Fisher – The Builder – Part 1

On Tuesday, January 18, 1927, as church bells tolled on Capitol Square in Harrisburg, the huge bronze doors of the Capitol swung open to permit a precession of dignitaries to walk down the steps to the inaugural platform where John S. Fisher, flanked by his daughter, Mary, took the oath of office as thirtieth Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The press lauded his inaugural address for its “unprecedented brevity,” Governor Fisher pledged “to apply common sense as the guide to all activities and to devote my full time, energy, and capacity to the duties of office.”

This began the governorship of Indiana’s only native son to occupy the highest elective office in Pennsylvania. John Fisher’s journey to the Executive Mansion was a tortuous one which originated on a farm in South Mahoning Township two miles north of Plumville. It was here that John Stuchell Fisher was born on May 25, 1867 to Samuel and Mariah Fisher.

Growing up, John performed the customary farm chores and walked three miles to a one-room schoolhouse at Ox Hill. John’s teachers were impressed by his aptitude and application; they therefore arranged for Fisher to further his education by working for A.W. Taylor, an eminent Indiana lawyer, while pursuing his studies at the local high school and subsequently Indiana State Normal School.

John graduated from the Normal School at the age of 19, and then secured a teaching position in the same country schoolhouse which he had attended at Ox Hill. He taught classes of 60 to 80 students for two years at the end of which he obtained a better position in a two-room school in Plumville. It was here where Fisher shared his teaching responsibilities with a young woman and former neighbor, Hapsie Miller, who also had attended Indiana State Normal School.

The 1886 graduating class of Indiana Normal School. In this picture, taken on the steps of Sutton Hall, John Fisher is the young man at the top right with his arm resting on the post ledge.

In 1891, Fisher joined the Indiana School system as a teacher and principal. During his vacations and his spare time, he studied law in the office of Samuel Cunningham, Esq., a prominent Indiana attorney. John became fascinated with the law that in 1893 he resigned his teaching position and entered into partnership with his mentor, Sam Cunningham. The new firm prospered and acquired one of the largest practices in the County.

John pressed his courtship with Hapsie Miller, and the couple was married on October 11, 1893. The couple had four children, two of whom died in infancy. Of the surviving children, Mary, born in 1898, was to become her father’s official gubernatorial hostess and Robert, born in 1894, followed in his father’s footsteps by taking up the practice of law.

John Fisher prepared to embark on what proved to be an effective and exciting career. His soft voice and quiet, unassuming manner evoked confidence and attracted followers. He was a devoted and generous husband, father, and grandfather, often babysitting with his grandchildren. He was also a dedicated Presbyterian, he was active in the church affairs lending invaluable assistance in the campaign to build the Graystone Church.

This picture of Mrs. John Fisher was taken in the living room of the Governor’s Indiana residence on North Sixth Street. Mrs. Fisher died in 1922, five years before her husband became governor.

As a lawyer and later politician, John Fisher engaged in numerous hard-fought struggles but he never harbored personal grudges against his opponents. He found relaxation after a grueling campaign in the extensive library of his Sixth Street, Indiana residence where he would steep himself in Pennsylvania history. He had an amazing retentive memory, which enabled him to recall instantly the page in a book on which he had read a certain fact. This recall facility also served him well in public life as he could immediately remember the names of people he had not seen for months or even years.

Attorney Fisher expanded his professional activities into the business world. At the turn of the century, Indiana County was booming and offered many attractive opportunities to an enterprising young man. He was legal counsellor to the New York Central Railroad, and he assisted in the purchase of coal lands in Indiana, Jefferson, and Clarion Counties. In conjunction with this work, he also helped establish settlements at Brush Valley, Clymer, Coral, Dixonville, and Jacksonville.  He was especially active in the founding and economic development of Clymer. As President of the Dixon Run Land Company, Fisher promoted the sale of real estate to commercial and private interests. Further, he was instrumental in organizing the Clymer Brick and Fire Clay Company which manufactured bricks from nearby clay deposits.

The young lawyer also entered the utility filed, and became president of the newly formed Clymer Electric Company. As the company prospered, it expanded by buying up failing municipal electric companies in and around Centre County and the enlarged organization was incorporated as the State-Centre Electric Company.

When the Pennsylvania Coal and Coke Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York Central, failed the Railroad commissioned Fisher to reorganize it which he did under the new name of the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Corporation with its headquarters in Indiana. In recognition of this service, Fisher was elected Vice-President of the new firm.

In 1902, Fisher collaborated with a group of far-sighted  men in founding Indiana Savings and Trust Company, where he served for many years on the Board of Trustees. He was also active in the town’s civic affairs serving as Vice-President of the Indiana Hospital and Vice-President of the Board of Trustees of Indiana State Normal School (now IUP).

In 1911, New York Central offered Fisher the opportunity to become the company’s general counsel in Pennsylvania, which he accepted. Because the new duties required much of his professional attention, he resigned from private law practice. He spent much of his time in Harrisburg where he fought vigorously for the repeal of the Full Crew Act on the basis that featherbedding raised transportation costs prohibitively. His ten-year campaign against the act was eventually successful.

Despite Fisher’s extensive involvement in legal, business, and civic affairs, he still found time to participate in politics. Shortly after beginning his Indiana law practice in 1893, he became County Committeeman in his ward, and three years later he had risen to County Chairman of the Republic party. In 1900, at only age 33, he was elected to represent the 37th Senatorial District (which at the time was composed of Indiana and Jefferson Counties) in the State Senate. He served on the Appropriations, Corporation, Judicial General, Finance, Law and Order, Railroad and Municipal Affairs, Library, and Public Grounds and Building Committees.

In 1904, Senator Fisher was re-elected to his seat by a four to one majority. During his second term, he vigorously supported a bill prohibiting the employment of children under 14 in mining operations. As Chairman of the Judicial Special Committee, Fisher sponsored bills providing for primary elections and the popular election of U.S. Senators.

1907 was a crucial year in Senator Fisher’s political future. During the previous year, the state treasurer had discovered that the state treasury had been looted systematically in connection with the appropriation used to furnish the new Capitol building. The incoming governor, Edwin S. Stuart, called for a legislative investigation to uncover the culprits. Most of the senators begged not to be appointed to this distasteful task, but Fisher unhesitatingly accepted the chairmanship of the investigation committee. Fisher proceeded to conduct a fair and searching public hearings. In a 272-page report submitted to the governor at the conclusion of the investigation, the Fisher Committee pulled no punches in revealing flagrant defalcations involving millions of dollars. The report described the purchase of “a boot black stand with two chairs and four foot rests for which the state paid Contractor Sanderson $1,600 while the sub-contractor who made the stand declared the whole outfit was not worth more than $110.” Fisher’s report lead the attorney general to prosecute 14 alleged violators, all of whom were found guilty.

Senator Fisher’s courageous and vigorous prosecution of this scandal earned him the plaudits of the state’s press and catapulted him into prominence as a gubernatorial possibility. John Fisher entered the 1922 race for the Republican nomination for governor, with the powerful backing of Joseph Grundy. However, he subsequently withdrew from the eight-way race to avoid an internecine intra-party feud with the city machines. In announcing his withdrawal in Indiana, he declared: “A crisis now exists such as never before confronted the voters of Pennsylvania. Our state is in danger from the dictation of intriguing politicians. I must not add to that menace by making the situation complex and confusing but do what I can to avert it.” Fisher’s withdrawal from the race followed a deep personal bereavement in which his wife died on the operating table at Indiana Hospital.

After Fisher with drew from the 1922 race, he threw his support behind Gifford Pinchot who won the nomination and election. However, when Pinchot failed to name Fisher to his cabinet, the Senator busied himself legislatively by studying and proposing laws that would protect Pennsylvania investors from the sale of fraudulent securities which at the time was rampant in Pennsylvania.

In 1926, Fisher once again entered the race for governor. He had a strong backing from the state party chairman, Joe Grundy, Senator David Reed, and the Mellons; he headed a Fisher-Pepper ticket on which his running mate ran for the U.S. Senate. Fisher’s principal opponent was Edward Beidleman, who ran with William S. Vare, head of the infamous Vare machine in Philadelphia. The race was further complicated when the outgoing Governor Pinchot threw his hat into the Senatorial race against Pepper and Vare.

Fisher campaigned on his impressive record as a legislator, and attracted wide support from church groups of various faiths, together with businessmen, farmers, and laborers. Workingmen rallied to his banner following the publication of a letter by William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, in which he stated: “Mr. Fisher has always been a white man with all classes of labor . . . It will be found that the laboring people will never have a better governor . . . All unions always receive kindly aid and sure protection.”

Before the primary race had progressed very far, the real issues were blurred by the national debate over prohibition. Beidleman and Vare ran as “wets” while Fisher and Pepper were tagged as “drys.” In reality Fisher held moderate views with respect to drinking, respecting the rights of others to indulge, although he himself did not.

Fisher and Pepper stumped vigorously, shrewdly portraying themselves as the champions of the people against the odious city machine controlled by Vare. Fisher spoke so vehemently and frequently that the lost his voice toward the end of the campaign.

The primary was held on May 18, and early returns indicated a decisive victory for Vare over Pepper and Pinchot. However, the tally for the governorship swayed back and forth first in favor of Beidlemen and then in favor of Fisher. A week after the primary, the final count showed Fisher to be the winner by a very narrow margin of 641,934 to 626,640.

In a letter to a Harrisburg publisher, John Fisher philosophically summed up his reaction to the campaign: “It was a great deal of a cyclone that we came through. Necessarily there have been some troublesome problems left in the wake. However, I think things will clear up and I hope we may look forward to settled conditions. It has always been the practice with me to accept the results of elections with equanimity. There is always another day for the loser.”

Fisher swept the fall elections against his Democratic opponent Judge Eugene Boniwell of Philadelphia. The campaign and election proved to be much less exciting than the primary, and Fisher won by the largest margin in the state’s history: 1,102,823 to 365,280. His Lieutenant Governor was Arthur H. James, and Dr. James Keith, President of the Indiana State Normal School, was appointed to the position of State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A Labor Trilogy Party III – Socialist Surges: 1912 and 1917

The Socialist Party reached its peak strength in 1912, and in 1917 performed well in several key municipal races.  Eugene Debs offered a rallying point for many dissidents.  In Indiana County the Socialist Party achieved limited success.  However, several communities provided Debs with significant proportions of the vote in the election of 1912.  His totals in these areas ranged from 10-40% of the vote.  The Socialist Party showing in 1917 had a very different character.  The major race featured Reuben Einstein, a prominent Blairsville businessman, winning 45% of the vote for burgess in an election against a fusion candidate.  Protest activity diminished in the 1920s but Reuben Einstein remained active.  A local of the Socialist Party operated in Homer City and John Brophy provided leadership for coal miners in District 2 of the United Mine Workers.  Socialist activity revived in the 1930s as unemployed organizations emerged and workers struck and organized.

Many observers viewed socialism as a rising tide between 1910 and 1920.  Europe exhibited numerous strong socialist movements.  In Germany the socialists played a particularly important role in the national legislature.  The United States failed to duplicate this level of performance.  Nevertheless, the Socialist Party of America became an important presence.  Eugene Debs, the party’s perennial presidential candidate, became the tribute of the poor and the conscience of the nation.  The party elected candidates, held meetings and published newspapers.  Cities such as Milwaukee and Reading became socialist strongholds and Debs won 17% of the Oklahoma vote in the 1912 election.  Schisms and other problems undermined the party but it achieved a temporary revival in the municipal elections of 1917.  Morris Hillquit, the Socialist Party mayoral candidate, polled more than 20% of the vote in New York City.

The Socialist Party of Indiana County began its 1912 campaign in February.  Jack McKeown, state organizer for the party, addressed a meeting at the Court House.  The following week a mass meeting at the West Indiana House resulted in the establishment of a permanent organization.  D.R. Palmer of Black Lick served as permanent chairperson and Reuben Einstein became the secretary.  The audience chose a committee of urged socialists to continue to educate the public until socialism achieved a global triumph.  A speech by James H. Maurer highlighted the activities of the following month.  Maurer, the only socialist member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, later became president of the Pennsylvania Federation and vice presidential candidate on the tickets with Norman Thomas in the elections of 1928 and 1932.  Maurer lectured to a large audience on the topic of “How our Laws are made.”  The audience included delegations from Clymer, Dixonville, Black Lick, Creekside, and Blairsville.  The sponsors invited workingmen, farmers and decent citizens and issued a special invitation to women.  Two other socialist speakers came to Indiana in April.

The election results showed the growth of socialist sentiment since 1908.  At the national level Debs increased his vote total from 400,000 to 900,000 in 1912 as he won 6% of the ballots.  His Indiana County vote almost tripled.  He polled a little over 6% of the vote in 1912.  In some districts, however, his performance far exceeded this level.  For example, he won 11% of the vote in Montgomery Township and 12% in Blairsville.  In some coal communities he achieved his peak strength.  Glen Campbell cast 24% of its vote for Debs as did Burrell Township.  Black Lick Township No. 2 cast 18 of its 45 votes for Debs as he outdistanced Theodore Roosevelt, the runner up with 12 votes, and the other presidential candidates.

The 1917 election lacked this broad based socialist turnout.  However, the race for burgess in Blairsville offered a showcase for an unusual socialist candidate – Reuben Einstein.  Einstein opened a clothing store in 1892 and soon achieved local prominence.  The Blairsville Evening Courier described his marriage to an Oil City woman in 1894.  The article noted their honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls and the many presents received by the bride and groom.  Einstein’s involvement in socialist politics preceded the 1917 campaign.  He played a role in the 1912 election and ran for Congress on the socialist ticket in 1914, polling about 5% of the vote.  The Blairsville Courier provided little news coverage of the race for burgess, but a series of socialist party ads and letters offered readers its perspective on the issues.  The party pointed with pride to its provision for the recall of officials unfaithful to their constituents.  Municipal housekeeping received consideration as the socialists promised to watch cost sheets carefully and town water works, streets and schools in a manner beneficial to the public.  The party promised to mail a leaflet “What Is Socialism” to every Blairsville voter.  The socialist party criticized the economic system for underpaying workers and an inability to generate sufficient demand to consume what the economy produced.  The final ad written by Reuben Einstein, criticized the railroads for gouging and called for the people to own the railroads as well as industry and the natural resources.  A fundamental problem resulted from our toll gate system in which the few exercised control over the industrial life of the nation and imposed low wages and bad conditions on the workers.

The race for burgess pitted Reuben Einstein against J.W. McAnulty who ran as a fusion candidate of the Republican, Democratic and Prohibition parties.  McAnulty viewed an unequal distribution of wealth as a natural condition.  His reply to the socialists emphasized his patriotism and a condemnation of the Kaiser as an enemy of mankind.  A week before the election Einstein pointed to his wealth as qualification for public office.  He stated that he paid more taxes than any individual property owner in town and depicted that status as a strong motivation to look after the interest of the voters as well as his own.  However, McAnulty won the race for burgess by 52 votes as he carried the 2nd and 3rd wards.  Einstein won 45% of the total vote and a 30 vote margin in the 1st ward.  Protest movements in Indiana County began to fade after this defeat although Einstein remained an active socialist, and John Brophy became a rallying point for miners in the District of the United Mine Workers as he opposed John L. Lewis and supported progressive measures including the nationalization of the mines.

Protest continued in Indiana County.  However, the 20th century differed from the late 19th century.  The role of farmers receded and the activities of miners increased.  The Greenback-Labor Party and the Populist Party gave way to the Socialist Party of America.  Protest lacked a county wide constituency but in some areas it emerged and even flourished.  Glen Campbell, Black Lick and Blairsville provided continuity with earlier protest movements.  In the 1930s socialism rose again and for a time Black Lick and other areas emerged as centers of protest.  The New Deal and the United Mine Workers received most of the attention, but grass roots activities by the unemployed, workers and socialists provided channels for protest as they had in earlier movements of the 1890s and early 20th century.

Working Women in Indiana County

“In those days, women didn’t go out to work.”  This statement, often made when speaking of the first half of the twentieth century, was for many quite true.  It was a time when women were less likely to be involved in unions than in clubs; significantly, these were concerned less with labor and political activities than social etiquette and hygiene.  For example, the Indiana Evening Gazette reported on a 1905 club meeting where women discussed the problems of “expectorating on the streets” of Indiana.  Newspaper advertisements directed at women then were less concerned with promoting the image of a competent workwoman than with beauty and how to get rid of “sunken eyes and hallow cheeks…and the ravages of dyspepsia.”

jane leonard
Jane E. Leonard – Preceptress at Indiana Normal School

While much of this public image is true, underlying the illusion of women at leisure was the basic reality that many if not most women had to work, especially before marriage or in the widowhood.  The penury of some might be dramatized by tragic news headlines as “Woman Killed on Railroad.”  In December 1905, a 35 year old childless widow of one week was struck and killed instantly while picking coal along railroad tracks near her New Florence home.  In that very year another news release reported the tragic suicide of an unemployed manicurist, a 25 year old Blairsville “girl” [woman] who drank carbolic acid in her room at the YMCA. Of course these were exceptions, but there were many, many women who had to find work, and only a few could find employment in the two occupations generally believed to be most desirable for young women – teaching and nursing.

Other occupations were available to women in the Indiana area. Young girls from the farming community or from town often found plentiful work as cooks, waitresses, chambermaids, upstairs girls and laundry girls.  Though hard and heavy, this work was quite respectable female employment. For many years, the Normal School and the town of Indiana itself offered a large number of such jobs.  Insurance maps of the town dating from the turn of the century attest to the existence of hotels and restaurants for both mealtime and overnight guests, and at these women could find work.  Occasionally some women tested their entrepreneurial talents if they and their husbands were proprietors.  Mr. Long, a native Indianian, recalls with obvious admiration how his mother once helped in directing the West Indiana House, later the Houck Hotel.  While his father took care of the office, buying merchandise and paying bills, his mother interviewed, hired and directed the chambermaids, waitresses and cooks.  Her managerial duties were demanding for the business was extensive.  Mr. Long remembers that “…if they didn’t have 100 at noon, they thought it was a poor day.”

Work as governesses and live-in maids also existed, but its desirability naturally varied according to the attitude of individual employers.  While at times a live-in maid could be treated as a family member, she could also find it was lonely, demanding, and tiring work.  One Indiana woman remembers cooking and making bread for an entire family, while simultaneously acting as a governess for eight children, including infants.  Years later she still remembers the consternation of her employer when she asked for so high a salary – $8.00 a week.  Seamstress skill also offered extremely good employment for those with the necessary skills.  Some women were so expert that they undertook the task of outfitting entire families, perhaps even spending a week or two in homes of well to do citizens of Indiana until the season’s outfitting was done.

Less skilled jobs as “Hello Girls” or telephone operators were equally acceptable for women.  “Hello Girls” were aware that they had important jobs in maintaining communications, especially in emergencies.  When in 1904 the gas in Indiana was shut off for two hours, the news reported “Hello Girls Swamped.”  All of Indiana’s 200 switchboard plugs were flooded with calls of inquiry, the board becoming “…a veritable cobweb of connections.”  For a long time telephone operators also sounded the town fire alarm.  Mrs. Huber of Fulton Run Road, for a time an operator during the 1920s, recalls with amusement how lines were always jammed with calls from the curious asking for information about the fire.

Most of these jobs fell into traditional patterns of occupation, but occasionally even at the turn of the century female stereotypes were shattered much to the surprise of the community.  In 1904, a Miss M. Margaretta Hodge, a resident of Blairsville, was certified to practice pharmacy.  The following winter a news story in the Indiana Evening Gazette praised Mrs. DeVers, a Blairsville rural delivery carrier who was sometimes assisted by her daughter.  The article commended her for she had not missed a single day’s delivery throughout a very severe winter.  Expending the ultimate praise, the article noted that she made “…as good time as her male colleagues.”

head nurse
Head nurse’s private apartment – Indiana Normal School

As the Indiana business community expanded during the 1910s new jobs as clerks and salesgirls became available to women.  Stores such as Bon Ton, Troutmans, Luxenbergs, and McCrorys placed help wanted ads for “girls,” often specifically demanding “good girls.”  In fact in 1917 one ad for a female clerk required that she still be living at home with her parents in Indiana.  Heavier factory work also employed women of the area but only on a limited scale.  Women worked at the Dye Works, the Indiana Candy works, the Diamond Glass Company, the Macaroni Factory, the Indiana Steam Laundry, and King Razor Manufacturing Company, all during the 1910s.

Surprisingly, World War I made no perceptible impact on either the labor market or on attitudes about working women.  At most, news items urged women to do volunteer work to help the war effort.  On May 10, 1917 the Indiana Evening Gazette printed an article encouraging “girls” to make sacrifices for their country.  Here was no call for bravery, or even the study of nursing, or perhaps the replacement of draftees in the labor market.  Instead the article praised one young woman for rejecting five proposals of marriage and then encouraging her beaus to join the service.  The final admonition, “It isn’t fair to remain idle….Every woman worthy of the name will offer her services.”  Now was a call for service without pay.

While the postwar period, especially the 1920s, is touted as an era of economic and political emancipation for women, locally there appeared to be little change in basic attitudes.  The short dresses and bobbed hair of women of the county projected the image of the modern female, but both men and women continued to view women’s work as, at best, a temporary situation filling the hiatus between school and marriage.  However, while the county job market underwent no dramatic change, some companies such as the Diamond Glass Company, King Leather Company and the Indiana Textile Mills did need an increasing supply of working women.

For forty years the glass company in Indiana had been absorbing women into its work force.  During World War I, glass production had boomed.  In the 1920s the Diamond Glass Company employed almost 100 women, or girls as they were then called.  Women inspected the glass, polished, painted, and packed the product which Indianians still remember with great pride.  One former Indiana resident remembers the summer months when she and other youngsters walked across the fields from Wayne Avenue just to watch the young ladies at the factory.  Each woman with a small turn-table in front of her decorated glass with pretty leaves and flowers.  Unfortunately, this employment ended abruptly in 1931 when fire ravaged the plant.  If men found it hard to replace their jobs in those depression years, it was extremely difficult for women.  Some area employers openly discouraged married women and those under eighteen years of age from seeking jobs which men might otherwise take.

Another long standing company, the King Leather Factory, supplied much of the growing market for female workers in the 1920s.  In operation since 1910 it had produced a variety of leather items ranging from money belts to pocketbooks employing primarily women.  In the decade following the war approximately 50 to 75 women were employed at its barn-like factory on North 10th Street.  Only three men worked there; one owned the company and the other two were supervisors.  It was essentially women who produced the product.  On the lower level of the plant where the leather was stored, cutting machines were operated.  On the upper level the process was divided into different rooms where women operated electric sewing machines, stamped the product with gold lettering, and then sorted and packed the final product.

Women learned the different jobs quickly, even without past experience.  As Mrs. Zellman of Ernest remembers, even the sewing “…didn’t take much training.”  As in most firms of the time, few women aspired to managerial work, but those who had long been at the factory were sometimes assigned to supervise the training and work of the younger girls.

The atmosphere at the factory was described by a former worker as “…just like a family.”  Much credit for this was attributed to Mr. King who gave treats to the women at holidays, even joining them in song during those festive times.  In addition to the paternal atmosphere, a pleasant lunch break also stimulated the feeling of togetherness.  A newly widowed woman who lived near the factory began selling vegetable soup and crackers in her own home.  It soon became so popular that instead of bringing lunches, many women ate at her house.  They enjoyed her expanding menu of baked beans and sandwiches, as well as her hospitality.

The newest job opportunity of the Post World War I period was at what longtime residents still call the silk mill, the Indiana Textile Mill, which began operating in the late 1920s.  Probably influenced by the changing market of the Flapper Era which revealed women’s legs, silk mill produced top quality, high fashion stockings.  Unlike today’s stretch stockings, the high fashion stocking was sewn from separately woven pieces and made exactly to the size and shape of the leg.  In this company, as in the Leather Factory, the basic work force was women employed as seamers, loopers, and inspectors.  Business was so good at the silk mill that it operated on three shifts.  Former employees estimate each shift consisted of about 75 to 100 people, ¾ of them women.  Employees enjoyed working there too and felt that job conditions were good in spite of minor problems such as cotton dust from threads.  Though it was an exception for anyone to develop an allergic reaction to the silk itself, it could occur.  At least one woman’s hands became so sensitive to the material that they actually began to bleed, requiring profuse use of ointment every evening.  In spite of the pain, this woman continued to work at the silk mill for she had a family to support.

World War II dramatically reshaped the attitude of many Indianians, male and female, towards working women.  Suddenly, women were encouraged to work in civilian and especially in defense industries.  They entered the work force with renewed self-esteem for as one former defense industry supervisor notes, “They knew they were needed.”  In fact, women were so much in demand that companies such as Acme Dye in Latrobe provided buses to transport women from Indiana and Clymer to its Latrobe factory where they worked with explosive powders and bullets.

In Indiana County itself, defense industry work was soon underway at Federal Labs in Tunnelton, and at Indiana on Indian Springs Road and at the newly opened plant near South 13th Street, in the same building that had previously housed the silk mill.  Work plans for the South 13th Street plant illustrate the new trends at Federal Labs which moved quickly to mobilize the female labor force.  As William Durno, a long time superintendent there notes, the company immediately began “…gearing up for the high speed production.”  Original plans called for one shift of 64 “girls” and five men plus about 6 guards and some government employed inspectors who were usually women.  Soon this was expanded to a three shift operation.  Women worked on the production line, mixed and handled explosives and assembled hand grenades.  They did everything which once only men had done, unless restricted by state law.

shorthand students
Shorthand students at commercial college during World War I.

Indiana women quickly learned of the new opportunities available at Federal Labs and as William Durno smilingly recalls, “If they walked in breathing, we hired them.”  As far as testing goes there was only one primary question, “Are you afraid?”  A timid person was a hazard.  However, during World War II, women maintained a good safety record.  In retrospect, women don’t remember trying to conform to a Rosie the Riveter image.  It was just common sense to wear overalls and wrap one’s hair in a bandanna.  All jewelry was expressly forbidden – static electricity would set off explosives.  One person remarked that it could be difficult to convince some women to take off sentimental jewelry such as wedding rings.  Most interviewees remember that workers were well aware of hazards and quickly complied with safety regulations.  A couple of Indiana women recalled an incident in which one worker let wisps of hair show only to lose some hair and even skin when the hair got caught in the machinery.  An accident such as this was an exception.  Throughout the course of the war, there were no major injuries in Indiana County war industries.

Besides convincing both men and women of the abilities of working women, the war years were responsible for other attitudinal changes.  A new consciousness you might say, had been raised and new expectations developed.  One satisfying aspect of work was the new sense of camaraderie among the women.  Mrs. Goral of Indiana remembers that when her mother worked at a defense plant the factory women associated more even during off hours.  Another more practical change resulted in new perceptions of unions.

Many local women who worked in the early period had expressed some hostility to unions.  They perceived union leaders as either troublemakers or meddlers.  Yet the women who had become involved in the large scale concerns of war industries often discovered that tan active union was a necessary ally.

Even more significant than the satisfactions of new interests and friendships outside the home was the impact of the paycheck itself.  For many women this was the first time extra cash filled their pocketbooks and as Mrs. Ila Murdick comments, it may not have been a great deal of money “…but it was big for them.”  In fact some women dared to suggest that the monetary motivation, not patriotism, was of paramount significance at that time.  As Mrs. Mabel McQuown, herself a former defense industry employee, remarks on the primary motivation of the women, “For most it was the money.”

Yet, in this picture, basic patriotism was not to be discounted.  Though women in the county were working in different jobs and in larger numbers than ever before, their ultimate goal was the war’s end and return of the soldiers.  Again and again patriotism is mentioned as the common denominator among them.  When the war ended they knew they would be out of a job.  As one former war worker said, “I don’t think anyone felt bad about losing a job.  They were happy that the war was over.”  Mrs. Carrolton Philippi of Marion Center remembers a story of one Indiana County woman who took a job replacing a man.  She used to joke that when he returned she would gladly give up her job and then marry the returning soldier.  That was exactly what happened.

For many women giving up their jobs was achieved just as smoothly and as happily. But there were others who felt differently.  They hoped to continue to work somewhere, somehow.  Unquestionably, the 1940s had altered the consciousness of Indiana Countians just as it had nationally.  The former attitude that women should work only before marriage or in widowhood had clearly diminished, to be replaced by a new appreciation of what women could contribute to the labor force.  Surely, a contemporary might report of that period if questioned “Yes, a lot more women went to work in those days.”

Coal and Iron and the Badge

There’s an old adage that says a frog dropped in boiling water will hop right out, but he’ll stay there till he’s cooked if the water’s heated slowly enough.  We humans can be that way about threats to our freedom, and Pennsylvanians are no exception.  We proudly shed our blood in the War to End Slavery, yet just six weeks before we won, our legislature authorized the next great threat to freedom – and almost no one objected.

Not many realized it was a threat at the time.  The need seemed genuine, and the solution obvious: train-bandits were better armed and organized than law enforcement in many Pennsylvania counties, so railroads asked for the right to create their own police units.  It seemed like a practical idea, so Act 228, An Act Empowering Railroad Companies to Employ Police Force, was passed in April 1865.

coal and iron police act

Rail police were to “possess and exercise all the powers of policemen in the city of Philadelphia.”  Their authority extended not only to company property but throughout the county(s) in which they were commissioned.  A year later, the Act was amended to include two other giants of the Industrial Age: “all corporations, firms or individuals . . . in possession of any colliery, furnace or rolling mill within this Commonwealth.”  Badges were now to read “Coal and Iron Police” and show the company name.  And just what did it take to become a Coal and Iron Police officer?  The governor’s signature on a single-page application from the company, an oath and a badge.  No training, no background check, no security bond . . . and no accountability.  Answering only to his employer, each man was essentially a law unto himself.

Almost from the start, coalfield “C&Is” were used primarily as strikebreakers, economic enforcers and agents of social control in company towns.  They performed evictions and collected debts, kept up surveillance and shut down public gatherings, and above all prevented infiltration by union organizers.  They were not without legitimate functions;  many a murderer and thief was brought to justice by Coal and Iron Police, and the very lack of accountability that made C&Is such a threat to freedom gave would-be criminals reason to reconsider.  Though the Act stipulated that anyone arrested be “dealt with according to law,” in practice they were as likely to be beaten as brought to trial.

Accidents of geology and geography spared Indiana County some of the worst abuses.  We sit on the edge of three high, medium and low-volatile bituminous deposits; since coal companies tended to concentrate on a single type, no monopoly like those in Allegheny and Schuylkill counties controlled our land and people.  Lucky, too, that our miners weren’t recruited from the counties in Ireland where Molly Maguires were found.  In the 1870s, that underground society reacted to coal company abuses in eastern Pennsylvania with arson and murder, and the Coal and Iron Police responded in kind.

The relative peace here was reflected in our newspapers.  Coal and Iron Police were mentioned just three times in their first twenty years, and even then it was for their actions elsewhere in the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.  But in 1894 the lid came off.

It happened as part of the biggest coal strike America had seen to date.  When Glen Campbell strikers threatened their non-union replacements, our County Recorder swore in sixty new Coal and Iron Police officers for the Berwind-White coal company.  “Foreigners” (as newspapers called immigrant miners) and “Cossacks” (as miners called C&Is) seemed eager to trade shots, and the latter had shoot-to-kill orders should gunfire erupt.  Why didn’t it?  Curiously, that credit goes to Jefferson County’s strikers.  They’d already become violent, so Governor Pattison sent in the National Guard.  One thousand uniformed men marched through Glen Campbell on their way to Walston, and trigger-fingers suddenly stopped itching . . . a close call.

Coal consumption was breaking records every year as the 20th century approached, and mine employment rose to meet it.  So did labor activism and the C&Is’ increasingly brutal response.  That the creation of the Coal and Iron Police had been a mistake was by now obvious to almost everyone – even other states’ producers!  An 1898 edition of The Coal and Trade Journal noted that “Pennsylvania has an institution peculiar to itself . . . a private standing army of irresponsible myrmidons apparently authorized by the laws of that state.

The first small changes to that army were set in motion by the Anthracite Strike of 1902.  When both sides refused even federally-mediated settlement for almost six months, America ran out of home heating coal; with winter approaching, President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to nationalize the mines and replace strikers with soldiers.  The UMWA and Operators’ Association immediately split the difference and resumed production.  As part of the deal, a presidential commission investigated the strike’s root causes.  Among their recommendations was “discontinuance of the system of Coal and Iron Police . . . and resort to regularly constituted peace authorities in cases of necessity.

Though the first part of that recommendation would not soon be acted upon, Governor Pennypacker agreed to limit previously open-ended commissions to three years, and in 1905 signed a bill creating Pennsylvania’s State Police.  Troop D’s location in the heart of our medium-volatile bituminous region was no accident.  The writing was on the wall.

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Still, assaults kept increasing as coal production peaked.  More than 170 stories about C&Is appeared in Indiana County papers from 1910 to 1930 compared to those three in the first twenty years.  Yet even in places like Ernest and Creekside where “Cossacks” were ubiquitous, this county continued to see less labor violence than most.

During his first term in office, Governor Gifford Pinchot asked State Police to review all existing C&I commissions.  Their 1923 probe found cause to recommend that some 4,000 of them – the majority – be revoked, and the governor obliged.  He further announced that each future applicant must prove US citizenship and Pennsylvania residence, provide character references and employment history, and post a $2,000 bond.  Problem solved, right?  Well . . . not quite.

A 1928 US Senate Report on events here in the bituminous field was not well received in Harrisburg.  Its 3,400 pages detailing Coal and Iron Police beatings, warrantless searches and property seizures “endangered the peace of the Commonwealth,” said Governor John S. Fisher.  He claimed to mistrust the C&Is but thought that to eliminate them altogether was folly.  A single death the following year made it all academic.

In 1929, officers of the Pittsburgh Coal Company’s police force responded to a miner’s drunken rampage by beating and torturing and finally killing him.  All three were acquitted of John Borkovski’s murder; when retried, two of the three C&Is were convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but not before public outrage had spawned two bills further restricting the Coal and Iron Police.  Governor Fisher’s choice to sign the weaker Mansfield Bill and veto the stronger Musmanno Bill contributed to his defeat in the next election.  Gifford Pinchot was returned to office in 1931.

Making good on his campaign promise to abolish the Coal and Iron Police (announced at Indiana County Courthouse!), Pinchot turned Act 228 against itself.  Its 1866 amendment said “the governor shall have the power to decline to make any such appointment . . . and at any time to revoke the commission of any policeman appointed hereunder.”  He did just that, to all of them.  At midnight on June 30, 1931, Pennsylvania’s Coal and Iron Police ceased to exist.

Some C&Is found employment as “real” police.  Jack Stroble of the Keystone Coal unit served briefly as Indiana’s Police Chief in the 1930s.  And in a final irony, Homer City’s policemen are nowadays represented by United Mine Workers of America!

 

Justice Elkin: Politician, Lawyer, Community Leader

There are many professions that are held in high-esteem, one of those professions is the legal profession, and in the history of Indiana, the members of the legal profession show up frequently in the history and founding of many of the organizations and schools around the area. If you are familiar with the town of Indiana you have probably come across the Elkin Mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery, one of the focal points of the Cemetery. The name Elkin has a long history in Indiana, including having the name dedicated to one of the buildings on IUP’s campus. The story behind John Pratt Elkin is one that deserves a closer look.

John Pratt Elkin’s life began humbly as many in the early days of Indiana County; he was born January 11, 1860, in a log house in West Mahoning Township. He was the son of Francis and Elizabeth (Pratt) Elkin. The family moved to Smicksburg in 1868 where Francis opened a store and a foundry. Elkin, 8-years-old at the time helped in the store and also attended the local school. In 1873, the family moved again, this time to Wellsville, Ohio; it was here that his father and several others established a tin mill, where young John worked, but by the end of 1874, the venture failed.

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Justice John P. Elkin

The family returned to Smicksburg in the fall of 1875 where John (only 15 years old) began teaching after passing his teacher’s examination, and when the school closed in the spring of 1876, he enrolled in the Indiana Normal School (now IUP). He continued teaching and his schooling in the summer months; after this he borrowed some money so that he could remain in school a full year and graduated in 1880.

After teaching for a year, John entered the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, graduating in 1884. Elkin was enrolled in a class of about one hundred twenty-nine students, and he was ranked among the leading students of his class. It was during his law school career that Elkin decided to be a candidate for the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives for the Republican primary and conducted his campaign by correspondence. A week after graduation, Elkin won the nomination. It was at the same time that he married Adda Prothero, a daughter of John P. and Sarah (Clark) Prothero. Elkin won the election in November 1884 and served two terms in the House representing Indiana County in 1885 and 1887.

On September 14, 1885, Elkin was admitted to the Indiana County Bar. It was during the first session of the House in 1885, that he framed and introduced a bill to prohibit the manufacture and sale of oleomargarine (a fatty substance extracted from beef fat and used in the manufacture of margarine) and it was successfully enacted into law.

In the 1887 session, Elkin was chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Reform and worked for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors. Interestingly enough, in his later life as Justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Elkin authored the majority opinion which enabled the Indiana Brewery Company to obtain their liquor license (see a future blog post).

Elkin also served as a delegate to the state Republican Convention in 1887. Just the previous year, he was named a trustee of the Indiana State Normal School and continued in that capacity for the rest of his life (29 years), the last 17 years he was vice president.

It was in 1887 that Elkin also began business as a partner with Henry and George Prothero, opening up mines in the Cush Creek area. Elkin always believed in the profitable operation of the coal lands. The partners also secured a railroad from Mahaffey to Glen Campbell and sold part of the coal lands to the Glenwood Coal Co.

Elkin’s political career however was not over. Elkin served for five years as chairman of the Republic State Committee and in 1898, he conducted the successful campaign of William A. Stone for governor. He was appointed Deputy Attorney General in 1899 and served until 1902. Elkin himself was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 1902, unfortunately he was defeated by Samuel W. Pennypacker.

After serving as Deputy Attorney General, he returned to Indiana County to practice law. It was in April 1904 that Elkin received the nomination for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and in November 1904 he received overwhelming support, with his majority being 425,000 votes over his Democratic opponent. On January 1, 1905, Justice Elkin began his term as associate justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in which he served until his death on October 3, 1915. Justice Elkin was also favorably considered by the President for a seat on the United State Supreme Court in 1912, but was not chosen. Justice Elkin was considered as a candidate for the United States Senate seat in 1915, but at the time Elkin was serving on the PA Supreme Court and when asked about this possibility Elkin stated “As you know I am on the bench and am out of politics. Just now I am busy writing opinions on cases before the supreme court and have no time to even think of such matters. I am out of politics.” And John P. Elkin would never return to politics.

Justice Elkin, passed away on October 3, 1915, his funeral services were attended by hundreds of people from all over the state and nation. More than 5,000 people lined the roadway in Indiana as the Elkin funeral passed, this included many students from Indiana Normal School. It was after his death that the Elkin Mausoleum was erected in Oakland Cemetery.

Elkin Mausoleum
Elkin Mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery, Indiana, PA

Buttermilk Falls: Home to Fred McFeely’s Estate

Earlier this month, February 19, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. This anniversary got me thinking about Indiana County’s connection to Mr. Fred Rogers, with Buttermilk Falls. The falls are located a short distance off Route 22 at 570 Valley Brook Road, New Florence, PA. The site not only offers a 48-acre natural area, but it also has a unique history behind the grounds which relate directly to Fred Rogers.

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The grounds were donated to the Indiana County Parks in 1995 by the Keystone-Conemaugh Group, who are the owners of the nearby Conemaugh Generating Station. The park features an impressive 45-foot waterfall. More interesting is the history behind the site, it was once home to Fred McFeely’s, Fred Roger’s grandfather, summer estate. Fred McFeely owned the property from 1930 to 1956. The grounds once featured a large house, horse stables, a three-car garage, outbuildings and a swimming area in the creek above the falls. Although the buildings are no longer in existence, stone foundations and dams are still in existence, and with a little use of your imagination you can imagine what the grounds would have looked like to a young Mr. Rogers.

As a child, Fred Rogers, would visit his grandfather’s farm, and walk the grounds with Fred McFeely, after Sunday dinners and during summer vacations. Mr. Rogers conceived many of his ideas for his television program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” while visiting Buttermilk Falls. Even as an adult Mr. Rogers fondly remembered his time at Buttermilk Falls. In a 1996 Indiana Gazette interview, Mr. Rogers remembered climbing on the stone walls at the site and crawling behind the falls to look through the cascading water

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If you’re looking a springtime day trip, Buttermilk Falls is an excellent place to get away. Enjoy the beauty of this natural wonder, but also do not forget to look for the remnants of the estate that once stood at the site, and picture what it must have looked like to a young Fred Rogers.

Jim Cheney, Pennsylvania Waterfalls: Visiting Buttermilk Falls in Indiana County. https://uncoveringpa.com/buttermilk-falls-indiana-county
Buttermilk Falls Natural Area Brochure

Governor from Indiana County: John S. Fisher

Governor John S. Fisher

After completing the Indiana County-Opoly game, we realized that people had questions about some of the people that were represented throughout the game.  One of those individuals was John Stuchell Fisher, who was the only governor, to date, from Indiana County.  Mr. Fisher was born on May 25,
1867 in South Mahoning Township, near Plumville.  In his early years, Fisher attended a one-room school house at Ox Hill, then attending Indiana High from which he graduated in 1884.  He continued his education at the Indiana Normal School, graduating in 1886 from which he began teaching at the Ox Hill School for about $1 a day.

It was in 1890, that he began to study law at the law office of Samuel Cunningham, passed the bar exam and was admitted to the Indiana County Bar in August of 1893, after which he entered a partnership with Cunningham, which continued for 35 years.  John Fisher married Hapsie Miller on October 11, 1893 and she died on January 17, 1922, never knowing that her husband would become governor.

Fisher was involved in both politics and business and by 1897 was chairman of the Indian County Republican Party, and in November 1900 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate and re-elected in 1904.  As a Senator he supported legislation that prohibited the employment of children under 14 in the coal mines along with an appropriation for the Indiana Normal School in the amount of $75,000.  His second term as Senator gained him national recognition because he chaired a special Senate committee investigating the excessive costs in furnishing the new state Capitol.  The committee learned that the subcontractors and suppliers billed the state for $9 million for furnishings that actually cost only $2 million.

Fisher began his run for governor in 1922, but there were eight Republican candidates for the office so Fisher decided to withdraw.  However, four years later Fisher was once again a candidate, and he won a narrow victory in the primary but won the fall election in a landslide.  After the spring primary, 35,000 people came to Indiana to welcome Fisher home; the Indiana Evening Gazette reported in the May 25, 1926 edition: “…there was joy unconfined and hundreds of pounds of fireworks, red fire and other noisemakers were used, while thousands of peanuts and hundreds of pounds of popcorn were consumed.”

His term as governor will best be remembered by a coal strike in the spring of 1927, beginning because the Pittsburgh Coal Co. broke a 1924 wage contract and also cut miners’ wages by 33%, followed by a reduction again by 20%.  At the beginning Fisher did not intervening and then on March 12 he called for a conference of all the parties involved but no one responded.  The strike ended in July 1928, but Governor Fisher suffered a huge setback in public opinion.  In 1929, he signed the Mansfield Bill which corrected some of the abuses by the coal and iron police.”  He will be remembered as “Fisher the Builder” because while in office, 4,000 miles of highways were paved and 1,000 miles resurfaced.  October 4, 1930, Fisher returned to Indiana to dedicate the Benjamin Franklin Highway (Route 422).  He pushed for construction of the Farm Show Building in Harrisburg, and for new buildings or improvements at State teacher colleges, armory, and hospitals.  Also during his administration the state acquired the land for Cook Forest State Park.

One of the greatest accomplishments while in office was the reduction of debt.  When he became governor, Pennsylvania had a $98 million debt, by the time he left office the state had $29 million surplus.  In 1939, IUP dedicated and named Fisher Auditorium in Governor Fisher’s honor.  Governor John S. Fisher died on Jun 25, 1940 and was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery.

(Sources: Stephenson, Clarence. Indiana County man elected governor. The Indiana Gazette April 7, 1984; Wells, Randy. From Ox Hill to the governor’s mansion. The Indiana Gazette. May 16, 2000.)