Good Old Days

Stopped by the offices of the Fertile Journal yesterday on an errand, and Twyla, their reporter, happened to be in. She had several huge volumes of old newspapers up from the morgue--newspaper jargon for the place where all previous issues are stored, and she showed me some old stories of interest, stories, she noted, which if published today would give great offense and would likely result in lawsuits.

A particularly sad story appeared of a Crookston girl, "in a delicate condition" due to her father's sexual abuse, who didn't dare report the abuse to her mother for fear of being sent away to reform school, which her mother had threatened before when she didn't wash the dishes right. A doctor discovered her pregnancy when she was taken to him, by her father, for having poison ivy from head to toe.

The next week, a follow up. "Crookston Girl's Story of Her Road to Ruin." When the law questioned her about her father, it came out that she had been kidnapped earlier, sedated, but not completely, by ether, and gang raped by a railroad crew which passed through town--and, as with the later incidents with her father, had not told anybody for fear of being beaten or sent to reform school.

The authorities said there was little hope of catching the guilty parties in the railroad crew case, as they had since moved on to other towns. It was clear that they intended to make no attempt. Although the girl was depicted as a pitiful victim, the implication was that her character was permanently sullied.

A few pages over, the case of a "very good looking girl" in southern Minnesota who had eloped with a full-blooded Winnebago Indian. The authorities warned that they were likely to be seeking a marriage license, and asked that everybody in such offices be on alert.

It is easy to think things are going downhill in the world, but for women and children at the mercy of abusive males--would anybody want to go back? Even twenty years?

As for the reporting by the newspaper, there was a humanity to the writing, a sympathy not allowed by today's style manuals. Whether or not such crimes should be reported in such detail in the local newspaper, we needn't decide. However, from a historian's point of view, such vivid writing and frank reporting makes the old papers much more valuable in the attempt to understand how things were.