More Pieces to the Susan Puzzle

August 29, 2017 § 9 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 § 1 Comment

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.”

Susan in the Middle of History

February 3, 2015 § 1 Comment

Unfortunately I have neglected this blog recently. However, two recent reports in the media have sparked my interest in again sharing some information about Susan. The first was the news story this past January that the new governor of Illinois borrowed Susan’s family Bible for his swearing-in ceremony. That Bible has family records that Susan compiled which include some fascinating figures in her family tree. I will feature one of those relatives in a future blog post.

The second media report is a PBS program entitled “The Big Burn” which is airing for the first time on February 3. The program details the 1910 fire in the northern Rockies that destroyed 3 million acres and leveled several towns. The horrible devastation drastically changed American Forest Service policy, and Susan was in the midst of it in Wallace, Idaho. I chronicled her involvement and quoted a description of her experience in her own words in two earlier posts. I invite you to read or re-read “Susan and the Big Blow” and “Fire in Susan’s own Words.” The posts add a personal dimension to the big story that the PBS program relates.

Reflections of Memories

September 18, 2014 § 1 Comment

In a post entitled “Classics in a Classy House” that I wrote in June, 2012, I noted that both Susan and Frank Lloyd Wright followed the popular trend of their day by displaying replicas of classic statuary in their homes. These statues demonstrated that the home owner was cultured and appreciated fine art.  In Susan’s case, they undoubtedly were also an indication that she had seen the originals on her trips to Europe. 

I just returned from Europe and was fortunate enough to visit the Louvre in Paris for the first time. There I saw “Winged Victory” and “Venus de Milo.”  I was overwhelmed.  My first thought was that the statues in the Dana-Thomas House cannot begin to convey the scale, majesty, or beauty of either figure. Yet Susan tried to capture her memories and share them with her American friends through the replicas.

Then I did a very twenty-first century thing.  I had my friend take a picture of me with “Venus de Milo.” Now that I am home and looking at the photos from the trip, I realize that despite the technology of today, we still can’t convey through images the experience of seeing great masterpieces in person.  Nevertheless, like Susan, I am going to try to share my memories with you.  I hope that if you have not already done so, you too will get the opportunity to see these original magnificent masterpieces. Meanwhile, enjoy the reflections of the memories of Susan and me.

Winged Victory