A Very Important Year: 1918
The Illinois Centennial
In researching for More Than Meets the Eye, I was struck by what a momentous year 1918 was. What an emotional roller coaster it must have been for people living then.
1918 was Illinois’ centennial year, and the state had appropriated the equivalent of $3.8 million in today’s dollars for its observance. Construction began on the Centennial Building (now the Michael J. Howlett Building) near the Statehouse. It would house the State historical library and be headquarters for the Historical Society. A centennial flag and half-dollar were created. A statue of Lincoln and Douglas was erected at the Capitol, and a six-volume history of Illinois was published.
On December 3, 1918, more than 1,000 celebrations were held throughout the state. Former president Teddy Roosevelt delivered an address in Springfield. President Woodrow Wilson had been invited to the ceremony, but couldn’t come due obligations relating to the war. But he sent a telegram expressing his regrets and congratulating the State of Illinois for its century of statehood. Illinois governor Frank Lowden attended a celebration at Chester, and 15,000 people came to hear him speak.
The Great War
But I’m sure World War I overshadowed the festivities in Illinois and certainly the building of the Sears houses in Carlinville’s Standard Addition. A majority of Midwesterners opposed America’s involvement in the war. Having read about the horrors and the relatively petty causes of the original hostilities, I can’t say I blame them. But others, like my fictional Sydney Duke were eager to go do their bit for the cause. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at, poor Sydney’s flat feet made him ineligible to enlist. John Anderson, the wealthy Carlinville banker, contributed at least two sons to the war effort. James was in the medical corps and Perry was a sharp shooter. Several Carlinville men were stationed at Jefferson Barracks across the Mississippi River at St. Louis. And sixty miles south of Carlinville was Scott Field. Their “Birdmen” could occasionally be seen flying overhead.
Women also did their patriotic duty. One newspaper snippet I came across announced that St. Louis nurses had volunteered for overseas duty. Carlinville had a Red Cross unit, and the newspaper reported that several ladies had completed their first aid course. Others took the Civil Service exam in order to do war relief work. One of the women’s clubs offered a lecture entitled “Club Organization in War Work.”
Carlinville’s famous daughter Mary Austin, a major American writer, mentions in her autobiography Earth Horizon (published in 1932) that turn-of-the-century Carlinville ladies made a patriotic silk flag to honor Civil War vets. But who’s to say the ladies of 1918 didn’t make another one for the current war?
With radios not yet available, people were eager to get news of the war’s progress. Families passed on whatever correspondence they received from their military men overseas to the Carlinville newspapers, which printed the essence of them as a kindness to the whole community,
I was intrigued by one newspaper social note that announced that so-and-so was serving a “Hoover Dinner” to her guests.Naturally, I had to dig deeper. I discovered that Herbert Hoover, as head of U.S. Food Administration instituted patriotic guidelines such as “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” and other efforts to conserve food for the troops. The saying during the war was, “If in doubt, eat potatoes.” Hoover’s slogan was, “Food Will Win the War.” Citizens groused about it, but Hoover’s plan prevented the need for the formal rationing that would be necessary during WWII.
Finally, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies, and the Great War came to an end. Nine million soldiers had died, with 21 million wounded. And, I was startled to learn, over five million civilians died from disease, starvation, or exposure.
The Spanish Flu Pandemic
As if the war wasn’t killing enough people, let’s not forget that 1918 was the year of the dreadful Spanish flu pandemic. On September 27, Illinois state officials reported to the national Public Health Office that there were several cases of flu in Chicago.
As the nation’s largest rail hub, Chicago was especially vulnerable. Influenza reached the city and, from there, spread to the rest of the country. Although Chicago should have been recognized as being especially vulnerable, public health officers there were overconfident. Even before influenza had reached the city, officials boasted that “we have the Spanish influenza situation well in hand now. Of course, they did not.
Although Chicago’s officials knew that large gatherings helped spread influenza, patriotic parades remained common. Parade attendees were, however, cautioned to return home immediately after the parade. To minimize the risk of infection, attendees were told to remove all their clothing, rub their bodies dry, and take a laxative. This approach failed to prevent the spread of the disease.(Pandemic History)
By October 25, 1918, state officials were so overwhelmed with cases of the Spanish flu that they could no longer keep accurate records.
Women’s clubs were an important feature of the time. Charles Walker’s 1911 History of Macoupin County includes a lengthy passage by Elizabeth Pegram Lumpkin (what a name!) explaining the various women’s clubs at the time.
As the seat of Blackburn College, Carlinville, has for a half century boasted of its culture and educational attainments, hence, naturally, literary clubs have been numerous and popular throughout a long series of years. The Carlinville Woman’s Club was, however, the first organization among the women of Macoupin county formed on the new utilitarian lines with unrestricted membership, and which acknowledged a common sisterhood and opened its ranks to all the women of the community, offering freely and gladly such helpfulness and culture as it is able to bestow. The Carlinville Woman’s Club was organized November 29, 1899, and was federated with the Illinois State Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1901. It announced that its “object shall be mutual counsel and improvement and general education, literary and philanthropic work.…Through its four departments an effort has been made to offer a broader opportunity for self culture to the women of Carlinville.…and [to] hold out helpful hands as the representative women of the twentieth century, strong in body, mind and heart.
According to Mary Austin the pursuit of culture was of paramount importance to Carlinville’s middle class. They were “anxious about the state of their culture…[and] there was a general consensus of opinion …that you did have to read to maintain your pretensions to culture.” Longfellow was top of the reading list, “indispensable to a ‘cultivated’ state of mind.”
Another opportunity available for self improvement was Chautauqua, a women’s educational (and entertainment) retreat. Lecturers (Austin calls them “perfessers”) would expound on their areas of expertise, to the betterment of all who attended. For an example of the educational fare see this cool 1917 Lyceum Magazine. And here is John E. Tapia’s book, Circuit Chautauqua: from Rural Education to Popular Entertainment.
Some Carlinville women, including Mrs. Anderson, attended the New Piasa Chautauqua near Alton for the Illinois Jubilee in 1918. And that Chautauqua still exists to this day. Their website describes its function
New Piasa Chautauqua has been a functioning private summer resort community since 1885. Its mission included an emphasis on religion, education, and wholesome family life and recreation. When the original venture failed for financial reasons in 1908, it was reorganized as New Piasa Chautauqua in 1909.
On September 10-17, 1918, Carlinville had its own Chautauqua with lectures by “Chief Tahan, the white savage.” With a title like that, I just had to learn more. Eventually, I found the actual brochure advertising his lecture. “Chief Tahan,” A.K.A. Joseph K. Griffis, was captured as a child by Kiowa Indians and lived among them for years. And after escaping he capitalized on the experience with a nation-wide book and lecture tour.
Here’s part of the brochure advertising his lecture, but do follow the links for the rest of it. It’s both hilarious and informative.
The story of Tahan, the White Savage, and of the Red Man as told in the poetic, picturesque eloquence of the Indian and the perfect English of the white man, is Homeric in its simplicity and strength. It is rich in plots for a story stranger than fiction; abounds in scenes for a great drama; glows with pictures for a painter’s canvas, and is fraught with interest for the psychologist, ethnologist and moralist, and for the great throngs who hear him all the fascination of a thrilling romance. A White Savage An Indian Soldier A Christian Minister A Platform Orator THE remarkable life story of Jos. K. Griffis as related in his lecture, Things I Saw and Did While a Savage, is intensely interesting and instructive.
Carlinville also had its own chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which gave its energies to conquering the scourge of alcohol abuse. If you think alcoholism is a horrible problem today, consider that it may have been even worse in the good old days. Charles Walker, in his History of Macoupin County notes that
In 1820 there was not a gallon of fermented liquor made in the state, while in 1904 there were 4,632,726 barrels of it made, just about a barrel for every man, woman and child in the state. The same year there were 41,787,891 gallons of distilled spirits or liquors made, or about ten gallons for every man, woman and child in the state. This far exceeds any other state, for even Kentucky, which is said to use up all the surplus corn and rye into whisky, only produces 23,114,735 gallons a little more than one-half of what Illinois produces.
And far too much of it was ending up in men who couldn’t handle their liquor.
By 1830, the average American over 15 years old consumed nearly seven gallons of pure alcohol a year…and alcohol abuse (primarily by men) was wreaking havoc on the lives of many, particularly in an age when women had few legal rights and were utterly dependent on their husbands for sustenance and support. . .(Roots of Prohibition)
Frances Willard, the national president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, saw social reform as a three-pronged initiative: abolition, temperance, and women’s suffrage. When women “got the vote,” the W.C.T.U. was able to use its voting power to agitate for passage of the prohibition amendment. Another force behind its approval was that “as anti-German fervor rose to a near frenzy with the American entry into the First World War, propaganda effectively connected beer and brewers with Germans and treason in the public mind.” (History of Abolition, Women’s Rights, and Temperance Movement)
The Prohibition Era came two years after More Than Meets the Eye, but no doubt the city officials of Carlinville were well aware of the dangers of alcohol and other vices. When the Standard Oil Company sent representatives to discuss sinking a coalmine there, the officials probably brought up the topic of Wood River, Illinois and what had happened to the town when the company built its refinery there in 1907.
By 1911 the company began making gasoline to meet the demand caused by the popularity of the automobile. Workers began to flood into the area to work at the refinery and in 1907, A. E. Benbow, a local entrepreneur, founded Benbow City, a wide open town of saloons, gambling and brothels.
In short, Benbow City was a blight on the community. No doubt, the Carlinville city council was relieved to learn that Standard Oil intended to build a neighborhood of nice Sears houses to attract high-quality miners—family men instead of rough hooligans.
Visit the Wood River Museum for more (closed the month of January)
And read more about the history of Standard Oil.
The Movement for Women’s Suffrage
By the time of my novel More Than Meets the Eye, the movement was really building momentum. But I was surprised to learn that Illinois women had already won partial rights in 1913.
The alcohol industry was fiercely opposed to women’s suffrage because they figured (rightly) that women would be against alcohol and child labor. Labor unions feared women’s suffrage would dilute their political machine’s power over male members. And many opposed suffrage, saying it countered biblical commands forbidding women to speak in public, especially to men. Mary Austin says that men in both pulpits and the press preached that women had no rights at all.
The coverture laws long on the books (a new term for me) made the suffragette’s work almost impossible. The laws:
sharply restricted the independent activity of married women [and] also created barriers to the campaign for women’s suffrage.… “by marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage”, referring to the legal doctrine of coverture that was introduced to England by the Normans in the Middle Ages. In 1862 the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court denied a divorce to a woman whose husband had horsewhipped her, saying, “The law gives the husband power to use such a degree of force necessary to make the wife behave and know her place.” Married women in many states could not legally sign contracts, which made it difficult for them to arrange for convention halls, printed materials and other things needed by the suffrage movement.Restrictions like these were overcome in part by the passage of married women’s property laws in several states, supported in some cases by wealthy fathers who didn’t want their daughters’ inheritance to fall under the complete control of their husbands. (Women Voters)
But then along came World War I. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, many women were forced to take the jobs formerly held by men who had gone overseas to fight. Because of women’s extraordinary importance in keeping the home fires burning, it became more and more difficult to deny them the rights of full citizenship. The nineteenth amendment was passed (after a heated battle) in August 1920, and women voted in that year’s presidential election in all 50 states.
And so as you can see, 1918 was indeed a momentous year. And I needed to know all of this cultural background to get an understanding of what it must have been like for Elizabeth Spaulding. She didn’t have the rights of full citizenship. She wasn’t even supposed to talk in public, especially to men. And yet she was given the job of supervising the men who constructed the 156 Sears houses of the Standard Addition in Carlinville in 1918. Wow. It must have been tough.
It would be so nice of you to share!