A Beautiful and Impressive Southern Woman of Decidedly Individualistic Outlook:
 Notes on the Life of
 Harriet Park Thomas

Robert Throop & Lloyd Gordon Ward
for the Mead Project

Historians have not been kind to Harriet Park Thomas. The Chicago child advocate, women's suffrage and peace activist has all but disappeared from the chronicles of her era.

Sociologists have been no kinder. For several decades, stories of the University of Chicago's 1918 dismissal of Harriet's husband, Prof. William Isaac Thomas, have repeated a rumor designed to "explain" the federal government's involvement in the scandal. In 1968, for example, Kimball Young told this version to students at Arizona State University:

Thomas's own story was essentially like this. He was convinced that they didn't care as much about his morals or what have you, but were after Mrs. Thomas because she had been an ardent pacifist. (Lindstrom, Hardert & Young 1988: 293). 

Young was Thomas's teaching assistant during the 1917-18 academic year, his protégé during the next decade, and his unauthorized biographer in the 1960s(cf. Lindstrom, Hardert and Young, 1988: 275; Young 1962/1963). By ordinary standards, he would be considered a "reliable source." His version is the only one to suggest that Thomas blamed his wife for his fall from grace. Other writers have usually attributed the story to some unnamed but "reliable source" or simply repeated it without reference. Sadly, by perpetuating the rumor that "it was all Harriet's fault," Thomas biographers have done exactly what they suggest that the federal authorities wanted to do: they have devalued (if not completely discredited) Harriet's contributions to the events of her era.

This essay is less a portrait than a collage, pasting together the few references to Harriet Thomas we have found in newspapers and letters from the period. Large portions of her life have been left blank. We know almost nothing of her childhood, and very little about her first twenty years as a faculty wife at Oberlin College and the University of Chicago. Despite those weaknesses, the collage suggests she played a far more important role in the events of her day than historians and sociologists have credited to her.

Her Life as a Faculty Wife

Sometime in 1864, Harriet Park was born into one of Knoxville, Tennessee more prominent families. Her paternal grandfather, James Park, was an Irish immigrant who chose Knoxville to build a successful career as a merchant and twice served as his community's mayor. Her father, Rev. James Park, was a preacher and educator. Best known for his decades of leadership at Knoxville's First Presbyterian Church, he had previously served as Principal of the Knoxville Female Seminary and the Tennessee School for the Deaf. After the Civil War, Rev. Park joined the Board of Trustees of East Tennessee University, which later became the University of Tennessee. In part because of her parent's dedication to education, in part because of her age at the time she married, we suspect that Harriet attended one of the southern women's colleges. Unfortunately, we have (yet) not been able to document that aspect of her life.

On 6 June 1888, Harriet married Dr. William Isaac Thomas, a member of another prominent Tennessee family and the son of a preacher-turned-merchant in Knoxville (Marquis 1951a: 529). A member of the University of Tennessee faculty since 1885, young Prof. Thomas was its adjunct professor of English and Modern Languages at the time. In 1888, the University was experiencing the last aftershocks of an upheaval created when the trustees hired Charles W. Dabney, Jr. as the institution's president in 1886-87. In 1987-88, they gave Dabney free rein over personnel issues and by 1888-89, over 70 percent of the pre-1886 faculty had found employment elsewhere (Montgomery 1961: 29). Because Dabney had identified nepotism as a problem in the previous administrations, young Prof. Thomas could not reasonably expect his father-in-law (a member of university's Board of Control) to intervene on his behalf. Instead, he negotiated a leave of absence for post-doctoral study abroad. The newly-weds left Knoxville in time for him to enter the University of Berlin in the final semester of 1888 (Montgomery 1961: 34).

We have been able to discover very little about the young couple's time in Germany. After a semester in Berlin, they went to Göttingen for the winter semester of 1889. Something of the flavor of their German honeymoon may have been preserved in an 1896 letter Prof. Thomas wrote to Wilfred Cressy, advising the young instructor and former colleague on how to manage a rough patch in his career at Oberlin College:

Now, my dear fellow, you can arrange to go abroad for two years if you want to. I went, and took a new wife, and every cent I used was borrowed money, and I hadn’t a foot of real estate. I am still indebt, but who cares; I am paying it off. Moreover when you go abroad don’t study your eyes out. Take some time to see the country and teach Mrs. Cressy to drink beer.1

While in Germany, the professor had accepted the newly created position as Professor of English Language and Literature at Oberlin College. They arrived in the small Ohio community for the beginning of the autumn semester of 1889, with Harriet pregnant with their first child, William Alexander Thomas, born in January 1890. Their second son, Edward Brown Thomas, was born a year later. 

We know very little about Harriet's life at Oberlin, but we suspect that its small circle of faculty wives provided the context for a friendship between Harriet and Emily Peck, the wife of John Fisher Peck, Principal of the College's preparatory school. The match had not been a good one. Emily spent what time she could away from Oberlin. Those occasional separations were possible through the generosity of Emily's maternal aunt, Helen Culver. A few months prior to the Thomas's arrival at Oberlin, the otherwise private Miss Culver had made the front page of the Chicago Tribune when it announced that her late cousin, Charles Hull (a successful Chicago real estate developer and the namesake of Hull House) had named her as his sole beneficiary (Chicago Tribune 1889a, b). At Oberlin, a rumor circulated that Culver's will named Mrs. Peck as her aunt's sole beneficiary. As we discuss elsewhere, that rumor, paired with the Thomases' friendship with Mrs. Peck were pivotal to the next important development in Prof. Thomas's career (see The Education of W.I. Thomas).

In June of 1893, the University of Chicago Trustees appointed Prof. Thomas to a graduate fellowship in their new program in Social Science.2  At the time, Harriet was either pregnant with or had just given birth to their third child, Robert. We can only imagine how the news was received in the Oberlin community. Thomas had just committed to a rather heavy teaching schedule for the next academic year. However, he negotiated a paid leave of absence for the Autumn and Winter terms.3 With his time freed until the beginning Oberlin's spring session, Thomas moved his young family to Chicago to pursue a second doctorate in the new field.

The family would not return to Oberlin. Harriet and the boys remained in the city while the professor took rooms on campus during the spring semesters of 1894 and 1895.4 In 1895, after negotiating a secure career path at the University of Chicago, Prof. Thomas resigned his Oberlin position to focus on his studies.5

During the summer of 1895, a letter from the Professor to the same Oberlin colleague reported that "Mrs. Thomas continues to improve slowly. Her ailment is "septicemia," or systemic absorption. It is common in confinement, and has no connection with the trouble for which she went to this hospital. They say she will be perfectly well when she gets out.5a Open to interpretation as they are, these comments may refer to a difficult birth or miscarriage. With no other evidence, we suspect that this may have been Harriet's first daughter, Madeline, mentioned in a 1962 biography of her husband. We have been able to find no other references either to Madeline or to Dorothy, the second daughter mentioned in that source.

With three little boys running around her apartment, we didn't expected to find many mentions of Harriet during her first years in Chicago. So we were surprised when the minutes of the Chicago Woman's Club from the autumn of 1895 mentioned that they had "voted that Miss Lathrop and Mrs. W. I. Thomas send to the County Board a petition in the name of the Philanthropy Department asking that when practicable, dependent children be placed in families under proper conditions and under proper supervision" (Chicago Woman's Club 1916: 161). This note is the earliest we have found linking Harriet to the Hull House circle of reformers. Harriet arrived in Chicago with ties to Hull House through it primary benefactor, Miss Culver. Her collaboration with Lathrop isn't be surprising, but taking on such work while raising a growing family is.

Harriet's relationship to Helen Culver resurfaced in More than Lore, the history of women at the University of Chicago published in the 1930s by Marion Talbot, the University of Chicago's Dean of Women and the professor's colleague in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Talbot recounted a small crisis that erupted in 1897 when a group of students tried to form the first sorority on campus. Unaware of a University policy discouraging any ties between students and external institutions, especially sororities and fraternities, Miss Culver and Mrs. Thomas had agreed to sponsor the sisterhood. Miss Talbot had the unpleasant task of explaining to the University's second most influential donor that her patronage was not wanted. Thomas and Culver promptly withdrew their support, bringing the matter to a quiet close (Talbot 1936: 94-95).

Only two of the Harriet's children survived to adulthood, William and Edward. Robert, the youngest, died in 1904. Harriet and boys headed to Michigan for a summer vacation, leaving the Professor in Chicago to teach. Despite his brothers efforts to rescue him, Robert, then age 11, drowned in Paw Paw Lake (Chicago Tribune 1904a,b).

We have no direct evidence, but we suspect that the tragedy permanently altered Harriet's relationship with her husband. We base that interpretation primarily on L.L. Bernard's observations of Thomas from 1907, his first year as a graduate student at Chicago: "At that time, and for some years after, [Thomas] seems to have been associating with a rather fast set who hung out at nearby country clubs and golf courses. Most of his contemporary illustrations were taken from the field of golf theory and practice. It was also said that he drank rather constantly, if not heavily, and his features showed many signs of excessive living." When visiting his undergraduate mentor in St. Louis at the end of that year, Bernard noted that

When I saw Dr. Ellwood in the summer of 1908 and reported to him some of the teachings of the men in these department as they were now, after a period of nearly ten years since he was a student under the same men, he was most surprised by the teachings of Professor Thomas. Thomas was now all but openly sanctioning freer family and sex relations, prophesying that some women would in the near future dare to embark openly upon the venture of having children without tying themselves down in marriage, and openly criticizing traditional and current views regarding the vices. Dr. Ellwood averred that this did not sound like Thomas, who, in his own graduate student days, had been a strong defender of conventional views on sex, the family, and morals.

Thomas had married a beautiful and impressive southern woman of decidedly individualistic outlook and had apparently been greatly devoted to her. But as her children grew into their teens she became more and more interested in the social and club life of the city and he had turned to golf and men's clubs. It was openly rumored that they did not get along very well, the rumors penetrating even to the student body. If there was at that time any other woman in the case this fact did not reach me (Bernard 2007). 

Bernard's memory of graduate student gossip fits neatly with a 1918 comment that Pearl Granger made to the press: "Mrs. Thomas and the professor had separate interests. Theirs was simply a matrimonial alliance" (cf., Chicago Tribune 1918a1, Chicago Daily Journal 1918a). Admittedly, Granger was downplaying her own role in a double adultery that would briefly become a national sensation. But "matrimonial alliance" seems to be the best term to describe their relationship after Robert's death. For the next twenty-five years, Harriet was a staunch defender of her husband and his career, even when they lived apart. But in the years after Robert's death, Harriet's built a life independent of her husband, and after 1910 often spent months (and later, years) away from him.

Harriet's began to display her independence when Prof. Thomas published his widely discussed collection of essays on gender, Sex and Society (Thomas 1907) when Harriet briefly shared his spotlight. With reporters curious about how she felt about his avante garde ideas, the Chicago Tribune asked Harriet for her opinion of her husband's work. She let them know that

"I do not agree with my husband in all his statements, although I feel that many of them are true," she declared. "His declarations on family life not being conducive to romantic love are quite easy to misinterpret, but I hold that, whether or not, marriage should be founded on a much higher plane than romantic love. Mr. Thomas is quite fond in private life — I believe he has never said much about a revolution in belief. I think he has been fair and honest in what he has stated, although, as I have said, his view do not coincide with mine" (Chicago Tribune 1907).

Harriet's Life in Social Reform

Late in 1908, the Tribune made Harriet the focus of a story exposing a door-to-door sales scam, a story that marked the beginning of a new phase in Harriet's life  (Chicago Tribune 1908). A few months earlier, young William had left home to explore Europe. He spent 1908-09 at the University of Geneva before heading to the University of Munich to continue his undergraduate education. He didn't return until 1911, when, after a brief term at University of Vienna, he came home to complete his bachelor's degree at the University of Chicago in 1912 (A. N. Marquis 1951b).  We haven't been able find as detailed an educational history for Edward. In 1908, he would have been 17 or 18 years old, presumably finishing high school or starting his post-secondary schooling. He may have enjoyed the same period of "study abroad" as his older brother. His entry in the University of Chicago's graduate student lists for 1914-15 identified him as having completed his Ph.B there in 1914, before immediately entering his graduate school (University of Chicago 1915: 608). With the nest empty, Harriet created a new life for herself.

In his 1909 Christmas letter to Jane Addams, Prof. Thomas thanked her for involving Harriet in her work.6 He wasn't specific about which of Addams' several projects Harriet had become part of, but we can reconstruct some of them from news stories. The previous April the Tribune reported that during the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association's day of lobbying at the Springfield legislature, Harriet had followed Addams in their presentation to the House Charter committee. Harriet's address had evoked memories of the Civil War' extension of suffrage, with the newspaper story highlighting Harriet's ironic but deadly serious comments:

"In the early sixties," she said, "the men of Illinois were active in the cause of emancipation and they helped take $30,000 worth of property away from me. I am willing to take that back in votes, and you know how many votes $30,000 will buy (Chicago Tribune 1909a).

Harriet's alliance with Addams continued. Along side William James' shorter comments, the January 1910 issue of the American Journal of Sociology carried her review of Addams' The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets (Thomas 1910). Harriet had become involved with the Juvenile Protective Association, the Hull House based social work agency that worked directly with the city's Juvenile Court program. Exactly which aspects of that work Harriet had taken on is not clear. A story from the Fall of 1909 placed her along side the then famous anti-prostitution crusader, Clifford Roe, at a meeting of the North Shore suburban women, with Harriet lecturing on the threat that pimps and panders posed to maids and other servants (Chicago Tribune 1909b).

In 1910, Harriet attended the National Conference of Social Work to present the Association's research on children's attendance at the newest entertainment craze, the Nickelodeons. We are still trying to obtain a copy of the published version of the presentation. Thomas Riley, reporting for The Survey, offered this summary:

At the joint section meeting with the committee on children, Mrs. W. I. Thomas, field secretary of the Juvenile Protective Association, spoke on the five-cent theater and the possibility of censorship of the films. She said that the motion picture show was in itself and in its moral atmosphere greatly to be preferred to the cheap theater. The pictures themselves have great influence upon the children, and she suggested the possibility of popularizing good drama and bringing its benefit and pleasure within the reach of all (Riley 1910).

In the following months, Harriet would take that message to several of the city's women's clubs (Chicago Woman's Club 1916: 255).

Harriet's involvement with the Juvenile Protective Association may have been the most important event in her biography and her husband's.6? The JPA provided a context for her friendship with Ethel S. Dummer, the independently wealthy wife of Chicago banker William Francis Dummer, who was a founding trustee of Graham Taylor's Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy in 1908, and the original funder of psychiatrist/neurologist William Healy's Juvenile Psychopathic Institute in 1909 (Mennel 1980: 208). In Ethel, Harriet found a someone who shared a common approach to the world. In a letter to Dummer written a decade later Harriet wrote:

The splendid thing about you is that you are able to be so impersonal toward truth. If the facts in evidence donít square with your traditions you chuck the traditions, and that, I think, is almost the hardest thing for women to do. Even in some of the deliberations of the International Congress of Women Physicians, I notice that the women often have a social or ethical prepossession that makes it impossible for them to accept a fact in all its bareness.

Way back in the days of my connection with the J.P.A., I used to find this difference in your attitude from that of the other members of the committee, and now your own assessment of your effort to search out sources and causes shows how impossible it was for your mind to balk at any scientific analysis and interpretation after having heard, week after week, the nauseating details of conditions which ignorance and insincerity have produced. 6a

The friendship between Harriet and Ethel was rooted in the mutual respect and admiration produced during their collaboration in the Juvenile Protective Association. That relationship predated W. I. Thomas's first collaboration with Mrs. Dummer on her education project by more than half a decade. In the years following the 1918 scandal, Frank and Ethel Dummer provided stipends to both W.I. Thomas and Harriet Thomas to supporting their work. The Dummers privately commissioned Thomas's study of women institutionalized under the Chamberlain-Kahn Act, The Unadjusted Girl (Thomas 1923). Harriet's correspondence with Ethel suggests that that they either partially underwrote the work on The Child in America (Thomas & Thomas 1928) from 1925 to 1927 or had intervened to secure the patronage of the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fund. Finally, the Dummers employed Thomas to coordinate the small conference on non-Freudian interpretations of "the Unconscious" held in 1927 under the auspices of the Illinois Mental Hygiene Association, headed by Mrs. Dummer at the time. It is also worth noting that in 1926, the year when W. I. Thomas was elected president of the American Sociological Society, Ethel served as secretary of the Section on The Family. Harriet, as well as W. I. Thomas's brother, Dr. Henry Thomas credited Mrs. Dummer with the rehabilitation of Thomas's reputation. For her part, Ethel denied any meaningful contribution, and credited the rehabilitation to Harriet.  

In the fall of 1910, while her husband was involved in the Vice Commission of the City of Chicago, Harriet served on the Executive Board of the Women's Trade Union League (Women's Trade Union League 1911: 1). At the beginning of 1911, Prof. Thomas left on the first of his extended exploration of Europe supported by the Helen Culver Fund for Race Psychology. The fragments of his letters from that trip preserved in Rudolph Haerle's made no mention of Harriet (Haerle 1991). We suspect that Harriet remained in Chicago as she had during his 1896 trip. Correspondence with Samuel Harper from Prof. Thomas's second trip are similarly silent about Harriet, suggesting that she was in Chicago during the professor's eight or nine month trip during at the end of 1912 and the beginning of 1913.

Although we have not been able to document her activities between 1911 and 1915, an acute awareness in our own shortcomings as researchers, and our faith in Harriet's dedication to the cause, we are confident that Harriet remained actively involved in women's issues during the period. This brief note in a 1916 issue of the Journal of Home Economics to continued involvement in women's issues even after she became involved in the peace movement:

The University of Texas: Home Economics week was observed at the University of Texas in February, under the direction of the School of Domestic Economy and the Home Welfare Division of the Department of Extension. The object of the conference as stated by Miss Gearing, was "to stress the relation between the home and the community." The program, with the aid of speakers from New York, Chicago and Boston, carried out this purpose in an unusual way. Mrs. W. I. Thomas, of Chicago, spoke on the Social Needs of the Woman in Industry, the Child in the Community, and on Madam, Who Keeps Your House? . . . (Journal of Home Economics 1916: 276).

Harriet and the Peace Movement

Without casting doubt on Harriet's participation in the peace movement, it should be noted from the outset of this section that many histories written by her comrades in the cause don't mention her (cf., Addams, Balch & Hamilton 1915, Florence 1935/1974, Lochner 1924, Nearing 1972). When she is mentioned, it is usually just in passing. For instance, Harriet's name comes up twice in Degan's History of the Woman's Peace Party: the first to incorrectly named her as Party's treasurer, the second as the person who sent a telegram (cf. Degan 1939/1974: 55, 61). Mary Heaton Vorse's A Footnote to Folly is among the few memoirs to included Harriet among the American delegates to the first Hague Conference. The passage, however, has a special significance; Vorse characterized Harriet by adding "who, with her husband, was so bitterly persecuted during the war for her pacifism." (Vorse 1935). Published in 1935, Vorse's comment is the earliest reference we have found to the story linking Harriet's pacificist activism to the scandal.

 If historians had to rely on these testimonies ―and they have (cf. Foster 1989, Foster 1995)― they could easily get the impression that Harriet's role was limited to licking stamps and opening mail. That impression casts considerable doubt on any notion that Harriet was the target of a government plot to silence her. To get even a glimmer of her contribution, we have to turn to contemporary news coverage and to documents like the notorious "Lusk Report." We will deal the the news reports first.

The Woman's Peace Party and the Ford Peace Ship

In January of 1915, at a Woman’s Movement for Constructive Peace meeting held in Washington, the delegates voted to constitute themselves as the Woman's Peace Party, naming Jane Addams their first president. With plans to establish their offices in Chicago, the party's Executive left the choice for two key positions to Addams' discretion: executive secretary and treasurer (Washington Post 1915a,b). Jane quickly named two of her long-time collaborators to the posts: Harriet Thomas and Sophonisba P. Breckenridge respectively. Within a week, Harriet was carrying the Party's message to the Chicago Woman's Club (Chicago Woman's Club 1916: 334). Although rarely remembered, in the spring of 1915, Harriet joined Jane Addams and the other women as part of the American delegation to Queen Wilhelmina's International Congress of Women of Neutral Countries at the Hague (Chicago Tribune 1915a-c).  Unfortunately, Harriet was absent from the famous picture of the American delegates.

During that first year with the Woman's Peace Party, Harriet sharpened her skills as an orator. One plank of of the Party's platform was "Education of youth in the ideals of peace," and she took that message to the National Education Association's annual meeting in San Francisco that summer. Whatever else she may have been, Harriet was a militant pacifist who people remembered. One of her more acerbic comments drew both the attention of the press: "If the United States should go to war I would put my two sons in the cellar and stand on the door before I would let them go" (Chicago Tribune 1915d).

Neither of her sons faced the risk of frontline duty. Both William and Edward were in Chicago continuing their post-graduate studies. Initially, William planned to follow in the footsteps of his father and his uncle Thaddeus: he identified Sociology as principal subject in his first entry in the University of Chicago graduate list for 1912-13 (cf. A. N. Marquis 1968; University of Chicago 1913: 528). The next year he switched role models to another uncle, noted Chicago orthopedic surgeon Henry Bascom Thomas, and changed his principal to Anatomy before entering Rush Medical College to complete his MD in 1916 (cf. A. N. Marquis 1951b, 1963; University of Chicago 1914: 559). Edward had followed suit, declaring "Sociology" as his principal subject when he entered the University of Chicago graduate program the Autumn quarter of 1914. However, he left graduate school in at the end of the Autumn quarter of 1916 without having completed a graduate degree (cf. University of Chicago 1915: 604; 1916: 484; 1917: 548). Sometime in 1917, Edward entered the American diplomatic corps, attached to the State Department's Russian mission.7

The story linking Harriet with the Ford "Peace Ship," so popular among sociologists, isn't quite true.  Just as Harriet wasn't officially the Executive Secretary of the Woman Peace Party at the time (simply Addams' pro tem appointee), she wasn't officially a member of the Ford Peace mission (simply a guest of Mr. Ford). Her participation was incidental, so much so that Barbara Kraft's extraordinarily detailed reconstruction of the mission neither mentioned Harriet by name nor included her in the annotated list of participants — not even among the "supernumeraries" (Kraft 1978, especially pp. 301-305). The same is true of the detailed account published in 1924 by Harriet's Chicago acquaintance and later her collaborator in the People's Council, Louis Lochner (Lochner 1924), as well as the essay, We did not fight by Lella Secor Florence, another of Harriet's Council colleagues (Florence 1935/1974) .

Harriet's name appears on no official list of those involved in "Peace Ship" mission. because her presence on board the Oscar II can best be thought of accidental. Jane Addams had not been much involved with planning for the mission but had lent her name and support to the project. She had taken ill during the summer of 1915 and had not completely recovered her strength by the fall. Although some writers have suggested that the hospitalization in at the beginning of December was a convenient excuse for Addams to abandon the project, the Chicago papers treated it as if it were real (Chicago Tribune 1915e,f). In any case, she wasn't able to travel to New York, let alone Europe.

A brief note in the New York Times of 2 December 1915 reported that Harriet had left Chicago for New York carrying Jane's message to the Peace Mission delegates. At the time, she told reporters that she had no intention of joining the other members when the boat left for Europe (New York Times 1915a). Something must have changed her mind because her name appeared on a list of Ford's guests that the ship's purser provided to the newspapers at the time the Oskar II sailed (New York Times 1915b). That list is the only document tying Harriet to the Ford Peace mission. She was literally a fellow-traveler; she was not a participant.

We don't know how or when Harriet returned from Europe. We presume she returned as quickly as possible to continue her work for the Peace Party. At its annual meeting in early January 1916, Harriet was officially elected as Executive Secretary and named to its newly formed nominating committee. Presumably, she performed her duties well because in December of 1916, she was re-elected to the position for following year(Washington Post 1916a,b).

  The People's Council For Democracy and Terms of Peace

On 6 April 1917, President Wilson declared war against Germany and its allies. On 18 May 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, conscripting American men into the armed forces, making interference in conscription program a crime, and established the legal basis for war-time prohibition zones (U. S. Congress 1917a). Having failed to keep their country out of the war, most of the American pacifist organizations accepted defeat and fell silent. A handful of groups, many with ties to American socialist and labor organizations, refused to let the government go unchallenged. In Chicago, Rev. Irwin St-John Tucker organized a meeting of the local "Permanent Conference on Terms of Peace" for late May at the Auditorium Theater. The meeting packed the hall, leaving crowds gathering on the street. Exchanges of verbal jibes led to blows, with the crowds turning into a full fledge riot that raged through the city's core (Chicago Tribune 1917a).

A similar (but much less volatile) national meeting had been organized for New York City's Madison Square Garden just a few days later. As was typical of mass meetings at the time, they made speeches and resolutions. The speakers adopted a now-common stance  — you have declared your reasons for entering the war, tell us your conditions for leaving it. Fired by the socialist revolution in Russia, the participants organized as the People's Council For Democracy and Terms of Peace along the lines of the Russian workers and soldiers' councils ("soviets"), with an array of local and state "Councils," like the Chicago group (New York Times 1917a, b).

Although Addams had not participated in the Madison Square meeting, she was in New York. We suspect that her pacifist colleagues at the meeting used that coincidence to recruit her to the Council's continuing work. In any case, rumors immediately circulated through Chicago that she was part of its Advisory Board, rumors she confirmed as quickly as they had spread (Chicago Tribune 1917b,c).  The admission cost Addams dearly. Her long-time friend and ally, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Orrin N. Carter, denounced her at a public meeting:

"We are in war and it is our business to get behind the government," Justice Carter exclaimed with warmth, while the audience vigorously applauded.

"I have been a lifelong friend of Miss Addams," the justice continued. "I have agreed with her on most questions in the past."

"That sounds as if you were going to break with me now," interrupted Miss Addams, laughing.

"I am going to break." retorted Justice Carter. "I think anything that may tend to cast doubt on the justice of our cause in the present war is very unfortunate. No pacifist measures, in my opinion, should be taken until the war is over (Chicago Tribune 1917d).

Carter was far from alone in his feelings about pacifists. At the next day's meeting of the Chicago City Council, the members passed a resolution proclaiming their community's patriotism and censuring pacifist speech. The Tribune quoted Alderman McCormick, one of the resolution's sponsors as saying:

I say, 'Stop your damnable pacifists and their schemes; stop those who oppose the enlistment of men and money in this country.' We’re in this war and we must see it through to an honorable end. Don’t stab you country in the back when your men are going to the front to fight for it" (Chicago Tribune 1917e).

The situation was not much better elsewhere. On the east coast, former President Theodore Roosevelt enter the fray: "If disloyal preaching is to be effectively prevented in this country a federal statute should be enacted making criminal any sort of propaganda, printed or spoken, in favor of the enemy or tending to weaken our country in its struggle for democracy and the right of free nations to exist" (New York Times 1917e). The same story in the times reported that the American Defense Society had drafted sedition legislation that it hoped to place before Congress in the near future.

Federally, Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917 on 15 June 1917. The act contained the first "muzzle laws," barring publications that advocated against federal initiative from the mails. The Tribune reported that "Almost daily since June 15, according to an official of the department today, some anti-war, Socialist or pacifist publication has been barred for alleged "treasonable statements" (United States Congress 1917b; Chicago Tribune 1917i).

Despite the increasingly hostile atmosphere, members of the local People's Council set to work preparing for a national conference of the People's Council. It was at this point, Harriet's name became linked to the Council and its local leadership, Prof. Robert Morss Lovett of the University of Chicago, Reverend Irwin St. John Tucker, a prominent Chicago socialist, and Seymour Stedman, a labor activist and publisher of The American Socialist (Chicago Tribune 1917f). Despite difficulties in arranging for a site, the meeting was successfully —and peaceably— staged at the end of the first week of July 1917 (Chicago Tribune 1917g,h,j).

We want to suggest that there is a pattern here: Harriet stepped in where Addams  feared to tread. Illness prevented Addams participation at the National Education Association; Harriet addressed the crowd. Illness (some have said circumspection) prevented her participation in the Ford Peace Mission; Harriet carried her message (and took the boat ride). Vilification by old friends and city councilors made her reticent to be closely associated with the People's Council; Harriet did the necessary work.

And that work earned Harriet a place on the Council's organizing committee. The September 1st date in the flyer pictured below referred to the Council's planned Convention, with Harriet's name appearing on as one of the organizer. Amid rumors that Senator La Follette would run as their presidential candidate, the Council set about preparing for a national meeting.

Recruitment and fundraising flyer for the People's Council, circa summer 1917

It proved particularly problematic for Louis Lochner, the People's Council's Executive Secretary. At the end of August, Lochner had still not found a place to hold the meeting. Every invitation had been undermined by one pro-war faction or another (New York Times 1917d,f - i; Chicago Tribune 1917k).  Planned for somewhere in the central states at the beginning of September, the delegates from the east had actually set out before their final destination was known (New York Times 1917j).

As the trains carrying delegates converged on the Chicago, the organizing committee asked Chicago mayor Bill Thompson if he would allow the meeting — he gave them permission. Although Illinois's Governor tried to stop the meeting by ordering soldiers into the city (without the permission of Secretary of War Baker), they arrived too late to stop the events. As part of its extensive and hostile coverage of the events, the Tribune included this snippet from their interview with Harriet:

Mrs. W. I. Thomas, her face flush with the excitement of it all, finally came from one of the conference rooms and walked into the lobby.

She was asked by a reporter for THE TRIBUNE to give him a statement regarding what they proposed to do.

"I shall give no information to your or any one else representing the capitalist press," she said. "Of course, you are at liberty to follow us and get what information you can, but I am through giving information to this capitalistic and commercialized press."

Mrs. Thomas has a son who is an attaché of the American embassy in Petrograd.

"What my son does is his own business," she said. "I am living only my own life. I suppose it is all right for him to do his bit for this government in that way if he likes it. I do not interfere with my son. He knows my sentiments. But I shall give no more information to the capitalist press" (Chicago Tribune 1917l).

The aftermath of the convention was ugly. Lochner resigned. Lella Secor asserted that Council did no more useful work. Pro-war factions on the City Council tried to oust the mayor (cf. New York Times  ). The American press vilified Mayor Thompson stand for free speech and characterized the People's Council delegates as seditious. The Pittsburgh papers went so far as to suggest that Chicagoans should have violently resisted the pacifists' peaceful assembly (Chicago Tribune 1917m). In December 1917, the City Council proved its patriotism by passing an ordinance that would deny business licenses to all non-Americans, a jingoistic ploy that (after Chicago's Swiss consul intervened) the State Department overturn as a treaty violation just days before it would have taken effect (cf. 1917z, 1918c2).  

This poisonous atmosphere does not appear to have discouraged Harriet. The image below was taken from one of the Council's publications, Scott Nearing's pamphlet Who Should Pay For the War? We believe that the digits "2-7-18" are its publication date, viz. 7 February 1918. That suggests that Harriet's work of the Council had earned her a promotion to its Executive Committee.

Executive of People's Council, circa February 1918 

The political actions of the People's Council and similar organizations polarized the American population, with the majority sentiment aligned on the government side. In March of 1918, after the publication of Council Chairman Scott Nearing's pamphlet, The Great Madness, the Department of Justice indicted both the author and his publisher for "sedition" under the Espionage Act. Although his publisher was found guilty (and fined), the jury cleared Nearing (New York Times 1918b,c, 1919b,c).  

The Sedition Act and Silence

Although the Nearing case wouldn't go to trial until after the armistice, the federal prosecutor probably suspected the outcome of the trial before the indictment. The Espionage Act was inadequate to the task and the ban on criticism of the government was still before Congress. But the proposed law was gaining public support. In a revoltingly bloodthirsty move, the Philadelphia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church demanded the death penalty for seditious speech (New York Times 1918a). That same homicidal spirit infected a small town south of Chicago, and words became deeds.  At the beginning of April 1918, an angry mob invaded the local jail, grabbed miner Robert Praeger and murdered him. Earlier in the day, local authorities had taken the German immigrant into custody (for his own protection) as talk about "sedition" circulated in the community. We will leave to readers the task of sorting out the public reactions to the lynching. Which was worse? Would it be the "not guilty" verdict hand down by a jury whose deliberations were serenaded by the Navy band brought in for the occasion? Or was it the White House's statement that if Congress had only acted faster the murder would never have happened because Praeger would have been in a Federal prison for criticizing his government.

On April 10, the day before W.I. Thomas was taken into custody, the Senate had passed its version of the Sedition Act. Less than a month later, both houses had agreed to the conference report, with Wilson dragging his feet before signing the Sedition Act of 1918 into law on 16 May 1918 (New York Times 1918d, 1918f; Chicago Tribune 1918c). The Act silenced all but the most outspoken critics of the government. By the end of August, federal authorities in Chicago were raiding addresses throughout the city, seizing the papers and correspondence. The Thomases were still resident in Chicago, and their Kimbark Avenue address was not part of the search. When Federal authorities had an opportunity to act directly against Harriet, they didn't.

Harriet was called as a defense witness in the trial of Victor Berger, Adolf Germer, J. Louis Engdahl, William Kruse, and Irwin St. John Tucker for sedition arising from those raids. Covering the story of New York's socialist magazine, The Liberator, William Bross Lloyd, recorded another of her acid exchanges with an authority figure:

Mrs. Harriet Thomas, of People’s Council distinction, heard Germer make one of the speeches which was stressed against him. Her performance on cross-examination as a witness was a delicious bit of high comedy, with Fleming as the victim of a brilliant feminine intellectuality which he could not hold within any bounds. When he tried to riddle her with the charge of pacifism he was floored with the retort that from her viewpoint the political offensive was more important than the military offensive, and that it was eight months after the People’s Council had insisted upon definition of “war for democracy” that Wilson issued his first definite statement (which, by the way, is daily losing all traces of erstwhile apparent definiteness).

Before Fleming could catch his breath at one of her sallies, she turned to the Judge:

“And, Your Honor, I do not think it is necessary for Mr. Fleming to emphasize every question by continually pointing his finger at me.”

But Fleming was persistent.

“Now then, Mrs. Thomas, if you were a man” — and something about military service.

Instantly came the answer:

“If I were a man? That hypothesis does not interest me.”

“I object to the witness’s voluntary answers.”

Poor Fleming (Lloyd 1919/2005: 5.)  

As we said at the outset, our interest in Harriet's life and work started by trying to validate the rumor about Thomas's dismissal being related to Harriet's pacifist activism. That work was far more extensive than her 1915 cruise on Henry Ford's tab. At least on the surface, federal authorities might have felt that they had good reason to want Harriet silenced. She was nothing if not outspoken. A government plot against Harriet makes for an exciting story, but it lacks evidence. When federal authorities had an opportunity to act against Harriet openly and with full public support, they didn't. If we are correct that no such plot existed, what was Harriet's role in the events that led to W. I. Thomas's dismissal.

 Harriet's Role in the Thomas Scandal

On Friday 12 April 1918, the day after her husband and Mrs. Pearl Granger were questioned by Department of Justice investigators and the United States District Attorney after they had registered at the Brevoort Hotel as "Mr. and Mrs. Roland," Harriet Thomas contacted the "other woman," and arranged to meet her in downtown Chicago. At the end of their meeting, she invited Mrs. Granger and her sister Della Raines back to her home, where Mrs. Granger remained for at least the next ten days (New York Times 1918e, Washington Post 1918).

Safely ensconced behind the door to Harriet's apartment, Granger would speak with the police only once more, when detectives declined to execute a warrant for her arrest after she promised from her sickbed to appear in court the following Monday. More importantly, she never spoke to the press again. Sometime after 22 April 1918, she left Harriet's protective care and (just as her sister had a week earlier) disappeared from Chicago without a trace (cf. Chicago Tribune 1918f, Chicago Daily Journal 1918c, Chicago Daily News 1918c). Harriet continued to place herself between Granger and the reporters long after the interest in the scandal had abated. In June 1918, Harriet was interviewed after she had appeared at the Colonial Hotel to pick up the luggage that Mrs. Granger had abandoned there in April as well as the mail that had accumulated since the young woman entered Harriet's protection. In her characteristic well-organized fashion, Harriet carried Mrs. Granger's power of attorney (Chicago Tribune 1918h).

Harriet's remarkable move may have been the most important development in any  case against her husband. Sometime prior to meeting Mrs. Thomas, Granger had spoken to the Chicago Daily Journal, providing some of the most damaging material to appear in print (cf. Chicago Daily Journal 1918ba; Chicago Tribune 1918b). By placing herself between reporters and Mrs. Granger, Harriet staunched the flow of information about the relationship between Mrs. Granger and Prof. Thomas. More importantly, she frustrated any hopes that the Department of Justice may have had for its case against Thomas for violation of the Mann Act.

At a minimum, Mann Act prosecutions demand evidence of travel across state lines (such as Thomas's March train trips with Mrs. Granger and Miss Raines from New York to Washington, and from Washington to Chicago) and evidence that the man had paid for said transportation. In her interview with federal authorities, Granger had insisted that she had paid her own tickets (Chicago Tribune 1918a). Despite continuing to investigate into May, the Department of Justice was never able to develop a Mann Act case against Thomas (Chicago Tribune 1918g). Protected by Harriet, the investigators had no opportunity to induce Granger to change her story.

One of the strangest aspects of the story has always been the family's choice of legal representation. When no charge beyond a minor misdemeanor had be brought against the Professor or his mistress, the family selected Chicago's most renown criminal defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, as their attorney. Although Darrow was not a pacifist, he shared with Harriet a network of socialist and labor acquaintances. Harriet had worked along side Seymour Stedman to organize the People's Council in Chicago (Chicago Tribune 1917f); she had worked with Eugene Debs, Morris Hillquit and Crystal Eastman in organizing the Council's September 1917 convention in Chicago (see first image above); and she continued to work with Hillquit on the Council's executive committee (see second image above). Debs had once been Darrow's law partner; Hillquit and Darrow had represented Stedman in an attempt to regain access to mail for Stedman's paper, The American Socialist in July of 1917 (New York Times 1917c); and since its formation in October of 1917, Darrow and Eastman were allied with the National Civil Liberties Bureau (now the American Civil Liberties Union). So the choice was not as strange as it may, at first have seemed. The family choose a lawyer from within Harriet's network.

Harriet's hospitality towards Mrs. Granger deflected the federal government's hopes for a Mann act prosecution, as well as the State's attorney's hopes for an adultery charge (last article from courts). In that sense, Harriet's involvement was pivotal to limiting the scope of persecution by the authorities. If we are correct about why the family chose Darrow, then Harriet's social network should be credited with the final outcome of the misdemeanor charge. The case Darrow made not only resulted in a dismissal of the charges against Thomas and Granger, but ended a six-month long federal campaign against vice in Chicago, thereby fending off the promised future charges.

  Evaluating the Notion that "It Was All Harriet's Fault"

No one has ever offered a scrap of evidence to support the rumor blaming Harriet, and skeptical readers will remembered Christopher Hitchens's sage advice that "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence" (Hitchens 2007: 150). Credulous readers may have difficulty with the simplicity of that notion, credulous writers certainly have.

  We suspect that those writers continue to repeat the story because no one has offered another explanation for the Justice Department's involvement. Some explanation is absolutely necessary and elsewhere we provide a detailed history of the Thomas Scandal, and a history of the federal government's intense involvement in the social control of commercialized vice in Chicago during World War I (see "The Thomas Scandal" and "Chicago and the Home Front War on Vice (1916-1918)"). When the details of the scandal are integrated into the home front experiment, the Justice's Department's involvement can be easily understood.

Because it is impossible to prove the non-existence of anything, we can not prove that a plot did not exist. But we can look for evidence of a plot to discredit Harriet. The best evidence would be Department of Justice records about Harriet and her activities. In 1978, historian Evan Thomas used to Freedom of Information Act to locate any such file about Harriet or her husband.  No files on either Harriet or the Professor were found (Thomas 1986: 539-540 note 56). In 2003, Chad Heap carried out a similar search of Justice's records for material on W. I. Thomas, with exactly the same result (Heap 2003: 462-463, note 6). If a Department of Justice campaign against the Thomases ever existed, no Department of Justice record of it survives in their central files, including the investigators' report provided to District Attorney Clyne in May of 1918 . In the absence of records of their actions, is there a credible motivation for Justice Department to persecute Harriet? We don't think so. If they wanted to silence Harriet an already quiet woman, they had no need for a plot. Within a month, the Sedition Act would provided the Bureau of Investigation with every tool that the Justice Department needed to gag dissent. With or without evidence, the federal authorities had no need for a plot.

However, there is evidence to suggest that someone in Washington was at work doing just the opposite — protecting Harriet. First, at the time of the scandal, the Chicago Daily News suggested interference by unnamed "high officials in Washington" in the local Bureau's investigation (Chicago Daily News 1918b).

 One visiting speaker from Washington's Bureau of Education actually interrupted his speech to the Political Equality League to say:

I considered Miss Jane Addams the leading woman in America up to the time that Mrs. Thomas took Mrs. Granger into her home. . . And now she must divide honors with that extraordinary victorious soul who, beside her husband, exemplifies the contrast between the sublime and the ridiculous" (Chicago Tribune 1918e).

Although newsworthy at the time, it only suggests that Washingtonians if not "Washington" was split over Harriet's activities. However, in the aftermath of the war, a significant non-event occurred, a "curious incident of the dog in the night-time" sort of thing, that was important.

In January 1919, during a Congressional investigation of pro-German activities in America during the First World War, Archibald Stevenson presented the Committee with what he called a "Who's Who of Pacifism and Radicalism," a list of over one hundred Americans who had protested American policy during the War. Before releasing Stevenson's list to press, Congressional investigators pruned it of "about 50 percent" of those names, telling reporters that they had removed "persons who had ceased activities of a pacifist and anti-war nature after this country declared war." Harriet's name did not appear on the list read into the Federal record (New York Times 1919a, see also Washington Post 1919).

Stevenson's larger list was preserved in the pages of Revolutionary Radicalism, the report of the Joint Legislative Committee of the State of New York Investigating Seditious Activities more popularly known as the "Lusk Report." Stevenson listed Harriet's name in three places, once in connection to the Ford Peace Mission (noting her role in the Peace Party), and twice in connection with the People's Council (New York State Joint Committee investigating Seditious Activities 1920: 989, 1052, 1066).

The disjunction between the Federal and New York State lists would suggest two probable inferences: 1) Stevenson did not consider Harriet to be important enough to include in the "Who's Who of Radicalism" he gave to the senators or 2) someone involved with the Congressional investigation removed her name. If Stevenson didn't consider Harriet important, then the probability that the Department of Justice did is substantially reduced, further reducing the probability that the rumor was true. If Stevenson did think she was important then someone in Washington removed Harriet's name from the federal list. Both inferences have the same implication: a federal plot to silence an unimportant or protected pacifist is unlikely.

With no surviving positive evidence and a low probability that such evidence ever existed, readers can safely employ Hitchens' rule of thumb and discard the story that "it was all Harriet's fault rumor" as a fabrication. Hitchens added a qualifying line to his rule: "This is even more true when the "evidence" eventually offered is so shoddy and self-interested." If Young was truthful when he attributed the story to W. I. Thomas, the rumor should be discarded as another self-serving variation on the shoddy stories guilty husbands tell to blame their wives for their own escapades. If Thomas wasn't the "reliable source," then it is nothing more than a convenient myth created by Thomas's later apologists to make sense out of the silence of both the University of Chicago and the professor on the reasons for the dismissal. 

After Chicago

The Thomases remained in Chicago until the fall of 1918, before relocating to New York. Most of what we know about the next few years in their lives is built up from the Thomases correspondence with Ethel Dummer and Jane Addams. Unfortunately, the surviving correspondence pick up one year later, in late 1919, with Harriet returning from an extended visit to Chicago.

The most curious aspect of that correspondence is that the couple are rarely together. Shortly after her return to New York City, Dr. Thomas wrote Mrs Dummer that she had "dug in" in upstate New York for the winter (Feb 4 1920), with only a brief stay in town during April before heading out again in May.  

We do not know whether Harriet continued her pacifist activities after she left Chicago. The question is complicated by a 14 May 1920 telegram from Harriet (in New York) to Jane Addams (in Chicago) that reads "HOPING TO GO ABROAD THOUGH PASSAGE NOT DEFINITELY SECURED UNDERSTOOD FROM BEGINNING THAT I HAD NO VOTE BUT NEED LETTER FROM YOU APPROVING MY GOING AND CLEARLY DEFINING DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OUR ORGANIC SECTION AND OTHER SOCIETIES WITH SIMILAR AIMS OF WHOSE BOARDS YOU ARE NUMBER PLEASE WRITE SPECIAL DELIVERY."[note Counter: Reel 13: frame 59]. The note suggests that Harriet may have retained some position in the Woman's Peace Party, but on this occasion, would not be acting as Addams' deputy. The records do not preserve Jane's response and the question is probably moot. A letter to Ethel Dummer from the autumn of 1920 suggests that Harriet had stayed in America, spending the Summer and most of the Fall in Massachusetts, before returning to New York, to spend the winter on Long Island, looking after a niece and her new baby.

At the beginning of 1921, Harriet returned to Chicago, a stay lengthened by a hospitalization and a long recuperation under the care of Helen Mead, the wife of George Herbert Mead. Although she had planned to return to New York, W. I. came to Chicago instead, spending the summer with the family (   ).


In the fall of 1922,  Harriet went south to spend the winter with Helen Culver, at Innisfree, her estate in Sarasota Florida, and did not return until Spring of 1923. She spent most of the summer touring the South, visiting relatives she had not seen in several years.  She returned to Chicago as the guest of her brother-in-law, Henry Thomas.

  In the

In March of 1925, Harriet's correspondence with Ethel Dummer place her in Honolulu. We suspect that the trip was instigated by Helen Mead, the wife of philosopher George H. Mead in whose home Harriet had recuperated after her illness in 192x. Helen Mead's family, the Castles, had hosted many of her Chicago friends over the years and it seems likely that Helen would have extended the same invitation to Harriet Thomas. Harriet quickly grew to love the island, ending a July letter with the comment "I am staying on here indefinitely." The series of letters between the two friends document Harriet's involvement in the community, taking a course in astronomy at a local college, working with the mothers' group at a local progressive school, and entertaining Robert Park and his wife when they visited the island as part of the Pacific Race Relations study.

"Indefinitely" meant that weeks stretched into months, and months stretched into years. She found a tutor and learned to type, a first step toward writing her memoirs and speculations on life. Harriet remained in Hawaii until late in the Summer of 1927, when she returned to the mid-West, with plans of moving back to Chicago. In December, she joined her husband in Washington, DC for the annual meeting of the American Sociological Society over which Dr. Thomas had presided during 1927.

Her letter is one of our best records of that meeting, particularly of those moments of official recognition the Association gave its once-disgraced president:

The meetings had been going splendidly in the various sections and the program developing with fine vigor and cohesion; I had been hearing appreciative comments about this from all sides; but last night was the first occasion on which W. I. had appeared as president except at business meetings, and with the executive committee. When he was introduced to make his address he received an ovation, applause swelling to a great volume, dying down, and starting again in a perfectly spontaneous way; — I was astonished and of course pleased and moved, there was something so human and warm about it. His paper was listened to with very marked attention and appreciation of pure delight on many of the faces about me, as if the spectacle of a human brain functioning freely and with splendid efficiency was a matter for aesthetic response. When he finished the applause burst forth again, but with a different tone — this time not so warm and personal, but thundering, as over a fine performance. Several of the older members told me afterward that it was the finest presidential address ever delivered before the society.

At home in politically charged environments, Harriet played the role of president's wife: "Iíve enjoyed the contacts and stimulations of the conference, and W. I. was much gratified by my presence. I sat at the speakerís table the night of the annual dinner, and identified myself in every possible way with him and his administration."

The same letter preserved another important moment from the meeting, when Harriet played the same "no-nonsense" critic of social reform that she had been during her suffrage years. She described a session of the Section on the Sociology of Religion she attended with her husband, where a paper was being presented where seminary students were brought into the Worcester psychiatric hospital to better prepare them for understanding the mental problems of their future parishioners and the role of the hospital in resolving them (Hill 1928). Familiar with the study, Harriet had problems with its premise:

"I should like to ask a question that may sound flippant, but I ask it with seriousness and sincerity — to what extent would you say the fear neuroses you encounter are of theological origin, and is there any organization in the world that is so fertile a source of fear as the Church with its old dogmatic categories of good and bad, right and wrong?" — By this time I had the somewhat alarmed attention of the room — everybody was turning or craning to see who was speaking, — so I said with a pleasant smile — "I was not speaking as an outsider; I am the daughter of a Presbyterian minister of the old Calvanistic school, and while I am intellectually delivered from fear of hell fire, I am not sure that I am emotionally emancipated." 

Dr. Thomas tried to diffuse the tension by asking an unrelated question, but A.E. Holt, the session's chairman, ruled him out of order. Harriet responded, "I will allow the interruption, — I have been doing it all my life."  Thomas's question was answered, and the rest of the session was spent in active discussion of the role of religion in creating anxiety, with audience members as prestigious as psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan speaking in support of Harriet's point.

After the meetings, Harriet returned to Chicago, with most of her correspondence written from the home of her brother-in-law, Henry Thomas. Late in the fall of 1928, however, she established rooms of her own at 6530 University Avenue. That independence had been made possible through the generosity of the Dummers, who had been encouraging Harriet to focus more of her time on writing. That freedom also allowed Harriet to return to some of social reform work, especially within the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's Chicago branch, the old Woman's Peace party she had been involved in during the First World War.

In the winter of 1930, however, Harriet announced that she would be away from Chicago for a year, telling only her family and close friends where she could be found. She turned down Josephine Page's invitation to run her political campaign for the Cook County Board, resigned from all of her committees and gave up the vice-presidency of the Chicago branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in the hope of protecting the isolation she thought she needed to focus on her writing. Seeking anonymity, she took a small apartment on West 58th Street in New York City and set to work.

New York was not the best of choices. Manhattan can still be a small town for people with common interests, with the small town problem of avoiding someone in particular. Buried in the middle of an otherwise chatty letter to Dummer from mid-August 1930 Harriet recounted a particularly trying moment:

I have had a very arresting psychic experience lately in connection with W. I., and a crisis to meet which call all my powers in play. I came through it, I think , without hurt to any of us, — and that means, without any feeling of my own superiority — the real danger point. When I see you I will tell you about it if your are interested in it as a bit of human experience, without reference to the personalities involved.

I will just tell you that he is now in Sweden beginning the study which you know. Dorothy Thomas is travelling with him, — went on the same boat; she is to take part in the survey, but I think there is no doubt that they are living together, and that the relationship has creative value, for him, at least.

Professionally she has benefitted by the association of her name with his as coauthor of "The Child in America,"— but Iím sure she is not happy. I feel very sympathetic with her situation, but am quite helpless, of course.

I have written you this without any pain except for the sad bungling in which human values are deflected and destroyed.[note counter: ]

Previously, Harriet and Ethel had exchanged updates about W. I. Thomas and his work, sharing details about matters great and small. Neither woman mentioned him in their subsequent correspondence.

One of the last letters in Harriet's hand was an April 1932 note to Jane Addams written from Innisfree (the Saratoga Florida winter home that Hull House trustee Charles Ewing had inherited from his aunt, Helen Culver). It's a warm letter, bringing her up-to-date on events within the Ewing household whose guest Addams had been a few weeks earlier, thanking her for the copy of her recent book, and expressing condolences to Miss Addams after the recent loss of her long-time friend and Hull House collaborator, Julia Lathrop [note counter: Jane Addams Papers Reel 23: frames 1811-1814]. It is simply a letter from one friend to another.

In 1934, after four and a half decades of marriage, the Thomases formalized their separation and divorced (National Cyclopedia of American Biography 1962). L.L. Bernard believed that Harriet had taken the initiative, but he incorrectly dated their break to the period prior to Thomas's rehabilitation, in the early 1920s; his interpretation is probably not warranted.  Harriet died on 5 June 1935 "after a long illness," about four months after her former husband's marriage to Dorothy Swaine Thomas.


Our quest to validate the old rumor that Harriet Park Thomas's involvement in the Peace Movement during World War I led to her husband's dismissal failed; but we never suffered a sense of failure. The dim after-image of her life preserved in the newspaper articles and her letters doesn't leave room for despair. Those documents ―especially the quotes― capture just enough detail to evoke the feeling that here was a woman we would have liked to have known.

It is just that emotional response, the feeling that we missed someone important, that makes it difficult to accept the first-person accounts from the period. When memoir after memoir failed to mention much of any contribution to the movement, it became difficult to believe that the Federal authorities would have concocted a plot to silence her by disgracing her husband. But as we read of her work with women's suffrage, with child advocacy, and finally with the peace movement, it became possible to believe that they might. We, as with others before us failed to find any evidence that they had.

In the process, we discovered a world that we had not known. In the twenty-first century, it is difficult to recapture a sense of Chicago at the beginning of the twentieth century. Only the chronicles of the American labor movement capture a sense of how frightening those years were. We have tried to capture some aspect of those stories through this sketch of Harriet's career in social reform.

Harriet's contributions may have been small but they were real. Whether it was her work to make Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi to recognize women's right to vote, her work with the Juvenile Protection Association in Chicago's revolutionary Juvenile Court, or with the Woman's Peace Party and the the People's Council, she worked along side people remembered far more charitably Jane Addams, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Louis Lochner, and Scott Nearing to name just a few. Harriet Park Thomas deserved better treatment than she has received at the hands of her comrades in arms, of their chroniclers, and especially the historians of Sociology.


1. W. I. Thomas to W. W. Cressy, 26 February 1896, Archives of Oberlin College, Group 21- Oberlin File; Series II: Letters, B: By Oberlin Staff, Spouses, Folder: Thomas, W. I., Box 1.

2. Minutes of the Meetings of the Trustees of the University of Chicago, 20 June 1893, Vol. 1, p. 113

3. For Thomas's announced schedule, see Oberlin College 1893: 71-73. For background on the Thomas's loan see Thomas to G. W. Shurtleff 20 November 1893, Thomas to J. Severance 5 October 1896, 2 June 1902, 7 January 1905, 27 January 1905, 2 May 1905, 7 June 1905, 1 March 1906,  15 September 1906; 23 February 1907 and 20 June 1907, Related Correspondence. Archives of Oberlin College: Group: 7/1/5-Treasurer’s Office, Series: Correspondence: Folder: Talbot - Thome: Box 30.

4. Compare the faculty addresses provided in the Oberlin catalogues. The Thomases resided at 13 West Lorain Street between 1889 and 1892 (Oberlin College 1890: 7; 1892: 7). For 1893, the professor resided at 16 Elm Street along with two other instructors (Oberlin College 1893: 7). In 1894 and 1895, he resided 71 East College Street, an address shared with Wilfred Cressy (Oberlin College 1894: 7; 1895: 7).

5. Cf. "Proposition to Mr. W. I. Thomas [1894];  W.I. Thomas to W.R. Harper, 13 June 1898, 20 June 1898a,b. Presidential Papers, Box 64, folder 4, University of Chicago Special Collections, Regenstein Library. The 1894 proposition read:

"Mr. Harper agrees to recommend to the Board of Trustees that Mr. Thomas be appointed instructor for the year beginning July 1st, 1895, at a salary of $1500, and that he be given executive work for which he shall receive the sum of $1000 in addition.
It is understood further that one year later Mr. Thomas will be recommended for an assistant professorship, at a salary of $2000 a year, the executive work to continue.
[signed] William R. Harper.

Nov 12, 1894 [At a later interview President Harper added in his own hand]
It is understood still further that after two years’ service as assistant professor Mr. Thomas will be recommended to an associate professorship, the executive work to continue.

5a. W. I. Thomas to Wilfred Cressy, 7 June 1894. Archives of Oberlin College, Group 21- Oberlin File; Series II: Letters, B: By Oberlin Staff, Spouses, Folder: Thomas, W. I., Box 1

6. W. I. Thomas to Jane Addams, 27 December 1909: Frame 975 of Reel 5 in Mary Lynn McCree Bryan (ed), The Jane Addams Papers, 1860-1960, Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International (1984)

6a. Letter from HPT to E. S. Dummer, 31 October 1920. >>reconstruct <<<

6?. In 1920, as Prof. Thomas was completing work for the Carnegie Corporation of New York on their "Immigrant Heritages" research project, Mr. and Mrs. Dummer commissioned him to carry out a study of the women incarcerated under the federal program designed to reduce prostitution in American cities ( ), research published as The Unadjusted Girl in 1923. Correspondence between Harriet and Mrs. Dummer also suggests that Dr. Thomas's next project, The Child in America was either partially funded by the Dummers or that Mrs. Dummer had been active in winning the support of the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Fund for the research (see  ). Both pieces of work helped re-establish Dr. Thomas's public image career after the 1918 scandal.

7. The earliest reference to Edward Thomas's career in the American consular service that we have found was a reporter's question to Harriet Thomas during the People's Council September 1917 convention (Chicago Tribune 1917l). A somewhat better picture of his career can be reconstructed from several articles in the New York Times (New York Times 1919c, 1923a,b,c, 1932) see also Chicago Tribune 1920.

8. [note counter:  Addams correspondence.]


Addams, Jane.

Addams, Jane, Emily Balch, and Alice Hamilton

Luther Lee Bernard.

Chicago Daily Journal.

Chicago Daily News.

Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Woman's Club

Degan, Marie Louise.

Florence, Lella Secor.

Foster, Carrie A.

Foster, Catherine

Haerle, Rudolf K., Jr.

Heap, Chad.

Hill, Lewis B.

Hitchens, Christopher.

Journal of Home Economics

Kraft, Barbara S.

Lindstrom, Fred B., Ronald A. Hardert and Kimball Young.

Lochner, Louis.

Lloyd, William Bross.

A.N. Marquis Co.

Mennel, Robert M.

Montgomery, James Riley

National Cyclopedia of American Biography.

Nearing, Scott.

New York State Joint Committee Investigating Seditious Activities.

New York Times.

Oberlin College.

Riley, Thomas J..

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Talbot, Marion.

Thomas, Evan Ames.

Thomas, Harriet Park.

Thomas, William I. and Dorothy Swain Thomas

United States Congress

United States Executive Office of the President.

University of Chicago

Washington Post.

Women's Trade Union League

Young, Kimball

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