Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Elihu Stout: Indiana's Newspaper Pioneer

Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison found himself in a quandary in the winter of 1803. Responsible for administering land stretching westward from the Ohio border to the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River to the Canadian border, Harrison had to ensure that the far-flung inhabitants of this region were aware of the work done by the territorial legislature in Vincennes. Toward that end, he sought a printer to publish the laws passed by the legislature. There was one problem: there were, at that time, no printers in business in the Indiana Territory. Instead, Harrison received permission from President James Madison to use the services of a Kentucky printer to publish the territorial laws.

By the summer of 1804, however, Harrison could use the expertise of an Indiana printer who had been trained in Bradford’s Lexington, Kentucky, shop: Elihu Stout had come to Vincennes. Purchasing a press and type in Frankfort, Kentucky, Stout arranged for a small craft to ship his equipment via the Kentucky River to Vincennes. Once his equipment had safely arrived in the territorial capital, Stout went to work. From his small house located on First and Buntin Streets, he issued on July 31 copies of the first newspaper in the territory, the Indiana Gazette, which were emblazoned with a quotation from Thomas Paine: “Independence is my happiness, and I relate things as they are, without respect to place or persons.”

Stout was born in Newark, New Jersey, on April 16, 1782 to Polly and Jediah Stout, a Revolutionary War veteran. When he was ten years old, Stout and his parents moved from the East Coast to the new lands in the West, eventually settling in Lexington, Kentucky. Four years later, Stout became an apprentice printer in a shop owned by Bradford, publisher of the Kentucky Gazette. As a young apprentice, Stout went through a painful initiation into the printing world. As the low man on the totem pole, apprentices were expected to run errands for the shop owner and his family, sweep the shop, keep the fires kindled, wash type, carry water for cleaning and wetting paper, and other onerous tasks.

By the time Stout finished his apprenticeship at age twenty-one, he was eager to start a newspaper of his own. Looking for opportunities wherever he could find them, Stout, in the spring of 1803, visited Vincennes. Situated on the east bank of the Wabash River, the town seemed to offer little inducement for a young entrepreneur like Stout. According to the 1801 census, there were 714 people living in Vincennes, with another 819 residing in the surrounding area. The potential audience for Stout's newspaper consisted mostly of, one writer uncharitably put it, “French, half-breed Indians, and a straggling number of trappers and traders,” most of who could not read the English language.

There were powerful inducements luring Stout to settle in Vincennes. Legend has it that Harrison promised to name Stout as the territory’s printer, which would have provided the New Jersey native with a ready source of income for printing both the laws of the Indiana Territory and those enacted by Congress, if he established a newspaper in Vincennes. The governor was anxious to have a newspaper in the territory not only to publicize the government's actions, but also as a means of helping to bring together the diverse peoples whom lived in the region.

For Stout, Vincennes offered him the opportunity to manage his own newspaper without competition. After he had decided upon a community in which to locate his print shop, however, Stout’s real troubles began; that is, buying and transporting the necessary equipment to his new home in the Indiana Territory. With financial assistance from his father (Stout borrowed more than $2,500 from Jediah Stout over the years), in the spring of 1804 the young editor bought a wooden printing press in Frankfort, Kentucky, and had it shipped down the Ohio River and up the Wabash River to Vincennes: the trip took three months.          
The first issue of Stout's Indiana Gazette appeared on July 31, 1804. In the second issue, dated August 7, 1804, the publisher outlined the principles governing his new venture. The newspaper would strive to collect and publish “such information as will give a correct account of the productions and natural advantages of the Territory,” along with the latest foreign and domestic news. Stout proclaimed that the “political complexion of the paper shall be truly Republican; but it shall never be prostituted to party.” Indeed, he welcomed essays of “any political complexion,” but also warned that the columns of the Gazette “shall never be tarnished with matte that can offend the eye of decency, or raise a blush upon the cheek of modesty and virtue.”

Subscriptions to the weekly newspaper, issued on a single sheet, were available at $2.50 per year. If the paper had to be mailed to the subscriber, the subscriber had to pay the postage. In lieu of cash, which was hard to come by on the frontier, Stout instead accepted as payment such items as beef, port, bacon, corn, cotton, whiskey, wheat, sugar, potatoes, butter, eggs, tobacco, salt, flour, tallow, and oats—all of which were standard articles of barter in the pioneer economy.
Along with the danger of fire and other natural catastrophes, there were numerous problems besetting anyone foolhardy enough to attempt to publish a newspaper on the frontier during the early nineteenth century Securing the necessary paper for printing a newspaper proved to be a difficult task for Stout. Until 1826, when one was opened north of Madison, there were no paper mills in Indiana. Instead of a local supplier, Stout had to rely on paper from a mill in Georgetown, Kentucky, which he transported by packhorse via the Buffalo Trace, a rough path leading from the Falls of the Ohio near Louisville to Vincennes. There were times, however, when paper stocks were so low that Stout had to reduce the size of his newspaper or even suspend publication for a time.

The Sun’s editor often had to apologize for the lack of news on important subjects due to receiving no mail for that week. In an item to his subscribers in the  December 31, 1808 issue, Stout blasted the post rider for his negligence: “We say negligence; because he pretends, (and surely it is nothing more than pretence) that he [the post rider] could not cross the White river, altho’ report says that some one concerned in the ferry gave him a certificate that the attempt would be hazardous;--and yet the river has been constantly crossed and recrossed without danger; and several gentlemen left this place and proceeded to Louisville within a few hours of the return of the post-rider.”

Even when Stout could acquire adequate paper supplies and fresh news from the mails, he faced yet another hurdle: obtaining payment from subscribers. This difficulty is apparent upon checking the Sun’s first column on the front page. Prominently displayed in the upper left-hand corner of each issue is an announcement listing subscription costs and the terms whereby advertisements would be accepted. Stout concludes this list with the frugal note that all letters to the editor had to be postpaid. Year after year the editor beseeched his readers to pay what was owed him. In 1809 Stout recollected in his newspaper the old adage, “and he thinks it cannot be applied to him—‘he is a cross dog that bites before he barks’ as he has been growling and barking at some of his subscribers for a long time.”  

To help keep his printing business solvent, Stout printed and offered for sale such books as The Laws of the Indiana Territory and The Real Principles of Roman Catholics, and did other printing work—handbills, circulars, letters, blanks, etc.—needed by the community. Notices were also solicited for his newspaper that offered everything from goods for sale at Vincennes firms like Jones and Dubois to warnings from jilted husbands that they would no longer honor the debts contracted by their wayward wives.

Along with printing his newspaper, Stout involved himself in other areas of the community’s life. He was a charter member of the Vincennes Library Association, helped found the Vincennes Theatrical Association, and was a devoted Mason, rising to the rank of grand master of Indiana in 1827. In 1845 President James K. Polk named Stout as the postmaster for Vincennes. That same year, the longtime editor sold the Sun, ending forty-one years in the newspaper business.

After selling his business, Stout kept active by serving as Knox County’s recorder of deeds from 1850 until 1860 and also as clerk of the board of trustees of the borough of Vincennes. On June 22, 1860, at age seventy-eight, Stout died. According to a relative, Stout’s death was very sudden and “hastened by the troubles in the Democratic Party in 1860, which he believed would result in the dissolution of the Union or a long and bloody war.”

Most Indiana historians would probably agree with one scholar’s assessment that Stout was not “a great nor even an outstanding newspaper man.” The editor, however, played as key a role as leaders like Harrison in transforming what was once a wilderness into a viable political entity by weekly informing the area’s residents about the actions of both the territorial and national governments. In examining Stout's long career in the newspaper and printing business, Logan Esarey of Indiana University made the assessment that “when the factors of civilization are arranged by history more in the order of their importance, the invasion of Elihu Stout and his printing press will be second only to that of George Rogers Clark.”

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Sinking of Marquis de Lafayette

The sidewheel steamboat S.S. Mechanic was a familiar sight on the Ohio River in the 1820s. On Sunday, May 8, 1825, the shallow-draft craft used its best asset—its speed—to quickly transport a French aristocrat and his traveling companions to a celebration in Louisville, Kentucky.

The boat never reached its destination. Around midnight, approximately 125 miles from Louisville near the present-day Indiana town of Cannelton, the ship struck a submerged log and started taking on water. Although the Mechanic’s crew and passengers all managed to make their way safely to shore, Captain Wyllys Hall was distraught. The next morning, Hall stayed behind, sadly telling Auguste Levasseur, the French nobleman’s private secretary: “Never will my fellow citizens pardon me for the peril to which Lafayette was exposed last night.”
The foreign visitor who came close to losing his life on that pitch dark, rainy night was Marquis de Lafayette. Hero of the American and French revolutions, the sixty-seven-year-old Lafayette had been visiting southern and western states at the time of the shipwreck as part of his triumphal grand tour of the United States. Cities (including Lafayette, Indiana), towns, villages, counties, and streets were named in his honor and communities throughout the nation competed for the pleasure of Lafayette’s company at extravagant parties. Just four days after his near disaster on the Ohio River, Lafayette stopped in Jeffersonville, Indiana, for a reception that Governor James B. Ray said would be “marked by posterity, as the brightest epoch in the calendar of Indiana.”
Lafayette had arrived in America for his grand tour on August 124, 1824. He received an enthusiastic greeting as a “Hero of Two Worlds” for his fight on behalf of Republican government in the United States and France. After visiting New York and Washington, D.C., Lafayette left to tour the rest of the country, meeting such illustrious Americans as Andrew Jackson, whom he visited in Nashville, Tennessee, at his home, The Hermitage.
On May 8, after attending a dinner in Shawneetown, Illinois, Lafayette and his traveling party boarded the Mechanic for the trip to Louisville. At about 10 p.m., according to Levasseur, George Lafayette came below after being up on deck and remarked to his father’s secretary that he was surprised “that in so dark a night, our captain did not come to, or at least abate the speed of the vessel.” Accustomed by now, however, to traveling in all kinds of adverse conditions, the two men turned their conversation to other matters.
Shortly after midnight, the ship’s passengers were jolted awake “by a horrible shock” that stopped the vessel dead in the water on the Kentucky side of the river approximately fifty yards from shore. Seizing a light, Levasseur, joined by the captain, opened the hold and found that the ship had “half filled with water, which rushed in torrents through a large opening.”
Returning to his cabin, Levasseur found Lafayette awake and beginning to be dressed by his valet. “What news?” Lafayette asked his secretary. “That we shall go to the bottom, gentlemen, if we cannot extricate ourselves, and we have not a moment to spare,” Levasseur quickly responded. Lafayette, however, remained unruffled by the danger. Upon leaving his cabin, he halted on the stairs when he remembered that he had left behind on his table a snuffbox ornamented with George Washington’s portrait. Levasseur and George Lafayette managed to convince the marquis to proceed while Levasseur went back and retrieved the item.
According to Perry County legend, Lafayette, as he eased into a small lifeboat, slipped, fell into the river, and nearly drowned. But Levasseur paints an entirely different picture in his account. Noting that the dark night and the small boat’s instability made it difficult to step off the already listing steamboat, the secretary reported that he got into the craft and “while the captain was keeping it as near the vessel as possible, two persons helped him [Lafayette] in, holding him by the shoulders, while I received him in my arms.” As soon as Lafayette found a safe seat, the yawl pushed off from the sinking Mechanic and steered its way to the left [Indiana] shore, reaching land in less than three minutes.
Lafayette, who had remained calm throughout the disaster, lost his coolness when he discovered that his son was not among the nine people on the lifeboat. “He was filled with anxiety,” Levasseur said of Lafayette, “and in a state of the most violent agitation. He began to call, ‘George! George!’ with all his strength.” On a second trip back to the Mechanic, which had a small portion of its roof and wheel house sticking out of the water, Levasseur discovered George Lafayette tranquilly waiting to be rescued.
The approximately fifty crew and passengers all managed to make their way to safety, either by being rescued by the lifeboat or by swimming to shore. The survivors lit fires to dry themselves, and even found a mattress, dry on one side, on which Lafayette slept. At daybreak, the passengers searched through the wreckage that the covered the shoreline for their belongings.
Lafayette’s unexpected appearance on Hoosier soil helped to inspire years of storytelling in Ohio River communities. After the shipwreck, according to a 1916 Perry County history, “only the simple log cabin of a sturdy pioneer, James Cavender, offered shelter to the highborn nobleman who had slept under the palace-roof of Versailles, yet Hoosier hospitality gave of its best.” Also, the history claimed that the next morning news of Lafayette’s unexpected visit had spread like wildfire through the region, bringing a number of farmers and their children to the scene to catch a glimpse of the hero. Lafayette supposedly received his “rustic visitors” in a cleft between two rocks where a spring flowed—a site known today as Lafayette Spring.
Legend has it that Lafayette also made stops in the Indiana communities of Madison, Lawrenceburg, and Vevay. Charles N. Thompson, trying to unravel the mystery in a 1928 issue of the Indiana Magazine of History, concluded that the Frenchman “never visited any other part of the state of Indiana than the place in the woods where he involuntarily spent the night on the shore of the Ohio River near the present site of Cannelton, and later, Jeffersonville.” Thompson also cast doubt on Lafayette’s stay overnight in the Cavender cabin and subsequent entertainment of local visitors.

The young state of Indian provided Lafayette quite an elaborate welcome on May 12 when he visited Jeffersonville. At 11 a.m., Lafayette stepped off the steamboat General Pike and received a twenty-four-gun salute, shot three times, noted a dispatch by a Hoosier printed in the Louisville Public Advertiser. Under escort from three artillery companies, Lafayette journeyed to the home of the late Governor Thomas Posey, located on the west corner of Front and Fort streets overlooking the river.
Upon reaching the Posey mansion, Lafayette received formal greetings from acting Indiana governor James B. Ray. After a welcoming speech by Ray, and remarks form Lafayette, the general attended a reception where he met a number of local citizens, including some Revolutionary War veterans.

At 3 p.m., Lafayette attended a dinner in the woods just above Posey’s home. Following dinner, a number of toasts were made, including those to the memory of Washington, the Continental Congress, the Congress of 1824, the president of the United States, and to “Major General Lafayette, united with Washington in our hearts—We hail his affectionate visit with a heart-cheering welcome.”  Lafayette offered his own toast: “Jeffersonville and Indiana—May the rapid progress of this young state, a wonder among wonders, more and more evince the blessings of republican freedom!”

Three hours after the dinner started, Lafayette left the table and was taken back to the General Pike for the return trip to Louisville, where he was to be the guest of honor at a ball that evening. “Never again did Lafayette set his foot on the soil of Indiana and never again has Indiana entertained a more noble or a more distinguished guest,” Thompson concluded.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Governor and the Publisher

In addition to showcasing such national political figures as U.S. senators Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy, the 1968 Indiana presidential primary shone a spotlight on some fascinating Hoosier politicians, especially Governor Roger Branigin, a Harvard-educated lawyer from Franklin, Indiana, and the owner of the state’s leading newspapers, Eugene C. Pulliam.

An engaging, witty speaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of the state’s history, Branigin had initially agreed to run as a stand-in for President Lyndon Johnson in the primary. With Johnson’s announcement that he would not seek or accept his party’s nomination for president, a stunned Branigin nevertheless decided to remain in the race as a favorite-son candidate. He hoped to win some influence for Indiana’s sixty-three delegates at the Democratic convention in Chicago, slated to be held in August 1968. Time and time again during the campaign he repeated that national issues were not at stake in Indiana. “What is at stake here,” he told his supporters, “is who is going to represent the state of Indiana in Chicago.”

Branigin enjoyed several advantages over his opponents in the primary. With his tight control over patronage in the state, the governor could count on the expertise of Democratic Party regulars in each of Indiana’s ninety-two counties. To fund his campaign, Branigin could draw upon the funds raised by having several thousand patronage employees “voluntarily” kicking back to the party 2 of their salaries. Democratic officials throughout the state also feared that if Kennedy were nominated for president, his candidacy would hurt local candidates in the November election. With these factors in mind, Democratic Party chairmen in all but one of Indiana’s counties threw their support to the governor.

In addition to the support of elected officials, Branigin enjoyed the unwavering editorial assistance of Pulliam, the powerful owner and publisher of the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News, as well as newspapers in Muncie and Vincennes. Pulliam did all he could in his newspaper to aid Branigin and defeat Kennedy, whom the newspaper labeled as a carpetbagger ready to buy the election with unlimited cash. The newspaper gave the governor’s effort page-one coverage and even peddled him as a possible candidate for vice president. Referring to his time delivering copies of the Star as a young man, Branigin joked: “I used to carry Pulliam, and he has been carrying me ever since

The governor noted in his daily journal that Pulliam agreed with his position to “hold the line for the Indiana delegation so as to be more effective in Chicago—and press my candidacy as far as prudence and good judgment permits.” The Democratic governor had been amazed that Pulliam, a strong supporter of Republican causes, had promoted his candidacy day after day in his newspaper, “sometimes when there was no news—or reason. You can’t purchase such support.” Although he did not know what the long-term effect might be for the primary contest, Branigin noted Democrats should remember that “Republicans can elect you!”

Born in Ulysses, Kansas, Pulliam had attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, before leaving after his junior year to work in newspapers. He quickly rose in the industry, working for the Kansas City Star and serving as editor of the Atchison Champion before buying a number of newspapers in Indiana, including the Lebanon Reporter, Franklin Evening Star, and the Indianapolis Star. According to his grandson, Pulliam was at heart “an old fashioned editor who went into political battles with both fists swinging.”

During the 1968 Indiana primary, Pulliam used his power as publisher to bolster Branigin’s efforts in Indiana, and hamper the Kennedy campaign at all costs. During John Kennedy’s administration, Pulliam, who also owned newspapers in Phoenix, Arizona, had developed a liking for the president’s wit, but never developed any such warm feelings for Robert Kennedy. In Pulliam’s mind, the younger Kennedy possessed an unattractive personality that sorted people into two distinct categories—those who were with him, and those who were against him. “You could never relax and just be with him, like you could with Jack,” Pulliam said.

Although warned by his assistant publisher, his son, Gene, and the Star’s managing editor, William Dyer, that his efforts against Kennedy might harm the newspaper’s reputation, the publisher refused to pull any punches. Longtime Star city editor Lawrence “Bo” Connor remembered receiving a memo from Pulliam that read: “I think whenever Senator [Eugene] McCarthy comes to Indiana that we should give him as full coverage as possible—but this does not apply to a man named Kennedy.”

The Star treated Kennedy and McCarthy as unwelcome outsiders. Editorial cartoons blasting Kennedy for using his fortune to buy Indiana votes appeared on news pages. One infamous cartoon on the front page of the Star’s April 24 issue under the title “Guests in the House!” had McCarthy and Kennedy wooing a worried woman labeled “Mrs. Indiana” as Branigin looked balefully down at them behind his glasses. In the drawing, McCarthy tickles the woman under the chin while Kennedy’s hand appears to be fondling her breast.

The Star also gave continued coverage to charges from St. Angelo and Branigin that Kennedy was out to buy the election with his family fortune. The newspaper ran on its front page an editorial from the New York Times titled “Is Indiana For Sale?” The editorial noted that the Kennedy campaign estimated they would spend $500,000 in the state, but nobody would be “surprised at an expenditure by them twice or three times as great.” Because Indiana had no effective law requiring reports on campaign expenditures, the Times editorial said no one would ever know the real amount. In reprinting the editorial, however, the Star edited out a mention that the Branigin campaign could draw upon for financial support what the Times called “the ancient and disreputable practice” of levying 2 percent from patronage employee’s paychecks.

By the end of the campaign, Kennedy campaign aides had called on the American Society of Newspaper Editors’s Freedom of Information Committee to investigate the Pulliam newspapers for what he called “outrageous and callous disregard for fairness.” Pulliam fired back at Kennedy, comparing him to a spoiled child. “When he doesn’t get what he wants, he bellyaches about it,” Pulliam said in a statement. “The facts are Kennedy and his entourage received more space in the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News than any other candidate, largely for the reason he brought his whole family, including his mother, to Indianapolis and they made news and we printed the news and the pictures.”

The Kennedy campaign attempted to counter the reach of the Pulliam newspapers by going over their heads and concentrating on television and radio advertising. In general, however, noted press secretary Frank Mankiewicz, there was not much Kennedy could do about what he saw as biased political coverage. One new technique employed by the campaign to circumvent the Indianapolis newspapers came from Jim Dunn, who had worked on Democrat Pat Brown’s gubernatorial contests in California. Dunn set up a recording machine in Kennedy campaign headquarters in Indianapolis with a phone line and notified every radio station in the state that they could call twice a day to obtain a live feed of Kennedy’s speeches to use in their news reports and programs. Dunn went to every Kennedy speech, recorded them, edited them, and also provided commentary on the size of the crowd and the location of the speech. “It was a good device,” Mankiewicz recalled. “We got a lot of good radio publicity that way.”

Kennedy attempted to joke about the rough coverage he received in the Star. During a visit to Indianapolis on May 1, Kennedy made brief remarks to an enormous crowd of approximately three thousand people that pressed around his car as it traveled on Monument Circle. Lacking the proper permit to make a speech, the senator said he did not want to say too much and risk spending the last few days of the campaign reading the Indianapolis Star while incarcerated. 

In a talk at the Christian Theological Seminary later in the day, Kennedy turned serious, noting he had always considered the Manchester Union-Leader, run by arch-conservative New Hampshire publisher William Loeb, as the country’s nastiest newspaper. “I think, really, the Indianapolis Star must run it neck and neck,” he said. “I’ve been here two weeks, and I’ve never seen a worse newspaper. . . . It’s certainly the most distorted, I think, one of the most warped.” He went on to say, in a dig at Pulliam, that it must be a great thing to “have a toy like that.” The Indianapolis Star reporter who covered the event at the seminary failed to include Kennedy’s remarks about the newspaper, noting only that the candidate made digressed from his remarks to indicate “his displeasure with some of the news coverage he encounters in Indiana.”

As the campaign neared its home stretch, Pulliam’s son had convinced his father to give equal space to all campaigns by running news briefs about their efforts along the bottom of the front page. Branigin, however, continued to be the newspaper’s main focus. The front page of the Star on primary election day, May 7, had a large headline above the fold reading: “Branigin Predicts Victory.” Later that fall, in a meeting with Indianapolis executives, William Dyer, the Star’s general manager, tried to convince Pulliam that such slanted news coverage should never be allowed to happen again in the newspaper. After taking time to puff on his cigar, Pulliam finally said: “Well, I guess we did go a little too far.”

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Robert L. Sherrod, Ernie Pyle, and the Battle of Okinawa

On April 9, 1945, while covering the American invasion of Okinawa, located only 330 miles from Japan, two war correspondents, one a veteran of the Pacific War and the other a newcomer to the theater, were busy writing stories about the battle in a room aboard the USS Panamint, a McKinley-class command ship that served as the flagship of Rear Admiral Lawrence F. Reifsnider. As the clacking of their typewriter keys slackened, the two men—Time magazine’s Robert L. Sherrod and Scripps-Howard News Service columnist Ernie Pyle, who both had been firsthand observers of fighting during the war, discussed how they had grown tired of the grind of combat and were looking forward to going home.

In fact, Sherrod planned to leave for the United States in a couple of days. “I’m getting too old to stay in combat with these kids,” Pyle told Sherrod, “and I’m going to go home, too, in about a month. I think I’ll stay back around the airfields with the Seabees and engineers in the meantime and write some stories about them.” (Pyle had written a U.S. Navy public relations officer he knew that he had a “spooky feeling that I’ve been spared once more and that it would be asking for it to tempt Fate again.”)

As he prepared to leave the Panamint, Sherrod could not find the ship’s mess treasurer, to whom he owed $2.50 for two days’ meals. Pyle agreed to pay the bill for his colleague, and asked Sherrod to see about forwarding his mail when he made it to the American base on Guam. From there, Sherrod began his long voyage home, traveling to Pearl Harbor, San Francisco, and, finally, New York.

The encounter on the Panamint marked the last time Sherrod saw Pyle alive, as the Time correspondent left Okinawa on April 11. While in Hawaii, Sherrod heard the news of Pyle’s death from Japanese gunfire on April 18 while on a mission with the U.S. Army’s Seventy-Seventh Infantry Division. “I never learned which doughboy of the Seventy-Seventh Division persuaded Ernie to change his mind and go on the Ie Shima invasion off the west coast of Okinawa,” said Sherrod. “But Ernie rarely refused a request from a doughboy, or any other friend.” The death of Pyle, who Sherrod praised as being better than anyone else at registering the feeling of the average man about the war, made national and international headlines, but he was just one of many on Okinawa, American and Japanese, who lost their lives in some of the costliest fighting of the war.

By the time major combat operations for Operation Iceberg ceased near the end of June, more than 12,000 Americans had been killed along with approximately 110,000 of the Japanese military and anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 civilians. Offshore, the U.S. Navy had thirty-six ships sunk and 368 damaged due to relentless Japanese kamikaze attacks. The landscape on Okinawa’s southern line resembled that of a World War I–era battlefield, with more than 300,000 soldiers and civilians jammed into an area about the distance between Capitol Hill and Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., noted William Manchester, who served as a sergeant with the Marine Corps and fought on the island. “You could smell the front long before you saw it; it was one vast cesspool,” recalled Manchester. “The two great armies, squatting opposite one another in mud and smoke, were locked together in unimaginable agony.” Eugene B. Sledge of Company K, Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, remembered that he and his buddies fought in an “environment so degrading I believed we had been flung into hell’s own cesspool.” Sherrod could only reflect on what he had heard during a pre-invasion intelligence briefing, when an officer said U.S. soldiers and marines should “expect resistance to be most fanatical.” It was.

Sherrod’s coverage of the last battle in the Pacific war began with a sober final intelligence briefing on the Panamint, after which “nobody could have felt overconfident.” After hearing from invasion planners that the Okinawa landings were expected to be “horrendous—worse than Iwo,” according to Sherrod, Pyle said to him, “‘What I need now is a great big drink.’ We did have a drink. Many of them.” Ulithi’s jovial commander, Commodore Oliver Owen “Scrappy” Kessing, had arranged a farewell party at the officers’ club (the Black Widow) on Asor Island for the correspondents and high-ranking officers from the navy and First and Sixth Marine Divisions. The party included a band and, “miraculously,” women—about seventy nurses from the six hospital ships in the anchorage, plus two women radio operators from a Norwegian ship. “Everybody got drunk . . . as people always do the last night ashore,” Sherrod recalled.

The next morning, as the approximately forty reporters and photographers left Asor for their assigned ships, Kessing had an African American band on the dock playing its own “boogie-woogie” version of sad farewell music. Also on hand to see them off was a Seabee lieutenant whose detachment had built most of the base and a special guest, Coast Guard Commander Jack Dempsey, the former boxing champion. Someone in the crowd on the dock shouted out a warning to Pyle—famous for his columns focusing on the average GIs in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France—to be sure to keep his head down on Okinawa. “Listen, you bastards,” Pyle joked to his colleagues, “I’ll take a drink over every one of your graves.” Then, he turned to Dempsey, who, Sherrod noted, weighed about twice as much as the rail-thin reporter, put up his fists in mock belligerence, and asked the former boxer, “Want to fight?” It all made for a pleasant trip for Sherrod who, along with Jay Eyerman, a photographer from Life magazine, had been assigned to the Coast Guard transport USS Cambria, home also to the headquarters of the Sixth Marine Division. “This is the smoothest working staff I’ve ever seen,” Commodore Herbert Knowles said of the marines on the Cambria. “They know what they want; they know how to load a ship. They don’t have to ask the general every time a decision has to be made.”

The Sixth Marines needed able commanders if they were to survive what awaited them on Okinawa, an island sixty miles long and three to ten miles wide and well within range of bases from which Japanese kamikaze planes could reach the more than 1,300 U.S. ships involved in the invasion. Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner, commander of the Tenth Army, devised a plan in which two marine divisions (the Sixth and First) and two army divisions (the Seventh and Ninety-Sixth) would land on west-central beaches near the village of Hagushi. The island’s topography, especially its mountainous regions on its southern end near the ancient castle town of Shuri, made it ideal for Japanese forces of the Thirty-Second Army under the command of Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima to construct fortifications in caves and bunkers that could rain destruction upon the advancing enemy. 

The Japanese planned on letting the Americans land unopposed, then isolate them ashore to be annihilated in a “decisive battle” once the fleet had been destroyed by kamikaze attacks from both the sea and air. After the fighting ended, U.S. troops discovered that in just one sector of the enemy’s defenses they had faced sixteen grenade launchers, eighty-three light machine guns, forty-one heavy machine guns, seven 47-mm antitank guns, six field guns, two mortars, and two 70-mm howitzers. The Japanese soldiers on Okinawa took as their motto: “One plane for one warship, one boat for one ship, one man for ten of the enemy or one tank.” Okinawa itself stood as a formidable obstacle to a successful invasion, noted Sherrod. “The island abounded in flies, mosquitoes, mites, rats, and poisonous snakes,” he said.

While awaiting the invasion on his transport, Sherrod spent several hours listening to propaganda broadcasts from Radio Tokyo, a station he had first come across while at sea with the U.S. Third Fleet before the invasion of Iwo Jima. Radio Tokyo’s broadcasts were made in English every hour on the hour, usually in the afternoon, and featured commentaries on Japanese achievements in science and newscasts slanted toward home consumption, as well as providing “aging popular music” and messages from American and British prisoners of war made under pressure. “Anyone listening exclusively to Radiotokyo could only conclude that Japan is winning the war,” said Sherrod. “Radiotoyko permits no admissions of death or of retreat such as even [Nazi propaganda minister Joseph] Goebbels must sometimes make.” 

Even before the U.S. fleet reached Okinawa, Radio Tokyo claimed that its forces had sunk an American battleship, six cruisers, seven destroyers, and a minesweeper. The broadcasters for the “Zero Hour” program Sherrod listened to on the Cambria interspersed their wild reports of success with banter and music. Before playing a song titled “Going Home,” one of the broadcasters introduced the tune as a “little juke-box music for the boys and make it hot, because the boys are going to catch hell soon, and they might as well get used to the heat.” The Japanese broadcasters failed in their attempt to strike fear into the hearts of their audience. Sherod noted that the few sailors who sat around the communication room on the transport listening to Radio Tokyo “acted as bored as men who had seen a Grade B movie three times.”

Sherrod could never have anticipated what awaited the marines and soldiers when they landed on Okinawa on April 1, Easter Sunday and April Fool’s Day. It proved to be quite an April Fool’s prank by the Japanese. Early on, it looked like the reception on the beaches would be hot, as kamikazes were active seven hours before the start of the invasion. “Many times before daylight the sky around us was pierced by anti-aircraft tracer bullets, but no enemy planes got within shooting distance of the Cambria,” said Sherrod. The suicide planes did cause some damage to the transport USS Hinsdale and two Landing Ships, Tank (LSTs) carrying troops of the Second Marine Division making a diversionary demonstration south of Okinawa. The U.S. troops who landed ashore on L-Day (Love-Day in the voice signal alphabet), however, “stepped ashore with slightly more opposition than they would have had in maneuvers off the coast of California. To say merely that they were bewildered is to gild the lily of understatement,” Sherrod observed.

Missing from the landing beaches on the west coast from north of Kadena southward halfway to Naha was the usual deadly rain of withering machine-gun fire, nine-inch rockets, and 320-mm mortars. Within three hours, the First Marine Division had taken Yontan Airfield against only a few shots from isolated snipers at a cost of two killed and nine wounded. At 10:00 a.m. Sherrod wrote in his notebook: “This is hard to believe.” The news was the same for the soldiers, with the Seventh Division stepping from their amtracs onto a seawall “as easily as if they had been on a pleasant fishing trip,” noted the correspondent. The soldiers moved on to capture Katena Airfield after disposing of a solitary machine-gun position. 

On Okinawa, Sherrod discovered half-heartedly constructed pillboxes, most of which seemed to have been abandoned long ago. “Only a few [mortar] bursts were fired at the landing amtracs, and none of them caused any casualties,” he said. A relieved Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner radioed a message to Admiral Chester Nimitz in Hawaii that read: “I may be crazy but it looks like the Japanese have quit the war, at least in this sector.” The more realistic Nimitz responded: “Delete all after ‘crazy.”

Sherrod, too, expected stiffer opposition to come, realizing that the Japanese had “given up their beaches above Naha and moved farther south.” What nobody could foresee on the invasion’s first day, or in the two weeks that followed, was that the enemy “would have the strength to fight as fiercely as they finally did—else why had they let us ashore so easily?” he asked. A marine officer proved to be prophetic when he said to Sherrod: “This is the finest Easter present we could have received. But we’ll get a bellyful of fighting before this thing is over.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Reporter and the Mine Disaster

The bodies began coming up from deep within the bowels of the earth days after the first explosion at the Centralia coal mine on March 25, 1947. Members of the Illinois prairie community of Centralia began hearing about how an explosive charge meant to dislodge coal had ignited the unstable coal dust permeating the air more than five hundred feet below ground at the mine south of town in Wamac.

The wives of the miners whose fate was not yet known gathered at the washhouse—the place where during the work week their husbands changed out of their grimy, coal-streaked clothes at the end of their shifts. Avoiding the rescue teams wearing their oxygen tanks and “other awkward paraphernalia of disaster,” the women gravitated toward sitting beneath their loved ones’ clothing, settling in for the long wait to learn about their men’s fate.

Ambulances from Centralia and nearby towns idled their engines in the cold night air, in an attempt by the men inside to keep warm as they waited to be called upon to transport the deceased to the local Greyhound bus station, which officials had converted into a temporary morgue. As a shiny limousine drove away from the mine, taking with it one of the 111 men killed in the disaster, a friend of the deceased, standing with others in the crowd, remarked, “I bet it’s the only time he ever rode in a Cadillac.”

A year after the disaster, Harper’s magazine, in its March 1948,  reserved twenty-eight pages for a lengthy examination of the Centralia mine blast. The story, written by freelance writer John Bartlow Martin and titled “The Blast in Centralia No. 5: A Mine Disaster No One Stopped,” praised by the Harper’s editors as a “top-notch reporting job, to be compared . . . with John Hersey’s ‘Hiroshima,’” shocked the nation. Illustrated with twenty-four drawings by social-realist artist Ben Shahn, the story, the longest ever printed in Harper’s in its approximately hundred-year history, told about the helpless miners and their struggle to save their lives, only to come face to face with an uncaring government bureaucracy, lackadaisical union officials, and greedy mine owners more concerned about profits than their workers’ lives.

Later reprinted in condensed form in Reader’s Digest, a magazine with the largest paid circulation in the world, the article, written by Martin in spite of threats of violence against him made by mining officials, played a major role in bringing about the downfall of Illinois’s Republican governor Dwight H. Green and electing Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson. The federal government also stepped in and enacted a stricter safety code for mines. Martin, however, offered his readers scant hope that a similar disaster might not befall another mining community in the future. He remembered the somber words of a young miner he met sipping a beer at a saloon in a neighboring town. Martin reported the scene as follows:

‘I got a wife and one kid. It takes a lot of money to raise kids. Where else could I make thirteen-o-five a day? The railroads pay eight, nine dollars. And that’s all there is around here.’ At a table in a corner a couple of old miners are arguing quietly, and behind the bar the lady bartender is listening sympathetically to a lady customer whose husband is always crabbing about what she cooks. The young miner says, ‘Sometimes I’d like to leave for good. But where’d I go? I don’t know anything else. I don’t know what hell you would call it. Well, it is life, in a way too. I just wish my life away, when I go below I just wish it was tomorrow. Wish my life away. And I guess the others are the same way, too.’ 

Only dimly aware of the disaster at first, Martin began his work on the Centralia explosion following a suggestion from a Reader’s Digest editor he had previously worked with, Paul Palmer, who promised him a large fee ($2,500) and offered to pay his expenses (the Digest often planted stories in other magazines with small budgets, making their own arrangements with writers and then reprinting the article). Martin then broached the idea to an editor at Harper’s, who agreed to read the article when it was finished. “I set forth . . . thinking, ‘I’ve got a hell of a nerve, starting out single-handed, with nothing but my typewriter, to overthrow the political machine of the governor of Illinois,’” Martin recalled.

To uncover what had happened at the mine Martin, a former newspaper reporter, began his research in Saint Louis, Missouri. The Saint Louis Post-Dispatch had done yeoman work in exposing Green’s failure to prevent the tragedy in spite of numerous warnings that dangerous conditions existed at the mine, including a large accumulation of volatile coal dust. For its efforts, the newspaper won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for public service. “The Post-Dispatch editors gave me access to their files,” Martin said. “They were proud of what they had done and well they should have been; they helped me, for they wanted the story told.”

From Saint Louis, Martin traveled the approximately sixty miles east to Centralia. The town of sixteen thousand looked nothing like Martin had expected it to be. Instead of a “dismal [coal] company town” like ones in West Virginia, Centralia had the look of a typical midwestern farming community—“wide main street lined with low flat-faced stores, sprawling railroad shops and the ungainly black coal-mine tipple on the edge of town.” Martin began his work here by obtaining background information on the town itself, talking to farmers, local businessmen, and housewives. Only then did he begin interviewing those involved in the disaster, beginning with the miners and the miners’ widows, because, as Martin noted, “they were the victims, the aggrieved, and would want the world to know. I did not want the story to turn into a debate among the powerful—Governor Green, and John L. Lewis of the UMWA [United Mine Workers of America], and the coal company. I wanted it to be the miners’ story, the story of helpless ordinary people.”

One of the first miners Martin talked to was William Rowekamp, who as recording secretary of Local 52 of the UMWA had sent a two-page letter to the governor pleading for his help that he typed while sitting at a cluttered oak desk in his living room. While the letter praised Scanlan, calling him the “best inspector that ever came to our mine,” it castigated his superiors at the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals for their inaction. “In fact, Governor Green,” the letter stated, “this is a plea to you, to please save our lives, to please make the department of mines and minerals enforce the laws at the No. 5 mine of the Centralia Coal Co. . . . before we have an explosion like just happened in Kentucky and West Virginia.” In addition to Rowekamp, the three other men who signed the letter included Jake Schmidt, Local 52 president, and Thomas Bush and Elmer Moss of the union’s mine committee; only Rowekamp survived the massive Centralia underground explosion, described by one expert as being like “a huge shotgun blast down a long corridor.”

Although taciturn by nature, Rowekamp soon began talking freely to Martin, telling him that some miners were worried enough to even tell their wives their fears about their safety. When he finished the interview, Martin asked the miner, as he always did at the end of an interview, if he knew of anyone else he should talk to, and Rowekamp gave him the name of other miners. “For the next few days,” said Martin, “I went from one to another and I took to hanging around the bare upstairs union hall and they became so used to seeing me that they paid little heed, always what a reporter wants.” He soon learned that the miners considered themselves a breed apart, superior to those who worked on farms or factories. “The danger they were always in was part of the fascination,” noted Martin. “They were fierce fighters for their rights. They had a strong sense of being the underdog.” Martin, who grew up during the Great Depression and saw his father lose his successful business, shared their underdog mentality and that mind-set “remained a powerful force in my life and my writing.”

To bring the disaster even more home to his readers, Martin talked to the widow of one of the miners who died in the explosion, Mrs. Joe Bryant, a big, forty-four-year-old woman who had borne eleven children; two had died in infancy. Martin asked her to tell him everything about the day of the explosion, and while she did, several small children played around her legs, pulling on her dress in an effort to distract her. She shared with him a note her husband had scrawled on a page torn from a time book while he was trapped in a tunnel, waiting to die as the breathable air ran out. Bryant had written: “Dear Wife fro Give [forgive] me Please all love you Be shure and don’t sign any Paper see Vic Ostero [a warning against signing away her compensation rights] My Dear wife good By.” 

Funeral expenses had taken most of the compensation the widow had received from the union and other sources, and she could only expect payments of $44 a week for the next five years from the state’s industrial compensation fund and Social Security. When Martin asked her who she blamed for the loss of her husband, she said: “I don’t know nothin’ about the mine, I wouldn’t blame no one, accidents happen, seems like it just has to be.”

Driving away from the Bryant home on a dusty road, Martin turned his car for Springfield, the state capital, where he uncovered the second half of his story—politics and government bureaucracy. Martin got a lucky break. When he visited the offices of the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals, he expected some foot dragging from its staff, but an employee on duty that day said Martin could go through all the files, as they had already been published during the various investigations into the Centralia explosion. “But it turned out they hadn’t,” Martin noted. “I found a mountain of paper accumulated over five years. Piled up, the evidence was devastating.”

Martin traced, almost hour by hour, the reports issued by Scanlan finding that the mine was dangerously dusty and warning that such conditions could lead to an explosion. Medill, the department’s director, had not seen Scanlan’s first thirteen reports; they were handled by his deputy, who read some, but not all, of the scathing reports. Form letters indicating the department agreed with Scanlan’s findings were mailed to the Centralia mine company’s Chicago office. “Not only did the company not comply with Scanlan’s recommendations, it did not even bother to reply,” said Martin.

When federal mine inspections started in 1942, they found the same violations and made the same recommendations as had Scanlan. “The company ignored them too,” said Martin, who spent days in the department’s office making notes on “scores of federal and state inspection reports, correspondence, transcripts of the six hearings and investigations into the Centralia disaster.” After interviewing Medill, whom he described as “a large jovial man with a loud blustery voice,” at his home in Lake Springfield, Martin returned to the Illinois capital, where he talked to legislators, union officials, lobbyists, and coal operators. He tried, and failed, to interview Governor Green and Lewis.

Martin was now ready to start writing his story, but resisted the temptation to start. He had never forgotten the advice of a writer friend, W. Adolphe Roberts, the author of numerous historical novels, who had told him, “‘We always send our stories in too soon,’ before we’ve made them the best we can.” Also, the story had become so “big and complex, jumbled up in my head, all disorganized and out of order,” said Martin, that he had to take a few days off to fish in Upper Michigan, “trying not to think about Centralia, letting it marinate.” It worked; driving back to his home in suburban Chicago he began to see the story unfold before him. “The principal elements were the town of Centralia, the miners, their union, the mine operators, and state and federal authorities,” he said. “The story’s impact would depend upon two things: bringing the characters alive, and piling up the evidence of the history of the disaster.”

Because he had such an abundance of research for his Centralia article, Martin abandoned his old system of organizing his material on three-inch by five-inch notecards. Instead, he went through his notes and documents, gave each a code number, and then numbered the pages. When he came across an item he wanted to use in the article, he typed it out, triple spaced, and keyed it to code and page numbers. “I then cut up the typing line by line into slips of paper,” said Martin. “I moved the slips around, arranging and rearranging them.”

When he had all the slips arranged to his satisfaction, he pasted them together, resulting in a long scroll that he rolled up, placed on his typing table, and consulted as he began writing, letting the scroll fall to the floor as he worked. When he came to the end of the scroll, he had his rough draft finished. Martin eventually abandoned this system when, years later, one of his scrolls measured more than 150 feet long, “running out of my room and out the front door and across the lawn.” He went back to organizing his research on note cards, this time using some measuring five-inches by eight-inches in size. 

A friend, reading a rough draft of Martin’s story, told him, “If Harper’s publishes this in anything like its present form, it’ll make your reputation.” At 18,500 words in rough-draft form, the article was the longest Martin had ever written. “What made it so long and what made it so powerful was the relentless documentation—I kept piling it up and piling it up and piling it up—showing that for years everybody had known the mine was going to blow up but nobody had stopped it,” Martin recalled.

When Harper’s chief editor Frederick Lewis Allen read the story, he wrote Martin a long letter praising the writer’s work and ended by saying, “The whole office is rocking with cheers.” (Upon its publication Allen tried to have the story nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, but discovered the journalism award had no magazine category.) After he had read Martin’s manuscript, artist Shahn had called Russell Lynes, the editor at Harper’s who had asked him to provide drawings for the article, at home to tell him he thought the article was “wonderful.” Lynes added that when “Shahn says ‘wonderful’ it sounds as though he means it. The first syllable takes three times as long as the other two.”

The artist was so inspired by the tragedy that he produced sixty-four drawings, saying once he started he felt compelled to keep on drawing. John D. Voelker, a best-selling author known best today for his novel Anatomy of a Murder, had met and became friends with Martin during his frequent vacations in the Upper Peninsula, where Voelker lived. Voelker called the Centralia story “a glorious piece of plain writing and of social detection and exposure.” He expressed his amazement at how fair Martin could appear to be, and maybe was, in the article, but at the same time how he was able to “expose the wound in all its rawness. You can hit low so fast that even the victim doesn’t know it.”

In his long career as a freelancer, Martin, through his numerous stories for national magazines and many books, took his readers into the worlds of such forgotten people as the victims of a gruesome highway crash in Michigan, the mother of a teenage boy who wondered why her son and two others killed a nurse for no apparent reason, a convict from Jackson Prison talking about the hell of life behind bars, a crusading journalist gunned down in cold blood for daring to expose corruption in his town, a dedicated psychiatrist trying to save damaged lives at an Ohio mental institution, and an illiterate black steelworker bringing to life the real meaning of segregated housing in a northern city.

As the writer of heavy-fact stories, Martin, who died in 1987, said it was his fate to “thrive on other people’s troubles.” Once a person involved in the Hollywood film industry asked him, “Don’t you ever write any happy stories?” Martin told him: “No, I don’t. I don’t think the human lot is a very happy one. Maybe an analyst could figure that out . . . but I do take my work seriously and feel dedicated to it.” There existed in Martin’s mind a gulf between the matter-of-fact newspaperman who saw little difference between covering a football game and hanging, and the serious journalist he aspired to be, one who writes significant articles “about serious subjects and takes them seriously and so becomes himself engaged—engaged in his society, in his times, in the human condition.”

Thursday, March 8, 2018

"But I Do Clamor": May Wright Sewall, Teacher and Activist

While preparing for classes one day on the third floor at Indianapolis High School (later to become Shortridge), a teacher who had come to the city with her husband in the 1870s was interrupted by a distinguished visitor: Zeralda Wallace, widow of Governor David Wallace and president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s Indiana chapter. Wallace had come to the school to ask the teacher, May Wright Sewall, to sign a petition in favor of temperance Wallace planned on presenting to the state legislature.

As Sewall prepared to add her name to the document, her eye caught some words indicating that those who signed did not intend to “clamor” for any additional civil or political rights. “But I do clamor,” Sewall exclaimed to Wallace. Throwing the paper on the floor, Sewall stalked out of the room, “vexed in soul that I had been dragged down three flights of stairs to see one more proof of the degree to which honorable women love to humiliate themselves before men for sweet favor’s sake.”

Sewall’s anger at Wallace faded over time, and the two joined forces to found the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society. The Society came about in large part due to the “open contempt” showed to Wallace by Hoosier legislators when she attempted to present her temperance petition to the Indiana General Assembly. One lawmaker even went so far as to tell Wallace that since women held no political power, her document “might as well have been signed by 10,000 mice.”

To ensure that women’s voices would indeed be heard by those in power, Sewall worked tirelessly on behalf of rights for women in the United States—and around the world—during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She served as an invaluable ally to such national suffrage leaders as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and gave the woman’s movement an international focus through her pioneering involvement with the International Council of Women and the American National Council of Women. By the turn of the twentieth century, Harper’s Bazaar magazine claimed that Sewall had “an ‘eternal feminine’ following of 5,000,000 in eleven countries.”
Sewall’s work on behalf of suffrage for women was just one of the many reform and cultural endeavors she became involved in during her life. Described by one Indianapolis acquaintance as “a large woman of sturdy carriage,” Sewall played a significant role in the cultural and social life of the capital city. At first with her second husband, the Harvard-educated Theodore Lovett Sewall and later alone, she operated the influential Classical School for Girls, located on the southeast corner of Pennsylvania and Saint Joseph Streets.The Sewalls’ residence served as a cultural showcase for the city, hosting a variety of nationally known literary and political figures. Every Wednesday in the home’s drawing room approximately one hundred to two hundred people of all types gathered to discuss the issues of the day. “This salon is distinctively the social and literary centre of all Indiana, and, for that matter, many a distinguished traveler from around the world had enjoyed this rare hospitality,” noted Harper’s Bazaar. Another journalist who visited the house’s library marveled over the fact that more “schemes for social progress have been conceived in this room . . . than in any other room on this continent.”

A bold statement, but not surprising considering Sewall enriched the city’s intellectual life through her efforts to form such organizations as the Indianapolis Woman’s Club, the Art Association of Indianapolis (the forerunner of the Indianapolis Museum of Art), the Indianapolis Propylaeum, the Contemporary Club, the Ramabai Circle (a group working to aid women in India), the Alliance Francaise, and the Indiana branch of the Western Association of Collegiate Alumnae.

In addition to all this, and her work at the school, she also found time to edit the woman’s page in the Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Times from 1882 to 1885. No less an authority on life in Indianapolis than Booth Tarkington boldly claimed that in company with Benjamin Harrison and James Whitcomb Riley, Sewall “would necessarily have been chosen (in the event of a contest in such a matter) as one of the ‘three most prominent citizens’ of the place.”

These efforts by Sewall to improve life for people were not merely parochial in nature, but international as well. In addition to lecturing widely across the United States on behalf of woman’s rights, she also strove to win people’s support for another cause: world peace, an effort she called her “absorbing ideal.”

Although sometimes women had to fight to protect their homes and families, Sewall said that “no woman within civilization has ever been found who did not see in war . . . a menace to the whole spirit of the home, a menace to the children born and reared within the home; hence no woman within civilization who does not see war to be her constitutional and inevitably relentless foe.” The only battle to which a woman could give her heart, she continued, “is that war whose object it is to slay war and establish peace.” Following the motto “My country is the world, my countrymen are all mankind,” Sewall promoted the cause of peace through membership in the American Peace Society and through her work with both the National Council of Women and the International Council of Women, both of which adopted peace programs after intense lobbying by Sewall.

When war broke out in Europe in 1914 and many peace advocates believed their efforts had been for naught, Sewall persevered. To her, the conflict “seemed a proclamation to the women of the world that some action by them which would assert the solidarity of womanhood was imperative.” In 1915 Sewall organized and chaired an International Council of Women Workers to Promote Permanent Peace at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. To instill pacifism in young people, she called on textbook publishers to eliminate jingoistic language and to replace it with calls for brotherhood. She also implored mothers to remove toys that might “bring into a child’s mind the thought of military pomp and show, of warfare, with its contentions and its glories.”

Sewall died on July 22, 1920, just a short time before the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified—something she always had faith would happen. Unbound by tradition, Sewall endeavored to do all she could for causes still being fought for today—education, woman’s rights, cultural enrichment, and world peace. The lasting legacies of her many works can still be seen in Indianapolis. 2018 marks the 143rd anniversary of the Indianapolis Woman’s Club, the Propylaeum remains as a place for women to gather and discuss the day’s issues, and the Art Association of Indianapolis has grown into the internationally-respected Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Fellow women’s rights advocate Grace Julian Clarke offered the finest eulogy for Sewall and what she represented to women in Indiana, the United States, and the world when she said: “I never left Mrs. Sewall’s presence without resolving to be more outspoken in good causes, more constant in their service, without a fresh resolve to let trivial concerns go and emphasize only really vital interests.”