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Mayor Deere

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

No one could have been happier than the new Women's Christian Temperance Association when John Deere was elected mayor of Moline in 1874. Although women's suffrage had not yet brought women the right to vote, they saw John Deere and his Congregational church morals as just what was needed to kill the evil saloon business in town. The temperance ladies made one mistake, however. They forgot their new mayor was not only moral, but male.

The Moline City Council was in trouble even before Deere took over as mayor. In 1873, the council had voted to issue licenses to saloons. The licenses were intended as a means of controlling the flow of alcohol, but for the temperance ladies, such licenses gave the saloons respectability. They demanded a recall. Under pressure from the women, the retiring city council repealed the ordinance.

When John Deere and the new council took over, they faced a new demand. Not only no license, but complete prohibition. No saloons. The six council members, all male and all married, fudged. The vote for prohibition was tied three and three. It was up to the mayor to break the tie. Mayor Deere, caught between the women in the audience and the hundreds of men who worked in his factories, did the manly thing: he sat on the fence and refused to vote.

The following day, the women showed up as pickets at Schrader's Saloon, kitty corner from the Deere residence. While the streets turned into a melee of women and Deere factory workers who arrived for the free beer being dispensed by the saloon interests, Mayor Deere sat on his front porch reading the morning papers. Finally, he ordered the city marshal to arrest the ringleaders and disperse everyone else. "Can't be done," replied the marshal. "You're a coward," said the mayor. "I resign," replied the marshal.

The mayor, reading his morning paper on June 8th, must have seen the description of how he and the city council "demurely submits to apron strings and bows to a petticoat regime," and wished he were back behind one of his plows out on the prairie.

As for the women of Moline, they had learned a lesson, too. That is, when dealing with men, there's more than one way to cast a vote.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

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Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.