The first two decades of the 20th Century, characterized by infrastructure improvements and social reform, are called the Progressive Era.
Based on the belief that humans could help themselves and others become better, Progressives campaigned for better roads, especially between rural areas and market towns, worked to improve public education by making it more practical, and tried to eliminate prostitution and alcoholism.
Sedalians adopted the values of the Progressive Era. In addition to forming Good Road Committees and campaigning to renovate Liberty Park and build Convention Hall, they worked vigorously to improve Sedalia. They believed that public buildings should be beautiful because when people saw beauty around them, they felt uplifted and inspired to be better citizens.
The Progessives realized the appearance of the city’s public buildings was a reflection of the city’s pride and prosperity, and that having attractive buildings could enhance the city’s growth.
In late 1919, just seven years after the completion of the Liberty Park improvements, Sedalia embarked on another ambitious plan to improve the city. The City Council proposed three issues for a special election to be held on Dec. 23.
One of the issues involved annexing an area to the city that would bring an additional 1,500 people into the city limits and increase the city’s taxable property by almost a million dollars. The Sedalia Democrat noted that “Live, worthwhile cities grow by expansion rather than contraction.”
The other two issues involved erecting badly needed public buildings. One was a hospital for African-Americans that would cost $10,000. The second was a new City Hall that would cost $100,000. City Treasurer E. H. Weinrich and City Attorney R. S. Robertson assured voters the city was sound financially and that no tax increase would be necessary.
The city planned to issue bonds to cover the cost of the buildings and to use money from present taxes and the city’s sinking fund to pay repay the bonds. To demonstrate how the project would be financed, they printed a full-page advertisement in the Sedalia Democrat that included a copy of the city’s budget. The advertisement encouraged residents to vote in favor of the proposal.
Proponents of the issue watched public opinion carefully. On Dec. 22, the Sedalia Democrat printed a news article about the upcoming election that functioned less as a report of events and more as an opinion piece persuading people how to vote.
The article grandiosely suggested that newspapers from both Missouri’s major cities and from the entire nation would report on the results of the election. In a burst of circular reasoning, the article also pointed out that those newspapers expected Sedalians to approve the bond issue for public improvements because Sedalians have earned a “reputation for always going forward.”
The article ended by telling readers “It is the bound duty of every good citizen to vote tomorrow and to Prevail upon others who might neglect to do so otherwise.” The article basically told people how to vote: “Tomorrow there should be a large vote and it should be unanimously yes on all three propositions.”
On Dec. 23, the day of the election, the Democrat, which went to press in the early afternoon, reported on early voting. By 2 p.m., only about 400 people had cast their ballots. The polls would remain open until 7 p.m., and the newspaper again suggested that people vote yes on all three propositions.
On Dec. 24, the Democrat exaulted that all three proposals passed by a large majority. After the celebrations quieted, the city was faced with the questions of how to implement the improvements the voters agreed were needed.
Columns for the next few weeks will explore the decisions the city council made and why they weren’t able to fulfill their plans.