I know: why am I writing about a man on this first day of Women’s History Month? Arthur Howard was the short-termed 35th mayor of Salem, elected in late 1909 and serving through 1910. Despite the briefness of his term, he made a lot of news, before, during and after, and on more than one occasion the ladies of Salem came to his rescue and defense, excercising a form of political power (or political expression?) even before they were enfranchised a decade later. Howard himself is a captivating character, but his brief moment in Salem’s history also gives us an opportunity to see how women used their influence beyond/before the ballot box. I’ve had Salem mayors on my mind anyway: we’re presently in the midst of a special mayoral election here in Salem—something that hasn’t happened for quite some time—as our previous mayor has ascended to the office of Lieutenant Governor. Arthur Howard did not leave his mark on Salem in the same way that Mayor Driscoll did, but his story is interesting nonetheless.
Howard was born in New York City in 1870, the son of a prosperous jeweler and grandson of a Salem physician, whom he later described as a “classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s.” He was based in New York for much of his early life, and he seems to have been a bit of a wastrel: spending his father’s money on lavish living and gambling, and writing the occasional little book (on cooking, Wall Street, and Shakespeare “for the unsophisticated”). He was married in 1893 but separated from his wife (and their child) a decade later. Somehow he ended up in Boston, and after reading about the closure of the venerable Salem Gazette in the summer of 1908, decided to make his way up to his ancestral city to save it from becoming a one-newspaper town. He had very little money, but he was undaunted: he operated the new Salem Despatch with the press of the old Gazette, and hired a reporter who told him all about the political “gangs” of Salem. To make a name for himself and his paper, Howard became a “reformer,” attacking the powers that were, the Salem police, the “liquor licensors,” and his competitor, the Salem Evening News. With about a year’s residence behind him, he decided to run for Mayor: a bit of a lark that became increasingly serious. Despite two libel suits brought by a Salem alderman and the editor of the News and a brief stint in jail, Howard was elected and installed as Mayor in January of 1910: he attributed his victory to his ability to speak French to the residents of Ward Five. He vowed to clean up the city of “graft,” to dedicate his mayoral salary of $1500 to its playgrounds, to reform the Police Department (even to the extent of appointing himself Chief of Police), and to identify and close down all the locations where liquor was sold illegally (referred to as either “speak-easies” or “kitchen barrooms”). Howard’s “meteoric” rise, ambitious reform agenda, and “straight talk” attracted considerable press coverage in the first few months of his administration, and he was often referred to as the “boy mayor” even though he was 40 years old. Among his most notable early acts was the transformation of Salem Common into a skating rink at his own expense and the appointment of two of Salem’s most prominent society women, the active social reformers Aroline Gove and Caroline Emmerton, to the Board of the Plummer Farm School of Reform for Boys. And then the honeymoon was over.
Boston Globe stories about Arthur Howard, December 1909-January 1910. I’ll have to do a follow-up on the coverage of Howard by the(non-digitized) Salem Evening News: after all, its editor was suing him for libel!
In March of 1910, the man who had furnished Howard with funds for his bond while awaiting his second libel trial withdrew said funds (he was a liquor broker, and not happy with Howard’s crackdown on the 18 speakeasies he had identified in Salem) and the penniless Mayor was faced with jail: the ladies of Salem came to his rescue with a three-day campaign that raised the required $800 in $1 increments. Some individuals, both male and female, offered to donate the entire amount, but a certain circle of ladies (led by Charlotte Fairfield, who was taking on Salem’s coal cartel at about the same time) pushed for an expression of wide, feminine support. This effort captured national headlines: a United Press story appeared in nearly every newspaper in the country on March 31 and April 1. A week later in the New York Times, Mayor Howard admitted that he “owed a great deal to the women of Salem” who were “helping the cause of pure city government.” He was acquitted of the libel charges later in the spring: good fortune that was countered by his declaration of bankruptcy at around the same time. By the summer, he was publishing “woe is me” (very bad) poetry in his paper, which also attracted headlines. I had no idea what to make of another Howard headline from the summer of 1910, referencing his proclamation for the compulsory attendance of all Salem children at a circus parade through downtown, until I read his obituary: apparently it was an attempt at sarcasm by a man who was tired of the disdain directed at his other edicts.
It was all bad news after that. Howard did not serve out the entirety of his two-year term: he 1911 he stepped down, ostensibly to run for Congress but that campaign seems to have gone nowhere. He decided to run for mayor again the next year, but was not elected. His newspaper office sustained two serious fires in 1912; he was assaulted on the street in 1913. There are references to campaigns for both lieutenant-governor and governor (on the Temperance ticket) which were not sustained. He was divorced in 1916, after which he ended up in Vermont and then New Haven, where his ex-wife happened to live. He died there in January of 1920, aged 51 and handsome as ever, from complications following an intestinal operation.
Boston Globe, January 14, 1920.