Thursday, May 24, 2007
  Feminists in stagecoaches.

I was perusing the 1938 WPA Guide to Kansas to see if there was anything interesting about the tragic town of Greensburg.

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GREENSBURG, (2,244 alt, 1,338 pop.) with its tall water tank [nope, not any more!] and grain elevator [now the only thing in town!] serves residents of the wheat and cattle lands that surround it. The town was named for D.R."Cannonball" Green, stagecoach driver along the route now followed by US 54, which is still known locally as the Cannonball Highway. .....

Carry Nation rode with Cannonball many times during the first days of her temperance crusade. Once, when Mrs. Nation was a passenger, Cannonball lighted a huge cigar; the reformer reached through the coach window, snatched the cigar from his mouth, and threw it into the dust along the roadside. Immediately Cannonball stopped the coach, picked up Mrs. Nation, and without a word lifted her down to the dusty road. Then he drove off - leaving her surprised, indignant and miles from town.

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This reminded me of an anecdote about Susan B. Anthony that I've been keeping for a while, waiting for a proper opportunity to use it. Now's the opportunity! This happened in 1867 near Fort Scott. The writeup is from a newspaper article, apparently from the 1920's.

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Ben Files, an old resident of Fort Scott, was manager of the eastern division of a stage line that ran between Humbolt and Fort Scott. One night just before the stage was to have left Humbolt, a woman and her female companion approached Mr. Files's driver and introduced herself. She was none other than Susan B. Anthony.

Miss Anthony wanted free transportation to Fort Scott. She had two heavy trunks which she also wanted carried for nothing. In her steady patronizing voice she undertook to impress upon the driver the importance of her position; also the fact that she never paid stage coach or rail fare. It was all donated to her for the good of the cause. In fact she seemed to think that she was showing the manager a personal favor by riding in his coach.

After much persuasion the driver finally consented to carry the two women without fare under the condition that they go before the manager immediately after arrival in Fort Scott. To this Miss Anthony readily agreed and away they went on the overland trip.

When Fort Scott was reached and all the passengers had alighted, the driver escorted Miss Anthony to Mr. Files's office and introduced her. Miss Anthony started on the same talk about "dead-heading it" wherever she went. She told him the same story, perhaps a little stronger for the manager's edification.

Mr. Files listened attentively until she had finished, then he squared off for action. "I'm sorry Miss Anthony," he said coolly yet politely. "The stage line carries no free passengers; it treats the rich and the poor, the prominent and the humble alike. Fare from Humbolt costs you and your companion twelve dollars. Your luggage will be carried free, as is our rule, unless it is in excess in weight. If so, the charges will be $2.00 per hundred."

Miss Anthony was understandably struck speechless. When she regained her voice she protested vehemently against paying such fare. Mr. Files stood firm, taking the protest silently. Time went on until only a few minutes remained before the hotel would close for the night.

Mr. Files informed her of this fact. She was baffled. There was no law on her side sufficient to warrant a refusal. Seeing not a straw to grasp at, she desperately plunked down the twelve shining silver dollars and started for the hotel.

"Hold a bit, madam", said Mr. Files. "Your trunk must be weighed." The baggage was loaded on the scales and found to be two hundred pounds in excess. "That will be four dollars, please." Open came Miss Anthony's pocketbook and down came four shiners, one at a time with words of protest between each one. Susan B. Anthony had paid her fare.

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Yes indeed, these are the grand saints of feminism, like all their successors nothing more than nasty would-be aristocrats. Bravo to Cannonball Green, bravo to Mr. Files.

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Math note: Twelve dollars may not sound like much, but it was about two weeks of an average nonfarm worker's income. So the fare from Humbolt to Fort Scott, 35 miles, was something like $1000 in today's money. Still think air fares and gas prices are high?
 


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