Davenporters of Note: Charles William Toney

Charles William Toney was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin on August 23rd, 1913 to Wilber and Stella Toney.

He attended Clinton High School in Clinton, Iowa, and was on the swim team.  This led to his first fight for Civil Rights when, at the age of 14, he was denied entry in Clinton’s new Municipal Pool . He went up to the City Attorney to ask him why he was being denied his rights as a resident, and was told that they didn’t want him swimming in the same pool as white girls.

Mr. Toney graduated in 1930, and studied Chemistry at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, for a year, but the Great Depression made money tight and school was expensive.  He moved to Hell’s Half-Acre in St. Louis and found work as an elevator operator.

Mr. Toney moved back to Davenport in 1936, finding employment with John Deere Malleable Works. At the start of World War II, the company sent him for further training and he became the first welder of color in the states of Iowa and Illinois.  He worked as a welder for 20 years.

He married Ann Palmer on December 17, 1943 in Davenport.  They lived at 1010 Western Avenue, where they had an in-ground pool and invited black children in the community to use it to learn to swim, as they, too, were not allowed to use the Municipal Natatorium.

The summer before they were married, Charles and Ann stopped by a local soda fountain, The Colonial Fountain, after a movie date. They sat in a booth and then moved to the counter, but the waitress refused to serve them. Toney filed a complaint under Iowa’s 1884 Civil Rights Act Public Accommodation Law. On August 8th, 1945, a jury found Dorothy Baxter guilty of infringing on Toney’s Civil Rights. This was the first civil rights suit ever won in Iowa.  According to a survey by the League for Social Justice, called “Citizen 2nd Class,” The Colonial Fountain was the only restaurant to serve blacks in the early 1950s.

Mr. and Mrs. Toney published the Davenport Sepia Record, a local magazine spotlighting black people in the community and the country.   The goal of the magazine, which ran for two years, was to promote better racial conditions in the Quad Cities.

Mr. Toney also ran a barber/beauty shop on the SW corner of 11th and Ripley, one of the first Black businesses in Davenport.  At the time, it was the only barbershop in Davenport that would serve blacks.

“Some of us brought about a change from the segregation and discrimination that was practiced by the good old boys. People are soon forgotten for the good they did back in those days. What we did was not a popular thing to do.”

Mr. Toney didn’t limit his fight for Civil Rights to a local scale.  He served as president of the Davenport NAACP, president of the Catholic Inter-racial Council, served on the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, Chair of the Human Rights & Employment Practices Committee of the Iowa Association of Business & Industry, and others.   He also worked for a time as a Washington Lobbyist for a federal employment practices act under A. Phillip Randolph, the president of the Sleeping Car Porters Union.

He presented the Pacem In Terris Awardto Martin Luther King Jr., in 1965 in Davenport.

In 1964, Mr. Toney transferred to the main division of Deere & Company, and four years later, he was promoted to the Manager of Minority Relations. In 1972, he challenged Deere’s management with a request to compete for an executive position and became the first black executive with Deere & Co., serving as Director of Affirmative Action.

While Director, he initiated one of the first voluntary affirmative action plans in the nation, and oversaw corporate wide recruiting efforts at historically Black Colleges.

“As far as major corporations like Deere are concerned, we will continue to have affirmative action and equal opportunity because it’s morally right and doggone good business to use all the available talent a community has to offer.”

Mr. Toney received an Honorary Doctorate Degree for Public Service from St. Ambrose University in 1975 and retired from Deere & Co. in 1983, after 42 years of service.

Charles William Toney died at the age of 96, on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 in Moline, Illinois.

His barbershop was recreated for a civil rights exhibit at the Putnam Museum in January 2010 and he was inducted into the Iowa African-American Hall of Fame in August of that year. Part of that exhibit is now on display at the Main Street Library through April 3rd.


Davenport Civil Rights exhibit on display at the Main Street Library

Davenport Civil Rights exhibit on display at the Main Street Library

Charles Toney

Charles Toney

(posted by Cristina)


Works Cited

“Charles Toney (obituary).” Quad-City Times 01 November 2009: p. C7.

“Davenport Civil Rights History Walking Tour.” Davenport: Davenport Civil Rights Commission, 2011.

“Fined for Refusing Negro Ice Cream.” Waterloo Daily Courier 9 August 1945: p. 7.

Geyer, Thomas. “Rights pioneer earns honor – African-American hall to induct former Deere executive.” Quad-City Times 28 June 2010: p. 1B.

McGlynn, Ann. “Civil rights pioneer Charles Toney dies – Former welder challenged ice cream shop refusal in 1943.” Quad-City Times 29 October 2009: p. 1A.

Silag, Bill, ed. Outside In: African American History in Iowa. Des Moines: State Historical Society of Iowa, 2001.

Smith, Robert Copeland. “Robert Copeland Smith: Q-C had its heroes in the fight for justice: Black history is a work in progress.” Quad-City Times 2 February 2000: p. 6A.

Van Hook, Beverly. “Looking on the bright side: Toney says blacks can too make it here.” Quad-City Times 15 November 1981: pp. 1E, 4E.

Wellner, Brian. “NEW EXHIBIT OPENS AT PUTNAM MUSEUM – Barbershops and the KKK – Collection traces civil rights movement.” Quad-City Times 16 January 2010: p. 1A.

Wundram, Bill. “Citizen, 2nd class 40 years later…” Quad-City Times 17 October 1993: 2A.

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Library Closed for Presidents Day

The Davenport Public Library will be closed on Monday, February 17th

in celebration of Presidents’ Day.

We will resume our regular hours on Tuesday, February 18th.

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It’s all about the records . . .

Today the Quad-Cities are enjoying a record-breaking cold temperature of -21 degrees, surpassing the old 1885 record of -15 degrees.

Meanwhile in Sochi, Russia Olympians are attempting to perform their best and earn their way into the record books as Olympic medal winners.

The latest records to arrive in Special Collections are Steamboat Bills of Lading from 1860-1862 from the firm of A. J. Preston & Co.

The newspaper ads of 1861 identify the firm as “Commission Merchants”. Most of the cargo they carried was barrels of flour and bags of grain, but sometimes brandy and champagne were involved!

Destinations were typically St. Louis or New Orleans, but there was an entry headed for C. N. Lewis at Princeton, Iowa aboard the steamboat Denmark with Robinson as the ship’s Master set to leave on 29 August 1861 carrying two bags of coffee, one bag of apples, one sack of rice and a half-barrel of trout.

Sounds like a meal fit for the record books!

A J Preston

Andrew J. Preston (1825-1913)


(posted by Karen)

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A Simple Ceremony: The Wedding of Elsa Petersen and Phillip Sonntag

The wedding of Elsa Gertrude Petersen and Phillip Arthur Sonntag was a quiet affair.

The couple was married in the evening of February 22, 1910,  at the home of the bride’s mother.  Only family were invited; in fact, the officiant, Justice Louis E. Roddewig, was the bride’s brother-in-law.   The brother of the bride, George Petersen, provided the only bridal attendants:  his young daughters, Gertrude and Dorothy Petersen.

That didn’t mean, of course, that the Davenport Democrat didn’t write up the event for the next day’s social pages.  Or that the bride and groom skipped the wedding photographs.

Sonntag Couple

“The bride was in a white satin gown made simply in one piece effect, the folds of the skirt falling away into graceful lines of a long train. The bertha was of old lace, and there were edgings of pearl trimming, the sleeves being of lace.  The bridal veil was held in place with flowers and the bridal bouquet was of fragrant white blossoms.”

Sonntag - BrideA bertha, for those of you not up on early 20th Century finery, is what the reporter is calling the lace panel from the bride’s chin to her modest décolletage:

Sonntag - Bride3.jpg.jpg

We have no images of the ring bearers in our collections, but the newspaper describes the small Misses Petersen as wearing white dresses with pink sashes and walking together, hand in hand, down the aisle, with the rings on little silk pillows.

As usual, the groom is not described by the newspaper, men’s fashion being somewhat standard issue at these events, but the Hostetler Studio did take several photographs of the dapper young man, who, according to the newspaper, had a remarkably fine singing voice and owned a share in his family’s plumbing business.

He also looks pretty good in a tux:

Sonntag - Groom3.jpg.jpgAccording to the paper, the couple spent three months in California on their honeymoon, and then moved in with the bride’s mother, at 520 West Eighth Street.

The article doesn’t mention the family discussion that preceded that decision . . .

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By the Light of the Moon (Law)

When Iowa entered statehood, many cities were granted Special Charters to help them with municipal administration while the Iowa State Legislature was still trying to get off the ground.

The Charters regulated everything from elections to street maintenance, city clerk duties to the licensing and taxing of certain businesses, and so on. They granted a great deal of autonomy to the Council and its electors, which is one of the reasons the state stopped the practice by 1859.

In fact, one power granted to the residents of a Special Charter city is the right to give up that charter, and so only five remain in Iowa today: Davenport, Camanche, Wapello, Muscatine, and Glendale.

What do Special Charters cities offer their citizens today?

Bragging rights, mostly, since current Iowa law has evolved to make its municipalities—chartered or incorporated— pretty much equal.  Even a century ago, there wasn’t much special left in those Special Charters.

But in 1909, Davenport’s Charter helped keep a man out of jail.

As many of Iowa’s internal conflicts seem to do, it all started with alcohol.

Before the passing of the Twenty-First Amendment by Congress, the state tried its best to go dry, or at least drier, on its own, enacting a series of laws to control the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol.  One of them, called “The Moon Law,” was passed to limit the number of saloons to one for every thousand residents.

Not all Iowa residents were pleased about this, especially those who resided along the Mississippi River.

Davenport’s Charter gave the city council power to “license, tax, and regulate” taverns, groceries, and all places that sold alcoholic beverages, and to “restrain, prohibit, and suppress” drinking establishments.

Traditionally, the Council didn’t bother much with that last part.  And it came to the attention of the authorities that Davenport had 200 drinking establishments . . .and fewer than 50,000 citizens.

Something had to be done.  An example had to be made.  So, in 1909, Ernst Wenzel, the proprietor of a saloon at 305 West 3rd Street, was arrested for opening an illegal establishment under the Moon Law.*

However,  in its zeal, the state had forgotten something.  But Mr. Wenzel’s attorneys** hadn’t.

They argued that the Moon Law wasn’t an amendment to the previous regulatory laws, but was brand new legislation.   And since there was nothing in that new law that specifically mentioned that it applied to Special Charter cities, it obviously didn’t apply to Davenport.  Or Mr. Wenzel.


The court reluctantly agreed and Mr. Wenzel was free to run his business, which he did for several years afterward.

The Moon Law was “corrected” by 1911—to more grumbling by its citizens—but the legislation had learned its lesson and granted Special Charter cities an extra year to comply with the terms.

After all, it takes time to “close” (wink, wink) 150 saloons.



*Mr. Wenzel’s establishment is first listed in the 1909 city directory, so his place appears to have been identified as the first to open after the passing of the new law.

**Ficke & Ficke.


An Act to Incorporate the City of Davenport, 1851.

Davenport City Directories, 1905-1915.

History of Scott County, Iowa. (Chicago, Ill.: Inter-state Publishing Co.), 1882.

“Moon Law’ overreaches.”  Davenport Democrat. August 22, 1909, p.1.


(posted by Sarah)

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Spanning the Years: the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge

Preparations for the new 1-74 bridge across the Mississippi River have been making headlines in our area newspapers lately, so we thought it was time to take a look at the bridge that’s been connecting the two halves of the Quad-Cities for seventy-seven years.

Iowa-Illinois Bridge 1935Due primarily to financial considerations, the original 1,480-foot span of the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge (not including the anchorages) was owned and operated by the city of Davenport, even though was built three miles away, between Bettendorf, Iowa and Moline, Illinois.

The two-lane suspension bridge cost $1.46 million, with $330 thousand contributed by the Federal Public Works Administration.  It opened  November 18, 1935, and drivers were charged a toll—originally 15 cents—to cross.

The traffic over the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge increased steadily over the next decade, and it became clear that an additional span was needed.

Construction began on the second span in 1958.   Loop ramps were added on the Bettendorf end to the east of the original bridge and west of the new span.  In Moline,  land was cleared for the approach to the new span at 19th Street and 3rd—the old had ended at 20th and 3rd—and the traffic patterns of that part of the city were changed to accommodate the predicted increase in flow to and from the expanded bridge.

The total cost of the new span was a little under $6.2 million.  It opened on January 20, 1960, making the Memorial Bridge one of the few twin suspension bridges in the country at the time.

I-74 Bridge  cica 1965The bridge wasn’t made part of the 1-74 corridor until the mid-seventies, when the Iowa and Illinois Departments of Transportation took over co-ownership and joint maintenance of the bridge.

We hope that the new bridge will serve our community, visitors, and passersby as well as the old one has!


For a detailed history of the first span and an extremely thorough examination of the construction of the second span, we invite our patrons to visit our Center and take a look at the final report to the Davenport Bridge Commission by the engineer firm of Modjeski and Masters.

This volume is in our catalog under the title,  Expansion and Improvement of the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge (SC 917.7 Exp), and includes  photos, budget lines, traffic maps, and even road stress charts!




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A Gold Star – or Badge: The Davenport Police Department’s 175th Anniversary

We were excited to see an article in the January 16, 2014 Quad City Times about the Davenport Police Department’s 175th Anniversary. What a monumental occasion.

In celebration, current officers are sporting badges reminiscent of those worn by their predecessors in the late 1800s. What a wonderful idea!

It seems like a fun time to bump up an older blog we wrote about the mystery of who the first Marshal of Davenport was. We invite our readers to come in to Special Collections to explore our wonderful resources – and maybe solve a few more mysteries for us!

Maybe we could even call this a Thursday Throwback? Enjoy If At First You Don’t Know.




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Simple Beauty: The Wedding of Miss Blanche Boggess and Frank Edwin Gorman

Gorman Wedding

On January 10, 1912, Blanche Elizabeth Boggess married Frank Edwin Gorman in a ceremony at the Rock Island home of her parents, 926 Seventeenth Street.

Miss Boggess was an active member in the social circles of Rock Island, Illinois, while Mr. Gorman was a young Davenport businessman who co-owned the Gorman Bros. cigar company and Gorman & Sons, a successful printing business.

The Davenport Democrat allotted almost eight column inches to the event the following day, and included a detailed description of the bride’s wedding finery.  No photographs accompanied the article—that wasn’t often done in 1912.

Luckily, the couple had their photographs taken by the Hostetler Studios in Davenport:

Gorman-Boggess Bride

“The bride’s dress was of ivory white satin, made entrain, and trimmed with point lace.  Her long veil was held in place with Orange blossoms, and she also wore a bando and collar of pearls, while her flowers were lilies of the valley in a round bouquet.”

Gorman Bride Detail

Detail of the pearl bando and collar.

The flowers mentioned in the article are omitted from the photographs, which seems to indicate that they were not taken the day of the wedding.  In fact, as the bride and groom were not photographed together and their glass negatives were filed under different numbers, it may be possible that they visited the Hostetler Studios separately before the day of the ceremony, so the groom wouldn’t see the bride’s dress before the ceremony.

The Hostetler Studio does not appear to have taken any photographs taken of the rest of the bridal party—or not under the names of the bride or groom at least—but the Democrat offers a lovely description:

“The maid of honor [the bride’s cousin, Miss Helen Krell, of Rock Island] was dressed in pink chiffon cloth over pink satin, and she carried pink Killarney roses . . . the bridesmaids [The bride’s cousin Miss Lillian Boggess of San Francisco and Miss Ella Baumback of Rock Island] were in pink chiffon cloth over white satin and their flowers were arm bouquets of the pink roses, while the little ring bearer [the groom’s niece, Miss Rosemary Gorman], who carried the wedding ring in the heart of a rose, was all in white.”

The newspaper didn’t appear to care what the groom wore—traditionally, no one did except perhaps for the bride and her mother—but as the Hostetler Studio shows us, he cut quite the dapper figure.

Gorman Groom Standing

After the ceremony, a wedding supper was enjoyed by 125 guests, after which the bride and groom went on an extended wedding trip, intending to return and set up household in Walsh Flats on West 4th Street in Davenport—a very fashionable address for the newly wed.


(Posted by Sarah)


“The Gorman-Boggess Wedding, Rock Island.”  Davenport Democrat, 11Jan1912, p.8.

The Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive

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A New (Old) Look at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home

For many of us, when the name Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home or Annie Wittenmyer Home is mentioned we think of the beautiful two-story red brick cottages that exist today on the site.


These were not the original buildings that the orphans arrived to in November 1865. The site had been home to Camp Roberts, later renamed Camp Kinsman, for Calvary units during the Civil War. Left behind after the war, the military barracks, hospital, kitchen, and miscellaneous buildings had been roughly updated for the needs of the children.

According to the Davenport Daily Gazette on November 16, 1865

“On the north side of the square is a row of six-one-storied houses each of which is divided into three departments: 32×20 for a sleeping room to accommodate about 30 children, 22×16 for a sitting and study room, 10×12 for the teacher’s room.” (Pg. 4)

As indicated, every cottage had one adult living with the children. Meals were taken in a large separate dining room, and the hospital reopened for sick children. Other buildings were also modified for the needs of the orphanage.

Until recently we had to use our imaginations to picture what the original Soldiers’ Home buildings looked like. We are excited that two stereoview cards dating from the late 1860s are now part of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center.

The images were taken and published by John G. Evans of Muscatine, Iowa and published as part of his Evans’ Western Views collection.

May we present Image 135 from the Evans’ collection. Labeled View at the Orphans’ Home, Davenport, Iowa.

evans stereograph-1

(posted by Amy D.)

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Our “Special” visitors for 2013

In 2013, genealogists and history researchers came from all over the country (and the world!) to the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center, to use our wonderful resources.

They came from far away to fill in the blank branches of their Family Trees. They found copies of birth, marriage and death records of their Scott County, Iowa ancestors. They came to do research on the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home, Colonel George Davenport and Bix Beiderbecke. They looked at newspaper articles on microfilm, online databases we subscribe to and our photograph collection. Their searches were made easier by the many indices that have been prepared by our volunteers from the Scott County Iowa Genealogical Society.

Last year we had visitors from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Kansas, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Washington, California and Australia.

Our superlatives were: Fort Myers, Florida in the southeast; Seattle, Washington in the northwest; Greenland, New Hampshire in the northeast; and our furthest traveler, from the southwest, came all the from Australia!

Check out this map with all of our visitors for the year 2013, as recorded in our Guest Book. Pretty cool, huh?

View 2013 Special Collections Visitors in a larger map

We thank our guest for visiting us this past year. We hope to see you again soon! And if you came in to visit but did not sign our guest book, let us know in the comments, so we can add you to our map!

Are you planning to visit us this year? We look forward to helping you!

(posted by Cristina)

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