Monday, July 26, 2021

Jury Duty

By Rachel Dworkin, archivist

This past week, I was summoned for jury duty. These days, a lot of Americans would prefer to avoid it, but, historically, people have fought hard for the right to sit on a jury.

These days in New York State, potential jurors are drawn from lists of registered voters, local property tax payers, licensed drivers, and persons applying for public assistance.  Once a pool of potential jurors has been summoned, the lawyers for both sides work together to select either six or 12 jurors (depending on the type of trial) and up to two alternates to hear the case. The attorneys interview potential jurors to select those which they think might be open to their case while excluding those they fear will not be. In an article entitled “How I Pick Out Men for a Jury” written for The American magazine in 1919, Elmira attorney John B. Stanchfield explained his process:

In selecting a jury, for example, the law plays practically no part. It is understanding of human beings that counts. For this reason, I study your face, your tone of voice, the answers you make and, especially, whether or not you look me in the eye when speaking. I make a point to find out whether you are well-to-do, or perhaps a clerk at a store. In addition, I always want to know the occupation of a prospective juror’s children, as well as the occupation of the juror himself. I ask your age, religion, and many other things because they all aid me, as the prosecutor or the lawyer for the defense, to make up my mind whether or not I want you for the jury.

Ideally, Stanchfield wrote, a jury should comprise of four strong men and eight intelligent and resolute ones. A juror who could empathize strongly with the defendant due to similarities in profession, class, religion, race, age, or club association, would be unlikely to convict, while someone from a different background might be more likely to return a guilty verdict. It was true back in 1919 and it is still true today. That’s a big part of why so many people have fought so hard to ensure that women and minorities can participate on juries.

John B. Stanchfield, attorney

 The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and guaranteed citizenship and basic civil rights to African Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 explicitly extended those rights to include participation on juries, among other things. In 1883, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was overturned by the Supreme Court, opening the door for states to find ways of excluding Blacks from jury participation. This was especially the case in the South. In 1935, the Supreme Court reversed course in Norris v. Alabama (1935), declaring that the State could not systematically exclude Blacks from jury service. Individual lawyers could continue to attempt to dismiss potential jurors based on race until Batson v. Kentucky (1985), when the court ruled that a State violates a defendant’s right to equal protection in a trial where members of their own race have been purposely excluded from the jury. Despite the ruling, the problem of racial exclusion persists.

In Chemung County, only two Blacks were summoned as prospective jurors between 1875 and 1900. Richard Johnson, a Black man living on East Clinton Street, was summoned for a case in January 1899. He worked as a laborer and had not been following the news of the case in the paper, despite living in the same neighborhood as the victim. Attorney John B. Stanchfield argued that he was unqualified to serve and had him dismissed. It was not until well after 1935 that a Black man was selected to sit on a jury in Chemung County. 

Chemung County courtroom, 1896

 Women were also long excluded from juries. In 1870, the Chief Justice of Wyoming Territory began the practice of mixed-gender juries, but his successor in 1871 terminated the practice. In 1883, Washington Territory granted women the right to serve on juries, but subsequently rescinded it in 1887. Utah became the first state, in 1898, to grant women the right to sit on juries. After New York women won the right to vote in 1917, a group of four women who had recently registered to vote became the first women to sit on a jury in this state in a case in Sidney in January 1918. The problem was, New York State law specified that only men could serve as jurors. It wasn’t until 1927, after repeated attempts to amend the law, that New York officially allowed for female jurors, but service for women did not become mandatory until 1930s.

In 1935, The Star-Gazette interviewed local women about their thoughts on compulsory jury duty for women. Dean Frances M. Burlingame of Elmira College was all in favor as she didn’t “see any essential difference between the citizenship of men and women” and therefore believed women should have the same duties as men. Others were somewhat less enthusiastic about the prospect of serving, but agreed it was important.  Mrs. George Diven, president of the Chemung County Republican Women’s Club, disapproved of the entire jury system, but did not say what she would replace it with.

Mississippi became the last state to make women eligible for jury duty in 1968. As late as 1979, some states continued to require women to opt-in to serve until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. In 1994, the court ruled that a jury where members were excluded based on gender was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I didn't end up on a jury this time, but I'm still glad I at least have the right to serve.


Monday, July 19, 2021

The McCann Boulder

by Erin Doane, Curator

On January 17, 1881, an enormous boulder was moved from the towpath on the east side of the former Chemung Canal near Latta Brook, down Lake Street, and over to Woodlawn Cemetery where it was placed on the plot owned by George S. McCann. Nine teams of horses and six yokes of oxen were used to move the immense stone. George wanted the boulder to mark his final resting place because he thought “an object formed by the hand of nature” was far more suitable as a monument for the dead than a costly and ornate monument made by man.” It would be 19 more years before he joined his marker in the cemetery.

McCann monument in Woodlawn Cemetery, July 10, 2021

George S. McCann was born at the McCann homestead at 2,000 Davis Street on June 24, 1823. He was one of six children. His father John had come to Elmira from Ireland in 1809 and purchased 320 acres of land from Thomas Whitney. After John’s death, the family home went to George and he had a long, successful career as a farmer. In the 1870s, he sold 140 acres to the Commissioners of Prisons that became the site of the Elmira Reformatory.

On October 10, 1864, George married Crete Kingsbury. Together they had three children – Hattie, born September 4, 1865; Crete, born September 17, 1867; and James, born June 16, 1869. Less than three years after their son was born, however, tragedy struck. Crete passed away on March 4, 1872 at the age of 32. A notice in the local newspaper described her as “one of those sweet dispositioned women whom no one knows but to love, and her death will be mourned with genuine and heartfelt sorrow by a large circle of relatives, acquaintances and friends.” Funeral services were held at the McCann home and she was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Bronze plaque on the McCann monument with portraits of George and Crete, photo taken July 10, 2021
As a widower, George turned his attention to the community. Two years after Crete’s passing he got into politics. He was elected to the board of supervisors from the Town of Elmira in 1874, 1875, 1876, 1882, and 1883. He served as chairman of the board in 1882. He was also a member of the Union Lodge No. 95 Free and Accepted Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Independent Order of Good Templars, the Grange, and the Elmira Farmers’ Club. 

George was known as someone who was always doing something to make others happy. On June 17, 1897, he hosted a reunion for those who had attended school with him back in the 1830s. Thirty-two of his former classmates along with their wives and husbands enjoyed a luncheon feast in a large tent in his front yard and shared stories of the good old days of their youth.

George S. McCann, Telegram, March 4, 1900
In 1899, George’s health began to fail and he became confined to his home. He made a trip to St. Clemens, Michigan to be treated for rheumatism but his condition did not improve. At seven o’clock in the morning on March 2, 1900, he passed away in the same house in which he had been born. The funeral was held at the homestead, as had been Crete’s, and he was laid to rest beside her in the plot marked by the enormous rock he had placed there so many years earlier. 

Over time, the story of how the boulder was moved to Woodlawn became somewhat exaggerated, as many tales of great deeds are. It was reported that it took 17 teams of horses and four yokes of oxen to move it (which was a good 8 teams of horses more than stated in a document drafted on the day the stone was actually moved, but two fewer yokes of oxen.) The stone itself has been called the “largest common boulder ever found in the Chemung Valley.”

Stereoscope view of the teams of horses moving the boulder during a rest stop in front of the Half-Way House on Lake Street, January 17, 1881
The monument also became a bit of a tourist attraction. An article in the Star-Gazette on September 13, 1895 encouraging visitors to enjoy the beauty of Woodlawn Cemetery specifically mentions “the immense boulder that bears the name of George McCann and his wife” as one of the sights to see while there. At some point, a large bronze plaque with the portraits of George and Crete and their death dates was added to the stone. Today, you can still visit the monument, which is located just down the hill from the Clemens family’s plot.


Monday, July 12, 2021

L. Libbie Adams and her Youthful Enterprise

 by Susan Zehnder, Education Director

Our exhibit Fit to Print, on display until July 31st, showcases printing materials from Chemung County. Although we have nothing (yet!) from a nineteenth century publication written, edited, typeset and printed by teenager L. Libbie Adams from Elmira, her story offers a fascinating glimpse into the area's early printing culture. 

Example of a small press from our collection

Laura Elizabeth or "Libbie" Adams was born in 1859 in Carbondale, PA, 
the only child of Lucy and Oscar H. Adams. In May of 1864, her father joined the Union army and mustered in Elmira as an assistant surgeon for the 8th NY Calvary out of Rochester, NY. He was scheduled to serve three years. One month later, following a disastrous raid on the Weldon railroad, he was reported among the 117 missing. It turned out that he had been shot in the head and captured. He was discharged in February 1865 and considered a pensioner for the rest of his life. In 1866, the Elmira City Directory lists Oscar H. Adams as a physician living at 400 High Street where he had moved with his wife Lucy and daughter Libbie.

400 High Street

Two years earlier, Libbie printed her first amateur journal, which she called the Youthful Enterprise. The word amateur was initially used to identify the age of the journalist, not whether they earned any money. Libbie was one of many young journalists who made use of the small novelty presses that became popular during the mid-nineteenth century. These tabletop-sized presses were first designed for shopkeepers to print labels but were soon adopted as a way for people to print their own cards, broadsheets and even newspapers, depending on the size of the press. Their small size and relatively inexpensive cost also attracted young people of modest means. In some ways, small presses were the social media of their generation: children and teenagers used presses as a new means to express themselves, sharing ideas and forming communities through print.

The idea of youth or adolescence as a distinct time of life was something new for nineteenth-century Americans. Earlier generations of young people were often expected to go to work after attending grammar school. Through efforts of the newly established US Office of Education, and the National Education Association, however, education changed. Students were now recommended to have twelve years of instruction: eight years of grammar school, followed by four years of high school. This change increased the number of US public high schools. It also influenced the growth of American higher education, which at the beginning of the century counted 23 colleges and universities, and at the end of the century tallied close to 1,000. It was also when the nation's first Black colleges, now known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, were established. Post-Civil War, education was seen by everyone as a way to improve one's status in life. This change resulted in many students, aged 11 to 19, finding free time to fill. Some youths joined newly formed clubs, sports, and other social associations, while some middle-class youths embraced new technological hobbies like printing.

Most young printers were boys between the ages of 11 and 16. The journals or newspapers they produced followed a familiar template and included news, fiction, poetry, miscellaneous topics, editorials, puzzles, and anything else that they thought other teenagers would want to know. Some papers included advertising sections for products or services marketed for the first time to this age group. Young printers looking for social connection formed the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA). They called their world Amateurdom, or the ‘Dom and  organized regional fairs. In 1876, they held the first national meeting to share their work. 

There were apparently no girls at this first convention, but Libbie Adams and other girls were printing nonetheless. When Libbie first started the Youthful Enterprise in Carbondale, she printed her ten-page, thirty-column papers on an eighth-medium, hand-inking Star press, which cost $38 in 1873. In today's dollars that would be over $1,000. In addition to her editing, printing and editorial work, Libbie was a poet who wrote under the name Nettie Sparkle. When the family moved to Elmira, she continued her work and now used a quarter medium job press to print. A notice in the 1876 Carbondale Daily News reads:

 “Miss Libbie Adams, formerly of this city, is making an interesting paper of her amateur Youthful Enterprise at Elmira. Miss Libbie is improving rapidly as a writer, and we congratulate her thus far.”

Later that year, her work was challenged by a rival printer who questioned whether Libbie, a mere girl, was actually doing the work herself. Apparently, this was a common event among amateur printers who would then respond passionately and refute any claims. Libbie responded and not only printed a testimonial in her paper, but she had it confirmed by the Chemung County notary and signed by such local notables as Edwin Eldridge, John Arnot, Jr., H.W. Rathbone, and both editors of Elmira’s newspapers. 

In 1877, Libbie attended the second national UAPA convention, one of four girls to do so. She was asked to help draft a constitution for the Western New York APA organizing in Buffalo. It was enthusiastically adopted. 

In July of 1878, Libbie’s father, Oscar H. Adams, died. He was forty-four years and was buried in Woodlawn cemetery. No obituary was printed, but his death certificate lists cancer as the cause. The Elmira City Directory for 1879 lists Lucy A. Adams, widow of Oscar H., living at 400 High Street. The next year she is listed at 701 East Church Street. 

Libbie continued to print her paper but changed the name to the Elmira Enterprise. She used the money from printing to pay for college classes at Elmira Female College. There she met, fell in love and married Edwin B. Turner. He had been taking art classes at the college, and was notable for being the first man to enroll there.  After the couple married, he joined her in the printing business. Edwin B. Turner went on to start other businesses, some with more success than others, and the couple had six children. Edwin died in 1940, followed one year later by Libbie Adams Turner died. She was 82. Both are buried in Woodlawn cemetery.

We wish we had a copy of Libbie’s Youthful Enterprise, but in the meantime will have to print her story ourselves.


Friday, July 2, 2021

Jamaica Helps Win the War!

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

On a crisp September morning in 1944, 900 arriving Jamaican workers filled a New York pier with song. None of them had ever been to America before, but all were eager to help with the war effort. 111 of them had come to work at the General Electric foundry here in Elmira. The foundry’s purchasing agent, Wilbur R. Simmons, had gone down to the city to meet them. He was awed by the beauty of their music.

Beginning in 1943, the Farm Security Administration began recruiting Jamaican workers to help ease farm labor shortages in the eastern states. Approximately 4,500 were brought to U.S. that summer with 1,250 of them working in New York. All told, the United States government recruited over 38,000 foreign workers from Mexico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and other parts of the Caribbean and South America to help bring in harvests across the country that year. The practice continued throughout the war.

Agriculture wasn’t the only place where there were wartime worker shortages. Local manufacturers found themselves scrambling to replace workers who had left for military service. In the spring of 1944, John R. Row, the plant engineer for General Electric’s Elmira Foundry, headed to the Caribbean to recruit guest workers. The original plan had been to bring folks from the Bahamas, but that island had put a hold on recruitment due to labor shortages of their own. He ended up going to Jamaica instead.

The first 111 Jamaican guest workers arrived in Elmira on September 24, 1944. They were to be housed at the plant in barracks built specially for them. The barracks featured 2 large halls with bunk beds, a recreation hall, a large kitchen, store house, communal bathroom, and laundry facility. James O’Connor, a former steward for a Kingston cricket club, and Eustace Fothergill, a ship’s cook from Old Harbor, took command of the kitchen. Subsequent guest workers were housed in private apartments or with host families, mostly located in Black community on Elmira’s east side. 

Jamaican worker's arrival, September 26, 1943. Courtesy Elmira Star-Gazette

 The men were initially hired to work a 6-month contract with an option to renew. Although few of them had any experience working in foundries, they were assigned to work in the manufacture of gray-iron castings. The arrangement worked well. Not only was the initial contract renewed through June 1946, additional workers were brought in a few months later. Once the harvest was brought in, Kennedy Valve Manufacturing Company hired 36 Jamaican agricultural laborers to stay in Elmira and work over the winter. Chemung Foundry and Bendix-Eclipse ended up hiring Jamaican workers as well. All told, nearly 300 Jamaicans ended up working in Elmira factories during the course of the war.

Elmira did its best to welcome them. The Council of Social Agencies worked to put together programs and resources to provide them with recreational opportunities in their off hours. Several organizations donated books, magazines, and athletic equipment for the barracks. Elmira College offered a series of lectures and discussion groups on various topics. The Neighborhood House hosted an all-Jamaican choral group. Various churches, including Monumental Baptist Church and St. Luke’s Congregational Church, opened their doors to worshippers. For Christmas 1945, St. John’s Episcopal Church of Elmira Heights held a special concert for them and Trinity Episcopal Church hosted several concerts by the Jamaican Gospel Choir.

The last of the Jamaican workers finally left in 1946. On April 18, Elmira Foundry held a farewell banquet at the Jamaican barracks. Various plant officials came and sang workers’ praises. They presented George Barrett, the chairman of the Jamaican Camp Council, and other workers with scrolls of merit and professional references. The company also presented St. Luke’s Congregational Church with a special bulletin board honoring the Jamaican workers who had worshipped there during their stay. The temporary workers went home in the summer of 1946, but some eventually came back to settle in the community they had come to love. 

Charles Brown's naturalization papers, 1957. Brown was originally from Jamaica.