Contest made world tour possible for working-class ‘girls’

By CONNIE ZEIGLER, Contributing editor

The “Grand Tour” of Europe became a popular excursion for wealthy Americans as early as the 18th Century. Mark Twain documented his Grand Tour of Europe in 1867 in his travel book, Innocents Abroad. Some affluent Indianapolis residents undertook long European excursions in the 19th Century, too, but such a frivolous expense was out of the reach of most if not all working-class Hoosiers. Until, in 1908, The Indianapolis Star gave an all-expenses paid tour to a dozen Indiana working-class women.

The Star contest opened in March 1908. Winners were determined by votes of the public. There were to be 11 winners from 11 districts of Indiana. The lucky winning “girls,” as they were called by The Star (participants had to be between 18 and 45 years of age), were determined on May 24. Six of the districts were in Indianapolis and five others were spread across the state.

The highest vote getter, Bertha Fultz, a long-distance phone operator from Columbus, earned an astonishing 1,014,913 votes. Altogether the contest pulled in nearly 700,000 more votes than the state’s total for the 1904 presidential election between Theodore Roosevelt and Alton B. Parker.

Along with Fultz from Columbus and women from Noblesville, Lebanon, Wabash and Mitchell, there were six lucky winners from Indianapolis: Cliffie H. Manlove, an insurance license clerk at the State Auditor’s office, age 31, who lived at 147 W Pratt St.; Matilda J. Lukenbill, 33, a clerk in the Center Township Trustee office, 1334 Sheldon St.; Ethel (or Ethyl) Streit, the 18-year-old daughter of an Indianapolis police department officer, 801 Woodlawn Ave.; Fleta B. Davis, a 19-year old teacher for the Indianapolis Public Schools, 52 Drexel Ave.; Cylvira Alice Presser, 24, a stenographer in her father’s stockbroker office, 1301 Reisner; and Alice Harding, a clerk at Columbia National Bank, 30, 3802 Park Ave. By the time the trip began another Indianapolis woman, Delia M. Devney, 38, from 459 South East St., had joined the group, for reasons that were never explained in the newspaper.

They boarded the Big Four Railroad’s “Lucky 46” train to New York City to begin the trip. According to The Star on July 2, 1908, the women were accompanied by Dr. Oliver James, a “medical advisor,” and his wife.

The festive group set sail for Europe on the steamship, the Columbia, on the most American holiday, the Fourth of July. The European trip, mapped out for curious readers of The Star who wished to follow along vicariously, included Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

An equivalent trip was advertised by a travel agency in the newspaper in June 1908. Prices ranged from $150 to $1,165 (the equivalent of between $3,300 and $35,000 in 2022 dollars). Some Hoosier women could afford a Grand Tour in 1908, or more precisely, their families could. In its society pages, The Star mentioned that Miss Eliza Tarkington Brigham was embarking on a six-month European trip. She left exactly one week after the 12 contest winners. A week after that, the Misses Josephine and Lucille Herron and Susan Lilly began an excursion of three months of European travel, the newspaper reported. But these were rich girls. They were privileged girls.

The Star trip winners were neither rich nor privileged, but for seven glorious weeks they had the privilege of being treated like a Lilly or a Herron. It must have felt like a dream.

On Aug. 9, Lillian Pampel, the winner from Noblesville, wrote a cheeky article from Brussels about the adventures the group had experienced so far. She reported that the “well-dressed London faction” was not in the city when they arrived, “the only persons who seem in the least ‘togged’ were the waiters in the hotels and the clerks in the stores.” In Amsterdam, “the cobble stones (which are all over the city) should be replaced with asphalt,” the women agreed. Ah, Americans.

Brussels was the biggest hit with the group. The orchestra at the Metropole hotel where they stayed played America on the evening of their arrival. At one of the museums there, as they were studying a painting called Three Wishes, the guide asked one of the women what hers would be. In true Eliza Doolittle fashion, Pampel replied: “an easy chair, a slice of mother’s white cake and a jumbo pickle.” 

Time flies when one is traveling the world, and soon enough the seven weeks of hobnobbing with the European swells came to an end. The women arrived back in Indianapolis on Aug. 19, “declaring that they had the most pleasant journey they had ever experienced,” according to the next days’ report in The Star. Sassy Lillian Pampel joked, “Oh yes, the crowned heads of Europe seemed loath to part with us, and, indeed, we were somewhat sorry to go ourselves.” And so their story ended, as far as The Star was concerned.

Based on census information, the women resumed their old lives and jobs after the trip. It would be reasonable to expect, though, that those lives were altered in some way by their amazing adventure. Historical records show that there was one major change in each of their lives. All seven of the Indianapolis women and 11 of the twelve total, only excepting the winner from Columbus, experienced the same life-changing shift. They all married within the next five years. 

Maybe that is not surprising; after all, most women married in the 1910s. But the median age at which they did so was 24. Only the two youngest of the group were in their 20s when they married. Three were in their mid-30s, a decade or more past the age at which most of their cohorts already had tied the knot. Delia Devney, the oldest of the “girls,” was 38 when she won a place on the trip and 44 at the time of her marriage six years later.

In 2022 it might disappoint us that such an extraordinary event did not set these women on a culture-defying path, rather than a traditional one. It didn’t. Instead, they came back to Indiana and fully (and for some, finally) embraced their traditional roles as wives.

Hopefully they had happy married lives. No matter what, they would always have Brussels.