1951 Polio and Politics

January 3

Betty Kavanagh sits on the steps in front of a store on Monument Street. She’s taking a brief break from shopping for a dress for the Governor’s Ball that will be held at the end of the month. Her husband Jack is a newly elected State Delegate. She wants the right dress and will find it but she needs a moment to sit. Betty has polio and she walks with crutches and she has her newborn, her one year old and her two year old with her. Her mother-in-law, Annie is there as well to push the little ones in a stroller. It’s a cold day but not too bad for January so Betty braved the weather to find that right dress. Suddenly, she hears a voice calling her. A group of finely dressed men are passing by and one, sure enough is Governor-elect Theodore McKeldin, and he greets Betty Kavanagh by sight. Calling her Miss Kavanagh, he asks about her crutch and she says she has polio but is fine. She feels a bit embarrassed as he speaks to her. She informs the governor she’s shopping for a gown for the ball today and looks forward to the big event. He bids her farewell and tells her he will see her and her husband at the ball. That night she vows to Jack that she will NOT be using her crutch at the Governor’s Ball. She doesn’t care if she has to lean on her husband all night, she will walk without a crutch and also dance. She has chosen a long white dress with violets on it to cover her brace.

Mom 1947 color
Betty Kavanagh. 1947.

January 13

Today is the first day of Jack Kavanagh’s first legislative session in the House of Delegates. Jack will need to spend a lot of time in Annapolis but he commutes back to Baltimore every night. He must attend whenever the House is in session but will also work as much as he can at the Shop. The regular session runs from early January to mid April but there are sometimes emergency sessions later in the summer to resolve certain issues. He is a fast learner even as a freshman in the House of Delegates. Jack follows the lead of those more experienced in governance but will always stay true to his own nature. Jack is a smart young man with a great deal of common sense and an uncommon heart. He has compassion but more than that he understands the life of a working man and is quick to support legislation that helps them. He believed in man’s good nature. To Jack, a man given a fair chance to work and support his family will do just that.

Delegate Jack Kavanagh. Democrat. 2nd District.

January 27

The Governor’s Ball is held on a cold Saturday night in Annapolis. Jack and Betty attend along with all elected state legislators Betty doesn’t take her crutches. Betty is determined to stand on her own or at least with Jack’s help. She loves the white dress she wears and it does conceal her brace. She leans on Jack as they enter this very fancy ball. Jack holds her when they walk and even as they dance. He basically carries her through the dances but they dance them all.

In the receiving line for Governor-Elect McKeldin, the governor recognizes Betty and quickly says, “Miss Kavanagh, you were on crutches when I saw you last. Where is the crutch?”

Betty answers proudly, “My husband is my crutch. He is here to lean on whenever I need it. We’re both fine and enjoying this lovely ball, Governor.”

“Thank you and what a beautiful gown that is. Congratulations to you both,” Governor McKeldin finishes, shaking Jack’s hand as the receiving line passes.

Jack and Betty have a wonderful night and Betty is very proud of her husband and herself for making it through the night without a crutch and to have had such a special celebration. This is a night they will never forget.

February 9

Leo and Eddie’s Shop on Central Avenue finishes a set of custom bends for A. Overholt and Company, one of their distilling customers. The bends are of 5” Type L Copper tube which is very thin and difficult to work. The only option is to fill them. They must be annealed first, which is an easy task for a coppersmith. Using a torch, the tube is heated to an orange color and is now malleable. The tube must be cooled. Copper is a metal you can quench with water to cool unlike brass or steel. Next, a plug is hammered into one end of the tube and is stood up and wired to a post. Rosin is heated and liquified until it looks like black tar then it is poured very carefully into the tube. It’s a slow process and the rosin is hot, and handling it can be dangerous but it will keep the tube very round during the bending process. Once filled, the tube must sit a few hours then it will be topped off before the end of the day. The next morning, the rosin is hard and the tube is bendable but also supported well enough to hold its shape. A good bit of work for six bends but the Shop makes a profit on this one.

The Shop’s Job book entry. A. Overholt and Co. job. February 9, 1951.

February 16

Jack introduces his first piece of legislation, a bill to limit liquor licenses in Baltimore City co-sponsored by his fellow 2nd district delegates, Rudy Behounek, Joseph Mach and James Welsh Jr. The bill will bring an end to alcohol package goods sales in grocery stores, pharmacies and candy shops. Liquor establishments with a valid license will remain in effect but will be subject to renewal. The motion does pass. Jack feels some pride though he is just a junior member of the 2nd district team.

March 16

Jack is balancing the House of Delegates and the Shop. Betty is still in a wheelchair at home but is determined to not let it stop her taking care of her house and family. She cooks and cleans from her wheelchair, running a house of three small girls on her own. Betty has an inner strength that becomes apparent as she manages to keep a houseful going while her husband is working his regular job at the Shop and another in Annapolis. Jack marvels at how Betty does it. She rolls along in a wheelchair through the row house on Lakewood Avenue but meals are always hot, the kids are always having fun and they are are all happy, despite the challenges they face.

April 7

Eddie has purchased a new television with a 14” screen. It’s a little bigger but the picture is incredible to Eddie and Annie. They pass their old TV on to Jack who is happy to have it. He carries it over to the corner of Lakewood and Jefferson. The young girls are very excited to have a set in their house. Betty has received some news for Jack. Her doctor has given her a list of exercises to help strengthen her legs. The virus seems to have abated and he is convinced over time she can give up the wheelchair and crutch for good, though it will take time and hard work. Betty is determined to get her legs back and as soon as she can. She begins to fit her exercising into her busy day of caring, cleaning, cooking and mothering.

Eddie and Annie Kavanagh. Patterson Park. Early 1950s.

April 30

A rainy spring Monday is spent appropriately enough on a fountain. Several lengths of copper tubes were purchased and today it is annealed and rolled into a circle. The ends are trimmed and soldered shut. Holes are drilled to allow the water to pass through and after some final cleaning the tube is a perfect ring and ready to be installed. A fountain is something the Shop has been making almost from its beginning over eighty-five years ago. The process is similar but has changed over time. The tube was made in the past from perforated sheet that was drilled first but now, it is cheaper to buy the tube pre-made then anneal, bend and drill. It is still very similar to the way it was done in the 1870s by the original Joseph Kavanagh.

May 16

Jack watches the late news before going to bed. The news is of the fighting in Korea. It’s been a back and forth war or conflict. This year alone the capital of South Korea has fallen and then been retaken. Jack feels for those young men in the middle of it. It wasn’t so long he was on the USS Strickland during World War 2. He hopes this one ends soon. He gets ready for bed and says a prayer for the boys in Korea. As he lays down, he goes over in his head meetings he has had with several leaders of the Baltimore Democratic party. Jack is finding his niche in the House and in the party. His personality and honesty make him a compelling legislator and candidate. That being said, Jack is happy the first legislative session is over. He has been covering a lot of ground in his Chrysler Windsor between Baltimore and Annapolis but he has made it work mostly due to his wife. Betty tends to everything and keeps the home for Jack and the girls no matter the hours her husband is working.

June 17

Betty learns she is pregnant and her husband is thrilled again. They love children and they seem to have a natural ability as parents. The young couple are as excited with the new baby as they have been for all of the girls. Betty can continue with her exercises for now but must be careful to not overtax herself. They will have baby number four around Christmas

The Shop’s Job book entry. Renneburg Job. June 26, 1951.

June 26

The Shop’s work load remains high and the crew are busy. Today, they make their usual litany of brewery and distillery parts and also a brass job. Renneburg, a customer who the Shop uses as a vendor occasionally needs some brass bars rolled into circles. Rolling or curving metal is one of Renneburg’s primary skills though it is usually in steel. Brass is unusual for them. They call Eddie and soon the boys at Kavanagh’s are rolling some brass flat bars “the Easyway” into circles. The Easyway is rolling a piece across the thinnest side of the bar. The Hardway is the opposite. These rings will be used for decorative bands around furniture after they are cleaned and highly polished. Rolling metal, steel, brass or otherwise, has been a standard process at the Joseph Kavanagh Company for years and will grow in importance over time.

Johanna Kavanagh.

July 4

A big Independence Day party is held on Lakewood Avenue. Actually, a few parties are thrown by folks on the block. The Fourth is a celebration of the nation’s birthday and a summer tradition with cook outs, steamed crabs and fireworks. The Kavanagh’s are no different and a bushel of crabs are steamed while burgers and hot dogs are grilled. Platters of assorted salads and sides add to the holiday feast. At Eddie and Annie’s house, the party includes music as well. Eddie and Jack takes turns on the piano and the family sings and the small girls dance and twirl about to the bemusement of all. Johanna is there and she is doing well. She misses her husband, Joe who died last year but she was more prepared for it than the rest of the family. Johanna is focusing on her grandchildren and their children and is happy to spend the holiday with them. As evening comes on, Eddie and Jack take the older girls, Betty and Nancy to Patterson Park for a better view of the fireworks. Jack takes turns carry them both and the other walks along hand held by their grandfather Eddie. Betty, Annie and Johanna remain at the house. Betty would not be up to the walk on her crutches though she does feel she’s getting steadier and her doctor’s prescribed workout is helping. Johanna plays with baby Mary while Betty tries to help Annie clean up. Her mother-in-law shoos Betty to a seat while she quickly puts everything away. Then they enjoy a quiet cup of tea and they sit at the front window and chat about the family and Jack. Both Annie and Johanna have always been proud of Jack. He served in the Navy and now he’s in the House of Delegates. Annie smiles brightly as Betty speaks to her of what Jack has been doing in his new position.

“He sponsored a bill to limit liquor licenses,” Betty says to a very approving nod from Annie who was a Prohibitionist, “and he wants to find a way to limit the truck traffic on Orleans Street. It’s crazy some times down there.” Betty motions south to the end of the block.

“It is. They drive those trucks like madmen. Leave it to Jack to take care of it.” Annie beams.

Johanna, setting Mary gently down at her feet joins in, “Our Jack can do it. I’m not surprised at all he’s doing so well. Look how he was in the Navy and school and,” she raises an eyebrow in a knowing way, “the Shop.”

“Jack knows how to talk to regular folks. He will do the best for them. They trust him and he has a good way with people.” Betty answers, reaching an outstretched hand to the baby.

“He’s got a lot of Joe in him,” Annie grins and quickly glances at Johanna.

Johanna smiles back with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, let’s hope not too much…”

The room fills with the three women’s laughter at the thought of the old gent. Baby Mary’s not amused though and begins to cry until her mother gently scoops her up.

Joseph A. Kavanagh’s business card. Circa 1915. It references both his brothers Frank and James as partners.

July 26

A large job for United States Industrial Chemicals is finished after six weeks of work. A variety of copper sheet and tube was bent, tinned and brazed at the Shop. Eddie makes note that the labor hours on this one may have gone over. It is a busy summer and some jobs are run “free style” by the coppersmith in charge with hours being approximated as the focus is getting the job done. They are making money and things are good so it’s understandable to Leo and Eddie in a busy Shop.

The Shop’s Job book entry. US Industrial Chemical Inc. job. July, 26, 1951. First page.
The Shop’s Job book entry. US Industrial Chemicals Inc. job. July 26, 1952. Second page.

August 10

Jack and Ed Jr. work on a hot one this Friday. Seventeen inch diameter tube must be made then bent into elbows for National Distillers. It will be a torch day all day. The copper sheet is annealed then must be carefully turned around dies. Next it must be soldered closed to form a tube then this tube must be filled and bent tomorrow. It’s a challenge to get enough finished on day one to set yourself up to be able to bend on day two. The tubes are topped off with rosin a few minutes before closing and the brothers make it but just barely. First thing Saturday, they will bend them then melt the rosin out. Another hot day with torches blasting fire will be in order.

The Shop’s Job book entry. National Distillers job. August 13, 1951.

September 3

Betty Kavanagh is still in a wheelchair and pregnant but she does her exercises every day while watching just a little television. She has found a new television soap opera that begins today. It is called “Search for Tomorrow” and it premiers on CBS. Betty quickly becomes a fan and makes the time to watch the fifteen minute serial every day and will watch this program until it goes off the air in 1982. Her husband Jack is spending the day at National Brewery with three other workers on an installation. They will spend the better part of the next three days there and as good as three days at a brewery sound, they are never allowed to imbibe so it’s just work.

September 20

The Joseph Kavanagh Company continues strong through the year. A steady stream of brewing and distilling work keeps rolling through the place. There are always other jobs whether they be boiler work, fountains or ornamental items and today it is a railing. A long brass railing for a large residential garden. One of the homes outside of the City is being rehabbed and repaired. In addition to work on the home, the garden is redone as well including this brass rail. The brass is carefully heated then it sits to cool in the air. After an hour, the slow work of bending it around wooden wheels and dies begins. A template bent from steel bar is provided and the crew match it. The closer they are to the curve of the template, the easier the installation will be for the customer.

October 3

Eddie and Jack are driving home from the Shop when they hear the latest news from the world of baseball on the radio. Today, in game three of a playoff series, the New York Giants walked off with a win when Bobby Thompson homered off the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ralph Branca in the 9th inning. This homer becomes known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and it sends the Giants into the World Series. The Giants had come back from 13 games behind in the standing to tie the Dodgers with 92 wins. The three game playoff was scheduled with the teams splitting the first two setting up what has become a seminal moment in baseball history when Thomson’s three run home run ended it in exciting fashion. They talk about the game and how it sets up another “Subway Series” against the Yanks until Jack drops Eddie off at 434 N. Lakewood. He then cruises to the corner, turns right and parks on the Jefferson Street side of his home, anxious to see his girls.

October 10

The Yankees win the World Series defeating the New York Giants in six games. This championship matchup was full of highlights with the Dodgers’ Monte Irvin stealing home in the first inning of game one and the Yankees’ Gil McDougal blasting a grand slam in game five. The Yankees prevail and win their third Word Series in a row. Yankee great Joe DiMaggio retires after this Series which included two young rookies, his eventual replacement in center field, Mickey Mantle and National League Rookie of the Year, Willie Mays. Eddie and Jack follow this one closely watching game three in its entirety, the only weekend game. The Yankees combination of strong pitching and power were too much for the young Giants.

October 15

I Love Lucy” premiers on CBS. The Kavanagh’s along with many Americans begin watching this one regularly. It is one of the first scripted comedies filmed in front of a live audience. The show is a smash hit and the Kavanagh family will watch it for years.

November 24

The Kavanagh’s visit Sister Mary Agnes at the Visitation Convent on this Saturday after Thanksgiving. Johanna is very happy to spend a day with her daughter accompanied by her sons and their families. Jack and Betty are there with the three girls. Anna holds baby Mary and gets many hugs from two year old Betty and one year old Nancy. She tells the family some stories from her classroom at the school at the Visitation. She loves teaching and working with children. The family visits Anna usually once a month and they all remain close to her. She also is a prolific letter writer and corresponds with most of them occasionally. The Kavanagh’s are a close lot.

Sister Mary Agnes - Visitation2
Sister Mary Agnes (Anna Kavanagh) Visitation Convent Grounds. 1930s.

December 7

Jack and Betty go to the movies to see “A Christmas Carol” starring British actor, Alistair Sim. They leave the three girls at Eddie and Annie’s and have a very rare night out alone. Jack drives them and helps his wife in and out of the car carefully. She has left her crutches at home and leans on Jack through the evening. They attend the movie and then drive to the New Canton on North Avenue for egg rolls. This was their favorite place when they dated. Instead of a quiet walk, they sit in the restaurant and talk of the movie which they both loved. They also talk of the coming baby and they are very excited. They drive back to 447 N. Lakewood Avenue and collect their girls ready to face the holidays and welcome a baby.

December 24

The Shop’s Christmas Eve party is held at Pratt and Central. Cleaning and decorating is done quickly as the annual conversion from work place to party place occurs. Customers, vendors, employees and friends join the family to eat, drink and be merry. They have another good year to celebrate with the Shop busy all year. Christmas carols and old Irish tunes are sung including “O Holy Night” in honor of Joe. The party is more festive than last year and Joe’s memory is more a pleasant reminder this year to celebrate as he would. They toast him, the holiday and another year of success at the Shop. Jack’s three young girls toddle and play among the party-goers. They are chased by their father this time as he keeps a careful eye on his wife. Betty did not bring her crutches and has remained seated as much as possible. She is enduring more than enjoying the party, after all she is nine months pregnant.

December 25

After spending Christmas day split between the Crew’s house on Guilford Avenue, Betty’s family and the Hartmann’s house, Jack’s mother’s family, the Kavanagh’s are exhausted. The girls received toys and clothes but they are thankfully tired as well. The parties are all done and they were festive and fun but Jack and Betty are glad to be home. After the girls are asleep, they head right to bed. Jack is sleeping next to his very pregnant wife just after midnight when she tries to wake him.

She nudges him and says, “Jack, I’m going to have a baby.”

Still dozing, Jack answers into his pillow sleepily, “I know hon, I can’t wait. I love you.”

“Jack! I mean I’m having a baby now!” Betty shakes her husband who bolts awake and sits up.

“Now? You mean now.” he asks, suddenly wide awake. She nods and smiles and Jack begins rushing around to get them ready. He calls Dr. Insley who has delivered all three of the older girls and they head to the hospital. Jane Frances Kavanagh is born about an hour or so after this phone call. Jack and Betty welcome baby # 4 with love and happiness.

Jane Frances Kavanagh. 1952.



Harry S. Truman is the President of the United States. The Twenty-second Amendment is ratified which limits the President to two terms. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are convicted of espionage and sentenced to death. In Kansas, the Great Flood of 1951 causes more damage and destruction than any flood ever in the Midwest. Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” premiers on Broadway. J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” is published. The films “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The African Queen” are released. The phrase “Rock N Roll” is used for the first time by Disc Jockey Alan Freed. Charles S. Dutton, Sally Ride, Robin Williams, Mark Hamill, and Chrissie Hynde are born.

There are 48 states in the Union.

Jack and Betty Kavanagh with baby Jane Frances. Early 1952.

To read prior years, click on the Table of Contents link below:

Table of Contents


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