Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Forgotten Vice President

Do you recognize the bust of this handsome man?  Hint:  He was a Vice President of the United States.  You still don't recognize him?  He was from Kansas.  Do you still need more clues?  He was a Republican and served as Senate Majority Leader from 1924 to 1929, resigning that position to serve as Vice President.

Are you still having trouble?  He was elected to the U.S. Senate by the Kansas Legislature in 1906 (before Senators were elected directly) and then by popular vote one 6-year term from 1907-1913, and then most of 3 terms from 1915-1929 when he resigned to serve as Vice President to Herbert Hoover.

Surprisingly, many Americans today would be unable to identify this man, despite his successful political career.  Until President Biden chose Kamala Harris, he was the first & only Indian American Vice President.  Although he is a man of many achievements, few Americans know much about him.  During the celebrations of Vice-President Harris' election, I actually heard newspersons describing her as the first Native American Vice President.  No, that would be our own Kansan, Charles Curtis!

Not only is he little known Nationally, even many Kansans know little about him, and that is a shame, for he had a rich life.  From his mother he was 3/8th Native American--Kaw, Osage, and Potawatomi. His mother died when he was three years old, and from her he had learned to speak French and Kanza.  After her death, his father married briefly but then joined the Union Army and was captured and imprisoned.  

The influence of both sets of Native American Ancestors played a role in his development, both encouraging him not to remain on the reservation but rather to attend school in Topeka.  He studied for and was admitted to the bar in 1881 and served as Shawnee County Prosecuting Attorney in 1885.

Recognizing that the importance of this Native American Kansas Office Holder had been neglected, when Bob Dole became Senate Majority Leader he remembered his fellow Senate House Majority Leader by hanging a portrait of Curtis in his office.  In a speech in honor of the occasion, Senator Dole said, "Since he (Curtis) was the last majority leader from the state of Kansas, we thought it would be appropriate to hang his portrait in my office."  Adding, "I was elected majority leader on 60 years to the day after Charles Curtis got the job."  The artist of the 48" by 36" painting was identified as Elie Cristo Loveman, and the painting had been borrowed by Sen. Dole from the Kansas Historical Society, who had been given the painting by the estate of Curtis' sister.

Charles Curtis' home was once in an elite Topeka  neighborhood, although today the neighborhood has gone through various changes.  The house itself has also gone through various uses, including housing an insurance agency, a rooming house, and a historic home for touring.

Charles Curtis is a significant Kansan in his own right, but the role he played as a Native American reaching the next-to-the-highest office in the nation, just a heartbeat away from the presidency, should make us respect preserving and protecting his home in Topeka.

f.n.  Senator Dole stated at the hanging ceremony that little was known about the artist who painted the Curtis portrait.  In my research for this blog, I could find nothing more about the artist.  However, I did find an artist with a very similar name.  Elie Cristo-Loveanu, a Romanian by birth, who was an artist and teacher in New York City at the time of his death.  He lived  from July 27, 1893 to April 28, 1964.  Because of the close similarity of names and the lack of information about the painter, I am curious whether there might have been a confusion concerning the spelling of the name on the painting.  This deserves more research!


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Grand Army of the Republic


If your male ancestor came to Kansas in the late 19th Century, he was likely a Union Veteran.  Over half of the 30,000 eligible men in the young state of Kansas volunteered for the Union Army, one of the highest volunteer rates in the nation.  After the war, many from other states took advantage of the Homestead Act, which gave Union Veterans one year's credit toward the required five years necessary to prove up a homestead claim for each year of Union service.

Many of those Union Veterans joined the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic.  Founded in 1866, it was a nation-wide fraternal organization with over 500 posts registered in Kansas by the turn of the century, the combined number of members in Kansas totaling more than 20,000.

They promoted parades, patriotic education, and lobbied for veterans' pensions.  In our local communities we can see many GAR markers on the cemetery graves on Memorial Day.  As years passed, membership in the GAR declined, and the last Kansas GAR post disbanded in 1943.

Perhaps because the Civil War was fought in the South, the tradition of remembering the Civil War has remained stronger there.  Movies, like "Gone With the Wind," have depicted heroic soldiers in Gray.  The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War in 2011 was far more celebrated in the South, with remembrances of all kinds, than in the North.

Yet, it was the North and the Union Army that preserved the United States of America.  Soldiers serve at the command of their officers, and in response to decisions made by the leaders who took them into war.  It is only natural that families honor their own soldiers for the role they were required by others to play.  But, it is important that we remember that Lincoln's Army saved the Union.

P.S.  I am teaching an Osher class on November 1st.  The title of my class is "Three Powerful Women of the Populist Movement," and the class is virtual, from 10 o'clock to 11:30.  I know that some of you have taken my classes in the past, and I hope to see some familiar and some new faces for this class.  With the background of  all the things that were happening in the late 1800s, I focus on three important women!  You can visit University of Kansas Osher classes to learn more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Making Reading a Habit


This is one of my favorite pastel portraits, done many years ago of two children who now have children of their own.  When I do children's portraits, I like to ask them to select a favorite toy, or in this case, a favorite book.

I thought of this portrait when I saw a recent headline in the newspaper:  Reading Scores Fell Sharply!  The reference was to scores during the pandemic which, acording to this article, found reading scores at their largest decrease in 30 years.  The article described students in 2022 as performing at a level last seen two decades ago.

We happen to live in a rural area in Kansas which is fortunate to have several wonderful libraries.  Respect for public libraries goes back several years in which successful families donated the money for public libraries that have continued to thrive.  I have written in this blog about several of those libraries, and right now, one of those small town libraries is building an addition!

How can that be, I thought?  I have seen the photographs of proud children in our community in the newspaper and on face book, holding a favorite book above a caption reading "1000 Books Before Kindergarten."  With so many libraries available, why wouldn't children staying at home during covid find the perfect opportunity to do lots of reading.

Of course, the 1000 Books includes books read to them.  Although 1000 books is a lot, early books for children do not take long to read.  A book a night means 365 a year, and at that rate more than 1000 can be read in three years.  I have gifted enough books to young children to know that they love getting a book.

Maybe with so many wonderful libraries with great Librarians and communities that support those libraries, I have taken them for granted.  In Macksville, Director Jody Suiter raised funds for 11 years for an addition to the city library and the community responded.  Brinda Ortiz, President of the Library Board, saw on a local TV channel, KAKE News, the opportunity to apply for a $500 grant awarded during the 10 o'clock news by a Law Firm in Wichita.  She sent in her nomination for the Macksville City Library.  What a thrill when they received the grant.

The Macksville Library was established in 1935, but the current library was donated by Irma Smith in 1958.  Her decision to purchase and donate the U.B. Church & School and relocate it in Macksville on a lot donated by  A.G. English provided not only a permanent home for the City Library but also the preservation of a historic building in the community.  The success of her gift is shown in the simple fact that it was outgrown. The new addition will provide new programing space, a restroom/storm shelter, a new children's area, and a meeting place for other activities in the communty.

I have personally benefitted from wonderful libraries in our community and have spoken at most of them in various programs.  A special "Bravo!" to not only Macksville, but also St. John, Pratt, and Stafford in particular, as well as other nearly public libraries.  I know that they found ways to continue making books available during covid.  I hope that helped local families avoid the drop in reading skills that some other places experienced.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Beast with English Roots

The Fearsome Gerry-mander
In the 18th Century, English politicians had devised the practice of manipulating voting districts to create what they called "rotten boroughs," containing only a few eligible voters.  The objective was to have few enough eligible voters to effectively pay off how they would vote, creating a  "buy/win" seat in Parliament.

Somehow, the dishonest voting practitioners must have slipped onto boats headed to the United States, because what we now know as gerrymandering began almost immediately in America.  The staff of The Boston Gazette created what they named The Gerry-mander to describe what began in Massachusetts.  Voting districts were manipulated into exaggerated shapes by the political party in power to all but insure an advantage of likely voters for that party's candidates in major districts.

The use of gerrymandering, as we now spell it, waxed and waned in various areas and at particular times, but it has never gone away.  After the Civil War, when Black men gained the right to vote, the practice became particularly dominant in the South.  In 1874 a southern state not only drew ridiculous shapes, but went even further to create the first non-contiguous voting district.  The extravagant  shapes had not been enough to rouse the attention of the U.S. House, but a non-contiguous voting district got their attention and they refused to seat any more members elected using that voting district pattern.  A few years later, the state tried again, with one winding district called a "boa constrictor" district. 

Tricks such as these discontinued but were replaced by threats of violence, poll taxes, and other voting suppression.  Once these states established districts that accomplished the voting patterns they wanted, they often maintained those voting districts for years.

Feeding a Beast may cause it to Turn on You--Beware!

Then, in the 1960s, along came the Earl Warren Supreme Court, which ruled that all state voting districts were required to have roughly the same populations.  In addition, after every 10-year census was taken, states had to adjust their districts so that each of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives represented close to the same number of people.

During the ups and downs of those years the Gerry-mander, was pronounced like Gary.  However, the pronunciation of his name gradually changed to Jerry, although he spelled it Gerrymander.  More significant than the change in the pronunciation of the name was an even more aggressive change in the Gerrymander's personality with the arrival of computer technology!  With the help of computers it became much easier to strategically draw maps to give particular advantages to individual parties.  As one political expert has said, "In some ways it's politicians picking their voters as opposed to voters picking their politicians."

But that isn't fair, you may be thinking.  Isn't there some control to keep the majority party from controlling election outcomes entirely.  You will be relieved to learn that there are some remedies.  Using the 2022 redistricting map for Kansas, three different maps were proposed--one by the Republicans, one by the Democrats, and one by a voter advocacy group.  The initial Legislature's recommended maps were vetoed by the Governor, and law suits were filed.  

This blog isn't about what redistricting maps were ultimately chosen or who did or didn't get the maps they wanted.  What it is about is that who we send to our state houses to take care of our particular state's business is important.  It is about who we elect to the benches of our courts.  It is about the importance of the work done by citizens and organizations willing to donate their time to pay attention to what is going on in state and national capitals and show up to peacefully bring their ideas and criticisms to produce something better. 

The Gerrymander beast is very seductive to those in power, but he has no particular loyalty to any one party forever.  History teaches that majorities can shift, and the power of the Gerrymander shifts with it.  Gerrymandering is not utilized by any one party.  It s an election strategy employed by both parties.  Neither is it limited to particular states.  Gerrymandering was challenged in Kansas last spring.  I did research for the blog about that time, but I delayed posting because I did not want it to appear I was stating a personal opinion.  

Ironically, by putting off posting, I am right in the middle of a Supreme Court case involving Alabama.  It is not my intention to focus on the Alabama case; however, you will likely be hearing news about that case in weeks to come.  The Alabama case is less about political parties and more about racial quotas.  Even so, it is that old Gerrymander Beast confronting the U.S. Supreme Court, and further threatening the Voting Rights Act.