Tag Archives: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Crop of Good Housekeeping cover, January 1921.

The Top 10 Posts of 1920

Happy new year, everyone! I’m sure you’re as glad to say good-bye to 2020 as I am.

It is, incredibly, my fourth New Year’s here at My Life 100 Years Ago. That’s four Saturday Evening Post covers by J.C. Leyendecker. In 1918 we had a baby soldier,

J.C. Leyendecker New Year's cover 1918, baby soldier.

in 1919 a baby celebrating peace,

J.C. Leyendecker New Years 1919 cover, baby letting doves out of cage.

and in 1920 a shushing baby,

J.C. Leyendecker January 2020 Saturday Evening Post cover, baby with camel toy.

which didn’t make much sense until I realized that it was a censored version of this original:

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

sotheby.com

This year we have a baby coal miner.

J.C. Leyendecker 1921 New Year's cover, baby coal miner.

This puzzled me, because the violent conflicts in the mining industry seem more up The Liberator’s or The Crisis’s* alley than the business-friendly Post’s. The magazine’s website explains that “the 1921 cherub anticipates an end to the bitter coal miners’ strike in Alabama.” If Leyendecker were still at it (his streak ran from 1907 to 1943), this year’s baby would be getting a vaccine.

Meanwhile, Good Housekeeping and Sunset have New Year’s babies of their own, going for cute and creepy respectively.

Good Housekeeping Jessie Willcox Smith cover, January 1921, child on moon.

Jessie Willcox Smith

Robert Kearfott Sunset cover, New Years 1921, baby.

Robert Kearfott

The Top 10 Posts

I only published 15 posts total this year, and the top ten were the first ten. This struck me at as strange and a little alarming at first, but when I looked more closely at the numbers it made sense. Four out of the top five were from March, April, and May—i.e. peak COVID lockdown time, when everyone was desperate for entertainment.

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

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

John Held Jr.

This is kind of meta.

#9. 5 Old Posts That Might Come in Handy Around Now

Coles Phillips Luxite hosiery ad.

Coles Phillips

I thought you all might want some diversions during those grim first weeks, so I compiled some quizzes I’d published over the years. Except, oops, I forgot What’s Your 1918 Girl Job?

#8. Are You H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s Ideal Woman? A Quiz

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan

Smart Set co-editors H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan may have been the greatest critics of their era, but their attitude toward woman left a lot to be desired. I had a wonderful time writing this post on July 4 and managed to finish it just in time to watch the fireworks from the roof of my building. This is probably my favorite post ever as far as the pictures go.

#7. Magazine Covers Ring in the 1920s

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

“Forget the words, I just want pictures!” readers often tell me, although somewhat more politely than that. This year, I listened.

#6. You Be the Judge: The 1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown

Vanity Fair cover, September 1915, Rita Senger, woman with sleeping Pierrot.

Rita Senger

It was fun comparing magazine covers from 1915 and 1920, and I enjoyed hearing about your favorites. Rita Senger’s winning 1915 Vanity Fair cover took me in a fascinating direction that you’ll be hearing about soon.

#5. The doctor and the chorus girl: A heartbreaking tale of interracial love

Eugene Nelson and Helen Lee Worthing, 1929.

This Valentine’s Day post started out with idle curiosity—what happened to four aspiring actresses after they won a movie magazine contest? It turned into a bit of an obsession as I delved into the lives of popular Follies girl Helen Lee Worthing and her husband Eugene Nelson, a prominent African-American physician. Of all the posts I’ve done, I may be proudest of this one, and I’m glad it found so many readers.

#4. 1920 magazine covers bring late winter cheer

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

Anne Harriet Fish

I celebrated my return to the northern hemisphere with some wintry cover art, not suspecting that another winter would be on the way by the time I returned to South Africa.

#3. My Dream 1920 Summer Vacation

If we couldn’t go on vacation this year, at least we could dream of beaches…and white shoes…and gramophones.

#2. Bernice Bobs Her Hair…and I Bob Mine!

Crop of illustration from Bernice Bobs Her Hair, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

With the salons closed, I got into the F. Scott Fitzgerald spirit and gave myself a homemade bob.

#1. Magazine Ads Take Baby Steps Into the 1920s

Indian Head Cloths ad, women at beach, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1920.

Okay, I get the hint! I’ll do another ad roundup soon.

Honorable Mention

Vintage photo, young male couple.

 A Pioneering Gay Novel of 1919. Not that being #11 out of 15 is such a spectacular achievement, but I can’t resist giving this post a plug. Finding a novel about a loving gay couple who just wanted to live like normal people was my biggest surprise of the year.

Dishonorable Mention

Helen Dryden Vogue cover, December 1920, woman looking out at snow.

Helen Dryden

December 1920 Magazine Covers Bring Holiday Cheer. As I mentioned, the last five posts were the least popular, and the last post of all is on trend with the fewest views. Also: I see I’m in a bit of a blog title rut.**

Best-Performing Post from a Past Year

Girl Scout troop, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge. This was my most fun post ever, and it lives on, with more than twice as many views in 2020 as the #1 post published during the year. In the meantime, a new edition of the Girl Scout handbook has been published—I should get on it.

Best Readership News

You know how when you’re just starting out in your profession you work like crazy, and then when you get more senior you can just coast? Yeah, me neither, but blogging works like that. In 2018, when I was reading full-time as if I were living in 1918, I published 94 posts. In 2019, I had 21. This year, 15. But here’s what happened to the numbers.

Blog stats, 2018-2020.

There are technical and highly boring reasons for this having to do with the impact of longevity on how search engines assess websites, but whatever! I’ll take it!

Happy 2021! May it be better than your 2020.

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*The January 1921 Liberator and Crisis covers:

Liberator January 1921 cover, Cornelia Barnes, people walking down street.

Cornelia Barnes

Crisis cover January 1921, statue of man with Sphinx.

**Although not as bad of a rut as the time back in 2019 when four out of five posts in a row started with “Celebrating.”

Crop from Helen Nyce, Visit to St. Nicholas, children and Christmas tree

Children’s Books: Your 1920 Holiday Shopping Guide

It’s that time of year again! The holiday roundup of children’s books is one of my favorite My Life 100 Years Ago traditions, if you can call something you’ve only done once before a tradition. (The year before last, I did a just plain holiday shopping guide.)

Illustration from children's books article, Publishers Weekly, November 6, 1920.

Publishers Weekly, November 6, 1920

Once again, I had a lot of help. Pioneering children’s librarian Annie Carroll Moore is on hand with a guide to fall books in the November 1920 issue of The Bookman,* and Margaret Ashmun has an article on Christmas books for the young and old in the December issue. Publisher’s Weekly has an expansive holiday roundup, and Literary Digest weighs in with fifty gift suggestions for children. The New York Times has an engagingly written writeup by Hildegarde Hawthorne, granddaughter of Nathaniel. (There’s also a Times article with the seemingly promising title of “Christmas in Bookland,” in which Coningsby Dawson blathers on for two pages about the wonders of motherhood and manages to only mention one book, An Outline of History by H.G. Wells.)

For the Very Young

I had an easier time finding books for very young children than I did last year, mostly thanks to Hawthorne. As far as I can tell, though, books with illustrations on every page were still unheard of.

Cover of Cinderella, illustrated by Margaret Evans Price, Cinderella with coach.

Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper, illustrated by future Fisher-Price co-founder Margaret Evans Price, has just seven illustrations in the 40-page text, plus some more at the beginning and end. Still, they’re charming,

Margaret Evans Price illustration from Cinderella, Cinderella doing chores.

Margaret Evans Price illustration from Cinderella, Cinderella running away from ball.

and Cinderella is going on my list.

Cover of The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Nyce, 1920, Santa with toys.

The Night Before Christmas presents Clement C. Moore’s classic 1823 poem (actual title: “A Visit from St. Nicholas”) with illustrations by Helene Nyce.

Nyce illustration, The Night Before Christmas, 1920, children dancing in front of fire.

That’s a crop from one of Nyce’s illustrations at the top of the post.

Fantasy and Fairy Tales

Cover, Tales of Wonder and Magic, Katharine Pyle, 1920.

Tales of Wonder and Magic, a collection of fairy tales from around the world written and illustrated by Katharine Pyle, also turned out not to have many illustrations, which disappointed me at first, until I came across this one,

Tales of Wonder and Magic, Katharine Pyle, 1920, prince beating princess.

which made me wish it had fewer.

Cover, Treasure of the Isle of Mist, W.W. Tarn.

Hathitrust

Annie Carroll Moore calls The Treasure of the Isle of Mist, by the Scottish writer W.W. Tarn, “an exquisite fantasy of youth and autumn.” If your kid is transfixed by sentences like this, by all means add it to your holiday list:

Up through the calm water, to meet the eye of the gazer, came the green clearness of stone, and blinks of unveined sand showing white between the brown tangled blades of the great oar-weed; and you might see a school of little cuddies, heads all one way, playing hide and seek in the sea forest, and caring no whit for the clumsy armored crab beneath them, who crawled sideways, a laborious patch of color in the shimmering transparency. 

Cover, Fairies and Chimneys, by Rose Fyleman.

Rose Fyleman’s poetry collection Fairies and Chimneys is, in Moore’s opinion, “just the book to take up after leaving Fiona and The Student” (of The Treasure of the Isle of Mist). Since she presumably doesn’t mean after flinging the book aside in disgust, I had low hopes.

I was charmed by the poems, though. They’re told in the voice of a little girl who’s a staunch believer in fairies, who keep popping up in the midst of everyday life—on a bus on Oxford Street, for example.

Here’s one of my favorites, called “Wishes”:

I wish I liked rice pudding,
I wish I were a twin,
I wish some day a real live fairy
Would just come walking in.

I wish when I’m at table
My feet would touch the floor,
I wish our pipes would burst next winter,
Just like they did next door.

I wish that I could whistle
Real proper grown-up tunes,
I wish they’d let me sweep the chimneys
On rainy afternoons.

I’ve got such heaps of wishes,
I’ve only said a few;
I wish that I could wake some morning
And find they’d all come true!

My wish: that Fairies and Chimneys had more illustrations. There’s only one, this frontispiece,

Frontispiece, Fairies and Chimneys by Rose Fylman, two girls separated by fence.

plus this artwork on the inside cover.**

Lining pages, Fairies and Chimneys.

Still, pictures or not, this is going on my list.

Cover, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Abbott, 1920.

On to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illustrated “delightfully this time,” according to Ashmun, by Elenore Abbott. I checked it out and found actual delightfulness—and no violent illustrations!***

Illustration by Elenore Abbot from Grimm's Fairy Tales

Illustration from Grimm's Fairy Tales by Elenore Abbott, woman in veil with long braids.

Illustration from Grimm's Fairy Tales by Elenore Abbott, women at party.

Illustration by Elenore Abbott, Grimm's Fairy Tales, 1920, woman with swans.

On the list. I’m on a roll!

The Jewish Fairy book, 1920, cover.

I had just about given up on including any kind of diversity in this roundup when I came upon The Jewish Fairy Book in Hawthorne’s Times article. This collection of traditional Jewish stories by Gerald Friedlander, with illustrations by George W. Hood,

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, flying carpet.

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, palace.

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, girl and fairy on terrace.

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, man walking out of cave.

would make a perfect (if belated) Hanukkah gift.

For Middle-Grade and Older Readers

Dr. Dolittle title page and frontispiece, 1920.

Annie Carroll Moore calls Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Dr. Dolittle “the most delightful nonsense story of the year,” and it’s the one undisputed children’s classic of 1920. I was going to buy a copy and (re)read it myself, but I bought one of the sequels by mistake and had to return it. This is just as well, because it turns out that modern editions have all the racism taken out, and I would potentially have ended up recommending a book where a Black prince tells this tale of woe:

Excerpt from The Story of Dr. Dolittle, racist passage.

The prince asks Dr. Dolittle to turn his skin white. Dr. D. works his magic, and lo and behold

all the animals cried out in surprise. For the Prince’s face had turned as white as snow, and his eyes, which had been mud-colored, were a manly gray!

Thanks to the blog Leaves & Pages for setting me straight.

L'Alsace Heureuse cover, Hansi, 1919.

Moore has high praise as well for L’Alsace Heureuse, by Hansi (real name Jean-Jacques Waltz), a French writer of Alsatian descent. “What a happy Alsace is pictured here,” she says. “No book yet written about the war will give children the interest of the pleasure of these pictures.” The pictures I found online were indeed charming,

L'Alsace Heureuse, Hansi, 1919, three Alsace women.

but given that “happy” isn’t usually the first word that early 20th century Alsace brings to mind, I had my doubts. I couldn’t find a complete copy of L’Alsace Heureuse, but the grim pictures I came across in Hansi’s 1916 children’s book L’Histoire d’Alsace leave me inclined to approach this one with caution. Plus, I see no evidence that L’Alsace Heureuse was translated into English at the time.

The Story of Our Country title page and frontispiece.

“E. Boyd Smith has written and illustrated ‘The Story of Our Country,’” is the totality of what Moore has to say about this book. I pulled it up on Hathitrust, typed “Negro” in the search bar, and found this:

Text from The Story of Our Country by E. Boyd Smith claiming Negro leaders favor segregation.

Next!

Title page and Frontispiece, Argonauts of Faith by Basil Matthews.

The 300th anniversary of the founding of Plymouth colony was celebrated a lot more enthusiastically than this year’s 400th, and there was no shortage of books about the Pilgrims. Moore’s favorite is The Argonauts of Faith, by Basil Matthews. Flipping through the illustrations, I found this one. “Would they scalp him? Would they torture him by fire?” the caption asks.

Argonauts of Faith illustration, white boy cowering from Indian.

They didn’t—they treated him kindly and he dined out on stories of his time with the Indians for the rest of his days—but I decided to give the Argonauts a pass anyway.

Sometimes, as with this reissue of H.E. Marshall’s An Empire Story, you don’t even need to go beyond the title page.

An Empire Story title page and frontispiece.

Illustrator N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew) had a busy year,**** with new editions of Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!,

N.C. Wyeth illustration from Westward Ho!, bare-chested woman with dead man on her lap.

Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe,

N.C. Wyeth illustration from Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe shooting murtherers.

and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish.

N.C. Wyeth illustration from The Courtship of Miles Standish, man stabbing Indian.

No, no, and no. (And in case you think I’m being a prude, it’s not the woman’s bare chest I object to, it’s the—I checked the text—dead guy on her lap.)

Cover of Some British Ballads.

Of Some British Ballads, a volume of Child ballads with pictures by Arthur Rackham, Ashmun says, “The fortunate recipient will find herself saying over and over, ‘Binnorie, oh, Binnorie!’”

If you say so, Margaret. MY prediction is that the recipient will take a quick look at the text, see that it’s in old-timey English,

Text from Yonge Andrew, Some British Ballads.

come upon this illustration from “Yonge Andrew,”

Arthur Rackham illustration of Yonge Andrew, from Some British Ballads, man with naked woman.

and stick the book into the back of his closet for further perusing.*****

Cover, Ancient Man, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, pyramids on yellow background.

Every once in a while, I come across something from a hundred years ago that gives me a shock of recognition, seeming to come from a much later time. That’s how I felt when I saw the illustrations from Ancient Man by Dutch-American writer Hendrik Willem Van Loon.****** “Broad smears of color that tell a clear story none the less,” is how Hawthorne puts it, unknowingly summarizing the future of children’s illustration.

Ancient Man, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, man under tree.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1920, pyramids on yellow background.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem van Loon, 1920, red towers of Nineveh.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, man looking at horizon.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1920, Phoenician ship.

Ca. 1920 history is fraught with peril, though, so I downloaded the text onto my Kindle. I’m about halfway through. Some of it, like a description of African people’s woolly hair and thick lips and references to prehistoric man “and his wife,” doesn’t pass the modern sensibility test. Biblical stories are presented as literal history, and non-Western civilizations like China and Asia are completely disregarded. With these caveats, though, I’d recommend it, especially if you (like me) are hazy on who exactly the Phoenecians were.

For Young Adults

Older teens are always hard to shop for, and this year is no exception.

Story of Opal cover, 1920.

Moore, who has a habit of throwing adult books into the children’s roundup mix, has good things to say about The Story of Opal, a memoir by Opal Whiteley that was originally serialized in The Atlantic. Opal’s mom drowns on page 2 while she and Opal are boating.

Text from The Story of Opal, by Opal Whiteley

Her father dies in the next paragraph. He’s not at the logging camp with Opal and her mom at the time, which stands to reason seeing as he’s Henry, Prince of Orleans, or so Whiteley claimed (although she doesn’t mention him by name in this book as far as I can tell). I’m having just a TINY bit of trouble buying this.

Cover, The Good Cheer Book.

Ashmun says that The Good Cheer Book, compiled by Blanche E. Herbert, “will no doubt be a popular gift at Christmas.” Like everyone else, I could use some good cheer these days, so I opened it eagerly. Do you feel down in the dumps, John Edgar Park asks us in the opening essay. Well, yes, John, sometimes!

Here’s his advice:

Text of The Diagnosis, from The Good Cheer Book.

If the print’s too small for you, here’s a summary: “It’s all your fault! Suck it up!”

Cover of The Little House by Coningsby Dawson, 1920.

The Little House, Ashmun promises us, has “a real Christmas flavor.” It’s by, uh-oh, Coningsby Dawson, he of the bookless New York Times essay, and it’s told from the point of view of the house. “To have been responsible for the happy ending is pretty nearly as clever as to have made the story up out of one’s own head or, as we houses say, out of one’s own walls,” the house says.

That was this last straw. I decided to cast the critics aside and do my own search for a gift for the older teen.

Dust jacket, This Side of Paradise, first edition.

I’m reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise at the moment, for the third or fourth time. Each time I get something different out of it. When I was starting grad school at Princeton, what I loved was Fitzgerald’s swoony take on the place. “I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic—you know, like a spring day,” says semi-autobiographical hero Amory Blaine.

This time what I love is Fitzgerald’s unsparing take on the self-invention of his protagonist, who progresses from one stage of cringe-inducing idiocy to another over the course of his young life, from this early-teen love poem

Poem from This Side of Paradise, 1920.

to his first-day-of-college posturing (“he tried conscientiously to look both pleasantly blasé and casually critical, which was as near as he could analyze the prevalent facial expression”), to, if memory serves (I’m only up to the Princeton part), a fatuous romance and a freak-out about sex.******* It’s easy to for older people to lampoon the pretensions of the young, but not so easy when you’re in your early twenties yourself, as Fitzgerald was.  

In a previous post, I quoted critic John Walcott, who said in a 1917 Bookman essay that young people turn away from books that skewer their peers, like Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Bab: A Sub-Deb and Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen.  They take themselves with deadly seriousness, Walcott says, and don’t relish being spoofed. But, as I’ve written before, Fitzgerald, for all the fun he pokes at his characters, doesn’t just send them up; he loves them too. That’s what I appreciate most about him now, and that’s why I don’t think our young friend will turn him aside.

For Children of All Ages

The Brownies' Book, December 1920, black Santa on roof.

Library of Congress

What if your children aren’t white? Or what if they are, and you want to show them that the real world is more diverse than the one portrayed in the children’s books of 1920? Bookwise, there’s almost nothing out there, other than Hazel, which I wrote about last year. But there’s one wonderful gift you can give them: The Brownies’ Book, a magazine by the publishers of The Crisis for African-American children, or rather, as they put it, “designed for all children, but especially for ours.” This is, sadly, your last chance; December 1921 marked the end of the magazine’s two-year run.

The 1920 Children’s Holiday Book List********

Cinderella, illustrated by Margaret Evans Price

Cover of Cinderella, illustrated by Margaret Evans Price, Cinderella with coach.

Fairies and Chimneys, by Rose Fyleman

Cover, Fairies and Chimneys, by Rose Fyleman.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illustrated by Elenore Abbott

Cover, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Abbott, 1920.

The Jewish Fairy Book, by Gerald Friedlander, illustrated by George W. Hood

The Jewish Fairy book, 1920, cover.

Ancient Man, by Willem van Loon

Cover, Ancient Man, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, pyramids on yellow background.

This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Dust jacket, This Side of Paradise, first edition.

The Brownies’ Book

The Brownies' Book, December 1920, black Santa on roof.

Happy holidays, everyone, and happy reading!

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*I’m also reading, and loving, Roads to Childhood, a 1920 collection of Moore’s columns.

**These pages are, I learned in the New York Times roundup, called lining pages. Elaborate lining pages were, apparently, all the rage in 1920.

Lining pages, The Story of Our Country.

The Story of Our Country

Argonauts of Faith lining pages.

Argonauts of Faith

Lining papers from Westward Ho!, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth.

Westward Ho!

***Granted, I got 125 hits when I searched for “killed.” But you can’t have Grimm without the grim.

****He was also busy illustrating the advertising campaign about pancake-making enslaved person Aunt Jemima.

Aunt Jemima saves colonel's moustache, October 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1920

*****Just as well that the young reader is likely to give “Yonge Andrew” a pass. It’s about a guy who seduces a young woman, tricks her into giving him her father’s gold and all her clothes, and sends her back to her father, who, seeing that she’s naked, locks her outside, where she dies. Or something along those lines—my old-timey English is a tad rusty.

******Van Loon would go on to win the first Newbery Award for his 1921 book The Story of Mankind, which incorporates much of Ancient Man.

Cover, The Story of Mankind, Van Loon, 1921.

*******“Did they actually do it?” my young self wondered. But my young self wondered that about a lot of people, including Madame Bovary, so is not necessarily the best guide in these matters.

********With the caveat that any book given to an ACTUAL CHILD should be given a more thorough read than I’ve given these.

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New on the (non-holiday) Book List:

Ten Days That Shook the World, by John Reed

A Pioneering Gay Novel of 1919

Early this year, I was reading H.L. Mencken’s fiction roundup in the January 1920 issue of The Smart Set in search of a good book. I didn’t have much hope, given Mencken’s generally dim view of the novels of the day.

Smart Set cover, January 1910

So I was pleasantly surprised to come across his review of Henry B. Fuller’s novel Bertram Cope’s Year, which he calls “a very fair piece of writing, as novels go. A bit pizzicato; even a bit distinguished.” I enjoy academic novels, and Mencken described Bertrand Cope’s Year as a comic romp featuring a young college instructor who haplessly endures various townspeople’s attempts to ensnare him into romantic and social entanglements. I Googled the book, expecting to get the usual array of low-quality Amazon reprints and not much else.* To my surprise, I found a Wikipedia entry saying that Bertrand Cope’s Year is “perhaps the first American homosexual novel.”

I immediately downloaded it on my Kindle and started reading. I made it about halfway through, but, this being early March, life and COVID intervened and I ended up putting it aside.** When I resumed, it was in the much more palatable form of this attractive annotated edition by Broadview Editions:

Photo of Bertram Cope's Year by Henry B. Fuller

Bertram Cope is a 24-year-old instructor and master’s degree student at a Northwestern-like university in the Evanston-like town of Churchton, Illinois. Cope is strikingly handsome; I picture him as a young blond Cary Grant. As soon as he shows up, the entire population of Churchton, male and female, goes into a swoon and sets out to ensnare him. Medora, a prosperous widow, installs him in her social set and, although clearly pining for him herself, throws her three young artistic protégées in his path. Much sitting in parlors ensues.

Randolph, a middle-aged businessman, schemes to become Bertram’s “mentor,” but, you know, the kind of mentor who moves to a bigger apartment so as to have a more suitable setup in case Bertram comes over for dinner and gets snowed in for the night. (This fails, but he does finagle some skinny-dipping at the Indiana Dunes.)

Postcard of Indiana Dunes, early 20th century

Postcard of Indiana Dunes, ca. 1910-1920 (rootsweb.com)

Meanwhile, all Bertram wants to do is set up housekeeping with his devoted friend Arthur, who’s back home in Wisconsin. When Randolph invites Bertram to accompany him on an overnight trip, Arthur puts the kibosh on it, even though the “fickle” Arthur (Bertram’s word) has been known to go on similar weekend jaunts himself.

(We’re getting into spoiler territory here, so if you’re planning to read the book, or just find plot summaries tedious, skip down to the photo of Henry Fuller.)

Evanston lifesaving station, 1910.

Evanston Life-Saving Station, 1910 (Chicago Daily News)

Amy, the most determined protégée, takes to stalking Bertram. One day they just happen to meet on the university campus and end up going for a sail. The boat capsizes, the two struggle to the shore, and Amy turns this into a tale of heroism on Bertram’s part even though, in Bertram’s opinion, if anyone did any saving it was Amy. This is the most exciting thing that has happened in Churchton in months, even more exciting than the time when Bertram fainted during one of Medora’s soirées. Amy starts blathering about “happiness” on their walks, and, without Bertram knowing exactly what happened, they end up engaged.

Arthur, as you can imagine, is NOT happy. Neither are Medora and Randolph, who conspire to throw a hail-fellow-well-met type named Pearson into Amy’s path. Between that and Bertram’s unavailability to see Amy ever, which even she sees as a red flag, the engagement comes to an end, to Bertram’s huge relief.

Frances Willard House, Evanston, Illinois.

Frances Willard House, Evanston, Illinois, early 20th century

Bertram and Arthur set up a home together and live in blissful cohabitation, so blissful that it starts raising eyebrows. Their PDAs prompt Medora’s disabled relative Foster, whose main activity in life is making caustic comments, to recall the time when similar behavior by a newlywed couple in Sarasota prompted an elderly woman to complain that they “brought the manners of the bedchamber into the drawing-room.”

Further complications ensue in the form of Hortense, another of Medora’s protégées, who makes a play for Bertram by painting his portrait. When Bertram, having learned his lesson from the Amy fiasco, rejects her, she flies into a fury, tears the portrait in half, and tells Bertram that his “preposterous friendship” with Arthur will not last long.

Arthur, meanwhile, has thrown himself into his female part in the campus theatricals.

Their room came to be strown with all the disconcerting items of a theatrical wardrobe. Cope soon reached the point where he was not quite sure that he liked it all, and he began to develop a distaste for Lemoyne’s preoccupation with it. He came home one afternoon to find on the corner of his desk a long pair of silk stockings and a too dainty pair of ladies’ shoes. “Oh, Art!” he protested.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Triangle Club production, Princeton, 1915.

F. Scott Fitzgerald in a Triangle Club production, Princeton University, 1915

When the big night finally arrives, the townspeople squirm at Arthur’s all-too-convincing female impersonation at first, but his final number brings down the house. Unfortunately, Arthur doesn’t know when to stop, and his post-curtain pass at a male costar who can’t take a joke (if it was one) is met with a whack. No prizes for guessing who gets drummed out of town as a result of this incident.

Bertram, having earned his master’s degree, hightails it for the East Coast, where he has gotten a job at an “important university.” Medora and Randolph admit defeat, but Carolyn, the third protégée, is in hot pursuit. The story ends with us wondering whether Bertram ends up with her or with Arthur.

“AR-THUR, AR-THUR, AR-THUR, AR-THUR,” contemporary readers call out in unison. Given that Bertram managed to escape Amy’s clutches when she was a) right there in Churchton and b) actually engaged to him, I’m fairly confident that he’ll succeed in giving Carolyn the slip. But this wasn’t such a slam-dunk case in 1919. Once again, I picture Cary Grant’s desperate, trapped expression at the supposedly happy ending of every romantic comedy he starred in.***

Henry B. Fuller, ca. 1893

Who, I wondered, was Henry Fuller? And how did this book come to be published in 1919?

Fuller, it turns out, was a well-established 62-year-old Chicago writer when Bertram Cope’s Year was published. He got his start in his twenties with allegorical travel novels about Italy, which sound heinous but brought him attention among the genteel New England literary set. He then turned to realist novels about his gritty native city. Along the way, he wrote a play about a young man who commits suicide at the wedding of his former (male) lover.

Fuller also wrote literary criticism for The Dial and other publications. Once I looked up his reviews, I realized that I had read quite a few of them.**** If you want to save yourself the trouble of spending a year reading as if you were living 100 years ago, just take my word for it that all literary criticism, by Fuller and everyone else (except H.L. Mencken), sounds exactly like this snippet from Fuller’s review in The Dial of a book of lectures by Lafcadio Hearne:

Text from an article by Henry Fuller, The Dial, January 17, 1918.

The Dial, January 17, 1918

The depiction of homosexuality in Bertram Cope’s Year is often described as subtle, an argument I have trouble buying unless your definition of subtle is that no one marches down the street waving a rainbow flag. Judging from all the rejections Fuller received, the publishing industry had no trouble understanding what the book was about. It ended up being published, at Fuller’s expense, by a small Chicago publishing house owned by his friend Ralph Fletcher Seymour.

The Bookman headline, Good Novels of Several Kinds, May 1920

The Bookman, May 1920

The conventional wisdom, to the extent that there is conventional wisdom about Bertram Cope’s Year, is that the book was ignored or condemned by critics. However, in addition to Mencken’s write-up, it received favorable or semi-favorable reviews from The Bookman (“the kind of novel which must be enjoyed not for its matter so much as for its quality, its richness of texture and subtlety of atmosphere”), The Booklist (“live enough people and a sense of humor hovering near the surface”), and The Weekly Review (“a mild affair altogether whose sole and sufficient distinction lies in the delicate perfection of its setting forth”). This is a fair amount of press for a book from a small publisher. None of the reviews mention the homosexuality angle. Poor Arthur is nowhere to be seen, and some of the reviews portray Bertram’s desperate flight from Carolyn as a possible budding romance. It wasn’t until Carl Van Vechten published a laudatory essay in 1926 that the true subject of the book was acknowledged.

What was going on here? Did the reviewers just not get it? This seems impossible, but it’s hard, looking back from the knowing present, to see things through the lens of another era.***** Maybe they were just protecting the delicate sensibilities of their readers? But, in that case, why bother to review the book at all?

Title page, Bertram Cope's Year, by Henry B. Fuller, 1919.

HathiTrust Digital Library

It was a moot point in the end. Bertram Cope’s s Year sold very few copies. “My disrelish for the writing-and-publishing game is now absolute,” Fuller wrote to his friend Hamlin Garland in May 1920. ”There seems to be no way for one to get read or paid, so—Shutters up.” Fuller continued writing non-fiction, but he abandoned fiction for almost a decade, before writing one last novel that was published posthumously in 1929.

Fuller fell into obscurity after his death, but Bertram Cope’s Year has found a new life in the 21st century. The book was republished in 1998, with an afterword by Andrew Solomon, and a critical edition (the one I read) was published in 2010.

Wikipedia’s assertion that Bertram Cope’s Year is the first gay American novel falls apart upon examination. There is, for example, Bayard Taylor’s Joseph and His Friend, published in 1870, about a young Pennsylvania farmer who falls in love with a man who cares for him after a train crash. Edward Prime-Stevenson’s 1906 novel Imre: A Memorandum, is arguably the first American novel to depict an actual gay relationship, although some claim that it doesn’t count because it was published in Europe, where New Jersey-born Prime-Stevenson lived. Alan Dale, the hack drama critic whose play about an unrepentant unwed mother I wrote about a while back, published the gay melodrama A Marriage Below Zero in 1889, two years after he left Britain for the United States.

Vintage photo, young male couple.

boobob92******

So I guess the best claim we can make for Bertram Cope’s Year is that it’s the first novel by an American writer that was published in the United States, features a loving gay couple, and doesn’t end in a tragic death.******* Which is a bit of a mouthful as firsts go, but still one worth celebrating.

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*Don’t get me started on the shady business of print-on-demand. Four-point font! Typos on the cover! The totally wrong book (I’m talking to you, Robert Chambers’ The Tree of Heaven labeled as May Sinclair’s The Tree of Heaven)!

**Which is what I do with almost every book I start reading on my Kindle in any case.

***I didn’t actually re-watch every Cary Grant romantic comedy to fact-check this assertion, so I’m open to correction here. Still, I do get a “gay man trapped by determined women” vibe from his oeuvre as a whole.

****Among other things, Fuller started a heated debate about whether novels were too long or too short that I came in in the middle of. (No one thought that they were the right length, apparently.)

*****It wasn’t until probably my fourth reading of The Great Gatsby a decade or so ago that it struck me that the scene at the end of the second chapter where Nick is in Myrtle’s neighbor’s apartment is the aftermath of a gay sexual encounter. It seemed so unmistakable that I marveled that I could ever have missed it. I’ll try to remember to put in a link when the copyright expires at the beginning of 2021. If I forget, remind me. (P.S. If you didn’t look at the caption below the photo of the person wearing the hat, go back and check it out!)

******This photo was posted on the Flickr site of a collector of vintage postcards who thinks it looks a lot like Bertram and Arthur. I agree!

*******Although I worried a little, given that Bertram, in addition to his fainting episode, was constantly getting sick.

Crop of illustration from Bernice Bobs Her Hair, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair–and I Bob Mine!

In 1920, 23-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald was flying high. His first novel, This Side of Paradise, the story of a Princeton student who’s a lot like F. Scott Fitzgerald, was published in March. Reviews were glowing* and sales were strong.

Dust jacket, This Side of Paradise, first edition.

He married Zelda in April.**

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald on their honeymoon, 1920.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald on their honeymoon, 1920 (Library of Congress)

The real money was in short stories, and his were starting to sell.*** “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” appeared in the May 1 edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

Saturday Evening Post cover, Norman Rockwell, May 1, 1920, man and woman at Ouija board.

Norman Rockwell

Meanwhile, back in 2020, my hair was getting long. Not this long,

Shampoo ad showing woman with long red hair, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1920

but long.

Mary Grace McGeehan with long hair, May 2020.

It could be months before the salons opened in D.C. Something had to be done.

Hey, I thought, how about a bob of my own to celebrate Bernice’s centennial? I had read the story in college and vaguely recalled it as the jolly tale of a popular young woman who gets her hair bobbed to the shock of all around her, but then all her friends decide she looks fantastic and they all go dance a celebratory Charleston.**** Or something along those lines.

Headline, Bernice Bobs Her Hair by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920.

The real story turned out to be nothing like that at all.***** Here’s what really happens.

Bernice, who hails from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is visiting her aunt and cousin Marjorie, who live in an unnamed city that that could be Fitzgerald’s home town of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Bernice is attractive enough, but she’s a total buzz-kill. No one ever cuts in on her at dances. (She’s more popular in Eau Claire, but it hasn’t dawned on her that this might have something to do with her father being the richest man in town.) Warren, who’s miserably in love with Marjorie, has the misfortune of sitting with Bernice on the veranda at intermission at a country club dance. “He wondered idly whether she was a poor conversationalist because she got no attention or got no attention because she was a poor conversationalist,” Fitzgerald writes.

“She’s absolutely hopeless,” Marjorie complains to her mother one night. “I think it’s that crazy Indian blood in Bernice. Maybe she’s a reversion to type. Indian women all just sat round and never said anything.”

Marjorie’s mom calls her “idiotic,” more fondly than you should when your daughter’s being racist.

Bernice, you will not be surprised to hear (especially if you looked at the picture), has been standing behind the door the whole time. The next day at breakfast, she tells Marjorie that she heard everything. If that’s the way things are, she says, she might as well go back to Eau Claire. Marjorie is not as horrified by this concept as Bernice had expected, so she goes off and cries for a while.

Then she goes to confront Marjorie. She has barely gotten three words into her little lecture on kindness when Marjorie cuts her off, saying, in essence, “Cut the Little Women crap.” Bernice ponders this while Marjorie’s off at a matinee and when Marjorie returns she proposes a new plan: she’ll stay, and Marjorie will give her popularity lessons. Marjorie agrees—IF Bernice promises to do every single thing she tells her to. Deal, says Bernice.

Pillsbury ad, Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920.

Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920

The Eliza Dootlittle-ing of Bernice begins. There’s some eyebrow-tending and remedial dancing, but most of the focus is on repartee. A few days later, Bernice tries out her new line at a country club dance. “Do you think I ought to bob my hair, Mr. Charley Paulson?” she asks. “I want to be a society vampire, you see.” Mr. Charley Paulson has nothing useful to say on this subject, but Bernice announces that the bobbing is on. Servier Barber Shop. The whole gang’s invited.

Glidden ad, men on scaffolding, Satruday Evening Post, May 1, 1920.

Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920

Of course she’s not really going to have her hair bobbed. Short hair on women is considered immoral in respectable circles in 1920 (or 1919, if you allow for publication lead times). It’s just a line. But it works! The new Bernice and her inane babble are the toast of the town. As the weeks go by, she compiles an impressive list of admirers. Including—uh oh!—Warren. Remember him? Marjorie’s admirer who got stuck with Bernice on the veranda? Marjorie, who is not as indifferent to Warren as she lets on, is NOT amused.

At a bridge party, Marjorie confronts Bernice. “Splush!” she says. The hair bobbing business is just a line—admit it! Bernice is out of her league here, and next thing she knows the gang is at Servier Barber Shop. “My hair—bob it!” she says to the nearest barber.

Bernice at barber shop, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

And the barber does. Or, rather, he hacks it off. And…disaster! It turns out that Bernice’s lustrous brown locks were a major element of her attractiveness. Now, with her hair hanging in lank lifeless blocks, she looks, she thinks, “ridiculous, like a Greenwich Villager who had left her spectacles at home.” Warren and the other guys are instantly over her.

But Bernice has more spirit than we’ve given her credit for. That night, as Marjorie lies sleeping, her blond hair in braids, Bernice steals into her room and picks up a pair of shears. Snip snip, good-bye golden locks! As Marjorie sleeps on, Bernice heads out for the train station, braids in hand, and flings them into Warren’s front yard.

“Ha!” she giggled wildly. “Scalp the selfish thing!”
Then picking up her suitcase she set off at a half run down the moonlit street.

Hartford Fire Insurance ad, red wolf, May 1, 1920.

Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920.

All of this left me cheering for Bernice but second-guessing my choice of her as a tonsorial role model. The barber at Servier might not have been a bobbing expert, but at least he was a hair-cutting professional. Maybe I should leave well enough alone. Hardly anyone ever sees my hair these days, and when they do it’s tied up under a mask.

Mary Grace McGeehan outdoors in mask, May 2020.

But I have to look at my hair constantly, what with all the hand-washing while reciting 20-second snippets of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I can’t take it anymore, I decide. Steeling my courage, I set a towel on the floor, wet my hair, and prop up my iPad to use  as a mirror.

Towel around my head, I tell myself it’s not too late. I can still back down. But Marjorie’s mocking voice says in my head, as it said in Bernice’s, “Give up and get down. You tried to buck me and I called your bluff.”

Mary Grace McGeehan, head in towel, May 2020.

Am I going to take that from a twit like Marjorie? No, I’m not! I lift the scissors****** to my head and start to snip.

Mary Grace McGeehan cutting hair, May 1920.

Halfway through, no turning back now. I smile bravely.

Mary Grace McGeehan halfway through haircut, May 1920.

Finished!

Mary Grace McGeehan haircut, May 2020.

I show myself the back, like a real hairdresser. A little crooked, but not too bad considering the awkward angle and lack of visibility.

Mary Grace McGeehan haircut from back, May 1920.

But the blow-dry is the true test. Which will it be? Limp, lifeless blocks, or chic new do?

Mary Grace McGeehan haircut horror, May 2020.

Just kidding. That’s Bernice. I love it!

Mary Grace McGeehan haircut thumbs-up, May 2020.

When the decade changed, a few friends asked me if I was excited to be moving into the 1920s. The answer was no, not really. Everyone knows about the Jazz Age and the Lost Generation. The 1910s felt more mine, somehow. But, as I read “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” in its original setting, with the illustrations and the ads and this photo stuck under the end of the story,

Photograph of house in country, Saturday Evening Post, May 1, 1920.

I felt like I was discovering Fitzgerald–not the canonic writer everyone reads in high school, not the man who knew so much disappointment and misery in his short life, but an ambitious and promising young man who brilliantly skewers the young people in his privileged social circle but rises above satire because he loves them too. I’m in at the beginning of something exciting and important, and I’m looking forward to seeing it unfold.

Stay safe, everyone, and don’t fear the scissors!

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*Here’s the opening of the New Republic review:

New Republic review, This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, May 12, 1920.

The New Republic, May 12, 1920

**The timing was not a coincidence. The sale of This Side of Paradise sealed the deal on the engagement.

***Fitzgerald’s first published short story, “Babes in the Woods,” appeared in The Smart Set in September 1919. Summary: popular boy and popular girl meet at a party. Will they kiss? (UPDATE 12/20/2020: I realized while rereading This Side of Paradise  that “Babes in the Woods” is an excerpt from the novel. In the Smart Set version, Amory Blaine is still called Stephen Palms, Fitzgerald’s original name for him.)

Smart Set cover, September 1919, woman in hat.

****Yes, I know, the Charleston wasn’t actually a thing until 1923.

*****In my defense, college was quite a while ago.

******Presciently ordered way back in March.

Princeton interlude: Orange and black is the new black

I only have a sample of three to draw from,* but I doubt that there’s any college anywhere that beats Princeton, where I recently attended my 20th graduate school reunion, for school spirit.

The school mascot, the tiger, is all over town, at Firestone Library

and Palmer Stadium

Tiger sculptures outside Palmer Stadium, Princeton University.

and in store windows along Nassau Street.

Princeton memorabilia in store window

So are the school colors, which, naturally, are orange and black. There are even teeny-tiny orange and black onesies so that you can give your baby a head start on feeling terrible if he or she applies for the Class of ’31 and, like the great majority of applicants, is rejected.**

Princeton insignia wear for toddlers, U-Store

And the jackets—

Princeton P-rade, 2019

Princeton P-rade, 2019

Princeton P-rade, 2019

oh, the jackets!

Princeton P-rade, 2019.

Princeton P-rade, 2019

Princeton P-rade, 2019

They were everywhere, including on the Amtrak train on the way up from D.C., where I restrained myself from taking photos. Not being an undergraduate alum, I didn’t have a jacket of my own, but luckily some classmates organized a class t-shirt, which I wore with pride in the P-rade, the graduate promenade that’s the centerpiece of Princeton reunions. (That’s where the jacket photos are from.) Unfortunately you can’t see much of it in my selfie, but let the record show that I wore orange.

Mary Grace McGeehan at Princeton P-rade, 2019

At this point, you may be saying, “This is very gung-ho and all, but what does it have to do with 1919?” Well, there was my trip to Firestone Library to visit some 1919-era books,

Pile of library books by and about Winnifred Eaton.

Frontispiece and title page of The Love of Azalea by Onoto Watanna.

Frontispiece and title page of When Patty Went to College, by Jean Webster.

and this painting I saw at the university art museum by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, paramour and eventual husband of Elizabeth Gardner, whom I wrote about here,

Woman with Iris, William-Adophe Bouguereau, 1895

and representation in the P-rade by the 100+-year-old Class of 1939.

Princeton P-rade, Class of 1939.

I know–pretty slim pickings. My search for a hook continued.

I considered writing about Princeton’s early 20th-century history as “the pleasantest country club in America,” where academics took a backseat to socializing. F. Scott Fitzgerald has already covered that ground, though,

Dust jacket, This Side of Paradise, first edition.

and in any case Princeton had already started to change by the time This Side of Paradise was published in 1920.

Like many other universities, Princeton transformed itself into a military training institution during World War I.

Picture of Princeton student drill squad.

American Review of Reviews, August 1918

After the Armistice, it began a period of soul-searching aimed at becoming a “national university.” This led to a revamp of the curriculum that, as School and Society reported in April 1919, eliminated entry requirements, like Greek, that kept out public school students, divided the university into departments, and put Princeton on the path to becoming the first-rate institution that it is today.

School and Society headline, Educational Events, The Princeton Curriculum.

School and Society, April 19, 1919

Social change was slower in coming. In 1917, Grover Cleveland’s son led a boycott against Princeton’s exclusive eating clubs, but these efforts, like an earlier one by Princeton president Woodrow Wilson to abolish them altogether, had little impact.

Headline, Can a College Abolish Snobs?

Independent, March 19, 1917. (Answer: no.)

The clubs still exist today—more egalitarian, but still controversial.

As for diversity, Princeton lagged behind other Ivy League schools for many years. I didn’t need to look up statistics; I could see it in the P-rade, where no class until the 50th reunion Class of ’69 had more than a handful of students who weren’t white.

Princeton P-rade, Class of 1969

With so many wives*** in the parade, coeducation was harder to track, but these Class of ’73 alums made sure this historic event wasn’t forgotten.

Princeton P-rade banner, Coeducation Begins.

As the classes marched by, I wondered what the deal was with the jackets. Once the reunion was over, I did a Google search–and found my 100-years-ago hook. In the spring of 1912, some seniors were sitting around at the Nassau Inn,

Postcard of Nassau Inn, ca. 1910.

Postcard of Nassau Inn, ca. 1910

drinking beer and sloshing it all over their spiffy college-man togs, like the suits these members of the Triangle Club are wearing. (Try to spot F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you can’t read the tiny writing under the picture, the answer is below.****)

Princeton Bric-a-Brac photo wih F. Scott Fitzgerald

Princeton Bric-a-Brac, Classes of 1915-19

With lots of mental energy to spare after four years of not studying very hard, the seniors turned their attention to this vexing problem. The obvious solutions, 1) dress like normal people, or 2) drink moderately enough that you don’t spill your beer, apparently weren’t on the table.

Instead, they designed an outfit consisting of denim workmen’s overalls and a jacket. The class of 1913 came up with the “beer suit” moniker, and the class of 1914 upped the fashion ante by substituting white duck for denim. When World War I came along, the suits were abandoned, such pursuits presumably deemed too frivolous during wartime, but they reappeared in 1919. The class of 1920 added a black armband to protest prohibition, and the tradition of the class logo was born. There were strict rules surrounding the jackets: they were for seniors only, and washing them was forbidden. Here are the earliest beer-suited students I could find, from the class of 1926.

Princeton students in beer suits, ca. 1926.

The overalls were phased out after World War II, and “beer suits” became “beer jackets.” The jackets became official university attire for graduating seniors and the more dignified moniker “senior jacket” was adopted. At the 25th reunion, the senior jacket is traded in for a reunion jacket, which is worn from then on.

So a drinking hack by a small group of upper-class white men at a college that proudly called itself a country club lives on as a beloved tradition at a world-class university where white students are now in the minority.

Princeton hasn’t become a post-racial utopia, and the legacy of snobbery and hard drinking hasn’t died, but the “best old place of all” has come a long way in a hundred years.

THEN:

Nassau Literary Society, Princeton Bric-a-Brac, Classes of 1915-1919

NOW:

*The other ones being Harvard, where I attended my undergraduate reunion last year, and NYU, where I did my MFA, but low-residency with residencies in Paris, so I didn’t have much of a chance to experience Violet Pride.

**On the bright side, his/her odds are way higher because you went there!

***Wives march alongside their husbands in the P-rade, often in outfits made of the same material as the jackets.

Marchers in Princeton P-rade, 2019.

****Second from right, third row.