My column in the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

In my time running SundayMagazine.org, it’s become increasingly apparent to me and my readers just how few of the most prominent people, places, and things from 100 years ago are still well remembered tgoday.

What does this insight reveal about who and what from this era might still be well remembered 100 years from now?

My prediction: despite how big the biggest people, places, and things seem to us at the moment, almost nothing and nobody lasts 100 years in the public’s consciousness.

Will Trump? Will Obama? Will 9/11? Will today’s technology? What about the biggest movies or songs?

I tackle these questions in my new opinion column for the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/not-much-passes-the-100-year-test-will-trump

 

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Written by Jesse

June 4th, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

Psychiatric First Aid for Fiction Writers

Walter B. Pitkin, a professor of feature and short-story writing at Columbia University School of Journalism in 1921, had an unusual piece of advice for how to write better love and romance stories: don’t fall in love yourself.

One young man, for instance, began by writing love stories as class exercises, and did them with such skill and lyric feeling that Professor Pitkin soon told him: “Young man, go your way in peace; I have nothing to teach you; you are a successful writer.”

A year later this same student returned with a bunch of rejected manuscripts — all love stories. To all, he said, he had given the best he had in him. He was in despair. He had sold his first three stories readily, and then came a string of failures.

“What on earth is the matter with me?” he asked his former instructor.

Professor Pitkin soon discovered that, within the year, the young man had married! He was living love stories and so could not write them.

“Psychology,” said Professor Pitkin, “explains that a certain type of person can express himself deeply only about those things he yearns for, not about what he understands or possesses.”

The professor then turned to the young man and asked: “Now what would you like most to do?”

“Oh, sail the South Seas and live the life of a freebooting pirate!” was the prompt answer.

“Then write adventure stories!” advised Professor Pitkin. The young man took the advice. Soon he began to receive checks again instead of rejection slips.

The bestselling romance novelist of our time, Danielle Steel, seems to have taken this “don’t stay in love too long” advice to heart: she’s been married and divorced five times. It gets crazier: her first marriage was at only 18, while another marriage was to a man who she met while he was in prison for robbery.

 

Psychiatric First Aid for Fiction Writers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 19, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 17th, 2021 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Life,Literature

The Germans of Tomorrow

A 1921 article by Charles J. Rosebault predicted German youth would depart from their “obedience and reverence” of the past and could very well pave the pathway to world peace. Hate to break it to you…

The German youth, trained and drilled in obedience and reverence, has finally revolted against the mismanagement of the seignors. As might be expected, where all the traditions of the past have been suddenly thrown into the melting pot, there is consternation all around. The elders are upset and the youth are uncertain. The former are trying to pacify and the latter are disposed to experiment. As it is, the youth of today upon whom will fall the burdens of the morrow this condition ceases to be of merely local interest. It is the German youth who must meet the reparations, they who will determine the relations between vanquished and victor and hence the peace of the world.

At the time of this article, Hitler was 32. Did Rosebault consider that an example of German “youth”? Perhaps he did, considering that the actual German president at the time — Friedrich Ebert — was 50. Indeed, Hitler wouldn’t lead Germany for another dozen years after this.

Rosebault ended on a cautiously optimistic note:

In the turning of the young Germans from the works of their elders they may have discarded also the psychology which upset the world. Let us hope so.

Chilling words.

 

The Germans of Tomorrow (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 12, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 10th, 2021 at 1:35 pm

Posted in Future,Overseas

The Prohibition of Laughter

Despite the Roaring Twenties nickname, journalist James C. Young diagnosed a phenomenon sweeping the country in 1921, in his article “The Prohibition of Laughter”: people intentionally seeking out sad forms of entertainment.

Returning players gather in little knots on the Rialto and repeat the same theme — people decline to laugh any more. Victor Herbert was one of the first men to isolate the germ of the new ailment, and even he could not prescribe a remedy. Apparently, people no longer visit the theatre to be amused, but, like the famous Louis of France, they want to be miserable together.

In the old times the typical Broadway theatre crowd came from home or restaurant dinner in a mellow mood, glad to escape the day’s trials and ready to join in the fun on the stage. But nowadays they are grim and glum. Their troubles come with them and they sit in critical state on the comedians’ efforts.

Perhaps it was precisely because times were good in 1921? World War I was finally over, as was the 1918-19 flu pandemic — which, by the way, was far worse than the current COVID-19 pandemic. Time and again throughout history, popular culture demonstrates that people seek out more upbeat entertainment to escape their troubles when times are bad, and are psychologically better able to withstand “sad” entertainment when times are good, whether for movies or television or music.

Look at the highest grossing movies of certain years. During the great economies of the late ’90s and mid-to-late 2010s, Titanic was the top movie of 1997, Saving Private Ryan in 1998, American Sniper in 2014, Rogue One in 2016, and Infinity War in 2018. You don’t really see that same phenomenon of tragic movies dominating during “down” years economically, which might explain why the escapist Avatar dominated the box office in 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession.

Same thing for music. Researchers have found that a better economy correlates with chart-topping songs featuring slower tempos and more minor keys. But in 2020, one of the worst years in recent memory, Billboard‘s #1 song of the year was Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, among the fastest tempo chart-toppers of all time at 171 beats per minute.

That correlation holds true for the masses, at least. Among the (supposed) cultural elites, it’s a different story.

In recent years, professional critics and awards voters have seemingly grown to love the depressing and morose more than ever. That was perhaps never better exemplified than this past year, 2020, a year when we certainly could have used lighter films. Best Picture used to be awarded to comedies, from Annie Hall to The Artist. No longer, it appears. Bill Maher lambasted this year’s despairing Best Picture nominees in an April segment on his show Real Time.

This is one reason why Godzilla vs. Kong stomped at the box office last weekend and finally got people back to theaters: because it’s Godzilla vs. Kong, not Godzilla vs. Kong and his Crippling Battle with Depression.

It’s such an odd psychological quirk. I keep asking myself: why so many liberals have this seeming desire to want to be sad? Could it be because being sad allows you to feel like you’re doing something about a problem, without actually having to do anything?

 

The Prohibition of Laughter (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 5, 1921

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Written by Jesse

June 6th, 2021 at 10:01 am

Posted in Life

Democracy by Lot — A College Experiment

In 1921, Knox College in Illinois attempted a new way to break students out of their social comfort zones: randomly selecting the seating arrangements at the dining hall.

Here, in a dining hall seating 200 men, they come together three times a day, as a part of a deliberate plan for developing democratic spirit and avoiding the formation of cliques. Each man draws lots each week to determine at which of the twenty ten-men tables he shall eat with nine other chance comrades. In this way there is a general shaking up every seven days, and a different group of undergraduates is assembled at each table.

So, did it work?

“The system has had a good trial year and has met with complete success,” President McConaughy said in a recent interivew. [Note for modern readers: that’s indeed spelled McConaughy, not McConaughey as in the actor Matthew.] “It is supplying that intangible something without which no student’s education is complete, but which must be got outside the classroom. It brings all the men of the college together on terms of equality and fosters friendships which cannot be gained through any group association.”

If it truly “met with complete success,” one might think Knox would still do it today. But in my searching, I found zero references to a modern continuation. Still, it sounds like something that more people should try. Although one could argue that we have a global equivalent now, in the form of Chatroulette.

 

Democracy by Lot — A College Experiment (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 29, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 26th, 2021 at 8:51 am

Posted in Education

Mortal Actors and Immortal Film Faces

In theater, if a cast member dies, every actor or actress has an understudy who can substitute in the next night. In the early years of the movie business, though, a new concern emerged: what if a cast member dies in the middle of filming?
That exact situation happened for the 1922 movie Foolish Wives, when star Rudolph Christians died mid-production. Filming had already cost roughly $750,000 (about $11.9 million in 2021 dollars).

And so the country-wide search began for an actor who looked like Christians and who also could act like him — like that shadow of a man which had imprinted a personality indelibly upon a cool $750,000 worth of film. The agencies of New York and Los Angeles went to work. Pictures of the deceased actor were sent far and near. Established actors came scurrying to find a resemblance, since the prevailing inactivity of the regular producing companies made the opportunity of treble importance.

Many of them did look like Christians. But those that looked like him did not act like him, and those that acted like him did not look like him. And the camera is the one eye that strips off disguises. Yet they found a duplicate at last — in Robert Edeson. Not only do his features resemble Christians’s, more or less, feature for feature, but he was able to copy the dead actor’s mannerisms. With trick lighting to mask the camera’s eye, even close-ups have proven successful. The three-quarters of a million dollars is saved that for months hung in the balance.

Apparently, Edeson didn’t look similar enough, since in the final cut he ended up playing all of his scenes with his back to the camera.

With modern-day CGI, they wouldn’t have needed to cast a lookalike. In the past few years, photo-realistic facial reconstruction visual effects have been essentially perfected, even recreating deceased actor Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

 

Mortal Actors and Immortal Film Faces (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 22, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 21st, 2021 at 9:13 am

Posted in Movies

The Future of the Novel

A 1921 article predicted novels would move towards action and adventure.

That happened… eventually. While the biggest novels of recent decades have been action-heavy, perhaps the least action-heavy classic ever — Ulysses by James Joyce — was published only the next year.

This is the age of the airplane, the wireless telegraph, of radium, of “relativity.” Very well! It is also the age of the novel. Perhaps the future will create a new literary genre such as no one can at present foresee, but for the moment the novel is the summary of modern life; and when people ask what the literature of the coming years is going to be, the question they really ask is: What kind of a novel is the public going to read?

Indeed, an explosion in novel formats has occurred in recent years and decades, from e-books to audiobooks to fan fiction to books written with serialized chapters online.

Which of these two types will the novel of the future… approach? Will we have more and more realism, as the tendency seemed to be in 1914? Or will we turn back to the old novel of adventure, of action?

The novel of adventure is becoming fashionable again in Europe. Not only are publishers accepting new books of this kind, but they are reprinting many stories that were written a generation ago, but had no success at that time — the heyday of the naturalists.

Particularly interesting, for instance, is the new vogue of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Continentals who had read “Treasure Island” in the years following the publication of that masterpiece of adventure could be counted almost on the fingers of the hand. Now Stevenson is all the rage.

In the last 30 years, the biggest authors have included J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, Suzanne Collins, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, Veronica Roth, and Michael Crichton. There’s still a place for realism in fiction, but increasingly that place doesn’t seem to be on the bestseller list.

 

The Future of the Novel (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 15, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 14th, 2021 at 11:31 am

Posted in Future,Literature

Enjoying the Presidency

A few months into office in 1921, Warren Harding had returned fun to the White House, resurrecting the Easter Egg Roll, the presidential tradition of throwing the baseball season’s opening pitch, and corresponding with letter writers on apolitical topics.

The Easter Egg Roll had been cancelled in 1918 due to wartime egg shortages, but President Woodrow Wilson hadn’t bring it back in 1919 or 1920 either.

It was characteristic, also, that [Harding] should order restored the ancient custom of staging an egg-rolling contest on the White House grounds on the Monday following Easter Sunday. He frankly enjoyed watching the children at play and observed the pleasure of the crowds obtained in the opportunity of viewing the White House at close range.

After William Howard Taft began the opening day ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910, it continued every year through 1916, but Wilson again suspended the tradition from 1917-20.

And [Harding] enjoys a baseball game — in fact, he may be called a fan. He agreed to open the American League season at Washington by tossing the first ball out upon the diamond, not solely because it was a thing which he was expected to do, but because he wanted to have a good time at the game. He even kept a box score, following each play and joining in the applause. He didn’t just hurry to the ball park, look on for a few minutes, and then hurry away. He stayed to the bitter end.

Harding also corresponded with letters writers who wrote him on less-than-serious matters. 12-year-old John D. Wackerman wanted Harding to attend a ball that would raise money for a local swimming pool. Harding deemed this worthy of presidential attention.

My dear John:

I received your letter this morning, saying that the boys were very much disappointed because they had heard I could not attend the ball in the interest of your swimming pool fund. I am exceedingly glad you wrote to me about this, John, because I do not want the boys to think I am not interested in their getting a swimming pool. I have used swimming pools myself, in my time, and there are one or two swimming pools in the creek out near Caledonia, Ohio, that I would like to get into again right now, if it were possible.

You tell the boys that I hope the ball will raise all the money that is needed to provide the pool, and that if some of you will come around to the White House with some tickets, I will buy some, whether I can attend or not.

Yours for the Swimming Pool,

Warren G. Harding

Sure enough, Wackerman visited the White House and Harding gave him a $50 bill — plus Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon chipped in an extra $20.

Others among the more “fun” national leaders have continued the tradition of responding to children’s letters on barely-political subjects, from Ronald Reagan’s note to a seventh grader who requested FEMA assistance after his mom declared his bedroom a disaster area, to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s letter to an 11-year-old girl who requested funds for dragon research.

 

 

Enjoying the Presidency (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 8, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 9th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life,Politics

Einstein on Irrelevancies

Albert Einstein visited the U.S. for the first time in April 1921.

On a two-month tour, ostensibly to raise money for the proposed Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Einstein met President Warren Harding and delivered a series of soldout lectures about his theory of relativity. Harding admitted that he didn’t understand Einstein’s theory at all, and he wasn’t the only one. “I sat in the balcony,” one Einstein lecture attendee told a reporter, “but he talked right over my head anyway.”

While in America, Einstein gave an interview with Don Arnald for the New York Times, in which zero of the questions were about science. Among Einstein’s notable insights and observations about life and culture:

On movies, he though they were mostly bad at the time but predicted they would continually improve. (A prediction that held true up through the ’90s.)

“And the movies? I am enthusiastic about them — I mean for the presentation of living moving things. They will develop more and more. In general, the pictures shown now are not so artistic, but they will get better, very much better, all the time… I think, all in all, the movies are only in their infancy. They are very beautiful, but they will get better, until the best plays can be shown.”

On New York City, which he deemed the best city on earth:

“He is asking what I think of New York. I tell him glorious! I tell him I see here the greatest city in the world, like Paris, like London, only better! I tell him here all people of all nationalities are melted together — and are happy. I tell him the stranger comes here and is full of joy because he goes to his people at once and feels at home.”

On Prohibition, which he argued had its benefits… but drew the line at banning tobacco, which was his personal vice of choice.

“I cannot say alcohol is as bad as people think it is. It may not be so good for men to spend all their wages on drinking. But it is more an economic question than a question of health. I think you will find it best for the economic welfare of the people in the end… If I do not wish to smoke, I say it is excellent to take my tobacco away. But I do wish to smoke, so I say I do not like you to do that.”

Hebrew University would open four years later in 1925, although Einstein’s own tour raised only $750,000 of a hoped-for $4 million towards the project.

This was hardly the last time he would visit the U.S. To escape persecution, he fled Germany in January 1932, the month before Hitler rose to power. Because of his Judaism and doubly because of his public criticisms of Hitler and Nazism, Einstein likely would have been killed had he remained in Europe. Instead, he spent the remaining 23 years of his life peacefully in the U.S.

 

 

Einstein on Irrelevancies (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 1, 1921

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Written by Jesse

April 30th, 2021 at 10:01 am

Posted in Interview,Science

Doctor by Any Other Name

Last December, controversy swirled when a Wall Street Journal op-ed argued Jill Biden shouldn’t go by “Dr. Jill.” The same debate occurred a century prior, when in 1921 a group at UVA formed the Society for the Rationalization of the Title of Doctor.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine covered the story:

“It may be that the hovering spirit of Thomas Jefferson, renowned, whether justly or not, for conspicuously democratic habits and behavior, moved the professors at the university which he founded to declare that all men were not only free and equal but should show it by wearing the same title.”

So should the title “doctor” be reserved solely for physicians? The article also quoted Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, who argued that even physicians shouldn’t:

“I see no reason why the disagreeable habit of addressing certain persons by the title of doctor should not be done away with entirely,” he said to an inquirer the other day. “And there is no more reason for addressing a doctor of medicine as doctor than for so addressing a doctor of philosophy, of laws, or of theological. In fact, in England it is not done.”

The other side of the argument was that everybody who earns a doctorate should be called “doctor,” including Ph.D.’s and others.

How about the horn-rimmed-spectacled young man who has just won his degree by presenting the world with a thick volume entitled “The Intensive Use of  Skylights in the Monasteries of the Thirteenth Century,” with voluminous footnotes abounding in Latin on each page? And the other young man who has been similarly rewarded for his thesis on “The Declining Prestige of the Preposition ‘Ab’ After the Second Punic War.” And he who has chased the parts of speech all the way from H.G. Wells back to Chaucer and is off the press with a tome demonstrating beyond a doubt that Pope was more fond of intransitive verbs than was Francis Bacon? What of these? And of thousands of others like them? Is it not cruel and unusual punishment to deprive them of the glory for which they have so faithfully labored?

The debate continues today. Conservative author Joseph Epstein published a December 2020 Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that incoming First Lady Jill Biden shouldn’t call herself “Dr.”

The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences. Getting a doctorate was then an arduous proceeding: One had to pass examinations in two foreign languages, one of them Greek or Latin, defend one’s thesis, and take an oral examination on general knowledge in one’s field. At Columbia University of an earlier day, a secretary sat outside the room where these examinations were administered, a pitcher of water and a glass on her desk. The water and glass were there for the candidates who fainted. A far cry, this, from the few doctoral examinations I sat in on during my teaching days, where candidates and teachers addressed one another by first names and the general atmosphere more resembled a kaffeeklatsch. Dr. Jill, I note you acquired your Ed.D. as recently as 15 years ago at age 55, or long after the terror had departed.

Jill Biden defended herself on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

That was such a surprise. It was really the tone of it. He called me ‘kiddo.’ One of the things I’m most proud of is my doctorate. I worked so hard for it. Joe came when I defended my thesis. But look at all the people who came out in support of me.”

I won’t wade into the debate over whether Jill Biden should call herself “Dr.” but hopefully we can all agree that Dr. Dre never received his doctorate. That man has been inflating his academic credentials since the late ’80s.

 

Doctor by Any Other Name (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 24, 1921

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Written by Jesse

April 23rd, 2021 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Debate,Health

The Stranger Within the Gates

New York state passed its first antidiscrimination law in 1895, yet in 1921 it was still being flouted by businesses in all sorts of underhanded ways.

But, of course, in actual practice, the suave young hotel clerk practices just such discriminations every day in the week. If he sees you coming and registers his inward objection, “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell,” the best he can promise is a room in the annex, week after next. Experience has rendered him 100 per cent. efficient in turning down the unwelcome stranger, whether it be a too-swarthy gentleman from Haiti or South America or an unsterilized appearing customer who might be the forerunner of the Bolshevist convention.

So what recourse did a refused would-be customer have to right this wrong? In 1921, not much. Which explains why most of them didn’t try.

The applicant rebuffed may be mortally certain that the clerk’s declaration, “No room,” is a downright lie; but in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand the bona fida applicant slinks away meekly enough, to seek refuse elsewhere. The thousandth man makes a test case of himself in court, with all the hotel forces arrayed against him to swear that the facts were quite different from those that he states. If he does win his case, the jury may award him 6 cents damages.

It took another few decades before the problem would actually be solved, not just in law but in reality. Much of that effort was accomplished by individual New Yorkers striving to change the system one by one, business by business, as Michael Woodsworth described in his 2016 book Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City —

Activists across New York City worked to end informal segregation by sending out “testers” to hundreds of restaurants known to exclude black clientele. Though largely successful, these challenges gained less press coverage than the wave of lunch-counter sit-ins that swept the South after 1960. Ironically, the problem for New York activists was that segregation was illegal, even if it persisted on the ground. They could not hope to deal a fatal blow to the Jim Crow system, since the Jim Crow system did not officially exist. Because discrimination endured in so many restaurants, hotels, and construction sites, despite laws to the contrary, assailing it required hundreds upon hundreds of individual challenges. No wonder that Brooklynites were eager to identify with the more dramatic — and more dangerous — Southern campaigns, to which Bed-Stuy activists often lent a hand in person.

Fortunately for all of us, the Jim Crow system was dismantled by law, just as New York City’s culture of business discrimination was largely dissolved through changing culture norms. (Note the word largely. Although you don’t see businesses outright refusing to seat customers based on their race or ethnicity anymore, that same person’s ease in hailing a New York City cab may tell a different story.)

Actually, in the past few years, the single most prominent controversy in the U.S. regarding a private business’s refusal to accept somebody was a Virginia restaurant’s refusal to seat a straight white person, because they worked for the Trump administration.

 

The Stranger Within the Gates (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 17, 1921

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Written by Jesse

April 16th, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Life

Our Kill-Joy Autocracy

Prohibition’s ratification was but one piece of evidence revealing a larger trend: by 1921, wrote columnist Charles Hanson Towne, America was being run by “killjoys.”

There is one maddening phase of all this nonsense — a point that pricks a sensible citizen to the bone — and that is the fact that the minority who got together and did it to us are the type of folk whom we wouldn’t like to go out to dinner with in any circumstances; a pack of kill-joys who, even were they willing to absorb all the cocktails and champagne in the world, couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be called “good fellows.”

While there’s no longer Prohibition, the same “killjoy” mentality could also be said of many of our most prominent politicians in the modern era. On the Democratic side, you have Hillary Clinton, who was parodied to a T with this fake op-ed in The Onion:

On the Republican side, Donald Trump refused to attend all three in-person White House Correspondent’s Dinners during his presidency, breaking a decades-long uninterrupted presidential tradition where the commander-in-chief was willing to endure all the jokes made about him. And as for whether Mitch McConnell is fun, I’ll let Barack Obama answer that:

 

Our Kill-Joy Autocracy (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 3, 1921

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Written by Jesse

April 2nd, 2021 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Life

Mrs. Grundy On the Job of Reforming the Flapper

In 1921, a debate raged among people over a certain age: how to reverse this disturbing new trend of young “flapper” women?

In a general way the plans can be pigeonholed into two groups. There is the plan to chaperon [sic] the flappers on automobile rides and dances. And there is the diametrically opposed plan to develop in them self-government. Since the Young Things have got out into the great wicked world, argue the propagandists of the latter school, parents should put the responsibility up to the girls themselves to take care of themselves and keep up the old standards.

Apparently it went without saying at the time that the flappers were obviously “bad,” and the only debate to be had was not whether they were good or bad, but how to reform them.

Rhode Island’s Brown University — which since the late ’60s has earned a reputation for progressive politics, activism, and social attitudes — took quite the opposite approach in 1921.

One of the most amusing “plans” comes from Brown University. There the student editors of the student magazine have set out to “reform” the girls at their dances, by assuring them through the college press that the boys really prefer the girls who do not take to “petting.” One youth recounts in print his experience as he walked on the campus with the girl of his dreams. Just as he was reverently picturing her in the bridal veil, his emotions too holy even to touch her hand, his dreams were crudely dispelled by the lady’s announcing practically:

“Here, we’re wasting time in this moonlight.” Trembling with emotion, she ardently clutched his arm.

The editor sternly informs all flappers who henceforth shall attend Brown dances that men don’t like to have advances made — that men yearn for the old-fashioned reluctantly yielding type of female.

What actually caused the demise of flappers? The Great Depression. According to this Smithsonian Magazine article by Skidmore College professor of English Linda Simon, author of Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper, “Flappers receded from American life after the Great Depression pulled the plug on all the revelry.” So apparently there should have been a third idea at the debate in 1921: “chaperone the flappers,” “develop in them self-government,” and “destroy the global economy.”

 

Mrs. Grundy On the Job of Reforming the Flapper (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 27, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 24th, 2021 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Life

Should Women Choose Their Mates?

As women gained voting rights and more independence in 1921, a debate raged: should women choose their mates? Maude Radford Warren gathered several young men and women together to discuss the question for the New York Times Magazine.

This concept was so novel that first it had to be defined.

“Choosing,” said one of the men, “means that a girl meets a man, becomes friends with him, and then says, ‘By George,’ or words to that effect, ‘I’m going to marry that fellow.’ Then she goes after him. She invites him to call and to dine; provides him tickets to this and that entertainment, which she buys, but which she usually pretends were given her. When she sees him at other people’s houses she manages to be in the group with him. She can’t conceal that she’s after him, and unless he is an awful ass she doesn’t get him. If he is a vain fellow, being chased like that tickles his vanity, but mostly it makes him feel like a fool and ashamed of the girl.”

(When I’m dating, a woman using the phrase “By George” would be a dealbreaker.)

Men in 1921 weren’t having this whole “women choose” business.

“I wouldn’t mind,” said one youth, “if a girl showed she wanted to be friends with me, and went fully half the way in that. I’d really rather take that as a compliment. But after that if she overstepped the limits of comradeship one inch, and got into sentiment — goodnight nurse! She’d never see me again.”

Meanwhile, women weren’t having that.

It had been a manifest effort for Mr. 1921 to say this, and his listeners appreciated his contribution so fully that the slight sounds they emitted seemed more like gentle sighs than the gentle groans they really were.

And today? Any social stigma associated with women going after a man, especially among the younger Millennial and Gen Z generations, has largely faded. Still, old habits die hard: 79.4 percent of heterosexual first messages on Tinder are sent by men.

 

Should Women Choose Their Mates? (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 20, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 19th, 2021 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Debate,Life

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography

Martin van Buren’s autobiography wasn’t published until 1920: 60 years after his death and 80 years after he was last president. That’s like if FDR’s or Herbert Hoover’s memoirs were only published now.

80 years ago in 1941, FDR was president. Excluding JFK, the president who died closest to 60 years ago (of natural causes) was Herbert Hoover in 1964.

Van Buren’s autobiography, with the captivating title The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, is now in the public domain and available to read in full here:

https://archive.org/details/cu31924024892709

This New York Times Magazine review in March 1921 gave the book a stirring review:

The story of the fight over the United States Bank was never so clearly told, and in Van Buren’s hands it becomes a matter of absorbing interest. But that may be said of everything he writes.

It is a most remarkable book, a great autobiography despite its incompleteness. It covers an immense amount of ground, including the early days of Tammany Hall, and is embellished with the shrewdest and most thought-provoking commentaries on life and politics. He had a great reputation for common sense when he was alive, and his memoir proves that if anything it was underestimated.

You be the judge.

Here (and copied below) is the actual final paragraph of the book. To be fair, death stopped van Buren from writing further, so perhaps this should not be judged among the great endings in literary history. Still, if you can make it through this entire paragraph, you deserve a prize.

This charge which was also submitted to in silence, was not specifically applied to in silence, was not specifically applied to the $10,000 debt at the mother bank; but the extreme probability that such an occurrence could have happened at the Boston branch; and its being so much in harmony with the other transactions by which the advance of the ten or fifteen thousand dollars, obtained from Mr. Biddle at his country seat was characterized leaves scarcely a doubt that such was their meaning — and if so, and if the statements were well founded, we have here the explanation of Mr. Biddle’s persistent silence upon the subject. But be that as it may, one thing is, I fear, morally certain, if the notes and professed securities of the bank were reserved from the sale to the manufacturers of its archives by the ton, as waste paper, before referred to, have been preserved, and but a tithe of the reports of the heavy losses which that institution sustained from its loans to Mr. Webster, on straw securities, so prevalent at the time of its total failure, and then generally credited, be true, the note that was given for those ten or fifteen thousand dollars, or its representative, equally worthless, will be found amongst them. If so, and without the slightest personal knowledge upon the point, I feel as confident of the fact as I do of my existence, farther explorations of the dusty labyrinth of a defunct bank parlor, to trace the real character of the principal transaction, would seem to be superfluous, and the reader will decide whether, in such an event, farther speculations in regard to the political ethics or official purity of Daniel Webster would be equally useless.

 

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 13, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 11th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in Books,History,Politics

Too Much “Verboten”

This 1921 column made an interesting case for why Prohibition should be ignored: because the constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race was also being ignored.

Charles Hanson Towne wrote for the New York Times Magazine, describing his hypothetical monologue on the stand if he was arrested for drinking:

I know what I should do. I have my little speech all prepared in my mind against such a moment.

“Your Honor,” I would say, “I am a good American citizen. I love my country more than I love anything in this world. I wish to obey its laws even when they are as unintelligent as this one under which I have been brought before you. But I cannot; and I notice, your Honor, that I am not alone in my stupidity. How can I take seriously the Eighteenth Amendment to our Constitution, when the Fifteenth is not enforced? When that is attended to, I will begin to consider [sanity] of this amendment amendment which so flagrantly interferes with my personal liberty.”

The Eighteenth Amendment would be repealed in 1933. The Fifteenth Amendment would truly be nationally enforced starting in the mid-1960s.

 

Too Much ‘Verboten’ (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 6, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 5th, 2021 at 7:01 am

Posted in Life

Woodrow Wilson’s Administration: Eight Years of the World’s Greatest History

During Wilson’s last week as president, his reputation was already trending upward, due to blunders by President-elect Harding. As this March 1921 New York Times Magazine article noted:

The President’s unpopularity had been so violently expressed by the election of Nov. 2 that it was bound to be mitigated soon after, and this natural reaction was aided by the failure of the Republican Congress to accomplish anything in the short session and by President-elect Harding’s slowness in deciding among candidates offered for the Cabinet and policies put forward for his attention. As President Wilson prepared to turn over the executive duties to his successor there was already evidence that the American public was returning to a greater appreciation of his services.

Indeed, in C-SPAN’S 2017 survey of historians, Wilson ranked as America’s #11 president; Harding only ranked #40 of 43.

Wilson has certainly slipped a bit, from #6 in 2000, down to #9 in 2009, down again to #11 in 2017. If the survey is ever conducted again, he will almost certainly fall further from that #11 spot, given increasing criticisms of his views on race in recent years. Last year, for example, Princeton University renamed their Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Still, it’s impossible to imagine Wilson ever ranking in the bottom half of presidents. No matter how much historical revisionism drops his rank, he’s in no danger of ranking anywhere close to Harding, whose standing has shifted a few spots over the years but perpetually remained among the bottom five presidents all time.

 

Woodrow Wilson’s Administration: Eight Years of the World’s Greatest History (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 27, 2021

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Written by Jesse

February 28th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in History,Politics

How Germany Will Pay

This 1921 article questioned how Germany would ever pay off its World War I debts. The answer: very, very slowly. They only finished paying those debts in 2010.

Some day Germany will pay. How much and when are problems still to be decided. Cotinuance of divided councils among the Allies, more particularly within France, may defer the solutions for some time; but pay she will.

Part of the solution came from future Vice President Charles G. Dawes, who as a member of the Allied Reparations Commission in 1924 suggested a system whereby them U.S. would lend money to Germany, which in turn would pay back what they owed to the U.K. and France. The plan won Dawes the 1925 Nobel Prize.

Alas, the plan’s success proved short-lived. First, Germany suspended the payments in 1931 during the global Great Depression, although they’d only paid about one-eighth of what they owed at the time. Then, Hitler refused to continue the payments once in power. Germany split into East and West in 1949, and West Germany specifically agreed to resume World War I debt payments in 1953, paying off the principle during the 1980s. After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the country continued paying off the interest — not finishing until 2010.

Slow and steady wins the race.

 

How Germany Will Pay (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 20, 1921

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Written by Jesse

February 21st, 2021 at 9:59 am

Americanization by Addition

When immigrants from certain more “expressive” European countries would move to America circa 1921, the prevailing culture of the U.S. forced them to bottle up their emotions.

In the old countries art was the outlet for emotions — not, as with us, a thing that you put in a frame or on a talking machine. When the peasant feels emotion he sings. He sings when he is glad and he sings when he suffers. He sings when he worships.

Who has ever heard the Italian or Hungarian or Pollack peasant sing at the top of his lungs as he walks past Macdougal Street? Probably, if he did, he would be arrested for “disorderly conduct.” In America we don’t do street singing unless we happen to be drunk.

But in Europe the history of the emotions and experiences of its peoples are written in its folk songs — a history that now is locked behind the lips of the newcomers.

Then again, other European nations can make the U.S. seem incredibly expressive by comparison.

 

Americanization by Addition (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 13, 1921

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Written by Jesse

February 14th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life

Pocket Flask and Younger Set

By the second year of Prohibition, a generational divide had emerged: young people used hip flasks to consume alcohol, while older people mostly did not.

Something has really happened to cleave the Young Generation of today from the generations that have gone before it. Something specific has happened in the history of sociology to mark the two sides of 1920-21 as the Before and After Taking.

Once in a half century something does really happen that cleanly cleaves the past from the present — something that ushers in a new social era… It is so today, when the hip-pocket flask has got into mixed society.

New Jersey Gov. Edward I. Edwards, a teetotaler himself, noted that the rise of young people using hip flasks should have been an expected consequence of removing drinking out of the public eye.

“Those of us who opposed prohibition through no self-interested motives foresaw just this wild abandon that comes of bottling up the human inclinations. The openness of drinking was what protected it. With their elders and contemporaries sure to be looking on at any results of drinking, moderation was the natural, self-interested thing for the young.”

“They’ve merely succeeded in making a crime and a mystery of drinking. Instead of a responsible hostess serving young girls a glass of wine at her table, young girls are getting off to secret places to be served a surreptitious drink from some young man’s pocket.”

While the heyday of hip flasks is probably considered to have occurred decades ago in the U.S., market research company Transparency Market Research forecasts the product’s sales to increase internationally between now and 2027.

 

Pocket Flask and Younger Set (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 6, 1921

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Written by Jesse

February 3rd, 2021 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Development,Life

Woman at the Ring Side

Boxing was illegalized in New York state in 1896, then legalized in 1911, then re-illegalized in 1917, then re-legalized for the final time in 1920. And this time, something was new: women were attending the matches.

Spurred on partly by the previous year’s ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women voting rights previously reserved for men, women also sought admission to a group previously nearly all-male: boxing spectators. As this 1921 article described:

Scattered through the audience are all grades of femininity — from the stout blond sportswoman who sits on the bleachers at the races and gets her “tips” from a friend that’s married to a jockey, to a box full of the best New York society… Boxing bouts have been taken up by all sorts of women — from Anne Morgan, who would turn their proceeds into the useful channels of war relief, to the two little shopgirls, powdering their noses at the Garden, who have been brought by their men friends to see the show.

Why were women taking to this sport above many other sports? The article suggests, with a more-than-patronizing subtext, that it was essentially because women would have a harder time understanding any of the other sports.

Women are at the fights to stay… because at a boxing bout no special education is required to understand what is going on, because what the contestants are trying to do to each other is so direct and simple. The uninitiatied lady asks no questions of her escort. That alone should be enough to give permanency to the new custom of taking her. The contestants so conveniently carry their goals with them that she can’t get mixed up about which side is winning. And, even if she does lose count, there are the simple remarks of her neighbors to save the day.

Imagine telling somebody in 1921 to forget about women merely watching boxing, but that women’s boxing itself would one day become an Olympic sport. While men’s boxing had been an event in the Games since 1904, women’s boxing was added in 2012.

 

Woman at the Ring Side (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 30, 2021

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Written by Jesse

January 29th, 2021 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Sports