November 6, 1920: Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John

Vote early and vote often.

In November 1920, soon after the adoption of the 19th amendment, suffragettes excitedly filed into polling stations across the country. Meanwhile, in Chicago, where women had been allowed to vote in most local elections since 1913, female voters may not have been quite as enthused.

The Windy City, which likely earned its nickname from the hot air blown by its politicians,1 was far from an ideal democracy in the 1920s. Though women could vote freely alongside men, choices on the ballot were limited to a few colorfully-named, yet equally corrupt candidates.

From The Evening World, Nov 6, 1920:

Picturesque nomenclature in American politics is responsible for “Sockless Jerry,” Pitchfork Ben, “Old Hickory” and a host of other notables. But never has there been a combination to compare with “Bath House John” and “Hinky Dink.” Their reputation has been as unsavory as their nicknames have been peculiar.

For years they have “owned” Chicago’s First Ward. Reforms might come and go, but “Bath House John” and “Hinky Dink” cared for and controlled their own.

After fighting for the right to vote for over forty years, women in Chicago could now choose from a slate of criminals. They had won the right to experience the illusion of choice.

From the Encyclopedia of Chicago,

“Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse John” Coughlin created in the 1890s a First Ward political machine based on graft and protection money from the saloons, brothels, and gambling halls of the Levee district, just south of the Loop.2

Nearly 100 years have passed since the 19th amendment, but candidates continue to make news for controversial or outright illegal activities. Politicians still sling plenty of mud, and in some places, voters are faced with a slate of unsavory candidates.

“Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse John” Coughlin. (image source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you choose to vote today, I’d recommend avoiding any politicians named Hinky Dink or Bathhouse Joe. I’d also probably steer clear of anyone brandishing a pitchfork, but that’s just my opinion.

Happy election day!


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