Three Historic Hoosier Women: On Land, On Water, On Screen

Juliet V. Strauss

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In 1922, the Indiana Women’s Press Club erected a statue at Turkey Run State Park to an unlikely hero: newspaper columnist and homemaker Juliet Strauss. Years earlier, Strauss had been instrumental in saving the popular state park from destruction. A talented journalist and nature enthusiast, Strauss’s legacy in her Rockville, Indiana, community and beyond continue to this day.

Born Juliet V. Humphreys in January 1863, Strauss grew up in Rockville, Indiana. Her mother encouraged her love of writing. Strauss’s writing abilities were well known about town. In 1880, she was approached by John H. Beadle, editor of the Rockville Tribune, to write occasional articles for the local paper.

Determined to protect the young woman’s identity, Beadle published Strauss’s work under the pen name, “La Gitanio.” Only Beadle, Strauss, and newspaper typesetter Isaac Strouse knew her true identity. Romance eventually bloomed between the writer and her typesetter. The couple married in December 1881. After marrying Strouse, Strauss changed the spelling of her new husband’s last name to the more classical German style. The couple eventually had two children.

In 1893, Strauss began writing a weekly column for the paper. “Squibs and Sayings” offered readers her thoughts on life in rural Indiana. In later columns, she relayed anecdotes about her family life.

Juliet’s columns eventually landed her an opportunity to write for the Indianapolis News. Her new column, “The Country Contributor,” first appeared in 1903. It was her Indianapolis column that caught the eye of editors at The Ladies’ Home Journal. In 1905, the magazine offered her a regular column. Her column, “Ideas of a Plain Country Woman,” offered practical, down-to-earth advice on homemaking. A conservative woman, Strauss’s writings idealized rural life, motherhood, and traditional roles for women. Strauss’s column appeared regularly until her death in 1918.

As Strauss grew older, she noticed the destruction of many forests and natural landscapes she had enjoyed as a child. In 1915, she saw her chance to act when a large parcel of forest was placed on the market. The land had been owned by the same local family since 1826, and they had always generously allowed neighbors to explore and enjoy the 2,382-acre forest. Numerous companies were interested in the sale, chiefly those that would cut down the trees for lumber.

Strauss wrote a letter to Governor Samuel Ralston seeking aid to preserve the land. Ralston, in turn, appointed the Turkey Run Commission to study the matter. Strauss was appointed to serve on the commission. She appealed to famed conservationist Richard Lieber to help. Lieber raised the money to purchase the land but was outbid by the Hoosier Veneer Company, which planned to log out the land.

Image result for juliet v straussStrauss and Lieber refused to give up and eventually persuaded the company to sell the land at a profit of $10,000. Lieber deeded it to the State of Indiana on the state’s centennial in 1916. Turkey Run State Park became Indiana’s second state park. Just two years later, in 1818, Strauss passed away.

A remarkable woman who opened doors for Hoosier women in journalism, Strauss defied gender norms even as she wrote about their sanctity. Her efforts to create Turkey Run State Park resulted in the preservation of one of Indiana’s favorite state parks. Today over 800,000 people enjoy the park each year.

Euphrasia Donnelly

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In 1924, a young 19-year-old woman stepped into the pool to compete in the women’s Olympic 400-meter relay. She was Indianapolis native Euphrasia Donnelly, the first woman from Indiana to compete on a women’s Olympic swim team. Donnelly went on to achieve international fame after her team finished first with a record-breaking time.

Donnelly was born on June 6, 1905, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her parents, Maurice and Sarah Donnelly, had seven children. Euphrasia, affectionately known as “Fraze” by her family and friends, started swimming at a young age after her parents purchased a family membership to a local swim club.

Donnelly competed in her first amateur swim competition at the age of 10. There, she caught the attention of the swim club’s coach, William S. Merriam, who agreed to become the young girl’s coach. Under Merriam’s tutelage, Donnelly won freestyle and diving championships in Indiana and Kentucky. Merriam went on to coach several years for Indiana University’s men’s swim team.

Image result for euphrasia donnellyIn 1920, the summer Olympic Games in Antwerp debuted women’s swimming. The United States women’s swim team won gold in the 4 X 100-meter freestyle relay. Ethelda Bleibtrey won two gold medals in swimming and Aileen Riggin won gold in diving. These wins inspired Donnelly to strive for a place on the 1924 Olympic team.

Meanwhile, Donnelly’s strong swim record continued. At a 1920 competition in Detroit, Donnelly won a 4-mile swim event. In 1924, she competed for a coveted spot on the women’s Olympic team against talented athletes from across the country. The competition took place in New York City. Donnelly won a place on the women’s 400-meter relay team. She and her teammates spent the summer in Europe preparing for the games. Donnelly later recalled her enthusiasm for meeting such notable figures as the Prince of Wales, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.

At the age of 19, Donnelly competed in the 1924 summer Olympic games in Paris along with teammates Gertrude Ederle, Ethel Lackie, and Mariechen Wehselau. The team won the gold medal in the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay. They completed the race in 4.48.8 minutes, a new record 13 seconds faster than the previously recorded fastest time. Donnelly later recalled the victory as one of the proudest moments of her life.

The record-setting victory propelled the team to fame, resulting in a command performance for the King and Queen of Belgium in Brussels. Before returning stateside, the women also competed in a showdown against the best swimmers in the British Empire. Donnelly finished first in the 100-meter event in Ireland.

In 1925, Donnelly turned professional. She entered a 9-mile women’s swim competition in Toledo, Ohio, winning first place and a $250 prize. Donnelly was soon offered a position as swim coach for Saint Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute. In 1934, she married local firemen Bruce Bungard. The couple eventually retired to Lake Chapman, near Warsaw, Indiana. Donnelly died there in 1963.

Today, Donnelly is remembered as a former world record holder, and the first Hoosier female to become a member of an Olympic swim team. Her trailblazing swimming career has inspired generations of Indiana girls to cultivate their athletic abilities and compete in sports.

Irene Dunne

Born on December 20, 1898, in Louisville, Kentucky, Irene Dunne spent her childhood in Madison, Indiana. The Hollywood star of 42 films, Dunne was nominated for five Academy Awards for Best Actress. Today, she is a local legend in her Indiana hometown.

Dunne’s family moved to Indiana around 1909, after her father’s untimely death.  Dunne’s mother was a talented musician and taught her daughter to play the piano at a young age. Irene grew up with a strong appreciation for music and singing, but developed a talent for drama while in school. Dunne starred in several high school theatrical productions.

Dunne graduated from Madison High School in 1916 and moved to Indianapolis, where she had been awarded a scholarship to the Oliver Willard Pierce Academy of Fine Arts. Upon completing the one-year program, Dunne moved to Saint Louis, where she earned a teaching certificate in art from Webster College. Dunne was offered a teaching position in Gary, Indiana, but turned down the job after being awarded a scholarship to the prestigious Chicago Musical College.

At the Chicago Musical College, Dunne cultivated her beautiful soprano voice. In 1920, she traveled to New York City to audition with the Metropolitan Opera Company, but was rejected. Instead, she became involved in musical theater. Dunne debuted on Broadway in 1922 with a small role in The Clinging Vine. In 1929, Dunne starred in the popular musical, Show Boat.

As a result of her performance, Dunne was discovered by Hollywood studio RKO. She signed a contract to act in their films. Dunne moved to California, where she would live for the remainder of her life. In 1930, she starred in her first film, Leathernecking.

Thereafter, Dunne became a familiar face in Hollywood films. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, Dunne starred in numerous movies, including comedies, dramas, and musicals. During those years, Dunne performed alongside some of Hollywood’s leading male heartthrobs, including Charles Boyer and Cary Grant. She was nominated for Best Actress in Cimarron (1931), Theodora Goes Wild (1936), Love Affair (1939), and I Remember Mama (1948). Dunne’s last film, It Grows on Trees, hit theaters in 1952.

After retiring from acting, Dunne devoted much of her time to civic and philanthropic endeavors. In 1957, President Eisenhower appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations. Dunne also founded the Irene Dunne Guild to fund her charitable endeavors.

Throughout her career, Dunne maintained ties with her friends in Madison, Indiana. In 1976, she funded the restoration of the town’s Broadway Fountain.

Dunne died in Los Angeles on September 4, 1990. Although not as recognized as some of her contemporaries, Dunne is considered one of the best actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age with five Academy Award nominations. Famous comedian Lucille Ball once admitted to drawing inspiration from her comedic style. In Madison, Dunne is revered as a hometown girl turned Hollywood icon. A historical marker on Main Street commemorates her many achievements.