Henry Victor: The Father of the South Side Turnverein

On January 11, 1898, a special meeting occurred of the South Side Turnverein, one of Indianapolis’ premier social clubs for German Americans. It was the sixtieth birthday of the organization’s president, Henry Victor. The group heaped “tokens of esteem” on their beloved leader, according to the Indianapolis Journal, which further wrote, “the occasion had the effect of bringing Mr. Victor to tears.” The esteem afforded to Victor was no faint praise; in many respects, he was the main reason the South Side Turnverein met that night, and many others, at all.

Indianapolis Journal, January 12, 1898. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Only a few years earlier, previous leadership had barely gotten the organization off the ground. It wasn’t until Henry Victor took over in 1894 that the South Side Turnverein expanded and flourished, providing its members with athletic activities, social functions, and cultural events. Years later in a glowing article, the Journal noted Victor’s work for the organization, calling him the “‘Father’ of the South Side Turnverein” and writing, “to Henry Victor is due the success the club has attained.”

A German immigrant with a passion of business, Victor epitomized the promise that America held for so many newcomers in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. His successful management of Mozart Hall, one for Indianapolis’s top bars and restaurants, the growth of the South Side Turnverein, and his involvement in numerous civic organizations spoke to his energy and talent for bringing people together to build vibrant communities. As such, the impact he left on the people he served, both at his businesses and with his leadership, provides us with a compelling example of the German American experience in Indiana.

Indianapolis Journal, April 21 1904. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Victor was born on January 11, 1838, in Pommern, Germany, which today sits between Eastern Poland and Western Germany. He lived in Europe for most of his life, becoming “a successful businessman, dealing in silks and dress goods, [and] was also connected with a private bank and was worth considerable money,” noted the Indianapolis News. He likely immigrated to the United States and moved to Indianapolis sometime between 1887 and 1891, as a relatively older man. What would spur a successful businessman in his native land to come to the U.S.? Like a major reversal of fortune. As the News added, “he was stricken with an affliction of the eyes which threatened him with total blindness. He was taken to a hospital, where he remained for several months, during which time losses occurred in his business, and he left Germany practically a broken man.” Like so many who left for the shores of America during that age, he left to restart, and hopefully improve, his life.

Map of Pommern, 1849. Geographicus Rare Antique Maps.

Once in Indianapolis, he got involved in the brewery business, working as a collector for the Terre Haute Brewing Company, which led to his entry into the saloon business. It was in this field that he made his name in the Circle City, with his management of Mozart Hall. In 1892, Victor took over as manager of the decades-old Indianapolis bar and restaurant at 37 South Delaware Street. It didn’t take long for the press to sing his praises. The Indianapolis Journal wrote, “Mr. Victor is one of those whole souled persons who makes friends with everyone he meets, and will not lack in entertaining his customers in that inimitable way he was in conferring with his fellow citizens.” Of Mozart Hall, the article further noted that “none will find a more congenial place in the city to spend a few minutes to pass away the idle moments of the day.”

Indianapolis Journal, May 13, 1892. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Upon assuming management of Mozart Hall, Victor placed ads in Indianapolis’s premier German-language newspaper, the Indiana Tribüne, which described for his community what patrons could expect.

The ad read, roughly translated:

Mozart Hall!

Henry Victor.

The biggest, prettiest and oldest beer-style eatery in town. The spacious and beautifully furnished hall is available for clubs, lodges and private individuals to hold balls, concerts and meetings under liberal conditions.

As the ad declared, Mozart Hall not only served individual customers, but became a meeting place for many organizations, such as unions and benevolent associations. In today’s language, Mozart Hall would be called a “maker space,” a congenial, well-furnished building for work, philanthropy, and entertainment.

Indiana Tribüne, March 18, 1892. Hoosier State Chronicles.

When he wasn’t hosting civil society, Henry Victor actively participated in it. In 1894, he served as the secretary of the Indiana Liquor Dealer’s Association, which met at Mozart Hall. The association advocated policies they believed would “clean up” the liquor business, including regulations on liquor licenses. As the Indianapolis News reported, “a feeling is growing that only decent people should be granted liquor licenses, and that a protest will be entered against granting liquor licenses to ex-convicts, gamblers, violators of the law, and immoral characters.” Additionally, Victor advocated for policies that would make it easier for breweries to start up and provide its product to local businesses, something that clearly benefitted the German immigrant community he was a part of.

However, his involvement in organizations didn’t always go smoothly. In 1895, he very publicly resigned from the Saloon Keeper’s Union, over disagreements about the implementation of a new liquor law, called the “Nicholson Law,” which placed limitations on gambling, saloons, and underage drinking. Before the national experiment of Prohibition, many state and local laws were implemented in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, as a way to control the ill effects of the liquor trade. However, fierce debates ensued as to how these laws should be followed. In his resignation letter, Victor argued that he was in favor of following these laws and challenging his critics. He wrote:

Many of you members have seen fit to criticize myself and others who have constantly labored for the interest and elevation of the retail trade; and such criticisms have practically gone in public print, and I do not want to be further annoyed this way as in the past, so I will in the future use what influence I possibly have to elevate and regulate the retail business according to my own way.

Former union colleague William G. Weiss, in the Indianapolis Journal, shot back at Victor, arguing that he withdrew because “Mr. Victor is not in sympathy with the union in regard to obeying the law.” Who was right? In the murky territory of pre-Prohibition liquor law, it was often difficult to effectively determine the letter of the law, which led to fierce debates like Victor’s with the Saloon Union. Nevertheless, Victor successfully ran Mozart Hall for many years, earning a reputation as an honest and friendly businessman.

Henry Victor’s notice of his departure from Mozart Hall, Indianapolis News, May 3, 1900. Hoosier State Chronicles.

As his stature in the community grew, so did his involvement in a variety of organizations, the most important of which was the South Side Turnverein. Turnvereins, or Turner Clubs, were a mainstay of German American life during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. Founded on the principle of “sound body and mind,” the Turnverein movement was spearheaded by German educator Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, who believed physical exercise and cultural activities led to a healthy life. The South Side Turnverein in Indianapolis, founded on September 24, 1893, began as an offshoot of another organization when about 200 German Americans left the Socialer Turnverein to form their own gymnastics club on the south side. During its first few months, the South Side Turnverein and its members experienced challenges growing the group. That all changed when the membership elected Henry Victor as President, or “First Speaker,” of the organization in September of 1894. He threw himself into the role, rapidly expanding the club’s memberships and activities.

A page of the South Side Turnverein minutes, September 1894. It shows Victor’s election to “First Speaker,” or President of the organization. Indiana State Library Manuscripts Collection, Indiana Memory.

As the Indianapolis Journal wrote of Victor:

Mr. Victor took charge of the work in the spring of 1894, when all efforts to complete the organization and make it a success had failed, and at a time when those supporting the society were losing faith in the undertaking. The enthusiasm and the effectiveness with which he assumed control of the work inspired those interested, and at once new life was put into the organization, and in less than a year a membership of had been secured.

In the next few years, the South Side Turnverein participated in a wide variety of athletic and cultural events. In 1894 alone, the Turnverein hosted a “gymnastic entertainment” at English’s Opera House, produced a “two-act play” called “He Lost His Gloves,” and participated in Indianapolis “Wald-Fest” or “forest festival.” The club was also heavily involved in the larger German community, supporting other Turnvereins and social clubs. In 1898, members of the South Side Turnverein attended a “kommers,” or “students’ entertainment” at the newly opened German House in Indianapolis and some of its members served on the leadership committee of the North American Turnerbund, which decided to move its national headquarters from St. Louis to Indianapolis. Leading by example, Victor’s energy and dedication to the club galvanized the South Side Turnverein and its members.

Indianapolis South Side Turnverein Men’s Class. Victor is the second man standing from the left. Indianapolis South Side Turners Collection, IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.

Arguably his greatest accomplishment as South Side Turnverein president was overseeing the building of its hall, serving as one of the South Side Turnverein Hall Association’s directors. Leading such a large financial endeavor proved natural to Victor, as his experience with Mozart Hall as well as the German Mutual Insurance Company prepared him for the task. Plans to build the hall started on February 20, 1900, when the South Side Turnverein decided to purchase 150 feet of property on Prospect Street at a cost of $5,000. On March 7, Victor and others filed articles of incorporation for the South Side Turnverein Hall Association, whose charge was to “purchase real estate and to sell the same and particularly to construct and erect for the South Side Turnverein a suitable gymnasium.”

The Association chose Vonnegut & Bohn, one of Indianapolis’s best architecture firms, to design and build their hall, and by June 1900, the Association held the groundbreaking ceremony. Victor, the man responsible for so much of the organization’s success, “dug the first spade of full of dirt and in his speech wished the building progress,” according to the Indianapolis Journal. An illustration of the prospective building appeared in the Indianapolis News on June 7, 1900, with further details on its facilities:

The interior will be arranged with all the appointments of a modern club house. The basement, which will be a full story in hight [sic], will contain the kneipe [bar], bowling alleys, dining-room, women’s parlor, women’s and men’s dressing rooms and shower baths. The main floor will be almost entirely taken up by the large hall, which is also to be used as a gymnasium. This hall will seat, together with gallery, about 700 people. At the east end of the hall there will be a large and well equipped stage. Stretching along the other end of the hall will be a large foyer, with stairways leading to the basement and gallery.

After months of intense work, the South Side Turnverein Hall was completed, and on December 2, the club opened its hall to the public, on the organization’s eight-year anniversary. “In the afternoon the new building was thrown open to the public,” the News reported, “and it was inspected by a large number of visitors.”

South Side Turnverein Hall in the Journal Handbook of Indianapolis by Max Robinson Hyman, 1902. Google Books.

The South Side Turnverein formally dedicated its new hall on January 20, 1901, with 3,000 people in attendance. Victor christened the new building along with Fred Mark, chairman of the building committee, Herman Lieber, president of the North American Turnerbund, and Charles E. Emmerich, superintendent of the Manual Training School, among others. The building and grounds had a cumulative cost of $25,000, raised through its members by the association. A banquet for around 400 people was held the night after the dedication, with the News writing, “Henry Victor, as master of ceremonies, welcomed the representatives of the various German societies at the ‘kommers,’ [or students’ entertainment] with which the South Side Turnverein last night closed the dedicatory services of its new hall. Many women were among the 400 guests and the evening was enjoyable.” In only a a few years, Henry Victor transformed the South Side Turnverein from a small but promising organization into one of Indianapolis’ leading social clubs for the German American community.

Indianapolis News, January 15, 1902. Hoosier State Chronicles.

The membership of the South Side Turnverein reelected Henry Victor to President many times and he continued to serve with distinction until 1905. However, towards the end of this life, he shifted gears to help organize a singing society. A long-time singer with the Fourth Christian Church with a “good voice,” as described by the Indianapolis News, Victor helped incorporate the “The Suedsite Liedertafel,” or “South Side Singing Society” in 1910. He served as the president and the organization performed regularly at the South Side Turnverein. Boasting over 200 members and nearly fifty active members, the organization maintained a men’s chorus, a women’s chorus, and a children’s chorus. The society served as more than just an outlet for those who loved to sing; it also wanted to preserve German culture. As the News reported, “in addition to the singing, the society endeavors to conserve a correct use of the German language.”

Unfortunately, his work with the South Side Singing Society was tragically cut short when he died on September 24, 1910, after a week in the hospital following a stroke. Many German American societies attended his funeral at the South Side Turnverein Hall, and some sang music in tribute, something he likely would have appreciated. The Indianapolis Star wrote in his obituary that “Mr. Victor was interested in the South Side Turnverein and the flourishing condition of the society is attributed largely to his efforts.” In addition to the South Side Turnverein, he belonged to the Columbia Lodge, the Knights of Pythias, and the German Heritage Society, to name a few. Newspaper accounts noted that he was a “marked personality among Germans of city” and “a man of mystery, and it was not known what were his family relations previous to coming to this city [Indianapolis].” He left behind a $60,000 estate, a testament to his acumen for business.

Indianapolis Star, September 25, 1910. Newspapers.com.

The life of Henry Victor is but one extraordinary story among the annals of the German American experience in Indiana. A man whose former home left him nearly destitute, he set out for United States to build a better life, and his decades in Indianapolis served as a prime example of his ability and devotion to the community he called his own. From his successful management of Mozart Hall to his trailblazing leadership of the South Side Turnverein, Victor left a large impression wherever he went in Indianapolis, gaining a reputation for hard work and honest entrepreneurialism. He also dedicated himself to the preservation of German culture through his South Side Singing Society, another fruitful organization he helped found merely months away from his death. In all that he was, Henry Victor personified not only German Americans, but German Hoosiers, an immigrant community that profoundly shaped the history of the State of Indiana.

Henry Victor (center) with colleagues in the Indianapolis South Side Turnverein Men’s Class. Indianapolis South Side Turners Collection, IUPUI University Library, Special Collections and Archives.

The Corn Cob Curtain Controversy in Indianapolis, 1971-1975

Image sent to author from a former Corn Cob reader.

Marty Laubach was an unlikely political radical. Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, his working-class Republican parents attended a church with members of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. But several concurrent events placed him at odds with his parent’s conservative values. The 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention, the possibility of conscription into Vietnam, the 1970 shooting of antiwar demonstrators at Kent State University by National Guardsmen, and his older brother’s antiwar views solidified his youthful rebellion. He began attending antiwar demonstrations and started working on an unauthorized publication at Arsenal Technical High School called After Breakfast. The publication, which had a short duration, ceased in 1971, so Laubach and a group of like-minded peers created a new underground newspaper called the Corn Cob Curtain.[1] The paper’s countercultural tone and opposition to school policies about unauthorized publications on campus led students to file a lawsuit that went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974.[2]

The Corn Cob Curtain controversy launched the conservative city of Indianapolis and high school students into a battle of free speech. Besides old newspaper clippings, there is no public recognition of the conflict. At its peak, the paper printed around 3,000 copies of a single issue, circulated in over 15 public and private Indianapolis high schools and the surrounding suburbs.[3] It received criticism from school administrators, legal officials, concerned residents who submitted letters to the editors, and the city’s two major newspapers, the Indianapolis Star and the Indianapolis News.

Laubach and his peers were not alone in their efforts in challenging high school’s censorship policies. From mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, a minority of Indiana high school students published and distributed underground publications. Laced with creative drawings, designs, and witty language, they bared the names Blackhawk Broadcast, Desiderata, and the purposely-misspelled New Amerikan Mercury. Constituting a minority of contributors, these publications emerged in urban and rural areas and raised poignant questions about local issues, race, education, and free speech rights.[4] Students remained either indifferent, hostile, or supportive.  School administrators balked at their existence and contributors risked retaliation from school officials.[5] Indiana State Treasurer, most notably, referred to them as “trash so foul as to be beyond normal belief” and claimed they were “flooding” high school and college campuses throughout the state.[6]

Image sent to author by a former contributor.

One contributor, Jeff Jacobs, recalled his experience dealing with hostile school officials while trying to distribute the paper. Although he found Arsenal Tech and Crispus Attucks High School campuses welcoming, he faced resistance at Southport and Emmerich Manual High Schools. At Manual High, school officials threatened to call the Marion County sheriff. “These little skirmishes, with our oppressors should not discourage us, but should enlighten us to try that much harder,” he told readers. “One of the greatest reasons for the CCC’s exisstance [sic] is to equalize the student with the administrators.”[7]

Within this atmosphere, the Corn Cob Curtain was born in 1971. Using pre-established social networks, activists  met teenagers from other schools throughout the summer, forming a citywide underground newspaper. The witty name originated from two Cold War metaphors—the “Iron Curtain” and the “Bamboo Curtain”—that alluded to geopolitical divisions between communist and non-communist countries in Europe and Asia. Adapting these metaphors, the students argued that their fight for constitutional rights on campus grounds was akin to the ideological battle “between the Free world and the Communist world.” They found themselves “locked behind a kind of ‘curtain’ of Midwestern Provincialism—a curtain of corn cobs.”[8]

The publication covered a multitude of topics. National and local news stories, American history, student affairs, education, music, movies, book reviews, and cartoons all appeared in the pages. Students critiqued their schools, with one contributor writing “All students in the Indianapolis area attending one of the prisons we call high school,” one written claimed. They insisted “high schools are de-humanizing,” and called for the formation of a citywide student union to “raise an effective voice to start the machinery in motions to bring about these changes.”[9] But no such group ever formed.

Generating public support for the newspaper was an arduous task at first. Some students had reportedly claimed the paper “eats shit.” But these complaints had legitimacy. The first two issues were aesthetically unappealing, images were scarce, stories lacked headlines, and the publication was printed on mimeograph paper. The students improved the paper substantially by printing it on newspaper print, incorporating images, and overall, made it look like an actual newspaper. In the third issue, publishers wrote an article titled “On Your Ass” and lambasted students’ lackluster participation and demanded action on their part to improve the paper’s shortcomings. “You, your paper, need to criticize what’s wrong with the Cob, if you don’t like it. You are the only one who can change it,” they exclaimed. If anything, the students wanted their peers to know that the Corn Cob Curtain was a collective effort, not just the responsibility from a small group of volunteers.[10]

Indianapolis News, July 12, 1971, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Corn Cob Curtain controversy began after the district Superintendent banned the publication upon the fifth issue’s release. Administrators’ justification for the ban stemmed from a cartoon that appeared on the back page. In a cartoon series called George the Cat, the character George wires up some dynamite in a bathroom while expressing dissatisfaction with the school. Just as he lights the fuse, the principal walks into the restroom, leading George to frantically jump into the toilet. As the principal begins using the restroom the toilet explodes. George survives the explosion with bruises, a broken arm, and human feces on his head. He quips, “I may have gotten rid of the school, but I’m still eatin’  the principals’ shit.” What was intended as a joke infuriated school officials who viewed the entire publication as obscene and wanted it discarded. The district’s attorneys agreed. They cited the cartoon as advocating “violence and the destruction and the school and the murder of the principal.” This gave school officials fodder to justify banning the paper.[11]

Laubach and five friends sought legal assistance from Craig Pinkus of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Ronald Elberger of the Legal Service Organization (LSO). Both young lawyers, Pinkus and Elberger agreed to represent the students. As a publicly funded organization that represented low-income families in Marion County, the LSO received criticism for representing what the local press dismissed as privilege, middle-class youth. Although this description wasn’t entirely accurate, it never halted the conservative editorial board of the Indianapolis Star from alleging the group was seeking to “destroy the power of Indianapolis school officials to ban a smutty underground paper from high school.”[12]

The federal district court ruled in the students’ favor, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals, citing that school officials had failed to show the detrimental effects the publication had on young people. Emboldened by calls to appeal the case by the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News after the district court ruling, the school district appealed the case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974.[13] The oral arguments delivered by the school district’s attorney to Supreme Court justices revealed that school officials viewed the issue as a power struggle.

Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1974, 33, accessed Newspapers.com.

Attorney Lila Young insisted the district had “a complete inability to have any rules or regulations of what is going to be distrusted in our schools.” She constantly referred to the Corn Cob Curtain as “filth,” and alleged it contained “filthy cartoons” and “gutter language.” She argued that the distribution of such material contributed “to the delinquency of minors.” The students’ lawyer, Craig Pinkus, juxtaposed the publication to other material students read in schools that also continued inappropriate language, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Catcher in the Rye. But the justices continuously asked him whether the policy applied to elementary schools, and Pinkus stated his organization drew a line between primary and secondary schools.[14]

Since the students did not file a class-action lawsuit, Supreme Court justices ruled the case moot in February 1975. Additionally, the publication no longer existed, partly because the plaintiffs had graduated from high school. The court remanded the case back to the lower court. Justice William O. Douglass wrote a dissenting opinion about the mootness of the case. He believed clashes would continue between students and administrators and the issue might appear in court again.[15] But his prophesy never came to fruition in Indianapolis. Interestingly, no consensus emerged for what the ruling meant. The ACLU argued that students’ rights to distribute an unauthorized publication on campus had not been overturned while the Indianapolis Star viewed the ruling as a victory for the school district, but acknowledged its inconclusiveness. Nonetheless, by 1975 high school underground newspapers were no longer a topic of contention in Indiana.[16]

The Corn Cob Curtain controversy represented the clash of counterculture and conservative politics in a city impacted by the social upheaval of the 1960s much later than other major urban areas. Tame compared to locations such as the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago, and New York, it took little to be declared a radical by city and school officials in Indianapolis. Indianapolis’s high school students infrequently participated in strikes. Instead, they created a citywide student protest movement through an underground newspaper and built a growing, radical political consciousness in the process.

Notes:

[1] Martin Laubach, interview with author, June 9, 2017, Bloomington, Indiana.

[2] Aaron G. Fountain, Jr., “Building a Student Movement in Naptown: The Corn Cob Curtain Controversy, Free Speech, and 1960s and 1970s High School Activism in Indianapolis,” Indiana Magazine of History 114, no. 3 (September 2018): 202-237.

[3] Oral Arguments, Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis v. Jacobs, December 11, 1974, accessed Oyez.org.

[4] Diane Divoky, How Old Will You Be in 1984?: Expressions of Student Outrage from the High School Free Press (New York: Avon Books, 1969), ix.

[5] Fountain Jr., “Building a Student Movement in Naptown,” 209.; “W.G.U. Responds to Criticism,” Warren Owl (Warren Central High School), December 10, 1971, Warren Central High School Archives, Indianapolis, Ind.

[6] “Snyder Hails Tax Feat of Legislature,” Indianapolis Star, March 26, 1969.

[7] Jeff Jacobs, Corn Cob Curtain 1, no. 3, December 1971, 4, Box 6, Folder 15, Youth Liberation Press Records.

[8] Corn Cob Curtain1, no. 1, [1971?], copy in author’s possession, used with permission by Deborah Owen.

[9] “Jail Break,” Corn Cob Curtain, 1, no. 5, [1972?], 5, Box 6, Folder 15, Youth Liberation Press Records, SCRC 175, Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[10] “On Your Ass,” Corn Cob Curtain, 1, no. 3, December 1971, Box 6, Folder 15, Youth Liberation Press Records.

[11] Ibid., 223; “Underground Paper ‘Guidelines’ Sought,” Indianapolis Star, September 29, 1972.

[12] Fountain Jr., “Building a Student Movement in Naptown,” 223-224.; “Funds for Radicalism?” Indianapolis Star, October 20, 1972.

[13] Fountain, Jr., “Building a Student Movement in Naptown,” 230-231.

[14] Oral Arguments, Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis v. Jacobs, December 11, 1974, accessed Oyez.org..

[15] Jacobs v. The Board of School Commissioners, 1975, U.S. Supreme Court. LEXIS 30.

[16] Fountain, Jr., “Building a Student Movement in Naptown,” 232-234.

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.