Robert Owen, the Voice of Reason

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

If you’re from this area and/or have ever visited New Harmony, Indiana, then you’ve heard of Robert Owen. You may also know that New Harmony is the site of two historic experiments in living communally, and that Owen was the source of the second of these experiments. And if you’ve heard of none of this, check out Visit New Harmony for a brief overview, or better yet, get in your car and physically visit. It’s a short drive from USI. This blog is going to focus mostly on Owen and his views on society.

Robert Owen (1771-1858) was born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales, the 6th of 7 children of the local postmaster/saddler/ironmonger) and his wife. His official schooling ended at age 10 when he was apprenticed to a cloth merchant in an English town about 100 miles north of London. He was, however, an avid reader, talking full advantage of his employer’s library to educate himself. By age 18-19, he had learned the trade sufficiently to be employed as a superintendent of a cotton mill in Manchester. “The population of Manchester increased by 1,000 per cent from 25,000 at the time of Owen’s birth to nearly a quarter of a million fifty years later. The demand by the cotton mills for labour was insatiable.” At that time, the Industrial Revolution had brought great prosperity to Manchester’s textile industry, so Owen found himself in a particularly good situation. The mill became “one of the foremost establishments of its kind in Great Britain. Owen made use of the first American Sea Island cotton (a fine, long-staple fibre) ever imported into Britain and made improvements in the quality of the cotton spun.

The story to be told in this blog really begins in 1799, when Owen married Caroline Dale, the daughter of a Scottish philanthropist and owner of a large textile mill in Lanark, Scotland. Owen and several partners purchased this mill from his father-in-law, David Dale, and at the beginning of 1800, Owen became the mill’s manager. This provided him the stage to implement many of his ideas about social reform.

Life as a mill worker was hard. “The noise from machinery was deafening, many workers became skilled lip readers in order to communicate over the noise. Ear protection was not compulsory leading to many workers becoming deaf. The air in the cotton mills had to be kept hot and humid (65 to 80 degrees) to prevent the thread breaking. In such conditions it is not surprising that workers suffered from many illnesses. The air in the mill was thick with cotton dust which could lead to byssinosis, a lung disease. Although protective masks were introduced after the war, few workers wore them as they were made uncomfortable in the stifling conditions. Eye inflammation, deafness, tuberculosis, cancer of the mouth and of the groin (mule-spinners cancer)** could also be attributed to the working conditions in the mills. Long hours, difficult working conditions and moving machinery proved a dangerous combination. Accidents were common and could range from the loss of a finger to fatality.” (Personal story: I’ve toured the historic textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. We were given disposable ear plugs and shown into a room with just a very small number of machines working. I thought the noise level was very tolerable, and I could easily hear and understand the guide. At the end of that room, we could dispose of the ear plugs as we moved to other areas. Once I removed the plugs, I was stunned at how incredibly loud it was, and remember that only a few machines were in operation. Clearly those ear plugs were far more important than I had realized. I cannot imagine working without any ear protection at all in a fully operational mill.) Hours were long (at least a 13-hour day, probably 6 days per week), with children as young as 7 (and quite possibly younger) employed. New Lanark had some 2,000 people, “500 of whom were young children from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The children, especially, had been well treated by the former proprietor, but their living conditions were harsh: crime and vice were bred by demoralizing conditions; education and sanitation were neglected; and housing conditions were intolerable.

Recall that Robert Owen was a great reader. He was also a deep thinker and philosopher, seeking to put the things he’d learned in his reading into practice. “Owen set out to make New Lanark an experiment in philanthropic management from the outset. Owen believed that a person’s character is formed by the effects of their environment. Owen was convinced that if he created the right environment, he could produce rational, good and humane people. Owen argued that people were naturally good but they were corrupted by the harsh way they were treated. For example, Owen was a strong opponent of physical punishment in schools and factories and immediately banned its use in New Lanark. David Dale had originally built a large number of houses close to his factories in New Lanark. By the time Owen arrived, over 2,000 people lived in New Lanark village. One of the first decisions took when he became owner of New Lanark was to order the building of a school. Owen was convinced that education was crucially important in developing the type of person he wanted. He stopped employing children under ten and reduced their labour to ten hours a day. The young children went to the nursery and infant schools that Owen had built. Older children worked in the factory but also had to attend his secondary school for part of the day.

Owen’s plan for reforming/remaking society started young. “Much good or evil is acquired or taught to children at an early age. Many ‘durable impressions’ are made even in the first year of a child’s life. Therefore, children uninstructed or badly instructed suffer injury in their character during their childhood and youth. It was in order to prevent this that the workers’ young children were to receive Owen’s closest attention. In the playground which was built for them at New Lanark each child would be told on his entrance in language he could understand that ‘he is never to injure his play-fellows: but that, on the contrary, he is to contribute all in his power to make him happy’. If this simple precept was followed—and the employment of superintendents was to ensure that there would be no deviation from it—then this behaviour would in time be transmitted to the population as a whole. To this end, Owen prescribed that the curriculum should be the best possible, eschewing traditional attitudes towards the education of the poor. Recognizing that each child had different aptitudes and qualities, he later pointed out that the intention of his system was not to attempt to make all human beings alike. Education was to make everybody ‘good, wise and happy’. Owen did not simply equate education with schooling. The role of parents in the process was stressed: the mother from the birth of a child onwards and certainly in the early years, was a key figure and both parents were urged to display great kindness in manners and feeling.”

With success at New Lanark, Owen’s horizons began to expand beyond education. As he developed his ideas, he became more of a communitarian and searched for opportunities to put his ideas into practice. In 1826, he “bought 30,000 acres of land in Indiana … from a religious community, renamed it New Harmony and began an experiment of his own. After a trial of about two years, [it] failed completely. … Under Owen’s guidance, life in the community was well-ordered for a time, but differences soon arose over the role of religion and the form of government. Numerous attempts at reorganization failed, though it was agreed that all the dissensions were conducted with an admirable spirit of cooperation. Owen withdrew from the community in 1828, having lost £40,000, 80 percent of all he owned.

Just as the Industrial Revolution brought advances and great wealth (to the upper class), so it brought the opportunity to take advantage of the worker. Owen himself left school at age 10 to go to work, and so he addressed some of the child labor issues in his reforms at New Lanark. The climate was ripe for labor unions. “The growth of labor unionism and the emergence of the working-class into politics caused Owen’s doctrines to be adopted as an expression of the workers’ aspirations, and when he returned to England from New Harmony in 1829 he found himself regarded as their leader. The word “socialism” first became current in the discussions of the “Association of all Classes of all Nations,” which Owen formed in 1835.

Eventually Robert Owen began to believe that no less than the total reform of society would be necessary to see his vision fulfilled. He wrote OUTLINE OF THE RATIONAL SYSTEM OF SOCIETY, FOUNDED ON DEMONSTRABLE FACTS, Developing the First Principles of the Science of Human Nature: Being the only effectual Remedy for the Evils experienced by the Population of the world; the gradual adoption of which would tranquillize the present agitated state of Society, and relieve it from moral and physical Evils, by removing the Causes which produce them. (One could never accuse Owen of thinking small!) He established Five Fundamental Facts on Which the Rational System of Society is Founded.

It should not be surprising to learn that Owen’s views were not universally accepted. It was well known that he was not a staunch, by the book, Church of England, believer. “His reading of books on religious controversies led him to conclude at an early age that there were fundamental flaws in all religions.” Indeed, in his “Declaration of Principles” Owen wrote, “I believe that to worship, by mere words or formal ceremonies, any object on the earth or in the heavens, or any thing of human device, is most opposed to the feelings of every conscientious intelligent mind, and that all such worship is necessarily destructive of the rational facilities of those trained in the practice of it.

… I believe that man cannot discover truth except by accurately investigating facts, that is true wisdom now to found a New Religion on facts only.”´(Social Bible, p. xxxiv-xxxv) Although his intention for writing this cannot be fully known, this is clearly a throwdown of the gauntlet for most church members of his time. In 1838, Frederic R. Lees, Secretary to the British Association for the Suppression of Intemperance, published Owenism dissected: a calm examination of the fundamental principles of Robert Owen’s misnamed “rational system.” He pontificated, “The principles of Christianity are now sought to be superseded by the wisdom of Robert Owen! In an insidious and roundabout way, Infidelity [by Infidelity he meant error in thinking] now demands that admittance which she could not gain by an open attack! For the Book of God, we are modestly requested to substitute the book of Robert Owen! a book, we confess, which eclipses all others, in crudeness, folly, and absurdity!

Still, Owen had his followers, his adherents. UASC has, within a miscellaneous collection of materials about the various historical communal experiments in New Harmony, Indiana (CS 445-1-6), a copy of a document entitled Social Bible. Laws & Regulations of the Association for all Classes of all Nations. Social Hymns for the use of the Friends of the Rational System of Society. It’s dedicated to Robert Owen, and the preface says that “the disciples and admirers of the Social System have long wanted a Compendium of the principles, in a small and convenient form, for reference. …The friends of Manchester and Salford [a town near Manchester] have ever been the firm advocates of the System, and here, by their exertions, kept it in view before the public. Some few years ago they established a School upon the System, and opened their Room on Sunday evenings for Lectures and discussions on that subject, thus claiming the attention of many thinking friends, and further, to make impressions on the mind of the principals thus taught and explained” (p. iv-v). It goes on to say that since music is nearly universally popular, congregational singing or professional singing is included in the meetings to make them more pleasant. Just as hymns in a traditional church service serve to further the message, so these Social Hymns “cause the minds of the persons who attend to reflect and consider on the new principles taught to the world” (p. vi). The hymns have themes of truth, reason, charity, union, sympathy, community, peace, freedom, knowledge, temperance, and festival. A few stanzas from the hymns celebrating reason will illustrate the divergence of Owen’s and Lees’ belief systems.

Lo! Knowledge comes, and from the mind
Drives error and its dreams afar;
Now truths we all will seek and find,
Mankind no more shall practice war.
Rule, fair reason!
(no. 14, p. 11)

Tis reason’s sacred lamp supplies,
These glorious works with light;
Her truths upon the nations rise,
And guides our wand’ring sight.
(no.13, p. 10)

Rise, Reason! Shine on all our race,
Shed confidence around,
For where thou guid’st our wand’ring steps,
Is sure, is solid ground.
(no. 15, p. 11)

Perhaps a future blog will delve more deeply into Robert Owen in New Harmony, but for now, enjoy this account of how he attempted to change the world.

**A spinning mule was a machine used to spin cotton. The mule spinners had to work in close proximity to the machine, bending over it. The spindles of the machine were lubricated with mineral oils, and threw off a mist of this oil as they spun. It is the constant exposure to this oil that caused the cancer.

Resources Consulted:

Donnachie, I. (2003) ‘Education in Robert Owen’s New Society: The New Lanark Institute and Schools’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education.

Dowd, Douglas F. Robert Owen. Encyclopedia Britannica online. May 10, 2020.

Early History & Robert Owen. Undiscovered Scotland webpage.

A Factory Worker’s Lot: Conditions in the Mill. BBC: Nation on Film, 2014.

Gordon, Peter. “Robert Owen (1771-1858). Prospects: the Quarterly Review of Education, v. 24, no. ½, 1994. P. 279-66.

Lees, Frederic R. Owenism dissected a calm examination of the fundamental principles of Robert Owen’s misnamed “rational system.” Leeds, England: H.W. Walker, 1838.

New Lanark. UNESCO.org website—World Heritage list.

Owen, Robert. Manifesto of Robert Owen: the discoverer, founder, and promulgator, of the rational system of society, and of the rational religion: to which are added, a preface and also an appendix … . 6th ed. London: Social Institution, 1840.

Owen, Robert. Outline of the rational system of society …. London: Home Colonization Society, 1841.

Robert Owen. British Library’s Business and Management Portal (the Portal). 

Robert Owen. New World Encyclopedia website.

Robert Owen. Spartacus Educational website.

Siméon, Ophélie. Robert Owen: The Father of British Socialism? Books & Ideas website, December 10, 2012.

Social Bible. Laws & Regulations of the Association for all Classes of all Nations. Social Hymns for the use of the Friends of the Rational System of Society. Manchester, England: Froggatt and Richmond, 1835. CS 445-1-6 (a miscellaneous collection of materials about the various historical communal experiments in New Harmony, Indiana)

Welcome to New Lanark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Posted in European History, Local history, New Harmony | Leave a comment

ArchivesFest 2020

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

It’s time once again for ArchivesFest, a fun contest featuring interesting items from area museums and libraries, in celebration of October as National Archives month.  Contestants were invited to nominate items in these categories:

Curators Pick

Funniest Item

Oddest Item

Oldest Item

Not every contestant will have an item in each category….that’s OK, but we do promise some beautiful and interesting items for you to enjoy.  With no further ado, let’s meet the contestants and their artifacts.

Located in Shawneetown, IL, the historical society and John Marshall Museum nominated this1800s four poster barn loom.  Historian Christy Short says this of her nomination for Curator’s Choice: “Its size alone is amazing as well as the number of moving parts. I am in awe of the skill and creativity of the weaver’s craft that enabled them to create beautiful works of art that were also useful, functional, and durable.”

The USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc., located on Evansville’s riverfront, contributed two items. The first, in the Funniest category, is this Curt Teich & Co. Sailor’s Prayer Postcard from 1941.  It’s a novelty postcard featuring a cartoon image of a sailor sleeping and snoring heavily in a hammock aboard a ship.  The LST museum nominator Andrew Schade says, “Both the cartoon and the poem poke fun at the experiences of sailors and provide a humorous glimpse into their lives aboard ship. The final stanza offers an abrupt shift in tone, similar to the final verse of Allan Sherman’s 1963 song, “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.”

Chcago: Curt Teich, [1941]. “C.T. Art-Colortone.” “U.S. Navy Comics.” 1B-H527 / USN-11

Curator’s Choice is this set of 3 small glass bottles “intended to hold holy water or holy oils, meant to act as a good luck charm for the L-144 HS Syros [formerly and currently LST-325] while in service with the Hellenic (Greek) Navy.  The LST-325 served in the Hellenic Navy as L-144 Syros from 1964 until approximately 1999 when it was obtained by the USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc. for restoration and return to the United States as a museum ship. 

The first bottle is decorated with a print showing the Panagía Evangelístria, or “Our Lady of Tinos” temple located on Tinos Island as well as painted- or drawn-on red and blue flowers and a pink ribbon.

The second bottle is decorated with a print showing the virgin Mary and child as well as painted- or drawn-on yellow and red flowers and a pink ribbon. The final bottle is decorated with a print showing the virgin Mary and child as well as a blue ribbon.  The bottle contained cotton which was likely soaked in oils or holy water.”

“This set of items does not particularly fall into any of the other categories but offers a wonderfully unique expression of the LST-325’s “dual citizenship” thanks to her service with both the U.S. and Hellenic Navies.  The items also offer a colorful and eye-catching reminder of the practices that can bridge cultures and peoples, such as superstitions of sailors looking to bring their ship good luck.”

The Audubon Museum, John James Audubon State Park, Henderson, KY selected 4 items for the Curator’s Choice category, nominated by curator Heidi Taylor-Caudill.  The first is this piece of artwork by John James Audubon.

The world-famous artist and naturalist John James Audubon lived in Henderson, Kentucky with his family from 1810 to 1819. During this period, Audubon followed his passion for observing birds and made an effort to improve his drawings of them. He created this original watercolor and crayon drawing of a golden-winged woodpecker, or flicker, around 1819 at the Henderson home of his friend, Judge Thomas Towles (1784-1850). The drawing shows a single male flicker with brown feathers and black spots perched on a tree branch. It was cut out and pasted onto a paper backing.  Audubon gifted the Golden-winged Woodpecker to Judge Towles. The drawing was passed down through the family and later given to the Henderson County Historical Society, who in turn donated it to the Audubon Museum in 1938.”

John James Audubon (1785-1851) Golden-winged Woodpecker, circa 1819 Watercolor and crayon on paper.
Source: Henderson County Historical Society Collection, JJA.1938.141
Photograph of the Executive Committee of the Indiana State Audubon Society, 1914, photographer unknown. Gelatin silver print.
Source:John James Audubon Museum Collection, JJA.1938.197

Next is this “group photograph of the Executive Committee of the Indiana State Audubon Society taken in Evansville, Indiana in 1914. Seven men and two women are shown posing outside in front of the summer home of Mrs. George S. Clifford. All are seated on lawn furniture. Pictured in the back row on the right is the guest of honor, Harriet Bachman Audubon (1839-1933), granddaughter of John James Audubon (1785-1851) and daughter of John Woodhouse Audubon (1812-1862).   Front row: Amos W. Butler, Indianapolis; Judge Robert W. McBride (chairman), Indianapolis; Elizabeth Downhour (secretary), Indianapolis; George Clifford, Evansville; Edward Barret, Indianapolis; and Dr. Stanley Coulter of Purdue University, Lafayette. Back row: Dr. David Dennis, Richmond; William Watson Trodler, Indianapolis; and Harriet Bachman Audubon, Louisville, Kentucky.”

Third is this “scrap of parchment paper with what is believed to be John James Audubon’s writings. It contains his signature and numerous ink blots and doodles, including a poem about George Washington on one side and drawings of a man’s head on the other side. The scrap was found in the ledger book of Dr. Adam Rankin, a close friend and benefactor of the Audubon family during their time in Henderson, Kentucky. It is one of five scraps of paper with Audubon’s writing that came with the ledger.”

Brooch, circa 1850, unknown maker. Gold, glass, human hair.
Source: L.S. Tyler Collection, JJA.1938.1204

The Audubon Museum’s final item is a “brooch made with twisted and woven human hair that was owned by Lucy Bakewell Audubon (1787-1874), wife of John James Audubon (1785-1851). It is believed to contain the hairs of John James Audubon and his sons, Victor Gifford (1809-1860) and John Woodhouse (1812-1862) Audubon. The brooch consists of braided white and dark hair set in an oval gold setting with a glass cover. Dark hair twisted into an open lattice form is woven through rings attached to the central setting. Three beads of similar dark twisted hair dangle from the bottom of the brooch. The hair beads have gold end caps.”  Read more about the hairwork jewelry in the Audubon Museum collection at https://friendsofaudubon.org/2020/08/hairwork-in-the-museum-collection/.

The Newburgh Museum’s Suzanne Byers sent in 4 items for Curator’s Choice.  The first is a violin made by C. B. McCormick in the 1800s.  As only an apprentice carpenter, McCormick used his wooden tools and forms to make this exact replica of a Cremona violin.  The city of Cremona, Italy has had a reputation for stellar violins since the 16th century.

Next is a map cabinet from 1890, used in the Jefferson St. Colored School.  This hand-carved cabinet contains seven relief maps, each surrounded by carved wooden frames.  Maps include: Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, USA and the World.  Because they have always been stored in this cabinet, they are in remarkable condition with most reliefs intact.

Newburgh Museum’s third selection is an 1891 toy fire wagon, given to 5-year old Henry Warren as a Christmas gift.  It is complete with horses, wooden ladders, and firemen.

The final item is this replica of a Civil War era Philadelphia derringer. “Due to their compact size, they were perfect guns for concealment in a coat pocket or a lady’s purse and useful in extremely close-range confrontations.  A derringer like this one was used by John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Lincoln.”

Evansville’s Reitz Home Museum selected these items to display for ArchivesFest

The first is a Chinese cabinet, date unknown.  Charles Denby of Evansville was the first American diplomat to China, where he purchased this ornate cabinet and gifted it to the Reitz family. On the top shelf are 8 carved ivory Chinese immortals. Charles Denby cigars were made by the Fendrich Cigar Factory of Evansville.  The Museum’s Duane Myers calls this his Most Fun entry, hoping to educate others about Denby’s role as a statesman.

Next is this cranberry glass cracker jar.  Made in France circa 1875- 1920, it measures 9”H x 5”W and has a metal neck with handle.  It’s the museum’s Curator’s Choice, both for its beauty and because it’s the museum’s newest acquisition, just received in September 2020.

The Oddest Category item from the Reitz Home Museum is this late 19th century cigar band bowl.  “These bowls were popular in the late Victorian Period. They were made with cigar bands glued to the back of a clear bowl. This bowl features Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Prince George of England is also found on one of the cigar bands. It is believed the Wilhelmina Reitz was named after Kaiser Wilhelm I. (5” diameter x .5” deep).” It is uniquely Victorian—not many have seen such a piece.

The last piece is this massive (10 ft. tall) white onyx fireplace designed by Tiffany and Co.  “This mantel is one of a kind purchased in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Wilhelmina Reitz was one of the two women managers representing the State of Indiana at the World’s Fair 1892-1893. Notice the ormolu decorative features.  This is the Oldest Item Category.  It is one of the museum’s oldest permanent fixtures installed during the redecoration period of the Reitz Home.

The Evansville Wartime Museum selected this item from its collection for the Oddest Category.  From February 1945, this is a WWII casket shipping container, the outer container for shipping casketed remains of deceased troops.  Its exterior dimensions are 31” d x 87” w x 25” h. Museum curator J. Kenneth Grant provided this information.  “This artifact served as the outer container for the transit of Pvt. Andrew C. Harris, killed in action in Germany, February 1945, to Evansville’s Ziemer Funeral Home. Shipping information appeared on the container’s lid and end panel. The lid’s stenciling was later overpainted using white paint. The casket container was among the supplies allocated by the American Graves Registration Command to Graves Registration Service. This service provided respectful care of deceased members of the armed forces who died in theater and who were temporarily or permanently interred outside the US. How many containers came into private hands after used for their intended purpose? A story published in the June 2016 issue of “Mortuary Science Minutes,” by the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science (CCMS), claimed three casket containers were known to exist. The National WWII Museum, New Orleans, held two, plus one at the CCMS. Subsequent searches revealed three containers in the Veterans Memorial Museum collection, Terre Haute, Indiana, and one very similar container in an online auction. Add to these the container held by EWM. No matter the number of casket containers that remain, the use for which they were designed forever links them with our country’s fallen. We’ll likely never know what led to the reuse of this container as a storage unit. Still, that odd reuse ultimately led to the container’s home within the Permanent Collection of Evansville Wartime Museum.”

This museum’s Oldest Category item is a Spanish American War Veteran’s Medal from 1902.  This 3-piece bronze medal is 2 5/8” x 7/8” x 1/4″.  “Members of the United Spanish War Veterans received these medals. The organization consisted of veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, and the China Relief Expedition (Boxer Rebellion). It was among numerous fraternal societies created by veterans to stay in contact. The United Spanish War Veterans ceased to exist with the passing of its last member in 1992. (Sources: Library of Congress and Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)” At the top an “American eagle in flight, a laurel wreath forms the background, with a stars and stripes shield overlay. An American flag-inspired ribbon connects the medal’s elements. [Above the medal is a] crossed calvary saber, infantry rifle and navel anchor suspension with two-sided war cross.”

The front of the medal “reads Puerto Rico, Cuba, Philippine Islands, U.S.A., plus Spanish War Veterans,1898–1902, encircling a center scene.”’
The reverse of the medal “reads North, South, East, West, with “United” over a stars and stripes field.

The Wartime Museum Curator’s Choice is this 5 gallon gasoline container with an original 1937 design. “President Franklin Roosevelt observed in November 1944, “Without these cans, it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace which exceeded the German Blitz of 1940.” (relicrecord.com) These 5-gallon cans were the link from the two PLUTO (Pipeline Under the Ocean) systems between Britain and France in 1944-45 and the fuel depots and the frontline troops – a link allowing combat vehicles to get the fuel they needed to advance. Efforts by the Allies to make a container for fuel or water were miserable failures. They leaked. They were hard to handle. They weren’t quickly produced. Thanks to an American engineer named Paul Pleiss and an odyssey worthy of a spy novel, a stolen sample of a superior German version and complete manufacturing specifications made their way to the Allies. The British began production, with more to follow. Millions of Allied-made Jerrycans were scattered across Europe by V-E day. Some were made by Corcoran Metal Products in Washington, IN. The Allies knew a good idea when they saw it, even if that good idea was the German-developed Jerrycan. The Jerrycan was developed under strict secrecy in the late 30s when the Germans realized they needed a way to make fuel portable. The design had two stamped-metal halves, welded together, for a 5-gallon capacity and weighed 45 lbs. when full. It could float and included a spout for spill-free pouring. After a long period of bureaucratic foot-dragging, the Allies became making exact copies of the Jerrycan in fantastic quantities. This particular artifact became part of the Evansville Wartime Museum Permanent Collection in 2019. Others at the Museum are mounted to vehicles on exhibit, showing the Jerrycans in use, carrying extra fuel or water.”

To the left, “Corcoran Metal Products Corporation, in Washington, Indiana, received contracts totaling $800,000 from the U.S. Army for water containers and container parts by February 1943. Corcoran received both contracts in June 1942, with the water containers due in October 1942 and the parts in January 1943. Shown: Loading containers for shipment. Photo: Evansville Wartime Museum Permanent Collection – Gift of Harold Morgan, 2017 3”

To the right, “An Army private refuels an ambulance using a Jerrycan. Notice the number of snow-covered Jerrycans in the foreground. These 5-gallon cans kept vehicles fueled and allowed the Allies to advance. An article by Richard Daniel attributes the nickname to the British who found them during the German invasion of Norway in 1940 – the Germans were “Jerries” to the Brits. Image: WW2db.com”

University Archives Special Collections in the David L. Rice Library at the University of Southern Indiana has selected an item for each category as our entries into the 2020 ArchivesFest.

Our Funniest item is this ISUE bowling jacket (UA 108-446 (108-18-12).  Before we became the University of Southern Indiana, USI was Indiana State University, Evansville (ISUE).  ISUE’s bowling league were champions for many years. This jacket is from Dr. Donald Pitzer, Professor Emeritus of History, who coached the league for several years in the 1970s.

Our Oldest category item is this 1603 alchemy book by Paracelsus: The archidoxes of magic : celestial medicines, magical cure of diseases, mysteries of the Zodiac, occult philosophy, secrets of alchemy, spirits of the planets, supreme mysteries of nature.  Paracelsus (1493-1541) was a German-Swiss physician and alchemist (alchemy was the study of turning lead into gold).  He did not hold with contemporary medical thinking, urging that the wisdom of old wives, sorcerers, gypsies, and the like held equal value.  He must have held a very high opinion of himself—the very name he gave himself, Paracelsus, means above (para) Celsus, a very respected 1st century Roman medical writer.  Note the zodiac on the picture of the open spread of the book.

For the Oddest Category, we chose this 3-dimensional topographic map of Stelle, a communal land trust community in northern Illinois. The group focused on early childhood development and education. The community formed in 1963 and formally disbanded in 2006, although many former members still live in Stelle, IL and the group has annual reunions. 

This map was made by a community member.  It’s very detailed and pretty large—we included this photograph of Archivist Jennifer Greene holding it to give you an idea of scale.

Our Curator’s Choice is this stunningly beautiful dress from Benin City, Nigeria.  It’s part of our African Cultural Diversity Showcase collection.  This collection is a visual display of African cultural artifacts. The first showcase was in 2013 at the University of Southern Indiana. The showcase was envisioned and developed by Joseph Uduehi with the assistance of Dr. Michael Ndemanu and Dr. Amanual Beyin. Other contributors included Dr. Sweet Ebeigbe, whose cultural artifacts from Benin-City, Nigeria have enriched the collection, and Provost Ronald Rochon, now President, and Professor Michael Aakhus, both of whose collections have made a valuable impact on the showcase.  The goal of the African Cultural Diversity Showcase is to educate the public about African culture through African artifacts that are physically available in a public place. This public place is the USI Rice Library, which houses these African visual artifacts. The artifacts are available to teach basic elements and principles of art as they pertain to lines, color, shape, form, texture, etc. at the elementary to college level.  The artifacts are also to showcase the common elements of cultural similarities across the African continent.

That’s it! There’s an incredible amount of diversity here—odd, funny, fun, beautiful, old, and some probably the secret favorite of the curator.  We hope that you enjoy this event and these items, and if you haven’t visited these institutions, that you are inspired to do so to see more of what you’ve been missing.  ArchivesFest 2020 will run October 5-16.  This blog will remain here, plus there will be individual social media postings.  Have fun!!

Posted in #ArchivesFest, history, Indiana history, Local history | Leave a comment

Bandage Removal

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

If you live in Evansville, and/or are interested in social justice issues, then you’ve probably heard of the Albion Fellows Bacon Center. According to its website, it’s “a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent domestic and sexual violence and to empower victims through advocacy, education support services and collaborative partnerships. The center provides services to victims of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, and financial) in 11 counties in southern Indiana.” So . who is Albion Fellows Bacon (of AFB), and why was this center named for her?

Photograph of Albion Fellows Bacon, 1907.

Photograph of Albion Fellows Bacon, 1907. Source: “Albion Fellows Bacon: Indiana’s Municipal Housekeeper”, pg. 49.

AFB (as I will refer to her throughout this blog) was born in Evansville in 1865. Her family came to Evansville in 1862 when her father, Albion Fellows, was appointed as pastor to Locust Street Methodist Episcopal Church. He was involved with the construction of what is today Trinity United Methodist Church, which was completed in 1866. He would have been Trinity’s pastor had he not died of pneumonia in March 1865 at the age of 38. AFB was born several weeks after his death. Her mother, Mary Erskine Fellows, was from a family that settled in McCutchanville in 1820. Mary had to help raise her siblings after her mother died, and as a result, her education was somewhat sketchy. Mary wanted more, and in 1852, she and 3 of her siblings moved to Greencastle, Indiana to attend school. The boys went to college, the girls attended the Ladies Seminary. While there, she met her future husband.

Following her husband’s death and the birth of her daughter, Mary moved the family back to McCutchanville to be near her family. For the next 16 years the family seemed to move between McCutchanville and Evansville, sometimes living in one town, sometimes the other. At this time, McCutchanville was just a rural settlement, with no streets or stores. AFB loved this rustic life, close to nature, surrounded by family. This, church, and school formed the pillars of her life. Learning and books were greatly valued (both AFB and her sister, Annie Fellows Johnston, became published authors). Later, when she became involved with housing reform, AFB would attribute her time in the country with enabling her to recognize the ugliness of overcrowding instead of being inured to it. She also credited her experiences with equal rights on the playground with giving her “giving her courage to meet men upon a broader field” (Bacon, pgs. 5-6).

In 1881, the family moved back to Evansville. The oldest daughter, Lura, had married prominent businessman George P. Heilman, and the family lived with them. Annie taught school for 3 years, AFB took art lessons and attended Evansville High School. In 1883 she was the salutatorian of her high school graduating class, one of 40 students.

Evansville High School in Evansville, Indiana

AFB graduated from this school in 1883, although it would not have looked exactly like this: the tower seen here wasn’t added until 1898. It was renamed Central High School in 1918. This building was razed in 1973. Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family collection, MSS 157-0451.

Like her mother, AFB wanted to pursue her education, but again, as in her mother’s situation, her family could not afford to send her. She took a job as a court stenographer and secretary to her great uncle, Judge Asa Igleheart, eventually rooming with his family. For a shy and diffident girl, this job proved invaluable, particularly in her later endeavors. “No college course could have been more valuable to me. Not the least of value was learning to write business letters, to make up court records, to go without fright into public buildings, to keep my own counsel, and to avoid feminine flutterings” (Bacon, pg. 15). During this time, she met Hilary Edwin Bacon. Bacon, born in Kentucky, had moved to Evansville with his brother in 1873 and became a successful businessman. By 1887, he co-owned Keck and Bacon, a dry goods business at 207 Main Street. After a 3-month tour of Europe with her sister, Annie, during which AFB ordered her wedding gown in London, the sisters came home for a double wedding at Trinity on October 11, 1888 (Annie married William L. Johnston). The Bacon’s set up housekeeping at 1025 Upper 2nd Street.

The Bacon’s lived a middle-class existence. “All my friends lived on pretty streets, and my shopping was done in the best business blocks, so I did not have to see much of the rest of the town” (Bacon, pg. 16). Deepening this disconnect was her understanding of the words in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” She’d been taught that every evil thing seen and thought would leave a stain on her soul, cause her to not be pure in heart; in order to avoid this fate, AFB deliberately closed her eyes and ears to “every ugly and blighting thing” (Barrows, pg. 31).

Daughter Margaret was born in 1889, followed by Albion Mary in 1892. Sometime after the birth of her second daughter, AFB fell ill with what was then diagnosed as nervous prostration. While this diagnosis is vague, it seems to have afflicted a great many, including men, during this period. One faction attributed this to women seeking to go beyond their “natural” sphere of influence (i.e., the home), while others said it was due to extreme tedium and thwarted ambition. Today we might call this post-partum depression. Whatever the true diagnosis was, it was not until 1896 that AFB felt fully recovered. Perhaps instrumental in this return to health was the Bacons’ building of a new home, their final one, at what is today 1121 First Street, and Annie and AFB co-authoring a book of poetry.

Residence at 1121 SE First Street in Evansville, Indiana

This is a May 1977 photograph of the Bacons’ home. Source: Hammond-Awe collection, MSS 183-085.

In 1896-97, AFB joined the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society and later the Ladies Aid Society. Prior to this, she had turned a deaf ear to pleas for assistance. “Too full to crowd another thing into it, I told the committee from the charities organization that came to enlist my aid. We are glad to give… but I don’t know anything about that kind of work, and I think it is better for those more experienced to do it.” (Bacon, pgs. 20-21). The first cracks in this façade appeared as issues of personal concern for the well-being her children. While visiting her daughter’s school to discuss a bullying issue, AFB was struck by the filth around the school and wondered why there could not be a decent playground. She discussed this with friends on the Civic Improvement Association whose children attended the same school; they spoke to/lobbied the city attorney concerning this matter, and later the playground was created. The second school-related issue involved the fact that both her daughters came down with scarlet fever, apparently caught from classmates. She learned that some of these classmates came to school in less than hygienic condition, already bearing signs of infection. Another child with a persistent cough was currently absent to attend the funeral of her mother, who had died from tuberculosis. Shocked, AFB determined to join the sanitation committee of the Civic Improvement Association.

Admittedly, this was but a small step, but AFB, to her credit, began to read and educate herself. She was greatly influenced by the seminal work of Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives, published in 1890. This work exposed the lives of the poor in the tenement slums of New York City, based in part on Riis’ personal experiences after he first came to this country. His muck-racking journalism was illustrated with photographs he had taken. She began to loosen her blinders. “Hitherto, when I passed an alley, I had turned my head so as not to see the disagreeable things of which the smells warned me. Now, I stopped and looked up the alley and sniffed; stopped long enough to notice the dark, slimy streams slowly trickling down the middle of the alley, the papers, tin cans, and old shoes scattered about, the garbage cans at shed doors. Sometimes I saw little children darting to and fro, and wondered at their being in the alley. It never entered my mind that they could live there” (Bacon, pgs. 29-30).

It’s one thing to read about poverty, but it’s another to see it first-hand. Again, to her credit, AFB contacted Caroline Rein, general secretary of the Associated Charities of Evansville, requesting to visit the poor in her own hometown. Like most cities, Evansville was, at this time, both enjoying the fruits of industrialization as well as suffering from them. By 1880 there were over 3,000 men, women, and sometimes children employed in Evansville’s shops and factories. Although willing to learn, AFB expressed her naivete to Rein: “We haven’t any slums in Evansville, have we? Not the real sure enough ones, with those terrible conditions that Jacob Riis writes about in New York?” (Bacon, pg. 36). And then they arrived at the old St. Mary’s tenement, one of the largest in the city. This building, at 916 West Ohio Street, had been built in 1856 as the Marine Hospital. The Marine Hospital ceased operations and vacated the building in 1870, and in 1872 St. Mary’s renovated it and opened its hospital there. In 1894 St. Mary’s moved to a new location on First Avenue. By this time, the building was at least 44 years old and had been used as a hospital twice. Its last renovation was 28 years prior. Noise, filth, squalor, lack of privacy, overcrowding—the little girl raised in bucolic McCutchanville and living a comfortable life was having a rude awakening. She said, “The bandages were being taken off my eyes, but so slowly that, standing there in the alley, I had seen but dimly the outlines of evil” (Bacon, pg. 34). At first, she asked why the people didn’t clean and repair properly. She was told that water was scarce (and none too clean), making sanitation difficult. Furthermore, repair and upkeep take money and skill, at least one, if not both of which, these tenants lacked. But why didn’t the landlord take better care of them? Well, under current laws, landlords were under no obligation to make repairs, etc. Some 15 years later, as AFB was looking back over her life, she recalled, “Seeing! The word is too passive. Sights and smells rose and assaulted me, choked and gashed me, and the scars remain yet. They will remain until my dying day. I had never dreamed that people lived like that in our city. Since then I have seen places much worse. … But it was the first time I had taken a square look at Poverty, and its sordid misery, its bare ugliness, were overpowering” (Bacon, pg. 38).

Original Marine Hospital in Evansville, Indiana.

This is a sketch of the Marine Hospital, probably as it originally looked, 1910. Source: Regional Photograph collection, RH 031-004.

Old St. Mary's tenement in Evansville.

By the time, AFB toured this same building, it had become the tenement seen here. The laundry hanging on the balconies. Source: “Albion Fellows Bacon: Indiana’s Municipal Housekeeper”, pg. 34.

Now “converted,” at least in part (her understanding would grow with experience), AFB joined the Friendly Visitors Circle of Associated Charities of Evansville. Friendly Visitors provided moral support, showing a real interest in the problems of poor mothers and their families. Practical aid was permissible, but in no case should personal financial aid enter the equation. Any gifts given had to be no more than what you might give a friend—things like books, flowers, sweet treats, etc. For help with thornier issues with men and boys, a male Friendly Visitors Circle was established, with Hilary Bacon as a member. Meetings took place at the Bacon house, with problems discussed and solutions suggested. AFB found these meetings very satisfying but noted that being a Friendly Visitor was not for everyone—not everyone had the right temperament or tact. “It would be a sin to exploit the poor to save the souls of the well-to-do,” she said (Barrows, pg. 37). AFB and her fellow female Visitors depended on their “mother-nurse” instincts but were overwhelmed by the level of disease. Tuberculosis, pneumonia, rheumatism, typhoid, and dysentery ran rampant. Tuberculosis could affect not only the pulmonary system, but there were strains that affected the skin and glands.

Two people in a slum during tuberculosis outbreak.

A family suffering from tuberculosis, such as AFB might have seen (proper attribution for this photograph is in Barrows, pg. 89).

So much was due to overcrowding and lack of sanitation. One row of old, one-story houses held 28 rooms housing 61 people. Even though water mains were often on the street in front of houses, the poor only had cisterns—mostly uncovered, dry, or full of trash. And what happened if the breadwinner got sick and could not work, could not support the family? AFB and her friends established a Visiting Nurses Circle—they supervised and financially supported the nurse. They met with the nurse monthly to hear her report and discuss what to do, sometimes even visiting with the nurse. They soon discovered that the nurse could have a bigger impact on hygiene issues than the Friendly Visitor could. Advice from a “friend” might be resented, but a nurse—a nurse was a respected authority whose advice should be heeded, and word obeyed!

Despite her growing passion for this work, at this point AFB devoted very little time to it. In 1901 she gave birth to twins Hilary and Joy, and for a period of 2 years devoted herself solely to her children. Returning to action, as it were, she continued to learn more and more about poverty. Visiting the factories, she was appalled to find both young and middle-aged women in low paying jobs, dealing with poor working conditions, and returning home to lousy housing conditions. Some girls were “fresh off the farm,” coming into the city from the country in search of a better life and were subject to the evils of slavery and prostitution in their naivete and/or desperation. The Working Girls Association (WGA) was founded; its first accomplishment was to open a room for a temporary shelter, serving those new to the city and/or without family and resources. The factory workers, if they did not go home for lunch, were forced to eat amidst the din and confusion of the workspace. Next up for the WGA was to find a space in the business district for a dining room, a space to rest and read, and a lavatory. Meals were available for an average of 11 cents. In the evenings the space was used as a gym, a place for classes to be held, singing groups to meet, etc. Eventually a house on Main Street was found with bedrooms to rent. In addition, a summer camp was established at the end of the trolley line. Girls could go directly to work from there and return in the evening to stay in the bungalows.

Despite the real value of the WGA, its work was not inexpensive, and as time went on, it became harder and harder to continually raise money. Fortunately, the YWCA finally came to Evansville in 1911, and the work of the WGA was incorporated into its mission. AFB’s involvement with social justice did not cease, however. A new general secretary of the Associated Charities of Evansville had begun the Monday Night Club. It was made up of some 25 men and women and government officials representing the various civic and philanthropic groups in Evansville. Meetings were held at the Bacon home. One activity of the Club that AFB helped to organize was a lecture series. Speakers were sometimes local, others from outside of this area, and experts in the field of social welfare. The Club also established a Housing Committee, which AFB immediately joined. Her civic work to this point had convinced her that housing reform undergirded everything. “And we were finding out that our eager efforts to alleviate the wretchedness of the poor ended in—alleviation. … I began to notice how the threads of the social problems, the civic problems and even the business problems of a city are all tangled up with the housing problem, and to realize that housing reform is fundamenta.” (Bacon, pgs. 162-63).

One of the first pieces of housing reform in the United States was the passage of the first tenement law in New York City in 1867. A local building ordinance was proposed for Evansville, and AFB asked Mayor John Boehne if tenement regulations could be included. He agreed, with one caveat—AFB had to prepare the wording for the regulations.

“Surprised by the request, but accepting the challenge, she wrote to New York, Chicago, and smaller cities requesting copies of the regulations in effect at those places. [Just think how much easier and quicker research is now with the help of your friendly USI librarian!]. She was stunned to discover, when the return mail brought her unexpectedly “bulky packages,” how large and complex tenement laws could be—a whole book, in some cases. And she was, initially, disappointed to discover the highly technical nature of such regulations, reading some of them aloud to her husband and children with a sense of confusion and frustration. While she hoped “to give the poor some comforts, some conveniences, she found nothing that would “make the wretched old houses look any better or more homelike.” But as she dug deeper and began to understand the meaning and effects of the convoluted legal language, she became more encouraged. “After all,” she wrote, “I found that tenement laws require light and air, fire protection, water, drainage, sewerage, repairs, prevention of dampness, prevention of overcrowding and all those unsanitary conditions that caused us so much trouble in our tenements.” She very quickly realized that although there were many things a tenement law could not do to improve conditions, “those things a law could do were the most vital of all” (Barrows, pg. 48).

Her regulations were added to the housing ordinance, presented to the city council, which promptly shunted the whole matter aside for months. Eventually, AFB’s tenement regulations were reformatted into a separate ordinance and passed.

In October 1907, the Indiana Conference of Charities and Correction met in Evansville, with AFB presenting a paper on poor housing conditions in Evansville. Perhaps emboldened by her success locally, by the next year she was hard at work on an Indiana tenement law. With due diligence, she went to the law library to research what regulations might already be on the books. “It came to me with something of a shock that the poor in our state had no legal right to light and air; in fact, no tenant had, only those persons who owned enough ground to insure light and air to their dwellings” (Bacon, pg. 173). It was necessary to investigate conditions statewide; Indianapolis was doing its own investigation, and, of course, she was intimately familiar with Evansville. She mailed questionnaires to all charity secretaries in the state, asking for details of their local housing conditions. Responses poured in. “There were whole slum villages, where miners lived, or quarrymen, in “company houses.” There were little settlements and suburbs of shanties and shacks, where the poorest lived. The worst one was a shack settlement for rag pickers, built on the dumps, where the people ate garbage, and degradation was extreme.” (Bacon, pg. 174). Because housing reform was an unfamiliar issue, and the concept of landlord responsibility was both unfamiliar and unpopular, she began an education campaign.

The 1908 Indiana Conference of Charities and Correction was held in South Bend. AFB presented her findings and a draft resolution, which was approved. On October 22 of that year, she presented it again to what was the forerunner of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, which agreed to sponsor the bill in the state legislature, but only if AFB presented it. On January 13, 1909, the bill was introduced into both chambers and presented to the joint housing subcommittee 6 days later. AFB addressed the General Assembly, lobbying for her legislation by lining the corridors with photographs of the worst Evansville tenements. The bill passed, but only after such major amending that it only applied to Indianapolis and Evansville. The fuller legislation (applying to all Indiana municipalities) was introduced/re-introduced in 1911 and defeated. AFB had once described her own timidity thus: “It was like cutting a suit of armour out of a piece of chiffon” (Bacon, pg. 1). Undeterred, this chiffon warrior saw the bill introduced again in 1913. By this time, it had the full weight of the Indiana Federation of Clubs behind it as well as a growing voice of advocacy from many women’s clubs. In a relatively short time, the House passed the bill 92 to 1, the Senate concurred, and the governor signed it into law.

Thus, AFB became “Indiana’s municipal housekeeper.” This terminology perhaps seems less than flattering today, but recall that during AFB’s lifetime, it was considered unseemly for a woman to have a role outside the home. AFB was a woman of her time and in full agreement with that role model. The term “municipal housekeeper” was a way to describe her (and other women’s) involvement in public work as merely an expansion of the more traditional domestic activities and concerns.

AFB had accomplished a lot in the approximately 15 years since she stepped out of her comfort zone and into the wider world of social justice, but she wasn’t one to rest on her laurels. To cover her further efforts and accomplishments in detail would make this blog far too long, so a summary will have to suffice. She educated herself about the challenges of the black population in Evansville, particularly regarding housing, and served as a member of the Evansville Inter-Racial Commission. On December 28, 1915, she presented a paper entitled “The Powers of Darkness—The Housing Problem” to the 2nd Pan-American Scientific Congress. As World War I raged and America’s entry into it neared, she was “able to graft [child welfare concerns] successfully into the wartime agenda” (Barrows, pg. 97). In 1917 Indiana governor James Goodrich appointed an 18-member (17 men, 1 woman) State Council of Defense. One of the most important subcommittees was the Child Welfare Committee, chaired by AFB, which shared a close relationship with the national Children’s Bureau. Concerns about children’s health issues and high rate of mortality led to the finding that 29% of men called up for the draft were rejected for lack of physical fitness, much of which could be linked back to childhood diseases like scarlet fever and rickets. In 1919, as the war ended and thus also the State Council of Defense, a new state Commission on Child Welfare and Social Insurance was created with AFB as one of its 5 members. This Commission made 4 recommendations: to create a juvenile commission, to codify a child labor law, to create an agency to oversee child labor laws, and to create a school attendance law. AFB was particularly interested in juvenile justice and was president of the new Advisory Juvenile Committee (later Commission) from 1921-1933.

Locally, AFB worked to support Boehne Camp Hospital (for tuberculosis patients) and in 1921 was elected president of the Evansville City Plan Commission. (She was president for 3 years, then vice-president through the 1920s.) This led to her being elected vice-president of the Indiana Conference on City Planning (the 1925 conference was held in Evansville) and in 1931 was a delegate to the President’s Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership.

Albion Fellows Bacon died at home on December 10, 1933 at the age of 68. “The official cause of death was recorded as arteriosclerotic heart disease and chronic nephritis …. [daughter] Joy put it less technically but perhaps no less accurately: “Mother just burned herself out” (Barrows, pg. 167-168). The shy little girl from McCutchanville, who once thought that there were no slums in Evansville, traveled a road that led her to becoming an influential speaker and organizer with national, if not international, renown. Her autobiography, Beauty for Ashes, had been adopted as a text at several colleges, including Union Theological Seminary. Of her life’s work, she said, “It was the making of me. To have to assume responsibility and make decisions, such as none of my other work had involved, developed the ability to do it. These things strengthen one’s fibre wonderfully” (Bacon, pg. 114). She would be proud that her hometown had resources like a domestic violence shelter and be especially honored to have it named after her.

In addition to the photographs and materials concerting AFB that Rice Library has, Willard Library also has a collection that includes photographs, drawings, manuscripts, music, and books. Look at the photograph below to see some of the items Willard lent us for a temporary display in 2018.

Personal papers of Albion Fellows Bacon from Willard Library.

Resources consulted

Bacon, Albion Fellows. Beauty for Ashes. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1914. 3 copies available: one in General Collection, one in UASC/Special Collections, both with call number HD7303.I6 B3; also e-book

Barrows, Robert G. Albion Fellows Bacon: Indiana’s Municipal Housekeeper. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. 2 copies available: one in General Collection, one in UASC/Regional Collections, both with call number CT275.B144 B37 2000

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, Local history | Leave a comment

Alphabet Soup

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

SSA. TVA. PWA. WPA. CCC. SEC. FHA. REA. FDIC. Is your head spinning yet? These are just a few of the initialisms associated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, initiatives designed to lift the United States out of the Great Depression. Before we figure out what these mean, what they accomplished, and how they relate to Evansville and Indiana, we’re going to have to take a brief (I promise!) look at why they were needed.

In the 1920s Americans lived riotously, as if they had all the money in the world, as if money were no object. It wasn’t called the Roaring Twenties for nothing. While we may today think of banks as rather staid financial institutions, that wasn’t true in the 20s. As consumerism drove the stock market to incredible heights, banks, believing that this would continue, speculated with investors’ funds—it seemed as though everyone lived far beyond their means. It couldn’t last….and it didn’t.

During the 1920s, the U.S. stock market underwent rapid expansion, reaching its peak in August 1929 after a period of wild speculation during the roaring twenties. By then, production had already declined and unemployment had risen, leaving stocks in great excess of their real value. Among the other causes of the stock market crash of 1929 were low wages, the proliferation of debt, a struggling agricultural sector and an excess of large bank loans that could not be liquidated. Stock prices began to decline in September and early October 1929, and on October 18 the fall began. Panic set in, and on October 24, Black Thursday, a record 12,894,650 shares were traded. Investment companies and leading bankers attempted to stabilize the market by buying up great blocks of stock, producing a moderate rally on Friday. On Monday, however, the storm broke anew, and the market went into free fall. Black Monday was followed by Black Tuesday (October 29, 1929), in which stock prices collapsed completely and 16,410,030 shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors, and stock tickers ran hours behind because the machinery could not handle the tremendous volume of trading.

The Bank of the United States fails.          Source: Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940.

The Bank of the United States fails. Source: Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940.

After the market completely bottomed out, there was a bit of a recovery, due almost solely to the fact that up was the only available option. The recovery wasn’t much, and the economy continued to tank. People were suddenly destitute, and panic set in. Frantic to recover something, anything, they set upon the banks, demanding to withdraw all from their accounts. These runs on the bank completely overwhelmed the system, and banks were forced to close. “By 1932 stocks were worth only about 20 percent of their value in the summer of 1929. The stock market crash of 1929 was not the sole cause of the Great Depression, but it did act to accelerate the global economic collapse of which it w as also a symptom. By 1933, nearly half of America’s banks had failed, and unemployment was approaching 15 million people, or 30 percent of the workforce.

To learn more about the Great Depression, go check out and watch https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/1929-stock-market-crash.

Hooverville, New York City.               Source: Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940.

Hooverville, New York City. Source: Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940.

As if to add insult to injury, Mother Nature contributed to the misery with widespread drought in the Great Plains in 1930. Crops failed, and the land, which had been massively over-farmed, began simply to blow away. “Although the “black blizzards”, as the Dust Bowl storms were also known as, originated in the Plains area and mostly menaced only the states in the area, some dust storms were so big and so powerful that they traveled hundreds of miles. One such violent storm that occurred in spring of 1934 was 2 miles high and managed to travel 2,000 miles to the East Coast, reaching New York, Atlanta, and as far north as Chicago.” It was estimated that “the average dust storm from the 1930s carried more dirt than was dug out to create the entire Panama Canal. … During 1935, the dust storms became so dangerous that many families in the Dust Bowl area were forced to leave their homes and travel far away to seek refuge. They fled their homes not only due to the violence of the storms, but also because the conditions left them unable to work and survive, so they were forced to find work elsewhere. Approximately 200,000 farmers left the Dust Bowl area and relocated to California. Unfortunately, most of them were not able to find work, and even those who did were paid very little, so most of them were forced to live in makeshift settlements that were known as “Hoovervilles.” But these 200,000 migrants represented only a small proportion of all the people who were forced to find a new home. The Dust Bowl period saw the largest migration numbers in American history, with approximately 3.5 million people in total moving out of the affected states (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico).” John Steinbeck wrote about this exodus in his 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, which was also produced as a movie in 1940, with Henry Fonda as the leading character, Tom Joad. Rice Library has a number of print copies of the book as well as the movie on DVD. Film maker, Ken Burns, has also produced a documentary entitled The Dust Bowl, also available in the library.

Dust storm approaching Spearman, Texas, April, 1935. Photograph from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. Source: Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940.

Dust storm approaching Spearman, Texas, April, 1935. Photograph from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. Source: Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940.

The president at this time (pre-1932) was Herbert Hoover. His stance was what I’d term hands-off: government had no role in directly intervening in the economy or in providing jobs and other economic assistance to its people. So…stock market crash, runs on banks, devastating weather conditions, panic, and a president who does not seem to care (at least, as judged by his policies). The stage is now set for the main topic of this blog.

Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Source: Associated Press (https://bit.ly/3299xMv)

Enter Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), who won the first of his four terms as president in 1932.

Happy days are here again,

The skies above are clear again,

So let us sing a song of cheer again,

Happy days are here again.

All together, shout it now,

There’s no one who can doubt it now,

So let’s tell the world about it now,

Happy days are here again.

This was the song that was playing when Roosevelt accepted his party’s nomination for president. It surely was a sentiment that most Americans at the time did not believe. Upon accepting his nomination, he said, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.” His inaugural address promised that America would once again be great—his famous line was, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Roosevelt dove straight in. “The next day, Roosevelt declared a four-day bank holiday to stop people from withdrawing their money from shaky banks. On March 9, Congress passed Roosevelt’s Emergency Banking Act, which reorganized the banks and closed the ones that were insolvent. In his first “fireside chat” three days later, the president urged Americans to put their savings back in the banks, and by the end of the month almost three quarters of them had reopened.” Raymond Moley (1886-1975), political scientist and key Roosevelt advisor, noted, “A Depression is much like a run on a bank. It’s a crisis of confidence. People panic and grab their money. There’s a story I like to tell In my home town, when I was a little boy, an Irishman came up from the quarry where he was working, went into the bank and said, “If my money’s here, I don’t want it. If it’s not here, I want it” (Terkel, p. 251).

Next Roosevelt made good on his campaign promise to repeal the 18th Amendment. What’s that, you say? Prohibition. That’s right, FDR made it legal to produce and consume alcohol again. Notice that emphasis on the word “legal.” Americans had never stopped producing and consuming alcohol, they just did so illegally. Organized crime was able to capitalize on this underground industry, providing bribes for officials willing to look the other way. It was clear “just how unbridled bootlegging was and the difficulty of controlling illegal liquor in the 48 states. The number of liquor-producing stills seized went from 32,000 in 1920 to 261,000 in 1928. The bureau estimated that 118 million gallons of illicit wine and 683 million gallons of beer were produced in 1930. At least nine million gallons of industrial alcohol meant to be non-drinkable were diverted by gangsters, for cocktails served in speakeasies.” From a strictly economic standpoint, this was lost revenue—millions of dollars of tax revenue were not being collected. “And sure enough, Prohibition’s repeal did indeed generate higher liquor-tax revenues. As a percentage of federal government revenues, liquor taxes jumped from 2 percent in 1933 to 9 percent in 1934 to 13 percent in 1936. Repeal did not fully compensate for lost income-tax revenues, nevertheless it promised a sizeable stream of additional revenue.

To learn more about the First Hundred Days, go check out and watch https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/new-deal

With banks stabilized, and new (actually, renewed) tax funds from alcohol, FDR could move on to the many ambitious New Deal projects and agencies he created. All 9 of those listed in the first line of this blog were established within his first 2 years in office. Let’s tackle them chronologically. Sometimes more than one agency worked on a project.

This 1936 shelter house at Mesker Park was apparently built by two African-American CCC companies--one comprised of World War I veterans and the other, youth. Source: https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/mesker-park-shelter-house-evansville-in/

This 1936 shelter house at Mesker Park was apparently built by two African-American CCC companies–one comprised of World War I veterans and the other, youth. Source: https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/mesker-park-shelter-house-evansville-in/

CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) was put into action on April 5, 1933. The CCC was designed to put young men to work on public land projects such as forests and parks. “The CCC ‘boys’, as they were called, received training, education, shelter, health care, food, and a monthly pay of $30 – $25 of which was required to be sent home to support their families. More than 3,000,000 men were enrolled in the CCC between 1933 and 1942. This enrollment included jobless World War I veterans and the employment of Indians on reservation land. … The National Park Service describes, in part, what was achieved by the CCC program: “Nationwide, the CCC operated 4,500 camps in national parks and forests, as well as state and community parks, planting three billion trees, protecting 20 million acres from soil erosion, and aiding in the establishment of 800 state parks. The CCC advanced natural resource conservation in this country by decades…” Other accomplishments of the CCC included the restoration of 4,000 historic structures, the construction of 3,100 fire lookout towers, the building of 1,500 cabins, the installation of 5,000 miles of water lines, the creation of 4,600 fish rearing ponds, the improvement of 3,400 beaches, and 6.5 million man-days devoted to firefighting.

This shelter house at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY was a late (1940) CCC project. Source: Thomas Mueller collection, MSS 264-2140.

This shelter house at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY was a late (1940) CCC project. Source: Thomas Mueller collection, MSS 264-2140.

Other area CCC projects were completed at Brown County, Clifty Falls, and Spring Mill state parks, as well as restoring and developing portions of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, IN.

TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) was created May 18, 1933 “to further the economic development of an impoverished, mountainous region covering most of Tennessee and parts of six surrounding states. … It built dams up and down the river system for flood control and power generation….The TVA engaged in many other activities, as well, such as malaria prevention, reforestation, forest fire suppression, erosion control, fertilizer development, agricultural education, advice to farmers and wildlife habitat protection. … A key purpose of TVA was to provide electricity to rural areas underserved, or even ignored, by private power companies.

The nearest TVA project of this time period was the construction of Kentucky Dam, a hydroelectric dam at Gilbertsville, KY, built in 1944. It improved navigation on the Tennessee River and helped control flooding. This dam creates Kentucky Lake. Source: https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/kentucky-dam-gilbertsville-ky/

The nearest TVA project of this time period was the construction of Kentucky Dam, a hydroelectric dam at Gilbertsville, KY, built in 1944. It improved navigation on the Tennessee River and helped control flooding. This dam creates Kentucky Lake. Source: https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/kentucky-dam-gilbertsville-ky/

Related to this photo are the 170,000 acres of recreation area called the Land Between the Lakes (Kentucky Lake, shown here, and Barkley Lake, created by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.) TVA had initial control of LBL when it was established in 1964 (clearly outside of the New Deal era), but since 1998 it has been operated by the U.S. Forest Service.

A local PWA project was the construction of the First Ave. bridge over Pigeon Creek. This November 6, 1936 photo depicts filling forms necessary to build the bridge. Source: MSS 055-021, Mack Saunders collection.

A local PWA project was the construction of the First Avenue bridge over Pigeon Creek. This November 6, 1936 photo depicts filling forms necessary to build the bridge. Source: MSS 055-021, Mack Saunders collection.

PWA (Public Works Administration) was set up by the June 16, 1933 National Recovery Act. “The agency was to “prepare a comprehensive program of public works.” These public works were to include projects related to highways, buildings, natural resource conservation, energy, flood control, housing, and more. … The PWA started with $3.3 billion, “the largest amount ever allotted to a public works scheme” at the time and this was supplemented by subsequent appropriations acts. Over its 10-year life, the PWA would radically transform the nation’s major infrastructure. By 1939, it had contributed over $3.8 billion towards the construction of 34,000 projects. … The PWA was not devoted to the direct hiring of the unemployed. Instead, it administered loans and grants to state and local governments, which then hired private contractors to do the work (some PWA money also went to federal agencies). This arrangement was intended to increase demand for labor and construction goods, and thus act as a catalyst for economic recovery (this type of policy action is usually called “stimulus,” or “priming the pump”). The PWA, like the WPA, let state and local governments take the lead in choosing which projects they wanted built, what designs to use, and who to contract with. Costs were shared roughly half-and-half, but this varied by time, place and project.

Here, the nearly finished project on March 3, 1937. Source: MSS 055-023, Mack Saunders collection.

The nearly finished project on March 3, 1937. Source: MSS 055-023, Mack Saunders collection.

The WPA also funded another bridge over Pigeon Creek, this one on Fifth Avenue, now Fulton Avenue, but it was razed in 2000. Howell Library, at 1506 Delmar Avenue, closed in 1993 but was a WPA construction. In Indiana, it funded the construction of the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, a number of buildings on the campuses of Indiana University and Purdue University, the Glover Cary bridge between Owensboro, Kentucky and Indiana, and portions of the fairgrounds in Indianapolis. A listing and description of WPA projects in Indiana can be seen here.

FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). Not all New Deal projects involved construction. This 1933 group was founded to bolster banking security, to prevent the type of panic that caused bank runs. It insured “depositors for at least $250,000 per insured bank. … When banks failed, depositors regularly lost their savings, bringing personal hardship and even disaster. Between 1930 and 1933, for example, Americans lost $1.3 billion from 9,000 bank failures (about $23 billion in today’s dollars). … In contrast to this pre-New Deal history, “Since the start of FDIC insurance on January 1, 1934, no depositor has lost a single cent of insured funds as a result of a failure.”

SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission). Another New Deal project not involving construction was the SEC, designed to “ride herd” on Wall Street. The “Securities Exchange Act of 1934 [was] signed into law by President Roosevelt on June 6, 1934. The law created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and gave the SEC the power to “register, regulate, and oversee brokerage firms, transfer agents, and clearing agencies as well as the nation’s securities self regulatory organizations” (e.g., the New York Stock Exchange). The law also gave the SEC “disciplinary powers” and the authority to “require periodic reporting of information by companies with publicly traded securities.”

Aerial view of Lincoln Gardens under construction. Source: MSS 181-0367, Darrel Bigham collection.

Aerial view of Lincoln Gardens under construction. Source: MSS 181-0367, Darrel Bigham collection.

FHA (Federal Housing Administration). The National Housing Act, signed into law on June 27, 1934, created the FHA. “In order to revive mortgage lending for housing construction, home purchases and home improvements, the FHA provided federal guarantees of repayment to mortgage issuers—such as banks and savings & loan associations—who submitted to federal standards. FHA regulations were responsible for the standardization of the 30-year, low interest mortgage. To further facilitate the flow of capital into housing, the FHA encouraged the development of a secondary market in which mortgages could be sold to investors. … Section 207 of the National Housing Act also authorized mortgage insurance for “low-cost housing projects…to encourage the investment of private funds in the large scale production of housing of adequate standards of sanitation, safety, and amenity, and at rentals within reach of families with small incomes.”

“Lincoln Gardens was the second Federal Housing project created under the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Designed to replace eleven acres of housing in poor repair, the Lincoln Gardens’ sixteen new apartment buildings opened on July 1, 1938 to provide housing for African-Americans with moderate incomes. While most of the apartment buildings were eventually razed, the last building now houses the Evansville African American Museum.” Source: https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/lincoln-gardens-housing-project-evansville/

“Lincoln Gardens was the second Federal Housing project created under the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Designed to replace eleven acres of housing in poor repair, the Lincoln Gardens’ sixteen new apartment buildings opened on July 1, 1938 to provide housing for African-Americans with moderate incomes. While most of the apartment buildings were eventually razed, the last building now houses the Evansville African American Museum.” Source: https://livingnewdeal.org/projects/lincoln-gardens-housing-project-evansville/

WPA (Works Progress Administration, later the Works Projects Administration) Roosevelt signed this into existence on May 6, 1935. “The WPA was the largest and most diverse of the New Deal public works programs. It was created to alleviate the mass unemployment of the Great Depression and by the time it was terminated in 1943, the WPA had put 8.5 million Americans back to work. The majority of WPA projects built infrastructure, such as bridges, airports, schools, parks, and water lines. In addition, the Federal Project Number One programs undertook theater, music, and visual arts projects, while other service programs supported historic preservation, library collections, and social science research. The WPA also employed women in sewing rooms and school classrooms and cafeterias, and in the later run-up to war it improved many military facilities…. The WPA employed people directly.

Lincoln Pioneer Village in Rockport, IN. These 14 cabins are replicas of those Abraham Lincoln would have known. WPA work here from 1935-1936 included landscaping and the building of cabins and a lake. Source: MSS 157-1045, Schlamp-Meyer Family collection.

Lincoln Pioneer Village in Rockport, Indiana. These 14 cabins are replicas of those Abraham Lincoln would have known. WPA work here from 1935-1936 included landscaping and the building of cabins and a lake. Source: MSS 157-1045, Schlamp-Meyer Family collection.

Other WPA projects in Indiana included the Spring Mill State Park Inn, an expansion of the New Albany Public Library, a picnic shelter at Turkey Run State Park, and the Amphitheatre and nature center at McCormick’s Creek State Park.

American Guide Series [poster] Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. LC-USZC2-5780

American Guide Series [poster] Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. LC-USZC2-5780

Not all WPA work, as noted earlier, involved construction. The Federal Writers’ Project “was created in 1935 as part of the United States Work Progress Administration to provide employment for historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. Originally, the purpose of the project was to produce a series of sectional guide books under the name American Guide, focusing on the scenic, historical, cultural, and economic resources of the United States. Eventually the new programs developed and projects gun under the Federal Emergency Relief Administration were absorbed by the writers’ project.Indiana, A Guide to the Hoosier State (see Resources Consulted) is an example of one of these guidebooks. Indiana’s book was sponsored by the Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University). Another writers’ project was the American Life Histories–interviews with over 10,000 Americans across a wide swath of ethnicities, occupations, and regions. Another important contribution was the Slave Narratives, “more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves. These narratives were collected in the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and assembled and microfilmed in 1941 as the seventeen-volume Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves.” Ralph Ellison, Margaret Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow and John Cheever, and poet May Swenson are among noted authors who worked under the Federal Writers’ Project.

REA (Rural Electrification Administration) Created on May 11, 1935, “the goal of the REA was to bring electricity to America’s rural areas. While cities had enjoyed electric power for many years, in 1935 “fewer than 11 of every 100 U.S. farms were receiving central station electric service.” The main problem was that the power companies were unwilling and/or unable to string wires over long distances, across farmland and back country, at an affordable price. The REA was initially expected to provide direct relief to the nation’s unemployed, but very few of the unemployed in rural areas had the needed electrical trade skills. It was also expected that the REA would be a grant-making agency and that it would work closely with private power companies. However, with private power companies unenthusiastic about the idea of extending their power lines across rural America at affordable rates, the REA quickly developed into an agency that made loans to state and local governments so that rural areas could develop their own electric power supply.” It was known to have done projects in Nebraska, California, Iowa, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho, and Georgia.

SSA (Social Security Administration) If you know of no other New Deal program, you surely know about Social Security, although you may not have realized it was created during this time period. “President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on August 14, 1935. The law was wide-ranging. While most Americans know Social Security for its old-age pension system, the act also addressed unemployment benefits, aid to dependent children, maternal and child welfare, public health services, and aid to the blind. It launched what would be called ‘the welfare state’ or ‘the social safety net’ of the postwar era.

This is but a small sampling of New Deal initiatives–all told, there were some 69 programs/agencies created, 7 of which survive today. Four of those remaining were discussed in this blog: TVA, FDIC, SEC, and SSA. The others were the Soil Conservation Service, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the Federal National Mortgage Association, aka Fannie Mae. And let’s be clear—not everyone was thrilled about the New Deal and all of these programs. Conservative thinkers felt FDR was going too far, leading America into socialism. Others thought he wasn’t doing nearly enough, that he was “still in bed” with capitalists. The Supreme Court, at that time with a conservative majority, opposed Roosevelt’s reforms, and he threatened to add additional, liberal justices—to pack the court with those more reform-minded. (This did not happen; the threat alone caused the justices to vote in FDR’s favor, but it also harmed his reputation.) Finally, the Depression, despite all of FDR’s efforts, did not truly end until America’s entry into WWII. Still, if you were down and out and hurting, the New Deal’s alphabet soup made for a tasty and nutritious meal.

Resources Consulted

Amadeo, Kimberly. New Deal Summary, Programs, Policies, and Its Success. The Balance, May 9, 2020.

Boudreaux, Donald J. Alcohol, Prohibition, and the Revenuers. Foundation for Economic Education, January 1, 2008.

Dust Bowl Facts. Facts.com. June 14, 2016.

Great Depression History. History.com editors.

Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. Library of Congress classroom materials.

Hadley, Debbie. 7 New Deal Programs Still in Effect Today. ThoughtCo., April 8, 2020.

Indiana, a guide to the Hoosier state, compiled by workers of the Writers’ program of the Works Projects Administration in the state of Indiana. New York, Oxford University Press, 1941. UASC Regional Collection F524.3 .I5

Leuchtenburg, William E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. General Collection E806 .L475 1963a

The Living New Deal: Indiana. Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley.

New Deal. History.com editors. November 27, 2019.

New Deal Programs: Selected Library of Congress Resources: Federal Writers’ Project

“The Repeal of Prohibition.” Prohibition: an Interactive History–Internet exhibit from The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement in Las Vegas.

Stock Market Crash of 1929. History.com editors. April 6, 2020.

Terkel, Studs. Hard times; an oral history of the great depression. New York, Pantheon Books, 1970. General Collection E806 .T45

Posted in American history, history, Indiana history, Local history | Leave a comment

The Price of Progress

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

You’ve heard all of this before. No pain, no gain. Progress comes at a cost. In Inherit the Wind, author Jerome Lawrence notes, “Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.” This blog, and others in this series, will look at the cost in terms of lost buildings, structures that have been razed in the name of progress. This is the flip side of the February 25, 2019 blog entitled “Everything Old is New Again…” and the August 28, 2018 “Recycling … It’s not what you think.”

Indiana became a state in 1816, Vanderburgh Country was established in 1818, and Evansville was incorporated as a town in 1819. In 1847, the city received its official charter. Any time you have people living and working together, there will need to be rules, contracts, laws, etc. established to (essentially) maintain the peace. In short, you need government. Indiana and Evansville may have once been on the western edge of the burgeoning United States, but the “every man for himself,” Wild West mythos could not be sustainable as the population grew. In 1850, the first Census after the city received its charter, Evansville had a population of 3,235. One hundred years later, the 1950 Census gave Evansville’s population as 128, 636. As the population grew, so did the complexity of the government which needed physical spaces in which to operate. Courthouses, city halls, and the like were built.

“During the 1960s downtown Evansville underwent extensive renewal. The subject of building a new Civic Center was first raised in the mid-1950s. Federal, city, and county government offices, school corporation facilities, and law-enforcement departments were all operating from fragmented, outmoded, inefficient quarters. The first task was to form a committee qualified to determine what was needed, what departments and agencies should be included, and where it should be located, so in June 1961 the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Building Authority was created. In 1963 a group of interested community leaders formed the Central Evansville Improvement Corporation for the purpose of acquiring and holding the desired 40-acre building site until the various governmental units were able to raise the money to pay for the land through special appropriations and bond issues” (McCutchan, p. 93-94). “The complex was completed at a cost of 27 million dollars and six years of planning and construction. [It]opened with a new “centrex” phone system, Indiana Bell’s first digital switching system and the first in the state, which allowed for 650 new phone lines for city and county government without the need for a full-time switchboard operator.

If you’re not sure where the Civic Center is, its official address is 1 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The complex is bounded by Sycamore St. to the northwest, SE 9th St. to the northeast, Locust St. to the southeast and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, formerly 7th Street, to the southwest. Situated at the foot of Main Street, the Civic Center is the reason that Main Street and North Main Street are now 2 “separate” streets. To be clear, this was NOT 40 acres of unoccupied land. There were already many buildings here that would have to be razed. Let’s look at “before and after” images.

This 1920s image, looking down on the central part of Evansville, gives some idea of what had to be removed for the Civic Center to be built. The smokestack just left is center is Cook Brewery, and the church in the center is Assumption Catholic Church. Both were razed for the Civic Center. Source: Darrell Bigham Collection MSS 181-1271.

This 1920s image, looking down on the central part of Evansville, gives some idea of what had to be removed for the Civic Center to be built. The smokestack just left is center is Cook Brewery, and the church in the center is Assumption Catholic Church. Both were razed for the Civic Center. Source: Darrell Bigham collection, MSS 181-1271.

Overview of Civic Center Complex shortly after it opened. All city and county government officials, agencies, courts, school administration and originally a jail, are/were located here. Source: Sonny Brown Collection, MSS 228-0522.

Overview of Civic Center Complex shortly after it opened. All city and county government officials, agencies, courts, school administration and originally a jail, are/were located here. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0522.

Included in the Civic Center complex construction was the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building United States Court House. While this building is physically separate from the rest of the Civic Center, it is immediately adjacent on NW 7th Street, now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, between Sycamore Street and Vine Street. Winfield K. Denton was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives 1937-1942, and Indiana's 8th district representative to the U.S. House of Representatives 1949-1953, 1955-1966. The post office, also part of the complex, is behind this building, just barely visible here. Source: Sonny Brown Collection, MSS 228-0520.

Included in the Civic Center complex construction was the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building United States Court House. While this building is physically separate from the rest of the Civic Center, it is immediately adjacent on NW 7th Street, now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, between Sycamore Street and Vine Street. Winfield K. Denton was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives 1937-1942, and Indiana’s 8th district representative to the U.S. House of Representatives 1949-1953, 1955-1966. The post office, also part of the complex, is behind this building, just barely visible here. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0520.

Now that you know what and where the Civic Center is, let’s take a look at what had to go to make space for this.

This advertising sketch provides some idea of the size of the complex. Source: Brad Awe Collection MSS 184-1025

This advertising sketch provides some idea of the size of the complex. Source: Brad Awe collection, MSS 184-1025.

The F. W. Cook Brewing Company or Cook Brewery was at 11 NW 7th Street and had a long history in Evansville. “Frederick Washington Cook opened the small City Brewery, with his stepfather Jacob Rice, in 1853. [Rice had a brewery with his brother-in-law 1837-1854.] Within two years, he would split with his former partners and incorporate the business as F. W. Cook Brewing Company, building a large brewery located at the corner Seventh and Sycamore streets. The company became massively successful, selling several brands of beer throughout the Midwest and South. [At its peak, the brewery covered the entire area bounded by 7th and 8th Sts., Sycamore and Main Sts.]. The brewery operated in downtown Evansville for decades, surviving prohibition by selling near beer and Cook-Ola soda. Tony Hulman, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, purchased a controlling share of the company in 1943. Management stopped production of beer during a labor dispute in 1955, though the company sold reserves for more than a year before closing. The brewery was torn down in 1965, making way for the Civic Center Complex.

When the brewery first opened, wagons pulled by draft horses delivered the beer. There was an entire section devoted to stables. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0616

When the brewery first opened, wagons pulled by draft horses delivered the beer. There was an entire section devoted to stables. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0616.

The Cook smokestack was iconic and visible from afar. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0133.

The Cook smokestack was iconic and visible from afar. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0133.

Assumption Catholic Church. Source: Darrel Bigham collection, MSS 181-1082.

Assumption Catholic Church. Source: Darrel Bigham collection, MSS 181-1082.

Assumption Catholic Church was located at 119 West 7th Street, originally 106 Upper 7th Street. According to the Historic Evansville website, “Assumption Parish was the first Catholic congregation south of Vincennes, and it was the only Catholic church here until the year 1851 when Holy Trinity parish was organized by those Catholics who spoke only German. Assumption held separate services for Germans until that time.” The congregation dates to 1840, and the original church was on 2nd Street. The building seen here was built in 1872. The tower was added in the 1900s. In 1944, it became the cathedral for the newly formed Diocese of Evansville. The church was sold to the city in 1965 and the last mass heard January 17, 1965. The building was razed in May 1965 to make way for the new Civic Center complex. The Winfield K. Denton Federal Building, seen above, now stands on this site.

The spire of Assumption Catholic Church comes down. Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family collection, MSS 157-1574.

The spire of Assumption Catholic Church comes down. Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family collection, MSS 157-1574.

Assumption Catholic Church nearly totally razed, May 1965. Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family collection, MSS 157-2673.

Assumption Catholic Church nearly totally razed, May 1965. Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family collection, MSS 157-2673.

The Chicago and Eastern Illinois (C & E I) Railroad station was at 22 SE 8th Street. It was built in 1907 to replace the station for the former Evansville and Terre Haute railroad. During World War II, this building served as a USO, and after the war as a community center. It was razed July 1965.

The columns seen across the front of this building were salvaged when it was razed and later used for the Four Freedoms monument on Evansville's riverfront. Source: Sonny Brown Collection, MSS 228-0645.

The columns seen across the front of this building were salvaged when it was razed and later used for the Four Freedoms monument on Evansville’s riverfront. Source: Sonny Brown collection, MSS 228-0645.

The Farmers Trust Company was at 700 Main Street, seen in here in front of Cook Brewery, discussed above. The bank’s grand opening was August 11, 1919. It was still listed in the 1924 city directory but was not found in the 1931 edition.

Photograph early 1920s. Source: Brad Awe collection MSS 184-0998

Photograph early 1920s. Source: Brad Awe collection, MSS 184-0998.

Holt and Brandon Ice and Cold Storage’s facility was built around 1890 at 820 Walnut St. and later expanded across 9th Street. The sign in the image on the left references Maxinkuckee Lake ice. Lake Maxinkuckee is the 2nd largest natural lake in the state of Indiana, located in Culver.

This 1895 sketch shows the size of the plant, looking northwest. Source: Historic Evansville website.

This 1895 sketch shows the size of the plant, looking northwest. Source: Historic Evansville website, https://bit.ly/3hgRGZi.

 

Demolition of the facility to make way for the Civic Center, in the middle to late 1960s. Source: Historic Evansville website

Demolition of the facility to make way for the Civic Center, in the middle to late 1960s. Source: Historic Evansville website, https://bit.ly/32s0Mwb.

The Ziliak and Schafer Milling Company was built in 1890 at 900 Walnut Street. This would be the facility taken over by the expansion of Holt and Brandon Ice and Cold Storage when it expanded across 9th Street, as above.

This circa 1910 image is from the private collection of noted Evansville cartoonist Karl Kae Knecht. Source: Willard Library.

This circa 1910 image is from the private collection of noted Evansville cartoonist Karl Kae Knecht. Source: Willard Library, https://bit.ly/2QdMB86

This image of the Evansville Public Schools General Office dates to 1910. Source: Brad Awe collection, MSS 184-1076.

This image of the Evansville Public Schools General Office dates to 1910. Source: Brad Awe collection, MSS 184-1076.

The Evansville Vanderburgh County School Corporation now operates out of a building in the Civic Center complex, but at one time the General Offices of the Evansville Public Schools were at 200 NW 7th Street, in this circa 1860 building originally built for the German Reformed Church. In 1868 it was purchased by the school board and remodeled into Vine Street School. Next came use as a library. From 1877-1897 a portion of the building was used to ease crowding at the Colored High School until its own building was built; at that time this building was remodeled. In 1887 the superintendent’s office located here and continued to operate from this location until this was razed in 1969.

1937 flood image of the Imperial Hotel and surrounding buildings. Source: Great Flood of 1937 collection, MSS 272-1077.

1937 flood image of the Imperial Hotel and surrounding buildings. Source: Great Flood of 1937 collection, MSS 272-1077.

The Imperial Hotel at 800-802 Main Street, it was also known as the Main Street Hotel, is the last structure discussed here to be demolished to build the Civic Center. Not much information could be found about this building, which is believed to date to 1922. No clear photograph could be located, either. What is seen here was taken in the 1937 flood. The hotel is upper left.

All these buildings were razed because they were physically in the same space that the new Civic Center would occupy. Once the Civic Center was built and occupied by government offices, the buildings those government offices occupied were no longer in need. Some of these were repurposed; two were razed. City Hall, at 126 SE 3rd Street, on the corner with Walnut Street, was built in 1887. Before this city government operated out of the second floor of old Hose House No. 2, which itself was razed to build City Hall. Its clock tower was removed in the 1920s, and the building abandoned after the 1969 opening of the Civic Center. City Hall was razed in 1971.

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The Police Department moved into the new Civic Center, too. Prior to this, it had been in two different buildings, both of which were razed, at different times. The first location, at 312-314 Walnut Street, was built in 1882 and was behind the Cith Hall seen above. In 1915-1916, it moved across the street to a new building at 200 SE 3rd Street. The original building was razed in 1923 for an expansion of City Hall. The newer location was vacated in 1969 and razed in 1971.

This 1906 image by F. A. Muntzer of the "old" police station is from the private collection of noted Evansville cartoonist Karl Kae Knecht. Source: Willard Library.

This 1906 image by F. A. Muntzer of the “old” police station is from the private collection of noted Evansville cartoonist Karl Kae Knecht. Source: Willard Library, https://bit.ly/2QcU6w1.

This 1916 image of the "new, old" police station is from the private collection of noted Evansville cartoonist Karl Kae Knecht. Source: Willard Library.

This 1916 image of the “new, old” police station is from the private collection of noted Evansville cartoonist Karl Kae Knecht. Source: Willard Library, https://bit.ly/3l5YbQV.

Postcard image of the (now former) Vanderburgh County Courthouse, circa 1960. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-164.

Postcard image of the (now former) Vanderburgh County Courthouse, circa 1960. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-164.

Other former government buildings remain standing, serving new purposes. One is the Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse at 201 NW 4th Street. “The Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse is considered by architectural historians to be one of the most important examples of 19th century governmental architecture in the country.. It was designed by Henry Wolters of Louisville, Kentucky and exemplifies Beaux Arts architecture which was just coming into vogue at the time of the Courthouse’s design, replacing heavier Victorian styles. Wolters himself studied at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris. It occupies a full city block bound by Fourth, Vine, Fifth and Court streets in downtown Evansville which was once a turnaround basin for the Wabash and Erie Canal. Franz Engelsmann of Chicago is credited with carving the fourteen main statues that surround the courthouse. Much about the history of Vanderburgh County can be gleaned from the sculptures which were all carved onsite. The building is constructed of Bedford Stone, limestone native to Indiana, and the interior boasts marble floors, Ettewa pink marble wainscots, slate stairs and wrought iron and brass handrails. At its tallest point, 216 feet, the courthouse’s bell tower dominates the skyline of Downtown Evansville. Construction on the courthouse began in 1888 and was completed by 1890 at a cost of $379,450. County government personnel started moving into the courthouse in early 1891. The courthouse was the epicenter of community life and for the big events of its day. The Commissioners room served as the military headquarters during the 1937 flood when martial law was declared and the courthouse was a stop on the campaign trail for President Harry Truman in 1948 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. Both gave speeches from the courthouse steps. The building was vacated in 1969 when county government offices were moved to the new Civic Center Complex.” The building now houses office and rental space.

This 1917 postcard shows a soldier patrolling. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-298.

This 1917 postcard shows a soldier patrolling. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-298.

The Vanderburgh County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence at 208 NW 4th Street was built in 1891. “This castle-like fort, designed by architect Henry Walters, was modeled after the Castle of Lichtenstein in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. Therefore, the structure is familiar to Evansville’s German-born residents. This Gothic-inspired building was originally crafted from stone, which simplified its construction a good deal. Evansville’s natural environment has rich subsoil, which combined with abundant rainfall and high mean temperatures, yields an abundance of stone, sand, and fine clay for bricks. Evansville’s prime location along the Ohio River also allowed a direct shipment route for imported stone products. In addition, natural deposits of coal and iron in the area provided inexpensive means of operating brick kilns and iron foundries. The building itself is designed to invoke fear in the observer. Its exterior consists of step-gables, projecting turrets, crenelated roof lines, simulated portcullis, and a central keep, or rounded tower. The entrance presents pointed arches to lengthen the appearance of this part of the building. All of these elements add to the castle-like appearance of the structure. The Vanderburgh County Jail is also connected to the former Courthouse, which lies across the street, via an underground dungeon-like tunnel. During the time of the jail’s use, the tunnel served as a passageway to transport prisoners to and from court.“ The jail was on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Civic Center when it first opened, but since 2005 has been located at 3500 North Harlan Avenue. and the sheriff, assuredly, has his own private residence! The old jail, after a number of years sitting vacant, was purchased and remodeled by the law firm that now inhabits the building.

This postcard image dates to the 1960s. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-180.

This postcard image dates to the 1960s. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-180.

Today’s main post office is located at 800 Sycamore Street, behind the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building United States Court House seen above. At one time it operated out of the building at 200 NW 2nd Street, now called the Old Post Office. “Construction started in 1873 and the Old Post Office and Customs House was completed in 1879. The Old Post Office was designed by A.B. Mullett and Company in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, featuring round arches, stone masonry and towers. This building, like many other historical downtown buildings was built by Charles Pearce and Company. In 1971, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.” The wings seen here were added to each end in 1918. The federal government abandoned this facility in 1969 and the city acquired it in 1977. Today, it houses an event venue.

Resources Consulted:

1850 Census: Compendium of the Seventh Census. Population of such Cities, Towns, Townships, Hundreds, & etc, in the United States (p. 353)

Evansville Historic Photo Collection. Willard Library.

Historic Evansville database.

Indiana City/Town Census Counts, 1900 to 2010. STATSIndiana

McCutchan, Kenneth P. et al. Evansville at the bend in the river: an illustrated history. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, c2004. F534.E9 M38 2004, 2 copies available: General Collection and UASC Regional Collection

Old Post Office Plaza. History.

Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse. About the Old Courthouse. The Old Courthouse Foundation.

Smith, Daniel. “History Lesson: Civic Center Complex in Evansville.” Evansville Courier and Press, November 19, 2016.

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