H. Paul Prigg was the kind of man who liked to live on the edge.


In 1914, he joined the ranks of early automobile innovators when he opened a factory in Elwood that manufactured cyclecars, a type of tiny, lightweight car that could travel up to 50 miles on a gallon of gas.


In 1934, he set a world speed record of 38.54 miles per hour in a stock runabout motorboat of his own design.


And in November 20, 1918 - during a second wave of the deadly Spanish flu - he boldly defied local health authorities and stepped into the lobby of the Brevort Hotel in downtown Indianapolis without wearing a face mask.


Although Prigg's decision to flout the flu mask would not prove fatal - in fact, he would live for another 56 years - he and his two companions were promptly arrested, joining a handful of local scofflaws who were charged with profanity and other offenses after refusing to don a gauze "flu mask" as ordered by the Indianapolis Board of Health.

The Indianapolis Star, November 19, 1918

The mask mandate was imposed by board secretary Dr. Herman G. Morgan in November 1918 as a last-ditch effort to avert another wholesale shutdown of the city. Throughout most of October, all schools, theaters, movie houses, churches, poolrooms, bowling alleys, skating rinks, and “dry” beer saloons had been closed as the deadly flu swept through Indianapolis. Groceries and drug stores were allowed to remain open, but other retail shops in the downtown area were required to implement a staggered schedule in order prevent rush hour crowds on the streetcars, which were mandated to open their windows to improve ventilation.


These measures apparently worked their magic. Reported cases of the flu sharply declined, and on October 30, the shutdown order was lifted. Schools were set to reopen the following Monday. A semblance of normal life returned to the city, although Dr. Morgan - who was gaining a reputation as a bit of a killjoy - did urge residents to stay home on Halloween and avoid the downtown crowds.


But when the armistice with Germany was signed 11 days later, even the doctor's orders could not keep indy residents in their homes. Upon learning that the War to End all Wars had finally ended, a jubilant Mayor Jewett issued a statement asking the entire population of Indianapolis to gather on Monument Circle at 8 p.m. on November 11 to celebrate world peace.


And gather they did. Based on news reports, it appears that mostly everyone in the city chose to ignore Dr. Morgan's advice and instead headed to Circle to celebrate. According to The Indianapolis Star, cars were backed up for several blocks on each street leading to the Circle, which was packed with "thousands upon thousands of joy-mad pedestrians" in a "pandemonic pot-pourri."


The Indianapolis Star, Nov. 12, 1918

One week later, however, panic set in when local health authorities realized that the pandemonic potpourri surrounding the Circle on November 11 was actually a giant petri dish for the flu pandemic.


Nearly 700 new cases and nine flu-related deaths were reported in Indianapolis on November 18. The Board of Health acted swiftly to issue a mask mandate. According to Dr. Morgan, the board hoped that another "absolute closing order" could be prevented if the people of Indianapolis would simply mask up.


The Indianapolis mask mandate went into effect on November 19, 1918. Schools were also shut down, along with public libraries. Theaters, however, were allowed to remain open.


The following day, the Indianapolis Star reported that the mask order was "observed generally by the citizens of Indianapolis, so far as observation could show." Most streetcar passengers wore masks, although conductors made no effort to enforce the mandate. Businesses largely appeared to be in compliance, except for theaters, where most patrons declined to cover their faces.


Still struggling to recover from the October shutdown, theater owners promptly vowed to take action to enforce the order. At the Park Theater, for example, each patron received a free Red Cross flu mask with the purchase of a ticket to the featured movie, "The Other Man's Wife." Twelve other theaters - including the Circle, Lyric and Alhambra - ran a huge ad in the November 20 Indianapolis Star reminding patrons that they were required to wear their masks continuously throughout the entire performance.


At the same time, however, the theater ad also urged patrons to try the "Laugh Cure" while somewhat speciously asserting that "Clean, Wholesome Amusement is the World's Most Effective Antidote for All Ills."

The Indianapolis News, November 20, 1918

The seeming incongruity of an order that allowed movie theaters to remain open while shutting down public schools was not lost on the IPS School Board, which promptly wrote the Board of Health urging the reopening of city high schools. In response, Dr. Morgan pointed out that students are compelled by law to attend school whereas moviegoers have the option to decide whether to risk their lives by going to the theater.


Over the next few days, the number of flu cases continued to rise. Opposition to the mask mandate was also growing. Some Indianapolis residents complained that the masks impaired their ability to breathe and also exposed them to the risk of "self-infection." Others questioned the efficacy of gauze masks in preventing the spread of the deadly flu. And the comical effect on one's appearance of a huge piece of gauze likely dissuaded some of the more fashion-conscious locals from wearing a mask.

The Indianapolis Star, November 20, 1918. It's unclear from the text of the ad whether Ayres is promoting the chiffon veil as a covering for the mask, or as an actual mask.

The Board of Health attempted to use science and reason to assuage these concerns. Dr. Morgan pointed out that gauze masks - which had long been utilized by medical professionals - had been proven to be successful in preventing the wearer from both spreading and contracting infectious diseases.


A study published in the Oct. 12, 1918 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association backed up Dr. Morgan's assertion. Plates were placed in front of masked subjects at distances of up to 10 feet. No bacteria cropped up after five minutes of talking in loud tones, and only one plate at a distance of two feet showed two colonies of bacteria after five minutes of violent coughing. Conversely, plates as far as 10 feet away from unmasked subjects showed multiple colonies of bacteria after five minutes of coughing.


Despite the local Board of Health's efforts to persuade the so-called "mask knockers" that the face coverings were safe and effective, even the Indiana State Board of Health chose to ignore the mask mandate. When the State Board met in Indianapolis on November 20, none of its members were wearing masks. The State Board's secretary, Dr. John N. Hurty, later explained that the epidemic had grown to such proportions that wearing masks or shutting down schools and businesses would have little effect.


According to Dr. Hurty - who would later be revered as the "Father of Public Health in Indiana" and reviled as a proponent of eugenics - the epidemic just needed to run its course. As an example, he pointed to New York, where everything remained open, yet the flu did far less damage than in Washington, D.C., where the city shut down.


Following the Indiana State Board of Health's brazen refusal to comply with the Indianapolis mask mandate, a group of prominent citizens urged the local health department to enforce the order against scofflaws at the Statehouse and the courthouse.


As the letter made clear, however, their objective was not the protection of public health, but the invalidation of the mask order. Prosecution of high-ranking public officials for failure to wear a mask would quickly lead to a challenge of the order, the letter reasoned, which in turn would unveil the fact that Dr. Morgan lacked any authority to require the city to mask up.


One of the ringleaders of this effort was attorney Robert I. Marsh. This was not Marsh's first go-round with the local health department. Two years earlier, he represented local parents who were fighting a Board of Health order that required all school children to be vaccinated against typhoid fever. In an appearance before the IPS School Board, Marsh argued that the vaccine was ineffective and the order was illegal.


Marsh would later gain infamy in the 1920s as an attorney for the Ku Klux Klan and alleged co-conspirator in an effort to bribe former Gov. Warren McCray.

The Indianapolis Star, September 10, 1927

Two days after Marsh and his co-complainers submitted their letter to Dr. Morgan, the Board of Health rescinded the mask order. This decision, however, was not prompted by the letter but instead was based on a steep decrease in infection rates since the order had gone into effect.


In lifting the mask order, Dr. Morgan noted that "some opposition" had developed over the past few days but nonetheless praised Indianapolis residents for their spirit of cooperation, at least initially. "The wearing of masks enabled the city to continue business along at least partly normal lines," he told The Indianapolis News. "It prevented a large number of persons from being deprived of employment, a situation that would have developed if a closing ban on all forms of business had been established."


The Indianapolis News, November 25, 1918


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Updated: Nov 2, 2020

111 years ago, a 70-year-old woman from Indianapolis named Mary E. Nicholson made history as one of the first females – if not the first female — elected to public office in the state of Indiana.  A former teacher and administrator in the Indianapolis Public Schools, Nicholson beat four well-respected male business leaders to win a seat on the IPS school board.


Nicholson’s landmark election was orchestrated by an army of well-heeled women who established a city-wide political organization with workers in each ward who walked door-to-door in support of her campaign. Female volunteers were also recruited to stand at the polling places on Election Day and encourage incoming voters to cast their ballots for Nicholson.

Their grassroots strategy paid off.  Nicholson was swept into office with more than 10,000 votes cast in her favor.


It was an astounding victory for women in Indianapolis — especially given the fact that the ballots were cast by an all-male electorate.  As her campaign chairman later noted, “[H]ad women been permitted to vote… Miss Nicholson would have led the ticket by an enormous majority.”

The Indianapolis Star, November 3, 1909

Although other women had run for the IPS school board in the past, Nicholson was the first to succeed, largely due to the well-organized campaign chaired by Dr. Amelia R. Keller, the city’s first female physician and a leader in the Indiana suffrage movement.


According to Keller, the campaign’s primary strategy rested on the collective power of women to convince their husbands and sons to vote for a woman. “We are satisfied that many a man voted for Miss Nicholson just to keep peace in the family,” she told The Indianapolis News in November 1916.

Nicholson in her home, which stills stands on Broadway in the Old Northside. Photo provided by Hilary Barnes.

Keller and other suffragettes threw themselves into Nicholson’s campaign in hopes that a victory would finally pave a path to the polls for Indiana women. At the time, women in four surrounding states were allowed to vote in school board races. Even in Indiana, there was widespread support for granting women a similar franchise, based on the rationale that half of the students were girls and many of the teachers and administrators were women.


After Nicholson was elected, the absurdity of the situation gave suffrage supporters an even stronger argument. After all, how could a woman be qualified for public office if the law deemed that she was not qualified to vote?



Nicholson served four years on the IPS school board. Yet after her retirement in 1914 at the age of 75, it would still be another six years before she or any other woman could cast a ballot in Indiana.


The women’s suffrage movement got its start in Indiana in 1859, when a group of Quaker women lobbied the General Assembly for the right to vote.  It culminated on January 16, 1920, when the legislature finally ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment was subsequently ratified by Congress on August 18.


After 61 years of trying, the women of Indiana had won the right to vote. But with the general election less than three months away, this was no time for suffragettes to rest on their laurels.  The same women who had worked so hard to persuade men to give women the right to vote now had to persuade women to exercise that right.


The Indianapolis Star, January 17, 1920

Election officials set aside Saturday, September 4, for a statewide voter registration drive. An estimated 70,000 Indianapolis residents registered that day, including 30,000 “suffs,” as The Indianapolis Star dubbed the first-time female voters.  Other cities reported similarly large crowds of female registrants.


The success of the voter registration drive proved to be a short-lived victory for Indiana’s long-suffering suffragettes, however.  On September 10, the State Election Commission issued a controversial ruling that voided many of the female voters’ registration forms.


The Indianapolis Star, September 5, 1920

As election officials were compiling the paperwork from the registration drive, they discovered that a large number of women had either refused to give their age or had lied about it. This was a problem, because under the law in effect at the time, potential voters were required to state their exact age when they registered.  But in order to accommodate the delicate sensibilities of female voters who were coy about revealing their age, registration boards throughout the state had allowed women to simply write that they were “21 plus.”


According to Alma Sickler, president of the Indianapolis League of Women Voters, at least 40 of the 300 women who registered at the League’s office in the Chamber of Commerce building had either written “21 plus,” or had shaved anywhere from five to 20 years off their ages. But Sickler also told The Indianapolis Star that sensitivity to age was not confined to women voters, as she had personally witnessed a prominent businessman flatly refuse to reveal his age, while another man put his age down as 55 although everyone knew he was approaching 80.


The Indianapolis Star, September 10, 1920

Party officials on both sides of the aisle were worried that many women would readily give up their hard-fought right to vote if they were forced to reveal their true ages.  The issue was finally resolved in late September when the Election Commission determined that women who were hesitant to state their age could instead provide their date of birth.  However, any woman who had written “21 plus” would still need to correct her registration form.


A subsequent voter registration drive was scheduled for October 4. Meanwhile, the county auditor set up voting machines throughout Indianapolis so women could learn how to operate them in advance of Election Day.  The League of Women Voters also held a series of educational sessions – a so-called “Voters’ School” that was aimed at teaching the newly minted voters about the workings of government and the issues facing the candidates.


November 2, 1920 — Election Day — was unseasonably cold in Indianapolis. Despite the blustery weather, women flocked to the polls, some with four or five children in tow.

The Indianapolis Star singled out a Mrs. Anna Monroe of East 19th Street as the first woman to cast a vote in Indiana at 6 a.m., but this was later disputed by other women who also voted at 6 a.m.  In fact, precinct workers throughout the city reported that “the housewives were out in force long before the mere male voters fell into the [voting] line.”


Mrs. F.T. Reed of 3370 Broadway was an example of the dogged enthusiasm that drove women to the polls that day. She was headed out to vote when her car was overturned in a collision at 30th and Ruckle streets.  Badly bruised and shaken up, Reed was taken home in a city ambulance.  Undeterred, she rested a few hours and then returned to the polls to cast her vote.

The Indianapolis Star, November 3, 1920

All told, by the time the polls closed at 6 p.m. on November 2, 1920, 93% of the 76,000 registered women voters in Indianapolis had braved the harsh weather to go to the polls and, for the first time in their lives, participate in democracy.


Mary Nicholson did live long enough to see women get the right to vote to Indiana, and even to see the first woman elected to the Indiana House of Representatives.  But over time, her accomplishments have been largely forgotten.


In 1931, the IPS Board named School 70 at 46th and Central in her honor, but four years ago, the school was renamed CFI School 70.  There’s also no mention of her on the Indiana Commission on Women’s website, which lists a Catherine Dinklage of Fort Wayne as the first woman elected to public office in Indiana.


After researching the issue, I believe that honor really belongs to Mary Nicholson.  The Indianapolis educator is mentioned in numerous accounts as the first woman elected to the IPS Board, but it’s likely that she was also the first woman elected to any public office in the state of Indiana by popular vote. At least to date, I have been able to find no evidence to the contrary.


But regardless of whether she was first, or second or third, Mary Nicholson and her suffragette sisters set an example in 1920 that we all should follow.  During that historic election, 93% of the women registered to vote in Indianapolis went to the polls, a voter turnout that is almost unimaginable today.


The vast majority of women alive today have never lived in a world where they were denied the basic privilege of voting. And so we have come to treat this privilege lightly, to take it for granted.


Or as Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”

Early 1900s photo of the homes of Mary Nicholson (right) and her sister, Martha McKay, who was one of the city's most prominent suffragettes. Both homes fell into disrepair in the 1970s, and the McKay house sat boarded up and vacant for 50 years. Now, 100 years after women got the right to vote, the suffragette sisters' side-by-side houses have been restored and are home to young families. Photo provided by Hilary Barnes.
 

A previous version of this article was posted on HistoricIndianapolis.com in November 2016.

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Updated: Oct 12, 2020

Spring break 1968. Girl Scouts Gone Wild. Or at least that's how I recall one memorable day when I was 11 years old and our Girl Scout troop headed south from Kokomo to explore the big city. We toured the Statehouse, visited the Children's Museum, and then capped off the adventure by setting up camp at a motel in the 1500 block of North Meridian Street, just north of downtown Indianapolis.


The Manger Motor Inn was a far cry from our usual primitive accommodations. Not only did it have indoor plumbing, but according to a postcard I saved from the excursion, it was "Indianapolis' finest," with 178 rooms, a year-round swimming pool, and two dining options - the "elegant Hearth and Embers Restaurant" and the "luxurious Purple Tree Lounge."



As our Girl Scout troop gathered outside the motel to begin our trip back to Kokomo, I had no idea that the plot of land where we had spent the night had previously been owned by two swindling doctors, the Vice President of the United States and a founder of the city of Indianapolis. I did not know that two United States Presidents had once trod the same ground where my sneaker-clad feet now stood. And my 11-year-old self certainly did not foresee that by the time I entered high school, our ad hoc Girl Scout camp at 1522 North Meridian would gain infamy as one of the city's hot spots for prostitution.


But some 50 years later -- thanks to the saved postcard -- I did remember the name and location of the Manger Motor Inn when a fortuitous find on eBay started me on an electronic road trip through time that began with the founding of Indianapolis in 1820 and ended two centuries later in a vacant lot behind Walgreen's.


View of Hampton Court, looking west from Meridian Street.

Earlier this year, a seller on eBay auctioned an article from the January 1917 issue of The American Architect that featured plans for Hampton Court, an elegant new apartment complex in Indianapolis. I was unfamiliar with Hampton Court, but after a few Google searches, I discovered that the since-demolished luxury apartments shared the same location as the former home of Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks, the Manger Motor Inn, and the vacant lot behind the Walgreen's where I had purchased my pandemic masks the day before.


As this is the city's bicentennial, that got me thinking about the layers of history that lurk beneath the surface of every piece of property in present-day Indianapolis. Many of the buildings we see today on the main streets heading to downtown are just the latest costume change in an ever-evolving city that must continuously adapt to survive.


From forest to farmland to residential to commercial, a single plot of land on North Meridian could easily have been the site of an Indian camp, a farm house, a mansion, a gas station and an office building. If dirt could talk, each piece of property would have quite a story to tell. But to paraphrase a famous line from an old TV show, "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This is just one of them."


The recorded history of 1522 N. Meridian dates back to January 6, 1821 - the day that the General Assembly approved the selection of the new state capital and voted to name the city "Indianapolis." In accordance with the legislation, Gen. John Carr of Clark County was elected as agent of the state and three commissioners were chosen, including Samuel Booker of Wayne County. This group was tasked with hiring a surveyor to lay out the city. To Indianapolis' good fortune, Alexander Ralston was retained.


Carr was responsible for advertising the sale of the first lots, which took place 199 years ago this week. He also plunked down $560 for property at the northwest corner of Delaware and Washington Streets - the highest price paid for land in the fledging city. Directly across from the lot set aside for the courthouse, Carr's choice corner lot was a safe bet to soar in value as the city grew. Property outside of the newly platted city - the so-called "outlots" - was far less valuable but still viewed as a potential investment.


The original 1837 plat for St. Clair's Addition shows 7 lots on each side of North Meridian stretching from present day 10th to 16th Streets.

In November 1822, Carr and Booker pooled their resources and paid $1 an acre for 80 acres in outlot 12 - an area roughly running from 10th to 16th streets between Illinois and Pennsylvania.


Booker died the following year, and in 1825, Carr sold the land to John Johnston for $400. Then in 1834, Arthur St. Clair purchased a portion of the property for $450, and subsequently platted it into 14 large suburban lots lining both sides of North Meridian Street.


Over the next few decades, a handful of mansions would be built in St. Clair's Addition, but nearly half a century would pass before development reached Lot 14 on the southwest corner of present-day Meridian and 16th streets.


In 1887, local pump manufacturer Albert S. Comstock purchased the southern half of Lot 14 for $5,840 and built a gracious Victorian home. After he died in 1901, Charles W. Fairbanks bought the house and land for $17,000.


Fairbanks was a U.S. Senator in 1902 when he and his family moved into 1522 N. Meridian, but his political star was rising fast. In 1904, Fairbanks was selected as the running mate for President Theodore Roosevelt. As was the custom in those days, the contenders for the top of the ticket eschewed the national party conventions, and instead were formally "notified" of their selection by a party of dignitaries who traveled to their home.



The Notification Committee departed from the English Hotel around noon on August 3, 1904 and drove parade-style to Fairbanks' home at 1522 N. Meridian in a procession led by the Indianapolis Military Band and 100 or so members of the Marion Club clad in blue serge suits, white gaiters and caps of the "automobile variety."


The conduct of the guests as they gathered on the lawn of Fairbanks' flag-draped home was described by The Indianapolis Star as "dignified." Notably, "dignified" was not the same term used by the Star some 60 years later to describe the three men arrested on the former site of the aforementioned lawn for "entering the bedroom of the opposite sex" and "associating with a prostitute." But the downfall of 1522 N. Meridian from Vice President to vice squad mirrored the metamorphosis of the near northside in the first half of the last century.


In May 1907, President Roosevelt stayed at the Fairbanks' home when he traveled to Indianapolis to dedicate the statue of Gen. Henry W. Lawton on the courthouse lawn. Four years later, President William Howard Taft visited 1522 N. Meridian during a trip to Indianapolis to deliver a speech to the Marion Club. But as The Indianapolis Star noted, the Fairbanks family would soon depart the 1500 block of North Meridian for a newly built home a mile and half north. This meant that Taft's visit would be the last hurrah for a gracious old home that had earned a place in the city's history.

The Indianapolis Star, July 2, 1911

The following year, Fairbanks' home was purchased by Dr. David M. Bye, who then leased it to his son-in-law, Dr. L.T. Leach. Dr. Leach ran a sanitarium across from Military Park that boasted spurious claims of cancer cures and was eventually shut down in 1929 after the Indianapolis Better Business Bureau called it "the most disgraceful institution that has ever been permitted to operate for any length of time in the City of Indianapolis, and one of the worst, if not the worst, in the whole country." His father-in-law was no angel of mercy either, peddling a mail-order "cure" for cancer that was later found to be a combination of cottonseed oil and tonic.


In 1915, Leach convinced his ailing father-in-law to transfer the deed to the Fairbanks home to him. This transaction was later overturned as fraudulent because Bye was of "unsound mind," but not before the house was demolished and replaced with luxury apartments.


When the new Hampton Court apartments opened in the summer of 1916, they were touted as "the most attractive and interesting apartments" in the midwest, with each three-story unit beautifully decorated and boasting its own servants' quarters.


Some of the city's most affluent families were among Hampton Court's earliest residents, but by the time former Indianapolis Star managing editor Lawrence S. Connor and his family moved there in 1934, most of the apartments housed large Catholic families who took in boarders for extra money.


But despite the changing demographics, the 1500 block of North Meridian was still a nice place to call home. As Connor chronicled in his 1995 book, "Hampton Court: Growing up Catholic in Indianapolis Between the Wars," Hampton Court "was a wonderful place for a child." Neighbors looked out for one another, children played on the large front lawns, and no one ever remembered to lock their doors.


Hampton Court, as featured in The American Architect, January 1917

Hampton Court was demolished in 1962 to make way a luxury motel. When the Manger Motor Inn opened in May 1963, The Indianapolis Star hailed it as "progress" and a "worthy addition" to the city's quest to reclaim its position as a first-rank convention spot.


And for the next few years, the Manger lived up to its hype. The mid-town location was well-suited for events, and the Purple Tree Lounge was a popular nightspot for both locals and tourists, featuring the piano stylings of Susan Gilner, a "vivacious, red-head" who sang in five different languages.


True to its name, the Purple Tree Lounge actually featured a purple tree of sorts.

But by the late 1960s, midtown was beginning to melt down. Employees at the Purple Tree Lounge were held up at gunpoint in September 1966. Then in 1968 - the same year that my Girl Scout troop stayed there - three men were arrested and fined $1 each for "entering the bedroom of the opposite sex and associating with a prostitute." The following year, a local salesman was arrested at the Manger for recruiting teenage boys to sell packets of pornographic photos.


In 1971, the Manger was converted to a Quality Inn, although "quality" was a bit of a misnomer. By that time, the stretch of North Meridian from 15th to 23rd streets had turned into the infamous "strip," with prostitutes openly vying for customers from every street corner.



Over the next 25 years, the property began cycling through a series of owners. The Quality Inn became a Ramada Inn which turned into the North Meridian Inn which was reopened as a Howard Johnson's. Then in 1995, any pretense of quality was stripped away when the once-modern and luxurious motel was converted to an Econo-Lodge.


In 2006, Sandor Development purchased the old motel and the adjoining lot to the north and announced plans to build a new Walgreen's drugstore at the corner of 16th and Meridian. A 7,000 square foot retail or office building was tentatively planned for the lot that formerly housed the home of a vice president, the Hampton Court Apartments, and the Manger Motor Inn.

14 years later, the lot behind Walgreen's is still vacant, like a stretch of unpainted canvas in the midst of a cluttered streetscape. But while the future story of the lot formerly known as 1522 N. Meridian has yet to be written, perhaps it's time we memorialized both its glorious and not-so-glorious past. Here's a suggestion:




 

Click on the arrow to the right to see 1522 North Meridian through the years




Pictured below are Baist maps of the 1500 block from 1908 and 1941 and a 1948 Sanborn map. IUPUI Digital Collections.



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