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Women made news, but it wasn't always pretty

Published August 06. 2011 09:01AM

The decade between 1911-19 was a time of great change in society but that's no big revelation when one considers where we once were as a society.

Consider these facts about American life in 1911:

• Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub and only 8 percent had telephones;

• The average wage in 1910 was 22 cents an hour;

• Most women washed their hair once a month, using Borax or egg yolks for shampoo;

• Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated high school;

• More than 95 percent of all births took place at home;

• 90 percent of all doctors had no college education. Instead they attended so-called medical schools.

At that time, the life expectancy for women was 54 and for men 47, compared to today's projections of 82 for women and 74 for men. Women were also experiencing changes in society through the women's suffrage movement.

The period of great change affected fashion as well. Hemlines on dresses also began to climb from ankle length in 1910 to mid-calf by 1919 and all the way up to the knee by the decade of the the Roaring Twenties.

Women were also making news on the local scene in the summer of 1911, but it many cases, it was for all the wrong reasons.

In mid-June that year a group of women in western Pennsylvania found themselves in the Greensburg lockup for "serenading non-union miners." According to a report in the Tamaqua Courier, "They were charged with violating a court injunction for serenading non-union miners by beating dish pans, thereby annoying them."

The United Mine Workers paid the fines for four of the 11 women, and a judge released the other seven for lack of evidence.

In one local story, a would-be burglar found himself dodging bullets after trying to enter a home in Lansford in an incident that would have tested our recently-passed Castle Doctrine law in Pennsylvania. It began on an early Saturday morning as Charles McKenna was returning home from his job as a conductor on the Eastern Pennsylvania Railroad.

McKenna's young wife was sitting at a window waiting for his return when the area in front of the home was lit up by a flash of lightening. In that instant she saw her husband being assaulted by a burglar.

After rushing outside, she shouted to her husband to shoot the assailant and save himself or to step aside and she would shoot. McKenna did step aside and his wife fired three shots. All three missed but the flying lead sent the burglar running for his life under the cover of darkness.

In Pottsville, another incident involving two men vying for the affections of the same woman had a deadly consequence.

It occurred when two Pottsville men, who had been celebrating July 4th, became infatuated with the same woman, whom one reporter called "a charming damsel form Shenandoah."

"Like all vivacious and ambitious lovers, she courted the favor of both," the reporter stated.

When it came down to choosing between the two, she "laughingly selected" the one who was able to amuse her. After the selection was made, the jilted suitor drew a dagger and stabbed his favored rival several times.

"The wounded man dropped like a log and then, like a frightened bird, the cause of all the trouble picked up her skirts and ran," the reporter said.

State police quickly arrived at the scene and arrested the knife-wielder. They also held the woman as a witness to the crime.

Finally, there's the story of Mary Sadlock, whom the Courier described as "a big Polish woman" who had a reputation for shoplifting. The way in which she fought off police trying to arrest her during one incident showed that Mary may have had a career in professional wrestling had that form of entertainment been offered in 1911.

Mary was shopping in the Philadelphia Bargain Store in Tamaqua when she slipped out without paying for a $35 lace dress and a $7 shirt. Constable McConnell caught up with her as she was about to board the afternoon train to Lansford.

"It was then that the fun began," a Courier reporter said. "The woman fought like a demon every inch pf the way to the lockup. With her hair hanging over her back she looked like one demented, which is probably correct."

As the constable and several others tried to wrestle her into a caged car, she kept her head inside the door jam and defied the police to close it. Finally, two men, each one locking an arm, were able to drag her into the cage. At least six men were involved with Mary's apprehension, with one officer having his "coat half torn off" in the melee.

In the jail car, the woman then resorted to an old trick which had worked for her before.

"The woman relaxed into unconsciousness and seemed to be suffering from convulsions but several who knew her said she was only feigning exhaustion as she always does stunts of that kind when in trouble just to excite sympathy," the reporter said.

It was discovered that this was not Mary's first shoplifting excursion. She was the prime suspect in a similar theft of dress goods several weeks earlier at Lutz & Scherer's store in Tamaqua. Manager S. O. Lutz had inquired about the woman but had not been able to track her down until the rumble with police.

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