Cora Day Entertains

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

We often feature Harvey County citizens that are prominent or at the very least “respectable.” Information can be found on most people in various census’, obituaries, and city directories with a little digging.

Then, there are the people in the shadows.  Their names appear in the police court or mentioned in connection to a tragedy. Rarely is there a photograph. With names like Amy Flowers, Ada Combs, and Mrs. Swan, these women appear in history briefly and without leaving too many clues as to who they were. In the late 1880s-1890s, there was a push to rid Newton of  ‘bawdy houses,’ ‘joints’ and ‘gambling dens.’ Women who inhabited the bawdy house were often in the news of the day.

This post is the first of a series of several featuring some of the stories surrounding these women.

“House of Ill Fame”

In January 1889,  Mrs. Dick “Jennie” Risdon was indicted for “keeping a House of Ill Fame or common Bawdy House,” along with Malley Combs “owner and keeper of a bawdy house or brothel . . . situated on Myrtle Street in the city of Newton.” 

Malley Combs Indictment, 26 January 1889.

Malley Combs, 26 January 1889.

Several men were also indicted. Cora Cummins, “a female under the age of eighteen years, to wit, the age of sixteen,” was a witness in the indictments of Daniel Cummins, William Murry, and John Hurst. Men who “carnally and unlawfully know one Cora Cummins . . . contrary to the statues and against the peace and dignity of the State of Kansas.”

No further information could be pieced together on the young Cora Cummins or the situation.  Malley Combs appears in the story below about Cora Day.

“Inmate of a House of Ill Fame”

Another woman that frequently made appearance in Police Court was Cora Day.  Throughout the 1890s, she appeared in the Newton papers somewhat frequently.

 Cora Day is first mentioned in 1890, when she was “charged with being an inmate of a house of ill fame.” At the same time, Mr. Malley Combs was fined fifty dollars for “keeping a house of ill fame.” (Newton Daily Republican, 1890) Cora was in court again in April 1891 “charged with being a inmate of a house of ill repute.” This time a fine of $5 was imposed.  She paid the fine and was released.

Cora Day Entertains

By 1896, Cora Day ran her own “house of ill fame.” In August 1896, the newspaper editor described events at Cora Day’s house in “the southwest part of town.” Three young men “invested in a cheap alcohol drunk and a cheap afternoon’s entertainment.” They became “noisy and disturbed the neighbors” and police were called.  The house was raided and the three men were taken to the city “refrigerator.” Cora seemed to disappear and avoided arrest.

The newspaper reporter did not hesitate to describe her in harsh terms.

“Cora is about the most unattractive specimen among the ‘other kind’ of women in Newton and the boys were evidently bound to have the worst society as well as the worst of drink.”  

The three men paid their fines using the names of “Tut Fisher, Bill O’Keefe and Henry Jones . . . the young men ‘gave instructions’ at police court to ‘keep their names out of the paper.”

“In the Future . . . Look for No Leniency.”

Even though the names of the women involved was printed, the men involved could avoid their names  appearing in the newspaper, or use a alias as they did in the case of Cora Day. In  March 21, 1890, the editor noted he was lenient this one time.

“two gamblers and a number of females of loose character who were brought in and duly fined.  By urgent request – and on account of the respectability of the parties – their names will not be given . . but in the future they need look for no leniency.”

Newton Daily Republican, 12 March 1890.

Dangerous Business

Living in and running  a bawdy house could be dangerous.  Cora Day was no stranger to violence.  In 1893, Cora received “surgical attendance . . . sewing up several bad cuts she had received in a free-for-all melee that occurred at her establishment the night before.”  (Newton Daily Republican, 20 December 1893)

In 1896, Cora Day had moved to Wichita and lived at 224 South Fourth Ave. where she “was beaten almost to death.” The Wichita Daily Eagle reported that a man who gave the name “Jack” “called to the house for the purpose of spending the night.”

“When he was dressed he drew from his coat pocket a silk handkerchief on the inside of which was a cotton one.  The handkerchiefs contained a half pint of the largest buckshot, and grabbing the girl by the throat, began beating her over the head.. . The girl screamed and the other occupants . . . rushed to the room, but the  man grabbed the girl’s revolver and kicking out the front window made his escape.”

The police were unable to find the man concluding that “the man was crazy.” Some witnesses reported that he was “from Newton, Kan., and a watch will hereafter be kept on men from that city.”

“Notorious Mother”

Following the beating in Wichita, Cora returned to Newton.  Trouble found her again.  In 1897, the newspaper editor observed that “misfortunes do not come singly to Cora Day.” This time, she was charged with “keeping a bawdy house and unfit to properly care for her children.”

The newspaper followed the sad story over several days in August. One the headline read, “An Inhuman Mother.” She was charged with cruelty, abuse and ill treatment of her children Ida, 15, and Clarence, 14. Day was found “guilty of beating and mistreating the children, who were sent to the poor farm.”

Newton Daily Republican, 11 August 1897.

Cora plead guilty to the charge of disturbing the peace. Police Judge von der Heiden fined her $10, but she had no money.

“The judge thought it would be an inhumane act to commit her to the hot, dingy city prison, so instead, induced the woman to promise that she would leave town . . .  by Thursday.  . . if not, he will send her to prison.”

After the August incident, Cora Day disappeared from the Newton papers.

One final mention in October 1897.  The newspaper reported that the Day children were “sent from the (Harvey) county poor farm to Springfield, Ohio where they will be cared for properly.”

Sources:

  • Harvey County District Court, Harvey County Government, Box 3J, FF 7, Harvey County Museum & Archives.
  • Wichita Daily Eagle, 4 February 1896.
  • Newton Daily Republican: 18 April 1889, 23 June 1890, 20 April 1891, 12 May 1893, 20 December 1893, 21 May 1894, 4 February 1896, 17 August 1896,  22 August 1896, 26 August 1896,  11 August 1897, 12 August 1897, 13 August 1897, 14 August 1897, 16 August 1897, 19 October 1897, 13 June 1898,8 July 1898.
  • Evening Kansan: 11 August 1897.

 

 

An Experience I Shall Always Remember: Gwen Boston

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“Being a SPAR was an experience I shall always remember.”

Gwen L. Boone Boston

Gwendolyn Lucile Boone Boston.

Gwen L. Boone Boston, born 19 September 1923, spent her grade school years in Geneva, Ks.  By 7th grade, her family moved to Emporia.  She graduated from Roosevelt High School, located on the campus of the Emporia State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas.

She was profoundly affected by the bombing at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Gwen was 18, and she observed many of her close friends enlist “and disappear for unknown places so far away.” She later recalled that she “wrote many letters keeping in touch with them.”

She applied for a Civil Service job and worked for the U.S. Quartermaster Corps in Wichita, Ks.

As the war continued, she observed that “more and more women enlisting in various branches of service – the thought began to nag at me – why not enlist?” She and a close friend, Betty Greer, began looking at the options open to them.

Gwen recalled:

“The Coast Guard recruiter was exceptional in wining and dining us and won us over. Next step, I had to have my parents approval as I was not yet twenty-one. Reluctantly they did sign and we were on our way to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to be sworn in on August 30, 1944.”

There were five girls from Kansas that boarded the train – one from Iola. one from Lindsborg two from Newton – Jane Lair and Barbara Jane (BJ) Durham,Gwen and her friend, Betty.

They arrived at West Palm Beach, Fl for training.  Gwen described the training facility.

“Would you believe a former luxury hotel, the Biltmore…  stripped down to the minimum and wooden bunks installed.”

Training

“It was all very exciting and yet at the same time very frightening as we were not quite sure what to expect.  All of our instructors . . . were male and it soon  became apparent that we were not to be popular since it was obvious that we were qualified for duty only in the shore jobs and this released the male personnel for sea duty. . . . Since I was tall, I was always on the front row whenever we were in marching formation and . . . the first to get our of step . . and the first to be yelled at by the instructor.”

While Gwen was at training the weather was hot and humid.  She experienced a hurricane noting;

 “I can still see the coconuts flying as the men directed we gals to carry all the heavy typewriters and equipment to a room on higher ground.”

While in training, Gwen became sick with pneumonia and was confined to sick bay for about 10 days.

Because of her experience prior to enlisting as a secretary, Gwen was assigned Yeoman 2nd Class and sent to Morale Office at Manhattan Beach Coast Guard Training Station in Brooklyn, New York.

 Gwen L. Boston SPARS uniform, 1941-1946.

Gwen’s Uniform was donated to HCHM last fall.

 

Adventures

There was time for fun.  Gwen and a friend took in “the sights of New York City . . . and what fun we had — the Statue of Liberty . . . our first stop.”  Other adventures included trying new foods, like salt water fish and attending stage plays like Oklahoma and South Pacific.

After a time, Gwen was transferred to the Department of Public Relations in the Coast Guard District Office in Philadelphia, PA. Here, she worked with promoting the Coast Guard using the news media.  She recalled that she found “Philadelphia to be a very dull city, so I continued to return to New York by train to join my friends when granted those off duty passes.

Discharged from the Philadelphia base on 4 May 1946 with the rating of Yeoman First Class. She was awarded the American Area Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

While Gwen was in training in West Palm Beach, she met Richard “Dick” S. Boston, Jr.  Dick was stationed at Melbourne, Florida with the Navy Air Force. During the war Dick flew the F6F Hellcaat aircraft aboard carriers in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Gwen and Dick married in Emporia, Ks in 1946.  In 1954, the family moved to Newton, Ks.  Gwen worked as a legal secretary, and Dick as a CPA in Newton.  They had 3 children.

Gwen & Dick

 Semper Paratus-Always Ready.”

Semper ParatusAlways Ready” was the motto for the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve, known as SPARS, which was created 23 November 1942.  Women were trained in many Coast Guard jobs, mostly clerical tasks, so that they  “could release a man to sea.”

Training centers were located Oklahoma A& M, Hunter College, Iowa State Teachers College, and the Bitmore Hotel in Palm Beach, Fl.

Follow the below link for a recruiting film for the SPARS.

“You won’t be an Admiral,but you can be his secretary.

Recruiting film

By the end of the war, there was no long need for SPARS and the program ended.

Sources

  • Newton Kansan; 9 April 2002, Gwen Boston Obituary
  • “Gwen L. (Boone) Boston”  in Memories of War Years: Memories of the Veterans of Harvey County, Ks. Curtis Media, Inc. 1995.
  • http://www.nww2m.com/2012/11/coast-guard-spars-created/
  • Lagan, Christopher. “History: The Women’s Reserve, America’s Backbone” 4 April 2010.