Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

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

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

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

The Downtrodden Sex

In 1920, the year women were given the right to vote, this column argued it was unfair that women now had equal voting rights as men without the same potential military draft obligations.

In this the newly enfranchised female citizen enjoyed a distinct advantage over the male. The latter must with his citizenship assume military and other burdens, while his sister is called upon to assume no unpleasant and dangerous duties as compensation to the State for the advantages that citizenship undoubtedly confers. To that extent citizenship to women is all gain and no loss.

Whether men were then — or are now — “the downtrodden sex” (to use the 1920 column’s title) can be debated. But those aforementioned facts remain the same. All U.S. men, but not women, are required to register for the Selective Service upon turning 18. I remember doing so myself, my senior year of high school. The stated rationale was always that men could serve in combat roles while women were legally barred, but in 2015 the Defense Department opened all combat roles to women. Yet the military draft rules remained unchanged.

A federal district court struck down the male-only draft as unconstitutional in February 2019, but the policy hasn’t actually ceased because the Selective Service says it can’t change absent congressional legislation. In March 2020, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — a bipartisan advisory group created by Congress in 2016 to advise the legislative branch on military matters — officially recommended that Congress add women to the draft. The commission’s recommendation was put on the backburner, though, as the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown occurred the very next week.

The real news this month about a national military draft law comes not from the U.S., but South Korea. The country requires 20 months of military conscription for all men between ages 18 and 28, but 28-year-old Jin from the boy band BTS was granted a two-year extension until age 30. Nice work if you can get it.

Other laws cited by the 1920 article as more burdensome to men have since ended. For example, the column mentioned that many states only allowed men to be called for jury duty. By 1968, all states allowed women to be called for jury duty as well, when Mississippi became the last state to do so.

 

The Downtrodden Sex (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 12, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 9th, 2020 at 10:01 am

Posted in Life

Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market

In 1920, New York City “domestic servants” like cooks and houseworkers cost $65 or $75 a month, down from $80 or $90 a year prior. Why? Workforce supply was catching up with customer demand, due to immigration and women losing factory jobs they’d temporarily held during World War I.

For the New York housekeepers, it would seem, are on strike. They have not exactly got together in a closed shop or yet engaged walking delegates, as is the way with our best unions, but somehow a great many of them have decided that the “flood of immigration” is bringing them over Olgas and Gretchens at the dear old $35-a-month-figure, if not $25 — and that, therefore, Delia and Agnes can go hang or come down.

Interesting that Gretchen was used as shorthand for an immigrant’s name in 1920; I know a Gretchen now, and she’s American-born.

The article also featured this antiquated minstrel-style quote from a housekeeper responding to an employment request from a woman with two children.

“Oh, thank de Lord!” breathed the respectable-looking negro woman who had stopped me on the street just outside the door of another agency. “Honey,” she said, “I jes’ naterly can’t stand no house without its got chillen runnin’ ’round ‘yellin.’ ‘Aunty, ain’t them cookies done?’ Sure, I been cookin’ cookies ‘fore you born. Yes’m, I’ll work for $12 a week. It ain’t what I been gittin,’ but I wants a good home for Winter.”

Different times.

 

Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 5, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 2nd, 2020 at 11:58 am

Posted in Life

Dead Letters Among the Laws

In 1920, it became illegal to drink alcohol. But during ancient Greek times, at certain celebrations it was illegal to be sober. How far we’d come.

From a 1920 New York Times article:

Laws which have been nominally enforced for decades have became dead letters, some of them without going through the form of repeal. Is it any wonder that the cynics among us are speculating whether prohibition will fall into this class?

Today, with the Volstead Act [the main law enforcing Prohibition] trying to be effective, it is refreshing to recall that at certain Bacchanalian festivals in pagan Greece it was a punishable offense not to be drunk, because a state of sobriety showed gross lack of reverence for the god of the grape.

Prohibition did “fall into this class” of largely unenforced laws, but it didn’t remain a dead letter permanently, getting repealed in 1933.

When a law is a dead letter, it can be funny. The real problem is when these troublesome vestigal laws are enforced.

In my home state of Virginia, a state law dating back decades still required couples to each fill out their race when applying for a marriage license — with the listed race options including such bygone terms as Aryan, quadroon, octoroon, and moor. In 2019, after three engaged Virginia couples filed a lawsuit against the state, the law was struck down as unconstitutional.

 

Dead Letters Among the Laws (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 24, 1920

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Written by Jesse

October 23rd, 2020 at 10:51 am

Posted in Life,Politics

Chivalry in Office Elevators

Elevators were still new enough in 1920 that some aspects of “elevator etiquette” still had to be ironed out. For example, should a man remove his hat when a woman enters the elevator?

Every male whose business it is to travel up and down in the passenger elevators of commercial buildings must face this question many times a month: “Should I or should I not remove my hat when a woman enters the car?”

Where does politeness begin and where will a cold end?

Has a man more rights to his headgear in a commercial elevator than in a Ritz elevator?

If business is business, then keep the hat on.

If you are going up to join the Midnight Bounders, why, take the hat off.

Is there a business politeness as well as a social politeness?

Suppose the girl is only a stenographer that gets into the car with you in the Woolworth Building. Should you be as chivalrous as you would be in a “lift” at the Hotel della Robberie if Mrs. Fuller Rhino of Chicago got in?

Profound and ultimate questions of conscience which may yet bring the Supreme Court to loggerheads.

In high-rise buildings before the widespread adoption of the elevator, the first floor was the most desirable and expensive, while the top floor was the least desirable and cheapest. That only changed with the widespread adoption of the elevator in the 1920s, also the decade when the term “penthouse” was invented.

Today, elevator etiquette was best described by the stand-up comedian Steven Wright: “When I was little, my grandfather used to make me stand in a closet for five minutes without moving. He said it was elevator practice. Every once in a while when I’m in an elevator, I’ll ask the other guy, ‘Did your grandfather make you do this too?'”

Here’s a video — with almost 1 million views, incredibly — of a guy riding an elevator from 1931:

Chivalry in Office Elevators (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 29, 1920

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Written by Jesse

August 28th, 2020 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Life

Brand of the Movies on Babies’ Names

As motion pictures gained popularity in the 1910s and 1920s, baby names changed based on the most popular characters and stars.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks the popularity of baby names over time, starting in 1900. After this quote, I track the the trajectories of some of the names which proved popular around 1920.

And so I knew that it was upon us — the motion-picture name period… Mixed in with the Rosanas and the Giovannis of the imported element came the babies of our good, sturdy American stock surnamed Smith and Jones. Norma and Pearl they were, Madge and Billie, Mae (spelled just as the electric lights spell it) and Blanche (with an “e”). Also a renaissance of Marys. On through the foreign Oscars and Giuseppes, Marys appear in quantities unprecedented.

How did those names fare in the long run?

  • Norma: the #69 name of 1920, peaked at #22 in both 1931 and 1932. Last ranked in the top 1,000 in 2002.
  • Pearl: the #62 name of 1920, actually peaked in the first year of available data (1900) at #24. Seemed to last rank in the top 1,000 in 1986, then disappeared for more than two decades, until reappearing in 2007 and staying there almost every year since, ranking #647 in 2018.
  • Madge: the #303 name of 1920, peaked in the first year of available data (1900) at #232. Last appeared in the top 1,000 in 1948. It’s short for Margaret: the #4 name of 1920, peaked at #3 every year between 1905 and 1911. Ranked #127 in 2018.
  • Billie: the #212 name of 1920, peaked at #79 in both 1929 and 1930. Last appeared in the top 1,000 in 1997, though one wonders if the 2019 breakthrough of pop star Billie Eilish will provide the name a renaissance.
  • Mae: the #99 name of 1920, peaked at #53 in 1902. Seemed to last rank in the top 1,000 in 1969, then disappeared for more than four decades, until reappearing in 2010 and staying there every year since, ranking #554 in 2018.
  • Blanche: the #102 name of 1920, peaked at #58 in 1902. Last ranked in the top 1,000 in 1964.
  • Mary: the #1 name of 1920, and indeed every year between 1900 and 1946. It never even dropped out of the top 10 until 1972. These days it doesn’t even rank in the top 100, at #126 in 2018.

My own name, Jesse, peaked in popularity at #37 among boys born in 1981. What happened that year? Here’s a hint:

 

Brand of the Movies on Babies’ Names (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 22, 1920

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Written by Jesse

August 19th, 2020 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Development,Life,Movies

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

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Unhappiness

In the early months of Prohibition, a common phrase swept the land.

“Of course, that was before the first of July,” one heard everywhere. Men winked at you in the street and whispered that “was before the first of July.” Children in the schools are taught ancient and modern American history now. Our ancient history was pre-July. Our modern history was post-July. Our laughter subsided into a whisper. We used to speak of Uncle Sam. Now we speak in awesome tones of his successor, Geoffrey Bootleg.

One man interviewed in this 1920 article postulated that with alcohol banned, freedom at large would soon follow:

“Do you know that when the barroom goes, democracy goes with it? Under the Caesars and Cromwell there were no bars. The bar parlor, the wine room, the cantina, the barroom flourish in direct ratio to the quantity and quality of the freedom that exists in a country. All Bastiles are undermined by the music of clinking glasses in public places. All Bastiles rise also to the pump of hidden stills.

“The American barroom abolished caste. The proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and the patrician got together over the bar rail. All men were created free and equal before a white apron. In the barroom race, color, or present condition of servitude melted into universal goodfellowship. Liquor was the eternal democrat. Laughter and drink leveled all humanity before the big mirror. There was, in the good old barroom, a continual interlocking of classes.”

That premise is certainly debatable. If bars were really the great equalizer in society, there wouldn’t have been such a large number of bars back then with signs in the windows reading ‘No Coloreds Allowed.’ And Prohibition was repealed in 1933, right at the moment that — at least under the economic libertarianism definition — unprecedented government intervention caused a substantial decrease in Americans’ freedom.

 

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Unhappiness: Now That Our Bronze Goddess Enlightens the World With Wood Alcohol, the Inalienable Right to Decline a Drink Is Alienated (PDF)

Published: January 18, 1920

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Written by Jesse

January 16th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life

Madame Ouija, Bolshevik of the Spirit World

The huge fad in 1920: ouija boards. Americans went crazy trying to communicate with the deceased and the great beyond.

This January 1920 article hyperbolized and satirized the trend:

Telephones are rapidly falling into the discard; men, women and children ring up Hyperspace and talk with their ancestors and their pre-natal souls. Books are being written with the aid of “controls”; the stock market has abandoned the ticker for the ouija pointer; the weather forecaster has tossed his maps and wind measures into the river and gets his predictions from the spirits.

Why did the board surge in sales then? Likely because of the era’s tumult, wrote Linda Rodriguez McRobbie for Smithsonian Magazine:

It’s quite logical then the board would find its greatest popularity in uncertain times, when people hold fast to belief and look for answers from just about anywhere, especially cheap, DIY oracles. The 1910s and ’20s, with the devastations of World War I and the manic years of the Jazz Age and prohibition, witnessed a surge in Ouija popularity.

In May 1920, no less a chronicler of the American way than Norman Rockwell painted a couple with a ouija board for a Saturday Evening Post cover:

 

Madame Ouija, Bolshevik of the Spirit World: Sinister Suggestion by a Worshipper of the Psychic Goddess That There’s a Slight Impediment in Her Veracity (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 11, 1920

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Written by Jesse

January 8th, 2020 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Life

Paraguay, Land of the Tea With a “Kick”

This 1920 article predicted Paraguay’s beverage yerba mate “may become a habit some day in the United States.” It was not to be.

The article also noted the country’s 10:1 female-male ratio. Today, it’s completely even.

A celebrated and valuable product of the little inland South American Republican of Paraguay is “yerba maté,” made from the leaf of a very tall, bulky tree. The leaves are cut from the branches, placed on brushwood and roasted slowly in holes sunk in the ground and lined with skins.

The tea is imbibed through a “bombilla,” or tube, which is placed in the “maté,” or gourd, containing the infusion. An alcoholic “kick” is not claimed for yerba maté, but that it is refreshing to a degree — that it will certainly buck one up — is attested by the fact that a large proportion of the people of Central South America are irrevocably addicted to it. Its popularity extends to all classes.

A century later, it had yet to catch on in the U.S.

The women outnumber the men ten to one, which really indicates a considerable gain for the male sex, because fifty years ago the score was said to be twenty-five to one in favor of the women.

Paraguay’s gender disparity has completely evened out by now, with the country’s male:female ratio at a virtually-identical 1.01 to 1, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. (If anything, that means men actually slightly outnumber women.)

Paraguay, Land of the Tea With a “Kick”: Yerba Mate May Yet Become a Favorite Dry Beverage Here–Inland South American Republic, With Ten Women to Each Man, Seeks Commercial Advancement (PDF)

Published: January 4, 1920

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Written by Jesse

January 2nd, 2020 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Food,Life,Travel

Polite Masque of Pageantry and Prohibition

How were the first parties after Prohibition? According to this 1919 article, the NYC parties were not nearly as fun as before. In New Jersey, on the other hand…

First, in New York City:

Even the parties that evaded the mighty hand of the law were afraid to act as if they were having too good a time, lest the gods see and envy and smite. As for those others who may have partied in neighborhood studios, perhaps their abandon was restrained by the Christian charity which gloats not over less favored mortals — perhaps by a sobering walk across the street in the night air. Be that as it may, a visitor from Mars would have seen only a few hundred well-bred Americans dancing waltzes and fox trots apparently with much enjoyment. Not one “interpretive dance” was improvised… The ball closed at 4:30 A.M. instead of at the dear old bedraggled hour of 7.

Apparently a party ending at 4:30 A.M. was considered early. Good times.

But relatively to the comparatively staid New York, another nearby state acted like the ban on alcohol never happened.

However, there are rumors that in Jersey — where people still vote against prohibition — things are different. A Halloween party in a certain country club over the river dared to be a masquerade ball in which the thermos bottle was the only thing that did not wear a mask. It stood boldly on every table. Folks say that it was a nice party, and they’re building another tube to Jersey from chastened New York.

In the words of the song Blow Us All Away from Hamilton: “Everything’s legal in New Jersey.”

 

Polite Masque of Pageantry and Prohibition: Prunes and Prisms Also Would Have Been Perfectly at Home at the First Bohemian Ball in the City of Dreadful Drought (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 16, 1919

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Written by Jesse

November 15th, 2019 at 1:40 pm

Southward With the Coffee-Pot Tourist

As the weather got colder in November 1919, an article described how some folks were making their annual pilgrimage to live down in Florida for a few months — in far more flowery language than would ever be used now:

Whatever in the Spring the young man’s fancy lightly turns to, and just as surely as the sap in that season of etherial madness rises in the tree trunks, there comes in the Fall to all Northern mankind and birdkind the urge of the migratory instinct southward. It isn’t only the plutocrats and society lovers that go to have their pictures taken for the illustrated papers at Palm Beach in their Winter splendor of Summer raiment. It is likewise those who though neither one nor another are both. And even in this spendthrift season, when a world’s ransom is being lavished on the pomp and circumstance of peace, there are still thrifty tourists, as well as the other sort.

Many go down south during the cold months nowadays as well. My recent GovTrack Insider article about the Canadian Snowbirds Act describes a congressional bill that would increase the duration Canadian retirees could spend in the U.S., often in Florida, from six months to eight months.

Southward With the Coffee-Pot Tourist: It Is Not Only the Spendthrifts but the Thrifty Also Who Migrate to Florida for the Summer of Their Wintertime (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 9, 1919

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Written by Jesse

November 6th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life

Business Before Pleasure on the Wire

In 1919, NYC had 3+ million telephone calls daily — more than the system could handle. “The strain at times is tremendous, and we hear many complaints of the inadequacy of the service, the slowness of operators in responding, and the tardiness of making connections.”

In an era where calls required an operator to connect the two parties, the rise in calls was outstripping the rise in operators.

As a matter of engineering record it now takes about ten seconds on the average to get the echo of “Number, please,” and from twenty-five to thirty seconds on the average to get a connection. The operators are far less numerous than they should be; it takes a year to train one so that she will have “poise on the board,” or, in other words, so that she will not lose her head in emergencies, and equipment lacking on account of the war embargoes is just being got in. In the halcyon days Central used to answer on an average in three seconds, but then the burden on the switchboards was not so heavy.

 

Indeed, 82 years later, the same issue still existed to an extent. There were numerous reports of NYC residents unable to get their phone calls through on 9/11, because the system was jammed.

Business Before Pleasure on the Wire: Effect of ‘Phone Philandering on the Call Frequency Curve of the City and Some Suggested Mitigations (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 28, 1919

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Written by Jesse

September 29th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life,Technology

The Revel of Luxury

The Roaring Twenties arguably started in 1919. WWI ended in November 1918, there was peace, times were good, and people of all classes spent like crazy:

If luxury and leisure have conspired to set a pace of money spending hitherto undreamed of, this dissipation hitherto ascribed so exclusively to New York society has become diffused and general. There is nothing sectional about the exuberance of today. Vacationists from the smaller cities of the South and West have vied with the man from Wall Street in the distribution of easily acquired wealth. There is nothing in it to rekindle class hatred, so effectually effaced during the period of war, for the reason that there is “class” now among the masses. Railroad wage-earners boasted a two-million-dollar relief fund before hinting of a strike. The man from the forge is buying diamonds; clerks bet a cool thousand on the races, and the farmer who has not already bought an automobile is planning to do so with the singing of the next harvest song.

It’s hard to believe what a 180º difference this had been from the war years, which had still been raging less than 365 days prior:

Pleasure, pleasure! Who can turn churlishly from all these contemplations of luxury and give heed to the cry about the high cost of living? Who can take seriously the wail of hard times when blacksmiths are joining the jeweled ranks?

Is this the America that stopped every wheel just one year ago when the Government needed gasoline?

Good times. And not too different from 2019, actually, with unemployment at or near 21st century its low and Americans spending tons of money. Including money they don’t have — see the record levels set in 2019 for student loan debt, auto loan debt, and mortgage debt.

The Revel of Luxury: Summer Season’s Record of Money-Spending by Americans Who Can Afford the High Cost of High Living (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 21, 1919

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Written by Jesse

September 18th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life