Albion Fellows Bacon
Indiana’s Municipal Housekeeper
Robert G. Barrows
Examines the career of a leading Progressive Era reformer.
Born in Evansville, Indiana, in 1865, Albion Fellows was reared in the nearby hamlet of McCutchanville and graduated from Evansville High School. She worked for several years as a secretary and court reporter, toured Europe with her sister, married local merchant Hilary Bacon in 1888, and settled into a seemingly comfortable routine of middle-class domesticity. In 1892, however, she was afflicted with an illness that lasted for several years, an illness that may have resulted from a real or perceived absence of outlets for her intelligence and creativity.
Bacon eventually found such outlets in a myriad of voluntary associations and social welfare campaigns. She was best known for her work on behalf of tenement reform and was instrumental in the passage of legislation to improve housing conditions in Indiana. She was also involved in child welfare, city planning and zoning, and a variety of public health efforts. Bacon became Indiana’s foremost "municipal houskeeper," a Progressive Era term for women who applied their domestic skills to social problems plaguing their communities.
She also found time to write about her social reform efforts and her religious faith in articles and pamphlets. She published one volume of children’s stories, and authored several pageants. One subject she did not write about was women’s suffrage. While she did not oppose votes for women, suffrage was never her priority. But the reality of her participation in public affairs did advance the cause of women’s political equality and provided a role model for future generations.
Robert G. Barrows, Associate Professor of History at Indiana University at Indianapolis, was previously an editor at the Indiana Historical Bureau. He has published several journal articles and book chapters dealing with Indiana history and American urba
“"Gracefully written and respectful, . . . adds nicely to our ever-more-complex image, or images, of Progressive Era women reformers." — The Journal of American History
"Barrows discerningly uses Bacon's life story to tell the story of Progressive-era activism, particularly in the areas of housing and child welfare." — American Historical Review
A middle-class housewife in 1892, Evansville native Albion Fellows Bacon grew into a civic activist who worked on behalf of tenement reform, child welfare, city planning, and a variety of public health efforts. Bacon became Indiana's foremost "municipal housekeeper," a Progressive Era term for women who applied their domestic skills to social problems plaguing their communities.”
“Barrows (history, Indiana Univ.—Indianapolis, and coeditor of the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1994) provides new insight into the Progressive era and sheds light on the multiple roles women played in turn—of—the—century reform efforts. Married with children and dissatisfied and ill in a life of Victorian nubile bliss, Bacon developed a sensitivity to the less fortunate trapped in sweatshops and packed into filthy tenements. Her evolving social conscience, reinforced by the social gospel, led her down many reformist paths to earn the title of Indiana's municipal housekeeper; this epithet is a term for activist women who applied their .. domestic skills to social problems plaguing their communities. A writer, speaker, legislative lobbyist, civic leader, mother, and wife, Bacon packed it all in; to read of her many accomplishments is to understand more clearly Progressivism and the role of women within it. It is a good companion to Allen F. Davis's American Heroine: The Life and Legend of Jane Addams (CH, Jan'74) and is highly recommended for those with interests in regional, political, social, cultural, and women's history. Photographs; notes; select bibliography; and index.April 2001”
— P. D. Travis, Texas Woman's University
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Sheltered Life
Chapter 2: The Clutch of the Thorns
Chapter 3: Ambassador of the Poor
Chapter 4: The Homes of Indiana
Chapter 5: Child Welfare
Chapter 6: City Plans and National Housing Standards
Chapter 7: Prose, Poetry, and Pageants
Chapter 8: Municipal Housekeeper and Inadvertent Feminist