‘Drinking under the rose’ and other moral infractions: the Sunday closing movement of 1893
Under Missouri’s “blue laws” it was forbidden in 1893 to perform any job or sell any item other than “necessities.” The statutes did not define “necessity.” The law was seldom enforced in Kansas City but some wanted to see it enforced, among them religious “Sabbatarians,” who had secured a court injunction to close the Columbian World’s Exposition in Chicago on Sundays, over the objections of, among others, the Kansas City Journal. The editors argued that such restrictions had no place in a nation with diverse religious viewpoints, adding that closing the fair’s exhibits would result in those “most in need of instruction […] the idle thousands” going instead to side shows and saloons “at the expense of dignity, morality and religion. And for this condition the ministers and members of a few churches are to blame, for it was their influence that had weight with the legislators.” Rumors began to circulate of troops being dispatched to prevent Fair gates from being opened or to put down riots protesting the Sunday closing.
Exposition administrators promptly filed a request with the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the injunction; the Chief Justice, Melville Fuller, granted the request, to the pleasure of the Journal’s editors. The decision meant, they said, that the case was settled “for all time”: the Fair would open on Sundays. Although Fuller in his decision made no reference to the “moral” issues involved in a Sunday opening, the Journal celebrated the decision as if he had, arguing that Sunday closings were contrary to “freedom as to belief.” Sunday closings should not be a matter of law, the paper argued, “for it cannot be so without crossing the conscientious convictions of somebody.” Assuaging any doubt as to their Christian convictions, the editors then praised a Christian service held on the Fair grounds, and favorably compared “the American idea of worship and praise” to that of Muslims at the fair who were at the time observing “the birth of Mahomet.”
The World’s Fair directors decided a few weeks later that it wasn’t financially worth keeping the Fair open on Sundays. Many national and state exhibitors had been closing exhibits on that day rather than pay extra labor costs; as a result working people – for many of whom Sunday was the only day off – were not coming. The opposition of what the Journal called “the religious element” was also a factor in the decision. The paper described hundreds of petitions and letters arriving from religious bodies and leading preachers, claiming that millions of Americans opposed Sunday opening. The Kansas City Times, a pro-Democrat paper, welcomed the decision, calling it “a triumph for the moral element in America. Regardless of faith, the sentiment of the mass of liberty-loving people has responded to the call of an inherent belief in Sunday preservation.”
Enthused by success in Chicago, Kansas City’s Sabbatarians started their campaign by raising objections to Sunday exhibitions in the parks by the city’s renowned firemen under Chief George Hale, recently victorious in an international competition in London. The city’s “Christian Endeavor” societies held that the exhibitions were “a great evil […] equally as bad” as opening the World’s Fair on Sundays.
Some called for closing butcher shops and groceries on Sunday; the recent closing of the city’s barber shops was “a victory for God and morality,” said one speaker. Another success appeared in the decision of a Moberly, Missouri, judge, who’d fined a barber for shaving a customer on Sunday; Sunday shaving was not, said the Judge, a “necessity” since the need for a shave could be foreseen and taken care of beforehand.
It was not only the Sabbatarians who wanted to deny Kansas City men a Sunday shave: the Barbers’ and Grocers’ Associations wanted their members to have the day off. The Times depicted the reaction of a hapless visitor from St. Joseph who’d come to town to see his best girl but couldn’t get a shave: “Never shaved myself in my life,” he admits, typical, remarked the paper, of many men who had forgotten about the Sunday closing or never heard of it and either had to go without a shave or bring out old straight razors “that had lain in retirement for many years”: “It’s all on account of the Sabbatarians,” the paper quotes one man saying. “They’ve been hollerin’ for months about shuttin’ down the World’s fair on Sunday […]. And now they come and want a man to commit suicide with an old razor his wife has been using for a can opener.”
At first most barbers were reported to be pleased with the day off, but soon complaints appeared about the loss of wages – an average of $2.50 a week, according to a Star story One barber called it an “obnoxious law” and “a relic of unreasonable legislation,” predicting something just sort of social upheaval if it were not reversed:
People can ride across the line into Kansas Sundays and get shaved at their leisure and I believe that if the Sunday closing law is to be enforced it should be made to apply to theaters, saloons, news stands, cigar stores, meat markets and grocery stores. A man can buy enough to eat or drink on Saturday to last him over Sunday but there is no way of preventing an unsightly crop of beard from growing on the Sabbath as well as week days. Cases have been known where an unshaved face was the foundation for a divorce suit and many a young man has lost his sweetheart because he called on her Sunday night with his face covered with a rough growth of beard. The razor is the greatest of all civilizers, and its use cannot be dispensed with even on one day out of seven with safety to society.
Despite the barber’s dire predictions, barber shops continued closed through August, enforced by the Barbers’ Union, which brought legal charges against those flouting the law. ”The barber shops of Kansas City will never do business on Sunday so long as God gives me strength to step out and file information against any man who attempts to shave a man for money on that day,” the head of the Barbers’ union, J.E. Fitzgerald, declared at a meeting late in the month. Several barbers opposed Fitzgerald, not only because revenues were falling but because men were learning to shave themselves using the new safety razors that were just beginning to be advertised. However, most wanted to continue the closings.
As with the barbers, it was the Grocers’ Association that pushed hardest for Sunday closing of grocery stores. In October, the Association announced that it would enforce Sunday closing laws: “All grocers and butchers found guilty of the high crime and misdemeanor of selling,” the Times reported, “will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” They had tried it before but without success: non-members of the Association had kept their doors open and “reaped the shekels,” as the paper put it, “while the other fellows were at Sunday school.” This time, however, they had the word of Prosecuting Attorney Marcy Brown that he would prosecute violators reported to him.
On October 1, groceries and butcher shops were “closed tight as a drum”, even non-members of the Association participating in the face of Brown’s threats. “It was the middle and poorer classes that suffered most,” the Times reported. “Many of these don’t read the newspapers and did not notice the closing signs posted in grocery stores, or if they did forgot all about them.” The Grocers’ Association, said the paper, had “scored a killing,” and it was likely that all grocery and meat stores would be closed on Sunday in future. The one grocer who stayed open, W.B. Hanlon on East 18th Street, was arrested at the instigation of the head of the Grocers’ Association; Hanlon, not a member of the Association, said he knew nothing of its Sunday closing movement. “He will fight the case,” the Times reported, “upon the ground that he sold only necessaries of life.”
By the second week there were already signs the Association’s control was weakening. Bakers and milk dealers, who were supposed to be part of the closing, were allowed to remain open, while Grocer Hanlon continued to defy the Association, along with two butcher shops. The bakers held a meeting to decide whether they should close; an attorney informed them the law did not require “dealers in provisions” – meaning, he opined, perishable goods – to close. Some bakers resented pressure from the Grocers’ Association to close; others – presumably dependent on grocers’ selling their products – wanted to support the grocers. The bakers finally decided, as the third week approached, to remain open on Sunday, but to sell only their own baked goods and not the canned goods, dairy products and even cigars and tobacco which many bake shops carried.
In the third week of the Association’s campaign, Grocer Hanlon and others met to express their opposition. The meeting was interrupted by the arrival of a former councilman with the appropriate name of A.N. Church, a known Sabbatarian. Church delivered a half hour disquisition on the advantages of Sunday closing; he was then shown the door by Hanlon. The group raised a fund for Hanlon’s legal defense and passed the predictable resolution that groceries should be kept open Sunday morning until 10 a.m..
Undeterred, the Association continued its fight; a month later it was still threatening renegade grocers with legal action, but the struggle had become increasingly complex and political as the focus of Sabbatarian efforts moved from barbers to grocers to the biggest prize: saloons. Hanlon’s trial was delayed at the request of the Grocers’ Association because saloon keepers were using their considerable influence with city officials to see that everyone on the jury was against Sunday closing, according to George Scott, secretary of the Association: “If we fail to convict Grocer Hanlon under the law it will be the saloon keepers who will be responsible,” he declared, “and they will have a bigger fight on their hands than they dream of.”
“We have nothing against the saloon-keepers,” said Scott. “We have no desire to interfere with any one who does not interfere with us. We have been repeatedly invited to join the Sunday Rest association in opposing the saloons and we have as repeatedly declined.” Scott’s point was that the Grocers’ Association was not connected to the temperance and church groups that had banded together as the Sunday Rest Association; Sunday closing was for them a labor, not a moral or religious issue. The Barbers’ Union wanted to make the same distinction; neither group wanted to be associated with the Sabbatarians in their efforts to close saloons on Sunday; wrote the barbers to the Sunday Rest Association, “we are unanimously opposed to any organization riding into public favor or disfavor upon the prestige of labor organizations.”
A couple of weeks later Mr. Scott was on his way to Mexico with a young woman, appropriately named Belle Rich, and $600 of Grocers’ Association money, leaving behind a note to his ailing wife telling her he was planning to commit suicide, and six cases filed against grocers. “The state intends to convict if possible,” the Times reported, “notwithstanding the absence of George Scott.” His wife was skeptical that he had any intention of killing himself.
In November the Sunday closing battle turned towards the main quarry, the saloons. If the Bakers and Grocers were wary of association with the Sunday Resters, the Women’s Federation was not, indorsing the Sabbatarians “without any formal request from the anti-saloonists,” reported the Times. Said one member, a delegate from the Women’s Auxiliary of the Keeley League, an organization that claimed to cure alcoholism, “The two great institutions which lead to the disease of inebriety are the nursery and the saloon. If the infant escaped a whiskey bath or a few drops of some sort of stimulant it was probably through some one’s neglect. It was rare, indeed, that a child a few days old has not had ‘hot whiskey’ several times.” Meanwhile the Ministers’ Alliance was also organizing to oppose the Sunday saloon and declared its alliance with the Sunday Rest Association.
At its next meeting, with members from the Women’s Federation and Ministers’ Alliance present, the Association reported on its investigations to date: its members had found ten saloons and one cigar store open on the previous Sunday, with forty-nine men and boys drinking, smoking and playing cards. In one saloon there was a patrolman at the bar, drinking beer. More investigations were promised before the information would be taken to the mayor and city officials.
The threat appeared to be enough: saloon keepers agreed to close their bars the following Sunday, November 12, and Police Chief Speers told his patrolmen to inform all dramshop owners that the law would be enforced. The victory of the Sabbatarians appeared complete.
Members of the Association went out on the 12th to determine whether the saloons had closed. The results were headlined in the Times the next morning: “Facts and whiskey plentiful. Absolutely no effort made to enforce the Sunday laws.” 400 saloons were open, the paper reported, while “One Mayor, one chief of police, two commissioners and a horde of officers under their control looked on smilingly.” Only a few saloons “of the better class” closed, reported the Journal; hotel bars did a thriving business.
A Times reporter accompanied two members of the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor as they did their rounds. At one saloon, on the corner of 15th Street and Grand, the front door was locked but the rear door open and men were enjoying a beer inside. Another saloon across the street also had its rear door open and men were sitting, playing cards and drinking, “and a flock of quail was flying about the room,” added the reporter, without explanation. At a different saloon, Sabbatarian investigators were guided to the entrance by a young girl carrying a two quart can of beer home for her parents: “Mamma sends me for beer,” she told them.
The following week a delegation representing several of the groups associated with the Sunday rest campaign – the Ministers’ Alliance, the Knights of Father Matthew, the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor – appeared before the board of police commissioners, including Mayor Cowherd, demanding action be taken to close saloons on Sunday. The commissioners politely deferred action to a later meeting.
The Retail Liquor Dealers’ Association met at the end of the week to discuss the situation. Some members “inveighed against the ‘Sunday closing cranks’ and ‘religious bigots,” according to the Journal, saying it was an outrage for authorities to levy on them a license cost of almost $900 and then make them close on Sundays, “the best day in the week for business.” Most, however, thought it might be “better to obey the law.”
Only 125 of the city’s 347 saloons were members of the Association, however, so a decision could be expected to have limited effect. On the following Sunday, only about a dozen saloons were closed, the Times reported; the rest, including almost all of those owned by members of the Association, were open as usual, with police making no effort to enforce the law. There were reports that the Sunday rest contingent might try to enforce the law in the courts if police wouldn’t, using as their model the “moral societies of Minneapolis.”
After their meeting with Resters the following week, the police commissioners proclaimed that all saloons must close on Sunday, September 26th, and all following Sundays. Chief Speers was instructed to enforce the law; “The saloons will be closed tomorrow if the police department can enforce the law,” the Chief declared. “Of course,” he added, with a knowing wink, “they’ve been closed on Sunday right along. But tomorrow they will be closed tighter than ever.”
Saloon keepers howled, one of them telling the Times “There wouldn’t be over 100 saloons in the city if we were closed every Sunday.” In addition, he pointed out, the drug stores, which routinely sold alcohol for “necessary” medicinal purposes, would be open. The Times reported that about two-thirds of saloons closed on the 26th; others did business “in a quiet way,” through the back door. […] Some bartenders and a saloon keeper were arrested, though the case against them was not strong since the police saw none of them make actual sales: “Persons with buckets of beer were seen coming out of some of the places and men were found standing at the bar in others drinking both whiskey and beer.”
Hotel bars were closed, something that hadn’t happened in years, reported the Journal, but licensed restaurants and hotel cafes did what the paper called “a rushing business […].” And there were plenty of back doors open if a man knew where to look:
Some men, it seems, enjoy a drink under the rose more than in any other way, and there were plenty of seekers after the back doors. In many cases the precaution was even taken of locking the back door when there was a man behind the bar. The thirsty seeker after a drink had to knock and then the door would be opened, and if he was known or looked all right he was allowed to enter; otherwise he was told that the bar was closed.
The paper described a visitor to town not being able to gain admission to a bar, complaining “This is a nice town […]. I had heard about the ‘push,’” a reference to the city’s Democratic political machine, “but I did not know that a man had to be in the ‘push’ to get a drink. Everybody seems able to get what he wants except me.”
In Kansas City, Kansas, sale of liquor was legally forbidden every day of the week, but in fact, the city was so wide open that “joints” were among the businesses the city council was considering closing, at the request of the Merchants’ Protective Association. The ordinance would include barber shops, restaurants, drug stores “and all other resorts. It will be a sort of blue law,” commented the Times, “and, if enforced will give a visitor the impression that this is a very religious town.” Some leading businessmen in town were said to be skeptical that the law would be enforced if passed, since it was much more stringent than the existing law requiring businesses to close at 10 a.m. on Sundays, and that law was “totally disregarded.”
As on the Missouri side, it was the saloonkeepers, or “jointists,” who campaigned most strongly against the ordinance; as on the Missouri side, a police order to close the “joints” on Sundays had gone out earlier. It was observed for a week and then, the Journal noted, “the old order of things once more obtained, and the back doors were again frequented and the glasses clinked […].” In fact, when men couldn’t get a Sunday drink on the Missouri side they would often take a tram over to the “dry” Kansas side to wet their whistle.
For the present, however, the Sunday closing movement was the winner in the saloon wars. In early December, Kansas City’s saloons were closed to “external appearances,” as the Journal put it, though a determined drinker “thoroughly acquainted with the side and rear doors of certain of the dramshops” could find a place to go. The police had little to do; “they were shut out of their favorite loafing places and were compelled to walk their beats,” seeking refuge from December’s cold in livery stables rather than their favorite dramshop.
Meanwhile, the battle over whether Sunday barbering was a “necessity” under Missouri law was continuing. The Barbers’ Union decided in November to take the matter to court. Six Midland barbers – one with the salubrious name of Cutter – were arrested. Manager Smith of the Midland Hotel vowed to fight the charges, saying he regarded Sunday shaving as a necessity in a hotel: “Hundreds of traveling men arrange to stop over in Kansas City every Sunday,” he told the Times, “in order to enjoy the comforts of her luxuriant hotels. These men generally come unshorn, and they do not generally carry a razor with them. To them a Sunday shave is an absolute necessity.”
Some barbers must have been hoping that Smith would win the case and the Sunday closing movement collapse, at least in the barbering business, since men were beginning to do their own shaving. Reported the Journal:
Kansas City men, who a few weeks ago had never handled a razor, are now good barbers. The fact that their trade has suffered has caused many of the barbers to long for their old time Sunday morning business, when the ‘nexts’ are more numerous than at any other time. Fear of prosecution has kept them from breaking over, however, until yesterday when the Midland barber shop opened up bright and early in the morning and kept open all day. It did a rushing business.
Nor were the Midland’s customers all the unshorn “traveling men” and hotel guests depicted by Mr. Smith; the Midland maintained a “register” where customers had to sign before they could get a shave, reported the Journal, but there was no attempt to ensure the person was a hotel guest, or even a “traveling man.” The Times reported that over 500 men registered on the Sunday of November 12. Smith had to take on three additional barbers to handle the business.
Smith hired the highest-price lawyers in town, the firm of Lathrop, Morrow & Fox, to make his case that salesmen – “drummers” --- had to be shaved on Sunday so as to be “presentable at divine worship,” although no evidence was presented that Smith’s customers had an interest in churchgoing. Smith’s lawyers claimed that “it did not propose to open its shop for admission or use of other than bona fide registered guests of the hotel,” dodging the question of whether it had actually shaven non-guests or would do so in future.
Smith’s lawyers succeeded in getting a temporary restraining order against Fitzgerald of the Barbers’ Union, or anyone else, from “arresting or interfering” with the Midland barbers; “a big piece of bluff,” Fitzgerald called the order. Smith himself affirmed that he had no wish to counter the wishes of those who believe in the “strict and literal observance” of Sunday closing laws, telling a Journal reporter with a wink that the Midland Hotel’s bar would be closed on Sundays “more or less.”
On the Sunday following the Judge’s order, only the Midland shop, “patronized by hundreds of unshorn and unshaven men,” and Brown’s barber shop on Union Avenue were open for business. In the following week, a judge continued in force the temporary injunction on the basis that continued arrests of the barbers would cause pecuniary injury to the hotel company.
Smith declared victory, and one of his barbers was acquitted by a jury – “a decided victory” for those wanting to keep barber shops open, commented the Times. Nine other cases against Midland barbers were also being prepared.
Soon after, a judge lifted the temporary injunction for all except Fitzgerald, after determining that the hotel’s property rights had not been injured “other than is sustained generally by others engaged in the same business.’ The judge also alluded to a Court of Appeals decision dealing with the question of “necessity”:
It is not enough that it shall be more convenient to do the work on Sunday than other days of the week, but generally speaking it ought to be an unforeseen necessity, or, if foreseen, such as could not have reasonably been provided against.
Prosecuting Attorney Brown was now free to prosecute Smith’s barbers. The Judge’s decision, concluded the Times, was “an unmistakable victory for Sunday closing,” and the following Sunday eight Midland Hotel barbers were arrested, with the determined Smith following them to Judge Latshaw’s court and bailing them all out. He told the Star “Guests of my house will be shaved on Sunday when they want to be, arrests or no arrests,” and put the arrests down to “fee grabbing” by constables and others connected with Latshaw’s court. Explained the Star:
Henry Skinner, who swore to the complaint, is an employee of Joe Shannon, ‘one of the Shannons,’ and worked at the city market. Justice Latshaw’s constable is also “one of the Shannons,’ a brother of the market master, and Skinner was simply used to secure the evidence.
Joe Shannon was a constable and boss of the “Rabbits,” one of the city’s two Democratic political factions. The other, nicknamed the “Goats,” was run by Jim Pendergast, brother of Tom Pendergast. “Fee grabbing” was one of the ways the two groups rewarded supporters; a constable making an arrest, for example, claimed a fee for bringing someone in, encouraging wanton arrests. William Rockhill Nelson, the Star’s publisher, though a Democrat, frequently attacked both groups for the practice and agitated for the payment of regular salaries.
But Smith and his barbers weren’t finished yet. They sued all parties involved in their arrest: Justice Latshaw, three constables including J.B. Shannon, brother of Joe Shannon, Prosecuting Attorney Brown, Joe Shannon, James Pendergast and Henry Skinner. The barbers wanted $50,000 in compensation for their arrest and detention. The Deputy Sheriff responsible for serving papers in the suits on the defendants was yet another Shannon, Charles, brother of Constable J.B. and Joe Shannon.
Smith’s attorneys got a restraining order that prevented authorities from interfering with his barbers; this time, Chief Speer and his police force were included among those forbidden to arrest barbers. The Journal pointed out that all the barbers at the Midland had been arrested several times and three trials held, yet in each case juries had acquitted the barbers, holding that “shaving on Sunday, in a hotel at least, was a necessity.” On the following Sunday, the Midland shop was open for business. The Journal reported that Constable Shannon attempted a raid on it but was presented with the injunction by Sheriff O’Neill and retreated.
Smith’s victory was brief. The following week, Judge Edward Scarritt refused to extend the injunction, marking the end of what the Times called “a long and interesting legal battle […].”In his opinion, Scarritt said that he “had no sympathy with the law as it stood, and believed that it should never have been placed upon the statute books, but as long as it was there it should be obeyed. A civil court, he said, had no authority to enjoin a criminal officer from performing his duty as defined in the statutes […].”
In another court, seven Midland barbers were fined $25 each and costs for working on Sunday and on the same day, three horseshoers charged with violating the Sunday closing laws came up for trial. They had been arrested earlier in December at their shop at 8th Street and Grand avenue, on the complaint of another horseshoer. Another blacksmith, whose shop was nearby at 13th and Grand, was also charged with violating the Sunday labor law, and fined. According to the Journal, attorneys for prosecution and defense “fought the case stubbornly.”
Thus 1893 ended with Sabbatarians and trade associations seemingly in control of the field, but there were cracks in the Sunday closing regime that could be counted on to widen over time. A majority of downtown saloons were closed on the morning of December 17, the Journal reported, but they quietly reopened in the evening and were untroubled by constables. Mr. Smith’s barber shop at the Midland was closed, at last, but some barber shops around town kept their bathrooms open, where a man could get a shave without “the comfort of a barber’s chair.” Cigar stores, fruit stores, candy shops, bowling alleys and other places were open as usual.
Mr. Smith continued his court battle to the end, in the county court room in Independence, supported by some of the city’s principal hoteliers, including Charles Baird of the Coates, Fred Doggett of the Blossom House, and John Letton of the Victoria, as well as leading members of the Kansas City Club. The jury was described in the Journal as “composed of men who wear beards, and who seldom ever indulge in the luxury of a shave.” Judge John Wofford began the case by ruling that if the Midland barber shop served only guests of the hotel there was no violation of the law. Barbers’ Union president Fitzgerald testified that Smith’s barbers made no attempt to exclude non-guests; Smith’s defense attorneys argued the customers had registered as guests.
Wofford was skeptical that merely signing a hotel register made one a guest. As the Kansas City Mail pointed out, if it were decided that Smith was operating within the law, it would be the end of Sunday closing for barbers, since it would be “a manifest injustice to permit Coates and Midland proprietors to conduct a business refused to less wealthy and influential citizens.”
The case remained undecided as the year ended: the jury couldn’t agree, standing ten for acquittal of the charge against one of the Midland barbers, regarded as a test case, and two for conviction. The Journal described “lofty flights of eloquence” as the defense predicted Kansas City would become “the laughing stock of the country by closing hotel barber shops,” while the prosecution, less eloquently, argued the law should be enforced. The barber in question admitted he didn’t know whether a customer was a guest, proving for the two jurors that he was guilty, while the other ten jurors said the state had no witnesses to show that persons other than guests were shaved.
Judge Wofford’s instructions to the jury were so complicated that the jury returned twice to court to try to sort them out. He defined the term “guest of the hotel” as one who “has so recently arrived at said hotel that he could not procure the services of a barber the day or evening before the Sunday in question; and further, that the act of shaving a person on Sunday is work or labor of necessity in law only when the person so served in the barber shop was not so circumstanced that the service of a barber could be had on the day before said Sunday.” The judge did not explain how a barber could determine whether a customer met these qualifications.
The vexed question of “necessity” on the Sabbath – a moral issue for some, an economic one for others – remained unsettled as the year 1893 closed.
October 14, 2014