Poet and Con-Artist: The Story of Scharmel Iris

Scharmel Iris (Lyrics of a Lad (1914)

Sara Catherine Lichon is writing a series of blog posts about interesting characters that she comes across while working as a co-operative education student for the Project this semester. Her work involves identifying and describing the over 5,000 unique individuals mentioned in Addams’ correspondence.

As a student, I’ve heard many a time that academic honesty is of the utmost importance, and that plagiarism can end one’s academic career. But back in the early 1900s, plagiarism was responsible for the rise of poet Scharmel Iris’s career, who made a living by fooling others.

Iris was born in 1889 with the name Frederico Scaramella in Castelcivita, Italy. When he was three years old, his mother married a man who helped them immigrate to the United States where they settled in Chicago. Iris changed his name and in 1905, when he was sixteen years old, his first poem was published in a Chicago Catholic newspaper. Soon his career skyrocketed as he was published in Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine, received positive reviews from Chicago newspapers, and published his own collections of poems. He received most of his funding and notoriety with the help of other famous poets and artists, such as T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Salvatore Dali, and Picasso, who wrote praise-filled letters to Iris’s patrons.

There was one major problem with Iris’s success, though…it was based entirely on lies. Rather than being a great poet, Iris was simply a con-artist. Letters and praise from Eliot, Yeats, and Picasso were forged by Iris himself, and Iris even wrote about himself to publishers and patrons under the pseudonym Vincent Holme. Forgery and plagiarism, rather than talent, provided the base for Iris’s career and fame.

Jane Addams’ letter to Harriet Monroe, Jan. 20, 1913. Addams stated that Iris had “no right” to claim she advised him to reach out to different poets.

Jane Addams herself was a victim of Iris’s scams. Iris spent part of his life as a Hull-House resident, and when he published Lyrics of a Lad in 1914, he supposedly received praise from art critic John Ruskin and poets Algernon Charles Swinburne and Edmund Gosse. In January 1913, Addams wrote a letter to Harriet Monroe describing how Iris claimed she had told him to reach out to Gosse and even Yeats. Addams stated, “Poor Scharmel Iris really has no right to say that I advised him to write to Miss Guiney, or to Edmund Gosse, or to Mr. Yeats.” Words had been put in Addams’ mouth by Iris, and she was only one of many.

Iris’s scams even extended to his living situation. He lived at Lewis College, a Catholic school near Joliet, despite not working or teaching there. He stayed there until he was asked to leave in 1966, and he spent the remainder of his life at St. Patrick Retirement Hotel. He died in 1967.

A poem by Scharmel Iris, published in Poetry in December 1914.

Regardless of Iris’s talent as a poet, it’s hard to deny that he had a talent for fooling others. Iris’s entire life and career was built on plagiarism, yet he lived the life he had always dreamed of — that of a successful, well-known poet . . . even if it was actually a lie.

 

 


Sources:
Announcement of Lyrics of a Lad by Scharmel Iris, 1914.
Inventory of the Scharmel Iris Papers, 1911-1964, The Newberry Library.
Jane Addams to Harriet Monroe, January 20, 1913.
Nina C. Ayoub, “Forging Fame: The Strange Career of Scharmel Iris,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 17, 2007.

Behind Closed Doors: The Divorce Case of Dr. Lydia Allen DeVilbiss

Dr. Lydia Allen DeVilbiss, in News-Journal, Jan. 16, 1914.

Dr. Lydia Allen DeVilbiss was a doctor and surgeon in Shelby, Ohio, who wrote Jane Addams a brief letter on August 10, 1912, commending her for her speech to the Progressive Party Convention. DeVilbiss was an active civic leader, serving as president of the Shelby Equal Franchise Association, president of the Richland county Woman’s Suffrage Association, secretary and treasurer of the Shelby Medical Society, president of the Anti-Tuberculosis Society, and medical director of the Better Babies Bureau of the Woman’s Home Companion. In addition, she was the first woman to become a member of the Shelby Socialist local. These accomplishments alone were newsworthy for a woman during the early 1900’s. But in 1912, DeVilbiss made the news for a very different reason; a dramatic divorce case that pushed her private life into the spotlight.

On Christmas day in 1906, Lydia married Albert K. Shauck, a professor and musician who was twenty years her senior. Early on, it appeared as though their life was going well; in 1907, for example, there was news of Albert opening a music school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the same building as his wife’s medical practice. But in November 1912, the News-Journal in Mansfield, Ohio reported that Lydia was suing for divorce. She accused Albert of having verbally abused her, using “foul, indecent and threatening language,” and slandering her reputation by spreading rumors. Lydia surmised that Albert treated her cruelly out of jealousy, as he also “materially interfered with her practice as a physician and surgeon.” Albert had also threatened Lydia’s life, she said, saying he would “take her life” and “circulate such slanderous stories about her” if she tried to leave him. Despite the threats, the couple had been separated for the six months before Lydia filed for divorce. When she made the decision to divorce Albert, she made arrangements to stay with her sisters in Fort Wayne and work as a drug saleswoman for Strong, Cobb & Company in Cleveland.

The first news announcement of the Shauck divorce case, News-Journal, Nov. 29, 1912.

Shortly after this news broke, Albert came forward with his own accusations. The News-Journal reported in early December that Lydia “treated him [Albert] worse than a dog,” subjecting him to verbal and physical abuse. He claimed that while he never abused Lydia or threatened her life, she had done so to him; in a statement made to the press, Albert presented a record of threats Lydia had made against him, which included “I wish someone would kill you” and “I wish there was no law against killing. I would just like to kill you.” Albert also alleged that Lydia once threw a butcher knife at him, smashed a bottle against his head, and broke his finger. He also complained of how, due to Lydia’s work, most of the housework fell to him.

The dramatic news coverage of the divorce case did not end there. Only about two weeks later, Albert refused to eat, and his health rapidly declined. He was sent to the Marion, Ohio sanitarium, and Lydia collected money due to him in order to pay for his treatment.

Albert K. Shauck’s account, News-Journal, Dec 2, 1912.

No news appeared on the Shaucks until one year later, when, in December 1913, Lydia dropped the divorce case. The case was dismissed without prejudice, but not because the couple had reconciled; rather, the courts believed that Lydia’s suit was not strong enough to warrant a divorce. Lydia chose to remain in Fort Wayne rather than return to Shelby. That was the last time the Shaucks’ marriage appeared in the news, but by 1920, Lydia and Albert were divorced.

After the divorce, Lydia moved to Miami, Florida, where she opened the Mothers Health Clinic in 1928. There, she conducted research on birth control and came up with inexpensive soap-based spermicidal jellies to be used with a sponge. However, Lydia believed only educated women could  understand these methods. She practiced sterilization on those she deemed less intelligent. Most of the sterilized patients were African-American women who may have been forced or mislead into having the procedure. DeVilbiss initially supported the work of African American physicians who opened a black branch of the Mothers Health Clinic, but after disagreeing with their methods, she shut them down.

All that is known of Lydia’s private life after her divorce is that by 1930, she married to Dr. George Bradford. She died in Florida in 1964. We will never know the details of the Shaucks’ private lives, nor whose account held the most truth. For now, we are left with newspaper articles as the main glimpse into the life of Lydia Allen DeVilbiss, and what may have happened behind closed doors.

Sara Catherine is writing a series of blog posts about interesting characters that she comes across while working as a co-operative education student for the Project this semester. Her work involves identifying and describing the over 5,000 unique individuals mentioned in Addams’ correspondence.

Sources:

Cathy Moran Hajo, Birth Control on Main Street: Organizing Clinics in the United States, 1916-1939 (2010), pp. 70-71, 117.

Esther Katz, Peter C. Engelman, Cathy Moran Hajo, and Amy Flanders, eds. The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger: Volume 2: Birth Control Comes of Age, 1928-1939 (2006), pp. 230-1.

Albert K. Shauck, 1920 United States Federal Census.

“Dr. Shauck is Now Medical Director of Magazine’s ‘Better Babies’ Bureau,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), January 16, 1914, p. 7.

Lydia DeVilbiss Bradford, 1930 United States Federal Census.

Lydia D Shauck, 1910 United States Federal Census.

“A New Conservatory,” The Monroeville Breeze, August 15, 1907, p. 8.

“Professor was a Good Dodger,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), December 2, 1912, p. 5.

“Refuses to Eat,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), December 18, 1912, p. 9.

“Shauck Case is Dismissed,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), December 13, 1913, p. 8.

“Suffragette Asks Divorce,” News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio), November 29, 1912, p. 5.

Jane Addams and Christian Primitivism- By Dr. Kyle Crews

Dr. Kyle Crews is an Assistant Professor at Saint Louis University where he also directs a program in interdisciplinary studies. His research explores the relationship between literature, theology, and culture. This post on Addams derives from his work on the theological roots of American literary anti-imperialism. You can contact Dr. Crews at kyle.crews@slu.edu.

My recent work on Jane Addams explores the moral imagination or theological vision that animated her commitment to social reform. She was an outspoken critic of corrupt politicians, avaricious capitalists, and city officials who colluded against the working class, immigrants, and other disenfranchised peoples to maintain their political and economic control. She may be most notable for establishing Hull-House in Chicago, but Addams’ activism was far more robust, particularly her peace advocacy. For instance, she co-founded the Central Anti-Imperialist League in 1899 and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915. In fact, Addams exerted considerable influence as a female leader in the anti-imperialist movement.[1]

Addams’ writings also captured her moral vision. Like Walter Brueggemann’s depiction of the Hebrew prophets, Addams nurtured, nourished, and evoked “a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture” through her social activism and literary production.[2] She challenged existing power structures with the artist’s “resistant intellectual consciousness.”[3] In language similar to Brueggemann, Katherine Joslin describes Addams’ artistry in this way: “Her imagination ranged beyond creativity for its own sake into dense moral thickets that confounded her generation and continue to vex us today: the social and economic disparity between rich and poor; the cultural ramifications of migration; the lure of the capitalist marketplace; the politics of fair play, especially in cities; and the strains of nationalism on world peace.”[4] Addams’ moral consciousness or imagination propelled her social activism; it empowered her desire to solve some of the “dense” social problems that confounded her generation.

Scholars typically associate Addams’ moral imagination or theological vision with a popular current in American Christianity at the turn of the nineteenth century: the Social Gospel.[5] The association is not without merit since many of Addams’ progressive theological perspectives did align with social gospel teaching. My exploration into Addams’ moral imagination, however, revealed a more profound connection to Christian primitivism.[6] In fact, I would argue that Addams constructed a social imaginary through her writings and activism that was nourished by a fascination with earliest Christianity.[7] It was her attraction to the simplicity, pacifism, and social humanitarianism of the early Christians that energized her social-theological vision. She imagined her work as a participation in the purest form of Christianity exemplified by the pre-Constantinian church.

A few examples will demonstrate Addams’ fascination with this period in Christian history, and its popularity in American religious thought. Her interest in early Christianity began with a second trip to Europe from 1887 to 1888. During her travels she encountered Christian paintings and sculptures, admired Byzantine Cathedrals and mosaics in Ravenna, and experienced an epiphany in the Roman catacombs. These embodied forms of Christian teaching cast a vision of the earliest Christians that charmed Addams and guided her social reform efforts and critique of American militarism. She came to believe “that pre-institutionalized, underground Christianity, the faith shared by the early Roman poor before it became a symbol of power under Constantine, represented the most authentic form of Christianity.”[8]

The experience that really fomented Addams’ enthusiasm for early Christianity was her visit to the Roman catacombs. She prepared for her visit in early February by reading several studies of the cavernous graveyards decorated with Christian frescoes. In a 22 March 1888 letter to her sister, Sarah Alice Addams Haldemann, Addams described her initial impression of the catacombs:

The catacomb of St Agnese’s is one of the best preserved in Rome and although it has not paintings as St Calixtus has, it is one of the most interesting in Rome.  The inscriptions are quite undisturbed and there are fewer graves of martyrs which have become shrine & hence chapels.  The early Christian symbols are so beautiful and attractive, as if they could scarcely find anything joyous and pe[a]ceful enough to express their eagerness for death and belief in immortality.[9]

Chi Rho in Catacomb of St. Callixtus

Her interest in the iconography in the catacombs fueled her admiration for the earliest Christians. She was particularly influenced by one image imprinted on walls and ceilings: the Chi-Rho symbol. Chi and Rho are the Greek letters X and P, the first two letters of the word for “Christ” in Greek.  The early Christians overlaid these two letters to fashion a symbol for the religion that actually predated the later popularity of the cross. At some point during her visit to Rome, Addams purchased a Chi-Rho pin, which she frequently wore during the 1890s.  According to Victoria Brown, the Chi-Rho pin “announced Jane’s identification with that early moment in Christian history when, in Jane’s mind, followers of Jesus’ teachings comprised a democratic counterculture…For her, the brooch was symbolic of the pre-Constantinian era, as well as a pre-crucifix era, when Jesus was a guide to peaceful love in this life, not disembodied salvation in the next.”[10] The Chi-Rho pin signified Addams’ solidarity with the Christians of the first three centuries of the church as she worked for social justice and peace.

Addams continued to believe that a restoration of early Christianity could serve as a panacea for social injustice and war.  After opening the doors of Hull-House in 1889 she was invited to speak to The School of Applied Ethics in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1892 to explain the necessity for social settlements and the motives underlying the movement.  The social reformer identified three motivating factors behind the settlement movement: the desire to “extend democracy,” the “impulse to share race life,” and “a certain renaissance of Christianity, a movement toward its early humanitarian aspects.”[11] Addams’ use of “renaissance” to describe the growing popularity of early Christian humanitarianism among social settlement advocates reflected the language of American theologians who promoted the “restoration” of the early church.  American restorationism descended from Christian humanists and Protestant reformers in the sixteenth-century who viewed antiquity, and especially the primitive church, as the normative standard for all subsequent Christian faith and practice. In their study of Protestant primitivism, Richard Hughes and C. Leonard Allen explain how the restoration perspective has impacted American life:

Some Americans have enshrined first times as an ideal to be approximated and even as a kind of transcendent norm that stands in judgment on the ambiguities of the present age. In this case, the myth of first times has been a beacon summoning Americans to perfection.  On the other hand, some Americans have fully identified their religious denomination or even their nation itself with the purity of first times.  The allusion thereby fostered in the minds of these Americans is that they are an innocent and fundamentally natural people who, in effect, have stepped outside of history, thereby escaping the powerful influences of history, culture, and tradition.  These Americans therefore have often confused the historic particularities of their limited experience with universal norms that should be embraced, they have thought, by all people in all cultures and all times.[12]

Addams’ emphasis on the “renaissance” of early Christian humanitarianism mirrors at least two aspects of Hughes’ and Allen’s description of American restorationism: she undoubtedly “enshrined first times” as the “transcendent norm,” and she identified the social settlement movement with “the purity of first times.”  She was “certain” that the renaissance of early Christian humanitarianism was “going on in America, in Chicago”; it was, indeed, the “spiritual force” at work in the success of any settlement.[13] As far as Addams was concerned Hull-House restored the true character of the early church where people from every ethnicity and socio-economic condition lived together in peace, love, and unity; it stood “on something more primitive than either Catholicism or Protestantism.”[14] Chicago’s first settlement was a light to the world, a beacon pointing xenophobic, corrupt, and violent Americans to the pure humanitarianism of the early church.

It may be tempting to dismiss Addams’ idealization of earliest Christianity as hagiography, but one cannot deny the formative influence of Christian primitivism on her social thought and peacemaking. She imagined her social activism as a recapitulation of the humanitarianism of the first Christians. The moral imagination that shaped her autobiography, speeches, and books on social reform and peace was enlivened by the mythology of Christian primitivism that other American religious reformers used to promote their vision of the restored faith.[15]


[1] For a fuller discussion of gender politics within the anti-imperialist movement see Erin L. Murphy, “Women’s Anti-Imperialism, ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ and the Philippine-American War: Theorizing Masculinist Ambivalence in Protest,” Gender and Society 23, no. 2 (April 2009): 244-270.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), 3.

[3] Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1994), 16.

[4] Katherine Joslin, Jane Addams: A Writer’s Life (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 5.

[5] For one example, see Ronald White, Jr. and C. Howard Hopkins, The Social Gospel: Religion and Reform in Changing America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976), 102.

[6] There were primitivist elements in the Social Gospel. For instance, see Matthew Bowman, “Sin, Spirituality, and Primitivism: The Theologies of the American Social Gospel, 1885-1917,” Religion and American Culture 17, no. 1 (Winter 2007). Nonetheless, the type of primitivism that attracted Addams was more closely associated with earlier movements in American Christianity like those identified by Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes in Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

[7] I rely here on Charles Taylor’s definition of “social imaginary”: “By social imaginary, I mean something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations.” See Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 23.

[8] Victoria Bissell Brown, The Education of Jane Addams (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 194.

[9] Jane Addams, “Letter to Sarah Alice Addams Haldeman 22 March 1888,” in The Selected Papers of Jane Addams: Venturing into Usefulness, 1881-1888, eds. Mary Lynn McCree Bryan, Barbara Bair, and Maree De Angury (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 2:586.

[10] Brown, 264.

[11] Jane Addams, “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements,” in Philanthropy and Social Progress (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1893), 2.

[12] Allen and Hughes, xiii.

[13] Addams, “The Subjective Necessity for Social Settlements,” 20.

[14] Jane Addams, “The Settlement as a Factor in the Labor Movement,” in Hull-House Maps and Papers, a Presentation of Nationalities and Wages in a Congested District of Chicago, Together with Comments and Essays on Problems Growing Out of the Social Conditions by Residents of Hull-House, a Social Settlement (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1895), 194.

[15] See Richard Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988).

A Double Life: The Story of Lewis E. Larson

Lewis E. Larson was a member of the Chicago Board of Education before he disappeared for three years. Chicago Tribune, Oct. 1, 1926.

Sometimes the pressures of life can make one want to run away and start over. Oftentimes people do not act on these feelings, but in 1923 one person did: Lewis E. Larson. A member of the Chicago Board of Education, Larson once sent Jane Addams a report on kindergarten membership in 1906. Nearly two decades later, Larson went missing for over three years, and was next found in Texas living an entirely different life.

Larson lived a simple life in Chicago, where he served as secretary for the Chicago Board of Education and business manager for Chicago public schools. He also worked as a real estate agent, treasurer of the Portage Rubber company, and general manager of Willoughby & Co. Larson married Mary Wildman in 1897, and they had two children together. When Larson sent Addams a report on kindergarten monthly membership throughout 1905 and 1906, nothing seemed awry. But by 1923, it was clear that Larson was not satisfied with his current life.

On March 7, 1923, Larson mysteriously disappeared without a trace. His disappearance was reported in The News-Palladium, which also spoke of the disappearance of Reverend John Vraniak, suggesting the two cases were connected. Larson reportedly withdrew $200 from the bank before disappearing, and though his work and personal lives were apparently “in excellent shape,” according to the Chicago Tribune, he had been complaining about being overworked. Some thought Larson had amnesia, some thought he was dead, and others believed he hadn’t left Chicago at all; in April, his wife Mary visited a Miss Frances Heiple, who claimed to have seen Larson walking through the city. This story generated no new leads, however, and the search for Larson continued.

In September 1926, when hope seemed lost, Larson suddenly resurfaced – in Dallas, Texas. James D. Pasho, who used to work with Larson at the Portage Rubber company, saw the missing board member while walking past the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. Pasho and Larson then reminisced about old times. Pasho described Larson as looking “better than I had ever seen him look…He appeared very prosperous.”

Larson and his family reunited after three years. Chicago Tribune, Oct. 12, 1926.

In the three years Larson had been gone, he had a variety of jobs and lived in a plethora of places. He later explained to the Chicago Tribune that he left his former life because of a “mental lapse” caused by “nerves and worry.” He stated, “Something within me drove me on. I first went to St. Louis from Chicago. I was dizzy and my brain was reeling…But I couldn’t rest. I took a train to Kansas City.” In a separate Chicago Tribune article he said he “broke down under the strain.” Larson had also been to Shreveport, Louisiana, and Little Rock, Arkansas, before ultimately ending up in Texas. He found employment as a salesman for the General Motors Truck Company, as a truck driver, and as a superintendent of construction for an asphalt company.

Pasho had only heard of Larson’s disappearance in passing, and he wrote to their former boss and relative of Larson’s, W. W. Wildman, recounting the experience. The letter traveled to the Larson family, and soon arrangements were made for Larson to reunite with his family. But the reunification had a rough start. Larson’s son, Leonard, made arrangements to travel to his father, but because of a communication error, Leonard traveled to Baton Rouge while Larson remained in Texas.

But soon father and son were reunited, and Mary and Lucille, Larson’s daughter, traveled to meet him as well. Larson stated he was “tired of it all,” and would “be happy to get back to my family.” However, he did not want to return to Chicago quickly. Leonard and Lucille returned to Chicago shortly after the reunification, but Mary stayed with Larson in Texas for six weeks as he tied up loose ends in his new business ventures.

Eventually, Larson did return to his family and resume his old life in Chicago, though he also maintained business ties in Texas. He also began working for H. C. Speer & Son, an investment and bond company. Larson retired in 1949, and he died in February 1953. His obituary mentioned nothing of the period of his life in which he was missing, and it became just another story to be found in the archives of newspapers.

Sara Catherine is writing a series of blog posts about interesting characters that she comes across while working as a co-operative education student for the Project this semester. Her work involves identifying and describing the over 5,000 individuals mentioned in Addams’ correspondence.

 


Sources:

“Larson Still in City, Conviction of Mrs. Larson,” Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1923, p. 13.

Lewis E. Larson, 1910 United States Federal Census.

Lewis E. Larson, 1900 United States Federal Census.

Lewis E. Larson, Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871-1920.

“Lewis Larson at Home Again After 3 Years,” Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1926, p. 1.

“Lewis E. Larson Found; Lost 3 Years,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1926, p. 1.

“Lewis Larson’s Son Home After Finding Father,” Chicago Tribune, October 12, 1926, p. 3.

“Lewis E. Larson Tells of His Wanderings,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 7, 1926, p. 1.

“Obituaries,” Chicago Tribune, February 12, 1953, p. 47.

“These Two In Port of Missing Men – But Where?” The News-Palladium, October 4, 1923, p. 1.

From Journalist to Criminal: The Story of Herbert George Buss

Herbert George Buss’s mugshot, Montana, Prison Records, 1861-1968

When researching those who have corresponded with Jane Addams, you  come across a variety of unique individuals. As a research assistant who has been researching and writing biographies for a number of semesters, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting people — and I thought I’d share some of their stories with you!

Among all the people I’ve researched so far, one of my favorites is Herbert George Buss, a journalist who was sent to prison for extortion in 1919. Before being charged with extortion, Buss was a humble cattle rancher who quickly climbed the ladder of the journalism industry. During the Wilson Administration, Buss worked as a congressional reporter. Soon after he became a publicist for the United States Daily. By 1912 he was writing for The Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper published in Aurora, MO. Buss’s article, “The Torture Tunnel – The Underground Way – From God’s Altar to Hell’s Sweatshops,” a screed against forced labor at a Catholic sweatshop in Cincinnati, was sent to Jane Addams by William Ketchum, who implored Addams to take action.

By 1919, Buss was making the news, not just writing it due to his involvement in “a story of alleged lust, temptation, love, jealousy, hatred, poverty, attempted seduction and threatened murder,” according to the Montana Standard.

Buss had married Virginia Randolph in 1903, and they lived a happy life for a while with their two children. But in 1915/6 (the newspapers offer differing years), Virginia claimed that a local merchant, John E. Reid, began making advances towards her. He sent her presents and letters, professing his love for her and asking her to leave her husband, even offering her $

Buss’s article, “The Torture Tunnel – The Underground Way – From God’s Altar to Hell’s Sweatshops” in The Menace

10,000 and “the best little ranch in the valley” to do so. Virginia claimed her mother destroyed most of these letters, and only one survived. Virginia asked Reid why he was pursuing her when he himself was married, and he confessed that he had affairs with multiple women in the town. In June of that year, Virginia visited Reid’s store to look at some china. Reid took Virginia to the basement, where he grabbed her and kissed her until she almost called for help. Virginia never told Buss about the incident or the letters – until later when they were fighting over Buss’s drinking.

Once Buss found out about the incident, he met with Reid and threatened to bring the matter to court and sue. Reid offered Buss $10,000 to keep things quiet, which he accepted. But it did not stop there. Reid and his wife claimed that Buss threatened to accuse Reid of sexual assault and even threatened Reid’s life, claiming “there’ll be a new grave in Melrose by Christmas.” By April 1919, the issue was brought to court. Buss was accused of extortion and threats on Reid’s life. The trial was widely covered in the press, and in a twist of irony, the once successful journalist became the subject of one of the biggest stories in the state.

Headline from the Montana Standard, April 11, 1919.

By the time of the trial, Buss and his wife had divorced, and Virginia was married to another Melrose rancher named Roy Bird. Buss was found guilty of extortion, and sentenced to serve six to twelve months in prison. After his release, Buss married again, to Ida M. Carbone. After that, we cannot figure out what happened to Buss. His death date is unknown, and in 1952 his son put a notice in the Chicago Tribune asking for information on his whereabouts. That was the last time Buss’s name appeared in a newspaper.

Though Buss’s name only appeared once in the JAPP collection, by digging a little deeper one can find a huge story. As a journalist, Buss surely would have agreed! And this is just one interesting story I’ve found during my research; keep an eye out for the next unique tale from the JAPP!

Sara Catherine is writing a series of blog posts about interesting characters that she comes across while working as a co-operative education student for the Project this semester. Her work involves identifying and describing the over 5,000 unique individuals mentioned in Addams’ correspondence.


Sources:

“Buss Takes Club Men Down Trail Ranch to Capitol,” Courier (Waterloo, Ia.) October 1, 1929, p. 4.

Herbert George Buss, U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.

H . George Buss, Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950.

Virginia A. Buss, Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950.

“Melrose Case to End Today,” The Montana Standard, April 11, 1919, p. 6.

“His Former Wife Tells Her Story,” The Anaconda Standard, April 11, 1919, p. 3.

“Find Buss Guilty Extortion Charge,” The Anaconda Standard, April 12, 1919, p. 3.

Jennie A Randolph, Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002.

Herbert George Buss, Montana, Prison Records, 1861-1968.

“Personal,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1952, p. 17.

Ardent Girls and Amy Merrill’s Passion for Addams

 

Amy Merrill (https://www.amymerrillplays.com)

Amy Merrill, playwright of ARDENT GIRLS, has an upcoming reading of her play on February 22. The play is about Jane Addams, the sisterhood at Hull House and Addams’ 1896 encounter with Leo Tolstoy. She was willing to talk to me about her project, her work and her passion for Jane Addams.

Merrill was inspired to write her play once she read about Jane Addams’ encounter with Leo Tolstoy.  She read an excerpt from the “Second Twenty Years at Hull House,” where Addams traveled to Russia and Tolstoy could not stop staring at her sleeves. Merrill explained that this encounter gave Addams a lot to think about because Addams admired Tolstoy. But the experience gave Merrill “leeway to sort of come up with my own idea about what happened and how she felt about it and how the impact of the visit had on the rest of her life.”

In her play, Merrill depicts her idea of the Addams-Tolstoy encounter. She’s always been attracted to encounters by different types of people. Addams and Tolstoy are very idealistic, high-minded people, but they’re both different types of people. “It’s also fun to write the scene because it takes place in Russia at the Tolstoy Estate whereas most of the place takes place in Chicago. So it’s kind of fun to sort of transport everybody to Russia. So it’s the improbable, real-life encounter with Leo Tolstoy.”

These are rather large sleeves! (Jane Addams, 1898, in the gown she wore to visit Tolstoy).

Not only Tolstoy and Addams, but Merrill also paints the picture of Florence Kelley and Mary Rozet-Smith competing for Addams’ attention. She explains the two as an “effective duo” with Florence Kelley being very passionate with an interesting background and Jane Addams as a moderator. Mary Rozet-Smith was fun for Merrill because she’s not as flamboyant as the other women are, and writing all three of them in “ARDENT GIRLS.”

Addams was a “fighter for people having better lives and it’s inspiring.” With all of the sexual harassment cases and accusations coming out today, it’s important to remember Addams’ legacy. Amy Merrill admires Addams work and legacy and truly enjoyed writing a play about her. “To know Jane is to love her.” People have been thinking about her legacy and wish that she could be with us today.

For those in the Waltham, MA area, the public reading of “ARDENT GIRLS” will be held at the Merrick Theatre (Spingold Building) on February 22 at 7:30 pm at Brandeis University, Waltham, M.A.

Class and Work at JAPP Coming Full Circle

Working as a research assistant at the Jane Addams Papers is enjoyable for many reasons. That being said, something particularly rewarding about my job is when the people I research unfold in ways I did not initially suspect they would.

Because I write biographies, I am required to find the birth and death dates of correspondents and other people mentioned in Jane Addams’s letters and documents. After I scour census records, I use old newspapers that have been digitized, in addition to other research databases, to find out more information about the person I am writing about. Several times my research has led to my digging through the lives of completely fascinating people who have been (seemingly) forgotten.

A particularly memorable instance of this happening was when I did research on Anson Phelps Stokes. The Phelps Stokeses were a wealthy, well-known New York City family during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The same week I was assigned to write Anson Phelps Stokes’s biography at JAPP, my art history class happened to be studying a portrait done on his son, Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, and his daughter-in-law, Edith Phelps Stokes, by the painter John Singer Sargent.

Anson Phelps Stokes, (1838-1913)

Imagine that! My art history major finally coming full circle!

I knew a little about the Phelps Stokes family prior to diving into their lives at the Jane Addams Papers. What I did know was that John Singer Sargent did a fantastic job of depicting the flush in their faces and the hint of New York City money and culture in their clothing.

What I didn’t know was that Anson Phelps Stokes was an incredible archivist of his own life; this man described even the mundane things he experienced in a personal journal that I was able to access on the internet. The careful cataloging of his travels reveals so much about the world as it was. My favorite excerpt being from a summer trip through Europe, in which he describes his decision against visiting Prague, as there was a terrible outbreak of cholera in the city at the time.

Admittedly I spent a little too long perusing Anson Phelps Stokes’s journal, but I could barely help it. It was fascinating and gave me an insight into events that I knew very little about- something that is an important facet of historical research.

So while some of the people I write biographies about are impossible to track down, others are a goldmine of information that I could never really imagine.

That is my favorite part about working at the Jane Addams Papers Project.

My Inspiring Research at JAPP

Talia Felner, ’19

The kind of work I’m doing at JAPP is hands on, because I’ve always been interested in working with primary sources and looking at artifacts. This summer, when I started working in the office, I was assigned to search newspaper and find transcriptions of Addams’s speeches. For the first time in my college career, I learned and really enjoyed my summer job. I was pouring through months of newspapers that praised, condemned, and even mundanely wrote about Addams in all forms. It really gave me a different perspective about American history and culture, especially the roots of the suffragist movement as written about in Addams’s speeches. The highlight of my findings was when she was given an honorary Masters of Arts at Yale University’s graduation. The preceding newspaper articles from all over the country were about Addams being the first woman to speak at Yale. Looking back at my summer, I really grew to know and love Addams and all that she worked hard for.

Addams in her graduation regalia, 1910

At the end of the summer, and the first few weeks of the Fall 2017 semester, I started looking at letters and logging correspondence between Addams and all her connections; whether it was Dr. Aletta Jacobs, or her family members. The letters ranged from pre-Hull House to her death in 1936. From looking at letters and newspapers, I am now searching through other libraries and archives for more correspondence with Addams. The research that I’m doing really ignites my passion to continue doing research after my time at Ramapo and the Jane Addams Papers Project; I would like to go to graduate school for Library Studies.
At school, I am the president of Ramapo Pride, the school’s LGBT+ club on campus, and am involved with Hillel and other social justice clubs. I’ve wanted to be in the history program here because I have been involved with history all my life, being the historian of my small family, as well as excelling in history in my formative years. I enjoy drawing, laying in bed, making playlists, and listening to music. My favorite era’s to read about is Edwardian and Victorian eras, focusing specifically on fashion and entertainment at the time.

Uncovering the Unexpected Story

Two years ago I had the incredible opportunity to join the Jane Addams Papers Project. Thanks to a lot of amazing circumstances, I am happy to be with the project, even after graduating from Ramapo College this spring. On a typical day, I enter and transcribe Addams’ correspondence. I enter various people and do minor research on those I can find. One of the exciting projects that we are working on is the creation of National History Day guides. Only having just started working on them, I am glad to have the opportunity to combine my history skills with the lessons I have learned as I pursue my teaching certificate.

Renee Delora, ’17, graduated with a degree in history and is completing her teaching certificate

There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new from Addams’s documents. I am currently working on documents from late 1915, which mostly focuses on the international peace movement during World War I, before the United States had entered the war. This is a topic that is rarely covered or taught in high school, so learning about it through the in-depth, step-by-step happenings. It is like learning about history in real time, as every telegram and letter is sent.

For the common American student in 2017, it is unlikely that they will learn much, if anything, about the Woman’s Peace Party. Maybe there are not enough resources and ways for teachers to access the information (although this project will change that). This was certainly the case during 1915. Every couple of days I enter a new document from students across the country asking Addams for materials on the peace movement or the Woman’s Peace Party because they cannot find the materials on their own.

The delegation at Hague

Typically, I cannot find these students in Ancestry or other resources because they were teenagers when they wrote the letters. I was recently shocked when I did find one of these students. I typed her name into Google and an oral history of her life immediately popped up. This woman, Rosita Holdsworth, had lived to be 101 years old (1899-2000) and had received a good amount of news coverage in Texas when she was approaching her 100th birthday. To learn about her life, from an interview directly with, an interview that I might add is younger than I am, was not something I was expecting.

Not every person has such an unexpected story, but when I do find them, or a particularly interesting letter, it is a reminder that every person can have an impact and that everyone has a voice.

Jokes and Lessons at JAPP

I’m a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey, double majoring in psychology and literature with a concentration in creative writing. I transcribe documents as well as add in the new documents. A lot of the documents that I find while working are actually really interesting and fun to read, showing the full span of the types of people that Jane Addams was in contact with and communicating with. One document that made me laugh was an article from June 25, 1914, that read more like a long joke than an actual published article, but was in fact a story told by Jane when comparing criticisms about women’s right to vote with other problems that men seem to have. As is written in the article, “A tourist one Saturday evening in Glasglow entered a saloon for a lemonade and saw in huge letters behind the bar, ‘Remember the Sabbath.’

Samantha Risman, ’18

“Quaffling his lemonade, the tourist told the landlord that it gave him very great pleasure to see a man of his profession show such becoming reverence to the day of rest.

“‘Oh,’ said the landlord, ‘that ain’t my reason for putting that there sign up there. The idea is to remind my customers of the Sunday closing law, so’s they’ll bring their flasks to be filled on Saturday night.'”

Another that I liked was from A Peace Movement written by Philip Zenner on May 1, 1915, where he makes great points about people and their outlooks on the world and how much perspective can affect opinions. What he says in this document is, to me, a timeless lesson that people can still learn now which is why I remembered it after reading it. It is about men and war, and how some men are saying that they want Germany destroyed and the men to die and suffer, including their leader. Zenner writes, “ I often thought when speaking to some of these men that if they were on the other side, on the firing line, and felt the pressure of this fearful war in their own person, or in that of their families, they might have the same deep feeling, the same bitter hatred, but they would be very much more anxious for peace than they are now. It is much safer and more pleasant to stand and watch while others do the fighting.”