• Working Wives of Nowadays

    In 1923, as more married women started to work outside the home, the New York Times Magazine interviewed 50 of them for a feature titled “Working Wives of Nowadays.”

    The faithful and devoted wife has wandered far from the hearth that was formerly her one respectable abiding place. Efficient and unashamed, she works side by side with her unmarried sisters. She helps to swell the subway jam, she punches the timeclock, and, most important of all, on Saturday nights she drops her own pay envelope on the table next to the offering of her lord and master.

    How was this nascent development playing out? According to the 50 interviews, surprisingly well.

    All the stories pointed to one definite conclusion: that a woman can — if she will — run a household and a career at the same time. The two are not incompatible. … The home does persist; and the couples that have followed the new order seem to get on extremely well in their confined quarters.

    And in the modern era?

    In 2022, far more married women were working outside the home than had done so a century prior. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, married women had a 71.1% labor force participation rate.

    That was considerably lower than the 93.7% rate for married men.

    Working Wives of Nowadays

    Published: Sunday, May 27, 1923

  • America Seen Darkly

    As films were making culture more universal, a 1923 New York Times Magazine article discussed the medium’s potential role in changing foreigners’ perception of Americans… both for better and for worse.

    First, for worse:

    Day by day and week by week, the world wonders at what seems to be the boundless wealth and wicked extravagance of American citizens. At dawn the hero is penniless; by evening the uncle has died, the well has gushed, the invention has been marketed and he is a multimillionaire, with a glorious Swanson in his arms, and endless orgies in prospect, at Atlantic City, Palm Beach, and Monte Carlo, where the moon shines all the year round.

    This young man’s ideals are, perhaps, disputable. It is not work or merit that has made him a millionaire, but sheer luck. He recognizes no social duty… Of the responsibilities of parentage there is not a hint.

    On the other hand, the article also suggests that shared culture could reduce international tensions and potentially even prevent war — a pressing global priority only a few years after World War I.

    The influence of the movies on foreign affairs is doubtless important, but if what is going on between America and England is “unfriendliness,” then, one may ask, why not let the quarrel continue?

    As long as nations read the same books, smile at the same slapstick, shimmy over the same syncopation, and weep over the same wooings, they are unlikely to shed any fluid more serious than one another’s ink.

    Indeed, the combatants in America’s subsequent wars after 1923 very much did not share culture. (Although Osama bin Laden was a huge fan of Whitney Houston.)

    America Seen Darkly

    Published: Sunday, May 20, 1923

  • The Three Dictators of Europe

    A 1923 New York Times Magazine article said three men essentially controlled Europe: France’s Raymond Poincaré, Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and Czechoslavakia’s Edvard Beneš.

    Today, the average person only knows Mussolini. So who were the other two?

    Poincaré had previously served as president of France, and in 1923 was serving the second of what would ultimately be three stints as Prime Minister. The NYT described his influence:

    M. Poincaré has succeeded in cutting one by one the cords in which the [1916-22 United Kingdom Prime Minister] Lloyd George diplomacy had entanged the British Government and in giving France a free hand… Now, so far as the Continent is concerned, Great Britain is isolated and France is in the lead.

    Beneš was at the time Czechoslovakia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of State. His official position would actually rise later on, during two separate stints as the country’s president from 1935-38 and again from 1945-48. Even before that, the NYT described his influence:

    In the intricate and dangerous negotiations which went on during the later years of the war [WWI] for the eventual break-up of Austria-Hungary and the recognition of Czechoslovakia as an independent State, Beneš showed himself the possessor of diplomatic abilities of a high order, with an almost uncanny power of detecting the right moment for action.

    His elevation to the headship of the Foreign Office in the new State which he helped to form was the natural result of a political equipment which has no superior anywhere in Europe. Legally and officially he is not the political head, for he is not Premier; but the foreign policy of Czechoslovakia is the policy of Dr. Beneš and not that of either the Premier or the President.

    Particularly interesting are the names not listed as ranking among Europe’s three most influential people, including U.K. Prime Minister Bonar Law.

    Adolf Hitler would come to dominate much of the continent in the 1930s and 1940s. But in November 1923, a few months after this article was originally published, his Nazi Party failed to gain power in the violent Beer Hall Putsch. He wasn’t influential yet.

    The Three Dictators of Europe

    Published: Sunday, May 13, 2023

  • Drying Up Freedom of the Seas

    During Prohibition, could the government enforce the alcohol ban by searching any ship coming in from the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans — even outside U.S. territorial waters?

    A 1923 New York Times Magazine article described the debate:

    Hitherto, the infringement of such maritime liberty has been confined to periods of war and, even then, has been accepted, if at all, only under protest. The present position is, however, that the right of search would be exercised by the United States, not under the necessity of war nor for the enforcement of any international covenant, but for the sole purpose of preventing an evasion of a domestic law.

    Four years later in 1927, the Supreme Court unanimously held in United States v. Lee that the government could search ships beyond just U.S. territorial waters, in the name of enforcing Prohibition — so long as they had probable cause.

    As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in the majority opinion:

    There was probable cause to believe that our revenue laws were being violated by an American vessel and the persons thereon in such manner as to render the vessel subject to forfeiture. Under such circumstances, search and seizure of the vessel, and arrest of the persons thereon, by the Coast Guard on the high seas is lawful, as like search and seizure of an automobile, and arrest of the persons therein, by prohibition officers on land is lawful.

    The Court had recently found that such “automobile searches” were constitutional in the 1925 decision Carroll v. United States.

    Drying Up Freedom of the Seas

    Published: Sunday, May 6, 1923

  • Coming City of Set-Back Skyscrapers

    A 1923 New York Times Magazine article predicted “The reign of the skyscraper is just setting in,” which proved accurate. It also quoted an expert who predicted two-level streets throughout NYC, which didn’t come to pass.

    This is the picture as forward-looking architects see it. According to them, the reign of the skyscraper is just setting in. In the past half century it has transformed [New York City], concentrating large groups of people into small spaces, etching out a jagged skyline like none other in the world. During the next fifty years will come changes even more sweeping.

    The article then primarily quotes Arnold Brunner, at the time the former President of the Architectural League of New York. Some of his predictions proved accurate:

    “As to the height of the buildings that are to come it seems to me certain that they will continue high, though perhaps not extravagantly so. I see no reason why an occasional towering structure, like the Woolworth Building, for instance, will spoil the arrangement, the beauty, or the effectiveness of the whole picture that the city will make.”

    At 792 feet, the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world in 1923. Other buildings as tall or taller were indeed built in NYC for decades to come, including 40 Wall Street (a.k.a. the Trump Building), the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and the Freedom Tower.

    NYC last claimed the world’s tallest building in 1973.

    Some of Brunner’s other predictions proved inaccurate:

    “Today New York is a city of two levels — one on the surface and one under ground. The day will come when we will have three — one under ground, one on the surface, and one above the surface. Problems of traffic and transit are so difficult that this seems the ultimate solution.

    “The underground level will continue to be used for subways, tubes, and tunnels. The street level will be used for trucks and other heavy traffic. Above the street there will be roads for light motors and pedestrians.”

    And while this wasn’t a prediction, per se, another of Brunner’s hypotheticals didn’t come to pass… although it would have been awesome if it had:

    “For all we know, in twenty-five years each of us may be driving his own little plane to work every morning and need a landing station on the roof.”

    Well, we can always watch The Jetsons.

    Coming City of Set-Back Skyscrapers

    Published: Sunday, April 29, 1923

  • The Taxi Lady Takes the Road

    In 1923, more women were beginning to work as New York City taxi cab drivers.

    The first licensed female NYC cab driver was Gertrude Jeannette in 1942. However, the first unlicensed female NYC cab driver was decades prior: Wilma K. Russey in 1915.

    During the years in between, more women were starting to drive cabs in the city… but many men didn’t take too kindly to the change, as the New York Times Magazine reported:

    The Police Department itself has so far recognized the prospect of a struggle that the girls have been instructed officially, “If any of the boys run into your mud guard or cut your tires, don’t try to cut back. Just take the number and report to me.”

    One man warned that these women should be careful what they wish for:

    Or, to express it in the rude words of a hardened male taxi driver, “What’d they think this is? A joy ride? Taxi-ing’s a tough job. Always trying to please the public and you can’t please nobody, and them holding back on the tip and traffic cops bawling you out. These girls ‘ull get more’n they’re lookin’ for, and then some.”

    As of the mid-2010s, at least, women comprise about 1% of medallion-holding NYC taxi drivers.

    The Taxi Lady Takes the Road
    Published: Sunday, April 22, 1923

  • The Typical Eminent American

    Which types of people were included in the 1923 edition of Who’s Who in America? The New York Times Magazine crunched the numbers.

    While there were 24,278 biographies in total, the NYT selected a random sample of 66. Sure, that’s only 0.27%. But it was a random sample: starting with the first bio and then including the first bio listed on every 50th page from there.

    Using that information, they found:

    63 men versus three women, or 95.4% men. It’s hard to know precisely what the percentages would be today, but surely it would be much closer to gender parity.

    California was the birthplace of only two of the 66, or 3.0%. Made sense at the time, as the 1920 Census found California comprised an almost identical 3.2% of the U.S. population. As of the 2020 Census, California is now the most populous state in the country, comprising 11.9%.

    The youngest was 32, while the oldest was 76. Again, that’s only from the random sample, so the ages of the youngest and oldest biographies overall weren’t mentioned. But today, there would surely be a much wider age spectrum.

    On the older end, take both the two most recent presidents: Joe Biden (currently 80) and Donald Trump (currently 76).

    On the younger end, popular music and culture became far more centered around teens and 20-somethings over the past century. (The entire concept of the “teenager” as a distinct age group didn’t truly take off until the second half of the 1940s.) Take Charli D’Amelio, the 18-year-old social media influencer and second-most popular user on TikTok with 150.5M followers.

    The Typical Eminent American

    Published: Sunday, April 15, 1923

  • Those Doomed Indian Dances

    Charles Henry Burke, Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1921-29, pledged in 1923 to put a stop to Native American sacred dances.

    As this 1923 New York Times Magazine article noted:

    The objections of the Commissioner… are that the dances take up too much time, that they interfere with work, and that they are evil and foolish. The Commissioner says that if at the end of one year he finds the Indians are not yet doing as he requests “some other course will have to be taken.”

    That could lead to the demise of various rituals including:

    Should the Commissioner of Indian Affairs hold to his decision, another year will bring to an end the Hopi Snake Dance, the Flute Dance, the Corn Dance of Santo Domingo, San Felipe, and other pueblos of the Rio Grande, the Festival of San Geronimo at Taos, the Shalago of Zuni, the Deer, Buffalo, and Antelope Dances, besides other beautiful religious ceremonies, among which are some “secret” festivals.

    Formerly a congressman from South Dakota, Burke issued his directive to provide teeth to a federal law called the Code of Indian Offenses in 1883, which had banned Native American dances.

    In 1923, Native Americans were still not granted U.S. citizenship. That wouldn’t be changed until the next year, with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

    However, such dances wouldn’t be explicitly allowed under federal law for more than 50 years, until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978.

    Those Doomed Indian Dances

    Published: Sunday, April 8, 1923

  • Senility and the Senate of the United States

    Three issues loomed large in the 1923-25 Congress: whether to begin congressional and presidential terms in January instead of March, whether to stop appointing committee chairs by seniority, and filibusters.

    As this April 1923 New York Times Magazine article described:

    From the welter of discussion that followed the late and little lamented Sixty-seventh Congress, three important considerations have taken root and will be fought out when the Congress next convenes. They have to do primarily with Senator Charles Curtis’s program for strangling the marathon talking contests known as filibusters; with Senator Medill McCormick’s fight against the moss-worn custom that the oldest committee member automatically becomes its head (known as the rule of seniority chairmanship), and with Senator George Norris’s constitutional amendment to end the congressional and presidential terms in January instead of in March (which would amount to virtual slaughter of the “lame-duck brigade”).

    What happened with each of these three issues?

    Filibuster. The filibuster remains alive and well. In fact, senators no longer even need to engage in “marathon talking contests,” as they did in 1923. Since the 1970s, the so-called “silent filibuster” has gained prominence instead.

    January. Congressional and presidential terms would begin in January, instead of March, when the Constitution’s 20th Amendment was ratified in 1933 — a decade after the NYT article’s 1923 publication.

    Committee chairs. The practice of committee chair positions going to the most senior member of the majority party generally remains the practice today.

    However, there are some exceptions. For example, congressional Republicans have established a six-year limit for serving as the GOP’s top member on a committee. That limit applies even if the party is in the minority for some or all of that six-year period. Democrats have no such rule.

    There can also be individual exceptions. In November 2020, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stepped down as top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in part due to concerns over her age and senility. In February 2023, Sen. Feinstein announced her retirement from the Senate altogether, although she will continue to serve until her term ends in January 2025.

    Senility and the Senate of the United States

    Published: Sunday, April 1, 1923

  • Mussolini and a New Renaissance

    A 1923 New York Times Magazine profile of Benito Mussolini, in his first months as Italy’s Prime Minister, predicted the political party he founded would far outlast him.

    Mussolini died in 1943, his party was disbanded in 1945, and banned outright in 1947.

    The article projected:

    [It is incorrect] the notion that Fascism is Benito Mussolini. Mussolini gave a soul to Fascism, but if (which God forbid) he were to die tomorrow, his party would continue, because it is now an organized, live, spiritual force. The great danger is not death, but moral failure in the hearts of the taxpayers.

    After Mussolini was deposed and killed in 1943, his National Fascist Party was dissolved two days later. It was replaced by the Republican Fascist Party, which was in turn banned by Italy’s new 1947 constitution.

    Mussolini and a New Renaissance

    Published: Sunday, March 25, 1923