Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"A Business without a Boss": William and Powers Hapgood

In the waning days of World War II, a former prisoner of war returned home to Indianapolis to an uncertain future. At loose ends, the twenty-two-year-old army private first class—Kurt Vonnegut Jr.—told an uncle that he might be interested in working for a labor union after his discharge from the service. “Unions were admirable instruments for extorting something like economic justice from employers then,” noted Vonnegut in the prologue to his 1979 novel Jailbird.

Vonnegut shared his plans with his uncle Alex, a Harvard University graduate. Although politically conservative himself, and someone who might believe his nephew’s flirtation with a unions a “ridiculous dream,” Alex Vonnegut arranged a meeting with a fellow Harvard alumnus who had some experience in the labor movement. The three men, plus Kurt Vonnegut’s father, met for lunch at Stegemeir’s Restaurant in downtown Indianapolis.

On that July afternoon in 1945 Kurt Vonnegut met for the first time Powers Hapgood, “an ordinary-looking Middle Western  Anglo-Saxon in a cheap business suit.” After college, this son of a businessman and member of a respectable middle-class Indianapolis family had worked in coal mines in America and around the world. Later he endeavored to better the lives of working people by defending anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, supporting striking coal miners in Pennsylvania, and campaigning against United Mine Workers of America president John L. Lewis.

Hapgood had grown accustomed to perplexed company officials and policemen asking him, “What’s a nice young Harvard guy like you doing mixed up with a bunch of radicals?” While others judged, however, Kurt Vonnegut became entranced with Hapgood, finding him “still full of ideas of how victory might yet be snatched from the jaws of defeat.”

His activities on behalf of workers often landed Hapgood in jail, and a court appearance (he had to testify about violence on a picket line) made him late for lunch with the Vonneguts. “The judge was fascinated, and almost everybody else in court was, too—presumably by such unselfish high adventures,” noted Kurt Vonnegut, who used Hapgood and his stories as the basis for the character of union organizer Kenneth Whistler in Jailbird. When the judge finally asked Hapgood why a man from a distinguished family with such a fine education decided to live as he did, the labor activist replied, “Why? Because of the Sermon on the Mount, sir.”

If the judge had known more about Hapgood’s family, he might not have wondered about the Harvard graduate’s interest in social justice. Hapgood’s father, William Powers Hapgood, may have been a businessman, but he operated nothing like the other titans of industry of his day. William Hapgood attempted to install a system of workplace democracy among the employees of his Indianapolis canning factory, the Columbia Conserve Company, which manufactured condensed soup, catsup, boned chicken, and other items packed and sold under private brands throughout the country. Three days before Christmas in 1917, workers at the plant learned they were to be responsible for determining the length of time they worked, how much they were to be paid, their share of production, and all other policies involved in running a business. They also were to share in any profits—an almost unheard of business practice at that time—and eventually used them to buy the firm in which they toiled.

Initially the plan met with skepticism from those who would be its chief beneficiaries. “Those [workers] who understood did not believe me, and very few understood,” noted William Hapgood. “Why should they? Their own experiences, as well as those of their forefathers, told them it was all a lie.” Hapgood struggled mightily over the next few years to convince the company’s employees of his sincerity and to inspire confidence in their own abilities. His efforts, including lending a hand on the shop floor, produced dividends; by 1930 the firm’s approximately 150 workers collectively controlled the majority of the company’s voting stock.

With control of the company, workers based pay on the basis of need, with the maximum salary (received by William Hapgood) set at $100 a week, and the minimum set at $15 per week. In addition to paid vacations and time off for sickness and other necessary absences, workers received such fringe benefits as a pension plan, medical care, accident insurance, free meals in the company’s cafeteria, and free classes in various subjects at the plant. Responding to other businessmen who considered such fringe benefits as destroying a worker’s moral fiber and who defended wholeheartedly the “law of the survival of the fittest,” William Hapgood inquired of them if they applied that law to their own children.

Eventually the Hapgoods worked together at the Columbia Conserve Company. The father’s idea on workplace democracy and the son’s belief in labor activism, however, came into conflict and sparked a crisis at the firm that led to Powers Hapgood’s resignation. The experiment at the Indianapolis business failed, but the fringe benefits enjoyed by workers at Columbia are now standard fare in many union contracts with employers.

Powers Hapgood, who had become regional director for the Congress of Industrial Organizations, died in 1949. His father followed him in death eleven years later. To some, the Hapgoods may just be a footnote in history. However, to paraphrase George Orwells’ assessment of Mohandas Gandhi, when they are regarded simply as businessmen and labor leaders, what a clean smell the Hapgoods have managed to leave behind.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Celebrating Statehood: Indiana's Centennial

The fall of 1914 was a bloody one in Europe. The British and German were winding down the First Battle of Ypres and would soon dig in to begin the long and futile period of trench warfare. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, however, it was an election year. On November 3 Hoosiers trooped to the polls and “for a time the war dropped into the background as all Indiana played the election game,” wrote Cedric C. Cummins in his book on public opinion during World War I.

In addition to the usual candidates on the ballot, voters had the chance to register their opinions on two special issues: a convention to alter the state’s constitution and whether to celebrate the state’s centennial in 1916 by appropriating two million dollars for the construction of a memorial building to house the state library and other historical agencies. Both measures suffered defeat at the polls.

Democratic governor Samuel M. Ralston, who became a leading force behind the state’s eventual centennial observance, believed the memorial plan was rejected not because Hoosiers were against celebrating the event, but because they objected to the amount of money sought for the building.

Ralston was proven right; in just two years, backed by the efforts of the Indiana Historical Commission and thousands of volunteers, Indiana residents would see the creation of state parks, the beginnings of an improved statewide road system, the creation of permanent memorials in numerous communities, and an overall awakening of interest in the nineteenth state’s history.

At Governor Ralston’s request, the 1915 Indiana General Assembly agreed to appropriate $25,000 and create a nine-member Indiana Historical Commission to promote the centennial celebration. The legislature’s financial support of the commission marked the first notable state commitment of funds to history in Indiana. Of the $25,000, $20,000 was earmarked for the promotion of centennial activities, while the remaining amount went to collecting, editing, and publishing Indiana’s past.

The IHC first met on April 23 and 24, 1915, in Governor Ralston’s Statehouse office. An illustrious group joined Ralston on the commission, including James Woodburn of Indiana University, Reverend John Cavanaugh of the University of Notre Dame, and Charity Dye, an Indianapolis schoolteacher. The commission employed Professor Walter C. Woodward of Earlham College to direct the centennial celebration.

The commission set out to educate the state’s citizens about the centennial. Special bulletins were sent to county school superintendents asking for their cooperation; direct appeals were made to teachers in the summer and fall of 1915; a weekly IHC newsletter began publication; and commission members addressed various clubs, civic organizations, churches, and historical societies (Dye alone gave 152 talks).

The IHC also turned to film to get its message across to the public. Realizing it had neither the necessary funds nor skills needed to undertake such an enterprise, the commission called upon the public for help. Citizens soon responded by forming the Inter-State Historical Pictures Corporation, which contracted with the Selig Polyscope Company of Chicago to produce a movie titled Indiana. The seven-reel picture featured famed poet James Whitcomb Riley telling the story of the state’s development to a group of children.

To encourage former Indiana residents to return to the state for the centennial, the commission used the services of noted humorist and author George Ade. Honored, or “burdened,” Ade joked in speeches touting the centennial, with the chairmanship of the committee to “sound the call and bring all the wandering Hoosiers back into the fold,” he set about recruiting contributions from a veritable who’s who of Hoosiers for a book.

Titled An Invitation to You and Your Folks from Jim and Some More of the Home Folks, the book, published by Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis, contained messages from Governor Ralston, Vice President Thomas Marshall, Meredith Nicholson, and Booth Tarkington. Gene Stratton-Porter contributed the poem “A Limberlost Invitation,” and Riley the poem “The Hoosier in Exile.”

With it publicity campaign on its way to being a success, the commission had to turn its sights to how best to state the actual celebration; keeping in mind the lack of funds, it was clear that such events would have to be financed locally. The IHC turned to staging historical pageants. These dramas appealed strongly to the commission because they could both focus attention on Indiana’s history and bring communities together.

The commission hired William Chauncy Langdon, former first president of the American Pageant Association, as the state pageant master. Langdon’s main duties were to write and direct three pageants, one at Indiana University, another at the old state capital of Corydon, and a final one at Indianapolis. Historical studies were made, music was especially composed, and costumes were designed “for the sole purpose of producing in the sequence of its various scenes a clear, beautiful and inspiring drama and a truthful impression of the development of the State of Indiana,” noted Langdon.

These same ideas were used by local communities in developing their own pageants. The commission gave what help it could, securing centennial chairmen in all but three of Indiana’s counties, with each responsible for selecting a county committee to plan the work. The plan worked. Director Woodward reported that forty-five county or local pageants presented in 1916 were seen by an estimated 250,000 people, and anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 Hoosiers participated in the performances.

Most counties used incidents from their past as the basis for the pageants. Miami County, for example, used the story of Frances Slocum, who was abducted at the age of five from her home in Pennsylvania by Delaware Indians. She was discovered by her family fifty years later in Miami County, Indiana, the wife of an Indian chief. Titlted “Ma-con-a-quah,” the pageant opened with the following:
            Miami! What wealth of history
            This name suggests! Here in years
            A hundred past and more,
            The red forebears of your possessions
            Roamed the virgin wood, and called it Home.
            Here, in primal glory, ere white man’s craft
            Had fashioned this, your city, lived we, the Miamis.

Along with the week-long pageant in Indianapolis, capital residents had the chance to hear from President Woodrow Wilson as part of activities for Centennial Highway Day on October 12, 1916. Invited to speak by Governor Ralston, a vigorous supporter of roadway improvements, Wilson arrived in the city by presidential train (which was late). While in Indianapolis, the president reviewed an automobile parade before delivering a speech on the need for good roads to 10,000 people at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.

Perhaps the commission’s crowning achievement came with the development of Indiana’s first state parks. The movement began in April 1915 when Governor Ralston received a letter from Juliet V. Strauss, a nationally known writer living in Rockville, Indiana, appealing for help in saving the Turkey Run area in Parke County from being sold to timber interests. The commission created a special parks committee with Richard Lieber, who would become the first director of the Indiana Department of Conservation, as chairman.

While talks for purchasing the Turkey Run property for the state were under way, the commission learned of the opportunity to purchase the rugged area of McCormick’s Creek in Owen County. A total of $5,250 was raised, one-fourth of which by Owen County residents, and McCormick’s Creek became Indiana’s first state park. The commission later acquired the Turkey Run property.

When the last notes of music from the various pageants faded away and celebrants packed their costumes, the commission attempted to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the centennial observance. Although a 1917 bill calling for the establishment of a permanent state agency for history failed, the commission was resurrected following World War I to organize a county-by-county war history. Since that time, Indiana has consistently funded a state historical agency (today known as the Indiana Historical Bureau). 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Riley and Poe: The Great Hoax

In the summer of 1877 John Oscar Henderson, editor of the Kokomo Dispatch newspaper, received a letter seeking a “curious favor” from him. The letter, written by an assistant editor at the Anderson Democrat stung at having his poetry rejected by eastern publishers, proposed that the two men combine forces to spring on an unsuspecting public a ruse designed to “stir things from the comatose condition.”

The young Anderson editor proposed that he would prepare a verse in the style of a popular, deceased American poet (Edgar Allan Poe was selected), and Henderson would print this new discovery in the columns of his newspaper. After having made his point that having a famous name attached to a work—and not its quality—assured its success, the young poet, with Henderson’s assistance, would announce his authorship to the public and “bu’st our literary balloon before a bewildered and enlightened world!!!”

Henderson, who just a month before had praised his correspondent as beyond a doubt the finest poet in the Hoosier State, eagerly agreed to carry out the plan, which he called “a capital one and . . . cunningly conceived.” He printed the poem, titled “Leonainie,” in the Dispatch’s Aug. 2, 1877 edition. At first the hoax seemed to be succeeding, with newspapers from New York to California announcing the discovery of a heretofore unknown Poe poem. Henderson wrote his accomplice that people in his community believed the poem was a “true bill” and that he had even been able to bamboozling his rivals at the Kokomo Tribune.

In spite of the scheme’s early success, however, newspapers caught on to the ruse and raised doubts as to the poem’s authenticity. On Aug. 25 the Tribune, eager to obtain revenge on its rival, exposed the hoax to the public. The Boston Evening Telegraph spoke for many when it wrote of the incident that if Poe had actually written the poem “it is a consolation to think that he is dead.”

Although the publicly apologized for the deception, the poem’s true author, James Whitcomb Riley, lost his job at the Democrat and endured scathing comments about his character in other newspapers in Indiana and around the country. “It was the most dismal period of my life,” Riley, a former sign, house, and ornamental painter, admitted years later. “My tinsel throne was crumbling. Friends stood aside—went round the other way.” 

Riley successfully recovered from this temporary setback to his promising career. He found work on another newspaper, the Indianapolis Journal. While on the Journal staff Riley won acclaim for his work, especially “When the Frost Is on the Punkin,” part of a series he signed Benj. F. Johnson, of Boone. The series was published in book form in 1883 as The Ole Swimmin’ Hole, and ’Eleven More Poems. Riley’s cast of characters—Old Aunt Mary, Little Orphant Annie, The Raggedy Man, Doc Sifers, and Uncle Sidney—along with his sentimental style, struck a chord with the reading public. Not bad for a man who disliked the “iron discipline of school life,” but enjoyed books, music, and writing poetry. For many years, his books were published by Indianapolis’s Bobbs-Merrill Company.

In addition to reaching the public through having his work published in newspapers and books, Riley worked hard to spread his fame, and help himself financially, through appearances on the lecture circuit with, among others, Edgar W. “Bill” Nye. The grind of life on the lecture circuit took its toll on the poet, who complained he was “clean, dead tired, and fagged out and sick of the whole Bohemian business.” From the summer of 1893 until his death in 1916, Riley found more congenial surroundings as the paying guest in Major Charles L. Holstein’s home, a two-story Italianate structure at 528 Lockerbie Street in Indianapolis.

Riley settled comfortably into the Holstein home. Katie Kindall, housekeeper during Riley’s residence, noted that the poet often wrote in bed as much as at a desk, always keeping paper and pencil close by in case an idea for a poem might come to mind. His advice to young writers, said Kindall, was to “use the rubber end of your pencil as much as the point. Write and rewrite.” The Holstein’s cook, Nannie Ewing, recalled that Riley often would come to the kitchen to thank her personally when he enjoyed a meal, especially when it included his favorites, pumpkin or sweet potato pie.

The Holstein home became a regular visiting place for Indiana schoolchildren and for famous figures such as perennial Socialist presidential candidate and labor organizer Eugene Debs, who enjoyed raising a glass of spirits with Riley whenever possible. The poet’s fame grew so great that his birthday was celebrated by students throughout the country. After his death, which came as he slept in his room in the Holstein residence on the evening of July 22, 1916, more than thirty-five thousand people filed past his casket as it lay in state under the dome at the Indiana State Capitol in Indianapolis.

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Heartbeat Away: Thomas Marshall and Woodrow Wilson's Illness

J. Fred Essary, the Washington correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, found himself confronted with a delicate assignment in the fall of 1919. Stricken by a massive stroke, President Woodrow Wilson lay deathly ill in the White House. Concerned about the president’s medical condition, doctors and those close to Wilson decided that someone outside of government should inform the vice president about Wilson’s sickness. Quietly making his way to the vice president’s office, Essary told him that the president might die at any moment. The stunned vice president sat at his desk, his head down, staring at his hands. The reporter waited a long time for a reply, received none, and left, noticing that the vice president never once looked up.

Years after the meeting, Essary, on a visit to Indiana, saw the vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, who apologized for the incident. “I did not even have the courtesy to thank you for coming over and telling me. It was the first great shock of my life," Marshall said.

The clandestine meeting between Marshall and the reporter was one of many bizarre incidents transpiring as a result of Wilson’s stroke. Although he stood just a heartbeat away from the presidency, Marshall, the former Indiana governor best known for his quip about cigar prices and the state of the country, never had the opportunity to see for himself just how incapacitated Wilson had become. Although Marshall tried to visit the president, Wilson’s wife, Edith Bolling Wilson, blocked all access to the stricken president. As the administration floundered, Marshall faced a difficult choice. Should he do nothing and chance that the national government would grind to a halt, or should he take firmer measures and chance being branded a usurper?

Marshall, the witty, down-to-earth Hoosier politician, and Wilson, the professorial minister’s son, never enjoyed a close relationship. The two men were thrown together not by any shared philosophy, but by political expediency. Forced to take Marshall on as his running mate to win enough delegates to achieve the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912, Wilson showed his low regard for the former Hoosier governor by calling him “a very small calibre man.” With the split in the Republican Party between incumbent President William Howard Taft and the third-party Bull Moose effort of former President Theodore Roosevelt, the Wilson/Marshall team narrowly captured the election. Upon assuming his limited duties as vice president, chiefly serving as the presiding officer for the U.S. Senate, Marshall discovered that Wilson’s dim view of his running mate carried over from the convention to the new administration. “I soon ascertained,” Marshall wrote in his autobiography, “that I was of no importance to the administration beyond the duty of being loyal to it and ready, at any time, to act as a sort of pinch hitter; that is, when everybody else on the team had failed, I was to be given a chance.”

Marshall attempted to ease his troubles by unleashing his well-known sense of humor. When taking up his duties as the Senate’s presiding officer, for example, he asked for a new chair, since his feet failed to touch the floor when he sat in the old one (the vice president was not a tall man). He even went as far as to attribute his presence in office to an “ignorant electorate.”

The Hoosier vice president was held in such little regard by those inside the Wilson administration that there was even a movement afoot at the 1916 Democratic convention in St. Louis to dump Marshall from the ticket, perhaps replacing him with Secretary of Agriculture David Houston or Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. Wilson, however, came to Marshall’s defense, noting the vice president “has given me every reason to admire and trust him.” With the president’s support, Marshall hung on to his job, and won a second term in a close race against the Republican ticket of Charles Evans Hughes and Charles W. Fairbanks (also from Indiana).

Marshall’s early difficulties in office were nothing compared to the trials he faced following the war's end. WhenWilson decided to leave the country and join the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles in Paris (a decision he did not share with his vice president), he called upon Marshall to preside over cabinet meetings during his absence—becoming the first vice president ever to have such an honor. Although he attended only a few meetings, Marshall did manage to inject some levity into the usually staid surroundings. Once when Secretary of Commerce William C. Redfield read a letter to other cabinet members from a man complaining about bristle supplies, Marshall interrupted the secretary to offer an answer: “Tell him to shave and get his own raw material.”

A sterner test for Marshall was yet to come. Faced with opposition by Republican senators in his support for the League of Nations, Wilson embarked on a speaking tour in the late summer of 1919 hoping to rally public opinion to his cause. Before he could finish the tour, however, Wilson, whose health had never been good, collapsed, telling his personal physician Rear Admiral Cary T. Grayson that he seemed “to have gone to pieces.” Grayson informed the press that the president had “suffered a complete nervous breakdown” and it was necessary for Wilson to return as soon as possible to the White House. The president agreed to cancel the rest of the tour and he and his party returned to Washington, D.C.

On October 2, 1919, Wilson suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed his left side and left him an invalid both physically and mentally. Dr. Grayson, who had been called to the White House upon Mrs. Wilson’s orders, issued a terse statement to the press that the president “had a fairly good night, but his condition is not at all good this morning.” A second bulletin informed the nation: “The President is a very sick man. His condition is less favorable today and he has remained in bed throughout the day. After consultation with Dr. F. X. Dercum of Philadelphia, Drs. Sterling Ruffin and E. R. Stitt of Washington, in which all agreed as to his condition, it was determined that absolute rest is essential for some time.”

Taking the doctor’s advice, Mrs. Wilson began what she termed her stewardship, studying every paper sent to the president and trying “to digest and present in tabloid form the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President.” Although she claimed that she never made a decision on how a question or issue should be decided, Mrs. Wilson did, as she admitted, have the critical task of deciding “what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.” Despite her best efforts, the wheels of government soon ground to a halt. Mrs. Wilson steadfastly refused to allow policy questions to upset her husband’s recovery.

As time went on and Wilson struggled to regain his health, Marshall became deluged with advice from all sides. Foreign governments began sending him official papers, prisoners in federal facilities sent pardon requests to him, and job hunters besieged his office. Some Republican senators even hinted that Marshall would have their support if he decided to assume the presidency. Troubled and needing more information about Wilson’s true condition, Marshall went to the White House in an attempt to see the president. He never had a chance; Mrs. Wilson still zealously guarded her husband from any unwanted callers. Marshall did not see the president again until the inaugurations of Wilson’s successor, Republican Warren Harding.

Mark Thistlethwaite, Marshall’s private secretary attempted to convince the vice president that he had to consider the distinct possibility that he would be called upon to take over for Wilson—a situation Marshall was reluctant to talk about. Pressing his boss about the matter, Thistlethwaite asked Marshall if he might assume the presidency if Congress decided Wilson was unable to continue? “No,” Marshall said. “It would not be legal until the President signed it, or until it had a two-thirds vote, and a two-thirds vote is impossible.” Marshall, according to Thomas, decided that the only way he would take over for Wilson was if Congress passed a resolution to that effect and Mrs. Wilson and Dr. Grayson approved it in writing. “I am not going to seize the place and then have Wilson—recovered—come around and say ‘get off, you usurper,’” Marshall told Thistlethwaite. Marshall later confided to his wife: “I could throw this country into civil war, but I won’t.”

Marshall never had the opportunity to find out how he would have reacted as president. Despite his infirmities, Wilson continued in office. Unwilling to accept any compromises with his beloved League of Nations, the president saw his dreams crushed as the Senate could not muster a majority either for the treaty with or without amendments. Wilson hoped he might be nominated for a third term, but Democrats instead turned to James M. Cox, governor of Ohio, as their party’s presidential nominee. Cox went down to defeat in the 1920 election against Republican candidate Harding and his running mate, Calvin Coolidge. For his part, Marshall was only too glad to become a private citizen again. He telegraphed his eventual successor, Coolidge, after the Massachusetts governor received the GOP vice presidential nomination, “Please accept my sincere sympathy.”

Marshall’s dilemma as vice president on whether or not he should take over for Wilson spurred some discussion on the question of presidential succession, but a constitutional answer did not come until 1967 with the ratification of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the amendment, sponsored by U.S. Senator Birch Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, if a president could not fulfill his office’s duties, he could certify his disability and have the vice president take over. In a situation where the president could not or would not ask his second in command to take over, the amendment provides that the vice president could take over with the Cabinet’s consent.

But even with the procedures outlined in the Twenty-Fifth amendment, confusion still reigns when disaster strikes. On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. As the injured Reagan underwent surgery, and Vice President George Bush hurried back to Washington from a speech in Texas, the question remained: who was in charge? Attempting to calm the country, Secretary of State Alexander Haig made his infamous “I am in control here” remark, which only proved, as Marshall could have told them, that in times of national crisis the only certainty is uncertainty.