Date in History: 1861-1933

Never was the Jefferson County Union a more vibrant and interesting paper than from 1918 to 1933 when Halbert Hoard held the editorial reins.

Halbert was born in 1861, the eldest son of Agnes Bragg and William Dempster Hoard. He took over his father’s paper in 1918 upon W.D. Hoard’s death, and Fort Atkinson would never be the same.

Eclectic, iconoclastic, visionary, Bert was a man of passionate beliefs who wasn’t shy about using his editorial column no matter what the subject. His witty writing style made him very popular with the editors of the large metropolitan newspapers who knew where to look for an interesting piece. On his death in 1933 all the major papers in New York and Los Angeles mourned his passing.

Many of the more notorious causes that Bert advocated stemmed from his adamant belief in women’s equality. Like his father, Bert was a staunch supporter of female suffrage. He went even further, however, and campaigned for more liberal divorce laws, having been divorced himself as a young man. His interest in women’s equality extended even into the matter of dress. Women, he argued, should be allowed to dress for utility both for themselves and for the men in their lives. “There is more pleasure in putting one’s arms around a horse’s neck,” he declared, “than around the waist of a corseted lady.” When the chest-flattening brassiere become popular in the 1920s Bert railed against it as well, both for its discomfort and for its contribution to breast cancer.

Like other feminists of the day, Hoard believed that birth control was a necessary precursor to women’s equality. He was a great admirer of Margaret Sanger and corresponded with her for many years. His advocacy of birth control was also motivated by a concern about overpopulation. He feared a time when every living thing will be destroyed to make room for hogs and wheat to feed hungry, thankless humans.

Ahead of his time in many ways, Bert regularly raised the kinds of issues that are still familiar to us. He frequently warned about pollution, accusing the Mayor of Chicago of poisoning Lake Michigan. A great enthusiast of ecology and conservation, he promoted wildlife refuges like Horicon Marsh, and advocated fishing limits. He correctly predicted the impact of automobiles on American society and devoted much editorial space to prodding, cajoling, and threatening officials to widen roads, harden shoulders, and make roads safer. Each week’s highway death toll made an appearance in the Union and the editorial page bore at its top a drawing of the ideal highway, with gently sloping shoulders and widened culverts. Hoard’s persistence and influence was so great that when a new state highway engineer was hired, his first act was to come to Fort Atkinson and consult with Bert.

When Hoard needed information for an editorial he went right to the source. When he wanted to know about taxes and banks in Russia he wrote to Lenin; a labor union question prompted a letter to Samuel Gompers; and clarification on the Scopes monkey trial meant letters to both William Jennings Bryant and Clarence Darrow. He was, in fact, a compulsive letter writer. When he had trouble with his car, he shot off a letter to Henry Ford. He wrote to Eliot Ness, announcing his opposition to prohibition by declaring himself “one hundred per cent wet.” In addition to being against prohibition, which he claimed turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, Hoard was also vehemently anti-union, and anti-Communist.

In addition to his editorial causes, Hoard’s interests were wide-ranging. He invented and patented a therapeutic massage chair to massage the spine, an action that he claimed gave relief from lung, stomach, and kidney ailments, rheumatism, and constipation–all problems that he believed were due to sluggish circulation. He maintained a massage chair for men in the back room at H. J. Dexheimer’s drugstore, and five chairs for women in a basement sanitarium at his home. Hoard also composed music and published a substantial amount of sheet music, some of which we have at the museum. He was a talented guitar player and his daughter Florence recalls that “he had a melodious voice, and knew literally hundreds of songs . . . He could play and sing all evening every night for a week without using the same song twice.

Halbert Hoard’s voice and his pen fell silent on December 28th, 1933 when he died after suffering a heart attack a few days earlier.