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Journal of Illinois History features

Paul Simon's newspaper career, agitating for women's rights, memoir and photos of southern Illinois prison       Send a link to a friend

[MAY 23, 2005]  SPRINGFIELD -- The newspaper career of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, agitating for women's rights in 19th-century Illinois, and a memoir and photos that show life at the prison in Chester in the late 1800s are featured in the latest issue of the Journal of Illinois History, a scholarly publication about the state's history.

At the age of 19, Paul Simon purchased a defunct newspaper in southern Illinois and renamed it the Troy Tribune, beginning publication on June 24, 1948. He immediately began to use his newspaper for public crusades, urging residents to pay for an improved sewer system and taking on Madison County officials like the state's attorney and sheriff. In mid-1949 Simon took his local anticrime crusade to the highest level, getting Gov. Adlai Stevenson directly involved in the Madison County gambling problem.

The mantle of crusader Simon earned while a young newspaper editor served him well during his decades as an elected official. Nearly 50 years later, he reflected on these heady times: "A newspaper can be a powerful force for good, even when operated by someone with almost no experience."

The article was written by Robert E. Hartley, who worked as a journalist in Illinois from 1962 to 1979 and has written books about Simon, Lewis and Clark, Charles H. Percy, James R. Thompson, and Paul Powell.

Another article was written by Wendy Hamand Venet, associate professor of history at Georgia State University in Atlanta and author of several books about women abolitionists, workers and crusaders.

On March 13, 1869, a weekly newspaper called the Agitator debuted in Chicago. Carrying the subheading "Devoted to the Interests of Woman," the Agitator was owned and edited by Mary Livermore. In the coming months the publication would play an important role in launching the post-Civil War women's rights movement in Illinois and the Midwest. Disseminating information and encouraging incipient activism, the Agitator also helped create a sense of respectability among the general public for what had been considered radical ideology before the war.

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The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library recently received from the descendants of a former prison warden secretary a photographic album containing 50 images of the Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Chester. These have been combined in an article with a typewritten memoir from one of the prison's former wardens to paint a picture of Illinois prison life around the turn of the century.

The memoir speaks of the daily operation of the facility and the politics involved in every aspect of its operation, from hiring staff to awarding contracts. The photos show, among other things, the prison's blacksmith shop; warden's office; inmates working in the prison's stone quarry; molds stacked in the foundry; prisoners laboring in the knitting factory; and inmates proudly displaying potted plants, caged birds and a pet cat.

The article was written by two staff members of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library: Mary Michals, audio-visual curator, and Thomas F. Schwartz, state historian and manager of collections and records.

The Journal of Illinois History, the foremost publication for readers who value documented research on the state's history, features articles, book reviews, essays and bibliographies that have been reviewed by some of the country's leading historians.

The journal is published by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Subscriptions are $18 per year for four issues. To obtain a sample copy, contact Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Publications Section, 1 Old State Capitol Plaza, Springfield, IL 62701; or call (217) 524-6045.

[Illinois Historic Preservation Agency news release]

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