Archive for March, 2017

Three Stories a Year Are Enough for a Writer

When I was in late elementary school, my grandfather got me a book collection of Ring Lardner’s “You Know Me Al” comic strips, about the hijinks of a major league baseball player and his teammates. The comic strip was published in the 1920s, several years after the original fiction short stories that made the lead character famous. To be honest, I never thought the comic strip was that funny. The fact that Ring Lardner ranked Elinor Glyn (who?) above Mark Twain among humorists alive in 1917 might explain why.

Three Stories a Year Are Enough for a Writer: Ring W. Lardner, Humorist, Who Makes Fiction Out of Life for Baseball Players, Thinks Fewer and Better Short Stories Needed (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 31st, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Humor,Literature

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639

A map of “New Amsterdam” with Dutch inscriptions was created in 1639 by cartographer Joan Vingboom. It was then hidden and forgotten about in Holland for almost 200 years. Finally the “Manatus map” had been donated to the Library of Congress, believed to be the earliest map of what is now New York City.

The names used in the map didn’t quite adhere to the Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly lyrics mapping out the city: “New York, New York, a wonderful town / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down…”

Earliest Known Manhattan Map Made in 1639: Indian Settlements Occupied the Area That Is Now Called Brooklyn, and Even Coney Island Occupied Its Present Place (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 30th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in History

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop

Between 1908 and 1916, the total value of U.S. peanuts more than quadrupled. Why? Because the cotton crop had been nearly wiped out boll weevils, leaving far more land for peanuts to be planted. As a result, the price per peanut bushel had doubled or more within only a few years. The more you know.

The final sentence’s prediction that “Down in the cotton country they are saying that we are soon to see the rise of peanut barons” never quite came true, as best I can tell from quick research.

War Brings Huge Increase in United States Peanut Crop (PDF)

From Sunday, March 25, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 29th, 2017 at 7:01 am

The Harvard Slouch: Four Out of Every Five Harvard Freshmen Stand in a Faulty Posture, Says Boston Physician

In preparation for the imminent onset of World War I, 746 incoming Harvard students were trained in physical fitness for possible military service. A solid 25.9 percent of them failed in all four elements of good posture, while only 6.7 percent met all four elements.

This was a real thing. Apparently almost 20 percent had feet in such poor condition that it would keep them from serving in war.

Meanwhile, the article’s claim that “A Harvard entering class may be taken as typical of many thousands of American young men” is dubious at best, especially if The Social Network is any indication.

The Harvard Slouch: Four Out of Every Five Harvard Freshmen Stand in a Faulty Posture, Says Boston Physician (PDF)

From Sunday, March 18, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 28th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Life

Russia cartoon – “World: Gracious! What does this all mean?”

This cartoon from 1917 about Russia could just as easily have run today.

 

“World: Gracious! What does this all mean?” (PDF)

From Sunday, March 18, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 27th, 2017 at 7:01 am

Posted in Humor

Do We Want to Pay the Health Insurance Bill?

In 1917, the concept of health insurance was so new that it was referred to in quotes.

More than 20 state legislatures that year proposed bills to get government and taxpayers involved in health insurance, an innovative and bold idea at the time even though it’s considered commonplace now. (Even most anti-Obamacare Republicans generally want to maintain — or in some cases even increase — federal spending on such programs as Medicare, if not as much on Medicaid.) Here’s how the new ideas were described to the American public in 1917:

“Their arguments may be summarized as follows: That there is a wage loss due to sickness of six hundred millions of dollars annually; that the great majority of wage earners are living so close to the poverty line that they cannot bear this loss themselves nor can they provide against it through the present channels of protection — benefit societies, lodges, trade unions and the like; that the most important duty of society today is better to distribute this loss through compulsory sickness insurance; that the operation of compulsory sickness insurance will prevent disease and improve the health and general well-being of the nation, and that, therefore, society as a whole should help pay the insurance bill.

[All manual workers or anybody earning less than $100 per month would receive two-thirds of their wages in case of illness or accident, medical attention for the whole duration of the disability, and a $50 benefit in case of death.] The cost of all this shall be paid one-fifth by the State, two-fifths by the employers, and two-fifths by the wage earner, the latter’s contribution being deducted from his weekly pay by his employer.”

Today, disability insurance exists, but this article goes to show that health care was one of the most controversial and volatile political debates in 1917 just as it was today. Vox ran a terrific feature on why Vermont’s attempt to become the first state to institute single-payer universal health care ultimately failed to get off the ground.

Do We Want to Pay the Health Insurance Bill?: Frank F. Dresser Says Proposed Measure Would Give Country a Small Return in Bettered Health for a Tremendous Outlay (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 17th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Posted in Debate,Politics

Your Pet Cat May Have to Have a License Soon

This is notable for being by far the most “clickbait” style headline the New York Times Sunday Magazine ever featured on this blog. This is perhaps the only headline yet featured that would be written word-for-word the exact same way today.

A New York state bill was debated in 1917 that would license all pet cats and kill all others in the state. (The verb used in the article is the even more horrific “destroyed.”) The reason was not due to visceral hatred of the cute kittens, but for economic purposes:

“The high cost of living is largely due to the fact that not enough foodstuff is produced by the farmers; the shortage of crop is, in turn, partly due to the ravages of insects, and the only effective check on the insects is the birds. But the birds are destroyed by the cats. Every link in this chain between the cat and the cost of food is backed up and proved by scientific demonstration and statistics and the totals all along the line are enormous.

“For example, Frank M. Chapman of the American Museum of Natural History figures that there are at least 25,000,000 cats in the United States, and the country’s annual loss in crops from the depredations of insects alone is estimated at $1,200,000,000.

The license fee for a pet cat would have been 50 cents and 25 cents for each subsequent reissue.

Shockingly, the most common argument against the bill — and in favor of cats — was not from animal lovers or PETA (which would not be founded until 1980), but “The one argument most frequently heard in behalf of the cat is that it kills rats and mice.”

Did the bill pass? While I found that in the same year of 1917 New York state began requiring dogs to be licensed, I was unable to determine whether cats were too. If anybody knows the answer, please comment below.

Your Pet Cat May Have to Have a License Soon: Otherwise It Will Be Killed as a Public Nuisance If Bill Now Before Legislature Passes — An Effort to Protect Birds and Crops (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 16th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Efficiency Test of Domestic Standards for Every Housekeeper

There was a discrepancy of 60,000 more housekeeper jobs than people to fill the positions, as of 1917, because many women found the position undesirable.  Thetta Quay Franks, author of the book The Margin of Happiness: Practical Studies in Household Efficiency, came up with a series of questions for the head of the household to ask their housekeeper, to ensure the housekeeper was happy and comfortable in their employment. Among them were questions related to fair wages, vacation time, whether the female head of the household assisted with the work, whether a daily schedule of work as provided, and whether employees received different food than the family.

Today, the housekeeper isn’t nearly as common a position as it was back then. Then again, those holding the position can still exert a strong influence: just listen to the new popular podcast Missing Richard Simmons and listen to the influence of Teresa Reveles, Simmons’s housekeeper of 27 years who may or may not be abusing the fitness trainer and holding him hostage in his own home.

Efficiency Test of Domestic Standards for Every Housekeeper: Put Yourself in Place of Your Cook and Get Her Point of View, Says Mrs. Thetta Quay Franks (PDF)

From Sunday, March 11, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 15th, 2017 at 7:40 am

Posted in Life

Mystery of Authorship of Chinese Lyrics Solved

Pai Ta-shun was a successful poet, a mysterious Chinese man praised by critics and read by the masses. Turns out he was so mysterious because the works actually came from the pen of white American medical physician Frederick Peterson, author of such poetic works as The American Textbook of Legal Medicine and Toxicology.

According to this 1917 article recounting the then-recent controversy, Peterson was a student of Chinese poetry and wrote his poems according to Chinese literary tradition, using the name Pai Ta-shun as a Chinese-sounding homophone of Peterson.

His poems could actually be quite beautiful regardless of the con regarding the author’s identity. Here is his verse from The Dragon:

Ever-changing the cumulus surges above the horizon,

Black with thunder or white with the glitter of snow-capped mountains,

Rosy with dawn or with sunset, an age-long shifting pageant.

Stuff of chaos for dreams to forge into magical visions,

Ranged below it the common earth and the tiger-forces,

Behind and above it unfurled the starry deeps of the heavens.

Out of the formless clouds we shaped the deathless Dragon,

Symbol of change and sign of the infinite symbol of spirit.

In 2015, poet Michael Derrick Hudson caused national controversy when the anthology Best American Poetry published his poem that he submitted under the name Yi-Fen Chou. The anthology was unaware of the author’s true identity at first, but upon acceptance the author revealed the truth to the anthology’s editor, who published it under the Asian pseudonym regardless. As Mark Twain once quipped, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Mystery of Authorship of Chinese Lyrics Solved: Poems of Pai Ta-shun, Widely Discussed for Past Two Years, Were Written by Dr. Frederick Peterson, New York Physician (PDF)

From Sunday, March 4, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 13th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Literature

River of Doubt Now on Brazil’s Official Maps

In 1914, Theodore Roosevelt — at that point a former U.S. president — trekked upon a previously unmapped tributary of the Amazon River in Brazil. To honor his heroism, Brazil officially named the Rio Duvida (or River of Doubt) the Rio Roosevelt. Did the new name last to the present day? Yes it has.

River of Doubt Now on Brazil’s Official Maps (PDF)

From Sunday, March 4, 1917

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 12th, 2017 at 6:56 am

Posted in Adventure,Nature