Sunday, November 4, 2012

Science and Culture Along Ritter Avenue

Dr. Henry Lane Bruner arrived in Irvington upon the completion of his Ph.D from the University of Frieburg in Baden, Germany in 1897 to work at Butler University.  He moved his second wife and family into a large home at 324 South Ritter Avenue.  Dr. Bruner's first wife, Carolyn Aumock Bruner, died in 1894 of tuberculosis.  A widower at age 33 and with a new baby named Harold, he decided to leave the US for Germany.  In 1897, he married Emma Pfeiffer, a German woman .  They would dwell at the Ritter Avenue address for decades.  

Carolyn Aumock Bruner, the first wife of Dr. Bruner, tragically died of tuberculosis fourteen months after this photo was taken in 1894.  

The Bruner Home at 324 South Ritter Avenue c.1910

Dr. Bruner earned the reputation of being an outstanding professor and scientist while teaching at Butler.  He was in high demand for speaking engagements throughout his career.  He also sponsored the Biology Club at Butler.  On May 25, 1916, he gave a lecture to the club on the topic of evolution.   Dr. Bruner seems to have been swept up in two movements of his time.  In 1912, he left the mainstream Republican Party to join Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Party also known as the "Bull Moose" Party.  Dr. Bruner likely championed the platform of the party which called for a minimum wage, national health service; social insurance for the elderly, disabled, and unemployed;  a federal income tax; and women's suffrage.  He was elected a precinct committeeman for the party on July 25, 1912.  The Progressives would split the Republican Party and pave the way for Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, to take the presidency.

The second movement he seems to have fallen into involved eugenics.  Many Americans attempted to apply Darwin's findings into a social context.  They believed that by "proper breeding," undesirable human traits could be eradicated.  States like Indiana then passed eugenics laws that called for forced sterilization of criminals, the mentally ill, and numerous others.  A disproportion number of minorities and immigrants became the target of the new laws.  While the idea seems to have been largely repudiated by the 1930s, Indiana kept its eugenics law on the books until 1974.  Perhaps Dr. Bruner never fully embraced all aspects of this movement, but he was associated with the concept early in his career.

Dr. Bruner fathered two more children, Henry Jr., and Margaret, with his wife Emma.  Mrs. Bruner was active with local German organizations and with various clubs.  She frequently hosted events with the wives of other faculty members.  She also joined the Irvington Women's Club.  On May 30, 1913, she invited the group to her home for a special presentation on her favorite German writer, Goethe.  On April 24, 1914, Mrs. Bruner traveled to New York City and then sailed for Germany where she was planning to stay for the entire summer with her family.  Her sojourn was cut short, however, as World War One began on July 28.  One can only imagine the mixed emotions that she would later have as her own stepson, Harold, would later fight for the Americans against her German relatives.

Bruner children c. 1904:  Henry, Harold, and Margaret

Emma and Henry Bruner with their daughter Margaret and grandchild

Upon her graduation from Butler University in 1921

The Bruners lived long lives and were highly esteemed residents of the neighborhood.  For years, their home was still known as the Bruner House, long after they died.

The historic photos are courtesy of the descendants of the Bruner family via  The contemporary image of the home was shot on the frosty and beautiful morning of November 4, 2012.

324 South Ritter on November 4, 2012

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