• Porto Rico’s Needs and Aspirations

    In 1898, the U.S. took control of Puerto Rico. In 1917, it officially became a U.S. territory. In 1922, a New York Times Magazine headline still spelled it “Porto Rico.” When did that change? About a decade later, in the 1930s.

    Google’s feature called Google Books Ngram Viewer allows users to create graphs depicting the popularity of any words or phrases appearing in books dating from 1800 to the present, using the millions of scanned texts in Google Books’ archive. Searching both ‘Porto Rico’ and ‘Puerto Rico’ makes it clear: the switch happened in the 1930s.

    Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

    Could Puerto Rico become a state? In 2020’s most recent referendum on statehood, 52.5% of Puerto Ricans voted in favor. However, while that vote expresses the will of the people, it’s up to Congress to decide whether to make it actually happen.

    The Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act has 81 bipartisan House cosponsors: 62 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Introduced by Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL9), the bill has not received a committee vote, despite Democrats controlling the chamber.

    Meanwhile, the Senate’s version, introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), has only attracted five cosponsors — all of whom are Democrats. Considering the relatively healthy level of bipartisanship on the matter in the House, it’s unclear exactly why zero Senate Republicans have yet signed on.

    Porto Rico’s Needs and Aspirations

    Published: Sunday, September 17, 1922

  • Politics a l’Italienne

    A September 1922 New York Times Magazine article quoted a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies calling the body “the voice of a democracy.” Future dictator Benito Mussolini would become Prime Minister the next month.

    In fact, Mussolini would actually abolish the Chamber of Deputies entirely from 1939 to 1943, when he was deposed. The legislative body returned in 1946.

    Even in September 1922, though, journalist Anne O’Hare McCormick sensed that Mussolini had potential to affect the entire nation:

    The destiny of the country probably depends upon which of its two strongest and most picturesque statesmen shall finally prevail: Don Luigi Sturzo, the Savonarola from the South who dreams of a White International that shall pacify the world, or Benito Mussolini, the ex-Socialist from the North, who kindled and keeps burning the beacon fires of Fascismo. The one group has its weapon in the Church, the other in the ex-soldier.

    Whatever happened to that other guy, Sturzo?

    After Mussolini took power, Sturzo was exiled from Italy for many years: first to the United Kingdom from 1924-40, then the United States from 1940-46. After World War II ended, he returned to Italy in 1946, actually became a senator starting in 1952, and remained in the country until his death in 1959.

    Politics a l’Italienne

    Published: Sunday, September 10, 1922

  • The Prince, Prize Matrimonial

    A 1922 New York Times Magazine article asked whether the 28-year-old Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VIII, would ever marry.

    14 years later, he would abdicate the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée, making him the shortest-serving monarch in British history.

    Which makes this excerpt describing the then-28-year-old Edward, at the time first in the line of succession to his father King George V, particularly ironic:

    Broadly, what the British peoples desire is not a marriage designed to promote political alliances in Europe, even if such were possible. All that web of royal intrigue was torn to shreds by the war. The best marriage would be the happiest marriage, and, given such happiness, little else would matter. To the Prince, then, the utmost possible liberty of choice will be encouraged, and the only misgiving among his admirers arises from a prolonged delay.

    About that “utmost possible liberty of choice will be encouraged” part…

    In 1930, Edward met Wallis Simpson, and wished to marry her only months into his 1936 reign as king. As the head of the Church of England, a position the British monarch continues to hold to this day, he was not supposed to marry a divorcée if their former spouse was still alive.

    (Presumably Prince Harry was okay to marry the divorced Meghan Markle because he wasn’t actually the reigning monarch, and thus not the actual head of the Church of England? In fact, he’s only sixth in the current line of succession.)

    So Edward resigned, which made his younger brother George VI the king. That produced the British royal family we now today: Queen Elizabeth II is George VI’s daughter.

    As for Edward and Simpson, they remained married until his death in 1972.

    The Prince, Prize Matrimonial

    Published: Sunday, September 3, 1922

  • Re-enter the Guilds

    Here’s a fact of FDR’s biography which has been almost completely lost to history: exactly 10 years before being elected president, he was elected president… of the American Construction Council.

    The highlights of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s political chronology leave a gaping hole in the middle. First he served as a New York state senator from 1911 to 1913, then President Woodrow Wilson named him Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920. That year, he ran as the Democratic vice presidential candidate under nominee James M. Cox, but lost to the Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, though it still served to greatly increase Roosevelt’s national name recognition.

    Then there comes an eight-year gap, in which his biography becomes rather sparse. The most consequential thing that happened was he contracted polio in 1921 at age 39, which left him paralyzed for the rest of his life.

    Then things picked up stream for him again, big time. In 1928, he was elected governor of New York. In 1932, he was elected president of the United States and undertook one of the most consequential presidencies in American history, between the Great Depression and World War II. He served a record 13 years as president until his death in 1945.

    So what exactly happened during that eight-year “doughnut hole” period? This 1922 New York Times Magazine article describes one development:

    Business is interested in copying the pattern laid down by the guilds because it sees a chance to settle industrial troubles behind closed doors, instead of in the full light shed by printer’s ink. Penalties visited upon offenders against the common good would be expected to compel observance of a rigid trade standard. This new scheme of interior regulation is to get its first trial by business in the construction field, with Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting in judgment.

    About two months earlier, on June 21, 1922, another New York Times article (not in the Magazine section) described FDR’s new responsibilities:

    The council was organized as a central body for the whole of the building and construction industry of the country to coordinate and standardize efforts for increasing the efficiency of all kinds of construction.

    A program was adopted calling for immediate steps toward the solution of the important problems of the construction industry, including the formation of a code of ethics acceptable to the industry and the public, collection of needed statistics, reduction of the national shortage of building mechanics, and the establishment of a necessary apprenticeship system and recommendations for stabilizing the construction industry to mitigate the evils of seasonal employment and the trade migration of labor. 

    My research was unable to tell precisely when Roosevelt left that job, though I found confirmation he was still serving in the role in 1927. Presumably, he resigned either later in 1927 or at some point in 1928, because there’s no way he could concurrently serve in both that role and as governor of New York.

    Re-enter the Guilds

    Published: Sunday, August 27, 1922

  • If Wells Went to Parliament

    Few remember that British science fiction novelist H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, ran for the House of Commons in 1922. Today, this fact doesn’t even merit a mention on Wells’ Wikipedia page.

    Yet he did run for the lower house of the British Parliament, and for a most unusual seat: not representing an actual geographic district, but for the seat representing London University.

    See, the House of Commons used to have so-called “university constituencies.” The seven universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Sheffield collectively had two seats in the House of Commons. Cambridge, Oxford, and London Universities also each had their own seats as well: two each for Cambridge and Oxford, one for London.

    Journalist P.W. Wilson, himself a former British member of Parliament, wrote in 1922 for the New York Times Magazine that Parliament might actually be beneath the level of a mind such as the one Wells possessed:

    It is, perhaps, a little unfortunate astronomically considered that, in the British Empire, which is after all only a local and temporary affair, there should be no Parliament adequate to a thinker like Wells. England has at times annexed ungrateful areas, but not as yet the solar system, over which, therefore, the House of Commons exercises no legislative jurisdiction.

    In his “Outline of History,” Wells refers to “the student teacher of the universe, unifed, disciplined, armed with secret powers of the atom and with knowledge as yet beyond dreaming, who will presently stand upon this earth as upon a footstool and stretch out its realm amidst the stars.”

    Just so; but not, I am afraid, this session.

    In the November 1922 election, Wells came in last place: third out of the three candidates. Sydney Russell-Wells of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories) won with 51.5%. The Liberal Party’s Albert Pollard was a distant runner-up with 29.3%, then the Labour Party’s Wells even further behind with 19.1%.

    The practice of such “university constituencies” lasted until 1950, when they were abolished by the Representation of the People Act of 1949.

    If Wells Went to Parliament

    Published: Sunday, August 20, 1922

  • Tenting on the New Camp Ground

    As more cars entered consumers’ hands, by summer 1922, Americans were driving across the country for vacations and trips at at unprecedented level.

    This New York Times Magazine article described the phenomenon, as seen on highways and roads:

    Turns into any trans-continental highway, the Lincoln or the Dixie, the old trails of New York and New England, the National Pikes of the Middle West [Midwest], the boulevards of the Pacific Coast, the passes that corkscrew over the Rockies or the Alleghanies, turn into a through road anywhere and you will become part of the longest, the fastest, and the most extraordinary procession that ever raised the August dust on the wrinkled face of the earth. The townsman does not realize it, the steel-rail traveler hardly glimpses it, but the fact is that the whole country is in motion this summer as it has never been before.

    Sure, Henry Ford’s Model T — considered the first affordable car for the average American consumer — had been around since 1908. Yet there was something unique about 1922, something of a tipping point at which there were a large enough number of vehicles for scenes like this to occur:

    For years the motor tourist has been abroad in the land. For more than a decade he has been crossing the continent from New York to Los Angeles, from Palm Beach to St. Paul.

    He traveled, perhaps travels still, in his hundreds or his thousands, but he is negligible in this year’s rush, swallowed up and swamped in the crowd. What is happening this summer is something newer, bigger, and more significant. The real America is in transit, with father or mother at the wheel and the rest of the family in the back seat… We are in the midst of a whirling experiment in what might be called inter-urbanity.

    Perhaps this was the first summer that some annoying kid called out to their parents from the back seat: “Are we there yet?”

    The article also says there were about 10.5 automobiles in the U.S. in 1922. Since the country’s population in the 1920 Census was around 106 million, that meant about one car for every 10 people.

    Today, there are about 290.8 million registered vehicles in the U.S. With the population at 333 million, that’s about 1 car for every 1.14 people — almost an equal ratio.

    Tenting on the New Camp Ground

    Published: Sunday, August 13, 1922

  • Literary Bootlegging

    By 1922, a black market had emerged in New York for banned books. Distribution of such “obscene” material remained illegal in the state until a 1948 Supreme Court decision struck the law down as unconstitutional.

    This 1922 New York Times Magazine article detailed the underworld for books and other literary works:

    And now a committee in Boston places “Simon Called Peter” on the black list. The Roman Catholics put the works of Anatole France on the Index. In New York the latest additions to the list of tabooed books are “A Young Girl’s Diary,” “Casanova’s Homecoming,” and “Women in Love.” All of these books are, however, to be had surreptitiously.

    Distributing such a book could be punished by up one year in prison or a $100 fine for each offense, equivalent to about $1,785 in 2022 dollars.

    1948’s Supreme Court decision Winters v. New York would later strike down the law as unconstitutional, on both free speech and vagueness grounds. A man named Murray Winters was convicted of intending to sell magazines deemed indecent, namely ones featuring lurid details of real-life tales from society’s criminal element.

    The ruling overturning Winters’ conviction was 6-3. Justice Stanley F. Reed wrote for the majority opinion:

    Everyone is familiar with instances of propaganda through fiction. What is one man’s amusement, teaches another’s doctrine. Though we can see nothing of any possible value to society in these magazines, they are as much entitled to !he protection of free speech as the best of literature.

    Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote for the minority dissent, noting that New York was one of 20 states at the time with a similar law on the books, all now rendered unconstitutional:

    This body of laws represents but one of the many attempts by legislatures to solve what is perhaps the most persistent, intractable, elusive, and demanding of all problems of society – the problem of crime, and, more particularly, of its prevention. By this decision the Court invalidates such legislation of almost half the States of the Union.

    2021 saw an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books from libraries or schools, according to the American Library Association, at least since they began tracking such statistics 20 years prior.

    In April 2022, New York Public Library began offering access to digital copies of certain banned books for free, to anybody age 13+, anywhere in the country — not just New York City. “Making these books available shouldn’t feel like an act of defiance,” NYPL President Tony Marx wrote in a blog post, “but sadly, it is.”

    Literary Bootlegging

    Published: Sunday, August 6, 1922

  • What Can Amundsen Accomplish?

    A 1922 New York Times Magazine article described Roald Amundsen’s imminent attempt to fly over the North Pole as “the greatest venture into the unknown since Columbus set out from the shores of Spain.”

    Eleven years prior, Amundsen’s party of five had become the first in human history to reach the South Pole, in 1911. The North Pole was reached even before that, by either Robert Peary in 1909 or Frederick Cook in 1908, depending on who you ask.

    Within a month or two Captain Roald Amundsen, Norwegian explorer, may be the receipient of the world’s congratulations as the greatest of Arctic or Antarctic heroes. Or, on the other hand, his nearest relatives may be the receipients of the world’s condolences. For this intrepid discoverer of the South Pole and navigator of the norhteast and northwest passages is about to embark on what he hopes will be the crowning achievement of his career — an 1,800-mile flight across the North Pole, from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitzbergen [in northern Norway].

    The article’s final paragraph estimated that Amundsen’s odds were about 6:1 against. Indeed, the trip failed, as Amundsen abandoned the attempt when his plane became damaged. But his subsequent attempt in 1926 proved successful, the first such trans-Arctic aerial flight.

    Amundsen disappeared in 1928 during a rescue mission and was never seen again.

    What Can Amundsen Accomplish?

    Published: Sunday, July 23, 1922

  • Why Men Leave Home — In Print

    A 1922 article by Frank J. Wilstach suggested more men might have been leaving their wives because their wives were becoming flappers, writing: “There are some things that even the strongest heart is unable to endure.”

    Only lately, however, I heard of a sweet and innocent young male person who was lured into the holy bonds of matrimony by one of the pin-feathered variety. Honeymoon followed, but after three weeks the young man returned to the paternal roof. Dithering with emotion and with great, heaving sobs, he laid his head on his father’s shoulder and cried: “Papa, I’ve come home.”

    To inquire the reason for the departure of this amiable and charming young man from his home would seem supererogatory. If one might hazard a guess, he probably couldn’t longer tolerate the bobbed hair, the sandals, and the fringe around the skirt.

    There are some things that even the strongest heart is unable to endure.

    While such anecdotes are certainly memorable, the actual data seemed to tell a different story. The U.S. divorce rate in 1920 fell in 1921, then fell again in 1922.

    Why Men Leave Home — In Print

    Published: Sunday, July 9, 1922

  • Sorority of Smoke on Wheels

    With women’s suffrage came an unexpected development: women smokers.

    In the 1920s, as the Medical University of South Carolina’s Hollings Cancer Center explains, “Passage of the 19th Amendment ushered in new freedoms and smoking in public became symbolic of women’s new role in society.” About 6% of women smoked cigarettes in 1924, but that more than doubled to 16% by 1929.

    This 1922 New York Times Magazine article by Marguerite E. Harrison described the change viscerally:

    The air in the ladies’ dressing room of the Limited was blue with cigarette smoke. Every time the door was opened, small curls of smoke drifted out into the corridor.

    Ten years ago, such a state of affairs would not have been possible. The only passport to acquaintance among women on the “cars” [trains] was helping to mind refractory babies or lending smelling salts to a car-sick fellow passengers. Otherwise women traveled together for days and nights in stony silence. The enforced intimacy of the dressing room only brought maneuvering for place at the mirror accompanied by black looks. A properly brought-up woman regarded every other member of the species encountered under the cicumstances as her natural enemy.

    Now all these barriers are broken down in the freemasonry of the cigarette. The women smokers are bringing about a new democracy of the road.

    As of 2015, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 13.6% of U.S. women smoke cigarettes — lower than the percentage who did so by the end of the 1920s.