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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lucy Page Gaston 1860-1924 : Her Anti-Tobacco Campaign

How many of you readers smoke cigars and cigarettes? I am sure that you have been made aware of the health risks of such habits.  There is substantial medical evidence of such.   You might think that during the years before the building of the Panama Canal through the years following World War I there were not many persons who knew of such health risks regarding the use of these products.  Maybe you haven't heard of Lucy Page Gaston.
Lucy Gaston was born in Ohio in 1860.  She grew up to become a teacher after attending Illinois State University. It was reported in several publications that she participated in smashing several saloons in the early 1880s.  She joined the Christian Woman's Temperance Union, along with her mother, Henrietta Page Gaston.   During the 1890s, she held the position of managing editor of the newspaper, The Harvey Citizen.  This allowed her to proclaim her beliefs for all to read.  She even had a paper called The Boywhere she published articles about behavior that was brought on by tobacco use.

She spent more that twenty-five years campaigning against the use of tobacco, in addition to prohibition and woman suffrage.  Lucy organized the National Anti-Cigarette League.  She lobbied before state legislatures and even the Chicago city council.  She also appeared before the National Congress in Washington, D.C., trying to convince legislators that it was their job to outlaw the use of tobacco.  She even wrote a letter to President Warren G. Harding.  He was an avid smoker, and she felt that he was setting a bad example by his habit of tobacco use.

Lucy did become successful in pushing through a law in Illinois that prohibited minors from being able to obtain and smoke cigarettes.  Chief of Police McWeeney deputized Lucy, which enabled her to enforce this law.  She personally arrested a handful of 16 year old boys when she saw them smoking.  Lucy termed the cigarette as a "Coffin Nail".  In 1907, Lucy was instrumental with the law put forth by the Chicago City Council where it was deemed illegal to make, sell or give away cigarettes in the State of Illinois. The law was challenged and defeated on a technicality, otherwise those choosing to disregard the rule would have been fined $100 and jailed for up to 30 days.

Lucy and her family lived in Marshall County, Illinois during her formative years.  She attended and graduated from Lacon High School, and was the valedictorian at her commencement exercises.

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Lacon School 1877 Commencement brochure, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Lucy taught at a few schools in the Richland Township area of Marshall County, Illinois, after receiving her teaching certificate, the first schools being the Strawn School and the Monahan School.  She and her family were well respected local figures and members of the First Presbyterian Church of Henry, Illinois.

map of the location of the first schools where Miss Gaston taught from 1876-1879, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Miss Gaston met with her largest opposition when sending boxes of cigarettes to soldiers during World War I became a well received gesture of troop support.  Nevertheless, she continued her anti tobacco campaigns through personal appearances and literature.

page 1 Lucy Page Gaston obit August 28, 1924 Lacon Home Journal, paperchase-LucyPageGaston

Miss Gaston was buried in the Lacon Cemetery. Lucy died of cancer of the throat, in addition to injuries sustained in a street car accident months before, while being cared for in the Hinsdale sanitarium, in Hinsdale, Illinois on August 20, 1924.  Her obituary is written in the Illinois State Historical Society Journal, Vol. XVII, No. 3 editorials October 1924.

In Your Backyard
by david dellinger
Lacon,, IL January 2011
Lucy Page Gaston campaigned as a candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1920.  Obviously her campaign was not successful, as she was not elected.  However, she had a good platform : "Clean morals, clean food and fearless law enforcement."  She filed in the primary of South Dakota, but dropped out of the race before the election.  She could not support Warren G. Harding because he was an avid smoker, even stating that he had a smoker's face which was unbecoming to her.  She attended the convention of the Prohibition Party, and supported the candidate William Jennings Bryan.

Further information about Lucy P. Gaston can be found in the following publications, as taken from

Cigarette Wars, The Triumph of the “Little White Slaver” by Cassandra Tate
For Your own Good by Jacob Sullum
Thank You For Not Smoking by Gordon Dillow
The Little White Slaver in Kansas by R. Alton Lee
The Smoking Gun by Robert Loerzel
Lost Cause by Frances Warfield
Women Building Chicago 1790-1990 by Schultz & Hast
Readin’ and Ritin’ and Rithmetic Through The Years; Education in Marshall County, Illinois
by B.K. Doxhelmer

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