Archive for the ‘Debate’ Category

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 (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 13, 1921

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

November 11th, 2021 at 1:05 pm

Is the New Woman a Traitor to the Race?

In 1921, women were becoming more educated, getting married at later ages (or not at all), and having fewer children. Some considered this a crisis, though all three of those trends would become far more pronounced by 2021.

Getting together a variety of statistics which deal with the biological results of the higher education of woman, her growing economic independence and the wide range of activities from which she can now select her career, Professor Holmes [University of California zoology professor Samuel J. Holmes] scans all these closely and finds as the result that about 50 per cent. [sic] of college women remain unmarried, that the date of marriage among educated women and among those who are economically independent tends to grow later and later and their families smaller and smaller.

Holmes concluded, “There can be no doubt that the race is losing a vast wealth of material for motherhood of the best and most efficient type.”

If Holmes was merely concerned back then, he would have been horrified now. Let’s take each of those three trends in turns:

  • About 50 percent of college women remain unmarried. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who are married has perpetually declined for the past six decades, to record low levels around now. The biggest drops haven’t been among the educated, though, but among the less-educated.
  • The date of marriage among educated women and among those who are economically independent tends to grow later and later…   According to the Census Bureau, the average age of first marriage has gone up significantly. In 1920, it was about 24.6 for men and 21.2 for women. By 2020, it had risen to 30.5 for men and 28.1 for women — both record highs.
  • …and their families smaller and smaller. The average number of people per household has been declining for literally 160 years. In 1920, it was 4.34. In 2020, it was 2.53.

 

 

Is the New Woman a Traitor to the Race? (PDF)

Published: Sunday, August 28, 1921

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 26th, 2021 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Debate,Life

Doctor by Any Other Name

Last December, controversy swirled when a Wall Street Journal op-ed argued Jill Biden shouldn’t go by “Dr. Jill.” The same debate occurred a century prior, when in 1921 a group at UVA formed the Society for the Rationalization of the Title of Doctor.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine covered the story:

“It may be that the hovering spirit of Thomas Jefferson, renowned, whether justly or not, for conspicuously democratic habits and behavior, moved the professors at the university which he founded to declare that all men were not only free and equal but should show it by wearing the same title.”

So should the title “doctor” be reserved solely for physicians? The article also quoted Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, who argued that even physicians shouldn’t:

“I see no reason why the disagreeable habit of addressing certain persons by the title of doctor should not be done away with entirely,” he said to an inquirer the other day. “And there is no more reason for addressing a doctor of medicine as doctor than for so addressing a doctor of philosophy, of laws, or of theological. In fact, in England it is not done.”

The other side of the argument was that everybody who earns a doctorate should be called “doctor,” including Ph.D.’s and others.

How about the horn-rimmed-spectacled young man who has just won his degree by presenting the world with a thick volume entitled “The Intensive Use of  Skylights in the Monasteries of the Thirteenth Century,” with voluminous footnotes abounding in Latin on each page? And the other young man who has been similarly rewarded for his thesis on “The Declining Prestige of the Preposition ‘Ab’ After the Second Punic War.” And he who has chased the parts of speech all the way from H.G. Wells back to Chaucer and is off the press with a tome demonstrating beyond a doubt that Pope was more fond of intransitive verbs than was Francis Bacon? What of these? And of thousands of others like them? Is it not cruel and unusual punishment to deprive them of the glory for which they have so faithfully labored?

The debate continues today. Conservative author Joseph Epstein published a December 2020 Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that incoming First Lady Jill Biden shouldn’t call herself “Dr.”

The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally, at any rate outside the sciences. Getting a doctorate was then an arduous proceeding: One had to pass examinations in two foreign languages, one of them Greek or Latin, defend one’s thesis, and take an oral examination on general knowledge in one’s field. At Columbia University of an earlier day, a secretary sat outside the room where these examinations were administered, a pitcher of water and a glass on her desk. The water and glass were there for the candidates who fainted. A far cry, this, from the few doctoral examinations I sat in on during my teaching days, where candidates and teachers addressed one another by first names and the general atmosphere more resembled a kaffeeklatsch. Dr. Jill, I note you acquired your Ed.D. as recently as 15 years ago at age 55, or long after the terror had departed.

Jill Biden defended herself on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

That was such a surprise. It was really the tone of it. He called me ‘kiddo.’ One of the things I’m most proud of is my doctorate. I worked so hard for it. Joe came when I defended my thesis. But look at all the people who came out in support of me.”

I won’t wade into the debate over whether Jill Biden should call herself “Dr.” but hopefully we can all agree that Dr. Dre never received his doctorate. That man has been inflating his academic credentials since the late ’80s.

 

Doctor by Any Other Name (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 24, 1921

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

April 23rd, 2021 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Debate,Health

Should Women Choose Their Mates?

As women gained voting rights and more independence in 1921, a debate raged: should women choose their mates? Maude Radford Warren gathered several young men and women together to discuss the question for the New York Times Magazine.

This concept was so novel that first it had to be defined.

“Choosing,” said one of the men, “means that a girl meets a man, becomes friends with him, and then says, ‘By George,’ or words to that effect, ‘I’m going to marry that fellow.’ Then she goes after him. She invites him to call and to dine; provides him tickets to this and that entertainment, which she buys, but which she usually pretends were given her. When she sees him at other people’s houses she manages to be in the group with him. She can’t conceal that she’s after him, and unless he is an awful ass she doesn’t get him. If he is a vain fellow, being chased like that tickles his vanity, but mostly it makes him feel like a fool and ashamed of the girl.”

(When I’m dating, a woman using the phrase “By George” would be a dealbreaker.)

Men in 1921 weren’t having this whole “women choose” business.

“I wouldn’t mind,” said one youth, “if a girl showed she wanted to be friends with me, and went fully half the way in that. I’d really rather take that as a compliment. But after that if she overstepped the limits of comradeship one inch, and got into sentiment — goodnight nurse! She’d never see me again.”

Meanwhile, women weren’t having that.

It had been a manifest effort for Mr. 1921 to say this, and his listeners appreciated his contribution so fully that the slight sounds they emitted seemed more like gentle sighs than the gentle groans they really were.

And today? Any social stigma associated with women going after a man, especially among the younger Millennial and Gen Z generations, has largely faded. Still, old habits die hard: 79.4 percent of heterosexual first messages on Tinder are sent by men.

 

Should Women Choose Their Mates? (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 20, 1921

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 19th, 2021 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Debate,Life

Our Japanese Question

In 1921, a Harvard government professor warned that “There has never been a time of such uneasy and hostile feeling between the two nations” of the U.S. and Japan. 20 years later came Pearl Harbor.

Albert Bushnell Hart noted that the animosity was a relatively recent development:

Can two countries be found with a longer record of international friendship? For half a century Japan has welcomed Americans, while the United States has been a land of pilgrimage for Japanese. The two countries have also been bound together by eight successive commercial treaties, and the United States in 1804 was the first nation to accept Japan as a full member of the family of nations.

The tension in 1921 primarily related to certain U.S. states’ restrictions on Japanese immigrants’ rights:

California by statute, and also by a recent referendum, has prohibited aliens who are not capable of becoming citizens (that is, in effect, Chinese and Japanese) from holding land directly or through forms of trust. Whether a State may legally thus discriminate between aliens is not yet settled by the courts, though there are precedents.

Here then is the case in a nutshell. The National Government prohibits Chinese immigration but not Japanese. It restricts Japanese immigration by a roundabout and makeshift method which allows thousands to sift through. The Pacific States are powerless to shut these people out, but are alarmed at their acquirement of lands, as an evidence of intention to form a permanent settlement. The Japanese Government dislikes any restriction, and formally protests against treatment of Japanese which is not precisely the same as that of other immigrants.

The issue wouldn’t be resolved legally for 27 years, until 1948’s case Oyama v. California — and even then, it would only be partially resolved.

Kajiro Oyama, a Japanese citizen living in the U.S., became de facto owner of California land which had technically been purchased in the name of his six-year-old son Fred, a U.S. citizen through birthright citizenship. The California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s law, declaring Oyama’s purchase an illegal evasive maneuver intended to circumvent the state’s ban on Japanese immigrants owning land. The Harry Truman administration disagreed and appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 6-3 in Oyama’s favor, finding that California’s law indeed violated the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause rights of six-year-old Fred, an American citizen.

However, there was a catch. The Court’s stances on issues related to the Japanese back then was firmly rooted in an antagonist World War II-era sentiment. Four years earlier, in 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Japanese internment in Korematsu v. U.S., which the Court didn’t formally overrule until 2018. So in a sly bit of legal maneuvering, while the Court ruled in Oyama’s favor for this specific case, they declined to actually invalidate or overturn California’s law outright. That wouldn’t occur until the California Supreme Court — which, keep in mind, had found against Oyama back in 1946 — reversed itself and declared the state law unconstitutional in a subsequent unrelated 1952 case. The California government itself formally repealed the law in 1956.

On a federal level, it wasn’t until Congress enacted 1952’s McCarran-Walter Act that Japanese immigrants were allowed to become U.S. citizens. The law also simultaneously upheld America’s quotas for immigration based on nation of origin, which weren’t discontinued until the Immigration Act of 1965.

To be fair, while all this did contribute to escalating tensions between the U.S. and Japan, none of this directly caused the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. Instead, the preemptive assault on a major U.S. naval base intended to hobble America’s potential deterrance capabilities in the Pacific, paving the way for Japan to carry out its planned aggressions against Pacific territories of the United Kingdom and Netherlands.

Still, these other tensions probably didn’t help matters. You don’t go to war against your friends.

 

Our Japanese Question (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 16, 1921

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

January 17th, 2021 at 11:06 am

Chauncey M. Depew on the Middle Class Union

Advocacy organizations exist for various interests: AARP for the elderly, NRA for gun rights supporters, unions for teachers and transportation workers. In 1920, many proposed a “middle class union” to advocate for the middle class on all issues.

The transportation strike hit the doctor of philosophy who commuted to his classes at Columbia just as it hit the shoe salesman who commuted to Fifth Avenue. At one point their interests were identical, however widely they may have varied at other points.

Wait, but isn’t democratic government in general supposed to represent the middle class? Alas, that institution’s failures on that count were the main factor necessitating a middle class union in 1920, supporters claimed:

It is argued that our Government is designed to do exactly what it is proposed to do by means of a Middle Class Union. In a democracy the ballot is supposed to be the last resort. But when the fruit of the ballot is a legislator whose life is his re-election he often finds his life threatened by a minority organization, while there is no majority organization to reassure him or defend him or bring the majority influence to bear on him.

The final sentence of the article: “Perhaps it will be the next thing on the books — who knows?” We now know… and it wasn’t.

There are a few organizations which somewhat qualify for the title, such as Consumers Union which began in 1936, but they primarily advocate on behalf of the masses for issues like product safety specifically. A general “middle class union” to advocate against transportation strikes and the like? That never really took shape.

 

 

Chauncey M. Depew on the Middle Class Union: Need for Organization of Public to Protect Itself Against Strikers and Profiteers Set Forth by Former Senator–Objectors Answered, Advantages Outlined (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 25, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

April 25th, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Project to Make Great Lakes Another Mediterranean

Should the five Great Lakes be connected for transportation and navigation, like the Panama Canal? In 1920, it was being seriously debated.

Pro: the economics.

New exports would be developed. Our export of coal is in its infancy. The United States is said to have half of the world’s coal. It will be called for by the world more and more. But there is no way to get to the seaboard economically from the great producing centres. More than any other product it clogs up the railroads. With a water route open from the lakes to the ocean, our export of coal would grow by leaps and bounds.

Con: also the economics.

According to them, the… project would waste money and help cripple United States commerce. In support of the first objection they assert that the New York Barge Canal, which already exists, is the only economic and feasible method of transporting cargoes from the lake ports to the Atlantic seaboard. No matter how deep or how wide the new waterway is made, they insist that no ship will find it a sound business venture to potter through the innumerable locks and narrow waterways. The greatest speed a lake or ocean steam could make through this waterway would be four miles an hour. The expense entailed, it is asserted, would be too stupendous to make the trip pay.

Although the Great Lakes were connected naturally, it was often too shallow or difficult for ships to actually navigate in practice. Today, the Great Lakes Waterway (GLW) has now accomplished that goal. The Welland Canal, connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario, was completed in 1932. The Soo Locks, connecting Lakes Superior and Huron, was fully completed in 1943.

 

Project to Make Great Lakes Another Mediterranean: Western States Favor Plan, but Many in New York Fear Effect on Barge Canal — Improvement of St. Lawrence Would Yield 2,000,000 Horse Power — Outlet for Wheat Fields (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 28, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 24th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Shall Women Practice Party Regularity?

As women gained the right to vote in 1920, should they be partisan or independent? Two women debated the issue in the New York Times: Republican Henrietta Wells Livermore for women’s partisanship vs. Democrat Katrina Ely Tiffany for women’s independence.

Livermore:

Women are not primarily office seekers. Therein lies their value in a political organization. They can sit on political committees and lend their efforts toward shaping the principles which will be followed by the members of the party. Without affiliation, the way is long and roundabout. With affiliation, they can strike their blows where they will do the most good.

Tiffany:

Women are a new force in the political life of the nation. Some men recognize that fact; others do not. Until all of them, or at least a majority of them, do, it is foolish for them to insist upon women’s loyalty to a program with which they have had nothing to do. No political party should depend on the entire loyalty of its women members if they have not had a voice in shaping the platform of the party and helping to select the candidates.

In recent years, women seem to be acting more according to Livermore’s position.

In 1994, female voters leaned more Democratic than Republican by 6 points; by 2017, that was up to 19 points. And female voters voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 15 points.

 

Shall Women Practice Party Regularity?: Opinion Among Suffragists Is Divided, Some Maintaining That Independence Would Be More Effective as a Political Factor — Four Types Among the New Acquisitions as Voters (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 7, 1920

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 5th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Debate,Politics

What’s Wrong With Labor?: Federation Threatened with I.W.W. Control from the Inside

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was a revolutionary socialist labor union. In 1919, a bitter debate brewed them and the more mainstream and moderate American Federation of Labor (AFL).

One organization’s aim was to attain some method of cooperation between capital and labor and the consequent mutual benefit. The other aimed to eliminate capital.

With such diametric opposition in ideas, the two organizations stood at challenge from the start, as no rival labor organizations had stood before.

All the radical elements, with the turbulent Western Federation of Miners at the head, were, it seemed, to rally around the I.W.W., purging the American Federation of units antagonistic to its purposes, and establishing a chasm between the two. Chasm there was, and across it were hurled the bitterest epithets heard in the labor world.

Ultimately, the IWW lost the debate and the AFL won.

The IWW went from 150+ thousand members in 1917 down to only 3,845 members as of September 2019, according to their most recent annual LM-2 report filed with the Labor Department.

Meanwhile, in 1955 the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to form the AFL-CIO, now the nation’s largest union federation with 12+ million members.

What’s Wrong with Labor: Federation Threatened With I.W.W. Control from the Inside (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 26, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 23rd, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Business,Debate

If the Treaty is Rejected — What Then?

Although WWI fighting ended November 1918, the Treaty of Versailles to formally end the war was registered in late October 1919. Requiring territorial changes and reparations, enough U.S. senators opposed it to prevent 2/3 passage by Congress.

Here, two U.S. senators debated the pros and cons of the treaty: Nebraska Democrat Gilbert Hitchcock in favor and Idaho Republican William Borah against.

Sen. Hitchcock, in favor:

This treaty… was secured from Germany at the cannon’s mouth. They all represent concessions which Germany would not willingly grant.

We have withdrawn our armies from Europe except a few thousand men, and have practically completed demobilization. We are through fighting, and Germany knows it. If we fail to hold her to the bargain made at Versailles when the armies were in the field and when Germany was helpless, we will be compelled to negotiate as equals and lose a large part of all that was granted in the settlement.

Sen. Borah, against:

If the treaty is rejected, the United States will be relieved at once of all obligations, legal or moral, to take part in European affairs, and we will as a people be enabled to take up at once and devote our entire time and attention to the solution of impending domestic problems.

Whatever we should see fit or think proper to do in the way of friendly assistance, advice, or support for other peoples anywhere, we should be able to do of our own volition and in our own way, relieved entirely of the embarrassment of carrying forward the plans and schemes of other nations.

Two Senate votes were taken on November 19, 1919, exactly a month after this article’s publication. One vote rejected the treaty 41-51, the other vote later in the day rejected the treaty 39-55.

However, enough other nations signed the treaty that it went into effect regardless. This is similar to other international agreements during the Trump administration, such as the Paris climate accords, which remain in effect with almost every nation besides the U.S. still party to its provisions.

Also, clearly 1919 was an era when referring to “Hitchcock” by last name alone — as this article does — meant the Nebraska senator Gilbert, not the film director Alfred.

If the Treaty is Rejected — What Then?: The Question Answered by Hitchcock and Borah (PDF)

Published: October 19, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 16th, 2019 at 12:43 pm