The Twentieth Century Shining Parlor

The Twentieth Century Shining Parlor

New Business Sparks Protests in Des Moines and Omaha

Grand Opening

April 8, 1914 Des Moines Tribune

With the advertisement above, as well as a short article which appeared the same day in the Des Moines Register, the people of Des Moines were informed that a new business was coming to town. It did not take long for a firestorm of words and threatened action to follow. The Register informed the populous that the shoeshining parlor would be managed by a girl and employ girl "shiners" exclusively. The shop was to be opened at 421 West Locust Street (at the corner with Fifth) with the proprietors being listed as Alber and Fenberg who were already conducting a similar business in Omaha, Nebraska.

The building at 421 West Locust Street had been advertised as in use since at least 1895 and over the years was home to several businesses. It had been used to sell clothing, gas fixtures, cash registers, woolen goods, and vacuum cleaners. In 1913 it was listed as for rent in the local paper for several month but also seems to have been used as a place to display cars.

Within two days of opening the police were receiving complaints from citizens. A headline in the Des Moines Tribune on April 10, read "Shoe Shining Shop Operated by Girls Calls Out Protest. Police, However, Say Law Probably Will Not Permit Them to Interfere."

Shoe Shine Parlor

Shoe Shine Parlor in Buffalo New York

The article stated that the shop, staffed by "fifteen white girls", who were said to have been sent from Omaha by the owner of a similar parlor there had started a storm of protests pouring into police headquarters from citizens claiming that it was altogether improper for a young woman to enter the field of the bootblack business. They called upon the Chief of Police, Ed Crawford, to close the parlor at once. The Chief stated that he likely would not be able to accommodate these requests as the parlor was not illegal and as long as the business was properly conducted, he was without options.

Women's Club

Members of the Des Moines Women's Club from the

"A club woman called me last night," Crawford stated. "She thought it was a horrible thing to allow girls to enter into such a business and I told her that I agreed with her sentiments and would see what could be done. " A rumor was started that the club women of Des Moines would work to close the parlor down however Mrs. F. W. Webster, president of the Federated Women's Clubs of the city denied this. "This matter has not been brought to my notice," said Mrs. Webster, "and all the adverse criticism that I have heard has been in the newspapers. I think it is a matter for the police to attend to. If it proves an objectionable feature it should, of course be abolished. If it is simply a group of girls trying to make a living, the police should protect them."


Omaha Daily News April 16, 1914

The introduction of the Twentieth Century Shining Parlor at 318 S. 15th Street in Omaha in February of 1914, reportedly drew the same types of concerns as it did in Des Moines two months later. According to the Omaha Daily News on February 8, 1914, over 800 men patronized the shop in the first day. One of the proprietors, M. Fenberg, admitted some 800 timid men ventured into his establishment between 11 o'clock when the doors opened and 6 o'clock in the evening. This location boasted fifteen "American-born white girls" who trained for a month before opening the shop. It also boasted that a woman served as manager.

The parlor featured a piano and live music. The Daily News described the experience this way:

When entering the shop, the patron was given a number up to fifteen, "a girl cashier sitting near the door calls (your number), smiles sweetly and directs you to one of the chairs. The bootblack whose number has just been called responds, also with a smile, goes to your chair and without further preliminary starts in making your shoes appear like new. Of course, the smile may be only perfunctory and not a necessary feature but is seldom overlooked."

"Although there are no regulations of the shop which the "trade" (patron) must observe someone feels that when a gentle female hand bumps against his pet corn it is decidedly bad form to say what he usually does on such occasions or kick the offending bootblack on the chin by way of caution to be more careful. "

"When your shoes are polished to the satisfaction of the bootblack, she stands at attention while you dig into your pockets for a nickel. Of course, if it is your usual custom at this stage of the process of having your shoes shines to tip the bootblack, the extra coin will not be refused. Over $15 in tips were meted out to the girl bootblacks yesterday."

One of the girls who was interviewed stated that at first, she thought she would never get used to the polish on her hands but admitted that at $15 per week in pay, it "looks too good to me to think of anything else, not to mention the tips." The proprietor, Fenberg, stated two shifts were employed so that no one person would work more than eight hours in a day.

Mr. E.O. M'Intosh (McIntosh) who appears to have been a prolific "letter to the editor" writer stated his opinion about girls doing this line of work. His comments in writing reflect the sentiments of the time about the roles that were appropriate according to gender, race and age. Historically, the job of shoe shiner had been done by people of color, young boys and Greek immigrants many of whom were recruited to America to perform this job and became indentured servants in the process. His letter prompted this response from one of the employees of the Omaha location.

The Bee's Letter Box

Letter to the Editor from one of the Bootblackers Omaha Daily Bee February 27, 1914

In April of 1914, the Omaha City Commission ordered the parlor to remove the piano as the noise had been declared a nuisance. No orders were given the shut the parlor down, however.


Too Many Loafers

Meanwhile, back in Des Moines, it became clear that the objections to the Twentieth Century Shining Parlor had more to do with the men who were hanging around the business than the girls who were working inside. The Register reported, "The greater part of the adverse criticism that has come from the citizen in regard to the parlor is the result of the large crowds of loafers that loitered about the place (on opening day), smoking cigarettes, chewing and ofttimes entirely blocking passage on the sidewalk in front of the building. A piano going on the inside evidently attracted the loafers and they made it their headquarters during most of the day."


The Police Judge, Utterback, made it clear that personally he would like to see the business closed as it "had a destructive moral effect upon the city" but would close the business only if it was legally warranted.

Within a week, the Chief of Police was reporting that he had received no adcditional complaints about the shop and the number of men who were loitering in front of the shop had dwindled significantly. While things settled down for the employees in Des Moines, the girls in Omaha continued to face undue scrutiny and abuse as evidenced by this Letter to the Editor.


Omaha Daily News May 15, 1914

By the middle of June 1914, the shop in Des Moines was closed after only three months in business. The Des Moines Tribune on June 23, 1914, announced the closure. "The Twentieth Century Shining Parlor managed by Miss Ethel Alber of 100 West Second Street, yesterday morning closed its doors. The girls employed were all from Omaha and left for that city last night to work at that location." Inability to pay expenses was given as the reason for the suspension of the business. By the time of the closure, only six girls remained in their employment.


The fate of the Omaha shop is unknown. By 1917 the building was being used for another venture and so one can assume they too were out of business at least by then. Internet searches did not help to clarify the identify of M. Fenberg, Ethel Alber or the names of any of the women who were pioneers in the long process of helping women find new roles in a society that was largely closed to them.

Red Fox James

Red Fox James Travels Through Iowa... Seeks Recognition of Native Peoples

Editor's Note: The language used in this posting are quotes from that time.

Red Fox James at the White House in 1915

Red Fox James at the White House in 1915

In February and March of 1914, papers across the nation including the LeGrand Reporter and the Traer Star Clipper ran the following syndicated article:


LeGrand Reporter February 27, 1914

Rev. Red Fox James PH D. D. D., also known as Red Fox Skiuhushu, was of Native American decent. His mother was likely from the Blackfoot tribe, his father was Welch. His mother may have been from the Blood Tribe. Depending on what source you read, he was born sometime between 1884 and 1890, likely on the Blood Indian Reserve in Alberta, Canada. He was born Francis Fox James and later as an adult changed his name to Red Fox James. Like Chief Red Fox who has previously been profiled on this blog, James Red Fox, he was educated at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. According to one writer, he was also known as Reverend St. James, Francis Fox James, Rev. Barnabas Skiuhushu, and the Rev. Dr. Barnabas, Ph.D., Arch-Herio Monk.

In March of 1914, when he was about 25, he along with Mortimer Dreamer a.k.a. Sitting Eagle, left Leavenworth where they had been residing reportedly so that Dreamer could get medical treatment and went to the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana. Records indicate they left Billings on March 31 carrying a letter from the governor of that state which they intended to deliver to President Wilson in Washington D.C. Although the news release above misses the point, the mission had two goals. While it is true that one of the goals was to advocate for completion of the Lincoln Highway (U.S.30) which was the first transcontinental highway in the United States. More importantly for Red Fox James was to advocate with governors along the route and then with Wilson for a new national holiday which he referred to as "Indian Day". Red Fox James was also an ardent supporter of the YMCA, advocating for government support of these organizations on the reservations, citizenship for native peoples and also woman's rights, especially the right to vote.

Marshalltown Evening Reporter July 19, 1914

Marshalltown Evening Reporter July 19, 1914

James and Sitting Eagle slowly made their way across the United States following the Lincoln Highway. They sent word ahead of their impending arrival and commercial clubs as well as schools and other organizations set up events where James would speak and present a 50 slide picture show of Native American customs. He also provided equestrian demonstrations. His partner would portray the cowboy image of the West including trick riding and roping. Newspapers chronicled their journey as they made his way across the country.

James Red Fox performing an demonstration on his journey to the White House

James Red Fox performing an demonstration on his journey to the White House

We pick up their journey through Iowa on July 2, 1914, when the Missouri Valley Times provided an update. Due to Dreamer's illness, by the time they entered Iowa, Sitting Eagle had been replaced by Charles Benedict. Benedict served as pilot. He was a cowboy from the Big Horn area and provided trick riding and roping.

Several state newspapers recorded these events. For a modern-day reader these can be difficult to read as they reinforce stereotypes and are condescending in nature but they p rovide a picture of both Mr. James and also people's attitudes about aboriginal people during that era. We found reports from the following towns, although there are likely many more: Missouri Valley, Jefferson, Ames, Cedar Rapids, Clinton, Logan, Boone, Des Moines, State Center, Dewitt , Carroll, Denison, Marshalltown and Tama.

Some of the reports are very short but others like this one from State Center are more expansive. In Jefferson, Iowa, James complained to the editor of the newspaper that his visit was poorly received and questioned if this was due to him being a native American. The editor fired back at him in an editorial which defended the people there with being busy attending to their own affairs out of necessity and for no other reason.

State Center Visit

Different writers have contradictory reports of his visits to the White House. The White House Historical Association's Facebook page says that on December 17, 1914, he was introduced to President Wilson by Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana and presented him with a petition signed by 24 governors and mayors for the establishment of October 12th as "Indian Day" where he was quoted as saying, “The American Indian deserves the national consideration of the people of the United States". According to the same source he returned to the White House again in February 1915 to advocate for the citizenship of native peoples which did not occur until 1924.

Indigenous Peoples Day

Although no federal response occurred as a result of his trip, a few states subsequently created their own versions of American Indian day, the first being New York, which began officially celebrating American Indian Day in 1916. Illinois followed in 1919. In 2009, Congress passed and the President signed legislation that established the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.” Last year, on October 8, 2021, the president signed a presidential proclamation declaring October 11, 2021, as Indigenous Peoples' Day, formally recognizing this as a national holiday.

Shortly after his 1914 trip to Washington, James organized the first Indian Boy Scout troop in America at the United States Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In 1915, he became an ordained minister. In 1923 he was appointed superintendent of a new "Indian School" in Minneapolis with children coming from surrounding states to attend. His life course after this date is obscured in history but his legacy is still felt.

Red Fox James at White House

Red Fox James at the White House in 1915 with pennants collected from his journey

For more information, may we suggest:

The Heartbreaking Case of the William Kellerhals

The Heartbreaking Case of the William Kellerhals

In late April of 1917 the Des Moines Register reported the recruitment of William M. Kellerhals, a tall, slender, grey-eyed, light haired young man to the U.S. military. According to various records, William's middle name was Morse although in some places it is listed as Morris or Maurice. Born on April 14, 1896, he was just 21 years old at the time of his recruitment.

Draft Card

William's Draft Card

At the time of his recruitment, he was living near Ainsworth, Iowa, a community located between Iowa City and Mt. Pleasant, where he was working on a farm. His parents were living near Noble where his father was a dairyman. His parents were both born in Switzerland. William was born in this country.

He was sent to Camp Pike in Arkansas on July 22, 1918, and later Camp Merrit in New Jersey where he was a member of the 164th Infantry. One might suppose that prior to that time, he had never been much further from his home than fifty miles.


Passenger Manifesto from William's Ship

He shipped out as a private on September 15, 1918, from Hoboken, N.J., bound for France. Less than a month later he was dead, having died of pneumonia in Brest, Finistere, Bretagne, France. In this heartbreaking account from the Iowa Washington County newspaper of November 12, 1918, we learn that William died with three other young men from the same community.

Ira Schantz

Less than 16 months later, on February 18, 1920, the Waterloo Courier sported the following headline:


Booby Prize Car Is Object of Interest While Owner Tarries

"With no thought of notoriety or being the object of curiosity William H. Kellerhals, a former Navy service man whose home is in Sumner, Iowa, ambled into Waterloo last night with the most unique automobile outfit ever seen on the streets. Driving up to the police station he parked his car for the night in front of the city hall. The car is a Petrel, so old dismantled and changed that it is impossible to gain any idea of it origins. The engine has no signs of a hood and there is no radiator. A big vinegar barrel back of the single seat is filled with water which is piped to the engine by a homemade connection of gas pipes running around the chassis. There are no tires on the front wheels but the rear wheels seem pretty well shod. The top was once "tattered" but is now tattered and torn and the whole is paint-less and covered in mud. The outfit would surely win the booby prize at the Waterloo auto show, but the owner said he must hurry on to his destination."

Kellerhals explained that he bought the car at Dysart, Iowa, for $40 and was planning to take it cross country to his home in Sumner, IA. From there he planned to ship it to Montana, where the government has awarded him a soldier's claim. He planned to convert that car into a tractor.


Petrel cars were manufactured from 1908-1909

On February 24, 1920, the Waterloo Courier followed up reporting that the car which was "sans radiator, sans hood, sans tires and sans most everything else of the usual equipment of a motor car", broke down near Denver, Iowa. Mr. Kellerhals had gone on to Sumner by train. "I got stuck with my car eight miles north of Waterloo", he wrote to Srgt. Ed. Burk on a souvenir postcard. " The friction wheels slipped is the reason. I left the car set alongside the road and came the rest of the way on the train."


1920's Waterloo Iowa East 4th Street

The Waterloo Courier followed up once again on February 28, 1920, with this headline:

"Police Try to Solve Mystery of Owner of Famous Petrel Racer"

The coverage of this story in the Courier and Reporter had been seen by William M. Kellerhals' father, Emil, in Noble, Iowa, who became hopeful that perhaps his son who had been reported dead in France, was actually be alive. Emil traveled to Sumner in search of the boy.


By that time, William H. Kellerhals had returned to Waterloo from Sumner and reported "that he had not seen the elder man who had followed him to that place. "Young Kellerhals says he does not know anything about other Kellerhals. When questioned he seems vague in his knowledge of who or where his own father is."

The Courier reported that another effort was going to be made by the police department to get the men who "really may be father and son to meet." The boy had little money and asked to sleep in the station. He was given quarters in the boys' ward. He had secured a job at a local factory with the determination to remain in Waterloo only until he had sufficient funds to take him to Wyoming where he said a government claim awaited him. He was also planning to have the car towed back as soon as he could find someone to get it into running condition. No other information about this incident could be found by this writer.

Nine month later, in November of 1920, Emil Kellerhals was contacted by Army authorities in New York City that his son's body had arrived there and was ready to be shipped back to Iowa as soon as the address was confirmed. His body was initially buried at St. Amand in France. William Kellerhals was given a full military funeral at the Eicher Church near Noble. The local paper reported that the church could scarcely accommodate the crowd of friends and neighbors who attended. Three ministers conducted the service and were assisted by three different American Legion posts.

Kellerhals' Grave

William and Ira Shanks are both buried in Eicher Cemetery in Washington County, Iowa, near the town of Wayland. William left behind his father, Emil; his mother, Mary; and a sister, Margaret. I like to believe that his return home helped the family recover from that momentary hope that he was still alive.