Exciting news! On Thursday, August 26 at 8 pm CST, Saint Jane and the Wicked Wicks, an audio musical written and composed by Evanston playwright Kristin Lems, will open to the public at the website www.SaintJanePlay.com. The two-hour musical play, which can be enjoyed in one sitting or in four separate installments, is free, asking for a voluntary donation with a suggested sliding scale. After the site goes live, listeners may attend the show any time on demand.
Saint Jane and the Wicked Wicks is set in Chicago in the decade of the 1893 World’s Fair. It is about the friendship between Hull House founder Jane Addams and Nellie Wicks, Kristin’s great grandmother, in the years 1890-1905, during the early years of Hull House.
Prize-winning Chicago dramatist Douglas Post is the director, with musical direction by Diana Lawrence and mixing and editing by Dan Dietrich. Piano arrangements and performances were created by Tom Cortese of Champaign, Illinois.
The cast consists of well-known area actors and singers, including Kathy Cowan as Jane Addams, Rebecca Keeshin as Nellie Wicks, Monica Szaflik as Ellen Gates Starr, Maddie Sachs as Julia Lathrop, Patrick Byrnes as George Wicks and John Dewey, Frankie Leo Bennett as Gene Wicks, John B. Leen as Jim Wicks and Sol Friedman, Kingsley Day as Richard Crane, and Therese Harrold as Addie Wicks. The professional, non-equity cast was auditioned and selected in December 2020 and recorded in the early months of 2021.
The “audio musical” is a new genre. The singer-actors rehearse their parts together on zoom, but record and upload them individually to a single destination without being in a recording studio. Then, the scenes and songs are reviewed, mixed, and edited by the director and recording engineer. The final product is similar to an audiobook or radio play, but there are also songs, in this case, 17 original songs including “The Hull House Rag,” “Straight to Hell in Chicago,” and other memorable numbers. The new genre enables artists to release entertaining musical theatre work while keeping both performers and audience safe.
The musical will open on Women’s Equality Day, August 26, to celebrate the 101st anniversary of American women winning the right to vote. Jane Addams was active in the suffrage movement 10 years after the time of the play, along with many activist women of Hull House. Two key organizers, Ellen Gates Starr and Julia Lathrop, are characters with key roles in the show.
Kristin Lems has won many accolades as a writer, composer, and performing artist, but this is her first full-length musical. Lems was inspired by stories about the unusual friendship between the two women, told by her mother, musician Carol Lems-Dworkin (1924-2019), and along with primary materials, including a handwritten diary by Nellie Wicks, two full length unpublished novels written by Nellie’s eldest daughters, recorded oral histories, and an autographed picture given to Nellie by Jane Addams shortly before Addams died. Lems also researched Jane Addams, Hull House, and Chicago history with a 2017 sabbatical from her employer, National Louis University, where she is a professor.
Many other outstanding talents helped design the trailer, iconic poster, website, video product, and script, and many people deserve thanks and praise for moving this ambitious project forward to this day. For information about the cast, members of the pre-production, production, or post-production team, or to contact Kristin Lems, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1893, an African-American woman with an extraordinary academic background came to live at Hull-House, and she spent a decade of her life in residence at the famous social settlement in Chicago. Her story is not a tale of realizing dreams against all odds. It is not a tale of American exceptionalism, illustrative of the possibilities of equality in a democracy. It is certainly no fairytale. It is, instead, a history of realities. It is a history of human experience informed by the harsh constraints of race and gender in the post-Reconstruction United States. Hull-House was remarkably progressive during the nadir of American race relations, and it provided a space for women to thrive. However, it was not a protective bubble against the prejudices of white America. And the city of Chicago, strictly ordered as it was by race and ethnicity and class, even in many forward-thinking reform organizations, could be cold and bigoted and cruel.
When Harriet Rice, a 27-year-old physician, arrived at Hull-House in the year of Chicago’s great and hopeful Columbian Exposition, she understood it was not going to be easy. She was the first and only African-American resident at the Hull-House settlement, which was located in an impoverished neighborhood of white immigrants, many of whom measured their success and status in juxtaposition with that of African Americans, the city’s lowest caste. Dr. Rice was a smart, ambitious Black woman at a time when society relegated women and people of color to subordinate roles. She knew that a majority of the population in the United States believed Black people were inferior. She knew women had to work harder than their male counterparts to make professional careers for themselves. But she was not looking for easy. She was used to hard work and struggle. She had always chosen challenging paths.
Born in 1866 in Newport, RI, Harriet Alleyne Rice was the daughter of a steamship steward who prospered enough to own a home and to send his children to college. Harriet was a bright and curious girl and a gifted student, and she dreamed of following the career path of an older brother and becoming a doctor. In 1887, she became the first African-American woman to graduate from Wellesley College, and she went straight on to the University of Michigan to join an early cadre of female, Black medical students there. Unfortunately, a health crisis brought on by a debilitating injury derailed her medical studies, but after enduring two operations and a lengthy convalescence, she entered the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. After earning her medical degree in 1891, she completed a year of post-graduate training at the prestigious New England Hospital for Women and Children. Dr. Rice was in a special class of African-American women, only one of 115 who held medical degrees by 1896.
When Dr. Rice settled in Chicago, her plan was to practice medicine, and on Sep. 8, 1893, the Illinois State Board of Health issued her a certificate entitling her to practice medicine and surgery in the state. Yet finding work proved difficult. Most hospitals in the United States did not grant privileges to African-American doctors, and Provident Hospital, established in 1891 on Chicago’s South Side, was the only African-American hospital in the city. As well, many white patients rejected medical treatment from Black doctors, and by 1900 there were only 30,150 African-Americans in Chicago and fewer still who could afford to pay for medical visits and treatments. Rice, who was one of only forty-five African-American physicians in Chicago, faced not only racial prejudice but gendered prejudice, as well. Many male physicians at that time barred women physicians from hospitals, and gender discrimination in all areas of the medical profession was commonplace.
We can only speculate about Rice’s hopes and dreams for herself in Chicago, and the particulars of her decision to live at Hull-House are unknown. But it is likely that Hull-House offered a refuge and an agreeable and affordable housing option. For Black Chicagoans housing was expensive and limited, confined almost exclusively to the city’s “Black Belt,” and much of the housing available to the city’s Black residents was inferior in condition and inconveniently located. There was a growing middle-class in Chicago and a prosperous Black community, but Rice was not possessed of standing and wealth when she arrived in the city seeking to build a better life for herself. When she moved into Hull-House, she might have already been feeling discouraged about her prospects, despite the fact that Jane Addams wanted her to join the settlement and might have even recruited her. Other residents were supportive of Rice, too. Mary Rozet Smith funded a fellowship with a small stipend for her. Florence Kelley shared a room with her at the settlement and, no doubt, offered her advice. And Julia Lathrop helped Rice make contacts in Chicago and counseled her when her medical practice floundered.
At first, Rice settled in comfortably and made friends. Madeleine Wallin, who was also a new resident, found Rice “one of the most lady-like and unobjectionable people” at the settlement. Jane Addams assigned Rice to help establish a medical clinic and dispensary at Hull-House, and when the leading physician, a white woman, left the settlement, Addams was hopeful that Rice would assume responsibility for the operation. However, Rice was either uninterested in dispensing medical care to the poor or, more likely, she was unwilling to accept poor treatment by Hull-House’s clientele of white immigrants, many of whom likely mistrusted the young Black doctor. Black Chicagoans would have been accepting of Dr. Rice, but most of the city’s Black residents lived too far from Hull-House to make use of the dispensary or other of the settlements programs and services.
In January 1895, Addams wrote to Mary Smith: “Dr Rice has an awful cold which has hung on for weeks and is perfectly miserable, she is also desperate about her financial situation, she has no practice save the Jane Club and H. H. Sister Lathrop has taken her life in her hand and is trying to induce her to go to the colored hospital. She said that I might find her in fragments upon my return.”
The following month, Addams updated Smith again: “I forgot to mention Dr Rice in my long screed this morning. She has a wretched cold—has lost her voice for weeks and is altogether doing miserably. I do not know what do for her or about her. She is still working on the library but by the time she pays her room rent and her coal probably does not eat enough. She has not the settlement spirit (if there is such a thing) and makes Miss [Annie] Fryar and indeed the rest of us, indignant by her utter refusal to do anything for the sick neighbors even when they are old friends of the House. I am constantly perplexed about her.”
And later in the month, Addams wrote: “Dr Rice’s cold is no better but she is much more human and charming.”
Rice struggled to establish a private medical practice, and she was struggling to find purpose at the settlement, too. Addams arranged for a $25 monthly stipend for Rice to work in the Hull-House branch of the Chicago Public Library, and then Rice ran the Hull-House Dispensary until it closed in June 1896. After that she took a short-term, paid position for the Illinois Board of Charities to organize records of Cook County’s public institutions serving the poor. From 1897-1898, Rice was the only doctor at the Chicago Maternity Hospital and Training School for Nursery Maids.
Jane Addams may have been right. Perhaps Rice did not have the “settlement spirit,” certainly other residents of Hull-House over the years failed to find the spirit in their own hearts. In Rice’s defense, however, she possessed the skills and education to be a physician, and she wanted to be a physician. Running a dispensary for the poor did not fully utilize her talents, and it is easy to imagine the racial hostility she experienced in that role. Addams liked Rice and felt empathy for her financial difficulties and ill health, but whereas she could accuse Rice of lacking the “settlement spirit,” Addams herself seemed to have lacked the spirit of sympathy for the frustrations Rice experienced. Addams likely believed that having Rice at the settlement was evidence of her own open-mindedness and racial equality at Hull-House. However, she either ignored or failed to fully understand Rice’s unique challenges from the standpoint of race. Hull-House was a safe environment for women, but in the early decades the settlement was probably not always a safe environment for a woman of color.
The truth of the matter is clear. Race and racism played a significant role in the experience of African-Americans, and Rice was not immune. Though she had the mental capacity and the training for a lucrative career in medicine, the color of her skin had more bearing on her chances for professional and financial success than did her preparedness for medical work. As a result, since arriving in Chicago, Rice had had to worry about money. All Hull-House residents were required to contribute to the settlement, to have a purpose, to pull their weight. They were also required to cover their expenses, although Hull-House was an affordable housing option for most of its residents. Rice’s attempt to establish a private medical practice was failing, and she was having difficulty making ends meet.
She also suffered poor physical health, perhaps exacerbated by the stress of persistent discrimination. In 1899, an unknown illness became serious enough that she moved back home to Newport to have another surgery and endure another long convalescence. There is no record of how Jane Addams or any of the other residents felt about Rice’s departure. However, when she returned to Chicago in 1901, she went back to Hull-House.
In July 1901, Jane Addams wrote Mary Smith: “The Bureau of Charities has absolutely no money and we have been more of a relief bureau than any thing else — but — [though] relief was needed Dr Rice is most amiable and charming and likes the work.”
Jane Addams still wanted Rice at Hull-House and, perhaps, felt an obligation to her. In 1902, Rice took a flat in the new apartment building at Hull-House, her salary as postmistress at the settlement’s Post Office allowing her to afford the flat and take her meals in the settlement’s Coffee House. From 1902-1904, Rice’s circumstances were secure, but perhaps she was restless or disappointed that a career in medicine was eluding her. After serving briefly as the Hull-House cashier, Rice left the settlement for good in 1904. If she kept in touch with Addams in the early years after her departure, no correspondence survives to document it. If she had hard feelings for the settlement, we cannot know, although later evidence suggests that Rice did not look upon her years in Chicago as successful, nor particularly pleasant ones.
We don’t know much about what happened to Rice after she left Hull-House, but there is evidence she continued to be restless. In 1910 she was an assistant in a Boston dispensary’s pathology laboratory, and sometime after that moved to France to live with her brother. She was in Europe when war broke out, and she was one of two African-American women who served in WWI, finally getting a real chance to practice medicine. Rice worked in a French military hospital for most of the war. In 1919, she was awarded the bronze medal of French gratitude, the Reconnaissance Française, for her meritorious medical service. Her WWI years were “happy years,” perhaps the most professionally fulfilling years of her life, years that proved to herself and illustrate for the historical record Dr. Rice’s capacity to be an skilled physician.
After the war, Rice returned home to Newport, where she lived with her sister, and she made another attempt at private medical practice. She also returned to the same old discriminatory circumstances she had faced in the past. When her sister died in 1925, Rice wrote to Wellesley classmates to share the bad news and some of her personal disappointments, as well. “I’m a lonely wonderer on the face of earth, without friends, without home, or settled employment of any kind,” she wrote. She was 61 years old and feeling lost. She was also, she added, “looking forward without hope, and backward only, with regret.”
In December 1928, when she was living in Boston, Rice wrote to Jane Addams, and her letter is a heartbreaking illustration of her sorrows. Having read in the newspaper that Addams had been in town for a lecture, she wrote: “I do wish I might have seen you. I should have been so glad to see you once more—although I hardly imagine that you would have been the least glad to see me. I’ve never forgotten once hearing a southern doctor tell about seeing again his old “colored Mammy” and how glad she was to see him; but on his side there seemed to be nothing.”
That sentence of the letter is replete with bitterness, but there is some tenderness in the letter, as well. Rice alluded to a less than amiable final departure from Hull-House, but she was hopeful that the years had softened any hurt there may have been between her and Addams, and also between her and Mary Rozet Smith, who had sponsored her residency at Hull-House all those years ago. “So,” Rice concluded, “please do let me wish yourself, and Miss Mary and Miss Eleanor [Smith] all the best wishes of the Christmas tide—health and good cheer and all the happiness possible in this dreadful world.”
Despite her accomplishments, which were unique and impressive, Rice saw the world through the lens of disappointment. The “dreadful” world had been for her, in large part, cold and bigoted and cruel. The character of race was a living, breathing entity, shaping her life and drawing her experiences; and it is hard to blame her for feeling frustrated and wounded. As for Jane Addams, it is impossible to know what she would have said to Rice to counter her negative narrative or to console her. If she replied to Rice, the letter is lost. But I suspect Addams, who was usually keen to reconnect and keep in touch with previous Hull-House residents, would have taken the time to see her old colleague in Boston had Rice requested a meeting when she was in town.
Between 1928 and 1933, Rice worked in Philadelphia and later in New York City, where she found employment in a laboratory at the Columbia Medical Center. Apparently, her financial circumstances were often precarious in those years. In June 1933, she wrote Mary Rozet Smith for help. In America’s Great Depression, her position at Columbia was in jeopardy. She hated to beg for work, but she had no choice. “This is a man’s world and they won’t let a woman get farther than they can help—or hinder.”
In 1935, Rice received a questionnaire sent to Wellesley graduates. Many of the questions pertained to marriage and family and did not pertain to her, but one of the questions provoked a passionate response. To the question “Have you any handicap, physical or other, which has been a determining factor of in your activity,” she wrote: “Yes! I’m colored which is worse than any crime in this God blessed Christian Country!”
Racial prejudice and discrimination had not subsided in the 1930s. Jim Crow still reigned in the South, “Sundown Towns” restricted the movements of African Americans in the Midwest, and most northern cities were increasingly segregated. There is little evidence of Rice’s later years, but at some point she settled in West Somerville, MA, outside of Boston to live in retirement. She was living there when she died at the age of 92 on May 24, 1958. Although she faced unimaginable difficulties, she had accomplished much in her long life, including a few historical firsts as an African-American woman. Before she died, I hope she gave herself the credit she deserved for reaching beyond what the society in which she lived proscribed for her. I suspect at the end of her life, however, she was still disappointed about the ways in which her country failed her. And it makes me angry that in death she suffered one final indignity, being buried in a public cemetery in her hometown of Newport in the area designated for African Americans.
I was born exactly 100 years after Dr. Rice, and I wish I could tell her things are different now. And they are different; and, in many ways, they are better. There are far fewer obstacles today for bright and curious little girls like Harriet had been, and Black women have greater access to college and professional careers than those who lived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Still, I suspect, Rice would be disappointed to learn that only 36 percent of doctors today are women, and less than 3 percent are Black women.
By Stacy Lynn,
Sources: Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 3-15, 23-30, 57, 97, 103; Irving Cutler, Chicago: Metropolis of the Mid-Continent, 4th ed. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006), 156-60; Linda Gordon, “Black and White Visions of Welfare: Women’s Welfare Activism, 1890-1945,” in Vicki L. Ruiz and Ellen Carol Dubois, eds., Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2000), 214-41; Rayford Whittingham Logan, The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 (New York: Dial Press, 1954); Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast, eds., Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 740-42; Louise W. Knight, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 387-88; Ann Oakley, Women, Peace and Welfare: A Suppressed History of Social Reform, 1880-1920 (Chicago: Policy Press, c/o University of Chicago, 2018), 53; Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 12, 14; Kimberly Jensen, “Uncle Sam’s Loyal Nieces: American Medical Women, Citizenship, and War Service in World War I,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 67 (Winter 1993): 680; “African Americans,” Encyclopedia of Chicago; Florence Kelley to Nicholas Kelley, June 29, 1902, transcribed in Kathryn Kish Sklar and Beverly Wilson Palmer, eds., The Selected Letters of Florence Kelley, 1869-1931 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 113; 1910 U.S. Federal Census; 1920 U.S. Federal Census; Maria Aspan, “Black Women Account for Less than 3% of U.S. Doctors,” Fortune, Aug. 9, 2020; “New Physicians for Illinois,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 9, 1893, p. 4; “George Addison Rice,” Fall River (MA) Evening News, Mar. 10, 1894, p. 4; “New England News in Tabloid Form,” Newport (RI) Mercury, Sep. 24, 1921, p. 5; “Dr. Harriet Rice, 92, Native of Newport,” Newport (RI) Daily News, May 27, 1958, p. 2; Selected Papers of Jane Addams (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019), 3:233n2, 3:241, 3:270n24, 3:454n6; 415n21; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, Jan. 15, 1895, in Selected Papers of Jane Addams, 3:411; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, Feb. 3, 1895, Jane Addams Papers Microfilm (JAPM) 2:1656-58; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, Feb. 24, 1895, JAPM, 2:1673; Harriet Rice to Jane Addams, Dec. 7, 1928, JAPM, 20:608; Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith, July 19, 1901; Harriet A. Rice to Anita McCormick Blaine, Aug. 31, 1904, both in Jane Addams Digital Edition.
Every Sunday evening during the winter months, visitors jockeyed for seats in the Hull-House Auditorium. They came for the weekly Hull-House lecture at 8 p.m. They came to hear from diverse speakers, who shared knowledge and enthusiasm for a wide range of topics and used the stereopticon (an early projector) to illustrate their thoughts and ideas.
The Hull-House settlement’s winter lecture series was wildly popular, and every week many people were turned away after the auditorium filled all of its 750 seats. The lecture series was an important part of the settlement’s mission. The lectures were intended to educate, to inspire, to encourage appreciation for the arts, science, and culture, and to foster respect for new people and new ideas. The lectures were free, and working people from the Hull-House neighborhood, predominately men, made up a good share of the audience.
On Sunday, Nov. 29, 1903, the speaker was Toyokichi Iyenaga and his topic was “Beautiful Japan.” Iyenaga was a lecturer in political science at the University of Chicago and was an expert on Japanese diplomacy.
Professor Iyenaga was born in Japan in 1862 and came to the United States to study at Oberlin College, where he won a prestigious oratorical contest and earned his degree in 1887. After he completed his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 1890, he settled in Chicago, where he was a lecturer at the University of Chicago for nineteen years. Iyenaga distinguished himself as an orator and was a prolific, compelling, and sometimes controversial speaker. At a public lecture in Chicago in July 1903, Iyenaga raised eyebrows by arguing that American women could learn from the women of Japan, in matter of their attire, because Japanese women did not waste their time on fashion and did not, like their American counterparts, endure “the torture of high-heeled shoes or shock the sensibilities of right-minded people by wearing dead birds on her hats.”
Iyenaga was a colorful speaker. He was also, for most people, a curiosity. In 1903, there was only a small number of Japanese people living in the United States, and most of them were settled in the Pacific Northwest. American immigration policy—like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that barred the immigration of Chinese laborers and later the 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement between Japan and the U.S. to restrict Japanese immigration—reflected prevailing racist sentiments in America against Asian peoples. As well, racist imagery of “Yellow Peril” exacerbated irrational fears that people from the East represented an existential danger to people in the West. Thus, the Japanese community in Chicago was small and remained small, growing only to about 300 in the city by the 1920s.
One of the quintessential characteristics of Jane Addams’s philosophy as a human being and as a reformer was the importance of intercultural exchange, of face-to-face interaction between people of widely diverse backgrounds, of different races and cultures, religious affiliation, and economic or social class. Critical to that philosophy in the organization and management of Hull-House was providing a forum for all people and all viewpoints. Over the years, Hull-House hosted anarchists, socialists, feminists, labor organizers, and many other people with sometimes controversial ideas and radical rhetoric. Speakers like the Russian anarchist Prince Kropotkin and the African-American leaders W. E. B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells, who were not welcome in many venues in the segregated United States, were welcome at Hull-House.
Hull-House provided child care, pure milk, economic resources, and educational opportunities. It was a laboratory for social, political, and economic reform. It launched the careers of dozens of progressive reformers. It sheltered people and fed them. It helped poor people navigate charitable, educational, and municipal bureaucracies. It offered spaces for immigrants to celebrate their cultural traditions and to learn ways to embrace their new Americanness, too. But Hull-House also offered a venue for ideas to freely flow, and for diverse voices to speak, to be heard, and to be respected. It was not so much brave as it was a simple imperative, a nonnegotiable truth in the world view of Jane Addams.
And so, there was Dr. Iyenaga at Hull-House on a winter night in 1903. Not a curiosity or a “Jap,” as a majority of Americans would have described him. Rather, an educated man and a talented orator with an interesting perspective to offer an audience of a mostly poor, immigrant quarter of Chicago.
The more I study Jane Addams and the activities of Hull-House, the more I appreciate the wide and beautiful network of people she cultivated and the open arms of the settlement she led. In the narrative of Hull-House, there was a never ending flow of people with breathtaking stories to tell us about the American past. Toyokichi Iyenaga is one of those stories. He is another person on my growing list of people who came into the Hull-House orbit who are worthy of at least a small spotlight of his own.
After that first Sunday lecture, Professor Iyenaga returned to Hull-House for additional lectures. He attended a teacher’s workshop in Iowa with Jane Addams in 1906, and he worked with her in the peace movement. In 1917, he and Addams attended a peace conference in New York, where he urged the United States to allow Japanese admission to citizenship and argued that “hundreds” of Japanese men in America wanted to enlist to fight Germany but were prevented from doing so. In 1921, he helped fund the attendance of Matsuyo Takaziwaa, a young Japanese woman and Wellesley College student, at the Third International Congress of Women in Vienna, at which Jane Addams presided as president.
Sometime in the 1910s, Toyokichi Iyenaga traded the University of Chicago for Columbia University and moved his wife Yui and son Katsunosuke “Kenneth” to New York. He continued his work as a professor with growing expertise in U.S.-Japanese relations and remained a popular public lecturer. He also published several books, his most prominent Japan and the California Problem, published in 1921. From the limited historical record of his life, Iyenaga’s immigrant story was a successful one. He prospered, won respect as a scholar, and raised his son, who became a small businessman. In 1922, the elder Iyenagas retired to Oneida County, New York, where they were prominent citizens and active in charitable causes. In 1936, Professor Iyenaga was ice fishing on Oneida Lake, fell through the ice, and drowned. He was seventy-four years old, and he left behind a wife, son, daughter-in-law, two young grandsons, and an impressive list of publications.
But that was not the end of his immigrant story. And, sadly, the end of that story was an ugly one, reflecting the depth of racism in the United States, and the sad truth that in some ways not much had changed since Toyokichi Iyenaga was a young professor in Chicago.
On Dec. 23, 1942, a drunk white man announced to his friends in a bar in Sylvan Beach, NY, that he could “get a couple of Japs. I’m not just talking either.” With his .32 caliber automatic revolver, he walked a mile to the home of Kenneth Iyenaga, the late Professor Iyenaga’s 47-year-old son. The Iyenaga family, five of just 460 Japanese-Americans who lived in upstate New York in 1942, lived in a 1920s house, built from a Sears Roebuck construction kit. There was a photograph of Gen. Douglas McArthur in a front window and a portrait of George Washington hanging in the parlor. The Iyenagas were patriotic Americans. Kenneth purchased war bonds and donated an old car in a local drive for scrap metal. His wife Kei, a Japanese immigrant who graduated from Barnard College, volunteered for the American Red Cross.
The shooter who had come to murder the Iyenagas was Joe O’Toole, a 64-year-old former bartender. He came in the kitchen door with his gun and started shooting. He first hit Kei in the neck, he shot the 77-year-old widow of Professor Iyenaga in the thigh, abdomen, and shoulder, and then he shot Kenneth once in the chest. Fortunately, the Iyenaga’s elder son Yone escaped when the shooting started, and their younger son Kenneth Jr. was not at home at the time.
Kei and Yui survived their injuries, but Kenneth died that day on the kitchen floor. O’Toole confessed his crime. He was proud. “I shot the damn Japs,” he told police.
O’Toole was indicted for murder and assault, but the court excused him of responsibility. Instead, he was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He escaped justice, or perhaps he was dealt the only kind of justice a white criminal justice system in America could see. In 1943. When the country was at war with people who looked like O’Toole’s victims. O’Toole was white, so he was lucky. The Iyenaga family was brown, and not so lucky. A mother lost her only son that day, a wife became a widow, and two boys no longer had a father.
The Iyenaga family’s immigration story represented the best and worst of what America offered and denied immigrants. Jane Addams appreciated the possibilities and understood the difficulties Toyokichi Iyenaga faced in Chicago in 1903 at the time he delivered a lecture about the beauty of his native country at Hull-House. She would have been horrified by the violence his family faced, seven years after she was buried.
During World War I, Jane Addams never wavered in her commitment to peace, paying a high price in reputation and support for Hull-House. I have often wondered if she would have set aside the peace dove when the United States stood up against Hitler in World War II. But I don’t have to wonder about one thing. Based on how she maintained her respect for German people during World War I, I feel confident she would have maintained her respect for Japanese people during World War II. She understood that you could abhor a country’s militaristic behavior and not abhor that country’s people.
I also feel confident that Jane Addams would have been a vocal opponent of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Not only because she knew Toyokichi Iyenaga, but because she understood that democracy or peace or anything that is worth holding requires an acceptance that all people are entitled to their humanity.
by Stacy Lynn, Associate Editor
Sources: Michael D. Albert, “Japanese,” in Richard Sisson, Christian Zacher, and Andrew Cayton, eds., The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 253-55; Masako Osako, “Japanese Americans: Melting into the All-American Melting Pot,” in Melvin G. Holli and Peter d’A. Jones, Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 409-37; Greg Robinson, The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2016), 276-77; “Japanese,” Encyclopedia of Chicago; Report of the Third International Congress of Women (Geneva: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 1921), 165; 1920 U.S. Federal Census; 1940 U.S. Federal Census; Toyokichi Iyenaga Gravestone, Verona Beach Cemetery, Verona Beach, NY; Cap and Gown (University of Chicago Year Book), (1904), 25; “A Jap Carries off a Prize,” Gibson City (IL) Courier, Jan. 28, 1887, p. 2; “Finds Fault with American Women,” The Inter Ocean (Chicago), July 25, 1903, p. 3; “The Jap, Toyokichi Iyenaga,” Bureau County Tribune (Princeton, IL), Aug. 11, 1905, p. 6 (image 1 of Iyenaga); “Iyenaga Tells of Women in Japan,” The Dispatch (Moline, IL), Feb. 22, 1906, p. 5; “Good Program Is Prepared,” The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), Oct. 5, 1906, p. 5; “Toyokichi Iyenaga, Ph.D.,” The Buffalo Sunday Morning News, Nov. 30, 1913, p. 37 (image 2 of Iyenaga); “Charges Hibben Is in Pay of Greece,” The Boston Globe, June 1, 1917, p. 10; “Toyokichi Iyenaga, Former Lecturer at U. of C., Drowns,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 30, 1936, p. 1; “Ex-Bartender Held in Killing of Jap at Rome,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), Dec. 24, 1942, p. 28; “Slaying of Jap Laid to Insanity of Man Tested Here,” Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), Mar. 17, 1943, p. 17; “Tragedy That Struck the Iyenaga Family,” Syracuse (NY) Herald American, Aug. 11, 1985; Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House (New York: Macmillan, 1910), 429-31; Selected Papers of Jane Addams, 3:606 (image of auditorium); Hull-House Bulletin, 6 (Mid-Winter 1903-04), 1, Jane Addams Papers Microfilm (JAPM), 53:1170; Hull-House Year Book 1906-1907; Jane Addams to W. E. B. Du Bois, January 26, 1907; Mabel Hyde Kittredge to Jane Addams, May 18, 1921, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.
Once upon a time in Chicago, there was an ambitious little politician who decided to make a name for himself by picking a fight with the women of Hull-House. For a man who built things for a living, perhaps he should have known better than to employ a political strategy of burning down the house. But he was new to politics, and he did not know better. He saw his path to power in the persona of “Battling Peter,” who would rattle the foundations of the city’s social reform structures to raise his voice above the progressive din. His political strategy was to attack social reformers in the city, particularly the female ones, and the institutions they supported.
Peter Bartzen, a 61-year-old proprietor of a mason and carpentry business, was that politician. The office he sought was President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. During the fall of 1910, the fiery Democrat campaigned for that office by denouncing what he called the “hypocritical horde of reformers,” particularly the women of Hull-House. Politically ambitious with his eyes on a future gubernatorial run, Bartzen was a political novice. His only political experience was a four-year stint as an appointed building commissioner. To be governor, he needed a political victory and a message to launch his political career. With an “aggressive personality,” Bartzen decided to make a name for himself by whipping up foment against his city’s “child savers” and meddling do-gooders.
Bartzen was not a popular candidate, but the incumbent he hoped to unseat was not all that popular, either. Bartzen, who was not widely known, won the election on the coattails of a historic Democratic sweep, the county Democrats upsetting Republicans who had held power for sixteen years. The women Bartzen had maligned during his campaign for office had no direct say in the election, because women in Chicago, in Illinois, and in most states across the country, could not vote. No doubt that is precisely why Bartzen was so comfortable in his attacks against them. But when Bartzen took his seat, many prominent women reformers in Chicago set their watchful eyes upon the pesky, provocative politician.
During his first year in office, Bartzen did much to earn the disdain of Chicago reformers. For instance, he took aim at many of the county’s social service institutions, arguing that they were doing more harm than good to the county’s children and their families. In particular, he launched a full-scale investigation of the Chicago Juvenile Court in July 1911 in an effort to dismantle it. At the same time, Bartzen wholeheartedly embraced the long Chicago tradition of the spoils system by appointing his political allies to various posts under his authority, including some within the court itself. When Bartzen removed the juvenile court’s chief probation officer John Witter, a professional hired through the civil service system, he renewed his personal attacks against Hull-House, as well. In a public statement about Witter’s firing, Bartzen said: “It looks as if Mr. Witter has been under the influence of Hull-House. He ought not to be listening to a bunch of old women all the time.”
That bunch of old women was led by the 51-year-old Jane Addams, a nationally respected and beloved social reformer, and the 53-year-old Julia Lathrop, who helped found the influential Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy and was one of the city’s most prominent proponents of the Chicago Juvenile Court. Both of the women were a decade younger than Bartzen, but he dismissed them as members of the weaker sex, with no right to their opinions let alone their influence. Bartzen’s position was a powerful one. He presided over a fifteen-member board that controlled some $10 million and managed much of the county’s infrastructure and its public institutions, including its civil service system. But the city’s community of social reformers was also powerful, and Bartzen underestimated the women who led them.
In September 1911, Bartzen’s fight with the women of Hull-House escalated. When he made a particular play to discredit the work of the Chicago Juvenile Court and the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, Julia Lathrop fired back. In a public speech, Lathrop responded: “Both attacks have been made for the purposes of political capital…The noble minded women who have been working for the salvation of Chicago’s children made some errors. They were not serious errors, but they were enough to give politicians a peg on which to hang an investigation.” The court had suffered some growing pains, but the court’s founders and supporters were willing to recognize problems and work to correct them. As well, the Chicago Woman’s Club and the Juvenile Protective Association, which included some very well-heeled and outspoken women, loudly reaffirmed their support of the institution in the wake of what they believed were unwarranted, politically motivated attacks against it.
Reformers in Chicago were eager to defend the court and its mission to help disadvantaged youth escape the harsh justice of the criminal courts. They were growing particularly concerned about Bartzen replacing qualified probation officers working with the juvenile court with political hacks. Just days after Lathrop’s defensive stand against Bartzen, Dr. James A. Britton, the chief medical officer of the city’s juvenile home, resigned his post in protest. He charged that Bartzen was thumbing his nose at civil service law, which provided qualified professional probation officers to the juvenile court, and that Bartzen was “loading up the county service with political friends.” Britton was a Hull-House resident and the husband of Gertrude Howe Britton, another Hull-House resident, who was also affiliated with the Juvenile Protective Association. Mrs. Britton was just 43-years-old, but Bartzen no doubt dismissed her, and likely her husband, too, as meddling Hull-House do-gooders. Bartzan was leaving in his political wake a long list of scorned old women at Hull-House.
During the next year, Bartzen did not change his colors, and neither did the old women of Hull-House. Bartzen continued to undermine the civil service system and threaten the life of the city’s social institutions; and the city’s reformers grew increasingly certain Bartzen was a dangerous political incumbent. In the fall of 1912, Jane Addams decided to beat Bartzen at his own game: politics. She led a group of the city’s reform-minded citizens, most of them men with political clout, to select a candidate to defeat Bartzen in the November 1912 election. The committee chose Alexander A. McCormick, a former newspaper editor and progressive thinker. In August, Addams sent a telegram home to Chicago while she was vacationing in Maine, indicating the reformers’ choice: “Social workers have much to do in persuading A A McCormick to run for president of county board.” Addams believed a failure to defeat Bartzen would spell the “destruction of juvenile court.”
McCormick agreed to run on a Progressive Party ticket, and Addams’s political committee went to work. The campaign against Bartzen was ruthless, focused as it was on exposing him as a danger to the county’s most vulnerable citizens. Women led the charge, giving speeches and writing letters. On Nov. 2, 1912, on the Saturday just before the election, Addams and her committee behind McCormick published in the Chicago newspapers a signed circular entitled “Call to Public Service in the Interest of the Poor, Sick, Aged and Injured, and the Helpless Children of Chicago and Cook County.” The document skewered Bartzen’s policies, accused him of wasting public funds, asserted his guilt in “crimes of neglect and mismanagement of the Cook County Hospital,” and called his attack on the juvenile court “misleading and fraudulent.” In summary, the circular cautioned readers: “A vote for Peter Bartzen means a vote for the continued demoralization of all the public service institutions of the county, on which Bartzen and his henchmen have feasted while the dependents of the county have starved and been neglected.”
It is true that 1912 was a weird political year, with the role of a spunky third party mixing things up at the local, state, and national levels. The “Bull Moose” factor definitely influenced the Cook County elections. However, Bartzen’s particular reelection chances appeared to have lost traction on the heels of Chicago’s old women weighing in so loudly on his political record. Bartzen’s political strategy of picking a fight with Hull-House and Chicago’s most respected citizen backfired, and he lost the election.
The ambitious little politician had underestimated the old women at Hull-House and the political power they could garner, even without the right to vote for themselves. Bartzen not only lost this election, but he did not become the governor of Illinois, either. Even his obituary in 1933 dismissed his brief political career as minor, remembering his tenure as “anything but peaceful.” In the end, “Battling Peter” lost his battle against the battle-tested old women of Hull-House. While those women continued to make their positive marks on the history of Chicago, history resigned Bartzen to the political dustbin.
In 1914, Jane Addams published an article in the Ladies’ Home Journal in which she hailed the value of women over the age of fifty. “The weariness and dullness, which inhere in both domestic and social affairs when they are carried on by men alone, will no longer be a necessary attribute of public life when such gracious and gray-haired women become a part of it,” she wrote. “Ever-widening channels are gradually being provided through which woman’s increasing moral energy may flow, and it is not too much to predict that in the end public affairs will be amazingly revivified from those new fountainheads fed in the upper reaches of woman’s matured capacity.”
In the article, Addams shouted praise to “old” women like Ella Flagg Young, the Chicago Superintendent of Schools; novelist Edith Wharton; and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, the long-running president of the National-American Woman Suffrage Association. Jane Addams knew the fight that resided in the hearts of experienced, capable, older women. She understood the beautiful extent of possibilities for women who used their talents for the betterment of their communities and the world. Peter Bartzen probably didn’t read that Ladies’ Home Journal article, and he may have never admitted to himself or to anyone else that he had been undone by women. Who knows if he harbored any regrets about his brief political career or the choices he made to conduct it.
The story of the politician and the old women of Hull-House is not a fairytale in which the villains are defeated and heroes in the story live happily ever after. Real life is more complicated than that. But this story is, perhaps, a fable Aesop himself may have written if he had lived in Chicago during the Progressive Era, when Jane Addams and scores of smart, capable, and commanding older women roamed the city’s dirty streets in order to clean them up. The moral of that fable is this: Beware the people you look past in your blind ambition; beware the people who seem to be precisely what you assume, unthreatening and unworthy of your respect. They might just turn out to be the clever, unrelenting, powerful force that becomes the fatal obstacle you never expected.
By Stacy Lynn, Associate Editor
Notes: David S. Tanenhaus, Juvenile Justice in the Making (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 82-110; Albert Nelson Marquis, ed., Book of Chicagoans, 1911 (Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Co., 1911), 42-43; Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947; Witter v. County Commissioners, 256 Ill. 616 (1912); “Editorial Musings,” The Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), Nov. 4, 1910, p. 1; Letter, Nov. 5, 1910, “Busse-Deneen Ring Is Smashed in Cook County by Democratic Victory,” Nov. 9, 1910, p. 1; “Would End Juvenile Court,” Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1911, p. 7; “Fight New Child Court Idea,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 1, 1911, p. 4; “Bartzen Scored by Julia Lathrop,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 24, 1911, p. 5; “Physician Quits Bartzen Regime,” Chicago Tribune, Sep. 26, 1911, p. 3; “Call to Public Service,” Nov. 2, 1912, p. 5; “Sociologists Say Bartzen Is Menace,” The Inter Ocean (Chicago), Nov. 2, 1912, p. 5; “Chicago Women, In Humane Plea, Flay Bartzen,” The Inter Ocean, Nov. 2, 1912, p. 1; “Save the Helpless From Bartzen,” The Inter Ocean, Nov. 4, 1912, p. 6; “Old and New County Board Presidents Shake Hands,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1, 1912, p. 3; “Peter Bartzen, Old Political Battler, Dead,” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 8, 1933, p. 1; Jane Addams to Julia Clifford Lathrop, August 7, 1911; Endorsement for Alexander McCormick for Cook County Board of Commissioners, 1912; Jane Addams to Alexander Agnew McCormick, August 21, 1912; Jane Addams to Charles E. Merriam, August 21, 1912; Jane Addams to Raymond Robins, August 21, 1912; Raymond Robins to Jane Addams, August 22, 1912; Need a Woman Over Fifty Feel Old?, October, 1914, all in Jane Addams Digital Edition.
Chicago, Il. is home to “Helping Hands,” the city’s first monument devoted to Jane Addams and those whom she helped. Addams fought for equality and is best known as the founder of Hull-House and the mother of the social work movement. She was also a passionate advocate for the rights of immigrants, the poor, and women, and a founder of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. It’s safe to say that Jane Addams deserves recognition for her humanitarian and legendary work. Continue reading “Jane Addams’ “Helping Hands””
In the early twentieth century, newsboys were a characteristic of the urban landscape, a ubiquitous presence on big city street corners across America. Boys and girls as young as five or six peddled penny and two-penny papers in the wee morning hours, during the school day, and long, long, long after dark. On muggy and sunny summer days and on blustery winter nights, children sold the news and collected their pennies. In 1900, there were ten major, general-circulation newspapers in Chicago and dozens more specialty publications, as well; and at least 4,000 newsboys and newgirls sold them from established newsstands, from pull carts advertised with newspaper mastheads, from makeshift box displays, and from right out from under their own little arms. The exuberant voice of the newspaper crier, which cut above the chaotic din of the bustling Chicago streets, was more often than not the voice of a child.
And where there was the voice of a child on the streets of Chicago, there was, of course, Jane Addams. In a number of speeches in the early 1900s, Addams argued that “something should be done to take the babies from the streets.” Through her work at Hull-House, Addams witnessed firsthand the dangers faced by children who earned a living on the urban streets. Popular culture has romanticized the newsboy as a “saucy, chattering” chap, whose smudged, little face and crooked Gatsby-hat belied street smarts and worldliness that made him wise beyond his years. Yet Addams would never have succumbed to such romance, for her experiences had shown her otherwise. So while Chicago’s newsboys raised their voices to sell Chicagoans the news, Jane Addams raised her voice to protect them.
Many programs at Hull-House kept children off the streets, maybe even keeping some from resorting to the sale of the evening news. Addams spent a lifetime lobbying for child labor laws, and her hard-hitting articles and widely attended speeches raised public awareness about the difficulties of life for poor children, particularly those of Chicago’s immigrant families. But as was the way of the world in the Progressive Era, many children in the inner city had few choices; and for some, the freedom of movement and money in pockets made selling the news quite an alluring prospect. There were a few newsboys who made $3-5 dollars a day. One small Italian boy named Antonio, who operated two stands on the corner of Clark and Monroe streets, sold 1,000 newspapers a day. The thirteen-year-old Antonio had inherited the prime location from his father, and he benefited from a corner monopoly at a very lucrative location. Antonio was one of the lucky ones, however. Most newsboys were fortunate to take in a fraction of Antonio’s income, as typical pay was just 50 cents per 100 penny papers sold each day; and most did not have the luxury to stand still in one spot and sell such a large quantity of papers. Instead, they lugged heavy, wheeled carts, toted bulky satchels, or secured their product under their arms, as they searched the streets for customers. And it was those roaming newsboys who were, of course, most vulnerable to the dangers and temptations of the city.
Children selling papers at rush hour, at dark, in terrible weather, and without protective supervision faced many perils. In June 1903, Cornelius Scanlan, a twelve-year-old newsboy was selling papers to street car travelers on 47th street when he was hit and killed by a northbound train. Many newsboys were orphans or from poor families and were inadequately attired for Midwestern rains and for Lake Michigan cold. One newsboy named Peter was found sleeping in News Alley at 2 a.m. on one of the coldest days of the winter. He claimed to be an orphan who came to Chicago from Milwaukee. Weather was a constant problem for those who worked and lived out of doors. Newsboys were also frequently the victims of crime. William Cullen was a blind newsboy who was “a familiar figure” at Blue Island Avenue and Twelfth Street. He sold newspapers from a small wagon and with the protection of a dog, but one night as he slept two men stole his newspaper stand, jeopardizing his means of subsistence.
Particularly troubling was the potential for sexual assault. The Chicago police collected evidence on one adult news dealer who had a prosperous corner on Halsted Street. He made eight boys who worked for him come to his room to receive their pay “and there committed violence” on each, most under the age of 14. One-third of the newsboys sent to one reform school in Chicago had venereal disease, an unfortunate reality for many kids who risked life and health on the streets. Of course, even those who were not abused suffered lung ailments and other sicknesses that went untreated; and if they became too unwell to sell papers, they lost income, as well. Sadly, too, adults who should have protected them were often the perpetrators of mistreatment. Many parents, some desperate themselves, pressed these children into the newsboy “economy.” Police officers were sometimes guilty of harassment, as some in Chicago took payoffs from newspaper companies to guarantee particularly lucrative corners, muscling away newsboys who “trespassed” upon those monopolies, and even arresting others for loitering.
In 1902, a group of some 200 newsboys organized the Chicago Newsboys’ Protective Association. This union tried to mediate the conditions of newsboy employment with newspaper publishers, to lobby for better conditions, and to help members who were sick or injured. Strides were minimal, and the streets were no less dangerous. As well, newspapers in this era had multiple editions, and papers were published at morning, at noon, and at night. As such, days for newsboys were often long; and truancy from school was a common problem. Working on the streets also exposed newsboys to the temptations of gambling, smoking, and other vices that resulted from a vagrant lifestyle. Some of these kids were runaways. Edward Fink, a twelve-year-old from South Bend, Indiana, took $30 from his mother and traveled to Chicago on a freight train. He was selling papers on the streets of Chicago and living with other newsboys when he was arrested and returned to his parents. Another boy, a sixteen-year-old from Texas moved to Chicago to work as a newsboy because black newsboys were not allowed in his town. But when he arrived in South Chicago, police arrested him for vagrancy.
In 1903, Jane Addams was part of a two-day investigation into the lives of newsboys in Chicago. Commissioned at the behest of the Federation of Chicago Settlements, a committee of twenty investigators hit the streets to interview 1,000 newsboys (including 20 newsgirls) in Chicago’s “Loop.” They reported that “while favorable to the legitimate features of the newspaper industry” their investigation confirmed their “impression that Chicago needs a city ordinance which would obviate many of the abuses now apparent in the news trade.” The committee printed a 28-page, illustrated pamphlet, which outlined the work and social conditions of the children who sold newspapers and offered proposals for child labor laws to protect them. The investigation in Chicago reported that the newsboys they interviewed had ranged in age from 5-22 and that 127 of them (12%) were under the age of 10. Among the number, Italian, German, Irish, and Jewish immigrants were numerous. The investigators turned up one five-year-old child and five other kids who were just six. The report noted that “the small boy, under ten years of age, is on the ragged edge of the newspaper business.” No doubt, younger newsboys faced the most hardships and dangers, too.
The pamphlet garnered some attention, but six years later Addams was frustrated. In a speech in March 1909 about children and street trading, she complained that newsboys had fallen in the category of “merchant” and were not subject to child labor regulations. Addams was annoyed that even as Illinois had enacted a child labor law, which should have limited the working hours of all children and protected them from harsh labor conditions, it did not apply to Chicago’s newsboys. “So far, we have been unable to secure any legislative action on the subject,” she lamented. “It is a very disgraceful situation, I think, for Chicago to be placed in while the Illinois child labor law is so good. The City of Chicago is a little careless, if not recreant, towards the children who are not reached by the operation of the state law.” And so, Jane Addams’ battle for the safety and wellbeing of all children would continue.
The remarkable, illustrated pamphlet that Jane Addams and her group published is now a part of the Jane Addams Digital Edition, where you can read the document in its entirety. You will also, no doubt, enjoy the poignant photos of real newsboys and newsgirls who worked on the gritty streets of early twentieth-century Chicago.
By Stacy Linn, Assistant Editor
Sources: Jane Addams, “Address to the Merchants Club, March 8, 1902,” Jane Addams Digital Edition; Jane Addams and Federation of Chicago Settlements, Newsboy Conditions in Chicago (1903),” Jane Addams Digital Edition, accessed March 31, 2017; Chicago Daily Tribune, 7 May 1903, 3:1; 24 June 1903, 1:6; 9 October 1903, 4:3; The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL); 5 August 1903, 9:5; 13 September 1903, 25:1-7; Aaron Brenner, Benjamin Day, and Immanuel Ness, eds., The Encyclopedia Strikes in American History (New York: Routledge, 2015), 614; “Chicago Newspapers,” https://chicagology.com/newspapers/; Myron E. Adams, “Children in American Street Trades,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 25 (1905): 23-44. The photos featured here are included in Newsboy Conditions in Chicago.
“Clowns Gathering in the Woods,” blares CNN. “Creepy Clowns: Serious Matter or Sick Joke,” asks The Guardian. It all started in South Carolina, where groups of children swore that clowns, lurking in the shadowy woods, and attempted to lure them to an abandoned house deep within the forest. Police could not find any clown paraphernalia at the scene, but that did not stop another group of children from seeing a shady clown just one week later on the other side of town. Once again, police could not find any hard evidence of red noses, water-squirting flowers, or tiny cars that can somehow fit ten people inside.
Americans chuckled to themselves, “Oh those South Carolinians are too much!” Then the clowns went national. They started showing up all along the East coast, from Florida to Maine. Then, in some sort of clown-manifest-destiny, the clowns traveled West to Texas, Colorado, Utah, and eventually were found scaring fish and surfers in California. It is not known if any clowns have swam across the Pacific to haunt Hawaii.
Scary clowns are not unique to the fall of 2016. Oh no. As I was reading through old newspapers from 1912 Chicago in an attempt to find out more information about a specific correspondent, I stumbled across an incredible byline on the adjacent page. It was about a murderous clown, living in Chicago not far from Hull-House, where Jane Addams was busy toiling away, and his vaudeville singer wife who plotted the downfall of their wealthy roommate.
In early October, 1912, a Baltimore heiress named Sophie Singer came to Chicago with her fiance, Will Worthen. They were met at the station by a “Mrs. Conway” who suggested that they all get a flat together instead of a hotel. “Mrs. Conway” was really Mrs. Louisa Cramer, wife of Charles N. Cramer (alias Charles Kramer, alias Charles Conway). The couple was part of a traveling circus, he as a human cannonball and a clown, and she as a singer and a lion tamer. Oh, and he had a wooden leg, too.
The three moved in together, and were shortly joined by Mr. Cramer. The Cramers, under the alias of the Conways, were dirt poor and only lived off the wealth of their heiress roommate and her well-to-do fiance. All was well until Ms. Singer decided that she would move back to Baltimore, leaving the Conways with no well of money to draw from. This did not sit well with the carny couple, and one night while Mr. Worthen was away gambling, the one legged clown made his move.
Worthen came back to find the key-hole stuffed. Breaking down the door, he found Sophie’s tangled legs sticking out from under their bed. She had clearly been strangled to death; her hands were tied with thin wire and Cramer’s handkerchief was shoved so deep into her throat that police needed pincers to remove it. Her jewelry had been stolen.
Several months later the Cramers were caught in Lima, Ohio. Mrs. Cramer quickly confessed and threw her husband under the bus as well. Charles would eventually confess as well, though he insisted that his wife had nothing to do with the murder.
During the arrest and subsequent trial Cramer the Clown decided to lighten things up with a couple jokes. “Say, Captain?” he asked during the trial. “Do you know that in this case you can’t hang a man with a wooden leg?” When the Captain said he’d never heard of a law like that, Cramer said “You have to use a rope!” Ba Dum Cha!
Charles was sentenced to life in prison, and only narrowly avoided the gallows. As he was led away, he vowed that he would “get out of this,” and twelve years later he made good on his promise. In 1925, despite his assumed lack of running ability owed to that wooden stump on his left side, Cramer ran away from a work farm in Joliet, Illinois. He was never seen or heard from again.
The next time you hear about a clown sighting in your neighborhood, you may want to exercise extra caution. Who knows? Maybe its Conway the Clown, 100 years old and still chasing people with his stump leg.
When thinking about the issue of police brutality in Chicago, many of our first thoughts find their way to the incidents of the recent past. The images that still burn freshly in our minds are those of Laquan McDonald being fatally shot from behind by Officer Jason Van Dyke, or a recently discovered history of gruesome torture by former police commander Jon Burge. While Chicago certainly has a history of police misconduct – Burge had reportedly been using torture to provide false confessions from his suspects since 1972 – that history sees its true beginnings in the early 20th century, as Jane Addams attempted to make sense of the violence she saw in her city of Chicago.
Addams’ first published opinion on file of a police brutality incident comes during the time of the “Averbuch Incident” in 1908. The chronicle, told in the papers from the point of view of Officer Shippy, begins with Lazarus Averbuch, as the press called him, though in realty his name may have been Harry or Jeremiah, a Russian born Jew who had recently immigrated to America. Averbuch was a young man, almost 19, who in the early morning of March 2, 1908 called upon Chicago’s Chief of Police, George Shippy, at his home in Chicago’s North Side. Shippy, having been informed that this was the fourth time Averbuch had called upon him in two days, became suspicious; assuming Averbuch was an anarchist bent on assassination, Shippy seized Averbuch by the arms. Before Shippy could disarm him, Averbuch drew a knife and stabbed Shippy in the arm. As Shippy’s son, Harry, ran downstairs due to the commotion, Averbuch drew a revolver and fired two shots, one of which struck Harry. At this, James Foley, an officer assigned to be George Shippy’s driver and bodyguard, entered and attempted to seize Averbuch. Before being embraced by Foley, however, Averbuch fired a shot into Foley’s hand. Very shortly after, both Foley and Shippy emptied their revolvers into Averbuch’s body, who then fell dead.
Funds were raised by prominent Jews for a private investigation into the claims made by Shippy that Averbuch was an anarchist intent on assassinating the Chicago Chief of Police. Jane Addams organized an investigation to be led by young Chicago attorney Harold Ickes, who later served as Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. At the same time, the Jewish press, mainly the Jewish Courier, tried to argue that Averbuch was following foreign protocol in order to obtain a letter from the chief of police indicating that he was in good standing and of good character in order to obtain a job outside his community. All shots, the Jewish press argued, were the result of wayward bullets fired from either Foley’s or Shippy’s guns. Addams witnessed the aftermath of the Averbuch Incident from an immediate proximity. Addams’ Hull-House was located near Averbuch’s community, and the settlement often served as an interpreter between foreigners and the city’s native populace, and vice versa. She understood that foreign-born anarchists were feared in the city of Chicago after their involvement in the Haymarket Riot two decades prior. Addams, however, was not convinced of Shippy’s story, believing there to be too many inconsistencies.
In the wake of the aftermath of the Averbuch Incident, Addams wrote a piece for Charities and the Commons, a publication created to help charities give and receive information and advice, called “The Chicago Settlements and Social Unrest”. This article, while spurred by the Averbuch Incident, also gave Addams’ opinion on the cause of and solutions to the growing unrest around immigrants with varying political and religious beliefs. Addams believed that she had a unique vantage point as the head of a settlement house – as a member of a prosperous family, Addams understood the points of view of the fearful public, as well as those of the fearful immigrant population. “This settlement interpretation,” she said, “may be right or wrong, but it is at least based upon years of first hand information and upon an opportunity for free intercourse with the foreign people themselves.” (Addams, 1908) She attempted to assuage the fears on Chicago, reminding the city that
“the more excited and irrational public opinion is, the more recklessly newspapers state mere surmises as facts, and upon these surmises arouse unsubstantiated prejudices against certain immigrants, the more necessary it is that some body of people be ready to put forward the spiritual and intellectual conditions of the foreign colony which is thus being made the subject of inaccurate surmises and unjust suspicion.” (Addams, 1908)
Addams reminded the public that Russian-Jews, like Averbuch, had escaped very harsh treatment from police while in their home country; she also argued that the treatment they received from American police was no better. “The older men,” she stated, “asked whether constitutional rights gave no guarantee against such violent aggression of police power, and the hot-headed ones cried out at once that the only way to deal with the police was to defy them; that that was true of the police the world over”. “It registered,” she said, “a conviction that in a moment of panic a republican government cared no more for justice and fair play than an autocratic government did” (Addams, 1908).
In true Addams fashion, the philanthropic philosopher gave her own homegrown solution to the problem at hand. “The only possible way to break down such a persistent and secretive purpose,” she said, “was by the kindliness which might have induced confession, which might have restored him into fellowship with normal men” (Addams, 1908).
Addams’ theory of kindness as an eradicator of terrorism has never really been tested in the city of Chicago, or anywhere else. One of the most recent stories about police brutality, mentioned above, states that former police commander, Lt. Jon Burge oversaw a torture ring of detectives from 1972 until 1991. In October of 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot fatally in the back 16 times by Jason Van Dyke – an officer who alone has accumulated 20 complaints, all of which have gone undisciplined. Citizens are so concerned about the escalation of crime in Chicago, that a website has been created to chronicle police misconduct spanning the years 2002-2008 and 2011-2015. The Citizens Police Data Project’s findings are astounding. Without revealing the entirety of the Project’s report, of all 56,384 of the allegations in the study, 54,089 of these, or 95.93%, were found to be “Unsustained”.
In another disheartening flurry of statistics, we also know that violence in Chicago is the highest among all US cities with 2,900 shootings in 2015. How much of a correlation do these two numbers have? And if the statistics are intertwined, is the answer to employ and release more officers into a populace that obviously entertains varying degrees of fear for their “protectors”? Or should we attempt to appeal to our better natures and try actions of kindness? Perhaps another of Addams’ solutions can be used, an effort to better educate officers, citizens, and members of immigrants and working class communities in lessons of cultural assimilation and understanding could be implemented to foster partnership based on harmony rather than discord.