Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Is the New Woman a Traitor to the Race?

In 1921, women were becoming more educated, getting married at later ages (or not at all), and having fewer children. Some considered this a crisis, though all three of those trends would become far more pronounced by 2021.

Getting together a variety of statistics which deal with the biological results of the higher education of woman, her growing economic independence and the wide range of activities from which she can now select her career, Professor Holmes [University of California zoology professor Samuel J. Holmes] scans all these closely and finds as the result that about 50 per cent. [sic] of college women remain unmarried, that the date of marriage among educated women and among those who are economically independent tends to grow later and later and their families smaller and smaller.

Holmes concluded, “There can be no doubt that the race is losing a vast wealth of material for motherhood of the best and most efficient type.”

If Holmes was merely concerned back then, he would have been horrified now. Let’s take each of those three trends in turns:

  • About 50 percent of college women remain unmarried. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who are married has perpetually declined for the past six decades, to record low levels around now. The biggest drops haven’t been among the educated, though, but among the less-educated.
  • The date of marriage among educated women and among those who are economically independent tends to grow later and later…   According to the Census Bureau, the average age of first marriage has gone up significantly. In 1920, it was about 24.6 for men and 21.2 for women. By 2020, it had risen to 30.5 for men and 28.1 for women — both record highs.
  • …and their families smaller and smaller. The average number of people per household has been declining for literally 160 years. In 1920, it was 4.34. In 2020, it was 2.53.

 

 

Is the New Woman a Traitor to the Race? (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 28, 1921

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Written by Jesse

August 26th, 2021 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Debate,Life

College Sports and Motherhood

In 1921, some people argued, letting young women play college sports would make them worse mothers down the line:

The Victorian girl was a better mother than our modern feminine athletes. Every girl, it seems, has a large store of vital and nervous energy, upon which to draw in the great crisis of motherhood. If the foolish virgin uses up this deposit account in daily expenditures on the hockey field or tennis court, as a boy can afford to do, then she is left bankrupt in her great crisis and her children have to pay the bill.

Is there something in this idea, or is it merely a manifestation of the recurrent nostalgia for the Good Old Days (whether of edible mammoths, knightly jousts or genteel females), which no generation can escape?

A century later, Serena Williams, Lisa LeslieMia Hamm, Brandi ChastainChris Evert, Mary Lou Retton, and Bonnie Blair will tell you: it was the latter.

 

College Sports and Motherhood (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 3, 1921

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Written by Jesse

July 2nd, 2021 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Life,Sports

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 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

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

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

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