Happy Women’s History Month. At the IDHH, we’d like to introduce Mary Salome Ott Brand –a childhood immigrant from France and an early settler of the North Shore of Chicago who cast her first ballot to vote at the age of 91.
In 1913, Illinois became the first state in the nation to grant women the right to the presidential vote. Women’s suffrage had slowly evolved since the 15th amendment in 1870 leading to the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. The right to vote was won in large part by the organizing and lobbying of woman’s clubs in communities across the nation. The diversity of materials in Highland Park Public Library’s Highland Park History Collection shows different elements of women’s history, both at the collective and political while also in the lives of individuals. The collections include women’s club minutes, photographs, and biographies constructed of newspaper clippings and stories transcribed by local historians and family members.
On Election Day 1916, Mary Salome Ott Brand left her house on N. Second Street in Highland Park to vote for the first time. At 91, she was accompanied by her son Orson, who documented his mother’s first time to the polls.
The fight for women to vote had been long fought. With Suffragette figures such as Susan B. Anthony well known, the struggle to vote was also fought by women in local communities through woman’s clubs and federations of woman’s clubs. Women in Lake County had been active in the conversation and activism of women’s right to vote. In 1916, The Woman’s Civic Club –later renamed the Ravina Women’s Club joined forces and merged with the Highland Park Woman’s club in in the 1960s –wrote they were “in favor of full suffrage for the women of Illinois as speedily as possible, therefore favor the adoption of an amendment to the constitution to that end” –meaning presidential suffrage –that would eventually become the 19th ammendment. Highland Park Public Library has several collections from Highland Park area womans’ clubs dating back to the early 20th century, including the Ravina Woman’s Club Records and Highland Park Woman’s Club Records.
Living in the North Shore during the civil war, the great migration, the fight for unions, and the fight for women’s vote, Brand’s life was certainly impacted by the changing political landscape and political awareness. The right to vote, at 91, was certainly reason enough to document.
Here is Brand at the polls.
In the obituaries that were included in Ms. Brand’s biographical file- along with stories she told a local historian, they universally describe Brand as a life-long resident of Lake County –which she was, after moving there. Photographs of her home continue to document what life in Lake County was like in the earliest part of the 20th century. For example, this picture taken by George D. Rice –another local documentarian I mentioned in a post in January.
Compared with her stories of the prairie as it was in the 1840s-60s, the rapid change from prairie to the north Chicago suburbs is immediately apparent.The Highland Park History Collection is definitely unique among the collections within the IDHH for having so many different forms of historical documentation. Meeting minutes, written local histories, and, of course, photographs build a well-rounded picture of subjects at the micro-local. The biographical files created by local historians in Highland Park and more broadly Lake County cover the lives of women during the early 20th century. Here is Mary Salome Ott Brand’s assembled biography.
Lastly, here’s a picture of her and her son together:
61 years ago yesterday, it snowed 25.5 inches in Galena Illinois. Irene Gillette set out with her camera to document the snowfall and show its impact on the streets of Galena.
The Galena Public Library District’s Galena Area Historic Photos Collection includes 1,100 photos of Galena from the late-19th to mid-20th centuries. Of the photos in the IDHH, 370 of them are Gillette’s photos of the everyday. From cocker-spaniels laying in the grass, and self portraits with quippy captions written on the reverse, Gillette’s attention to her surroundings seems to come from an intense familiarity with them, where mapping her town is less the point than showing its eccentricities; documenting unique and noteworthy moments, such as a historic snowfall, her photographs historicize everyday life.
Here are five photos from her walk around Galena on March 15th, 1959:
The rest of the Galena Area Historic Photos can be found at this page and all of Irene Gillete’s photos in the IDHH here. She’s one of my personal favorite photographs on the IDHH site. It’s always exciting to find a new photographer in the IDHH whose work in some way creates an image about the culture of their town. The entire Galena Area Historic Photos Collection is particularly unique, containing the photography of multiple amateur community documentarians.
A few months ago, we highlighted Mother Jones at Mount Olive collection. That look at coal mining was just a crack into the history of coal in Illinois.
Coal mines and mining, since the 1909 Cherry Mine Disaster, have been progressively more regulated. Regulation, often brought forth from union organizing, has decreased the number of deaths while increasing the standard of living for miners and their families. The history of mining and miners’ unionization and regulation are intimately tied to the labor and workers’ rights movements. But what are the other lenses with which to look at mining, miners, and mining safety with? Or how can we open the borders of Illinois history and discover its connections across the region, to create a deeper history of mining communities and miners lives? If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection at the Madison Historical from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville may be a good place to start.
In 1911, the first Mine Rescue and First Aid Contest was held in Pittsburgh. Four Mine Rescue Teams from around the nation competed. Eight years later, again in Pittsburgh, 24 mine rescue teams and 83 first aid teams competed against one another in a series of tests and emergency situations, judged, and scored as first responders. Coal mining rescue was already developing its own scientific discourse, with manuals and books such as “Mine Fires: A Preliminary Study” and “Outline of Mine Rescue Maneuvers”, published by the United States Bureau of Mines as early as 1912. In 1910, the Illinois Mine Rescue Station Commission was at work establishing three permanent mine rescue stations in Springfield, Benton, and LaSalle, meanwhile testing U.S.-made “oxygen helmets” which were new in the Americas but were already being used and manufactured in Europe. Standards for mine rescue were published by the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1920 that describes different procedures for entering mines, for evaluating conditions, and for testing rescue tools including their portable oxygen breathing apparatuses.
In 1930, a mine rescue team from Glen Carbon, Illinois traveled to Lexington, Kentucky to compete in the Nation Mine Rescue Competition, and did quite well, collecting accolades in mine rescue and first aid –including winning the Highest Honor in the Combination-Mine Rescue and First Aid category.
Glen Carbon was developed by the Madison Coal Company with the intention of turning it into a company town similar to Pullman or Granite City. Madison Coal operated four mines that remained resilient at the outbreak of the Great Depression, but struggled and gradually closed their mines as the Depression progressed. In 1932, as the demand for coal shrank to what it was at its peak– a mere 320 tons, as compared to 680 in 1918 –Mine #2, Glen Carbon’s most productive mine was closed. Perhaps because of the depression, 1930 was the last year of Coal Miners Rescue and First Aid Competition until it resumed a decade later. These images of the Glen Carbon Mine Rescue and First Aid teams, especially in their rescue uniforms, depict a change in mining that was fueled by advances made in rescue technology– particularly the “breathing apparatus”. The safety and safety training publications by the U.S. Bureau of Mines, created guidelines for miners and mining rescue that established a baseline notion of safety and rescue procedures relying heavily on the use of portable oxygen even before the breathing masks were widely used in the United States.
Here the champions are in their day clothes:
The IDHH has an abundance of images of mining and mining communities in Illinois, spanning the late 19th century to the 1980’s. The number of materials on mining in Illinois also shows a broad range of issues that surrounded mining including the fight for the power of the union, and other advances in mining. For more on mining from Glen Carbon and Madison Historical visit the IDHH, and to see the entire Glen Carbon Heritage Museum Photograph Collection visit Madison Historical’s website.
Happy Black History Month. As I’ve written before, so much of the work we do at the IDHH is focused on how people document history. For Black History Month, we’ve been thinking of ways that the community members can engage in the conversation of Black history, and the African American experience by visiting museums in Illinois and exploring digital resources. We’ll have another post coming later this month that highlights a collection, but for the meantime here are a few notable collections relevant to Black history and culture available at the IDHH as well as some resources that we hope will help build context with our collections when thinking about the African American experience.
Galesburg, the largest city in Knox County Illinois, was the first city in the nation settled as an anti-slavery society. Founded in 1837, and a known site on the underground railroad, Galesburg hosted the fifth Lincoln-Douglas Debates (written about previously here). Even though Galesburg welcomed African Americans as early as the 1840s the struggle for equal rights played out in the city just as it did in other communities across the nation. Struggle and Progress- African Americans in Knox County, Illinois from Knox College brings together photographs, documents, manuscripts, and newspaper clippings to document the struggle for civil rights in Knox County while illustrating the culture and everyday life of African Americans in Knox County. The Amos Kennedy Collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library contains work from the printmaker, paper maker, teacher, and book artist based in York, Alabama. His books, postcards, posters, and paper-based sculpture address race freedom, equality and violence. His work often includes proverbs from people of Africa alongside images, and poetry from African American poets. The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Chicago Urban League Photos gathers over 20 years of the social service, research, and advocacy organization’s history. Founded in 1910, the Chicago Urban League’s focus has evolved from social services to speaking up for the need for employment, Black owned business, and affordable housing and equitable education. CUL’s relationship with UIC’s School of Sociology brought community studies and statistical tools to the front of the conversation in shaping public policy.
The career of Eugene B. Redmond, the Poet Laureate of East St. Louis, started in East Saint Louis at the birth of the Black Arts Movement. As it developed over the next 30 years into a critical and poetic voice responding to life in the U.S., Redmond carefully documented and collected artifacts relating to the movement. The EBR African American Cultural Life digital collection is a selection of the 10,000 photographs, posters, and pamphlets from the Eugene B. Redmond Collection at Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville’s Lovejoy Library. The digital collection includes photographs of poetry readings, conversation with Black poets, events, and art.
Our contributors’ collections are gems in their own right. There are so many other collections though that interrogate and contextualize Black History, that give even more life to what we have on the IDHH. Here are a few more:
Last year, to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we turned to the Chicago History Museum and their Prints and Photographs Collection and highlighted Declan Haun’s photojournalism of Dr. King’s activism, including his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, the 1965 Selma-Montgomery marches, and the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement. To celebrate his life this year, we’re featuring more of Declan Haun’s photography from Chicago History Museum’s Prints and Photographs Collection: this time, looking specifically at some of the more impressive photographs from the Selma to Montgomery March. Haun moved to Chicago in 1963 and documented the fervor of standing up for equality that Dr. King inspired among millions of Americans during the later years of the Civil Rights Movement. Haun was notorious as a free-lance photojournalist for the strong sense of social conscience for his subjects, translating his compassion into attention to the composition and formal aspects of his photography.
The Selma-Montgomery marches were three separate marches, held along the 54 mile strip of highway between the small city of Selma to the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. It was organized as a voting rights march to counter systemic voter registration obstruction in Alabama and across the greater South. It was also a response to the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson that February, who was shot by a state trooper during a non-violent march.
The first demonstration on March 7th became violent, when state troopers assaulted unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas when they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The organizer, Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious, and the press published a photo of her lying on the bridge.
On Tuesday March 9th, clergy from across America joined the marchers as Dr. King led them towards Montgomery along the same route. The marchers turned around on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, obeying a federal injunction that prevented the march from crossing into the unincorporated part of Dallas county. That night a white mob murdered James Reeb, a minister from Boston who had traveled to Montgomery.
Haun’s photographs of the march depict the realness of the events, and retell the story of Dr. King’s impact and the fight for civil rights with details and compassion that could otherwise be overwritten. Photographs of people assembling along with the necessary and uncurated and often invisible parts of organizing and fighting for rights such as living rooms filled cots and mattresses to house people from out of town aren’t just a statement about the stakes and drive of people, but actual evidence of the energy that went into fighting for civil rights.
The IDHH is pleased to announce that all contributing institutions will be featured on the IDHH website’s Browse by Partners feature. This is the first of several site updates planned for 2020 in response to user feedback after launch. Like everything else we do, this website feature relies on good metadata. In order to optimize search and discovery and sorting and faceting sort results, consistent contributor names are essential.
Now is a good time to review your institution’s name as it appears in your metadata records to check for any inconsistencies. To start, checkout the Browse by Partner page and see if you can find your institution. If you discover anything unusual about the way your institution’s name appears on the page, such as duplication or misspellings or if your institution’s name simply does not show up, we highly recommend remediating your institution’s provider field metadata. As always, contact the DPLA’s metadata manager, Joshua Lynch, if you have any questions.
The data provider field is the DPLA Metadata Application Profile label for the contributing institution name. CARLI member contributors include the institution name in the collection field, dcterms:isPartOf. Other institutions will generally need to include the institution name in the dcterms:provenance field. This field is not repeatable; if you have multiple dcterm:provenance fields in your records, only the first will be used by the DPLA as the name of your institution. Be consistent with this field. The institution’s name should be the same value across all of your institution’s records and collections. Otherwise, collections will be fragmented between multiple provider names that are really from the same institution.
There are some best practices for this provider field metadata. Please include only letters: no special characters. Special characters may break the way institution names display on the Browse by Partners page or in the catalog. In a similar grain, please do not include URIs or URLs in the provider field metadata. These links may break the website and are redundant: each of your institution’s records in the IDHH and DPLA catalogs links back to your local collections automatically. Finally, please keep your institution name short: the shorter the better. If there are multiple terms for your institution, present or not in your metadata, we recommend opting for the shortest one. This makes your institution name easier to read and more digestible to the average user and thus, your materials more findable! Also, extremely long contributor names can take up a lot of space on the Browse by Partners page and in catalog Contributing Institution widget. For more information, please consult the IDHH Metadata Best Practices guide.
So much of our work at the IDHH is focused on photographs, but so often we overlook the history of photography in the 20th century- specifically how photographs and the camera became the way we documented our everyday life.
In celebration of the darkest time of the year and the lights of the winter holidays I want to highlight lantern and glass slides from Mount Prospect Library’s “Dimensions of Life in Mount Prospect”, The Museum of the Grand Prairie through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s “Teaching With Cultural Heritage”, and Highland Park Historical Society’s “George D. Rice Collection”.
The Magic Lantern was an early projector. Originally invented in the 16th century, projectionists would move painted glass slides behind the lens to create performances and shows. Only lit by candle light, the projection was weak. In the 19th century, small kerosene lamps were mass produced and replaced other, more dangerous illumination methods. Kerosene in part popularized lanterns and put them in churches, schools, homes, fraternal societies and more in the hands of amateur projectionists.
This Magic Lantern from Mount Prospect Public Library’s is a German import from the early 20th century. With 37 glass slides, it projected scenes onto a wall, and included crayons for creating personal slides for new projections.
Mount Prospect Public Library’s “Dimensions Of Life in Mount Prospect” includes photographs and descriptions of artifacts from residents of Mount Prospect from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With artifacts ranging from horse-hair mittens, to glass soda pop bottles, the collection shows how the early days of Mount Prospect and the northwest suburbs of Chicago were influenced by its German heritage and American identity before World War II when the village suburb’s population exploded.
The Museum of the Grand Prairie (formerly known as The Early American Museum) has a large collection of painted glass slides that children could use with toy lanterns.
These awesome images would be projected on screens, showing sequences and small cartoonish and kitschy ethnographies and scenes of the everyday from ambiguous places.
Compare these slides to the glass lantern slides from the George D. Rice Collection at the Highland Park Historical Society.
Mother Jones is one of the most recognizable figures in the labor struggle of the 19th and 20th centuries. Dressed in all black, wearing outdated dresses and speaking with a thick Irish brogue, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones is known as a fierce union and workers’ rights organizer. In The American Songbag, Carl Sandburg suggests that the folk song “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is based on Mother Jones’ labor organizing around the mines of West Virginia. Her imprisonment in a 1913 labor strike is celebrated by a West Virginian Historic Highway marker: “PRATT. First Settled in the early 1780’s…Labor organizer ‘Mother Jones spent her 84th birthday imprisoned here.” It’s been 89 years since her passing on November 30th, 1930. Although we’re a few weeks late, we wanted to commemorate her passing as an occasion to discuss the Mount Olive Monument and connection to the Virden Massacre. But how did she become to be buried in a small town, alongside a memorial for an event she was not present for, but claimed the lives of seven miners? Mount Olive Public Library’s collection, “Mining and Mother Jones in Mount Olive” contains images of mining in Mount Olive and the story of how one of America’s most famous labor organizers and leaders was buried in a small town in Southern Illinois.
Coal and mining has a long history in Illinois- Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet observed coal along the banks of the Illinois River. In the early 19th century, attracted to farming opportunities, anglo-americans began their migration to Illinois from Appalachia and then from around the world, and started using coal as fuel. By 1818 coal production was taking place along the banks of the Big Muddy River as coal outcropping from river banks was easily harvested.
Coal mines were, and still are, the economic powerhouse for many communities across Illinois, and so prominent that towns were named after the fuel, like Carbondale and Coal City, and Diamond (named after “black diamonds”). A coal boom in the 1860’s rocked the relatively small mines that had been powering Illinois and other parts of the Americas for the past 50 years. It coincided with the expansion of railroads across the state, connecting the most-rural parts of Illinois to growing metropolises urgently in need of coal, and moving further into a fully industrialized economy.
The first small unions were reported in 1861, but were short-lived, and often overpowered by the first monoliths of coal mining. Poor working conditions in mines, working seven days a week for low pay balancing the physical cost of labor in the mines prompted unions to begin to form with more vigor. The labor movement, with its epicenter in Chicago, radiated along the railroad lines being built across the nation, carrying union values to places like Virden, and news about the working conditions and hardships to organizers like Mother Jones. By the 1880’s workers’ rights was a national conversation. Federations of unions were forming creating the linkages between the full economy, and strengthening the human ties across class in a country in the adolescence of its industrialization. Mary Harris “Mother” Jones lost her dress shop in the Chicago Fire of 1871. The city’s rapid rebuilding brought a new intensity to the politics of a city that was already economically stratified and growing rapidly through industrialization. The Knights of Labor, an industrial union open to all workers held meetings that Mother Jones’ attended and became radicalized through. The Knights of Labor had become popular with Pennsylvania coal miners in the 1870’s and shared a close friendship with Miners and Mine Laborers Benevolent Protective Association. Together, the two organized wildcat strikes across industry lines, demanding an eight hour workday, better pay, and working conditions. After the Haymarket Riots of 1890, the two unions merged into the United Miners Association. Deeply empathetic to the struggles of coal miners and their families, including the harsh conditions in the mine, and the virtual indentured servitude of being forced to live in high-cost company housing and shop in high-cost company stores on low company pay, Mother Jones made the rights of miners and their families her champion cause.
In 1898, the Virden-Chicago Coal Company was the largest coal producer in the state. An Illinois-wide strike had led to negotiations between representatives of the Company and union representatives. However, worried that the agreement would raise the costs of the coal so high that it would make their coal unable to compete with other companies’ coal on the Chicago market, the Virden-Chicago company made arrangements to bring in 50 non-union African-American miners from Alabama, advertising rates of 30¢ per ton of coal.
Strikebreaking with African American workers certainly stoked racial tensions in Southern Illinois and the Labor Movement, a region that was still struggling with racism, poverty, and the fall-out of the civil war. The southern third of the state was surrounded by slave holding states and created a crucible for racial tensions as it intersected with poverty. The United Mine Workers itself was racially integrated and included chapters in Alabama of African American miners who had warned against strikebreaking in Illinois. Written into the initial constitution of the UMW was the inclusion of all people, under the principle and theory that for there to be power in the union, the number of members had to rise. Mining remained one of the few jobs available to African Americans in the Southern Appalachian states including those in North East Alabama. UWM’s inclusion, met both needs. Virden-Chicago Coal Company’s decision to advertise to and employ non-union miners, was an active decision to skirt the union and negotiations made that summer, and in doing so, capitalize on the racism and racial violence. It exploited a promise of a better life for African Americans, while also creating a deeper and more entangled conflict between the white dominated labor unions and African Americans.
The union struck the mine at Virden, furious that their concessions had not been met. On October 12th 1898, a train with the Alabaman strikebreakers arrived at Virden. Beside the would-be miners, were guards armed with rifles, sent to protect the Alabamans from the miners at Virden, who they knew would be armed. Frank W. Lukens, a manager for the Virden-Chicago Coal Company requested that Governor Tanner send in the National Guard to ensure that the strike breakers would have safe entry to the mine, but was refused. As the train pulled into the minehead’s tracks, the union surrounded the train and the guards inside opened fire. The massacre–as it was described later– only lasted 10 minutes and left seven miners dead and 30 more wounded. 4 guards were also killed, and an unreported number of Alabaman workers wounded. The train pulled out and retreated for Springfield. The entire day, the stakes were incredibly high and incredibly clear to all involved except the strike breakers, who were kept in the dark of the strike and the mounting violence in strike breaking. Riots continued for the rest of the day. Seven dead miners first buried in the Mt. Olive cemetery, some 45 miles away from Virden and the site of the massacre- but after the original donor of the land objected to the Union demonstrations commemorating their death, the union began to fund raise for its own acre of burial space. It is the only union owned cemetery in the nation.
Mother Jones was not at the picket line during the Virden Massacre. But after speaking at the cemetery in October 1923, in memorial of the massacre, wrote to the miners asking that they allow her to be buried alongside the miners who gave up their lives in the massacre.
A large part of Mother Jones’ organizing took place in West Virginia throughout the chaotic Coal Wars between 1912 and 1930. Virden preceded them, but ushered in a strong unionism that extended across the rural midlands of the United States east of the Mississippi. Today, a monument that celebrates her life and the lives of miners stands at the cemetery.
Are you traveling somewhere for the holidays? Take a moment to relax and imagine yourself in some of the more ideal accommodations from Pullman State Historic Site as found in their vintage advertisements from The Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic. The Pullman State Historic Site collection includes nearly 5,000 digitized items from the Pullman Historic Site, the former planned industrial community that specialized in luxury sleeper cars, providing a unique lens into a very intentional joining of civic and everyday life and manufacturing. Far before the Midwest bloc was referred to as “fly-over country”, Pullman cars contributed to a modernized image of the prairie, consistently promoting a “comfortable, convenient, and safe” alternative to cramped travel. In her recent book The Heartland: An American History Kristin Hoganson argues that “The heartland myth insists that there is a stone-solid core at the center of the nation,” which is isolationist, resistant to change, and geographically static. These advertisements directly support that argument representing a historic change of persisting economic growth in the Midwest’s legacy of movement, migration, and seizure. The Pullman advertisements’ specific brand of modernism and modernizing travel depicts spacious, comfortable cars that are conducive for individual and family travel, and suitable even for silent-film star Gloria Swanson. Compare her experience to your probable one on the road, or in the air this Thanksgiving.
I personally really love the grid system that gets repeated in these advertisements, that build out the entire Pullman itinerary, including the “Short Lesson in Anatomy”.
Additional Sources: Hoganson, Kristin L. The Heartland: An American History. Penguin Books, 2019.
August, September, and October saw another anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, a watershed moment in Abraham Lincoln’s political career and the end of slavery in the United States. Today in history, on November 7th 1858, incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas defeated Lincoln’s bid for the senate that had spurred their debates around Illinois. At the IDHH, we are looking back to our contributor the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s “Picture Chicago” and “Teaching with Digital Content (Cultural Heritage Community)” collections to rethink how the relationship between Lincoln and Douglas existed outside of the narrative of the famous 1858 debates.
Both these collections put items from a common cultural heritage in conversation with another, across the typical physical, institutional, and organizational lines that risk siloing these items. The Picture Chicago Collection, includes over 600 images originally published in books about Chicago and digitized by the University of Illinois’ Urbana and Chicago campus libraries, including photos of old Chicago, the city’s gangsters, and early municipal-industrial feats such as the Post Office’s pneumatic tube system and turning the direction of the Chicago River.
Slavery’s expansion into the new territories had been a fraught national debate for 40 years preceding the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 established the 36°30′ parallel, Missouri’s southern border, limiting the expansion of slavery above that line for all future territories west of the Mississippi River. 30 years later, the Compromise of 1850 was a bricolage of policy that designated California a free-soil territory in exchange for stricter fugitive stage laws in . Four years later, Stephen Douglas introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the prohibition of slavery north of 36°30′ in exchange for “popular sovereignty”, the notion that federal territories could decide for themselves in territorial legislature whether to prohibit or allow slavery, created a deeper rift in the increasingly divided nation. Some believed that Dogulas’ promotion of popular sovereignty and give those with a stake in it immediate agency. Abolitionists took advantage of this, creating a small movement of people rapidly moving to Kansas to overwhelm polls. Open violence between abolitionist and pro-slavery militias became the norm in Kansas prompting the New-York Daily Tribune to name the territory “Bleeding Kansas”.
When the Supreme Court decided in the 1857 Dred Scott decision that neither Congress nor the territorial legislature could exclude slavery from a territory, both the doctrine of popular sovereignty and the compromises were delegitimized and voided. The overlapping policies, compromises, and rulings that continued to permit slavery’s expansion created an increasingly tense and violent political situation with the morality of the nation, the economic spine of new territories, and the lives of 3,000,000 enslaved people all at risk.
At the Republican Convention in Chicago, Illinois Republicans announced that if they won control of the house in the 1858 elections, they would unite in sending Lincoln to the Senate to succeed Senator Douglas- a national spokesman for the Democratic party who had been in the Senate since 1842. In his acceptance speech, now well-known as the “House Divided Speech” Lincoln took a firm stand against the spreading of slavery into territories and attacked popular sovereignty as a naïve form political idealism, citing that neither Congress nor the Supreme Court had respected popular sovereignty as it came to slavery. He claimed that this was a crucial point in deciding either the expansion of slavery to all corners of the country, or abolishing it for good. “‘A house divided against itself cannot stand,’” Lincoln wrote. “ I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” Lincoln’s platform, the total abolition of slavery or moral grounds to create a more just and united house, differed entirely from Douglas’ belief in territorial legislative governance.
After seizing the nomination, Lincoln spoke in Chicago the day after Douglas, challenging the latter’s appeal to popular sovereignty. When Douglas traveled to Springfield for another speech, Lincoln followed, again attacking popular sovereignty the day after Douglas spoke. After Lincoln’s speech in Springfield, Lincoln and Douglas chose to debate in the seven remaining Congressional districts around Illinois. The debates were each three hours long, and were held in Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy, and Alton, between August 21st and October 15th. Douglas’ political fame and the gravity of slavery expansion attracted national attention from newspapers. People flocked to the debates, with especially large crowds in Freeport, Quincy, and Alton.
In the Freeport debate, Lincoln challenged Douglas to defend popular sovereignty against the Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court decided that slavery could not be excluded from territories, regardless of territorial legislation. Douglas’ words “It matters not what way the Supreme Court may hereafter decide as to the abstract question whether slavery may or may not go into a Territory under the Constitution, the people have the lawful means to introduce it or exclude it as they please” rejected the certainty of the Dred Scott Decision, thereby establishing himself as a politician who would continue the spirit of compromises that were becoming bloody. The Freeport Doctrine, as it became known, alienated voters in both the northern free-states and the southern slave-holding states. Historians agree that this doctrine ultimately cost Douglas the presidency in 1860, but elevated Lincoln’s appeal to abolitionists across the Union.
Douglas went on to serve another term in the Senate, with the Democrats winning control of the Illinois General Assembly in the 1858 election. The debates continued to make an impact on the political climate. After the election, Lincoln collected the transcripts of the debates from newspapers and rigorously edited them, removing strategically manipulated text published by partisan newspapers looking to make one candidate or the other incompetent, and published them as one volume.
The stakes were incredibly high, with both the moral spine of the rapidly expanding nation and the lives of millions of people being directly impacted. Looking at the objects in the IDHH provided by the University of Illinois Library’s Digital Collections, we can look closer at the relationship between Lincoln and Douglas past the narrative of the debates, the “House Divided” speech and the Freeport Doctrine. In a letter written by Lincoln to Joseph Cunningham, a judge and newspaper publisher living in Urbana, Illinois Lincoln reflects on “crossing swords” with Douglas at their first debate in Ottawa the day before.
“The fire flew some,” Lincoln wrote to Cunningham, “and I am glad to know I am yet alive. There was a vast concourse of people– more than could near enough to hear.” Lincoln and Douglas had known each other and been debating for 20 years before hand, meeting first in the then-state capitol Vandalia and debating multiple times in the 1840’s and meeting for several concurrent speeches in the 1854 campaign. Their report was already well established, but could be easily overlooked, especially considering the political influence Douglas carried with him as the “Little Giant”.
In fact, the closeness of the political circle in Illinois, radiating outwards from the circuit courts, created a culture in which the political overtly crossed into their personal lives. It’s well known that Mary Todd Lincoln was courted by both Lincoln and Douglas in the 1840’s, shortly after moving to Springfield from her Lexington home. But an even more impressive proof of the proximity of Lincoln and Douglas is the story of these two life masks, made by Chicago sculptor Leonard Volk.
Douglas, a cousin of Volk’s wife Emily Clarissa Barlow, sponsored Volk to study in Rome. Upon his return in 1857 Volk chose to open a studio in Chicago, and created a life mask of Douglas.
The following year, Lincoln was introduced to Volk by Douglas himself during the debates. Lincoln, having read of Volk’s work, promised to sit for him for a bust the first chance he had. In an 1881 essay “The Lincoln Life-Mask and How it Was Made”, Volk recalls waiting nearly two years to see Lincoln again. In April 1860 while visiting Chicago, Lincoln finally came to sit for Volk in his studio on Washington and Dearborn Street, coming daily before court opened. Volk chose to create a plaster cast of Lincoln’s face and torso to base the bust from, rightly betting that Lincoln would only be in Chicago for a short while. The life mask that Volk created is one of only two life masks of Lincoln.
Volk continued to build a reputation as an artist and educator in Chicago. In 1866, along with a group of other Chicago artists founded the Chicago Academy of Design, which would become the School Art Institute of Chicago. He continued to create work based off the likeness of Douglas and Lincoln, including creating the Douglas Tomb and Memorial in Chicago and the statue of Lincoln on the east front of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.
It is so easy to overlook the connections these figures had when considering the historical narrative and the stakes at hand. These objects help us remember the reality of their lives, while also bringing these cultural heritage objects to life. The Volk life masks became the templates for images of Lincoln and Douglas, and the reproductions of the Lincoln bust found in town halls, libraries, schools, court rooms and more across the nation. For more Lincolniana, including the legacy of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, see all items related to Lincoln and Douglas on the IDHH.
Volk, Leonard W., et al. “The Lincoln Life-Mask and How It Was Made Reprinted from the Century Magazine for December, 1881: by Permission of the Century Company.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 8, no. 2, 1915, pp. 238–259. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40194303.