Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mary Katharine Reely's Big Life

First page of Mary Katherine Reely's first published play

Born in 1881 in the hamlet of Spring Green, Wisconsin, Kate Reely never outgrew the misty river landscape of her childhood. But once she left the farm in the Dells, Reely jumped right into the twentieth century.

In some ways, Mary Katherine (her given name) resembled many smart women of her generation. She tried Normal School but decided not to become a teacher. Then she joined the Unity Settlement House in Minneapolis, which served a Scandinavian immigrant community, as a social worker. 

In 1909 she entered the University of Minnesota where she excelled in English, Rhetoric, and Geology, graduating in 1912.

Kate Reely went straight to work at the H.W. Wilson Company of Minneapolis, started by a man who stood on the threshold of library science.

Halsey W. Wilson was a pioneer in organizing sources of information: bibliographies, book indexes, and digests. In 1901, he began publishing the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, probably the best known of these sources, which pointed readers toward the articles they sought.

But what about people who did not have access to those articles? What if one’s local library, perhaps newly endowed by Andrew Carnegie, did not subscribe to Scribner’s, The Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines that covered current events?

Wilson responded to that need. For example, he created debaters’ handbooks. These were notated summaries of articles and speeches that represented both sides of hot topics: woman suffrage, the income tax, capital punishment. 

Women’s clubs, granges, and service and political groups, along with student debaters, relied heavily on them.  

In charge of these books were six University of Minnesota alumnae, including Kate Reely, to whom Wilson graciously granted authorship credit. The women conducted intensive research and analysis. Minimum wage and immigration were among Reely’s topics. 

After a few years, she was promoted to editor of Wilson’s popular Book Review Digest.

In 1916, Halsey Wilson decided to move the company to New York City. Kate Reely and two others decided to go with him. That decision took Kate's life in a different direction.

It turns out that Kate had made her debut as a dramatist in 1913 with Anyman: A Modern Morality Play in One Act, on the subject of suffrage. In 1914, her play The Helpmeet, a Domestic Comedy appeared in The Masses, a lively Socialist magazine that published articles by John Reed and other radicals of the time.

My hunch is that Kate Reely’s friends and colleagues knew something about her writing. But I don’t think they were aware of her participation in Greenwich Village culture and politics at such an exciting time in American history.

In 1917, Reely helped start and edit Four Lights, a newsletter of the Woman’s Peace Party of New York City. The biweekly began publication just a few months before the U.S. entered World War I. 

Four Lights “will attempt to voice the young, uncompromising woman’s peace movement in America, whose aims are daring and immediate – to stop the war in Europe, to federate the nations for organized peace at the close of the war, and, meanwhile, to guard democracy from the subtle dangers of militarism,” reported the New York Times

That same year, The Survey, one of the foremost social sciences journals of the early 20th century, honored Reely’s writings on social and economic issues. Calling itself “a journal of social exploration,” The Survey investigated public health, prison conditions, and other Progressive-era issues. 

The economist Edith Abbott, reformer Belle Moskowitz, and anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons were among those honored with Reely. That was pretty good company.

Kate continued to wrestle with labor and rural life in three one-act plays – Daily Bread, A Window to the South, and The Lean Years – published in 1919, which were produced widely through the 1920s.

She also stayed close to the political left. The One Big Union Monthly – published by the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”) – featured her play, Solidarity, a Rural Drama of Today, in its August 1920 issue. The play is about a Scandinavian farmer in the Midwest, worrying about credit and paying the bank.

Reely's play, Solidarity, appeared in the
August 1920 issue of The One Big Union Monthly.

While the H.W. Wilson Company continued to flourish, Kate Reely decided to return to Wisconsin in 1921. She moved to Madison, joined the faculty of the Wisconsin Library School, and edited the Wisconsin Library Bulletin.

Then she really got going in theater. It’s difficult to retrieve all of the plays she wrote, but here are a few titles: The House Can’t Build the Barn, a Play in One Act (1923);  They Just Won’t Talk! - A Play in One Act (1924); and To Be Dealt with Accordingly: A Play of Social Adjustment in One Act (1924). 

When Kate Reely died in June 1959, friends and obituaries scarcely referred to her plays and longstanding support of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. 

Rather, they memorialized her contributions to the state of Wisconsin, especially her service to the Free Library Commission where she had focused on the principles of book selection. 

Book selection? That sounds like censorship. In fact, it means the opposite. A central tenet of book selection is that librarians must understand the scientific, social, cultural and intellectual forces that shape the modern world.  

Book selection became Kate’s crusade during the 1920s and ‘30s. The time was ripe. Book-of-the-Month Club, founded in 1926, was well into dictating what middle-class Americans should read. Concurrently, libraries in small towns and big cities alike confronted “vice suppression” – attempts to ban books and magazines deemed immoral or which portrayed the underbelly of capitalism or "radical" views.

Even after her retirement in 1947, Kate Reely continued to field questions about so-called weeding in local libraries. It infuriated her. She wanted readers to have all available literature, even if the state paid for it to arrive by mail. After all, she was a writer, too.  

Mary Katherine Reely, 1926
(courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mr. & Mrs. Bernard H. Ridder

Mount Vernon, N.Y., 1910

After her father’s death, Nellie’s life meandered along. There she is, in the social pages of the Mount Vernon papers, the guest at numerous lawn parties for children. 

It’s pleasant to imagine her chasing bubbles from out of the shadows near the deep porches where adults, including her mother’s patron, spoke quietly.

The city’s first treasurer who subsequently became postmaster and vice president of the First National Bank of Mount Vernon, Clarence S. McClellan served as co-administrator of Daniel Hickey’s estate because Hickey died without a will. Claiming “no business experience,” Hickey’s widow petitioned the court for McClellan, a calm man with a large mustache, to join her.

As guardian of her underage children, Ellen Hickey would provide to the Surrogate’s Court an annual report of expenses made on her youngest daughter’s behalf until Nellie turned 21 in 1908.

In the meantime, the pince-nez’d Reverend Flynn, who had presided at Daniel Hickey Sr.’s funeral, watched over Nellie at the Sacred Heart Convent. There she struggled with catechism. Nellie had distractions.

Records of Surrogate’s Court show that Nellie sought medical attention at least twice monthly. Ellen Hickey must have felt both stricken and annoyed each time Nellie visited the doctor, which necessitated hiring a carriage. One can’t help but imagine Victorian-style woman’s troubles.

Robert Howe, M.D.                                   $  6.00
Wm. Stump, M.D.                                     $  3.00
Jos. J. Sinnott, M.D.
Services at Hospital                     $157.14
Visit                                                    15.00
Visit                                                     6.00
Visit                                                   40.00
Dr. J.J. Higgins
              Visit                                               $   5.00
              Visit                                               $ 10.00
J.J. Thomson, M.D.                                 $   5.00
It’s fair to conclude that Dr. Joseph John Sinnott – a young surgeon who graduated from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1903 – performed an operation on Nellie when she was 21 years old.  

Dr. Sinnott might have made a good husband for Nellie but her mother likely hoped for a man who would amass greater wealth. To that end, Ellen Hickey invested persistently in her daughter’s appearance and social standing:

Mrs. H. Fowler, dressmaker                 $   6.00
A.S. Clark, dressmaking                         $ 55.19
Rosen & Yale, tailor                                $  2.00
M. Jenks, dressmaker                             $20.47
B. Altman & Co.                                       $35.45

M. Kereng, dressmaker                           $  7.25
R.H. Macy, dry goods                              $  4.44
Stern Brothers, trimmings                     $  2.04
Ufland Millinery Co.                                $22.00
The Manhattan hat shop owned by Moe Ufland was known widely for its extravagant creations: crown of French-blue fancy straw, having the side-crown covered with black poppy leaves, two black spires upstanding at the left back, as described in the Millinery Trade Review in 1914.

Trimmed up and unchaperoned, Nellie was sent off to mingle in places where she might find a husband. In Larchmont, N.Y., she stayed at the stylish Bevan House one block from the beach along Long Island Sound; at Lakewood, N.J., she luxuriated at the Laurel-in-the-Pines Hotel, a winter resort where trains purportedly arrived every 20 minutes from New York City. 

She wasn’t a gold-digger – the term came into use in 1915 to describe working-class women and showgirls who sought wealthy husbands – but it’s easy to imagine Nellie dressing for dinner, lounging in the lobby, hoping to catch someone’s eye.

Hotel Laurel-in-the-Pines, circa 1900 

That person would be Bernard H. Ridder, the newly-divorced son of the publisher of the Staats-Zeitung, the nation’s largest German language weekly newspaper. Bernard and Nellie Hickey eloped on December 31, 1915, two months after the death of Ridder’s father.

The old man did not leave his sons in a good spot. The company had lost money through risky investments in typesetting equipment, although Bernard and his brothers would get it back on track and build it into the large newspaper corporation, Ridder Publications. 

Meantime, back in Mount Vernon, Nellie’s mother moved to the nicer side of town. Eventually Daniel Hickey, Jr. followed their deceased father into politics, becoming a ward supervisor, supervisor of elections, and State Tax Appraiser. He and his siblings continued to live at home.

So the question is: how did Nellie and Bernard come to know each other?  

Very likely they met in 1915, through efforts to create a nationwide organization called Friends of Peace, which opposed U.S. entry to World War I. Its immediate demands were that the U.S. stop exporting ammunition to England and that England lift its blockade of German boats. Bernard Ridder and his father were among the group’s organizers.

In September 1915, Friends of Peace held its first big meeting, a two-day convention, in Chicago. 

Many who attended – including Nellie – were Americans of German and Irish descent who opposed any alliance between the U.S. and England. Labor unions considered joining in, but were scared off by the anti-U.S. rhetoric. 

In this way, Friends of Peace differed from pacifist groups like the Woman’s Peace Party.

One wonders what lesson Bernard Ridder took away from World War I, after which the family fell under suspicion for publishing pro-German propaganda. Two decades later, he would be drawn to Germany after Hitler rose to power, going so far as to meet and publish a sympathetic interview with the Fuhrer.

By that time, Bernard had divorced Nell.

See January 20 + January 24, 2016 posts.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Nellie Hickey & Her Father

Nellie Hickey stands at right outside Chicago's Medinah Temple, 1915;
image is backwards 
(Chicago Historical Society)

Mount Vernon lies just north of the New York City, a twenty-nine minute train ride from Grand Central Station. It was Nellie’s hometown.  

Across the railroad tracks on Second Avenue, the public library endowed by Andrew Carnegie houses a local history room established in 1976 with bicentennial money. It is rarely open because the library can’t afford to staff it. The tables are piled with files and boxes spilling over with papers.

Lying on a dusty desk is a photograph of two women delegates at a 1915 peace convention in Chicago’s Medinah Temple. The caption states that one of the women is Nellie J. Hickey of Mount Vernon, N.Y.  

Who was she? Perhaps a peace activist or suffragist who worked with Jane Addams? She could have been prominent in local political circles or even on the national scene.  There ought to be information about her in the cabinets arranged like a maze through the dark room, creaky wooden drawers crammed so tight that nothing breathes.

But it turns out that Nellie doesn’t occupy even one folder.  Instead there is much about her father, Daniel C. Hickey, a 19th-century Democratic Party operator, borne out in headlines.      

The Democratic Town Convention.

Throw Down Sheriff Duffy

 Keen Competition for the Churches

It was all about political battles. Nellie’s father had a long reach. He probably kept his shady dealings out of the house or at least on the front porch. But the children surely were introduced to a few important visitors; for example, the power-broker William Bourke Cockran, a brilliant orator and congressman who championed Irish home rule.

Further down the road, Cockran would align himself with German-American opposition to U.S. entry into World War I. That made sense because the Germans and the Irish shared a furious loathing of England. 

Thus, although he died years before his daughter went out to the Chicago peace convention – which was, in fact, a pro-Germany rally – at home in Mount Vernon, Nellie’s father had made associations that would shape her future.  


Back in time, when Nell’s father schemed and triumphed all over New York State, he had to pinch himself to remember that he came penniless from Ireland in 1840. From his office at 48 Dey Street in downtown Manhattan (right near the site of the World Trade Center), Hickey built a fortune as a railroad contractor. 

Hickey met equal success in politics. With astonishing whitewash, the author of a 1913 history of the county wrote:

Hickey engaged in politics as a pastime, a recreation from the cares of business, an enjoyment that cost him large sums of money, as he was not an office seeker for himself nor did he expect other pecuniary reward.

It was the polite language of the day, but of course Hickey’s pastime had many rewards. After all, he played politics inside the most notorious big city machine in American history: the Democratic Party’s Tammany Hall.

Tammany’s origins lay in late 18th century New York where its first leader, Aaron Burr, transformed it from a society of speech-makers to a political machine. Through the mid-19th century the Irish came to dominate the organization.

After the Civil War, William Marcy Tweed became Tammany’s first boss, presiding over the ward system through graft, fraud, and plunder. Everything was corruptible. Although the repulsive Tweed was indicted and died in prison, Tammany arose again under the bosses John Kelly and Richard Croker, both good friends of Mr. Hickey.

Hickey the Master of the Situation!

However, by 1894 when he died from a cold he caught while overseeing railroad construction in the Lehigh Valley, Hickey no longer was master of the situation. Tellingly, the governor had recently ignored several of his patronage requests.

You can bet that the Tammany politicians jostled each other on the steps of the Church of the Sacred Heart in the flat light of that funeral morning. The men put their heads together to figure out the next play while the widow Ellen Elizabeth Bird Hickey and her six children sat shocked in the chapel.

The family did not need to worry about money, however. Within a few weeks, the papers reported that Daniel Hickey left no will but his estate included $93,000 in personal property and $75,000 in real estate.

 Church of the Sacred Heart,
Mount Vernon, N.Y.

See also January 20 + 28 posts, 2016.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mrs. Ridder

Advertisement for 555 Park Avenue, where Nellie Ridder lived
after her divorce from Bernard H. Ridder, Jr.

Three ex-wives of a newspaper tycoon: Hilda, Nellie, and Helen, their lives branching into the world. Every morning Hilda sat before a three-way mirror to put her hair in pin curls, even on the day that she filed a divorce action against her first and only husband, Bernard H. Ridder.

Nell, as she came to call herself, shook hands with President Wilson during her honeymoon with Hilda’s former husband, Bernard H. Ridder, at the Homestead resort in Virginia.

Helen met her third husband, Bernard H. Ridder, at the Lake Placid Inn during the summer of 1929 while his second wife, Nell, was traveling in Europe.  

The man to whom they were married successively across three decades declared bankruptcy in 1934 in order to get out from under an alimony suit brought by Nell.

A year earlier Ridder had crossed the Atlantic to interview Adolf Hitler for the German-American newspaper Staats-Zeitung, which he owned. That fall, heckled by Nazi supporters at a convention of the United German Societies in New York, he recalled, “I suffered a great deal for defending Germany during the World War” and warned the delegates not to “stir racial agitation.”

However, Helen told her stepson later, one night in the late 1930s Bernard walked in the door and announced, “Pack a bag, we’re moving to Germany. Just one bag” – that’s what stuck with the languid Helen. I said no and that’s how the marriage ended, Helen confided. Did she object to living in Germany or to the single suitcase?

Mr. Ridder did not move to Germany, but a newspaper account of Helen’s own alimony suit described Bernard’s discovery of his wife’s 1938 car trip from the Catskills to the Adirondacks to Cape Cod with a handsome younger man.  

Scandalous Helen Ridder:
from the San Antonio Light, December 8, 1940

After Helen, Bernard quit the East Coast and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he met his fourth wife, the love of his life.

The three ex-wives stayed in Manhattan. The 1942 telephone book reveals “Mrs. Hilda Ridder” at 667 Madison Avenue, “Mrs. Bernard H. Ridder” (Nell) at 555 Park Avenue, and “Mrs. Helen B. Ridder” at 480 Park Avenue: close enough to pass each other regularly on the street. 

In 1960 the three women still lived a quick cab ride away from each other on the Upper East Side, their doorman residences made possible with Bernard’s money.

They loathed their ex-husband yet he enabled them to carry on stylishly through the postwar era, attending opening nights and entertaining those children and grandchildren they were allowed to see. The women were born in 1885, 1886, and 1887, years that slid fast into the past along with whatever else might have been true.

See posts January 20, 24, 28 2016 + September 20, 2017.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The California Days of Willard W. Beatty

Willard W. Beatty, early 1920s

It has long interested me that Willard W. Beatty was one of the few prominent progressive educators who came of age in the state of California. Most of his colleagues hailed from small towns east of the Mississippi River, from which they hoped to be released. Their hours were split between farming and studying.

Instead, Beatty was an urban person of the West, having grown up in San Francisco during the critical years between the 1906 Earthquake and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. He was naturally independent and open to the world. He could spend his time as he chose.

Without a doubt, Beatty’s life’s work reflected his enlightened youth in the Bay Area.

During the early 1930s when the Depression deepened, he grew ever more convinced that anything could be rebuilt from the ground up; he had seen San Francisco rise from the ashes. 

If he railed against the Hearst newspapers for opposing academic freedom; well, he had already done that as managing editor of the progressive journal, California Outlook

Having watched the Commonwealth Club set an agenda for change, Beatty believed in the power of advocacy through organization. With an activist uncle as his guardian, Beatty recognized that citizenship corresponded to action and education.

“I believe that Dad’s interest in education began when he was a student in Lick High School,” Willard Beatty’s son wrote to me. “They had a rather novel idea that education should be directed at the development of all aspects of an individual.”

San Francisco’s Lick High School started life as the California School of Mechanical Arts.* Endowed by the entrepreneur James M. Lick, a piano maker, in 1895, the school required that students spend half of their time in a skilled apprenticeship. Therefore Willard’s college preparatory work comprised equal parts manual training and academic studies.

Willard Beatty
Lick High School debate team, 1908

First in his high school class, Willard appeared in Lick’s yearbook, The Tiger, wearing the pince-nez popularized by Theodore Roosevelt. The inscription beside his photo stated: One who needs no eulogy, he speaks for himself. 

Since Lick had a debating society, it’s no surprise that Willard led it. One of his nicknames was Willard Jennings Beatty.   

“Fancy Beatty without words bombastic,” cracked the yearbook editors, who also noted that Willard had surprised his friends by performing the role of a bishop in the senior play: “notwithstanding his natural inclinations, he did not appear at all out of place in the clerical robes.” 

One must assume that Willard disputed religion.

And he had a great imagination, possibly influenced by his uncle’s penchant for mystery novels. In a short story entitled “The Lost Link,” Willard moves from New York to Egypt on the trail of “the greatest archaeologist whom the world has ever known” who has perished in an explosion at Beni Hassen. Descending into a cave, Willard’s character finds his hero crushed behind a giant statue of the Aztec War God, Huitzilopotchli, clutching a torn piece of paper that would have provided proof of a connection between the Egyptian and Mexican civilizations.

The story is very good.

In 1909, Willard graduated from Lick and went off to Berkeley. He planned to become an architect. 

Within a year or two, he fell in love with Elise Biedenbach, daughter of the longtime principal of Berkeley High School who was an early member of the Sierra Club and friend of John Muir. Charles L. Biedenbach’s parents “had come around the Horn in a sailing ship, fleeing as refugees from one of the oppressions in Prussia, and had landed in San Francisco and started a grocery store,” a grandson recalled in a 1993 interview. Both Charles and his wife, Lulu, graduated from UC-Berkeley. They were just a few years younger than Willard Beatty’s parents, also Berkeley alums.

Elise Biedenbach engagement announcement,
Oakland Tribune, November 28, 1913

By 1913, when Willard graduated and married Elise, his interest had shifted from architecture to education. He spent a year teaching at Oakland Polytechnic School. Then he became managing editor of California Outlook, which covered such issues as child labor, juvenile delinquency, Indian education, and conservation.

 “We don’t want too much dry stuff,” the journal’s editor, Meyer Lissner, wrote to Beatty;

You must look out for that. One fault with the paper is that it has been too heavy. We must try to popularize it or treat scientific subjects in a popular manner. . . What you say about the “Revolutionary Artists” sounds interesting.

The following year, Beatty joined the faculty of the San Francisco State Normal School and launched his career in education. 

At that time he was invited to join the Commonwealth Club of California, where he addressed the group about the League of Nations and served on committees on education and city planning.

By his early 30s, Beatty had distinguished himself in at least one important way: he had wrestled with problems related to social justice, urbanization, and acculturation long before entering the field of education, whereas many of his contemporaries encountered these issues further on, by way of their work in the schools. So he looked at things differently.

Unlike his peers, he never spent time getting out from under God-fearing elders.

And very significantly, Willard Beatty actually experienced a truly progressive high school education.

*Lick later merged with the Wilmerding School of Industrial Arts and the Lux School for Industrial Training for Girls. Today it is called Lick-Wilmerding High School.

See also: November 11, November 29, December 2, 2015; January 12 + August 3, 2016.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

San Francisco Story

Willard W. Beatty, age 15
The child’s parents, Mabel and William Beatty, met at the University of California-Berkeley during the early 1880s when the university was a scant fifteen years old. With Mabel’s younger sister Maude and older brother Earle, the couple made a foursome.

Student life was in full swing. Yearbooks reveal that Mabel, Maude, Earle and William participated enthusiastically in literary and glee clubs. All served as class officers. Earle hoped to become a novelist and the two sisters, teachers. The eldest of three brothers whose parents emigrated from Ireland, William planned to study law.

Mabel Walcott and William Beatty were
both active in student organizations at Berkeley.

“We have laid her course,” wrote Beatty of his peers in his essay as historian of the class of 1883; “straight for the noblest and highest.”

Yet that he could not do. In one of William Beatty’s early twists of the truth, he reported that his father, a policeman, had “conducted important milling operations and achieved large fortune several times.” Deception would be William’s downfall.

But for now, he studied law, set up a practice, and wooed Mabel for seven years while she lived and taught school in Livermore, on the eastern edge of the Bay Area. 

I imagine that Mabel had reservations about William since the courtship took so long. 

Finally married in 1890, they moved into an apartment in San Francisco and welcomed baby Willard a year later. William’s practice flourished. He commissioned an elegant home to be built at 2047 Pine Street, where the family moved in 1900.  

Mabel Beatty's observations of Willard's first year were included
in Notes on the Development of a Child, the 1899 thesis of
Milicent Washburn Shinn, a pioneering child psychologist who earned
a B.A. and a PhD at Berkeley.

But one year later Mabel died, and within a few months William fled creditors as a major embezzlement came to light.

“No one accuses him of dissipation,” reported one newspaper.  “He only lived beyond his means.  Jewelers, wine dealers, dry goods merchants, tailors, furniture houses, butchers, and vegetable vendors have claims against him.” The Pine Street house was sold and 10-year old Willard went to live with his uncle Earle.

Earle Ashley Walcott, around 1910 

Earle started his career as a journalist. His first venture, the Lodi Valley Review, tanked after nine months. He moved on quickly to edit the San Franciscan and then the San Francisco Chronicle. After working as a correspondent for the newly-established Los Angeles Tribune, he became editor of the San Francisco Examiner and finally the San Francisco Post

By 1910, he had published three novels – Blindfolded, The Open Door, and The Apple of Discord -- thrillers set in the Bay Area which drew on his detailed knowledge of the city’s underbelly: 

I have kept pretty closely to California in my writings. . . I’ve gone back to an earlier day in the city’s history – perhaps led by boyhood impressions. . . I have also taken the modern city a few months before the great conflagration, [now] replaced by cleaner if less picturesque structures.

California politics, culture, and social change – Earle Walcott lived and breathed in the thick of it.

He worked with the progressive Governor Hiram Johnson, the reform Mayor James Phelan, and the naturalist John Muir. He debated the future of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, public education, and California’s treatment of American Indians. 

Earle Walcott knew the traveler and author Robert Louis Stevenson, who counted Sonoma and Napa counties among his favorite places. He participated in the Bay Area’s Bohemian arts scene during the late 19th century, mixing with Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and Frank Norris.

Over time, Earle focused increasingly on the civic arena. In “Calamity’s Opportunity,” an essay which appeared in the Overland Monthly soon after the San Francisco Earthquake, Walcott wrote: “The great fire gives to San Francisco the opportunity to snatch profit out of disaster.” 

He urged adoption of a grand city plan that the Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham had presented to the board of commissioners one year earlier.

In 1909, Earle became executive secretary of the prestigious Commonwealth Club of California, whose members studied burning issues of the day. From this elevation, he set much of the reform agenda for the state as well as his city for two decades to come.

And in 1912, Mayor James Rolph appointed Earle to the Civil Service Commission. Of course he soon became its chair and continued to affect nearly every aspect of life in San Francisco until his death in 1931. 

Yet –

Arguably, Earle’s greatest influence was reflected in his nephew, who came under his wing at such a young age. Earle’s ideas and interests would kindle Willard’s lifelong pursuits.

See also 2015 posts: November 4 + 11 + 29, December 2; January 12 + 16, 2016, August 3, 2016. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Lost & Found

Martha Johnson Patterson, devoted daughter
of President Andrew Johnson

Around 1900, President Andrew Johnson’s daughter entrusted a trunk full of her father’s papers to her dear friend, a spiritualist and writer who lived in Brooklyn.

The friend, Laura Holloway Langford, said that she planned to write a biography of the late president. Author of Ladies of the White House (1870), the first anthology of stories about American First Ladies, Langford had become close to the beleaguered Johnson family soon after Lincoln’s assassination. She may even have moved into the White House.

The president’s daughter, Martha Johnson Patterson, died in 1901. By that time, Langford claimed, she had expressed the trunk back to the Johnson family in Greeneville, Tennessee. But Martha’s son insisted most of the papers never were returned.

His claim would seem to have validity. In 1903, Laura Langford wrote to John Hay, who had served as Lincoln’s private secretary, and asked him to verify Lincoln’s handwriting on several letters which were in her possession. She told Hay that the letters “were given to me by the daughter of President Johnson.” Evidently Hay authenticated Lincoln’s signature. 

Here it's necessary to share more information about Laura Langford – a woman of many passions including suffrage, temperance, phrenology, Theosophy, Wagner, vegetarianism, industrial arts, Shakerism, and the cooperative movement. Due to hefty sales of her First Ladies book, regular work as a writer for The Brooklyn Eagle, and marriage to Col. Edward C. Langford (an investor in the Brighton Beach Company), she had not worried about money for a long time.

Telegram from Laura Holloway to Martha Patterson
following the 1875 death of President Andrew Johnson

(Library of Congress image)

But Col. Langford went bankrupt in the 1890s and died in 1902, leaving Laura to struggle financially for the rest of her life. Around this time, Laura began negotiating to purchase a farm in Canaan, N.Y., which belonged to a branch of the Shaker community of New Lebanon, N.Y. Subsequently she moved from Brooklyn to this farm with some scheme in mind.

Laura Carter Holloway Langford, close friend
of the Johnson family and possibly a thief

And in 1907, she sold the valuable papers which were in the trunk that she never sent back to Greeneville, including five letters from Abraham Lincoln to Andrew Johnson, to a New York collector named George S. Hellman.

In the midst of the Panic of 1907, Hellman offered the five letters to J.P. Morgan, whom he regularly advised on the purchase of art and manuscripts. “The letters were indeed superb,” Hellman recounted in a memoir. “When Morgan heard the price – less than four figures for the entire collection – he said: ‘Yes, that’s very reasonable.’”

The rest of the papers that Laura sold to Hellman remained in the collector’s possession. In the winter of 1913, Hellman wrote to Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, asking if the library would like to acquire some of them. Putnam declined for lack of funds.

After the end of World War I, Hellman put the 33 items up at auction. The description in the catalogue read:

This collection, given by Andrew Johnson’s daughter, Martha Patterson, to her life-long and most intimate friend, Mrs. L.C. Langford . . . is in many ways the most remarkable collection ever offered for public sale relating to a President of the United States.

Henry E. Huntington, California railroad magnate and landowner, purchased the lot. The papers now reside in the Huntington Library in Los Angeles.

Laura Holloway Langford lived until 1930, dying with few possessions at her farm in Canaan.

The Ladies of the White House
2nd edition, 1881

*There is a wonderful book about Laura Holloway Langford and spiritualism, which offers much more biographical detail than I have given here: Yearning for the New Age: Laura Holloway-Langford and Late Victorian Spirituality by Diane Sasson (2012).

Sunday, January 3, 2016

“Well, world, what have you for me today?”

Cumberland Street in Marshall, Illinois, circa 1900;
boyhood home of Ignatius Donnelly Taubeneck

Leaving the farm, heading out – in search of education and the rest of the world. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, these departures accelerated among young Americans. The trend concerned President Theodore Roosevelt, who hoped to persuade young men and women to stick with the agricultural life.

In 1908, TR appointed the Country Life Commission, chaired by a brilliant Cornell University botanist with the inimitable name of Liberty Hyde Bailey. Bailey’s report contained three basic recommendations. 

First, make an exhaustive study of “the conditions that surround the business of farming and the people who live in the country.” 

Next, organize and expand agricultural extension work by colleges and universities. 

Finally, initiate a campaign to rebuild country life and spur “rural progress.” These ambitious plans launched the country life movement, which persisted with limited success through the New Deal.

Of course the children of farmers continued to get away. A large number became educators in urban areas, an essential development considering the exponential rise in public school enrollment. Many were fine teachers with interesting stories to tell.

Among them, a man named Ignatius Donnelly Taubeneck taught history and public speaking in Westchester County, N.Y., between 1930 and 1952. He had the habit of grandly opening a newspaper at the start of each class and demanding, “Well, world, what have you for me today?”

Born in 1892 in Clark County, Illinois, a region that contains the most fertile soil in the United States, Taubeneck grew up on a farm. His uncle, Herman, became national chair of the Populist Party and worked closely with a quirky Minnesota politician, Ignatius Donnelly, who made the fateful decision to endorse William Jennings Bryan for president in 1896. 

By throwing in the Populists’ lot with the Democratic Party, Donnelly ensured the demise of the People’s Party, as the Populists also were known.

Ignatius Donnelly served in the U.S. House and Minnesota legislature, as lieutenant governor, and as a state lecturer with the Minnesota Farmers Alliance. He championed the Freedmen’s Bureau after the Civil War and was a brilliant orator. He also wrote futuristic novels.

His namesake, “I.D.” Taubeneck, graduated from Illinois State Normal University in 1917, having participated in oratory, nature study, and theater clubs. For his senior essay, Taubeneck wrote about “Our Social Delinquent.”

Right after graduation, Taubeneck became a high school principal in a nearby town. He requested exemption from the draft, citing “internal strain.” 

But in 1918 he changed his mind, shipping off to France with hundreds of other young men from southern Illinois. He served as a first class private in the machine gun company, 58th Infantry, Fourth Division. “He was on his way to the front, and within the sound of the firing when the armistice was signed,” the Illinois State alumni magazine reported.

Instead of returning home, however, Taubeneck joined the faculty of a university that the American Expeditionary Forces organized during demobilization.

This will surely sound remarkable because nothing like it could happen today.

During World War I, the YMCA led an overseas educational program through which more than 300,000 American officers and soldiers studied French language, European geography and history, and other subjects “to gain an intelligent appreciation of the achievements and ideals of our allies and the great aims for which the allies were fighting.”

After the war, the YMCA handed off the program to the Army, and a special commission oversaw the creation of a campus and curriculum at Beaune, France. Nearly 10,000 soldiers – the sole requirement was a high school degree – attended classes there between March and June, 1919. The faculty of 300 included Taubeneck.

Eventually, he went home to Illinois and taught at his alma mater until a school superintendent in the New York City suburbs hired him as a high school teacher.  

Ignatius Taubeneck, 1920

Among the many things I.D. contributed to the community was his habit of prophecy. He would predict the results of presidential elections and major national and international events. Each prediction would be sealed and placed in a safe deposit box. 

By 1942, when The New Yorker wrote him up in “Talk of the Town,” Taubeneck had aced 57 major predictions and 83 minor ones.

He never bought a house, having grown up amidst farm foreclosures. Nearly every summer, Taubeneck told a reporter, he would travel around the country with his family, “trying to find out what people think, if anything.”

That sounds just about right for today.

The Little Time Traveler

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