America’s first female police officer, Dan Jenkins, lots of emails, and a modest proposal: newsletter, March 22, 2019

March 25, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, journalism, journalists, sports, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,866) on Friday, March 22, 2019.


The tractor came out of the barn and had a pretty good workout this week. We had a string of dry days that allowed me — finally! — to get into the garden with some much-needed sub-soiling and tilling. It was good to be back on the tractor, even though I found that it needed a new battery.
The email box filled up this week, though not for the reason I thought (the college admissions scandals). My piece on Dick Francis provoked many of you to say how much you enjoyed his novels. I agree. I just finished Come to Grief and have begun Hot Money (on the recommendation of a reader). Francis knew how to grab readers by the lapels and hang onto them.
So, it has been a good week for me, and I hope it’s been the same for you.

By the way, I think the quote of the week (below) is particularly good.

Whatever you are reading this week, keep reading and have a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,884 subscribers and had a 31.9 percent open rate; 6 people unsubscribed. A sharp-eyed reader has pointed out that these numbers need more context to be understood, and that is certainly correct. I’m working on it.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Marie Owens, America’s first female police officer – and others

America’s first female police officer was, for nearly a century, lost to us because of a historian’s mistake. In the first decade of the 21st century, she was found. Our story starts and ends in Chicago.

Chicago, if you have been paying attention (see previous newsletters here and here), was the place where America hired its first female detective, Kate Warne of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. She got the job in 1856 and worked for Pinkerton for the next dozen years before her life was cut short at the age of 34 by pneumonia.

More than three decades after Allen Pinkerton made his hire, government law enforcement wised up and hired its first female police officer — also in Chicago. Marie Connolly Owens joined the Chicago Police Department in 1891 and had a badge and full powers of arrest. As Livius Drusus writes in

In 1889, the city of Chicago passed an ordinance prohibiting the employment of children under 14 years old unless they had extraordinary circumstances requiring them to work. To enforce the ordinance, the city hired five women as sanitary inspectors to monitor conditions in stores, factories, and tenements. Women, all of them married or widowed mothers, got the jobs because dealing with children was deemed to be in their natural purview. Mrs. Owens, Mrs. Byford Leonard, Mrs. J.R. Doolittle, Mrs. Ada Sullivan, and Mrs. Glennon formed the first board of sanitary inspectors in the country to be given official authority by the city. They reported to the Commissioner of Health and were paid salaries of $50 a month. Source: Marie Connolly Owens, America’s First Female Police Officer | Mental Floss

Owens, the product of a family that had been abandoned by her father, was relentless in tracking down deadbeat dads, and her work came to the attention of reformist Chicago mayor Robert Wilson McClaughrey, and he decided that she needed to be on the police force. She proved to be as relentless a police officer as she had been an enforcement agent for the city health department. She retired from the force in 1923.

Her place as the first female officer was obscured by the hiring of Alice Stebbins Wells in 1914. Wells became nationally famous for her lecture tours during which she argued for the hiring of more female officers — arguments that bore much fruit during the two first two decades of the 20th century. Wells was often described as the “first,” especially after Owens had died and her obituary made no mention of her police career.

Her status was restored by the research of Rick Barrett, a retired Drug Enforcement Agency officer whose ancestors had been Chicago policemen. Barrett found that a previous historian had mixed Owens up with the widow of another police officer, and he spent three years and hundreds of hours untangling the mystery and giving Owens the credit she deserves.

The college admissions scandal: A modest proposal

What has practically every story you’ve read or heard during the last couple of weeks about the college admissions scandal had in common?

The journalists and commentators have consistently used the terms elite colleges or elite universities. They have done without any critical assessment of the terms themselves, and therein lies a problem — possibly The Problem. We are in the habit of thinking about certain colleges or universities as “elite” or “better” or something that they are not. A student at one of these places is no more likely to get a good or an excellent education than a student at any state university or small liberal arts college.

My four decades of experience in academia, as well as my common sense, tells me that.

The faculty and facilities in the places we term as “elite” are no better — and sometimes much worse — than you would find at most large state universities. Many undergraduate courses in so-called elite universities are taught by graduate students — not by high-powered professors — as they are at state universities with good graduate programs.

I could go on with a long list of reasons why we should stop thinking about certain colleges as “elite” or “better.” Instead, I will stop with one point: The quality of a student’s education is, more than any other single factor, up to the student — not the place, reputation, faculty, or facilities. The quality student will receive a quality education, no matter where he or she is.

So, my modest proposal: Let’s stop thinking and saying “elite university.” Instead, let’s start using the term Big-Brand University. That’s what they are — simply products of a good, long-term marketing campaign.

Above: Miller Hall, Emory and Henry College (watercolor)

Podcast: Maddie

Madeleine McCann was four years old when she disappeared from her parents’ resort hotel room in 2007. Her fate became a worldwide sensation and continues to confound experts and amateurs who have looked into the case. She has never been found. Australia’s news channel Nine.Com.Au has produced a multi-episode podcast in which narrator Mark Saunokonoko examines every aspect of the case and interviews many experts both in Britain and America. The case has many surprising twists and turns, and the podcast Maddie makes for compelling listening.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Dan Jenkins, 1928-2019, RIP

Back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, if you had a sacred cow — particularly if it had to do with sports or anything connected — Dan Jenkins would come along and push it over. And make you laugh while he was doing it.

Jenkins was one of an elite group of sportswriters who worked for Sports Illustrated — the group included Frank Deford,  Roy Blount Jr., and Mark Kram — who could be counted on to cover the big game and set the reader on a journey that was pleasurable and enlightening. Jenkins himself specialized in golf and college football.

One of the high points of Jenkins writing career came in 1972 with the publication of his comic novel Semi-Tough, the first person account of Billy Clyde Puckett, the star running back for the New York Giants, during the week leading up to the Super Bowl with the New York Jets. The book mocked everything and everyone, including Jenkins’ own — the sportswriters and journalists who were his colleagues.

They gave it rave reviews, and the book is still cited as one of the funniest books ever written about sports. In 1978, Semi-Tough was made into a hit movie starring Burt Reynolds.

Jenkins was born in 1928 in Texas and began his writing career at the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. His writing was clean, sharp, and sometimes surprising and led the reader straight into a punch line.

Talking about the frustrated golfer who can’t learn to putt, he wrote:

“He knows he has tried 41 different stances, inspired by everyone from the club pro to Fred Astaire in ‘Flying Down to Rio’ and as many different strokes. Still, he knows he is hopelessly trapped. He can’t putt, and he never will, and the only thing left for him to do is bury his head in the dirt and live the rest of his life like a radish.”

Jenkins died last week at the age of 90. One of his greatest legacies is his daughter, Sally Jenkins, who is a top-flight sports writer for the Washington Post. She wrote this remembrance of her father found here

Here is Jenkins’ obituary in the New York Times:

Alan Krueger, happiness, and economics

Happiness and economics are not two concepts frequently mixed by academics, but the late Alan Krueger did that to great effect. Krueger, who died last week at a far too early age, had the effect of happiness on many people as he was doing his work in government on economic policy.

One of those people was David Leonhardt, editorial page editor of the New York Times, who devoted a short column to Krueger’s ideas about happiness. He quotes journalist Catherine Rampell as saying:

“To some economists, investigating happiness probably seemed silly,” Catherine Rampell, the Washington Post columnist, wrote yesterday. “But Alan saw it as a central mission of his discipline. The whole point of economics is to figure out how, in a world of scarce resources, we can make people’s lives better.”

Leonhardt lists a couple of other principles Krueger passed on to Rampell, him, and others:

— Give people experiences, not gifts.

— Don’t let fatigue get in the way of friendships.

Despite these sage pieces of wisdom, Krueger, an economist who helped pull the nation out of the financial crisis of 2008, died by his own hand — something that has shocked and puzzled his friends. Leonhardt writes:

I can’t make any sense of his death. I do know that I’ve followed the advice he gave me about happiness, and I’ve found it both wise and helpful.


Jim K: I appreciate your brief discussion of Dick Francis. He was one of my very favorite authors in my earlier life. I have all of his books and still reread them. I agree that he was a master and that his sentences were brilliant gems of poetic prose! I always considered him to be under-appreciated. 

Beverly L.: Thanks for reminding me of the pleasure of reading Dick Francis.  I actually have all of his books that I inherited from a friend who died.  I need to get back to reading them again!

Jane R.:  Thank you for providing interesting, thought-provoking newsletters. 

Kitty G.: (On the college admissions scandal) I find that once again Hollywood has exhibited corruption and evil into the society of our nation. It wasn’t a movie, either. When will the people in this nation wake up and realize that Godless people are trying, from every avenue possible, to destroy our great nation?

Gail M.: I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your newsletters!

Elizabeth S.: Ahh. I enjoyed reading Dick Francis back in the day. Thanks for reminding me!

T. W.: The college admissions scandal:  all I can say is, effing crap.

Beverly L.: Thanks for reminding me of the pleasure of reading Dick Francis.  I actually have all of his books that I inherited from a friend who died.  I need to get back to reading them again!

A.J.N.: Thank you for writing about Dick Francis, who became my favorite author when I read his NERVE in one of my mother’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Books … I think it was in 1964 when I was 8 years old.  My previous favorite authors had been Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry, and, of course, I still love them, also, but their work was intended for a younger audience.  Dick Francis gave me new ideas to ponder, and will forever be one of my favorite novelists.  I particularly love the “everyday nobility of spirit” that his protagonists display.  His main characters are “straight as an arrow” in their morality, although religion is seldom mentioned.  They can be counted on to do what is right, because it is right, even at great cost to themselves.  I have always admired them, and want to be like them in that respect.  I appreciate all of his novels and re-read at least a few of them about every decade.  REFLEX and DECIDER are two of my favorites.  HOT MONEY kept my interest so well that I read the entire (long) novel in one sitting, beginning at about 9 p.m. and ending around 2 a.m., on a “work night.”  All his books are immensely satisfying, and I would recommend them to anyone who reads mysteries.

Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink drawings: The Palace Theater, Maryville, Tennessee

The Palace Theater is one of the relics of downtown Maryville, Tennessee. This will be one of the paintings hanging in a show in which I am participating for the month of April in the Blount County Public Library. More on that next week.

Best quote of the week

It’s best to give while your hand is still warm. Philip Roth, novelist (1933-2018) 

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Dick Francis, forensics, jury trials, and Ole Bert: newsletter, March 15, 2019



March is Women’s History Month; so, once more, Seeing Suffrage

March is the month to pay special attention to women’s history. And what better way to do that (he said, self-servingly) than taking a look at Seeing Suffrage. So, once again:

Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was one that was well-covered by the newspapers of the day — particularly photographers. In my research, I had discovered a trove of photographs in the Library of Congress and in the library of the Sewell-Belmont House, the historic headquarters of the National Woman’s Party. Many of these photographs had never been published before and were included in the book.

The book, Seeing Suffrage: The 1913 Washington Suffrage Parade, Its Pictures, and Its Effect on the American Political Landscape, was published by the University of Tennessee Press. The press published it only in a hardback edition, however, and has never brought it out as an ebook. Since I hold the copyright, I decided that it was time for that to change. That project was completed just two days before Christmas and is now available on Amazon (free if you are a Kindle Unlimited member). If you have a chance to look at it, I’d like to know what you think.

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