Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

The Woman and the Stick

In 1922, New York Times Magazine published an opinion column — written by the pseudonymous “A Barbarian Bachelor” — advocating for wife-beating. It seems a safe bet he remained a bachelor for a while after this.

Woman feels in her natural sphere, and therefore satisfied and happy when she is controlled absolutely by a man. Therefore, for the happiness of both, it it necessary that the man be dominant.

Outside of all this bunkum about the soul, there is only one way that the superiority of man appeals to woman — and that is physically. To make a woman happy, a man must keep fixed in her mind this physical superiority at all times. The failure of the New York man to do this is resulting in the decadence of the New York woman.

The way for him to recover his lost position is by the use of the stick.

By this I mean the actual physical beating of his wife.

One wonders what the author would think of the NYT’s 2020 Democratic presidential nomination joint endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

 

The Woman and the Stick (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 26, 1922

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 27th, 2022 at 11:01 am

Posted in Life

The Wild West’s Own New York

What place did New York occupy in the American imagination in 1922?

This piece by Anne O’Hara McCormick acknowledged it was the highest-population city and the country’s cultural capital, but noted that in a nation so geographically large (and still expanding), it couldn’t dominate the nation as some European countries’ political and/or cultural capitals did.

We read New York papers. We flock to New York shows. We wear New York clothes. We tremble over New York tickers in our business hours and shake to New York jazz in our hours of ease.

New York has not, it may be, the charm to evoke emotion in the provinces as do older national metropolises. We do not love New York as the English love London. We are not proud of it as the French are proud of Paris. We do not thrill to it as the Italians thrill to Rome.We do not weep over it as the Austrians weep over Vienna.

Her article also predicted that New York state was perhaps losing its stronghold in that another metric: producing U.S. presidents. Although there was a period where three out of five consecutive presidents counted New York as their political home state — Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt — by 1922:

We watch the political spectacle in New York and Philadelphia and Boston and rejoice in our emancipation from the corrupt and stupid civic slavery of the east. We used to resent it, but since we have abandoned the east to its sins, since we have chosen four out of the last five presidents of the United States from small towns and three from Ohio, since we have enthroned the small town in the Senate and in the White House, and have given Congress over to the west.

She was wrong: New York’s own Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected 10 years later. As for Ohio, it actually hasn’t produced a president since the incumbent in 1922: Warren G. Harding.

As for the last five presidents, they’ve really hailed from all over the map: Arkansas, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Delaware.

The Wild West’s Own New York (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 5, 1922

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

March 6th, 2022 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Life

From Flapper to Girl Scout

After its 1912 founding, the Girl Scouts of the United States (as it was then known) had amassed almost 70,000 members by 1920. This 1921 New York Times Magazine article profiled the surging organization, which would more than triple its membership that decade to 200,000+ members by 1930.

“Camping” to the girls has meant a canoe and a proposal. To man it has meant getting off from the woman and roughing it with his fishing tackle or his gun.

Now the Girl Scout program throws tradition into the discard, for it operates on the theory that a girl can practice woodcraft as well as a man can — can build a fire and construct an incinerator, can pitch a tent and police up barracks, do the Australian crawl and climb a mountain. This new feminist movement is rapidly infringing on man’s preserves.

The article makes no mention of Girl Scout cookies, which began in 1917 with a troop in in Muskogee, Oklahoma, though it’s unclear how widespread that was by 1921. It was the next year, 1922, when their official magazine American Girl (not to be confused with the unrelated current magazine of the same name) published their first cookie recipe.

Today, the Girl Scouts of the USA counts 1.7 million members.

 

From Flapper to Girl Scout (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 23, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 24th, 2021 at 10:01 am

Posted in Life

‘Heroes by Any Other Name’

This 1921 article was already calling Babe Ruth a “legend,” even though he hadn’t even won his first MVP award yet.

I think most people are hero worshippers, don’t you? Only nowadays they do not pick their heroes from the ranks of soldiers and senators. Five years of war gave us no outstanding figure, but one year of peace gave us Babe Ruth! Foch merely saved the world. The Babe has founded a legend. His is the fame of Ulysses and Charlemagne and Chaplin. His deeds will be told from father to son. His place in history is secure. He’s a hero.

That prediction came true, as Ruth remains one of the most famous athletes ever, even today. Similarly, the one other contemporary reference in that excerpt, Charlie Chaplin, remains one of the most famous movie stars ever.

But 1921 was before Ruth won his lone Most Valuable Player award in 1923before Ruth’s famous called shot home run in 1932, before his iconic (though possibly apocryphal) line about how he justified earning more money than President Hoover during the Great Depression because “I had a better year.”

Reminds me of when Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf in 1993 called Michael Jordan “the greatest athlete to ever play a team sport”… and then MJ went on to win another three championships and two more MVP awards after that.

Also, the idea that World War I produced “no outstanding figure” is sad but perhaps true. Arguably the most famous such figure may have been Alvin York, the Medal of Honor-winning soldier whose life story was turned into the movie Sergeant York, which won Gary Cooper the 1942 Academy Award for Best Actor. Still, if you ask the average 12-year-old (let’s say), they’ve probably heard of Ruth but probably not York.

 

‘Heroes by Any Other Name’ (PDF)

Published: Sunday, October 2, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

October 3rd, 2021 at 1:57 pm

Posted in Life,Sports

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

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 26th, 2021 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Debate,Life

College Sports and Motherhood

In 1921, some people argued, letting young women play college sports would make them worse mothers down the line:

The Victorian girl was a better mother than our modern feminine athletes. Every girl, it seems, has a large store of vital and nervous energy, upon which to draw in the great crisis of motherhood. If the foolish virgin uses up this deposit account in daily expenditures on the hockey field or tennis court, as a boy can afford to do, then she is left bankrupt in her great crisis and her children have to pay the bill.

Is there something in this idea, or is it merely a manifestation of the recurrent nostalgia for the Good Old Days (whether of edible mammoths, knightly jousts or genteel females), which no generation can escape?

A century later, Serena Williams, Lisa LeslieMia Hamm, Brandi ChastainChris Evert, Mary Lou Retton, and Bonnie Blair will tell you: it was the latter.

 

College Sports and Motherhood (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 3, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

July 2nd, 2021 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Life,Sports

Psychiatric First Aid for Fiction Writers

Walter B. Pitkin, a professor of feature and short-story writing at Columbia University School of Journalism in 1921, had an unusual piece of advice for how to write better love and romance stories: don’t fall in love yourself.

One young man, for instance, began by writing love stories as class exercises, and did them with such skill and lyric feeling that Professor Pitkin soon told him: “Young man, go your way in peace; I have nothing to teach you; you are a successful writer.”

A year later this same student returned with a bunch of rejected manuscripts — all love stories. To all, he said, he had given the best he had in him. He was in despair. He had sold his first three stories readily, and then came a string of failures.

“What on earth is the matter with me?” he asked his former instructor.

Professor Pitkin soon discovered that, within the year, the young man had married! He was living love stories and so could not write them.

“Psychology,” said Professor Pitkin, “explains that a certain type of person can express himself deeply only about those things he yearns for, not about what he understands or possesses.”

The professor then turned to the young man and asked: “Now what would you like most to do?”

“Oh, sail the South Seas and live the life of a freebooting pirate!” was the prompt answer.

“Then write adventure stories!” advised Professor Pitkin. The young man took the advice. Soon he began to receive checks again instead of rejection slips.

The bestselling romance novelist of our time, Danielle Steel, seems to have taken this “don’t stay in love too long” advice to heart: she’s been married and divorced five times. It gets crazier: her first marriage was at only 18, while another marriage was to a man who she met while he was in prison for robbery.

 

Psychiatric First Aid for Fiction Writers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 19, 1921

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June 17th, 2021 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Life,Literature

The Prohibition of Laughter

Despite the Roaring Twenties nickname, journalist James C. Young diagnosed a phenomenon sweeping the country in 1921, in his article “The Prohibition of Laughter”: people intentionally seeking out sad forms of entertainment.

Returning players gather in little knots on the Rialto and repeat the same theme — people decline to laugh any more. Victor Herbert was one of the first men to isolate the germ of the new ailment, and even he could not prescribe a remedy. Apparently, people no longer visit the theatre to be amused, but, like the famous Louis of France, they want to be miserable together.

In the old times the typical Broadway theatre crowd came from home or restaurant dinner in a mellow mood, glad to escape the day’s trials and ready to join in the fun on the stage. But nowadays they are grim and glum. Their troubles come with them and they sit in critical state on the comedians’ efforts.

Perhaps it was precisely because times were good in 1921? World War I was finally over, as was the 1918-19 flu pandemic — which, by the way, was far worse than the current COVID-19 pandemic. Time and again throughout history, popular culture demonstrates that people seek out more upbeat entertainment to escape their troubles when times are bad, and are psychologically better able to withstand “sad” entertainment when times are good, whether for movies or television or music.

Look at the highest grossing movies of certain years. During the great economies of the late ’90s and mid-to-late 2010s, Titanic was the top movie of 1997, Saving Private Ryan in 1998, American Sniper in 2014, Rogue One in 2016, and Infinity War in 2018. You don’t really see that same phenomenon of tragic movies dominating during “down” years economically, which might explain why the escapist Avatar dominated the box office in 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession.

Same thing for music. Researchers have found that a better economy correlates with chart-topping songs featuring slower tempos and more minor keys. But in 2020, one of the worst years in recent memory, Billboard‘s #1 song of the year was Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, among the fastest tempo chart-toppers of all time at 171 beats per minute.

That correlation holds true for the masses, at least. Among the (supposed) cultural elites, it’s a different story.

In recent years, professional critics and awards voters have seemingly grown to love the depressing and morose more than ever. That was perhaps never better exemplified than this past year, 2020, a year when we certainly could have used lighter films. Best Picture used to be awarded to comedies, from Annie Hall to The Artist. No longer, it appears. Bill Maher lambasted this year’s despairing Best Picture nominees in an April segment on his show Real Time.

This is one reason why Godzilla vs. Kong stomped at the box office last weekend and finally got people back to theaters: because it’s Godzilla vs. Kong, not Godzilla vs. Kong and his Crippling Battle with Depression.

It’s such an odd psychological quirk. I keep asking myself: why so many liberals have this seeming desire to want to be sad? Could it be because being sad allows you to feel like you’re doing something about a problem, without actually having to do anything?

 

The Prohibition of Laughter (PDF)

Published: Sunday, June 5, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

June 6th, 2021 at 10:01 am

Posted in Life

Enjoying the Presidency

A few months into office in 1921, Warren Harding had returned fun to the White House, resurrecting the Easter Egg Roll, the presidential tradition of throwing the baseball season’s opening pitch, and corresponding with letter writers on apolitical topics.

The Easter Egg Roll had been cancelled in 1918 due to wartime egg shortages, but President Woodrow Wilson hadn’t bring it back in 1919 or 1920 either.

It was characteristic, also, that [Harding] should order restored the ancient custom of staging an egg-rolling contest on the White House grounds on the Monday following Easter Sunday. He frankly enjoyed watching the children at play and observed the pleasure of the crowds obtained in the opportunity of viewing the White House at close range.

After William Howard Taft began the opening day ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910, it continued every year through 1916, but Wilson again suspended the tradition from 1917-20.

And [Harding] enjoys a baseball game — in fact, he may be called a fan. He agreed to open the American League season at Washington by tossing the first ball out upon the diamond, not solely because it was a thing which he was expected to do, but because he wanted to have a good time at the game. He even kept a box score, following each play and joining in the applause. He didn’t just hurry to the ball park, look on for a few minutes, and then hurry away. He stayed to the bitter end.

Harding also corresponded with letters writers who wrote him on less-than-serious matters. 12-year-old John D. Wackerman wanted Harding to attend a ball that would raise money for a local swimming pool. Harding deemed this worthy of presidential attention.

My dear John:

I received your letter this morning, saying that the boys were very much disappointed because they had heard I could not attend the ball in the interest of your swimming pool fund. I am exceedingly glad you wrote to me about this, John, because I do not want the boys to think I am not interested in their getting a swimming pool. I have used swimming pools myself, in my time, and there are one or two swimming pools in the creek out near Caledonia, Ohio, that I would like to get into again right now, if it were possible.

You tell the boys that I hope the ball will raise all the money that is needed to provide the pool, and that if some of you will come around to the White House with some tickets, I will buy some, whether I can attend or not.

Yours for the Swimming Pool,

Warren G. Harding

Sure enough, Wackerman visited the White House and Harding gave him a $50 bill — plus Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon chipped in an extra $20.

Others among the more “fun” national leaders have continued the tradition of responding to children’s letters on barely-political subjects, from Ronald Reagan’s note to a seventh grader who requested FEMA assistance after his mom declared his bedroom a disaster area, to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s letter to an 11-year-old girl who requested funds for dragon research.

 

 

Enjoying the Presidency (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 8, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

May 9th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life,Politics

The Stranger Within the Gates

New York state passed its first antidiscrimination law in 1895, yet in 1921 it was still being flouted by businesses in all sorts of underhanded ways.

But, of course, in actual practice, the suave young hotel clerk practices just such discriminations every day in the week. If he sees you coming and registers his inward objection, “I do not like thee, Dr. Fell,” the best he can promise is a room in the annex, week after next. Experience has rendered him 100 per cent. efficient in turning down the unwelcome stranger, whether it be a too-swarthy gentleman from Haiti or South America or an unsterilized appearing customer who might be the forerunner of the Bolshevist convention.

So what recourse did a refused would-be customer have to right this wrong? In 1921, not much. Which explains why most of them didn’t try.

The applicant rebuffed may be mortally certain that the clerk’s declaration, “No room,” is a downright lie; but in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand the bona fida applicant slinks away meekly enough, to seek refuse elsewhere. The thousandth man makes a test case of himself in court, with all the hotel forces arrayed against him to swear that the facts were quite different from those that he states. If he does win his case, the jury may award him 6 cents damages.

It took another few decades before the problem would actually be solved, not just in law but in reality. Much of that effort was accomplished by individual New Yorkers striving to change the system one by one, business by business, as Michael Woodsworth described in his 2016 book Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City —

Activists across New York City worked to end informal segregation by sending out “testers” to hundreds of restaurants known to exclude black clientele. Though largely successful, these challenges gained less press coverage than the wave of lunch-counter sit-ins that swept the South after 1960. Ironically, the problem for New York activists was that segregation was illegal, even if it persisted on the ground. They could not hope to deal a fatal blow to the Jim Crow system, since the Jim Crow system did not officially exist. Because discrimination endured in so many restaurants, hotels, and construction sites, despite laws to the contrary, assailing it required hundreds upon hundreds of individual challenges. No wonder that Brooklynites were eager to identify with the more dramatic — and more dangerous — Southern campaigns, to which Bed-Stuy activists often lent a hand in person.

Fortunately for all of us, the Jim Crow system was dismantled by law, just as New York City’s culture of business discrimination was largely dissolved through changing culture norms. (Note the word largely. Although you don’t see businesses outright refusing to seat customers based on their race or ethnicity anymore, that same person’s ease in hailing a New York City cab may tell a different story.)

Actually, in the past few years, the single most prominent controversy in the U.S. regarding a private business’s refusal to accept somebody was a Virginia restaurant’s refusal to seat a straight white person, because they worked for the Trump administration.

 

The Stranger Within the Gates (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 17, 1921

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Written by A Step in the Write Direction

April 16th, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Life