for equity, parody, anti-lynching legislation, anti-racism. And because of our dividing line and how we live – as I said, how we live, work, play, and worship – there are lots of people in the general populace who don’t know who Ida B. Wells is. Who may not know who Madame Walker is, right here in Indianapolis, besides from the theater Legacy that has been left behind on the footprint. And that Miss Barnes and she and others were colleagues, compatriots, writing checks, putting money where their mouth is, and not just for the Black community, but for also for women. But the question then is how do you fix a narrative? I don’t know that you fix a narrative, you just tell the truth. The truth and distinctive facts. Could people get along? Most certainly. But where people encouraging each other to come and join the frey and the fight? Clearly they weren’t. Or we would see more evidence of it. And it’s not just because the documents were lost. That’s just not how people were aligning themselves. And I guess in some regards, no different than what we see even today. Where people live, although we can come and go and live and work and play relatively fluidly, but we still tend to not always intersect in these very mixed environments. So, then it was not permissible by mores, standards, laws, the written and the unwritten. So, I don’t know that it – I don’t know that there will be more evidence that has ever presented that will make the movement look like the women’s march that we saw in 2016. Because it’s just not how we lived.

Beckley:  So, I’m kind of hearing that just tell the story how they happened and we don’t need to tiptoe around it but we just need to tell the facts and, you know, celebrate what they did and include all parts of the stories and include that context of the time that is so important. We keep coming back to the context of the time and I acknowledged and how people lived influenced how they did suffrage work. So, I think that’s really an interesting and very simple way of looking at it. It doesn’t need to be some big breakthrough that we have. We’ve just got to tell all of the stories.

Hall-Dotson:  Yeah, there isn’t a Kumbaya quote-unquote breakthrough.  there isn’t a moment where we can look back and say, “see I told you, there is an equal amount of Black women and white women all and the room fighting for suffrage.”  And if there was one, it was one. Maybe a one and done. And so the quotes that we get in the scholarship where the women are included – where there were Black women at a meeting – it wasn’t often and it wasn’t unilateral across the Nation. And one or two or three or five out of, say, 55 is not an equitable illustration of integration in the movement. And inclusion. So, I’m not suggesting that there isn’t any. There is some. But, it is far and few between and it is one in a few and it is not what we saw for example, and Washington and 2016. So, it is very different. And for a very different reasons. Not just because I don’t want to be with you because you’re Black. I don’t want to be with you because you’re a working-class woman. You know, women who were sitting at the Propylaeum having tea were not socializing with the women who were their help. Whether they were Black or white. Did they want them to have the vote? I don’t know. Probably not. So, there’s layers to this moment. Because not most Black women were like Madam Walker, but there is a community across this country of affluent educated, African Americans. As well as working class and under-educated, and in some cases still uneducated, from the vestiges of it being illegal to be educated, Black Americans who have now migrated from the south clear across the Midwest and the North. And people’s relationships are based on so many other things and not just on the color of their skin.

Beckley: Kisha, Did you have anything to add?

Tandy:  I am in complete agreement with Susan and I would just add that going back to where Black women, African American women, we’re looking at their clubs, looking at their organizations, is how we tell our story. And how we share that history. I think about Lillian Thomas Fox and her involvement with the National Association of Colored Women –  the work and effort that she was doing here in Indianapolis –  helping to establish with other Black women a clinic and a camp for- a place for patients for Black patients with TB, and just all the work that she did. Those important stories and her activism that led to, not necessarily led to but helped her to be involved and working for these things. And the idea that she was fighting against Jim Crow laws. Fighting against so many things that not only she had to deal with, but Black women, Black men, her family, her community, her fighting, just fighting for all of those different things. And so, we have to look at so many things as we tell and share that story. And knowing that, I know it’s been brought up already, but 1965 is such an important moment and such an important place in time, and even looking at today, as far as the vote and African Americans and African American women having the right to vote. So, those things and, you know, looking at that time frame and at that time span and saying, I’m going historically way back and also looking forward and beyond 1920. Because that is so important to the story and to the history. And telling a fuller story. I appreciate you, Susan, for bringing this relationship and network among women and then having friendships and working together. And striving for achievement and you mentioned Carrie Barnes, who was president of that chapter that started back in 1912. But, she and Madame Walker had been in – had participated in a number of other meetings where they were together and 1911, so a year before this meeting which was called. And Madame Walker talks about having extreme care for Carrie Barnes when she died, Carrie Barnes Ross died in 1918 and there is a letter at the Indiana Historical Society and they digitized collections where it talks, Madame Walker is writing to F. B. Ransom and it’s dated April 30th 1918, and she talks about Kerry Barnes Ross dying and that she was sad and that she felt – she had this feeling  as though she had been a daughter to her. And she just had this extreme sadness. But it speaks to that point that Susan was making this whole idea of a network and community. And we see that historically, we see that continuing today. And so I think that those are very important points and things to bring up as we talk about African American women working for the right to vote.

Beckley: I think to kind of wrap up here, I was wondering if both of you would like to share one story or one and a goat that you wish more people knew about either here in Indiana or on the national stage, what is one thing that you wish more people knew about?

Hall-Dotson:  I don’t know that it’s a story about, but it’s definitely sentiments of what it means to get the right to vote and what we do with it. And as women, we are working together, in many cases, they don’t walk in a lock step. They don’t have the same beliefs. And they don’t vote the same ultimately. So there were some women who were very much against women voting. They felt that it was for their husbands, their fathers, their sons, so all women were not unilaterally working and fighting and advocating for women’s right to get the vote. And if we take that through our body politic, what I think is missing often in discussion of suffrage, is getting the right to vote and then what do you do with it. Exercising that right to vote when you can. So, throughout the hundred-year period, how many women elected officials have there been? And where? Who voted for them? Women don’t vote as a block. There’s women who are Republicans there’s women who are Democrats there are women who are independents. They are women who don’t vote at all, still. So, even in the fight what we never look at I don’t think as we celebrate women’s right to vote, there’s this assumption that all women were advocating for women’s right to vote. And I don’t believe that’s so. Cuz it’s not so today. And what did we do with it? And what was the impact and effect of our body electorate – on a national level,  the first woman elected to congress in Indiana was in 1933. The first African American woman was in 1982. That’s Katie Hall out of Gary Indiana, and Julia Carson, the first woman and Indianapolis to go to Congress. But the first Black woman in Congress was Shirley Chisum and that was in 1969. But Virginia Jencks and 1933 out of Tera ho was the first woman from Indiana to go to Congress. And how many more women can we really think about? Just off the top of our heads I think we would have to really take a deeper Deep dive and look, in general, and it’s not that many. And why is that? If we are perpetually covering at 50% of the population and if we take partisan politics out of the equation, why are there so little, so few? All across the nation. And we have come a mighty long way. Women in politics and you see us from in the Senate now even a candidate for vice president. And judges and attorney generals and city council representatives across the country. That why so few and why so hard when we are about 50% of the population and most cases.

Beckley:  Yeah, I think that well I hope, with the centennial kind of wrapping up here in the next few months, that will give us a chance to use the research done for that as a springboard into some of this, what you’re talking about, looking at voting patterns and women actually participating in the political process. Because I think that’s just as important. Getting the vote is obviously, a milestone, but it’s just a milestone on the road to what we’ve actually done with the vote. So, I’m interested to see the scholarship that is going to be coming up in the next few years on that sort of thing.

Kisha, did you have a story or an anecdote or anything that you wish more people knew about?

Tandy:  I would just like to add, tell the stories of African-American women. And invite women living today to come and to tell their stories. So that a more complete history can be shared. There is –  I was working on this project –  this was, truly, my research project for me, to see what I could find, what information was available, using African American newspapers, using African American manuscript collections or whatever I could find to be able to bring information to be able to share, and finding women who had been in Indiana, I was very specifically  focused on women from Indiana and trying to find as many people outside of Indianapolis as well to be able to help tell the stories. And finding women who have lived in Indiana, had gone on to other places and who were making a difference there. So, being able to have their voices, having their records, the narratives, being able to access that, is so important. And like you, I am also excited about the scholarship that is coming. One individual that I am looking forward to reading her book, I have not read the book yet, but it was actually just published, but I have been listening to her talk and to share the information that she has found and she did look nationally, is Martha S. Jones  and her book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. And so, I am definitely looking forward to continuing to research to see what else I can find about what happened in Indiana and looking forward to seeing what else is out there. But also, just researching and telling the stories of African American women and Indiana.

Beckley:  I know that the Indiana Historical Bureau is also very interested in those stories and we’re looking to you and to others to find those stories and we are doing our own work so, hopefully this is, while it is the centennial celebration, it’s also the spark that we needed to kind of start a lot of these conversations like the one that we’re having today, to continue into the future and the future historians will pick up the threads and be able to work off of what we’re doing now.

Thank you both so much for being on the show today and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

Hall-Dotson: Thanks for having me.

Tandy: Thank you so much.

Beckley:  Once again, I want to thank both Kisha and Susan for taking the time to talk with me today. If you’re interested in learning more about what their work or about Black stop or just here in Indiana or nationally, we have some useful links in the show notes which can be found at blog.history.in.gov. we’ll be back next month with a new episode of talking Hoosier history. And 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 podcast. Thanks for listening!

*Should be 1903

*Should be 1904

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Learn more about this topic with the sources below:

Martha Jones, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, Basic Books, 2020.

Christine Fernando, “Black History is American History: How Black Hoosiers Contributed to Suffrage Movement,” Indianapolis Star. 

Melissa Block, “Yes, Women Could Vote After the 19th Amendment – But Not All Women. Or Men,” NPR. 

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle For the Vote, 1850-1920Indiana University Press, 1998.

Lillian Thomas Fox, Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Mr. A, Majors, M.D., Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and ActivitiesDonohue & Henneberry, Printers, 1983.

Afro-American Encyclopedia; Thoughts, Doings, and Sayings of the Race, Haley & Florida, 1895.

Indiana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs marker: https://www.in.gov/history/markers/227.htm

THH Episode 37: Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Transcript and Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Jump to Show Notes

Beckley: This is the second of a two-part series covering the long path to women’s suffrage in Indiana. If you haven’t listened to the first installment of this episode – Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly, you might want to do that now as it covers the roots of the suffrage movement in the Hoosier state.

[Cannon blast]

Beckley: The sound of cannon fire rang out in the gloomy pre-dawn air of a neighborhood just northwest of downtown Indianapolis. People sprang from bed, ready for a day that loomed large before them. But this wasn’t the beginning of a battle, rather, it was the end of a war – the war for the 19th amendment. The women of the fifth ward, a predominately African American voting district, rose with the sun, donned their hats, coats, and shoes, and by the time polls opened at 8:00, were waiting in lines to cast their first ever ballot. Some of these women may have been involved in the suffrage movement for decades– had been marching, speaking, petitioning…demanding the vote – and now, on November 2, 1920, their voices would finally, officially be heard. A few of these women appear in that day’s issue of the Indianapolis News under the headline “Waiting their turn to vote.” They had been waiting long enough, now was the time for action.

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

When we left off in the last episode, we were on the precipice of a global event that would change the landscape of the suffrage fight – World War I. But even before U.S. entry into the war, there was a lot for Hoosier women to be hopeful about when it came to suffrage. The 1917 legislative session brought about three major suffrage measures, all of which passed.

Each of the these differed slightly – the Woman’s Suffrage Act proposed partial Suffrage, allowing women to vote for some state and local officials, presidential electors, and delegates to the proposed state Constitutional Convention while leaving out voting for higher offices such as governor, state representatives, or senators. The second measure, the Beardsley Amendment, would strike the word “male” as criteria to vote from the state constitution, ultimately granting women the same suffrage rights as men. If passed, the amendment would be heard again in the 1919 legislative session before being put to a referendum where, ironically, only men would vote on whether women would earn the full rights of citizenship. The third and final measure took the form of a Constitutional Convention Bill. The hope was that with a brand-new constitution, universal suffrage could be written into the new document, making women’s suffrage less susceptible to being overturned. Each of these bills passed relatively easily and each held the tantalizing possibility of expanded voting rights for women.

Well, there it is. One year, three passed suffrage laws. That’s equal voting rights for women in Indiana, done and dusted, right? Of course not. When has it ever been that easy? In May, less than two months after the legislative session adjourned, the Constitutional Convention law was challenged in court on the grounds that it was an “unnecessary public expense.” In August, the partial suffrage law was also challenged on similar grounds – it would simply cost too much to effectively double the number of voters in the state. So, the two laws that would have immediately granted women in Indiana the right to vote were in jeopardy with the third stuck in limbo for at least two years.

Despite these blows, suffrage workers in the state pressed on. The Legislative Council of Indiana Women was crucial both in garnering support for the cause throughout the state and in getting the 1917 suffrage measures passed. Once that was done, they turned their sights to the next step – educating women about politics and registering them to vote. The LCIW and other suffrage groups weren’t going to let the uncertain future of the suffrage measures stop them from being prepared If the laws were to make it through the courts unscathed.

As historian Anita Morgan writes in her book, We Must be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, Cora Goodrich, first lady of Indiana, called for the political education of Hoosier Women at a celebration of the suffrage gains at the 1917 session, saying:

Goodrich read by Marino: We have been given the sacred power to help make a new constitution. We are not trained servants and it is most important that we study the need of the present constitution and that we make no mistake as to the attitude of the delegates toward prohibition and suffrage.

Beckley: Various suffrage organizations around the state – The Legislative Council, Equal Suffrage Association, Woman’s Franchise League, and others – answered that call. According to Morgan, the Equal Suffrage Association hosted civics courses, and included provisions for women who worked outside of the home who wished to attend. The Indianapolis Star began publishing a series of articles aimed at educating women about the mechanics of voting, authored by Franchise League member Kate Thompson. African American women’s groups invited Dr. Amelia Keller and Cora Goodrich to speak about citizenship issues at an Indianapolis church. Grant County held suffrage schools for both men and women at the local library. But all of that work to educate the women of Indiana would have been for naught if they weren’t registered to vote when election day finally arrived.

As registration opened, it was clear that this wouldn’t be an issue. Suffrage organizations mobilized to ensure that the women of Indiana would be ready for their day at the polls. Franchise League members became notaries and organized trips into rural farming communities, bringing with them blank registration forms to ensure women who were unable to register in person were able to vote. Franchise League member Celeste Barnhill spent all her spare time taking incorrectly filled out registration forms back to women to have them corrected, ensuring they would be able to vote when the time came. In one rather amusing instance, she returned a form to a woman who had failed to provide her year of birth on the form. When asked to correct it, the registrant in question stated,

[Record scratch]

Quote read by Marino: Oh, I didn’t forget it. I just thought it wasn’t any of your business.

Beckley: In the end, Mrs. Barnhill convinced the registrant to fill out the correct information, and one more woman was ready to make her voice heard.

In some places, women registrants outnumbered men. Women of all ages and from all backgrounds rushed to get their registration cards in. In Muncie, Nelle Reed registered to vote because her husband died of alcoholism and through Prohibition legislation, she hoped to prevent her son from suffering the same fate. She was illiterate, so she simply signed an “X” for her name. In Vanderburgh County, all women at the Rathbone Home, an institution for single women, registered to vote. Gary’s first registrant was a 23-year-old woman, while in Bedford, one woman in her 80s and another in her 90s were driven to their registration site, where they signed up with trembling hands. And, in Bartholomew County, Black women were at the front of the registration line.

Unfortunately, all of this mobilization, excitement, and anticipation was for nothing. Defeat came quick on the heels of the successes of the 1917 legislative session. In July, the Indiana Supreme Court declared the Constitutional Convention law unconstitutional and in October the Woman’s Suffrage Act of 1917, Hoosier women’s last hope for immediate, albeit partial suffrage, was ruled unconstitutional just 11 days before the election.

Interwoven through all of this – in between the education, the push for registration, and the ongoing court battles, women were engaged in war work. Upon the U.S. entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, suffrage organizations were in the ideal position to organize Hoosier women to help the war effort – after all, they’d been organizing women for decades.

Just as factories on the home front shifted from peacetime to wartime production, suffrage organizations utilized their pre-existing networks to efficiently adapt to war work. To them, war work and suffrage went hand in hand – what better way to convince skeptics of their loyalty and patriotism? Surely, if they assisted in this war, which was framed as a defense of Democratic principles, the injustice of the women’s disenfranchisement couldn’t persist much longer.

Women around the state threw themselves into their work. Before the state itself organized for defense, Julia E. Landers of Indianapolis organized the Indiana League for Woman’s Service, which was tasked with helping the Jeffersonville quartermaster locate women willing to make 2 million shirts for the army. Ten thousand southern Indiana women answered the call and made the garments in their homes.

Katherine Greenough of Indianapolis led Woman’s Franchise League Liberty Loan drives and devised a plan to encourage League members to purchase bonds. Her efforts raised over one and a half million dollars in bonds. When the state did organize for defense, one woman was named to serve on each county defense council. That woman would establish a Woman’s Committee who would then organize the women throughout the county. Franchise League member Julia Henderson organized the Fourteen-Minute women, who traveled throughout the state giving talks on war-related topics such as food conservation, food production, registration of women for war work, child welfare, liberty loans, and home economics.

Marion County’s African American woman’s committee, made up of the Black members of the Marion County Council of Defense Woman’s Committee’s, named chairwomen to oversee food production, child welfare, foreign relief, education, public speaking, and more. Indianapolis’s Ella Clay organized Black women to deliver talks throughout the city, similar to those given by the Fourteen Minute Women. Flanner House, an African American Community Center, hosted first-aid and nurse training classes, where over 200 women were instructed. Flanner House also hosted its own Red Cross unit, which, according to Dr. Morgan, made items like pajamas, shirts, and surgical bags for the war effort.

When it was all said and done, 626,292 Hoosier women had registered for war work, the second highest number in the nation. Unlike during the Civil War, women didn’t drop the suffrage cause completely during this crisis.

Members of the Indianapolis branch of the Franchise League spent much of their time at the Red Cross workroom at the W.H. Block Department Store knitting socks and slippers for soldiers alongside volunteers from local charities and churches. But more than knitting was happening in the workroom – as the Hoosier Suffragist put it,

Suffragist read by Marino: A great opportunity is at hand, not to make suffragists into Red Cross workers, but to make workers into suffragists.

Beckley: When there was a lull in war work, League members hit the streets to recruit new members, collected signatures for a petition to Congress regarding a federal amendment, went on suffrage auto tours similar to those mentioned in the last episode, and created suffrage schools to prepare speakers.

One such “Suffrage School” was organized in June 1918 in Merom, Indiana. This week-long course taught attendees how to spread the “suffrage doctrine,” as they put it. The women studied topics such as the history of suffrage, speaking, organizing, and finances. Students took a journalism class and practiced writing for publications. They would debate each other about suffrage, one taking the pro and one the anti side. They practiced their public speaking skills in front of crowds in nearby towns, and there was even day care provided for attendees with young children.

It was essential for Hoosier suffragists to be prepared – the 1919 legislative session was just around the corner and with it came another chance to finally secure the vote. As the 1919 session opened, the playing field was set:  two of the three suffrage measures passed in 1917 had been ruled unconstitutional. The Beardsley Amendment, which would remove the “male” qualifier from the Indiana state constitution, was up for the second vote in the General Assembly. If it passed again, it would go to a referendum. World War I had ended just two months earlier, and women, who had worked tirelessly throughout the war in support of their government, expected equal voting rights to follow. Both the house and senate had expressed support for increased woman suffrage. Governor Goodrich himself urged the General Assembly to enact suffrage legislation in his opening address. Change was in the air.

But, this was the fight for suffrage. It had been dragging on and on for well over half a century, and by this time, after so many defeats, many suffragists saw a federal amendment as their only hope for a suffrage measure that wouldn’t inevitably be overturned in the courts. And there was a version of the Anthony Amendment – which would become the 19th Amendment – winding its way through the United States Congress after having failed to pass in September 1918 by just two votes. However, suffragists had learned not to put all their eggs in one basket – they continued to push for suffrage measures at the state level.

The first new suffrage measure, created by Franchise League leaders, was for partial suffrage. Similar to that passed in the 1917 session but revised to resolve the issues deemed unconstitutional, this bill passed easily. Then came a bit of a curve ball that’s hard to understand, even with the hindsight we have today.

On January 14, 1919, the Indianapolis News announced that the Beardsley Amendment, which was up for the second and final vote before going to a referendum, would be withdrawn and re-introduced as a new amendment, which would have to once again pass two separate legislative sessions and a referendum. This was being done with the support of the Woman’s Franchise League. From our standpoint, this seems unthinkable – suffragists had been working to secure the vote for nearly 70 years and this was the closest they had ever come to getting a constitutional amendment passed. Why allow it to be delayed for at least another two years? The answer seems to be two-fold.

First, the General Assembly had several other amendments it wanted to vote on in the 1919 session, but if the suffrage bill was passed and put to a referendum, all others would be put on hold until the next session, two years later. Thus, a new Beardsley amendment could be proposed in 1919 and passed in 1921 without obstructing the other proposals.

The second reason for the withdrawal and re-introduction of the Beardsley Amendment is . . . less bureaucratic and more distasteful.  The new version of the amendment, like the original, struck out the word “male,” thus providing full suffrage to women. It also removed suffrage rights from immigrants voting on what was called “first papers,” which were basically forms proving that an immigrant intended to apply for citizenship. Throughout the war, suffragists had often used anti-immigrant language to make a case for the vote, capitalizing on increased nativism brought about by the war. They painted immigrants as ignorant, disloyal, and undeserving of a say in governing a country that was not “theirs,” and they contrasted them with the educated, loyal, all-American women who had worked so hard for the war effort. In August 1918, Indianapolis Suffragist Grace Julian Clarke wrote:

Clarke read by Marino: Another reason for considering suffrage a war measure is found in the fact that while we are sending millions of our young men across the water to fight for democracy and civilization, being thereby deprived of their votes in important elections here at home, we yet permit millions of pro-Germans to exercise this function.

Beckley: It’s hard, even for me, to look at my historical heroes and see their flaws. It would be easy for us to avoid the nativism of the suffrage movement and celebrate women’s suffrage wholeheartedly. It would also be easy to portray Indiana’s suffrage movement as being integrated harmoniously – Black and white suffragists working side by side for a common goal. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. There were Black suffragists across the state, but particularly in Indianapolis, and Black women attended large, integrated suffrage meetings and hosted white suffragists at their own meetings– but in reality, Black and White suffragists often worked parallel to each other (even if fighting for the same goal) and operated out of separate groups.  As Susan Hall-Dotson, African-American history collections coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society, points out in an interview with the Anderson Herald Bulletin, Black and white women living in Indiana in the early 20th century were segregated, and we had a largely segregated suffrage movement as a result.

Ignoring these unsavory elements of historical events and figures to only focus on the positives is dishonest and just bad history – we must recognize the flaws of these figures and doing so doesn’t erase their achievements – it makes them human.

This new Beardsley Amendment, which at once expanded and contracted voting rights throughout the state, passed easily and would be voted on again in 1921. However, by then, the “Suffrage question” was settled, or at least, so it seemed.

The United States Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in June 1919, after five failed attempts in as many months. Indiana suffragists immediately began calling for the governor to convene a special session of the General Assembly to ratify the 19th Amendment. The governor, however, wanted to wait to see what other states would do before spending time and money on a special session. Months later, with still no sign of a special session, Franchise League president Helen Benbridge delivered petitions signed by 86,000 Hoosiers, saying,

Benbridge read by Marino: As we believe that the calling of a special session of the Indiana legislature is a matter of a few days away, or at the outside, a few weeks, we want you to realize what an enormous demand there is over the state for ratification.

Beckley: Finally, Governor Goodrich agreed to call a special session, as long as suffrage was the only topic of discussion.

On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The vote was 43 to 3 in the Senate and 93 to 0 in the House.  Hundreds of women were in attendance, adorned with the yellow flower that represented suffrage. The Indianapolis News reported:

News read by Marino: The main floor and gallery of the senate were packed when the suffrage resolution was taken up. Several hundred women were in the chamber, and standing room was at a premium.

Beckley: The News continued:

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

Beckley: Women literally danced in the halls – Indiana’s first lady Cora Goodrich was seen waltzing with Mary Tarkington Jameson as the band played “Until We Meet Again.”

Governor Goodrich signed the ratification resolution surrounded by the state’s leading suffrage workers, who had dedicated their lives to this very achievement.

Seven months later, on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and the measure became law, women around the Hoosier state celebrated. In Terre Haute, women staged a “whale of a parade,” and families lined the streets shouting and cheering as they passed. Suffrage workers in Fort Wayne hired an airplane to drop thousands of circulars over the city announcing the victory and encouraging women to register. In Indianapolis, women hosted a “jollification luncheon” at the Claypool hotel where the state song of Tennessee was sung as a tribute to the state that sealed the suffrage deal. On August 28 at noon, cities and town around the state sounded factory steam whistles and church bells in a collective celebration of the end of a struggle that had lasted lifetimes.

The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, imbuing women with the full rights of citizenship. It expanded voting rights to millions. But not to all people living in America.  Barriers preventing Native men and women from voting weren’t removed nation-wide until 1947. Asian Americans weren’t eligible for citizenship, and thus to vote, until 1952. While there were no state-wide legal restrictions placed on Black voters in Indiana, voter suppression laws in southern states limited Black men and women from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even in northern states, like Indiana, intimidation tactics employed by groups like the KKK suppressed Black turnout throughout the 1920s. Today, American citizens living in Washington D.C. and U.S. territories have no vote in congress, while voter I.D. laws, voter purges, and the disenfranchisement of felons disproportionately affect people of color. The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, but it was just a step on the long road to equality that we’re still travelling today.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is produced by the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library This episode was written me, Lindsey Beckley, with research supplied by Jill Weiss Simins and Nicole Poletika. Sound engineering by Justin Clark and production by Jill Weiss Simins. We’ll be back in two weeks with another installment of Giving Voice. Until then, find us on Facebook and Twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to like, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Newspapers

“Suffrage Petitions are Signed by 86,000,” Indianapolis News, November 18, 1916, 23, Newspapers.com.

“Senate Passes Bill to Remodel Capitol,” Indianapolis News, January 25, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Convention Bill Is Signed,” Indianapolis Star, February 2, 1917, 10, Newspapers.com.

“House Now to Act on Suffrage, Richmond Item, February 9, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Department Club Action,” Indianapolis News, February 6, 1917, 22, Newspapers.com.

“Governor to Sign Maston Bill Monday,” Richmond Item, February 25, 1917, I, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Suffrage Victory Important, Says Mrs. Catt,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 22, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Resolution Adopted by the House,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 16, Newspapers.com.

“The Star’s Home Study Class for Women Voters,” Indianapolis Star, March 25, 1917, 33, Newspapers.com.

“First Women to Register,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Women Vitally Interested in the Constitutional Convention as Shown by Their Rush to Qualify as Voters at the Special Elections,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17, Newspapers.com.

“Stiff Blow Is Given by High Court,” (Muncie) Star Press, July 14, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Women Denied the Right to Vote; Marion Superior Court Holds the Law Is Unconstitutional,” Princeton Daily Clarion, September 17, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

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

“Suffrage Law Is Invalid; Women Rest Hope on Congress,” Indianapolis Star, October 27, 1917, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage School is in Full Swing Today,” Rushville Republican, June 25, 1918, 6, Newspapers.com.

Grace Julian Clarke, “Public Opinion Much Changed as to Suffrage” Indianapolis Star, August 11, 1918, 37.

“Suffrage Amendment of 1917 to Give Way,” Indianapolis News, January 14, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Indiana Suffrage Plans Started,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Act Is Now Signed by Governor,” Indianapolis News, February 7, 1919, 20, Newspapers.com.

“Senate Adopts Suffrage by Vote of 56 to 25,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Women After Extra Session,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1, Newspapers.com.

“G.O.P. Assembly leaders Seek Quiet Session” Indianapolis Star, January 16, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Scores of Women Attend Session,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“In Any Event This was a Parade. An All-Auto Victory Procession,” Indianapolis News, August 21, 1920, 1.

“Women Parade at Terre Haute, Indianapolis Times, August 21, 1920, 3, Newspapers.com.

“Suffragists Jollify Over Ratification,” Indianapolis News, August 28, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Celebrate for Suffrage Today,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 28, 1920, 2, Newspapers.com.

“Suffrage Workers Celebrate Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 29, 1920, 12, Newspapers.com.

“Women Celebrate Suffrage Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 9, 1920, 13, Newspapers.com.

“Voters of Indiana Go to Polls Early,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Riot of Colors in Voting Line,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, Newspapers.com.

“Voting Described as Heavy and Fast,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, 10, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Publications

The Hoosier Suffragist, August 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 2.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, October 1917, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, April 1918, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 2.

Books

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

Further Reading

On Black Suffragists:

Melissa Block, Yes, Women Could Vote After the 19th Amendment – But Not All Women. Or MenNPR, August 26, 2020.

Rebecca R. Bibbs, Historian: Suffrage largely was white women’s movement(Anderson) Herald Bulletin, August 22, 2020.

Christine Fernando, ‘Black history is American history’: How Black Hoosiers contributed to suffrage movementIndyStar, August 27, 2020.

Integrity on the Gridiron Part Three: The Notre Dame Publicity Campaign that Crushed the Klan

 

Program, “Stanford vs Notre Dame,” 1925, in David Kiefer, “Stanford 125: The 1920s,” September 10, 2019, accessed gostanford.com.

This is Part Three of a three-part series on the University of Notre Dame’s opposition to the Ku Klux Klan. See Part One for information on the May 1924 riot and Part Two for more about the integrity modeled by the Fighting Irish during the 1924 regular football season.

Indiana’s Ku Klux Klan had a good year in 1924. Its members’ lobbying paid off and their xenophobia was codified into law with the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act). The act established a strict quota system that unfairly targeted immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, in large part because many immigrants from these areas were Catholics. The Klan and other xenophobes charged that Catholic immigrants would always be loyal to the Pope and to Rome, as opposed to the laws of their adopted country, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. The new immigration law would keep out these “undesirable” immigrants. For many xenophobes, including Klan members, this was not enough. The Indiana Klan worked to further block Catholics and immigrants from gaining political power and influence. They did so by working to portray immigrants, Catholics, and Jews as “other,” as alien, as unassimilable, as un-American.[1]

Left: Ku Klux Klan, “Information Sheet,” 1922, Indiana Pamphlet Collection, Indiana State Library, (top page of sheet). Right: Detail from “Information Sheet.”

In Indiana, the Klan circulated “Information Sheets” before elections. These were copies of ballots where the Klan noted candidates who were “Negro” or “Foreign Born,” those who were Catholic or had Catholic family members, and those who refused to respond to inquiries.[2] The Klan newspaper, the Fiery Cross, accused Catholics and immigrants of various wild plots against their fellow Hoosiers and positioned Klan members as the innocent victims of attacks by Catholics. The propaganda mouthpiece dedicated full pages to this “mounting list of Roman Catholic offenses,” which supposedly included such “papist crimes” as “arson, theft, assault and battery, murder, slander, intimidation, breach of contract, disrespect for flag and violation of the immigration law.”[3]

Advertisement, Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan also continued to use the May 1924 incident at South Bend to vilify the city’s immigrant population as “hoodlums” and Notre Dame University as a front for secret, un-American, “papist” activities that would undermine the values of good Protestant Hoosiers. The Fiery Cross distributed a booklet, “The Truth About the Notre Dame Riot” and ran articles and anonymous letters it claimed were penned by neutral, non-Klan member observers of the “foreign rioting”of May. [4] In truth, these “letters” were racist, anti-Catholic propaganda. These strikingly similar letters, signed with pseudonyms like “An American Citizen” and “Observer” referred to Notre Dame students as”anti-American” and “gangsters. [5] The writers claimed that the students were armed with guns and knives, outnumbered Klan members thirty-to-one, beat women unconscious, tore up the American flag, and spilled the blood of all-American Klansmen, “the same true blood shed at Bunker Hill and Argonne.”[6]  While local non-Klan affiliated newspapers reported no such level of violence, no weapons, no women present, and no destruction of the flag, the Klan’s version of events was repeated in mainstream newspapers, tarnishing the university’s reputation.

Notre Dame officials knew that the Klan wanted them to react. The Klan had baited students into conflict in May and had been thriving off the propaganda opportunity ever since. The xenophobic group continued threatening to return to South Bend, even holding large rallies on the edge of town. Instead of responding to the Klan, the university worked to counter the damage done to their reputation by promoting its increasingly-popular football team. By winning games, growing its fan base, publicizing its players as wholesome American boys, and linking the school’s Catholicism with its success on the field, Notre Dame flipped the script on the Klan. Newspapers across the country were now talking about Coach Rockne’s brilliant plays, the unstoppable Four Horseman offensive backfield, the Fighting Irish’s undefeated regular season, and the team’s odds at the upcoming Rose Bowl.[7]

Minneapolis Star, December 26, 1924, 14, accessed Newspapers.com.

The trip to the Rose Bowl presented university leadership with a unique opportunity—a national stage on which to demonstrate that Notre Dame was both proudly Irish Catholic and thoroughly American. Many players were sons of immigrants, improving themselves through education and hard work to achieve success and the American dream. And what could be more American than football? Positive press coverage generated by the Fighting Irish’s undefeated 1924 season convinced President Walsh that mobilizing the full power of the university behind the football team was a winning promotional strategy. According to Notre Dame historian Robert Burns:

When reporters wrote about Rockne’s success or the exploits of the Four Horsemen, they could not do so without also writing about the special religious and academic environment that had made such success and exploits possible. That sort of reporting…was good for Note Dame, for Catholic higher education, and for American Catholics generally in the bigoted climate of 1924. [8]

Walsh gave his blessing to the January 1925 match up between Notre Dame and Stanford at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He then handed over the reigns to Father O’Hara, the school’s “prefect of religion and  unofficial keeper of the institutional conscience.” Father O’Hara turned the train trip to Pasadena into a “public relations spectacular.”[9]

“Mass Celebrated by the Notre Dame Football Team on the Road,” n.d., University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed https://www.nd.edu/stories/whats-in-a-name/.

Father O’Hara planned a three week trip centered around the Rose Bowl game and mobilized Notre Dame alumni and Catholic organizations to set up public events en route. Alumnus and railroad executive Angus D. McDonald arranged for a special train to transport the team, coaches, managers, alumni, and Father O’Hara. The train included a chapel car for Mass, Holy Communion, and confession. Father O’Hara believed that the devoutness demonstrated through daily communion, combined with “the gentlemanly conduct of the team” would win over the American public “while bigotry and prejudice received an abrupt setback.”[10]

“Notre Dame University’s Unbeaten Football Team at Illinois Central Station Chicago en Route to California via New Orleans,” Illinois Central Railroad Company Photograph, December 20, 1924, University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed 125.nd.edu.

On Thursday, December 18, 1924, Rockne drilled his players “on a field covered with ice and in a slow drizzle,” a public display of a steadfast team determined to win in January.[11]  The next day, the special Notre Dame train left for Chicago. The Tennessean reported that “Hundreds of students and townspeople braved zero degree weather” to see them off.[12] When they arrived in Chicago on Saturday, alumni and members of the Knights of Columbus greeted the team and posed for photos. Notre Dame had become increasingly popular among Chicago’s immigrant community, and local newspapers thoroughly covered the team’s arrival in the city, openly rooting for them over the days leading up the Rose Bowl.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the entire Midwest was “pulling for Knute Rockne’s famous ‘Four Horsemen’ to ride rough shod over the Californians.”[13] The newspaper stated that midwesterners had a vested interest in the game’s outcome “because of the intersectional reputation of Notre Dame, the most widely advertised eleven the country has ever known.”[14] The Tribune reported that while normally telegraph offices would be closed on New Year’s Day, they would “remain open to receive the returns.”[15] The paper also encouraged “everybody with a radio, or those who know somebody with a set” to keep “their ears glued to the headpieces” as Tribune radio station WGN would be airing the game.[16] Pasadena hotel companies even beckoned to Chicago-area residents to follow the team out West for the Rose Bowl through newspaper advertisements.[17] In fact, newspapers all across the country reported on the team’s travels from this first stop. By the time the train left Chicago, the Rose Bowl seats were completely sold out.[18]

“A ticket from the 1925 Rose Bowl between Notre Dame and Stanford,” in “The First Bowl Trip, 125 Moments, University of Notre Dame Football, accessed 125.nd.edu.

The Notre Dame train traveled south, stopping briefly in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 21. Here, the team and entourage were again greeted by alumni and Knights of Columbus members, who had set up a special Mass in the team’s honor. They continued on to New Orleans, where locals pulled out all the stops for “a series of entertainments”over a two-day period.[19] The first day Coach Rockne held an hour-long practice at Loyola University stadium, “consisting chiefly of passing and kicking and the execution of several plays,” and the second day the team spent the afternoon in workouts at Holy Cross College.[20] In the evenings, the team was “elaborately entertained.”[21] According to Burns, “The team was a huge favorite of the large local Catholic population, who turned out in large crowds to cheer and follow the players as they enjoyed the city.”[22] They reportedly enjoyed themselves too much and were “so stuffed with oysters and creole food that they could barely run” at practice.[23] Rockne was not happy and threatened to send players home if they didn’t restrain themselves, maintain their physical fitness, and obey his 10:00 p.m. curfew from this point forward.

The team arrived in Houston, Texas, on December 24 to a now-familiar scene as Notre Dame alumni and the local Catholic community greeted them. Several representatives also arrived from nearby St. Edwards College in Austin, including the college president Father Matthew Schumacher and the athletic director Jack Meager, who was also a former Notre Dame player.[24] Rockne drilled the team hard, despite the rain, and they showed improvement from their lackluster practice in New Orleans.[25] Newspapers reported that Rockne made the team run drills on Christmas day. This was likely a short practice, considering the devout Father O’Hara was supervising the trip, dressing up as Santa Claus that day.[26] The players also attended Mass, a private party, and a Knights of Columbus dinner.[27]

“Horsemen in Action,” 1924, in Harry McGuire and Jack Scallan, eds., Official 1924 Football Review, University of Notre Dame, 51, accessed Notre Dame Archives.

With the Rose Bowl game drawing near, Rockne cancelled the team’s scheduled stop in El Paso, and the train headed straight to Tucson, Arizona, to get down to work. Here the team practiced for four straight days in order to adapt to the warmer climate. Again, Rockne was joined by former players, this time at the University of Arizona stadium. One of these players, Edward Madigan, “scouted Stanford for Rockne” and made the coach aware of a “sideline screen pass that the Stanford coach used two or three times a game.”[28] Rockne devised a play to block this pass and taught the players to recognize its set up. This intelligence would greatly impact the results of the Rose Bowl game.

Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1924, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

When the team arrived in Los Angeles on December 31, 1924, several thousand supporters met them at the train station. Commenting on the crowd and the success of Notre Dame’s publicity machine, the Notre Dame Alumnus magazine reported:

Despite the early arrival hour, seven o’clock, the station platform was crowded with alumni, Knights of Columbus, members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (who presented a massive silver football to the team) and various motion picture people anxious to see their rivals in publicity.[29]

At least one hundred of the folks gathered on the platform that day were South Bend, Lafayette, and Chicago-based Notre Dame alumni who had arrived on the “Rockne Special,” a Pullman train chartered by the Notre Dame Club of Chicago, to take them from the Windy City to Los Angeles.[30] The train full of super fans garnered its own round of press coverage with wire services reporting on its stops across the country, where these alumni also stopped for daily Mass and were welcomed by local Catholic organizations.[31]

“Notre Dame Grid Men at Pasadena, California,” January 1, 1925, University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed 125.nd.edu.

Rockne, worried about the players getting distracted by all the fanfare, had the team driven immediately to their hotel in Pasadena. Even famous heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey couldn’t convince the coach to let him entertain the players first.[32] But the hotel lobby was just as festive as the train platform. Former football player and Chicago Tribune sportswriter Walter Eckersall wrote:

Again at the hotel the squad was accorded another rousing reception for the lobby had been filled all day with curious personas who continually asked to see the warriors who have brought so much glory to Notre Dame.[33]

After checking into the hotel, the team went to the Rose Bowl for practice. Standing in the stadium, the Irish focused on their goal: an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl championship. Coach Rockne worried that they hadn’t gotten in enough practice time during the trip because of inclement weather, but felt optimistic about the plays they studied and ran in Tucson. The players wore “looks of determination on their faces which indicate they realize the burden of responsibility they are carrying.”[34] The Fighting Irish returned to their hotel at 8:30 p.m. without accepting any local offers of entertainment. Rockne notified the hotel staff: “No incoming calls answered.”[35]

Meanwhile, newspapers across the country reported on the practice, debated who would win the following day, and discussed just how evenly matched the two teams were. And the excitement was building. Eckersall wrote:

Every arriving train brings more football fans, and the great majority favor Notre Dame to win. Coaches from all sections of the country are here to get a line on the Rockne style of play and see what all expect to be a great exhibition of open football. [36]

On the warm and sunny New Year’s Day of 1925, the team attended Mass and took Holy Communion before heading to the Rose Bowl. Over 53,000 fans filled the stands and others sat in trees outside the stadium. The game started at 2:15 p.m. (4:15 for those Midwest fans listening to the WGN Chicago broadcast). [37] As usual, Coach Rockne started his second string “shock troops” so as not to tire his first string, especially under the warm California sun. (See Part One on this famous Rockne’s strategy). The shock troops buckled under the pressure of Stanford’s offense and the Cardinals scored first with a field goal. [38]

Chicago Sunday Tribune, January 11, 1925, 115, accessed Newspapers.com.

Stanford continued to outplay Notre Dame in the first quarter, even after Rockne sent his first string players into the fray. According to Burns, “The Four Horsemen could not mount a sustained drive against the huge but agile Stanford line.”[39] When Stanford kicked a bad punt, placing Notre Dame offense on the Stanford thirty-two yard line, the Irish got their first break. Burns continued: “Seven plays later, [full-back Elmer] Layden scored the first Notre Dame touchdown on a three-yard run early in the second quarter.”[40] The score was 6 to 3, Notre Dame. The Cardinals drove the Irish back hard, quickly putting them on the defensive at the Notre Dame six-yard line. Stanford brought out their trusty sideline screen pass, hoping to breeze by the Irish. This was the moment the Horsemen had trained for in Tucson after receiving the scouting report on the play. Coach Rockne explained:

We were primed for that play. Not only had Layden been instructed to intercept it, but we had two men to take out the safety man and the passer in the event that he did intercept the pass.[41]

Not only did Layden intercept the pass, he then ran seventy yards for a touchdown in one of the most exciting moments of the game. Half-back James Crowly kicked the extra point and Notre Dame led at the half 13 to 3. [42]

Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1925, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

Although Notre Dame led in points, Stanford was outpassing and outrushing the Irish, while shutting down their offense. The game was “hard fought,” physically exhausting, and Notre Dame looked tired at the half.[43] The Notre Dame Alumnus reported:

The boys were obviously feeling the effects of the long trip, the unusual heat of the day, and the hard, but clean, combat of the game . . . It was doubtful if some of the men, particularly the linemen could finish the game.[44]

Stanford missed two field goals early in the third quarter but kept Notre Dame “confined within their own thirty yard line throughout the period.”[45] About halfway through the quarter, Stanford fumbled, and Irishman Edward Huntsinger grabbed the ball. Coach Rockne had almost sent Huntsinger home days earlier in New Orleans for disobeying curfew to buy postcards in the hotel lobby. The Irish were lucky the coach reconsidered, because Huntsinger ran the recovered ball for another touchdown. Crowley again kicked the extra point, and Notre Dame led 20 to 3 at the end of the third.[46]

Des Moines Register, January 2, 1925, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

The crowd was tense when the fourth quarter began, as the score did not reflect how close the game really was.[47] Stanford intercepted a Notre Dame pass, and “in seven running plays” the Cardinals “moved the ball to a fourth down situation inside the Notre Dame one yard line.”[48] Then,“in the final period Stanford made a beautiful march of 60 yards” to put the ball at the Notre Dame one-yard line on the fourth down.[49] Stanford’s quarterback was stopped only a foot, or mere inches (depending on the report), from crossing the “counting mark” for a touchdown.[50] Layden punted back to Stanford’s 48-yard line, and “again the Cardinal[s] started to march down the field.”[51] With two minutes to go, Stanford again attempted their sideline screen pass. Layden anticipated the move, intercepted the play, and ran 60 or 70 yards (depending on reports) for a touchdown. Crowley came through with the extra point, and Notre Dame beat Stanford 27 to 10.[52] Both teams played exceptional football, and the Rose Bowl game was noted for “aggressive playing” but “remarkably clean” sportsmanship.[53]

The stadium roared with Notre Dame fans “jubilant in victory,” but the Fighting Irish were surprisingly stoic.[54] The Notre Dame Alumnus reported:

As 53,000 spectators jostled their way through the crowded tunnels of the Rose Bowl . . . thirty-three tired young lads dropped their football togs [clothing] on a damp cement floor of the dressing room, for the last time in a long season, silent in their contemplation of a hard-earned victory and buoyed up only by the realization that they had acquitted themselves to the credit and price of Notre Dame and Knute Rockne.[55]

Boston Globe, January 2, 1925, 16, accessed Newspapers.com.

The victorious players were so tired, they couldn’t enjoy the dinner and dance held for them back at their hotel that night. But the Fighting Irish would have to muster up a last bit of energy.[56] For while it had been a long trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl title, there was one last but important journey ahead of them: a victory lap across the country and back to South Bend.

On January 2, Hollywood welcomed the victorious Notre Dame team. The Alumnus reported that if there was a famous movie star who did not meet the players that day, it could only have been because the actor was not in town. The Alumnus also noted that “cameras worked overtime” capturing the stars and star players. [57] That night, the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles hosted a dinner dance which “gave the men their first opportunity to really celebrate.”[58] Father O’Hara was proud to report that at all times the players conducted themselves as honorable gentlemen and good Catholics.[59] After all, a large part of why they were on this trip was to reflect positively on the university. Every team member would have been aware of the expectations.

Indianapolis Star, January 9, 1925, 12, accessed Newspapers.com

The next day, January 3, the group arrived in San Francisco. Notre Dame alumni, the Knights of Columbus, and the city’s Irish-American mayor welcomed the Fighting Irish. Perhaps everyone who had been discriminated against in this era of the Klan was feeling a little Irish that day. Herbert Fleishacker, a prominent Jewish San Francisco banker, wrote in a telegram to the alumni group: “WE IRISH MUST STAND TOGETHER.”[60] At the dinner and dance that evening “once again, the players and coaches were charming, properly dressed, and well-behaved.”[61] They attended a special Mass the next morning and spent the day as the guests of some of the city’s most prominent citizens and leaders.[62]

The rest of the trip must have been a whirlwind for the exhausted players. They arrived in Salt Lake City on January 5, where they took historical tours, went to a concert, had dinner, and attended yet another reception. They received a Wild West themed welcome the following day from the local Catholic community of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Irish were provided with “six-gallon hats, stage coaches, a military band and the key to the frontier town.”[63]

“The Fighting Irishmen Notre Dame Cheyenne Wyoming,” January 1, 1925, University of Notre Dame Archives, accessed 125.nd.edu.

On January 6, a crowd of thousands waited on the platform as the team’s train pulled into Denver. Mothers of Notre Dame students and “a remarkably beautiful group of girls” greeted the players, pinning blue and yellow streamers on their coats.[64] The Denver alumni club reported:

Movie cameras were clicking, press photographers were snapping, and over it all sounds the low rumbling roar of the admiring crowd.[65]

The Denver Alumni Club drove the team through the cheering crowd to the Denver Athletic Club for yet another banquet. Two hundred prominent Denver citizens, including the governor of Colorado, attended the gala, where celebrants sang Notre Dame fight songs. Speeches that night focused on the moral strength of the university and on Catholicism as a powerful force in shaping students into upstanding American citizens. The Denver Alumni Club reported that “no one who attended the dinner can ever forget that Notre Dame builds character, manliness and righteousness along with wonderful football elevens.”[66]

Surprisingly, the next stop on the tour, on January 8, was Lincoln, Nebraska, where the team had been accosted by xenophobic and anti-Catholic insults on the gridiron over the previous two seasons. [See parts one and two]. Only now, they arrived in the city of their conquered rivals as national champions. Lincoln “forgot the defeat of November” at the hands of the Irish and treated them with sportsmanship and respect. The Notre Dame players even attended the inauguration of the new Nebraska governor that evening.[67]

Lincoln Journal Star (Nebraska), January 2, 1925, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Notre Dame train pulled into Chicago on January 9. Some players stayed for a few days in the city that had rooted for their victory beside radio sets a week earlier. Others went straight back to South Bend. By January 12, the Fighting Irish had all returned to the university.[68] They were completely exhausted from physical exertion and from continually being on their best behavior. The constant scrutiny of serving as representatives not just of the school, but of Catholics everywhere was a lot of pressure for young students. The Notre Dame Alumnus wrote:

The word ‘banquet’ is an alarm, ‘look pleasant, please’ is an oath and ‘the game’ is an unmentionable now that the men are back on campus — with exams less than two weeks away.[69]

The Fighting Irish had delivered an undefeated season and a national championship to their university. Notre Dame officials, in turn, leveraged the opportunity into a publicity spectacular. Father O’Hara’s plan to use football successes to reform the school’s reputation had worked. Burns noted that “By playing very hard, but always according to the rules, never complaining or making excuses, and winning, Notre Dame players would show the American public what Catholics and Catholic education was all about.”[70] The Fiery Cross continued to blather about Catholic plots and tales of Notre Dame hoodlums, but the country had just witnessed an extended and public display of honorable play, sportsmanship, and model behavior from these young Catholic men. Burns wrote:

For O’Hara and millions of American Catholics throughout the country who believed and felt as he did, and especially for the 300,000 Catholics living in Indiana—11 percent of the population of the state—the performance of the Notre Dame football team in that year gave them all a supreme moment of restored pride and dignity.[71]

The Klan would continue to influence Indiana politics for several years. But other Hoosiers would rise up in opposition like South Bend and Notre Dame. Cities passed anti-mask ordinances to prevent the Klan from marching in their hoods and robes.[72] Prominent citizens founded civic clubs “to fight the Ku Klux Klan.”[73] The Indianapolis Times launched a multi-year “crusade” against the Klan, exposing members’ identities and combating the secret organization’s influence on Indiana politics, and winning a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts. [74] African American voters risked being jailed as “floaters” (someone whose vote was illegally purchased), but came out in record numbers to cast their votes in opposition to Klan-backed candidates.[75] Local Catholic organizations called on politicians to denounce the Klan and include a plank in their official party platforms rejecting “secret political organizations” and supporting “racial and religious liberty.”[76] Indiana attorney Patrick H. O’Donnell led the American Unity League, a powerful Chicago-based Catholic organization that also published the names and addresses of Klan members in its publication Tolerance.[77]

As students of history, we should remember that, in many ways, the Indiana Klan succeeded  in their goals. They were able to elect officials sympathetic to the xenophobic demands for strict immigration quotas, which were enforced for decades. But we should also note that some Hoosiers refused to accept intolerance even when wrapped in the flag.

Daniel Fitzpatrick, “Konsternation in Indiana,” October 7, 1926, accessed State Historical Society of Missouri Digital Collections.

While much of Indiana became Klan territory, the publicity campaign organized by the University of Notre Dame forever crushed the Klan’s plans for infiltrating South Bend and tainting the school’s reputation. South Bend refused to be baited into further physical confrontations with the Klan, school officials refused to accept the insults hurled at them through Klan propaganda, and the Fighting Irish refused to play the Klan’s game. They played football instead. And they played with the honor and dignity imbued  through “the spirit of Notre Dame.”[78]

(Newport, VA) Daily Press, January 2, 1925, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

Notes:

For a thorough examination of the opposition to the Klan by African Americans, Jews, Catholics, lawyers, politicians, labor unions, newspapermen and more see: James H. Madison, “The Klan’s Enemies Step Up, Slowly,” Indiana Magazine of History 116, no. 2 (June 2020): 93-120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/indimagahist.116.2.01.

[1] Jill Weiss Simins, “‘America First’: The Ku Klux Klan Influence on Immigration Policy in the 1920s,” accessed Hoosier State Chronicles Blog.
[2] Indiana Ku Klux Klan, “Information Sheet,” 1922, Indiana Pamphlet Collection, Indiana State Library.
[3] “Tales Need No Adornment,” Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[4] Advertisement, Fiery Cross, August 22, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.; “High School Boy Writes of Experiences in Notre Dame Riot,” Fiery Cross, July 25, 1924, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[5] Ibid.; “May 17 — November 8,” Fiery Cross, November 21, 1924, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Jill Weiss Simins, “Integrity on the Gridiron Part Two: Notre Dame’s 1924 Football Team Battles Klan Propaganda,” accessed Indiana History Blog.
[8] Robert E. Burns, Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story, 1842-1934 (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 361.
[9] Ibid., 364-65.
[10] Ibid. Burns quoted from Father O’Hara’s Religious Survey for 1924-25.
[11] “Name N.D. Squad,” Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1924, 28, accessed Newspapers.com.
[12] “Stanford – Notre Dame Seats All Sold Out,” Tennessean (Nashville), December 21, 1924, 17, accessed Newspapers.com.
[13] “Midwest Anxious for Notre Dame Victory,” Chicago Tribune, December 31, 1924, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.
[14-16] Ibid.
[17] Advertisement, Chicago Tribune, December 8, 1924, 21, accessed Newspapers.com.
[18] “Stanford – Notre Dame Seats All Sold Out,” 17.
[19] “Notre Dame Football Team in New Orleans,” News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), December 23, 1924, 8, accessed Newspapers.com; “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 116-17, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Times (Shreveport, LA), December 23, 1924, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.
[22] Burns, 366.
[23] Ibid.
[24] “Saint Coaches to See Micks,” Austin American (Texas), December 24, 1924, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.
[25] “Notre Dame at Houston,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 25, 1924, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.
[26] “Rockne’s Team Spends Holiday with Practice,” Oakland Tribune, December 25, 1924, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.; “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[27] Burns, 366.
[28] Ibid., 367; “Football,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 106-107, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.
[29] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 17.
[30] “Rockne Special,” South Bend Tribune, December 19, 1924, 30, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Lafayette’s Off for Coast,” Journal and Courier (Lafayette), December 27, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[31] Ibid.; “Notre Dame to Stop Here,” Kansas City Times, December 18, 1924, 17, accessed Newspapers.com.
[32] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.; Walter Eckersall, “53,000 to See N. Dame Battle Stanford Today,” Chicago Tribune, January 1, 1925, 37.
[33-34] Eckersall, 37.
[35] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[36] Eckersall, 37.
[37] “Rose Tournament Throng Sets Record,” Pasadena Evening Post, January 1, 1925, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[38-40] Burns, 368.
[41]“Football,”  Notre Dame Alumnus, 106-07.
[42] Burns, 368.
[43-44] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[45-46] Burns, 368.
[47] “Iowan Stars as Notre Dame Beats Stanford Team,” Des Moines Register, January 2, 1925, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.
[48] Burns, 368.
[49] Ibid.; “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” Chicago Tribune, January 2, 1925, 1, 19, accessed Newspapers.com.
[50] Ibid.
[51] “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” 19.
[52] Burns, 368.
[53] “U.S. Title to Notre Dame,” 19.
[54-55] “Football,”  Notre Dame Alumnus, 106.
[56-58] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 116-17.
[59] Burns, 369-70.
[60]  Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre Dame Football (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993, reprint, 2003), 171.
[61] Burns, 370.
[62-64] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[65] “Local Alumni Clubs,” Notre Dame Alumnus 3, No. 4 (January 1925): 115, accessed University of Notre Dame Archives.
[66] Ibid.
[67] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[68] Burns, 372.
[69] “To Pasadena and Return,” Notre Dame Alumnus, 117.
[70] Burns, 349.
[71] Ibid.
[72] “Michigan City Passes Anti-Mask Resolution,” Star Press (Muncie, IN), September 8, 1923, 8, accessed Newspapers.com.
[73] “Political Club to Fight Klan in Lake County,” Times (Munster), April 10, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[74] Indiana Historical Bureau, “Indianapolis Times,” 2013, accessed State Historical Marker Text and Notes.
[75] “Many Factions Clash,” Indianapolis Star, May 6, 1925, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[76] “Request Parties to Oppose Klan,” Call-Leader (Elwood, IN), January 29, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
[77] “Former Local Man to Fight Ku Klux Klan,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, September 16, 1922, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.
[78] Jim Langford and Jeremy Langford, The Spirit of Notre Dame (New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2005), passim.

“Leaving Party Politics to Man:” How Some Hoosier Women Worked Against Suffrage

Anti-suffrage booth at the 1915 Old Home Days in Skaneateles, New York, courtesy of New York Heritage Digital Collections.

It is easy to assume that women unanimously supported woman’s suffrage, while men, clinging to their role as the households’ sole political actor, opposed it. However, this was not the case. In 1914, suffrage leader Alice Stone Blackwell wrote, “the struggle has never been a fight of woman against man, but always of broad-minded men and women on the one side against narrow-minded men and women on the other.”[i]

With the centennial of women’s suffrage upon us, we celebrate the determination of those women who fought for so long to secure their own enfranchisement. Understandably, many examinations of the suffrage movement only briefly touch on organized opposition of the movement, if at all. This is likely because it is much easier for us to identify with suffragists than it is with their counterparts. However, this lack of coverage can lead to the assumption that the anti-suffrage movement was weak or inconsequential compared to that of the pro-suffrage masses. That assumption would be incorrect. According to Historian Joe C. Miller, organized anti-suffragists outnumbered organized pro-suffragists until 1915, just five years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. [ii]

Suffrage Madonna postcard from 1909, showing the fear of anti-suffragists that women with the vote would leave men to care for their families. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution.

In the wake of suffrage gains in western states, anti-suffragists began to organize in 1895, forming the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women. Later, women formed similar organizations in New York (1895) and Illinois (1906). In 1911, leaders within these groups came together to establish the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS), which led to increasing organization on a national scale. By 1916, when pro-suffragists finally outnumbered antis, NAOWS claimed to have organized resistance in 25 of the 48 states.[iii]

You may be wondering why so many women felt strongly about legislation that we would consider to go against their best interests. That’s a difficult question to answer since, as with any movement, each woman would have had her own reasons to oppose suffrage. The various pamphlets and broadsides distributed by NAOWS, such as the one below, shed light on their reasoning.

“Why We Oppose Votes for Women,” courtesy of Tennessee Virtual Archive.

Views like those expressed in “Why We Oppose Votes for Women” became even more pervasive throughout 1916 and 1917 in response to a national spike of suffrage activity across the nation.[iv] Some Indiana women belonged to this opposition movement. Hoosier suffragists were working tirelessly to promote three separate bills that could lead to their enfranchisement. In the midst of the 1917 legislative session, anti-suffragists made their appearance in the form of “The Remonstrance,” a petition sent to State Senator Dwight M. Kinder of Indianapolis.

Indianapolis News, January 20, 1917, 7.

This “Remonstrance,” presented to the Indiana General Assembly on January 19, 1917, and subsequently reprinted in Indianapolis newspapers, laid out arguments against suffrage in three broad strokes:

  1. We Believe it is the demand of a minority of the women of our state.
  2. We are opposed to woman suffrage because we believe that women can best serve their state and community by leaving party politics to man and directing their gifts along the lines largely denied to men because of their obligations involved in the necessary machinery of political suffrage.
  3. We believe that with women in party politics there will arise a new party machine with the woman boss in control.

While these are the core arguments presented in the petition, it’s worth reading it in its entirety, as the supporting statements are fascinating. The petition’s arguments are similar to some of those put forth by the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, and there is a reason for that. On January 13, the Indianapolis News reported that anti-suffragists from Boston had been in the city for two weeks,

prepared to do a big and brave work. They went from house to house telling the poor misguided women of Indianapolis what a dreadful thing would befall them if they obtained equal suffrage. They asked that the women sign a petition against this particular brand of punishment the men of the legislature might mete out to them.

This was the same petition that would land on Senator Kinder’s desk days later. These East Coast anti-suffrage activists, either from the national organization or the closely-related Massachusetts group, came to Indiana, where no anti-suffrage organization existed, to turn women against their own enfranchisement.

While this work did convince some Hoosier women to submit the petition, it wasn’t particularly successful—if anything, the petition generated more support than ever for the suffrage bills before the Indiana General Assembly. While the document claimed to represent the “great majority of women” in the state, it was signed by just nineteen women, all of whom lived in the same upper-class Indianapolis neighborhood and who would likely have traveled in the same social circles. The response from suffrage activists around the state was swift.

Just two days after “The Remonstrance” appeared in Indianapolis papers, the Indianapolis News published an article penned by Charity Dye, an Indianapolis educator, activist, and member of the Indiana Historical Commission (which eventually became the Indiana Historical Bureau). Responding to the antis’ claim that they represented ninety percent of Hoosier women, Dye released the results of a poll taken in the fall of 1916. The women polled were all residents of the Eighth Ward of Indianapolis and each woman could select from “pro,” “anti,” and “neutral,” options. Of 1,044 women polled, 628 (60%) were in favor of suffrage. Dye ends the article, “In view of the fact that nineteen Indianapolis women asserted in The News Saturday that 90 per cent of Indiana women are opposed to suffrage, this is interesting reading.”[v]

Indianapolis News, January 23, 1917, 3.

The next day, women from around the state began sending their own list of nineteen names to newspapers—all in favor of suffrage. First, nineteen librarians and stenographers declared their support for suffrage “for what it will mean to them in the business world.”[vi] Next came nineteen Vassar College graduates, who signed their names “in protest against the assertion of nineteen anti-suffragists that women do not want suffrage.”[vii] Finally, nineteen “professional women,” who held medical degrees added their names “just because it is right.”

As lists of names continued to pour in from around the state, Joint Resolution Number 2, which would have granted Hoosier women full suffrage if passed, was winding its way through the Indiana General Assembly session. Just as enthusiasm for the bill reached its zenith, a new, even more promising prospect appeared when the legislature enacted a Constitutional Convention bill on February 1. According to Historian Anita Morgan, “A new Indiana Constitution could have full suffrage included in the document and eliminate the need to rely on a state law that could be overturned.” Pro-suffrage support for the convention flooded in.

Anti-suffragists saw this as possibly their last chance to block the enfranchisement of women in Indiana and called for a legislative hearing, where they could voice to their grievances.  Their goal was to persuade future members of the Constitutional Convention not to add women’s suffrage to the newly penned constitution. They got their hearing, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. On February 13, 1917, men and women, who supported and opposed suffrage, flooded the statehouse. What followed was hours of “speeches for and against votes for women [which] flashed humor, keen wit and an occasional bit of raillery or pungent sarcasm that brought laughter or stormy cheering.” First, state representatives heard from pro-suffragists, who pointed out that both the House and Senate had already expressed support for suffrage – all that was left now was to hammer out the details. The crowd, overwhelmingly composed of suffrage supporters, cheered throughout the address. Then Mary Ella Lyon Swift, leader of the original nineteen anti-suffrage remonstrants, spoke. She opined:

Suffrage, in my opinion, is one of the most serious menaces in the country today. With suffrage, you give the ballot to a large, unknown, untested class – terribly emotional and terribly unstable. . . If you thrust suffrage upon me you dissipate my usefulness, and in the same way you dissipate the usefulness of the most unselfish, most earnest and most capable women, who are working in their way, attracting no attention to themselves for the good of their country and mankind.

When one representative asked Swift to explain that last statement, she replied that suffrage would make “it necessary for us to fight the woman boss and the woman machine.”

Minnie Bronson, Buffalo Times, March 27, 1909, 2.

There again appears that talking point from the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, that once women get the vote, they’ll be irrevocably corrupted, with all-female political machines being run by female political bosses. One of the only other female speakers opposing women’s suffrage was Minnie Bronson, the secretary of NAOWS. Bronson addressed the overwhelming presence of pro-suffragists, quipping, “[Anti-suffragists] are not here pestering or threatening you, but are at home caring for their children.” Finally, after hours of  debating, Charles A. Bookwalter, former mayor of Indianapolis, delivered the decisive line, “It is 10:35 o’clock. Suffrage is right and hence inevitable.”[viii]

This hearing seems to have been the last gasp of the anti-suffrage movement in Indiana. While suffrage detractors continued to voice their opposition from time to time, the organized efforts of NAOWS in Indianapolis had come to an end. The nineteen women who sent “The Remonstrance” to the Indiana General Assembly went back to hosting parties, attending literary club meetings, doing charity work and, presumably, not exercising their newly-granted rights when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920.

[i] Joe Miller, “Never a Fight of Woman Against Man: What Textbooks Don’t Say about Women’s Suffrage,” The History Teacher 48, no. 3 (May 2015): 437.

[ii] Ibid., 440.

[iii] Mrs. Arthur M. Dodge, “Keynote of Opposition to Votes for Women,” Boston Globe, October 15, 1916, 54, accessed Newspapers.com.

[iv] Dr. Anita Morgan, “We Must Be Fearless”: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2020), p. 137-138.

[v] Charity Dye, “Gives Suffrage Vote for the Eighth Ward,” Indianapolis News, January 22, 1917, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vi] “Petition of ‘Nineteen’ Stirs the Suffragists,” Indianapolis News, January 23, 1917, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vii] “Protest of Vassar Women in Factor of Equal Suffrage,” Indianapolis News, January 24, 1917, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

[viii] “Sparks Fly at Hearing for Women,” Indianapolis Star, February 14, 1917, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.