Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 14: Dr. Florence Bascom, Rock Star

The late nineteenth century was an exciting time for women in the United States as they saw their opportunities for professional careers expanding further than they ever had before in this nation. One of those women became among first to earn a PhD in Geology (the second woman to do so); the first woman geologist hired by the U.S. Geological Survey; as well as the first woman elected to the Council of the Geological Society of America. However, none of these significant ‘firsts’ in women’s history occurred with out struggle, persistence, and dedication.

Florence Bascom was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts on July 14, 1862. She would be the last of six children. Her parents were John and Emma Curtis Bascom. John Bascom was a professor of oratory and rhetoric at Williams College, and in 1874 he became the president of the University of Wisconsin – a post he held until 1887. He and his wife actively supported the temperance and suffrage movements and he advocated coeducation. A year after he became president of the University of Wisconsin that school opened its doors to women students – a radical and progressive move for the era. Florence’s mother was a suffragist as well as a school teacher. The progressive attitudes of her parents encouraged Bascom to not fear any challenge to attain what she desired.

While not much is known of Bascom’s early education, she did graduate at the age of fifteen from high school in Madison, Wisconsin. Immediately after her high school graduation in 1877 Florence Bascom enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. While admitted to the university, women were limited in what they could do. For instance, they had limited access to the library and the gymnasium. Women were not allowed to be in classrooms that were filled with men. But, she listened, took notes, and read widely – graduating by the time she was twenty with two Bachelor’s degrees in 1882 - and adding a Bachelor of Science degree in 1884. She went on to graduate school, earning her Master’s degree in Geology in 1887.

Bascom applied to John Hopkins University for admission to the Geology Department in September 1890 – and seven months later she was given permission to take graduate classes at John Hopkins University – even though John Hopkins had not officially opened its doors for women to earn a degree. An executive committee voted to allow Bascom to attend classes without being officially enrolled. In 1892 she formally applied to enter the doctoral program, and was be accepted secretly into the program.

While at John Hopkins she had to sit, isolated, behind a screen that blocked her view of the men, the teacher, and the blackboard. Why? The reason was simple in the perspective of the male-dominated school: she was isolated in order not to “disrupt” male students who were not used to seeing a female student, especially in graduate courses. This isolation continued in the field studies – which women were not encouraged to attend, but Bascom did. Since she could not accompany the class, she would travel with her mentor, Professor George Williams, to conduct studies on rock formations and structures in Pennsylvania and Maryland. The end result of her experience was a doctoral dissertation that was classified as ‘brilliant’, and put her in the foremost rank of young, budding geologists. In 1893 Bascom became the first woman to earn a PhD at John Hopkins University.

Bascom’s interest in geology was due to a driving tour she made with her father and a geology professor at Ohio State, Edward Orton. Orton was an early supporter of allowing women to study the science of geology. This early interest led to her studying geology at the University of Wisconsin and making it her career.

From 1893 to 1895 Bascom would work as an instructor at Ohio State University. Then her big break came in 1895 when M. Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr College, invited Bascom to establish a Department of Geology for women in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Since geology was not yet considered important enough for its own building, she worked at first in a storage space that was in a building housing the ‘major’ sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics. She spent the next two years gathering the resources she would need to educate a new generation of women in the field of geology – collections of mineral, rock, and fossils. She would achieve full professorship at Bryn Mawr in 1906, where she not only created the undergraduate Geology course, but a national recognized graduate course in geology as well.

A number of students would come under Bascom’s influence during her teaching career, and would later become university instructors, work on state and federal geologic surveys, and serve in the Military Geology Unit in World War II. Bascom was described as rigorous, incisive, and consistent. She was also proud of her students, writing to Professor Herman Fairchild in 1931:

“I have always claimed that there was no merit in being the only one of a kind… I have considerable pride in the fact that some of the best work done in geology today by omen, ranking with that done by men, has been done by my students…. These are all notable young women and will be a credit to the science of geology.”
In 1896 Bascom became the first woman geologist employed by the U.S. Geological Survey. She would combine her teaching position at Bryn Mawr College with field studies on the eastern seaboard for the Geological Survey where her work on mapping crystalline rock formations became the basis of many later studies. In 1906 the first edition of American Men and Women of Science listed her as a four-starred geologist – which placed her among the nation’s hundred leading geologists. Her accomplishments were described in the Geological Society of America's magazine, GSA Today, July 1997 as follows: "Bascom was the first woman hired by the U.S. Geological Survey (1896), the first woman to present a paper before the Geological Society of Washington (1901), the first woman elected to the Council of the Geological Society of America (elected in 1924; no other woman was elected until after 1945), and the first woman officer of the GSA (vice president in 1930). She was an associate editor of the American Geologist (1896-1905) and a four-starred geologist in the first edition of American Men and Women of Science (1906), which meant that her colleagues regarded her as among the country's hundred leading geologists. After joining the Bryn Mawr College faculty, Bascom founded the college's geology department. This site became the locus of training for the most accomplished female geologists of the early 20th century."

Bascom retired from her professorship at Bryn Mawer in 1928 but continued working for the U.S. Geological Survey, moving to Washington, D.C. in order to prepare her final series of Survey reports. She would retire from the Geological Survey in 1936 at the age of 74.

Bascom passed away from a cerebral hemorrage in the city of her birth, Williamstown, on June 18, 1945, leaving a remembrance, according to former student Eleanora Bliss Knopf writing in American Mineralogist, "to her colleagues, her students, and her friends the inspiring memory of a scholarly and brilliant mind combined with a forceful and vigorous personality." As Ida Ogilvie, one of Bascom’s students who herself became a geology professor, wrote in 1945 about Bascom:

“Probably no one will ever know all the difficulties that she encountered, but little by little she achieved her purpose of making her department one of the best in the country.”

Associated Content
Geological Society of America
Memorial to Florence Bascom
Today in Science


Portrait of Dr. Bascom/Mineralogical Society of America
John Bascom, University of Wisconsin
Emma C. Bascom, University of Wisconsin
Younger Florence Bascom/Wikipedia
Bascom Standing with a Compass/GSA
Bascom at the Grand Canyon/GSA
The elder Dr. Bascom

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 28: Clara Maass, Heroine the Fight Against Yellow Fever

Clara Louise Maass was born on June 28, 1876 in East Orange, New Jersey. She was the first of ten children, and was the daughter of Robert E. and Hedwig A. Maass, recent German immigrants to the United States.

Maass was kept busy during her childhood years, attending public school and accepting the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. As she reached her adolescent years she became a “mother’s helper” to another family. A mother’s helper was employed help care for the house and children. In return for her work in the home, she was rewarded with room and board, and given time to attend school.

She completed three years of school at East Orange High School before leaving school at the age of fifteen to work at the Newark Orphan Asylum for $10 a month. This local orphanage accepted orphans from age two to ten. Maass would send half of her monthly wages home to help her family. She was compassionate and caring for her charges, striving to help them emotionally and physically.

Many women were entering the nursing profession in the late 19th century, following the footsteps of early woman professional nurses, Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. They were symbols of compassionate womanhood and served as a guiding light to those who followed them. Both were legends and still alive in the 1890s – and were an inspiration to Maass..

Even though the minimum age for training to become a nurse was supposed to be twenty, Maass was only seventeen years old when she entered the recently created Christina Trefz Training School of Nurses in 1893. A nursing program had been institute in 1892 when two Red Cross nurses from Germany were recruited as teachers. Mrs.Christina Trefz, the wife of a local brewer, purchased lots and built Trefz Hall, which was designated as the “The School of Nursing”. The school was dedicated on November 30, 1893. The school was operated by the German Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and was only the fourth such nursing school at that time in New Jersey – and the first in Newark. She would graduate among the first students to complete the course of study in 1895 after two years of intensive training, and went to work as a duty nurse at the German Hospital. In 1898 she was named as the head nurse of the institution, and was known as a hard worker and a person dedicated to the nursing profession. She was only twenty-one years old.

In 1898 the Spanish American War began. There was no Army Nurses Corps in existence at the time, so Maass volunteered as a contract nurse for the Army on October 1, 1898. She would serve in field hospitals with the Seventh Army Corps in several locations during the war – Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and finally Santiago, Cuba. More soldiers would become ill or would die from disease during the Spanish American War than were wounded – and it was Maass’s job, along with the other contract nurses, to care for them. She dealt with malaria, typhoid fever, and dysentery until she was discharged from Army service on February 5, 1899.

In November 1899 Maass again responded to a call for contract nurses and was sent to the Philippines – newly freed from Spanish control during the war and now a part of a new fledgling American empire. There she served as a nurse with the Eighth U.S. Army Corps. As the Philippine Insurrection against American control grew, more American troops had to be sent to the region – and again faced the deadly danger of disease. While in the Philippines she cared for soldiers suffering from smallpox, typhoid, and yellow fever.

Maass had to leave the Philippines before the end of her contract – not because she contracted yellow fever, but because she contracted another tropical disease, dengue fever. She was shipped back to the United States to recover in May 1900. She would soon be attracted to work again in Cuba.

Yellow fever had become a huge problem with the American troops occupying Cuba. Dr. Gorgas, who held the post in Cuba of Havana Sanitary Officer, originally thought that yellow fever was spread through unsanitary conditions, and conducted a city-wide sanitation effort – which failed to stem the spread of yellow fever. The disease became so rampant that the U.S. Surgeon General organized the Yellow Fever Commission – chaired by Dr. Walter Reed - to investigate how the disease was spread. Their findings revealed that the disease was spread through the bite of the female Stegomyia mosquito which, after taking blood from an infected person, would infect others by biting them as well. Gorgas was given the task of clearing the mosquitoes out of Havana. However, he pursued a different line of approach: developing an injection to prevent the disease from occurring.

In the fall of 1900 Gorgas sent out a call for volunteer nurses to help deal with yellow fever cases. Maass was well aware of the symptoms and suffering that went with this dreaded disease. Having seen the effects of the disease first-hand in the Philippines, Maass had developed a special interest in yellow fever, and a special desire to see the disease eradicated.

In October 1900 she had sufficiently recovered from the effects of her case of dengue fever that she could volunteer to serve in Cuba. Because the quality of her work with yellow fever victims in the Philippines, Maass was accepted as a nurse with the Yellow Fever Commission. After she arrived in Cuba she saw – and was hopeful of – the experiments being conducted to develop the medicine necessary to stop the disease. In 1901 she volunteered to be a part of a plan to develop immunization serum by allowing the volunteers to be bitten by infected mosquitoes, have a mild form of yellow fever, which would then create immunity for the volunteer. While the volunteers were told that they might die in the course of the experiment, they were offered an incentive of $100 for being subjects of the test. $100 was a considerable sum in 1900 dollars. An additional $100 was paid if the volunteer became ill.

In March 1901 Maass submitted to being bitten by infected mosquitoes, and developed a mild case of yellow fever. However, though the scientists and doctors involved were convinced that the mosquito was the primary means of transmitting the disease, there was still some doubt. Not all of the subjects who had been bitten by the infected mosquitoes developed yellow fever.

On August 14, 1901, Maass again submitted to being bitten by infected mosquitoes. The doctors hoped that her earlier mild case of yellow fever would immunize her against the disease. Unfortunately, they were soon to be disillusioned in their hopes.

Maass became severely ill with yellow fever on August 18th. She would die from the disease that had no cure on August 24th at the age of twenty-five. She was buried with military honors in Colon Cemetery, Havana, and in 1902 her remains would be reinterred at Fairmount Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey.

While a number of the test volunteers did die as a result of the experiments, Maass was the only American, the only woman, and the only nurse to succumb to the disease. A public outcry soon put an end to human experiments.

Clara Maass and her heroic sacrifice might have remained as a little known sidelight of history except for Leopoldine Guinther. Guinther, who was a superintendent of Newark Memorial Hospital and a fighter in the war against yellow fever, saw a portrait of Maass and felt the need to be an advocate of recognition of her sacrifice. Through her efforts Maass’ original gravestone was replaced with a pink granite gravestone with a bronze plaque. In addition, the Newark German Hospital would be renamed the Clara Maass Hospital in 1952 to honor its former graduate. Finally, in 1976 a stamp would be issued honoring her, with the words “She gave her life” at the bottom. Clara Maass would be recognized and remembered for the heroine she was.


American Association for the History of Nursing
Clara Maass Medical Center
Find A Grave
Google Books: Past and Promise
Old Newark
St. Matthews


Photo of Clara Maass, Office of Medical History, U.S. Army
Orphans Asylum, Old Newark Web
German Hospital, Old Newark Web
Side view of Clara Maass, Find A Grave
1976 First Day Cover Envelope with Stamp Honoring Clara Maass, American Association for the History of Nursing
Clara Maass gravesite, Find A Grave


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 22: John Dillinger, Public Enemy #1

John Dillinger, Johnnie Dillinger
The G-Men will chop you down
Some of the things that you've done done
Have been makin' the government frown.
Your numbers up, the words gone round
You won't be goin back to jail
You'll be a bull's eye for the police
And they'll throw the lead like hail.

This first stanza of a song refers to a man that America loved or hated, viewed as a killer or a Robin Hood, and who even today stirs controversy on whether he really died on that night of July 28, 1935, in a hail of bullets that reportedly struck him down in an alley next to the Biograph Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

John Herbert Dillinger, Jr., was born at 2 P.M. on Monday, June 22, 1903, in a middle-class residential neighborhood in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the younger of two children – his sister, Mildred, was fourteen years his senior – whose parents were John Wilson Dillinger and Mary Ellen “Mollie” Lancaster.

As a child, Dillinger was beset by a litany of social issues that combined to – in the eyes of some – force him into a life of a rebel and criminal. His father earned his living as a grocer and was inconsistent in his application of discipline. His father went from being harsh, repressive, and physical at times to being generous and permissive at other times. Dillinger’s mother, Mary, died when he was three, and he would show resentment and rebellion when his father remarried seven years later. Basically he was raised by his older teenage sister until his father remarried.

His father would have three more children by his second wife, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fields.

Dillinger often found himself in trouble as an adolescent. He was a bully in school and had his own group of followers when he was ten years old. Impatient, intelligent with no interest in academics, he finally quit school and went to work in a machine shop in Indianapolis. However, Dillinger – who was very intelligent and a good worker – became bored with his job and often stayed out all night. In a desperate attempt to provide a healthier atmosphere for his children, Dillinger’s father sold his property in Indianapolis and moved to a farm near Mooresville, Indiana. Seventeen-year old Dillinger would commute to work in Indianapolis – and never grew to enjoy farm life.

In 1923 Dillinger got into trouble with the law because of auto theft (he was caught by police officers, but escaped before being booked) and did what many young men in his situation did - enlisted in the Navy. After his basic training was complete, he was assigned to the battleship Utah as a Fireman, Third Class – which meant his spent his work shift shoveling coal in the bowels of the ship – and went AWOL when the ship docked in Boston. He returned a day later, was fined and sentenced to the brig by a court marshal, and four months later deserted.

When he returned to Mooresville he claimed that he had received an honorable discharge because of a heart murmur, then wooed and married sixteen-year-old Beryl Ethel Hovious on April 12, 1924. They ultimately settled in Indianapolis, where Dillinger had worked briefly at a variety of jobs. He joined Ed Singleton in a bid for ‘easy money’ and tried to rob a grocer. They were apprehended and Dillinger was sentenced to prison for up to 30 years. Beryl would divorce Dillinger in 1929 – and a month after the divorce Dillinger requested to be transferred from the Indiana State Reformatory to the Indiana State Prison, where he could associate with a

On May 10, 1933, Dillinger was paroled because his step-mother was dying, only to discover that she had died by the time he got home. Although at first his relations with her had been strained, he had grown to respect and love her. After the various emotional upheavals in his life, with the Great Depression at its depths, with little prospect or inclination for steady employment, he began his rise to infamy.

John Dillinger, Johnnie Dillinger
The finger will be laid on you
And the G-Man watchin' with his gun
Is goin to get you too.
When he stops you Johnnie
He's gonna stop you dead
And head you out for the golden gate
Packin a load of lead.
He started a crime spree of robbing several banks in Ohio that lasted from June 10, 1933 until his arrest Sept. 22, 1933. When the authorities searched Dillinger they found plans for what looked like a prison break. While Dillinger denied any knowledge of it, a number of his Indiana State Prison cellmates broke out of prison, shooting two guards with guns that had been previously smuggled in by Dillinger - and using plans very similiar to those found on Dillinger. On October 12, 1933, they arrived at Lima, Ohio, and broke Dillinger out of the county jail, killing Sheriff Jessie Sarber. Dillinger had his “gang”.

The Dillinger gang travelled through Indiana, robbing several banks and plundering two police arsenals – equipping themselves with rifles, Thompson submachine guns, pistols, bulletproof vests, and ammunition. They also killed several police officers in Indiana and Illinois.

Deciding to let things ‘cool off’, they vacationed in Florida, and then travelled to Tucson Arizona. On January 23, 1934 a fire broke out in the hotel the men were staying in while in Tucson – and the police arrested four of the men, including Dillinger, after firemen recognized them from their photographs.

Dillinger was sent to the ‘escape proof’ county jail at Crown Point, Indiana to await trial for robbery and murder. While there Dillinger was interviewed by several reporters who were impressed with his charisma and sense of humor. They added his escapades by relating the mortgages he destroyed while robbing banks, and even contributions his gang made to the poor. He even had his picture taken with prosecutor Robert Estill – a picture that would ruin Estill’s career.

On March 3, 1934, he tricked his guards with a wooden gun he had whittled and painted black with shoe polish. After forcing his guards to open his cell door, he grabbed two Thompson submachine guns, locked up the guards and several trustees, and left the jail. He stole Sheriff Lillian Holley’s car, and crossed the Indiana-Illinois state line as he headed to Chicago.

The act of transporting a stolen vehicle across state lines brought the precursor of the FBI - the United States Bureau of Investigation - into the case.

Dillinger formed a new gang and began robbing banks again, and hide out in Little Bohemia, Wisconsin. By this time Dillinger is front-page news, and locals in the area report an unusually high number of tourists to the United States Bureau of Investigation. United States Bureau of Investigation agents surround the Little Bohemia Lodge, only to discover that Dillinger and five of his gang members fled out of a back window to freedom.

The heat was on. Dillinger now made Chicago his hideout, and on May 27, 1934, had minor plastic surgery to alter his features. He spent several weeks recovering from the surgery in the home of a local bar owner, Jimmy Probasco.

Dillinger was able to celebrate his 31st birthday by reading U.S. Attorney General Homer Cummings’ declaration that Dillinger was Public Enemy #1. Dillinger took his current sweetheart, Polly Hamilton, out to dinner. A few days later the Justice Department offered a $10,000 reward the arrest of Dillinger. A week later, on June 30, 1934, Dillinger showed his lack of concern by robbing a bank in South Bend, Indiana.

Back in Chicago, Dillinger moved into an apartment owned by Anna Sage – an illegal immigrant who owned several brothels, and was Polly Hamilton’s landlady. In order to broker a deal to stay in the country, Sage promises to turn over Dillinger to the federal agents.

On July 22, 1934, Dillinger had dinner at Seminary Restaurant, went to a Cubs game, and then took Sage and Hamilton to a movie at the Biograph Theater – which offered an “air-cooled” environment that was especially appealing on a hot summer day in Chicago.

Sage made a quick phone call to the federal agents, telling them of Dillinger’s movie plans. When Dillinger and the two women left the movie theater at 10:30 PM over twenty federal agents were waiting for them.

O Billy the Kid and the Dalton Boys
And others of their kin
Were bad gun
men outside the law
But they were brave gun men within
Now you know the
old time story
How Billy met his end
It's too late to change you now
So long, old friend.
Dillinger sensed the ambush, turned, and fled into an alley. A hail of bullets followed, four hitting him, and one of these entering Dillinger’s neck and exiting through his right eye, instantly killing him.

Three days later the remains of John Dillinger were laid to rest at the Crown Hill Cemetery, Mason County, Indiana. He had come home.


Chicago Tribune
Find A Grave
Google books: John Dillinger
John Dillinger
John Dillinger Museum
Tru Crime Library

Library of Congress: John Dillinger (song title)


John Dillinger, FBI
Dillinger and Estill, True TV
Dillinger’s Wooden Gun, Examiner
Arrest Warrant for Dillinger, National Archives
Wanted Poster, National Archives
The Biograph Theater, Chicago Tribune
The Dillinger Grave Site, Find A Grave

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 21: Joseph Rainey, First African American US Congressman

He was born a slave, freed, raised in the South, fled during the Civil War, and became the first black American to be a United States Congressman, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years.

Joseph Hayne Rainey was born a slave in Georgetown, South Carolina on June 21, 1832. His father, Edward, was a barber who shrewdly managed his monies, allowing him to purchase freedom for himself, his wife Gracia, and his children in the 1840s. After buying their freedom, the Rainey’s moved in 1846 to Charleston, South Carolina, where George provided a comfortable living through his skills as a barber by working at one of the top hotels in South Carolina, the Mills Hotel. The Mills Hotel had opened its doors in 1853 and soon achieved a reputation for excellence – and is still in existence today. In an unusual turn of events, George Rainey became prosperous enough by 1860 that he could afford two slaves of his own.

While not much is known about Joseph Rainey’s youth, it is known that he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a barber himself. He did receive limited schooling. In the late-1850s, Rainey moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he met and married Susan – who was originally from the West Indies. They moved back to Charleston in 1859.

Rainey was twenty-eight years old when the American Civil War erupted in April 1861, with the shelling of Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina – where Joseph Rainey lived and worked. Rainey was soon drafted by the Confederate government to work on the network of fortifications around Charleston Harbor. He soon moved from that labor into being a steward on a blockade-runner.

In 1862 Rainey and his wife secretly fled from their home, escaping to Bermuda for the duration of the war on a blockade-runner that traveled from Charleston to Bermuda. They settled for three years in St. George, Bermuda, where they earned a living – Rainey as a barber and his wife as a successful dressmaker. When a yellow fever epidemic struck St. George, the Rainey’s moved to Hamilton where Rainey worked as a barber and a bartender at the Hamilton Hotel.

Rainey and his wife returned to Charleston after the end of the Civil War. He soon became involved in Reconstruction politics.

In 1865 Rainey – accompanied by his older brother Edward – attended the Colored People’s Convention at Zion Presbyterian Church. The church was pastured by a missionary, Jonathan Gibbs, who has started a school for freed Blacks, and was a ten-year veteran of the abolitionist movement. Gibbs had been sent by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freed-men, and he would annoy white South Carolinians by hosting a convention that advocated rights for the newly freed slaves. As a result, he would be exiled to pastor a church in a more remote South Carolina county. Gibbs soon left South Carolina. Moving to Florida, he began a political career there that would enable him to become that state’s first Black Secretary of State.

The convention sought ways to advance “the interests of our people”, seeking educational benefits, jobs, and political influence. The effect of the convention was felt by Rainey when he became a member of the executive committee of the state Republican Party, and was elected in 1868 to represent Georgetown at the 1868 constitutional convention. That convention wrote a new constitution for South Carolina. During this time Rainey favored a poll tax – if the monies gathered were used for exclusively for public education. He also supported an effort to legalize the collection of debts contracted before the Civil War including debts incurred in the purchase of slaves. Neither of these ideas were approved in the new constitution. However, he successfully supported an amnesty bill which allowed former Confederate soldiers to regain their civil rights.

As a symbol of the growing power of Reconstruction in the South, Rainey was appointed as a brigadier general in the state militia and served as an agent in the State Land Commission. He also attended the 1869 State Labor Convention, which lobbied the General Assembly for pro-labor legislation to protect black workers.

In 1870 Rainey was elected to the state Senate of South Carolina, where he was soon appointed as the chairman of the senate Finance Committee.

Later that year – on December 12, 1870 - he was elected to fill a vacancy that opened in the U.S. House of Representatives when the House refused to seat Benjamin F. Whittemore. Whittemore had been censured by the House for corruption, and was re-elected by the people of South Carolina – after which the House refused to seat him.

Rainey would be re-elected to Congress several times, serving until March 3, 1879. He was the longest-serving Black Congressman until the 1950s when William L. Dawson broke Rainey’s record.

While in Congress during Reconstruction, Rainey consistently supported legislation designed to protect the civil rights of black Americans – especially those living in the post-Civil War South. He advocated passage of the 1872 Ku Klux Klan Act to rid the south of the organization. The act was signed into law by President Grant. Concerning the need for this act, Rainey stated:

“When myself and my colleagues shall leave these Halls and turn our footsteps toward our southern homes, we know not that the assassin may await our coming, as marked for his vengeance.”
He also supported a civil rights bill that was sponsored by Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, which outlawed racial discrimination on juries, in schools, on transportation, and in public accommodations. The amnesty bill passed in 1874 and the civil rights bill was enacted in 1875. He also was an advocate in Congress for Chinese and American Indian rights.

In May 1874 he would become the first black American to preside as Speaker pro tempore over the House. He also received seats on three standing committees: Freedmen’s Affairs (41st–43rd Congresses), Indian Affairs (43rd Congress), and Invalid Pensions (44th–45th Congresses, 1875–1879).

He would win reelection in 1876 against the Democratic candidate, John Smythe Richardson. Richardson would challenge the results of the election based on the grounds of intimidation of white voters by the federal soldiers and black militia that guarded the voting booths around the state. The challenge was rejected.

But Richardson ran again against Rainey two years later – this time as Reconstruction was coming to a slow and painful ending. This time he won, replacing Rainey in Congress on March 3, 1879. Reconstruction was over, and the whites regained political control of South Carolina.

Rainey returned to his home in Georgetown, South Carolina. He was appointed as an Internal Revenue agent in South Carolina on May 22, 1879, serving until July 15, 1881. Moving back to Washington, D.C., he was involved in banking and a railroad. He retired due to illness in 1886, moving back to Georgetown.

Rainey died in Georgetown on August 1, 1887, at the age of fifty-five. He was buried in the Baptist Cemetery in Georgetown.

He was a unique mixture of compassion and hard-headed reality. A successful businessman, he conducted himself with honor during a time when many in politics were solely seeking personal gain. He would be honored 118 years after his death when a portrait of him was unveiled and displayed in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., becoming the first portrait of a black legislator to be displayed in the Capitol. Perhaps his words, spoken to the Congress, best sums up Rainey’s post-Civil War efforts and beliefs:

“We are earnest in our support of the Government. We were earnest in the house of the nation’s perils and dangers; and now, in our country’s comparative peace and tranquility, we are earnest for our rights.”

Bella Online
Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress
Black Americans in Congress
Black Past
News In History
Online 1911 Encyclopedia
South Carolina Department of Archives and History
South Carolina Encyclopedia


Photo of Rainey, Library of Congress
Photo of Rainey seated, Library of Congress
Rainey Home, SC Dept. of Archives and History
Portrait as a Congressman, House of Representatives

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 3: Emmett Dalton, Bank Robber, Building Contractor, and Author

Emmett Dalton was born near Belton Missouri on May 3, 1871 – the eleventh of fifteen children in the family of Lewis Dalton and Adeline Younger Dalton. Not much is known about the early history of Emmett – but he did learn to read, write, and cipher, and as a teenager he had a good reputation among the townspeople who knew him.

When Emmett was around nine the Dalton family moved to Coffeyville, Kansas – which was later the site of a famed failed-robbery by the infamous Dalton Gang. In 1883, the Dalton’s moved near Vinita – then in Indian Territory, now part of the state of Oklahoma.

By 1887 the sixteen-year-old Emmett was working as a cowboy on at the Bar-X-Bar ranch, located near Vinita and the elder Dalton’s homestead. Several of his brothers – Frank, Grat, and Bob Dalton – became deputy U.S. Marshals, charged with upholding the law of the land. By and large they were reputed to be good officers of the law – brave, friendly, and polite. Emmett was able to join the posse’s occasionally formed to hunt down the outlaws and renegades that ran rampant in the Indian Territory during the late 19th Century. Frank Dalton would be killed by whiskey runners in 1887 while he was serving as a Deputy U.S. Marshal.

Emmett had formed a close attachment to his older brother, Bob – joining him both as a member of posses as well as serving with him as a guard. But, Bob was on the wild side, and in 1890 Emmett and his brother were arrested for “introducing intoxicating liquor into the Osage Nation on Dec. 25, 1889.” The 19-year-old Emmett was acquitted after a court hearing – he had accompanied Bob, but had stayed on the road and was not involved with the actual sale of liquor to the Indians. Bob was bound over for trial, but was released on bail and then did not show up for the trial in late 1890. During the time Bob was out on bail, Bob, Emmett and Grat Dalton sold some stolen horses – and after Grat was arrested, the other two Dalton’s left for California.

Staying with older brother Bill Dalton while in California, Emmett continued to follow Bob in illegal acts. Suspicion fell on the brothers after an attempted train robbery on February 6, 1891. While Bob and Emmett could not be positively identified by witnesses, they were hidden by their brother Bill, and when he was questioned they realized that the sheriff considered them as his chief suspects, and they headed to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Emmett would later state that they were wrongly accused, and this false accusation – and reputation - had led them to really become train robbers.

As word spread on the Dalton’s, they decided that it was time to leave the country – but needed ready cash to do so. They came up with a daring plan – and would be the first to attempt to rob two banks simultaneously. The robbery was to take place in Coffeyville – their old hometown.

Five riders – Bob, Grat, and Emmett Dalton, along with Dick Broadwell and Bill Power – would ride into Coffeyville, Kansas, on the morning of October 5, 1892. They split into two groups – one for each of the town’s two banks, the C.M. Condon Bank and the First National Bank.

The raid was a failure, and with armed townsmen firing at them the bank robbers tried to flee. Four townsmen and four of the bank robbers were killed by a hail of bullets during a fifteen minute battle. 21-year-old Emmett, carrying a grain sack filled with $21,000 of money from the First National Bank in one hand and a Winchester rifle in the other, was wounded and captured. He had been hit in the right arm (crushing the bone), the left hip, and had almost 20 pieces of buckshot in his back.

Emmett stood trial in Independence, Kansas, in March, 1893. He pled guilty, and was convicted of robbery and murder of a townsman during the gun battle in Coffeyville. He was sentenced to life in prison, and would serve fourteen and a half years at the Kansas State Penitentiary, Lansing, Kansas. In 1907 he was pardoned by E. W. Hoch, the governor of Kansas.

The pardon was granted, in part, because a number of affidavits had been sworn to by the townsmen who had shot down the gang of robbers that Emmett could not have killed anyone – he was carrying the bag of money in one hand, and a rifle in the other, while trying to mount a horse for a get-away. Governor Hoch commented in his pardon:
“Believing that Emmett Dalton's youthfulness is an extenuation of his great offense, and believing that he has thoroughly repented of it and given evidence of this repentance in every possible way, and believing that a government without mercy is not strong but weak, and believing that Emmett Dalton will make a good citizen and live a good, clean, useful life, I have concluded to give him the opportunity.”
As he gave the pardon to Emmett, the governor reputedly told him,
“I do not believe that good government will suffer because of the fact that you are a free man.”
Emmett went back to Oklahoma and on September 1, 1908, married Julia Johnson Gilstrap in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The newlyweds would settle in Tulsa where Emmett found work as a police officer. A few years later Emmett and Julia would move to California where he worked as a building contractor.

Emmett wrote two books – Beyond the Law in 1918 and, with the assistance of a Los Angeles newspaperman named Jack Jungmeyer, When the Daltons Rode in 1931. He would appear as himself in a silent movie produced in 1918 that was based on – and titled after – his first book.

Dalton passed away at the age of sixty-six at his home in Long Beach, California, on July 13, 1937. His body was cremated, and his ashes were buried at Kingfisher Cemetary, Kingfisher, Oklahoma. He was survived by his wife, Julia.


Beyond the Law book
Coffeyville Raid
Find A Grave
Kansas State Historical Society
Kaye Presland
Legends of America


After release from prison: Find A Grave
Newspaper sketch of Emmett Dalton: Kaye Presland
Emmett Dalton with his prison number: Kansas Memory
Beyond the Law: Google books
Emmett’s gravestone: Find A Grave

Monday, April 26, 2010

April 26: Esek Hopkins, First Commander of the Fleet

He came from a strong Puritan line, raised on the concept of duty and the benefits of hard work. He would become the first commander of the American Navy, and another of his family - his brother - was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Esek Hopkins was born on April 26, 1718, in the territory claimed by Providence, Rhode Island – which is today the town of Scituate. His parents were William and Ruth Hopkins, and he was the sixth of nine children.

He grew up on the Hopkins farm, which was named Chopomisk. The countryside in the early 18th century was wild and sparsely settled, and working on the farm and hunting provided the rawboned strength that would characterize Hopkins.

When his father died in 1738, Hopkins, a tall and handsome twenty-year-old, went to Providence where he signed on to work on a vessel that was preparing to sail to Surinam. With this event, Hopkins began a lifetime on the sea. Four of the brothers would become capable captains who made their livings on the sea.

Hopkins proved to be a quick study and an able seaman, soon rising to the command of a vessel in his own right. By the time he was twenty-three he felt secure enough in his trade to marry – and on November 28, 1741 he married Desire Burroughs, the daughter of a Newport, Rhode Island merchant and shipmaster. The marriage would yield six children. He would make Newport his homeport until 1748 when he relocated back to Providence.

The years of the French and Indian Wars provided colonial sailors with the opportunity to become privateers – private vessels sailing with permission of a government and being granted the right to seize enemy ships, and to share in the profit of the sail of that ship and its cargo. Hopkins apparently did very well as a privateer, seizing French (and occasionally Spanish) merchant ships.

Moses Brown, a Providence merchant, wrote on February 23, 1757:
"Capt. Esek Hopkins has Taken and sent in here a snow of about 150 tons, Laden with wine, oil, Dry goods &c to ye amount of about L6000 ye greater part of which will be Exposed to publick Vendue ye Tuesday next.”
During this time he bought a farm that he would add more property to over time until it eventually consisted of over two hundred acres. It was located just north of Providence. Between voyages he would supervise the tending of the farm and engage in local politics. His efforts largely contributed to the election of his brother Stephen Hopkins as the governor of Rhode Island in 1763. Hopkins himself was elected as a Deputy to the Rhode Island General Assembly.

At the outbreak of the American War for Independence, Hopkins was appointed a brigadier general and given command of the Rhode Island military forces. Later, on December 22, 1775, he was given the designation of Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Navy by the Continental Congress. One major factor in his achieving this position was the fact that during the French and Indian war he had commanded a veritable fleet of ten privateers in the war against the French, and hence had experience in commanding a number of ships.

In January 1776 he took command of the eight converted merchant ships that constituted the bulk of the Continental Navy. The flag he hoisted on the flagship of his small fleet, the Alfred (30-guns), was the Gadsden Flag - which had been designed by Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina. The Alfred would later be captained by young officer named Lieutenant John Paul Jones. The other ships in this first American fleet were the Columbus (28 guns); the brig Andrea Doria (14 guns); the brig Cabot (14 guns); the sloop Providence (12 guns); the sloop Hornet (10 guns); the schooner Wasp (8 guns); and the schooner Fly (6 guns).

Hopkins sailed from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 18, 1776, with orders to scout and if possible to attack British maritime forces in Chesapeake Bay, Charleston harbor (South Carolina), and those near Rhode Island. He believed he was given the option of forming plans of his own if he felt that the orders sent by the Maritime Committee of the Continental Congress proved to be unfeasible.

He quickly realized that the enemy naval strength was superior to his in the Chesapeake Bay area, so he exercised his command prerogative and led his squadron southward, to New Providence Island in the Bahamas. He landed there on March 3, 1776, and seized a large stock of supplies and equipment that were badly needed for the fledgling American army.

A month later, on route back to the colonies, the American fleet encountered and captured two small British warships – and two days later had an inconclusive engagement with the 20-gun HMS Glasgow. The Glasgow, heavily outnumbered, skillfully evaded the Americans and was able to escape. Also during this time he captured two British merchant vessels.

The American squadron would arrive back at New London, Connecticut, on April 8, 1776, and were at first welcomed as heroes. The President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, wrote Hopkins:
"Your letter of the 9th of March, with the enclosure, was duly received and laid before Congress; in whose Name I beg leave to congratulate you on the Success of your Expedition. Your Account of the Spirit and Bravery shown by the men affords them [Congress] the greatest satisfaction; and encourages them to expect similar Exertions and Courage on every future Occasion. Though it is to be regretted, that the ‘Glascow’ Man of War made her Escape, yet as it was not thro any Misconduct, the Praise due to you and the other officers is undoubtedly the same."
However, soon Hopkins’ decision to change his orders was surrounded by controversy. Many of the officers who sailed with him had disagreed with his policies and decisions. On top of that, the small American fleet stayed at New London, not being used aggressively against the English. The reasons for this were twofold. One was a lack of men and supplies – with many of the qualified sailors and most of the supplies being used by American privateers, who paid better than the Navy did. The other was a loose British blockade of the American port.

The Continental Congress would censure him and two of his captains for breach of orders and, in 1777 – because of continuing complaints from his officers - he would lose his command. A year later – on January 2, 1778, he would be dismissed from his position as commander-in-chief of the Navy.

Hopkins maintained his popularity in Rhode Island. He was elected to the state legislature during the 1780s, and was involved in state politics until his death in 1802.


1911 Encyclopedia
Cruise of Commodore Esak Hopkins
Esak Hopkins, Google books
Gadsden Flag
Naval Historical Center
Novel Guide
Quarterman Family


Ezek Hopkins, Commander in Chief of the Fleet: Wikipedia
A French Engraving of Hopkins: Navy History
The flagship of Esek Hopkins, the Alfred: Aeragon
The Gadsden Flag: Wikipedia
A 19th Century engraving of Commodore Hopkins: Navy History


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 22: Lewis Thornton Powell, Angry Attempted Assassin

He was young, strong, handsome, and the son of a preacher. Yet – hardened by four years of civil war, he would attempt to assassinate the U.S. Secretary of State in a plot hatched by John Wilkes Booth.

Lewis Thornton Powell was born on April 22, 1844, in Randolph County, Alabama. His parents were George Cader, a farmer, tax assessor, and later a Baptist minister, and Patience Caroline Powell.

Powell would be the sixth surviving child of the first eight children born to the Powells, who eventually had ten children. In 1847 his father was ordained into the ministry and moved the Powell family to Steward County, Georgia. All of the children were educated by their father, who served as the teacher at the local school.

As a child, Powell was quiet and introverted, a young boy who loved to read and study. He earned the nickname “Doc’ because he cared for sick animals. A change occurred, however when he was twelve. He was kicked in the face by the family’s mule. His jaw was broken, and when it healed, his jaw was more prominent on the left side of his face.

Around the age of fourteen, young Powell was heavily involved in Sunday School, prayer meetings, and other religious activities. He would conduct prayer meetings, was popular, liked to sing, and was a favorite of the ladies in the community.

In 1860 the Powell family moved to the outskirts of Live Oak, Florida. The sixteen-year-old Lewis worked supervising his father’s farm there, cognizant of the increasing tensions between the North and the South that would ultimately lead to the Civil War. On January 10, 1861, Florida seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, and on May 30th the seventeen-year-old Powell enlisted in the Jasper Blues (Hamilton County), which later became Company I of the Second Florida Infantry.

Powell would see action in several major battles during the war. He served in the Army of Northern Virginia and was at the battles of Seven Pines, Second Manassas, Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg. On July 2, 1863, he was wounded in the right wrist at Gettysburg, and captured by the Union forces. At the Gettysburg hospital, Powell would become a male nurse, aiding the doctors in treating the wounded of both sides, and becoming so involved in his work that he began calling himself ‘Doctor Powell’. He was reported to be good at his work, and kind to the sick and wounded.

In September 1863 the prisoner-orderly was transferred to the West Buildings Hospital in Baltimore. At this hospital, aided by a female nurse he had met at Gettysburg who now worked at the hospital in Baltimore, Powell escaped, walking out of the hospital in a Union uniform provided by his female friend.

Making his way back to Virginia, Powell gave up trying to find his old unit, and joined with Colonel John Mosby’s Rangers, a partisan guerrilla organization. While with the Rangers, Powell began spying operations for the Confederate Secret Service. It was during one of these missions that he met John Surratt – who would be one of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination.

By 1865, the war was obviously moving toward a conclusion, with victory in sight for the North.
Powell was brought into a plan by John Wilkes Booth to kidnap President Lincoln while the President was attending a play at the Seventh Street Hospital on the outskirts of Washington. The kidnapped President was to be spirited to Richmond, and used as a bargaining chip in an exchange plan for Confederate soldiers. The planned kidnapping was called off when Lincoln cancelled his visit to the play.

After the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865 – and the revealing of plans by President Lincoln to let former slaves have the right to vote – a more deadly plan was hatched – this time to assassinate several top officials of the Union – Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. Powell was again brought into the plan by Booth, and on April 13, 1865, Powell, John Wilkes Booth, George Atzerodt, and David Herold met in Powell’s room in a boarding house in Washington. It was there that almost 21-year-old Powell was given the assignment to assassinate Seward.

Seward had been injured in a carriage accident in early April, and was still recuperating at his home in Washington. During the evening of April 14th, Powell broke into Seward’s bedroom, stabbing at him repeatedly. The bandages on Seward’s injuries – a broken jaw and broken arm – saved his life by deflecting several knife blows. Powell also attacked those trying to rescue Seward – two of Seward’s children and Seward’s nurse, Sergeant George F. Robinson. Powell – outnumbered and in an alerted household, escaped, wounding a messenger who had arrived while Powell was escaping. After the trial, Sergeant Robinson, credited with actually forcing Powell to flee, asked for and was given the knife used by Powell in the attack.

Fleeing the city, Powell was thrown from his horse near a cemetery. He hid in the cemetery for three days, and then went to Mary Surratt’s boarding house - arriving just as she was arrested. Even though she denied knowing him, Powell found himself in chains and taken aboard a Navy monitor, the USS Saugus.

A military commission was formed to try Powell – foregoing the civilian trial by jury. Powell was tried under the name of “Payne” – a name he had used months earlier when he was arrested for spying by the Union and signed a loyalty oath to get released. He was defended by William E. Doster. Thirty two witnesses testified against Powell, and the evidence against him was overwhelming. Doster tried to claim that Powell was insane – which was rejected on the stand by Government witnesses. He then tried to claim that Powell was a soldier acting under orders – an argument that was rejected out of hand by the court.

Powell was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and treason.

Powell was executed on July 7, 1865, along with three other convicted conspirators – Mary Surratt, David Herold, and George Atzerodt. His body was buried in the penitentiary courtyard near the gallows where he was hanged. His body was re-interred several times over the years, and its present location is unknown. However, in January 1992 his skull discovered and identified in the Smithsonian Anthropology Department where it lay among mostly Indian remains that were being identified for return to their appropriate tribes. The skull, which had been tagged at some point in the past, was claimed by the nearest living Powell relative, and on November 12, 1994, was buried next to his mothers grave in Geneva, Florida.

Abraham Lincoln Research Site
Alias Payne
Geneva History
Spartacus Educational
University of Missouri – Kansas City


Picture of Powell, Indiana History Digital Image Library
The assassination attempt on Seward, Wikipedia
Powell under Guard, Harpers Weekly, May 27, 1865: Son of the South
Booth and his Associates, Indiana Digital Image Library
Alexander Gardner’s picture of conspirators arriving at the gallows – Powell is second from the right, next to Mary Surratt, Indiana Digital Image Library
Powell’s gravesite, Waymarking

Monday, April 19, 2010

Blog Entry: April 19: Eliot Ness and the Untouchables

Over the years he has become a name recognized by the group of incorruptible Federal agents he managed during a time of intense political corruption – the Untouchables. A book, television series, and – more recently a movie - have all documented the courageous acts of this group of men against one of the most renown of all gangsters during an era of gangsters: Al Capone. Yet, he also was a businessman, and an (unsuccessful) candidate for mayor of a major city.

Eliot Ness was the youngest of five children born to Norwegian immigrants Peter and Emma King Ness. Born on April 19, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois, Ness would attend public school - graduating from Christian Fenger High School. He would show an early dedication to the work ethic – maintaining his grades at school, a paper route, and working at his father’s bakery. He then attended the University of Chicago, graduating in 1925 with a degree in business and political science.

After a brief career as an investigator of the Retail Credit Company of Atlanta, Georgia – where he was assigned to work in Chicago conducting background investigations gathering credit information – Ness returned to the University of Chicago, earning a Master’s Degree in criminology.

In 1927 Ness joined the U.S. Treasury Department as a member of the Bureau of Prohibition. The Bureau had been created as an enforcement arm for the 18th Amendment – which prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcohol, and ushered in an era known as Prohibition. Ness was encouraged to enter Federal law enforcement by his brother-in-law, Alexander Jamie – who was a Federal agent himself.

Prohibition encouraged the rise of organizations to illegally produce and sell the illicit alcohol. Because of the profit involved, this became the era of gangsters – who made big money in booze, illegal gambling, and more. At the top of the criminal food chain in Chicago was Al Capone.

Starting in 1929, the Federal government decided to make a concerted effort to bring down Capone – whose tentacles of influence included ‘bought’ politicians, police, and civic leaders. Ness was chosen to head the operations that targeted the illegal breweries and the supply routes of Capone’s business empire. Ness’s goal was to reduced Capone’s ability to pay bribe money to public officials by eliminating his main source of income – bootlegged alcohol.

Chicago’s law-enforcement agencies – city, state, and federal representatives – were rife with corruption, and Ness searched through the records of hundreds of Prohibition agents to create a reliable team of eleven men that could not be bought or bribed – the famous “Untouchables”.

"When they were settled, and while the newsreels were setting up their cameras, I told them of the attempted briberies. I related in detail how an emissary of Capone'shad tried to buy me off for two thousand dollars a week and how Marty and Sam had thrown back their flying bribe. [...] It was a long, wearisome process but well worth the effort. Possibly it wasn't too important for the world to know that we couldn't be bought, but I did want Al Capone and every gangster in the city to realize there were still a few law enforcement agents who couldn't be swerved from their duty." --from The Untouchables by Eliot Ness
Within six months Ness had seized breweries worth over a million dollars, which put a crimp in Capone’s operations. After bribery attempts failed, several assassination attempts were made by the Capone organization against Ness – all of which failed.

While Ness was keeping Capone’s attention focused on the loss of income through raids on the breweries, other Treasury Department agents were focusing on Capone’s tax evasion. In 1931, Capone was charged with 22 counts of income tax evasion and 5,000 violations of the Volstead Act. As a result of this, Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison, winding up at Alcatraz.

Soon after the end of Capone came the end of Prohibition. The 1933 passage of the 21st Amendment provided an end of a great social experiment – and a revamping of Ness’s career.

After Prohibition, Ness was reassigned to the “Moonshine Mountains” in Kentucky, Tennessee, and southern Ohio. A year later he was transferred to Cleveland, Ohio, and in 1935 – at the age of 32 - was hired by the mayor Cleveland, Harold Burton, as Cleveland’s Safety Director. Ness campaigned to clean out corruption in the police department and to modernize the fire department. He formed a new “Untouchable” unit of six men, who took on gambling, racketeers, and organized crime in Cleveland in an attempt to clean up the city. Two hundred Cleveland officers were forced to resign from the force, and over a dozen police officials went on trial for various criminal acts. His concentration on his work was one of the reasons he was divorced by his first wife, Edna Staley Ness, in 1938. He would marry Evaline Michelow, and illustrator of children’s books, in 1939.

Ness showed his far-reaching vision while in Cleveland. He created the Emergency Patrol, which was a special unit of vehicles manned by police officers with first aid training. He also established a central communications center to take and dispatch all emergency calls. Ness also established a juvenile crime unit, and obtained city funds for gyms, bowling alleys, and playgrounds in areas where gangs were prevalent. He also worked with the Works Program Administration to provide employment for the youths of Cleveland’s inner city. Juvenile crime dropped 80% while Ness was Safety Director in Cleveland.

Ness had a number of accomplishments as the Safety Director of Cleveland, but he had one significant failure that would give his critics ammunition against him. Ness was unsuccessful in solving a series of twelve murders were known as the “Torso Murders”, and occurred between 1935 and 1938. These serial murders, committed by the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run” were never solved. This - combined with his extensive ‘social’ drinking and a scandal involved when he drove away after car accident in 1942 - would create the conditions for Ness to leave Cleveland in 1942.

America entered World War II in December 1941. In 1942 Ness left Cleveland and moved to Washington, D.C., again in the employ of the Federal government to control prostitution and the spread of venereal disease at the military bases in the area.

In 1944 he left his job and moved back to Ohio to become the chairman of the Diebold Corporation, a security safe company. A year later he would be divorced by his second wife, Evaline, and in 1946 he married artist Elisabeth Anderson Seaver. It was in this third and final marriage that Ness adopted his only child, Robert.

In 1947 he would campaign unsuccessfully for the position of mayor of Cleveland – losing by what one source called an ‘embarrassingly large margin’. He was also removed as the CEO of Diebold after the election. Ness would become involved with several other businesses, but had difficulty providing for his family – until he met Oscar Fraley, an author who worked with Ness and ultimately published a book chronicling Ness’s Chicago years. The “Untouchables” would be published in 1957, just six months after Ness’s May 16th death from a heart attack.

Ness’s remains were cremated and kept by family members until 1997. Then his ashes – along with those of his last wife and his son - were scattered on the waters of Wade Lake in the Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland. A marker was erected to honor the man who revolutionized and revitalized Cleveland’s police force, and had captured America's imagination with his honesty and his war against crime.


About Cleveland
Crime Library
FBI Files
FBI Freedom of Information Act Records
Find A Grave
Finding Dulcinea
Google Books: Eliot Ness and the Untouchables
Historical Biographies
Ness Returns to Cleveland
Ohio History Central


Portrait of Eliot Ness, Wikipedia
Ness as a Child, Cleveland Memory
Cleveland Safety Director, Cleveland Memory
Campaign poster for Mayor of Cleveland, Photo collection (Cleveland years)
Elisabeth and Bobby Ness, Cleveland Memory
Ness’s burial marker, Find-a-Grave

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 3: David Kenney, "Father of the Vacuum Cleaner Industry"

Note: Great Lives is honored to present our first guest blogger, Mary Robinson Sive, who contributed this life story to the Great Lives blog. Mary is the author of Lost villages: historic driving tours in the Catskills as well as other works.

An almost forgotten New Jersey inventor was a pioneer in the vacuum cleaner industry long before this appliance became a standard piece of equipment in most households. Historical accounts often do not give this self-taught and self-made man credit, some dismissing him as a “New Jersey plumber;” others not mentioning him at all. Yet the patents he received between 1903 and 1913 placed him at the center of the American vacuum cleaner industry in the first two decades of the 20th century. In 1910 the New York Times called him the “father of the vacuum cleaner industry.”

The son of Irish immigrants, Kenney at age 15 was apprenticed to a plumber and soon had his own business with offices in New Jersey and New York City. In the 1890s he received patents for a “Flushometer” (to flush toilets) and other plumbing devices that proved quite profitable. Soon he joined the many other inventors who sought to improve housecleaning by mechanical means. By 1902 he installed a steam engine in Pittsburgh that could suck dust out of all parts of a large building.

(Frick Building 1902 installation)
An English engineer, H. Cecil Booth, coined the term “vacuum cleaner” for his truck-mounted invention. He applied for a US patent during the time that Kenney also had several patent applications pending. Kenney received his most significant patent in 1907 after a six-year wait. The Englishman’s application for a US patent was now moot.

According to a 1906 ad Kenney's firm counted the White House and the New York Times building among its customers for stationary central vacuum systems. Two years later it was chosen to install such a system in New York's Singer Building, at the time the world’s tallest office structure, and later provided such service in the US Treasury building.

In a highly competitive environment Kenney was aggressive in pursuing his business interests. He was successful in several lawsuits alleging patent infringement and eventually gave up manufacturing in favor of licensing other companies.

Portable vacuum cleaners came into their own after James Spangler received a patent in 1909 for one powered by electricity and sold it to William Henry Hoover, a name still recognized. But electric power was far from universally available, and a market existed for hand-operated cleaners. Sears Roebuck began offering three versions of such machines the same year.

Anyone living on a farm or in a small town who hoped to clean floors in a modern manner had to use a vacuum cleaner operated by hand. And that vacuum most likely used the nozzle patented by Kenney.

Most of the manual vacuums that survive are of a plunger type (shown in the middle above) that functioned somewhat like a bicycle pump in reverse, with the operator pushing the handle down a tube, then pulling it back up and depositing dust in a container. Other models required operation by two individuals. Sears offered a money-back guarantee on the three models advertised, but within eight years the manually operated cleaners were gone from the catalog and only electric ones were shown. Perhaps word got around that they weren’t really “labor-saving devices.” Women who grew up in farm homes in the 1920s and 1930s remember seeing manual cleaners, but they don’t actually remember their mothers ever using them much.
Manual vacuum cleaners are described in few books dealing with home life or homemaking during the pre-World War I period. Women’s history institutions have no photographs. More examples are found in small local history collections than in major museums. The Hoover Company’s Historical Center in Canton, OH has a number of these appliances, but the largest number is held by a private collector (vachunter.com)

In 1920 1,024,167 vacuum cleaners were sold for a total of $35 million, most undoubtedly electric. The industry for whose growth he was given so much credit by his contemporaries was well-established. Kenney now turned his inventive skills to yet another field and received his last patent in 1920, this for a heating system designed to improve the distribution of heat from a wood-burning fireplace.

The income from his various patents enabled Kenney to pursue other business interests, including real estate transactions beginning early in his career. During the long wait for the 1907 patent Kenney asked the Sisters of Mercy, an order of Catholic nuns who were his daughter’s teachers, to pray for him. His donations beginning in 1905 and continuing to the end of his life totaled over 70 acres and enabled Mt. St. Mary’s College, founded by the order in 1873, to move to a site near his manufacturing operations. He took an active part in the planning of the buildings for the school, which opened in 1908 with elementary and secondary classes and included seven girls in a college department. The school continues as a girls’ prep school with several hundred students. Kenney’s generosity resulted in his being made a Papal Chamberlain by Pope Pius X in 1906. Other civic activities included service on the board of a hospital and of a reform school.

Booth’s name appears in the British Dictionary of National Biography and in biographical reference works dealing with technology. The vacuum cleaners he invented and manufactured are held in London’s Science Museum. Kenney’s name cannot be found in corresponding American reference books, the Library of Congress’ “American Memory” or its Prints and Photographs Collection, nor in the Smithsonian Institution. While the courts uniformly held his patents applicable to portable household cleaners as well as to central installations, the industry largely shifted away from the systems serving entire buildings that he had pioneered in this country. His vacuum cleaner patents survived David Kenney by a few years. He committed suicide in May 1922. His body was found near Beacon, NY, after he had been missing about ten days. He had been in ill health for some years and had recently lost his wife and a sister. He was long forgotten by the 1980s, when the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame was inaugurated with names like Edison and Einstein.