I hope you all enjoyed your porch sitting yesterday evening. I know I sure did. I decided to take Bedtime Storytime outdoors after a long day of errands and a late evening soccer parents’ meeting. So curled up together, with a chorus of cicadas in the background, I read from our latest selection, Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee.
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Today, after a trip to the pediatrician for my daughter’s sports physical, that turned out to be actually scheduled for tomorrow, I thought I would work on a project that is solace for my soul. It is a project I recently began after my last trip to my hometown probate office–transcribing old Washington County, Alabama newspapers. After years of exposure to heat, humidity and hundreds of hands, they are crumbling. Disintegrating.
While this may seem like a mundane task, typing my little fingers off, I’ve had a great time reading about the past, including the weekly news printed on this day in August of 1917. Boll weevils were reported in North Alabama, rains were damaging crops in Sylacauga, work began on a machine gun camp, Camp McClellan, in Anniston, medical inspections of Gadsden city schools were being considered, and in Huntsville, Mrs. Jack Bingham was killed and her daughter seriously injured by a bolt of lightning.
Now this is news. Not opinion. Not biased. Just facts. In fact, on page two, the publisher, Pelham and Pruitt, in print requested contributors to “[b]e brief…give pure news, avoid comment and do not send poetry or jokes.” (Good advice for today’s media, but I guess facts alone do not fill a twenty-four hour news cycle.)
In August of 1917, the U.S. was barely three months into World War One, and much of the front page news, both international and domestic, was about the war. Russian women were being lauded for charging the Germans on the Dvinsk front, more U.S. troops were reaching European shores, and the U.S. President was asking for millions more dollars for the war effort. The war also dominated local news too. My Great-Grandaddy, Benjamin Leroy Onderdonk, who served as the Sherriff of Washington County at the time, and was also the chair of the local draft board, had issued a Call to Appear to draftees, which took up much of page two.
Local ads for lawyers, surveyors, hotels and banks abounded, including this lovely, whose title made me giggle.
And just like any commercial break on modern television, the back page of the newspaper was covered in advertisements for medicines like Tanlac, that enabled Mrs. V. Blalock of Houston, Texas to perform her housework; Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, with quinine and iron, for liver problems, malaria and blood improvement; and my personal favorite, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, a “Change of Life” medicine, which Mrs. Margaret Quinn of Lowell, Massachusetts reported “helped her in every way” and which listed “a sense of suffocation…dread of impending evil…[and] sparks before the eyes” as symptoms of menopause.
Sparks before the eyes…I’ll end there.
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Dateline Alabama August 2,1819:
On this date, forty-four elected delegates representing twenty-two counties voted to adopt the Constitution of 1819, which they had drafted over the previous month in Huntsville for the soon to become twenty-second state. Two of those in attendance represented Washington County, the location of the territorial capital, St. Stephens and the neighboring community of my childhood; and greatly influenced the governance of the fledgling state.
The first was Israel Pickens Pickens, a lawyer who hailed from North Carolina where he had served the state as a Senator and later as a three-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Lured by fertile land and a job as the federal register of the United States Land Office, Pickens moved to St. Stephens in 1817, soon purchased vast tracts in the Black Belt that he put into cotton production, and was appointed to be the first president of the Tombeckbe Bank of St. Stephens. In 1821, he was elected the third governor of Alabama, and after serving two terms in this position, was later appointed by his successor to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat.
The second was Henry Hitchcock, a lawyer who hailed from Vermont, was also lured by “Alabama Fever,” arriving in Mobile in 1817, but soon moving to St. Stephens where he practiced law. In 1818, U.S. President James Monroe appointed Hitchcock as territorial secretary. After Alabama’s admission into the Union, he was elected by a joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly, to be the state’s first attorney general a position he held until 1823, and which facilitated a move to the then capital at Cahaba. In 1826, Hitchcock moved back to Mobile and was soon thereafter appointed by U.S. President John Quincy Adams to serve as the U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, a position he held until 1830. In 1835, the General Assembly elected him to be an associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and one year later was elected by that same body to be Chief Justice. His last political election was in 1839 as Mobile’s representative to the state legislature.
To find out more about these two early Alabamians and their vast endeavors like we did, please click on their names above to read articles written by Dr. Michael Parish of Baylor University and Herbert J. Lewis of Birmingham, Alabama.