Monday, October 16, 2017

The Woman Candidate: Chemung County’s First Female Politicians

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
The other day, our curator Erin Doane commented how she always liked the photograph below, which depicts the 1920-1921 Chemung County Board of Supervisors. 

We chatted about it, wondering who the lone woman in the group was. Since this photo was taken just a couple of years after women got the vote, we wondered if she might be the first elected woman in Chemung County politics. I took on the task of tracking her down and I learned that her name was Marie Carr Fraser. Carr Fraser’s own history is interesting and is outlined below, but she was actually just one of several local women who sought to exercise their new political rights by running for office. 

Minnie Clark was Chemung County’s pioneer female politician. In 1911, years before women won the vote in New York, Clark’s name was submitted on a certificate of nomination for the Socialist ticket for supervisor of Elmira’s tenth ward. The nomination proved a “puzzler” for the election commissioners, so they called in County Attorney Thurston. Thurston told Clark that she would not be able to serve even if she was elected. According to his interpretation of the law, “only an ‘elector’ can be elected to office, and the law says that an ‘elector’ must be a member of the male sex.” With this legal blow, Clark’s name was removed from the nomination.

Headline from Elmira Star-Gazette, 7/30/1918
That wasn’t Clark’s last attempt to get into politics. After the successful New York suffrage campaign, Clark was the first Chemung County woman to enroll in a political party. She registered as a Socialist. By mid-June 1918, there were 1,411 Elmira women registered to vote. She also was credited as the first woman to run for office in the county (this wasn’t taking into account her failed 1911 nomination). In 1918, she ran on the Socialist ticket for Chemung County Sheriff.  She never had any real shot at winning, but at least the process wasn’t a financial drain for her; she claimed she spent only $1 on her campaign.

Marie Carr Fraser was an 1895 graduate of Elmira College and was a well-known soprano and voice teacher who gave countless local performances. She was a widowed mother of a young daughter and was very active in the community.
Marie Carr Fraser
In July 1919, Democrats in Elmira’s seventh ward nominated Marie Carr Fraser as their candidate for the upcoming election to represent the ward on the Chemung County Board of Supervisors. Carr Fraser was a Prohibitionist, and her nomination was seen as a way to siphon voters who felt strongly about that issue. 

Carr Fraser ran against Republican Nelson Powell. Each candidate, regardless of party, sought the Prohibition ticket nomination, showing how significant the “dry” issue was in that election. In the September primaries, Carr Fraser won the Prohibition endorsement over Powell, despite the fact that historically, the city’s Prohibitionists had voted Republican.

Carr Fraser wasn’t the only woman in the supervisor race that year. Jane W. Gillett, on the Prohibitionist ticket, and Mary Painton, on the Democratic ticket, opposed incumbent Dana L. Smith in the ninth ward. When the election results were in, Carr Fraser won, earning the distinction of being the first woman ever elected as a member of the Chemung County Board of Supervisors. Gillett and Painton both lost their bids in the ninth ward. Carr Fraser took her seat on the Board and was soon named to the Committee for County Home Improvements. 

Coming off her two-year term as supervisor, Carr Fraser ran for Chemung County Clerk on the Democratic ticket. Her campaign ads, pictured below, highlighted her role as a mother.

She opposed Asaph B. Hall, the Republican candidate, and Robert Weaver, the Socialist candidate. Hall, a popular young World War I veteran, was a tough opponent (Hall also later served as the president of the Chemung County Historical Society). When the election was over, Carr Fraser lost to Hall. Hall secured 14, 177 votes to her 9,727. Weaver came in a distant third, with 304 votes.
This Asaph Hall campaign ad, 1923, provides some contrast to Carr Fraser's. His is focused far more on his accomplishments while hers are mostly about her role as a mother. This is particularly interesting since by this point, she had held elected office while he never had.
Clark and Carr Fraser weren’t the only early female candidates. Decades before, in 1892, Myra L. Daggett made “a lively canvas for office” for the school commissionership of school district No. 2. Mrs. George Pickering lost the election for that same post in 1920, in part due to rumors that she was a Socialist. She denied any affiliation with that party.  In 1919, May Stewart ran for Alderman in Elmira’s first ward, but lost to Fred West. Celia O. Hoke, won the most votes of any candidate in the 1925 primaries in her reelection campaign for the position of County Superintendent of the Poor. These women were just some of the pioneers who paved the way for more Chemung County women to seek elected office in the ensuing decades.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Just Phoning It In

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

“What hath God wrought” were the first words transmitted across American telegraph lines in 1844. Twenty-two years later, the first words clearly transmitted across American phone lines “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you,” were a little less impressive, but no less momentous. The telephone’s inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, gave his first public demonstration at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia a few months later in June 1876. Two years later, the first American public telephone exchange was set up in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Elmira’s first telephone exchange opened in 1880. Most of the 48 original subscribers were area business including six grocers, four railroads, and one newspaper. According to the first list of subscribers published by the Elmira Bell Telephone Exchange on February 1, 1880, they were installing so many new phones that they would have to publish an updated list with 20 additional subscribers on the 15th

List of original subscribers to the Elmira Bell Telephone Exchange, February 1, 1880

Like most early exchanges, subscribers relied on operators to manually connect them to the people they were calling. Callers would tell the operator who they were trying to reach, either by their exchange-assigned number or by name, and then the operator would literally connect them by plugging the caller’s line directly into the recipient’s on the switchboard. Switchboard operators were all women. In the early days, they received on-the-job training. In 1902, New York Telephone Company opened the first operators’ training school in New York City and later opened up regional schools in the 1920s. 

Lady operators at the Elmira Telephone Exchange, 1896

Rural telephone exchanges operated on a slightly different system. While the Elmira exchange provided power to city phones via a central battery, Southport Telephone Company subscribers had to hand crank their phone’s battery in order to reach the operator. Southport subscribers had what was called a party line which they shared with multiple customers. Callers were instructed to keep their calls to five minutes or less so as not to tie up the line. Because anyone on the party line could listen in, eaves dropping by nosy neighbors was a big problem. In some parts of the country, party lines persisted well into the 1990s.

Handcrank telephone, ca. 1900

On May 21, 1932, the Elmira exchange converted to dial service. Now callers could input the recipient’s number directly via a rotary dial phone rather than get an operator to connect them. In the run-up to the conversion, New York Telephone Company replaced each phone in the city and gave each subscriber a new number. But what if customers didn’t know the number of the person they were trying to reach? Well, that’s what phone books were for.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Murder at the Glen

by Erin Doane, Curator

Sometime ago, I came across a tale of murder told by Ausburn Towner in his history, Our County and Its People. While Towner was writing in the early 1890s, the story was from some 50 or 60 years earlier. The incident took place in a pretty glen that was later the site of the Rorick’s Glen amusement park from 1901 to 1918. In the 1830s and 1840s, people would go to the glen for picnics. Brewster Tuthill ran a big flat scow on the river bringing stone from a nearby quarry into the town. He would also transport parties of picnickers to the glen.

Towner tells the story of one of those parties. Rather than retelling it in my own less-lyrical way, I will share what he wrote:
A picnic there one summer day is indelibly impressed on the minds of more than one now elderly person in the city. Just as the scow was ready to start an Italian with his hand-organ and monkey hove in sight, and was instantly engaged to furnish the music for the occasion. Many of those, both young ladies and gentlemen, belonging to the best families in the village were among the picnickers, and everything was conducted in the most decorous manner, but in some way the monkey was shot dead. The exhibition of grief displayed by the Italian was something very pitiable. He moaned and wept, and embraced the dying dumb creature with a display of as much emotion as a mother would manifest over a wounded child. It ruined the picnic, cutting it short by many hours, and although a purse of nearly $50 was made up for the Italian it didn’t soothe nor console him in the least, and he quitted the party with the little dead body in his arms.

This story just brings up so many questions: What happened that someone felt the need to shoot the monkey? Why was a young gentleman, or lady, from one of the best families in the village carrying a gun at a picnic? Did the picnickers honestly think that $50 would take away the man’s grief after they had murdered his pet/business partner?

Stuffed monkey toy, early 20th century
I searched and searched for more information about the story but came up emptyhanded. I have no way of proving if Towner’s story is entirely true or if it is just one of those stories based on a real event that got change and exaggerated over time. I did, however, find some information from the 1890s that might help me try to answer some of the questions the story brought up.

Let’s start with why the man was still upset by the death of the monkey even after being given $50. Well, obviously, his pet had just been shot in front of him and died in his arms. I imagine that would be thoroughly upsetting to anyone and not easy to shrug off. On a more practical level, the monkey was likely not just an animal on a leash; it was his means of earning a living. The man would have spent countless hours training the monkey to dance and do tricks. An article that appeared in the August 27, 1898 Elmira Telegram describes how a fantastically-dressed monkey would dance to hand-organ music, turn summersaults, take coins and put them into its pocket, take off his hat and bow, and shake hands with people. The picnickers’ offer of $50 would have been the equivalent of about $1,400 today. A tame, perfectly docile monkey cost around $15 (or about $390 today) according to an 1890 ad in the Elmira Telegram. The cost of a new monkey (not wild but not trained) plus the time and effort that would go into training it may have been much greater than the money offered.

From the Elmira Telegram, September 28, 1890
Next, why would someone have brought a gun on the picnic? Now, this answer is pure speculation on my part. This story took place sometime in the 1830s or 1840s when Elmira was much smaller. The town’s population was between 3,000 and 5,000 in those years. The glen would have been out in the countryside, in the wilderness. It sort of makes sense that someone might choose to carry a gun in that case.

And finally the big question, why would someone shoot the monkey? Well, monkeys are wild animals. They obviously can be trained to wear cute little outfits and dance around but they have also been known to attack people. I found several newspaper reports of trained monkeys injuring people. On June 30, 1894, the Star-Gazette reported on Leland Smith, a ten-year-old boy whose hand was bitten by such a monkey.  On July 21, 1910, the newspaper reported that an organ grinder’s monkey, while in an ugly mood, leapt at the young daughter of Mrs. Miller of Corning and inflicted painful scratches. The musician and his monkey were ordered out of town. It is entirely possible that the monkey at the picnic in the glen fell into a bad mood and was thus shot. There is no way to know for sure without finding other reports of the incident, but it seems like a reasonable guess.

From the Elmira Star-Gazette, May 5, 1894

Monday, September 25, 2017

Gold Fever: Elmirans in the Klondike Gold Rush

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

The California Gold Rush of 1849 gets more attention, but I personally find the Klondike Gold Rush a few decades later much more interesting. In August 1896, prospectors found gold in the Klondike River region of the Yukon Territory. As news spread of the find, “gold fever” also spread across the nation. Adventurers and fortune-seekers packed up their belongings to try their luck in the freezing north. Local folks would not be left out of the race for riches.
Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, August 27, 1897
The Alaska Mining and Prospect Company was formed in Elmira, New York in 1897 and incorporated on December 24, 1987 in Colorado. The company’s mission was to fund an expedition of 10 men to the Klondike to locate and mine gold. Prominent Elmira men John M. Diven and Dix W. Smith were among the company’s directors. Andrew Sherwood, a geologist from Mansfield, PA, was hired to lead a party of prospectors and miners. The Alaska Mining and Prospecting Co. organized with capital of $200,000 and did swift business selling stocks. 

John M. Diven
On August 6, 1897, the Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press reported, “The gold fever seems to be raging harder and many Elmirans are investing their hard-earned cash in the uncertainties of the gold fields. They flock to the offices of the directors of the scheme [the Alaska Mining and Prospecting Co.] like so many ducks after water. Even the women have the fever and yesterday one new woman from Elmira Heights entered the office of one of the directors and said she wanted to buy some stock…Two Elmira Heights young women, one a stenographer and one a school teacher, are said to be anxious to try their luck in the gold fields, hoping to get remunerative employment there.” 

Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, January 4, 1898
The Alaska Mining and Prospect Company’s expedition team left in May 1898 and reached the Klondike via the Teslin Trail. The route was the cheapest and safest. The journey lasted about 6 weeks. They wintered in Wrangell, Alaska.
Like many of the miners in the Klondike, they found little gold. They did find some coal, however. In 1902, Dix Smith reported that the company had 12,000 acres of coal land, but he seemed to “be of the opinion that the stockholders will realize very little, if anything on their investment.” There is a collection of materials about the short-lived company at the University of Oregon Libraries Special Collections.

David Lewis of Elmira worked for the Alaska Mining and Prospect Company in Dawson, Alaska. He reported finding some gold, but admitted that conditions were difficult and that it was frequently -30 degrees Fahrenheit. He supposedly grew a beard that came down to almost his waist. 

Employees of the Alaska Mining and Prospect Company were not the only local people to go in search of riches. In February 1898, friends Charles Bertram and Albert G. Miller headed for the Klondike. In March, Bertram wrote his brother a letter from Seattle, Washington. Seattle was mobbed by wannabe prospectors from around the country who were waiting to board the boats that would get them closer to the frozen gold fields. Bertram reported on the chaos and major price gouging by local stores. Miller had married Margaret Weaver just before leaving and the two of them headed to Seattle, where she planned to stay while he went on. 
Bertram's brother John was also apparently interested in the Klondike. He offered this promotion for his bowling alley in 1897. His brother hadn't even left yet. I'm assuming the prizes were just cash, not actual gold.
Two more Elmirans, Joseph Grady, a mail carrier, and George Backer, a grocer, also left in early 1898. In May, Grady wrote a letter home saying he had reached the Chilkoot Pass, a particularly difficult and deadly stretch of the path. He arrived at the time of an avalanche. He reported that descending the pass the most difficult part of the journey. That declaration might have been a little premature. By August 30, Grady had enough of the Klondike, quit, and headed home. He arrived back in Elmira by mid-October.

Of course, you didn’t even have to leave Elmira or start a prospecting company to make money off of people’s gold fever. Stores, businesses, and hotels all adopted the Klondike name in their advertising. 

Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, November 22, 1897
A natural promotional opportunity for Gold Dust soap in the Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, August 2, 1897.
Probably my favorite local Klondike story is that of Reverend Frederick L. Benedict, the pastor of the Franklin St. church, who went north in early 1898. His primary mission was to help the miners who were driven to sin by the 24-hour nights and lack of civilization. Benedict wanted to build a simple log cabin to hold services, which he would call "Miner's Rendezvous." 

Benedict explained his mission as follows: "My prime object in going is to establish some innocent place of amusement on religious principles, where the Alaskan miner may while away on a long winter night instead of going to the saloon or gambling hall, of which there are an astonishing number already. But understand me, I am no fool! I am not going to kick any nuggets that I run across, out of my way and say ‘Get thee behind me, Satan.’”

Benedict was correct that gambling, drinking, fighting, and prostitution were common pastimes for miners in the Klondike Gold Rush. There are no reports, however, to determine how many miners the reverend was able to convert. Benedict left Alaska around 1903 and headed to Oklahoma to work in a Sunday School. Still, he made it longer in the frozen fields than many others with the gold fever.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rich Man's War, Poor Man's Fight

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

By the time March of 1863 rolled around, the American Civil War, a war which most had assumed would be over by Christmas, had been going on for nearly two years. At the outbreak of the war, enthusiasm was high and there were actually more volunteers than could be equipped or trained. The longer the war went on, the fewer men were joining up. In July 1862, Congress Passed the Militia Act of 1862. Among other things this act:

  • ·         Established recruitment quotas for each state based on population
  • ·         Authorized states to use a draft to fill said quotas
  • ·         Allowed Blacks to serve in the military for the first time
  • ·         Established rules about court-martials, enlistment bounties, and activation procedures

Unfortunately, the Act wasn’t enough to keep the army in warm bodies. On March 3, 1863, Congress passed the Enrollment Act which required all male citizens and immigrants who had applied for citizenship between the ages of 18 and 43 to enroll for a military draft. For the next several months, military census takers working under the State Acting Assistant Marshall went door-to-door in each city, town, and village in the state recording the names, ages, and professions of each eligible male, with occasional comments about their fitness for duty.
Ledger of persons liable to military duty in the town of Erin, 1862

J section of the ledger for the town of Erin. Note the remarks on fitness for duty.

The Enrollment Act was hugely unpopular, especially among the poor. Draftees could avoid service if they could pay the government a $300 commutation fee. They could also hire someone to take their place. Both required that the draftee had the funds to do either and many poor people, especially among immigrant groups, did not. In Elmira, a group of concerned citizens began to collect funds so that poorer draftees with families to support could hire a substitute or pay the fee. 

Notice from the Elmira Daily Advertiser regarding the fund to help drafted men, April 10, 1865
Elsewhere, people rioted. The first round of the draft occurred on July 11, 1863 along with some outbursts of unrest in Buffalo, New York, and a few other cities across the nation. They were quickly quelled. On July 13, the day of the second draft pick, a group of firefighters began a riot at the Ninth District Provost Marshall’s office in Manhattan which lasted for nearly four days. Rioters attacked telegraph lines, police stations, newspapers, abolitionists, and blacks, before eventually being overwhelmed by additional troops. 

All told, only 2% of those who served in the war were draftees. Of the 168,649 men procured for the Union through the draft, 117,986 were paid substitutes. Only draftees 50,663 actually served, largely because they were too poor to avoid it. Some 120,000 men dodged the draft altogether, mostly by fleeing to Canada.