Hail to the Chief!

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Four U.S. Presidents celebrated their birthdays this month. This is not the month with the largest number of presidential birthdays—that would be October, with 6 of our 45 presidents born that month, but February is the month traditionally associated with presidential birthdays, largely based on George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays falling this month. Currently, the 3rd Monday in February is called Presidents’ Day, February 17th, this year.

The Father of our Country was born on February 22, 1732 and died December 14, 1799.  As one might expect, given Washington’s larger-than-life status and importance to this country, as early as 1800 his birthday was remembered in celebration. The celebration was unofficial until the late 1870’s when it became a national holiday, but only for the District of Columbia. In 1885, it was expanded to the entire country.

Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1821. This portrait hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  Source: https://bit.ly/2OaBrQK

Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1821. This portrait hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Source: https://bit.ly/2OaBrQK

The next February-born president was William Henry Harrison, born February 9, 1773.  Harrison set a lot of “records”—he was the oldest man elected president (this record did not stand—he was 67 when elected and 68 when sworn in; Reagan was 69 when elected), gave the longest inaugural address, 105 minutes, and had the shortest time in office, dying one month after that interminable inaugural address. This made him the first president to die in office. For years popular thought attributed his death to catching a cold that turned into pneumonia after refusing to wear a hat and coat on a blustery March inaugural day, but now there is some evidence that he died of typhoid fever.

2. William Henry Harrison

Portrait of William Henry Harrison, c. 1813. This portrait hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Source: https://bit.ly/2GAjBCw

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809. Lincoln was the third president (after William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor) to die in office, but the first to be assassinated. Lincoln shares the same larger-than-life iconic status as Washington, and for years, his birthday was celebrated, but never as a federal holiday. “By 1890, Lincoln’s birthday was observed as a paid holiday in 10 states. According to one blog that tracks the holiday, in 1940 24 states and the District of Columbia observed Lincoln’s Birthday.

4. Abe Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln as a young man. This portrait is held by the National Park Service. Source: https://bit.ly/315cThs

Ronald Reagan is the final February birthday boy, born on February 6, 1911.  By the time of his 1980 election, the practice of celebrating presidential birthdays, at least on the federal level, had completely changed.

5. Ronald Reagan

Official Portrait of Ronald Reagan, c.1981-1983. Photographed by the White House Photographic Office. Source: https://bit.ly/3aQ6n2w

The shift from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents Day began in the late 1960s, when Congress proposed a measure known as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Championed by Senator Robert McClory of Illinois, this law sought to shift the celebration of several federal holidays from specific dates to a series of predetermined Mondays. The proposed change was seen by many as a novel way to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers, and it was believed that ensuring holidays always fell on the same weekday would reduce employee absenteeism. While some argued that shifting holidays from their original dates would cheapen their meaning, the bill also had widespread support from both the private sector and labor unions and was seen as a surefire way to bolster retail sales.  The Uniform Monday Holiday Act also included a provision to combine the celebration of Washington’s birthday with that of Abraham Lincoln, which fell on February 12. Lincoln’s Birthday had long been a state holiday in places like Illinois, and many supported joining the two days as a way of giving equal recognition to two of America’s most famous statesmen. McClory was among the measure’s major proponents, and he even floated the idea of renaming the holiday Presidents Day. This proved to be a point of contention for lawmakers from George Washington’s home state of Virginia, and the proposal was eventually dropped.

The law eventually passed in 1968 and went into effect in 1971 following an executive order by President Richard Nixon. The order specifically called the new holiday “Washington’s Birthday,” but it soon became known as Presidents’ Day. Retailers jumped in by promoting big sales and the new name stuck—most calendars now say Presidents’ Day, although interestingly, “the federal government has held fast to the original incarnation of the holiday as a celebration of the country’s first president. The third Monday in February is still listed on official calendars as Washington’s Birthday.” One curious outcome of this third Monday in February change is that Presidents’ Day will never fall on the actual birthday of Washington, Harrison, Lincoln, or Reagan—they were all born either too early or too late!

Two of the February-birthday presidents have a real connection with Indiana, and another has, at least, visited on a campaign swing. George Washington, given his time period, never came to Indiana which was neither a territory nor a state during his lifetime. Indiana was initially part of the Northwest Territory, which was created post-Revolutionary War, in 1787, so it’s probable that he was aware of this area in a general fashion, but a map of his travels shows him no further west than locations on what is now the West Virginia/Ohio border, along the Ohio River.

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon, VA, on the banks of the Rappahannock River. It was built by his father in 1834; George Washington took over its administration in 1854. What is seen here is the result of his efforts—an expansion of the house from 3500 sq. ft. to 11,00, and an expansion of the property from 3000 acres to 7600. Source: MSS 022-2939, John Doane collection.

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Mt. Vernon, VA, on the banks of the Rappahannock River. It was built by his father in 1834; George Washington took over its administration in 1854. What is seen here is the result of his efforts—an expansion of the house from 3500 sq. ft. to 11,00, and an expansion of the property from 3000 acres to 7600. Source: MSS 022-2939, John Doane collection.

William Henry Harrison, prior to becoming elected president, was secretary of the Northwest Territory in 1798 and governor of the Indiana territory from 1801 to 1812. The Indiana territorial capital was near Vincennes, and his home, Grouseland, is still there and open to visitors. Harrison is also affiliated with the Lafayette area in his role in winning the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. This victory led to his presidential campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe, and Tyler, too!” John Tyler was his running mate.

1. Grouseland

Grouseland, the home of William Henry Harrison in Vincennes, IN. It was built in 1804. This is the southern side and front. Source: https://bit.ly/2RCuSZn

Honest Abe was born in Kentucky, but his father moved the family to southwestern Indiana (now Spencer County) in December 1816. Lincoln grew to adulthood in Indiana—he was 21 when the family moved to Illinois in March 1830. He left part of his heart in Indiana—his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died in 1818 and is buried on the property, on what is now Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. His older sister, Sarah Lincoln Grigsby, died in childbirth in 1828 and is buried in what is today Lincoln State Park. The state park and national memorial are adjacent.

This cabin is at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County, IN. The Memorial contains a “Living Farm,” which contains no original structures from Lincoln’s time there, but rather is an attempt to depict what life would have been like on an 1820's Indiana farm.  Source: MSS 124-862, Eric Braysmith collection.

This cabin is at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County, IN. The Memorial contains a “Living Farm,” which contains no original structures from Lincoln’s time there, but rather is an attempt to depict what life would have been like on an 1820’s Indiana farm. Source: MSS 124-862, Eric Braysmith collection.

MSS 124-858

Nancy Hanks Lincoln gravesite at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County, IN. This is her actual gravesite, in the Pioneer Cemetery portion of the Memorial. She died in 1818 in her mid-30s from milk sickness, a disease caused by drinking milk produced by cows which have eaten white snakeroot, which poisons their milk. Her son was only 9 years old at the time of her death. The headstone seen here was erected in 1879 “by a friend of her martyred son.” Source: MSS 124-858, Eric Braysmith collection.

Ronald Reagan is probably far better known as being from California, given his profession as an actor and later two-term governorship of that state, but he initially was a Midwestern boy. He was born in Illinois and graduated from both high school and college there. It’s highly likely that he at some time visited Indiana, but this photograph proves that he was in Evansville during his second campaign (unsuccessful) to garner the presidential nomination in 1976.

MSS 034-1126

Ronald Reagan shaking the hand of a supporter at the airport in Evansville, IN April 27, 1976. He was on the campaign trail of his 2nd of 3 attempts to garner the U.S. presidential nomination. Source: MSS 034-1126, Gregory T. Smith collection.

Happy birthday, Mr. President!

Resources Consulted

Abraham Lincoln.  WhiteHouse.gov.

Bomboy, Scott. “How Abraham Lincoln Lost his Birthday Holiday.” Constitution Daily (National Constitution Center), February 12, 2019.

Bomboy, Scott. “What Really Killed the First President to Die in Office?” Constitution Daily (National Constitution Center), April 4, 2018.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon website—biography of George Washington.

McHugh, Jane and Philip A. Mackowiak. “What Really Killed William Henry Harrison?”  New York Times, March 31, 2014.

Presidents Day 2020. History.com editors. June 7, 2019.

Ronald Reagan. Miller Center, University of Virginia.

Ronald Reagan. WhiteHouse.gov.

William Henry Harrison. History.com editors.  August 21, 2018.

William Henry Harrison.  POTUS: Presidents of the United States.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Juliette Gordon Low

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Do you recognize that name? If you’ve ever enjoyed a Thin Mint, Samoa, Do-Si-Do, or Shortbread cookie, you probably should!

Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon was born in Savannah, GA on October 31, 1860, into a well-to-do, prominent family on both sides of her lineage. Her parents married in 1857 and in 1860, welcomed their second daughter, Juliette, always known as Daisy.  Daisy may have been born into a world of privilege, but her timing was less fortunate. A mere week after her birth, Abraham Lincoln was elected U.S. president, an inflammatory event, in Southern eyes, that contributed to the April 1861 firing on Ft. Sumter and the beginning of the Civil War. “Daisy had family fighting on both sides of the war. Daisy’s father William Washington Gordon II served as a lieutenant for the Confederacy while her mother’s side of the family fought for the United States.” This could easily have proved disastrous for family unity, were it not for her mother, Nellie’s, attitude. She freely admitted her northern kinship and kept in touch with her Illinois kin, often traveling to visit, but also helped other Savannah women pack boxes of necessities for Confederate soldiers. “While Nellie always used “we” to refer to the Confederacy, her loyalties lay less with the South or the North than with her husband and family” (Cordery, p. 9).

Oil portrait of Daisy Low by Edward Hughes, 1887. Source: https://bit.ly/2O3lbBd

Oil portrait of Daisy Low by Edward Hughes, 1887. Source: https://bit.ly/2O3lbBd

The family stayed in Savannah during the war and, while they did suffer privation, managed to “hang tough.” In 1864, Sherman began his famous March to the Sea; Savannah surrendered in mid-December. Nellie, who had promised her husband not to leave, stayed until she was forced to go. In the interim she opened her house and offered hospitality to General Sherman, a man her family had long known.  On the other hand, she refused to take the oath of loyalty to the Union.  In March 1865, Nellie and her family traveled to Illinois, with escorts provided by Sherman—but only after she had demanded and been granted a Sherman-arranged rendezvous with her husband!

With the war finally over, the Gordon family slowly recovered its fortunes and life went on as per usual for a family of its stature. In 1886, Daisy married William Mackay Low, a Savannah native who lived in England, and they moved to the continent to lead an aristocratic life. “Her parents did not approve of William Low. Daisy’s father had always wanted his daughters to marry a man who was accustomed to hard work and not dependent on family wealth. William Low’s father was a trusted business partner of William Washington Gordon II, however, and so he could not outright refuse the match.” Daisy had been raised in a family that valued industriousness and making a difference in society, where loyalty and honor were important.  Her parents were in love and devoted to each other. A bit naïve, she soon found herself in a society that did not share her mores. Her husband associated with the Prince of Wales, a notorious dilettante. He and his crowd had prodigious appetites—they drank to excess, they gambled, they had mistresses—anything to stave off the dreaded boredom. “High society “did not like brains” and only understood how to spend, not make, money.  [They] considered the heads of historic houses who read serious works, encouraged scientists and the like very, very dull” (Cordery, p. 141).

The Spanish-American War broke out in 1898 and Daisy’s father was appointed by President McKinley as brigadier general of the Second Brigade, Second Division, Seventh Army Corps, USV. Daisy came home to stay with her mother, but the family soon ended up in Camp Miami, FL. It was known as “Camp Hell” for the deplorable conditions, and the Gordon’s and their daughter jumped head-first into caring for the soldiers, even spending their own money to open a convalescent hospital and purchase supplies.  As horrific and miserable as the situation was, Daisy had purpose in her life, and her self-confidence began to revive. Upon her return to England, she found she was no longer able to countenance her husband’s infidelity and began divorce proceedings. Proceedings were still under way when Low died in 1905.

Daisy found herself at loose ends and felt she was a failure. She was 45 years old, widowed, with no children. In the times in which she lived, childlessness reflected very poorly on a woman, who was not considered to have fulfilled her proper social role in providing an heir. In 1911, she found her calling in a chance meeting with Sir Robert Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell was a British war hero—a creative and brilliant man with an insatiable curiosity who authored several books about reconnaissance and scouting.  Returning home to England after the Boer War, he was amazed to see “that all across England, boys were emulating him by adapting information from his books.  They wore homemade uniforms and played tracking games.  Some groups of boys named themselves in his honor …” (Cordery, p. 185)  Baden-Powell, who had long been concerned that British youth were ill-prepared to face an emergency, jumped on his own bandwagon, as it were, and began to promote and refine the nascent organization. By the time Daisy met him in 1911, Baden-Powell had resigned from the army to devote himself full time to what became his greatest achievement—Boy Scouting.  Girls wanted to join, and soon Girl Guides was born.

Daisy was enchanted with the practicalities as well as the fun the organization provided, plus it gave her a sense of purpose again. She was living in Scotland at the time and started a Girl Guides group there.  These girls “were from very poor families and expected to leave home at a very young age to begin earning money.  Daisy taught the girls to raise poultry and spin yarn so that they could earn money for their families without leaving home.  In just a few months, Daisy had made a difference” (Hent, p. 48).  She was eager to bring Girls Guides to America, and in March 1912 she returned to Savannah. “Upon returning to Savannah, Juliette made her now famous call to the future Girl Scout commissioner of Savannah Miss Nina Pape.  In the call Juliette exclaimed “Come right over. I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it to-night.”  On March 12, 1912 Juliette Gordon Low registered eighteen girls into the United States first troop of Girl Guides. After establishing the first troop in Savannah, Juliette left them in the capable hands of her cousin Miss Pape.  Juliette traveled between England and the United States spreading the word about the Girl Guides and calling upon all the friends she had made as a young woman to grow the movement. In 1913, the Girl Guides in the United States officially changed their name to the Girl Scouts.

2. Girl Scouts

Photograph of Girls School Troop 1. From the Ann Mintz collection of Girl Scouts Troup 1 records, MS 2351, Georgia Historical Society. Source: https://bit.ly/2RZTVof

With the Girls Scouts now established, let’s take a brief step back to look at what might be a little-known fact about Daisy and how it demonstrates her character. Upon arrival in Chicago after evacuation from Savannah, the Gordon’s were thin and malnourished, and Daisy, unable to fight off infection, succumbed to what was called brain fever. It’s unclear exactly what this malady was—possibly encephalitis, meningitis, or another dire illness. Despite fears for her life, she eventually rallied and recovered, but the illness left her with chronic ear infections and excruciating earaches. In 1885, in the throes of an earache, she visited a doctor who treated it with silver nitrate, which caused her “tremendous agony and set in motion a series of complications from which she would never fully recover.  By the time the soreness finally subsided, Daisy Gordon’s hearing was significantly impaired” (Cordery, p. 92). Silver nitrate had been used to treat ear infections, but it is extremely caustic and must be used with great care. It’s not clear if the physician used too much silver nitrate or if this was an unfortunate occurrence.  Eventually the perforated eardrum did heal and some hearing returned. As if to add insult to injury, in 1886, as Daisy and her new husband embarked on their honeymoon, a piece of rice thrown by guests managed to lodge itself in her good ear. After returning from her honeymoon with a painful ear infection underway, her husband took her to a doctor in Atlanta. He removed the grain of rice, but in the process her eardrum was punctured, causing her to lose all hearing in that ear.

Deafness was not uncommon in Victorian times, due to infectious diseases and loud noises compounded by a lack of treatment options and lack of medical knowledge about the inner workings of the ear.  Daisy learned to cope.  Because she was not born deaf and thus had known what it was to hear, she became a skilled lipreader.  Her own speech was unimpaired to the extent that her hearing challenges weren’t always obvious.  And if she did misunderstand and thus respond inappropriately? Well, her social status protected her. “Eccentricities among elites were accepted among peers and across class lines. Daisy’s hearing loss might have exacerbated what companions—especially family who knew her before she lost her hearing—called her “craziness,” but her circle of friends tolerated irregular behavior” (Cordery, p. 108). Indeed, she learned to use her deafness to her advantage—when receiving a rejection of her request for volunteering with or donating to Girls Scouts, she simply pretended not to understand!

3. Juliette Gordon Low

Juliette Gordon Low, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2RFa4kh

Back to the beginnings of Girl Scouting in America in Savannah—”The first Girl Scouts got to know Daisy personally, and they thought of her as a quirky, funny fairy godmother type of person who would stand on her head at meetings and tell spooky stories around the campfire. Daisy liked to ask the girls what they thought and what they wanted to do, rather than telling them. From the beginning, Daisy wanted the Girl Scouts to be inclusive, meaning that it would be open to girls of any race, background or financial situation. The girls would be encouraged to be independent, to make their own choices and to develop their talents and skills. They would also be challenged to learn new things. Daisy thought it was important for the girls to spend time outdoors, so camping, swimming and playing sports such as basketball were early activities.

Daisy continued to travel between England and America, promoting Girl Scouting.  In 1914, World War I broke out, and she and her sister volunteered with the Belgian Red Cross.  America maintained its neutral stance for several more years until President Woodrow Wilson’s hand was forced in 1917 and he declared war. Almost immediately, Girls Scouts offered to help with the war effort. “The Girl Scout movement seemed to blossom overnight in response to the United States’ entry into the war. Girls all over the country tended to victory gardens, volunteered as ambulance drivers for the Red Cross, relieved overworked nurses during the Spanish Influenza epidemic, sold war bonds, and gathered units at Red Cross sewing rooms. Suddenly, girls were putting to use the skills they learned to use in the pursuit of badges. Important figures began to recognize the girls’ hard work. Future President and then Secretary of the U.S. Food Administration Herbert Hoover wrote to Juliette Gordon Low on two separate occasions to thank the Girl Scouts for their great work in food conservation. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson accepted the title of honorary president of the Girl Scouts as would all future first ladies including Michelle Obama.

4. Gordon Family Papers

From the Gordon Family papers, MS 318, Georgia Historical Society. Source: https://bit.ly/38M8JO6

For the rest of her life, Daisy worked tirelessly to promote the Girls Scouts, both in this country and internationally. “After the war ended in 1918, Low returned to England to continue her work with the Girl Guides and to revive their connection with the American Girl Scouts. Olave Baden-Powell spearheaded an International Council of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in 1919. Low was in London at that time and acted as the American representative on the Council. Its aim was to expand the work of the girls’ organizations throughout the world. During the 1920s, this International Council of Girl Guides created troops in many parts of the globe, including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and China.  For her extensive and continued work for the Girl Guides, Low was awarded the organization’s Silver Fish by Olave Baden-Powell in 1919, its highest honor. Low is one of the few Americans to have received this award. The following year, Low stepped down as President of the Girl Scouts of America and focused more of her attention on promoting the organization internationally. The organization established Low’s birthday, October 31, as Girl Scouts’ Founder’s Day in 1920.”  At the time Low stepped down from the presidency and became known as Founder, there were 70,000 Girls Scouts; in the next seven years, that figured more than doubled to 168,000.

Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon Low died January 17, 1927 after a long and private struggle with breast cancer. From a sickly child who suffered through the Civil War, a madcap girl who loved to stand on her head, a childless woman who was a failure, in her eyes, as a wife, and a deaf individual in a time when disabilities were stigmatizing, Daisy persevered to become a beloved figure and founder of a movement that far outlived her.  As of 2018, there were 2.6 million Girls Scouts in the U.S. alone, with over 50 million alums. Every time you enjoy a Girl Scout cookie, sales of which began in 1917, her legacy continues.

In 2019, UASC received a collection of materials from the Girls Scouts of Southwestern Indiana, a regional council serving 11 counties.  This collection includes uniforms, cookie tins, dolls, toys, badges, photographs, and scrapbooks, dating as far back as 1923.  This collection is here on a temporary basis—at such time as Girls Scouts of Southwestern Indiana settles into its new location, it will make a decision about reclaiming the items or making the donation permanent. Here are a couple of the more interesting items from this collection.

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Resources Consulted

About Daisy.  Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace.

Cordery, Stacy A.  Juliette Gordon Low: The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts.  New York: Viking, 2012.   HS3268.2.L68 C67 2012

Gambino, Megan. The Very First Troop Leader.  Smithsonian.com  March 7, 2012.

Juliette Gordon Low.  Georgia Historical Society website.

Juliette Gordon Low.  Girl Scouts of the United States website.

Kent, Deborah.  Extraordinary People with Disabilities.  New York: Children’s Press, 1996.  HV1552.3 .K45 1996

Kleiber, Shannon Henry.  Juliette Gordon Low, who had no children of her own, started Girl Scouts in 1912.   Washington Post online, March 9, 2012.

Spring, Kelly A.  Juliette Gordon Low (1860-1927)  National Women’s History Museum online, 2017.

Posted in American history, history, women's history | Leave a comment

“War is Hell”… and Expensive, Too.

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

That quote is attributed to Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, but it surely applies to every other war, as does the comment about the cost. Declaring war, assuming you have the political will and the necessary votes, is one thing—funding it is another.

The United States entered World War I late in the conflict. The war began in 1914, but the U.S., due to the isolationist leanings of President Woodrow Wilson and much of the American public, vowed to remain neutral. This façade wavered a bit in 1915 with the bombing of the Lusitania and the loss of some 2,00 lives, 128 of them American, but it did not crack. It took the threat of an alliance between Germany and Mexico for Congress to declare war on April 6, 1917.

William Gibbs McAdoo (1863-1941), n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2QyVt9m

William Gibbs McAdoo (1863-1941), n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2QyVt9m

Generally speaking, the secretary of the Treasury proposes a funding plan for war financing and works with Congress to enact the necessary legislation, while the Federal Reserve operates with considerable independence from both the executive and legislative branches of government. But World War I was different. The Treasury and the Fed, united under one leader, worked together in both the creation of the financial war plan and its execution.” The Federal Reserve System was new to the country, only established in 1914. During the political debates over its very establishment, it became clear that there was strong opposition to even the concept of a central coordinating board.  President Wilson, however, was adamant that there be “a public agency with supervisory powers over the banks.” A compromise was reached that established a Federal Reserve Board of 7 members, headquartered in Washington, D.C., with the Secretary of the Treasury ex-officio chair. The author of this compromise was none other than Wilson’s Treasury secretary, William Gibbs McAdoo, who thus found himself with huge responsibilities 3 years later when war was declared.

Funding America’s entry into World War I wasn’t going to be cheap, even if it was for a relatively short period of time—not, of course, was there any idea of the actual duration of the war at the time. The options available for raising the necessary funds were taxation, borrowing, printing money, or some combination thereof. McAdoo was strongly opposed to printing money, based in part on Civil War experience that issuing “greenbacks” promoted inflation. He also believed that this would lower morale, damage the reputation of currency, and hide the true cost of war. “Any great war must necessarily be a popular movement,” he thought, “… a kind of crusade.” McAdoo opted for both taxation and borrowing. “Taxation would work directly and transparently to reduce consumption. Taxes are compulsory, and those who must pay are left with less purchasing power. Their expenditures will fall, freeing productive resources (labor, machines, factories, and raw materials) to be employed in support of the war.” Although there was a faction that supported taxation as the sole basis of war funding, the eventual compromise was 1/3 from taxes and 2/3 from borrowing.

From whom was the government going to borrow? It would borrow from the American people through the sale of war bonds.  The public would hopefully lower consumption and purchase bonds, further adding to the freeing of productive resources. “It was at this point that McAdoo conceived of the Liberty Loan plan. It had three elements. First, the public would be educated about bonds, the causes and objectives of the war, and the financial power of the country. McAdoo chose to call the securities “Liberty Bonds” as part of this educational effort. Second, the government would appeal to patriotism and ask everyone – from schoolchildren to millionaires — to do their part by reducing consumption and purchasing bonds. Third, the entire effort would rely upon volunteer labor, thereby avoiding the money market, brokerage commissions, or a paid sales force. The Federal Reserve Banks would coordinate and manage sales, while the bonds could be purchased at any bank that was a member of the Federal Reserve System.

The successful sale of war bonds depended upon two key factors, the first of which was financial. Although the lowest denomination available was $50 (2 weeks of wages for the average worker), an installment plan was offered. War Thrift Stamps cost only $.25. “The Treasury Department called them “little baby bonds,” and like the Liberty Bonds, they earned interest. The stamps were pasted on a card until sixteen had been collected, at which point they were exchanged for a $5 stamp called a “War Savings Stamp.” These were affixed to a “War-Savings Certificate” which also earned interest. When ten $5 stamps were collected, the certificate could be exchanged for a $50 Liberty Bond.

3. Inside of the Thrift Card

Inside of the Thrift Card, used to paste Savings Stamps, n.d. Source: https://sossi.org/journal/scouts-ww1-liberty-bonds.pdf

The second aspect of selling war bonds, and perhaps the most important one, was the battle waged in the court of public opinion. To add to the cachet of owning a bond, they were sold only in 5 brief, heavily publicized campaigns. To this end, the Committee on Public Information was created and staffed with psychologists, journalists, artists, advertising experts, etc. One of the experts in mass psychology was Edward Bernays … who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew! The very name “Liberty Loan” or “Liberty Bond” was an appeal to patriotism; the final issue of bonds, sold after the armistice, were called “Victory Loans/Bonds.” Within the Committee on Public Information was Division of Pictorial Publicity, producer of colorful, emotional, and sometimes lurid posters.  Famous artists such as N.C. Wyeth (you might better recognize the work of his son Andrew and grandson Jamie) and Norman Rockwell signed on to lend their talents to the cause.  The Division was headed by Charles Dana Gibson, who had made the “Gibson Girl” an iconic figure. (These artists also created other posters in support of the war effort beyond those to sell Liberty Bonds, but we’re going to focus on the Bond posters.) War Bond posters were not subtle in their appeal, instead invoking motives of family, guilt, social image, revenge, fear, competitiveness, the American spirit, etc.

The Statue of Liberty even got involved!

Poster by Charles Raymond Macauley, 1917. Source: https://www.nps.gov/articles/statue-of-liberty-and-war-bonds.htm

Poster by Charles Raymond Macauley, 1917. Source: https://www.nps.gov/articles/statue-of-liberty-and-war-bonds.htm

Although this poster doesn’t specifically say anything about buying bonds, the idea is clear from the dollar signs.

6. Liberty Bound or Liberty Bond

Original design for “Liberty Bound or Liberty Bond? U Can Change It” by James Hart, 1917/1918. Source: https://bit.ly/39RxWYQ

An even more dire threat to Lady Liberty shows her under attack and headless, although realistically, a direct attack on the United States in World War I was not likely.

That Liberty Shall Not Perish From the Earth by Joseph Pennell, 1918. Color lithograph on paper, 41" by 28 1/4".

That Liberty Shall Not Perish From the Earth by Joseph Pennell, 1918. Color lithograph on paper, 41″ by 28 1/4″.

This play to patriotism, drawing on another iconic American figure, is an appeal to purchase savings stamps. The imagery here says that the American eagle is safe due to the protection of biplanes, thanks to the purchase of War Savings Stamps.

8. Keep Him Free (Pg 147)

Keep Him Free, Buy War Savings Stamps by Charles Livingston Bull, 1917. Color lithograph on paper, 29 7/8” by 20 1/8”.

Other posters play to anti-German sentiment and focus on the horrors of war, sometimes with pejorative language.  This one has a bloody handprint “to represent atrocities committed by an uncivilized enemy.” (The Great War: U.S. Army Art, p. 131)

The Hun--His Mark, Blot it Out by James Allen St. John, 1917. Color lithograph on paper, 42 ¼” by 28 ¼”.

The Hun–His Mark, Blot it Out by James Allen St. John, 1917. Color lithograph on paper, 42 ¼” by 28 ¼”.

This poster references what was called The Rape of Belgium—the German invasion and occupation of Belgium (a direct violation of Belgium’s neutrality) and mistreatment of civilians. This image is from the 4th Liberty Loan campaign, which strictly emphasized German “bestiality.”

Remember Belgium by Ellsworth Young, 1918. Color lithograph on paper, 30" by 20 1/4".

Remember Belgium by Ellsworth Young, 1918. Color lithograph on paper, 30″ by 20 1/4″.

Immigrants were targeted as a reminder that their loyalty was now due to the United States and not to any European power who might be an enemy in the war.

Pg 132

Remember Your First Thrill of American Liberty, artist unknown, 1917. Color lithograph on paper, 30″ by 20″.

Here Joan of Arc is presented as a model for American women. If Joan could lose her life in order to save France, surely American women could make the paltry financial sacrifice necessary to buy war savings stamps!

Pg 148

Joan of Arc Saved France by William “Haskell” Coffin, 1918. Color lithograph on paper, 30″ by 20″.

The Boy Scouts joined forces with Lady Liberty, called into service by President Wilson.  “In the five loan drives the Scouts sold 2,328,308 bond subscriptions amounting to $354,859,262.  Over two million War Saving Stamps were sold totaling $43,043,698.

USA Bonds by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, 1918. Color lithograph on paper, 29 7/8" by 19 7/8".

USA Bonds by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, 1918. Color lithograph on paper, 29 7/8″ by 19 7/8″.

Everyone was involved in war bond drives. “Civic and religious organizations were recruited by Liberty Loan committees to assist in bond sales. … A separate women’s-only organization, the National Women’s Liberty Loan Committee, was created and chaired by Secretary McAdoo’s wife Eleanor (who was also the daughter of President Wilson). The Women’s Committee worked primarily through existing women’s groups and fraternal organizations: the Ancient Order of the Hiberians Ladies’ Auxiliary, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Grange, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Women’s Suffrage Association, the Young Women’s Christian Association, and countless others. Under the aegis of the committee, the women of America became a formidable salesforce numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and they were frequently able to outraise their male counterparts (National Women’s Liberty Loan Committee 1920). On Liberty Loan Sundays, America’s clergy took their pulpits to preach the virtues of bond buying, and model sermons were distributed widely.” College campuses were not immune. “At the University of Michigan, “bond hysteria” dominated the headlines of The Michigan Daily and the wallets of students. Headlines and bond ads encouraged students to “buy until it hurts” and that “patriotism is now spelled sacrifice.” The University of Michigan was given a quota of $200,000 for the second Liberty Loan by the Ann Arbor Loan Committee, translating to a rate of almost one bond for every student enrolled. Faculty and boosters participating in a 24-hour bond drive adopted the slogan “A bond for every student.” … Even when Michigan students were buying massive amounts of bonds, some faculty members feared that the University would fail to meet its quota, with one headline in the student newspaper speculating that the University was doomed to fail. However, the University proceeded to oversubscribe its quota by $42,000 only ten days later.” Celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Al Jolson, and Douglas Fairbanks went across the country rallying loyal Americans to buy liberty bonds. Douglas Fairbanks came to Evansville on April 15, 1918, here standing on the steps of the Hotel McCurdy, looking at a newspaper.


Douglas Fairbanks promoting war bonds in Evansville, Indiana, 1918. Source: Thomas Mueller collection (MSS 247-1166).

The Committee on Public Information (CPI) “organized a volunteer speakers bureau known as the Four Minute Men (FMM), “the most unique and one of the most effective agencies developed during the war for the stimulation of public opinion and the promotion of unity.” Supplied with material by the CPI, the volunteers wrote their own speeches and presented them during intermission at movie theaters. The speeches were calibrated to last no longer than the time it took the projectionist to change reels during a movie, and speakers were instructed to deliver them without notes. Soon the work of the FMM expanded to include forums at churches, fraternal lodges, labor unions, and other gathering places. The FMM were issued talking points for each of the four Liberty Loan drives by the CPI. In addition to reminding their audiences of the principles for which the allies were fighting, the FMM were asked to provide information on the particulars of the issue, explain basic principles of investing, and exhort the virtues of savings and thrift. … Seventy-five thousand volunteered for service as FMM across more than five thousand communities giving more than seven million speeches. Four Minute Men were found on 153 college campuses, and a junior division was created to sell War Savings Stamps.

Posters and pins were everywhere.

7. Liberty Loans

Liberty Loans, 2nd Loan: (location not identified). Source: Harris and Ewing, 1917. // hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.09714.

8. I Own A Liberty Bond

Purchasers of Liberty Bonds could wear this “Badge of Honor”, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/36DNP3c

9. Liberty Loan Campaign Buttons

Liberty Loan campaign buttons, Andrew Babicki Collection (1916-1936). Source: https://bit.ly/2FylQ96

And then, suddenly and abruptly, it all stopped.  According to the chair of the CPI,  “Within twenty-four hours from the signing of the armistice orders were issued for the immediate cessation of every domestic activity of the Committee on Public Information.”  The Committee on Public Information, moreover, was not an outlier. Virtually the entire government apparatus that had been assembled to run the war economy was scrapped the moment the war ended, reflecting the public’s desire to get the whole experience over with.” Those after-the-armistice Victory Bonds were sold, just not under the aegis of the CPI.

By war’s end, after four drives, twenty million individuals had bought bonds. That is pretty impressive given that there were only twenty-four million households at the time. More than $17 billion had been raised. In addition, the taxes collected amounted to $8.8 billion. Almost exactly two-thirds of the war funds came from bonds and one-third from taxes. This was a time when $17 billion was an almost unthinkably large number. An equal share of gross domestic product today would amount to $6.3 trillion. Most of McAdoo’s bonds were purchased by the public, 62 percent of the value sold by one estimate. A government survey of almost 13,000 urban wage-earners conducted in 1918 and 1919 indicated that 68 percent owned Liberty Bonds. It seems undeniable that the emotional advertising campaign effectively produced a broad and strong desire to do one’s part for the war effort by participating in this way. After the war, McAdoo’s assistant in fiscal matters, Assistant Secretary Russell Leffingwell, described the loan campaigns “as the most magnificent economic achievement of any people. … the actual achievement of 100,000,000 united people inspired by the finest and purest patriotism.””  Most of the bonds were retired (i.e., paid off) between 1921-1927. When the 4th was called in 1934, the Treasury refused to pay off in gold as had been promised when they were sold. (Click here to see the rationale.) Due to the increased price of gold since the 1918 sale, bondholders stood to lose a potential $2.9 billion and took this default as far as the Supreme Court, but never received compensation.

The Liberty Loan Acts that authorized the sales of these bonds have never been repealed, and this type of bond has been issued occasionally since World War I. The latest issuance helped rebuild/restore parts of New York after the 9/11 bombings. While it’s highly unlikely that there was a publicity campaign on the World War I scale in this latest instance, war is still hell, and it’s still expensive.

Resources Consulted:

Brown, Judi. “What Were Liberty Bonds in World War 1?” Owlcation website, March 4, 2013.

The Great War. U.S. Army Art.  Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2018. Special Collections: D522 .G66 2018

The Great War. U.S. Army Artifacts.  Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2018. Special Collections: D503 .G74 2018

Hilt, Eric and Wendy M. Rahn. “Turning Citizens into Investors: Promoting Savings with Liberty Bonds During World War I.” RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences: v. 2, no. 6, October 2016, p. 86-108.

Kang, Sung Won and Hugh Rockoff.  “Capitalizing Patriotism: The Liberty Loans of World War I. NBER Working Papers no. 11919, National Bureau of Economic Research, January 2006.

McDermott, T.P. “USA’s Boy Scouts and World War I Liberty Bonds.” SISSI Journal, May/June 2002, p. 68-73.

Natanson, Barbara Orbach.  “The Bonds of Liberty: a World War I Liberty Loan Poster.”  Picture This Library of Congress blog, February 22, 2017.

Patton, James.  “The Liberty Bonds.” Kansas World War I Centennial Committee website, January 26, 2019.

Schuffman, Lawrence D.  “The Liberty Bond: 2007 Marks the 90th Anniversary of the First War Bond of the 20th Century.” Financial History, Spring 2007.

“The Statue of Liberty in Recruitment and War Bonds Posters.” Statue of Liberty National Monument, National Park Service, August 18, 2017.

Sutch, Richard.  “Liberty Bonds April 1917–September 1918.” Federal Reserve History.

“The University of Michigan and The Great War.”  Public history exhibit is presented by the History Department and the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

World War I Posters: Liberty Bound or Liberty Bond? U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Posted in Business, European History, Local history, World War 1 | Leave a comment

Grand Army of the Republic

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of his army to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, VA.  In earlier conflicts, and indeed, in the early years of the Civil War, neighbors, friends, and relatives went off to fight together and then returned to their community. “By the end of the Civil War, units had become less homogeneous, men from different communities and even different states were forced together by the exigencies of battle where new friendships and lasting trust was forged. With the advances in the care and movement of the wounded, many who would have surely died in earlier wars returned home to be cared for by a community structure weary from a protracted war and now also faced with the needs of widows and orphans. Veterans needed jobs, including a whole new group of veterans–the colored soldier and his entire, newly freed, family. It was often more than the fragile fabric of communities could bear.” As time passed, some soldiers began to romanticize their time in the army, to remember fondly the camaraderie and forget (at least on some level) the harshness. “Friendships forged in battle survived the separation and the warriors missed the warmth of trusting companionship that had asked only total and absolute commitment.

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin Stephenson, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2tFyDUB

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin Stephenson, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2tFyDUB

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was founded to address these needs of caring for veterans and to provide companionship. Benjamin Franklin Stephenson (1823-1871), who had served for 2 years as chief surgeon with the 14th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, chartered the organization on April 6, 1866 in Decatur, IL. Eligibility for membership was extended to “honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865.”  (The Revenue Cutter Service is today’s Coast Guard.) The GAR adopted both military and Masonic procedures in its organization, with posts at the local level, departments at the state, and the national organization managed by a commander-in-chief. “The GAR uniform was a double-breasted, dark blue coat with bronze buttons, and a black wide-brimmed slouch felt hat, with golden wreath insignia and cord. A bronze star badge hung from a small chiffon flag. The star in relief depicted a soldier and sailor clasping hands in front of a figure of Liberty. Members wore these insignia in their lapels, so they could be easily identified. This led to them being sarcastically termed “bronze button heroes.” They referred to each other as “comrade.”” Annual national gatherings were called encampments. The first and last (83 in total) encampments were held in Indianapolis.

At its peak in 1890, the GAR had nearly 410,000 members and could eventually claim U.S. presidents Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley as members.  It was very, very influential–it was even said that a president could not be elected without GAR support. “In its early days, the GAR limited its activities merely to fraternal activities. But soon, members began discussing politics in local gatherings. A growing interest in pensions signaled the beginning of open GAR participation in national politics. The rank and file soon realized the value of presenting a solid front to make demands upon legislators and congressmen. The GAR became so powerful that the wrath of the entire body could be called down upon any man in public life who objected to GAR-sponsored legislation.  In 1862 President Lincoln approved a bill granting pensions for soldiers who received permanent disability as a result of their military service. An 1879 act was liberalized to include conditions of payment. After that, the GAR became a recognized pressure group. The fate of some presidential elections was dependent upon the candidate’s support of GAR-sponsored pension bills. President Grover Cleveland was defeated for re-election in 1888 in large part because of his veto of a Dependent Pension Bill. President Benjamin Harrison was elected because of his definite commitment to support pension legislation. The Disability Pension Act of 1890, insured a pension to every veteran who had ninety days of military service and some type of disability, not necessarily incurred during or as a result of the War. Since most ex-soldiers were at least middle aged, the act became an almost universal entitlement for every veteran. For many decades the federal Government paid claims to all Union veterans of the Civil War and their survivors.” Eventually this led to push back by those who believed that the GAR was fully in bed with the Republican Party. The press, in the person of Horace Greeley and his New York Tribune, among others, castigated the GAR for inflaming hatreds from the war that would serve to disrupt/delay/prevent national reconciliation. GAR membership dropped until the organization wisely decided to forego its political agenda and focus solely on the ideals of charity and loyalty. “Veterans set up a fund for the relief of needy veterans, widows, and orphans. This fund was used for medical, burial and housing expenses, and for purchases of food and household goods. Loans were arranged, and sometimes the veterans found work for the needy. The G.A.R. was active in promoting soldiers’ and orphans’ homes; through its efforts soldiers’ homes were established in sixteen states and orphanages in seven states by 1890. The soldiers’ homes were later transferred to the federal government.  Loyalty… was fostered through constant reminders to those who had not lived through the war of the significance of the G.A.R. in reuniting a divided nation. The organization spent much of its time soliciting funds for monuments and memorials, busts and equestrian statues of Union soldiers and heroes, granite shafts, tablets, urns, and mounted cannon. The G.A.R. also encouraged the preservation of Civil War sites, relics, and historic documents. Cannons and field-pieces were placed in many towns or courthouse squares and parks. The members also gave battle-stained flags, mementos, and documents to local museums. “Below is local evidence of these memorial commemorations—this bas relief of the flag and eagle emblem of the Grand Army of the Republic is part of the pediment for the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Coliseum at 350 Court Street. The coliseum was built in c. 1916-1917 to honor local veterans of both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

MSS 184-0159

Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Coliseum statues in Evansville, Indiana, 1970. Source: Brad Awe collection (MSS 184-0159).

The primary legacy of the GAR that still impacts us today is Memorial Day.  In 1868, GAR Commander-in-Chief John A. Logan asked that all GAR posts decorate the graves of lost comrades with flowers to honor them and celebrate their sacrifice. May 30 was chosen because that was not an anniversary of a specific battle, and the original observance was called Decoration Day. It was not until 1971 when it became a federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May, but by then the tradition was long established, although the name did morph from Decoration Day to Memorial Day over the years.  The end of WWI brought about a wider outlook to the holiday for a couple of reasons.  First, there were no longer a sufficient number of Civil War veterans to perform these ceremonies, and second, there were 116,516 American lives lost in World War I who were clearly worthy of honor (International Encyclopedia of the First World War online). World War I was unfortunately not the “war to end all wars,” so the celebration of Memorial Day continues. Here are two photos from GAR gatherings, the first on Memorial Day.

MSS 012-003

1888 Memorial Day gathering of GAR members in Nashua, NH. Source: Henry Shafer collection (MSS 012-003).

Undated gathering of Evansville GAR members. The man in the back row with an X over his head is believed to be August F. Illiing (1848-1917), a 4-time president of the Germania Maennerchor and colloquially known as the “mayor of Lamasco.” (Lamasco is a portion of the west side originally founded as a separate city but in 1857 incorporated into Evansville.)

Undated gathering of Evansville GAR members. The man in the back row with an X over his head is believed to be August F. Illiing (1848-1917), a 4-time president of the Germania Maennerchor and colloquially known as the “mayor of Lamasco.” (Lamasco is a portion of the west side originally founded as a separate city but in 1857 incorporated into Evansville.)

John Christian Adams, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2R0hE79

John Christian Adams, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2R0hE79

The Indiana Department of the GAR began in 1866 at the instigation of Governor Oliver P. Morton. In the early 1870’s membership declined precipitously until there was only one post in Spencer County, which also soon folded.  The year 1879 saw a revival with 12 posts chartered, and with interest once again engaged, eventually every county had at last one post, with a state total of 592. Indianapolis had 8 of these. As was true on the national level, membership peaked 1889-1890. Indiana Civil War veterans served in a number of national posts, including 4 Commanders-in-Chief. The last Indiana GAR member was John Christian Adams (1847-1949) who died at the age of 101 in Jonesboro, IN. A West Virginia native, he served as drummer boy in Company C, 17th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, from August 31, 1864 to June 30, 1865.

Evansville’s longest lasting (1881-1936) GAR post was Farragut Post No. 27 (The post was named for Admiral David Farragut, U.S. Navy, probably best known for purportedly saying, at the Battle of Mobile Bay, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”). One of the charter members of this post was William A. Warren, 1842-1937. Warren was a member of Company F, 24th Indiana Volunteers, fought in the battle at Shiloh in 1862, and lost an arm near Vicksburg in 1863. He was the next to the last surviving member of this post.  Warren’s picture is seen below. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery here in Evansville.

William A. Warren in Evansville, IN, 1876. Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family collection (MSS 157-0051).

William A. Warren in Evansville, IN, 1876. Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family collection (MSS 157-0051).

4. Sarah Edmonds

Headshot of Sarah Edmonds, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/2FwDev2

As you might expect, GAR membership was overwhelmingly male, but not exclusively.
Sarah Emma Edmonds was only woman known to have been admitted to full membership in the G.A.R., because she had served in the 2nd Michigan Infantry disguised as a man named Franklin Thompson from May 1861 until April 1863, and continued to live as a man in the post war period. In 1882, she collected affidavits from former comrades in an effort to petition for a veteran’s pension which she received in July 1884. Edmonds was a member until she died September 5, 1898, and was given a funeral with military honors when she was reburied in Houston in 1901. A small number of women who had served as volunteer nurses during the war were awarded ‘honorary’ membership, including the war time nurse Clara Barton. The official war time Army nurse corps formed its own veterans’ organization called the Association of Army Nurses, founded in Philadelphia. The Army Nurses met along with the Grand Army men at department and national ‘encampments,’ but were not accepted as official members.” Two more auxiliaries for women were established in the 1880’s—the Woman’s Relief Corps in 1883 and the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1896. There were also organizations for daughters and sons of veterans.

Caucasian men and women were not the only ones who fought in the Civil War.  In 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and authorized the raising of black regiments (See the October 10, 2018 blog to learn more about one of these regiments).  “By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war—30,000 of infection or disease. Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army, as well. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause. There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers.”  Long before any civil rights efforts, African American Civil War veterans were fully accepted in the GAR.  In her book, The Won Cause, Barbara Gannon says, “Black and white veterans were able to create and sustain an interracial organization in a society rigidly divided on the color line because the northerners who fought and lived remembered African Americans’ service in a war against slavery.  While there were some controversies involving African American GAR membership in southern states, most white veterans accepted black Americans, and these men participated in the GAR’s political life at the state level.  At the local level, some black veterans created their own posts, and other members of the African American community helped sustain them; black women in the GAR’s auxiliary organizations, for example, presented a critical element in a black GAR “circle.”  Despite poverty and illiteracy, African Americans maintained their all-black GAR posts well into the twentieth century, demonstrating the importance of these institutions to the entire community.  In a nation in which black Americans, either male or female, had precious little autonomy, they had it in the world they made within this interracial organization. … African Americans also belonged to integrated posts, challenging the notion that the GAR was segregated” (Gannon, p. 5-6).  There were at least two Native American GAR posts, too.

5. Albert Woolson

Headshot of Albert Woolson, n.d.

Any organization whose membership is based on participation in a specific historic event is bound to have a finite lifespan, and so it was with the GAR. The 83rd and final national encampment was held in Indianapolis in 1949, with only 6 GAR members able to attend. Most, if not all, were in wheelchairs, and the combined age of those in attendance was more than 611 years. An article in the Indiana Evening Gazette, Indiana, PA, on August 22, 1949 noted, “Of the 3,500,000 men who comprised the Union Army, there are believed to be only 23 still living.”  In attendance was 100-year-old Commander in Chief Theodore A. Penland, who was almost 16 when he left Goshen, IN to join the Union Army. The Grand Army of the Republic officially dissolved in 1956 with the death of Albert Woolson at age 109, the last officially listed survivor of the Union forces.  According to his Find-a-Grave entry, he was the son of a Union soldier who died of wounds received at the Battle of Shiloh. He enlisted as a Drummer Boy in Company C, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Heavy Artillery in October 1864. The unit performed garrison frontier duty, and never saw action during the war. He was honorably discharged on September 7, 1865. (NOTE: there is some discrepancy about his birth date—1847 or 1850?).

The work and legacy of the Grand Army of the Republic continues through its legal successor, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. “In 1881 the GAR formed the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America (SV) to carry on its traditions and memory long after the GAR had ceased to exist. Membership was open to any man who could prove ancestry to a member of the GAR or to a veteran eligible for membership in the GAR. In later years, men who did not have the ancestry to qualify for hereditary membership, but who demonstrated a genuine interest in the Civil War and could subscribe to the purpose and objectives of the SUVCW, were admitted as Associates. This practice continues today.

In Evansville, the GAR met at the Coliseum, and many of its documents remained there.  “The problem is that the Coliseum is a drafty, old building and not the proper place to store historical documents. A couple of years ago, a group called the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War complained that the documents and artifacts were going to be lost. A deal was brokered between that group, Vanderburgh County officials, the county veteran’s council and USI to move some of the documents to USI for preservation and storage.” In October 2019, USI archivist, Jennifer Greene, and graduate assistant, Alex Hall, went “Coliseum-diving” and brought many documents back to USI. It will be several years before this material can be archived, restored, and digitized and accessible to the public. Who knows what treasures await discovery?

Resources Consulted:

Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War.  Educator Resources, National Archives.

Gannon, Barbara A.  The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.   E462.1.A7 G36 2011  also available electronically: ebrary Academic Complete  Online Access

The Grand Army of the Republic and Kindred Societies.  Library of Congress.

Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Records Project. Indiana.  Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Grand Army of the Republic History.  Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War National Headquarters.

Waskie, Anthony.  “The Grand Army of the Republic.”  Essential Civil War Curriculum: Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech.

Posted in American history, Civil War, Local history | 1 Comment


*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

They were lifesavers—not the candy, nor the marine rescue apparatus, but women, mostly, who cared deeply about their communities and the needs of those who struggled to care for themselves and their families. “While it may seem strange in our modern world, for thousands of years people were born at home, died at home, and, if they became ill, were treated at home. Trained doctors were rare in early America. Most people lived in small communities where basic medical knowledge and care was handed down generation to generation. Women played an essential role–they were the primary caregivers and “keepers” of medical knowledge and they were the midwives that helped bring new life into the community. Their skills and knowledge were largely through passed down or from learning from other women.

By the late 18th century, medical care and medical training had begun to improve. There were now schools of nursing available.  After the Civil War it became more socially acceptable for women to work outside the home in professions other than teaching—for example, nursing.  The number of hospitals grew, and people began to turn to them for healthcare.  Concurrently, there were massive influxes of new Americans. The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw waves of immigrants coming to this country in search of a better life.  From 1820 to 1930, about 4 and a half million Irish immigrants came, seeking relief for a terrible famine in Ireland.  Many Asian immigrants were drawn to this country by the promise of incredible riches in California’s gold rush. “Between 1880 and 1920, a time of rapid industrialization and urbanization, America received more than 20 million immigrants. Beginning in the 1890s, the majority of arrivals were from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. In that decade alone, some 600,000 Italians migrated to America, and by 1920 more than 4 million had entered the United States. Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing religious persecution also arrived in large numbers; over 2 million entered the United States between 1880 and 1920.  The peak year for admission of new immigrants was 1907, when approximately 1.3 million people entered the country legally.” Many of these people were desperately poor and, in addition, faced a certain amount of anti-immigrant sentiment. If they had any access to health care at all, and many did not, it was not going to be in a hospital.

Lillian Wald, n.d. Source: https://jwa.org/womenofvalor/images/Wald/Lillian%20.

Lillian Wald, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/36fW04C

Onto the scene at this time came a woman by the name of Lillian Wald. “Lillian D. Wald was a practical idealist who worked to create a more just society. Her goal was to ensure that women and children, immigrants and the poor, and members of all ethnic and religious groups would realize America’s promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”” She was born in Cincinnati March 10, 1867. Both of her parents’ families had come to the United States after the 1848 revolutions across Europe. Their pursuit of the American dream had been successful, and the family was well off. When she was 11, they moved to Rochester, New York. At the age of 16 Lillian applied to Vassar College but was not admitted due to her age. “Soon thereafter, Lillian attended the birth of her sister Julia’s child. She was so inspired by the work of the attending nurse that she decided to embark on a career in nursing.” She graduated from the New York Hospital Training School in nursing in 1891, and in 1892 enrolled in the Women’s Medical College in New York City. Living in New York, she saw firsthand the plight of the poor and determined to do something about it, she established what she called “public health nurses.”  While teaching a class in home nursing and hygiene to immigrant women on the Lower East Side, she had what she called her “baptism of fire.” A little girl asked Wald to come and help her sick mother. Following the child, “over broken asphalt, over dirty mattresses and heaps of refuse we went … There were two rooms and a family of seven not only lived here but shared their quarters with boarders… [I felt] ashamed of being a part of society that permitted such conditions to exist … What I had seen had shown me where my path lay.” Gone was all thought of more academic work—in 1893 Wald and colleague Mary Brewster established the Visiting Nurses Service. They lived in the community and soon saw that it was not enough to just take care of sick people, but social and economic conditions must be addressed.

A visiting nurse on call assists a patient, n.d. Source: Lillian Wald, n.d. Source: https://jwa.org/womenofvalor/images/Wald/Lillian%20.

A visiting nurse on call assists a patient, n.d. Source: Lillian Wald, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/36fW04C

In 1895, Wald and Brewster moved out of their tenement building and into a house, also on the Lower East Side, that would become the Henry Street Nurses’ Settlement. They enrolled six more nurses and several activists, lawyers, union organizers, and social reformers; all lived together and collectively shared living expenses. In addition to nursing, they arranged picnics, excursions to the country, girls’ clubs, cooking classes, and tickets to concerts—all in an effort to let their neighbors experience life beyond the tenement and factory. The yard behind the house was converted into the largest playground on the Lower East Side, with preference given to crippled children and convalescents.  The Lower East Side was an area of the poor and immigrants—Jewish, Irish, Italian, and Chinese. As the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service expanded, the nurses visited homes of all nationalities across the city. In 1917, the Nursing Service gave 32,753 patients bedside care and attended 21,000 sick children in their homes. … A number of wealthy women and prominent philanthropists supported the Henry Street Settlement activities and the enterprise grew dramatically. More than 50 nurses joined the group and volunteers provided courses in carpentry, sewing, art, music, and dance. Additional houses were opened around the city, and convalescent homes in the countryside.” By the time Wald retired in 1933, Visiting Nurse Service at Henry Street Settlement had grown to employ 265 nurses who cared for 100,000 patients.

Lillian Wald was not a woman to rest on her laurels, to be content with what she had accomplished. She also:

She clearly was a force with which to be reckoned!

Lillian Wald died at the age of 73 on September 1, 1940. “Wald’s greatest living memorials are her two institutions: the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the nation’s largest not-for-profit home health care agency (which became independent in 1944) and Henry Street Settlement House. The Settlement still occupies its three original buildings on New York’s Lower East Side. Now serving the neighborhood’s largely Asian, African-American, and Latino population, the settlement continues Wald’s pathbreaking work with Jewish immigrants in the 1890s, working toward the realization of her vision of social justice and a unified humanity.

3. Henry Street Settlement

Modern logo of the Henry Street Settlement, n.d. Source: https://bit.ly/36fW04C.

Let’s bring this all back to Evansville. Although there is not a direct connection here to the work of Lillian Wald, her ideals were surely shared by local individuals. In 1888, an Evansville woman by the name of Eleanor Igleheart began an organization called the King’s Daughters Circle to provide cheer for those in Evansville’s only hospital. Two years later, it opened the first training school for nurses, which existed until Walker Hospital, a forerunner to Welborn, was built. In 1900, the organization began to supply milk and garments to the poor. Evansville’s first visiting nurse, Lydia Metz, was hired in 1902, only the second such nurse in the state of Indiana. She visited 2,000 patients by riding her bicycle and was paid $720 for her efforts (That’s about $21,496.10 in 2019 dollars). The 1904 Evansville City Directory has this listing on p. 71: “The King’s Daughters District Nurse Association—Organized 1888. Meets the second Tuesday of the month. Miss Eleanor Igleheart, Pres’t; Mrs. Marcus S. Sonntag, Treas.; Miss Sara Wartmann, Sec’y; Miss Lydia Metz, District Nurse. All calls for nurse left with Miss Carrie Rein, of Associated Charities.”

In 1913, a separate organization called the Babies Milk Fund association was established and began feeding clinics, teaching new mothers how to care for their children.  It provided 15,000 quarts of milk the first year, and by 1923 there were 3 such feeding clinics. Also, in 1923, the King’s Daughters Circle changed its name to the Visiting Nurse Association and in 1926, the VNA and the Babies Milk Fund Association merged to become PHNA, Inc. (Public Health Nursing Association). The organization continues today as Visiting Nurse Plus.

PHNA nurses and Caroline Quigley, PHNA executive director. They are standing in front of the association's headquarters at 120 SE 1st Street, n.d. Source: Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-040).

PHNA nurses and Caroline Quigley, PHNA executive director. They are standing in front of the association’s headquarters at 120 SE 1st Street, n.d. Source: Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-040).

Just as Wald exploited her social connections for the benefit of those she worked to help, so the PHNA benefited greatly from its association with the founder of Mead Johnson, E. Mead Johnson. After his March 21, 1934 death, an article in the Evansville Press lionizing his contributions to the city of Evansville noted that the Public Health Center stood as a monument to his generosity. Johnson authorized Health Center officials to get all they needed for the baby food clinic from his plant, free of charge. He insisted, during his lifetime, that this not be made known. This donation was estimated to be worth $30,000 yearly, and his son pledged to continue his father’s generosity. In addition, E. Mead Johnson purchased the PHNA building at 120 SE 1st Street and furnished it for $25,000, then gave it to the organization.

MSS 183-127

120 SE 1st Street: this building dates to 1888 when it was built as a residence and office for the Drs. Busse, a married couple. After they left it was owned by the Evansville Press Club until its purchase by E. Mead Johnson for the PHNA. It was the PHNA/VNA home until 1980. Source: Hammond-Awe collection (MSS 183-127).

UASC holds a collection of materials, a few photographs but mostly scrapbooks and newspaper clippings, from the Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana, covering the years 1926 to 1971. There are also a business diary and a director’s diary from the early 1930’s, compiled by the director at that time, Hulda B. Cron. Browsing through these gives a glimpse of the problems, personnel, health issues addressed, and triumphs of the organization.

From the Director’s Diary, October 1931 – July 1933:

Monday, October 19, 1931: “The morning Courier Journal carries article stating that American Trust Bank has closed. PHNA has all but 4000 of its funds in this bank. H. Cron requested distribution among several banks last Jan. or Feb. but suggestion was not accepted.  Committee however, did agree to [establish] emergency fund of $3000 in Peoples Bank and board members dues account of 1000 or 1200 was opened at Old National.” There follows a listing of the accounts in the American Trust Bank when it closed, noting a total loss of $23,913.71.  Another note in December notes that the bank had not yet sent out any information to its stockholders.

November 5, 1931: “Board voted a 10% … cut in salary affecting entire personnel.”  This was in response to a failure to reach the goal in a recent financial campaign.

Undated newspaper article, presumably in November 1931 contained an article about a 2 ½ month old baby who only weight 6 lbs. 13 oz. and was benefitting from a PHNA milk distribution program.  A nurse noted that mothers whose husbands were unemployed said that their babies could not survive without the PHNA.  Upon seeing a good weight gain in her child, the mother noted that she simply had enough milk to drink that week. The article said that PHNA had distributed 1582 quarts of milk in April 1930 and 2569 in April 1931.

November 10, 1931: There was a complaint from doctors about the increasingly large numbers of children being seen at clinics. Adding more weekly clinics would alleviate the congestion, but the loss of money due to the bank failure made this impossible. Cron said, “These are trying times of course due to the economic depression which has persisted for so long. If ever there has been a need for the type of service rendered to the group eligible for the C. Health service it is now. If we fail to meet our obligations during this coming winter we stand in a position to receive criticism.”

MSS 045-027

PHNA clinic waiting room with mothers and babies, April 16, 1927. Source: Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-027).

March 28, 1932: Cron notes that suspicious communicable diseases, unless diagnosed by a physician, are no longer being reported to the Board of Health.  She says, “With this policy in force the Board of Health never would know whether or not an epidemic existed….”

May 12, 1932: “The PHNA funds will no doubt carry the work until the next campaign which will be held in Oct. However, at this time the organization will be bankrupt unless the American Savings and Trust…pays a substantial dividend.  To date—after 7 months the bank hasn’t paid out a dollar.”

A June 5, 1932 newspaper article notes that the PHNA provides hot lunches for .07 each to McCutchanville students, helping them to keep fit.

4. Nursing Visits

Work of Public Health Nursing Association from January 1931 to January 1932.

From the Director’s Business Diary, August 1933 to December 1934:

October 20, 1933: “Campaign funds $10,169.20 coming slowly—this amount a long way from 20,000.  Unless $20,000 is obtained (which of course can’t be done) we must again work on a restricted basis as we have this year—18 nurses with director—3 pediatricians—1 Par. S. N. [possibly parish school nurse?]—no dental nurse….”

May 15, 1934: “There is a strong desire to re-instate the child health clinic service for children from 3-6 years of age [a previous budget cut had necessitated lowering the cut off age to 3].  However, some members apparently do not appreciate perhaps as fully as they should that clinic service without adequate follow-up by nurses is absolutely ineffectual.”

May 27, 1934:  A brief Courier article noted that PHNA director Hulda Cron would be on “vacation” until September 1 due to curtailment of the association’s funds—and this was the third year this had occurred.

September 1934: “The PHNA will not conduct a financial campaign the middle of Oct. as usual since the citizens will once more attempt a C. [Community] Chest.”   Community Chest was a forerunner of the United Way.  Apparently, there was some dissention regarding one fund drive vs. individual asking. Evansville’s famous cartoonist and community supporter, Karl Kae Knecht, drew cartoons in support.

Knecht cartoon 1 full page

Hulda Cron’s business diary entry from September 1934, plus Knecht cartoon from September 25, 1934.

Knecht cartoon of October 18, 1934 supporting Community Chest campaign.

Knecht cartoon of October 18, 1934 supporting Community Chest campaign.

Knecht cartoon 2

Knecht cartoon of November 14, 1934 supporting Community Chest campaign.

November 13, 1934: PHNA was asked to consider providing services to transients, to be reimbursed from Federal Relief Funds.

Despite all the financial woes (and to be fair, many of these woes stem from the time period covered by these diaries, during the Depression), PHNA provided many services: clinics, dental clinics, hot lunches, milk distribution, education, family planning, treatment and/or vaccination for smallpox, diphtheria, scarlet fever, polio, and tuberculosis, and addressed a myriad of other physical and mental health and social welfare issues.

Nurse looking at girl's foot in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-004).

Nurse looking at girl’s foot in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: Visiting Nurse Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-004).

Joyce Wolf and patient in Evansville, Indiana, 1956. Source: Visiting Nurses Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-022).

Joyce Wolf and patient in Evansville, Indiana, 1956. Source: Visiting Nurses Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-022).

MSS 045-033

Public Health Nurse standing by a house in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: Visiting Nurses Association of Southwestern Indiana collection (MSS 045-033).

The history of visiting nurses dates back to the 1880s in the Northeast United States, where free nursing care was provided to the sickest and poorest populations who otherwise would not have access to health care. The influx of immigrants to the Northeast spurred several VNAs to emerge and address the increased prevalence of illness and infectious diseases, such as polio and smallpox.  Lillian D. Wald pioneered this form of public health nursing. VNAA’s members still embody Wald’s founding principles by sharing the desire to provide cost-effective, compassionate home-based care to some of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals, especially the elderly and individuals with disabilities.” If your family lived in Evansville during the early part of the 20th century, it is entirely possible that family members benefited from the hard work of the PHNA. No matter where you’re from, however, we certainly owe a debt to visionaries like Lillian Ward–her influence spread across the country, touched the lives of many, and continues today. Thanks to the lifesavers!

Resources Consulted:

Fee, Elizabeth.  The Origins of Public Health Nursing: The Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service.  American Journal of Public Health, July 2010; 100(7): p. 1206-1207.

The History of Nursing in the United States: Brief Historical Overview.  National Women’s History Museum

Lillian Wald in Encyclopedia.  Jewish Women’s Archive

Lillian Wald in Women of Valor.  Jewish Women’s Archive

U.S. Immigration Before 1965.  History.com editors.  May 16, 2019

Visiting Nurse Plus website: About Us

VNAA website: Mission, Vision & History

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