While Prohibition applied almost everywhere in the U.S. in the 1930s, foreign embassies were exempt. As a 1923 New York Times Magazine article described, this made embassies some of the hottest tickets in D.C.
The embassies and legations were to discover that they had the monopoly on a fast-disappearing social talent of serving unlimited sparkling Burgundies and champagnes. … At the very most conservative estimate, prohibition has added appreciably to the social importance of the South American and smaller European embassies.
One nation was singled out for particularly taking advantage of this legal loophole.
Japan was the first to grasp the full strategic importance of that event to the foreign diplomats within our gates. During the arms conference last fall, it is said that Japan laid in a whole cellarful of choicest liquors — and that the cellar gave out and had to be restocked. At one of the Japanese social functions, given in honor of the army and navy, there was a regular bar, with three bartenders serving Johnny Walker and Japanese drinks.
In the modern era, many embassies still offer plenty of entertainment to the public, including concerts, film screenings, sports viewing parties, cooking classes, exhibits, and talks.
Charge of the Little Embassies at Washington
Published: Sunday, February 4, 1923
A 1923 New York Times Magazine article detailed the contemporary efforts of other countries to ban alcohol, just as the U.S. did with Prohibition in 1919. Like the U.S., most of those nations also ended the experiment within years.
Actual prohibition has been adopted by the entire Dominion of Canada, except the Provinces of Quebec and British Columbia; by many native States in India, by the Angora Government in Turkey [sic], and by Finland.
How did these experiments turn out?
Turkiye, as the State Department now spells it as of earlier this month, enacted prohibition for only one year in 1923 before reversing course.
Finland’s prohibition ran from 1920 to 1933, almost the exact same years as the U.S. did from 1919 to 1933.
Canada enacted Prohibition on a province-by-province basis, but most provinces indeed did so, and they repealed it on their own individual timelines. Quebec repealed it in 1919, followed by British Columbia in 1920, Manitoba in 1923, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1924, Newfoundland in 1925, Ontario and New Brunswick in 1927, Nova Scotia in 1930 — though the final holdout Prince Edward Island didn’t end it until 1948.
The nations that still ban alcohol today are primarily located in northern Africa or the Middle East and do so for religious reasons: Afghanstan, Brunei, Iran, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
Is the World Going Dry?
Published: Sunday, January 21, 1923
In 1923, bootleggers and speakeasies bypassed the ostensible ban on alcohol. As a New York Times Magazine article documented, that even occurred in the nation’s capital, where the Prohibition constitutional amendment originated.
Certain minor employees about the House and Senate supplement their meagre [sic] salaries, it is said, by doing a little bootlegging on the side.
Two bootleggers came to blows not long since on Capitol Hill, because one of them resented trespass by the other in distributing white corn liquor on the second floor of the House Office Building, which he regarded as his personal preserve.
One difference between D.C. and elsewhere was the former’s “go big or go home” approach to alcohol.
It is not true in Washington, as it is in New York and many other cities, that there are places where a single drink may be purchased. The sales are in bulk, so far as can be learned; but one bootlegger, who is also proprietor of a restaurant, says he sells sixty gallons of hootch a day and that the restaurant interferes seriously with his business.
Do as I say, clearly, but not as I do.
This article combining the subjects of D.C. and alcohol got me thinking. I perform most weekends at Georgetown Piano Bar. Does anybody know whether there were any piano bars in D.C. a century ago? Surely there were bars, at least legal ones both before and after Prohibition, but were there piano bars specifically?
If anybody can provide any insight, please post in the comments.
Washington’s Prohibition Farce
Published: Sunday, January 14, 1923
When the writer Agnes M. Miall penned a 1923 New York Times Magazine piece about interviewing, she claimed to have invented a new word in that very piece: “interviewee.” Today, the word is used in everyday conversation.
While Merriam-Webster dictionary says the word’s first known use was in 1884, clearly it was essentially unknown by 1923, or else Miall would never claim to have invented it then. Indeed, according to Google Books Ngram Viewer, the word’s frequency in books began to noticeably rise starting somewhere around 1923:
Another interesting finding from that graph: the singular word interviewee and plural form interviewees always ran approximately equal in frequency from the 1920s through 1980s, until the 1990s when the plural interviewees began to break away.
That trend has remained ever since. In 2019, the most recent full year for which data is available, interviewees ran +88% ahead — almost double.
Why? No obvious reason stands out to me. If anybody has a good idea, please post it in the comments.
Glimpses of the Great
Published: Sunday, January 7, 1923
A 1922 New York Times Magazine article analyzed the contemporary state of newspaper poetry, which was a widespread feature in journalism publications back then. Today, it’s almost completely disappeared.
Even the few journalism publications which run poetry in their print editions today, like the New Yorker and the Atlantic, are magazines. For newspapers, though, it’s basically gone.
Former Illinois poet laureate Kevin Stein suggests it was because of World War I and the subsequent rise of the Modernism movement in culture, in areas ranging from music to painting to (yes) poetry. This excerpt comes from Stein’s 2010 book Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age.
Artists of all stripes asked why one should put faith in the old values and social foundations when, after all, these very social forces had produced trench warfare, the machine gun, the tank, gas attacks, and various means of mass and anonymous killing. Romantic poetry — like the sword fight and the cavalry charge — appeared hopelessly outmoded in a culture exercising such destructive wrath.
As a result, newspapers were no longer the preferred medium for poets.
Partly by poets’ choices and partly as a result of the newfangled aesthetic these poets ushered in, a schism developed between them and the polite reading public. Poets looking for a modern mode of distributing their verse turned away from the newspapers and slick magazines, for those venues seemed complicit in promoting and sustaining the bankrupt values that had led the modern world astray.
That choice came at a cost, though, as poetry plummeted in popularity. Cultural commentator Chuck Klosterman described this phenomenon in his 2016 book But What If We’re Wrong?
In 1936, a quarterly magazine called The Colophon polled its subscribers… about what contemporary writers they believed would be viewed as canonical at the turn of the twenty-first century. … [Of the top 10], they voted for three poets. If such a poll were taken today, it’s hard to imagine how far down the list one would have to scan before finding the name of even one. A present-day Colophon would need to create a separate category for poetry, lest it not be recognized at all.
Pity the Poor Newspaper Poets!
Published: Sunday, December 31, 1922
Amid a rise in unmarried women, and two years after women were granted the constitutional right to vote, a 1922 New York Times Magazine article profiled “Women Alone in New York.” The byline was “By one of them.”
The article described both the positives of this lifestyle…
But the thing which appeals most is the very impersonality of New York life — the feeling that no one cares what you are doing or why. A woman alone causes no comment, for she is only one of thousands.
No member of the family comes tearing in to ask you to help lengthen a skirt, or tells you that the Browns are downstairs and it is only decent of you to go down. The phone doesn’t ring summoning you to serve on a committee the other members of which are hopeless imbeciles. You don’t have to do a darned thing you don’t want to.
…and the negatives:
You see them everywhere, when your mind has awakened to their presence — these women you know are living lonely, shut-in, thwarted lives, away from the sort of human contacts that make for normal, happy living. … The look is there, the hungry, cheated look which means that somehow, in the mad race of achievement, they have let life — real life — pass them by and not even through a megaphone can they call him back.
What about in the modern era? Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, New York City currently ranks #28 for the highest percentage of single women, at 60.4%.
- #1 is Detroit at 77.4%.
- #100 is Fremont, California at 34.7%.
- In only 17 of the 100 largest U.S. cities is the percentage of single women below 50%.
Women Alone in New York
Published: Sunday, December 24, 1922
During the Roaring Twenties, a 1922 New York Times Magazine article discussed how many more people were using variations of the word “thrill” in conversation.
The stats say people wouldn’t do so at that level again until the mid-2010s.
Per the 1922 article:
Thrills are in vogue in the younger set. It is quite the thing these days to ecstatically twirl a new twisted turban upon a forefinger before other admiring feminine eyes and cry:
“I’m just thrilled to death about it, aren’t you?”
Or to comment volubly upon a friend’s engagement, burbling, “Isn’t it perfectly thrilling about Mary and John?”
Everything in life is supposed to contribute its own particular palpitation to the heart of the modern girl, from a jaunty little fur coat to a “Samson and Delia” aria or a fascinating man. And if some phenomenon fails to provide the expected flutter it is audibly criticized.
“I bought an evening dress today, but I’m not a bit thrilled with it,” says the slender débutante petulantly.
“The play was pretty good, but I didn’t get a thrill out of it,” remarks another.
According to Google Books Ngram Viewer, in 1923, the year after that article was published, the word thrill appeared in books with the highest frequency it ever had up to that point. Then it broke that record in 1924, again in 1926, and again in 1927.
But then the word began a decades-long decline, bottoming out in 1978. Starting in 1979, it began to pick up slightly, truly surging in the 2000s. In 2014, the word’s frequency finally exceeded that prior 1927 peak to set a new record after 87 years. It’s remained at or around that new level ever since.
Why, exactly? Honestly, I don’t have a great explanation for this. Perhaps it has something to do with the rise of the term “thrill ride” in the 1990s, particularly as it relates to theme parks? But that alone can’t explain it. If anybody has a better explanation, please post it in the comments.
The Importance of Being Thrilled
Published: Sunday, December 17, 1922
In 1920, a constitutional amendment gave women the right to vote. In 1921, Wisconsin became the first state to enact an equal rights law for women in all respects, not just voting. In 1922, advocates wanted that nationally.
As a 1922 New York Times Magazine article described:
They find they can’t have absolute equality with men unless they surrender prerogatives and perquisites which have been immemorially theirs; and they have manifested, for the most part, no greater eagerness to escape the discriminations of which they have been the victims than reluctance to forego those discriminations of which they have been the beneficiaries; the perquisites of alimony, for instance, and of protective industrial legislation.
The federal Equal Rights Amendment passed both the U.S. House and Senate in the early 1970s, but failed to achieve the required ratifications by three-quarters of state legislatures.
A seven-year time limit for these ratifications was included with the amendment. Progressive advocates argue that this was unconstitutional and thus invalid, meaning Virginia’s 2020 ratification as the 38th such state should count as reaching the required three-quarters of state legislatures, even if it occurred decades later.
In 2021, this legal claim brought by Democrats was rejected by federal judge Rudy Contreras, even though he was originally appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama.
In 2022, the Office of Legal Counsel under Democratic President Joe Biden issued an opinion recognizing the original seven-year deadline as valid, though it also claimed that Congress could retroactively overturn it. (Which the current Congress has not done, despite Democrats controlling both the House and Senate.)
Interestingly, even though Wisconsin was the first state to enact an equal rights law, it’s not listed in the Brennan Center’s comprehensive list of state-level equal rights amendment equivalents, because it was never adopted as part of the state constitution.
While the 22 states with such constitutional provisions are mostly blue states, as you might expect, a few perhaps-surprising swing states or red states include Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Montana, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
The Feminist Magna Charta [sic]
Published: Sunday, December 10, 1922
A 1922 New York Times Magazine article posited that, compared to prior eras, there was now an “unquestionable sterility of the twentieth century in the production of very great men.”
The anonymous author cites multiple examples from previous centuries of those who exhibited “dazzling and outstanding genius,” including (among others) William Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Napoleon Bonaparte, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Leonardo da Vinci.
How many men alive at this moment can with complete justice to the giants of the past be named as ranking absolutely as their equals? I am not certain that by even a generous computation as many as twelve could be named.
The author than suggests people alive in 1922 who may possibly qualify, either because he personally believes so or because much of the public might. Most of these nominees have now been largely forgotten by the masses, including:
- Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, who’s largely shunned today for being a Nazi sympathizer
- U.K. Prime Minister Lloyd George. Perhaps most Brits may still know his name, but most Americans surely don’t — especially not compared to more iconic 20th century British leaders like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
- French poet, novelist, and journalist Anatole France
- Italian poet and playwright Gabriele D’Annunzio
- Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck
- French general Marshal Foch
- Norwegian novelist Johan Bojer
- German novelist Gerhart Hauptmann
Some of the article’s other nomination for “great men” from 1922 still remain famous (or at least semi-famous) to the general masses in 2022, including:
- Thomas Edison
- English writer Rudyard Kipling, best remembered for 1894’s story collection The Jungle Book. Although, to be honest, Disney’s 1967 animated film and 2016 live-action remake are both far better known among the masses today than anything Kipling himself did.
- English novelist Thomas Hardy, best remembered for 1891’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles
A few surprising names were not listed as towering men of true greatness from 1922. Off the top of my head:
- The most obvious omission, by far: Albert Einstein. The man’s last name has literally becoming a synonym for “genius” in the popular vernacular.
- Henry Ford. If Thomas Edison was nominated, why not Ford?
- Orville Wright. (His brother Wilbur had already died by 1922.)
- Nikola Tesla
- Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of radio
- Alexander Graham Bell. (Who technically died in August 1922, three and a half months before this article was originally published, but still.)
- Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes? Last year, the website SCOTUSblog.com named him as the second-greatest Supreme Court justice of all time, behind only John Marshall.
As far as writers and novelists, many of the most iconic men of words from the 1920s wouldn’t truly hit their stride until later in the decade after 1922, such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. Nonetheless, it seems like a few more figures from the arts could have been nominated as well.
The Shortage of Supermen
Published: Sunday, November 26, 1922
On Tuesday, November 21, 1922, the New York Times printed its first profile article of Adolf Hitler. It would not be the last.
Under the headline “New Popular Idol Rises In Bavaria,” journalist Cyril Brown reported:
The keynote of his propaganda in speaking and writing is violent anti-Semitism. His followers are popularly nicknamed “the Hakenkreuzler.” So violent are Hitler’s fulminations against the Jews that a number of prominent Jewish citizens are reported to have sought safe asylums in the Bavarian highlands, easily reached by fast motor cars, whence they could hurry their women and children when forewarned of an anti-Semitic St. Bartholomew’s night.
This was a reference to the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre of August 23, 1572 in France. Indeed, Hitler’s version of this event would indeed arrive on November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht, or “The Night of Broken Glass.”
However, the article also suggested that Hitler’s rhetoric on this subject of Jewish people was just a ruse:
But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.
That “insight” was, to put it mildly, wrong.
This website usually focuses exclusively on the New York Times Magazine section and exclusively content that was originally printed on Sundays — as per the name SundayMagazine.org. However, despite it being a Tuesday issue and a non-magazine article, surely an occurrence this monumental merits a mention.
New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria
Published: Tuesday, November 21, 1922