Penny Lunches and the Women’s Vote in 1909

Monday night I attended a great lecture at Turner Hall by historian Paul Buhle and his wife, Mari Jo Buhle of Madison. Both are well published, retired academics with books chronicling the American left, activist and protest movements. They gave separate talks about the German progressive legacy in local and state politics which developed from the wave of immigrants known as the 48′ers. Mari Jo Buhle talked about early German American feminist Mathilde Anneke who was a fervent abolitionist and worked with Susan B. Anthony for women’s rights in the mid 19th century. She also talked about Socialist leader Victor Berger’s wife, Meta, who was elected to the School Board of Milwaukee with the help of the women’s vote in 1909. This was the first time women had the right to vote in Milwaukee but was limited to voting for members of the School Board.

Milwaukee’s society women came out in force during the April 6, 1909 election. It was a badge of honor to exercise this new found right to vote even though the power was limited. But sometimes the first steps are the slowest. Estimates of the number of women that voted ranged from 2,000 to 5,700. But the results were that three women were elected to the School Board; Meta Berger, Mrs. Simon Kander, and Mrs. C.B. Whitnall, all of whom had a profound effect on the Milwaukee school system.

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The big local progressive issue of the time was one pushed by Mrs. C.B. Whitnall and the Women’s School Alliance. It was something they had spearheaded several years prior – to provide school lunches to underprivileged children who might otherwise not get enough to eat. The program that was started was called the “Penny Lunch” because it provided a full lunch for the cost of a penny. It stemmed from the idea that children who were well fed will do better work than hungry children and will develop better. Dull children or unruly children became “docile and good students.” The low price gave the families the feeling that this was not complete charity and allowed them some feeling of self-respect. It was very successful since its start in 1902 and was funded by donations for many years to cover the $1,500 a year that it originally cost.

Initially the lunches were provided in the home of Mrs. Jennie Tietz near the Tenth District School and slowly expanded to other schools but by 1907 as the program grew, permission was granted to hold them in the schools. It took until September 1917 before the School Board took over the work and started serving the children lunches with a budget cost of $2,000/yr. Schools did not begin to have specially built cafeterias where children could eat en-masse until after World War I. By 1939, the system was serving hot lunches in all schools and had an annual budget of $23,254 of which only $1,600 was paid by taxpayers. The majority of lunches served in grade schools were fully paid by parents and the remaining lunches of poorer students were free.

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Milwaukee Free Press, March 31, 1909 – Advantages of the Penny Lunch
Milwaukee Free Press, April 7, 1909 – Women Voters at Polling Places, Thoughtful Women Turn Out At Polls
Milwaukee Free Press, April 13, 1909 – Penny Lunches For the Children

1911 Butterfly Theater Opening

Butterfly Theater Opening – September 2, 1911
(Originally posted March 15, 2009)

The short lived Butterfly Theater was opened on Saturday, September 2, 1911 on 212 West Wisconsin Avenue. The theater was razed eighteen years later in January of 1930 to make way for a more modern theater called the Warner. Although it was large for the standards of the day, it was outdated by the time talkies were the standard. The brilliant exterior shone with hundreds of lights and a large lighted butterfly along with enough ornamentation for a dozen other buildings. The sketch below was made by the designer of the stained glass on the exterior and shows in detail the huge woman/butterfly that was mounted on the facade. the butterfly measured 27 feet from wingtip to wingtip.

The interior had seating for 1,500 in the best leather upholstered seating. The balcony had sixteen box seats which sat eight people each and there were twenty-five additional box-seating areas on the main floor. A huge, expensive pipe organ was installed as well as room for a ten-piece orchestra.

Milwaukee Cinema Graveyard article.

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WPA Milwaukee Guide

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(Originally posted March, 7, 2010)

Back in the early 1940s the WPA Writers’ Project worked on a guidebook to Milwaukee similar to others in many major cities across the land. It was an extensive project which was extremely well researched and was ready for publication in early 1941. Unfortunately due to political reasons, the guide was never published and remains hidden in archives in the Library of Congress and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Although there is a labor and union related slant to the writing of the article, this was the prevailing attitude of Milwaukee at the time.

A WPA Guide to Wisconsin was finished and published at the same time and was most recently reprinted in 2006. I am not sure if it had some of the same problems as the Milwaukee Guide.

The following is a portion of the research I have found relating to this project. The Wisconsin State Historical Society and also the Library of Congress both have manuscripts of the guide. Both libraries have slightly varied files relating to the project and both are worth viewing if you want to learn more.

This is a small excerpt from the guide:

MILWAUKEE COUNTY OUTER-DRIVE TOUR

North Section

From the downtown section of the city of Milwaukee northward, State 42 is a most interesting and scenic drive. The ever cool waters of Lake Michigan and the city’s finest homes in beautifully landscaped settings are the chief attractions. The present highway follows the general direction of an old Indian trail -which ran from Milwaukee to the Chippewa village at Saukville, thence to the south of the Sheboygan River and Manitowoc Rapids and from the latter, northwest to Green Bay.

This article included with the file in the Wisconsin Historical Society archives explains the history of the Guide. Susan Drew, mentioned in the article, is highlighted in this article from the Milwaukee Journal of August 2, 1942..

Note on the Milwaukee Guide.

Three copies of the Milwaukee Guide, prepared by the Milwaukee unit of the Federal Writers’ Project, are deposited here. This book was not published.

A committee appointed by the Milwaukee County Board, co-sponsor of the Guide, was incited by a member of that committee, Miss Susan Drew, to consider the book “too socialistic.” During several months in 1940 the committee met with the state and local supervisors of the project to read through the essays. (The appended clipping from the Milwaukee Journal will give some notion of the kind of thing discussed at the meetings.) At the final meeting, in the spring of 1941, the committee, with the exception of Miss Drew, considered the material satisfactory and empowered the state supervisor to negotiate with publishers for a contract that would allow the county board to publish the book with no expense to it. In January, 1942, a contract was received from Durrell and Smith, a New York publishing house, who wished to publish the book at what would have been very little cost to the co-sponsor. By that time the war was on, and before the committee could meet to consider the contract the project was suspended.

An excerpt from the Guide showing some of the socialistic slant in the writing is shown below. An understanding of Milwaukee during this time is important. This was a very industrial city comprised of many industrial workers who fought hard and somewhat violent struggles for rights we take for granted today. Milwaukee still takes pride in being a city of the working class and it seems right to write its history with that in mind. The economic problems that led to the WPA were fresh in the mind of these writers and they were addressed in these essays.

Milwaukee is not without its great fortunes and its great families who exert a certain degree of economic control over its citizens. But, although many of the city’s industrial establishments were founded only a generation or so ago by mechanics and laborers, Milwaukee has shared in the national swing away from local and individual to corporate and absentee ownership. Few factories are left wherein a shirt-sleeved owner-boss can call each employee by name and be addressed in turn as “Ed” or “Charley”. Some industrialists still insist that their sons should “start from the bottom up” to learn the family business, but this custom is coming to be regarded more and more as a gesture. Milwaukee society revolves on its own axis, spinning farther and farther away from the daily life lived by the majority of the citizens residents.

Milwaukee’s rich people make little ostentatious displays of wealth, perhaps because their tastes do not incline that way, perhaps because many of their fellow Milwaukeeans find such display irresistibly comic rather than impressive. The occasional hunt club “drags,” hunts after non-existent foxes, which are given serious attention by society editors, are often hailed with glee by Milwaukee newspaper columnists as an opportunity for humorous articles. The average Milwaukee resident heartily enjoys these, chuckling at a description of grown men and women dressing up in pink coats and caroling “Yoicks!” Recent publication of a local Social Register also was the subject for reportorial facetiousness. Tails and top-hats are not so common at the concert or the theater but that necks are craned at their appearance; there are few places here, with the exception of two or three exclusive clubs and some private homes, where evening dress does not render its wearer mildly conspicuous.

Here are a few news articles explaining the project and the issues that it had:

Milwaukee Journal, December 8, 1935

WPA Gives Us Big Write-up

2,500,000 Words About Milwaukee Is Goal; Jobs for Editors

In an obscure mezzanine floor room of the courthouse, which the visitor reaches only after getting elaborate directions, a score of men and women are agthering material on the flora and fauna, the topography and the archeology of Milwaukee.

This is the nucleus of the Milwaukee district of the federal writers’ project of the works project administration (WPA). The staff, under the direction of Victor S. Craun, who has distinguished himself by his explorations of the country’s caves, will soon be enlarged to 50. The Milwaukee district will have $56,000 to spend.

In six or eight months the Milwaukee “writers” will have turned out about 2,500,000 words about Milwaukee. They will explore every conceivable phase of the community’s history and physical make-up. Editors in the courthouse office will cut the number of words to 100,000 and ship them to the state headquarters at Madison, where more editors will trim Milwaukee’s contribution to about 20,000 words.

Data for a United States Guide

Editors in the national headquarters in Washington will use their blue pencils and there will be about 8,000 words left at $7 a word – not counting costs of editing in Madison and Washington. Then government printers will be ready to publish the American Guide, in five regional volumes and on a non-commercial basis. These volumes will be filed in libraries and educational institutions for reference. Material which does not find its way to the national headquarters will be saved by the state and local offices.

District offices are being set up in 10 Wisconsin cities and by the end of this week the state organization will be completed. The entire state project will employ 100 persons. Benjamin Saunders, Madison, state writers’ director, was in Milwaukee Saturday interviewing candidates for jobs as “editors.”

One of the applicants was a former Progressive candidate for the assembly. He asked the reporter not to mention the fact he was applying for a job.

“It seems that Progressives aren’t supposed to get any WPA jobs,” he lamented.

Jobs for Communists

Some of the Progressives, Democrats and Republicans who have made vain attempts to qualify as “writers” seems hurt because jobs have been given instead to communists. A total of 150 persons were interviewed for jobs. Particular resentment was expressed by members of “capitalistic” political parties over the appointment by WPA authorities of Farrell Schnering, communist leader, to a position as a writer at $100 a month. Schnering once ran for attorney general on the communist ticket and has been editor of the Voice of Labor, communist state paper, and Milwaukee correspondent for the Daily Worker, national communist daily.

Just now Schnering is working on a collection of Indian pipes at the museum. Saunders doesn’t believe that there is a possibility of getting any communistic propaganda into a treatise on Indian pipes.

“We’re not concerned with politics in this program,” said Saunders, who left the University of Wisconsin, where he taught English and economics, to take charge of the writers’ project. “To work on our project a person must be qualified. That is the only consideration.”

Radical Blocks Radical

Another communist on the local project is Robert Collentine, who was fined in the district court last month for his part in the anti-fascist demonstration outside the office of Angelo Cerminara, Italian consular agent. Collentine is an “enumerator” and gets 90 capitalistic dollars a month.

Two other active communists, Harold Hartley and Carroll Blair, sought writers’ jobs but failed to connect. Blair, the former Zona Gale scholar at the late experimental college of the University of Wisconsin, was considered qualified but he lost his chance at a $100 a month job when Schnering reported that Blair was a “trouble maker.” As a result Blair had to take a job at the common labor rate of $60 a month.

Craun told his communistic workers that he didn’t care what they did after working hours, but that he expected them to attend to WPA business while on the job. Since the writers’ hours are soon to be cut from 140 to 96 hours a month, with no change in pay, Schnering and Collentine will still have plenty of time for outside activity.

Called Research Project

Saunders, who is confident the writers’ project will be of social value, emphasized that it is essentially a “research” project. He said Charles D. Stewart, Hartford (Wis.) writer, failed to recognize this distinction in writing letter to Charles E. Brown a week ago stating his reasons for not serving as a consultant on the project.

“Mr. Stewart apparently wasn’t thinking of the many years he had to struggle to achieve success as a writer,” Saunders asserted.

“We don’t expect to train people to write but we will use their writing ability as much as possible. These young people need a chance. They must do something. We can’t line them up against a wall and shoot them just because they haven’t jobs.”

Persons in charge of the project believe it will develop into a permanent institution.

Milwaukee Journal, April 26, 1941

WPA Writers’ Project, Dying, Finds No Friend

The WPA writers’ project will be scuttled by the county board, it was strongly indicated at a meeting of the board’s WPA committee Saturday.

The project produced the unpublished Milwaukee Guide, which has been sharply criticized as containing “Socialist propaganda.”

The committee had before it a letter from Mrs. Sam Corr, a WPA inspector, asking that the board renew its sponsorship of the writers’ project. Mrs. Corr said that the project has funds to continue only 10 days. The county only provides space, heat and light for the project, but the county must sponsor the project before it is given federal Funds. Mrs. Corr said that a federal appropriation of $46,671 was needed to continue the project another year.

“Left a Bad Taste”

Supervisor Eugene Warnimont started the debate on Mrs. Corr’s request by saying: “I don’t know whether we ought to sponsor the project any longer. This Milwaukee Guide left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Other committeemen nodded their heads, apparently in agreement, and no one arose to defend the project.

The committee decided to defer action on the proposal until a report could be obtained from the special county board committee, created a year ago, to study the Milwaukee Guide. The WPA committee said that it would like to know what the special committee has found out, and what recommendation, if any, it has to make.

Publication Is Opposed

The Guide, it was learned, recently wax approved for publication by WPA authorities at Washington, D. C. However, the county board must appropriate $7,500 for the publication if the book is to be issued for public sale. Opposition to the book has arisen among the supervisors, and it is considered doubtful whether an appropriation will be voted.

The writers’ project was set up about five years ago. The project at present gives employment to 30 persons. The new setup, if approved, would give employment to 42 persons.

Do You Remember?

Remember

This is another article in the series written by Frederic Heath in the Milwaukee Leader newspaper during 1920-1921.

Axtell

The map below shows a red dot from where the photo was taken, looking north across the river. To the left of the dot is the original Reed Street Union Depot. Some of the street names have obviously been changed: Reed Street is South 2nd Street, Lake Street is Pittsburgh Avenue
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The Milwaukee Leader – June 1, 1920

Do You Remember?
OLD WALKER’S POINT WOODEN BRIDGE?

By Frederic Heath

Thanks to an early day fire we have the accompanying view of the old Axtell house and the old Walker’s Point wooden bridge. The fire gutted the buildings west of the old hotel and even caught on the hotel cornice, but damaged it but slightly. It was quite the habit for photographers to get to work in those days when there had been a fire, hence the picture.

The hotel center of Milwaukee has moved about a good deal since the earliest days. When the few who visited the town came over the trails the hotels were confined principally to the east and west sides: that is, there was the original Cottage Inn on East Water St., the Bellevue house, at Broadway and Wisconsin Sts., and the Cabbage Hollow house on the east side, all situated close by the end of the Sauk Trail, and the American House, formerly Tavern, over in Kilbourntown.

THEN TO HURON ST.
When steamers and schooners began to bring settlers and merchandise, and finally when piers were run out in the lake to save transferring the cargoes and passengers to little tow boats, Huron St. was the big street and the east side had the hotel monopoly. This died away when the railroads came in – or were “built out” from Milwaukee – and the depots were located principally on the south side. The histories of the day refer to the Axtell house as the “favorite hotel with the traveling public” and there were numerous other south side establishments.

The Axtell was built in 1860 and was enlarged in 1872. It was built by William Axtell. He had been the manager of the Clinton house, then the big south side hotel, and later went to California for his health. On returning, he joined with Richard B. Ricketson in conducting the Cream City house at Ferry and South Water Sts. Meantime he erected the Axtell Blk., diagonally across the corner, and when the Cream City was unable to accommodate its entire patronage he turned the new block into a hotel. The Cream City afterward became the Ricketson house.

DEPOT IS RELOCATED
When the union depot was relocated on the west side, the south side hotels withered up like mushrooms, and today there is hardly a vestage left. The row of small hotels across from the old depot on Reed St. have been wiped out of existence and replaced by cold storage and agricultural implement buildings. The life and bustle of Reed St. is gone. The old Lake house on Lake St., is no more and the old Metropolitan on Hanover and Florida Sts., was long ago turned into a railway men’s YMCA.

The Cabbage Hollow house referred to was as unpretentious as it was early. Cabbage Hollow was, as its name implies, not a gully. It was a gentle depression that deepened as it approached the river and reached level ground at about the middle of Jefferson St., between Biddle and Martin. The origin of its name would appear to be obvious.

Prospect Avenue Mansions Lecture

March 27, 2014
6:30pm
Charles Allis Art Museum
1801 North Prospect Ave

A look at the magnificent mansions of Milwaukee’s Prospect Avenue and the stories they tell. Rare historical photographs presented by Pabst Mansion Senior Historian, John Eastberg, with lively discussion that is sure to follow. Hosted by the Charles Allis Art Museum, one of the great Prospect Avenue mansions. Advance tickets only, $15 per person.

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Pabst Blue Ribbon Ad 1914

In the early 20th century advertisers tried to make Pabst seem as glamorous as possible by using beautiful women gently hoisting a stein. It’s a long way from current ad campaigns branding it as the beer for tattooed hipsters. What makes it interesting is that this is about the time when Prohibitionists were out in force working on the demise of all alcohol. The brewery industry needed to portray a gentle, upper-class view of beer to offset the base degradation usually painted by the Prohibitionists.

From the Milwaukee Sentinel, January 1, 1914.

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Recently Discovered Blogs

There a always a few good blogs on Milwaukee history that pop up every now and then. Some, unfortunately stay active for awhile and then become inactive but there are some which manage to keep going. Oldmilwaukee has managed to stay active since 2007 with only a few periods of darkness.

These are some which I have found recently and thought I’d share them with my readers.

The Milwaukee Polonia Project has been going strong since 2011 and although it deals primarily with Polish geneology, it has many historical articles that shed light on the difficulties of pioneer Poles.

Milwaukee Mafia History has been going for the past few years and tells many interesting stories about the mob in Milwaukee. Daniel Bridger has many interesting experiences to tell and this site is worth reading.

Mid Century Modern is a blog for architectural buffs and I think it is still active. It deals with modern architects and their works in the Milwaukee area.

Milwaukee’s Lost Boulevards is an interesting website that shows a history of something many people haven’t realized that we have lost. Up until recent budget cuts have hit Milwaukee’s city departments hard, boulevards were centers of beauty with large raised bed flower gardens. Most of these have been lost although a few, planted mostly with perennials remain. Looking at the Past and Present section makes readers yearn for the lost beauty.

Hustle Bikers 1947

Motorcycle rallies have been going on for probably as long as there have been motorcycles. This article from 1947 seems to typify a tradition that has since grown ever more popular.

Even back then women were very active and there were quite a few profiled in this story. One woman from Racine shown in the picture was Phyllis Nelson who can be seen with her jacket emblazoned with the Motor Maids of America logo, a group which was founded a dozen or so years earlier.

Milwaukee Journal, July 6, 1947

Hustle Bikers

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An unusual “bird” is the motorcyclist. The common species of handlebar jockey travels in packs, dresses alike and is an extrovert. His is a cult that thrives on speed and noise and doesn’t give a hang who knows they’re having a wonderful time.

These gregarious folks of the high speed bikes like nothing better than an outing. Every Sunday and holiday they are on the road, heading for fun in “follow the leader” order. Usually the trip ends in a field or at a hill where impromptu races and climbs are staged. Occasionally there is a bigger event, such as the gypsy tour and rally held recently at Sturgeon Bay, Wis. These pictures were made there. The outing lasted two days and hundreds of cyclists roared in for the fun. The program opened with contests, switched to a dance at night time, a Door county tour the next morning and a windup race meeting.

Now being a hustle biker calls for more than the ability to handle the machine.You have to know the language and the hangouts and enjoy both. Besides, you must acquire a wardrobe. Look to the left and see Phyllis (Butch) Nelson of Racine, who rides her own motorcycle. She displays the riding outfits she brought to the rally. they pack into the two small cases before her which are strapped to the carrier of her cycle. Her rain suit, cosmetics and other accessories are carried in the saddle bag all cyclists have on their machines. One reason for the many changes is indicated by the muddy outfit Butch holds. the dirt was acquired on the ride from Racine to Sturgeon Bay.

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Pictured here is John E. Harley, the son of the one of the founders of Harley-Davidson, William Harley.

Oswald Jaeger Bakery

A year and a half ago, there was a short article on the Razed in Milwaukee blog about the Oswald Jaeger Bakery buildings which still exist hidden away on 9th & Somers. Megan Daniels gives a great history of the bakery and buildings on the blog. The following picture from the OldMilwaukee.net collection shows a view of the bakery from the late 1920s. Interestingly, the same buildings are shown in the modern view, albeit not completely whitewashed.

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Butternut

Milwaukee’s Gilded Age

Milwaukee has had a long history of political struggle between various groups of haves and have nots. Opposing groups have always had battles to fight, some bloody and others simply fought in the voting booths. There have been periods of peace but overall those have been few. Historian Greg Afinoguenov, wrote this paper a few years ago dissecting and analyzing the city’s political history in a nutshell. It is an interesting read and gives a fresh perspective on some issues we still wrestle with.

Milwaukee’s Gilded Age and Aftermath

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