"No Mean City": Indianapolis in the Early 20th Century

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School children in a gallery at the John Herron Art Institute, early 1900s. IMA Archives.

On July 27, 1909, at the laying of the cornerstone for the new Indianapolis City Hall, Mayor Charles Bookwalter pointed to a motto engraved in the cornerstone that read: “I am, myself, a citizen of no mean city.” In the years to come, said Bookwalter, nobody would pass by and read the motto “without feeling the responsibility for good citizenship in this city of ours.”

Indiana author and historian Ray E. Boomhower will examine the phenomenal growth and change in Indianapolis at the turn of the 20th-century. From a swampy hamlet whose citizens, as Meredith Nicholson noted, spent much of their time “shaking with ague,” the capital city had been crowned with impressive skyscrapers and bustled with business activity, especially in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries. This growth sparked creativity in the arts, including splendid achievements in literature, architecture, and recreation. Boomhower is senior editor at the Indiana Historical Society Press, where he has worked since 1987. He is the author of numerous books on Indiana history, including biographies of such notable Hoosiers as Ernie Pyle, Gus Grissom, Lew Wallace, May Wright Sewall, and Juliet Strauss.

Note: This is an Oldfields-Lilly House & Gardens Centennial Celebration event.

Promotional support provided by WFYI

Indianapolis Museum of Art 4000 Michigan Rd., Indianapolis, IN