In 1877, a dispute arose over the qualifications of the newly elected members of the Irvington school board. Old board members George W. Julian and J. O. Hopkins refused to relinquish their positions and new members Sylvester Johnson and Dr. James A. Krumrine formed a rival board.

The Irvington School, 1890
Credit: Irvington Historical Society via Indiana Historical Society

When the old board reemployed the previous year’s school teacher, Lydia Putnam, for the 1877 term, the new board disputed the appointment. In the meantime, Hopkins resigned from the old board and was replaced by William H. H. Shank, who aligned with the new board members.

Now in the majority, the new board changed the locks on the school to deny access to Putnam when school was scheduled to begin on September 3, 1877. The new school board dismissed Putnam upon her arrival, but she refused to leave. The frustrated board members forcibly removed her from the school. Johnson and Krumrine held her by the arms while Shank “brought up the rear ‘boosting with his knee.’” Putnam reentered the building through the back door and hung onto a staple on the wall until the men could pry her loose and force her from the building.

Putnam filed assault and battery charges against the men and sued them for damages, winning an $800 award (about $17,000 in 2020). The board members appealed the case to the Indiana Supreme Court, but the justices upheld the lower court’s decision. In its coverage of the events, the Indianapolis News gave the episode its popular name—the Irvington “war.”

Revised February 2021

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