Wednesday, March 27, 2013

1st Black Female Lawyer

On October 27th, 1890, Isaac headed to St. John for a People's Party rally, joining the Livingston and East Albano Farmers' Alliance congregations along the way.  He set up a camera to photograph the wagons that paraded around the "E. side of public square round by 5th Avenue house, down to S.W. corner of square and around the square finally double procession..."  After lunch the farmers gathered at the rink for speeches, and among the speakers was "a colored Speaker from Topeka, the 2d orator, short and quite satisfactory."  Although Isaac approved of the man's brief and effective speech, he did not include the man's name in his journal, nor did the newspaper mention the name.
In doing my research for writing the manuscript about Isaac and that historical period, I found a clue that suggests to me who the speaker might have been.
Image of Lutie Lytle from the County Capital
In about 1882 a man named John R. Lytle joined other African Americans in relocating his family to Kansas as part of the Exoduster movement.  The family moved into a house at 1435 Monroe Street in Topeka, and John became involved in the community.  As the People's Party became active in Kansas, John became a member, running unsuccesssfully for the position of city jailor.  His local prominence allowed him to assist one of his four children, daughter Lutie, to gain an appointment as the Populist Party assistant enrolling clerk for the state legislature.  It seems quite possible to me that John R. Lytle was the man Isaac heard speak to the rally in St. John.
Lutie gained prominence in her own right.  She explained to an interviewer that she was working in a printing office when she began to contemplate becoming a lawyer.  She said, "I read the newspaper exchanges a great deal and became impressed with the knowledge of the fact that my own people especially were the victims of legal ignorance.  I resolved to fathom its depths and penetrate its mysteries and intricacies in hopes of being a benefit to my people." 

She carried out her dream of studying law by moving to Tennessee, where she attended Central Tennessee College, having earned tuition money by teaching school.  In September of 1897 she was admitted to the Criminal Court in Memphis after passing an oral examination.  Records indicate that she was the first African American woman to be licensed to practice in Tennessee, the second or third in the United States (records conflict about this), and the first in Kansas when she returned to Topeka. 
Lutie Lytle
Lutie was briefly married to a minister, but later she married Alfred C. Cowan, a lawyer.  According to the 1910 Federal Census, Lutie and Alfred lived in Brooklyn, New York, and were both employed in the general practice of law.  Lutie's father John was living with them, employed as a real estate agent, together with her brother Albert, age 26, working as a law clerk, and her sister Corine, age 17.
The date of Lutie's death is uncertain, but in 1925 she spoke to a large audience at St. John's A.M.E. Church in Topeka, the church she had attended as a girl.  She opened many doors for women, and during the year she taught domestic relations, evidence, and criminal procedure at her alma mater, she was described as "the only woman law instructor in the world."
Her own words describe her feelings for the law:  "My favorite [area of the law] is constitutional law.  I like constitutional law because the anchor of my race is grounded on the Constitution, and whenever our privileges are taken away from us or curtailed, we must point to the Constitution as the Christian does to his Bible.  It is the great source and Magna Carta of our rights..."
Lutie and her father are a distinguished and important part of the early history of Kansas, and whether John was the speaker to whom Isaac referred in his journal or not, they are a significant footnote to the story of the People's Party.

(To read more about Lutie Lytle Cowan visit;; and

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Susan's Album

Susan & Anna Beck
My great-grandmother, Susan Beck, taught in one-room country schools  in both Stafford and Pratt Counties.  School terms accommodated the necessity for children to help on the farms, and the fall term usually began in late October.  After a break for the holidays, the spring term resumed until March or early April.  Many of the country school teachers were barely older than their students, young unmarried girls who had been students the previous school year.  Having a mature woman with a high school education as their teacher was considered quite a privilege.
Records of the Stafford County country schools are incomplete, but the Stafford County History book indicates that Susan taught in the early sod school house in Albano Township.  Susan has a photo album given in appreciation for her teaching in that community, and she may have taught in the school house Isaac helped build.  Pratt County has more complete documentation of its country schools, and those records confirm that Susan taught in townships located on the far north side of Pratt County several terms in the 1890s.  Her daughter, Anna Marie Beck, not only taught in Stafford County schools but also served as Stafford County Superintendent of Schools.
As you may remember from prior posts on this blog, Isaac Werner was friendly with the Beck family, loaning books, stereoscope views, and his albums to Aaron and Susan Beck and their children, Royal and Anna.  Unfortunately, Isaac's books, views, albums, and framed prints were sold in his estate sale, and although I suspect some of them might still be found among family antiques in the surrounding communities, I have not located any of Isaac's collections (other than his wonderful journal).
Susan Beck's album from grateful parents
Therefore, I am using the album my great-grandmother received from parents of students she taught as an example of what Isaac's albums might have been like.  I have seen many examples of albums from this period, many with velvet covers and most with some type of decoration.  The pages are thick cardboard, on which a card stock type of paper is glued with framed openings to hold photographs or cards of famous people.  Susan's album has two frames on each page positioned vertically.  Other albums have different arrangements of frames and different sizes of frames.
Interior pages of Susan's album with a print
Susan's album from the late 1890s or early 1900s holds primarily photographs of family and friends, but Isaac's albums probably held more images of  prominent people.  Although newspapers published sketches of people in the news, we must remember that without movies, television, and the internet, images of important people, historical or living, were not widely available.  In his ongoing quest to better educate himself, Isaac wanted to be familiar with the images of famous people. His journal entry of December 31, 1870 included among the books and engravings he wished to purchase the following:  "Card Photographs of about 150 Authors & Artists."
Another entry on February 27, 1871 read: "Started also a small book or memorandum of transitory or present or future wants, such as photographs of certain noted individuals, painting and certain necessary books etc.  By eve had already recorded 3 columns in my small book of such items."  When he acquired the photograph cards he wanted, they were arranged in albums similar to the album in the above photographs.
Although Isaac was eager to acquire a better education with his reading and his collections of engravings, stereoscope views, and photograph cards, he was reluctant to reveal to those who might criticize his efforts just what he was doing.  His entry of March 16, 1871 revealed this modesty: "During A.M. as Mr. Hutcheons run in and out several times, and each time found me busy at my desk at something (he knew not what though, filling my large Album with card photographs of Authors), he remarked, 'Well Mr. W.--.  You astonish the natives someday, the way you are always busy at something.'"      
Most of Isaac's books, engravings, views, and photograph cards were acquired during the years when he was a prosperous druggist in Rossville, Illinois, but he always believed the money to acquire his collections was wisely spent, and he continued to enjoy them during the hard times of his later years as a homesteader on the Kansas prairie.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Postscript to 5th Avenue Hotel

The 5th Avenue Hotel in later years

As a postscript to the previous blog, I am adding this image of the building taken several years later.  From the cars parked at the hotel, I would guess that the photograph was taken in the 1930s or early 1940s.  Decide for yourself whether you think the modifications to the structure improved its appearance.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fifth Avenue Hotel

When the railroad arrived in St. John, Kansas, new buildings sprung up nearly as fast as hen bit is currently doing in Kansas lawns.  Among those buildings was the Fifth Avenue Hotel pictured above.  It is similar in style to the elegant Victorian courthouse written about in my blog of 3/29/2012 (Isaac's Victorian Court House), and it shares similar details with the school built at nearly the same time. 
Early St. John School
Far more elaborate than the St. John Hotel, the wooden structure pictured in my recent blog about Women on the Prairie (2/21/2013), the Fifth Avenue Hotel featured balconies overlooking the square.  It was from one of those balconies that Isaac photographed the wagons in a double row that extended around the square and beyond in a rally parade for the People's Party.
The City Stables
Unfortunately for Isaac, money was scarce, and when he needed to spend the night in St. John, unless he was invited to stay in the home of a friend, the City Stable served as the overnight accomodations for both Isaac and his horses!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Snow Storms on the Prairie

Sculpture in Kiowa, Kansas
Last week we arrived at the farm in Kansas between record breaking snow storms.  The sculpture of a prairie couple made me think of Isaac Werner and his neighbors dealing with blizzards in the late 1800s.  Unlike today's prairie residents, they did not have NOWA to warn them of approaching storms nor satellite images shown on television and the internet.  The day before the second snow storm arrived, the sky gave no indication that Mother Nature was not finished dumping snow on Kansas, and I wondered if Isaac would have known of signs we no longer recognize as weather predictions.
Drifts fill the road near our farm house
Regardless of our sophisticated methods of predicting approaching weather, we are sometimes left helpless to deal with the conditions.  The picture at the right shows one of the roads drifted full of snow near our farm.
Today, many farmers have snow plows they attach to their tractors.  Farmers with cattle raced to protect their herds from the dangers forecast for the second snow storm, risks not from the cold itself but rather from the combination of snow and extreme winds that can cause cattle to breathe in the moisture and literally drown from the moisture in their lungs.  In the blizzard of 1886, thousands of cattle and sheep died on the prairie, but the recent snows caused no such disasters.
View of our front yard after the 1st snow storm
Drifts filled the roads, and plows cleared streets and roads from the first snowfall just in time for the second storm to arrive and create new tasks for road crews.  The warmer weather since the storms has melted some of the snow, but the new problem is mud and standing water, and drifts still block many country roads.  Neighbors with tractors have helped us reach the farm, and this morning I learned that our township grader is broken, idle until a new part arrives.  Now I know why no roads to the farm were plowed for us by the township grader!
In Isaac's time, homesteaders lacked our sophisticated technology and our powerful equipment, but even with these things, Mother Nature is still capable of showing us that she hasn't been conquered.
(The windmill in the picture to the left has the blades that capture the wind removed from the tower.  These wind-powered pumps used to lift water from underground acquifers are a gradually disappearing sight on the prairie.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Political Symbols on the Prairie

All Americans are familiar with the elephant and the donkey as symbols of our two leading political parties, but do you know the origins of those two animals as party symbols?  Animals were often used in political cartoons to satirize individuals and groups.  One of my favorite cartoons from the County Capital during the 1890s appears at the right.  (Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.)  The poor farmers and miners who were suffering such hard times are depicted as hares or rabbits, appealing to the wealthy and powerful for help.  Those well-dressed animals ignoring their pleas are: politician as horse, monopolist as bull, office holder as goat, speculator as sheep, and money lender as cow.  Fierce dogs, labeled famine, want, and other hardships, threaten the defenseless rabbits.

The origin of the donkey as the symbol of democrats is traced back to the 1828 presidential campaign of democrat Andrew Jackson.  His opponents called him a "jackass" for his populist views, but rather than being offended, Jackson adopted the image of a stubborn donkey in his campaign posters.  Cartoonists, especially Thomas Nast, picked up the association of a donkey representing democrats, and the image continues to this day.

It is believed that a cartoon drawn by Nast that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1874 was the first use of an elephant to represent the republican party.  My favorite from the County Capital depicting the elephant as a political symbol appears at the left.  The People's Party, which the newspaper and Isaac supported, saw republicans as the wealthy and powerful, gobbling up benefits through their influence over politicians in Washington and the state capitols.  This cartoon uses not only an elephant but also adds a greedy pig inside, labeled "Plutocrat" and wearing a blanket labeled "G.O.P." or Grand Old Party, another name for republicans.  The hay the elephant is consuming is labeled "The Public Substance."

The symbol used by the County Capital for the People's Party was the rooster.  The crowing rooster pictured at the right appeared on the front page of the newspaper announcing a near sweep of state and local elective offices, the editor's visual boast covering about half the page!

Although there is no doubt that in Stafford County, Kansas, the rooster represented the People's Party, researchers believe it sometimes was used to represent democrats.  An article appearing in the 1913 Journal of American History traces the origin to 1834 in Indiana when a man named Joseph Chapman ran for office.  Apparently Chapman was quite an orator, and his style of boasting about what he would accomplish if he were elected was described by his opponents as "crowing," giving him the nickname of "Crowing Joe."   Another researcher traced the connection of a rooster with democrats in West Virginia.  In that state, voters were urged to "Scratch the Rooster," meaning to put an "x" below the rooster symbol to vote a straight democratic ticket.

All of that may be true, but at the St. John, Kansas, County Capital newspaper, the rooster crowed for the People's Party.