Henry J. Feltus, A Newspaper Editor of the “Old School”

Blog post by Rod Spaw

Viewing events through a political or ideological lens did not start with the internet, Fox News or MSNBC. It was not uncommon, in fact, for newspapers throughout much of U.S. history to rely on political patronage for their success. Even when the advertising model of business took over in the 20th century, many editors still touted their politics in news and opinion columns.

One notable practitioner of this “old-school journalism” in Bloomington was Henry James Feltus, who published newspapers here for 51 years, beginning in 1875. Feltus came to Bloomington from Greencastle at the behest of local Democrats who had seen “their paper” taken over by Republican owners, leaving the party without a vehicle to promote its views. An invitation, however, did not guarantee profitability, as Feltus recounted 25 years later in an article commemorating his silver anniversary as a Bloomington newspaper publisher.

Henry Feltus in a photo dated 1889 from the MCHC Collection (2009.099.0453)

“It took a great deal of nerve to publish a Democratic paper in Bloomington, as all previous efforts in that way had failed,” Feltus wrote, citing four unsuccessful attempts by other publishers before the first issue of his newspaper, the Bloomington Courier, appeared on October 28, 1875. Indeed, the first years of the Courier were rocky financially, the editor recalled, in part because of the fickle faith of Monroe County Democrats, who had not enjoyed great electoral success since the Civil War.

“After the first issue of the Courier appeared, about a dozen Democrats concluded to raise a ‘bonus’ of $300, which they did by going on a note to the First National Bank for that amount. I signed the note also, and when it became due, the bank was told by my ‘bonus’ friends to make it out of me,” the editor recalled.

The bank sued for repayment, which Feltus said began a series of difficulties with the county sheriff, Republican L.E. McKenney, who did not care for the “roasting” the editor handed out regularly to Republicans in general, and Republican county elected officials in particular.

“This was something the latter, especially, were not used to, so about every issue of the Courier brought a visit from the sheriff who insisted on the payment of the (note),” Feltus wrote in 1900. “The income of the office then was barely enough to meet living expenses, as but a few Democrats were loyal enough to pay in advance for the paper for fear it would fail or sell out to the Republicans.”

Feltus wrote that he always managed to make a payment on the debt to thwart the sheriff until the entire amount was repaid. He said the newspaper’ fortunes improved in 1878 when a Democrat was elected County Auditor for the first time since 1863. “This gave the Courier considerable ‘official pap’; hence it had comparatively smooth sailing,” Feltus wrote. “Finally, a good many Republicans began to admire the ‘pluck’ of the Courier and recognized that they had not only a good local paper but a ‘foeman worthy of their steel’ politically.”

As if proof, Feltus’ recollections of his early days in Bloomington did not appear in the Courier, but in the Bloomington Telephone, a Republican newspaper begun in 1876 by Walter Bradfute. Bradfute and Feltus became friends, despite being opposites politically. The two men even partnered during the 1880s in operation of the town’s Opera House, located on the second floor of a building on the south side of the courthouse square.

Feltus’ Democratic credentials remained intact despite his friendship with Bradfute. He was appointed Bloomington postmaster during the second term of Democratic President Grover Cleveland (1893-1897), and Feltus was elected in 1880 to a seat on the Bloomington City Council

Feltus sold the Courier in 1894, but his absence from local newspapers was brief. In 1895, his son Harry started a weekly newspaper, the Bloomington Star. Henry subsequently joined the editorial staff, as did Henry’s only daughter, Gertrude. Later, son Paul also would become a partner in the business.

The Bloomington Star became the Star-Courier in 1942 and continued as a Feltus family enterprise until ending publication in 1965. Henry J. Feltus died in 1926 after a short illness at age 80. He still was writing for the newspaper at the time of his death.

Sources: “Early trials and triumphs in starting Democratic newspaper,” Bloomington Telephone, Nov. 30, 1900; History of Morgan, Monroe and Brown Counties, 1884; “Story of Feltus Newspapers or Yesterday and Today,” Bloomington Star Courier, March 11, 1952; “Last Rites for Veteran Newspaper Man,” Star Courier, Jan. 15, 1926.

Whetsell’s Shoe Store

Blog post by Hilary Fleck

While looking through our postcard collection, I found this photo postcard of Whetsell’s Shoe Store with an amazing reflection in the store window of the County Courthouse.

I looked through the directories in our Research Library and discovered that the store was located on the south side of the square at 107 W. Kirkwood Ave., what is now Mirth. I searched our collection database and found another, earlier image of Whetsell’s Shoe Store.

In this photograph, which is dated “1896” on the reverse, you can see a reflection of the second Monroe County Courthouse in the window above the door and the bell tower in the large windowpane with the shoe display. Through the open door behind Ed Whetsell, the owner of the store and whom appears in both images, you can see the tall wooden shelving laden with boxes of shoes ready for sale. If the date on the reverse of the photograph is correct, that would mean that the two images are at least twelve years apart because the construction of the new and current courthouse was completed in 1908. According to directories in our library, the entry for Whetsell’s Shoe Store no longer appears after 1926. An advertisement for the store claims it was established in 1885 and that it was the earliest dedicated shoe store in Bloomington and served residents for forty years.

The History Center’s collection contains a pair of women’s oxford shoes that were sold by Whetsell’s and has a store mark on the insole of the shoes.

A pair of shoes that were sold by Whetsell’s in the collection at the MCHC.

A Famous Novelist Comes to Bloomington

Blog by Rod Spaw

Author Theodore Dreiser had not seen Bloomington in 25 years when he arrived on Aug. 26, 1915. It was his 44th birthday, and the writer of “Sister Carrie” and other novels was on a two-week tour of his native Indiana by automobile.

His means of conveyance was a brand new, 60-horsepower Pathfinder touring car owned by the illustrator Franklin Booth, Dreiser’s friend and fellow Hoosier traveling companion. At the wheel was a young man they called “Speed,” who served as driver, mechanic and navigator.

The three men were on the final leg of a 2,000-mile trek, which had begun on the streets of Manhattan. They already had visited the many places Dreiser’s family had lived in Indiana – Warsaw, Terre Haute, Sullivan, Evansville – and they would include a stop in Bloomington where he had spent the 1889-90 academic year as a college freshman.

There was no fanfare for Dreiser as he entered town that day. No one recognized the author as he wandered about for part of the afternoon. The next year, the whole country would learn of his trip with the publication of “A Hoosier Holiday,” which is considered one of the first so-called “road books” in American literature.

Before continuing to Booth’s family home in Carmel, Dreiser and his companions would have lunch, visit places the author had lived while at college and walk the campus.

The author found Bloomington much changed from the town he first had experienced as an 18-year-old fleeing the drudgery of menial labor in Chicago.

“The former small and by no means cleanly post office, with its dingy paper and knife-marked writing shelf on one side, had been replaced by a handsome government building suitable for a town of thirty or forty thousand,” he wrote in “Hoosier Holiday.” “A new city hall, a thing unthought of in my day, was being erected in a street just south of the square. New bank buildings, dry goods stores, drug store, restaurants, all were in evidence. In my time, there had been but two restaurants, both small and one almost impossible. Now there were four or five quite respectable ones, and one of considerable pretentions.”

It was quite a contrast to his initial impression of Bloomington. “Then, it was so poor and very simple,” he wrote. “I saw more tumble-down wagons, rheumatic and broken-down old men, old, brown, most-covered coats and thin, bony, spavined horses in the Bloomington of 1889 than I ever saw anywhere before or since.”

As for the student population of 1889, Dreiser’s description sounds not unlike what might be said of every generation of college student: “Here I met my first true radicals – young men who disagreed vigorously and at ever point with the social scheme and dogmas as they found it. Here I found the smug conventionalists and grinds seeking only to carve out the details of a profession and subsequently make a living. Here I found the flirt, the college widow and the youth with purely socializing tendencies, who found in college life a means of gratifying an intense and almost chronic desire for dancing, dressing, spooning, living in a world of social airs and dreams.”

Dreiser left IU after one year, convinced he had failed to acquire such skills as would allow him to escape the crushing poverty of his youth. Twenty-five years later, he remembered it as one of the most “vitalizing” periods of his life.

During his time in Bloomington, Dreiser recalled in “Hoosier Holiday,” he “dreamed much, idled, rested; and if at the end of the year I was mentally disgruntled and unhappy, physically I was very much improved. There can be no question of that. And my outlook and ambitions were better.”

These postcards, from the Monroe County History Center, are the same view as the postcards Dreiser purchased while visiting Bloomington.

Sources: “Hoosier Holiday” and notes of the author held by the Dreiser Collection at the University of Pennsylvania.

Commemorative Fishing at the History Center

By Wayne Hastings

My perception of my great grandfather Charles Ervin Wall has always been intricately tied to fishing. According to family lore, he was an expert fisherman who was commonly seen frying a dozen or two panfish even before the sun fully came up. If bluegills could talk, I am sure they too would attest to his skill and passion. A combination of stories and photographs of his prized trophies has kept the memory of him alive and vivid within our family. Without having ever met him, I feel like I have known him my whole life. 

The Monroe County History Center also has a collection of commemorative fishing objects that help keep memories of fishermen and women alive. Most commonly we have photographs. Here is a woman showing off a string of panfish that would have undoubtedly been fried. Ironically, we do not have a name, place, or date to remember her by so her story most likely lives on solely through her family. 

Collection ID: 2009.071.0086

Commemorative fishing plaques are usually more thoroughly documented such as this taxidermied largemouth bass. This fishing “trophy” gives us the name of the fisherman, the fish species, and the weight. I am sure if you had inquired, Ellis would have indulged you by further explaining how he caught it, where he caught it, and how an even bigger bass got away. 

Collection ID: 2011.011.0216

Interestingly, this style of commemorative art leaves the length of the fish to our imagination. Luckily, we have fisherman rulers like these to tell us ‘exactly’ how big our catches really are. This gag ruler from the old Schmalz’s Department Store reminds me of how much mythologizing is in fishing stories. One of my grandfathers once told me he had caught over a foot long bluegill from Lake Wapehani. Without any corroboration, it is hard to believe whether that is true or not. 

Collection ID: 1984.026.0083

Luckily for younger generations, everyone has a camera in their pocket at all times. Be sure to document your fishing trophies this summer not only as proof of your catch, but also as a way to preserve your own legacy. Your future grandchildren will thank you, as well as the History Center where your photographs may eventually end up.

The Disappearance of a Chambers Family from Smithville

Blog post by Randi Richardson

“It was heart rending,” according to her obituary, “one of the most pitiable sights witnessed in the south part of the county.” 

Mary Chambers, noted only as “Mrs. James Chambers” in her obituary, about 44 years age and a resident of Smithville, reportedly had been sick and running a fever for several weeks, but no one suspected anything serious until she suddenly grew worse.  On Friday, August 5, 1894, her misery was relieved by death. 

Her obituary described her as having been kind and conscientious.  She belonged to the Christian Church and was well respected in the community.  Among those who knew her, not one word detrimental to her life could be spoken. 

It was Mary’s orphaned children that prompted much of the community’s concern.  Her husband, James, had died several years earlier leaving “a large family.”  Afterward, although Mary did what she could to bring in money by keeping a boarding house, primary responsibility for the family’s support fell to a son, Roscoe, really only a child himself.  

In 1891 some Smithville boys, including Roscoe Chambers, got together for a group photograph.  The photograph was later loaned by Mrs. Lottie Robinson to a Bloomington newspaper for publication in a column titled “Our Bloomington of Yesteryear” No. 94.  Although the boys were named, no effort was made to match the name to a face.

A few months previous to her death, according to the obituary, Mrs. Chambers, married John Scott, a well-known farmer of Clear Creek Township.  It was noted that their wedded life was not exactly one of joy and happiness.  They subsequently separated and Mary filed suit for divorce.  The case was to have been tried in the September term of court at Bedford.

Now I have a curious mind, and I wanted to know.  Who was Mrs. Chambers, legally Mrs. John Scott? How long ago had her husband, James Chambers, died?  What happened to Roscoe?  How large was her “large family,” and what happened to those poor children.  Did the Chambers children end up in an orphanage?

Through research it was learned that James Chambers married Mary Souders in Monroe County on September 15, 1873.  In 1880, they were enumerated together in Polk Twp., Monroe County.  Both were 30 years of age and James worked as a farmer.  However, he suffered from rheumatism and had been unemployed for the entire past year.  There were also two children in the household:  Roscoe, age 6 and Pearl, age 2. 

James, a farmer, was not a rich man, not by any means.  When he died in 1890, the only evidence of his death was a brief obituary on May 20 in the Bloomington (IN) Telephone noting that “[H]e has been sick for some time.  He was a son of David Chambers who died by the side of the railroad a month or so ago.”  There was no official death record, no will, no probate and no tombstone to mark his grave.

An unidentified, Civil War soldier is readied for surgery.

Perhaps David’s obit would be more revealing, but that was not the case.   There was no autopsy; the only records pertaining to David Chambers’ death were a military-issued tombstone (name not included in the Monroe County Cemetery Index) in the Clover Hill Cemetery at Harrodsburg and a brief obituary in the Bloomington Telephone on April 1, 1890, where it was noted that David Chambers of Smithville, commonly known as “one-armed Dave,” died Sunday morning.  “He was found about one mile north of the Harrodsburg depot by the side of the railroad.  He had laid out all night.  He was an old settler and drew a very large pension.”  Military records indicate that David Chambers served as a private in Co. G, 31st Reg’t, Indiana Infantry.  His left arm was severely wounded in a Civil War battle that took place in Dallas, Georgia, on May 27, 1864, and was subsequently amputated.

After the death of James and his father, David, the next tragedy to befall the Chambers family was the death of Roscoe, James’ son who was left to provide support for his mother and siblings.  When his father died in 1890, Roscoe would have been about 16 years of age based upon his age, 6, in the 1880 census.  In 1893 at the time of his death, he was living in Smithville and would have been about 19 although, according to his one-line obituary, he was 21.    The cause of his death was noted as “lung fever,” commonly known today as pneumonia. 

Then, as noted above, Mary died—Roscoe’s mother, the family matriarch.  Who was left, if anyone, to carry on the family name?  The family genes?

The one other known member of this family yet unaccounted for was Pearl Chambers, Roscoe’s younger sister, who would have been about 16 at the time of her mother’s death. 

In 1896, Pearl’s name was found among Monroe County marriage records.  When she was about 19 years old she married Charles Litz, son of Benjamin and Elizabeth (Sullivan) Litz.  Four year later in 1900, they were living in Marshall Twp., Lawrence County, Illinois, with two small children:  Leo, age 3 and Roxy M., 9 months.  Earl Chambers, Pearl’s 14-year-old brother was also a member of the household.

At some point the Litz family returned to Smithville, Indiana.  They were living there in 1917 when Pearl was visited by her brother, Ben, from Wyoming.  Afterward the Litz’ located in Indianapolis.  Ben Chambers died there on December 5, 1936, at the age of 56 and single.  He was buried in the Washington Park East Cemetery in Indianapolis.  Pearl provided the information for the death record.

Pearl was also the informant at the death of her husband, Charles Litz, who died in Bedford, Lawrence County, Indiana, in 1957 at the age of 80.  He was also buried in the Washington Park East Cemetery. Near Ben. 

Pearl’s brother, Earl, married Ruth Carter in Lawrence County, Indiana.  They moved from state to state fairly frequently.  He died in Sarasota, Florida in September 1963.

With her siblings and husband gone, Pearl moved to Seattle, Washington, to live with her daughter, Roxie (Litz) Pfafman.  She died there in February 1966, survived by Roxie and two sons, Leon and Russell, both living in California.  Her remains were returned to Indiana and her funeral was held in Bloomington by the Greene and Harrell Funeral Home.  Burial was at the side of her husband and near her brother Ben in the Washington Park East Cemetery.

So we now have most answers to the above questions.  Although Mary was identified as Mrs. James Chambers in her obituary, legally she was Mrs. Scott at the time of her death because her divorce from John Scott was not yet finalized.  She has no death record or tombstone to confuse the matter by providing conflicting evidence.  Mary’s “large family” is believed to have consisted of four children:  Roscoe, Pearl, Earl and Ben.  Not really so large after all.  Mary’s husband, James Chambers, died in 1890 as did her father-in-law, David Chambers.  Neither man has a death record; only David has a tombstone, and it is of military issue with little information.  Roscoe, Mary’s son, died in 1893, without a death record or tombstone, at the approximate age of 19, not long after the death of his father.  There is no record related to the care of the surviving children after the death of their mother except than for Ben who lived with Pearl for a while after Pearl married.  Pearl, Earl and Ben all lived to be mature adults. The last survivor of the family was Pearl, the only one easily found in historical records.

Hopefully this information will be of some assistance to other researchers of the Chambers family.


  • David Chambers obit, Bloomington (IN) Telephone, April 1, 1890.
  • Mary (Souders) Chambers Scott obit, Bloomington (IN) World, August 9, 1894, p. 5.
  • Charles E. Litz obit, Indianapolis (IN) Star, September 27, 1957, p. 29.
  • Mary (Souders) Chambers Scott obit, Bloomington (IN) World, August 9, 1894, p. 8.
  • Roscoe Chambers obit, Bloomington (IN) Republican Progress, April 26, 1893.
  • Mary Ann Scott vs. John Scott—Divorce, Bloomington (IN) World, April 26, 1894, p. 3.
  • John Scott, filed for change of venue, Bloomington (IN) World, May 10, 1894, p. 1.
  • Monroe County (IN) Marriage Record, Mary A. Chambers and John Scott married in Monroe County on December 10, 1893.
  • James Chambers (erroneously indexed as Chambers James at Ancestry.com), 1880 Federal Census, Polk Twp., Monroe County, Indiana.
  • David Chambers, digital image of the tombstone available on FindaGrave.com.
  • David Chambers medical record, U. S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana; The Medical and Surgical History of the Civil War, available on Ancestry.com.

Over 100 Years of Innovation in the Kitchen

Blog post by Wayne Hastings

Within the last one hundred years there has been a vast number of inventions that have permanently changed how people cook and prepare meals. Modern kitchen appliances have progressively made cooking more convenient and has created gadgets we cannot imagine living without today. However, equally important are the inventions that are no longer convenient to use, yet inspired future change and innovations. To begin, consider the butter churn. 

Beginning in the mid-1800s, hand-crank butter churns were the most convenient way for households to have butter. These churns, like the one currently on display in the Education Room of the History Center, replaced wooden barrel churns by shortening the churning time to thirty minutes. However, since butter became widely available by the later half of the 20th century, churns quickly fell out of use. This period marked the rise of grocery markets and a growing reliance on store bought food. Churns are a reminder of how developments in the food industry can have an immediate effect on how we live our lives. Naturally, family members, especially women who led thoroughly domestic lives, stopped spending so much time in the kitchen and their role began to shift. 

Alfred L. Cralle, the inventor of the ice cream scoop.

Furthermore, it is critical to consider how kitchen innovations were also devices that resulted in sociopolitical change. Directly after the Civil War, many African American men and women became grocers and business owners in the food industry. Naturally, many of these entrepreneurs established themselves as accomplished inventors. In 1875, Alexander P. Ashbourne revolutionized kitchens by designing the biscuit cutter. Another important inventor was Alfred L. Cralle, who famously invented the ice cream scoop. While these inventions certainly shaped how we prepare food, it is important to ponder how a portion of Americans began shifting their notion of what African Americans can or cannot do. When slavery raged on in the early 19th century, it was undeniable that the role of African American men and women was decidedly hard labor. Perhaps inventions in the kitchen helped change that perception decades later. 

Forgotten or remembered, these inventions and many more have influenced our lives both within and beyond the kitchen. Come to the Education Room at the Monroe County History Center to see and learn about more inventions that have shaped how we spend time cooking and preparing meals. Waffle irons, citrus squeezers, and percolators have all influenced our lives in one way or another.

1894 Fire Leaves Stinesville in Ashes

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Fourteen miles northwest of Bloomington lies the little town of Stinesville, Indiana.  Founded in 1855, Stinesville was once a hub of Indiana’s stone industry.  By the early 1900s, the Hoadley Limestone Mill was the town’s primary employer, and when the mill was destroyed by fire in 1916, the town went into a decline from which it never really recovered.  A little more than two decades earlier another devastating fire challenged the survival of the community.  A lengthy description of that fire was front-page news on the August 9, 1894, issue of the Bloomington World.  It read as follows:

Stinesville is in ashes.  This was the word spoken by everyone Monday morning.  A closer investigation only proved the assertion.  The little town of quarries experienced the most disastrous fire ever witnessed in that prosperous little village.  The businessmen suffered a loss which will take some years to replace.

Two stonecutters passed through Bloomington Monday night on the north bound train en route to Stinesville to begin work at one of the mills.  On arriving, they immediately started for the mill to inquire for a lodging place.  In walking down the railroad track they noticed a small blaze in the barn of Millard Easton’s east of the track.  An alarm was at once sounded but before the villagers were aware of what was taking place, the fire was beyond control and their only course to pursue was to prevent it spreading.

An early photo of Main Street, downtown Stinesville, courtesy of the Monroe County History Center.

All the citizens were at once aroused by the “toot” of whistles and soon every available man was in line carrying water to pour on the adjoining buildings.  A telegram was also sent the Bloomington fire department and a special train was in waiting for them at the depot.  The chief desired very much to help the neighbor village but concluded it to be bad policy to leave the city with the steamer.

There was scarcely a perceptible breeze to aid the fire in its destructive work, but the buildings burned as if made of paper, and in a short time nothing remained of the houses but scattered debris which had fallen here and there.

When the fire had made its appearance in the stable, it took but a short time to spread to the adjoining sheds and stables which made a deadly fire trap.  Every vehicle in Stinesville was hauling water to save the buildings, and had it not been for their heroic work the entire business block would have been swept away and no doubt would have burned all the houses east of the railroad.

The hungry flames had soon consumed the barn where the fire originated and laid low the crib and poultry houses of Millard Easton adjoining the barn.  The barn of Charles Dunn was also in ashes as was the ice house, stable and warehouse of Steve Szatkowski, the saloon keeper.  While the flames were hottest it took but a minute to fire the more substantial buildings.  The restaurant of Mrs. Watts was soon in ashes, the Odd Fellows hall, the largest building of all, was entirely consumed.  The hot air in this building exploded and it is said raised the building from the foundation.  The two adjoining storerooms to Mrs. Watts, belonging to Clelland Easton and John Easton (having a hardware and grocery store), were soon burning.

The water carriers then made an effort to save the next room, belonging to Millard Easton.  They succeeded in keeping it from burning but not until after the east wall contiguous to the burning building, was entirely ruined.  Holes were driven through the tin roof and water was kept flowing over it to prevent the heat from firing rafters underneath.  The dry goods in the store were greatly damaged by the heat and water.

It required hard work to save the grocery store of Mr. McHenry’s and  also the K. of P. hall which caught fire several times but fortunately gained no headway.  The office of Dr. Stansifer, east of the burned block, was also in much danger.  Several times the sparks ignited on the roof but was extinguished.  The loss on the house, however, is considerable.  The estimate of the total loss by the fire, as given by those who suffered from its destructive flames, is $11,700, this is covered by an insurance of $5,500…*

There seems to be no question that the fire was the work of an incendiary.  The citizens informed the World representative that they were not minus a clue and would use all available means to find the guilty culprit.

About two months ago an attempt was made to burn the saloon of Pete Szatkowski by throwing oil on the side of the building and making a fire with boxes.  Fortunately it was discovered before any damage was done.

*The $11,700 loss in 1894 amounted to $354,898 in 2020.


Nancy Streets’ Close Encounter with the Roll-O-Rama Skating Rink

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Nancy Streets wasn’t just an ordinary somebody.  Her father was a dentist in South Bend and she attended South Bend schools along with her two older brothers.  Following her graduation, she enrolled as a freshman at IU-Bloomington and joined a sorority.  In 1958, as a beautiful sophomore majoring in Speech and Theater, her sorority nominated her as a participant in the 1959 IU Miss Indiana beauty contest.  No one, however, including Nancy, expected the win. 

On the night of the big event, as she turned to walk off stage, Nancy heard her name called.  She returned to the stage where, much to her surprise, the queen’s crown was placed slightly askew upon her head.  It was the first time in IU’s history that a Black woman won the title.  Nancy wasn’t the only one in shock as the flashbulbs began to pop.  And it wasn’t until 1988 that the IU Arbutus recognized her title.

Photo courtesy of IU Archives

Fast forward to April 13, 1962.  Nancy, the former beauty queen and several of her friends, both Black and white, decided to spend the afternoon at Bloomington’s only skating rink, the Roll-O-Rama, at 1103 W. Allen. It was owned and operated by Robert G. Jones, a native of Martinsville.  As you may or may not know, through the years Martinsville has gained quite a reputation as discriminating against Blacks.  And Jones didn’t fall far from the tree.

Nancy called the skating rink ahead of time to be certain it was open to the public.  She was assured that it was.  But when she showed up with her friends she was told it was a private club.  Jones walked to his office in the back and returned with a gun.  Rather than face the weapon, Nancy left quietly with the others.  Later, in July, she charged Jones with assault.

Did she win, you might ask.  Oh, no.  After four hours of deliberation, Jones was acquitted in Monroe County court.  But rather than stay around Bloomington, Jones left the area perhaps in search of a community more in line with his own thinking.  In April 1984 he died in Marianna, Florida, survived by his wife and two daughters, both residents of Monroe County.

In 2013, Nancy traveled from her home in Indianapolis to Bloomington where she was an honored guest at that year’s IU Miss Indiana contest.  By that time she had married, was divorced and the mother of three.  To the best of my knowledge she is yet living and now endures less discrimination than she did the year of her coronation.


  • Bloomington (IN) Herald Telephone, May 15, 1962, p. 1.
  • Anderson (IN) Daily Bulletin, July 26, 1962, p 14.
  • Robert “Bob” G. Jones obituary, Martinsville (IN) Reporter-Times, August 11, 1984, p. 10.
  • Charles Scudder, “A Queen Comes Home,” Indiana Daily Student, February 28, 2013.  Available online at A Queen Comes Home – Pride.IU.edu, February 1, 2021.  Originally titled “A Queen Comes Home” in the February 28, 2013, issue of the Indiana Daily Student.

Bloomington Women City Clerks 1935-2021

Blog post by Glenda Murray

Come see the exhibit, “See Her Run,” about women who have been elected to public office in Bloomington and Monroe County. This article focuses on one office over time–the office of city clerk-treasurer which became the office of the city clerk in the 1960s. Since 1935, the person who has held that office has been a woman for all but a few years.

Bloomington Evening World, October 31, 1942

Vanna Thrasher, a Republican, was the first women elected to public office in the city or the county. She served as clerk-treasurer in Bloomington from January 1, 1935-December 1947. The Daily Telephone in 1934 noted that “Miss Vanna Thrasher (was) the first woman to be successful in a political race in this community….” They also noted that she had been “for many years connected with the city administration.”1 In fact, she led the Republican ticket, winning by nearly 1000 votes over her Democratic opponent. She served with two Republican mayors during the Depression and World War II. In 1938 her Democratic opponent was Lydia Lake.

They were the only two women on the ballot, and Thrasher won. Thrasher won re-election again in 1942.

Thrasher was defeated by Democrat Orville Zell in the Tom Lemon election of November 1947. Zell did not finish his term. M. Helen O’Donnell Nave served from 1948-49, Carl Stewart from 1949-51, and Helen Zell, Orville’s wife, served in 1951.2 

In the 1951 city elections, both candidates for Clerk-Treasurer were women. Esther Leavitt, the Republican, beat Fred Jones in the Republican primary and then beat the incumbent Democrat Helen Zell in the general election as a part of the Republican sweep, which was led by Emmett Kelley as mayoral candidate.

Mary Alice Dunlap

Leavitt lost in the 1955 election to Mary Alice Dunlap, a Democrat. Dunlap began her work for the city in 1945 as a clerk in the water department and then managed the water department from 1948-52.  Dunlap became clerk-treasurer in 1956, when Tom Lemon started his second (non-consecutive) term as mayor. She was president of the Indiana Clerk/Treasurer’s League from 1959-62. She was selected to complete Lemon’s term as mayor in 1962-63 (about 18 months), when he resigned. Dunlap was the first woman to be mayor of Bloomington and the second woman to serve as mayor of a city in Indiana. In 1963 Mildred Shafer Moss ran in the Democratic primary against Jack Board. He won. Margaret Torphy was defeated by Howard Young in the Republican primary. Young beat Board in the general election. The 1963 election was the last time that two men were the candidates for clerk/treasurer or city clerk in the general election. Before the 1967 election Bloomington became a second-class city, with a city clerk instead of a clerk/treasurer.3

Marian H. Tardy, a Republican, served out Board’s term, becoming City Clerk on June 1, 1966. She had served four years as deputy county recorder and years as a legal secretary. In the 1967 election Tardy beat Catherine Stephens, a Democrat. Stephens had worked at Montgomery Ward, the Bloomington Water Department and was assistant manager at the License Branch when she ran for clerk.4

Grace Johnson

In 1971 Tardy ran for reelection. She suggested that a fulltime City Court was needed, as well as more storage, office space, and conference rooms. She suggested that a city-county building would be very helpful.5 Tardy was defeated by Grace Johnson, the Democratic candidate, who suggested better cooperation between the city and the county. She suggested the office needed to have better records of the work of the Common Council. The Herald Telephone touted Johnson’s experience, saying that she “had extensive secretarial experience in the IU Departments of Political Science and Radio and Television, and was for four years secretary to Dr. John Kenneth Galbraith, presidential economics advisor during the Kennedy Administration, while her husband was earning his doctorate at Harvard University.”6 In 1971 Francis X. McCloskey and the Democrats won most city offices, losing only one city council seat. Johnson left after two years and was replaced by Democrat Karel Dolnick.

Dolnick won election in 1975 against Republican Mona Peters. For part of that time, Dolnick’s assistant was Nora Connors. Some of the old city records were still in the police building at Fourth and Walnut. Dolnick and the city council ended up in a disagreement about who had the power to move records and the process to be used. Dolnick ran for mayor in the 1979 primary against McCloskey and lost.

In 1979 Democrat Nora Connors ran for city clerk, beating Republican Mary Yost.

Pat Williams served from 1982-99. She completed Connors’ term and was elected four times in her own right. None of her opponents were men. Williams also served as Democratic county chair for 14 years and served 12 years on Plan Commission.

Democrat Regina Moore served as the clerk from 2000-2015. Moore had no opponent in the 1999 general election, ran against Republican Matthew Stevenson in 2003, and ran unopposed in 2007 and 2011.7

Democrat Nicole Bolden was the first Black woman to hold elected citywide office, taking office in January 2016. She noted that she is the only LGBTQ+ woman of color to hold elected office in the state of Indiana. She ran unopposed in 2015 and 2019.  

As this brief review shows, since 1935 the City Clerk’s position has been held by women from both political parties except for a short period in the late 1940s and another in the mid-1960s. According to research summarized by a city clerk intern in the early 2010s, 23 men held the office for 66 years and 12 women have held the office for 72 years. Of the women, Vanna Thrasher held office 12 years, Regina Moore served for 15 years, and Pat Williams served for 17 years.8

  1. The Daily Telephone, November 7, 1934, p.
  2. Listing of City Clerks from the City Clerk’s Office. The World Telephone, Nov. 5, 1947, p 1, shows election results. The Herald Times, Feb 2, 1997, p 2, obituary of Margaret Helen Carpenter O’Donnell Nave. The Daily Herald Telephone, May 16, 1964, obituary of Carl O. Stewart, p. 2. The Herald Telephone, May 22, 1985, obituary for Helen Zell. 
  3. Bloomington Tribune, September 11, 1966.
  4. Herald Telephone, October 31, 1967.
  5. Herald Telephone, October 28, 1971.
  6. Herald Telephone, November 3, 1971, p. 21.
  7. Candidates listed on county election records, indexed by Lee Ehman. Available at the Monroe County History Center, https://monroehistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Elections-Chronological-Sort.pdf
  8. List of City Clerks from 1860 to the present, from Nicole Bolden, City Clerk, to Glenda Murray, April 5, 2021. The list was prepared by an intern when Regina Moore was clerk.


Blog post by Randi Richardson

On a moonlit night, under a star-studded sky, a melancholy, young man sat on the spooning wall situated on the south side of campus along Third Street.  It was late summer before the students returned to campus for the fall semester of 1927.  All was quiet as he pondered his life. 

Only a year ago he, too, had been a student at IU.  He had completed a law degree and gone to Florida to pursue a law career.  Unhappy with his career choice, he had given the pursuit up of law before he barely had time to begin.  There was also the matter of his love life.  He had cared deeply for two lovely young women but not enough to make a trip to the altar.  What lay ahead of him, he wondered?

As he pondered his future be began to whistle an unfamiliar tune.  It came out of nowhere.  And suddenly thoughts of his past were forgotten.  He focused only on the music that rang in his ears.  Arising from his seat, he raced several blocks to the Book Nook, a place where he had spent much time pounding out music on the ivories of a badly worn piano during his student days.  There he tentatively picked out the tune he had whistled.  During the next several months he worked to perfect it.  When he finished, he titled it “Star Dust.”

This life-size sculpture of Hoagy at the piano is located near the Fine Arts Building on the IU-Bloomington campus.

The young man, if you haven’t guessed by now, was Hoagland “Hoagy “ Carmichael.  Hoagy, a Bloomington native, was born November 22, 1899, the son of Howard C. and Lida Mary (Robison) Carmichael.  His mother was an accomplished piano player.  She favored ragtime and was sought after for dances held by local fraternities, but she also played at churches, the circus when it came to town and accompanied movies in theaters during an age of silent films.  Whatever she could do to support her family she did.  Meanwhile Hoagy’s father had tried his hand first at one thing and then another, never earning enough to live beyond meager circumstances.

Hoagy often accompanied his mother when she played in different venues.  He loved to hear her play and often slept beside the piano while she knocked out a raucous medley of tunes.   So it comes as no surprise that he developed a musical ear quite early.  His talent, which became quite obvious while a student at IU, expanded beyond the boundaries of Bloomington which brought him in close contact with other musicians who already were well known throughout the country.

Mitchell Parish was one such musician.  Like Hoagy, he abandoned the notion of practicing law and in 1919 was hired as a staff writer for music publishers on Tin Pan Alley.   In 1929, Mitchell and Hoagy collaborated to add lyrics to “Star Dust” later renamed “Stardust.”     It didn’t become a hit, however, until Isham Jones recorded “Stardust” as a sentimental ballad in 1930.  Between the ‘30s and ‘40s just about every prominent bandleader and singer performed it, making it one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century.   In 2004, Carmichael’s 1927 recording of the song was among 50 chosen by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Recording Registry established to preserve recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” 

To this day, “Stardust” has been recorded more than 1,500 times.  Contemporary artists who have recorded “Stardust” include, among others, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Ringo Starr and Rod Stewart. Recordings of “Stardust” by a variety of both old and new artists can be heard online at “50 Cover Versions of ‘Stardust’ That are Better Than Bob Dylan’s.”

Hoagy died in 1981 at his home in California at the age of 82.  His music, however, lives on including a number of songs that may be familiar to you but recorded by others such as “Georgia on My Mind” sung by Ray Charles.  For more information, check out Hoagy’s online biography or read the autobiography as noted below.


  • Hoagy Carmichael with Stephen Longstreet, Sometimes I Wonder:  The Story of Hoagy Carmichael (NY:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965).  NOTE:  This is an interesting, well-written book with many references to the people and places of Bloomington.