Thursday, March 19, 2020

May Wright Sewall and the Ford Peace Ship

In the early afternoon of December 4, 1915, a crowd estimated at anywhere from 3,000 to 15,000 braved the brisk weather at a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey, in order to witness the sailing of the Scandinavian-American ship Oscar II. The ship was set for a scheduled ten-day trip across the Atlantic Ocean to Christiania (today Oslo), Norway.

As the ship prepared to leave, the crowd sang and cheered as bands played such rousing songs as “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” The biggest cheers, however, were reserved for the sponsor of this unusual adventure: famed automaker Henry Ford. The previous summer Ford had declared his willingness to devote his fortune to ending the fighting in Europe between the Allied Powers, led by Great Britain and France, and the Central Powers, dominated by Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Unable to discover any just reasons for the war, Ford believed that some nations “were anxious for peace and would welcome a demonstration for peace.” With the encouragement of Rosika Schwimmer, a Hungarian author, lecturer, and peace advocate, Ford had secured passage on the Oscar II for about sixty delegates in support of his mission. These delegates would attempt to halt the bloody trench warfare being fought with such deadly weapons as the machine gun and poison gas through the establishment of a neutral commission that would offer negotiation among the nations then at war.

Indiana educator and woman’s rights leader May Wright Sewall was one of the more than one hundred people, including such famous individuals as inventor Thomas Edison, reformer Jane Addams, and former president William Howard Taft to receive invitations from Ford to join him on the voyage. The first word of the trip came to Sewall in late November when she received a telegram from Ford, followed three days later by a letter in which the automobile maker spelled out in more detail his reasons for asking her to join him and others on the trip. “From the moment I realized that the world situation demands immediate action, if we do not want the war fire to spread any further,” Ford wrote, “I joined those international forces which are working toward ending this unparalleled catastrophe.”

In describing her fellow delegates for her friends in Indianapolis, Sewall agreed that no one had an “exalted position; not one bearing the stamp of worldwide recognition.” Through their work, however, Sewall said the delegates hoped to accomplish three goals: to secure the public’s attention, turning it from war to peace; to stimulate other private efforts and encourage workers to seek peace in every country; and confirm on all those involved their resolution to work for a permanent peace.

Once at sea, the delegates attempted to establish a regular routine. Each day at 11:00 a.m. the students met to learn more about the attempt to bring an end to the fighting in Europe. Each session opened with a talk by one of the delegates on a subject in which they were regarded as an expert.

Reporters traveling with the peace treated the voyage as a joke. A London reporter even went as far to send a fake story about Ford being held prisoner in his cabin, chained to his bed by his staff. But when the Oscar II’s captain, J. W. Hempel, who reviewed all messages sent from the ship, took some of the more insulting stories to Ford, he responded kindly, telling Hempel: “Let them send anything they please. I want the boys to feel perfectly at home while they are with me. They are my guests. I wouldn’t for the world censor them.”

Early in the morning on December 18, the Oscar II docked in Christiania, Norway. Physically, Sewall said, Norway gave the delegates a cold welcome, as the weather was reportedly the chilliest in more than a hundred years. The peace expedition had barely had time to settle into its new setting when it received a bitter blow: Ford had decided to go home. Unable to shake the cold he had caught on the voyage, and encouraged to do so by his staff, Ford had decided to leave in time to catch a ship bound for America.

According to Lochner, who had been “deeply shocked” by Ford’s appearance when he visited Ford in his hotel room, the automaker told him: “Guess I had better go home to mother [his wife Clara]. You’ve got this thing started now and can get along without me.” Lochner attempted to convince Ford to stay with the expedition, but failed.

Upon his return to America, Ford told the media he had not deserted the Peace Ship and offered no regrets for sponsoring the expedition. He noted that “the sentiment we have aroused by making the people think will shorten the war.” With Ford’s departure, the delegates turned for leadership to a committee. Policy matters were handled by Schwimmer and finances were the responsibility of Ford staff member Gaston Plantiff.

The peace expedition spent a week in Stockholm, developing a regular schedule. Each morning at 10:00 a.m. the delegates met to discuss the day’s activities. From 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the group hosted a reception at the hotel open to the public. The delegates had time to themselves until 4:00 p.m., when the expedition hosted a second public reception.

Sewall observed that visitors to the receptions seemed to fall into four categories: teachers, feminists, social reformers, and students. “I was particularly interested in the university students,” she said, “who, although it was their holiday week, called in great numbers. I was amazed by both the intelligence, and by the lively interest in serious subjects of these young people, whom I was mentally comparing with my young countrymen and countrywomen of student age to the distinct disadvantage of the latter.”

In order to reach the group’s final stop, the Netherlands, the delegates had to travel, via a sealed train, through German territory, a feat accomplished through the help of the American minister to Denmark. Once in the Netherlands, the group selected delegates for a proposed Neutral Conference for Continuous Mediation, which had its headquarters in Stockholm and worked to negotiate an end to the war.

With this final task completed, the delegates and students could finally return home. On January 15, 1916, the delegates left port aboard the Rotterdam for the voyage back to America (the students had left four days earlier on another ship).

For Sewall, the “spectacular pilgrimage” had been a success, as it had “concentrated the thought of the distracted world upon this hope with a force that assures its achievement.” She felt proud of the work done by her and her fellow delegates. “To have advanced its [peace’s] arrival by one hour,” Sewall said, “is adequate compensation for the cost in money, time and sacrifices of the Expedition if multiplied a thousandfold.”

Sewall’s view was shared in part by one of the reporters aboard the Oscar II, Elmer Davis. Although he considered the trip a “crazy enterprise,” Davis, looking back on the voyage in an essay published in 1939 as Europe seemed on the brink of another war, said that any effort, “however visionary and inadequate, to stop a war that was wrecking Europe, appears in retrospect a little less crazy than most of the other purposes that were prevalent in Europe in 1916.”


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Voters Speak: The 1968 Indiana Democratic Presidential Primary

On a spring day in 1968, residents of northwest Indiana were treated to a rare sight. In a caravan of automobiles that swept along throngs lining city streets could be seen icons of the past and the present. One was a boxer, the son of Polish immigrants from Gary, Indiana, who rose to become middleweight champion of the world, earning for himself the nickname “The Man of Steel” for the place of his birth and his ability to take the punishment handed out by his opponents in the ring. The other man had also traveled a hard road to success, earning a place in the state’s history as the first African American to be elected mayor of a Hoosier community. 

Although very different in background, the men, Tony Zale, the boxer, and Richard G.Hatcher, the mayor of Gary, were brought together by Robert F. Kennedy’s attempt to win the Indiana primary. The two heroes of the Region joined Kennedy in a motorcade through the streets of Gary the day before Hoosier voters trooped to the polls on May 7. They represented Kennedy’s attempt to bridge the gaps between poor whites and African Americans into a coalition that could win elections for the Democratic Party. “We have to write off the unions and the South now,” Kennedy confided to a reporter, “and replace them with Negroes, blue-collar whites, and the kids. If we can do that, we’ve got a chance to do something.”

The motorcade in Gary was part of a whirlwind effort by Kennedy to secure his first primary victory on the way to winning the Democratic Party nomination for president. Kennedy’s family, including his mother, Rose, and his sister-in-law, Joan, traveled around the state to promote his candidacy. Prince Stanislaw Radziwill, Jacqueline Kennedy’s brother-in-law and an opponent of the Communist government in Poland, proved to be a highly effective campaigner with Polish groups in Lake County. During one Radziwill speech a Polish worker had asked him about problems between Poles and African Americans. “Better to be in America living next to a thousand blacks,” Radziwill said, drawing applause, “than in Poland living next to one commissar.”

For all the resources at his disposal—his fortune; a large, dedicated staff devoted to ensuring his success; and the mystique of his family’s name—Kennedy worked harder than anyone to capture the hearts and minds of Hoosier voters to win the primary against his two opponents, Indiana governor Roger Branigin and U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy. David Hackett, a friend of Kennedy’s since childhood, noted that whenever he happened to see him during those days “he was so tired he could hardly move.” John Douglas observed that probably no national candidate in modern times worked as hard as Kennedy did. “He came across as authentic, direct, and straightforward—a person in whom people could have confidence,” Douglas remembered. “And that’s what, I think, brought Indiana around.” John Bartlow Martin noted that Kennedy had aged more than he should have since the death of John Kennedy and the process continued at a heightened pace during the hectic campaign. “He was wornout,” said Martin, adding that Ethel Kennedy daily doled out a score of vitamins to help her husband’s frayed voice.

Crowds in communities throughout the state pressed close to shake Kennedy’s hand and in doing so tore at him and his clothes. During a stop in Mishawaka, an eager supporter held on to the candidate’s hand too long and pulled him out of the car and onto the pavement, chipping Kennedy’s tooth in the process. “The crowds were savage,” remembered Martin. “They pulled his cufflinks off, tore his clothes, tore ours. In bigger towns, with bigger crowds, it was frightening.” At times the campaign could be a ferocious spectacle, but it could also be exhilarating as well, especially when victory appeared imminent, Martin remembered. “We were beating the terrible local press, the suspicious national press, the sanctimonious McCarthy, the dull governor, the skeptical parochial narrow-minded Hoosiers themselves,” he said. “We were beating them all. Or, rather, Bob Kennedy was.”

Kennedy’s staff attempted to match the great effort shown by the candidate. They used every bit of the knowledge honed in countless winning campaigns to secure victory in Indiana. “We’ve got a hell of a lot at stake here,” a top Kennedy adviser told reporters. “We’ve got to impress in Indiana.” Lawrence F. O’Brien, the former postmaster general in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, had turned down an offer from Vice President Hubert Humphrey to manage his campaign to work for Kennedy. O’Brien said he made his decision based on his roots in Massachusetts, the memories of his days working for President John F. Kennedy, and his longtime affection for the Kennedy family. “It was a personal decision, not a political one,” he noted in his memoirs. “I had to go with Bob.” Once he had made his choice, O’Brien joined the Kennedy staff in the Hoosier State on Good Friday, April 12. He knew Indiana well, having spent much time in the state on behalf of John Kennedy in 1960 organizing get-out-the-vote drives, a task he performed again eight years later. “I did the job the best I could,” O’Brien recalled, “but it was a job, not the adventure it once had been.”

For assistance in Indiana, O’Brien turned to an old friend, Matt Reese, who he had known since the 1960 West Virginia primary fight for John Kennedy. Reese had become an expert in using telephone banks on behalf of political campaigns. O’Brien organized a get-out-the-vote program whose aim was to assemble several thousand volunteers around the state for the May 7 primary. These volunteers were tasked with “ringing doorbells in key areas throughout the state to ensure maximum voting among potential Kennedy supporters,” O’Brien said. Block captains recruited by Reese through his telephone bank would make up the bulk of the operation, joined by student volunteers. Reese managed to organize fifteen thousand block captains in such major cities as Indianapolis, Gary, South Bend, Fort Wayne, and Evansville. On the first day of the telephone canvassing, Reese’s phone effort successfully recruited 1,872 block captains—904 in Gary, 455 in South Bend, 216 in Fort Wayne, and 297 in Evansville.

To test the motivation of the block captains, O’Brien had the Kennedy campaign mail out invitations seeking their attendance at a thank-you reception. “What we conceived was if we could get these people in groups, fairly good-sized groups, prior to the effort, thank them in advance, it brought us face to face with them,” O’Brien recalled. “It tested whether or not they were truly motivated.” He wanted to make some effort at organization and not try to rely only on brief telephone conversations engaged in over a period of time. Ten receptions were established throughout the state by the central headquarters, along with others organized by local Kennedy offices. “Then we had to distribute the family—Bobby, Teddy, their sisters or whoever—so there would be some presence at every one of these meetings,” O’Brien said. The telephone crew also called the day before the primary election everyone who had not attended a reception to ask if the Kennedy campaign could still rely on his or her assistance. “If you have fifteen thousand people say yes and that means you have five thousand people combined with the youth volunteers then you’ve got a fairly good operation going,” O’Brien noted. “It was all emphasis on grass roots.”

In addition to the block captains, the Kennedy campaign flooded the state with thousands of tabloids, bumper stickers, posters, and flyers. Approximately six hundred thousand tabloids promoting Kennedy’s campaigns were distributed in such cities as Indianapolis, East Chicago, Michigan City, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Evansville, Columbus, and Muncie. Kennedy staff also organized a variety of citizens organizations to promote his candidacy among such groups as lawyers, clergy, elementary school teachers, professors, senior citizens, farmers, and conservationists.

Nearly a week before the election, Kennedy aide Nick Zumas reported to Ted Kennedy that mailings had been sent out to fifty thousand teachers and six thousand farmers seeking support. “Our teacher sources indicated that we could have the public support of over 10,000 teachers,” wrote Zumas. There were difficulties, however, as efforts to attract leaders for the senior citizens group had not been successful. “If nothing else,” he said, “we hope to surface a Senior Citizens for Kennedy even if it includes only ‘old folks’ by May 3 or 4.” Two other groups had posed the most problems—doctors and businessmen. Of the 130 doctors in the Indianapolis area called by the Kennedy campaign, only two would offer to endorse the candidate. “Whatever impact will be made on the doctors,” Zumas said, “it will come from his [Kennedy’s] Indiana University Medical school confrontation on April 24.” As for the businessmen, none of any prominence could be found to join the Kennedy team.

To help prepare for Election Day, Gerard Doherty, who ran Kennedy's campaign in Indiana, made plans to produce for African American precincts “throw-away cards” with Kennedy’s name, photograph, and his column and line position on the ballot. These cards would be handed out in such cities as Indianapolis, Gary, Evansville, Terre Haute, Hammond, and East Chicago. “It appears that McCarthy will have a great number of poll workers,” Doherty reported to Ted Kennedy, “and for public relations, we should too. Certainly, in the ghetto areas we should have them passing the above described cards.” Doherty also recommended that the first priority to transporting people to the polls should go to African American areas in the state. He suggested traveling down city streets in caravans from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Election Day (the polling places in the 4,361 precincts in the state were open in Indiana from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.). “Three or four cars in a row with four people in each car getting out to knock on doors,” said Doherty. “The soliciting of people for rids by phones could be done and should be done in our safe precincts, i.e., Negro, Irish-Catholic, blue-collar.”
           
The Kennedy campaign faced another challenge as the primary hit the homestretch when Governor Branigin, hoping to find some way to offset Kennedy’s financial advantage, called upon Hoosier Republican voters to cross party lines and vote for him in the primary. “I welcome all of you, regardless of party, to support me,” Branigin said to a crowd of approximately four hundred people on the lawn at the Putnam County Courthouse in Greencastle. Branigin also told reporters during a stop in Lafayette that such crossover voting was legal in Indiana. The governor confided in his diary that he and Gordon St. Angelo had discussed his campaign problems. Although his volunteers had been working hard, his campaign had a tough fight ahead to entice votes from Hoosier African Americans and Catholics. “Whether we can prevail, I don’t know—crossovers can help but how many will occur. No one can say,” Branigin wrote.

Publisher Eugene C. Pulliam’s newspapers did all they could to promote the idea of Republicans crossing party lines to cast ballots for the governor. A front-page editorial in the Indianapolis Star on May 5 called upon members of the GOP to “uphold the honor of Indiana and prove to the world that Indiana can’t be bought by crossing over in the primary to vote for Branigin. Republican poll watchers can’t challenge them; we don’t think Democrats will.”

The attempt by the governor to attract Republican crossover votes did concern key members of Kennedy’s staff. In a memo to Ted Kennedy, Doherty noted that there had been a similar effort in the state during the 1964 presidential primary when Republicans threatened to cross party lines and vote for insurgent candidate George Wallace in an attempt to embarrass President Lyndon Johnson. “Actually,” reported Doherty, “this threat of cross over did not materialize, with the exception of Lake County.”

Doherty noted that for a Republican to cast a vote in the Democratic primary, he or she would give up the right to vote in their primary, where Richard Nixon was running unopposed. Even if some did decide to cross over, they would have to sign an affidavit stating they would support the majority of Democratic candidates in the November election. “Any Republican who is hopeful of gaining patronage, party recognition or the like, is reluctant to do this,” said Doherty. He advised that the campaign should be ready to have challengers available in some precincts, but it appeared to Doherty that there would not be a substantial number of crossover voters from the ranks of the GOP—a prediction that came true come election day. The issue may even prove to be a boon for the Kennedy effort, as many Democrats had “indicated their displeasure with Branigin for seeking crossover voting,” Doherty said.

The danger of GOP crossovers proved worrisome enough to the Kennedy campaign that it even attempted an alliance with an old adversary—Richard Nixon, who failed in the 1960 presidential race but stood eight years later as the leading candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination. Although unopposed in Indiana, Nixon wanted to stop Republicans from deserting the GOP primary for the Democratic side, as he sought to capture as many votes as possible to show his strength to a potential challenger, New York governor Nelson Rockefeller. The former vice president wanted to exceed the 408,000-vote total he had received in the 1960 Indiana primary, when he also ran unopposed.

The Nixon campaign sponsored full-page advertisements in both the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News warning that a “vote for Branigin is a vote for Humphrey,” and also revised spots for radio and television emphasizing the importance of voting in the Republican primary. According to reporter Warren Weaver Jr. of the New York Times, the crossover threat (estimated at a possible sixty thousand voters by the Kennedy campaign and forty thousand by Nixon’s staff) prompted an unnamed Kennedy aide to approach a Nixon assistant to suggest they work together to do something to stop such attempts by voters. “The Nixon agent, on the theory that nothing could make the former Vice President less popular here than an alliance with Senator Kennedy, declined,” reported Weaver. 

Kennedy forces often resorted to direct action when it came to ensuring the proper counting of votes in areas key to their candidate’s success, particularly in northwest Indiana. Six Kennedy volunteers, mostly college students, were sent out on Saturday, May 5, to carefully check voting machines in Gary’s 132 polling places, and some were arrested for their effort. William Levy, chairman of a Students for Kennedy organization at Roosevelt University in Chicago, and a young man accompanying him were arrested by Gary police in a church at Forty-sixth and Broadway streets at eight o’clock in the evening. The volunteers were later released, however, when police called Jerome Reppa, the Republican member of the three-person Lake County Election Board. Reppa noted there was no law on the books either permitting of barring persons checking polling places before precinct officials made their formal checks the day before the primary election. Police had received several calls complaining about the inspection.

Thomas Farrell, the coordinator of Kennedy’s headquarters in Gary, said the volunteers were checking the polling places to both familiarize the organization with the locations and to check to see if anyone had tampered with the voting machines. “Our problem was that these machines were delivered four days before the voting where anyone could have had access to them,” Farrell told a reporter. “We wanted to record their serial numbers and find out where they were.” In addition, the volunteers made sure to check the vote counters on the backs of the machines as long as they “didn’t have to touch the machines to do so,” Farrell said.

Indiana governor Roger Branigin attempted to match Kennedy’s sizable array of paid staff and volunteers with loyal state patronage employees, who did all they could to promote the governor to Indiana voters. Margo Barnard of the state division of labor campaigned on Branigin’s behalf at the Marcy Village Apartments located just north of the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. She knocked on 187 apartment doors, six homes in the area, and also talked to employees of the Adams Drug Company. Although a large percentage of the apartment residents identified themselves as Republicans, Barnard reported they had nothing but kind words for the job the governor had been doing. “Win or lose,” she wrote to Branigin in a letter, “I know it must be rewarding to you to know that so many people are proud of you and your record as Governor of our Great State. I, too, am proud to have served as an employee during your administration.” In a note on the letter, the governor wrote: “Virginia, Call her. Thanks!”

As Election Day approached, Eugene McCarthy could once again count on the “children’s crusade” that had been so effective for him in New Hampshire and Wisconsin; approximately six thousand student volunteers were expected to blanket the state during the weekend before the election. His volunteers worked to present McCarthy to Indiana voters as “The kind of man Hoosiers feel at home with.” The weekend before voting began, for example, more than four hundred college and high school students—busloads from Loyola University and Boston University and colleges in Detroit—descended upon northern Indiana with plans to canvass every house in South Bend and Mishawaka. Working out of a warehouse on Ewing Avenue in South Bend, the students were mainly veterans of McCarthy’s earlier efforts. Bob Rothman of Toledo, Ohio, called the group “the drop-ins,” as instead of “dropping out of society” they had chosen to drop in “to do something within the system.”

Jim Lagodeny, a sixteen-year-old Wisconsin high school student had spent $20 out of his own pocket for a round-trip bus ticket for the weekend. “But I can’t think of a better way to spend the money,” Lagodeny said. Other students found cheaper ways to travel to aid McCarthy in Indiana. According to McCarthy campaign legend, entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. had promised free tickets for one of his performances to students who volunteered to canvass for Kennedy in Indiana. The busloads of students that traveled to Indianapolis thanked the Kennedy campaign for the free transportation, and then marched off to offer their services to McCarthy.

Perhaps buoyed by the enthusiasm of his student volunteers, McCarthy began to place a new significance on the results in Indiana. For the first time, he told reporters that he considered the Hoosier primary to be critical for his presidential aspirations. Speaking in Vincennes at the George Rogers Clark Memorial, McCarthy indicated that the results from Indiana might well dictate “the way the Democratic party will go in Chicago. And the way that the Democratic party goes in Chicago, is the way the country will go next November.” He advised voters that if they wished to select the next president of the United States, the best thing they could do would be to vote for him on May 7.

McCarthy later backtracked a bit on his earlier statement, telling reporters during a campaign stop in Gary that if Kennedy won the Indiana primary, it did not necessarily mean that the New York senator would win the Democratic nomination for president. When he observed he had been trying to be “subtle” with his remarks in Vincennes, one reporter responded: “A little too subtle for your own good, maybe?” McCarthy replied: “Maybe too subtle for the press.”

The loss of the student support due to his late start in the campaign often gnawed at Kennedy. His aide Richard Goodwin remembered that late one night in Indianapolis the two men walked past McCarthy headquarters and saw a group of young volunteers sitting outside the building. Kennedy stopped and talks to the students, noting he knew why he was in Indiana—to run for office—but asked whey they were in the state. Many noted that there were working for McCarthy to end the war. When Kennedy interrupted to say that he, too, was against the war, one of the students noted: “I’ve been part of the peace movement for more than a year. McCarthy gave us a chance. I joined his campaign in New Hampshire to fight against the war because he was there. And you weren’t there. And as long as he continues to fight I’ll be with him.”

Kennedy noted that while some of the students may have viewed him as a usurper who jumped in to spoil their victory, he praised their efforts and indicated that they made him “proud to be an American. You’ve done a wonderful thing. I’m only sorry we couldn’t have done it together.” As he walked away, Kennedy stopped, turned around, and waved farewell to the students, who reciprocated. As Kennedy and Goodwin returned to their hotel, the candidate remained lost in thought for a few minutes before lamenting the loss of what should have been his constituency. “Well, it can’t be helped,” Kennedy said. “If I blew it, I blew it.”

Without the dedicated support of students like the ones loyal to McCarthy, Kennedy had to rely on his own, as one of his aides described it, “sheer energy and personal drive.” To aid in the national media perception of the Kennedy campaign being a juggernaut that could not be stopped in Indiana, Joseph Dolan, who handled the scheduling for the candidate, had devised a strategy whereby he attempted to save the largest and most enthusiastic crowds for the final days before the election. “You generally go out into the weaker areas first and then try to build up so that you give the impression of building up even though you aren’t,” Dolan noted.

With that in mind, Kennedy campaigned in key African American precincts in Indianapolis on May 4 accompanied by a group of black athletes that included Lamar Lundy of the Los Angeles Rams, Roosevelt Grier of the Rams, Timmy Brown of the Philadelphia Eagles, Herb Adderly of the Green Bay Packers, and Bobbie Mitchell of the Washington Redskins. White athletes also participated, including Jack Concannon of the Chicago Bears and Hoosier boxing champion Zale. The crowd’s biggest cheers were reserved for Indiana basketball great Oscar Robertson, former star of the state champion Crispus Attucks High School. “I am running as Oscar Robertson’s vice president,” Kennedy joked with an appreciative crowd during a stop at Thirty-ninth and Illinois streets. At other events he repeated his theme that the country could not tolerate lawlessness, but must also fight intolerance. He also urged African Americans to exercise their right to vote, telling a crowd at Blake Street and Indiana Avenue that many in the neighborhood “don’t vote in elections and have not voted in past elections. I need your help on Tuesday.”

On Monday, May 6, Kennedy and his traveling press corps participated in what veteran journalist Jules Witcover called one of the most incredible final days of campaigning he had ever been a part of in his forty years of political reporting. Kennedy’s long final day began in Evansville, where he had been the previous evening for a rally and reception at the Civic Center. Thousands of city residents had lined his route from Dress Memorial Airport to the center, where one young Kennedy supporter held up a sign reading: “Who Cares If His Hair IS a Silly Millimeter Longer.”

The hordes of fans impressed a reporter from the New York Times, who told a fellow member of the media that only a week before he had believed Branigin would win the primary, but now he thought Kennedy would carry the state. One of those waiting to greet Kennedy at the Civic Center was one of Indiana’s U.S. senators and former Evansville mayor Vance Hartke, who appeared to be jumping on the winning bandwagon. “I hope you’ll support me,” Kennedy told the crowd of more than five hundred people. “I have to go home to those 10 little children of mine, and they’ll ask, ‘Dad, how did you do in Indiana?” The rally’s success prompted Kennedy to later say he would call Evansville mayor Frank McDonald to seek his last-minute support (McDonald had committed his organization to Branigin). Kennedy also admitted that early in the campaign his friends in Indiana had urged him not to enter the state’s primary, but he could not win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination “without taking chances like these.”

From Evansville, Kennedy flew to Fort Wayne on May 6 for a noontime downtown rally. Arriving at Baer Field, Kennedy countered charges from Branigin and his supporters that he had been attempting to buy the election. “If I were trying to buy the state I wouldn’t be here,” he noted. The candidate called on radio and television executives to make free airtime available to all candidates as a method that would decrease expenses by 80 percent, and also favored establishing tax deductions of $25 or $50 so voters could give money to the candidate of their choice.

As he worked his way through the crowd waiting to greet him at the airport in balmy, sunny weather, Kennedy said he had received fair coverage from most of Indiana’s media, but singled out the Indianapolis Star as “a very biased and prejudiced newspaper.” Kennedy returned to familiar campaign themes during his remarks at the Allen County Courthouse, recommending tax credits for businesses willing to invest in poor rural and urban areas; urging more local control of decisions being made in Washington, D.C.; and speaking against violence and rioting but urging changes “so everyone has an equal opportunity no matter where they live.” He added that the problem was not one of race, as more whites lived in poverty than African Americans. Refusing to disparage either of his opponents in the Democratic primary, Kennedy did take the opportunity to question Republican presidential candidate Nixon’s plans on achieving peace in Vietnam. “All he said on Vietnam is that everybody should keep quiet,” Kennedy charged. “That’s a good suggestion by somebody who doesn’t have anything to suggest.”

Before leaving Fort Wayne for his next scheduled events in South Bend, Kennedy and the media covering his campaign stopped for an entertaining lunch at Zoli’s CafĂ© Continental on Broadway Street, an establishment owned by a former Hungarian freedom fighter named Zoltan Herman. According to Fort Wayne newspapers, Kennedy enjoyed a submarine sandwich and a beer, while his wife, Ethel, ate pizza and drank a Coke. Reporters joined the Kennedys in partaking of the establishment’s fare, pizza, apple strudel, and especially beer, which caused a delay in the day’s carefully prepared schedule.

Inspired by Kennedy’s visit, Herman produced a bottle of wine he had been saving for a special occasion and the candidate proposed a toast in honor of the Hungarian freedom fighters. Witcover noted that Herman refilled their glasses and the following scene ensued: “Now it was the proprietor’s turn. But he said nothing. ‘Who shall we toast now?’ Kennedy asked hopefully. No answer. ‘Does any particular name come to mind?’ he asked. None did, although the bartender was drinking with a candidate for President of the United States.” Breaking up the impromptu party, Kennedy stood on the seat of an empty booth, raised his wine glass, and said: “As George Bernard Shaw once said . . .,” prompting the reporters and broadcasters to clamber back aboard the waiting press bus.

Kennedy remained in high spirits as he continued to press his case in South Bend and LaPorte. Although he arrived in LaPorte almost an hour-and-a-half behind schedule, more than two thousand people were still on hand to cheer at a courthouse rally. Pleased by the enthusiasm shown by the young people in the crowd, Kennedy, in his fifteen-minute speech, wondered if people “can vote in Indiana at the age of seven.” He joked that when he had announced his candidacy for the presidency, his wife had asked him if he planned on running in the Indiana primary. When he told her he had not yet decided, she had pointed out: “If you enter the primary in Indiana, you will be able to visit LaPorte.” Kennedy added: “That convinced me, and here I am.”

In addition to laying out his program for America, the candidate made sure to take note of a LaPorte native son with the traveling press, Dan Blackburn, a 1957 graduate of LaPorte High School, who worked as a congressional correspondent for Metromedia News. “He was a friendly and conscientious young man to whom Kennedy took a liking,” noted Witcover. Kennedy pointed out that the community “obviously has produced many successful people,” as Blackburn had recently been named as an outstanding young man by the National Jaycees.

The festive mood was dampened for a bit as Kennedy prepared for a nine-hour motorcade from LaPorte through Gary, Hammond, and Whiting. The senator learned that the Indiana Department of the American Legion had been successful in its attempt to secure a court order to block the planned showing the evening before the election of a half-hour paid program from the Kennedy campaign. Judge John L. Niblack of the Marion County Circuit Court issued the order barring the telecast. The Legion objected because its emblem could be seen on the caps of Legion members who appeared in the broadcast asking questions of Kennedy, a Legion member, about his stands on the issues of the day. Although the Legion members only appeared for approximately fifty seconds in the film, the Legion noted that its constitution forbid any unauthorized use of its emblem in such a partisan political activity.

Donald Wilson, who worked on media for Kennedy, noted that the Legion was angry because the campaign had been able to arrange the use of a Legion hall (Post Number 34) for the shoot and had included Legion members. “Oh, we’d gotten releases from all of them,” said Wilson. “But on the technicality that the Legion emblem showed and therefore involved the Legion in politics—which of course, it’s up to the top of its head in Indiana, and anti-Kennedy—caused them to issue an injunction.” Late in the evening, the Indiana Supreme Court lifted the injunction, but too late for any prime-time viewing of the broadcast. Another film had to be substituted in its place.

The masses of people that waited to greet Kennedy during his motorcade through northwest Indiana soon had many on the senator’s staff forgetting the problems with the American Legion. A reporter for the Hammond Times estimated that anywhere from fifteen thousand to twenty thousand people patiently jammed together along the route from Hammond to Whiting. “In Lake County,” Witcover remembered, “there was no telling where one city ended and the next began. Sometimes there were so many reaching well-wishers that Kennedy simply put his arm out, letting it run along through the outstretched hands like Tom Sawyer scraping a stick along a picket fence.”

Scheduled to end his day with a speech in Hammond at 6:30 p.m., Kennedy instead arrived at 9:40 p.m. Speaking from the steps of the Whiting City Hall, the candidate blamed his lateness on his motorcade having to travel over “railroad tracks as 16 different trains came by.” He promised that his first task if elected president would be to “put an overpass over all of Lake County!” As the crowd erupted in cheers, Kennedy added that he had taken about thirty deep breaths of air and his second step as president “will be to do something about air pollution.” Actually, unscheduled stops to accept a bouquet of flowers from a young girl, to autograph the cast on the arm of a young boy, and to chat for ten minutes with Monsignor Stanley Zjawinski slowed the motorcade’s progress more than any trains. “We’ve had a fair hearing from everybody all across the state and now it’s in the hands of the people,” Kennedy said before leaving for Chicago’s Midway Airport and a flight to Indianapolis to await the next day’s results.

Kennedy arrived in Indianapolis too late for a scheduled reception, but still exhilarated by the day’s events. He later told Doherty it had been the best day of campaigning he had ever experienced. The Kennedy campaign had come a long way from its early days in Indiana, when Doherty had warned the candidate not to visit Lake County, as the organization had yet to establish itself there. Kennedy returned aghast at remarks from a county Democratic official who prophesized the senator stood no chance against Governor Branigin. When he returned to Indianapolis, he asked to see Doherty and confronted him about the problem. Just minutes before a volunteer who had been in northwest Indiana had given Doherty a flyer being circulated supporting Branigin and signed by the same county official who had talked about to Kennedy. Doherty gave the circular to Kennedy and said, “If you want to listen to people on the other side, I guess you’re not as smart as you think you are.” Weeks later, the tide had turned and the Kennedy organization had delivered a day to remember.

Exhausted from the marathon day of campaigning, tired reporters checked into the Airport Holiday Inn to sleep for a few hours before the polls started opening around the state. Some of the media adjourned to the hotel’s bar for a nightcap, including Witcover and his friend Jack Germond. In a rare occurrence, Kennedy walked over to where the two men were sitting at a small table. Declining their invitation to sit down, the candidate remained standing as he contemplated what had happened that day. “Well, I’ve done all I could do,” said Kennedy. “Maybe it’s just not my time. But I’ve learned something from Indiana. The country is changing.” Witcover said Kennedy continued to talk about the need for the Democratic Party to look to new coalitions of voters that included whites and blacks in the North. He also could not keep from thinking about one of the few negative aspects of the day, a young man holding a sign denigrating Kennedy and then running beside his car, grabbing his hand, and squeezing it so hard he thought he was trying to break it.

Kennedy continued his reflective mood during an early morning meal he shared with reporters and friends at about 1:30 a.m. at a restaurant named Sam’s Attic near the Marott Hotel. Among those in attendance were Jack Newfield of the Village Voice, David Halberstam of Harper’s magazine, Loudon Wainwright of Life magazine, and John Douglas from the senator’s campaign staff. “He was in a good mood,” Douglas said of Kennedy. “He was satisfied that he’d done all that he could.” Newfield recalled that Kennedy looked the way boxer Zale must have looked like following his epic bouts with Rocky Graziano, as the candidate’s hands were “red and swollen and cut” by the thousands of people that had grabbed for them during the day, and he looked worn out. 

In a nostalgic mood, Kennedy reflected on his experiences in the state and concluded that Hoosier voters, for the most part, had treated him with fairness. “They listened to me. I could see this face, way back in the crowd, and he was listening, really listening to me,” Kennedy recalled. “The people here are not so neurotic and hypocritical as in Washington or New York. They’re more direct. I like rural people, who work hard with their hands. There is something healthy about them.” He did complain about how he had been treated recently in the New York Times, saying he would rather be reported on by the Indianapolis Star because at least he knew, as did its readers, where he stood with that newspaper.

Douglas said Kennedy seemed pleased by the vast numbers who had come out to see him, but instead talked about a few episodes that had stuck in his mind. One involved a woman who had come up to him and asked if he could come over to see her mother, a victim of a stroke. “The older woman had been wrapped up in a shawl and had been sitting on her lawn for a long time,” said Douglas. “Bob had gone up and had a nice chat with her.” He had also enjoyed seeing a young man he had noticed on a previous visit to Gary who had been carrying a brother or sister on his back as he ran to meet the Kennedy motorcade. Seeing him again, Kennedy asked him to ride along in the car with him for awhile.

In addition to reflecting on the campaign, Kennedy also talked about his love for his family—his brothers, sisters, and parent. “He talked again about something which he apparently referred to quite a bit,” said Douglas, “about how the face of many of the black youngsters in their early years were very animated, and how as the youngsters got older their faces turned into kind of lifeless masks as a result of the prejudice and hostility and difficulties which they encountered.” The contemplative mood was shattered when a man who had been drinking wandered over and said some harsh things about the candidate. Kennedy refused to respond, and when the man finally left, the candidate said: “You get so tired sometimes. You have to restrain yourself.”

On primary election day, Tuesday, May 7, Kennedy relaxed by playing touch football on the lawn of the Airport Holiday Inn where he, some of his staff, and reporters would watch the election returns. Kennedy’s opponents were both sanguine about their chances with voters. A confident Governor Branigin, who the day before had received an endorsement from the Indiana Conference of Teamsters, told the Indianapolis Star in a page-one article: “I think I’ll win. I think the large number of undecided voters shown by the polls is a good sign.” The Teamsters, the union Kennedy had investigated for corruption during his days as chief counsel for a U.S. Senate subcommittee, sent out a sound truck to Indianapolis sponsored by Local Union 135 to blast out an anti-Kennedy message. “We just feel this primary is serious enough not only for the people of Indiana but for the nation as a whole that we have to do all we can to support Governor Branigin and stop Kennedy,” said Loran W. Robbins, president of Local 135. “Kennedy is a most dangerous man in our opinion.”

McCarthy, who the day before had embarked on a three-and-a-half-mile hike through central Indianapolis, said his polling indicated that it should be “quite close,” as only five percentage points separated the three contenders. A last-minute surge of optimism had spread throughout McCarthy’s supporters. Jeremy Larner, who used his experiences in a political campaign to write an Oscar-winning screenplay for the Robert Redford film The Candidate, remembered that on election day one of McCarthy’s aides raced around the hotel exclaiming that the feeling hit him today—McCarthy would win Indiana. “They touch off a small swirl of ecstasy,” said Larner. “Lost souls hug and kiss cheeks in the corridor.”

Because of the importance of the Indiana primary to Kennedy’s hopes for continued success in capturing the Democratic nomination, his campaign staff made sure they were ready to pass along any good news to the waiting media. Press Secretary Frank Mankiewicz noted that the campaign took a representative sample of twenty-five precincts in the state and placed staff members in those areas on election night to obtain early results and phone them into headquarters. “We’d brief the press ahead of time on what those precincts were,” Mankiewicz noted. “Then we’d get those results early so that an hour or two after the polls were closed we’d be able to give them fifteen or twenty of those sample precincts. And those stories were used by almost everybody.” In fact, the technique proved so successful in Indiana that the Kennedy campaign used it again in the Nebraska, Oregon, and California primaries.

For most reporters, however, the place to be on election night as the results were announced was with Kennedy in his private suite at the Airport Holiday Inn. Kennedy had invited two of his favorite reporters, Newfield and Jimmy Breslin, a columnist for Newsday, to his room to watch the returns come in. At the door to the room, however, the two reporters were barred for a brief moment by another writer, Theodore H. White, the author of the highly successful The Making of the President series. White did not want to lose his exclusive access to the candidate, but Newfield barged into the room, screaming an expletive at White as he entered, an effort that impressed Kennedy, who had just finished taking a shower.

The first returns reported to Kennedy by O’Brien were almost too good to be true. A Polish precinct in South Bend had Kennedy garnering 241 votes, McCarthy 86, and Branigin 62. A majority black district in Indianapolis gave Kennedy 341 votes to only 14 for Branigin and 11 for McCarthy. In one African American precinct in Gary, Kennedy had received 697 votes; McCarthy, 52; and Branigin, 16. Hearing the news, an exultant Ethel Kennedy asked: “Don’t you just wish that everyone was black?” Kennedy’s slate also appeared to be on its way to capturing a landslide victory over two slates pledged to Humphrey in the District of Columbia primary.

Before leaving his room for a victory celebration at the Sheraton-Lincoln Hotel, Kennedy noticed that his vote total had fallen from 54 percent to 48 percent. “He made a child’s face, said ‘eecch,’ and left for downtown,” Newfield reported. Later, as he watched a television correspondent report that Kennedy was not doing as well as expected, the candidate replied: “Not as well as you expected.”

The final returns had Kennedy winning with 42.3 percent of the 776,000 votes cast. Governor Branigin finished second with 30.7 percent of the vote, and McCarthy trailed the field at 27 percent. In winning nine of eleven of Indiana’s eleven congressional districts (losing only the fifth and sixth districts to Branigin), Kennedy captured 56 of the state’s 63 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, with Branigin winning the remaining seven. Kennedy swept fifty-seven of the state’s ninety-two counties, and also captured the majority of Indiana’s largest urban centers, including Indianapolis, Gary, Hammond, South Bend, Kokomo, Muncie, Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, and East Chicago. In African American precincts, Kennedy destroyed his opponents, winning them with better than 85 percent of the vote.

The Hoosier Democratic machine, however, did its work for Branigin in Evansville, where the governor captured Vanderburgh County with 11,616 votes to Kennedy’s 10,801, and students from Indiana University helped McCarthy capture Bloomington. In addition, Kennedy defeated Branigin in the governor’s home county (Tippecanoe), his home city (Lafayette), and even his home precinct. Hoping to persuade Democratic Party leaders of his ability to draw white as well as African American voters, the Kennedy campaign also pointed out that its candidate carried the seven largest counties in Indiana where George Wallace had secured his greatest vote in the 1964 primary—Lake, Delaware, Howard, Grant, Madison, Allen, and Marion counties. “I’ve proved I can really be a leader of a broad spectrum,” Kennedy observed to O’Brien. “I can be a bridge between blacks and whites without stepping back from my positions.”

Kennedy’s ability in Indiana to achieve his goal of attracting white as well as African American voters has come under close scrutiny in the years following the primary. A column by political reporters Roland Evans and Robert Novak immediately following the election titled “Kennedy’s Indiana Victory Proves His Appeal Defused Backlash Voting” credited Kennedy with winning 90 percent of the vote in Gary’s black precincts and running nearly two to one ahead in some Polish precincts—figures touted by the Kennedy camp. In an examination of the voting for a biography of Kennedy, two of his aides, William Vanden Heuvel and Milton Gwirtzman, found that in fact Kennedy only achieved such positive results in two Polish precincts and had lost fifty-nine of the seventy white precincts in Gary. “The lesson of Lake County, then, was that the more personally involved the white voters were with the racial struggle, the more they identified Kennedy with the black side of it, and turned to his opponents as an outlet for their protest,” Vanden Heuvel and Gwirtzman concluded.

Approximately sixty miles away in South Bend, however, Kennedy had been able to amass large pluralities in a number of Polish precincts “where there had been some threat of a ‘backlash’ vote against him,” noted South Bend Tribune political writer Jack Colwell. At a polling place at the West Side Democratic and Civic Club, a spot Kennedy had visited with his brother-in-law, Prince Radziwill, the New York senator won 201 votes to 84 for Branigin and 78 for McCarthy. Another west side Polish precinct, Saint Adalbert’s Parish Hall, gave Kennedy 224 votes to just 90 for McCarthy and 83 for Branigin. In the only precinct in Saint Joseph County carried by Wallace in 1964—a west side neighborhood with a polling place at Benjamin Harrison School—Kennedy won with 190 votes to 95 for McCarthy and 55 for Branigin.                                

Before Hoosiers had trooped to the polls, Kennedy strategists had expected their candidate to attract between 40 and 45 percent of the vote. They had also told the New York Times that if Kennedy garnered 40 percent or more of the vote and ran ahead of his nearest rival by at least 10 percentage points (a goal he achieved) they would consider Indiana “a significant victory that should have an important psychological impact in the remaining primaries and on the delegates to the Democratic national convention.” Television analysts, however, interrupted the results in a far-different manner, terming Kennedy’s victory as inconclusive.

An irate Fred Dutton, a close aide to Kennedy, complained to one network correspondent that McCarthy had won 42 percent of the vote in New Hampshire against a single write-in opponent (President Lyndon Johnson) and newsmen had called it an heroic victory. “Kennedy gets 42 percent here against two active candidates,” Dutton observed, “one the Governor of the state, and you say it’s really meaningless.” Watching the campaign coverage on a television at the Sheraton-Hilton, Kennedy watched as McCarthy appeared and told interviewers it did not matter who finished first, second, or third. “That’s not what my father told me,” Kennedy responded. “I always thought it was better to win. I learned that when I was about two.”

The candidate himself also battled the press. Before speaking to his cheering supporters gathered in the Cole Porter Ballroom at the Sheraton-Lincoln Hotel, Kennedy gave interviews to the various television networks covering the campaign. Asked by one interviewer if he would accept McCarthy’s challenge to debate him on the issues, Kennedy expressed willingness to debate, but indicated he would also like to see Vice President Humphrey participate. “I would also like to see him also participate for the popular vote,” Kennedy added in a dig at Humphrey’s failure to run in any of the primaries.

CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite questioned Kennedy about the large amount of money spent on the campaign. Kennedy decided to turn the issue against Cronkite and the people he worked for, pointing out that large supplies of funds would not be needed by candidates if the networks made free airtime available to all candidates on an equal basis. “The only thing I wish I had thought to ask Cronkite,” Kennedy said later, “was what his annual salary was.”  

Kennedy appeared at a victory celebration in the Cole Porter Ballroom at the Sheraton-Lincoln with his wife, Ethel, and two of the men who had made his victory in Indiana possible—Doherty and Michael Riley, chairman of Kennedy's Indiana campaign. According to Doherty, Kennedy had come up to him on election night and expressed his gratitude for what he had done in the Hoosier State and asked Doherty to accompany him to the ballroom. “I said, ‘What? Hey, you know, you brought it up. My obligation is to your brother. If he’s happy, I’m happy,’” Doherty recalled. The two men also agreed that it would be appropriate to have someone from Indiana with them, and immediately thought of Riley.

The moment was doubly sweet for Riley, because it gave him an opportunity to settle an old score with U.S. Senator Vance Hartke. Prior to being elected president of the Marion County Young Democrats, Riley had participated in a Democratic meeting in French Lick where Hartke posed for photographs with fellow party regulars. Although somewhat in awe of the senator, Riley seemed to do something to annoy Hartke, who chastised him by saying, “You’ve got a long way to go boy.”

When Kennedy graciously asked Riley to join him, Ethel, and Doherty on stage at the victory celebration, Hartke had come up and also volunteered to join the party. Kennedy declined the offer, and Hartke asked Riley to convince Kennedy to let him on stage. Riley turned to Hartke and said: “You’ve got a long way to go senator. I guess you just can’t be up there with him.” Riley never thought Hartke would make the connection between the two conversations, but several years later, after he had left the Senate, Hartke told Riley that he had given him his comeuppance that evening.

In his remarks to his supporters, Kennedy thanked all the volunteers who had come from such states as Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois to help with the Indiana campaign. He also gave special thanks to his mother, Rose, who had been “campaigning since McKinley was President and who has been going about the state telling people I’m not as bad as the newspapers say I am.” 

In Kennedy's opinion, the vote in Indiana had indicated a mood for change in the country. “I, at the moment, might be the personification of this change,” said Kennedy. “You, the people, have decided that we can do better than we have in the past. You have decided that we cannot just heal the divisions, but face what the divisions mean.” In a final jab at the Indianapolis newspapers that had bedeviled him throughout the campaign, Kennedy concluded his remarks by saying: “I want to quote the Greek poet Aeschylus—I will sleep better tonight knowing Eugene Pulliam won’t.”


Monday, March 2, 2020

Rachel Peden: The Hoosier Farm Wife

In the 1940s a farmwife who lived west of Bloomington, Indiana, used letters to share with her sister living in Indianapolis the joys and sorrows of earning a living from the land. Nina Mason Pulliam showed the letters to her husband, newspaper publisher Eugene C. Pulliam, who, impressed by the writing ability of their author, Rachel Peden, offered her the opportunity to write a regular column. “I don’t care what you write about, so long as it has a farm flavor,” Pulliam said to Peden.

From February 1946 until her death in 1975, Peden imparted details of her life and the lives of her neighbors along Maple Grove Road to readers of her “The Hoosier Farm Wife Says” column in the Indianapolis Star and “The Almanac of Poor Richard’s Wife” column in the Muncie Evening Press. “I’m just a farm wife with the good luck to have something to write about and a chance to write,” she noted.

Peden chronicled the difficulties faced by small American family farms in the twentieth century as they began to “erode away into large farms, like unprotected topsoil into the rivers.” She also reported on the growing degradation of the land farmers depended upon for their livelihoods. “Man has an inescapable obligation to the land,” Peden wrote. “It is his destiny to touch, observe, and learn from it, in his passionate effort to understand himself.”

Born in Redkey in Jay County, Indiana, Rachel was third of seven children raised by Benjamin Franklin and Laura Mason. Rachel spent her formative years on her father’s High Gap farm on land that eventually became part of the Morgan-MonroeState Forest. The family resided there for seventeen years before her father’s injury in an automobile accident forced them to move. At an early age Rachel and the other children were expected to help with the daily chores, including fetching and carrying firewood and water, washing dishes, sweeping floors, making beds, and looking after livestock.

Often referring to her father as “the orchardist” in her columns, Rachel recalled that he knew the Latin names of plants and trees, and called them by those names. “My father planted orchards everyplace,” she said. He became so adept at horticulture that his children considered him a magician of sorts when he successfully grafted an apple tree so it bore sweet apples on one side and sour apples on the other. Mason’s real love, however, was peach trees, and he won fame by propagating a successful variety known as the Skipper’s Late Red. “His trouble was that he had more talent than he could use,” Rachel said of her father. While her mother, ten years younger than her husband, sought “small cozy security,” Benjamin always wanted to “reach out for a grasp, however tentative, of some big, exciting thing.”

Educated in a one-room schoolhouse that included eight grades, Rachel had early practice as a writer, as she and her siblings took to heart advice given to them by one of her father’s hired hands, Bill Pofall, who told them if something “doesn’t suit you, just write it down and burn it up.” She noted that there were “so many things that didn’t suit us that we had abundant practice in writing.”

As a young girl, her mother had wanted to become a writer and passed along a love of reading to her children. Rachel learned to type by sneaking into her father’s office, supposedly off-limits to his children, and hurriedly pecking away at his old Monarch typewriter. “I never learned to type accurately,” she recalled, “but I learned to type fast, because if the orchardist found one of us there it would be a painful encounter.” (In addition to Rachel’s later work as a columnist, her sister, Nina, published a book on her travels in Australia and won awards for her newspaper writing, and another sister, Miriam E. Mason Swain, wrote more than fifty children’s books.)

After graduating from high school in Martinsville, Rachel attended Indiana University, majoring in sociology and psychology and graduating in 1923 with Phi Beta Kappa honors. She briefly worked as a reporter for the Martinsville Reporter before taking a job as women’s editor at Farm Life, a national magazine based in Spencer, Indiana, with approximately a million subscribers. While at the magazine, where her sister, Nina, also worked, Rachel said she learned much about writing from its editor, George Weymouth, and treasured a letter from him complimenting her on a column she wrote. In 1929 she married Richard Peden, whose family had been farming in Owen County since Indiana became a state in 1816. The couple had two children; a son, Joe, born in 1939, and a daughter, Carol, born in 1942.

Farm Life went out of business during the Great Depression, and Rachel followed along as her husband decided to fulfill his dream of running a farm of his own. In 1941 the Pedens bought a farm on Maple Grove Road outside of Bloomington on which Richard raised feeder cattle, as well as corn, hay, and silage. By the 1960s the farm had grown from its original 130 acres to 239 acres. Before she started her newspaper column, Rachel wrote freelance articles for such magazines as Country Gentleman, the Farm Journal, and Peoples Popular Monthly, as well as several poetry periodicals.

For her newspaper columns, Peden wrote under the pen names “Mrs. R. F. D.” and “the Hoosier Farmwife.” (R. F. D. stood for Rural Free Delivery, the service first offered by the U.S. Post Office at the turn of the twentieth century.) She said she never went anywhere without carrying with her pencil and paper for her column’s sake. “The farm always inspired something to bring back,” Peden noted. She usually wrote in the morning, composing her columns on a typewriter set up on a small stand under a stairwell in her kitchen. “Sometimes I’m just certain there won’t be anything important enough to write about,” Peden said. “And then, I look out and the leaves are falling, or the sky is pink in the east, or there is hay baling to be done—so many wonderful things on the farm.”

Peden’s work proved popular with readers in central Indiana, with many telling her they saw themselves and their own experiences in her columns. A fan in Muncie helped bring her writing to a wider audience by convincing her son, Angus Cameron, an editor at the Alfred Knopf publishing firm in New York, to offer Peden a book contract. Peden eventually turned her columns into three books published by Knopf with illustrations by Sidonie Coryn—RuralFree: A Farmwife’s Almanac of Country Living (1961); The Land, The People (1966), which received Indiana University’s Author Award; and Speak to the Earth:Pages from a Farmwife’s Journal (1974).

As she did in her columns, Peden used her neighbors’ actual names in her books and experienced a range of reaction when gaining permission to do so. When Peden asked one neighbor if she wanted to see what she had written about her, the neighbor declined, saying she would wait and see it when the book was published. “Still another said to just to make her really human, not too good,” Peden recalled. “Neighbors are such a joy, and so close to my heart.”

Peden died on August 16, 1975, and is buried at Payne Cemetery in Bloomington. Although her books went out of print for a time, she remained popular in her home community where, in 1976, she was a charter member of the Monroe County Hall of Fame. Starting in 2009, Quarry Books, an imprint of Indiana University Press, began reprinting Peden’s books.