Thursday, August 26, 2021

Lucas County meets J. Ellen Foster

This is Judith Ellen Foster (1840-1910), of Clinton, generally believed to be the first woman to actually practice law in the courts of Iowa (although not the first Iowa woman admitted to the bar). Admitted in 1872, she also became in 1875 the fourth woman admitted to practice before the Iowa Supreme Court.

But it was in her role as a crusader for the temperance movement that she became widely known across the state --- promoting the idea (eventually embedded in the failed 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified during 1919 --- and repealed in 1933) that many of society's woes would vanish if the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating beverages were banned.

It was that crusade that brought her to Chariton during August of 1877 for two public appearances, one in the courtroom of the courthouse and the other at a temporary building called the tabernacle where Methodist revival meetings were in progress.

Representatives of both Chariton newspapers --- The Leader (politically Democrat) and The Patriot (politically Republican) --- attended, and their reports were quite different, reflecting their partisan positions. Here's The Leader report from its edition of August 18:


"Many who attended the lecture of Mrs. J. Ellen Foster at the courthouse on Thursday night left in disgust. The lecture consisted almost entirely of bloody shirt oration, with a few allusions to the cause of temperance and saloons. The next time Mrs. Foster starts out in the interest of Morton and his followers she will gain reputation by staying at home; at least she will not lose what little she has got, but may possibly make it up in notoriety."


Foster was a staunch Republican, as temperance crusaders tended to be. Morton was Indiana U.S. Sen. Oliver Perry Morton, a contender during 1876 for the Republican presidential nomination and a leader in the Senate among those most dedicated to preserving and fostering Republican-dominated governments in former Confederate states. And "bloody shirt oration" referred to speeches that included calls to avenge the Civil War dead, a tactic used by both Republicans and Democrats at the time, depending upon their geographical location.

The reporter for The Patriot would not have been fazed by political references that may have been included in Foster's remarks, so his report on Aug. 22 focused instead on her temperance message:


"Mrs. J. Ellen Foster, of Clinton, Iowa, spoke at the Court House last Thursday night and at the Tabernacle on Friday night. Her remarks on both evenings were listened to with attention. Although not a fluent speaker she handled her subject --- temperance --- so forcibly and with such earnestness that it had marked effect upon the hearers. At the Friday evening meeting she presented some figures of startling import, viz: That during the first 15 days of August, 1,095 gallons of beer had been drunk in Chariton, which at retail prices would show $1,315.20 squandered for that one kind of drink alone. At that rate for a year it would foot up the large sum of over $30,000. We understand that Mrs. Foster organized a temperance society among the ladies, and succeeded in inducing quite a number to sign the pledge."


My only question after reading these contrasting reports is, how many gallons of beer do you suppose were sold in Chariton during the first 15 days of August 2021?

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