Last week’s column promised more about women’s role in the election of 1920. However, Newspapers.com, from which I access many local newspaper articles, was not cooperating when I began my research, so I have chosen another election for this week’s column.
The mayoral election of 1892 was hotly contested and mud was slung from all sides. In the primary election, Republican voters were asked to choose between Z.F. Bailey and Charles Messerly, who had announced their candidacy, and Jim Gossage, who had not. Democrats had chosen Ed Stevens, the current mayor, as a candidate for reelection.
The campaign became ugly, with allegations of misuse of public monies, candidates’ involvement with prostitution, the practice of buying votes, especially those of Black voters, and drunkenness, so the Sedalia Gazette, a short-lived newspaper, printed a cartoon denouncing Sedalia and its election process.
The cartoon begins by attacking the other newspapers in Sedalia. It depicts an ox-drawn wagon. The first two oxen are named “Sedalia Democrat” and “AGITATOR.” The “Sedalia Democrat” is “lily white” and is being lashed by Stevens, the driver of the wagon. The steer is protected by a cushion of money under the yoke. The steer represents misused funds the Gazette alleged the newspaper used to protect its interests. The “AGITATOR” is black and is being enticed by corn and hay dangled in front of him, representing the alcoholic beverages offered by white party bosses to Black voters.
The cartoon goes on to attack the press and law enforcement in its depiction of the second pair of oxen. One is named “Sedalia Bazoo” and looks a great deal like J. Wests Goodwin, its editor. The other ox is named “KICKER” and wears a badge and police helmet to indicate he represents law enforcement.
Mayor Stevens is driving the wagon. One of the men riding in the wagon carries a bunch of balloons “full of air and …marked fines,” suggesting corruption in Stevens’ administration. The wagon is carrying two anvils identified as “EXTRA TAXES,” weighing down the administration.
The cartoon goes on to lambast Sedalia’s reputation for crime, especially gambling and prostitution. The wagon carries two slabs, one marked “WIDE OPEN TOWN” and the other marked “ODIUM OF A WIDE OPEN TOWN.” One of the riders is cheering for Sedalia’s reputation as a wide-open town where lawbreakers and sinners were tolerated.
The cartoon also takes a jab at the city’s management of public funds. The wagon has barely missed falling into a hole labeled “SINKING FUND.” The wagon is being watched by a “little man” representing the typical taxpayer whose tax monies have disappeared into the hole. He is being pointedly ignored by Stevens and his cronies in the wagon.
Clouds of “Outrages, Dives, Dereliction of Duty, and Infamy” fill the sky, and large ravens or vultures carry signs labeled “TAXES” and “BAWDY HOUSE ROT” in their talons. The wagon is followed by a cart carrying “the girls,” Sedalia’s prostitutes, with whom Stevens was believed to have a close relationship.
The Gazette askes readers to identify “the names of the steers and the big man and what it is all about.”
The cartoon, like much editorializing of the time, contains innuendo and half-truths. Both candidates were corrupt. Stevens and Bailey both had a connection to local prostitutes; in fact, Bailey managed the property used as a bawdy house by madam Dora DeWitt. Sedalia did have a reputation as a wide-open town; noted in 1881 by Sedalia Bazoo as full of “poor streets, plenty of mashers, profane church members, and about seventy-five saloons,” an exaggerated number for there were only about 27 saloons.
The campaign was truly a nasty one. Next week’s column follows the election through as Sedalians choose their next mayor.