Archive for March, 2021

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