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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Indianapolis Star, December 15, 1929, 75.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

*All newspapers were accessed via Newspapers.com.

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

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

[3] Wagner, 2-6.

[4] Crocker, 49.

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

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

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

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

[9] Crocker, 14, 47.

[10] Wagner, 5-6.

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

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

[13] Crocker, 48.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Crocker, 59.

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

[24] Crocker, 58.

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

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

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

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

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

Lucinda Burbank Morton and the Establishment of the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Indiana

This blog post has been adapted from a paper submission for the 2019 Bennett-Tinsley Undergraduate History Research and Writing Competition. For further analysis of Camp Morton and Civil War politics, see Dr. James Fuller’s Oliver P. Morton and Civil War Politics in Indiana.

History has a tendency to exclude women who were just as imperative—if not more so—than their male counterparts, like Edna Stillwell, the wife of Red Skelton, and Susan Wallace, the wife of Lew Wallace. This is the case with Lucinda Burbank Morton, a woman of “rare intelligence and refinement,” known most commonly as the wife of Oliver P. Morton, the 14th Governor of Indiana. Yet she served an influential role in the Midwest abolition movement and relief efforts for the American Civil War, especially in her work with the Ladies Patriotic Association and the Indiana division of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. She worked diligently to help develop the young City of Indianapolis and push Indiana through its early years of statehood. Despite her tremendous contributions, Lucinda’s place in history is mostly marked by her marriage to Governor Morton. Although the role of First Lady is significant, what she gave to her state and, consequently, country, goes beyond this title.

The moment the news of Fort Sumter reached Indianapolis, Governor Morton delegated Adjutant General, Lew Wallace, to oversee the creation of a camp for mustering and training Union volunteers. Wallace turned the fairgrounds in Indianapolis into “Camp Morton,” named after the wartime governor himself. In 1862, it was converted into a POW camp. The North and South were warring after decades of unrelenting tension over slavery, and, as a central location, Indianapolis would need to be ready for enemies captured by Union forces. Even though Confederate troops were going to be imprisoned here, Lucinda saw soldiers as people first, no matter their affiliation. She realized that it would take an army to, quite literally, feed an army, and quickly took over the role of organizing and managing necessities for Camp Morton. Headed by Lucinda, the Ladies Patriotic Association (LPA), thus, began providing for those imprisoned in the camp in the latter half of 1862.

The Indianapolis News, 29 July 1907.

The LPA consisted of Hoosier women of political and/or social prominence. The organization served as one of the first major philanthropic endeavors of Lucinda Burbank Morton, perhaps the most ambitious effort yet. The women of the association often met in the Governor’s Mansion to strategize and, depending on what the Camp Morton prisoners needed at that time, collect and craft donations for the camp. For example, at one particular meeting, the Ladies sewed and knitted over $200 worth of flannel hats, scarves, and mittens for Confederate prisoners in preparation for the upcoming harsh, Indiana winter. The Ladies hand-stitched so many pieces of clothing that Governor Morton had to step in and politely decline any more donations of the sort for the time being.

As Spring transitioned into Summer the following year, an outbreak of measles plagued the camp. Lucinda Burbank Morton and her fellow Ladies banded together to help replace blankets, pillows, and towels. Their polite prodding of Hoosiers across the state invoked donations of salt, pork, beer, candles, soap, and dried fruits. In the early days of Camp Morton, jokes circulated that the prisoners had to be reminded that they were, indeed, still prisoners because of how comfortably they lived as a result of the generous donations from the Ladies Patriotic Association.

Camp Morton, ca. 1863, courtesy of the Indiana State Archives.

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln continued to seek relief for Army camps from across the Union. A wave of patriotism swept over the daughters, wives, and mothers of Union soldiers as more and more troops were sent off to war against the Confederacy. On April 25, 1861, these women met in New York to better organize the relief efforts of the Union. The roots of the Women’s Central Association of Relief (WCAR) were established at this meeting. Members learned about the WCAR through friends and family members, and others belonged to the same sewing circle or taught alongside each other at primary schools. They all had the same goal in mind—to contribute as much, if not more, to the war effort as their male counterparts.

U.S. legislators responded to the needs identified by the Women’s Central Association of Relief with the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC). As a private relief agency, the USSC supported Union soldiers during the American Civil War. It operated across the North, raising nearly $25 million in supplies and monetary funds to help support Union forces during the war. The government could only do so much in providing for its troops; the USSC allowed concerned civilians to make up for any administrative shortcomings.

Oliver P. Morton, ca. 1860, Indiana Civil War Visual Collection, Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

With the establishment of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, individual states began to create their own divisions to meet the need for infantry relief. Governor Morton ordered the Indiana division of the Sanitary Commission to be constructed in 1862. The commission helped to balance out the hardships of war for many Hoosier troops. The Indiana division spoke to the idea of Hoosier Hospitality, providing rather comfortable amenities and ample resources for POWs.

The Indiana Sanitary Commission officially began implementing aid and relief after the Battle of Fort Donaldson in February of 1862. From that year to December of 1864, the Indiana homefront put forth approximately $97,000 in cash contributions. Over $300,000 worth of goods and supplies were donated, totaling nearly $469,000 in overall aid. The Office of the Indiana Sanitary Commission wrote of these contributions in a report to the governor:

The people of Indiana read in this report not of what we [the government], but they have done. We point to the commission as work of their hands, assured that the increasing demands steadily made upon it will be abundantly supplied by the same generous hearts to which it owes its origins and growth, all of which is respectfully submitted.

finalsdfsdf

The citizens of Indiana and their government, alike, were keenly aware of the contributions they were making to the war effort. The report to Governor Morton also included lists of influential members of the Commission, including special sanitary agents, collection agents, special surgeons, and female nurses. Of these notable entries, nurses accounted for the majority of names compiled. Twenty-five of them operated from Indiana to Nashville, Tennessee and beyond for the Union Army. One such woman, Mrs. E. E. George worked alongside General William Tecumseh Sherman and his troops during the March to the Sea. She worked chiefly with the 15th Army Corps Hospital from Indiana to Atlanta; her fellow male soldiers later described Mrs. George as being “always on duty, a mother to all, and universally beloved, as an earnest, useful Christian Lady.”

Indiana’s Superintendent of Female Nurses, Miss C. Annette Buckel, brought over thirty-five nurses to work in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky hospitals. Her demeanor, dedication, and administrative qualities were spoken of in the Commission Report to the Governor, citing that Buckel deserves “the utmost praise.” Additionally, Hoosier nurses Hannah Powell and Arsinoe Martin of Goshen, Indiana gave their lives serving in the Union Hospital of Memphis, Tennessee in 1863. The women known for their humanitarian contributions and patriotic sacrifices were pronounced as:

Highly valued in the family and in society, they were not less loved and appreciated in their patient unobtrusive usefulness among the brave men, for whose service, in sickness and wounds, they had sacrificed so much. Lives so occupied, accord the highest assurance of peaceful and happy death; and they died triumphing in the faith of their Redeemer, exulting and grateful that they had devoted themselves to their suffering countrymen. Their memories, precious to every generous soul, will be long cherished by many a brave man and their example of self-denial and patriotic love and kindness, will be echoed in the lives of others who shall tread the same path.

Jeffersonville Jefferson General Hospital, 1865, Camp Joe Holt and Jefferson General Hospital Photographs, Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

Lovina McCarthy Streight was another prominent woman from Indiana who served the Union during the Civil War. Her husband, Abel, was the commander of the 51st Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and when he and his troops were sent off to war, Streight and the couple’s 5-year-old son went along with the regiment. Streight nursed wounded men with dedication and compassion, earning her the title of “The Mother of the 51st.” Confederate troops captured Streight three times; wherever her husband and his men went, she went, too, right into battles deep within Southern territory. She was exchanged for Confederate Prisoners of War the first two times she was captured, but, on the third time, Streight pulled a gun out of her petticoat. She consequently escaped her captor and made her way back to her husband and son as well as the rest of the 51st Indiana Volunteer Infantry. In 1910, Streight passed away and received full military honors at her funeral in Crown Hill Cemetery which was attended by approximately 5,000 people, including 64 survivors of the 51st Volunteer Infantry.

As the Civil War progressed, Lucinda Burbank Morton stood at the center of the Hoosier state’s philanthropic relief efforts. But Governor Morton and his controversial administration placed unspoken pressure upon Lucinda  to be all the more pleasant and amicable yet just as determined with her outreach endeavors. Indiana historian Kenneth Stampp described Governor Morton as:

. . . an extremely capable executive, but he [Morton] was blunt, pugnacious, ruthless, and completely lacking in a sense of humor. He refused to tolerate opposition, and he often harassed his critics to complete distraction. The men associated with him ranked only as subordinates in his entourage.

Nevertheless, Lucinda acted as a cogent leader for women not just in Indiana, but across the Union, and even opened her own home to ensure the success of such efforts. Lucinda’s work spiraled into something much bigger in terms of the health and wellness of the men fighting the war that divided her beloved country.

The efforts of Morton and her fellow Union women marked one of the first times in the history of the United States where women were collectively seen as more than just mothers and wives, however important such roles might be; they were strong, they were competent, and they contributed in ways that matched the efforts of Union men. However forgotten the women who helped preserve the Union might be, their dedication and tenacity shed new light on women’s organizational capabilities during the Civil War.

 

Sources Used:

W.R. Holloway, “Report of the Indiana Sanitary Commission Made to the Governor, January 2, 1865” (Indiana Sanitary Commission: Indianapolis, 1865).

“Proceedings of the Indiana Sanitary Convention: Held in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 2, 1864” (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Journal Co. Printers, 1864).

Jane McGrath, “How Ladies Aid Associations Worked,” How Stuff Works, June 04, 2009.

Mary Jane Meeker, “Lovina Streight Research Files,” 1988, William H. Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society.

Dawn Mitchell, “Hoosier Women Aided Civil War Soldiers,” The Indianapolis Star, March 23, 2015.

Sheila Reed, “Oliver P. Morton, Indiana’s Civil War Governor,” 2016, University of Southern Indiana, USI Publication Archives, 2016.

Kenneth M. Stampp, “Indiana Politics in the Civil War” (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978).

H. Thompson, “U.S. Sanitary Commission: 1861,” Social Welfare History Project, April 09, 2015.

Hattie L. Winslow, “Camp Morton,” Butler University Digital Commons, April 12, 2011.

Visiting Nurses, Tuberculosis Assailants, and their Ball Family Champions

As the United States exited the Gay Nineties and entered the 20th century, an increased concern for better systems of disease control and education swept the nation. As industry boomed, more and more people crowded into cities, both large and small. With crowds came germs and disease. Soon tuberculosis ranked as the leading cause of death in the country.

In Muncie, Indiana anxiety over bacterial diseases loomed just as large as in major cities like New York and Chicago. To combat these and other public health issues of the time, individuals stepped up to the plate and played vital roles in getting new organizations off the ground.

Fruit jar made by Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company, 1910-1920
Fruit jar made by Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company, 1910-1920, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

By the early 1900s the term “Ball jar” had become a household phrase, and Ball Brothers Manufacturing Company distinguished themselves as the largest producer of canning jars in the world. In addition to the successful business bearing their name, the Ball family also left their mark on Muncie through civic work and philanthropy. During the first decades of the 20th century two notable women of the Ball family worked to improve public health in their region, and personally invested time and energy into advancing sanitation, hygiene, and medical access.

Bertha Crosley Ball, around 1900 and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1890
Bertha Crosley Ball, around 1900 (left) and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1890 (right), courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection

Bertha Crosley Ball was the wife of Edmund Burke Ball – the middle son of the Ball brothers. Born in 1875 in Terre Haute, she was the daughter of a well-known Universalist minister and had familial roots stretching back to the American Revolution. Her advantaged upbringing left her wanting for very little in her youth. After graduating high school she began her collegial studies at Vassar College where she received a degree in Social Work in 1898.

Cincinnati Enquirer, September 2, 1903, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection

After completing her studies, Bertha moved with her parents to Indianapolis where her father served as state superintendent of the Universalist Church of Indiana. Shortly after, Bertha made a visit to her friend Bessie Ball in Muncie. There, Bertha was introduced to Bessie’s brother-in-law, Edmund. Despite a twenty year age difference the two hit it off right away and in 1903 the couple married. Edmund’s distinction as the wealthiest man in Indiana, led to many headlines stretching from Indianapolis to Muncie, and even into Cincinnati.

Contrasted with Bertha’s advantaged upbringing is that of her sister-in-law, Sarah Rogers Ball. Nearly twenty years older than Bertha, Sarah married Edmund’s older brother, Dr. Lucius Ball in 1893. Born in upstate New York, Sarah was the daughter of immigrants. With six siblings, Sarah’s childhood home grew crowded and did not come with many opportunities. By the age of 16 she had moved into the home of her older sister and brother-in-law. For Sarah this move opened up doors that had been previously closed. Her brother-in-law, himself the son of immigrants, made a name as a ship captain and built up a very profitable shipping fleet. When Sarah began studies at the Buffalo General Hospital School of Nursing in 1885 her sister and brother-in-law likely paid the tuition.

Dr. Lucius and Sarah Rogers Ball in Japan, 1917, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

While Bertha and Sarah could not be more different on the surface, their interest in public health and service to their community tied them together. In the 1880s the discovery of natural gas created a boom of industry in the Muncie area. This development led to a period of growth and an expanding population that required social amenities and services, such as health care. Over the next few decades small hospitals came and went until Ball Memorial Hospital opened its modern facility in 1929. In the meantime, it became obvious that the industrial town not only needed reliable hospitals, but also advocates for improving the overall public health of the community.

Two such promoters came in the form of Muncie’s Visiting Nurses Association and the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association. Both organizations tackled issues of public health, and felt the influence of Bertha and Sarah Ball.

Formed in 1916, the Visiting Nurses Association existed “for the benefit and assistance of those otherwise unable to secure skilled assistance in times of illness; to promote cleanliness and prevent sickness by the teaching of hygiene, sanitation and the science of domestic management.” To accomplish these feats they provided general nursing, maternity service, child welfare service, nurses training, and a mental hygiene program.

Among those involved with the organization of the association was Sarah. As a former nurse it comes as no surprise that she had an interest in seeing the group established. When living in Buffalo, she had been involved in organizing a local Visiting Nurses Association as well.

Muncie Visiting Nurses Association staff, 1932
Muncie Visiting Nurses Association staff, 1932, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

While Sarah’s role with the Visiting Nurses was low-profile, Bertha’s involvement was not. At the time of the group’s founding, the organization elected Bertha to serve as second vice president and she continued to actively serve on the board of directors into the mid-1930s; serving as president in the 1920s. Between 1922 and 1932 the association experienced rapid growth. Under Bertha’s leadership nursing staff expanded, the numbers of patients served grew, and community health rapidly improved.

Modern Health Crusade pamphlet. In the mid-1920s, the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association won the state award for the highest percentage of student participants in the program
Modern Health Crusade pamphlet. In the mid-1920s, the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association won the state award for the highest percentage of student participants in the program, courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection

Three years after the founding of the Visiting Nurses, the Delaware County Tuberculosis Association began to develop. With tuberculosis-related deaths on the rise, the group hoped to spread knowledge concerning the disease’s cause and treatment, and to take steps towards preventing its spread. Through lectures, anti-spitting campaigns, advertisements, tuberculin testing of cattle, and instructive visits from nurses, the association tackled its goals head on. Over time their work paid off and by the 1940s tuberculosis-related deaths in the county had almost completely disappeared.

In the association’s first years, Bertha and Sarah again found themselves highly involved. Both women helped incorporate the organization and were also among the first board members. Sarah personally offered up the use of her automobile to the organization, and Bertha regularly gave monetary gifts to the group when they struggled financially.

Bertha Crosley Ball, mid-1930s and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1917
Bertha Crosley Ball, mid-1930s (left) and Sarah Rogers Ball, around 1917 (right), courtesy of the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.

A scan of both organizations’ records show Bertha and Sarah’s names regularly mentioned in formative years. Through their labor, a strong foundation was established for both organizations, cooperative relationships developed between the boards, and both associations experienced rapid growth. With backgrounds in social work and nursing, Bertha and Sarah each possessed an understanding of society’s larger public needs and desired to improve the well-being of all people. Through their work, public health efforts in the Muncie area improved, leading to an established concern with human and community health that continues today.