name='keywords'/> Boomer, Sooner and Johnny-Come-Lately: The History of Norman Oklahoma: 2016


Thursday, November 17, 2016

T. Jack Foster: Mayor, President of the Chamber of Commerce, and the Guy Who Brought the Navy to Norman.


T. Jack Foster was a tenacious man. He had absolute faith in his ability to enhance the economic well being of the communities in which he lived. Norman has a number of individuals who stand out for their significance in contributing to the economic and cultural growth of the City. But none stand out as prominent as T. Jack Foster.

Foster was born in Mineral Wells, Texas in 1902 and was the youngest of eleven children. He lost both parents when he was five years old. His two sisters raised him; T. Jack spent his the school year with his sister Mamie in Dallas, and his summers with his sister Mittie on a ranch in Oklahoma. He was a budding entrepreneur at an early age and found numerous ways in which to make spending money. By the time he was in high school, he started a newspaper delivery business. To expand his route, and out sell his competition, he borrowed his brother-in-law’s car and hired neighbor kids to toss the Dallas Herald newspaper on front porches from the back seat.  He eventually had the biggest newspaper route in Dallas. He dropped out of high school in his senior year and opened a filling station, which he hoped would be the biggest used car outlet in the Southwest. Since his new business was not all that successful, he took the advise of his brothers to further his education at the University of Oklahoma. Foster applied for and passed the University’s entrance exam, not fully disclosing his lack of high school diploma. While at the University of Oklahoma, Foster started University Cleaners on Campus Corner. He stumbled into this opportunity by helping to fix a deliver boy’s broken down motorcycle, which was loaded with clean cloths ready to be delivered to customers.

In 1921, T. Jack married Gladys Hutchins. While Gladys finished at the University, Foster dropped out of school to run his business. Upon graduation, Gladys took over the business and T. Jack enrolled in the University of Oklahoma’s Law School. By 1928, Foster’s cleaning business had 23 employees and a yearly payroll of $75,000.

In 1929, a group of Norman businessmen drafted Foster to run for Mayor of Norman. There was little opposition and T. Jack won. He was the first student mayor in the United States. The biggest issues facing Foster as mayor was an extensive road-building program and city infrastructure upgrading. He was an on-hands mayor. Curious about the materials used in the upgrade of the city’s infrastructure, he traveled at his own expense to a factory to see how sewer pipes were made, making sure the Norman had the best materials available for the needs of the City. This facet of his personality came into play in every endeavor he would encounter in his business life, from mining to home building.

                                                     Norman Courts Hotel

Foster was not only an entrepreneur, but an inventor as well. He developed a fire proof building brick made of adobe clay and asphalt. He used this technology in the construction of a new motel in Norman in 1938. The only other hotel in town was the old University Hotel on Main Street. Foster’s motel was the 62 room Norman Courts, which was located at Porter and Robinson along Route 77. The Courts was rated one of the five best motels in the country in 1939.

In 1938, T. Jack Foster recognized that Adolf Hitler’s aggressive march across Europe in the 1930s would eventually evolve into a second world war, and if the United States   played a part in helping the allies in the war, there would have to be a homeland effort to prepare for such a war. As Vice-Chairman of the Norman Chamber of Commerce, Foster conferred with University of Oklahoma officials about the University taking a role in developing a war defense program in the University’s Aeronautical Engineering Department. Foster also believed that an adequate size airport would be needed for civilian training. Although Foster considered that Cimarron field in Yukon could be a nucleus for an airport, there was not enough land for an adequate airfield. At the same time, the University of Oklahoma began to talk about establishing an airfield, realizing the importance of a flight-training program for the security of the nation.  The first step toward that goal was the acquisition of land for an airfield. A gift from Walter Neustadt and the Max Westheimer estate for $10,500 provided the means for the University to establish an airfield in Norman in 1941. Shortly after Max Westheimer airfield became a reality, the Japanese attacked the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The newly established Max Westheimer airfield played an important role in convincing the Navy to establish a flight school and technical training center in Norman.

In January 1942, the Chamber of Commerce sent T. Jack Foster and Neil Johnson to Washington to talk to the Army or the Navy about establishing training facilities in Norman. The University sent Savoie Lottinville, Director of the University of Oklahoma Press as the University’s representative, Lottinville was already in the East for a convention. Working through Oklahoma Senator, Josh Lee and State Representative Mike Monroney, the trio from Norman was provided with several contacts at the Departments of Navy and Army.  After two weeks of meetings and no results, Lottinville and Johnson returned to Norman. T. Jack Foster stayed and wrote more than 18 proposals outlining what Norman had to offer in supporting training facilities. The Navy had many questions about sufficient housing, infrastructure, classrooms, air space clearances from other government airfields in the area, like Tinker Airfield to the north, and how many days of good flying weather was possible. Foster found the answers to all their questions and finally convinced the Navy site selection committee to visit Norman.

After the Navy site selection committee found Norman a good place to develop a flight training program, the City of Norman, a town of around 11,000 citizens, began to prepare for Navy personnel. City residences were told in one newspaper editorial after another that there would need to be good clean rentals at fair rental prices. Citizens were also encouraged to clean up their lawns, ally-ways, and to paint their homes to make Norman a bright star on the Prairie.

The Navy invested a lot more in Norman than the University and the Chamber of Commerce first thought would be possible. Besides an air-flight training program north of the City at Max Westheimer airfield, the Navy built a technical training program southwest of the University, a small city of 20,000 Navy personnel, and twice the size of Norman.

What a military installation meant to Norman, and what businessman T. Jack Foster realized from the beginning of his efforts in 1938, was economic growth and improved infrastructure for the citizens and the City of Norman.  The needs of the military installations provided many changes in Norman during the war years.  For example, Norman didn’t have a sewage plant. There were two main sewage lines and both of them emptied into the South Canadian River. That presented a problem for the 20,000 residences at the Navy Technical Training Center, or South Base, because one of the lines emptied just south of the base. In the summer, when the river was down, the sewage line emptied onto dry land, the breeze from the south was not pleasant; the first of Norman’s sewage plants was built at this time. Also, many roads were resurfaced or paved for the first time to give access to the bases. These are only a few examples of the many changes that took place in Norman because of the improvements that were necessary for the functioning of the military installations. 

Foster continued his economic interest after the war, but not in Norman. After WWII, he invested in pumice mining in New Mexico; pumice helped him to produce fireproof concrete. Soon after, Foster moved his interest to home building. He won a bid from the federal government for 18 million to build houses on military bases after the war; he built at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas, and Fort Ord in California. He went on to build residential communities in California, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and 25-foot Foster Tower in Honolulu, Hawaii.  

                                                      Foster City California
In 1958, T. Jack and his wife moved to Pebble Beach, California. Although retired, he interested his sons in helping him to build a planned community outside San Mateo, California. Foster and sons took marchland on the west side of the San Francisco Bay and hired the best engineers to provide the foundation for Foster City. Today Foster City thrives as a very successful community of bayside homes with docks and boat launches.

T. Jack Foster grew up in a time when economic survival relied on hard work and a keen eye for opportunities that eventually helped to him to gain financially. Once he had capital from his varies businesses, he reinvested in something bigger and more lucrative. When he saw the opportunity to convince the military to consider Norman for training installations, he made it his goal to obtain the Navy bases, and he was successful in that endeavor. Norman became a productive modern city in the 1950s because of the foundation that was laid during the war years. We can thank T. Jack Foster.

T. Jack Foster died of liver cancer in 1968 at his home in San Mateo, California. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Naval Base on the Prairie: Norman and World War Two.

           Sailors from the Naval Air Technical Training Center, or South Base                                

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 placed the United States on course toward another World War.  The First World War taught a generation of Americans how to be industrious, frugal, and prepared; the next generation picked up the preparedness torch. In a matter of months after Pearl Harbor, idle factories started producing war related materials, which helped high unemployment, and moved the American economy out of the dole drums of the economic depression of the 1930s. American involvement in the Second World War also created training and careers for over 9 million men and women who joined the armed forces by 1944.  Norman, was one of several Oklahoma communities that played an important role in training young men and women to help win the war in Europe and the Pacific.  

The establishment of naval bases in Norman, a city far from any ocean, resulted from a fortuitous encounter between Savoie Lottinville, director of the University of Oklahoma Press, and K.B. Salisbury, Captain in the U.S. Navy. In 1941, Lottinville, eastbound on the Santa Fe, met Salisbury, who was returning to the Bureau of Aeronautics at the Department of Navy in Washington D.C. As Lottinville and Salisbury were getting acquainted, the Navy captain asked Lottinville if there was an interest at the University of Oklahoma in flying. Lottinville proudly told the captain about the University’s new airfield north of town that was named after WWI pilot, Max Westheimer. Salisbury then asked, “Would you be willing to lend it [the air field] to the Navy for the duration of the war?”  Lottinville discussed the possibilities with university president, Joseph Brandt, who gave Lottinville the green light to pursue the matter.  Brandt and University Regents were excited about the prospects of a naval training station in Norman.  
Aerial view of Naval Air Station, or North Base 

In all, the Navy purchased 62,000 acres in Oklahoma.  In March 1942, the Navy acquired 2,537 acres in Norman to build a Naval Air Station (NAS), a Naval Air Technical Training Station (NATTC), and a Naval Hospital. NAS was located north of the town at the university owned (North Base) at Max Westheimer Airfield, and trained young men as Navy pilots. NATTC, military barracks, and hospital were constructed southeast of the University (South Base). The naval training facilities north of town trained young men as navy pilots. The base south of town educated young men and women in skills that helped maintain naval aircraft and ground equipment. The acquisition of properties, and the increased number of military personnel in Norman, was a well-needed economic boost to central Oklahoma.   

 WAVES recruiting poster

Women played an important role in helping the Navy during WWII. In 1942-43, 27,000 women joined the Navy. Every three weeks at Norman depot in 1942, WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) arrived at NATTC for training. Women were excited about the opportunity to join the WAVES. They understood that learning to be a machinist mate or an aviation mechanic freed sailors from that duty so they could join the fight outside the continental United States. 

 WAVES training at Naval Air Technical Training Center

Young women also believed that joining the military was as an adventure they probably would not have had otherwise.  The cultural expectation for women in the early 1940s dictated women’s role as wife and mother. The war altered that expectation and gave young women many other opportunities.  After the war, a former WAVE from Michigan wrote of her time in the Navy and remarked how fortunate she was that her father signed the consent form allowing her to join the Navy. She was eighteen years old, fresh out of high school, and anxious to do her part for the war effort.  She wrote of enduring the going away party, and all the well-meaning gifts she received. On the day she was to leave for the train in Detroit, she ignored her mother’s tears, and her friends doubts as she excitedly stepped aboard the passenger car with other young women headed to boot camp in Iowa. From “boot” the new recruits were sent to different locations for training, many came to Norman.  

WAVES relaxing in barracks

The first detachment of WAVES arrived from Cedar Falls, Iowa January 29, 1943 for training. The men stationed at the bases in Norman did not exactly see this influx of women as “true” Navy, perhaps expecting that women would not be required to preform the same duties as men. But, women did adhere to the same Navy regulations as men. WAVES had to stand watches and engage in the other duties of all enlisted personnel. They also had the same punishments for not keeping regulations. A woman recruit mentioned she had to “swab the deck” or clean latrines for minor infractions of the   regulations.  And like the men, WAVES had liberty, which could also be taken away as punishment. As for the men and women getting “involved” there were strict Navy regulations on how close men and women could associate. For example, WAVES could not let sailors put their arms around them when in a movie. In fact, WAVES were advised to sit in a reserved section.

 Both Navy Bases in Norman provided an all-inclusive town-like environment, which included a recreation hall, swimming pools, dance hall, motion picture theater and such amenities as a commissary, and hair salon.  Variety Shows were on the top of the list for keeping the troops entertained.  The variety of entertainment ran from the amateur to the professional. One show featured a University of Oklahoma sorority choir, another featured the national organization of The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of the Barbershop Quartet Singers of American. The local group of this esteem organization was the Boresome Foursome composed of Oklahoma City Businessmen. There were also “class” acts in the variety shows. Entertainers, who joined the armed forces after Pearl Harbor, used their talents to keep up the moral of the enlisted men. Tex Beneke, a featured tenor sax player with the Glenn Miller Band, often entertained at the Norman base.  The base also had their own band called the Gremlins.

 View of downtown Norman 1950

In the early 1940s, Norman had around 11,000 citizens with a small town footprint. The urban area of the town was bordered on the north by Robinson, on the West by Nevada, which later became Berry Road, on the south by Lindsay and on the east by Highway 77 or Porter.  The Naval Air Station at Max Westheimer airfield was north of Robinson, at the intersection of Robinson and Nevada; the base was surrounded by farmland. NATTC was SE of the University of Oklahoma extending from Jenkins to Porter. This area was also surrounded with fields.  South Base was within walking distance to central Norman, but North Base was quite a hike. 

Interurban Light Rail Station
Navy personnel had to rely on public transportation, especially the interurban and some local buses.  There was a regular complaint by the Navy that there were too few interurban cars and too few buses to transport the service men and women to OKC or Norman.  

United Service Organization or the USO, located at NW side of Courthouse facing Santa Fe Tracks
In February 1943, the two-story Norman Armory, east of the Santa Fe tracks near the Courthouse, was remodeled as a United Service Organization (USO) facility.  What might be lacking in recreational facilities North and South Base were certainly incorporated into the USO club. The lower floor, or deck as it was called, had a combination gym and dance floor, where each week orchestra dances were planned.  Service men and women, and their guests, played badminton, volleyball, and basketball in the gym. The first deck also had a snack bar and soda fountain. In the game room there was a pool tables, a ping-pong table, and a photo shop with a darkroom. On the upper deck there was a room for lectures, a room for studying, and a room for crafts and hobbies. There was also a shower room, a ladies powder room, and a recording studio for service men or women to record a greeting to send home.

World War II ended in August of 1945, when Japan surrendered to the allied forces. In all, 74,322 men and women graduated from the Naval Air Technical Training Center on South Base. At the Naval Air Station 6,284 men finished pilot training.  

Lowering the flag for the last time in 1959

Once the war was over, the question was what to do with the Naval facilities.  The retreat of the military from Norman was a concern to many, the economy and lively hood of many depended on the naval facilities. Citizens wanted the military to keep the training facilities in Norman, but that was not in the militaries plan until the start of the Korean War.  In 1952, NATTC was reactivated to train aviation personnel, and NAS continued to train pilots. By the end of 1955, 46,000 men received training at both NAS and NATTC.  In 1959, the bases were no longer needed; the peacetime military declared the land and facilities of both bases in excess to the needs of the Navy.

Before the sailors left the base they stationed two mops as a final good-by.

The NAS reverted back to a civilian airfield, where the University of Oklahoma continued the air program initiated before the war at Max Westheimer. Navy buildings were used for other purposes; many became hangers for civilian airplanes. Today Max Westheimer is one of the largest small town airports in the nation. The facilities on South Base were first used by the University of Oklahoma to house different classroom and housing for the surge in enrollments of ex-service men, who were returning to school on the GI Bill.  Today, industrial parks and growing businesses occupy the land where so many men and women learned the necessary skills to help the United States and her allies win the Second World War.

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June Thompson Benson, Norman's First Mayor

  There is a little rectangular shaped park just south of downtown, where Peters and Alameda streets intersect in the Miller Historic District. The City Parks Department named the park after June Benson, the first woman to serve as Mayor of Norman. The park was established in honor of Benson’s work as policy committee chairman of the Community Development Block Grant program from 1972 to 1981. The program administered federal funds to low and moderate-income neighborhoods.  Benson’s major contribution was her financial oversight; she made sure funds from the program were used for the targeted neighborhoods rather than being funneled into city projects. June Benson started her political career in the early 1950s, when most women chose to stay at home and raise their children in the growing affluence of post-World War II America. June Tompkins Benson was a homemaker and mother, but she also had a penchant in public service. 

June Tompkins was born in Granite, Oklahoma on November 6, 1915. In 1933, she enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where she studied in the Department of Government. After she graduated in 1937, she continued her education and received her master’s degree in 1940. Her graduate thesis was entitled, “Election Practices in Oklahoma.” In 1940 she married University of Oklahoma Government professor, Oliver Benson. With the United State’s entrance into the Second World War in 1941, Oliver Benson enlisted into the Navy as yeoman 3rd class, he soon became a commissioned officer. He trained in the Japanese language at Boulder Colorado. After training, the Navy then ordered him to the Caroline Island. The Bensons moved back to Norman after the war in 1946, where Oliver Benson became head of the Department of Government.

June Benson’s interest in taking an active part in city government began with her involvement in the League of Women Voters (LWV). She served as Voter Service Chairman and League president from 1949-1951.  Benson was a member of the State Board of LWV until 1953, when she decided to run for Norman City Commissioner. (In the 1950s, Norman City Council was the Norman Board of Commissioners and Norman Councilmen were referred to as Norman Commissioners.) One hundred citizens signed a petition to place Benson’s name on the ballot.  Benson served as a Norman elected official until 1961. She was the first woman to be elected to the Norman City Commission.

In 1957, June Benson sought the job of Norman’s Mayor. Election procedures, as stated in the city charter, allowed that the Mayor of Norman was chosen by a vote of the city commissioners. The commissioners chose mayoral candidates from the pool of fellow commissioners. In 1957, there were seven nominated out of the eight city commissioners. June Benson won on the sixth ballot. At age 41, Benson was the 1st woman mayor of Norman, and she was the first woman to be elected as mayor of any city in Oklahoma.

June Benson presided over some interesting and difficult issues during her tenure as mayor. For example in June 1957, the city commissioners passed ordnance 1051, which limited the power and authority of the Park Board. It seems that the Park Board under ordnance 904, had purchasing power and the power to hire and to fire city employees. It was discovered that ordnance 904 was in violation of the city charter. To remedy this situation, the city passed ordnance 1051 restoring these powers to the city manager.      There was such an uproar by the citizens of Norman over ordnance 1051 restricting the board’s power that Mayor Benson called a special meeting of the commissioners. The commissioners voted to kill the new ordnance thereby restoring the Park Board’s powers.

Another sticky issue that again brought out the citizens to protest was a move by city commissioners to commandeer a newly completed remodel of an 18,000 sq. foot building from the Department of Police; the city commissioners had previously designated the building for police administration. The city’s brazen move to occupy the newly remolded building was in response to the failure of a bond measure to fund new city offices. The citizens of Norman had repeatedly voted down a bond measure. The city commissioners worked around the citizens of Norman by voting to move the city offices, the city clerk, and the municipal agencies into the newly remolded building, thereby omitting the Department of Police from obtaining the building. Many citizens spoke out against the commissioners, a University of Oklahoma Professor, Laurence D. Posten, told the commission that they were committing political suicide with the decision to take over the new building. The only two commissioners, who voted against the measure to take over the new facility, were Mayor Benson and former Mayor, James Lansing.

Mayor Benson had a somewhat contentious relationship with her fellow commissioners. So much so, that in December 1959 the commissioners voted to ask the Mayor to resign.  The commissioners complained that Benson had taken action without their knowledge. They were especially critical after Benson submitted her nominees for the planning committee. The commissioners rejected her submission. She submitted the same people three times, each time her candidates were rejected. This was evidently evidence that she would not work with the commissioners. Even though the commissioners asked Mayor Benson to step down, there was no law or ordnance that could force the mayor to quit. Benson stayed on as Mayor and worked with the commission; the issue of the commissioners asking for her resignation was not brought up again.

June Benson served as an elected official of Norman until 1961. She then severed on the state board of the League of Women Voters until 1970. She served on Norman Advisory Board for Environmental Control. In 1979, Governor Nigh appointed Benson to the Oklahoma Pollution Control Coordinating Board. She held this position until her death in 1981.  

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Monday, September 12, 2016

The Death of Marian Mills, 1932 University of Oklahoma Campus Beauty Queen.

On July 10th, 1934, University of Oklahoma student, Marian Mills, died in the apartment of Mrs. Hazel Brown, cook for Delta Upsilon’s fraternity. Marian’s death resulted from a botched abortion. On July 13th, a murder warrant was issued for Neal Myers, University of Oklahoma pharmacy student. The murder of Marian Mills made sensational headlines in newspapers across the country, where articles described Marian as a beauty queen and most popular girl on campus.  The Lewiston Evening News headlined “Most Beautiful Co-Ed.” Evidently actor Frederic Marsh traveled to the University of Oklahoma to bestow such an honor on Marian. Ms. Mills was also the daughter of university professor, Albert Mills.

Marian Mills’s abortion was not an anomaly for the 1930s; abortions were at an all time high during the economic depression. Oklahoma specifically had a high abortion rate. In 1938, Mrs. Virgil Brown of the Maternal Health Center in Oklahoma City claimed that there were most likley12, 936 abortions in Oklahoma City that year. She arrived at these figures in a rather unscientific way. She claimed that of the 654 women who used her clinic, 213 had 371 abortions. She calculated that there were 22,000 childbearing women in Oklahoma City. By using her ratio, she concluded that there must have been 12, 936 city abortions.  Regardless of Mrs. Brown’s unsubstantiated mathematical approach to the problem, other sources indicated a high number of abortions preformed on Oklahoma City women.

In early America, following the principles of federalism, abortion laws and issues of women’s health resided in the states. Even though there was an increase in federal influence in the 1930s, states kept their power over women’s health. Typically, states still followed the practices of English common law set forth in the English colonies that rendered women’s right to an abortion as legal. The rule used in common law was called the “quickening rule,” where it was thought that a fetus could not be aborted after quickening, or the first movement of the fetus.  This rule was made into American law starting in Connecticut in 1821, when the state made it a crime to abort after quickening. Other states followed changing the laws to criminalize before quickening. States continued to “tweak” the abortion law and in 1916, New York State made it criminal for attempting an abortion, even if the women involved was not pregnant. Oklahoma altered the law to state that the women involved in an abortion had to be pregnant. So, the issue of abortion, as stated in English common law, was rewritten over time in the states to mean different things but as the laws evolved, each state took a harsher stand and criminalized the act.  The reason varied to why in the early 19th century abortion became a crime. One principal reason was the high mortality figures for women who had abortions; the safety of the medical procedure for abortion varied and many women died under unsterile and unsafe procedures by many incompetent abortionists.

Because abortion was a crime in Oklahoma in the 1930s, women who sought abortion did so by the “back alley” method.  Abortion was a lucrative business for doctors and others who performed the procedure. Statistics show that women of every social stratum turned to abortion in the 1930s for unwanted pregnancies; especially women who could not afford one more child to feed or clothe.  Case studies verify the reason for some women’s decision to seek an abortion. One woman indicated that she had eight children and her husband made $60.00 a month. Another women with 4 children sought an abortion because her husband had tuberculosis; he worked for the Federal Works Projects Administration.  And, a farmer’s wife, with 11 children, had had 3 abortions.  The economy was certainly a factor in the rise of abortions in the 1930s. But, it is also clear that there were a variety of other reasons for women to abort unwanted pregnancies.

Campus beauty queen Marian Mills had just broken off her engagement to Bernard Doud, former University of Oklahoma Engineering student, who lived in Shreveport Louisiana.  She started to date University of Oklahoma pharmacy student, Neal Myers. Friends, in newspaper interviews, related that Marian and Neal were just casual acquaintances.  Regardless, Marian Mills was pregnant. She had sought the advice of a doctor, who indicated he did not think she was pregnant. Marian believing that she was pregnant; after more test, the doctor finally confirmed what Marian had feared. Neal Myers was the purported father of her baby. Marian had stated to Mrs. Brown, in whose apartment Marian sought refuge, “that her people would not accept Myers” indicating her only course was to abort the fetus. Neal Myers was from Enid Oklahoma, where his father was a physician.  

Marian did not seek a back alley abortion, her method was to self-induced an abortion. Marian and Neal asked Mrs. Brown if they could stay the night at her apartment.    Marian had told her parents that she was attending a friend’s party in Tulsa. The couple told Mrs. Brown that they were married, although they did not share the same bedroom at Mrs. Brown’s apartment. It would later be determined that they were not married. The next day after Mrs. Brown left the apartment to run errands, Marian became ill and passed out. Neal quickly called Dr. E. F. Stephans, but by the time the doctor arrived, Marian had died.  Neal, however, did not wait for the doctor to arrive. After he called Stephans, his impulse was to make a quick retreat; he got in his car and drove out of state.  Meanwhile, the Cleveland County district attorney, Paul Updegraff, believed that Myers was responsible for a botched abortion resulting in the death of Marian Mills; he issued a murder warrant for the arrest of Neal Myers.   

Neal Myers drove from Norman to Houston, Texas. While in Texas he learned that Marian had died and that he was wanted for her murder. His plan was to find work on a ship headed to South American, but in the end he decided to go to Denver. From Denver, he contacted a Lawyer in Enid, who traveled to Denver to bring Myers back to Norman to face charges.  Myer’s trial was booked as the “trail of the century” and newspapers across the country kept their readers up to date on all sensational aspects. The trial started on September 4th, 1934.  Seventy men were called to jury duty; three quarters of them were farmers. For all five days of the trial, it was standing room only in the Cleveland County Courthouse in Norman. District Attorney Updegraff demanded that the laws against abortion in Oklahoma be enforced. Both the prosecution and defense asked doctors to examine Marian Mills so as to determine cause of death. The prosecution called three expert witnesses; the three had a difficult time ascertaining that Neal Myers caused Marian’s death.   It was, perhaps, Mrs. Brown’s testimony, for the prosecution, that helped the defense win the case. She testified, “the youth never wanted an operation performed on the girl. He didn’t want her to do that to herself.” Mrs. Brown also related that Marian had been taking a “quack” medication. The jury deliberated for four hours before finding Neal Myers not guilty.

Marian Mills was one of several University of Oklahoma coeds, who made headlines because their deaths followed an abortion.  In April 1932, Virginia Lee Wyekoff, 21, had died after obtaining an abortion from Dr. Eisiminger. Also in 1932, Mrs. Frank Lee, 17, the wife of an University of Oklahoma football star, died of an abortion performed by Dr. Richard E. Thacker. Even though the Lees’ were married, the young couple thought that if their parents knew that they were expecting a baby, the parents would have the marriage annulled.  Both Eisiminger and Thacker were indicted for the murder of eight women in April of 1932 who had received an abortion by the hands of these men.

In the 1930s, the medical procedure practiced to induce an abortion was a simple catheter with a wire, the wire was to puncture the womb and start the abortion. Women in Dr. Thacher’s and Eisiminger’s care stated before they died that the instruments used on them by the doctors were not sterilized. After the “surgeries,” the good doctors sent the women to a designated home, where a woman took care of them until the fetus aborted. It was not yet common practice in the 1930s for doctors to treat patients through blood infusions or through the treatment with anti-biotic.  Along with the indictment of Thacher and Eisiminger for running, what the Daily Oklahoman called an “Abortion Mill,” a Mrs. Lena Griffin, also known as Mrs. E.B. Smith, and her assistant, Mrs. Pearl Green, were charged as aiding in the practice of abortion. Both doctors send their abortion patients to Mrs. Griffin’s home.  Griffin allowed that she received $550.00 a week for her services. She charged $50 to $70 per patient. One patient, Helen Friend, a 16 year old chamber maid claimed Mrs. Griffin was the one performing the abortions. By newspaper accounts, it appears that all were involved in the “abortion ring.”

The University of Oklahoma was forced to “handle” the abortion deaths of university coeds because of the adverse publicity garnered from the incidences. The university set up a Discipline Committee, whose goal it was to look into the conditions at the school that perhaps fostered an environment that ultimately caused their deaths.  An editorial in the Daily Oklahoman September 6th, 1934 also sought to explain the death of Marian Mills. The writer addressed the sensational aspects of the murder trail and the details surrounding Marian’s death.  He believed it was sensational because Marian sought to “avoid motherhood.” The editorial maintained that Marian, Neal Myers, and their parents were all on trail and condemned in the public mind in “every county in the state, in cities, towns and tiny hamlets, at the crossroads and in farm homes.”  The author believed that there was a lot that society could do to remedy the high abortion rate. He stated that society could ease the economic burden of marriage and to “treat sex in a lot more rational manner that it was treated thus far.”

The Marian Mills murder case has faded from history. It was only by happenstance that I found a picture of the prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office sitting at their table during the murder trial. On the back of the photograph, which was from the AP Chicago Bureau, was the a identification of the men at the prosecution table and that “They are prosecuting Neal Myers, young student at the University of Oklahoma, on trail for murder in the death of Marian Mills, 19-year old campus Queen, who died following an attempt to avert motherhood.”

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Friday, July 8, 2016

The Pryor V. Adkins Family and Entrepreneurship in Early Norman

 Tucked into the farmland south of the Canadian River, east of the Goldsby exit off I-35, is Adkins Hill Road, a rural stretch of two lane highway named for one of Norman’s prominent entrepreneurs, Pryor V. Adkins.

The isolated highway stretches through the countryside east of the freeway into McClain County, where it angles southeast up an incline onto a hill that looks north over the South Canadian River and into Norman. Very few people, who travel Adkins Hill Road in the old Chickasaw Nation, are aware of Pryor V. Adkins or his significance to the economic development of Norman, Oklahoma after settlement in 1889.  

Pryor V. Adkins was born in Tennessee in 1841. He first married in 1859 to Phariba Jane Hughett in Scotts County, Tennessee. At the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Adkins joined the 2nd Regiment Tennessee Infantry; the Regiment fought for the Union cause. After the War, Phariba and Adkins divorced.  In 1865, Pryor Adkins married Elizabeth Byrd in Tennessee. They settled down and started a family; eventually raising six sons, four would live to adulthood. In 1880, Adkins moved his family westward in search of economic opportunities. They settled in Sebastian County Arkansas, with five boys ranging in age 4 to 14. At the time, son, Columbus D. (C.D.) Adkins, was 12 years old. 

Somewhere between Sebastian County, Arkansas, which abutted Indian Territory and the Choctaw lands to the west, young C.D. met Sarah Jane McKinney, who was ¼ Choctaw. On January 25, 1886, C.D. and Sarah were married at Sans Bois, Indian Territory.  Soon afterward, Pryor Adkins once again moved his family westward.  In the spring of 1886, the Adkins family camped in the vicinity of Norman. The most likely camping place was “Norman’s Camp,” a spring on Bishop’s Creek where surveyor, Abner Norman camped in 1873, and where Montford T. Johnson’s cowboys camped while guarding Johnson’s livestock on the Arbuckle Trail.  (The spring/camp was located near the intersection of Lindsay and Porter.)   

 The Adkins family ultimately located south of the South Canadian River in the Chickasaw Nation in 1886. C.D. Adkins marriage to a woman with Choctaw linage qualified the family to lease land from the Chickasaws. According to the Adkins family history, the land was ”beautiful indeed with acres of wild flowers, vast forests and pasture land for miles and miles, where wild animals roamed. This was the paradise they sought.”  Regardless of the somewhat overrated attributes contributed to the land south of the Canadian River, Adkins took advantage of the natural resources available to him; He and his boys cut and bailed prairie grass on land that is now Norman. Through their lease with the Chickasaw Nation, the family acquired several thousand acres of grazing land, and built a log home on the hill in the middle of their new “paradise.”  Below their Hill on the South Canadian, Adkins and his boys established a ferry business; the area was known for years as Adkins’ crossing. Eventually, the first bridge built across the river was at this crossing. (24th Ave. SW). The family also established a corn meal mill and a lumber mill at the bottom of the hill.  

Adkins family

Before the opening of the unassigned lands to settlement in 1889, individuals seeking economic advancement saw the potential of being on the “ground floor” of acquiring the best town lots.  In the spring of 1889, before the land run, several enterprising gentlemen, including Pryor Adkins, met at the Santa Fe Depot in Purcell, a newly established town in the Chickasaw Nation.  Adkins, along with lawyer Albert Rennie; Santa Fe Agent, Delbert L. Larsh; Chickasaw rancher, Charles T. Gorton; Santa Fe engineer, John Helvie; Purcell newspaper editor, Edward P. Ingle; and Purcell’s Santa Fe Depot agent, Thomas R. Waggoner, formed the Norman Townsite Company. Rennie created a map of the townsite so that each member of the Company could easily locate the desired town lot. But, on the morning of the landrun, when members of the Norman Townsite Company debarked from the special train to Norman from Purcell, Rennie put the map in his back pocket; the Santa Fe employees had already surveyed the town in advance of the run.  The men then moved forward with staking their claims to town lots surveyed by the Santa Fe, and they staked claim to quarter sections outside the townsite.  Adkins acquired a quarter section west of present day McGee and south of Lindsay. He also acquired town lots; one north side of Eufaula Street and west of the tracks, and the other where the Sooner Theater is today.

Along with his various enterprises south of the Canadian River, Adkins was one of the first to move ahead with establishing substantial businesses in Norman. Shortly after the run, Adkins built the Planters Hotel on his town lot just east of the Santa Fe track, north side, 101 East Main.  

                                                       Planters Hotel

The structure was two stories with fourteen rooms. Upstairs there was a large room with 11 beds that could accommodate 22 men. Soldiers stayed at the Planters just after the run to maintain order in the new town. Downstairs was a dining room, kitchen and lobby. The building was raised shortly before the establishment of the Sooner Theatre in the 1920s. Adkins other building was known as the Adkins-Welsh Rock Building at 208 West Main. The Rock-Building had several tenants over the years. At one time the City and County offices rented space upstairs as did the University of Oklahoma. The first university classes were held upstairs until University Hall was finished on campus in 1903. In more recent history, the Rock-Building was occupied by Landsaw’s Furniture store. The site of the Rock-Building is now an empty lot owned by the downtown Baptist Church.

                                                     Adkins Rock Building

Pryor Adkins was instrumental in establishing the first town council.
He called the first meeting in order to establish a charter and elect city officials. Those interested met in Edwards Park, now renamed James Garner Plaza. Townsite member Thomas Waggoner was elected mayor and Adkins was elected clerk and recorder. In 1894, Adkins was elected Mayor.

Pryor Adkins was typical of those who saw the economic benefits on the western frontier. The settlement of the America West began in earnest after the United States congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862.  Opening Native America lands for settlement in what is now Oklahoma was one of the last opportunities for free land and a new beginning.   Adkins, like many who sought economic advancement, had to realize there would be many such opportunities in the new Territory of Oklahoma. Being blessed with a family of boys, who could help establish a ranch and other economic enterprises needed in a new settlement, Adkins provided a foundation for his sons and their families, all contributed to financial success of the City of Norman that we know today. 

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Edward p. Ingle and the beginning of the Norman Transcript

Purcell, Chickasaw Nation, was bustling with activity on the morning of April 22, 1889, the day of the opening of the unassigned lands for settlement in what is now central Oklahoma. The small town of barely four hundred people swelled to over 2000 in the weeks leading up to the landrun; advertisements for free land circulated through out the United States and Europe. At the end of the 1880s, Oklahoma Territory was becoming one of the last places to establish a home on the “frontier.”  Railroad interest helped to persuade the federal government to open Indian lands, new settlement would improve business on recently finished lines through the Territories.  Purcell was established as a railroad town in 1887 when the Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe (AT&SF) completed their line from Kansas to Texas and established a depot in the Chickasaw Nation. Town lots in Purcell went up for sale on April 5, 1887, and a post office was soon established. Purcell was the only town on the border of the unassigned lands; land-seekers waited patiently in Purcell for the opening on April 22.   

The men and women who sought free land came from different economic backgrounds, from different cultures, and from different regions of the world, all looking for a new life. On the day of the opening, they positioned their horses and wagons on the boundaries of the unassigned lands. There they waited for the signal at 12 noon of April 22 to race toward the marked 160 acre parcels that were up for grabs; many scouted their favorite section before the run. For some, who chose not to travel by horse and wagon, a special train waited at Purcell’s depot. Passengers planned to “jump off” as the train slowed to a stop at Norman Station, which was 25 miles to the north. It wasn’t only agricultural land up for grabs. The Santa Fe sent out their engineers in advance of the opening to mark off townsites along the route.  They marked off three towns through central Oklahoma-- Norman, Oklahoma City, and Guthrie. Those who staked town lots were businessmen and women, entrepreneurs looking for a new start, looking for economic opportunity. Edward P. Ingle exemplifies such a person. Ed Ingle boarded the AT&SF passenger car waiting at the Purcell Depot just before 10 a.m. on April 22, 1889.  The overcrowded train slowly left the depot chugging its way toward Norman Station. The engineer paced the speed of his train to arrive at Norman at the designated start time of 12 noon. 

Crossing the Canadian River

Before Ingle moved to Purcell in 1888, he was a farmer by trade. He was born in Staffordshire, England on September 7, 1858. His family immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1865, where they took up farming. Soon after settling in Pennsylvania, the family started moving west, they established farms in two different areas of Illinois and finally in Arkansas. In Arkansas, Ingle’s father, George, died from a gunshot wound during a confrontation with local miners.  Edward P. Ingle married Effie Dorrance in 1880. The newlyweds established a farm in Illinois, and in 1886, they bought a farm in Cowley Co. Kansas.  Ingle, like many seeking new opportunities continued to move westward. In 1888, he moved his growing family from Kansas to Purcell, Chickasaw Nation.  

Ingle, along with Albert Rennie, Delbert L. Larsh, Pryor Adkins, Charles T. Gorton, John Helvie, Thomas R. Waggoner and brothers, Tyler and George Blake were members of the Norman Townsite Company (NTC). Delbert L. Larsh, Santa Fe station agent in Purcell, a man who understood the opportunities of being in on the ground floor of establishing a new town, organized the first meeting of the NTC on April 2, twenty days before the land opening on the April 22. Larsh invited men of varying backgrounds to organize the new town of Norman. Pryor Adkins and Charles T. Gorton were Chickasaw cattlemen, John Helvie, was a Santa Fe engineer. Thomas R. Waggoner was Purcell’s RR depot’s chief clerk and cashier. Brothers Tyler and George Blake were pharmacists and Edward P. Ingle, noted in 1888 as publisher of the Purcell Register.  Ingle left the hardscrabble life of a farmer and took up the pen of a publisher when he moved to Purcell. Lawyer, Albert Rennie, drew up a map of Norman assigning streets and town lots. 

Norman on April 23, 1889, day after the landrun. The frame building is Norman Townsite Company member, Charles Gorton's, he had it pre-assembled before the run and moved to his town lot on the day of the run.

Once the Norman Townsite Company members stepped down from the train in Norman, they laid claim to their town lots. Some claimed more than one, and outside the designated town, some claimed 160 acres of agricultural land. Charles T. Gorton, claimed both town lot and 160 acres, which later became the site of the University of Oklahoma. Ingle claimed a corner west of the Santa Fe tracks, the N.E. corner of Main Street and Santa Fe Street as a good location for his new newspaper, the Norman Transcript. 

While still publishing the Purcell Register, Ingle expanded his publishing empire when he released the first issue of the Norman Transcript on July 13, 1889.  His next issue was July 20, then the publisher went on a hiatus until the late fall of 1889.  In December of that year, he started to publish the Norman Transcript on a regular weekly basis. The Norman Transcript had competition from the Norman Advance, which was actually Norman’s first newspaper. The Blakeney Brothers published the first issue of the Norman Advance on July 11, 1889, two days before the Transcript. Ingle didn’t see a need for Norman to have two newspapers. He stated in his first Transcript issue, “The boys are evidently of the opinion that there is room here for two newspapers. Perhaps there is, but we are of the opinion that it will be dry picking for some of us for a time.” Besides reporting the news, newspapers were usually the only printer in town; they picked up commercial business along with publishing required legal notices. Newspapers also gained revenue from political interest, especially if the newspaper publisher was of the same political persuasion as the benefactor.  Ingle was a Republican and the Blakeney Brothers were Democrats; two papers of opposing political views represented Norman quite nicely. 

First Issue of the Norman Transcript, July 13, 1889.


The premiere editions of the Norman Transcript consisted of four pages. At first, the content emphasized more regional, national and international news than local news. Ingle recognized this when he informed his readers that, “Our columns are short on personal matters this week but hereafter we expect to be around to note every occurrence of importance of this and surrounding vicinities.”  To make up for the dearth of local news, Ingle found news that might be of interest to many newly transplanted Kansans, who now resided in Norman; he devoted several columns on the front page to news from different Kansas communities. In a column entitled, “Kansas State News,” Ingle informed his readers that “Cowley County has 16, 083 horses”,  “Lyons Kansas wheat is selling at 69 cents a bushel,” and that, “Kansas Supreme Court has decided that a verdict rendered by a jury is not legal.” Other news in a column entitled “Current Comment,” Ingle related that there had been 113 Fourth of July celebrations and that, “A man living in Illinois is only three feet six inches tall. He is not long for this world.” Ingle devoted the third page to “Local Brevities,” which shared the page equally with local advertisements. In “Local Brevities” Ingle picked up whatever tidbit of news he could find from his observations walking the boardwalk of the three-month old town. “Considerable Railroad material is stocked up here,” and,  “Norman already has many good and substantial buildings”(he also added elsewhere that these building needed to be painted.) Other “Local Brevities” included, “A street-sprinkler was needed a portion this week,” indicating the problem with dust from the streets and perhaps a sign that mid-summer was dry in the new town and surrounding agricultural community. Ingle also noted,” Everybody seems to be busy and that fact speaks well for the future of our town.” 

The new town of Norman extablished on a hay field used by ranchers in the Chickasaw Nation for grazing their cattle.

Through out the first editions of the Norman Transcript, Ingle noted that the paper was a champion of the people and of Norman. It was a positive paper not necessarily a progressive paper in the late nineteenth century political meaning of the word. Ingle wrote, “yes, this is a booming sheet and we have the country and town to back us up in every assertion.” As an example, Ingle continued, “The Commercial Bank of Norman is to be an establishment here in the near future. And, so we boom.”  There was also a column with miscellaneous political news from Washington D. C. And even a paragraph or two from other parts of the world, interesting news items that Ingle thought would pique the interest of his readers.  In his July 20 issue he ran an article dateline London entitled, ”Details of Jack’s Latest Crime.”  The article was about “Jack the Ripper’s” latest of murder of a middle-aged prostitute in the London district of Whitechapel.  

Edward P. Ingle was in and out of the newspaper business for the rest of his life. He first retired as publisher of the Transcript in 1894. He sold the paper to R.Y. Mangum and O.W. Meacham of Purcell, but after the two defaulted on their financial obligation to Ingle, Ingle once again acquired the newspaper. In 1877, J.J. Burke took over as editor relieving Ingle of the duties; Burke leased the business from Ingle and by 1903 he purchased the remaining interest in the paper. Later, Ingle was employed as a bookkeeper.

Edward P. Ingle was not an educated man, which was typical of many late nineteenth-century Americans. He could read and write, english skills he most likely learned in the home as he grew up. In an effort to better himself and his family, he took the economic opportunity afforded him in establishing a new town and a new community. Ingle lived the rest of his life in Norman. It is recorded that he built the first home in the City; over his 45 years in Norman, he owned three homes. While he considered himself a publisher of a newspaper, he kept his hand in farming. In 1910 he listed his occupation as a farm manager. Twenty-four years later, he also listed his occupation as a journalist in the newspaper industry. Ingle died in 1934 in Norman at a time when the City was experiencing the hardships of the Economic Depression. 

Norman around 1900.

The men, who formed the Norman Townsite Company in the small town of Purcell, were not speculators, like many who participated in the various landruns in what is now Oklahoma. Members of the Norman Townsite Company were men with vision and an entrepreneurial spirit. They looked at the hayfields alongside the Santa Fe tracks, and saw the possibilities born in developing a new town of prosperous citizens.   Edward Ingle promoted that vision. He not only “boosted” the hard work of settlers to fashion a town that would become a commercial center, a county seat, and the home of the state’s major university, but he cheered this growing community in his newspaper. A hundred and twenty-seven years later the Norman Transcript is still an important part of the Norman Community.

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