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Friday, February 5, 2016

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home : considered comment : rochester, once the model small town of the midwest February 5, 2016

Photographs and original art enhance Fortune's article

8th in a 9-part series

Fortune Magazine's 18-page article about Rochester was published in its August, 1936, issue and some of those quite likely still are in the possession of local families. There is a copy at the Fulton County Public Library and also at the Fulton County Historical Society if you wish to examine one. Surprisingly, original copies also still can be obtained, for about $50 each, from Million Magazines at Tucson, AZ, 1-800-877-9887.

The story is lavishly illustrated. Four of Maitland de Gogorza's original water color paintings appear: his impressions of the railroad crossing by the circus quarters, Main Street on Saturday night, tree-shaded South Main Street, the Baptist Church and two Victorian homes.

There are 31 of Norman Taylor's black-and-white photographs depicting city scenes and personalities. The latter include my grandmother, Minnie Hawkins, proprietor of Hawkins Cafe where the Fortune crew took many of its meals.

Today is the eighth and next-to-last installment of the article. It features the city's feminine side and what writer Catherine Hamill determined was the community's cultural influences. FYI: Con Ahlstrom's Modernistic beauty salon was on the south side of the Courthouse square, and, the Euterpean Club was a musical society.

While the men run their businesses and discuss the affairs of the town, the women are just as busy in their ways. The housewives have cleaned up the dishes after breakfast, made the beds, swept the floors, dusted the glass doors of the bookcases and the bronze leopards on top of the radios. They are ready to get into their cars and go downtown to the stores. They order their groceries at Morris's or Cloud's, go into Wile's to match a piece of silk, to Ross's for new packs of cards and score pads, and around the square to the black and chromium Modernistic Beauty Shop to see if Con can give them a shampoo and wave (50 cents on the first three days of the week - 75 cents after that) before it's time to go out for lunch.

The women of the best families belong to small social and bridge clubs, the Sandwich Club, the Monday Club, a dozen others. This noon the hostess of one of the clubs has planned a surprise for the other three members and at 12 o'clock, dressed in snug-fitting silk ensemble, tilted hat, matching pumps and purse and gloves, she drives up to her friends' houses, toots the horn, whisks them off in her deep upholstered sedan 20 miles to Logansport or Lake Maxinkuckee for lunch at a country club and an afternoon of cards.

During the afternoon many of the women will be playing contract, settling down in groups of four for an afternoon of serious bridge, playing for a hundredth of a cent a point, stopping along about four o'clock for a cup of coffee or a cool drink, going on with the game until suppertime. Or they may be at a meeting of the D. A. R. or the Woman's Club or the Parent-Teachers Association or the Tri Kappa Sorority or any one of the study clubs. The ladies will gather in the home of one of the members, Mrs. Henry Barnhart's if it is the Woman's Club, Mrs. George Dawson if it is the D. A. R., listen to the minutes and the committee reports, sit back in their chairs and hear a paper on "Legends of History," or "What Price Liberty?", or a review of a current best seller.

The Shakespeare Club and the Euterpean Club are no longer in existence, but book reviews at the club meetings and an occasional musical program given by the high school quartet or a soloist from out of town keep up the interest in music and books. The Woman's Club used to devote a whole year to the study of one subject, Japan one year, Germany another, Russia, art, Indiana; and the members have always been active in the cultural life of the town. It was the Woman's Club, under Mrs. Henry Barnhart's leadership, that got the Carnegie Foundation to put up money for the establishment of the public library. The members of the club still keep pretty close track of what goes on at the library, and they, or anyone else in town, may have an indecent book removed from the public shelves by registering a complaint with Mrs. Mason, the librarian.

These censored books, which still may be read by inquiring adults, include: Sinclair Lewis's "Elmer Gantry," Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front," Hamsun's "Growth of the Soil," "The Scientific Dream Book," "Art in France," Margaret Sanger's "Happiness in Marriage," and Julia Petekin's "Bright Skin." But there aren't many requests for them. The books most often stamped and passed out over the counter are western and detective stories, with Zane Grey leading the rest.There is a steady demand for standard works: Dickens, Dumas, Shakespeare, Churchill, Wells, Kipling, Jane Austen; and the movies last year started a run on "David Copperfield" and "Anna Karenina." There is a copy of "War and Peace" on the shelves, no Hemingway, no Faulkner, no Caldwell, no Virginia Woolf. Thomas Wolfe is there, uncensored but seldom read.

The book review at the club this afternoon may be on the biography of Van Gogh, "Lust for Life," on Margaret Ayer Barnes's "Edna, His Wife," or on Bess Streeter Aldrich's "Spring Came on Forever." The ladies listen attentively; they all are interested in the book and some of them will read it. The talk drifts from books to education, to the high school graduation and how nice the boys and girls looked in their caps and gowns standing in line in the gym to get their diplomas from Professor Whitmer. In another year Professor Whitmer will retire after 30 years as superintendent of the two grade schools and the joint high school. He is a good man, working right along with the Ministerial Association, keeping the academic standing of the Rochester schools high in the Indiana ranks.

Several of the women at the club meeting were teachers before they were married and it is still hard for them to realize that nothing serious will happen if they are heard talking openly about the theory of evolution or seen smoking a cigarette in public. Most of the ladies agree that it's a good thing to have strict rules for the teachers, although there doesn't seem to be any harm in grown women smoking or taking an occasional cocktail. Times have changed a lot, and it's only the country people and some of the older women who are shocked by these things.

Back from their afternoon at Logan or Peru, home from the club meeting, the society women eat a sandwich or a salad, change into evening chiffon or lace, and start off for a dessert supper in one of the big homes on South Main. Fifteen women have been invited, with due regard for past invitations and invitations to come, and at 7 o'clock they drive up in groups of three or four to the hostess's door. Each one is given a card bearing the number of her table and seat - four at each of four card tables covered with a lace cloth, set with silver and lace napkins, decorated with flowers and nut cups. The hostess and a girl in for the evening serve ice cream and cake and salted almonds and coffee.When the dessert has been eaten, the lace cloths are removed and the play begins. This is progressive bridge, relaxed and conversational. There are three mysteriously wrapped prizes and the holder of the high score takes first choice. From week to week the prizes are apt to be the same - a pair of stockings, two packs of cards, a bath towel - so the seasoned winner learns to pick her choice by size and feel. There is, too, a guest prize for the out-of-town visitor.

Published March 27, 2001

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