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Tales of Another Cleveland Convention

Jul 29, 2016 10:15 AM | 0 comments

I was working with our clippings collection the other day and came across the subject heading "Red-Headed Legion." Intrigued, I decided to explore this organization further. The trail led me all the way to the 1924 Republican National Convention which, like this year's, was held in Cleveland, Ohio. But let me start with the legion itself.

"Red-Headed Legion Holds Rally of Nine" announced a headline in the June 9, 1924 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The nine who attended the rally comprised "four red-headed women, four red-headed men and one man with black hair and a red mustache." (The latter was allowed to attend because "a red mustache will qualify for membership.") Two of those attendees were radio personality Wendell Hall and his bride of four days. Interestingly, their wedding is thought to be the first that was broadcast live on the radio, which must be why the article refers to Hall's wife as his "radio bride." The brief article says little of substance about the Legion, but I did find an excerpt from The Volta Review stating that one of its purposes was "urging that a national organization be formed to end the ridiculing of red-haired persons." The Eagle notes that at the meeting, the Legion pledged to support Calvin Coolidge's run for president "because it is said he has a brick top."

A slightly more extensive column in the same edition of the paper goes into more depth regarding the political affiliations of the Legion: "Neither Washington nor Jefferson was really 'red-headed' when he got to be President, though both are claimed by the Legion. Time's brush modifies occiput color schemes...the red ideas of youth...depart year by year as redness of hair becomes less vivid." So Coolidge was perhaps not a true "brick top," and after all, the article concedes, he "needs no assistance from the Legion." If that was the case, why were there two articles about their assistance in the paper?

Perhaps the newsworthiness of the Legion was because the 1924 convention was "chilly" and "few high jinks pepped up the proceedings," according to writer Edwin Palmer Hoyt, Jr. (p. 310). Among these "few high jinks" in the city of Cleveland was a drink called the "Keep Cool with Coolidge Highball" (ice, pineapple and grape juices, and a raw egg--blech!) and burlesque dancers called the Keep Cool Kuties. Some of the Coolidge supporters at the convention itself were the Hometown Coolidge Club of Plymouth, Vermont; Wellesley College alumnae; and of course, the Red-Headed Legion of America, announcing its support "for obvious reasons." Otherwise, the proceedings were sober, and Coolidge won the nomination without much fanfare.

After the convention concluded, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "Cleveland Frugal in All Convention Details" and further chided, "Decorations Meager." So meager, in fact, that there was not even a picture of Coolidge in the convention hall. Coolidge also preferred a non-confrontational style of politics, speaking on the issues rather than attacking his political opponents. While our current Republican nominee is known for his hair, the similarities with Coolidge's restrained 1924 convention end there. I can't imagine a small special interest group's support making headlines or ending up in the history books when it comes to this year's raucous convention. In 1924, Coolidge defeated John Davis by the second-largest popular vote margin in US presidential race history. Come November, we'll see if the 2016 candidate's very different approach will net the same result.

 

References

Hoyt, Edwin P. Jumbos and Jackasses: A History of the Political Wars. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960.

Sobel, Robert. Coolidge: An American Enigma. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1998.