Tag Archives: history

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

Can you beat me at this 1919 intelligence test? Probably!

My quest to earn a 1919 Girl Scout badge (here and here) got my competitive juices flowing. And what’s more competitive than an intelligence test? I set out to track one down.

Last year, I could only find one intelligence test from 1918. It equated intelligence with vocabulary, because of course familiarity with this

and this

isn’t class-dependent AT ALL. I did pretty well, scoring in the Superior Adult range.*

By 1919, magazines were full of intelligence tests. A test called the Army Alpha had been widely used on American soldiers during the war, and psychologists and business leaders were eager to use ability testing in civilian life. I settled on a bevy of tests in the March 1919 edition of  American Magazine.** “Try these tests on yourself and others,” the magazine urges us, although, in my experience, the “others” tend to flee.

Tests like this are, we learn in an accompanying article, completely scientific—it’s possible to give a job applicant or a soldier a set of tests that will accurately predict his job success. (“His” being the operative word. No one’s wasting time testing women’s intelligence.)

In the past, American Magazine tells us, soldiers were sorted into units based on where they lived rather than by skills. So, during the Civil War, all the men from one neighborhood would be assigned to the remount squad (the unit responsible for supplying horses), when it would have made more sense to staff it with people who know something about horses.

U.S. Army poster of remount depot, Fort Reno, Oklahoma, 1908.

Remount Depot, Fort Reno, Oklahoma, 1908 (U.S. Army poster)

When the United States entered World War I, some psychology professors were convinced that there must be a better way. They came up with

three great developments which have been not only factors in victory but will be of enormous importance to business, now that peace is here. They are:

  1. The Qualification Card
  2. The Intelligence Test
  3. The Rating Scale

The Qualification Card is, like it sounds, a card with a soldier’s qualifications listed on it. When the pipes froze at a military base, all of the plumbers in town were out on calls, so

in desperation, the quartermaster telephoned the Personnel office:

“Have you any plumbers on the list?”***    
“How many do you need?”
“Forty or fifty.”
“We’ll send you a hundred,” said the Personnel officer. And in less than an hour he had done so.

This scheme makes sense, although I don’t see why it required a team of brainiacs to come up with it.

American magazine cover, March 1919, woman and hands playing piano, How Smart Are You?

The Intelligence Test and Rating Scale, are, American Magazine assures us, equally useful.

Take a hundred men in the same line of business, whose incomes vary widely, and give the same tests to all of them. If, generally speaking, it rates them in about the same order in which the judgment of the business world has rated them, then the test is pretty likely to be a good one.

So the test is accurate because people who make more money do better. Logic doesn’t get more airtight than that!

The Tests

On to the tests! They work best on paper, and you can download and print them out from the magazine. (Hit “Download this page (PDF)” in the box to the left of the text.) If you can’t be bothered, you can do most of them by looking at the questions on the screen. The answers, where needed (most are self-evident), are provided below.

TEST 1

Number chart for intelligence test, American Magazine, 1919.

TEST 2

Word list for intelligence test, American magazine, 1919.

TEST 3

Number list for intelligence test, March 1919.

TEST 4

(On #14, note that there are two spaces between “beggar” and “money.”)

Fill in the blanks test, American Magazine, March 1919.

TEST 5

Fill in the blanks intelligence test, American Magazine, March 1919.

That’s it! Put down your pencils.

The Answers (and My Results)

TEST 1

The answers are  self-evident, but here are my 3’s, x’ed out in pink, in case you missed some:

Number finding puzzle, solved.

The first time I took this test, I got 2 minutes, 23 seconds. This is well into the Poor range, which starts at 88 seconds. I took it again and was almost at the 3-minute mark when the phone rang, putting me out of my misery.

I tried to come up with justifications for my sorry performance. The 3’s look so much like 8’s! Especially this one with a line through it (sixth row, fifth column),

3 with line through it, American Magazine, March 1919.

which cost me about ten seconds.

Then it occurred to me that the numbers, when printed out on standard printer paper, are way smaller than they would have been in the magazine. I copied them into a Word document, enlarged them, and got 2 minutes, 10 seconds. I put them into landscape mode and stretched them out even bigger. 2 minutes on the dot, still well within the Poor range. I gave up.

This didn’t come as a huge surprise. Rapid visual processing is not my forte. I would, I accepted long ago, be the world’s worst air traffic controller. But there are lots of tests to go!

TEST 2

There are no answers provided, but they should be self-evident—speed is the issue here.

Words are much more my thing, and I did well: 19 seconds, two seconds into the Excellent range. Feeling better!

TEST 3

Again, no answers needed.

I’m better at dealing with numbers when they’re not hiding in a jungle of other numbers. I remembered eight numbers, in the Good range.

TEST 4

Cover, Popular Science Monthly, April 1926, man on crane.

American Magazine doesn’t provide answers, but I found the same exam in the April 1926 issue of Popular Science, with answers. Here they are:

Test answers, Popular Mechanics, April 1926.

Popular Mechanics, April 1926

Add up the number of words you got right for your score. (This isn’t exactly fair, because the 1926 test imposes a four-minute time limit, but, well, life isn’t always fair.)

Here are my answers:

Fill in the blanks puzzle, solved.

I got 51 out of 69, well above the average score of 36, and bumped it up to a 53 because of confusion about the beggar sentence. But I’ve got some serious issues.

#10, “She ____ if she will,” is the only one that truly stumped me. After considerable thought, I wrote “knows.” I wasn’t thrilled with this, though, because “she knows whether she will” would be better syntax. The actual answer? “She CAN if she will.” Which made no sense to me until I figured out that “will” is being used in the sense of “wants to.” This struck me as archaic even for 1919.

Roderick Hudson, first edition, photo of 3 volumes.

Roderick Hudson, first U.K. edition (peterharrington.co.uk)

A Google search for “she can if she will” comes up with this quotation from Roderick Hudson, an 1875 Henry James novel that I never heard of:

Excerpt from Roderick Hudson by Henry James.

Roderick Hudson, 1917 edition

You see, Roderick, a young, impoverished sculptor studying in Rome, is engaged to Mary back home, but he falls in love with Christina, and Rowland, his patron, is in a quandary because he’s in love with Mary himself but feels obliged to break up the Roderick/Christina liaison because, well, I’m not sure why.

Never mind. My point is, just because someone says something in a Henry James novel doesn’t make it normal.

Then there’s #7, “The poor baby ______ as if it were ________ sick.” I wrote, “The poor baby cried as if it were very sick.” The “correct” answer: “The poor baby looked as if it were real sick.”

REAL sick? That’s just wrong. And, I was convinced, was just as wrong in 1919. Looking for examples of this usage from that era, I found this semi-literate letter, which was, for some reason, entered into the record of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate the Election of William Lorimer in 1912.****

Letter in record of Senate Select Committee to Investigate the Election of William Lorimer, 1912.

Proceedings of Senate Select Committee to Investigate the Election of William Lorimer, 1912

Other answers just seem arbitrary. Like #20, where I say “When one feels drowsy and tired…” and the “correct” answer is “When one feels drowsy and sleepy…” Either way, you’re using a pair of redundant adjectives.

But everyone else is presumably being judged by the same capricious standards, plus I had that time advantage, so I’ll stop quibbling.

TEST 5

There are no official answers, but they’re easy to figure out once you remove the time constraint. Here are mine:

Fill in the blanks test, solved.

I had fun with this one. It engages your mind and is tricky in the best  way. At 101 seconds, I fell into the Good category. Shaving off a couple of seconds for setting and shutting off the timer bumped me up to Excellent.

Except—what’s this?

Handwritten fill in the blank saying a horse has three feet.

A horse has HOW MANY feet? What was I thinking? Even given my dubious grasp of animal physiology, I know better than that. I was trying to go too fast, that’s my problem. I could argue that it says fill in a number, not the correct number, but that’s grasping at straws.

The quiz doesn’t say how to score yourself if you get something wrong, but this is a definite fail.

So, bottom line:
TEST 1 – Poor.
TEST 2 – Excellent.
TEST 3 – Good.
TEST 4 – No categories, but I say Good.
TEST 5 – Poor.

There’s no overall scoring system, but if you scale Poor at 1, Fair at 2, Good at 3, and Excellent at 4, I average out at exactly 2. You can’t get more mediocre than that.

So What Does it All Mean?

Title page, Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, 1919-21.

To buck myself up, I turned to the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature, 1919-1921. Maybe I could, among the dozens of articles on intelligence tests, find one saying that they’re a bunch of nonsense.

And I did!

Cover, Literary Digest, May 10, 1919, mother reading schoolbook while annoyed son holds hoe.

To wit, an article in the May 10, 1919, Literary Digest called “Flaws in ‘Intelligence Tests,’” excerpted from Engineering and Contracting magazine. Halbert P. Gillette, the magazine’s editor, says that

an engineer, being trained to use mathematics, knows that before he can calculate the combined effect of different energies, he must reduce them to a common unit. He knows that one hundred horse-power plus ten British thermal units per second does not make 100 units of any kind whatsoever. Yet the same engineer will probably read, without criticism, an article in which a military officer is ‘rated’ thus:
            Physical qualities…………….……….9
            Intelligence……………………….……..12
            Leadership…………………………….…15
            Personal qualities……….…….…….9
            General value to the service….24
                                                              —–
           Total rating in scale of 100      69

Comparing men (them again!) by “adding” up their different qualities, Gillette concludes, is nonsense.

Some such calculation of the relative number of mental units in ‘character’ and in ‘knowledge’ may possibly be made by psychologists a century hence, but not until that is accomplished will it be rational to rate ‘character’ at twenty-four and ‘knowledge’ at fifteen. Any such rating is nonsense.

Halbert Gillette pointing to globe, Popular Science, 1930.

Halbert Gillette, Popular Science, 1930

These five tests are all about intelligence, but they measure very different types of mental ability. So maybe I shouldn’t worry. Maybe I should let the people who excel at finding 3’s be air traffic controllers***** and content myself with doing things that people who excel at shouting out antonyms are good at, like writing blogs about 100 years ago.

Plus, I reassured myself, there’s still my Superior Adult rating on last year’s vocabulary-based intelligence test.

Banner headling saying A Test of Your Intelligence, Literary Digest, February 16, 1918.

Literary Digest, February 16, 1918

Except that Gillette pooh-poohs that test as well. “It is claimed to give results approximating those obtained by applying the Binet-Simon psychological tests,” he says. (IQ tests, that is.) “But if the Binet-Simon tests are not satisfactory, the vocabulary tests cannot be more so.”

Oh, right. Good point.

Gillette is worried about Columbia University’s plan to use ability tests, rather than tests of general knowledge, as entrance exams. “To put it mildly, this is a radical experiment,” he says.

Postcard of Columbia University library, 1917.

Columbia University library, 1917 (librarypostcards.blogspot.com)

Gillette seems like a sensible guy. He might be disappointed that, in the “century hence” he ponders, we haven’t developed more accurate measures of intelligence. And he’d no doubt be appalled that we use standardized tests that correlate highly with wealth as a gateway to higher education—although now it’s your parents’ money, not yours, that counts.******

Still, I’ll never be able to resist an intelligence test. As I mentioned, there are lots more out there. Next time, I swear, I’ll know how many feet a horse has.

In the meantime, let me know if you have better luck than I did tracking down those pesky 3’s!

*Apparently there are lots of other test-taking fans out there—this ended up being my most popular post of 2018.

**American Magazine has an interesting history. It rose from the ashes of several failed magazines in the Leslie empire in 1906 and became the home of muckraking journalists like Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell. By 1919, it was a general interest magazine. It folded in 1956.

Ida Tarbell at desk, 1905.

Ida Tarbell (Pelletier Library, Allegheny College)

***I’ve often wondered whether people actually talked in this inverted way or if it’s just a journalistic/literary convention.

****Lorimer, a Chicago politician known as the “Blond Boss,” was eventually booted out of the Senate for vote-buying in the state legislature. This was right before the ratification in 1913 of the Seventeenth Amendment, which provided for election of senators by the popular vote, making it more expensive, though still possible, to buy elections. A lot of people in Chicago thought that Lorimer’s ouster was politically inspired, and there was a parade for him on his return.

Portrait photograph of Senator William Lorimer, ca. 1921.

William Lorimer, ca. 1921

*****Which wasn’t a job in 1919 but would become one in 1920, when Croyden Airport in London pioneered commercial air traffic control.

Croyden Airport, 1925.

Croydon Airport, 1925, control tower at left (airportofcroydon.com)

******Less so than in the past, though. More and more colleges are making standardized tests optional for undergraduate admissions. Princeton, my graduate alma mater, recently announced that 14 of its departments will, in the interest of diversity, no longer require the Graduate Record Exam.

Girl Scout troop, 1916.

My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge

Back in the day, I was really into Girl Scouts. Like, really into it. I had so many badges that they went all the way down the front of my sash and halfway up the back.*

Pictures of girl scout uniforms, 1960s.

Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1963

So I was eager to set about earning some Girl Scout badges from a hundred years ago.

First, though, I needed to figure out what was going on in Girl Scouting back then. I had a head start because in fifth grade I wrote, directed, and starred in a play my troop put on about Girl Scouting founder Juliette Gordon Low.** But not a huge head start, because the only things I could remember about her were that she was born in Savannah, Georgia, and that she went deaf in one ear following a rice-throwing mishap at her wedding.

Juliette Gordon Low in Girl Scout uniform, 1917.

Juliette Gordon Low, 1917 (Harris & Ewing Collection/Library of Congress)

Low was born in, yes, Savannah, in 1860, the daughter of a wealthy cotton broker who fought for the Confederacy yet somehow ended up being close friends with General Sherman. At age 25, she married William Mackay Low. They moved to England, where their social circle included Rudyard Kipling and the Prince of Wales. Her husband proved to be a drinker, gambler, and philanderer, though, and they separated in 1901. He died in 1905.

Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell in uniform, ca. 1919.

Robert Baden-Powell, ca. 1919 (Library of Congress)

Low met Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell in 1911, and the two became close friends. She got involved with the Girl Guides, which were headed by Baden-Powell’s sister Agnes, and traveled with Baden-Powell to the United States in 1912 to launch the American Girl Guides, soon renamed the Girl Scouts.

Other interesting things happened, like a feud with the Campfire Girls, who refused Low’s merger proposal because they thought some GS activities were too masculine, and controversy over the “Girl Scouts” name, which some thought would have a sissifying effect on the Boy Scouts. But I skimmed over this in my eagerness to set about earning some badges.

I got hold of the Girl Scout handbook of the time, a 1916 update of the original 1913 edition. It’s titled How Girls Can Help Their Country, and I was delighted to see that it’s chockablock with badges—36 in all.

I knew going in that I couldn’t hold a candle to a 1919 Girl Scout in some respects—animal husbandry, for instance. Still, How Girls Can Help Their Country informs us that the purpose of scouting is to prepare girls to be housewives. I’ve been a wife for almost sixteen years now, so how hard could it be?

Selection from 1916 Girl Scout handbook on housewifery.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

Well, let’s see.

  1. AMBULANCE

Ambulance Girl Scout badge, 1916, Maltese cross.

#1. To obtain a badge for First Aid or Ambulance a Girl Scout must have knowledge of the Sylvester or Schafer methods of resuscitation in case of drowning. Must complete one year of regular attendance and know:

  1. What to do in case of fire.
  2. How to stop a runaway horse.
Drawing of a person performing resuscitation, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

FAIL.

  1. ARTIST

Artist Girl Scout badge, 1916, palette with brushes.

To obtain an artist’s badge a Girl Scout must draw or paint in oils or water colors from nature; or model in clay or plasticine or modeling wax from plaster casts or from life; or describe the process of etching, half-tone engraving, color printing or lithographing; or

            Arts and Crafts:

Carve in wood; work in metals; do cabinet work.

When I was in kindergarten, our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up and wrote down the answers, which I still have in a scrapbook. The girls mostly said mommy. One aspired to be a teenager. Another wanted to be a cheerleader. I wanted to be an artist. Admirable from a gender equality perspective, but delusional. To check whether I was underestimating myself, I tried to draw a dog. This is, I swear, my best effort:

FAIL.

  1. ATHLETICS

Athletics Girl Scout badge, 1916, Indian clubs.

I can do some of these things! This, for example:

#4. Must be able to float, swim, dive and undress in water.

(Okay, I’ve never actually tried the undressing part, but I bet I could do it if I could find a pool that allowed this kind of shenanigans.)

Others posed more of a challenge.

#3. Understand the rules of basket ball, volley ball, long ball, tether ball, and captain ball.

I’m solid on basket ball, volley ball, and tether ball. Long ball turns out to be a simplified form of cricket. But I got totally muddled up trying to master the rules of captain ball.

Captain Ball diagram.

Captain Ball diagram, funandgames.org

FAIL.

  1. ATTENDANCE

(There’s no picture of this badge, but it’s a silver star, they tell us.)

Must complete one year of regular attendance.

So participation trophies aren’t just a millennial thing! Not in the cards for me, though.

FAIL.

  1. AUTOMOBILING

Automobiling Girl Scout badge, 1916, wheel.

#1. Must pass an examination equal to that required to obtain a permit or license to operate an automobile in her community.

I live in Cape Town, and I’ll be able to convert my U.S. license to a South African one without taking a test once my South African ID comes through. Just as well, because I took a practice test and got 4 out of 10. In my defense, the questions were like this:

Question from South African practice driver's test, how far from a bridge must you park.

salearners.co.za

and this:

Question on practice South African driver's license test, for how long can you park a car on a rural road?

salearners.co.za

Since I never, ever park anywhere near a bridge or abandon my car on a rural road for even one minute, I’m not too worried. But I’m not getting a badge either.

FAIL.

  1. AVIATION

Aviation Girl Scout badge, 1916, monoplane.

To obtain a merit badge for aviation, a Scout must:

  1. Have a knowledge of the theory of the aeroplane, helicopter,*** and ornithopter, and of the spherical and dirigible balloon.
  2. Have made a working model of any type of heavier than air machine, that will fly at least twenty-five yards; and have built a box kite that will fly…

FAIL.

  1. BIRD STUDY

Bird Study Girl Scout badge, 1916, bird.

 To secure this badge, a Scout must:
#1. Give list of 50 well-known wild birds of the United States.
#2. State game bird laws of her state.
#3. Give list of 50 wild birds personally observed and identified in the open…
#5. Name 10 birds that destroy rats and mice….
#8. Tell what the Audubon Society is and how it endeavors to conserve the birds of beautiful plumage.
#9. What an aigret is, how obtained, and from what bird.

I can answer #9! It’s a long, colorful feather, usually from an egret, used for adorning a hat. (Thank you, Google!) You presumably obtain it from plucking it out, which the Audubon folks might take a dim view of. (UPDATE 11/5/2019: For the horrifying truth about aigret feathers, see the comment from Witness2Fashion below.)

Woman wearing hat with aigret feather, 1911.

Chapeau à Aigrette, Maison Lewis, 1911

FAIL.

  1. BOATSWAIN

Boatswain Girl Scout badge, 1916, anchor.

#1. Be able to tie six knots.
#2. Be able to row, pole, scull, or steer a boat.
#3. Land a boat and make fast.
#4. State directions by sun and stars.
#5. Swim 50 yards with clothes and shoes on.
#6. Box the compass and have a knowledge of tides.

I lived on a lake when I was growing up and we used to putter around in canoes, rowboats, and small sailboats, so I’m pretty confident of my ability to do most of these things. And I bet that, if I tried, I could swim 50 yards with clothes and shoes on, although can’t I can just take them off like in the Athletics badge? Boxing the compass sounded daunting but turns out just to mean reciting the 32 points and quarter points on a compass, North by Northwest and the like.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

Telling direction by the stars, though? Especially in the southern hemisphere, with no Little Bear to guide me?

sketch of constellations Little Bear and Great Bear, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

FAIL.

  1. CHILD-NURSE

Child-Nurse Girl Scout badge, 1916, cross.

#1. Take care of a child for two hours a day for a month, or care for a baby for one hour a day for a month.

FAIL.

  1. CLERK

Clerk Girl Scout badge, 1916, pen and book.

#1. Must have legible handwriting;

Check!

ability to typewrite;

Screenshot of online typing test, 66 wpm, 99 percent accuracy.

speedytypingonline.com

Check!

a knowledge of spelling and punctuation;

You can judge for yourself, but I’m giving myself this one.

a library hand;

Wait! What’s a library hand?

It turns out to be a special kind of handwriting taught in library school to make card catalog entries legible. It looks like this:

Illustration of library hand handwriting.

A Library Primer, John Cotton Dana, Chicago Library Bureau, 1899

Here is my library hand:

Not great, but not terrible. I’m on the edge here. But it’s a moot point because of

#4. Keep complete account of personal receipts and expenditure for six months.

FAIL.

  1. CIVICS

Civics Girl Scout badge,1916, eight-point star.

I majored in government in college, and I worked for the government for 28 years. Feeling good about this one!

#1. Be able to recite the preamble to the Constitution.

I knuckled down and memorized it in fifteen minutes. Check!

Words We the People from the original United States Constitution.

#2. Be able to state the chief requirements of a voter, in her state, territory, or district.

I looked at the West Virginia state website and nailed down some details I was wobbly on, like how long you have to have lived in the state to vote (30 days). Check!

#3. Be able to outline the principal points in the naturalization laws in the United States.

I was a consular officer at one point, so it was my job to know this. Check!

#4. Know how a president is elected and installed in office, also method of electing vice-president, senators, representatives, giving the term of office and salary of each.

President Woodrow Wilson addressing a joint session of Congress, April 2, 1917 (AP)

Solid on this except some of the salaries. I knew the president’s ($400,000) and looked up the vice president’s ($235,100) and senators’ and representatives’ ($174,000).**** Check!

But then I got to:

#5. Be able to name the officers of the President’s Cabinet and their portfolios.

Like, all of them? Even the ones who are about to resign?

FAIL.

  1. COOK

Cook Girl Scout badge, 1916, gridiron.

Maybe this will be it. I cook every day! Okay, every day that we don’t eat out or get takeout or have leftovers. Okay, once a week.

#1: Know how to wash up, wait on table, light a fire, lay a table for four, and hand dishes correctly at table.

Mary Grace McGeehan at Christmas table, 1915.

Me, Christmas 2015

Check!

#2: Clean and dress fowl.

FAIL.

  1. INVALID COOKING

Invalid Cooking Girl Scout badge, 1916, palm leaf.

#1. How to make gruel, barley water, milk toast, oyster or clam soup, beef tea, chicken jelly, and kumyss.

In case you’re wondering, kumyss, or kumis, is fermented mare’s milk. It’s an important part of the diet of the people of the Central Asian Steppes. Whom I don’t anticipate ever having to cook for when they’re sick.

FAIL.

  1. CYCLIST

Cyclist Girl Scout badge, 1916, wheel.

#1. Own a bicycle.

A bicycle standing on end in a garage.

Check! (Okay, it doesn’t get out a lot.)

#3. Pledge herself to give the service of her bicycle to the government in case of need.

I’m on board with this, although I doubt South Africa will ever need this particular bicycle.

#4. If she ceases to own a bicycle, she must return the badge.

Harsh! Having some kid steal your bike is bad enough without having to turn in your badge like a disgraced FBI agent. But I think I can hold on to mine, and if I don’t I have another one in D.C.

Unfortunately, there’s also

#2. Be able to mend a tire.

FAIL.

  1. DAIRY

Dairy Girl Scout badge, 1916, sickle.

#1. Know how to test cow’s milk with Babcock test.

Advertisement for Babcock milk testing machine, 1904.

Hoard’s Dairyman, 1904

Oh well, this badge is a little too Bolshiviki to be walking around with in 1919 anyway.

FAIL.

  1. ELECTRICITY

(No picture of this one either, but it’s lightening. (UPDATE 10/21/2019: I mean lightning! So much for spelling and punctuation.))

#1. Illustrate the experiment by which the laws of electrical attraction and repulsion are shown.
#2. Understand the difference between a direct and an alternating current, and show uses to which each is adapted. Give a method of determining which kind flows in a given circuit.
#3. Make a simple electro-magnet.

Etc., etc., etc.

Picture of electromagnet, 1919.

An Elementary Book on Electricity and Magnetism and Their Applications, 1919.

Here in Cape Town, we’re experience “load shedding,” a euphemism for power cuts, and I’m sitting here in the dark. I wish some Girl Scout would come along and straighten out the whole mess. It’s not going to be me, though.

FAIL.

  1. FARMER

Farmer Girl Scout badge, 1916, sun.

What? Not farmerette?

#1. Incubating chickens, feeding and rearing chickens under hens.

There’s lots more, knowledge of bees and curing hams and the like. The only one I got was

#2. Storing eggs.

Eggs in refrigerator.

FAIL.

  1. GARDENING

Gardening Girl Scout badge, 1916, trowel.

#1. Participate in the home and school garden work of her community.
#2. Plan, make and care for either a back-yard garden, or a window garden for one season.

Here’s my back-yard garden:

Garden pots with dead plants in them.

I have a good excuse for this. Cape Town was under severe water restrictions during last year’s drought, so I let my garden die. But they don’t give badges for good excuses.

FAIL.

So here I am, halfway through and no closer to earning a badge than I was at the beginning.

Girl Scout troop, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

My quest has left me full of admiration for those model airplane-flying, milk-testing, bird-identifying, chicken jelly-making, electricity-explaining 1919 Girl Scouts. And for Juliette Gordon Low, who, for all her talk about “hussifs,” didn’t dumb down these badges for the girls. But will I ever be able to earn one? I’m beginning to despair.

But then that old Girl Scout spirit kicks in. I turn for inspiration to the words of our founder and find…well, this:

Passage from 1916 Girl Scout handbook urging scouts to build men up.

But also this:

Which turns out to be mostly about the joyful exercise of vigorous outdoor games, but good enough.

I will go on! Stay tuned for Part 2.

In the meantime, you can try for a badge yourself. Drop me a line if you earn one!

*Unfortunately I have no photos of myself as a Girl Scout. My dad was an excellent photographer, but he wasn’t into candid shots. Anyone looking through our family scrapbooks would get the impression that I spent my entire childhood sitting in a wicker chair outdoors in darling outfits.

Mary Grace McGeehan in wicker chair, ca. 1967.

Me, ca. 1967

**Like I said: really into it. Although, in my defense, Girl Scouts is, or at least was back then, a bit of a JGL personality cult.

***What??? I thought helicopters weren’t invented yet!

****In 1919, the salaries were $75,000 for the president, $15,000 for the vice president, and $7,500 for senators and representatives.

My Perfect 1919 Summer Morning

When I talk to readers of My Year in 1918,* they often say, “My favorite thing about your blog is…” I wait eagerly for their next words: “the razor-sharp, witty writing,” maybe, or “your profound understanding of the era.” But in my heart I know what’s coming:

“The pictures.”

I don’t blame them. I love the pictures too.

It’s a beautiful August morning in Washington, D.C.,** and I’ve decided to use those pictures to imagine myself into an equally beautiful summer morning in 1919.

Like the woman in this Pears Soap ad, I wake up, turn my cheeks to the first clear rays of dawn, and say, “I am beautiful!”

Pears soap ad, 1919, woman in bed looking out of window.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1919

Then I roll over and go back to sleep for a few more hours.

When I finally get up, I take a bath, then dust myself with talcum powder, which is quite the thing in 1919.

Williams' talc powder ad, 1919.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1919

Vivaudou Mavis face powder ad, 1919.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 2019

Talc Jonteel advertisement, woman with talcum powder, 1919.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1919

Colgate's talc powder ad, 1919.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1919

I’ve read all the horror stories about women who lack daintiness,

Deodorant ad, 1919, False modesty has caused this subject to be ignored.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1919

Deodorant ad, 1919, The most delicate problem I have met.

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1919

Deodorant advertisement headline, 1919, What you hesitate to tell your dearest friend.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1919

Deodorant powder ad, 1919, One Woman to Another.

Ladies’ Home Journal, April 1919

plus I don’t want to mess up my dress,

Lux soap ad, 1919, Perspiration hurts fabrics

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1919

so I dab on some deodorant powder. I get dressed

Wolfhead underwear ad, 1919, two women getting dressed.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1919

and have a nice healthy breakfast,

Swift's {remium Bacon ad, 1919, bacon with fried eggs.

Swift’s Premium Bacon ad, Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1919

with orange juice made from this recipe from Sunkist: “Just squeeze juice from an orange.”***

Screenshot (2637)-2

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1919

Over breakfast, I flip through my August magazines,

Vanity Fair cover, August 1919, Ruth Sener, harlequin and woman on bridge.

Rita Senger

Vogue cover, August 1919, George Wolfe Plank, woman by door with carriage.

George Wolfe Plank

Screenshot (2685)-1

Alex Bradshaw and W.H. Bull

House and Garden cover, August 1919, fireplace with items on mantle.

Harry Richardson

stopping for a moment to wonder whether that’s a woman or a parrot on the cover of the Ladies’ Home Journal.****

Screenshot (2648)

But there’s no time to linger–there’s tennis to play,

Jack Tar Togs advertisement, 1919, woman playing tennis.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1919

and beaches to relax on,

Indian Head Cloth ad, 1919, family under umbrella.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1919

and romance in the air!*****

Pompeian Beauty Powder ad, 1919, young man and woman flirting.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1919

Meanwhile, back in 2019, the morning has come and gone, and so will the afternoon if I don’t get a move on.

Enjoy what’s left of the summer, everyone!

*That is, friends who read the blog. It’s not like I’m recognized on the street.

**I know, it sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true:

Yahoo Weather forecast, Washington, D.C., August 11, 2019.

Yahoo Weather

***If you’re wondering, like I was, why Sunkist was explaining such an obvious concept, it’s because orange juice wasn’t very popular yet. There was a huge oversupply of oranges early in the 1910s, leading to the chopping down of 30% of the citrus trees in California, and the citrus industry was desperate to find more uses for its product. They turned to advertisers, who came up with the slogan “drink an orange,” which debuted in 1916.

****Unlike this more recent woman-parrot optical illusion, I’m not sure whether this one is intentional.

UPDATE 9/5/2019: After an extensive search, I identified the artist as Carton Moore-Park, whose name is, um, written under the cover illustration. (As Moorepark, which is how he signed his paintings, but he’s referred to elsewhere, including in this undergraduate thesis, as Moore-Park or Moore Park.)

Screenshot (2750)-1

None of Moore-Park’s other paintings of birds for the Ladies’ Home Journal (or, as it turns out to have been briefly and ill-advisedly named, the New Ladies’ Home Journal) show signs of being optical illusions, so I guess the parrot was just supposed to be a parrot.

Ladies' home journal cover depitcing two cockatoos.

Carton Moore-Park, New Ladies’ Home Journal, March 1916

June 1916 Ladies' Home Journal cover depicting pink flamingos.

Carton Moore-Park, Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1916

Carton Moore-Park February 1919 Ladies' Home Journal illustration of three cranes.

Carton Moore-Park, Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1917

October 1919 Ladies' Home Journal cover depicting two parrots nestling.

Carton Moore-Park, Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1919

*****Again with the powder!

Downtown Provo

Exploring Provo–and Mormon History

Belated happy Pioneer Day, everyone!

“Happy what?” you might be asking. That is, if you’re not from Utah, where July 24—the anniversary of the arrival of Brigham Young and the first Mormon* pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847—is a state holiday, a sort of second Fourth of July.

I’m in Provo for the week, in the role of conference spouse. Unfortunately, they moved the celebration away from downtown this year because Pioneer Park is being renovated, so I didn’t get to attend,

1912 Pioneer Day reenactment, Salt Lake City

1912 Pioneer Day reenactment, Salt Lake City (Shipler Commercial Photographers)

but last night I watched from my hotel room as fireworks went off all across town, the mountains that ring the city serving as a backdrop.

Provo, the home of Brigham Young University, is an attractive little city. Eighty-eight percent of greater Provo is Mormon, the highest proportion in the state (and, ergo, the country). This figure is a bit misleading because it counts BYU students, but still—it’s pretty Mormon. Especially on Sundays, when stores and restaurants are closed and the streets are empty except for people going to and from church. I felt self-conscious walking around in pants.**

Provo is surprisingly hip, though, with funky stores

Unhinged sign, Provo

and a cool coffee*** shop

Coffee shop, Provo

and my favorite used book store ever, Pioneer Book.

I’m not a fan of used bookstores in general—I hate the musty smell, the lack of order, and the “here’s a bunch of stuff people didn’t want” atmosphere. Pioneer, though, is like a new bookstore where the books just happen to be (lightly) used. The sales counter is made of books

Pioneer Book counter, Provo

and there are displays highlighting categories from their 2019 reading challenge, like books by women,

Display shelf, Pioneer Book, Provo

books by writers born more than 100 years ago,

Pioneer Book display shelf

and books that you disagree with.

Pioneer Book, Books You Disagree With

There’s also an entire long wall of books on Mormon history.

Pioneer Book, LDS history section

Yes, history. I’m getting to that.

A hundred years ago, the Mormon church was in transition. Longtime president Joseph F. Smith died in November 1918 after a long period of ill health. This 1914 New York Times article about his imminent death is totally accurate except that he lived for four more years, was 76 at the time, not 82, and was church founder Joseph Smith’s nephew, not his son.

New York Times article on imminent death of Joseph F. Smith, 1914

New York Times, November 28, 1914

When Smith actually did die, the Times (having gotten the facts about his age and paternity straight by now) noted that he was the last of the Mormon leaders to have made the trek to Utah. He was five years old when Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, who was Joseph F.’s**** father, were killed by a mob that stormed the Illinois prison where they were being held. When he was eight, he set out with his mother for Utah, driving an ox team. Smith married his 16-year-old cousin when he was 21, married five other wives, and had 45 children.

Joseph F. Smith, 1905

Joseph F. Smith, 1905

It was under Smith’s leadership, though, that the church cracked down on polygamy, or plural marriage as it was known. His predecessor, Wilford Woodruff, had prohibited new plural marriages in the Manifesto of 1890, but many church members (and, apparently, leaders) took a wink-wink-nudge-nudge attitude, seeing the Manifesto as a political move. The Supreme Court had just upheld a law prohibiting polygamy, and the issue was standing in the way of statehood for Utah. Smith, who took over as church president in 1901, issued the “this time we really mean it” Second Manifesto in 1904.

Senator Reed Smoot, 1909

Senator Reed Smoot, 1909

The Second Manifesto was issued during a bizarre political episode following the 1903 election of Reed Smoot, a Utah Republican, to the U.S. Senate.***** A number of Protestant groups petitioned the Senate to refuse to seat Smoot, who was a Mormon apostle. They had precedent on their side, in a way: Utah Democrat B.H. Roberts, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1898, was barred from taking his seat because he was a polygamist. Reed, though, had only one wife. That didn’t deter his critics, who argued that as a senior church member he was part of a conspiracy to promulgate polygamy. Smith was allowed to take his seat, but the matter was referred to the Senate’s Committee on Privileges and Elections, which deliberated for four years. Some three million people signed petitions opposing Smoot, and the committee hearings attracted standing-room-only crowds. Smith spent six days testifying in 1904, wearing a pin depicting his slain father. He discussed Mormon church doctrine in detail, but it was the revelation that he had five wives that riveted the press and public.

Washington Evening Star headline, Now Has Five Wives

Washington Evening Star, March 3, 1904

Smoot’s fate was finally settled in 1907, when the Senate voted 42-28 to allow him to remain. (It would have taken a two-thirds majority to expel him.) He went on to co-sponsor the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, a piece of protectionist legislation that is widely considered to have contributed to the Great Depression.

In October 1917, Smith made one last effort to eradicate plural marriage, leaving his sickbed to denounce its continued secret practice at a church conference.

Joseph F. Smith and family, ca. 1904

Joseph F. Smith and family, ca. 1904

Smith, though, stayed married to his five wives,****** arguing that, having married them while plural marriages were still allowed, he couldn’t abandon them.

So what was it like to be a woman living in a society where plural marriage was widely practiced? In 1915, Harper’s Weekly published an article, titled “Harp Strings and Shoe Laces,” telling an anonymous Mormon woman’s story. The author writes that she was serving as the head of the music department at “one of the largest institutions on the coast,” with marriage far from her mind, when, at the age of 21, she was swept off her feet by a Mormon colleague. The 28-year-old married father of two gave her a ride in his carriage, presented her with a box of bonbons, and declared, “I’ve been in love with you ever since I first saw you.” The woman writes that

to a girl raised in any other way, such a confession from a married man would have been shocking and repulsive. I had been raised to revere every tenet of my religion. The principle of polygamy was a sacred thing. It was a revelation from God.

To lightly turn aside a confession of love from a single man was my woman’s prerogative when I chose to use it. To refuse an opportunity to enter that “sacred covenant” carried with it a superstitious dread of ill consequences to follow—I dared not invoke.

Harper's Weekly illustration

Harper’s Weekly, October 16, 1915

Her suitor tells her that he knows an apostle who will marry them despite the church ruling against plural marriage. She tells him to write to her father, who agonizes about whether to give his blessing, hesitant to subject his own daughter to the arrangement despite being a polygamist himself. Meanwhile, she starts to have second thoughts.

While I was still under the glamour of it all—in love as a girl can be only once, whether it be real or false—suddenly the thought came: two was polygamy—a test of the principle—a preparation for eternity—would he ever want a third? My heart contracted at the thought.

It occurs to her that this may be how her suitor’s wife—who hadn’t entered into her thoughts until now—is feeling. When she expresses her hesitation, he offers to divorce his wife.

“Divorce her!” I exclaimed, amazed. “But that would not be polygamy!”

She turns him down, her heart broken, and becomes aware of the shattered lives around her. She tells of her father, a successful businessman and community leader whose career was destroyed when he took a second wife. Of a young woman who went to Mexico to become a seventh wife and returned home with her baby, heart and health broken, to die. A woman whose children were taken away from her so her plural marriage would not be discovered.

Day by day, from an upper window, she watches her two sturdy little sons trudging to school—her heart aching to clasp them in her arms—not daring to let even them know of her whereabouts.

Harper's Weekly headline

Harper’s Weekly, October 16, 1915

This woman’s story is intriguing and well told, but it left me wondering whether it was actually true, as Harper’s Weekly insisted. The writer speaks of polygamy rather than plural marriage, the term used within the church. The writing is surprisingly polished for a non-professional writer. Would a music instructor barely out of her teens write this?

I am not criticizing my church. I am not palliating the principle. If ever there were a people honest and sincere in their belief, it is my people; but they have ruined their lives for a pathetic fallacy.

I have my doubts.

I’ll ponder this, and think about Utah’s history, as I spend my last day in Provo.

Or maybe I’ll take a break from history and get some ice cream. Did I mention the ice cream?

Rockwell Ice Cream sign

rockwellicecream.com

*Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints were recently instructed by their president not to use the word “Mormon” or the abbreviation “LDS” anymore. This has required a great deal of reshuffling. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, for example, is now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. “Mormon” is still used in historical contexts, though.

**This list of things to do in Utah on a Sunday includes, I kid you not, “take a nap.”

***Yes, Provo does have coffee shops, although they’re not as ubiquitous as in other cities. I was surprised to see a large number of Coke and Pepsi dispensers around town, including in the BYU student common (highly recommended, and practically the only place to eat on Sunday, after church ends at 1-ish). It turns out that that the church made an official statement in 2012 saying that caffeinated soda is allowed.

Coke mural, Provo, Utah

****That was what church members called him—Joseph F.

*****In case you’re thinking, like I did, this is a mistake and it’s supposed to be 1902, members of the Senate were elected by state legislatures at the time, and Utah’s election took place in January 1903.

******His first wife, unhappy with the plural marriage arrangement, had divorced him.

New on the Book List: The Circular Staircase, by Mary Roberts Rinehart (1908)

Your 1918 Holiday Shopping Guide

It’s Christmas 1918, and everyone’s in the mood to celebrate! But what to get for that special someone?

Everyone’s already gotten the gift they wanted most,

U.S. Food Administration poster, 1918. Santa with soldiers. A Merry Christmas. Peace, Your Gift to the Nation.

US Food Administration, Educational Division, 1918

but there’s lots of other cool stuff out there.

For the Kids

A good place to start your search is Happyland at Bloomingdale’s, where

There’s every old manner of plaything and banner
In BloomingdaleS Showing of Toys,
U-boats and airships, death-and-despair ships
In BloomingdaleS Showing of Toys.

Bloomingdales ad, 1918. Happyland. Toys of American make for young America's sake. Children looking at toys.

New York Times, December 15, 1918

If your kid’s more into reading than visiting death on the Allied forces, you’re still in luck. Recommendations from The Bookman include an edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, with illustrations by Harry Clarke,

Harry Clarke illustration, Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, 1916. Women in gowns at party.

Canadian Wonder Tales by Cyrus Macmillan, illustrated by George Sheringham,

George Sheringham illustration from Canadian Wonder Tales, 1918. Indians in headdresses.

English Fairy Tales by Flora Annie Steel, illustrated by Arthur Rackham,

Arthur Rackham illustration, English Fairy Tales, 1918. Man selling vegetables to woman in round hut.

Folk Tales of Flanders, written and illustrated by Jean de Bosschère,

Illustration from Folk Tales from Flanders by Jean de Bosschère, 1918. Young man fighting with monster.

and Dream Boats, Portraits and Histories of Fauns, Fairies, and Fishes, written and illustrated by Dugald Steward Walker, of which The Bookman says that “text and drawing tinkle with elfish laughter and scintillate with flitting wings.”

Illustration from Dream Boats..., Dugald Steward Walker, 1918. Man in boat on cresting ocean wave in front of giant star.

Or give the gift that keeps on giving, a subscription to St. Nicholas magazine. The kids will  spend many happy hours solving puzzles that leave me baffled, like this one:*

Illustrated numerical enigma from St. Nicholas magazine, December 1918.

St. Nicholas, December 1918

 For the Men

Vanity Fair’s holiday shopping guide is full of ideas for the “Male of the Species,” but once you weed out the smoking presents

Mahogany and glass ash tray, Vanity Fair, December 1918.

Vanity Fair, December 1918

and the war presents

Canadian war bag, Vanity Fair, December 1918.

Vanity Fair, December 1918

the selection’s a bit limited. There’s this extra speedometer for passenger’s seat viewing, but $50 ($834.56 in 2018 dollars) seems a bit pricey, plus, if given by a wife, isn’t this kind of passive-aggressive?

Clock and speedometer, Vanity Fair, December 1918.

Vanity Fair, December 1918

These wallets ($13 and $7.25) are perfectly nice and all, but a wallet always smacks of “I couldn’t think of anything else so I got you this” desperation.

Three wallets, Vanity Fair, December 1918.

Vanity Fair, December 1918

The Bookman assures us that the poetry anthology Songs of Men, compiled by Robert Frothingham, is a “a book such as nearly everybody has been looking for.”

It is a collection of verse for men, with a swinging range of the gamut of emotions; it sings of camping and seafaring, of mining and mountain-climbing, of cow-punching and horse-wrangling, of prospecting, pioneering, loving and fighting. From the woodsman to the college professor, every man will read this small volume with keen delight.

Cover of Songs of Men by Robert Frothingham, 1918.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s a random sample, from the poem “High-Chin Bob” by Badger Clark:

Text beginning, 'Way high up in the Mokiones that top-hoss done his best.

No? Well, then, a fourteen-year supply of alcohol might be appreciated. Get it while it lasts!

For the Ladies

Vanity Fair’s “Gifts for the Eternal Feminine” have stood the test of time better than the men’s gifts, with only the fur stoles (ranging in price from $75 (seal or nutria) to $150 (ermine)) likely to raise eyebrows today. Just as well, since I’d probably leave mine at the opera a week after I got it.**

Woman wearing white fur stole, Vanity Fair, December 1918.

Vanity Fair, December 1918

I’d probably do a better job of holding on to this gorgeous beaded bag,

Beaded handbag, Vanity Fair, December 1918.

Vanity Fair, December 1918

or, if you weren’t planning on spending $45 on me, I wouldn’t turn up my nose at this collarless guimpe, a steal at $2.75.

Lace guimpe shirt, Vanity Fair, December 1918.

Vanity Fair, December 1918

If the lady in your life is as ladylike as the readers of Songs of Men are manly, how about the new novel You’re Only Young Once by Margaret Widdemer? It’s about five sisters who find love and is, according to the (male) Bookman reviewer,

the pinkest book it has ever been our fortune to read. It is as feminine as a powder-puff, as delicate as the frou-frou of silken skirts, and as appealing as the passing of a faint aroma of orris.***

Title page of You're Only Young Once by Margaret Widdemer, 1918.

Or, if she’s a debutante and is constantly being called on to be sprightly at teas, there’s always Vanity Fair itself:

1918 advertisement for Vanity Fair headlined Debutantes! Do You Have to Amuse Dinner Partners?

New York Times, December 15, 1918

For the Whole Family

Hint hint: I’ve always dreamed of having a player piano, and this one’s a steal at $495! (Installment plan available.)

Advertisement for player piano from The Aeolian Company, 1918.

New York Times, December 15, 1918

On Second Thought…

You know what? My lifestyle doesn’t really call for beaded evening bags. I don’t even know what a giumpe is, to be honest. And there’s no room in my house for a player piano.

Which, now that I do the math, costs two years worth of wages for Lower East Side textile worker Elizabeth Hasanovitz, whose autobiography I just finished reading. (It was excerpted in the Atlantic in early 1918, and I wrote about Elizabeth here and here.) One day, when Elizabeth had just lost yet another job (her unionized shop had closed–it later reopened with more compliant workers), she passed a bread line and saw a man being angrily turned away because he’d arrived late. No weak coffee and stale bread today! She gave him a dime.

If Elizabeth can spare a dime for the (even) less fortunate, I can do without more stuff. Better the money should go somewhere where it will really do good, like to one of

Banner for New York's One Hundred Neediest Cases, 1918, showing disables and poor people.

New York Times, December 15, 1918

The stories are harrowing–abusive fathers, parents dead of suicide, breadwinners locked up in insane asylums, and children living on the street. Thanks to social safety nets, the kind of abject poverty that existed in the United States in 1918 has, for the most part, been eradicated. But there are still plenty of people in need, and the Neediest Cases Fund, now in its 107th year, is still extending a helping hand. So you don’t even have to be a time traveler to contribute!

Happy holidays to all of you, wherever (and whenever) you are!

Williams Roger Snow lithorgraph for The Night Before Christmas, 1918, showing Santa's sleigh in yard of large home.

Lithograph for The Night Before Christmas by William Roger Snow, 1918

*On the other hand, there was a double acrostic on the same page with the hint “my primals and my finals name what every loyal American should own” and I instantly said, “Liberty Bond,” and completed the puzzle in about two minutes. “Thrift Stamp” was the rest of the answer.

**This actually happened a lot–the 1918 New York Times classifieds are full of expensive stuff that rich people lost at the theater or in taxis.

***I read the first chapter a few weeks ago, and I agree, it’s pretty damn pink.

1918 Miscellany: Perplexing ads edition

What to serve for breakfast to your two husbands and your children who are drawn in a completely different style.

1918 ad for Aunt Jemima pancake mix with family eating at table.

Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1918

The whole point of UNDERwear has eluded this family.

1918 Carter's Underwear ad with family members wearing long underwear.

Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1918

Cuuuuuute!

1918 Nashua Woolnap ad with child in bed aiming rifle at owl.

Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1918

And happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate!*

1918 photograph of people bringing Chanukah gifts to soldiers.

Carrying Chanuka gifts to hospitalized servicemen at the Ninth Naval District Hospital, Great Lakes, Illinois, 1918 (American Jewish Historical Society)

*The first night of Hanukkah in 1918 was on Thanksgiving (November 28). The holidays next coincided in 2013; they won’t do so again until 2070.

Saturday Evening Post cover, soldier walking turkey, 1918.

10 1918 People I’m Thankful For

1918 is a depressing year to look back on: war, influenza, rampant racism and sexism. But when something is depressing in retrospect that means we’ve made progress, right? I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish about 2018—believe me, I’m not. For Thanksgiving, though, I decided to look at some of the people of 1918 who paved the way for the better world—and, for all its problems, it is a better world—we’re living in today.

So thank you, in no particular order, to

1. Jane Addams and the settlement movement

Jane Addams reading to children at Hull House.

Jane Addams reads to children at Hull House (Jane Addams Memorial Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago)

Jane Addams is one of my 1918 heroes. I had heard of her as the founder of Hull House, the famous Chicago settlement house, which I vaguely imagined as a social services center for the immigrant community. Then I listened to an audiotape of her wonderful memoir Twenty Years at Hull-House and learned that it was so much more—a playhouse and dance hall and crafts museum and lecture theater and book discussion venue and art gallery and sanitation office and whatever else Addams and her fellow settlement workers thought would uplift immigrants from their miserable living conditions. Some of her ideas worked, others didn’t (she discusses the failures with self-deprecating good humor), but she brought astonishing energy and creativity to her mission. Addams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 and is now known as the “mother of social work.”

The rights of immigrants are under threat today, as they were in 1918, but today, at least, there are hundreds of organizations to protect and assist them.

Thank you, Jane Addams!

2. William Carlos Williams and my new favorite poem

William Carlos Williams with his mother and children, ca. 1918.

William Carlos Williams with his sons, Paul and William, and his mother, circa 1918 (Beinecke Library, Yale University)

There was a LOT of bad poetry around in 1918. Or not bad, exactly, just sentimental, bland, and innocuous—sitting in the background like wallpaper. Like this poem. (In the unlikely event you want to read the rest, you can do so here.)

Poem, "Thanksgiving Day," 1916.

Scribner’s, November 1916

Then the modernists came along and changed everything. They threw aside Victorian notions of beauty and upliftment, as well as meter and rhyme, and wrote about the world they actually saw. The poet I’ve come to know best over the year (after a rocky start) is William Carlos Williams. I recently memorized his relatively little-known but wonderful poem “January Morning,” an account of his early-morning amblings on a winter day. Here’s how it begins:

I have discovered that most of
the beauties of travel are due to
the strange hours we keep to see them:

the domes of the Church of
the Paulist Fathers in Weehawken
against a smoky dawn–the heart stirred–
are beautiful as Saint Peters
approached after years of anticipation.

(And yes, I typed that off the top of my head. You can check for mistakes, and read the rest of the poem, here.)

Thank you, William Carlos Williams!

3. W.E.B. Du Bois, the NAACP, and The Crisis

Crisis Magazine cover, February 1918, drawing of W.E.B. Du Bois.

Portrait of W.E.B. Du Bois on the cover of The Crisis, February 1918

W.E.B. Du Bois is up there with Jane Addams in my 1918 pantheon. He gave up a successful academic career to edit The Crisis, the NAACP’s magazine for the African-American community. The Crisis took on discrimination and lynching and other horrors, but it also celebrated the achievements of the community’s “Talented Tenth” (like scholar-athlete Paul Robeson) and printed pictures of cute babies.

Thank you, W.E.B. Du Bois!

4. Harvey Wiley, the FDA, and healthy food

Dr. Harvey Wiley in his USDA lab.

Dr. Wiley in his USDA lab (FDA)

If your turkey dinner isn’t full of dangerous preservatives, you have Harvey Wiley to thank. From his lab at the USDA, Wiley pioneered food safety by testing chemicals on a group of young volunteers known as the “Poison Squad.” While his methods wouldn’t get past the ethics committee today, his efforts on behalf of passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act earned him the nickname “Father of the FDA.”

Thank you, Harvey Wiley!

5. Anna Kelton Wiley and women’s suffrage

Suffragist Anna Kelton Wiley with her sons.

Anna Kelton Wiley with her sons

Anna who? you may be asking. Anna Kelton Wiley wasn’t America’s most famous suffragist. That would be Alice Paul. Paul deserves our thanks as well, but I thought of Wiley—Harvey Wiley’s much younger wife—because it’s not just the leaders who matter, it’s all the people in the rank and file who fight locally, day by day, for a better world. Women’s suffrage wasn’t a single victory, won in 1920, but a battle fought and won, state by state, over many years. Now more than ever, this is a lesson we need to remember.

Wiley wrote in Good Housekeeping that she and other suffragists decided to picket the White House—a highly controversial move—after less confrontational methods had failed. The demonstrations, she said, were

a silent, daily reminder of the insistence of our claims…We determined not to be put aside like children…Not to have been willing to endure the gloom of prison would have made moral slackers of all. We should have stood self-convicted cowards.

Thank you, Anna Kelton Wiley!

6. Mary Phelps Jacob and comfortable underwear

Photo portrait of bra inventor Mary Phelps Jacob.

Mary Phelps Jacob, ca. 1925 (phelpsfamilyhistory.com)

Segueing from women’s suffrage to underwear might seem like going from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it’s all part of the same thing. Disenfranchisement was one way to keep women down; corsets were another. Corsets were still very much around in 1918, but they were on their way out, partly due to wartime metal conservation efforts. And bras were on their way in, thanks to Mary Phelps Jacob, a socialite who, putting on an evening gown one night in 1913, found that the whalebone from her corset was sticking out from the neckline. With the help of her maid, she improvised a garment out of two handkerchiefs and a piece of ribbon. She patented it the next year as the “Backless Brassiere,” and the rest is history.

Brassiere patent drawing, Mary Phelps Jacob, 1914.

Brassiere patent drawing, Mary Phelps Jacob, 1914

Thank you, Mary Phelps Jacob!

7. Amy Lowell and LGBT pride

Poet Amy Lowell in her garden, ca. 1916.

Amy Lowell, ca. 1916

Amy Lowell wrote about love as she experienced it—with her partner, Ada Dwyer Russell, in the Boston home they shared. They weren’t able to live openly as lovers, and Dwyer destroyed their correspondence at Lowell’s request, but their love shines through in Lowell’s poems. Here’s one of my favorites:

Amy Lowell poem Madonna of the Evening Flowers.

North American Review, February 1918

Thank you, Amy Lowell!

8. Katharine Bement Davis and sexual freedom

Photograph of Katharine Bement Davis , 1915.

Katharine Bement Davis, 1915 (Bain News Service)

We think of sexual freedom as the right to sleep with whoever we want, inside or outside marriage. It is that, of course, but it also involves rights that we take so much for granted today that we don’t even think about them. Like the right of a wife who has contracted a sexually transmitted disease from her husband not to be lied to by her doctor. The right of a young woman to know the facts of life rather than being kept in ignorance to uphold an ideal of “purity.” The right of a teenager not to live in fear that masturbation will lead to blindness and insanity. The right of a couple to practice birth control without risking prison.

Poster with caption What is Meant by the Single Standard of Morals?

Poster, War Department Commission on Training Camp Activities, ca. 1918

Katharine Bement Davis, a settlement worker and social reformer, was at the forefront of the fight against sexual ignorance. When the United States entered World War I, venereal disease turned out to be rampant among recruits. Davis wrote in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that combating this epidemic required efforts—and knowledge—on the part of “both halves of the community which is concerned.” Davis and her team at the Section on Women’s Work of the Sexual Hygiene Division of the Commission on Training Camp Activities educated women on sexual issues with publications, films, and lectures by women physicians.

Okay, Davis’s solution was that no one, male or female, should have sex outside of marriage. And she, like so many progressives, was a eugenicist. Still, breaking down the walls of ignorance was an important step.

Thank you, Katharine Bement Davis!

9. Dorothy Parker and humor that’s actually funny

Photograph of young Dorothy Parker, date unknown.

Dorothy Parker, date unknown

1918 humor was, for the most part, not funny. There were racist and sexist jokes, faux-folksy tales, and labored puns. Here is a joke I picked at random from Judge magazine:

Joke called Slap on Maud, Judge magazine, 1918.

Judge, November 9, 1918

Then Dorothy Parker came along, filling in for P.G. Wodehouse as Vanity Fair’s drama critic, and changed everything. The best way to make a case for Dorothy Parker is to quote her, so here are some excerpts from her theater reviews:

On the musical Going Up, April 1918: It’s one of those exuberant things—the chorus constantly bursts on, singing violently and dashing through maneuvers, and everybody rushes about a great deal, and slaps people on the back, and bets people thousands of stage dollars, and grasps people fervently by the hand, loudly shouting, “It’s a go!”

On the farce Toot-Toot!, May 1918: I didn’t have much of an evening at “Toot-Toot!” I was disappointed, too, because the advertisements all spoke so highly of it. It’s another of those renovated farces—it used to be “Excuse Me,” in the good old days before the war. I wish they hadn’t gone and called it “Toot-Toot!” When anybody asks you what you are going to see tonight and you have to reply “Toot-Toot!” it does sound so irrelevant.

Thank you, Dorothy Parker!

10. Erté and gorgeous magazine covers

Young Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (Erté) at his desk, date unknown.

Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (Erté), date unknown

Okay, this doesn’t fit into my theme, because 1918 was the golden age of magazine covers and I get depressed whenever I pass by a 2018 magazine rack. But the beautiful cover art of the era is worth celebrating anyway. There were many wonderful artists, but the master was Erté, who turned twenty-six on November 23, 1918.

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, February 1918, masked woman with man hiding under her hoop skirt.

Erté Harper’s Bazar cover, April 1918, woman with shadows of men behind her.

Erté May 1918 Harper's Bazar cover, woman holding up globe with fireflies flying out.

Thank you (and happy birthday), Erté!

The common thread on this list, I see, is freedom. Freedom for women, immigrants, people of color, and the LGBT community, but also less obvious but still important types of freedom: to wear clothes you can move around in, to know the facts of life, to eat healthy food, and to write about and laugh about the world as it really is.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And thanks to all of you out there who, in large ways and small, are working to make the world of a hundred years from now better than the one we live in today.