Wednesday, July 27, 2016

McGovern Summer


As the dutiful daughter of liberal Democrats, it behooved me to work on the McGovern campaign during the summer of 1972. McGovern ran on an anti-war platform against President Nixon’s well-oiled Committee to Re-elect the President (derisively known as CREEP).

Of course, it turned out that the Watergate burglars were not so well-oiled. But that story gained traction only after the election, which McGovern lost in one of the largest landslides in American history.

The Democratic candidate didn’t get off to a good start. While the 1972 party convention lacked the violent clashes between protesters and the police which marked the 1968 Chicago convention, the four days at the Miami Beach Convention Center generated plenty of turmoil.

Following 1968, the party revised longstanding formulas for choosing delegates in order to ensure greater representation of women, young people, and minorities. These changes boosted the importance of state primaries and loosened local pols’ control over the choice of delegates. The new rules were complicated and old-timers challenged the credentials of more than 80 of the delegates.

Notwithstanding, the faces in the convention hall certainly looked like a new crowd.

The 1972 party platform, entitled “For the People,” was the most liberal of its time. It proposed ending the Vietnam War immediately in exchange for POWs. It called for reduced defense spending, amnesty for draft evaders, a crackdown on illegal handguns, equal opportunity, racial integration, and abolishing the death penalty. Reproductive rights were alluded to with a carefully worded affirmation of the right to privacy and freedom of choice. A gay rights plank, eloquently presented by California delegate Jim Foster, was considered and rejected (although McGovern supported it).  

Feminists split over whether there was a greater imperative to nominate a “winner” or a woman. Betty Friedan endorsed McGovern’s nomination but Gloria Steinem’s contingent supported the black Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who had received 430,000 primary votes.

Finally, on the last night of the convention, a contentious vice-presidential roll call pushed back McGovern’s acceptance speech to 3 in the morning.

Needless to say, there was no “convention bounce.”

A few days later, I took the bus from Mt. Vernon up to White Plains, where McGovern’s Westchester County headquarters were located right on Main Street.

Inside, a few volunteers wandered around while a college student set things up. There would be a table outside with buttons and pamphlets about McGovern and his vice-presidential pick, Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. We would focus, our leader said, on winning over the lunchtime crowd.

He was serious, but now that line really makes me smile.

We also stuffed envelopes and made phone calls, working from old-fashioned typed voter registration lists. I think there were push-button telephones by that time. . .

And so things went along until journalists learned that Eagleton had been hospitalized for depression and anxiety three times and underwent electric shock therapy during the 1960s.  

On July 31, after a week of supporting his pick “1000%,” McGovern asked Eagleton to withdraw from the ticket and chose Sargent Shriver, President Kennedy’s brother-in-law and first director of the Peace Corps, to replace him.

The day after, people flocked to our table on Main Street. Everyone wanted McGovern-Eagleton stuff.  

Now we needed to redouble our efforts. So we bore down through the rest of the summer; corralling voters here and there, squinting into the noonday sun.  




Wednesday, July 20, 2016

William Hill Hunt: American Scoundrel

William Hill Hunt, 1900

Just at that moment, timing couldn’t be better – the turn of the switch of the twentieth century –

Successful American, an illustrated monthly magazine featuring “sketches and portraits of representative men and women,” made its debut.  

Women were largely confined to society notes at the back of each issue. Politicians and educators appeared here and there. The real focus was railway magnates, bankers, industrialists; the men who used to be called capitalists. Their stories dominated the pages of Successful American, with each picture accompanied by a caption that said it all:

One of Our Most Experienced Engineers, and Identified with the Gigantic Developments of the Period.

Introducer of the Automatic Weighing Machine, and Connected with a Host of Industries.

A Hustler in the Best Sense of the Term – A Modern American Full of Vim and Energy.

Known as One of the Leading Lights in the Financial and Railroad World.

And in December 1902, here came William Hill Hunt:

The Pioneer of American International Banking, A Progressive and Successful American.

Hunt was born in Alabama in 1864. His father, an overseer (that would be slaves), died the same year. The son started his career as a grocery store clerk. By the age of 21, he had established two banks in Selma and made valuable connections. Somehow he met Mattie Mitchell, daughter of a Minneapolis physician who had amassed wealth as a director of two Midwestern railways.

In 1894 Mattie and William married and moved to San Antonio where he worked as a banker. Almost certainly the proximity to Mexico led to his interest in making money there. While agriculture still dominated the Mexican economy, manufacturing, mining, and other businesses were taking off as the government encouraged foreign investment.

William was on the move.

A son, Lester, arrived in 1894 and a daughter, Siloma, in 1897. A few years later, William moved his family to New York City. They lived at The Alimar, a fancy new apartment house on the Upper West Side.


The Alimar, 925 West End Avenue, Manhattan
(The Architectural Review, June 1903)

In June 1901, William Hill Hunt established the Mexican Trust Company, the first U.S. financial institution to operate a branch banking system in a foreign nation. Mr. Hunt studied the problem for eight years before figuring out how to break the European monopoly on international banking, according to Successful American.            

In 1902, Hunt changed the company’s name to the International Bank and Trust Company of America.

A year after that, the bank went into receivership with a $1 million loss.

A year after that, Hunt reorganized the bank as the Pan-American Banking Company.

And in 1905, the state of Illinois indicted him for larceny. Accused of accepting deposits as an officer of his company when he knew it was insolvent, Hunt also falsely used the name of General Nelson A. Miles, a veteran of the Civil War and Spanish-American War, to lure investors. The judge set bail at $5,000.

The loyal Mattie set to work lobbying the Illinois governor for a pardon, and finally succeeded. After William got out of jail, she asked her father to help her husband restart his career. William established the United States Industrial Company and hoped to make another fortune through trade with Argentina. When one plan failed, Hunt moved onto another.

Announcement of Hill's 1916 business endeavor: "William Hill Hunt,
of New York, devised the scheme of organization and made a trip to
Argentina to discuss the plan with merchants and importers. . ."

Meanwhile Mattie left in 1912, taking the children. Her cousin had arranged to have William tailed and it turned out he had been unfaithful. Next, a mining engineer came out of the woodwork to testify that Hunt had “misbehaved” in Cuba in 1896 and described his “notorious” conduct with women. After two years of working with a court-appointed referee, Mattie received a divorce decree.

The man from Alabama continued to scheme until he had to stop. When he died in 1928 the New York Times reported politely that his banking operations “brought him a good deal of notoriety.”  

An inglorious end for a “successful American.” And, in the end, a truly American story. A young, ambitious banker who overvalued social status, William Hill Hunt became cagey and deceitful, lying recklessly to his own investors. He thought himself invincible.

Yet Hunt certainly was a man of his times. Mustachioed and packed into an Edwardian waistcoat, like so many others he launched himself greedily into the new century.

Mattie's story will follow. 

See also April 20 post about William Hunt's sister, Mamie Hunt Sims, and her book Negro Mystic Lore.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Anguish of J. Howard Moore

J. Howard Moore was devoted to the prevention 
of cruelty to animals. 

In 1910, the State of Illinois passed an unusual law. It required the teaching of morals in the public schools for at least 30 minutes each week. Evidently, the requirement set off a mad scramble. Thankfully, a Chicago schoolteacher named J. Howard Moore came to the rescue. As recalled by one magazine writer:

No country is without popular heroes. America has at least one. Like young Lochinvar he “has come out of the West.” He is in Chicago at present. His name is J. Howard Moore. . . He became a hero by a book. It happened this way. One day the Illinois Legislature passed a bill compelling teachers to instruct their pupils in morals, thirty minutes a week. Forthwith there was a panic. Ladies’ hearts fluttered and men’s lips dropped naughty words. Nobody in Illinois knew how to teach morals. Nobody? Just one.  J. Howard Moore.

A Darwinist who supported animal rights, free thought, sex education, prohibition, and woman’s suffrage, Moore would go on to produce two guides to teaching ethics. While he wrote the books and lectured about vegetarianism at Hull House and the Crerar Library, Moore also taught at Crane Technical High School in Chicago.

He really saved the day.

And six years later he took his own life at the age of 54. Friends and colleagues said he had been discouraged by his own poor health, but the note he left stated, “I am unable to stand the sufferings of poor animals anymore.”

John Howard Moore, son of a farmer, was born in 1862 in Indiana and moved with his family to Missouri, Iowa, and Kansas during the first 30 years of his life.

There isn’t a clear record of Moore’s activities as he became an adult. In 1886, he graduated from Oskaloosa College (now William Penn University), around 60 miles southeast of Des Moines. Also in 1886, after returning home to Mitchell County, Kansas, Moore ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and came in last in a field of five.

Later, he wrote:

I came to the conclusion out there on the Kansas prairies that the animals were not treated right by human beings. I thought we had not even a right to kill them for food and came to the University of Chicago to study the matter. At that time I had never heard of vegetarianism.


In 1894, he started at Chicago with advanced academic standing. There he formed the Vegetarian Club, which he referred to as a “gastronomic enterprise,” in a house where students could board. During the summer of 1896, he lectured on the topic, “Social Progress,” through the University of Wisconsin’s extension program. It looks like he taught at Wisconsin after graduating from college.

In 1899, Moore married Jennie Louise Darrow in Racine, Wisconsin. The sister of famed attorney Clarence Darrow, Jennie was an elementary school teacher. The couple soon returned to Chicago where Moore published his first book, Better World Philosophy. Part sociology, part psychology, the book addresses problems of industrialization, natural law, and the significance of childhood. 

Advertisement for books by Moore (1908)

“The book is a protest,” wrote the anthropologist Frederick Starr in a review. “Its author is dissatisfied with the egoism of our day. . .  He believes the future is to see better things.” Yet Moore was hardly an optimist. High-strung and frail, he despaired of humanity.

Nonetheless, with Better World Philosophy Moore gained a following and wrote Universal Kinship – about humanitarianism – in short order.

“The name of J. Howard Moore acts like magic on the thousands in this country and he is quite as much worshiped in foreign countries where his books have been published in many languages,” an admirer observed.

In 1908, Moore returned to the University of Chicago for three quarters. His courses included physiographic ecology, evolution of domestic animals, and elementary zoology.

Increasingly he spoke against vivisection and in favor of evolution. He and his brother-in-law Darrow were close, and Moore surely influenced Darrow’s thinking – especially in light of the attorney’s defense of the right to teach the theory of evolution at the 1925 Scopes Trial.

Given that Moore crossed paths with labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood, a founder of the IWW; activist Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood; the writer Carl Sandburg, and the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, it is not surprising that he identified as a socialist.

In June 1916, Moore committed suicide in Jackson Park, Chicago, the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. After his death, there followed many tributes, including Clarence Darrow’s powerful eulogy:

This man, our brother, never purposely killed a living thing until he put the pistol to his head. Poor dead dreamer, you are not the first or last mortal to learn the truth. . .

I have dreamed my dreams, had my illusions and wakened from my sleep. Why do I not follow him? I do not end it all because the love of life and the shrinking fear of death in all living things stays my hand and my courage fails.

As Moore requested, he was buried amidst nature at the rural Excelsior Cemetery in Mitchell County, Kansas.

Our Dumb Animals, a journal devoted to the prevention of cruelty to animals,
to which Moore contributed many articles

 (issue published June 1916 - the month he committed suicide)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

This was Kindergarten

Mrs. Friedlander's morning kindergarten class, 1963

“Kindergarten babies!”

That’s what the teacher said as she pushed a few naughty boys through the door of our classroom. They must have been about eight years old and committed some terrible transgression like throwing spitballs or putting chalk in the erasers.  

We looked up to see our own teacher, Mrs. Friedlander, place them in a corner of the room. What was the punishment? Who wouldn’t want to be back in kindergarten?
 
Martin H. Traphagen School, 1940s (before my time).
Kindergarten entrance was around the left side of the building.

I remember feeling very pleased that our kindergarten had its own entrance, tucked away on the side of a monolithic four-story school constructed during the mid-1920s. The door looked like it had been drawn by Beatrix Potter herself; one almost expected Peter Rabbit to hop out.

Instead, there stood Mrs. Friedlander, looking very postwar in a flowered dress and beads. A friendly woman, she did once scare us by grabbing a classmate and washing his mouth out with soap. We’d heard about the punishment but never witnessed it. No water required: take one bar of soap and insert into pupil’s mouth.

In my imagination, washing out someone’s mouth with soap involved lathering and rinsing and patting dry with a towel. So this was a revelation.

When I interviewed her years later, she was 90 years old and laughed uproariously telling stories about the school’s principal. Evidently he insisted on accounting for all of the red rubber kickballs we used during recess. If things didn’t add up, he would insistently knock on each teacher’s door, stating urgently: “I’m missing a ball, I’m missing a ball.”

            Thirty-four years later, I forgave her for the soap incident.

Once you stepped through the Peter Rabbit door, the kindergarten opened into a double-height space with sunlight flooding in through a tall, wide bay window. There was a piano, a fireplace, and a loft, a balcony of sorts where we were allowed to play unsupervised.

Although it may sound strange to say, this was a room that respected children. In 1997 when I started to study the history of American education, it came in a flash that our kindergarten was a perfect example of how the progressive education movement influenced school architecture.

The basic idea behind progressive education was to free children from recitation and drill –the one-room schoolhouse model that had dominated American education since the early nineteenth century. Colonel Frances W. Parker, a Civil War veteran and teacher, challenged the lockstep archetype as early as 1875 as superintendent of the Quincy, Mass., schools.

Others followed, including the famous philosopher John Dewey. Slowly, the ideas caught on and the Progressive Education Association formed in 1919.

Progressive education reached the peak of its popularity in the 1920s and ‘30s. Most of the tenets associated with its philosophy – the teacher is a guide, learning by doing, experience is education – translated brilliantly into classroom practice although not everyone got it right, of course.

In the years following World War II, progressive education was vilified for several reasons. Notably, the launch of Sputnik led many parents, educators, and government officials to warn that American students were not competitive academically, especially in math and science. That started the business of perpetually reinventing the school curriculum which has brought us to our current predicament.

I’m really skimming through history here. Suffice it to say that the kindergarten I knew, with its separate activity areas that encouraged moving around and individual experimentation, and even a table where we grew plants, was designed for a child-centered program.

The Peter Rabbit door, built to the scale of children, intended to make us feel welcome. Inside, the organization of the room encouraged playing and learning.
 
Kindergarten classroom, probably mine, around 1940;
in 1963 it appeared much the same. 

A few months ago, while strolling with a friend, I stepped off the curb and pitched forward, twisting my ankle and slamming my hand. The last time I fell so hard was during kindergarten.

In 1963, walking home from school, carefully carrying the top of an onion that had sprouted green leaves, I saw my mother waiting for me at the next corner, excitedly started to run, and went sprawling.

The onion flew from my hands into the future, where I now sit telling this tale.

See posts: May 18, March 16, 2016; December 21, November 23, November 2, 2015