Springfield’s Race Riots and Susan

June 26, 2021 § 3 Comments

A few years ago I wrote a blog post entitled “Water and Fire in the Lawrence House” briefly describing the Springfield race riots of 1908. I pointed out that Susan was en route to Europe at the time so she was not involved. New information I’ve discovered makes me think that she and her household possibly were affected by that horrible event. I am currently reading In Lincoln’s Shadow: The 1908 Race Riot in Springfield, Illinois by Roberta Senechal de la Roche. An historian, sociologist, and poet, the author presents a detailed case study of the 1908 riots and their aftermath from multiple perspectives. In Chapter 4 she writes, “In the days after the riot, whites who employed blacks were being threatened by a flood of anonymous letters.” City officials who hired black patrolmen and firemen and merchants who had black employees or sold to black customers were terrorized by threats of arson. In a few cases the threats were carried out. “The growing number of mailed threats soon alarmed Springfield authorities enough that they requested the intervention of federal postal investigators.”

Senechal de a Roche continues: “City officials and businessmen were not the only targets of such threats. White families who had black help__house servants, drivers, yardmen, and the like__also received menacing notes and phone calls.” In Chapter 17 of Susan and Me: Two Women in the Wright House I describe Susan’s household according to the 1910 census:

“…she had three African-American live-in staff members: Ada Bostick, cook; Bessie Nelson, maid; and Willis Hoskins, coachman. Thomas and Mattie Walker, who were married after meeting at the Lawrence House, lived elsewhere. Mattie worked briefly as another cook and Thomas served as night-time caretaker after he finished his day job as custodian at the First Presbyterian Church.”

We can surmise that Susan also had a full staff of African-Americans two years earlier than that census. We can also speculate that the Lawrence House, a relatively new unique mansion, would be a tempting target for the perpetrators of the arson threats. Like all new information, this situation brings more questions. If anonymous threatening letters or calls came to the Lawrence House, how did Susan’s cousin Florence who was in charge of the household in Susan’s absence respond? Did she arrange for extra security? Did Susan send instructions from Europe? Was the house still in danger when Susan returned three months later? Whatever the circumstances were, we know the outcome. Like many other times in the history of the house, it survived intact despite challenges. Consequently, over a century later we can still experience Susan’s Wright designed gem.

The Vote

July 15, 2020 § 2 Comments

For two evenings I watched with fascination the PBS American Experience production of The Vote. I knew bits and pieces of the story but the images and narration took me on the whole journey with those valiant suffragettes. The story led to the 1920 drama in the Tennessee General Assembly. Only one more state was needed to ratify the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote. On August 18, 1920 twenty-four year old Harry Burn, a first term member of the Tennessee House, surprised everyone by voting “yes” to ratification and breaking a tie thereby making Tennessee the decisive state to approve ratification. According to the PBS documentary, Burn made his last minute decision because of a letter from his mother, Febb Burn, encouraging his support of the amendment. In Chapter 14 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House I wrote that he changed his mind after having dinner the night before with Anita Pollitzer, a charming young suffragette. Which was true?

Anita Pollitzer was an ardent worker for the right to vote movement. She was noted for her persuasive skills which she used as she traveled the country organizing, speaking, and picketing for the cause. After the 19th amendment was passed, she continued to work for equal rights for women through leadership positions with Alice Paul’s National Women’s Party (NWP). Through this affiliation she met Susan. During a speaking engagement in Springfield in 1923, Anita recruited Susan as the NWP Illinois legislative chair. As chair, Susan led the lobbying effort to pass legislation in the Illinois General Assembly which gave women “the same rights, privileges, and immunities under the laws of this state as men.” The effort was unsuccessful but during the campaign Susan and Anita developed a close personal relationship as evidenced by Susan’s signature on several letters to Anita: “Mother Susan” and “Aunt Susie.” Over the years that followed Anita’s influence and leadership in the NWP became more prominent until Alice Paul appointed Anita as her successor when Paul retired in 1945.

Febb (short for Phoebe) Burn was a college educated teacher who subscribed to four newspapers and seven magazines. She was forty-three years old when her husband died. Described as strong-willed, the widow Febb continued raising her four children and successfully paid off and ran a large Tennessee farm. Her seven page letter to her legislator son in August, 1920 was filled with family and neighborhood news except for the last sentences: “Hurrah and vote for Suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt…I’ve been watching to see how you stood but have not seen anything yet… Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Thomas Catt [Carrie Chapman Catt, leader of the suffragettes].”

Harry Burn later inserted a personal statement into the House Journal explaining his decision to cast the pro ratification vote. He did so in part because “I knew that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” Given Susan’s friend Anita’s reputation as a persuasive charmer, I can’t help thinking that the dinner the night before the vote also had an influence on his decision. I suspect Harry was overwhelmed by two very strong women. Poor fellow didn’t have a chance!

Susan’s Shelter in Place

April 13, 2020 § 1 Comment

As I cope with the inconveniences and uncertainties of home isolation and social distancing due to the coronavirus, I wonder where Susan was during the infamous “Spanish” flu epidemic in 1918. The deadly disease killed thousands of Americans including more than 500 residents of Springfield and surrounding communities. As the flu struck Springfield, officials took action. The Illinois State Register announced on its October 16, 1918 front page:

The lid went on Springfield with a bang yesterday when the health authorities closed all the schools and all the theaters and gave notice that they would remain closed until further orders…The order applies to all places of amusement and places of assemblage, including lodge rooms, where people gather in numbers, and so stringent is to be the enforcement of it that people are not to be permitted to congregate in the streets.

There were so many victims in Springfield that a 100 bed emergency hospital was established in a building on the State Fairgrounds. Funeral services were limited to family only on the resident’s porch.

Was Susan traveling during that time? Was she sheltering in place? Was she practicing social distancing? I found partial answers and more questions in a document in the collection newly acquired by the Dana-Thomas Foundation. In 1918 Susan’s husband Charles Gehrmann was in the midst of a legal battle in which he claimed that the summons that was served on him for a court appearance was illegal because it was served at Susan’s Springfield home. Gehrmann’s defense was that he only visited his wife at that residence and never lived there (See Chapter 13 of Susan Lawrence; The Enigma in the Wright House). To prove his assertion, he filed a brief in which he outlined where he resided and traveled from 1900 to May, 1919. A copy of that brief survives. Below is his account of his time for the months of October and November, 1918:

October 5: New York to take up Oregon property with Mr. E. C. Harris. Returned to Washington D.C. October 13 to confer with War Industries Board en route on my return to St. Louis

October 17: Springfield. I remained there a few days and returned to St. Louis

October 22: In St. Louis I took up the work of raising further funds for the Oatman mine. I returned to Springfield on the 27th, back to St. Louis on October 30 and in Springfield again November 3, St. Louis November 5, Springfield November 10, St. Louis November 12, Springfield November 17, St. Louis November 21, Springfield, November 23, St. Louis November 26, Springfield, November 28.

November 30: I left this day for Oatman, Arizona, arriving at Kingman, Arizona on night of December 5th.

St. Louis was not spared from the influenza epidemic. Headlines from the city’s newspapers reflect the seriousness of the illness in that city:

“Influenza Quarantine Placed on City and Schools, Theaters, Churches Are to be Closed,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 8 Oct. 1918.

“192 New Cases of Influenza in Day Indicate Spread,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 9 Oct. 1918

“Spanish Influenza Kills Thirteen More Here; Total Now 49,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 11 Oct. 1918

“424 New Influenza Cases in St. Louis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 14 Oct. 1918

“69 Have Died Here from Influenza,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 15 Oct. 1918

“559 New Influenza Cases and 32 Deaths,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 18 Oct. 1918

“276 New Cases of Influenza Reported,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 21 Oct. 1918

“Influenza Causes 33 Deaths in Day,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 29 Oct. 1918 and finally,

“Flu Ban is Entirely Lifted by Health Board,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 28 Dec. 1918″

When we compare the dates in Charles’s brief with the newspapers of the day, we can draw at least two conclusions. First, there were no travel restrictions during the 1918 epidemic. Second, Charles did not allow an epidemic to interfere with his life style. Many more questions emerge: Did Susan accompany her husband on his trips to St. Louis? Was anyone in Susan’s household a victim of the flu? How was their life affected by the many closings in both cities? If Susan was sheltering in place in Springfield, she was certainly in a place where many of us would be happy to shelter for as long as it takes.

Young Susan’s Feminism

June 8, 2018 § 3 Comments

Susan would be pleased that Illinois finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1923 she was sixty-one years old when she unsuccessfully led the fight for equal rights legislation in the Illinois legislature (see “The Ongoing Equality Conflict”). However, in the newly found documents donated to the Dana House Foundation (see “More Pieces to the Susan Puzzle”) I found evidence that she was already thinking in terms of equality for women thirty years earlier.

 In 1893 the thirty-one year old Susan and her husband Edwin found themselves living in Minneapolis and deeply in debt. The new documents include a desperate letter from Edwin to Susan’s father Rheuna asking for a bailout. Evidently Rheuna refused because there is also a seven page letter from Susan to her father assuming responsibility for the debt and begging her father not to be so hard on Edwin. Apparently that approach did not work either because Susan’s mother Mary, not her father, came to the destitute couple’s rescue. Another letter from Susan to Rhuena in the newly discovered collection reveals that that resolution did not come without major family conflict. It also exposes Susan’s feminist leanings even in those early days. She writes in part:

“I do not want you to think I want your money or want you to pay Ed’s debts. You have made your money and you have the supreme right to do with it as you please. That is with one exception and that is where Mama is concerned. You must remember that it was she that helped you at first when the road was hardest and steepest to climb. She who washed and ironed at night so you could have clean clothes to work and saved and helped and encouraged you in every way. She bore half the burden when it was heaviest. Does she not share half the returns when it is coming in?….She is a pensioner on your bounty. These are not pleasant words to contemplate where in the institution of matrimony things are sworn to be equal before God. Unfortunately the law is such that a man may dispose of his accumulation of worldly goods (no matter how the wife has been instrumental in the founding of the stepping stones) as he sees fit when he is done with them. You have no right to leave Mama’s money tied up so she cannot use it as she sees fit. She has a right to dispense of it.”

Those were radical words in that era. They forecast Susan’s strong stand in the Illinois General Assembly thirty years later. Evidently they also moved her father. Records show that Mary saved the couple by buying their Minneapolis home. Susan won that battle.

The Ongoing Equality Conflict

May 18, 2018 § 1 Comment

The Illinois legislature is again trying to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 1982, Illinois was one of a handful of states that did not ratify the ERA thereby preventing it from becoming a Constitutional amendment. Susan had fought the same battle as early as 1923. On February 18, 1923, the National Woman’s Party (NWP) announced in The Illinois State Register that “Susan Lawrence Gehrmann of Springfield had been appointed legislative chairman of the Illinois branch of the NWP and will take charge of the campaign to win legal equality for women with men.” From February to May of 1923 she was a tireless lobbyist at the Illinois General Assembly. The law she was promoting read: “Be it enacted by the people of the State of Illinois represented in the General Assembly: Women shall have the same rights, privileges and immunities under the laws of this State as men.” For some observations and details about Susan’s campaign, see “Susan as Orator?” and “Susan as Political Strategist.”  

After the defeat in Illinois and other states, the NWP changed their strategy from state by state laws to a Constitutional amendment. The ERA was born: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The amendment was introduced to Congress every year after that until 1972 when it was finally passed. It has yet to be ratified. Now some Illinois legislators are attempting to generate the votes needed for Illinois to be the 37th state of the 38 states needed to ratify the amendment. Like the earlier proponents of gender equality, they face stiff opposition.

Looking back on this history, one can note that each attempt to legalize gender equality faced resistance specific to the culture of the day. Susan’s opposition feared that the law creating legal equality for women with men would prevent labor laws that protected women in the factories where women were the primary labor force. An eight hour work day bill introduced by Lottie Holman O’Neill, the first woman to be elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, was pitted against Susan’s bill. The League of Woman Voters strongly supported the O’Neill bill. In the 1970’s and 80’s, the Illinois opponents to the ERA were led by Phyllis Schafly whose arguments included fear of women being drafted (America was in the Vietnam War at the time.) and the importance of the woman in the home (a divisive issue as women were more and more combining careers with families). Today’s opposition points include fear that the amendment would legalize abortion permanently and the evolving ambiguity of gender identification and the definitions of the term “sex.”

The common thread among these three campaigns is the fact that opposition leaders are almost all women and the proponents are often led by women like Susan. (It should be pointed out that the League of Women Voters is supporting the current Illinois legislative attempt.) Over the years both sides have resorted to half-truths, illogical arguments, and manipulation of facts. In that respect, it seems we have already achieved equality with men!

More Pieces to the Susan Puzzle

August 29, 2017 § 10 Comments

I have had the opportunity to read through some “Susan” documents that have been donated to the Dana Thomas House Foundation. While they give us some new insights into Susan and her world, each historic piece seems to open more questions about a very complex woman. For example, below is a letter dated April 7, 1919, from a World War I veteran living in New York City. The spelling and grammar are the letter writer’s. His signature is illegible.  

My dear Mrs. Gehrmann, 

German strap2

German Shoulder Strap

Many thanks for your dear letter. It certainly was to bad that you could not get to New York for the [illegible]. Now am a civilian once more. Really do not know what am going to do. Wish somebody would offer me a good position as it really do not make any difference to me. Two years in the army and best would it be to start all over again.—I also want to thank you for the New Years greeting from Dr. G. and you. Received it March 30th. Also many thanks for your kind invitation in asking me to your home in Springfield. I certainly would love to see your wonderful home, sometime perhaps but at present will have to go easy.

Sorry to say but a custom amongst the germans was to leave their iron crosses at home or in hiding. Did not get any but am inclosing a shoulder strap which I ripped from the first german I got in close fighting. Hope you will accept it in the same spirit as would a cross.

Will close for this time with best wishes from Sincerely, Ardus (?)

Enclosed in the envelop is the shoulder strap referred to in the letter. Who is this young man? What is his connection to Susan and her husband? Why did he want Susan who was seemingly a pacifist (see Susan and Me and War) to have this souvenir of the war?

So many questions have emerged as I read these newly discovered documents. I will share other stories in the future so that readers can explore with me more mysteries about the enigmatic Susan.  

Susan as Political Strategist

July 4, 2016 § 1 Comment

In response to an inquiry by Dr. John Arthos, I described in a recent post a speech that Susan gave shortly after she was appointed legislative chair of the Illinois branch of the National Woman’s Party (NWP). However, she soon realized that public speaking was not her strength. She had other skills to contribute to the campaign for women’s equal rights in Illinois. In a letter to Alice Paul, vice president of NWP, dated March 8, 1923, Susan listed those skills. The spelling and punctuation are Susan’s.

To meet and conquer the opposition amongst men in the legislature is one of our smallest problems.  The copy of a wire I had this morning shows me there is a very nasty element in the ladies represented in the League of Women Voters.

Dear Miss Paul I am no speaker.  I can work, but I am not well enough informed on these law discriminations to get up and answer the questions they are sure to ask me.  I would weaken our cause before them.  I have my hands too full here to do it.  I have been planning and getting out all the printed matter doing all the press work–seeing these men–arranging for the hearing–informing Senator Dailey all I can–presiding at a meeting in Chicago and two board meetings & for ten days while in Chicago I had not more than 3 or 4 hours sleep out of 24–I have been answering the enclosed letter’s attack by Julia Lathrop [then state president of the League of Women Voters] to enquiring men in these last few days session.  This was put out last Sat afternoon.  I talked to 27 men yesterday and removed the effect from them.  I have not been able to get anyone here to help me see these men–no one that I know that has joined the Party has ever done any lobbying.  I never did before myself.

Susan further explains in the letter that the League of Women Voters was planning a meeting of local chapters of the League to attack the equal rights legislation Susan was promoting. She pleaded with Alice Paul to send Maude Younger (then Legislative Chairman of NWP) or Burnita Shelton Matthews (then Legal Research Secretary of NWP) to Chicago to address the meeting. To Susan’s relief I’m sure, both women came to Illinois and spoke to various groups as well as in legislative hearings. Susan was willing to do the “grunt” work, lobby, and strategize for the campaign, but she was not at ease as a public speaker.

I welcome the inquiry from Dr. Arthos because it expanded my admiration for Susan on two new fronts. First of all, I note how comfortable she was in a man’s world during her brief experience as a political strategist. Secondly, Susan worked closely with some of the most famous pioneers in this country’s women’s movement, and from their letters to her, it is obvious that she was highly respected. I found two more clues to solve the enigma that is Susan!

Susan as Orator?

June 6, 2016 § 2 Comments

Dr. John Arthos, Associate Professor of English at Indiana University posed an interesting question to me. He noted that Susan was an articulate letter writer, hosted notable speakers, and supported oratorical education through the Rheuna D. Lawrence Memorial Prize awarded to the winner of a high school oratorical contest annually. However, Dr. Arthos wondered if I had found any evidence that Susan had presented any formal public speeches.

The only speeches by Susan that I could recall were the presentations she gave to the Springfield Woman’s Club members (see Chapter 3 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House). I revisited some of my resources to see if I could find other occasions when she spoke publicly. When I re-read the exchange of letters between Susan and the officials of the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in Washington D.C. during the Illinois equal rights legislative campaign, I found some answers to the question of Dr. Arthos and some insight into Susan’s skills as a political strategist.

As detailed in Chapter 14 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, Anita Pollitzer, National Secretary of the NWP, spoke to a non-partisan group of Springfield women at Susan’s home on February 15, 1923. The speech was a call to arms for women to “unite to secure the same rights possessed by men under the law and remove the discriminations against women which still stand on the statute books of Illinois.” On February 18 the local newspapers announced that Susan had been appointed legislative chairman of the Illinois branch of the NWP and will spearhead the equal rights campaign. Susan enthusiastically assumed her responsibilities immediately. Below is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to Anita Pollitzer on February 17 (punctuation by Susan):

Anita, Dear Child

…The Federation of Woman’s Clubs of this district met here today with their state officers present.      I phoned our club President asking for a few minutes in the program, and asked her if she was willing I should have a resolution presented endorsing our law sponsored by Senator Dailey.  She said certainly–When I went down, I nosed about a bit–over heard that the State President of Federation said the clubs of Chicago refused to endorse any of this program.  I never let on, was invited to sit on the stage–when two speakers had finished and just before adjourning for luncheon, the chairman said Mrs. Gehrmann had something to say for the National Woman’s Party about some proposed legislation.  I had the resolution in my hand when I went in the platform and held on to it.

I stated the aims of the reorganized Party, work already done, that proposed in future.  Emphasized we had no labor program.  Stated our position on eight-hour laws involving sex-discrimination–inequality of laws as they now stand–giving many instances, asked for their support and help in bringing about the passage of the introduced Equal Rights bill now before the Senate.  (Some women there always had and still believed the National Woman’s Party was for a 3rd party of women only)  I soon disabused their minds of that–when I had finished I thanked the President and retired from the platform–still with my little resolutions in my hand.  I took the breath out of all of them–I never mentioned resolutions again.  I sensed we would be in for a bitter fight…When I got in my seat I nearly laughed aloud–saying to myself that “Sin!” I sure saved our cause that time…

She signed the letter Susan Lawrence-Gehrmann, “Cousin Susie.”

So I could report to Dr. Arthos that at least one time Susan made a public speech, and she was obviously quite pleased with herself. Things changed quite dramatically in less than a month when Susan grasped the complexity of the challenge she had accepted. To be continued…

A Duckpin Mystery

October 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a dinner honoring volunteers who are currently serviacquisitionduck pin bowlingng at the Dana-Thomas
House. Many old friends greeted me and several reminded me that I have not added to this blog recently. I realized that although I have neglected this project, Susan continues to be a central part of my life. I have prepared power point presentations this fall for 3 different groups. Two of the presentations are directly related to Susan, and the one I presented to the volunteers recounted stories about those who collected artifacts for the house over the years.

One of the stories I shared in that presentation was the 1990’s odyssey of the late Ed Schultz and Mary Ann Langston as they sought 1900 era duckpins and balls for the renovated duckpin alley in the Dana-Thomas House. During that quest, Mary Ann uncovered a mystery that remains to be solved.

Mary Ann compiled a brief history of duckpin bowling from a 1969 publication entitled The Book of Duckpin Bowling by Henry Fankhauser and Frank Micalizzi. Here is her summary of events in the early history of the game:

John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson, members of the original Baltimore Orioles minor league club, owned Diamond Alleys, a bowling alley in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1900 Frank VanSant, manager of Diamond Alleys, arranged with wood-turner John Dettmar to take a set of old battered and headless tenpins and make them over into “little pins.” When avid duck hunters Robinson and McGraw saw the little pins fly, they remarked that the pins looked like a flock of flying ducks. Bill Clark, a sportswriter for the Baltimore Morning Sun, wrote an article on the new game and called them duckpins. The name stuck. In 1901 and 1902, duckpin bowling occurred only in the summer in Baltimore. In 1903 several duckpin leagues were organized in Baltimore for the winter season. In 1904 the game spread to Washington, D.C., and leagues were organized.

The question that Mary Ann poses is: Since the game was just evolving in Baltimore at the time Frank Lloyd Wright was designing the house in Springfield, how did the Chicago architect know about it? Mary Ann and I would welcome any facts or theories that might shed some light on this mystery.

Abraham Lincoln and Susan’s Uncle

May 10, 2015 § 4 Comments

Judge Charles S. Zane

History is full of surprising parallels. Take the example of Abraham Lincoln and Susan’s uncle. On May 2 and 3, 2015, the citizens of Springfield and hundreds of visitors remembered the death of Abraham Lincoln, the long train trip that carried his body to Springfield, and his burial in Oak Ridge Cemetery 150 years ago. One hundred years ago Susan’s uncle Charles S. Zane, another lawyer whose influence reached beyond Springfield, was brought “home” to be buried in Oak Ridge.

Like Lincoln, Charles S. Zane came to the Springfield area as a young man. Arriving in 1850, the nineteen year old worked for Peter Cartwright as a farmer and brick layer in the Pleasant Plains area. Both men chose law as their profession. Zane was admitted to practice in 1857. While Lincoln’s early experiences were primarily on the judicial circuit, Zane was Springfield’s city attorney (an elected position) for three terms. Following the election of Lincoln as president, Zane became a law partner of William H. Herndon, former Lincoln partner. In 1873 Zane was elected judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit and re-elected in 1879.

Both Lincoln and Zane found their life partners in Springfield. Zane married Margaret Maxcy, a sister of Susan’s mother Mary Agnes Maxcy Lawrence. The Zanes had eight children. While Lincoln went east to serve the nation, Zane went west. In 1883 President Chester Arthur appointed Zane the first chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court. The family moved to Salt Lake City for the next 30 plus years. There Judge Zane became a controversial figure because his decisions repeatedly upheld the federal laws against polygamy and illegal cohabitation. Although many Mormons saw him as a fanatic bent on destroying families and the church, he was admired by others as a courageous jurist who fearlessly enforced the law. He is credited by some as the primary force behind the elimination of polygamy in Utah.

Charles S. Zane died at age 84 on March 29, 1915, at the home of his daughter in Salt Lake City. After a funeral service at the First Congregational church in Salt Lake City, Zane’s son John accompanied his body on the train to Springfield. The train arrived on April 4, 1915, and Charles Zane’s remains were removed to the home of his niece Susan. Once again, the Lawrence House was the scene of a funeral. The services were held there the next Sunday afternoon with burial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Dr. Elmer Goshen, the officiating minister at Judge Zane’s Salt Lake City funeral, concluded his sermon with this tribute: “Take his body home and lay it beside his loved ones. Lay it next to the great Lincoln whose character was much like Judge Zane’s.”