Title:
"The Homes of Indiana": Albion Fellows Bacon and Housing Reform Legislation, 1907–1917

Author:
Robert G. Barrows

Date:
1985

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 81, Issue 4, pp 309-350

Article Type:
Article

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"The Homes of Indiana": Albion Fellows Bacon and Housing Reform Legislation, 1907–1917

Robert G. Barrows

During the midst of the General Assembly session of 1913, the IndianapolisNews published a lengthy letter entitled "The Housing Bill." The letter's author, Albion Fellows Bacon, began by enumerating several objections to a bill under consideration in the legislature. Then, one by one, she proceeded to refute each of the arguments that had been raised against the measure. The proposed legislation, she noted, "does not mean that anything must be provided which decency does not demand. . . . Simply light and air, water, drainage, provision for waste and a degree of privacy, without which decency is difficult and home life is impossible." But it was not simply a matter of decency or of starry-eyed humanitarianism. "Against the great cost [to] the state in caring for crime and dependency," the bill represented "one of the few efforts made for prevention of the evils whose cure costs the state so much."1

The bill in question—"An act relative to the construction, alteration and maintenance of tenement houses"—had passed the Senate and was bottled up in a House committee when Bacon's letter, an effort to rouse public support, appeared in the News. On February 22 the Indianapolis press advised that the bill had been reported to the full House for consideration, and five days later the IndianapolisStar headlined an article "Mrs. Bacon Sees


  • Robert G. Barrows is an editor at the Indiana Historical Bureau and assistant editor of the Journal of the Early Republic at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. The author wishes to thank the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce for access to the records of the Indianapolis Commercial Club (records the Chamber subsequently donated to the Indiana Historical Society) and the Indiana Federation of Clubs for permission to use their historical records on deposit in the Indiana State Library. The research for this article was supported in part by a grant from the Penrose Fund of the American Philosophical Society.
  • 1IndianapolisNews, February 14, 1913.
Success Crown Years of Labor for Better Housing Statute." An editorial in the same issue recorded that the measure's passage was "the successful outcome of a campaign of several years originating with Mrs. Albion Fellows Bacon of Evansville and carried on by her with patience and unremitting zeal in the face of many rebuffs and discouragements."2

The story of that campaign, which had its origins in 1907 and was to continue until 1917, weaves together many threads of Indiana's history: progressive social reform, the women's club movement, public health, legislative politics, the Social Gospel. It is, moreover, a story of the impact of a single personality upon events. No one in the state had a better grasp of housing than did Bacon. Edith Elmer Wood did not exaggerate when, writing at the end of the decade, she observed that Indiana's housing legislation "has a certain human interest quality because it is so truly the work of one woman."3

Reform efforts of many kinds, proposed by reformers of many stripes, were an important part of the public agenda during the Progressive era. "Never before," observe two historians of the phenomenon, "had the people of the United States engaged in so many diverse movements for the improvement of their political system, economy, and communities." Their goals and remedies were varied (and sometimes contradictory), but progressives "made the first comprehensive efforts to grapple with the ills of a modern urban-industrial society" and to "intervene in economic and social affairs in order to control natural forces and impose a measure of order upon them."4

Indiana was not immune to these initiatives. The seeds of progressive reform had been planted in the state during the last decade of the nineteenth century when the General Assembly had "created an important body of political reform measures, albeit of a relatively moderate nature." Indeed, the closest student of Progressive era politics in Indiana argues that although the state "shared in the reform wave that submerged America nationally in the years 1900–16," the roots of those developments "lay deeper in time and reflected . . . the distinct native context in which they grew." Although the impulse ebbed during the earliest years of the twentieth century, the decade before World War I witnessed the enactment of notable reform measures.


  • 2 Indiana, Laws (1913), chapter 149; IndianapolisStar, February 4, 27, 1913.
  • 3 Edith Elmer Wood, The Housing of the Unskilled Wage Earner: America's Next Problem (New York, 19191, 85.
  • 4 Arthur S. Link and Richard L. McCormick, Progressivism (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1983), 2–3, 22.
[Figure]

ALBION FELLOWS BACON, C. 1910

Courtesy Indiana Division, Indiana State Library, Indianapoli

These included bills to regulate trusts, railroads, and private banks; a corrupt practices act; a public utilities commission; and a system of workmen's compensation.5

It is not surprising in an era of reform that housing conditions should have become a subject of legislative concern. The "Housing Question" was a subject much discussed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and an extensive literature on the topic was already available by 1900. Of particular concern was housing for those variously described as the "poor," the "working classes," or the "laboring classes."6

Housing reform in America had its genesis in New York City, the subject being "forced upon the attention of the city" by the "overcrowding incident to its being the initial port of entry for foreign immigration."7 Agitation for some form of regulation began in the 1840s, and the nation's first tenement law was enacted for New York City in 1867. Concern with this problem grew as urbanization continued apace during the last third of the nineteenth century. While not every city had a tenement problem, "nearly all had slums inherited from the free-wheeling expansion" of the era.8 Publication in 1890 of How the Other Half Lives, Jacob Riis's classic examination of tenement life, further focused attention on deficiencies in urban housing. The late nineteenth-century movement culminated with passage of the New York State Tenement House Law of 1901. Similar legislation was enacted shortly thereafter in New Jersey (1904), Connecticut (1905), and Wisconsin (1907).9

The origin of a crusade for statewide housing reform in Indiana can be dated with some precision. In October, 1907, the Indiana Conference of Charities and Correction met in Evansville. One of the conference's participants was Albion Fellows


  • 5 Clifton J. Phillips, Indiana in Transition: The Emergence of an Industrial Commonwealth, 1880–1920 (Indianapolis, 1968), 95–97, 99, 110, 120–21; Richard John Del Vecchio, "Indiana Politics during the Progressive Era, 1912–1916" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 19731, 42–43; John D. Barnhart and Donald F. Carmony, Indiana: From Frontier to Industrial Commonwealth (4 vols., New York, 1954), 11, 369; Jacob Piatt Dunn, Indiana and Indianans (5 vols., Chicago and New York, 19191, 11, 778–79.
  • 6 Robert C. Brooks, "A Bibliography of Municipal Problems and City Conditions," Municipal Affairs, V (March, 1901), especially 99–107.
  • 7 Robert W. DeForest, "A Brief History of the Housing Movement in America," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, LI (January, 1914), 8.
  • 8 Roy Lubove, The Progressives and the Slums: Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1890–1917 (Pittsburgh, 1962), 140.
  • 9Ibid., 140–42, 248; DeForest, "A Brief History," 10; Lawrence M. Friedman, Government and Slum Housing: A Century of Frustration (Chicago, 1968), 36.
Bacon, a resident of the Pocket City.10 Born in Evansville on April 8, 1865, a few weeks following her father's death, Bacon was reared in her mother's family home in the nearby village of McCutchanville. Apparently a good student—she wrote and illustrated poems while in her early teens and later was to exhibit considerable flair at both written and oral expression—she hoped to attend an art institute. Her mother could not afford the expense, however, so her formal education was limited to a country school and to Evansville High School, from which she graduated in 1883. In 1888, after several years service as a private secretary, she married Hilary E. Bacon, an Evansville merchant, and settled down to what a biographer has described as "the pleasant existence of the middle-class housewife at the fin de siècle."11 The union produced four children: Margaret (1889), Albion Mary (1892), and twins Joy and Hilary (1901).

While her second daughter was still a baby, Bacon was stricken with an illness that left her virtually a semi-invalid for some eight years. As her strength returned, she began to take a renewed interest in literature and art, but in little else. Only after her two oldest children contracted scarlet fever, presumably from schoolmates, did she begin to examine the environment of her community. She was profoundly shocked by what she discovered: "something was wrong, and I wanted to take hold somewhere."12 Take hold she did, becoming a "friendly visitor" for the city's associated charities and involving herself in civic and charitable organizations. She became convinced that unsanitary housing was the root cause of the social distress of which she was increasingly aware. When the Monday Night Club (an organization of civic leaders interested in social service that she had helped launch) established a housing committee, she became actively involved in the committee's work.13

It is not surprising, then, that Bacon had agreed to deliver a paper at the Evansville charities meeting describing "The Homes of the Poor" in her native city.14 Indeed, in the months immediately preceding the conference she had been active in an


  • 10 The best short biographical treatment of Albion Fellows Bacon is Roy Lubove's sketch in Edward T. James, ed., Notable American Women (3 vols., Cambridge, Mass., 1971), I, 76–78. See also Lubove's "Albion Fellows Bacon and the Awakening of a State," Midwest Reuiew (19621, 63–72, and Bacon's autobiographical Beauty for Ashes (New York, 1914), hereafter cited simply as Beauty.
  • 11 Lubove, "Albion Fellows Bacon and the Awakening of a State," 64–65.
  • 12 Bacon, Beauty, 21, 28.
  • 13 Lubove, "Albion Fellows Bacon and the Awakening of a State," 65–66.
  • 14 Albion Fellows Bacon, "The Homes of the Poor," Indiana Bulletin of Charities and Correction (June, 1908), 47–52.
effort to include tenement regulation in a building ordinance being considered by the Evansville city council. The proposed ordinance had been pigeonholed, however, and by the time of the conference she had apparently become convinced that local action was not the most promising way to proceed. Accordingly, she "took every opportunity to discuss the need of a state housing law with leading members of the conference." Most of her conferees supported the idea and Bacon's course was soon set: "I determined to get all the necessary information, and the advice of housing experts, then to compile different housing laws, and find some organization that would secure the passage of a state Iaw."15

Bacon had already begun to assemble information regarding the "housing question" during her work on the proposed Evansville ordinance, and these efforts continued during the winter of 1907–1908. Then in May of the latter year, she attended the National Conference of Charities and Correction in Richmond, Virginia, and participated in a roundtable discussion on housing. Here she met several leaders prominent in national reform efforts and came away with many new ideas and a list of housing materials to read. Here, too, she met C. S. Grout, director of the Charity Organization Society in Indianapolis. Grout informed her that his organization was conducting a survey of housing conditions in the capital city and that the Indianapolis Commercial Club, which was assisting with the investigation, was " ‘looking about for a suitable housing ordinance.’" He advised her to " ‘get in touch with them and interest them in the movement for a state law.’ "16

Back in Evansville, Bacon "rushed off letters hither and yon, for laws and books and pamphlets." Two of her correspondents were Jacob Riis and Lawrence Veiller, the latter the author of the New York tenement law of 1901 and the nation's acknowledged expert in housing reform. Both men provided useful advice, and in the early summer of 1908 Bacon set about drafting a state tenement law. With the draft completed and subjected to scrutiny for correct legal form, she double-checked the state statutes to make sure there was not already some obscure legislation on the subject. Satisfied "that Indiana would have nothing to say if her tenements were built fifty stories high, without a single window in one of them," she set about the task of assembling proof that the bill she had drafted was in fact needed.17


  • 15 Bacon, Beauty, 169–70.
  • 16Ibid., 170–71.
  • 17Ibid., 171–73.

The remainder of Bacon's summer and early fall was taken up by an extensive correspondence. First of all, she needed to obtain reliable information concerning housing conditions in cities other than Evansville and Indianapolis. To this end she sent a questionnaire to all the charities' secretaries in the state. The replies convinced her that "all the large cities, most of the towns, and many of the villages contained slums." Secondly, "realizing that housing reform was a new thought in our state, and that the responsibility of the landlord was an unpopular as well as an unfamiliar doctrine," she began a campaign of education. "The endless part of my task," she later remembered, "was the per sonal letters that simply had to be written. . . . Click, click, click, click, click, went the typewriter, from June [1908] till January [1909], all day from morning till twilight, with stops only for household cares or for the children."18

In October Bacon attended her second Indiana Conference of Charities and Correction, held at South Bend. Again she was on the program, this time with a paper discussing "The Housing Problem of Indiana."19 She also took along her draft of a tenement house bill, which the conference voted to approve. Equally important was the message conveyed by Grout, who also attended the South Bend meeting: " ‘The educational committee of the [Indianapolis] Commercial Club invites you to meet them at luncheon, as you return home, to discuss your housing bill.’ "20

The Indianapolis Commercial Club, forerunner of the city's Chamber of Commerce, was founded in 1890 for the purpose of promoting the "commercial and manufacturing interests and the general welfare" of the city.21 The club's directors had been an early target in Bacon's educational campaign and in her search for "some organization that would secure the passage of a state law." She had written them early in June, 1908, and her letter was referred to the club's committee on education. That body


  • 18Ibid., 173–74, 180–81. Asked if some of the drudgery of correspondence could not have been alleviated by a secretary, Bacon responded: "In a city of our size? A mother and housekeeper doing so much public work that she had to employ a secretary! That would have been a scandal, indeed, almost as bad as to have an office!" Ibid., 181.
  • 19 Albion Fellows Bacon, "The Housing Problem in Indiana," Charities and the Commons (later The Survey), XXI (December 5, 1908), 376–83. This piece also appeared in the Indiana Bulletin of Charities and Correction (June, 1909), 212–19.
  • 20 Bacon, Beauty, 184–85.
  • 21Annual Report of the Commercial Club of Indianapolis . . . 1891 (Indianapolis, 1891); "Articles of Association" of the Indianapolis Commercial Club (copy in the pamphlet collection of the Indiana Division, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis).
spent the next few months surveying housing conditions in the capital city and considering Bacon's proposed legislation. At a meeting of the committee in late September two club members (one of whom was Grout) were requested "to secure what information they could from Mrs. Albion Fellows Bacon, and, if they considered it advisable, to invite her to be present at a meeting of the Educational Committee at some future date." Two weeks later a five member subcommittee (again including Grout) was appointed "to examine and report upon the draft for a bill entitled the ‘Housing Act,’ and also to confer with Mrs. Albion Fellows Bacon, of Evansville, on her visit to the city next week."22

The fateful meeting took place on October 22, 1908. Grout had told Bacon privately that her letter to the club "had won by being practical and business-like." Fearful of spoiling that impression, she later remembered "checking myself in a description of the conditions of the poor, for fear I should verge on sentiment." The luncheon and meeting lasted three hours, and at the conclusion the committee expressed general satisfaction with the bill but asked if Bacon would go over it, word by word, with a subcommittee. She readily agreed, and a second three-hour meeting took place that evening. The subcommittee was chaired by Arthur W. Dunn (head of the Department of History and Civics at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis) and included Grout, Dr. John N. Hurty (secretary of the State Board of Health), and State Senator Linton A. Cox (R-Marion County). Dunn's subsequent report noted that Bacon's draft was "approved in all its general features" by the subcommittee and then "recommended to the Board of Directors of the Commercial Club for their endorsement."23 The club's board of directors approved the subcommittee's report and went on record "as favoring a housing bill."24

Bacon had succeeded in finding an organization to sponsor the bill, but to her surprise the Commercial Club men insisted that she lead the legislative fight: "we will stand back of you and do whatever you want done, but you will have to be the leader. . . . You will have to come to the legislature." "I saw my


  • 22 Meeting of June 16, 1908, Directors' Minutes, November, 1906-June, 1909, p. 287, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection (Indiana Historical Society Library, Indianapolis); meetings of July 1, September 30, October 12, 1908, Committee Reports, May, 1908-July 1909, pp. 23, 42, 46, ibid.
  • 23 Bacon, Beauty, 186–87; handwritten report by Dunn dated October 26, 1908, Committee Reports, May, 1908-July, 1909, p. 52, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection.
  • 24 Meeting of November 17, 1908, Directors' Minutes, November, 1906-June, 1909, pp. 330–31, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection.
self," she remembered, "with horror, a married woman with a ‘career.’ I saw my family, whom I had never left except for a few days, suffering for my care; . . . my husband, with a southern man's ideas of such things, his indulgence already strained. I saw my friends, disgusted at such publicity. I saw enemies, frowns,—brickbats!" She remonstrated that she had never seen a legislature in action, did not know what to do, and wanted no honor for herself. The committee members stood firm, however, and after a few moments reflection Bacon agreed to their request. She "took the leap," she recalled, "with the desperate deliberation of a suicide who jumps into the icy water."25

The tenement bill (a more exact term than "housing bill," since it did not propose to regulate all houses) was introduced in both chambers of the General Assembly on January 13, 1909, and assigned to the health committee of each house.26 In Evansville Bacon received the "dread summons" and hurried north by train, fearful of "doing the wrong thing, that would wreck the whole business." A joint meeting of the House and Senate health committees had been arranged for the evening of January 19, and Bacon was the principal speaker. Though hardly a novice at public address by this time, her fear of "doing the wrong thing" was not alleviated by the circumstances of this legislative hearing: some in her audience were "haggard and sleepy from a late caucus of the night before" while others came and went "with a slight confusion in the room." She later wrote: "I had thought to speak with some of the fire that burned within me, but my sentences seemed to me as if just taken out of an ice box."27 This self-assessment was clearly too modest. The next day a reporter from her hometown described her presentation as "eloquent," and an Indianapolis journalist noted that she "impressed the committee members as an advocate thoroughly conversant with the tenement-house question in Indiana."28

Bacon was followed by Dunn, who served as spokesman for a contingent from the Indianapolis Commercial Club. Dr. Eugene Buehler, secretary of the Indianapolis Board of Health, also


  • 25 Bacon, Beauty, 179, 188–90.
  • 26 The measure was designated House Bill 3 in the lower chamber and Senate Bill 51 in the upper house. Although both bills received consideration in both chambers, attention came to focus on the House measure and action on the Senate bill eventually ceased.
  • 27 Bacon, Beauty, 192, 196–97.
  • 28EvansvillePress, January 20, 1909; IndianapolisNews, January 20, 1909.
testified, telling of the "futile attempts to compel landlords to remedy evils in rooms and houses kept for lodging purposes." As the hearing concluded, Bacon recalled, "every one woke up, and, to my surprise, the meeting ended in enthusiasm, and we were given the assurance that both committees would report favourably on the bill."29

Two days later Bacon had an opportunity to sway more than just a legislative committee: she was accorded the rare privilege of addressing a joint session of the General Assembly. Describing her investigations of the homes of the poor, she "asked the Representatives if they would not make these homes fit for human beings to live in." With the heartfelt environmental determinism so common among Progressive era social reformers, she argued that "tenement houses . . . produced disease and criminals and forced young girls into the streets because of the fact that they could not entertain at home. These unfortunates were elbow companions with the children of the members [of the General Assembly] and others in the same class of life."30

While her address to the joint session insured that virtually every legislator had his "consciousness raised on the issue of tenement reform, the less ceremonial lobbying efforts engaged in by Bacon and her supporters probably had more telling effect. Before leaving Evansville for the capital she had secured photographs of some of the Pocket City's worst tenements, mounted them on cards, and added "sketches and suggestive titles" on the margins. They made "a very striking set of posters," Bacon thought, and she hung them on a line in the corridor of the State House.31 Her "entire days were spent at the state house" buttonholing members, explaining the bill to them, and showing her photographic display. When the legislators were busy, she talked with their wives. But she took care, as she put it, "to avoid sentimentality, and to stick to the practical issues, in a practical way, having ready all the business arguments in favour of the law. "32


  • 29IndianapolisStar, January 20, 1909; IndianapolisNews, January 20, 1909; meeting of January 18, 1909, Committee Reports, May, 1908-July, 1909, p. 80, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection; Bacon, Beauty, 197.
  • 30 Bacon, Beauty, 199–200; IndianapolisNews, January 21, 1909; IndianapolisStar, January 22, 1909.
  • 31 Bacon, Beauty, 175–76. Her hometown newspaper, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, remarked that "Mrs. Bacon has hung out Evansville's ‘dirty wash on the line,’ " and observed that "an interested crowd of statesmen and ‘just common people’ is always gathered" around the pictures. The article was headlined: "PICTURES OF OUR BACK YARDS ADORN (?) STATE HOUSE WALLS." EvansvillePress, January 22, 1909.
  • 32 Bacon, Beauty, 201.
[Figure]

DEATH KEEPS WATCH OVER THIS HOUSE

Reproduced from Albion Fellows Bacon, "The Housing Problem in Indiana," Chanties and the Commons, XXI (December 5, 1908), p. 376.

Bacon used graphic pictures of slums as part of her effort to persuade the public and the legislature of the need for housing legislation. The picutre above was part of a display prepared by Bacon for the legislature and later an illustration for one of the many articles she published on housing reform. The six pictures on the following pages are selections from among the photographs she used in her autobiography, Beauty for Ashes (New York, 1914), following pages 72, 90, 100, 168, 280, 328. The captions for these seven pictures are the ones used by Bacon.

[Figure]

"CHEESE HILL" EVANSVILLE

Notorious for vice, crime, murder. Torn down by city administration, 1914.

[Figure]

WHAT IDEALS CAN THE CHILDREN HAVE WHO LIVE HERE?

[Figure]

"COCAINE ALLEY"

A breeding-place of vice. Negroes and whites herd together in filthy, crowded dens.

[Figure]

THE UNANNEXED SUBURB

Filth, disease, vice, degradation unspeakable exist here, beyond reach of the city's laws.

[Figure]

WHERE THE WHITE DEATH THROTTLES ITS VICTIMS

[Figure]

DAY SHIFTS AND NIGHT SHIFTS USED THE SAME BED

Although Bacon possessed the technical expertise to explain the complex bill and was quickly understood to be an "ambassador of the poor" with no personal stake in the tenement bill, she had no background in legislative maneuvering. She needed help, she knew it, and she freely acknowledged such assistance in her memoirs. Besides the sponsors of the bill, Republican Ezra Mattingly in the Senate and Democrat Homer L. McGinnis in the House, she leaned heavily on the abilities and encouragement of Senator Cox, Representative J. Delbert Foor (D-Vigo County), and their wives. Foor, a physician, and Cox were on the health committees of their respective chambers and supported the bill both in committee and on the floor. Republican Senator William R. Wood, who was president pro tem in 1909, and Representative Jesse Eschbach, Republican minority leader in the House, were both recruited to the cause.33

The Indianapolis Commercial Club, of course, worked energetically for passage. In early March the club's legislative committee reported to the directors that "the active interest we have been taking in the . . . ‘Housing Bill’ is having effect." Also working behind the scenes was the secretary of the State Board of Health, Dr. Hurty. Bacon had originally contacted him during her letter writing campaign the previous summer (Hurty was also a member of the Indianapolis Commercial Club), and the two continued to correspond as the legislative session approached. Hurty was an old hand at dealing with the General Assembly (he had held his position since 1896) and made a number of practical suggestions. In addition, he arranged to convey an article by Bacon explaining the background and necessity of the proposed law to an agent of the American Press Association, which distributed typeset copies to member newspapers throughout the state. And during the Assembly session, when Hurty wrote letters detailing the measures "bearing upon the public health and morals of the people ... in which the State Board of Health is deeply interested," he never failed to mention the tenement bill.34


  • 33Ibid., 206–11. Throughout this article the political affiliations and districts of legislators are drawn from: Rebecca A. Shepherd et al., eds., A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly (2 vols., Indianapolis, 1980, 1984).
  • 34 Meeting of March 1, 1909, in Directors’ Minutes, November, 1906-June, 1909, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection; Hurty to Bacon, July 29, October 10, November 18, 21, December 8, 24, 1908, January 9, 1909, Hurty to T. B. Pearson, January 30, 1909, Hurty to Dr. Frederick Green, February 15, 1909, and Hurty to Eliza Wilson, February 18, 1909, all in Dr. John Hurty Letter Books, Records of the State Board of Health (Archives Division, Indiana Commission on Public Records, Indianapolis).

Following the joint meeting of the House and Senate health committees and Bacon's address to the joint session, the two bills began to wend their separate ways through the legislative process. The Senate bill (S.B. 51), when taken up for final action, was amended to apply only to cities of 50,000 or more population. Senator Franklin Kistler (D-Cass and Pulaski counties), who offered the amendment, argued that smaller cities should not be asked to meet the requirements of the statute. "He said that the matter was an experiment, and if the larger cities wanted a law of the kind, he would help them get it, but he stood opposed to any move to saddle the bill on the smaller cities of the State." Senators Cox and Mattingly opposed the Kistler amendment, the latter arguing that the bill should be passed as it stood since it was intended to protect "poor people all over the State who were forced to live in tenement houses." The amendment was approved by a vote of 30–18, however, and the bill then went on to final passage by a margin of 37–6.35

In the lower chamber, H.B. 3 was read a second time on January 26 and brought up as a special order of business on January 29. At this point several amendments were offered, and the bill, with all pending amendments, was recommitted to the health committee. It surfaced again before the full House on February 4, when it was considered section by section as amended in committee. The News reported that Bacon "trembled for the fate of her bill and flitted from member to member, as opposition showed itself. As action advanced and section by section the amendments were adopted unanimously, her spirits rose."36 On February 8 the committee report, with all pending amendments, was adopted and ordered engrossed, and one week later the bill came up for final consideration. Representative Charles Gauss, a Democrat from Marion County, made the only speech in opposition to the measure, reportedly arguing that "if the people of the state kept on being ‘so nice’ they would cease to live for lack of microbes to disturb them, an argument built up on the theory that a reasonable number of fleas is good for a dog." A sufficient number of House members were apparently "nice" enough since the bill was approved by a vote of 62–27.37


  • 35Indianapolis Star, February 1, 1909; IndianapolisNews, February 4, 1909;Indiana, Senate Journal (19091, 423–29. The Star, February 5, reported that the Kistler amendment passed by a "rising vote" of 22–18; the News, February 4, and the Senate Journal, 426, both give the count as 30–18. S. B. 51 was subsequently referred to the House, where it did not come out of committee until February 26. No further action was taken on the Senate bill, however, as attention shifted to H. B. 3, the companion measure introduced in the House.
  • 36IndianapolisNews. February 4. 1909.
  • 37IndianapolisStar, February " 16, 1909; Indiana, House Journal (19091, 361, 501–2.

The House bill was introduced in the Senate the next day and the health committee quickly reported it out with a "do pass" recommendation. Although passed by the House and endorsed by the relevant Senate committee, passage was by no means assured: as time passed opposition became more organized. Hurty had commented in a letter written at the end of January that "this good bill has met with rough sledding, and I do not know why, unless it is because some interests are opposed to it." An Evansville reporter put the case more baldly: "A real estate and landlord's lobby has fought the bill from the start."38

Bacon quickly discovered the same thing. She had gone home during a brief lull in the proceedings and upon returning to the capital "found that enemies had been busy. Letters had been pouring in, and a horde of landlords had come in my absence . . . stirring up opposition and sowing doubts." She later recounted, without naming names, that some of the strongest opposition to the bill "came from men, in both houses, who owned tenements, or whose brothers, cousins or clients owned them." Many of the opponents, she noted, "did not even plead the common cause of landlords. It was, ‘My house.’ ‘It will cost me.’ " There was also opposition from some concerned with the specter of government "paternalism" and from "little towns, that were not willing to yield even so much space on their building lots as New York City gives!"39

At this crucial juncture the bill received "lobbying" assistance from an unexpected source—William Jennings Bryan. The "Great Commoner" visited Indianapolis on February 26, and it was arranged that he should address the legislature. Seizing the opportunity, Bacon wrangled a brief interview with Bryan, briefly presented the situation, and asked if housing reform could be included among the topics of his speech. Bryan's reply was noncommittal, but in the course of his address to a joint session of the General Assembly he indeed found time to "call attention to laws that are being made necessary for the better homes of the poor."40

The day following Bryan's address the Senate took up H.B. 3 for final consideration. This turned out to be a virtual replay of Senate action on S.B. 51 three weeks earlier. Senator Kistler began the proceedings by moving an amendment that would make the bill applicable only in cities with a population of 59,000


  • 38 Hurty to T. B. Pearson, January 30, 1909, Hurty Letter Books; EvansvillePress, February 5, 1909.
  • 39 Bacon, Beauty, 213–14, 216–18.
  • 40Ibid., 219–22; IndianapolisNews, February 27, 1909.
or more (that is, Indianapolis and Evansville). Mattingly once again objected, arguing that "the small cities and towns are just as filthy and congested" as the state's two largest cities. But Senator Edgar Kling (R-Howard and Miami counties), referring to the bill as an experiment, suggested that the scope of the measure could be expanded during the next legislative session if such action then seemed warranted. In the end the Kistler amendment passed 29–13.41

Then, in a bit of legislative sleight of hand, Democratic Senator Samuel Royse of Clay and Vigo counties moved to amend the House bill by deleting everything after the first section and substituting the language of S.B. 51 as it had passed the Senate on February 4. This maneuver was promptly accepted, and, so amended, the bill was ready for a final vote. The outcome remained in doubt until the last moments. When the roll was called, there was a deadlock: 25 aye, 20 no, with 26 needed for a constitutional majority. Just as the doorkeepers were to be instructed to locate absent members, Senator Robert Proctor (DElkhart) announced that, to expedite matters, he would change his "no" to an "aye." Two days later the House concurred in the Senate amendments, and on March 3 Governor Thomas R. Marshall signed the measure into law.42

In early February, when her proposed law was facing a raft of amendments in both houses of the legislature, Bacon was heard to remark: "Better a half loaf than none." In 1909 that is precisely what she got. The law applied only to tenement, lodging, and apartment houses, not to all residential dwellings; many minor, technical features of the original proposal were stricken out; and enforcement of the law was left to local health boards instead of the State Board of Health. Finally, and most disappointingly, the law affected only the state's two largest cities. But it was a beginning—and the expectation was that a future General Assembly would broaden the law's applicability.43


  • 41 Indiana, Senate Journal (1909), 1391; IndianapolisNews, February 27,1909.
  • 42IndianapolisStar, February 28, 1909; Indiana, Senate Journal (1909), 1404; Indiana, House Journal (1909), 1206–17, 1299; Indiana, Laws (1909), chapter 47. Bacon and her supporters considered this bill a nonpartisan measure and certainly worked both sides of the aisle in an effort to secure passage. In the House the bill's support did come from both parties; of the 62 "aye" votes on final passage, 33 were cast by Democrats and 29 by Republicans. Of the 27 representatives voting "no," however, 21 were Democrats. In the Senate the division was sharply along party lines: 24 Republicans and 2 Democrats voted in favor on the final roll call, while 19 Democrats and 1 Republican voted against the measure. For the roll calls, see Indiana, House Journal (19091, 502, and Indiana, Senate Journal (1909), 1404.
  • 43IndianapolisNews, February 4, 1909.

Upon her return to Evansville, Bacon spent some time over the spring and summer of 1909 working to create the office of building inspector in her home town. She and her family also suffered from the shock and sorrow occasioned by the sudden death of her eldest daughter; for some months thereafter she was too grief stricken to continue with outside activities. But as winter gave way to spring she "began to feel a craving for work, employment, something to force my mind to new channels." At first this need was met by work with various charitable organizations in Evansville. Housing reform was never far from her mind, however, and she soon found herself faced with "a challenge to all my powers" as the 1909 law came under attack from various quarters.44

The measure's constitutionality had been questioned almost immediately. A test case filed in Marion County concerned a "very handsome" Indianapolis flat "that failed to conform to the law in some slight particular." The case dragged on for some time, but eventually the legality of the statute was upheld. A potentially more serious challenge came from various real estate men and architects in Evansville and Indianapolis who had discovered the implications of the tenement law. As early as July, 1909, they had approached the Civic Improvement Commission (an arm of the Indianapolis Commercial Club) with their concerns, and that body had appointed a tenement house committee "to investigate the merits of this law in all particulars."45

The committee pursued its investigations over the course of the next year, culminating with a meeting of the full Civic Improvement Commission in June, 1910. W. K. Eldridge, an architect and member of the tenement house committee, read a lengthy paper criticizing the law. He was at pains to point out that he was not "attacking the principle upon which [the tenement law] is founded or the motives of those who framed it." Indeed, he maintained that reputable architects, property owners, and real estate dealers "feel in hearty sympathy with the objects and aims of the law, and would aid in its enforcement if properly drawn." Following Eldridge's presentation the commission moved to appoint a committee (in effect, to reappoint the tenement house committee) "for the purpose of studying the law


  • 44 Bacon, Beauty, 230–39.
  • 45Ibid., 231–32; State, ex rel., v. Winterrowd (174 Ind. 592); meeting of July 7, 1909, Committee Reports, July, 1909-January, 1913, p. 29, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection.
with a view to protecting it in all its features which eventually would be regarded as right."46

Bacon, who was no doubt kept apprised of these developments by her friends in Indianapolis, naturally felt that the 1909 law was properly drawn and that any changes should be for the purpose of broadening and strengthening the measure. Thus, she thought "the authors of the proposed bill should have demonstrated to them just what the effect of every change would be." She concluded that "there was no one in the United States who could do that with such authority and conclusiveness as could Mr. Lawrence Veiller."47

Veiller, as noted above, had authored the New York State Tenement House Law of 1901; he was also instrumental in founding the National Housing Association and had years of experience shepherding legislation through the New York Assembly. He had just published two important books on housing reform when he responded to Bacon's plea for assistance. Veiller arrived in Indianapolis in early September, 1910, and, as Bacon put it, the Commercial Club "decreed a banquet, in Mr. Veiller's honour, and mine," to which were invited both the friends of housing reform and "the framers of the proposed dangerous bill, so that we might cement our purposes with patés and coffee, and friendly discussion."48

The banquet was an impressive affair. The entire membership of the Civic Improvement Commission was present, as well as eight of the Commercial Club's directors. Among the many guests were veterans of the 1909 campaign (Cox, Hurty, Grout); the Indianapolis building inspector, Thomas Winterrowd; the secretary of the Indianapolis Board of Health, Dr. C. S. Woods; and several architects, including Eldridge. Following a brief talk by Bacon, in which she summarized the struggle for the 1909 law, Veiller made the principal address and discussed the "symptoms, causes, and remedies" of bad housing. Then Eldridge and another architect "set forth what they termed the defects in the present law, showing where in their opinion the law should be strengthened." At Veiller's suggestion a committee of five was appointed (Cox, Grout, Eldridge, Winterrowd, Thomas A. White) to meet with him and Bacon the next day "to discuss


  • 46 Meeting of June 2, 1910, Committee Reports, July, 1909-January, 1913, p. 42 and attachment, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection.
  • 47 Bacon, Beauty, 239–40.
  • 48Ibid., 240. The two books Veiller had just published were A Model Tenement House Law (New York, 1910) and Housing Reform: A Hand-Book for Practical Use in American Cities (New York, 1910).
the law fully and make suggestions for changes that will be for the betterment of all." The meeting adjourned following a "rising vote of thanks" to Bacon and Veiller.49

Bacon described the following day's meeting, attended by several architects and builders as well as herself, Veiller, and the tenement house committee, as an "extended session" at which the participants "mowed, reaped, shocked, threshed, ground, sifted, baked, masticated and digested every grain of the proposed bill." At the conclusion of the discussion Veiller "gathered up the views of the company, and took them back to New York, to reduce the chaos to order."50

There matters stood until early January, 1911, when Veiller returned to Indianapolis with the draft of a proposed new law. Cox, who chaired the Civic Improvement Commission's tenement committee, called together all those who had an interest in the bill. Those responding included lawyers, doctors, real estate men, bankers, charity workers, and representatives of the Indianapolis and state architects' associations. The meetings lasted for several days as Veiller patiently explained each section and drew diagrams to show what the results would be if certain dimensions were changed or certain restrictions were modified. In a speech the next year Bacon described the experience as "the most continuous and exhausting mental strain I ever went through." At length, however, "no one could ask any more questions, and we all shook hands and promised to work together for the bill we had agreed upon, and Mr. Veiller returned to New York."51

In 1911 Bacon returned to the General Assembly to fight for a new housing bill. Although she feared "that it would give me the savour of a professional lobbyist, or a ‘crank,’ " she could not resist the opportunity to try for her goal of a statewide law. Moreover, those architects who had joined the movement for Hoosier housing reform expected her to help "remedy the shortcomings of the law of 1909 which had been caused by hasty amendments."52

Although she hoped to have the bill introduced quickly, "some of the parties to it began to haggle over little points," and


  • 49 Meeting of September 12, 1910, Committee Reports, July, 1909-January, 1913, p. 44, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection.
  • 50 Bacon, Beauty, 241.
  • 51Ibid., 241–42; meeting of February 3, 1911, Committee Reports, July, 1909-January, 1913, p. 51 and attached letter from Cox, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection; Albion Fellows Bacon, "Women, the Legislature and the Homes of Indiana," Indiana Federation of Clubs Year Book (1911–1912), 136.
  • 52 Bacon, Beauty, 243.
the measure (H.B. 578) was not dropped into the hopper until February 14.53 The late introduction of the proposed law, as well as its bulk (at ninety-nine sections, the second longest bill introduced in the House that year), almost proved to be its immediate undoing. The IndianapolisStar reported on February 16 that the health committee, to which the bill had been referred, recommended indefinite postponement since there was not enough time left to consider such a complicated piece of legislation. Bacon and her supporters swung into action immediately; they "convinced the committee members that there was no use shelving it because the time was short, [and] saw to it that it was reported out." Reversing field literally overnight, the committee reported the bill on February 17 with a "do pass" recommendation.54

On February 22 the Star carried a letter that Cox had written and sent to every member of the House of Representatives. In it he reviewed the history of the "pioneer measure" of 1909, explained the objections that architects and builders had raised against the law, and detailed the subsequent efforts that had been made to "reach an agreement upon a bill that would remove all criticism and also preserve the benefits sought in such a law." Passage of H.B. 578, he argued, would "clear up matters of confusion and . . . [provide] as good a law from the standpoint of health and morals as the former law." Cox closed with the hope that the bill might be approved "without any serious modifications of any of the technical parts, which the official committee of the architects' association says are well prepared."55

Whether Cox's letter actually changed any votes is impossible to know, but it certainly seems to have had an effect. The same morning that his missive was published in the Star the House took up the bill under suspension of the rules, made one minor amendment, and passed the measure, without debate, by the stunning vote of 82 to 2. Bacon later recorded that "it was all over in five minutes, before I hardly realised what they were doing, and fairly took my breath." The Indianapolis press thought the achievement no less remarkable, one paper referring to the seeming "insurmountable lot of difficulties" the bill faced and


  • 53Ibid., 245. Although Bacon does not name the "parties" who caused the delay, Cox blamed "the committees of the architects' association and . . . the building inspector of Indianapolis." Meeting of February 3, 1911, Committee Reports, July, 1909 January, 1913, p. 51 and attached letter from Cox, Indianapolis Commercial Club Collection.
  • 54EvansvilleJournal-News, February 23, 1911; Indiana, House Journal (1911), 1256.
  • 55IndianapolisStar, February 22, 1911.
calling its passage in the lower chamber a "monument" to Bacon's "indefatigable work."56

With such overwhelming support in the House it appeared, in the words of the EvansvilleJournal-News, "fairly certain that it will go through the Senate with flying colors." The bill was introduced in the upper house on February 24, referred to committee, reported back favorably the next day, and read for a second time on February 27. Then, as Bacon put it, the bill "stuck fast" in the face of "the same vicious lobby . . . both inside and out of the legislature" that had opposed the measure two years earlier.57 Over the course of the next week the bill was brought up for third reading on several occasions, but each time opponents managed to have it postponed. The staunchest foe of the bill was Senator Levi Harlan (D-Marion County), who argued that the measure should be titled "a bill raising the rent of poor people." "It was a bill also in the interest of contractors, he said, and would drive capital out of the rental business, and prevent further investments along this line."58 Senator Stephen Powers, a Steuben County Democrat, also spoke against the bill and, in the words of a reporter, "rung in the old-fashioned log house where he was born, and the old-fashioned log schoolhouse where he was educated."59

The bill was finally handed down for third reading on March 6, the last day of the session. The proceedings are best described by Bacon herself:

It was fought off till the night session. That night they could not withstand the pressure, and it came to a vote. Two of our men were sick, one was absent, members who didn't want to offend the party leader ran and hid in the cloak rooms. And yet the vote showed 26 to 17 in our favor. . . . We hurried our bill to the engrossing room, so as to have a copy for the Governor to sign. The senators crowded around to congratulate me. "I'm afraid to take your congratulations," I said, "till the vote is announced." My fears were well grounded. Our enemies stood at the Lieutenant Governor's elbow, and kept him from announcing the vote for an hour, till they could scour the halls and cloak rooms, and get another vote. Finally they got one man to change his vote, and our victory was stolen


  • 56 Indiana, House Journal (1911), 1385–86; Bacon, Beauty, 245–46; IndianapolisNews, February 22, 1911.
  • 57EvansvilleJournal-News, February 23, 1911; Indiana, Senate Journal (1911), 1395, 1424, 1468; Bacon, Beauty, 246–47.
  • 58IndianapolisNews, March 7, 1911. AnEvansville paper observed that "Senator Harlan, who led the opposition, rents, Mrs. Bacon is told, some of the worst tenements in Indianapolis." EvansvilleJournal-News, March 8, 1911.
  • 59IndianapolisNews, March 7, 1911. The reporter noted that "this school house has been pictured to the legislators many times."
from us, the last hour of the last night of the session. We asked for the roll, but they said the clerk had stolen the roll, too.60

The IndianapolisStar headlined its story "Harlan Triumphs Over Frail Woman," and an editorial in the EvansvilleJournal News suggested that "Infloonces Were at Work." The latter paper blamed the bill's defeat on "wealthy architects, wealthier apartment house owners, monied people who go to Florida in the winter and Bar Harbor in the summer on the fruits of $4-a-month rooms in decayed mansions on ash-covered streets .... The Democrats," concluded Bacon's hometown paper, "had the power. And the ‘infloonces’ had the ear of the Democrats." This may have been merely partisan sniping, or support for a native daughter, but analysis of the vote supports the contention. Of the 25 "aye" votes in the Senate, 19 were cast by Republicans; of the 18 "no" votes, 17 were cast by Democrats.61

For Bacon "there was nothing to do but to be game, nothing to say but ‘thank you,’ and ‘good-bye."’ As she rode the train back to Evansville, reading the Star's account of the previous night's events, she "thought of the ultimate effect of this defeat upon the housing movement throughout the state" and judged that it might "give just the touch of sympathy and interest the cause needed."62 The newspapers had called passage of the bill in the House a "monument" to her efforts. Upon that monument, she reflected, the Senate had written: "Here lies the body of the Tenement Bill, slain March, 1911." She resolved to add a second line: "Awaiting the resurrection."63

The biennium between the 1911 and 1913 sessions of the General Assembly was a period of intense activity for Bacon. Her early efforts on behalf of housing reform had been principally (though never exclusively) conducted by means of extensive correspondence. By 1911, however, she was an experienced, polished public speaker with a growing regional, even national, reputation, and she was much in demand for presentations before various conventions, conferences, and chautauquas. In the


  • 60 Bacon, "Women, the Legislature and the Homes of Indiana," 138. See also Bacon, Beauty, 254–56, and Indiana, Senate Journal (1911), 1822–24. For a somewhat more detailed discussion of the roll call proceedings, see the IndianapolisStar and the IndianapolisNews, March 7, 1911. Both accounts indicate that the Senate's Roll Clerk, one William Steelman, cooperated with Senator Harlan to prevent the original vote from being announced promptly.
  • 61IndianapolisStar, March 7, 1911; EvansvilleJournal-News, March 7, 1911.
  • 62 Bacon, Beauty, 257–58.
  • 63 Bacon, "Women, the Legislature and the Homes of Indiana," 138.
months after the bitter defeat of 1911 she used her speaking engagements, as well as her membership in several voluntary associations, to advance the cause closest to her heart. So successful was her campaign that when Bacon and her supporters returned to the legislature in 1913 they "had the help of prominent men all over the state,. . . men of all parties, and women of all beliefs."64

Among the various organizations with which she became affiliated, the most important was perhaps the Indiana Federation of Clubs (IFC). This statewide federation, comprised of women's clubs in virtually every community, became very active in the housing reform movement. This support was indicative of a national trend among many women's organizations during the early twentieth century: a shift from an emphasis on "culture" to a greater concern for "municipal housekeeping." One writer in 1913, observing the "yeoman work" done by many state federations of women's clubs in civics, civil service, and sanitation, reflected that "it seems incredible that any one can still be found who thinks of this great force for public service as ‘Ladies Culture Clubs.’ " A few years earlier Ida Husted Harper, a leader in the movement for women's suffrage, noted that a significant number of women had "found that home and children are but the center of an ever-widening circumference which included the whole municipality"; giving women the vote was only logical and proper, she argued, since there was "scarcely a locality in which the women are not becoming recognized public factors." Whether one views these developments as merely a logical outgrowth of the Progressive era ethos, or as a conscious effort by proto-feminists to "leave the confines of the home without abandoning domestic values," or both, the fact remains that many women were calling on their sisters to "learn to make of their cities great community homes for all people."65

Bacon's first association with the IFC was in October, 1910, when she addressed their annual convention on "The Housing


  • 64 Bacon, Beauty, 300.
  • 65 Helen M. Winslow, "The Modern Club Woman: What Women's Clubs Really Stand For," Delineator, LXXXI (January, 1913), 57; Ida Husted Harper, "Woman's Broom in Municipal Housekeeping," ibid., LXXIII (February, 1909), 213; Karen J. Blair, The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868–1914 (New York, 19801, 3–4 (and see also Blair's excellent bibliography); Mrs. T. J. Bowlker, "Woman's Home-Making Function Applied to the Municipality," American City, VI (June, 1912), 863. A reporter who attended the annual convention of the New York Federation of Women's Clubs in 1911 subtitled his subsequent article: "Startling Experience of a Man Who Thought She [the club woman] Devoted Herself to Italian Art and Browning." Arthur Ruhl, "Discovering the Club Woman," Collier's, XLVIII (December 9, 1911), 20–21.
Problem of Indiana."66 The following June she journeyed to Winona Lake to speak to a summer session, and there, she later recalled, "the Federation opened its arms to me and took me in." Bacon had "never had time to be a club woman, and this first close view of them was a revelation." She was impressed with the group's dignity and "parliamentary precision," with the earnestness of the members' deliberations and the absence of "small talk or chatter." And when she told them "A Tale of the Tenements" the audience "sat hushed for a moment" and then "rose and pledged support to the housing movement."67

The key meeting, however, was the IFC's annual convention held at Indianapolis in October, 1911. In an address titled "Women, the Legislature and the Homes of Indiana," Bacon told the story of the legislative defeat suffered the previous winter and asked for the federation's support of future housing reform efforts. She suggested, moreover, that the IFC adopt "The Homes of Indiana" as its slogan. The federation members not only agreed to these requests, they went one step farther: they created a standing housing committee and made Bacon its chairman. In her words: "It became my part, thereafter, to explain the need and nature of housing reform to the clubs of the state. And so, up and down, from the Ohio to the great lake I went, and back and forth across our state, telling the story of ‘The Homes of Indiana.’ "68

In the fall of 1911 Bacon also helped to form the Indiana Housing Association, the first such state-level group in the country. Modeled after the National Housing Association (of which Bacon was by this time a director), the state group's primary objective was: "To protect and foster the Homes of Indiana by encouraging right housing conditions, and by helping to eliminate those unfit, unsafe and unsanitary conditions which are a menace to morals, health, safety and comfort." The principal officers were all veterans of the 1909 and 1911 legislative campaigns.69


  • 66 Indiana Federation of Clubs, program of the fourth annual convention, October 25–27, 1910, Box 3, Indiana Federation of Clubs Papers (Indiana Division, Indiana State Library). This talk was printed as a small pamphlet by the Charity Organization Society of Indianapolis; a copy is in the pamphlet collection of the Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.
  • 67 Bacon, Beauty, 261–65. A copy of "A Tale of the Tenements," published in 1912 by the Indiana Housing Association, may be found in the pamphlet collection of the Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.
  • 68 Bacon, Beauty, 281–85; Indiana Federation of Clubs Year Book (1911–1912), 133–41.
  • 69 Bacon, Beauty, 294; "Here's to the Homes of All Hoosierdom," Survey, XXVII (November 18, 1911), 1196; Indiana Housing Association, "Constitution and By Laws," March, 1912, copy in pamphlet collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library. The officers were Cox (president), Grout (treasurer), and Bacon (secretary).

Throughout 1912, from one end of the state to the other, Bacon carried the message, serving now not just as a self-appointed spokeswoman but as a representative of the IFC and the Indiana Housing Association. Since the goal remained a statewide law, her audiences were not just in the major cities but also in "those quaint old sleepy towns in our state that are as beautiful as bits of Arcady." She felt that it was "almost cruel to wound those gentle hearts with the story I had to bring, but they wanted to know of life in the world outside . . .[and] they had to know, so that their representative should be instructed how to vote properly." Still, it was "a sad business ... to go about the state, thrusting thorns into tender hearts. ‘No one can look at me without thinking of slums,’ [she] told them, ‘and I almost feel as if my name is Bill, from the constant references to it.’ "70

In 1909 the movement for a statewide housing law in Indiana had been little more than a somewhat idiosyncratic, one-woman campaign. But by New Year's Day, 1913, a well-organized, politically sophisticated coalition had emerged, and the various elements of that coalition stepped up their activity in the days and weeks immediately preceding introduction of housing legislation for the third time. The Indiana Housing Association, in conjunction with the state's charity organizations, designated January 5 as "Housing Sunday." Charities secretaries distributed a letter from Bacon "To the Pastors" asking that one session of their church services that day be devoted to consideration of the condition of the poor in their city. Enclosed with this letter was a four-part sermonette containing facts and arguments for better housing, organized so that a pastor might substitute his own comments in place of any part.71

Dr. Hurty remained committed to the proposed legislation and threw the influence of the State Board of Health behind it. At the board's quarterly meeting on January 10, he urged the members to adopt a resolution "endorsing and supporting the Housing Bill." He noted that he had "examined [the bill] carefully and believe it is all right in every particular" and "certainly has a good deal to do with public health." The board not only agreed to support the measure but ordered Hurty to "have printed a circular concerning the housing problem, the same to be properly distributed in order to further the housing bill."72


  • 70 Bacon, Beauty, 270, 287.
  • 71 Bacon, Beauty, 296–97; EvansvilleJournal-News, January 3, 5, 1913; Bacon "To the Pastors" (draft), Folder 8, Box 1, Albion Fellows Bacon Papers (Willard Library, Evansville).
  • 72 Minutes of the Executive Board, Records of the State Board of Health, microfilm, reel 4, pp. 385, 394 (Archives Division, Indiana Commission on Public Records). See also Thirty-Second Annual Report of the State Board of Health . . . 1913 (Indianapolis, 1914), 42.

Various voluntary associations also lined up behind the proposed law. The Domestic Science Club of Evansville, for example, "composed of fifty women, who have made a careful study of sanitation and home making," sent letters of support to their legislators. In Indianapolis a mass meeting was called at the Propylaeum (headquarters for many women's organizations in the capital city) to discuss the housing bill. Bacon, the principal speaker, showed stereopticon views of blighted housing taken in several cities. She was joined by the dean of the Indiana University School of Medicine, an assistant secretary of the State Board of Health, and the presidents of the Indiana Housing Association (Cox), the Woman's Department Club, and the Indiana Federation of Clubs.73

Bacon also sought support from influential politicians outside the General Assembly. An important ally was gained when Governor Samuel Ralston declared himself in favor of the tenement bill. Bacon arranged an audience with the governor at which the probation officer of Lake County described living conditions among the immigrant homes in her district. That evening, addressing a meeting of the YMCA state executive committee called to discuss the association's work among young men and boys, Ralston digressed from his prepared remarks and spoke about young women as well. Alluding to the meeting with Bacon and her supporters, the governor "expressed himself as emphatically in favor of changing housing conditions which tend to retard the moral advancement of young women." Bacon observed that the effect of this speech, "which was in all of the papers, was all we could have asked."74

Among the state's major political leaders, there was only one whom Bacon had never met—"Mr. Democracy," Thomas Taggart. When members of both parties recommended that he be consulted, her husband arranged for a brief interview with the former chairman of the Democratic national committee. She discovered,


  • 73EvansvilleJournal-News, January 5, 1913; IndianapolisStar, January 22, 24, 28, 1913. Organizations instrumental in calling the meeting at the included, besides those mentioned above, the Charity Organization Society, the Jewish Council of Women, the Children's Aid Association, the Equal Suffrage Association of Indiana, the YWCA, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Note that the Indianapolis Commercial Club, so heavily involved in the housing reform struggles of 1909 and 1911, is not mentioned here. The Commercial Club transformed itself into the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce in 1912 and seems to have become somewhat less interested in issues (especially when statewide) of this kind.
  • 74 Bacon, Beauty, 319–20; column headed "Fairbanks Meets Y.M.C.A. Workers," IndianapolisStar, January 25, 1913. The meeting was held in the home of Charles W. Fairbanks.
to her surprise, that Taggart was well informed on the history and provisions of the tenement law. One student of the era has described the Democratic boss as a man whose "position on any particular issue, whether for or against a reform, was always a matter of practical politics, not ideology," and his discussion with Bacon supports that assessment. His only question when she used the phrase "we are asking for this law," was "who are ‘we’?" Bacon enumerated the many individuals and organizations supporting the bill, and Taggart promised to give what assistance he could.75

Senate Bill 118, a virtual replica of the 1911 proposal, was introduced on January 21 by Senator Charles B. Clarke (D-Marion County) and reported out of committee in just three days with a "do pass" recommendation.76 Bacon later recalled that "there was really quite a fight" when the bill came up for final consideration in the Senate on February 3, "enough to rally all our friends to the defence, and call out all our artillery of oratory." The press concurred: an Evansville reporter called the debate "two hours of the hardest fighting of the session," and an Indianapolis paper described it as "a vigorous effort on the part of a hostile minority ... to pull the teeth of the measure."77

Opponents of the proposal pursued two lines of resistance. Senator Franklin Kattman, a Democrat from Brazil, Clay County, moved to amend the bill so that the law would apply only in those communities in which the common council enacted a similar ordinance. Such a provision would, in effect, have permitted any city to veto the law within its corporate boundaries. The proposal "raised a storm of debate," and eventually the motion failed. Senator Kistler, whose home town was Logansport, then proposed that the law not apply to those cities with a population of less than 20,000 at the preceding census. When that


  • 75 Bacon, Beauty, 301–2; Del Vecchio, "Indiana Politics during the Progressive Era," 145.
  • 76 Indiana, Senate Journal (1913), 117, 174. Clarke, a newly-elected legislator, had decided to run for the General Assembly after hearing Bacon appeal for support during a lay sermon she delivered in an Indianapolis church. (Bacon, Beauty, 297–98.1 His wife, Grace Julian Clarke, was the daughter of Indiana abolitionist George W. Julian and was herself an influential lecturer and writer. Active in the women's suffrage movement, she and Bacon had become acquainted through their involvement with the Indiana Federation of Clubs. Grace Clarke was also active in the Indiana Housing Association. In a pleasant bit of serendipity, the Indiana State Library's copy of Bacon's Beauty for Ashes used during the preparation of this article bears the hand written inscription: "A present to Charles and me from Albion Fellows Bacon. G.J.C. 1914." The volume came to the State Library in 1938, an accession from Grace Clarke's estate.
  • 77 Indiana, Senate Journal (1913), 117, 174, 483; Bacon, Beauty, 307–8; EvansvilleJournal-News, February 3, 1913; IndianapolisStar, February 4, 1913.
motion failed, he tried again with a figure of 19,100 and was again defeated. Although he was obviously operating purely on the basis of local interest (Logansport's population at the 1910 census had been 19,050), Kistler appealed to "party"—arguing that a cardinal tenet of Democracy (that is, the Democratic party) was home rule. Clarke replied that the quality of his Democracy was as good as any man's, "but that he believed in humanity as well and the slightest thought should convince any man that tuberculosis can not be stamped out of the state if Indianapolis and Evansville [the only cities affected by the 1909 law] were to enact drastic tenement house laws while Brazil and Logansport should be permitted to retain disease-breeding tenements." Republican Senator Oscar Ratts, representing Lawrence, Martin, and Orange counties, supported Clarke by observing that no "locality has the right to start a sore on humanity and let it run. This is a social matter," he argued. "If it is good for one place it is good for another."78

Following defeat of the proposed amendments by Kattman and Kistler, several minor changes "not affecting the general force or tenor of the bill" were adopted. One amendment was accepted, however, that did substantially limit the scope of the bill. This was a "grandfather clause" limiting the law to coverage of new tenements but not buildings erected prior to the passage of the act. Following this compromise the bill passed by a vote of 36–9. Bacon and her friends found themselves "congratulating ourselves over a rousing victory—there, on that same old ghost-haunted battle ground of other days!" But the battle was not yet over, and they still "had to thread the mazes that led to the other House."79

The bill was handed down in the lower chamber on February 4 and referred to committee. Two days later, in a column entitled "Our Legislature as Seen by the Outstate Editors," the IndianapolisNews quoted the LafayetteCourier: "The housing bill, which has passed the senate, was an unlooked for piece of


  • 78 Indiana, Senate Journal (1913), 612–14; Indianapolis Star, February 4, 1913; IndianapolisNews, February 4, 1913. Kistler replied to Clarke by challenging the assertion "that the tenements breed disease and degeneracy. Why, gentlem[e]n[,] it is not true. Every one knows that if the rich were suddenly transported to the tenements and the poor to the mansions of the rich, the mansions of the rich would soon look like tenements and the tenements would soon resemble mansions." IndianapolisStar, February 4, 1913.
  • 79 Indiana, Senate Journal (1913), 615–18; IndianapolisStar, February 4, 1913; IndianapolisNews, February 4, 1913; Bacon, Beauty, 308. The 36 "aye" votes were cast by 28 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and 1 Progressive; all 9 "no" votes were cast by Democrats.
progressivism. If the interests which it affects had seen it coming they would have been exceedingly busy. As it is, the house will be literally beseiged [sic] not to pass it."80

Bacon herself reflected something of a siege mentality as "news poured in ... from every side of the doings of the opposition." She became especially fearful when the bill stuck in the House committee. At the final hearing a large group of "well known and respected business men" appeared with three typewritten pages of objections. At Bacon's urging they agreed to a separate meeting with her and the Indianapolis building inspector in an attempt to resolve the impasse. Most of the objections were found to be "the result of misinterpretation, or misunderstanding of the effect of certain provisions." In the end there were only three points of contention, and Bacon and her allies considered these relatively minor. They "yielded cheerfully" and sent the agreed upon amendments to the committee for inclusion.81

But still the measure languished in committee. In an effort to get it reported out for consideration by the full House, Bacon orchestrated one final, massive lobbying effort. On February 14 the IndianapolisNews carried her lengthy explanation and justification of the bill (referred to in the opening paragraph above) in which she stressed that the state could not afford "to let any class live amid conditions that breed disease that endangers the whole community." She also called together her Indiana Federation of Clubs housing committee and other IFC leaders, and they "arranged to send word to every corner of the state, that the time had come for their help. How the letters and telegrams came pouring back . . .," she later recalled, "to the members of the legislature; not only from the club women, but from prominent men whom they had seen, in different communities."82

The bill was finally reported out of committee on February 21, but in a manner which indicates that the friends of the measure were no less averse to employing legislative sleight of hand than its opponents had been two years earlier. The bill was advanced to third reading "after being amended according to the recommendations of the committee . . . that several members of the committee didn't know anything about." Four members of the thirteen-man committee (all supporters of the bill) met early in the afternoon and decided to submit a report containing


  • 80IndianapolisNews, February 6, 1913. The News identified the Courier as a Progressive organ.
  • 81 Bacon, Beauty, 310–14.
  • 82Ibid., 319; IndianapolisNews, February 14, 1913.
amendments in keeping with the agreement reached between Bacon and those businessmen who had earlier opposed the bill. They then presented their report to the committee chairman and convinced him to sign it and submit it as a unanimous recommendation. One of the absent committee members, who had opposed the measure in 1911 and was "not friendly to the present bill," was "astonished" when the report was issued. The chairman argued, however, that the committee had already expended much effort on the bill, that members were familiar with the proposed amendments, and that the bill had to be reported out to afford ample time for its consideration on the floor.83

In fact, when S.B. 118 was handed down for final reading on the afternoon of February 26, its consideration took only minutes. Three minor amendments (one of which postponed the law's effective date until July 1 in order to give those affected time to achieve compliance) were agreed to by unanimous consent. When the bill came up for final vote it was "the first time in the history of [the House that] a bill was put on its passage without explanation." One of the representatives "facetiously called attention to the fact that the bill had not been explained . . . but he added that it made no difference, as every one knew what it was." Bacon "sat unnoticed in one of the side seats, her hands pressed so tightly together that the knuckles whitened, her tense gaze fastened on each member as his name was called." When the bill passed by the remarkable margin of 92–1, a reporter observed that "the sweeping approval of the measure she has worked ... to place upon the statute books affected her deeply." All that remained was Senate concurrence in the House amendments (which was accomplished the following day) and signature by the governor.84

Why did the housing bill succeed in 1913 after its humiliating (if underhanded) defeat two years earlier? A principal explanation,


  • 83 Indiana, House Journal (1913), 1268; IndianapolisStar, February 22, 1913; IndianapolisNews, February 22, 1913. The News reported that "Thomas Taggart is credited with ‘building a fire’ under some of the committee members contributing toward getting the bill out." On at least one occasion during the 1913 session Taggart is reported to have "literally appeared on the floor of the House to cajole the more reluctant members into endorsing necessary reform measures." Del Vecchio, "Indiana Politics during the Progressive Era," 145.
  • 84 Indiana, House Journal (1913), 1400–2; IndianapolisStar, February 27, 1913; Bacon, Beauty, 322–23; Indiana, Senate Journal (19131, 1335; Indiana, Laws (1913), chapter 149. The overwhelming margin of support on the final House vote is perhaps misleading. As a result of the Republican-Progressive split in 1912, Democrats held a uniquely one-sided plurality in the 1913 session—95 of the 100 House seats. With both Democratic governor Ralston and Democratic kingpin Taggart supporting the bill, at least some members' votes may have been cast more out of a spirit of party regularity than personal (or constituent) conviction.
of course, is the spirited lobbying effort mounted by Bacon and her coalition of supporters. But from a political point of view, 1913 was an especially propitious time to advocate such a measure. By that year "a general climate of opinion which was receptive to and even expectant of new reforms had settled over Indiana." The deep division in Republican ranks between conservatives and progressives the previous year, and the subsequent formation of a separate Progressive party, reflected the heightened reform spirit. In addition, Hoosiers of all political faiths had noted the electoral gains made by the Socialists in 1912. Indeed, Governor Marshall's valedictory message to the General Assembly in January, 1913, called for progressive legislation as a bulwark against potential revolutionary change. Given this backdrop, it is not surprising that Ralston, Taggart, and their lieutenants actively promoted various reforms. The result, in the words of a contemporary observer, was "a body of reform legislation that was most creditable to the State," including the housing bill.85

Following a victory dinner at the Denison Hotel, with "flowers and felicitations, pleasant words, and some sad ones," Bacon sped home. The EvansvillePress, which interviewed her immediately upon her return, praised her efforts by noting that "practically all of Mrs. Bacon's time during the last 12 years has been given to visiting slums and tenement districts and she has lectured in nearly every city in the state in the interest of the bill. She says," the paper reported, "she is glad to be back home."86

However glad Bacon might have been to be home again, it was obvious she could not remain there long. By 1913 she had become a symbol of the housing reform movement as well as an expert in this field. The success of the Indiana campaign only increased the request for her aid from various reform groups. Barely a month after her return to Evansville, in the course of a letter of appreciation to Governor Ralston for his support, she noted that she had been asked to speak in several midwestern states and to provide advice on securing statewide housing laws. She was pleased "that Indiana can lead, among these states" in housing reform and wanted the governor to know that "other states are looking to us for help and encouragement, in this matter." But was Indiana in the lead? If so, could the state maintain


  • 85 Del Vecchio, "Indiana Politics during the Progressive Era," 199–202 (quotation on 200); Phillips, Indiana in Transition, 110, 118; Dunn, Indiana and Indianans, 11, 778–79.
  • 86 Bacon, Beauty, 324–25; IndianapolisNews, March 1, 1913; EvansvillePress, March 4, 1913.
that position? Perhaps little noticed in the wake of her triumph at the General Assembly, but not without significance, was a comment Bacon made casually during her interview with the EvansvillePress: "The [1913] housing bill is just the first step."87

For all the passion it aroused among both supporters and opponents the 1913 tenement house law was a decidedly limited piece of legislation. Although it was a statewide law, it only applied to incorporated cities; it did not affect small urban places that had not incorporated, suburban tracts outside city corporation boundaries, or the rural areas in which a majority of the state's residents still lived. In addition, it did not apply to all dwellings in the cities but only to tenements—defined as the "home or residence of two or more families living independently of each other . . . and having a common right in the halls, stairways, yard, cellar, water-closets or privies . . . . Moreover, as noted above, the law covered only tenements "hereafter erected" or extant buildings converted into multiple dwellings; it did not apply to the many tenement houses already in existence. Finally, in a concession to localism, the law was to be enforced by community building inspectors or boards of health; these officials were not always well qualified and were certainly more susceptible to local pressure than inspectors from the State Board of Health would have been.88

Bacon was, of course, fully aware of the weaknesses in the 1913 law. She was also aware that those who had opposed the tenement law through three successive General Assemblies were not likely suddenly to disappear. In presenting the report of her housing committee at the IFC annual convention in October, 1913, she thanked the assembled club women for their support but noted: "We fought to win our victory—we must [now] fight to hold our ground." Reminding her audience that "no law is automatic," she presaged future housing reform activity when she asked the IFC membership to "Stand by me. Help me still."89

By this time her crowded schedule of traveling and lecturing was beginning to take its toll. In a letter to Grace Julian Clarke in mid-1914 Bacon apologized to her friend for not writing


  • 87 Bacon to Ralston, March 12, 1913, Folder 4, Box 91, Samuel M. Ralston Papers, Governors' Papers (Archives Division, Indiana Commission on Public Records); EvansvillePress, March 4, 1913.
  • 88 Indiana, Lams (1913), chapter 149.
  • 89 Indiana Federation of Clubs, Official Report of Seventh Annual Convention (1913), 31.
sooner but noted that correspondence had been delayed because "it was so hot it took the little breath I had left when I got home. ... I am getting over a second spell, since my return, and just beginning to feel alive. I think I am going to take these warnings, and go a little slow. In August I am to lecture in Bay View, [Michigan (?)] a series of three, and I dread the exertion."90

Bacon's various other "exertions" on behalf of housing reform did not stand in the way of preparations for the next session of the legislature. By December a plan of action for the forthcoming General Assembly was fairly well determined, and in a remarkably detailed and candid letter to Governor Ralston she set forth "a frank and complete statement of the subject of proposed housing legislation." The Indiana "housers" had two goals in 1915: "To take no backward step, and lower no standards"—that is, to protect the 1913 tenement law from repeal or weakening amendments; and, "if possible, to take a forward step" by securing even stronger legislation that would "regulate the classes of dwellings that now defy the state, county, or local health boards or building inspectors." Bacon and her colleagues in the Indiana Housing Association had prepared two separate proposals: a "long bill" that would regulate all dwellings as the 1913 law regulated tenements, and a "short bill" that focused specifically on control of dwellings deemed "infected and uninhabitable." Depending on legislative contingencies they would try "whichever seems best and wisest, and most hopeful of passing." She concluded her letter to the governor by observing that she was "willing to again make a great effort and sacrifice, in the interest of my state, for all there is a hope of winning, but to do no rash or foolish thing."91

The "long bill," which Bacon clearly preferred, would have virtually restated the 1913 tenement law and extended its coverage to every dwelling unit in the state. But she acknowledged that "people will resent being dictated to about space on their lots—the one vital essential, the keystone of the whole law," and conceded that such a measure would be difficult to pass. Politically astute enough to attempt "no foolish thing," she had decided


  • 90 Bacon to Clarke, July 1, 1914, Grace Julian Clarke Papers (Indiana Division, Indiana State Library).
  • 91 Bacon to Ralston, December 18, 1914 (with enclosures), Folder 4, Box 91, Ralston Papers, Governors' Papers. The "long bill" was, with a few minor changes, a copy of a model housing law just published by Veiller; the "short bill" was essentially sections 112 and 113 of the model law. Lawrence Veiller, A Model Housing Law (New York, 1914).
even before the General Assembly convened that passage of the "long bill" was too ambitious a goal and that the "short bill," which would "prepare the way for a future step," was all that could be realistically attempted.92

In early January, 1915, the IndianapolisNews reported that Bacon was in the capital to observe the legislative session and that she hoped "a bill will be passed that will give the state board of health the same power over ‘death traps’ as the fire marshal now has over fire traps." Senate Bill 61, the "short bill," was introduced by Clarke on January 18. A column in the Star headlined "BILL DOOMS GERM TRAP BUILDINGS" summarized the bill's intent: "The measure seeks to confer on the health authorities the same power over dwellings that might be [or would soon become] infested with disease as the present [tenement] law gives the state department of inspection and local building inspectors over structures that are improperly built from an architectural standpoint."93

While the "death trap" bill (as it came to be known) began to work its way through the legislature, Bacon and her adherents found themselves struggling to avoid taking a "backward step." As she had foretold, both in her address to the IFC the previous fall and in her letter to the governor, the tenement house law now came under attack. The "point man" in this effort was Representative Willard B. Van Horne, a Republican from Lake and Newton counties, who during the course of the Assembly session introduced several bills to repeal or seriously weaken the 1913 law. Van Horne was clearly acting on the desires of some of his more influential constituents; at a hearing on one of his bills the measure was supported by a Lake County architect (who had apparently drafted the bill), the Hammond building inspector, and the Lake County Democratic chairman.94

The "housers" fought back. Jacob H. Hilkene, the Indianapolis building commissioner, expressed surprise at Van Horne's proposals and told an interviewer that the law "certainly governs arrangements whereby the building and sanitary conditions ... in this city are bettered and are such that they in comparison stand far above other large cities in this country."


  • 92 Bacon to Ralston, December 18, 26, 1914, Folder 4, Box 91, Ralston Papers, Governors' Papers.
  • 93IndianapolisNews, January 8, 1915; IndianapolisStar, January 19, 1915. For the full text of the measure, see the manuscript copy of Senate Bill 61 (1915) in the Archives Division, Indiana Commission on Public Records. Properly speaking, S.B. 61 was more of a public health measure than a true housing law.
  • 94IndianapolisNews, February 17, 1915.
Bacon also testified against repealing or amending the tenement law, as did Cox (still president of the Indiana Housing Association) and a spokesperson for the Legislative Council of Indiana Women. The defenders carried the day: none of Van Horne's bills was enacted.95

The "death trap" bill was favorably reported by the Senate health committee on January 21, read a second time the next day, and passed by the full Senate on January 27.96 The following day it was handed down in the lower chamber and referred to committee, from whence it reappeared on February 10 with a "do pass" recommendation. Then, no action was taken on the measure for a week. During this period an Indianapolis paper carried a short "parable" written by Bacon, an obvious attempt to gain support for the bill. In her story four men meet in an alley, each searching for the cause of tuberculosis in his city. Each has a pet theory—dark rooms, the house fly, polluted water and insufficient food, foul air and dampness—and in one particularly bad house each man finds an example that supports his position. The landlord in the story naturally refuses to make the needed improvements, observing that "There ain't no law to make me do it."97

As it happened, there was & ill no law at the conclusion of the legislative session; the "death trap" bill came up for a final vote in the House on February 17 and was defeated. Summarizing the debate, the Star reported that opposition revolved around the "drastic powers" given health authorities to condemn unsanitary residences. "It was argued that the bill, if applied literally, would take his home from many a poor man." Understating the case the paper observed that Bacon "was an interested spectator of the proceedings."98


  • 95IndianapolisStar, January 22, 1915; IndianapolisNews, February 17, 1915; Indiana, House Journal (1915), 157, 627, 783–84 (for H.B. go), 235, 475, 549, 906, 947–48 (for H.B. 172), 590–91, 940, 1191 (for H.B. 372).
  • 96 Indiana, Senate Journal (1915), 141, 159, 210; IndianapolisNews, January 27, 1915. Both the Senate Journal and the News report that the bill passed by a vote of 39–2; the Journal, however, actually lists the names of only 38 senators who voted in the affirmative. The Senate was heavily Democratic that year (41 of 50 seats), and 33 of the "aye" votes were cast by members of the majority party.
  • 97 Albion Fellows Bacon, "There Ain't No Law!" IndianapolisIndiana Daily Times, February 13, 1915.
  • 98IndianapolisStar, February 18, 1915; Indiana, House Journal (1915), 280, 621, 742, 849. Both the Star and the Journal report that the bill was defeated by a vote of 44–46. The Journal, however, actually lists the names of 46 representatives who voted in the affirmative. Republican members of the House were somewhat more favorable toward the bill than their Democratic colleagues, but it was by no means a straight party-line vote. Twenty-three of the 39 Republicans (59 percent) voted for the measure, while 22 of 60 Democrats (37 percent)

Bacon was, of course, much more than just another interested spectator, and she was deeply disturbed by the defeat of the bill. Although she had been extremely disappointed when the apparent victory for the tenement law in 1911 had been turned to defeat by opponents' questionable tactics, in 1915 her disappointment seemed, for the first time, tinged with bitterness. She had previously been neutral (at least publicly) on the issue of women's suffrage, but an Evansville newspaper reported that the 1915 defeat had made her "the latest recruit to the ranks of the suffragists." " ‘If all men were like some men,’ " she reportedly said, " ‘the indirect influence of women would be enough and we would not need the ballot. But they are not.’" Several months later she was still describing how the "death trap" bill had been lost in "a general political upheaval."99

Determined to see the matter through, Bacon resolved to try again. In the interim she remained active in a variety of housing reform enterprises. She continued to chair the housing committee of the Indiana Federation of Clubs, urging the state's club women to see that the 1913 tenement law was enforced in their communities and to support passage of the "death trap" legislation. Her involvement with the National Housing Association also continued, as did her busy lecture schedule. In mid-May, 1916, for example, she made several presentations before a national meeting of "housers" in the Hoosier capital (a meeting presided over by Veiller). But in January, 1917, now as if by habit, Bacon and her supporters in Indiana were ready to reintroduce the failed legislation of two years earlier.100

After the enervating struggles of the previous four assemblies, the 1917 session proved to be almost anticlimactic. House Bill 69, a virtual replica of the 1915 "death trap" measure, was introduced by Representative Donald Jameson (a Republican from Marion County) on January 12 and referred to the Committee


  • supported it. The lone Progressive voted "aye." In a letter to the governor just days before the final vote, Bacon observed that Charles Bedwell (D-Sullivan County), the speaker of the House, seemed opposed to the measure. Bedwell did not vote on the bill's final consideration; what influence he may have exerted behind the scenes is not known. Bacon to Ralston, February 13, 1915, Folder 4, Box 91, Ralston Papers, Governors' Papers.
  • 99EvansvillePress, February 18, 1915; Indiana Federation of Clubs, Official Report of Ninth Annual Convention (1915), 75.
  • 100 Indiana Federation of Clubs, Official Report of Ninth Annual Convention (1915), 75–76; IndianapolisNews, May 16, 1916 IndianapolisStar, May 17, 1916. For examples of Bacon's speeches during this period, see typescripts of her address before the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Chamber of Commerce (February 14, 1916) and two talks to a meeting of Indiana's local health officers (May 2–3, 1916). Folders 6, 42, 53, Box 1, Bacon Papers, Willard Library, Evansville.
on Cities and Towns. The committee reported the bill and four minor amendments on the 24th, recommending passage as amended, and the measure was read for a second time on the 29th. On the morning the bill was scheduled for final consideration, members of the House arrived to find letters on their desks from the Church Federation of Indianapolis (a union of the city's Protestant churches) urging "hearty and unqualified support" for the proposed law. Perhaps this letter swayed a few votes. Or perhaps, as Bacon claimed in the aftermath, there had been "an awakening sense everywhere of the need for better housing." In any event, in striking contrast to the divided House vote of two years earlier, the lower chamber passed the bill by a unanimous vote of 90–0. Even Bacon allowed that the margin of victory "was really a surprise."101

The bill was introduced in the Senate the following day and a favorable committee report was submitted within the week. The result in the upper chamber was just as convincing as in the House; the bill passed without a single dissenting vote. Regrettably, although appropriately, since she always claimed that her interest in housing reform was the most important thing in her life after her family, Bacon was not present for the final vote: she had returned to Evansville for the birth of a grandson. When informed by her hometown paper that the measure had passed, she expressed "relief and pleasure" that the decade-long campaign was over and that the state's towns, villages, and rural communities "that had hitherto been unprotected by any kind of housing law, might now be protected from the diseases arising from unfit surroundings."102

And so the long struggle was over, a struggle that had begun years before when Bacon had become convinced "that nothing but a housing law would ever enable us to get relief from the conditions that caused our poor so much misery."103 As the state and nation prepared to embark on another crusade—the First World War—Indiana had two housing statutes in place. The first, the 1913 tenement law, regulated the construction of multi-family


  • 101 Indiana, House Journal (1917), 89, 143, 185, 220–21; IndianapolisNews, January 31, 1917; IndianapolisStar, February 1, 1917.
  • 102 Indiana, Senate Journal (1917), 428, 532, 620, 781; IndianapolisStar, IndianapolisNews, and EvansvillePress, February 16, 1917. The Star reported that the bill passed by a vote of 40–0, while the News said 41–0. The Senate Journal records 43 affirmative votes, but actually lists the names of 44 senators who voted "aye." The law was promulgated as chapter 21 of Indiana, Laws (1917).
  • 103 Bacon, Beauty, 163.
dwellings; the second, the "death trap" law of 1917, empowered the state's health officers to order corrective action when any dwelling was deemed to be unfit for human habitation. It is necessary to bear in mind that these laws had no claim to originality. While Bacon was clearly the key personality behind passage of the Indiana legislation, the content of the statutes owed more to the models prepared and propounded by Veiller. Yet enactment of the two measures stands as a major accomplishment of Indiana's Progressive era social reformers and marks a signal advance in the state's use of its police power.

It is also important to keep in mind that these housing laws were by no means unique. As suggested above, reform was "in the air" in the early twentieth century. Bacon and her colleagues in the Indiana Housing Association were not sui generis either to or within the Hoosier state. There was in these years a "yearning to purge society of what now seemed its individualistic excesses" (in the case at hand read "irresponsible landlords"), a yearning that led, in one form, to "a new interest in the social and physical environment." The housing statutes, as well as other progressive laws adopted during Marshall's and Ralston's administrations, reflect "the triumph for a few years of the reform spirit which sought to make conditions better, and the recognition on the part of the people and the politicians that the state had some further responsibility than it had exercised in the past."104 As one student of the era has put it, none "worked harder than the progressives to rationalize and organize what they saw as their chaotic surroundings." For Bacon and other "housers," many of whom had grown to adulthood in rural areas, nothing better exemplified this "chaos" than inadequate, overcrowded housing.105

If, as some have claimed, the "fundamental assumption" of Progressive era social reformers was a "deeply held conviction that men and women were creatures of their environment," then it is not hard to understand why housing reform had such a prominent place on their agendas.106 But the crusade for restrictive legislation (such as Indiana's laws) was not without its limitations. For one thing, it was difficult to sustain the momentum.


  • 104 Daniel T. Rodgers, "In Search of Progressivism," in Stanley I. Kutler and Stanley N. Katz, eds., The Promise of American History: Progress and Prospects (Baltimore, 1982), 117, 125; Barnhart and Carmony, Indiana, II, 374.
  • 105 Rodgers, "In Search of Progressivism," 117. On the background of many Progressive era reformers, see Wayne E. Fuller, "The Rural Roots of the Progressive Leaders," Agricultural History, XLII (January, 1968), 1–13.
  • 106 Link and McCormick, Progressivism, 68.
"Reform movements that are oriented toward the passage of legislation," observes a close student of the subject, "measure enactment as success. Some relaxation of passion is afterwards hard to avoid." Some reformers "assumed that passing a law was equivalent to solving a problem and that government officials could be entrusted to enforce the measure in a progressive spirit. This frequently was not the case."107 This description does not apply to Bacon, who constantly urged her audiences to see that the laws were used in their communities. But it is also clear that Indiana's tenement and housing laws, while they may have ameliorated the most extreme situations, did not eliminate bad housing conditions in the state—in short, that they did not fulfill the expectations of many of their supporters.108

Moreover, restrictive legislation could at best prevent or correct bad housing; it could not create additional good housing. By the time Indiana's "death trap" statute was passed the movement for restrictive codes based on Veiller's model laws had crested. Increasingly thereafter the debate in housing reform circles revolved around what could and should be done to provide decent housing for those most in need. But this was a step that Indiana, at least the public sector, was not prepared to take on the eve of the 1920s. If the Hoosier state's record of reform legislation during the Progressive era was, as one historian claims, "a large and significant one," it is also true that the record was accomplished in a political climate "compounded of nearly equal parts of conservatism and cautious liberalism, neither dominant for long and each force acting as a check upon the other."109 The demise of the Progressive party in 1916, preoccupation with American involvement in World War I in 1917–1918, and struggle with a variety of social and economic dislocations in the immediate postwar years marked the beginning of a period of quiescence for the reform impulse in Indiana.

Although 1917 marked the completion of her major work on behalf of "the homes of Indiana," Bacon's interest in housing


  • 107 Friedman, Government and Slum Housing, 44; Link and McCormick, Progressiuism, 84.
  • 108 This should not be read as a sharply critical evaluation, but merely as a recognition of many reformers' honest beliefs in a somewhat simplistic environmental determinism and "the almost unlimited potentialities of science and administration." As two historians of the Progressive era suggest: "Our late twentieth-century skepticism of these wonders should not blinci us to the faith with which the progressives embraced them and imbued them with what now seem magical properties. .. . They missed some of their marks because they sought to do so much . . . [but] despite all their shortcomings, they accomplished an enormous part of what they set out to achieve." Link and McCormick, Progressiuism, 116–17.
  • 109 Phillips, Indiana in Transition, 128.
reform continued through the 1920s. She remained active in the Indiana and national housing associations, writing a number of pamphlets for the national organization.110 And she helped to create the Evansville City Planning Commission, subsequently serving as its president for many years. Her wide-ranging social concerns manifested themselves in other activities as well. In 1919–1920 she served as president of the Indiana Conference of Charities and Correction (the group at whose 1907 meeting she first became committed to a state housing law). Always interested in the well-being of children, she was involved in the Child Welfare Association, served on a state commission that dealt with questions of school attendance and child labor, and headed the Juvenile Advisory Commission of the State Probation Department for many years. Besides her tracts on housing reform, her literary and artistic talents led to the publication of devotional articles and books and the preparation of pageants for various public occasions. She died in her hometown in 1933, Evansville's "best known and loved woman."111

Writing two years after passage of the state's 1917 law, Edith Wood observed that "housing reform in the United States has produced three magnetic personalities." She identified this trio as Riis, "who first made us care how the other half lived"; Veiller, "the high priest of restrictive housing legislation"; and Bacon, "who won a housing law for her state by sheer, disinterested persistence."112


  • 110 See, for example, "Housing—Its Relation to Social Work," National Housing Association Publications, No. 48 (June, 1918).
  • 111Notable American Women, I, 77; Lubove, "Albion Fellows Bacon and the Awakening of a State," 71; IndianapolisNews, October 7, 1919; EvansvilleCourier, December 11, 1933.
  • 112 Wood, The Housing of the Unskilled Wage Earner, 287.


Published by the Indiana University Department of History.