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updated: 4/28/2011 3:07 PM

Scandals made the news in 1911, too

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By Jerry Turnquist

Daily Herald columnist

"Did you see what that woman was wearing?" I can't believe those unmarried men and women were living together." "It's shameful -- a grown man with a young girl like that."

These are some of the comments people might have made after reading the Elgin newspapers of April 1911. Here's a look at those and other stories that made local headlines a century ago this month.

Harem skirts: First, it was the tight fitting hobble skirt that was gaining attention, and then it was a new Paris fashion -- the harem skirt -- that was raising eyebrows.

"The bloomerettes or trousers or whatever they are called are made of bright red material and are large and roomy," reported one newspaper after seeing the fashion worn by a local woman. "Men turned and stared, women glanced out of the corners of their eyes," the story added.

"I wear these for comfort and health only," said a local actress who was walking in the company of her husband near a downtown store.

Silent women: While women were gaining ground in their efforts to participate in national elections, current law which allowed them to only vote for University of Illinois trustees didn't attract much attention.

"We received so many phone calls from women that I believed they were going to turn out and make a big showing," said the Elgin City Clerk of a recent election. "I ordered only five ballots for each precinct, but later doubled that number."

When the ballots were counted, results showed that not a single woman came out to vote in the local election -- a showing the official attributed to the rainy weather.

Players suspended: Calling it a "drastic action," newspapers reported that the Elgin High School principal suspended the entire football team from further participating in athletics at the school.

The action followed an incident in which a teammate who was suspended for smoking cigarettes appeared at a local photography studio wanting to be included in the team picture. The photo shoot session was canceled, but the team members returned the next day and had a picture taken with the former player but without the coach.

Two players were also suspended from school -- an action they said they would appeal to the superintendent and Board of Education.

Young companion: "I'm taking the little girl for a treat and to see a show," said an Elgin man who was discovered in the company of a 13-year-old elementary student.

The girl, who met the man the previous day after being sent to the downtown business district by her mother, spent the next day with him in Dundee.

The man was fined $100 -- a steep fine for the times -- and ordered to leave town within fifteen minutes. He decided to comply.

Unwed roommates: Newspapers called it a "free love colony" and its discovery led to the dismissal of four employees at the Elgin State Hospital, now the Elgin Mental Health Center.

The four employees -- two men and two women -- were said to be sharing a residence on the hospital grounds. The men, whose tenure varied from four months to a year, were "let go for the good of the institution," said the superintendent.

Officials originally thought there were additional people involved in the incident, but the number was later narrowed to the four who were discharged.

Absent Councilmen: Anyone looking for the Elgin mayor and city council for 10 days in April 1911 was out of luck.

The rather unusual circumstance followed an election in which the city voted to switch from the ward system to a commissioner form of government. Because of a state law which called for the existing form of government to cease operation 90 days following the election, the city was left without a mayor and council in the interim.

The mayor -- who was the same under the old and new system -- suggested calling a special meeting to swear in the new council before their first regular meeting, but there was no support for the idea.

Tragic event: Finally, people years ago read about historic events, too, including the 30th anniversary of the April 1881 flood.

After the tragedy washed out the Chicago Street Bridge, the Elgin City Council initiated a ferry service across the river. While operators were given strict orders to limit the number of passengers to 18, one trip exceeded that count and the craft tipped and eight people were drowned.

The ferry service never resumed, and citizens used a small bridge at National Street by the Elgin National Watch Company to cross the river until a new span was constructed.

• Jerry Turnquist writes about Elgin history. Email him at

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