Coles Phillips Luxite hosiery ad.

5 Old Posts That Might Come in Handy Around Now

Hi everyone, I hope you’re all where you want to be, with the people you want to be with. I’m in my studio apartment in D.C., feeling lucky that, unlike many people I know, I’m able to see friends and family (from a distance) and go for long walks.

Mary Grace McGeehan, March 2020

Me in my studio apartment

Here are some old posts that might come in handy if you’ve had enough Marie Kondo-ing and binge-watching and need something to occupy your mind. And, if you’re feeling competitive, there’s a prize!

1.  Are you a superior adult? Take this 1918 intelligence test and find out!

photograph of cameo, girl looking at hand surrounded by gemstones.

Tobias “ToMar” Maier

For this post, my most popular of 2018, I took a totally scientific intelligence test from the February 16, 1918, issue of Literary Digest that measures your intelligence by your ability to define 100 words. You, too, can find out whether you’re a superior adult!

2. Did College Shrink Your Breasts? A Quiz

Barnard College, 1918

In 1875, an awful guy named Dr. Henry Maudsley wrote an article called “Sex in Mind and Education” in a British journal. It was about how women are unfit to go to college with men, because menstruation. (And other things too, but that’s the main deal-breaker.) In 1918, the Education Review, an American journal edited by Columbia University’s horrible president Nicholas Butler,* for some reason saw fit to republish it. I took Maudsley’s arguments one by one and turned them into a quiz where you, too, can see if you’re unfit to go to college. (And like any highly scientific inquiry it needs a control group–that’s you, men!)

3. Can you beat me at this 1918 intelligence test? Probably!

American magazine headline, How High do You Stand on the Rating Scale? March 1919.

American magazine, March 1919

All smug over my 1918 performance, I set out to take a 1919 intelligence test. And, well, the title says it all. Would you fare better than me in the post-WWI workplace?** Find out here!

4. Are You A Stagnuck? A 1918 Year-End Quiz (With a Prize!)

False Armistice headline, New York Evening World, November 7, 1918.

New York Evening World, November 7, 1918 (Library of Congress)

In December 2018, as I wrapped up my year of reading as if I were living in 1918, I posted this quiz. The response was a resounding, “I give up! This is way too hard!” A year of immersion in 1918, it turned out, had left me severely delusional about normal people’s knowledge about the false armistice, the staffing of the Wilson administration, modernist literary criticism, and the like. But you have way more time on your hands now, so here’s your chance to give it another shot! The prize for the highest number of correct answers received by April 15, 2020 (or the first person to get them all right if more than one person does, which judging from previous experience is highly unlikely), is a book of your choice that was written in 1920 or before and is priced at $25 or below on Amazon or through your local independent bookseller. Answers are all on the blog, and there’s a hint right here on this page!***

5. Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For

Coles Phillips January 1916 Good Housekeeping cover illustration, woman and easel.

Coles Phillips

Maybe by now you’re thinking, “Really? She thinks what I need right now is to take a test? She doesn’t get me at all.” If that’s the case, you can relax your mind and feast your eyes on these wonderful illustrations from some of my favorite illustrators of 1919. I’ve been obsessed with Coles Phillips since I wrote this. The image at the top is from a 1917 ad of his from the Overland automobile company.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

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*Last May, when I was watching Jeopardy, Alex Trebek said, “The 1931 Nobel Peace Prize was shared by 2 Americans…” and I yelled from the kitchen, “Nicholas Butler!” He continued, “…Nicholas Butler and this Hull House cofounder.” “Jane Addams!” I yelled, as the contestants all sat there like dummies.

**Leaving aside that if you’re a man you definitely would.

***Submit your answers through the Contact page. If you win and you live outside the United States, I can’t promise to be able to send you your prize, but I’ll do the best I can.

1920 magazine covers bring late winter cheer

When I picked up my mail after arriving in D.C. from Cape Town a couple of weeks ago, I found to my surprise that I have been a New Yorker subscriber since September. My first reaction: “Oh, look, a giant pile of guilt!” Then I saw the brightly colored covers, and I wanted to gather them all in a slippery embrace, like fellow survivors from a lost world. Few things from 100 years ago bring me as much joy as magazine covers, and few things (well, few non-news-related things) are as dispiriting as a 2020 magazine rack.

I had a post on February 1920 covers almost ready before I left Cape Town, but what with all the electricity cuts I didn’t manage to post it. So I’m covering both February and March here.

The February magazines feature lots of women engaging in wholesome outdoor activities like skiing,

Country Life magazine cover, February 1920, woman skiing.

Edwin Wilson

snowshoeing,

and pathetic ice skating.

Norman Rockwell cover, Saturday Evening Post, February 7, 1920

Norman Rockwell

And also engaging in unwholesome outdoor activities like this:

Warren Davis March 1920 Vanity Fair cover, naked woman walking into the ocean.

Warren Davis

The artist for this surprisingly risqué cover is Warren Davis. He also drew this February 1918 Vanity Fair cover,

which I took note of back in February 2018. That one was also daring, but it struck me as having that Greek mythology vibe that lets you get away with anything. It turns out, though, that young women cavorting around outdoors naked, or at most with a diaphanous scarf, comprise pretty much Warren Davis’ entire oeuvre.*

Some favorite artists are back: Frank Walts at The Crisis,

Frank Walts The Crisis cover, February 1920, drawing of African-American boy.

Frank Walts

Helen Dryden at Vogue,

Helen Dryden Vogue cover, February 15, 1920, woman looking in mirror.

Helen Dryden

A.M. Hopfmuller at Shadowland,

A.M. Hopfmuller February 1920 Shadowland cover, abstract landscape.

A.M. Hopfmuller

and, as always, Erté at Harper’s Bazar.

Erté February 1920 Harper's Bazar cover, woman in gown on beach.

Erté

There’s a Valentine’s theme at Red Cross

Red Cross magazine cover, February 1920, dog carrying Valentines.

(Google/HathiTrust)

and at Smart Set, which I’m pleased to see breaking out of its face-of-young-attractive-woman rut.

There are people in traditional dress at Sunset

Sunset magazine cover, February 1920, woman in traditional Spanish-Mexican dress.

and Liberator

Hugo Gellert

and World Outlook.

I loved these covers from House & Garden

Charles Livingston Bull House & Garden cover, February 1920.

Charles Livingston Bull

and Popular Mechanics

February 1920 Popular Mechanics cover, vehicles transporting houses and stores.

and Elite Styles.

February 1920 Elite Styles cover, woman in gown in room.

As I prepared for my trip, I was all psyched up to leave the southern hemisphere summer for some outdoor winter fun. Of course, what I actually ended up doing was lugging groceries home in the rain. So good riddance to February…

…and onward to blustery March!

St. Nicholas cover, March 1920, young man and women in wind.

(Google/HathiTrust)

Woman's World cover, February 1920, children struggling with kite.

They’re getting in some late-season ice skating at Red Cross**

Norman Rockwell Red Cross cover, couple skating.

Norman Rockwell

and some early-season boating at Motor Boating.

Motor Boating cover, March 1920, woman in pink coat steering wheel of boat.

Am I reading this wrong or is this elephant being used as an accessory to kill other elephants?*** And don’t get me started on the African man in the loincloth.

Popular Mechanics cover, March 1920, elephant hunt.

Everybody’s is late to the Valentine’s Day party.

Everybody's magazine cover, March 1920, soldier with cupid in helmet.

Vogue has a cover by regular George Wolfe Plank

George Wolfe Plank Vogue cover, March 1, 1920, flapper on bed.

George Wolfe Plank

and one by 26-year-old newcomer Harriet Meserole, who would go on to be a Vogue stalwart.****

Vogue cover, March 15, 1920.

Harriet Meserole

Bright spring colors abound at Harper’s Bazar

Erte Harper's Bazar cover, March 1920, Erte.

Erté

and The Delineator

Delineator cover, March 1920, woman in cape.

and The Green Book

Green Book cover, March 1920.

and House & Garden

Harry Richardson House & Garden cover, March 1920, house with path and flowers.

Harry Richardson

and Shadowland

A.M. Hopfmuller Shadowland cover, March 1920.

A.M. Hopfmuller

and Vanity Fair, which features a cover by Anne Harriet Fish, an artist whom I wasn’t familiar with but who will now join Gordon Conway and John Held Jr. in the ranks of VF artists whose work I can’t tell apart.

Anne Harriet Fish Vanity Fair cover, March 1920, couples dancing.

Anne Harriet Fish

Future New Yorker cartoonist Rea Irvin was the artist for this striking, though problematic to modern sensibilities, Life cover.

Rea Irvin Life magazine cover, March 1920.

Rea Irvin

This woman on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post seems to be about to ditzily cast her first vote for the supposedly more handsome candidate, which I would take offense at, except, um, Warren Harding.*****

Neysa McMein Saturday Evening Post cover, March 6, 1920.

Neysa McMein

The woodcut on the cover of Liberator is by J.J. Lankes, who was a friend of, and illustrator for, Robert Frost and Sherwood Anderson.

J.J. Lankes Liberator cover, March 1920, woodcut of horse and cart.

J.J. Lankes

This Photoplay cover isn’t particularly notable except that “If Christ Went to the Movies” is the best cover headline ever.******

Rolf Armstrong Photoplay cover, March 1920, Alice Joyce.

Rolf Armstrong

And it wouldn’t be March without a lion and a lamb, courtesy of Carton Moore-Park:*******

Carton Moore-Park Ladies' Home Journal cover, March 1920, lion and lamb with astrological signs.

Carton Moore-Park

Counting the days until spring!

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*Google him if you don’t want to take my word for it. Just don’t do it at the office.

**According to the go-to site for Norman Rockwell cover information, this was Rockwell’s fourth and last cover for Red Cross, which folded in late 1920. Rockwell turned to smaller magazines when large-circulation magazines passed on his illustrations.

***I always thought you couldn’t ride African, as opposed to Asian, elephants. Apparently you can, although, according to animal rights advocates, you shouldn’t.

****As far as I can tell, this is Meserole’s first Vogue cover other than this February 1919 one, which is mostly white space:

Harriet Meserole Vogue cover, March 15, 1920

*****Also, the cover artist, Neysa McMein, was a woman and an ardent supporter of gender equality. Here she is marching in a suffragist parade in 1917.

Neysa McMein marching in a suffragist parade, 1917.

New York Times, November 4, 1917

******Excerpt:

Excerpt from March 1920 Photoplay article "If Christ Went to the Movies."

*******Moore-Park also drew the “is it a lady or a parrot?” August 1919 LHJ cover.

Carton Moore-Park August 1919 Ladies' Home Journal cover, parrot looking at caterpiller.

The doctor and the chorus girl: a heartbreaking tale of interracial love

Recently, during one of the twice-a-day power cuts we’ve been experiencing in South Africa, I was reading a printout of the September 1919 inaugural issue of Shadowland,

Cover of Shadowland, September 1919, person filming tree with flowers.

September 1919

the movie magazine I mentioned in my last post. There was an article about the “Fame and Fortune” contest that Motion Picture magazine, Shadowland’s sister publication, had been running to select a future movie star. Fifty thousand young women had sent in their photographs, and, after months of deliberation, the celebrity jury, which included Mary Pickford and Cecil de Mille, was about to make its decision. The Shadowland article profiled four of the finalists.

Shadowland, September 1919

For lack of anything better to do in the absence of electricity, I started Googling the contestants on my phone. Three of them went on to, at best, brief, lackluster acting careers. The fourth, Helen Lee Worthing, joined the Ziegfeld Follies, went into the movies, married a black doctor…

What?

So began a week of obsessive research about Worthing and her husband, Eugene Nelson. The story of the early success and subsequent decline of these two talented people is one of the most fascinating, and one of the saddest, that I have come across during this project.

Helen Lee Worthing, Cosmopolitan, August 1922.

Helen Lee Worthing, Cosmopolitan, August 1922

Worthing was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Louisville, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Her tombstone and Wikipedia profile list her birthdate as January 31, 1905. Since this would mean that she was fourteen at the time of the Shadowland profile, which describes her driving around Louisville doing “errands of mercy” for the Red Cross, she seems—like many actresses before and since—to have shaved a few years off of her age. If the age listed in her Los Angeles Times obituary is correct, she was actually born in 1898 or 1899.

The contest judges ended up picking four winners, but Worthing wasn’t one of them.* She soon became a popular member of the Ziegfeld Follies, though, and often appeared in newspapers doing things that were considered newsworthy when done by chorus girls, like having a pet pig

Helen Lee Worthing with pet pig.

Seattle Star, April 20, 1921

and working out on an exercise bicycle.

Helen Lee Worthing on exercise bicycle, 1921.

Salem Capital-Journal, March 18, 1921

Worthing married a Wall Street businessman named Charles MacDonald in 1921. Or maybe they secretly married in 1917—like many aspects of Worthing’s life, details are blurry. They divorced in 1922. According to a syndicated article called “When a Husband is Jealous of His Wife’s Job” (or alternatively, “When a Wife is Jealous of Her Husband’s Job”), Worthing blamed the failure of her marriage on her career success.

“My business was my husband’s rival, all right,” she said, “for I made the mistake of earning more than he did. There were other things of course. Our working hours didn’t coincide for one thing and then neither of us was willing to give in to the other. But it all came back to my salary.”

Headline, When a Husand is Jealous of His Wife's Job, 1922.

South Bend News-Times, April 16, 1922

I couldn’t help sympathizing with MacDonald about the working hours issue:

“I go to work at quarter of twelve midnight and am not done until after two. Mr. MacDonald usually goes to bed about the time I am going to work. And I come in all thrilled and ready to make an evening of it, at 3 A.M., when he is getting his beauty sleep.”

The article also contains a troubling remark:

“He did not mind if I went to dinner with some other man or if a thousand cavaliers sent me violets…If, just once, he had blackened my eye, because I thought of some other man, I could have forgiven him everything. If he had loved me enough to be jealous—all would have been well. But not he.”

That is, if Worthing actually said this. I always take quotes in newspapers from this period with a grain of salt. The cavaliers with violets and the “but not he” sound particularly bogus. In any case, Worthing was later quoted as accusing MacDonald of giving her a black eye with his “big Irish fist.”

Photograph of Helen Lee Worthing with headline Loser in Bout Between Chorus Girls Takes Poison Tablets for Headaches.

Albuquerque Morning Journal, April 26, 1922

It was a month later that Worthing’s self-destructive behavior first made headlines. On April 20, newspapers—including the New York Times, which wasn’t as fascinated by the personal lives of chorus girls as other papers—reported that she had poisoned herself with bichloride of mercury. She claimed that she had meant to take aspirin, but her “friends” said they believed she had tried to take her life.

Headshot of Ziegfeld Follies chorus member Edna Wheaton.

Edna Wheaton, todocoleccion.net

A few weeks before, Worthing had had an altercation with fellow Follies chorus member Edna Wheaton, possibly about a boyfriend of Worthing’s named Jack. “They fought, kicking and scratching one another until separated,” a news report stated. “The fight cost her her position.” A Hearst newspaper ran a cartoon of the scuffle.

Headline, When I Married a Follies Girl Beauty, 1922

Washington Times, December 17, 1922

A young society man named Daniel Caswell, in a syndicated article he wrote following his own marriage to a chorus girl, expressed skepticism about Worthing’s suicide attempt:

Swallowing bichloride of mercury is considered the best [method of pretending to attempt suicide] by most of the chorus girls, for the reason that the poison can easily be pumped out of the stomach with little damage to their looks or their figures.

Ziegfeld Follies program, 1923

In 1925, Worthing’s appearance on Palm Beach with fellow showgirl Phoebe Lee caused a sensation. As a reporter recalled six years later, “When they came onto the beach the town gasped, telephone wires began buzzing, cameras started clicking, and the Misses Worthing and Lee walked into temporary fame.” What really got the crowds agitated, apparently, was the “weird contrast” between their attire—Worthing was wearing a “smart bathing suit of red silk” and Lee “a home-made bathing suit of calico somewhat resembling blue rompers.” Worthing and Lee had had to beg for a vacation, but, after this excellent publicity, managers started dispatching chorus girls to popular resorts to drum up business for their shows.

Cover of Broadway Brevities, 1925

There was one undesired piece of publicity that year: Worthing testified in the extortion trial of Gregory Clow, editor of the scandal sheet Broadway Brevities, that she had paid him $150 to kill a story. Clow was found guilty on several counts and sentenced to prison. Worthing was back in court in 1926, suing a perfume company for using her photographs without her permission.

John Barrymore and Helen Worthing in Don Juan, 1926.

On the whole, though, things were going well. Worthing acted in a half-dozen movies between 1924 and 1926, including Don Juan, in which she appeared with John Barrymore (along with a number of other women, of course). The New York Times said of her performance in The Swan, released in 1925, “Miss Worthing is capital in this part, very pretty and carefully gowned.” The Washington Star called her “very fair to look upon” in the 1926 movie Watch Your Wife.

Poster for 1926 movie Watch Your Wife.

Then, in 1927, she married Dr. Eugene Nelson.

Dr. Eugene Nelson at his office, 1929.

Dr. Eugene Nelson, New York World-Telegram and Sun, December 23, 1929

Nelson was born in South Carolina in 1888, attended college at Prairie View Normal and Industrial College near Houston, and graduated in 1911 from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, the first black medical school in the south. He moved to Los Angeles, which was considered one of the best places in the United States for African-Americans to live at the time (if only because their numbers were small and racism was primarily directed against Mexican-Americans), and opened a medical practice.

Headline, Dr. Eugene Curry Nelson

In October 1924, the leftist African-American magazine The Messenger ran a profile by its co-founder, Chandler Owen, titled “Dr. Eugene Curry Nelson: A Professional Business Man of a New Type Among Negroes.”

Chandler Owen, 1919.

Chandler Owen, 1919

While he was on his way to Los Angeles, Owen wrote, fellow train passengers kept telling him to look up Dr. Nelson. When he arrived in L.A., his host took him to the Humming Bird, a nightclub that turned out to be owned by Nelson.

An excellent orchestra was producing the sort of subdued syncopated music that fills one with the very joy of living. Chicago, New York and many other cities have beautiful places of amusement similar to the Humming Bird, but none better…It is the Fountain of Youth for the tired and jaded, the bored and melancholy.

Humming Bird, Los Angeles night club, The Messenger, 1924.

The Humming Bird, The Messenger, October 1924

A 1924 Los Angeles Record article on a raid on the Humming Bird, written by 16-year-old reporter George Hodel, describes the club differently: “The atmosphere is saturated by the odor of intoxicants. The spirit of the men and women inside is changing from tipsy fun to licentious debauchery.” The police swept in “while white women careened drunkenly in the Arms of Negro escorts.” The Humming Bird, officers tell Hodel, “has been a nightlife rendezvous, where whites dine, dance and drink with members of the city’s Negro colony.” It’s a place, Hodel reports, where “the wildest sorts of orgies are carried on nightly.”

Interior of the Humming Bird, Los Angeles nightclub, 1924.

The Humming Bird, The Messenger, October 1924

Hodel mentions in passing that this was the third raid on the Humming Bird in three nights, so it struck me that the attempts by the police to shut it down may have been less than sincere. I assume that after the broken bottles and the screaming there was a payoff in a back room before the festivities resumed. (Hodel, by the way,  went on to be the chief suspect in the notorious 1947 “Black Dahlia” killing. His story about the raid appears in a book by his son, retired LAPD detective Steve Hodel, who believes he was guilty.)

Owen gave a speech, which Nelson attended. A few days later, he joined Nelson and his wife, mother-in-law, and two daughters at their home.**

Photo montage of Eugene Nelson, his wife Angelita, and their house from The Messenger, 1924.

The Messenger, October 1924

We soon found ourselves seated at the table, which was artistically decorated for the evening repast. As we chatted I learned of his interest in literature, art, and science. He has a bent for poetry and fiction.

Nelson’s business interests weren’t confined to the Humming Bird. Among his other enterprises, he was the driving force behind a bank that financed black businesses and owned a share in an oil well. Owen—seeming to forget momentarily that he’s a socialist—waxes lyrical about the white American business giants whom Nelson, in his eyes, resembles.

Nelson is, Owen concludes,

a man of high character and intelligence—a great asset to any community. Some day when you go to Los Angeles, you will very likely hear the same complimentary remarks about the good doctor that it was my pleasure to hear. And, what is far more important, you will find them to be true!

Eugene Nelson and Helen Lee Worthing, 1929.

Nelson and Worthing, 1929

Most accounts of Nelson and Worthing’s relationship say that they met in April 1927, when he was called to treat her after she was assaulted by a stranger in her home. The Los Angeles Times said in its report on the incident, however, that Worthing had been “confined to her bed due to a nervous breakdown and was under the care of Dr. Eugene Nelson.” In a reminiscence that was published in Ebony magazine in 1952, after her death, Worthing wrote that they met when her maid called him after she fell ill following a party during the filming of The Swan, which was released in February 1925.*** Given that this was just a few months after the account in the Messenger of Nelson’s apparently happy domestic life, it may have suited Nelson and Worthing to give the impression that they met later.

Helen Lee Worthing

Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1927

Newspapers all over the country ran stories about the attack. Worthing said she had been awakened in her bedroom at 10:30 p.m. and gotten up to turn the light. She didn’t remember anything after that until her maid, May Roziner, found her unconscious, lying in a pool of blood with her nose broken and a tooth knocked out. Nothing was stolen. “Owing to its unusual character, [the incident] was not reported to the police,” the Los Angeles Times said. Roziner later claimed that she had seen a strange man lurking about the Worthing bungalow, which, the papers reported (helpfully to future intruders), was located at 6823 Iris Circle, Hollywood. There was a skeptical tone to some of the newspaper accounts, but no one pointed out that this was exactly the type of situation in which you would call the police or otherwise called Worthing’s bluff on this bogus-sounding story.

New York Times headline, Burglar Hits Actress.

New York Times, April 17, 1927

So what did happen? One possibility is that Worthing fell while intoxicated. The Los Angeles Times reported that “at a consultation of Dr. Nelson with other physicians…it was decided that her injuries could not have been due to a fall caused by a sudden lapse of consciousness, and that she must have been attacked,” suggesting that Nelson was trying to forestall rumors of a drunken fall.

There are holes in Worthing’s account of her first meeting with Nelson as well. There must have been dozens of doctors on call to treat ailing Hollywood residents. Calling a black doctor wasn’t something that was generally done—“it caused some comment that she should call a Negro physician,” an African-American news service later reported. So there had to be a particular reason why he was called. Like, for example, an unwanted pregnancy. This possibility makes sense given details of Nelson’s practice that later came to light.

Helen Lee Worthing and Eugene Nelson

Worthing and Nelson, date unknown, from San Francisco Examiner, June 2, 1935

However they met, they fell in love. This is one part of the story about which there seems to be no doubt.

Interracial marriage had been illegal in California since 1850 (and would remain so until 1948), so Nelson and Worthing were married in a civil ceremony in Tijuana on June 28, 1927, two months after the purported attack. The story was featured prominently in the African-American press.

Headline: Prominent Physician Weds White Movie Star

Pittsburgh Courier, July 30, 1929

“East is East and West is West and Never the Twain shall meet” may be true and good in everything but love and war,

the report in the July 30 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder began.

At least that is the opinion of Helen Lee Worthing, beautiful Hollywood film actress and former Follies girl, as she planned to cinch her recent civil marriage at Tia Juana, Mexico, June 28, to Dr. Eugene Nelson, prominent and wealthy colored physician, by repeating the marriage troth with a marriage ceremony to be performed this week at Mexico City, D.F.

Dr. Nelson, Beau Brummel of the local profession, financial backer of Culver City “black and tan” resorts and whose professional clients include a mixture of all nationalities and races with the Negro in the minority, seems not at all disturbed at the premature release in a Los Angeles daily, of the secret marriage and in a personal interview with a representative of the P.C.N.B. [an African-American wire service] as to the correctness of the report merely shrugged and replied: “Well they say I have done it. However the announcement came prematurely. We didn’t intend for the story to get out but I think a girl friend of her’s told it in New York and the story got out that way.”

The couple honeymooned blissfully in La Jolla. This carefree time didn’t last for long, though. When they returned home, Worthing wrote in the Ebony article, she saw an article headlined “Film Colony Shocked as Helen Lee Worthing Marries Colored Physician.”

One night, after Worthing and Nelson had moved into a luxurious home on Wilshire Boulevard, they attended a theater opening. They arrived in a limousine, she in a mink and he in a tuxedo. There were some comments about how lovely she looked, then jeers and derisive laughter as people noticed Nelson. During the intermission, Worthing saw a friend from the Follies, but “there was no recognition or friendliness in her eyes. I might have been a stranger to her.”

Worthing’s screen career ended and she disappeared from the papers until December 1929, when news of her separation from Nelson caused a sensation.

Headline, Lost Stage Beauty Separates from Negro Mate

Bismarck Tribune, December 19, 1929

As reported in the Los Angeles Examiner, via a December 19 article in the Bismarck Tribune,****

the mysterious disappearance two years ago of Helen Lee Worthing, former New York stage beauty, apparently has been solved with the revelation that she has separated from her husband, Dr. Eugene C. Nelson, a negro physician of Los Angeles who admitted that he was a ‘colored’ man but denied that he was an ‘African.’

Accused of dodging the questions of his race, Nelson said he did it to protect his wife.***** “I am what I am. It can’t hurt me much.” Race had nothing to do with the separation, he said. “It was simply that she was jealous. I believe she would like a reconciliation.”

An AP story said that Nelson and Worthing

lived for some time in Hollywood and later moved to the section in Los Angeles where persons of the colored race predominate. Miss Worthing gradually dropped all of her screen colony friends although, it was said, they had no idea that her husband was not a caucasian.******

So what was he, exactly? Inquiring minds wanted to know. The United Press reported that

asked if he was a negro, he said: “What is a negro? As I understand it a negro is African. I am not an African, I am an American. You might say I’m ‘colored.’”

This nuanced explication of racial terminology is, apparently, what the press meant when they kept saying that Nelson had “denied he was a Negro.”

Headline: Stage Beauty Back Home With Colored Hubby After 'Spat'

Bismarck Tribune, December 20. 1929

Just a day later, the papers reported that Nelson and Worthing had reconciled. “I hope no one feels badly about it,” Worthing was quoted as saying in a United Press report. “I love him too much to leave him. I know he has Negro blood, but he’s all the world to me.” The AP quoted her as saying, “To me he is not what the world would call a negro. He is not black in skin or black in heart. I believe he loves me better than anything in the world, and I know that I do him. No social barrier in the world can separate us.” Nelson was quoted in the UP story as saying, “We belong to different races, but we both are intelligent and our love surmounts any racial barriers.”

Headline "White woman, black mate happy again."

San Pedro News Pilot, December 21, 1929

On December 21, the AP reported that Worthing and Nelson were planning a second honeymoon in Palm Springs.

“Our troubles now are happily over,” Mrs. Nelson said as she rested in the “garden of love” of her home today. Dr. Nelson, debonair mustached professional man, whose skin is little darker than the olive complexion of a Spaniard, nodded agreement with his white wife’s words.

Helen Lee Worthing and Eugene Worthing over caption "Their Separation Denied," December 1929.

Indianapolis Recorder, December 29, 1930

This happy time didn’t last long. Over the next few years there were reports of separations, reconciliations, alimony disputes, and medical treatment for Worthing for fake-sounding conditions like “persistent insomnia.” Worthing filed, and dropped, several suits for divorce.  She accused Nelson of “physical pain and unspeakable humiliation,” including locking her out of their house while she was dressed in a negligee and giving her drugs to make her crazy. He accused her of infidelity, including with a 16-year-old boy, and of using her alimony payments to buy narcotics. A neighbor in the Glendale apartment house where Worthing was living said that she was suffering from hallucinations and had attempted suicide. A judge ruled that she was mentally ill and paroled her to Nelson’s care.

Helen Lee Worthing and Eugene Nelson in 1933, shortly after their annulment

Worthing and Nelson in 1933, after their annulment

During what turned out to be their final divorce proceeding, Nelson counter-filed for an annulment on the grounds that they had not met Mexican residency requirements when they married in Tijuana. Worthing fought back for a while and then, during a February 1933 hearing, burst out, “Let him have the annulment.” When her attorney tried to stop her, concerned about her alimony, she said, “I have confidence in the doctor.”

Headline Missing Ex-Actress Found, with photo of Helen Lee Worthing

Boston Globe, June 19, 1933

In June 1933, Worthing disappeared from a New York-bound train in Pasadena. Police, suspecting that she had jumped, searched the area around the tracks. She was found shortly afterwards in a Los Angeles hotel. She and Nelson had been discussing a reconciliation, she said, but he had changed his mind and put her on the train.

Margaret Fay Desmond

Margaret Fay Desmond, Bismarck Tribune, July 19, 1933

The rumored reason for Nelson’s change of heart: a romance with a white woman named Margaret Fay Desmond, whose husband was suing him for $100,000 for alienation of affections.******* The United Press reported that Nelson had used terms like “Dear heart,” “Fay, my love,” and “Honey love” in letters to Desmond, who was working as a stenographer in his office. (Desmond’s husband lost the suit.)

In April 1935, Worthing was arrested for public intoxication when police found her sitting on a curbstone, singing to herself. “Helen Worthing…singer now,” the Indianapolis Times said, meanly, in a caption under a picture of Worthing in her chorus girl days.

Helen Lee worthing with nurse after 1935 suicide attempt.

Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1935 (newspapers.com)

In September of that year, while living in a charity home, Worthing tried to commit suicide because, she said, the man she loved was marrying someone else. “With all my other troubles, this was more than I could stand,” she was quoted as saying. “But I don’t want any sympathy. I should have been stronger.”

In 1939, Worthing pleaded guilty to forging a narcotics prescription. During her probation hearing, the AP reported, four of her former “negro servants”—two maids, a cook, and a chauffeur—promised to contribute $15 a week to pay for her training as a “beauty culture instructor.”

Headline: Helen Lee Worthing, 49, Toasted as Beauty, Dies

Los Angeles Times, August 26, 1948

In August 1948, after many attempts to end her life, Worthing died of an overdose of sleeping pills. She had been living in the three-room Hollywood home of Jerry Oro, a 39-year-old man from the Philippines, who said that he had been her friend for ten years. Her tiny room, the AP reported, was full of “yellowed clippings depicting the rise, and quick fall, of the dancer.”

Scrawled on the leaf of a book found next to her bed, the Los Angeles Times reported, was a note saying, “I can’t stand another straw—it would be too much.”

Headline: Negro Doctor Held in Operation Death

San Pedro News Pilot, March 7, 1941

Nelson also met a sad end. In 1940, his medical license was revoked for the performance of an illegal operation, i.e. an abortion. He continued practicing, however, and the next year he was arrested for performing an abortion on a 25-year-old woman named Otilia (Tillie) Durazzo, who died after the procedure. Nelson was killed in a head-on collision in 1962, at the age of 74, while driving on a coastal highway north of San Diego. His tombstone says “husband,” so he was married at the time—to whom, I’m not sure.

What struck me most about Nelson was the aplomb he demonstrated through all this. After he married Worthing, journalists never asked about his professional accomplishments, or whether he and his wife had encountered racism. All they cared about was whether he was a “Negro” and whether he had lied about it. He fielded one ridiculous question after another with laconic good nature. “I am what I am. It can’t hurt me much,” he said.

Except, of course, it did.

I had mixed feelings about posting this sordid and depressing story during Black History Month, and on Valentine’s Day. But history isn’t just a parade of heroes. It’s also the story of flawed people and the social forces that acted on them.  Worthing and Nelson committed an exceptional act of courage in marrying, and they paid a high price.

And love is still love even if it’s not destined to stand the test of time. Let’s leave Worthing and Nelson on their honeymoon in La Jolla, where, Worthing wrote in the Ebony article,

our luxurious hotel suite looked out over the ocean and during the night I could hear the surf breaking on the rocks below. Once I remember thinking, dreamily—the restless waves are like my soul—yearning and seeking for peace. And now at last I have found it.

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*None of the four finalists went on to stardom, either, but the contest became an annual feature and the winner in 1922 was 16-year-old Clara Bow.

Clara Bow, Motion Picture magazine, January 1922.

Motion Picture, January 1922

**Owen says that the Nelson family lived at 108 South Oxford Street. There doesn’t appear to be such an address in Los Angeles today. There’s a 108 South Oxford Avenue in the Wilshire Central neighborhood, but, as far as I can tell from my very limited knowledge of L.A. geography, it seems to be an unlikely residence for Nelson. Most African-Americans lived in the neighborhood now known as South Central, then referred to as the “Black Belt.” (My efforts to parse Los Angeles geography were greatly assisted by this amazing map.) (UPDATE 1/15/10: According to  this dissertation by Alison Rose Jefferson, which became the book Living the California Dream: African American Leisure Sites during the Jim Crow Era, Nelson’s residence was in fact at 108 South Oxford Avenue and his medical practice was at one point in the West Adams district, not far from there.)

***I wasn’t able to access the Ebony article, so I’m relying on a description of Worthing’s account in the book Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood.

****For this post, I’ve made extensive use for the first time of the newspaper archive on the Library of Congress website. It doesn’t have most major newspapers (which tend to be hidden behind infuriating paywalls), but the newspapers in the collection relied extensively on wire service reports and articles from larger papers.

*****It’s not clear what “it” was. Given that Nelson was a leader in the black community and lived there for most of his life, the charge of “passing” seems ridiculous, even if you accept the flawed premise that his ethnic background was anyone’s business. My theory is that, during the short time he and Worthing lived in a white area, he didn’t go out of his way to tell everyone he met that he was African-American, and this was regarded as deceptive.

******These “friends” appear in news stories over and over, claiming that they had no idea that Worthing’s husband had “Negro blood” and expressing bewilderment about why she had “withdrawn” and moved to a black neighborhood. No journalist ever raised the possibility that her friends had withdrawn from her rather than vice versa.

*******Alienation of affections laws have since been repealed in California and most of the rest of the United States. However, I was surprised to learn that they remain in effect in six states. The Supreme Court has refused requests to review their constitutionality.

Woman's face, from La Vie Parisienne cover, January 1920.

Magazine Covers Ring in the 1920s

I’ve been in summer school at the University of Cape Town for the last three weeks, studying, among other things, Portuguese.* Between that, obsessing over the recently released archive of T.S. Eliot’s letters to his longtime love Emily Hale, and a pair of maritime mishaps that have been wreaking havoc on South Africa’s internet, I haven’t been able to get much blogging done. But it doesn’t seem right to let the first month of a new decade pass unrecognized, so I figured I’d look into how magazine covers ushered in the 1920s.**

The Saturday Evening Post rang in the new year with this J.C. Leyendecker cover. (The camel is a symbol of Prohibition.)

J.C. Leyendecker January 1920 Saturday Evening Post cover, baby with camel toy.

Sotheby’s website features this painting by Leyendecker, which may have been his original concept for the cover.

J.C. Leyendecker painting of baby with whiskey bottle and camel toy.

sothebys.com

I can see why the Saturday Evening Post wouldn’t go for it, but this version makes more sense because without the bottle of whiskey what is the baby shushing us about?

That’s about it for New Year’s-themed covers.

Erté, as always, is at the helm at Harper’s Bazar, with this cover,

Erte cover, Harper's Bazar, January 1920, woman with flowing shawl.

which, unusually, has some text on the illustration: “Begin Arnold Bennett’s New Essays on Women in this Issue.” I skimmed the essay, which was in equal parts irritating, boring, and off-topic.***

Vogue starts out the decade with a Georges Lepape cover featuring a person of color, but not in a good way:

George Lepape Vogue cover, January 1920, woman holding fruit, black man with tray on head.

This Vanity Fair cover is too good not to repeat. I’m not sure who the artist is, but I’m guessing John Held Jr. or possibly Gordon Conway. (Update 2/4/2019: It’s John Held Jr. I found the signature on a scanned copy of the magazine on Hathitrust.)

Vanity Fair cover, January 1920, cartoon of people driving cars.

There’s a George Brandt interior on House & Garden,

George Brandt House & Garden January 1920 cover, sofa with portrain of woman.

and a picture of movie star Norma Talmadge by Rolf Armstrong on Photoplay.****

Illustration of Norma Talmadge by Rolf Armstrong, Photoplay, January 1920.

The Crisis features a photograph of a woman from St. Lucia,

The Crisis cover, January 1920, woman wearing turban.

and Liberator has, um, something Bolshiviki by Lydia Gibson.

Liberator cover, Lydia Gibson, January 1920, woman with spear.

Life’s “Profiteers’ Number” features a cover by John Madison.

Life cover, January 1920, John Madison, cartoon of man and cupid.

In sunny South Africa, I sighed over the snowy scenes on the covers of Literary Digest (by Norman Rockwell)

Norman Rockwell January 1920 Literary Digest cover, bearded man looking at thermometer in snow.

and Red Cross Magazine

Red Cross magazine cover, baby feeding birds in snow while mother watches.

and Country Life

Country Life cover, January 1920, car in snow.

and La Vie Parisienne.*****

La Vie Parisienne cover, January 1920, woman in fur behind snowy branch.

If I could pick one snow scene to transport myself into, Mary Poppins-style, it would be this one, from St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas cover, January 2020, skating boy pushing girl on sled.

And, finally, two new****** publications that are well worth looking at: Shadowland, a beautifully designed movie magazine that features A.M. Hopfmuller as its regular cover artist,

Shadowland cover, January 1920, trees with swirls of green.

and The Brownies’ Book, the first-ever magazine for African-American children, edited by, who else, W.E.B. Du Bois.

The Brownies' Book first issue cover, girl dressed as angel.

I’ll be following both of these exciting ventures in the months to come.

In the meantime, happy January, everyone. Or, as we say in Portuguese, feliz janeiro!

Cartera magazine cover, January 2020, man sweating in front of giant sun with face.

*The other things: Dante’s Purgatorio, special relativity, Rembrandt, Plato and Euclid, Vermeer, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press, religious poetry, South African history and politics, and the Enlightenment. I tend to shop for summer school tickets like a hungry person at the supermarket.

**It turns out that when you put 1920 in Google it thinks you’re talking about the whole decade, so I keep having to sift through irrelevant pictures of flappers. It’s going to be an annoying year.

***But don’t worry, Virginia Woolf will, with her brilliant 1924 essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (published by the aforementioned Hogarth Press), make Arnold Bennet regret that he’d ever SEEN a woman.

Cover of Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown, Virginia Woolf, 1924.

****Armstrong also turns out to have illustrated the August 1918 Metropolitan magazine cover that won the surprisingly competitive Best Magazine Cover of a Woman Swimming with a Red Scarf on Her Head award.

*****This woman is, by La Vie Parisienne standards, displaying an unusual ability to keep all her clothes on.

******Or, in the case of Shadowland, almost new—its first issue appeared in September 1919.

The Top 10 Posts of 1919…and a new name for a new decade

Happy New Year, everyone!

The beginning of a new decade is a good time for a fresh start. A time to review your diet, and your exercise routine, and your blog title. When I launched My Year in 1918 on January 1, 2018, I expected it to be a one-year journey to the world of a hundred years ago. Which it was, in the sense that I spent that year reading ONLY as if I were living 100 years ago. Since this is not something one can do indefinitely, I reentered the 21st century at the beginning of 2019. I found I didn’t want to leave the 1910s behind, though, so I continued reading and writing about the world of 1919.

Vanity Fair cover, January 1920, cartoon of people driving cars.

Which, since I didn’t listen to my friend Emily, who warned me about this exact scenario, left me with an outdated blog name. I didn’t worry about this too much in 2019, seeing the year as an extended victory lap. But, as the 1920/2020s approached, I was growing tired of having to give long-winded explanations about why my blog was called My Year in 1918.

So I’m excited to announce this blog’s new, non-expiring, name: My Life 100 Years Ago.*

The Crisis cover, January 1920, woman wearing turban.

Now on to the most popular posts of the year.

The Top 10 wasn’t as competitive a category in 2019 as it was in 2018, when, posting with monomaniacal zeal, I ended up with 94 contenders. Last year I only published 21 posts. Still, thanks to the magic of Google search engine optimization—the more you’ve written the more important Google thinks you are, so you end up being, say, the go-to person on glamorous spy ring leader Despina Storch—I ended up with a slightly higher number of views in 2019 than in 2018.**

Here are the top 10 posts, starting with #7 because there is, weirdly, a four-way tie in that position.

#7 (tie). Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For

Coles Phillips Vogue cover, woman with hat,

I had a great time learning about the lives and art of these illustrators. My favorite discovery was Coles Phillips, who pioneered the Fadeaway Girl technique.***

#7 (tie). Can you beat me at this 1919 intelligence test? Probably!

Number chart for intelligence test, American Magazine, 1919.

Last year, I took a vocabulary-based intelligence test from 1918 and did pretty well. This year, I took a series of intelligence tests from 1919 and, well, the title says it all.

#7 (tie). My Perfect 1919 Summer Morning

I woke up one day in D.C. to find it was a miraculously beautiful August morning, then spent the whole day inside writing this blog post. It was worth it, though. For one thing, I now know way more than I used to about 1919 deodorant.

#7 (tie). Nobel Prize Laureate Selma Lagerlöf: A Swedish storyteller whose own story couldn’t be told

Posed photograph of Selma Lagerlof leaning against Sophie Elkan.

While spending a month in Sweden, I looked into the life of the first woman Nobel Prize laureate in literature and found lots of romantic intrigue.

#6. Princeton interlude: Orange and black is the new black

Princeton students in beer suits, ca. 1926.

In which I go to my Princeton grad school reunion and take on a burning question: What’s with those goofy jackets?

#5. And the best novel of 1918 is…

Good news—clickbait works! So I won’t tell you what it is here either. Hint: it’s based on the real-life woman pictured with her family in this photograph.

#4. My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge, Part 2

I have had a huge amount of fun doing this blog. The intelligence tests! The quizzes on What’s Your 1918 Girl Job? and Did College Shrink Your Breasts?! The search for 1918 love! But setting out to earn badges from the 1916 Girl Scout handbook was the most fun of all. In this second round, I polished silver and translated Proust and played the recorder and…well, read for yourself!

#3. Children’s Books: Your 1919 Holiday Shopping Guide

Man shooting duck, illustration by Boyd Smith, Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

This was another of my favorite projects of the year, and readers must have agreed—this post shot up to #3 in only twelve days. One surprise was the amount of violence in children’s books of 100 years ago. The illustration here is from a NURSERY RHYME.

#2. April 1919 Ladies’ Home Journal Ads: A Riot of Color for Spring

1919 Uneeda Biscuit ad with slogan Peace and Plenty, illustration of cornucopia.

The popularity of this post taught me this lesson: “People don’t care what you write, just put up a bunch of cool pictures and they’ll be happy.”

#1. My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge

The humongous success of this post—it had three time as many views as the next most popular post of the year—shows that readers had as much fun as I did with the Girl Scout badge quest. Luckily, there are more badges to be earned this year, with a new edition of the Girl Scout handbook out in 1920. And if you missed the second installment, it’s just a click away at #4!

Honorable Mentions:

Downtown Provo

Exploring Provo–and Mormon History: Sometimes initial popularity hurts a post in the stats, because if you read the post at the top of the blog without clicking on it then it’s credited to the home page. This is what happened with this post, which tied the record for daily views when first published but ended up as #18 of 21 for the year.

Celebrating 100 Posts: 2017 Me Interviews 2019 Me about My Year in 1918: There’s no particular reason to give this post an honorable mention except that I like it, it wasn’t far out of tied-for-tenth place, and it’s a good introduction to the blog if you’re just discovering it now.

Dishonorable Mention

More beautiful images from 1918: I always hope that the least-viewed post of the year doesn’t turn out to be a labor of love that I spent days and days on. Luckily (and perhaps not coincidentally), this hasn’t been the case so far. 2019’s worst performer, with 10 views**** (which is at least better than last year’s two), is one of three posts of images that I published in the first weeks of 2019, when I was shell-shocked after emerging from 1918. So I guess the “people only want to look at pictures” rule isn’t infallible.

Best-Performing Post from 2018

In search of a good mother poem: Posts originally published in 2018 didn’t qualify for Top 10 honors. Which is bad luck for this one, which only came in 17th last year but was this year’s second most viewed overall. I hope that all these visitors weren’t seeking inspirational Mother’s Day verse, since they would have been disappointed. That is, I think “Dedication for a Plot of Ground,” William Carlos Williams’ tribute to his fierce grandmother, is inspiring, but I can’t imagine it on a needlepoint sampler.

All the best for the new year! I’m looking forward to sharing the Roaring Twenties with you.

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*UPDATE 1/2/2020: This blog’s URL is now officially mylife100yearsago.com. Myyearin1918.com redirects to this site, so everything should happen seamlessly from your end regardless of how you access it, except maybe RSS feeds. (Drop me a line if it doesn’t.) Everyone on the internet made this process sound incredibly scary–“you’ll want to brush up on your FTP skills,” etc.–but it ended up taking five minutes on WordPress.

**Another thing about search engine optimization: Google severely punishes broken links, which my blog suddenly has lots of. The Modernist Journals Project recently revamped its site, breaking my many links to magazines such as The Smart Set, The Crisis, and The Little Review. I’m fixing them one by one. If you encounter a broken link to something you need (or just want) to see, send me a message on the Contact page and I’ll send you the link. (To the person who clicked eight times last week trying in vain to get to the issue of The Smart Set with H.L. Mencken’s review of My Ántonia in it, here it is.)

***Phillips seems to have been the inspiration for Grace Lin’s children’s book A Big Bed for Little Snow, which was just reviewed in the New York Times, with a fadeaway illustration from the book of a mother and child. In the book, Lin writes, “Little Snow listened to Mommy’s footsteps fade away,” which I suspect is a shout-out. (UPDATE 1/18/020: I sent a message to Grace Lin’s website to ask about this and got a response saying that Lin discusses the connection in this video. It’s well worth watching if you’ve got five minutes, and not just because of the Phillips connection.)

****But, remember, more people read it on the home page.

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New on the Book List:

I have been very lazy about updates. I’ve recently added mini-reviews for the latest (and last) entries for 2019:

The Girl from the Marsh Croft, by Selma Lagerlöf (1908; translated 1910)
Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1916)
Pictures of the Floating World, by Amy Lowell (1919)

Children’s Books: Your 1919 Holiday Shopping Guide

Happy holidays, everyone! This year’s Holiday Shopping Guide is devoted to books, because who doesn’t love a book? Well, lots of people, but, when I looked for gift ideas in the December 1919 issue of Vanity Fair, this monogrammed humidor ($30.00)

Humidor, Vanity Fair, December 1919.

and this kit bag ($118.50)    

Kit bag, Vanity Fair, December 1919.

and this vicuna bath robe ($70.75),

Vicuna bathrobe, Vanity Fair, December 1919.

to say nothing of this solid platinum opera watch with gold hands and numerals ($800.00, plus $96.00 for the chain),

Platinum watch and chain, Vanity Fair, December 1919.

all cost more than the average weekly wage  of $25.61. I’m feeling more egalitarian than that this season, so books it is.

My original plan was to review books for all ages, but the children’s books ended up taking up a whole post. I have the books for grown-ups all picked out and will try to write about them as well, but I’ve learned not to commit myself to future posts because they hardly ever happen.

Banner, Bookman, From the Child's Holiday Books of 1919, November 1919.

I had a lot of help with this gift guide. New York chief children’s librarian Annie Carroll Moore, whom I wrote about earlier this year, has a holiday book roundup in the November issue of The Bookman. Boston chief children’s librarian Alice Jordan* has recommendations in House Beautiful, and Elementary School Journal and Literary Digest chime in as well. Library Journal, taking its sweet time about it, published the results of a vote among children’s librarians on the best children’s books of 1919 in its December 1920 issue.

Books With Color Illustrations

Children’s picture books as we think of them today, with a color illustration on every page, didn’t exist in 1919. Even books for very young children consisted mostly of text, with occasional line illustrations and a few color plates. If my own experience of reading to children is any guide, small children of a hundred years ago would push the pages impatiently to get to the pictures, leaving the adult reader to come up with a highly abridged version of the story on the fly. So the pictures are the key.

Cover, The Firelight Fairy Book, Henry Beston, illustrated by Maurice Day, 1919.

Moore was so entranced by The Firelight Fairy Book by Henry Beston, with illustrations by Maurice Day, that she went to Boston to meet Beston. He turned out to be a World War I veteran who started writing one of the tales, “The City Under the Sea,” IN A SUBMARINE IN ACTIVE PURSUIT OF GERMAN SUBMARINES, which is a great story, if not exemplary military tradecraft.

Maurice Day illustration, boy and girl with dragon, The Firelight Fairy Book.

Maurice Day, The Firelight Fairy Book

Illustration by Maurice Day, boy and old man, The Firelight Fairy Book.

Maurice Day, The Firelight Fairy Book

Moore wasn’t as big a fan of Day’s illustrations in a new edition of Horace E. Scudder’s Fables and Folk Stories—“his animals might be stronger”—but I was quite taken with this one:

Fables and Folk Stories, illustration by Maurice Day.

Maurice Day, Fables and Folk Stories

Some other illustrated books Moore discusses with varying levels of enthusiasm:

Czechoslovak Fairy Tales by Parker Fillmore, with illustrations by Jan Matulka,

Illustration by Jan Matulka for Czechoslovak Fairy Tales

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, with new illustrations by N.C. Wyeth,

Illustration by N.C. Wyeth, The Last of the Mohicans

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald, with new illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith,**

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from At the Back of the North Wind.

a new edition of The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, also illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith,

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Water Babies.

Saint Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, with new illustrations by Harold Pyle,

Illustration by Harold Pyle, Saint Joan of Arc by Mark Twain.

and Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, with illustrations by Boyd Smith.

Illustration by Boyd Smith, Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

Caveat emptor on this last one. As I was perusing Smith’s illustrations, finding them quite charming, I came across this one,

Man shooting duck, illustration by Boyd Smith, Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.

which turns out to illustrate this poem,

There Was a Little Man from Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes, text.

which I don’t recall my mother ever reciting as she lulled me to sleep.

Cover, The Burgess Bird Book.

I imagined Thornton Burgess’s The Burgess Bird Book for Children as a reference for budding Audubons. It turned out to be full of twee tales, such as one in which Jenny Wren meets up with Peter Rabbit, who was Beatrix Potter’s intellectual property, right? The pictures by the Dutch-Puerto Rican artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes*** are wonderful, though.

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes from The Burgess Bird Book for Children.

Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes from The Burgess Bird Book for Children.

Alice Jordan had good things to say about A Chinese Wonder Book by Norman Hinsdale Pitman, illustrated by Li Chu-T’ ang. I was intrigued, especially because Jordan said that Li was Chinese. I loved the illustrations,

Illustration by Li Chu-T' ang, A Chinese Wonder Book.

Illustration by Li Chu-T' ang, A Chinese Wonder Book.

Illustration by Li Chu-T' ang, A Chinese Wonder Book.

but I wondered whether Pitman was one of those people who make up stories and claim they’re foreign folk tales. He turned out, though, to be an American professor who spent many years teaching in China and won several awards from the Chinese government, so presumably he knew what he was talking about.

This is as multicultural as children’s books get in 1919, so I was inclined to declare it my #1 recommendation in this category. To make sure I wasn’t leading you astray, I read one of the tales, “Lu-San, Daughter of Heaven.”

Illustration by Li Chu-T' ang, A Chinese Wonder Book.

What young person wouldn’t relate to the story of a girl whose parents don’t appreciate her (that’s putting it mildly—they’re always trying to sell Lu-San into slavery or kill her) but end up having to kiss her feet and watch as she ascends to heaven on a golden throne? I liked the girl-power theme (Lu-San’s brothers are treated like kings) and the realistic way her parents respond after Lu-San is transformed into a radiant princess and their dingy houseboat into a majestic ship:

At first they did not know how to live as Lu-san had directed. The father sometimes lost his temper and the mother spoke spiteful words; but as they grew in wisdom and courage they soon began to see that only love must rule.

So it’s official: A Chinese Wonder Book is my #1 recommendation.

For Middle-Grade Readers

There is a lot of blurring between these categories; many of the books mentioned above are appropriate for middle-grade readers as well. Here are some selections specifically for this age group.

Or not. Sometimes Moore just makes me scratch my head.

For example, what is Susan Hale’s Nonsense Book doing in a children’s book roundup? That the handwritten limericks are illegible is the best thing that can be said about them.**** Would you read this tale of death by jumping out a window

Illustrated limerick from Nonsense Book by Susan Hale.

or this one of suicide by exposure

Illustrated limerick from Nonsense Tales by Susan Hale.

to your favorite nephew?

Cover, John Martin's Annual, 1917.

Moore pans John Martin’s Big Book for Little Folks, No. 3. I couldn’t find it, but I did find the 1917 volume. It starts out with this poem,

Dedication to a Little Friend from John Martin's Annual, 1917.

which reminds me of the fairy tales that simpering old ladies inflict on the kids in the Edward Eager books (now THERE are some great books for middle-grade readers).

Next up is the world’s least challenging riddle.

Riddle from John Martin Annual, 1917. Answer is rabbits and there are pictures of rabbits.

So I’m on board with Carroll even before she quotes from Martin’s story about Thoreau:

He was so kind! and he was a busy man too. He built his own house. He had a garden. He made lead pencils. He wrote books. Most likely we never did know a busy man who was more kind than he was to everybody—animals and all—children and all. No wonder he became a very famous man.

As we will see below, kindness to animals and fame do not always go hand in hand.

Cover of What Happened to Inger Johanne by Dikken Zwilgmeyer.

Moore describes What Happened to Inger Johanne, a translation of an 1890 book by the Norwegian writer Dikken Zwilgmeyer (UPDATE 12/22/2019: who turns out to be a woman, real name Barbara Hendrikke Wind Daae Zwilgmeyer),  

Cover of Inger Johanne Bokene by Dikken Zwilgmeyer.

as “alive from beginning to end.” It’s a miracle that Inger herself is alive from beginning to end. In the illustrations by Florence Liley Young, she and her friends fall out of a boat,

Illustration by Florence Liley Young from What Happened to Inger Johanne.

get stuck in a barn window when the ladder breaks,

Illustration by Florence Liley Young from What Happened to Inger Johanne.

smash a window with a book,

Illustration by Florence Liley Young from What Happened to Inger Johanne.

and get lost in the woods.

Illustration by Florence Liley Young from What Happened to Inger Johanne.

The chapter on Christmas mumming is less harrowing. My favorite part is where the children speak P-speech, which turns out to be a Norwegian version of Pig Latin. It goes (in the English translation) like this: “Can-pan you-pou talk-palk it-pit?”

A “child of ten”—who I assume is our old friend Edouard from last year’s holiday roundup—says that Inger sounds more like Tom Sawyer than anyone else. I trust Edouard’s judgment, and a girl Tom Sawyer is just the thing. So What Happened to Inger Johanne is my #1 recommendation for middle-school readers.*****

For Older Children

Theodore Roosevelt and sons, from Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to his Children, 1919.

Frontispiece, Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children

 The children’s book of the season is Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to his Children. It’s the only unanimous choice on the librarians’ list, and it did sound promising: whatever you think of Roosevelt, he had (according to my childhood reading, anyway) some of the most fun presidential children in history. I was merrily scrolling to get to a letter about Christmas in the White House when I was stopped in my tracks by the words “kill” and “stabbed.” They turned out to be from a 1901 letter to Roosevelt’s twelve-year-old son Theodore III, titled “A Cougar and Lynx Hunt.”  

Theodore Roosevelt with hunting party, Colorado, 1905.

Theodore Roosevelt hunting in Colorado, 1905 (Denver Library Digital Collections)

Theodore (père) is out hunting with his friend Phil in Colorado when their dogs run up a tree after a cougar. Theodore has a clear shot at it, but Phil is taking a picture. The cougar jumps out of the tree, the dogs chase it and get into a big fight, and the cougar

bit or clawed four of them, and for fear that he might kill them I ran in and stabbed him behind the shoulder, thrusting the knife you loaned me right into his heart. I have always wanted to kill a cougar as I did this one, with dogs and the knife.

Banner, Reviews of New Books, Some of the Seasons Best Juvenile Books

After that, I just wasn’t feeling the Christmas in the White House spirit. I decided to move on to Literary Digest and “Some of the Seasons [sic] Best Juvenile Books.”

Title page and frontispiece of Full-Back Foster by Ralph Henry Barbour.

Full-Back Foster by Ralph Henry Barbour: “Describes how a ‘sissy’ is turned into a most serviceable full-back.”

Pass!

Cover, The Boys' Airplane Book, A. Frederick Collins.

The Boys’ Airplane Book by A. Frederick Collins. “It…behooves all ambitious boys to know the mechanism of the airplane, and to be able to construct one which not only will fly but will carry a human passenger….One feels that it would be impossible to go astray under such guidance.”

One would just as soon not test this theory. Pass!

Cover, Uncle Sam: Fighter, William Atherton DuPuy.

Uncle Sam: Fighter by William Atherton DuPuy. “Describes graphically how we prepared our draft army in the recent war, and how we mobilized our energies efficiently for the most expeditious service to ourselves and our allies. Navy purchases, railroad administration, the minimizing of waste…”

Yawn! And all lies—the U.S. war mobilization was totally inept. Pass!

Title Page, Daddy Pat of the Marines, Lt. Col. Frank E. Evans.

Daddy Pat of the Marines by Lieut. Col Frank E. Evans (U.S.M.C.) “Even the six-year-olds must have their war books.”

Begins thus:

Text from Daddy Pat of the Marines referring to "the old Kaiser and his long-legged rat face son."

 Pass!

Illustration, Rosemary Greenaway.

Rosemary Greenaway by Joslyn Gray. “The sentimental spirit which pervades this story will be liked by a certain type of girl reader.”

Pass!

Cover, The Heart of Pinocchio, Collodi Nipote.

The Heart of Pinocchio by Collodi Nipote. The author of the original Pinocchio “is dead, but fortunately another member of the Lorenzini family has skillfully introduced Pinocchio into a story of war.”

Pass!

Cover, Joan of Arc, Laura E. Richards.

Joan of Arc by Laura E. Richards. “She has entered more thoroughly into the historical aspects of her heroine than most writers for girls and boys; her sources are carefully noted throughout.”

I’ll stick with Mark Twain. Pass!

These are the best juvenile books? I’d hate to see the worst.

Cover of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates, illustrated by Maginel Wright Enright.

Then I checked out a new edition of Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 children’s classic Hans Brinker, or, The Silver Skates, described by Elementary School Journal as a “beautiful gift ed.”

I had thought of Hans Brinker as a middle-grade book. The story turns out to be more harrowing than I imagined, though, with an amnesiac father and a doctor with a dead wife and a missing son. There’s also a scene in which someone draws a knife across a robber’s throat and threatens to kill him. Weary of violence by now, I almost disqualified it. But it has ice skating! And wooden shoes! And the Festival of Saint Nicholas, during which Dutch children become “half wild with joy and expectation”! And tulips! (A footnote about tulip mania quotes from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.****** You can’t accuse Dodge of talking down to children.)

Not to mention the wonderful new illustrations by Maginel Wright Enright, who turns out to be the sister of Frank Lloyd Wright and the mother of children’s writer Elizabeth Enright, author of Gone-Away Lake and The Four-Story Mistake.

Maginel Wright Enright illustration, Hans Brinker, people skating on canal.

Maginel Wright Enright illustration, Hans Brinker, people around table.

Maginel Wright Enright illustration, Hans Brinker, people standing next to house.

So, finally, a book to recommend to older readers!

Not all children are alike, though. What to give to the kind of child (often a boy) who would open a book, even one as amazing as Hans Brinker, with a wan thank you and a sigh?

Cover, American Boys' Book of Signs, Signals and Symbols, by Daniel Beard.

Well, you (and he) are in luck! There’s American Boys’ Book of Signs, Signals and Symbols, by Daniel Carter “Uncle Dan” Beard, a founding figure in American Boy Scouting.******* According to Elementary School Reader, it

explains simply all kinds of signs including danger signs, trail signs, signs of the elements, secret writing, gesture signals, deaf and dumb alphabet, signal codes, railway signals, hobo and Indian signs, and Boy Scout signs and signals.

This book is guaranteed to have your child running outside as soon as the presents are opened to set trail signs and communicate with his friends in steamer toot talk.

Signs from American Boys' Book of Signs, Signals, and Symbols.

Automobile signs from American Boys' Book of Signs, Signals, and Symbols.

Illustration from American Boys' Book of Signs, Signals, and Symbols.

(Be forewarned that the book includes swastika-like symbols and hobo signs to note the presence of “white, yellow, red, and black men,” along with some discussion of American Indians that, while intended to be respectful, wouldn’t pass muster today.)

So that’s it—a gift for every kid on our list.

Oh, wait! What about that dreamy teenaged girl who’s longing for a good book to curl up with while her siblings are outside drawing hobo signs?

Henri Matisse, Young Woman in the Garden, 1919.

Henri Matisse, Young Woman in the Garden, 1919

Betty Bell by Fannie Kilbourne sounded promising at first. Moore describes it as “a very readable, thoroughly sophisticated, and well written analysis of a cross-section of Betty Bell at sixteen.” She warns, however, that “we do not recommend the book for children’s reading. In the libraries its title would immediately attract girls from ten to twelve whose mothers would object to it.”

Naturally I immediately downloaded it and started skimming to find the objectionable parts. The book is indeed an exceptionally accurate description of what goes on in an adolescent girl’s brain, but I was soon reminded that inside an adolescent girl’s brain is not a place anyone except the owner of that particular brain would want to spend much time.

Page from Betty Bell by Frances Kilbourne, with "kiss" highlighted eight times.

Our dreamy young woman would think Betty was an idiot.********

Frontispiece of The Pool of Stars, illustration by Edward C. Caswell.

Frontispiece of The Pool of Stars, Edward C. Caswell

There was a lot of buzz around The Pool of Stars by Cornelia Meigs, which Moore calls “a very well-written story.” I remembered Meigs from those lists of Newbery Award winners they were always inflicting on us in elementary school,********* so I spent an hour reading it on my Kindle.

Betsey, our heroine, is agonizing as the book begins about whether to go to college next year or go to Bermuda with her rich aunt, which would (for reasons that are not explained) permanently put the kibosh on college. Studying is so EXHAUSTING, Betsey keeps thinking. All those geometrical shapes and Barbary pirates! I’d rather go to the beach!

I’m starting to suspect that Betsey is not a true intellectual.

She does decide to go to college, though, and spends the rest of the book pondering the mystery of why a young woman living nearby always looks so sad. I. DO. NOT. CARE., I kept saying, before finally giving up.

Cover of Rainbow Valley, Anne of Green Gables No. 7, L.M. Montgomery.

There’s also Rainbow Valley, the fifth volume in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series. (Now it’s considered the seventh, but two volumes covering earlier parts of Anne’s life were published in the 1930s.) It didn’t appear on any of the best-of-1919 lists, maybe because it was published late in the year, but, hey, it’s Anne of Green Gables, right?

Except that Anne has, in the two years since Anne’s House of Dreams was published, somehow been transformed from a newlywed (and, by the end of the book, mother of two) to a mother of six who spends all her time thinking about the problems of the town’s new minister.**********

Note to children’s authors: happy newlyweds are one thing, but mothers of six are (to young girls) just squalid.

So what to give to our dreamy girl? In desperation I turned to H.L. Mencken, even though I knew perfectly well that books for girls are not his thing.

And there, miraculously, it was, in a November 1919 Smart Set article called “Novels for Indian Summer.”

Cover of Smart Set, November 1919.

The best of them, and by long odds, is “The Moon and Sixpence” by W. Somerset Maugham,

Mencken begins.

It has good design; it moves and breathes; it has a fine manner; it is packed with artful and effective phrases. But better than all this, it is a book which tackles head-on one of the hardest problems that the practical novelist ever has to deal with, and which solves it in a way that is both sure-handed and brilliant. This is the problem of putting a man of genius into a story in such fashion that he will seem real—in such fashion that the miracle of him will not blow up the plausibility of him.

The Moon and Sixpence is the story of Charles Strickland, a middle-aged British stockbroker who abandons his family and goes to Paris and then to Tahiti to pursue his dream of becoming a great artist. He succeeds (the story is based loosely on the life of Paul Gaugin), but at a tremendous cost to those around him, and, ultimately, himself.

Sacred Spring, Paul Gauguin, 1894.

Sacred Spring, Paul Gauguin, 1894.

Really? you may be thinking. Your top recommendation for a dreamy teenaged girl is about an egocentric middle-aged stockbroker? Based on the life of a painter who was so reprehensible, even by the standards of 19th-century painters, that the New York Times ran an article last month headlined, “Is It Time Gaugin Got Cancelled?”

All I can tell you is this: I was that dreamy girl, and I loved The Moon and Sixpence.

Happy holiday reading, everyone!

squiggle

*I pictured Moore and Jordan as bitter enemies, but Moore turns out to have described Jordan as the best librarian-reviewer, which is especially gracious considering that Moore invented the profession.

**Moore mentions, apropos of nothing, that Smith also designed the color poster for Children’s Book Week in 1919, which, as I’ve mentioned, is the first time Children’s Book week was celebrated.

Children's Book Week Poster, 1919, Jessie Willcox Smith, children with bookshelf.

***Fuertes (who was only named after, not related to, famed but racist naturalist Louis Agassiz) was one of the most prolific bird illustrators of his time. Two bird species were named after him, including the Fuertes’s parrot, which is now critically endangered.

Illustration of Fuertes parrot from American Museum Journal, 1918.

American Museum Journal, 1918

****Hale’s brother Edward Everett Hale of “The Man Without A Country” fame clearly got all the literary talent in the family.

*****Note to Norwegian readers (okay, reader): Is this book still famous? And is P-speech an actual thing?

******Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds was written by Charles Mackay, the father of our old friend Marie Corelli.

*******Beard was the founder of the Sons of Daniel Boone, which merged into the Boy Scouts in 1910.

Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden-Powell, and Dan Beard, date unknown.

Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden-Powell, and Dan Beard, date unknown

********Much in the way I couldn’t stand the supposedly universally beloved but, to me, vapid heroine of Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

*********Meigs won for her 1933 book Invincible Louisa, a biography of Louisa May Alcott.

**********Could this have been related to problems in Montgomery’s own marriage to a depressed minister, who, she complained in her diary in 1924, would stare blankly into space for hours with a “horrible imbecile expression on his face”?

Norman Rockwell Literary Digest Thanksgiving cover, 1919

Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, as we say in South Africa, “Happy Normal Day When Spouses’ Employers Schedule Evening Work Events!”

So I won’t be celebrating with turkey this year, but I do want to pause to think about some people of 1919 I’m particularly thankful for. Last year, I thanked some of my most admired people from 1918. This year, as the end of the decade rolls around, I’m celebrating the illustrators of the 1910s who made the decade such a visual delight to go back to. You can learn about their lives, or, if you’re too zonked out from overeating, skip the words and feast your eyes on their beautiful art.

  1. Gordon Conway

Gordon Conway, date unknown (fashionmodeldirectory.com)

Gordon Conway, who despite her name was a woman, was born in Texas in 1894, the daughter of wealthy parents. Encouraged in her artistic aspirations by her globetrotting mother, she began her career with Condé Nast at the age of 20. She also designed costumes for film and the stage in New York and in Europe, where she moved in 1920 with her husband. The marriage didn’t last long, but she stayed in London, living with her mother. Conway’s work ethic was legendary, but ill health forced her into early retirement in 1937. She returned to the United States as World War II approached, moved to a family estate in Virginia, and died in 1956.

Here’s how Vanity Fair described her in a contributors column in August 1919:

She is one of the more temperamentally inclined of the younger artistic set; she finds it absolutely impossible to get any real stuff into her sketches unless she is sitting in the midst of her pale lavender boudoir, and wearing a green brocaded robe de chambre lined with dull gold and having a single rose on the shoulder. Miss Conway is justly proud of the fact that she draws entirely by ear—never had a lesson in her life.

Here are two of her covers for the magazine,

January 1918

August 1918

here is one that Condé Nast lists as “artist unknown” but sure looks like her,

October 1918

and here is an illustration that Vanity Fair rejected but was later used as a Red Cross poster:

sites.utexas.edu

The “new women” Conway portrayed helped shape an era.

Thank you, Gordon!

  1. Georges Lepape

Georges Lepape, date unknown (babelio.com)

Georges Lepape, born in 1887 in Paris, was a regular cover artist for Vogue. He lived in France, aside from a brief stint at Condé Nast in New York. He died in 1971.

Here are some of his Vogue covers from 1919,

January 15, 1919

June 15, 1919

July 15, 1919

and here’s one from Vanity Fair.

December 1919

Merci, Georges!

  1. John Held Jr.

John Held Jr. (Judge magazine, 1923)

John Held Jr. was born in Salt Lake City in 1889, the son of a British convert to Mormonism. He went to high school with future New Yorker founder Harold Ross, a lifelong friend and associate. Held had just about the best job you could have as a soldier in World War I, supposedly copying hieroglyphics from Mayan ruins but really drawing maps of the coastline and keeping an eye out for German submarines.*

My family had an anthology of New Yorker cartoons when I was growing up, and Held’s woodcuts used to give me the creeps.** So I was surprised to see that he was the artist behind some of Vanity Fair’s cheeriest covers, like these:

October 1919

November 1919

July 1919

Held would go on to do cover illustrations for F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Like a Fitzgerald character, he lived a riotous life, marrying four times, earning a fortune, losing most of it in the 1929 stock market crash, and suffering a nervous breakdown. Fitzgerald notwithstanding, his life did have a second act: he designed the sets for the phenomenally successful 1937 Broadway revue Helzapoppin and served as an artist-in-residence at Harvard. He died in 1958.

Thank you, John!

  1. Frank Walts

Last year, my favorite leftist artist was Hugo Geller, who did several cover illustrations for The Liberator. I couldn’t find a trace of him in 1919, though. Luckily, the progressive press had another talented illustrator, Frank Walts.

Walts was born in Indiana (like a surprisingly large number of people I’ve come across in 1919***) in 1877. His art appeared frequently on the cover of The Masses, which shut down in 1917 amid legal problems and was succeeded by The Liberator. He drew the January and February 1918 covers for the NAACP magazine The Crisis,

The Crisis cover, January 1918, drawing of African-American woman and daisies

January 1918

February 1918

both of which I featured on my blog without paying much attention to Walts because I was new at this and not focused on who drew what.

In 1919, Walts drew the cover illustration for the annual children’s issue of The Crisis in October

as well as the magazine’s July 1919 issue

and the December 1919 issue of The Liberator, which shines in an otherwise mediocre year of Liberator cover art.

Walts, who also worked as a civil engineer, would go on to illustrate many more covers for The Crisis and The Liberator. He died in 1941.

Thank you, Frank!

  1. Helen Dryden

Photograph of illustrator Helen Dryden, 1914.

American Club Woman, October 1914

I wrote about Dryden in my post for Women’s History Month, so you can read about her life there and enjoy more of her Vogue covers here:

March 15, 1919

July 1, 1919

June 1, 1919

Thank you, Helen!

  1. Coles Phillips.

Coles Phillips (Bain News Service, date unknown)

I first noticed Coles Phillips as the artist behind this haunting hosiery ad:

1919 ad for Luxite hosiery. Woman with dress blowing, showing hose, standing with man in wheelchair.

Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1919

He was born in Ohio in 1880, moved to New York after graduating from Kenyon college, took night classes in art for a few months, and soon established his own advertising agency, because that’s how life worked in 1919, for some people, anyway. Among his employees was the young Edward Hopper. He joined the staff of Life magazine in 1907 and drew his first “fadeaway girl” cover the next year.

May 21, 1908

He repeated this technique on many subsequent covers of Life and other magazines, including Good Housekeeping, where he was the sole cover artist for two years beginning in 1912.

January 1916

October 1916

December 1916

By 1919, though, he was focusing mostly on advertising, and specifically on women’s legs.****

Coles Phillips Luxite Hosiery ad, woman in pink dress in front of stained glass window sticking out leg, 1919.

Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1919

He contracted tuberculosis in 1924 and died of a kidney ailment in 1927, at the age of 46.

Thank you, Coles!

  1. Eric Rohman

Remember Selma Lagerlöf, the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author I wrote about in September? In the course of researching her life, I came across some amazing Swedish posters for silent films, some of them made from her books. Digging around, I discovered that most are the work of the incredibly prolific Eric Rohman.

Rohman was born in Sweden in 1891. He became an actor and illustrator in the mid-1910s and opened an art studio in about 1920, where he designed posters for Swedish and foreign films. By his own estimate, he produced 7000 posters over the course of his career. He died in 1949.

Here are some of my favorites:

Out West, 1918

Bound in Morocco, 1918

Komtesse Doddy (Countess Doddy), 1919

We Can’t Have Everything, 1918

Tack, Eric!

  1. George Brandt

House & Garden is one of those 1919-era magazines that consistently punches above its weight in terms of cover art, but in an unassuming way, so it had never occurred to me to ask who the artists behind my favorite covers were.

One of them, I learned, is Henry George Brandt. (The other is Harry Richardson, but there is even less information available about him online than there is about Brandt, so Brandt it is.) Brandt was born in Germany in 1862, immigrated to the United States in 1882, and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1911 to 1916. (Yes, in his fifties!) He was a painter and muralist as well as an illustrator. He died in Chicago in 1946.

Here are some of his House & Garden covers:

July 1919

September 1919

December 1919

Thank you, George!

9. Erté

Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (Erté)

Erté, date unknown

Erté is a repeat–he was one of the people I was thankful for last year. But you can’t talk about illustration in 1919 without talking about him. He was born in Russia in 1894 (real name Romain de Tirtoff–his father wanted him to be a naval officer and he adopted the pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his family*****). He moved to Paris as a young man and began a career as an illustrator and costume designer; Mata Hari was among his clients. Harper’s Bazar hired him in 1915; he would go on to illustrate over 200 covers for the magazine. He later went into theater, designing sets and costumes for ballets, revues, and films. He died in Paris in 1960.

I wasn’t able to find most of Erté’s 1919 Harper’s Bazar covers–they’re missing from Hathitrust, the most reliable source of online magazines, and few and far between on the internet. Here are two I was able to find:

March 1919

May 1919

Спасибо (and merci), Erté!

   10. Norman Rockwell

Portrait of Norman Rockwell, date unknown

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Norman Rockwell. In 1919, his iconic 1943 Thanksgiving picture Freedom from Want was still far in the future, but he did do a Thanksgiving cover for the November 22 issue of Literary Digest:

Rockwell is one of those people I was surprised to come across in the 1910s because he lived well into my lifetime. (Anthologist Louis Untermeyer and poet Marianne Moore are others.) And he was pretty young then, born in New York in 1894. An early bloomer, he became the art editor of Boy’s Life magazine at the age of 19. His first cover for the Saturday Evening Post appeared in May 1916;

322 others were to follow.

April 26, 1919

March 22, 1919

The humor magazines Life and Judge published some illustrations apparently deemed not wholesome enough for the Saturday Evening Post, like this one

April 16, 1919

and this one, which I featured as one of the best magazine covers of February 1918 and which has lived on as by far my most repinned Pinterest pin.

By the time of his death in 1978, Rockwell was one of America’s most beloved artists.

Thank you, Norman!

And last but definitely not least, thanks to all of you who, over the past two years, have turned a personal project into a community. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

(UPDATE 11/30/2019: They had turkey–with cranberry sauce–at the work event. So I had my Thanksgiving dinner after all!)

plate of food, turkey and potatoes and cranberry sauce

*Although I wonder how many people were fooled into thinking that copying hieroglyphics was a real soldier job.

**They’re still under copyright, but there are lots of them posted online by less scrupulous people than me.

***Others: author Booth Tarkington, food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley, The Little Review founder Margaret Anderson, and African-American painter William Edouard Scott. Hoosier poet James Witcomb Riley had died in 1916 but still loomed large.

****UPDATE 12/3/2019: I originally included this ad, which I’d seen identified as being from 1919. I had my doubts, because it seemed too risqué for 1919, plus would Phillips really have been working for competing hosiery companies? But I was in a rush so I put it in. Turned out I was right: it’s from 1924.

*****No doubt unaware that it would gain him immortality as a crossword puzzle clue.