• Our All-American Aliens

    From 1907 to 1931, an American woman would lose her citizenship if she married a non-American man, taking the husband’s nationality instead — even if she’d never visited the country in question or spoke the language.

    This 1922 New York Times Magazine article explained the situation: 

    Few people realize that there is in this country a group of individuals born here of native stock, many of whom have never left the shores of the U.S.A., even for a Cook’s tour, and who are, nevertheless, aliens. They are classified as such in the census returns. They cannot vote. They cannot take the civil service examinations. They cannot fill municipal, state, or federal positions. If they left this country it might be difficult for them to return. Some of them may not have moved from the village of their birth. They are indeed as American as the president himself, and yet overnight they have become German, Austrian, English, Russian, Italian, French, or Swedish.

    No similar rules applied vice versa to American men who married non-citizen women.

    Although the Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality in 1915’s MacKenzie v. Hare, after women gained the right to vote nationwide in 1920, the loss of citizenship was being felt more acutely. In September 1922, a few months after this February 1922 article, Congress enacted the Cable Act which partially reversed the rules, though still leaving several exemptions in place allowing some married women to lose their U.S. citizenship upon marrying a foreigner. The law would be fully overturned in 1931.

    Our All-American Aliens

    Published: Sunday, February 26, 1922

  • Putting the Music Into the Jazz

    In 1922, bandleaders like Paul Whitehead were transforming jazz from an art form some considered unrefined, into more classical-infused symphonic jazz like Rhapsody in Blue, the iconic piece Whitehead commissioned two years later.

    Racial subtext was at play here, with “unrefined” and “refined” often serving as euphemisms for what was really going on: jazz originated in the black community and was altered to become more amenable to white sensibilities. As this 1922 New York Times Magazine article explained:

    Jazz was offensive to the trained musical ear. The new dance music does not produce discords, because it is constructed in accordance with the laws of harmony. It might be called good music in slang — as O. Henry was good literature in slang.

    Suddenly the flexible saxophone supplies a gay note of humor — but there is no tossing of instruments in the air. Nobody calls “O Boy!” Instead, color and contrast and rhythm are playing on the senses of the dancers by the perfectly good scientific rules of music.

    Just speaking for myself, I would rather see the performance in which musicians tossed their instruments in the air.

    Putting the Music Into the Jazz

    Published: Sunday, February 19, 2022


  • The Old Pope and Papal Prestige

    In February 1922, there was a new pope: Pius XI. The man born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti would serve for 17 years and lead Vatican City’s creation as a sovereign state in 1929, separate from Italy.

    This New York Times Magazine article wrote in February 1922 of the new pope, comparing and contrasting him with his just-deceased predecessor:

    Benedict was less understood but better liked than Pius. In a Roman society, both ecclesiastical and secular, that loves a diplomat better than anything on earth, and an aristocrat next to a diplomat, the combination of the two is irresistible! Yet Rome, outside of the officials of his household, knew no more of the Pope than New York knew of him. He was more retiring than Popes must be by the restrictions of circumstance, but he went about his business — his business of knowing this rent and ragged world, of patching it up and drawing the seams together by small stitches wherever he could, of strengthening always the power of that spiritual kingdom which he ruled — with a skill and imperturbable concentration.

    If the new Pope is as skillful as the last, the “Roman question,” which at present seems to bar non-Italians from the supreme office in the Catholic church, may be [dead].

    In 1978, the Polish John Paul II would become the first non-Italian pope in 456 years — still several decades and five more popes after Pius XI, though. The current pontiff, Francis, is Argentinian, the first-ever pope of that nationality.

    Fun fact: the first pope to visit the U.S. wouldn’t come until Paul VI made the trip in 1965.

    The Old Pope and Papal Prestige

    Published: Sunday, February 12, 1922

  • Italy’s Frankenstein and His Monster

    A January 1922 New York Times Magazine article described Benito Mussolini as a rising figure in Italy. By October, he would be Prime Minister.

    Mussolini had helped birth the Italian fascists (Fascismo) who used rough tactics, up to and including extrajudicial killings, in the name of law and order. As the article explains:

    After the close of the war, Italian Socialists and Communists got out of hand… In Italy, as elsewhere in the distracted post-war world, it was the extremists, the preachers of change, who were the militant party; the conservatives, the believers in law and order, vehement as their words might be, were not conspicuous for action… Then — suddenly — these extremists found themselves face to face with something quite as bellicose and lawless as themselves.

    A new element of violent action stepped into the field. It presented the strange anomaly of men banded together to uphold law and order and conservatism by methods undistinguishable from those of bank robbers and hold-up gangs. This new element was Fascismo. It was the creation, primarily, of Benito Mussolini.

    This January 1922 article can be compared to the June 1921 article in the same publication about Gandhi, discussed here on SundayMagazine.org 100 years later in June 2021. Both men were only just starting to make waves in the early 1920s, although both would become primarily remembered by history for what they did 15 to 20 years later. (One of them, of course, being much more positively recalled than the other.)

    For Mussolini, the events were truly set in motion about nine months after this article was published. Tens of thousands of his followers marched in Rome to demand the resignation of the current Prime Minister, Luigi Facta, who indeed resigned under pressure. King Victor Emmanuel III gave Mussolini the job, against the unanimous recommendation of his entire cabinet, since he feared a civil war if he did not.

    After Mussolini helped overthrow his predecessor, what goes around comes around. Mussolini himself was deposed by that very same king, who was still in the position, in July 1943, as a result of Italy losing the war by that point and mass national discontent with his policies.

    A few months later in September 1943, Italy declared an armistice with the Allies, led by the U.S. and Britain. Then in October 1943, Italy officially switched sides and declared war on its former ally Nazi Germany. Mussolini himself was shot and killed in April 1945.

    Italy’s Frankenstein and His Monster

    Published: Sunday, January 29, 1922


  • Free Union of Hughes and Harding

    After President Warren G. Harding publicly contradicted his Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes on an issue related to Japan, rumors swirled of bad blood between the two men:

    Why should Mr. Harding interpret the pact one way when Mr. Hughes had more than once interpreted it the other way, unless the president wished to rebuke the overweening ambition of his secretary?

    Clinton Gilbert, author of 1921’s The Mirrors of Washington, disputed the idea.

    Mr. Harding’s administration is not a personal government. There is room in it for a Cabinet officer who achieves more prominence than the president… They must get the treaties through the Senate by mutual applause. They must stand hand in hand before the country when it votes next fall.

    It’s hard to claim that Hughes was “more prominent than the president,” although he had additionally previously been both a Supreme Court justice and the 1916 Republican presidential nominee.

    Yet Hughes was never fired nor did he ever resign for interpersonal reasons, and indeed served out the remainder of Harding’s short-lived presidency until Harding’s death from a heart attack in August 1923. Hughes continued to serve under Calvin Coolidge through the remainder of Harding’s would-be first term.

    If you want to see actually bad blood between a president and a Secretary of State, it’s hard to beat Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson:

    Free Union of Hughes and Harding

    Published: Sunday, January 22, 1922


  • After Two “Dry” Years

    Two years after Prohibition was enacted via the Eighteenth Amendment, this New York Times article called it “practically irreversible.”

    You can see why, in January 1922, such a phrase would be used. The legislative branch didn’t seem to be budging on the issue.

    Still more significant has been the fact that the new Congress has in the autumn of 1921 strengthen the Volstead Act [the law which actually enforced the 18th Amendment] in important particulars. It is the claim of the drys that their cause is more strongly entrenched at the Capitol than ever before, and if we are to judge by the Congressional Record, the claim would seem to be justified.

    Neither was the judicial branch budging, either.

    Apparently, there were those who expected that the Supreme Court would come to the rescue with some legal technicality which would mitigate the impending drought… But a consideration of the many decisions of the Supreme Court shows that this tribunal has assumed that the people of the United States knew what they were doing when they passed the Eighteenth Amendment, and that in any event, if they did not, they must bear the consequences. It was not for the judges to rectify the enthusiasms or the negligence of the electorate. The Supreme Court has in the main upheld the authority of Congress to interpret and of the federal offices everywhere to enforce the amendment.

    Well, that didn’t last. In 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment repealed Prohibition once and for all. One wonders which “practically irreversible” aspects of modern American politics, life, or society may similarly fail to last even a dozen more years.

    After Two “Dry” Years

    Published: Sunday, January 15, 1922

  • The Un-Solemn Irish Free State

    A new country was created in December 1921: the Irish Free State. This article asked whether it might become “the first demonstration of government with a sense of humor.” Instead, the country was almost immediately plunged into civil war.

    Whatever the Irish Free State does, it will not be the usual or conventional thing. A Government with imagination and a sense of humor, if such a thing can be conceived in a world in which Government is the last refuge of pomposity, invariable custom, and solemn twaddle, ought to be competent as well as infinitely diverting. Think of the gorgeous nonsense it could slough off, the paralyzing precedents, the ponderous pretenses.

    About that.

    The country earned its independence from the United Kingdom in December 1921, but within months — starting in June 1922 — the nascent country plunged into an internecine civil war between pro-independence and anti-independence forces. The pro-independence forces won, although the country only lasted until 1937, when the Irish Free State adopted a new constitution and became “Ireland” that we all know and love today.

    The Un-Solemn Irish Free State

    Published: Sunday, December 25, 1921

  • “Jazz ‘er Up!”: Broadway’s Conquest of Europe

    Jazz, that uniquely American art form, was beginning to take Europe by storm in 1921.

    In Paris and a score of other European centres of gayety the words “fox-trot” and “one-step” have become so much a part of the local language that natives have to think twice to remember that the words were originally imported from America and are still members in good standing of the English language.

    The catch is, it wasn’t the same jazz songs that were taking America by storm simultaneously.

    There is a saying that Paris is the place where good Americans go when they die. Be that as it may as regards ourselves, it certainly applies to American jazz tunes when they die in America. It is quite a pleasurable sensation when one is walking along the street in Paris to hear suddenly, issuing from the lips of a light-hearted Parisian, an American tune which anybody around Forty-second Street and Broadway would have told you had died — after long and honorable service on some of the hottest sectors of the Broadway cabaret front — in the Autumn of 1917.

    In the modern era where any cultural phenomena can be consumed simultaneously in all parts of the globe, it’s hard to remember that things used to spread worldwide more slowly. This continued for decades to come — in December 1963, the Beatles received their first radio airplay when a Maryland teenager named Marsha Albert requested them, as the band’s music had spread slowly from Europe.

    “Jazz ‘er Up!” Broadway’s Conquest of Europe

    Published: Sunday, December 18, 1921

  • The Year in Books

    This late-1921 article recapping the year in books predicted: “The average of fiction was but fair, and it is to be doubted if anything of lasting import appeared.” Well, now we know: nothing of lasting import appeared.

    Looking at the Publishers Weekly list of the 10 bestselling novels of 1921, as of this writing, only four of them even have Wikipedia articles. (And Wikipedia seemingly has an article about everything.) The most famous of the 10 today is unquestionably #4, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton — but that was actually published the year prior, in 1920.

    There were certainly novels of lasting fame published in other 1920s years: Ulysses in 1922, The Great Gatsby and The Trial and Mrs Dalloway in 1925, The Sun Also Rises in 1926, All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms and The Sound and the Fury in 1929.

    In 1921, though, not so much.

    The Year in Books

    Published: Sunday, November 27, 1921

  • The Child, the Book and the Movie

    In 1921, as the nascent medium of film had recently soared in popularity, New York Times Magazine commissioned a debate: would movies decrease or increase children’s love of reading books?

    Alexander Black predicted it would increase, though his argument was in no small based on how movies of the time required considerable reading with title cards and written dialogue, as the first “talkie” The Jazz Singer wouldn’t debut until 1927:

    It may be significant that nine-tenths of the demonstrations in a movie audience are for the flashed words. The pictures may have prepared the way, but the words precipitate the emotion.

    The author William Heyliger took the opposing view:

    The movie is moving the boy away from good literature. He is getting his fictional entertainment in bald elementary action pictures. Once he develops the movie type of mind he will be lost to good books forever. The repose and repression, the atmosphere and background that are part of all good books, will bore him. His artistic perceptions and appreciations will become of the five-and-ten-cent-store kind, a counterfeit of the real thing.

    Curious that he should dwell on boys specifically in that prediction. Over the summer, I visited the Book Barn in Niantic, CT and noticed that only girls were in the young adult section. Why? My theory is that the boys’ entertainment has been completely overtaken by video games.

    Alas, Heyliger’s view largely seemed to win out, as this graphic from Pew Research Center (based on U.S. Department of Education data) demonstrates:

    The Child, the Book and the Movie

    Published: Sunday, November 13, 1921