An object can mean many different things in various consumers' hands and in specific contexts, and this campaign button (right) from a William Jennings Bryan Presidential bid is a good example.  As one of the most influential Progressives in turn-of-the-century America, William Jennings Bryant ran for President three times between 1896 and 1908 and served as Secretary of State for Woodrow Wilson before resigning in 1915.  Bryan is perhaps most famous today for his participation in the 1925 Scope Trial, where Bryan represented literal Biblical interpretation in a trial against Tennessee teacher John Scopes, who had taught evolution in defiance of state law. 

In his long political career Bryan graced numerous pieces of campaign memorabilia, and the button on the right was found at 909 North California Street.  The deposit contains a range of materials made from prehistory into the 1950's, so it is unclear which of the homes' residents may have once owned and discarded the pinback. The picture was used widely in Bryan's 1908 campaign; however, some of the 1908 images were used in buttons leading up to World War I, when the anti-imperialist Bryan resigned from Woodrow Wilson's cabinet in dispute over Wilson's pre-war foreign policy, and a few buttons were produced when Bryan was counsel at the 1925 Scopes Trial. 

The pinback could well have belonged to a series of householders or even a subsequent resident who held onto the button years afterward, and Bryan's long political career left many potential issues a former supporter might long cherish.  Bryan was a devout Presbyterian populist who believed in the "common people" and long resisted imperialism and corporate domination as one of the Democratic Party's most visible champions.  The button could well have been discarded by a White or Black household as well as European immigrants invested in a wide range of Bryan's issues, but Bryan had no especially concrete record on race and ethnic politics.  His Prohibition advocacy pitted him against many European Americans, and when he became a temperance advocate he left his longtime home in Nebraska for Florida because Nebraskan ethnic communities opposed Prohibition.  Transplanted to the South, Bryan ignored the rising Ku Klux Klan, perhaps placing too much populist faith in the masses and consistently advocating nativist conservatism.  During the Scopes Trial Bryan failed to critique White superiority at the heart of emerging eugenics, and he was fervently anti-communist because (like many Americans) he believed that communism rejected God.  Besides the concrete political issues he championed in his career, Bryan also was one of the first political candidates to campaign widely throughout the country, and the thoughtful and effective communicator made him one of politics' early celebrities.

Bryan disappeared from politics after his 1915 cabinet resignation, but he remained a strong champion for constitutional amendments on women's suffrage and Prohibition.  Always deeply religious, Bryan emerged in the 1920's as one of the country's most vocal opponents of Darwinian evolution and believed no public college or university should hire faculty who did not believe in God.  He toured the country advocating laws against teaching evolution in public schools, and several states did pass such laws, including Tennessee.  When Tennessee teacher John Scopes intentionally violated that law, he was taken to trial and Bryan was asked to represent the World Christian Fundamentals Association, who championed a literal Biblical interpretation.  Bryan bested Clarence Darrow in the famous trial, only to die five days later on July 26, 1925 and to eventually have his Scopes victory overturned.

The Bryan button came from a deposit at the rear of 909 North California.  At the time of the 1908 election, the residence was home to 70-year old widow Mary Middleton, who was born in Ireland and lived with 35-year-old daughter Catherine (a laundress).  Catherine was born in Indiana, indicating that the family had been in the state since at least 1875, but they were not residents at 909 North California until about 1910.  The Middletons had moved by 1914, when Charles E. James was listed in the city directory as the head of household, but we know very little about James.  The residence was home to African Americans by 1920, when Tennessee-born railroad laborer Frank Page (born 1853) and wife Irene (born in Tennessee in 1858) were living at the home and listed by the census-taker as being unable to read or write.  Household turnover was relatively quick, with laborer Samuel Kirby in the home in 1925 and the 1930 directory and census showing the home vacant.
Above:  In 1898, the double at 907-909 California Street included an outbuilding at the rear of 909 California marked here in red at the arrow.  The Bryan pinback was among the artifacts from this feature, which is still being excavated.  In 1914 the Sanborn map no longer shows this outbuilding, but the Bryan pinback was recovered from a shallow level that appears to have been disturbed after the building was dismantled.
The Bryan pinback was recovered from this unit at right placed where the 1898 Sanborn insurance map shows an outbuilding (see the map above right).  While this is an appropriate location for a privy, we have not identified an outhouse deposit and instead have recovered a dense deposit of household refuse including food remains, ceramics, a second pinback (shown below right) and even a projectile point (below).

Above: This unit in the yard at 907 North California had a dense deposit of artifacts including numerous ceramics like the yellow ware and Rockingham-type tea pot shown in this picture. Above:  This celluloid pinback button was recovered from the outbuilding deposit at 909 North California alongside the Bryan pinback.  This button depicts an unidentified African-American man.
Right: In 1898, the Sanborn Insurance maps showed a series of closely clustered outbuildings alongside a stable at the rear of 911 North California Street.  By 1914 all these outbuildings had been replaced by one single outbuilding at the rear of the lot, roughly where a concrete garage pad was placed in 1950.  The unit pictured below identified a brick laid sidewalk that apparently ran alongside these three outbuildings.

Left: The sidewalk that once ran along the lot line adjoining the outbuildings was uncovered during the excavation of this unit.  Below: the same unit after the bricks were removed.

Last updated June 10, 2006