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

This week, the New York Times Magazine became ‘Book Review and Magazine’

100 years ago this week, the New York Times combined their previously-separate Magazine and Book Review sections into one larger section on Sundays. If any history buffs or NYT aficionados know why they made this change, please feel free to comment below or send me a message. The Times didn’t seem to explain why anywhere else in the Sunday, June 27, 1920 issue, so far as I can find.

The two sections are distinct these days, so at some point in the past century they were separated once again. I’m not easily finding a record of when that occurred. For all I know, it might have been years or even decades after the 1920 merger.

In the name of consistency, I’m going to continue posting only the most interesting magazine features from 100 years ago to the week, and not the book reviews. There’s a reason this website isn’t titled SundayBookReview.org!

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Written by Jesse

June 26th, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

That Ideal Campaign Front Porch

On the 1920 campaign trail, future President Warren G. Harding revealed his perfect formula for eating waffles:

You eat the first fourteen waffles without syrup, but with lots of butter. Then you put syrup on the next nine, and the last half-dozen you eat just simply swimming in syrup. Eaten that way, waffles never hurt anybody.

Actually, it did hurt somebody: Harding. His formula for the best way to eat 29 straight waffles may have contributed to his death by cardiac arrest three years later, as one of four presidents to die in office of natural causes.

 

That Ideal Campaign Front Porch: Candidate to Follow Example of McKinley, One of His Political Heroes – Mrs. Harding, “The Duchess,” as a Waffle-Maker (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 20, 1920

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Written by Jesse

June 18th, 2020 at 10:19 am

Posted in Food,Life,Politics

Outlawed Whisky and the Bootlegger’s Big Profits

On this week a century ago, the Supreme Court upheld Prohibition as constitutional. That same week, a New York Times article reported that a startling amount of alcohol was being withdrawn from government warehouses “for non-beverage purposes.” Sure.

In March, 1919, before Federal prohibition went into effect, there was withdrawn from Government warehouses… 3,589,863 gallons taken out for beverage purposes. In March of this year, for purposes alleged to be non-beverage, 4,016,983 gallons of distilled spirits were withdrawn; that is, nealry half a million gallons more than the quantity taken out of bond in March a year ago for beverage purposes.

That could only mean one thing.

Most of the non-beverage whisky was used formerly for medicinal purposes; records show that in the past around 1,000,000 galoons were withdrawn a month for non-beverage use, and the inference is plain that a great part of the remaining 3,000,000 gallons taken out in March of this year was obtained in violation of the intent of the law.

As for the Supreme Court in June 1920, they ruled:

The prohibition of the manufacture, sale, transportation, importation and exportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes, as embodied in the Eighteenth Amendment, is within the power to amend reserved by Article V of the Constitution. That Amendment, by lawful proposal and ratification, has become a part of the Constitution, and must be respected and given effect the same as other provisions of that instrument.

 

Outlawed Whisky and the Bootlegger’s Big Profits: With the Country’s Bone Dry State Confirmed by the Supreme Court, a Barrel of Corn Liquor Brings $2,000 and “Non-Beverage” Withdrawals from Bond Mount Amazingly (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 13, 2020

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Written by Jesse

June 11th, 2020 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Life

Tennis, A World Sport Epidemic

In 1920, one of the fastest-growing U.S. sports was tennis. From 2010 to 2018, though, the sport’s U.S. participation rate declined -5%.

First, 1920. This contemporary article, which uses the spelling “racquet” when describing the equipment, says tennis is “the game that… is gaining popularity more rapidly than ever.”

The 1920 article’s estimate of “more than three million tennis players in this country” meant roughly 2.8% of the population at the time. The most recent annual report from the Tennis Industry Association estimates 17.8 million Americans played tennis in 2018, or about 5.4% of the population.

So the percentage of the population playing tennis has roughly doubled in the past century. That’s the good news for the sport. The bad news it that the trend lines have reversed since 2010, with tennis participation declining by -5% from 2010 to 2018, following a +44% increase from 2000 to 2010.

It probably doesn’t help that no American male has won any of the sport’s four major annual “Grand Slam” titles — the U.S. Open, Australian Open, French Open, or Wimbledon — since Andy Roddick in 2003.

 

 

Tennis, A World Sport Epidemic: In This Country All Ages and Both Sexes Are Wielding the Racquet With Increasing Joy and Skill (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 6, 1920

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Written by Jesse

June 4th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Sports

Penrose as Potential President Maker in Chicago

A week before the 1920 Republican convention, an article suggested Pennsylvania Sen. Boies Penrose could decide the party’s presidential nominee. As it turns out, he kind of did.

Heretofore the Old Guard has had more than one man capable of playing this part behind the scenes, with the loyalty of the ingrained partisan who in an hour of crisis will set aside personal fortunes and personal choice for the sake of harmony. In the last Republican convention there were two leaders of this kind — Murray Crane of Massachusetts and Boies Penrose of Pennsylvania. With the announced retirement of Mr. Crane as the National Committeeman from the Bay State, the authoritative organization leadership of the Old Guard, formerly divided among several, is concentrated in the hands of Senator Penrose.

Here’s what ultimately happened, according to the book Selling the President, 1920: Albert D. Lasker, Advertising, and the Election of Warren G. Harding by John A. Morello.

There may not have been a “smoke-filled” hotel room in Harding’s journey to the presidency, but there was a hotel room… It belonged to Boies Penrose, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, who in the summer of 1919 took it upon himself to find a presidential candidate. He was looking for someone with whom conservative Republican senators could work, and most likely do their bidding.

He was also worried about Leonard Wood. Republican Progressives were gravitating toward Wood in the wake of Theodore Roosevelt’s death. They seemed energized, and that spelled trouble for Old Guard Republicans such as Penrose. Penrose eventually settled on Harding as someone who could stand up to Wood, as well as go along with party elders.

Penrose’s influence ultimately helped Harding secure both the nomination and the presidency.

To him, Harding looked like presidential material and would be a safe bet for the Republican Party in 1920. Harding wasn’t a boat rocker; Penrose felt confident Harding would listen to him and other leaders and do what he was asked. That may be one key in trying to unlock the mystery of how Warren Harding, possessing some latent presidential ambitions but riddled with doubt about his chances, managed to become the Republican nominee for president.

As the nominee Harding could do what neither Lowden, Wood, or Johnson could — that is, parlay his apparent ambivalence on issues such as the League of Nations into something that would hold together all wings of the Republican Party until November. He truly seemed to be the essence of conciliation and compromise.

This is a similar strategy to the one Democrats are currently taking by nominating Joe Biden for president. Whether it will result in the same White House occupancy as Harding earned, we’ll have to wait until November to find out.

 

Penrose as Potential President Maker in Chicago: Pennsylvania Senator’s Leadership of the Old Guard, His Solid Backing in His Own State and His Skill as Arch-Politician, May Give Him Deciding Voice in Spite of Ill-Health (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 30, 1920

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Written by Jesse

May 28th, 2020 at 9:16 am

Posted in Politics

Population Centre Moving East, Cities Lead

Several questions about U.S. population trends loomed over the 1920 Census. Here they were, along with their ultimate answers.

Are we entering on a new period in which our proportionate increase in population will be less than in the past?

Yes. The growth rate between 1910 and 1920 was +14.9%, the lowest on record up to that point.

The growth rate now is even lower than that. The population from 2000-10 grew at +9.7%, the second-lowest ever. Current projections for 2010-20 are for a growth rate of +7.7%, which would also be the second-lowest ever.

Is urban population for the first time in the history of the country to take lead over rural population?

Yes. According to the Census Bureau, “The 1920 census marked the first time in which over 50 percent of the U.S. population was defined as urban.”

By the 2010 Census, that number had jumped to 80.7%.

Has the great movement westward, which has been an outstanding feature in every census, slowed up, and, with the vast industrial growh in the East, is the centre of population to be stopped in its westward course and return a few points toward the East?

Yes. The median center of population had moved westward every decade between 1880 and 1910, but moved both slightly east and slightly north in 1920, from eastern Indiana to western Ohio.

It moved slightly east again in 1930, but has since moved both west and south every decade since. As of 2010, it’s located near Petersburg in southwestern Indiana.

 

 

Median Center of Population for the United States: 1880 to 2010

Population Centre Moving East, Cities Lead: Early Figures of New Census Seem to Promise This and Indicate Slowing Up of General Increase Rate to About Fifteen Per Cent. — Effect of Industrial Progress Speeded Up by War (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 23, 1920

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Written by Jesse

May 19th, 2020 at 11:21 am

From Sorceress to Saint

In May 1920, Joan of Arc was declared a saint by the Catholic Church, almost 500 years after being burned at the stake for heresy.

After claiming she heard voices telling her to liberate France from English rule, she helped lead French forces as a teenager. Pro-English clergy captured her, found her guilty of heresy, and burned her at the stake in 1431, at age 19.

But a quarter century later, in 1456, Pope Callixtus III authorized a posthumous retrial for Joan, an ardent Catholic. The retrial officially declared her innocent, after 115 witnesses were called.

Almost five centuries later, Pope Benedict XV declared her a saint. He only declared four people as saints during his tenure. That number has increased dramatically with the last three popes, who have each declared dozens and dozens of people as saints.

According to this Washington Post graphic, the three most recent popes have surged the rate of saint declarations. This 2015 graphic actually considerably understates Pope Francis’s number, since his current total now stands at 56 people delcared as saints, meaning his bar should actually be larger than that of predecessor Pope Benedict XVI.

Source: Kevin Uhrmacher, graphics editor, Washington Post. https://wapo.st/2SV3iab

 

From Sorceress to Saint: Final Canonization of Joan of Are Has Worked This Change in Her Official Ecclesiastical Status (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 16, 1920

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Written by Jesse

May 14th, 2020 at 10:11 am

Posted in Religion

Gov. Frazier’s Own Story of the Non Partisan League

The first U.S. state governor ever to lose their seat in a recall election? 1921: Lynn Frazier, a socialist who led North Dakota.

Frazier was affiliated with the Non-Partisan League (NPL) faction of the Republican Party, a socialist faction which only emerged in 1915 but won Frazier the 1916 election. At the time, North Dakota held governor elections every two years, with Frazier winning second and third terms in both 1918 and 1920. (The governor’s term was changed to every four years starting in 1964.)

As governor, Frazier implemented socialist policies, which were popular with the state’s voters for a time. But an economic downturn hit in 1921, and voters didn’t want to wait until 1922 to potentially throw Frazier out of office. So they successfully petitioned for a recall election in November 1921. Frazier lost in a squeaker, 50.9% to 49.1%.

The year before that, though, Gov. Frazier penned this New York Times article about how well his tenure was going:

Our state legislature enacted into law… state-owned terminal elevators and flour mills, a rural credit bank to be operated at cost, state hall insurance at cost, the exemption of farmers’ improvements from taxation, and a fair and just grain grading act.

It is very easy to see why certain financial interests are bitterly opposed to our organization, and are fighting it in North Dakota; because we are cutting off some of the easy profits that have been made by these interests in the past.

Frazier became the first governor in American history to lose a recall election. Yet although he lost the battle, he won the war, on both the personal and ideological levels. Personally, Frazier would shortly thereafter become a U.S. senator from North Dakota, from 1923 to 1941. Ideologically, six of the state’s subsequent nine governors were affiliated with the Non-Partisan League.

In the 1950s, the state party switched from Republican faction to merging with the Democrats. To this day, one of the two main parties in North Dakota is officially known not as the Democrats, but the North Dakota Democratic–Nonpartisan League Party.

The name change hasn’t done much good. The party last won a North Dakota governor election in 1988.

The only other governor ever successfully recalled was California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, when he was ousted by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

Gov. Frazier’s Own Story of the Non Partisan League: North Dakota Executive, Twice Elected by Farmers in “Anti-Capitalist” Movement, Describes Benefits and Economies Derived from New Form of Government (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 16, 1920

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Written by Jesse

May 13th, 2020 at 10:31 am

Posted in Politics

‘Dark Horses’ in the Coming Presidential Campaign

A month out, who were the dark horses for the Republican and Democratic nominations of 1920?

According to this article, here were some potential surprise candidates to keep an eye on… and how each of their fortunes turned out.

Republicans

Pennsylvania Senator Philander C. Knox. Never officially receiving any votes for the nomination, Knox was seen as a potential compromise candidate. A subsequent New York Times article a month later explained why he didn’t get the nomination:

Various objections to Mr. Knox as a Presidential candidate were raised. He was too old. It was said that he was not in good health. He had voted against woman suffrage and for prohibition. He was from a State that did not need a favorite son at the head of the Presidential ticket to keep it in the Republican Party. And the Knox boom died then and there.

“He was not in good health” proved prescient. Knox died about a year and a half later, in October 1921, at the age of 68.

(Yes, his first name was actually Philander.)

Pennsylvania Governor William Cameron Sproul. Sproul ranked fourth on the initial ballot, the closest he came. He was actually offered the vice presidency, but declined — yet would have become president had he accepted, because Warren Harding died in office.

Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge ranked seventh in the initial ballot, coming as close as sixth in subsequent ballots. Later nominated for vice president. Coolidge became president himself upon Harding’s death.

Kansas Governor Henry Justin Allen. Allen never actually received any votes for the nomination. He would later become a U.S. senator from Kansas.

Democrats:

Vice President Thomas R. Marshall. Marshall ranked sixth in the initial ballot, coming as close as fifth in subsequent ballots. Marshall came exceptionally close to becoming president himself while serving as vice president, due to President Wilson’s stroke which left him almost incapacitated. Marshall spent his post-veep years quietly, returning to private law practice in his native Indiana.

Virginia Senator Carter Glass. Glass ranked 10th in the initial ballot, coming as close as sixth in subsequent ballots. Today, he ranks #31 all time for tenure in Congress, serving for more than 42 years.

Democratic National Committee Chair Homer S. Cummings. Cummings ranked 11th in the initial ballot, coming as close as seventh in subsequent ballots. He would later serve as FDR’s attorney general.

 

 

Secretary of Agriculture Edwin T. Meredith. Meredith ranked ninth in the initial ballot, the closest he came. Honestly, not much happened to him after this.

 

 

 

‘Dark Horses’ in the Coming Presidential Campaign: Chances of Knox, Sproul, Allen, Coolidge, Capper and Other Republicans at Chicago — Democratic Contingencies Include Carter Glass, Cummings, Colby, Meredith, Marshall, Houston, Baker and Daniels (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 9, 1920

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Written by Jesse

May 7th, 2020 at 10:31 am

Posted in Politics

Who’s Who Among Nominees for the Hall of Fame

Of 1920’s seven inductees into NYC’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans, probably only two would be considered household names today: Mark Twain and Patrick Henry.

That year’s honorees feature many names that would stump a modern audience, even a well-educated one. This 2018 New York Times article quoted Cultural Landscape Foundation executive director Charles A. Birnbaum:

The Hall is a monument to “the changing nature of fame itself. That’s one of the reasons it has to endure. That conversation is still going on.”

Here were 1920’s seven inductees:

  1. Mark Twain, the author and humorist most famous for creating the characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and whose quips and witticisms are still quoted today.
  2. Patrick Henry, the Founding Father and Virginia governor most famous for his line “Give me liberty or give me death!”
  3. Roger Williams, the minister who advocated separation of church/state and was an early abolitionist.
  4. Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a sculptor who designed prominent statues including of Abraham Lincoln and William Tecumseh Sherman.
  5. Alice Freeman Palmer, the President of Wellesley College and one of the most prominent advocates for women’s education.
  6. William Thomas Green Morton, the first dentist to use ether as an anesthetic. This 2018 New York Times article cited Morton as one of the three most obscure names in the Hall.
  7. James Buchanan Eads, the inventor who constructed the first steel bridge.

The last three names inducted in 1976 were American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and horticulturist Luther Burbank. Nobody has been added since, and the hall has fallen into disrepair.

Who’s Who Among Nominees for the Hall of Fame: Unusual Number of Foreign-Born Candidates Suggested on This Year’s List — Twenty of the Eighty-Nine Names Will be Chosen by Committee Next Fall — The Famous and Less Famous (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 9, 1920

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Written by Jesse

May 6th, 2020 at 2:21 pm

Posted in History

How Inflation Touches Every Man’s Pocketbook

In 1920, inflation was rampant, with prices double what they’d been five years prior. That would quickly change: prices would peak that June, then decline, fluctuate, and not exceed their June 1920 levels again until November 1946.

What was the primary cause of huge inflation from 1915 to 1920? According to Johns Hopkins political economy professor Jacob Hollander in this article from the time, the primary cause was quantitative easing:

The amount of money which the Government and the banks have supplied the country for the purpose of carrying on its business is twice as great as it was five years ago. The business of the country consists in producing goods and services and in exchanging them.

The amount of things to be exchanged — goods and services — is practically no greater than it was before the war. But we have been supplied with twice as much money to do this exchanging. Consequently two dollars are worth no more than one was before; or, what amount to the same thing, prices have doubled. This condition of having twice as many money units with which to carry on the country’s business is what we mean by inflation.

In other words, it was largely the politicians’ fault:

Inflation is due to the financial mistakes of the Administration at Washington (1) while we were getting ready for war, (2) while we were at war, and (3) after war was over. During each of these periods the Treasury permitted and, indeed, encouraged an increase in the country’s money supply, with the certain prospect of rising prices.

What about in the modern era? As of March 2020, prices were about double what they’d been in April 1990. That means it took about three full decades for prices to double, far more than the five years it took from 1915 to 1920.

 

 

How Inflation Touches Every Man’s Pocketbook: Primer in H.C.L., Prepared by Expert, Shows Why Dollar Does Only Half as Much Work as Before War–Remedies Are Difficult (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 2, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 29th, 2020 at 3:01 pm

Chauncey M. Depew on the Middle Class Union

Advocacy organizations exist for various interests: AARP for the elderly, NRA for gun rights supporters, unions for teachers and transportation workers. In 1920, many proposed a “middle class union” to advocate for the middle class on all issues.

The transportation strike hit the doctor of philosophy who commuted to his classes at Columbia just as it hit the shoe salesman who commuted to Fifth Avenue. At one point their interests were identical, however widely they may have varied at other points.

Wait, but isn’t democratic government in general supposed to represent the middle class? Alas, that institution’s failures on that count were the main factor necessitating a middle class union in 1920, supporters claimed:

It is argued that our Government is designed to do exactly what it is proposed to do by means of a Middle Class Union. In a democracy the ballot is supposed to be the last resort. But when the fruit of the ballot is a legislator whose life is his re-election he often finds his life threatened by a minority organization, while there is no majority organization to reassure him or defend him or bring the majority influence to bear on him.

The final sentence of the article: “Perhaps it will be the next thing on the books — who knows?” We now know… and it wasn’t.

There are a few organizations which somewhat qualify for the title, such as Consumers Union which began in 1936, but they primarily advocate on behalf of the masses for issues like product safety specifically. A general “middle class union” to advocate against transportation strikes and the like? That never really took shape.

 

 

Chauncey M. Depew on the Middle Class Union: Need for Organization of Public to Protect Itself Against Strikers and Profiteers Set Forth by Former Senator–Objectors Answered, Advantages Outlined (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 25, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 25th, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Candidates and Issues Still in Doubt

Three months before 1920’s party conventions, General Leonard Wood and former Treasury Secretary William McAdoo were the Republican and Democratic frontrunners, respectively. Neither became the nominee.

For the Republicans, Wood actually earned the most votes on the convention’s first ballot, but at 29.2% didn’t claim a majority, so voting continued. He continued leading on the second through eighth ballots, but not enough to claim victory. As the other main contender Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden slowly lost much of his support, many gradually flocked to Ohio Sen. Warren Harding, who had only finished an astonishingly low sixth place initially. Harding finally took the lead on the ninth ballot, claiming an outright majority on the 10th and clinching the nomination.

For the Democrats, the process somehow took even longer… more than four times longer. McAdoo earned the most votes on the convention’s first ballot, but at 24.3% didn’t claim a majority, so voting continued. He continued leading on the second through 11th ballots, when the lead was taken by Ohio Gov. James M. Cox, who had finished third initially. McAdoo and Cox continued fighting back and forth, with McAdoo actually reclaiming the lead on the 30th through 38th ballots. But Cox finally clinched the nomination on the 44th ballot.

The two party’s conventions look to be much less down-to-the-wire in 2020. Actually, if social distancing guidelines still remain in effect by August, there might be no in-person conventions at all.

 

Candidates and Issues Still in Doubt: Open Question for Conventions — But Wood for Republicans and McAdoo for Democrats Now Seem to Have Best Chances (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 18, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 19th, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Politics

The Anti-Wilson ‘Mania’

Woodrow Wilson was unpopular near his presidency’s end, but how would he be remembered by history? This 1920 article predicted he’d be remembered well. By 2017, a C-SPAN survey of historians ranked him the 11th-best president.

The 1920 article noted that Wilson was hated by many during his own lifetime, just like Washington and Lincoln… who would ultimately rank #2 and #1 in that same C-SPAN survey.

Indeed, so far as the printed page is concerned, it is hard to match even in the unrestrained public press of today in its treatment of Wilson the brutality, insult and viciousness of the newspaper attacks upon Washington, who, it might be supposed, had so far won the gratitude and admiration of his countrymen as to enshrine him forever in their affection and veneration. As for Lincoln, who preserved the nation which Washington had created, can we match in Washington’s day or in Roosevelt’s day or in Wilson’s day the sneers and contempt which dogged his footsteps until the day of his assassination?

So how would Wilson be remembered by history? The 1920 article predicted his ultimately strong historical reputation fairly accurately:

But if Washington’s one track led to the creation of the nation, and Lincoln’s one track led to its preservation from disunion, and Roosevelt’s one track led to its second preservation by stopping the corruption of its governmental sources — to what terminal point will history say that Wilson’s one track has led? Is it not reasonably probably that when history is written it will concern itself little with but one conclusion, namely, that Wilson was chosen — by God, or, if you please, by fate, or by national evolution — to see to it that the war did not end without the creation of some form of international legal organization around which should revolve, under the leadership of the United States, a bona fide effort to make wars of aggression difficult and unpopular; to combat the fool notion that war is a legitimate, if not a desirable, “out-of-door” sport for civilization, and to make it as unfashionable as public opinion has finally made the duel, the slave trade, the lottery and the drunkard — and that he “delivered the goods”!

That being said, Wilson’s reputation seems to be slipping. C-SPAN’s 2000 survey ranked Wilson #6, then in 2009 down three spots to #9, then in 2017 down another two spots to #11.

In other words, Wilson dropped five spots from 2000 to 2017. That ties Andrew Jackson for the second-largest drop of any president during that span. Rutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland tied for the largest drop, falling six spots each. (Wondering which president improved the most? Ulysses S. Grant, jumping 11 spots.)

 

The Anti-Wilson ‘Mania’: Analyzed by One Who Finds the President as Lonely and Well-Hated as Lincoln in 1862 (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 18, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 19th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Future,History,Politics

Nonagenarian Suffragist

Despite the stereotype that the elderly are the age group most opposed to societal progress, a 97-year-old male named Stephen Smith was a strong supporter of women’s voting rights in 1920.

He traced his evolution on the issue to his time at Geneva Medical College in 1847, when Elizabeth Blackwell enrolled as the first women in American history to receive a medical degree. As Smith told it:

Geneva Medical College was made up of the rowdiest lot of young ruffians it has ever been my good fortune to meet. I was one of them, so my saying this is all right… So greatly did they manage to disturb the community, that a petition was signed by the people and submitted to the authorities asking that the college be closed as a public nuisance.

There was a distinct change in the manners of the school from that day. Miss Blackwell, a little Quaker woman, with all the pluck in the world, changed that howling mob of boys into a lot of well-mannered, respectful young men. Not the least of her effect on the school was her influence on the instructors.

This, in turn, prompted Smith to reconsider women’s effects in other previously all-male institutions, such as voting.

My turning suffragist dates back to that period. If one woman without any conscious effort could accomplish that reform in that school of rascals, think what a country of enlightened women can accomplish once they set their minds to it!

The 19th Amendment guaranteed women’s right to vote in August 1920, four months later. Smith would live to see that momentous change, eventually dying in August 1922 at age 99.

 

Nonagenarian Suffragist: Dr. Steven Smith, at the Age of 97, Tells of His Conversion to Women’s Progress (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 11, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 8th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in History

Priming the Feminine Voter for the Primaries

1920’s primaries were the first where women could vote in New York state. Henrietta Wells Livermore, Chair of New York’s Republican Women’s State Executive Committee in 1920, insisted it was vital that women vote, or else men may regret allowing suffrage at all:

According to the opinion of old-time politicians, it is only about 15 per cent of the men who turn out at the primaries. The women do not dare duplicate this figure. They will be accused of lack of interest, of playing with the vote as with a toy, of having the time but not the inclination to use that power over which they have fought for so long.

That number has about doubled a century later, with 28.5% of eligible voters voting in either a Republican or Democratic presidential primary in 2016. That represented the second-highest percentage since 1980, though a bit short of the modern record 30.4% in 2008.

 

The change was likely caused because primaries in 1920 generally didn’t “count” like they do now. Most states didn’t even have primaries — Oregon became the first in 1910 — and candidates were still ultimately decided at national conventions anyway.

Take four years later, in 1924. The Democratic primaries were won strongly by William McAdoo, while party leader wanted Al Smith. As a result, the convention took 99 ballots to nominate the compromise candidate John W. Davis, who few truly wanted as their first choice. Davis only won 25.6% of the Electoral College and 28.8% of the popular vote, losing decisively to Calvin Coolidge.

 

Priming the Feminine Voter for the Primaries: Political and Non-Partisan Organizations Establish Correspondence Kindergartens to Teach the A B C of the Ballot — Magistrate Norris Sees Opportunity Which the Male Contingent Has Neglected (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 4, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 30th, 2020 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Politics

Project to Make Great Lakes Another Mediterranean

Should the five Great Lakes be connected for transportation and navigation, like the Panama Canal? In 1920, it was being seriously debated.

Pro: the economics.

New exports would be developed. Our export of coal is in its infancy. The United States is said to have half of the world’s coal. It will be called for by the world more and more. But there is no way to get to the seaboard economically from the great producing centres. More than any other product it clogs up the railroads. With a water route open from the lakes to the ocean, our export of coal would grow by leaps and bounds.

Con: also the economics.

According to them, the… project would waste money and help cripple United States commerce. In support of the first objection they assert that the New York Barge Canal, which already exists, is the only economic and feasible method of transporting cargoes from the lake ports to the Atlantic seaboard. No matter how deep or how wide the new waterway is made, they insist that no ship will find it a sound business venture to potter through the innumerable locks and narrow waterways. The greatest speed a lake or ocean steam could make through this waterway would be four miles an hour. The expense entailed, it is asserted, would be too stupendous to make the trip pay.

Although the Great Lakes were connected naturally, it was often too shallow or difficult for ships to actually navigate in practice. Today, the Great Lakes Waterway (GLW) has now accomplished that goal. The Welland Canal, connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario, was completed in 1932. The Soo Locks, connecting Lakes Superior and Huron, was fully completed in 1943.

 

Project to Make Great Lakes Another Mediterranean: Western States Favor Plan, but Many in New York Fear Effect on Barge Canal — Improvement of St. Lawrence Would Yield 2,000,000 Horse Power — Outlet for Wheat Fields (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 28, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 24th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Motor Owners Paying High Gasoline Prices

In March 1920, gas prices hovered at 31 to 35 cents a gallon. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $4.07 to $4.59 — or double the current national average of $2.21.

Two main factors caused the high 1920 gas prices: demand outstripping supply, and the end of World War I.

Gasoline consumption has increased in much greater proportion than its production in recent years. The number of motor cars in the United States was estimated at the close of 1919 at slightly more than 7,500,000, an increase of 23 percent during the year. For the same period the gasoline production only showed an increase of 9 percent.

While conservation in gasoline was strongly urged during the war and was sufficiently adhered to to show appreciable results, it is said that less care has been shown in gasoline economy since the signing of the armistice.

Today, there are also two main factors for the low gas prices: the broader economic crash in the past week due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), and this month’s oil conflict between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Source: GasBuddy.com/Charts

 

Motor Owners Paying High Gasoline Prices: No Stability in Retail Rates, Which Range from 31 to 35 Cents a Gallon Since Recent Increase (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 21, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 20th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

China Chief Problem in Maintaining World Peace

This 1920 article named China as the country most threatening world peace. As the Chinese-originated COVID-19 disease shuts down life and economies across the globe, that prophecy appears prescient.

Indeed, President Trump has increasingly and controversially taken to calling it “the Chinese virus.” However, many medical experts including the World Health Organization have called on him to stop:

But aside from the coronavirus, is China otherwise the country most threatening world peace today? That’s hard to say — depending on who you ask, that ignominious title probably goes to North Korea, Russia, or Iran. China is likely up there, but probably not #1 in most experts’ minds.

Or maybe the country most threatening world peace is actually America? A 2017 Pew research poll found that globally, 35% of respondents thought America’s power and influence was a major threat, compared to 31% who said the same of Russia and China.

This 1920 article about China was written by Theodore E. Burton, a Republican former U.S. senator from Ohio. (He would later return to the position again for less than a year in 1928-29.) Burton suggested that China had massive potential, but that its poor economy and lack of national unity at the time would hamper it.

The result of all these conditions is that the Chinese are a people, not a nation, an aggregation of families and clans, so distinct in their aspirations and interests as to create almost insuperable obstacles to unity and political organization. With most of them life is a constant struggle for daily bread, and in that struggle the obligations of each day are primarily to relatives and neighbors. Thus loyalty is not to any Government, but to family and friends.

Since then, China’s economy has skyrocketed thanks to its partial embrace of free-market principles, and its national unity has also soared ever since the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover in 1949.

Burton quoted former Secretary of State John Hay about China: “Whoever understands this mighty empire, socially, politically, economically, and religiously, has the key to the world’s politics for the next three centuries.”

Yes and no. China has absolutely surged as a global power, now claiming the world’s largest population and second-largest economy. But the country that truly became the “key to the world’s politics” between 1920 and 2020 was less China and more the U.S., which a century ago was certainly a major player but arguably not yet the global superpower, as it would become in earnest post-WWII and especially post-Cold War.

 

China Chief Problem in Maintaining World Peace: Country Is Backward Politically Because Its Gaze Is Backward, and Its Enormous Natural Riches Are a Temptation to Stronger Powers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 21, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 19th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Will Congress Stop Federal Wastefulness?

There had always been some level of U.S. government waste, but for more than a century, those revenues were almost entirely collected through tariffs. That changed in the early 20th century, with the federal corporate tax created in 1909, income tax in 1913, and estate tax in 1916. People increasingly felt it was their own hard-earned dollars being wasted.

So a proposed 1920 committee to reorganize the government was suggested, hopefully to be headed by former Secretary of the Interior Franklin Knight Lane, who had resigned mere weeks prior “because his salary was insufficient to provide for his family.”

(The salary was $12,000 at the time, or about $178,939 adjusted for inflation. That’s about -16% lower than the current Secretary of the Interior’s pay: $213,600.)

The question is, How far will the reforms go? Will they be fundamental, reaching down to the first causes, or will the defenders of the old methods — bureaucracy, apprehensive of wide changes, and Congressmen true to the traditions of the pork barrel — succeed in forcing compromises that offer the appearance and not the reality of true reform?

Spoiler alert: it was the latter.

Last month I wrote an article for GovTrack Insider about the Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act, a bill from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) which would require an annual report about government projects running $1 billion overbudget or five years behind schedule.

 

Will Congress Stop Federal Wastefulness?: Only a Thorough Reorganization of Government Departments, Each of Which Wears a Coat of Many Colors, Can End Bureaucracy and the Pork Barrel — Lane Is Suggested for Work (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 14, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 10th, 2020 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Politics