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:

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin Stephenson, n.d. Source:

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:

John Christian Adams, n.d. Source:

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:

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 | Leave a 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:

Lillian Wald, n.d. Source:

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:

A visiting nurse on call assists a patient, n.d. Source: Lillian Wald, n.d. Source:

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:

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. editors.  May 16, 2019

Visiting Nurse Plus website: About Us

VNAA website: Mission, Vision & History

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Ernie Pyle Spoke the GI’s language

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

He was from a small (population 893 the year he was born) rural community in Indiana, was timid and fearful that he would not be liked, yet grew to be a central figure of an era, an international household name, and was eulogized by no less than President Harry S. Truman and two 5-star generals, George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Ernie Pyle, n.d. Source:

Ernie Pyle, n.d. Source:

Ernest Taylor Pyle, known by everyone other than his parents as Ernie, was born to Will and Maria Pyle on August 3, 1900, on a farm outside Dana, Indiana. The small-town farming life was not for him—he despised it and was wildly bored. When America entered World War I in 1917, he was romantically eager to go off to war, but his parents insisted that he finish high school. He did so, and enrolled in the Naval Reserve, but the war ended before he could report for training. In 1919 he entered Indiana University “with a single suitcase and aimless ambition.” (Tobin, p. 10)  Journalism interested him (mostly because it was reputed to be “easy,”) and he began to work with the student newspaper, the Daily Student, becoming its editor-in-chief in 1921. Certainly, with a post-war enrollment of 2229, Indiana University (IU) provided him an arena more than double the size of his hometown and the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide variety of people. But it wasn’t enough—he felt a burning desire to see more of the world and to do so quickly.  During his college years he managed to work a summer in the oil fields of Kentucky, tour the Great Lakes on a Naval Reserve Cruise, follow the football team, and in 1922, finagle permission to accompany the baseball team to Japan. To finance their way, he and his buddies worked as cabin boys on the ship, and eventually ended up traveling to China and the Philippines.

In January 1923, just a semester shy of graduation, he left IU to take a job with the La Porte (Indiana) Herald.  His parents were unhappy, but having missed an opportunity to fight in World War I because of high school graduation, he wasn’t about to miss this job opportunity in the “real world” just to graduate from college.  Within 4 months, Pyle had shaken the farm dirt of Indiana off his heels and accepted a job with a new Scripps-Howard paper, the Washington Daily News.  Hired as a reporter, he was soon promoted to copy editor.  During this time, he met and married Geraldine (Jerry) Siebolds, a native Minnesotan who had moved to D.C. after high school.  A bit iconoclastic, Jerry had embraced a bohemian lifestyle and only agreed to the marriage when Pyle insisted that he could not embarrass his parents.  “For years they shared a private joke by telling friends they weren’t really married.  Jerry would neither wear a ring nor observe the anniversary of their wedding, which took place in the summer of 1925.” (Tobin, p. 17)

Wanderlust still took precedence in the Pyles’ lives, and the very next year, they “quit their jobs and left Washington to drive around the United States, traveling nine thousand miles in ten weeks. The trip ended in New York, where Ernie got a job on the copy desk of the Evening World and later the Post. In December of 1927, the Washington Daily News invited him to return as its telegraph editor, and Pyle, never fond of New York, readily accepted.” (Pyle, p. 6)

On the USS Cabot (with Captain Walton Smith): Pyle called carriers "ferocious." (National Museum of Naval Aviation). Source:

On the USS Cabot (with Captain Walton Smith): Pyle called carriers “ferocious.” (National Museum of Naval Aviation). Source:

Gainfully employed once again, Pyle was fascinated with the new field of aviation and requested permission to write a regular column on the topic, to be done on his own time.  “Each afternoon, after an eight-hour shift on the copy desk, he would hop on a streetcar or flag a taxi bound for one or another of Washington’s airfields.  There he would wander from office to office and hanger to hanger, chatting with anyone he found.  Sometimes he would stay up half the night on a floodlit field, trading stories with pilots or mechanics and listening for the drone of distant planes approaching. … Ernie wrote of passenger safety, night flying, engine and airplane design, the founding and expansion of airports and the birth pangs of national airlines.  He encountered and befriended any number of pilots…” (Tobin, p. 19)  This was the first glimpse of the Ernie Pyle style that would make him world famous.  His voice was personal.  He was very popular with pilots who loved him and called him with news.  “Once, the editor of the Daily News decided to introduce Pyle to Amelia Earhart. The pilot stopped him, explaining that the two were well acquainted. “Not to know Ernie Pyle,” she said, “is to admit that you yourself are unknown in aviation.”   Eventually he was named aviation editor for all Scripps-Howard papers and allowed to work on his column full time.

In 1932, Pyle was asked to become News’ editor-in-chief, a position he felt obligated to accept although he hated it with all his heart. For three years he was miserable, and according to one source, looked to be 50 years of age even though he was only 34. Unhappy at work, Pyle also faced stress at home. Both Pyles were complicated, mercurial individuals, and during this time Jerry began to exhibit signs of depression that twice led her to attempt suicide. Both abused alcohol, and Pyle himself was a hypochondriac who suffered from anxiety, despondency, and restlessness. In 1934, Pyle was granted a leave of absence to recuperate from a severe case of influenza. Advised to seek a warmer climate, he and Jerry spent 3 weeks aboard a ship, traveling from Los Angeles to California. He called this trip the happiest time of his life, and upon his return, persuaded his employer to let him be a roving columnist.

The roving columnist crossed the U.S. no less than 35 times, visiting each state at least 3 times. “Ernie wandered the western hemisphere for nearly seven years, from 1935 until early in 1942.  A tramp with an expense account, he explored cities, towns and crossroads villages in fourth-eight states, Alaska, Canada, Hawaii, and Central and South America.  He got out of his Dodge convertible coupe to talk with thousands of people—soda jerks, millionaires, death-row inmates, movie stars, cranks, cowboys, strippers, sheepherders, strikers, bosses, promotors, sculptors, mayors, hookers, teachers, prospectors, tramps and evangelists.  He wrote two and a half million words that comprise a forgotten but magnificent mosaic of the American scene in the Great Depression. And in the process he created “Ernie Pyle.” The actual Ernie remained a bundle of contradictions and anxieties, pressured by deadlines and perpetually worried. But “Ernie Pyle” came to life as a figure of warmth and reassurance, a sensitive, self-deprecating, self-revealing, compassionate friend who shared his sadnesses and exhilarations, his daydreams and funny stories, his ornery moods and nonsensical musings, his settled prejudices and deepest meditations.  In 1935, Pyle was merely a skilled newspaperman. By 1942, he had become a consummate craftsman of short prose and simultaneously shaped a mythic role for himself: an American Everyman ready for war.” (Tobin, p. 27)

Although there were early rumblings of World War II while Pyle was globe-trotting, he did not pay much attention until Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 and Britain and France declared war. He immediately wanted to be a war correspondent, although, “at the age of 39, Pyle still had a schoolboy’s vision of battle, an untutored conception of war that recalled his disappointment over not accompanying his neighbor friend to World War I twenty-two years before.” (Pyle, p. 10)  In November 1940 set out to cover the Battle of Britain.  He liked the English and they liked him. He reported on the bombings, blackouts, and visited the ruins of Coventry.  “Now marginally familiar with one aspect of war, Pyle had yet to shed his dilettante’s view of it. He was a tourist, a visitor sharing his hosts’ misery in a cursory way. When Pyle next went to war—almost two years later—he would not be on a balcony looking down; he would be in a foxhole, looking up. And what he would see then would dispel forever his adolescent view of the romance of war.” (Pyle, p. 11)

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war, Pyle went to cover the training of American troops in England and Ireland.  He ceased to be such an outsider, living close to the soldiers in their day to day lives.  In November 1942 he went aboard the Rangiticki, a British transport ship headed to Algeria and the battles of North Africa. The following January he was living and traveling with the 1st Division, on (or near) the front lines, in the foxholes.  “What’s more, Pyle had finally resolved the question of what to do with himself.  He was committed to staying with the men whose blooding he had only begun to describe. His dilettante’s sense of war had evolved into a more mature outlook.  He hated the “tragedy and insanity” of war, but “I know I can’t escape and I truly believe the only thing left to do is be in it to the hilt.” … The infantrymen with whom he now spent his time lived decidedly unromantic lives. They fought, they waited, they were the ultimate victims. To Pyle, there were heroes, not dashing or even particularly brave, but men who persisted in the face of great fear and discomfort because they had to. By sharing their lives, Pyle was becoming one of them in spirit if not in age, in practice if not by force of conscription.” (Pyle, p. 17-18)

On May 2, 1943, from the front lines in northern Tunisia, he wrote,

Now to the infantry – the God-damned infantry, as they like to call themselves.  I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.  I wish you could see just one of the ineradicable pictures I have in my mind today. In this particular picture I am sitting among clumps of sword-grass on a steep and rocky hillside that we have just taken. We are looking out over a vast rolling country to the rear.  A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill. All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery. The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion. On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing. They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged. In their eyes as they pass is not hatred, not excitement, not despair, not the tonic of their victory – there is just the simple expression of being here as though they had been here doing this forever, and nothing else. The line moves on, but it never ends. All afternoon men keep coming round the hill and vanishing eventually over the horizon. It is one long tired line of antlike men.

His most famous column was written on the front lines in Italy, January 10, 1944. It is about the death of a company commander in the 36th Division, a Capt. Henry T. Waskow. Waskow was a young man, only in his mid-20’s, but he had the respect and love of his men. Bodies had to be brought down the mountain by mule, and bodies had been coming down all day.

Then a soldier came into the cowshed and said there were some more bodies outside. We went out into the road. Four mules stood there, in the moonlight, in the road where the trail came down off the mountain. The soldiers who led them stood there waiting. “This one is Captain Waskow,” one of them said quietly. Two men unlashed his body from the mule and lifted it off and laid it in the shadow beside the low stone wall. Other men took the other bodies off. Finally there were five lying end to end in a long row, alongside the road. You don’t cover up dead men in the combat zone. They just lie there in the shadows until somebody else comes after them.  The unburdened mules moved off to their olive orchard. The men in the road seemed reluctant to leave. They stood around, and gradually one by one I could sense them moving close to Capt. Waskow’s body. Not so much to look, I think, as to say something in finality to him, and to themselves. I stood close by and I could hear.  One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, “God damn it.” That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, “God damn it to hell anyway.” He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.  Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: “I’m sorry, old man.” Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said: “I sure am sorry, sir.” Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there. And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.

If his previous dispatches had not already endeared him to the American public, this one certainly solidified him as a “symbol of the fighting man’s displacement from ordinary life and of his sacrifice. He had become the focus of his audience’s good will toward the soldiers; assigned to him were many of the same idealized sentiments the public assigned to them. The Saturday Evening Post noted that Pule “was probably the most prayed-for man with the American troops….”” (Pyle, p. 22)

Pyle eating "C" rations in the Anzio Beachhead area, Italy, in March 18, 1944. Source:

Pyle eating “C” rations in the Anzio Beachhead area, Italy, in March 18, 1944. Source:

On May 16, 1944, those prayers paid off when Pyle escaped with only a small facial cut after a 500-bomb exploded near the building in which he was living, destroying his room. Shortly after this he learned that he had won a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished war correspondence. In June of that year he was in France, coming ashore at Omaha Beach on June 7, just one day after the D-Day invasion. In August he had the pleasure of participating in the liberation of Paris.  After this, he took a break from combat, telling his readers that “my spirit is wobbly and my mind is confused.  The hurt has finally become too great.  All of a sudden it seemed to me that if I heard one more shot or saw one more dead man, I would go off my nut …” (Pyle, p. 26)

Pyle with a Marine patrol on the roadside in Okinawa, April 8, 1945. Source:

Pyle with a Marine patrol on the roadside in Okinawa, April 8, 1945. Source:

The war in Europe nearly over, Pyle headed to the Pacific.  His time at home had not done much to rejuvenate him. Ambushed by his fame, he faced innumerable demands on his time, and a movie being made about his life, The Story of G.I. Joe, required his attention. In the midst of this, his wife, Jerry, had attempted suicide again. Returning to the war was, for Pyle, almost a return to normalcy—not that there was anything normal about war, but it was a return to his work routine and an escape from the emotional turmoil on the home-front.  Initially, Pyle did not get off on the right foot with the Navy. He was bullheaded about his loyalty to the European Theater and to the infantry, claiming in one instance that it was harder to dramatize the life of a sailor. This did nothing to endear him to Navy men, but he soon was back on his stride, on the front lines and in the trenches with the men, and telling the American public, including soldiers’ and sailors’ parents, about life at war.

Wireless to The New York Times: Guam, April 18–

Ernie Pyle died today on Ie Island, just west of Okinawa, like so many of the doughboys he had written about. The nationally known war correspondent was killed instantly by Japanese machine-gun fire. The slight, graying newspaper man, chronicler of the average American soldier’s daily round, in and out of foxholes in many war theatres, had gone forward early this morning to observe the advance of a well-known division of the Twenty-fourth Army Corps. He joined headquarters troops in the outskirts of the island’s chief town, Tegusugu. Our men had seemingly ironed out minor opposition at this point, and Mr. Pyle went over to talk to a regimental commanding officer. Suddenly enemy machine gunners opened fire at about 10:15 A.M. (9:15 P.M., Tuesday, Eastern war time). The war correspondent fell in the first burst.

Associated Press, at a command post, Ie Island, Ryukyus, April 18–

Ernie Pyle, the famed columnist who had reported the wars from Africa to Okinawa, met his death about a mile forward of the command post.  Mr. Pyle had just talked with a general commanding Army troops and Lieut. Col. James E. Landrum, executive officer of an infantry regiment, before “jeeping” to a forward command post with Lieut. Col. Joseph B. Coolidge of Helena, Ark., commanding officer of the regiment, to watch front-line action.  Colonel Coolidge was alongside Mr. Pyle when he was killed. “We were moving down the road in our jeep,” related Colonel Coolidge. “Ernie was going with me to my new command post. At 10 o’clock we were fired on by a Jap machine gun on a ridge above us. We all jumped out of the jeep and dived into a roadside ditch. A little later Pyle and I raised up to look around. Another burst hit the road over our heads and I fell back into the ditch. I looked at Ernie and saw he had been hit. He was killed almost instantly, the bullet entering his left temple just under his helmet.”

Pyle visiting Marines aboard USS Charles Carroll en route to Okinawa, March 20, 1945. Source:

Pyle visiting Marines aboard USS Charles Carroll en route to Okinawa, March 20, 1945. Source:

In its oral history collections, UASC has an interview with Carl Anderson, a New Harmony man, dealing with his experiences in the Pacific during WWII.  He was present on Ie Shima when Pyle died and seems to have witnessed this death.  In his August 15, 1995 conversation with interviewer Jon Carl, Anderson says,

We landed in Ie Shima which is off the coast of Okinawa. … In the center of the island there was this mountain of solid rock. The Japs or somebody had honeycombed it with caves. They were there.  We had a hell of a time getting them out of there. While we were in the process of doing that Ernie Pyle was killed. We were sitting there. We had been fired at that morning. You don’t pay that much attention to somebody shooting sporadically. We were sitting on the edge of a foxhole. There was a road that was built through there. This jeep drove up with Ernie Pyle and two or three officers. He had no business being there. They had no business being there. That drew fire real fast. A Jap machine gun opened up. They had just sent word for anyone from Indiana to go over there because Ernie Pyle wanted to interview us. I was going to go over and be interviewed, but he got killed. They all bailed out of the jeep. Ernie kind of raised up and took a look. He was in this ditch. The Jap fired another burst and he got hit. I was just twenty years old. He looked awful old–a fragile little man who really had no business being there.

The nation was devastated.  Callers besieged the switchboards of newspapers, begging to be told that the news was not true.

President Harry S. Truman– “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.”

Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal– “Mr. Pyle will live in the hearts of all service men who revered him as a comrade and spokesman. More than anyone else, he helped America to understand the heroism and sacrifices of her fighting men. For that achievement, the nation owes him its unending gratitude.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall– “Ernie Pyle belonged to the millions of soldiers he had made his friends. His dispatches reached down into the ranks to draw out the stories of individual soldiers. He did not glorify war, but he did glorify the nobility, the simplicity and heroism of the American fighting man. The Army deeply mourns his death.”

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower– “The GI’s in Europe–and that means all of us here–have lost one of our best and most understanding friends.”

Pyle was originally buried on Ie Shima, but his remains were later returned to American soil and on July 19, 1949 he was reinterred in the National Cemetery of the Pacific, aka the Punchbowl, in Honolulu. In his foreward to Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II, the author Studs Terkel notes that “it is exquisite irony that this journalist [Pyle] became celebrated for celebrating the non-celebrated.” (Pyle, p. xi)  It is further ironic that Pyle, a small town farm boy who always feared he wouldn’t be liked, who was “equal portions of ambition, irresolution and insecurity” (Tobin, p. 15), grew, in just 44 years of life, to become a household name and beloved by all—the “high and mighty” as well as the average person. In 1983, he was award a Purple Heart, a very rare honor for a civilian (in point of fact, civilians can no longer receive this).  It seems as though a lot of people did like Ernie Pyle.

Online Resources consulted:

“America’s Most Loved Reporter: Ernie Pyle.” City of Albuquerque/Albuquerque Museum.

Brown, Daniel.  “Amazing uncovered photos of famed war journalist Ernie Pyle show a rarely seen side of World War II.” Business Insider, April 20, 2018.

“Ernie Pyle: American Journalist.” Encyclopedia Brittanica online.

“Ernie Pyle: Wartime Columns.” Indiana University Journalism, 2019.

Ernie Pyle World War II Museum online.  Dana, IN.

“Hoosier Facts and Fun. Ernie Pyle.” Indiana Historical Society.

Maksel, Rebecca. “Byline: Ernie Pyle.” Air & Space Magazine, November, 2011.

On this Day. “Ernie Pyle Is Killed on Ie Island; Foe Fired When All Seemed Safe.” April 19, 1945.  The New York Times Learning Network.

Oral history interview of Carl Anderson.  OH 258 (UASC)

Tangible resources consulted:

Ernie Pyle’s War. [DVD]  Indianapolis: Indianapolis Historical Society, 2005. DVD PN4874.P88 E7 2005

Pyle, Ernie.  Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches.  New York: Random House, 1986.D743 .P95 1986

Tobin, James.  Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II.  New York: Free Press, 1997. PN4874.P88 T63 1997

Posted in American history, Indiana history, World War 1, World War 2 | Leave a comment

The Christmas Tree

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

Victorian Christmas

Victorian Christmas

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

This German Christmas carol celebrates the beauty of the Tannenbaum, or fir tree.  The earliest lyrics date to 1550, but this is the best known version, created in 1824 by Ernst Anschütz, a Leipzig organist. The melody is an old folk tune.  You probably know this as “Oh, Christmas Tree!”  There are many English versions of this song, but here’s one that is commonly sung.  The translation is not literal, but it preserves the spirit and meaning of the original German.

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches.
O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree,
How lovely are thy branches.
In beauty green will always grow,
Through summer sun and winter snow,
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice falls on December 21/22—the shortest day and the longest night.  For ancient peoples, this could be a scary time and one of hardship.  Everything appears dead.  Some animals disappear into hibernation.  The sun, the source of light and heat, seems weak at its low elevation.  “In beauty green will always grow, Through summer sun and winter snow”….long before Christianity, an evergreen symbolized hope, the return/continuation of life and the sun.

The ancient Egyptians worshiped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. Source:

Egyptian God Ra Source:

“The ancient Egyptians worshiped a god called Ra, who had the head of a hawk and wore the sun as a blazing disk in his crown. At the solstice, when Ra began to recover from the illness, the Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death.  Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs. In Northern Europe the mysterious Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The fierce Vikings in Scandinavia thought that evergreens were the special plant of the sun god, Balder.”

Fast forward to the 16th century, when it is generally agreed that putting up a Christmas tree inside your house became the thing in Germany.  The National Christmas Tree Association says that  in 1510, “the first written record of a decorated Christmas Tree comes from Riga, Latvia. Men of the local merchants’ guild decorated a tree with artificial roses, danced around it in the marketplace and then set fire to it. The rose was used for many years and is considered to be a symbol for the Virgin Mary.”  One legend attributes Martin Luther with decorating one of the first Christmas trees with candles.  The story is thus: “One Christmas Eve the great religious reformer found himself walking through the woods.  The beauty of the stars shining through the branches of the fir trees greatly moved him.  He cut down a small tree, brought it home with him, and covered it with lit candles, explaining to his family that its light and beauty represented Christ, the light of the world.  Although this legend helped to increase the popularity of the Christmas tree, it should be pointed out that the earliest known document describing a Christmas tree lit with candles was written about a century after Luther’s death.” (Encyclopedia, p. 142)

Not everyone was in favor of such celebrations of Christmas.  “Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.  It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims’s second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out “pagan mockery” of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.”

Queen Victoria and King Albert. Source:

Queen Victoria and King Albert. Source:

Most credit Queen Victoria with spreading the popularity of the Christmas tree.  Her mother was German, so she would have grown up accustomed to having a Christmas tree.  “In 1846, Queen Victoria and her German husband Albert were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. German immigrants had brought the custom of Christmas trees to Britain with them in the early 1800s but the practice didn’t catch on with the locals. After Queen Victoria, an extremely popular monarch, started celebrating Christmas with fir trees and presents hung on the branches as a favor to her husband, the layfolk immediately followed suit.”

While most Americans would not have read or been impressed with the London News, this photograph was reproduced in the American publication, Godey’s Lady’s Book, about 2 years later.  Interestingly, the picture was “Americanized” by removing Victoria’s tiara and Albert’s mustache! Godey’s had a wide circulation and soon a Christmas tree in the American home was just the thing.  Not all Americans were on board, however: “in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt tried to stop the practice of having Christmas Trees out of concern about the destruction of forests. His two sons didn’t agree and enlisted the help of conservationist Gifford Pinchot to persuade the president that, done properly, the practice was not harmful to the forests.”  Some firsts in the American Christmas tree tradition include:

  • President Franklin Pierce had the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1853.
  • Sears, Roebuck and Co. first sold artificial trees around 1883—they cost $.50 for 33 limbs and $1.00 for 55.
  • President Calvin Coolidge began the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the lawn of the White House in 1923, with a 48-foot balsam fir from Vermont playing the role that year.
Rockefeller Center First Christmas Tree 1931. Source:

Rockefeller Center First Christmas Tree 1931. Source:


Once you put up a tree, you need to decorate it.  Not everyone was willing to use blasting cap ends!!  In medieval times, apples were used to decorate what were then called “paradise trees,” representing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  In the 1600s, decorations included items like roses made from colored paper, and of course, food.  “Indeed, a wide variety of ornaments made from food dangled from early German Christmas trees.  The Germans hung gilded nuts, and later, cookies. … Fruits and vegetables molded out of marzipan and colored with vegetable dyes soon followed.  Some people made ornaments out of eggshells, transforming them, for example, into tiny baskets which could be filled with candy.  In fact, the traditional German Christmas tree was covered with so many good things to eat that it was nicknamed a “sugar tree.”  Children looked forward to dismantling the tree on January 6, Epiphany, because they were then allowed to gobble up all the treats that had tempted them throughout the Christmas season.” (Encyclopedia, p. 440) Americans continued the food decorations tradition and added strings of cranberries and popcorn.  In the 19th century, small presents and trinkets also festooned the branches.

Commercially produced blown-glass ornaments began the rage in the mid to late 1800s.  The town of Lauscha, Germany was in a river valley and ideally situated for the glass business, with the first glassworks there established in 1597.  After the public saw the illustration of Queen Victoria’s tree, the rush was on.  “Demand was so high that the entire town was quickly drawn into the ornament industry.  Whole families worked side by side, with the adult men molding the glass, the adult women silvering and painting the ornaments, and children breaking the glass stems and attaching metal caps.” (Encyclopedia, p. 442-443)  In America, glass ornaments “hit the big time” when Woolworth’s  got on board.

Hand made glass ornaments from the Source:

Hand made glass ornaments from the Source:

“In the 1880s it was the American dime-store magnate F. W. Woolworth who discovered Lauscha’s glassworks during a visit to Germany. Despite his initial reluctance to stock the glass ornaments, he later made a fortune by importing the German glass ornaments to the U.S. Ironically, he was selling $25 million worth of ornaments by 1890 at nickel and dime prices.”  In the 1920s German glass began to face competition from Japan and Czechoslovakia, but it was WWII that really devastated the German glass industry.  After the chaos of the war, Lauscha became Soviet territory. “With the Russian occupation of Germany in 1953, many of the old world family molds that had been passed down for generations among all the families in Lauscha were destroyed. Families were splintered when craftsmen fled their homeland to settle in Neustadt, a territory that was then occupied by Americans.”  Despite it all, glassworkers still operate in Lauscha—nearly 50% of Lauscha families today make their living in the glass industry.  WWII did open up the market to American ornament makers—Corning Glass and Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments now contribute to the huge variety of Christmas tree decorations available.

Mere decorations are not sufficient–oh, no, a Christmas tree must be lit!  The earliest lighting was done with candles, or for the less well-off, wicks in walnut shells filled with oil.  “The candle-lit Christmas tree, to no one’s surprise, had some problems. For one, it was hard to keep the candles attached to the branches. People tried pinning the candle down with a needle, tying the candle to the branch with wire or string, and using melted wax as an adhesive. None of these methods worked very well. Fortunately, a breakthrough came in the form of Frederick Artz’s 1878 invention: a clip-on candleholder. But even if you got the candles to stay, there was the little manner of having a very large, vary flammable tree in your living room. People usually kept the candles lit for no longer than 30 minutes at a time, kept an eye on the tree the whole time, and always had a bucket of sand or water at the ready in case of fire. Of course, accidents still happened. Eventually, a group of insurance companies collectively refused to pay for fires started by Christmas trees and began putting a “knowing risks” clause in their policies.”  In 1882, an associate of Thomas Edison named Edward Hibberd Johnson figured out how to use electricity to light a Christmas tree.

Electric Lighting Outfits for Christmas. Source:

Electric Lighting Outfits for Christmas. Source:

“Those first bulbs, however, lacked screw-in sockets and required the tedious process of wiring each lamp individually, a task that few had the knowledge or time to undertake. As a result, members of high society spent as much as $300 per tree to hire electricians to install lights on their conifers and be on call in case a bulb burned out or broke.”  In 1894, President Grover Cleveland enjoyed the first electrified White House Christmas tree.  In 1903, General Electric made Christmas lights that were ready to use and within the reach of the average customer, cost wise.  It was not until the 1940s when electrification reached most of the country, allowing for Christmas tree lights in more rural areas.  After WWII, the invention of “parallel” lighting meant that one bulb burning out did not extinguish the entire string.

So there you have it—if your family puts up a tree and decorates it, this is how that all came about.  Of course, not everyone celebrates this holiday, but whether you do or not, here’s to good luck on your finals, and to a relaxing break from classes and studying.  See you back here in 2020!

Resources Consulted:

For a Special Christmas: Glass Christmas Ornaments from Lauscha.  Krebs Glas Lauscha GmbH, 2019.

Gulevich, Tanya.  Encyclopedia of Christmas.  Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2000.     GT4985 .G79 2000

History of Christmas Trees., September 12, 2018 update.

History of Christmas Trees.  National Christmas Tree Association, 2019.

The History of Glass Christmas Ornaments.

The History of the Christmas Tree Goes Back Farther Than You Might Realize.  Country Living, September 4, 2019.

Klein, Christopher.  “The Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights.”, August 31, 2018 update.

Puiu, Tibi.  “The Origin and History of the Christmas Tree: From Paganism to Modern Ubiquity.”  ZME Science, December 8, 2017 update.

Soniak, Matt.  “A Brief History of Christmas Tree Lights.”  Mental Floss, December 9, 2010.

Travers, Penny.  “The Christmas Tree: From Pagan Origins and Christian Symbolism to Secular Status.”  ABC News Australia, December 18, 2016 update.

“The Tree Through the Years: Holiday Highlights Since 1931.”  Rockefeller Center, 2015.

Posted in American history, British History, European History, holidays | Leave a comment

Thomas Hart Benton

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

1. Self-Portrait of Thomas Hart Benton

Self-Portrait of Thomas Hart Benton, 1972. Source:

Thomas Hart Benton was born into a prominent political family on April 15, 1889 in Neosho, Missouri. He was named for a great uncle who had served 5 terms in Congress, first serving when Missouri gained statehood. His father was a lawyer and four term Congressman who had similar political aspirations for his son. His son, however, liked to draw and did not fall in line with his father’s plans. He dropped out of school at age 17 and took a job as a cartoonist at the Joplin American newspaper. His father, apparently thinking to “discipline” the art out of him, sent him to a military academy for a year before relenting and allowing the son to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1907. He then studied at the Académie Julian in Paris for several years before returning to the United States and settling in New York.

At this time, Benton had not yet really found “his style.” He was exposed to impressionism, Japanese prints, Fauvism, Diego Rivera, and a host of other artists and styles. During World War I, he served as a draftsman in the U.S. Navy and later credited “his military duties for shifting attention in his art work back to the objective world” (World War II, p. 9).

In 1924, Benton came back to Missouri to visit his father who was very sick. This visit changed Benton’s life. His interests became clearer. He took pride in his Midwestern roots and began painting ordinary Americans not often shown in art. He started making drawing trips that took him across America. He visited steel mills, coal mines, and logging camps. He floated down rivers in canoes. He watched workers picking cotton in the South. He observed everything he could about ordinary American life during the 1920s and 1930s and recorded what he saw in his sketches. … Thomas Hart Benton became the leader of a movement in American art called regionalism. He based his art on personal observation. He showed working people in all regions of America, including poor, rural areas. Benton called attention to problems that he thought all Americans should know about. Benton’s style of painting made common people into heroes. He gave them big bodies with lots of muscles and painted them using deep, rich colors. Benton also painted villains into his pictures. The villains were usually rich and powerful people Benton did not respect because they got ahead by taking advantage of others.

2. Colonel Richard Lieber

Colonel Richard Lieber, n.d. Source:

One of Benton’s first opportunities to make a “big splash” came in December 1932. The opening of the 1933 World’s Fair/Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago was less than six months away, and the state of Indiana had no firm plans for its exhibit. “On December 19, 1932, the commission [Indiana Commission for the Century of Progress Exposition] gathered to hear the last-minute proposal of Colonel Richard Lieber, director of Indiana’s Department of Conservation, who had been recently appointed by Governor Harry G. Leslie to take charge of the “lead-ass” committee. Instead of the usual state fair display of threshing machines and farm produce, Lieber proposed something more dramatic and artistic: a 250-foot mural depicting the state’s accomplishments. He also recommended the one man with the experience, vision, and stamina to complete such an ambitious project in such a short time: Thomas Hart Benton” (Foster, p. 7).

“The commission quickly voted to accept the proposal, knowing that Benton needed sufficient time to research, create and paint the murals by the fair’s opening in May. Three days later, a contract was signed giving Benton “complete freedom” for the murals, including “the composition of the overall narrative and the ‘realistic’ treatment of social facts.” Lieber learned of Benton’s previous work through a mutual acquaintance, Indianapolis-born architect Thomas Hibben, who designed Indiana’s Lincoln Memorial for the Dept. of Conservation. The two had talked about possible exhibit ideas for the fair. Hibben suggested the New York muralist. Lieber, who had painting experience himself and had also been a newspaper art critic, researched Benton’s work before making his pitch. The choice caused controversy, first because Benton was not a Hoosier. He was born in Missouri, trained in Chicago and Paris, and lived in The Big Apple. People worried that he would “make Indiana look like a boob,” and cater to the various stereotypes of Midwesterners. Many said that such a high-profile project should have gone to one of Indiana’s own respected artists, especially considering the use of State funds.

The Hall, or Court, of States building would occupy prime lake-front real estate and be generally V-shaped, with Indiana’s portion right at the top of the V. The ceilings would be 28 feet high, enabling the 12 feet tall mural to be hung 10 ft. from the floor and have special lighting. The mural itself was 232 feet in length.

3. Chicago Exposition World Fair

Hall of States and Federal Building, “Century of Progress 1933” in Chicago, IL, n.d. Source:

Century of Progress International Exposition, Hall of States, in Chicago, Illinois, 1933. Source: MSS 157-1408.

Century of Progress International Exposition, Hall of States, in Chicago, Illinois, 1933. Source: MSS 157-1408.

Benton started by learning as much as he could about the history, landscape and people of Indiana at the Indiana State Library, then he traveled 3,000 miles with Department of Conservation staff, visiting state parks and historic sites. He completed sketches everywhere he went and many of the sites and people he met along the way: … Fort Vincennes, Spring Mill, Corydon and Paoli can be identified in the murals. Benton divided the murals into two themes: industrial and cultural, with each theme running chronologically along opposite sides of the room. The subject matter for the Industrial Panels ranges from early Native American potters, through the pioneer age, the evolution of river transportation to the railroads, and life on the farm up through the gas and steel booms in central and northwest Indiana. The Cultural Panels begin with the Mound-builders, follow the development of small farm communities into larger cities, the evolution of early schools into large universities and the various social issues facing Indiana and the nation at large. These included the Civil War, women’s rights, entertainment, labor unrest and racial tension. Cultural panels 8, 10 and 11 show a variety of entertainment: the saloon; the state fair, complete with snake charmer; William Forsyth, artist and teacher, painting at an easel; the circus; Lieber planting trees in a state park; auto racing; and Indiana’s favorite pastime, basketball.

Back from his all-around-Indiana trip, Benton returned to Indianapolis and studio space in an old dance hall and set to work with a crew of assistants composed of local artists. “The pace was manic, with 2600 square feet of mural (38 square feet per day…) to be completed in less than three months. The panels, constructed inside Germania Hall [the aforementioned studio], were too big to be carried down the stairs; once finished they were removed through a twenty-foot high slit created by dismantling two windows and a section of brick wall in between. Lowered on a derrick two floors to the street, the murals were loaded on a special truck by white-gloved workers and shipped to Chicago, where an unexpected low bridge forced a hundred-and-six-mile detour. In the wee hours of the morning of May 19, one of the gates of Northwestern University had to be dismantled to get the truck through the grounds.” (Foster, p. 19-20) After what seems like a comedy of errors, the murals were installed in time for the June opening of the exposition. Ironically, due to excessive rain in May, the fair opened with none of the state halls completed except for Indiana’s!

Here’s how the murals looked installed, and what follows are close-ups of some of the sections.

5. Colleges and City Life

Cultural Panel, no. 9: College and City Life, n.d. Source:

6. Electric Power

Industrial Panel, no. 10: Electric Power, Motor-Cars, Steel, n.d. Source:

7. Indiana Puts Her Trust in Thought

Cultural Panel, no. 11: Indiana Puts Her Trust in Thought, n.d. Source:

At the end of 1933, Indiana’s participation in the 1933 World’s Fair/Century of Progress Exposition came to an end. The murals came down, and although various ideas of where they should be displayed next were floated, they eventually ended up in storage in the horse barn at the state fairgrounds. This might have been the end of the story, were it not for the man who became the 11th president of Indiana University and later its chancellor, Herman B Wells. (NOTE: that’s not a typographical error in his name—there is no period after the letter B because it is not an abbreviation. His middle name is, literally, B.) In 1937, when Wells was acting president, plans were underway for the construction of an auditorium on the Bloomington campus. Wells was familiar with the murals and decided he’d like them to grace the new auditorium. Clearly a savvy man who had done his homework, “Wells paid a call on the current governor, Cliff Townsend. “He was a good friend of mine—but he was a farmer—and I said ‘I understand those murals are out at the state fairgrounds.’ ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘Yes, they’re in the horse barn and they’re in the way!’ And I said ‘How about giving them to the university and we get ‘em out of there?’ ‘Well, that’d be great!’ said Townsend. ‘Would ya take ‘em?’” (Foster, p. 25)

With the exception of 4 smaller segments, all 26 panels were used at the university. Sixteen central panels were placed in the auditorium’s lobby. Two of the murals with business themes were installed in nearby Woodburn Hall, at the time the new center of the business school, and the rest in another space within the auditorium. Benton himself came to campus in October 1940 to assist with the installation and retouching of the murals.


Murals in lobby of the Indiana University by Benton entitled, “Century of Progress”, 1941. Source: MSS 264-1359.

This picture, from University Archives and Special Collections’ Thomas Mueller photographic collection, shows a portion of the Indiana University auditorium installation. Visible on the left are panels 4-9 of the industrial panels: Home Industry, Internal Improvements, Civil War, Expansion, The Farmer Up and Down, and Coal, Gas, Oil, Brick. Only partially visible at the rear of the photo are panels 9 and 8 of the cultural panels: Colleges and City Life, and Leisure and Literature.

Cultural Panel, no. 10: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press, n.d. Source:

Cultural Panel, no. 10: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press, n.d. Source:

The panel shown to the left here is no. 10 of the cultural panels: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press. This panel was one of the most controversial, both in its original installation and in the re-installation at Indiana University. In the center of the picture is the clear image of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1933 protesters wanted this panel to be excluded so as not to embarrass the state, to bury the sins of the past. But the influence of the Klan within Indiana is undeniable. “As many as forty percent of all native-born white men in the state paid dues to join between 1921 and 1928. As the largest social organization in Indiana, the Klan loomed over all state politics, briefly controlling most state and local offices at its peak of power in 1924.” (Foster, p. 72) As only a small portion of this entire panel, it’s clear that Benton intended to confront the evil and pay homage to those who ended its reign of terror. In the foreground of the panel the power of the press is depicted by the reporter, printer, and photographer. “Relentless coverage in the Indianapolis Times, detailing charges of bribery and corruption, won the paper a Pulitzer Prize. When the state’s KKK leader was jailed for murder in 1925, his testimony from prison brought down both the governor and mayor. Victory over the Klan seems secure in the vignette at the center, where a white nurse tends both black and white children at Indianapolis City Hospital (now Wishard). The importance of the Klan in Indiana’s history remains disturbing to this day; more significant is Benton’s foreground message of “unmasking” and tolerance” (Foster, p. 72).

Cultural Panel, no. 10: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press at Indiana University, n.d. Source:

Cultural Panel, no. 10: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press at Indiana University, n.d. Source:

The mural has faced numerous protests at Indiana University, too, including some vandalism. Generally, the university has defended its placement on the educational grounds of free speech, historical fact, and facilitating debate. The mural is in Woodburn 100, a lecture hall and classroom. (This setting is shown here at the left.) On September 29, 2017, Indiana University moderated its stance a little in this statement by Executive Vice President and Provost Laurel Robel, quoted in part here: “The murals cannot be moved. Benton painted them using egg tempera paint, which has become extremely fragile over time. Moreover, the space in Woodburn 100 was designed specifically to house the two panels that now hang there, and they were installed in such a way that moving them would almost certainly cause irreparable damage. Nor does the notion of covering them with a curtain accord with our responsibility as stewards of this precious art. Covering the murals feels like censorship and runs counter to the expressed intent of the artist to make visible moments in history that some would rather forget. Furthermore, covering the murals during class periods would leave them hidden for the vast majority of time and create a situation in which the decision to uncover them could be used by some as a symbolic act in support of the very ideology the murals are intended to criticize. However, there is nothing sacrosanct about using Woodburn 100 as a classroom. While I believe that we can and should educate the public and our community about the murals, that intellectual work can and should take place in a context that does not involve the captive audience of classes devoted to other subjects. Therefore, Woodburn 100 will convert to other uses beginning in the spring semester 2018.” (You can follow this hyperlink to read the entire statement or access it via the link in the list of sources consulted at the end of this blog.)

Thomas Hart Benton went on to paint other historically-themed murals, including one for the Missouri capital in Jefferson City in 1936, Old Kansas City (1955-1956), Jacques Cartier Discovers the Indians and The Seneca Discover the French in Massena, NY, Father Hennepin at Niagara Falls (1959-1961), and Independence and the Opening of the West for the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri (1959-1962). In 1942, in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he created a series of 10 paintings entitled The Year of Peril. Below is the one entitled Embarkation – Prelude to Death.

10. Embarkation -- Prelude to Death

Embarkation – Prelude to Death, n.d. Source:

In 1943-1944, Abbot Laboratories commissioned Benton to create 25 pieces for the U.S. Navy. “He pursued, once again, the life and the look of his favorite subjects, the rank and file, people with undistinguished faces and unremembered names, workers in the shipbuilding yard and the crewmen inside a submarine. … Because [these] drawings were not intended for public viewing, they assumed the character of a diary entry—simple and sincere. … The drama in these images is not personal. Human psychology plays a minimal role. Benton’s subjects carry out modest activities—they eat and sleep, but mostly they work. Drama is found in the launching of a ship, the lurching of a vessel in high seas, a stream of light invading the dismal recesses of the submarine. These works avoid great moments in history and great individuals. Benton chose, instead, to depict team ventures. He conveyed the tempo and the look of the war effort as a series of acts of labor carried out in defense plants, naval bases, shipyards, coordinated efforts of construction and training and battle rehearsal. This is Benton’s story of World War II” (World War II…, p. 11, 13-14).

11. She's Off

She’s Off! 1944. LST 768 slides sideways down a marine railway into the Allegheny River at Ambridge, Pennsylvania following its christening. Source:

This Way Out, 1944.  Tanks and men charge out of the open bow of the LST during maneuvers on the "shakedown" trips in preparation for combat duty. Source:

This Way Out, 1944. Tanks and men charge out of the open bow of the LST during maneuvers on the “shakedown” trips in preparation for combat duty. Source:

13. Coffee and Chow

Coffee and Chow, 1944. Eyes almost closed in concentration as he reads a periodical spread open on his leg, a crewman munches on a sandwich and sips a cup of the ubiquitous Navy “jamoke”–coffee. Source:

Slumber Deep, 1944.  Completely relaxed in exhaustion, crewmen of a U.S. Navy submarine do "bunk duty" above a deadly but quiescent torpedo. A shipmate whiles away his off-duty interlude by reading. Source:

Slumber Deep, 1944. Completely relaxed in exhaustion, crewmen of a U.S. Navy submarine do “bunk duty” above a deadly but quiescent torpedo. A shipmate whiles away his off-duty interlude by reading. Source:

Thomas Hart Benton died on January 18, 1975, the evening of the day that he finished the work pictured here, The Sources of Country Music for the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN. He was known to be quite opinionated and pugnacious, and would probably not care about the criticisms of his work, but he might be glad to know we’re still talking about him today!

The Sources of Country Music portrays 17 nearly life-sized figures and illustrates the various cultural influences on country music, including a train, a steamboat, a black banjo player, country fiddlers and dulcimer players, hymn singers and square dancers. The painting memorializes entertainer Tex Ritter as the singing cowboy on the right. Image provided by The Country Music Foundation. Source:

The Sources of Country Music portrays 17 nearly life-sized figures and illustrates the various cultural influences on country music, including a train, a steamboat, a black banjo player, country fiddlers and dulcimer players, hymn singers and square dancers. The painting memorializes entertainer, Tex Ritter, as the singing cowboy on the right. Source:

If you’re interested in learning more about Benton’s Indiana murals, look at this video: It’s a little long, but it does tell the story quite well.

Sources Consulted:

Adams, Henry. “In Defense of Keeping the Indiana University Mural That Depicts (But Doesn’t Glorify) the KKK.”, November 3, 2017.

The Benton Murals. Indiana University News Room.

DeBenedette, Valerie. “15 Things You Might Not Know About Thomas Hart Benton.” Mental Floss, April 15, 2016.

Provost statement on the Benton Murals. Indiana University Office of the Provost & Executive Vice President, September 29, 2017.

Thomas Hart Benton: The Indiana Murals. Indiana University Art Museum, Education Dept.

Thomas Hart Benton. National Gallery of Art.

Thomas Hart Benton. (his artwork in the museum collections of the) Naval History and Heritage Command

Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975). The State Historical Society of Missouri: Historic Missourians.

Walker, Amy. “Picture This: Thomas Hart Benton’s Hoosier Connection.” (originally published in March/April 2008 edition of Outdoor Indiana)

Tangible resources held by Rice Library:

Foster, Kathleen A. Thomas Hart Benton and the Indiana murals. Bloomington: Indiana University Art Museum in association with Indiana University Press, 2000. University Archives and Special Collections, Regional Collection ND237.B47 A76 2000

Thomas Hart Benton [videorecording] Alexandria, Va.?] : PBS Home Video, c2004. DVDs ND237.B47 T56 2004

World War II through the eyes of Thomas Hart Benton. San Antonio, TX: Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, [1991?] University Archives and Special Collections, Special Collection NC139.B45 A4 1991

Posted in "Artistic Expression", Art, Indiana | Leave a comment