Did you ever hear of the Dodo bird? I know you are asking what has that to do with headlines to this post? Be patient, I’ll get to it. If you have that’s great. If not, here’s what it is: an “extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.”
I’m wondering if you ever heard of Harold Ickes? If you have that’s great. If not, here’s who is: “an extinct species of politician that was known as a Progressive Republican endemic to the United States during the 20th century.
Ickes was born outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania in a family of “solid pre-revolutionary war stock.” His mother Ann McCune Ickes, a staunch Republican of Scotch Presbyterian ancestry, was said to believe in the virtue of hard work and the valued of industry, honesty and respect. She died when Ickes was 16-year-old. His mother’s eldest sister Ada Wheeler brought him and his sister Mary to Chicago to live with her. She encouraged his love of books and desire for education.
She and her husband owned a drug store. Ickes worked there long hours throughout his three years at Englewood High School graduating as class president. He went to the newly opened University of Chicago in 1893 entering its second class. It was written that: “his father’s refusal to help [financially], and the sheer drudgery and exhaustion of trying to scrape enough money together to remain in college . . . made Ickes cynically independent, excruciatingly penurious, overly proud, resentful and suspicious.”
He still worked at the drug store, taught English at nights but walked to the school and back wanting to save the ten cents carfare. He found himself a most times impoverished and embarrassed. It did not stop him from becoming involved in some politics becoming president of the Republican Club. In 1897 at age 23 he graduated summa cum laude. He skipped his graduation ceremony because of his shabby clothes. At age 29 in the fall of 1903 after working as a newspaper reporter and in political causes he entered law school at the University of Chicago graduating in the spring of 1907. He married Anna Wilmarth Thompson a young woman of significant wealth in 1911 whom he had first met while in college .
He became involved in politics during college and associated himself with social settlement workers who did work among the poor including Jane Addams the founder of Hull House. Watching her and her idealistic reformers he learned that they “were aloof and austere. They had a veneer that was like the polish of a slab of granite, and contrasted unfavorably with the warm joviality of the Irish political chieftains.” He went on to say he never had to contact any of them for help but if he needed it “I would have been more certain of getting it from the politicians.”
Over the years he was one of those guys who had this strange thought that politics should be on the level and the purpose of a person being elected was to serve the people and not himself. He had many political enemies. He ran for political office once and lost. He realized, “despite his ability he lacked the personal appeal and disposition to be elected to office himself. . .. . He mastered the skills of political organization and efficient management and used them in behalf of aggressive. Independent candidates who, like himself, viewed politics and life as a moral battleground.”
[This series starts on December 17 and will appear on 18th, 21st, 22 th, and 23rd]