Tag Archives: history

My Year in 1918: Some thoughts at the halfway point

I’m halfway through My Year in 1918!

Which seems about right. I feel at home in 1918, and I’m in no hurry to leave. I’ve settled into a routine, with my go-to magazines (The Dial, The Bookman, The Crisis), don’t-miss monthly reads (T.S. Eliot in The Egoist, H.L. Mencken in Smart Set, Randolph Bourne in The Dial, and Dr. Wiley’s Question Box in Good Housekeeping—plus there’s a bright new spark at Vanity Fair named Dorothy Parker I’ll be writing about soon), and guilty pleasures (Murad cigarette ads, children’s puzzles in St. Nicholas magazine).

I’ve probably settled into too much of a routine, in fact. It’s been pointed out that I’ve completely fallen down on the job recipe-wise. I could blame the dispiriting nature of 1918 recipes, which tend to focus on food rationing, but ahundredyearsago.com manages to do a whole blog focused on 1918 (or so) recipes. (This week: Old-Fashioned Sour Banana Ice Cream.) So I’ll get out my apron, and I’ll shake things up in other ways as well. There’s more to life than modernism and Erté covers!

What have I learned in six months? First of all, that it’s harder than I thought to identify any kind of trajectory going through history. I do still believe that we’ve made tremendous progress in the last hundred years. The hardest thing to take in my reading has been the ubiquity of casual sexism and racism. (Judge magazine, for example, has a monthly jokes section called “Darkies.”) We have a long way to go, but I don’t think anyone would want to go back to that time.

On the other hand, none of the progressive battles of 1918 have been unambiguously won. (Other than the right to buy alcohol, if you consider that progressive.) The fights for racial and gender equality, reproductive freedom, and immigrants’ rights are still going on, just in different ways.

I knew all these things before, in a general sense. I hadn’t thought much, though, about all the problems that were invisible in 1918 to all but the most far-seeing observers. Magazines were full of ads for unknown killers—cigarettes and asbestos and radium clock dials and lead-based paint. No one was worried about man-made climate change or the sustainability of the oceans. For me, that’s the biggest lesson—for all the obvious problems of today (as numerous and troubling as they are), there must be other grave dangers, already present or on the horizon, that we’re not even thinking about.

As for the tuning-out-of-2018 aspect of this project, that’s been mostly a good thing, and much easier than I expected. There’s a New Yorker cartoon making its way around Facebook with a doctor telling his patient that his problem is that he’s paying too much attention to the news. I’m definitely not that guy. But neither am I the man in Ohio the New York Times wrote about who decided after the 2016 election to cut himself off from all news.

I didn’t read that article, naturally, I just heard about it. I decided at the beginning of the year that, while a total news blackout wasn’t feasible or desirable, I’d read the bare minimum amount of news required to be a responsible citizen. I get news alerts on my iPad and occasionally glance at an article to get the gist. If something really important happens, I’ll read a whole article about it—just one—in the New York Times. I’ve read a few stories about what’s going on in the State Department, where I worked for many years. And, okay, there was that emergency situation when I had to settle an argument about what rock critics think about Jim Morrison. But I haven’t read a contemporary op-ed or magazine article or book review all year, other than a handful of pieces by friends. No current fiction either, except for exchanges of work with writer friends and a few published pieces, like this and this, by my NYU creative writing classmates. (Congrats, guys!)

I do read blogs, because that’s only fair if I want people to read my blog. And Twitter, although my feed these days is mostly focused on World War I and literary modernism and, for some reason, how horrible it is to be an academic in the UK.* I look at Facebook, but I don’t click on articles. I’ve spent more time than I expected doing research for blog posts (confession: LOTS of Wikipedia), and I’ve had to bone up on the technical aspects of blogging. (Notice how much clearer the pictures have become?) With contemporary resources like this, I follow the rule that Catholics are supposed to follow about impure thoughts: they’re unavoidable, but don’t dwell on them.

A couple of months ago, I was eating dinner in a Cape Town food hall and reading an article from the WTOP Radio website about the D.C. boundary stones as research for a blog post. This was one of the few times this year—maybe the only time—that I printed out a contemporary article and read it from start to finish. As I read, a disoriented sensation came over me. “This article is weird,” I kept thinking. But I couldn’t figure out why. I reread it later, and identified the problem. There’s a quote that starts, “One thing that gets really funky with these things is, the Park Service owns the little piece that’s the fence enclosure and the stone, but then [one of the stones] is on Metro ground…” and continues in this colloquial vein. No one in 1918 talked like that! I was experiencing the same kind of reverse culture shock that I used to have in the Foreign Service when I returned to the United States from overseas.

Has my withdrawal from the news made me a less informed person? Well, yes, by definition. Has it made me a worse citizen? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s made me a better one. I analyze what’s happening on my own, rather than through the lens of an op-ed columnist. I focus on what’s going on in the longer term, not on the twists and turns of the daily news cycle. And it’s definitely been good for my well-being. I’ve lost that jittery feeling that comes with compulsively following the news. The troubling things that are happening today make me sad, but I don’t have the sense of lingering depression that many of my friends are experiencing.

When another six months have passed and I reengage with the contemporary world, I think—at least, I hope—that I’ll read more discriminately, more mindfully, and with a better sense of our place on the long arc of history.

* Some favorite blogs and Twitter accounts:

Connie Ruzich on World War I poets (Behind Their Lines,  @wherrypilgrim)

Pamela Toler on fascinating footnotes to history (History in the Margins, @pdtoler)

Leah Budke on modernist anthologies (ModMarkMake, @modmarkmake)

Whatever It Is, I’m Against It (@wiiiai), an indispensable and entertaining source of day-to-day 100-years-ago news.

Daniel Mulhall, who, in addition to his day job as Irish Ambassador to the United States, writes about Irish writers, including Yeats and Joyce (Ambassador’s Blog, @danmulhall)

Frank Hudson, who writes about (mostly) modernist poets and puts their work to music (The Parlando Project)

Sheryl Lazarus, who started out publishing her grandmother’s diaries a hundred years to the day after she wrote them, but since the diary ran out has been publishing recipes and writing about food-related topics at A Hundred Years Ago.

Unmentionable vice, a secret German book, and a camarilla: The (looniest) trial of the century

 As I was catching up on the 1918 news over breakfast at a Cambridge, Massachusetts B&B during my recent vacation, I came across the following headline in the May 31 New York Times, right below a humongous banner headline about the German offensive:

I was confused.

I read the article, and I was still confused. British MP Noel Pemberton-Billing, apparently, was on trial for defaming dancer Maud Allan, who had appeared in a private dance production based on Oscar Wilde’s play Salome, and the play’s producer, Jack Grien of the Independent Theatre. (Grien was also the drama critic for the Sunday Times, because no one cared about conflict of interest in 1918.) According to prosecutor Travers Humphreys, Pemberton-Billing had made an attack on Allan in his right-wing magazine The Vigilante that was “unworthy of any man to make upon any woman.” Humphreys said that

the coupling of the name of Miss Allan, or any woman, with the heading of the paragraph could only mean one thing—that the lady, either in her private or professional capacity, was associated with something that could not be regarded as otherwise than disreputable.

Studio portrait of Noel Pemberton-Billing, 1916

What heading? What paragraph? The Times isn’t telling. Humphreys goes on to say that, if Allan had failed to challenge this mysterious allegation,

some of those persons whose mental food was garbage might be able to say hereafter, ‘You have this said of you, and you took no steps to stop it, and therefore, there must be something in it.’

Have what said? This was getting frustrating.

Portrait of Maud Allan by Alexander Bassano, 1913

Oh, and there was a list. Which the Times does explain. (Well, the British Telegraph does—the Times, as was its habit, quotes large chunks of the Telegraph’s reporting verbatim.) In an earlier article, the Vigilante had reported that

there exists in the cabinet noir of a certain German Prince a book compiled by the secret service from the reports of German agents who have infested this country for the past twenty years, agents so vile and spreading debauchery of such a lasciviousness as only German minds could conceive.*

Okay, so there’s an evil German plot to perversify English society. But what does it have to do with Maud Allan et al.? Humphreys explains that the other Vigilante article, the one with the mysterious headline, made

a cryptic suggestion that if Scotland Yard were to seize a list of the members subscribing to the Independent Theatre there was no doubt they would secure the names of several thousands of the first 47,000.

Captain Harold Spencer (date unknown)

No one had actually managed to produce a copy of this book. But a lot of people had seen it. Or said they had. Including the author of the article, former American navy captain Harold Spencer. Spencer was the aide-de-camp to Prince William of Wied**, who he said had shown him the book in Albania. Another witness, Mrs. Villiers Stewart, said that she had seen former Prime Minister Asquith’s name in the book.*** Spencer said he hadn’t, but he had seen Asquith’s wife’s name.

Guess who else Mrs. Villiers Stewart said she saw in the book? Justice Darling, who was presiding over the case! Sensation in the court. But it apparently didn’t occur to him to stop the trial and recuse himself, because, like I said, conflict of interest.

Noel Pemberton-Billing and Eileen Villiers Stewart arriving at court

Spencer testified that the Vigilante had been tipped off about the Salome production by—I bet you didn’t see this coming!—Marie Corelli, the purple-prose novelist who was last seen here espousing forced sterilization in Good Housekeeping and hoarding sugar. (And who, by the way, was almost certainly a lesbian herself.)

Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover-turned-nemesis, also testified for the defense, although I couldn’t for the life of me make out what he had to do with anything, and was later kicked out of the courtroom for heckling.

And there was a camarilla! A word that, despite my superior-adult score on a 1918 vocabulary-based intelligence test, I had to look up. It turns out to mean a secret group of plotting courtiers. This particular camarilla, allegedly, was aimed at getting Asquith back into power and making peace with Germany. (Which was seen as a bad thing–right-thinking people wanted to beat them.)

Margot Asquith, date unknown

The pieces were starting to fall together, but I still wasn’t clear on the unspeakable vice. Oscar Wilde + vice, I figured, had to = something about homosexuality. But what exactly?

As I sipped my tea and reflected on the situation, I had an inspiration. “You know who will be all over this story?” I said to myself. “My fellow 100-years-ago blogger, Whatever it is, I’m Against It.” And I was right! As WIIIAI explains here and here, the crux of the matter is the title of the Vigilante article, which the Times was too delicate to reprint: “The Cult of the Clitoris.” Aha! The insinuation, then, was that Allan was at the heart of a giant pro-German lesbian cabal.****

Now I was up to speed on why the Times was skirting around the headline. Armed with this information, I was able to track down the full text of the Vigilante article:

The Cult of the Clitoris

To be a member of Maud Allan’s private performances in Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome,’ one has to apply to a Miss Valetta, of 9, Duke Street, Adelphi W.C. If Scotland Yard were to seize the list of these members I have no doubt they would secure the names of several of the first 47,000.

That’s it!

London’s Palace Theater, where Salome was performed, date unknown

Fast forward a few days, to a June 5 piece in the Times. As Humphreys was making his closing arguments, Pemberton-Billings interrupted him to say that he’d never accused Allan of engaging in vice herself, only of pandering to it. He was acquitted.

In the first draft of this post, I wrote that the good guys lost. And it’s true that I’ll root for scandalous lesbian dancers (Allan was in fact a lesbian, which was the only true allegation in the whole trial as far as I can tell) and cutting-edge theater producers over homophobic right-wing politicians and conspiracy-peddling ex-military officers any time. But, even by the standards of British defamation law, which is much stricter than its American equivalent, the penning of the Vigilante story doesn’t seem like a criminal act. It’s just a piece of vague, sloppy insinuation. Not something that people should go to jail for, however despicable they might be.

The real crime here—twenty-three years after Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years in jail for homosexual acts, and eighteen years after he died, impoverished and disgraced, in Paris—is that homophobia was still so deeply rooted in British society that it was fodder for ridiculous conspiracy theories (the book of 47,000, of course, never surfaced), scurrilous newspaper reporting, and farcical trials.

Not a very inspiring way to commemorate Pride Month. But there are positive LGBTQ stories as well. (Mostly L, actually.) I’ll get to them in an upcoming post.

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, 1893

* Because everyone knows that Germans and hot-bloodedness are virtually synonymous.

**Arguably the best name in a story full of great ones.

***Mrs. Villiers Stewart was subsequently jailed for bigamy, but that’s another story.

****Because, you know, there’s nothing lesbians like so much as living under right-wing militaristic rule.

A pioneering 1918 infographic, worth a thousand words

Words! So. Many. Words. Mine, and the 1918 people’s. I need a break.

The April 1918 issue of The Bookman has just the thing: a graphic about book publication in the United States and Great Britain. And a picture is worth a thousand words, which is the length that my typical post has swollen to these days.

Here are the stats for books published in the U.S. in 1917:

And in Great Britain:

In the accompanying article, Fred E. Woodward, who drew the graphic, points out that

a single glance at the two charts reveals a notable difference between the two figures, the one representing the books of the United States being an almost symmetrical pyramid endued with the appearance of stability and a certain element of vigor and strength, while the one representing Great Britain exhibits an enormous overplus of works of fiction as compared to the remaining classes.

Interesting. Not so interestingly, Woodward goes on to explain the charts at length, which kind of defeats the purpose of a chart. But I can forgive him a lot because, as far as I can tell, he is basically inventing information graphics here. (I did some research and found some earlier examples, going back to a depiction by J.J. Sylvester of chemical bonds and their mathematic properties in Nature magazine in 1878.* So let’s just say Woodward was inventing fun infographics.**)

Chart showing the original boundary milestones of the District of Columbia, Fred E. Woodward, 1906 (Library of Congress)

Fred Woodward really, really liked drawing infographics about books. He did a way more complicated one in the April 1917 issue of The Bookman, and, also in 1917, wrote a graphic pamphlet on book sales for the U.S. Bureau of Education. Woodward also wrote a 1907 book called A Ramble Along the Boundary Stones of the District of Columbia with a Camera. I’m going to D.C. soon and, believe me, I’m going to be rambling along those boundary stones.

Bookplate of Fred E. Woodward, Washington, D.C., 1898 (Library of Congress)

The Library of Congress has this 1898 bookplate of Woodward’s (drawn by someone else, though) in its collection.  “Guardabosque” is a play on his name—it means forest ranger in Spanish, which is apparently the original meaning of Woodward. According to the LOC, there’s an inscription on the back saying that Woodward was the head of the books department at Woodward & Lothrop in Washington. A little more sleuthing revealed that he was the younger brother of the founder of the iconic, and now sadly out of business, department store.*** He’s apparently no relation, though, to graphic artist Fred Woodward, formerly the art director of Rolling Stone and now at GQ.

I was going to hold forth about how few books were published 100 years ago compared to now, but, you know, words. So here’s an infographic:

(Source, 1917: The Bookman magazine, April 1918. Source, 2015: International Publishers Association Annual Report, 2016.)

I realize that this is an apples-and-oranges situation in terms of comparisons. And that I’m no Fred Woodward (either one) infographics-wise.

Still, you get the picture.

*Sylvester, as it turns out, coined the word “graph” in another 1878 Nature article. This is even more amazing than there having been no such word as “surreal” in 1918. If you don’t believe that “graph” is so new, which I didn’t, here’s the Google N-Gram:

**I realize that Woodward probably wasn’t doing this all by himself. Please be in touch if you know of other examples!

***I have wonderful memories of going Christmas shopping in the children’s castle at Woodies (as we D.C. cognoscenti call it) in the 1970s.

A 1918 play about a single mother, too far ahead of its time

Reading the March 1918 issue of The Bookman a couple of weeks ago, I came across a brief review of The Madonna of the Future, which had recently opened on Broadway. As critic Clayton Hamilton tells us,

the heroine of this play is a very rich young woman, unencumbered with relatives, who desires to become a mother but does not desire to be saddled with a husband. In consequence of her convictions, she picks out an apparently eugenic mate and becomes, in due time, the mother of a nameless child.

My reaction: What? This is the least 1918 thing I’ve ever heard of!   

“Madonna of the Future” star Emily Stevens, New York Times, January 27, 1918

The Dramatic Mirror thought so too. “The most pitiful creature of the brothel would scorn such an idea,” the magazine huffed. It was not alone, apparently—New York Chief Magistrate William McAdoo* received a number of complaints. He wrote to the theater’s lawyers telling them that, if the issue arose in court, he would have to declare the play obscene. McAdoo said that

the character of the heroine repeatedly and tiresomely states over and over again that the doctrines advanced by her are unconventional and, in the sense usually accepted by ordinary people, immoral. She says that her highest ideal of maternity is that of the cow, which might suggest that the proper place for this play would be a stable instead of the stage, committing the dialogue to learned veterinarians.

I haven’t been able to find a script of the play, but here’s what I’ve managed to piece together. Iris Fotheringham, a wealthy young woman from Tarrington, New York, hates men, but has what the Dramatic Mirror calls “one redeeming virtue—the dream of all good women—the desire of motherhood.” She decides that her secretary, Rex Letherick, would be a suitable father,** and whisks him off to Europe. After the baby is born, she blithely resumes her New York life. Rex is desperately in love with Iris, and, as the Dramatic Mirror puts it, “still willing to be her husband.” Iris gets wind that there’s another woman in the picture, gets jealous, and marries Rex.

Alan Dale and his daughter Marjorie, 1900 (Library of Congress)

What makes this story even more interesting is that the play’s author, Alan Dale, was America’s most famous theater critic. The British-born Dale (real name Alfred Cohen) had been writing acerbic reviews for the Hearst newspapers since the 1880s. He had made a lot of enemies along the way. “The theatrical world is finding considerable amusement in the situation created by the police complaint,” the Dramatic Mirror gloated, speculating that the cause of the play’s troubles was a morality campaign by the city’s Tammany Hall mayor. For good measure, the magazine threw in some cracks about the play’s bad reviews.

New York Times, January 29, 1918

This was unfair, as far as I can tell. The un-bylined New York Times reviewer called the play “a brilliantly written comedy of ideas,” although he complained that the ending was a copout. He noted similarities to George Bernard Shaw, but said that Shaw, “having real ideas of his own, also has the courage of them.”  Astonishingly, the reviewer got away with saying that the de-stigmatization of single motherhood was important to contemplate,

for women in these coming manless times will be much occupied with the thought that life would be less empty if only there were children. And the world will have need of new citizens.

George Jean Nathan, date unknown

George Jean Nathan, who co-edited Smart Set with H.L. Mencken and is now regarded as the greatest theater critic of his time, really, really hated Dale’s reviews. He complained in Smart Set’s April 1918 issue that Dale displayed

the sort of humour…that proceeds from the comparison of something or other with a Limburger cheese or from some such observation as “‘Way Down Yeast’ ought to get a rise out of everybody.” The sort of humor, in short, whose stock company has been made up largely of bad puns, the spelling of girl as “gell,” the surrounding of every fourth word with quotation marks, such bits as “legs—er, oh I beg your pahdon—I should say ‘limbs’,” a frequent allusion to prunes and to pinochle, and an employment of such terms as “scrumptious” and “bong-tong.”

But Nathan goes on to praise The Madonna of the Future, saying that

its theme is viewed through the glasses of a man possessed of a certain pleasant measure of cultural background and expounded in well thought out and effective vein; its net impression is of a piece of writing designed by a civilized gentleman for a civilized audience.

The New York Times ran this list of adjectives that had been used to describe the play, ranging from puerile to shocking to brilliant:

New York Times, March 10, 1918

After the theater received the letter, the script was revised, there was some back and forth with McAdoo, the play closed on Broadway after less than two months, and the censored version, retitled The Woman of the Future, moved to New York’s “subway circuit.”

In spite of its short run, The Madonna of the Future caused quite a stir. Today’s Iris Fotheringhams may, in part, have Alan Dale to thank for getting people used to the idea that having a baby without a husband isn’t all that big a deal.

Alan Dale lives on in another way as well: his 1889 novel A Marriage Below Zero has been described as the first English-language novel to depict a romantic relationship between two men.

All in all, not a bad legacy for someone who said “scrumptious” and “bong-tong.”

G.W. Dillingham, 1889

*This William McAdoo, a former congressman and New York police commissioner, was born in Ireland and was apparently no relation to Secretary of the Treasury/Railroad Administrator/Woodrow Wilson son-in-law William Gibbs McAdoo.

**Well, he has a great porn star name anyway.

Despina Storch: The sad fate of a woman of intrigue

Remember Despina Storch, the beautiful Turkish woman who was arrested by the Secret Service as the suspected head of a German spy ring and sent to Ellis Island to be deported? (UPDATE 1/2/2019: For readers looking for information on Storch who were directed here by Google, I suggest that you start with my earlier post, which you can find here.)

Despina Storch, 1917 (Underwood & Underwood, N.V.)

She never made it to France. She died on Ellis Island on March 30, 1918, at the age of 23. The cause was pneumonia.

Or was it? Some suspected suicide, especially since two of her three accused co-conspirators, Elizabeth Nix and “Baron”* Robert de Clairmont, had also fallen seriously ill.

An immigration inspector denied the rumors, saying of Mme. Storch, “She made a brave fight for her life and every effort was made to save her. She was physically unable to overcome the ravages of pneumonia. I wish to state positively that she did not commit suicide.”

The suicide theory would have been plausible, though, since Mata Hari’s October 1917 execution by a French firing squad must have been on the group’s mind.

Mata Hari, 1906

Despina Storch’s funeral took place on April 1. Her companion and co-accused, the Count de Beville, was allowed to leave Ellis Island to attend, accompanied by his parents and a Secret Service agent. According to a report in the New York Sun, Beville “bore a plaque of roses and some lilies which he tenderly placed in the folded arms of the dead woman.” He knelt by the casket, praying, for two hours.

He murmured over and over again, and some say the words were “Forgive me,” and others, “Cherie, Cherie, and like French words of endearment.

Willis Music Company, 1918 (Library of Congress)

Outside, a “morbidly inquisitive crowd” milled around the hearse. When the coffin was borne out of the funeral parlor,

the chatter of the crowd hushed, and all that stirred the quiet was the music of “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” which echoed into the street, as the subway band, on an army recruiting bus, rolled through Fifth avenue, close by.

Mount Olivet Cemetery, date unknown

The Count and his parents accompanied the hearse to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Queens, where Mme. Storch’s “exquisitely carved white coffin” was placed in a vault. Beville “wept silently and cast a last look at the vault as he was led back to the car.”

Thus ended the brief life of the woman the Sun called “the most romantic spy suspect America has yet known.”

Despina Storch in Spain, adapted from an illustration in the Washington Times, June 16, 1918

*The New York Times was dubious about his claim to this title.

A forgotten early 20th-century Betty Friedan

Quick: where do these sentences come from?

[The housewife] masters in a year or two years at most details which must nevertheless be repeated, although all the freshness and interest have gone out of them, as long as life lasts.

In a vague and unanalyzed way she feels the inexorable effects of child training and housekeeping upon her own mental life and powers.

She has a sense of injury that she has fallen upon a career so uninteresting and uncongenial.

Betty Friedan, right? The Feminine Mystique. The problem that has no name.

No, not right—as you’ve probably guessed, since this blog isn’t called “My Year in 1963.” (The post title may have been a tip-off as well.) They come from an October 20, 1917,* article in the New Republic called “The Price of a Home,” by Julia Clark Hallam.

Parade staged by the Iowa Woman’s Suffrage Association. Boone, Iowa. October 29, 1908. Photographer: Moxley. (State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines)

There were feminists back then, of course. For the most part, though, they were fighting for the vote, not talking about bored housewives. In fact, in order to win men over to the suffragist cause, they were deliberately not rocking the gender equality boat.

Julia Clark Hallam was a suffragist, too—she headed the Iowa Equal Suffrage Society from 1909 to 1910. But she wasn’t having any of this “one battle at a time” business.

Hutchison Hall, University of Chicago, ca. 1910-1920 (Library of Congress)

“The Price of a Home” starts with the tale of a woman (clearly Hallam herself) who applies to graduate school twenty-five years after graduating from college with honors. In the years in between, she has raised four children. The school’s dean agrees to admit her, but he predicts that she won’t succeed. She asks why.

“Because,” replied the dean, after taking a moment or two for reflection, “our experience has compelled us to realize that the occupation of home making, important as it is, does not prepare the mind for its higher activities and attainment.”

Hallam sees the dean’s point.

Lack of intellectual content in experience and constant repetition arrest mental development as certainly as newness, freshness and interestingness make for mental growth.

The way she describes this problem leaves little doubt that she’s experienced it first-hand.

There are days when [the housewife] feels she must throw all the dishes on the scrap heap rather than wash them, and as for breaking an egg, which has to be done so endlessly in cooking, she clenches her teeth lest she jam the whole sack of eggs into the garbage pail.

Frontispiece, Studies in Child Development, Julia Clark Hallam

In a follow-up article the next week, Hallam takes on the argument that, while keeping house might be tedious, raising children is intellectually stimulating.

Doubtless there are elements of truth in this argument, yet I wonder if those who press it realize how often a child has to be bathed? Let us admit that the first ministrations of this kind bring the thrill of the mentally fresh and the emotionally pleasurable. But after the act has been repeated several hundred times the thrill refuses to report for duty.

Again sounding very much like Friedan, she says that technology is not the solution.

I am inclined to believe that mechanical inventions are proving thought-killers rather than thought-producers, and that the time they save is wasted unless it can be given to activities which have a real mental content.

Good Housekeeping, January 1918

It’s too late for the present generation of homemakers, Hallam says. But she’s optimistic about the future.

My most earnest hope and conviction is that through the influence of continued intellectual rebellion on their parts against the present conditions, we shall blaze a trail which for our daughters and granddaughters will lead out to a reconstructed society where all individuals shall have equal share in grasp of mind and freedom of spirit.

In the debate sparked by the article, Hallam comes in for a fair amount of condescension. But not all of her critics are men. Elizabeth Childe of Washington, D.C., says that, after searching through “a mind darkened by twenty years of homemaking,” she has found the flaw in Hallam’s argument: her failure to distinguish between housework and the rewarding—to Childe, at least—occupation of homemaking. Friedan, too, was criticized for saying that no one could possibly enjoy being a housewife. (Another criticism of Friedan, that of class bias, could also be applied to Hallam. Her husband’s work—he was a lawyer—might seem enviable, but would she want to trade places with a male assembly line worker?)

Frontispiece, The Story of a European Tour, Julia Clark Hallam

Hallam did earn her degree, an M.A. from the University of Chicago, in 1910. In addition to her work as a suffragist, she taught high school in the United States and the Philippines. She wrote several books as well. The Story of a European Tour (1900), is, sad to say, even more boring than it sounds.** In Studies in Child Development (1913), we learn about “The Boy’s Greatest Danger,” which is, you guessed it, “onanism, or self-pollution.” You can read what she has to say about this life-threatening problem, and how to solve it, here.*** But most of her advice is more sensible, and she was described as a pioneering advocate for sex education (or social hygiene, as it was then known).

Hallam died in 1927, at the age of 67. Her occupation, as listed on her death certificate: housewife.

*Granted, this blog isn’t called “My Year in 1917” either. But the debate over Hallam’s article continued for months in the letters to the editor, which is how I came across her.

**The height of the action, judging from my quick skim: she and her husband think they’ve lost their train tickets, find them at the last minute, are separated on the platform in the confusion, and are brought together by a nice young man from Princeton.

***If you’re pressed for time, here’s a sample: “Everyone has seen an electric battery which has spent its force. It is a dead thing. So the body, with its splendid life forces wasted—not to speak of the moral and spiritual and degradation that follows. It is one of the great tragedies of life.”

Elizabeth Gardner: A boundary-breaking, cross-dressing painter with a surprising afterlife

In the March 1918 issue of the The Art World, there’s an article called “Some Painters Who Happen to Be Women.” I read it, and it’s true! They all just happened to be women. None of them did it on purpose, just to be annoying.

According to the article’s author, Lida Rose* McCabe, who happened to be a woman herself,

woman as an art producer has ceased to be curio, enigma or trifle. Upon intrinsic merit her achievement now stands or falls. In all that makes for exhibition, Jury award, Academician, museum purchase or public commission, hers is today the modern sexlessness—attributed to angels in painting and sculpture.

Elizabeth Jane Gardner, ca. 1860

The oldest of these modern sexless artists—“her years fourscore!” McCabe marvels—is Elizabeth Jane Gardner. The Art World is a pretty fusty magazine, so I assumed that she was a boring society painter. Well, I was wrong. In 1864, at the age of 23, Gardner left for Paris to study art, but, McCabe tells us,

no school, no master would receive her. The few French or foreign women then known to the Salon or Latin quarter, like the few who had preceded them down the ages, were the wives, sisters, or daughters of artists.

Gardner found an ingenious way to get around this problem. Her hair had been cut short because of a fever before she left for France, so, she tells McCabe,

“I applied to the police to wear boy’s clothes. It was readily granted, and in that guise I entered the Gobelin’s school. My masculine attire which I always changed on heading home, never caused me the slightest annoyance. The students were most courteous, and in the streets I was never inconvenienced.”

Closed Shutters, Elizabeth Gardner

Success came quickly. Two of Gardner’s paintings were selected for the Salon in 1866, and in 1872 she was awarded its gold medal, the first woman to receive that honor.** In the early 1900s, the Musée de Luxembourg bought her painting Closed Shutters for its American wing. In the otherwise admiring profile, McCabe sneers at this painting, saying that

with due deference to its quality, there are few of our museums, private collections or current exhibitions without a picture by a native home-trained woman painter to equal if not surpass Closed Shutters.***

McCabe tells us that Gardner married her teacher, noted artist William Bouguereau. What she doesn’t tell is that Gardner, who was maybe not as sexless as McCabe makes out, carried on a long liaison with Bouguereau after the death of his first wife in 1877. His mother bitterly opposed their marriage, and this was apparently too great an obstacle for this pair of otherwise free spirits to overcome. (Could money have been involved?) His mother finally died in 1896, at the age of ninety-one, and they married shortly afterwards.

Self-portrait, William Bouguereau, 1879

Gardner was heavily influenced by Bouguereau, to the extent that she was quoted as saying, “I know I am censured for not more boldly asserting my individuality, but I would rather be known as the best imitator of Bouguereau than be nobody!”

David the Shepherd, Elizabeth Gardner, ca. 1895

Many of Gardner’s paintings are conventional nineteenth-century tableaux: Greek myths, biblical scenes, and the like. Others, though, raise eyebrows today.

Take, for instance, The Confidence (ca. 1880). The painting, now owned by the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens, Georgia, shows two young women sharing a secret. To a modern eye, it looks sexualized—the intimate position of the heads, the bare feet close together. In a 2013 article about the loan of the painting to (of all places) Bob Jones University, however, a museum staff member said that this wasn’t the case.  “It’s very affectionate, but it’s also very 19th-century sisterly affectionate.”

The Confidence, Elizabeth Gardner, ca. 1880

The Confidence had a second life in—I bet you didn’t see this coming!—an R.E.M. video. As the Athens-based band sings its 1991 song “Low,” the girls in the painting come to life and the action continues. And, take my word for it, it’s anything but sisterly. (Or check it out yourself on R.E.M.’s website.)

I’m not sure what Elizabeth Gardner would have thought, but Lida Rose McCabe must be turning over in her grave.

squiggle

*So now I can’t get the song from The Music Man out of my head.

**The Art World sees art as a resume-building process. Still—impressive!

***The Art World’s taste in art was so reactionary that even impressionism was a bridge too far. Its take on Monet’s Rouen Cathedral: “Nothing more than a ‘color stunt.’”

Women spies of 1918

I was going to write about women artists in honor of Women’s History Month, but then I opened the March 19, 1918, New York Times and saw that women were hatching international conspiracies all over Manhattan. Change of plan!

First, this:

Two men and two women were arrested, the Times reports, for alleged participation in an international German spy ring. The principal suspect is Despina Davidovitch Storch, the 23-year-old Turkish ex-wife of a French army officer. The Times said of Storch that

she is in appearance a strikingly handsome woman, and in the year that she made her home at the Waldorf-Astoria numbered among her friends many well-known persons, some of whom it was intimated yesterday are not at all anxious now to appear to have been among her admirers.

Despina Storch, 1917 (Underwood & Underwood, N.V.)

Mme. Storch was arrested in Key West with a young Frenchman, the Baron Henri de Beville, as the two were preparing to flee to Cuba. The Baron’s father, according to the apparently sympathetic Times, was “broken hearted as a result of his son’s arrest,” and felt that his son was “a victim of the ‘charms’ of the Turkish woman.”

(This account of masculine helplessness comes from a paper that, remember, wasn’t particularly sympathetic to women getting the vote.)

The pair had been living a peripatetic life. They were taken into custody in Madrid in 1915 as suspected enemy agents, sailed to Cuba after their release, and went on to the United States. They had also lived in Paris and Lisbon, where they amassed bills of $1000 a month. Their equally lavish New York lifestyle attracted the attention of the American authorities, who also found a safe deposit box in Mme. Storch’s name containing “a mass of foreign correspondence and a code.”

Waldorf-Astoria, 1917 (Library of Congress)

Their alleged co-conspirators were picked up in New York. Mrs. Elizabeth Charlotte Nix, who, according to the Times, “is about 40 years of age, but looks ten years younger,” had received a $3000 payment from the German ambassador before he left the country when war was declared, but she denied that it was a spy payment. The principal crime of “Count” Robert de Clairmont, as far as I can tell, was his dubious claim to his title.

The Justice Department official who announced the arrests, Charles F. De Woody,* recommended that the four suspects be deported to France. The problem with trying them in the United States was that—oops!—the espionage law only applied to men. President Wilson had mentioned this problem in his State of the Union address, and Congress was taking action, but not in time to go after Mme. Stroch and Mrs. Nix.

Meanwhile, down in Greenwich Village, a very different sort of (alleged) German-sponsored conspiracy was uncovered.

Agnes Smedley, the twenty-six-year-old “girl,” was arrested with Sailendra Nath Ghose, a “highly educated Hindu” who was already under indictment in San Francisco, for fomenting rebellion against British rule in India. (Uncharacteristically, the Times makes no mention of Smedley’s level of attractiveness.) Their activities were allegedly part of a “worldwide German-directed plot to cause trouble in India” and thereby weaken British war efforts. They sought assistance from several Latin American countries (Ghose lived for a time in Mexico, under the implausible pseudonym of Sanchez) and from Leon Trotsky.

Agnes Smedley

“First women arrested in New York for enemy activities” might not be your idea of an inspiring Women’s History Month first. Well, then, there’s Annette Abbott Adams, the San Francisco-based Assistant U.S. District Attorney who spoke to the Times about the Ghose indictment. She would go on to be the first woman Assistant Attorney General and later a high-ranking California judge.

Annette Abbott Adams, 1914

The indictment against Smedley was eventually dropped. She spent many years in China as a sympathetic chronicler of the Communist Party, and wrote a well-regarded autobiographical 1929 novel, Daughter of the Earth. She counted a Soviet spymaster among her lovers. She died in England at the age of 58, and is buried in Beijing.

As for Despina Storch…stay tuned! (UPDATE: Find out what happened to her here.)

*Even the bureaucrats in this story have picturesque names.

Divorce with a happy ending: a daring 1918 essay

During Women’s History Month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the forgotten women of 1918—not the ones we celebrate for changing the world, but the ones who changed the world just by the way they lived their lives.

Sunset magazine cover, February 19, woman holding a basket of oranges.

Sunset, February 1918

One of my favorite women of 1918 didn’t even leave her name behind. All she left is a two-part unsigned article in the January and February 1918 issues of Sunset magazine called “My Encounter with Divorce and Drink.”

Divorce was on the rise, but the idea of ending a marriage because of incompatibility was controversial. A family court judge, writing in Woman’s Home Companion in 1916, told of a “hysterical young wife” who came to the court asking for a divorce. Her husband had been drinking and staying out all night and had threatened to strike her. It turned out, though, that once she stopped her nagging he became a model spouse. The judge wrote that “if young wives, beginning to fret about incompatibility, were to take stock of the things they do to irritate their husbands…then about three fourths of the divorce courts would go out of business.”

Sunset magazine article headline, Incompatibility, Your Honor, May 1916.

Sunset, May 1916

Our Sunset narrator has a different take.

I married young. And I married a good man (a very good man) fifteen years older than myself. And oh! how proud I was to have attracted a man of the assured position, both business and social, which my husband possessed.

Differences quickly arose, though.

He was for that old, established order of “corruption and contentment.” And I was a radical! Oh! those were a few of the differences. They were the surface differences. The others were deeper.

Sunset magazine cover, January 1918, two women looking worriedly into chrystal ball that says 1918.

Sunset, January 1918

The problem, she says, was with the “old marriage platform” itself.

My husband’s mentality did not—could not—dominate mine. Mind you, I do not say that mine was the superior mentality. But then, neither was his. And, because he was a man and I was only a woman, he could not recognize my individual right to be a personal entity, entirely disassociated from him on the mental plane.

It wasn’t a case of right or wrong, she says; they were just wrong for each other.

He should have married a woman who would sing in the choir, go to Wednesday evening prayer meetings, belong to the Ladies’ Aid and Missionary Society, and, as a violent dissipation, play euchre (for a prize!!) one evening every two weeks with a lot of others of the same ilk.

Photograph of people playing cards in a parlor in about 1906.

Playing Cards at the Parlor Table, ca. 1906 (Library of Congress)

She suffered through many of these euchre games herself.

They didn’t even play euchre intelligently, these women. But the men played it with an abandoned recklessness and a superb dash that clearly demonstrated the latent strain of “gay dog” that lay sleeping in each breast.

They had two children, but neither survived. If they had, she says, she would have stayed in the marriage, no matter how much it stifled her. She raged silently when her neighbors spoke of “God’s will.”

God’s will! To torture two innocent, beautiful, trusting little children! I would have them in no heaven presided over by such a Deity!

Then her husband met another woman.

Just the right woman for my husband. I knew it before he did. I watched his need for her and her love for him grow. Before they knew it—the blessed innocents—I was thanking the Fates for it.

Church choir singing in front of church window, ca. 1918.

Church choir, ca. 1910

She is such a nice little thing; although older than I, still she was always a “little thing” to me. Gay and bright, with a sweet soprano that has been leading the “hallelujas” for many a year now, in another small-town choir.

And so they went their separate ways.

I never so appreciated my husband’s generosity, his patience, his real, strong sweetness of disposition, as when we parted. I was never so genuinely fond of him, so grateful for his forbearance (and he needed lots, to live with me) so clearly aware of his many sterling qualities, nor so happy, as when we said “goodby” and I went quietly away and “deserted” him.

She suspects that her husband finds life a little dull without the “ginger which I furnished in his life.” But she knows that he’s happier now.

Bohemian gathering in Greenwich village, 1910s.

Bohemian gathering, Greenwich Village, 1910s (New York Historical Society)

And isn’t it funny? They both admire me tremendously. They come, once in a while to visit me. They meet my friends. And get dizzy drunk with the rare, vivified atmosphere of brains which my friends generate. And they are as proud as Punch of me because I enjoy that sort of thing. They think I am wonderfully “advanced.”

 After they make me a little visit, they go home again, quite satiated, to peace, and repose.

 As she concludes her story, she says,

Divorce, to you reading this, may be all wrong. Surely, then, it is wrong for you. For me it happened to be right.

After the divorce, she threw herself into her career for a few years, and then she met another man. He was a drinker, and the second installment tells of how, with her help, he reformed.

Sunset magazine headline and story text, My Encounter with Divorce and Drink, February 1918.

Sunset, February 1918

But, to me, the more compelling part of her story, and the part that I’m glad that readers of 1918 had a chance to read, is about the marriage that didn’t survive—not because of abuse, or liquor, or infidelity, but because two nice people turned out to be wrong for each other.

And about how, having left the marriage, they each found a happy ending.

Chocolate is healthy, how to get fat, and other advice from a nutrition pioneer

Drawing of kitchen items, Good Housekeeping, January 1918.

Good Housekeeping, January 1918

Good news, chocolate lovers! Good Housekeeping magazine has given chocolate a big thumbs-up. Writing in the January 1918 issue, Dr. Harvey Wiley says that it

contains considerable food-value. A small bulk furnishes a large amount of nutrition. It has in its composition more protein than has wheat flour, and about twenty times as much fatty material, and a considerable proportion of starch as well. It is, therefore, extremely nourishing and is usually easily digested.

Dr. Wiley provides a number of recipes, including hot cocoa (a harmless way to disguise milk if your child won’t drink it), chocolate pudding, and an unappetizing-sounding chocolate corn-starch mold. He compares chocolate recipes, like cake, with their non-chocolate equivalents, and shows how, in each case, the chocolate version provides more nourishment.

Nourishment being measured in, um, calories.

Header for Dr. Wiley's Question-Box, Good Housekeeping, 1918.

Good Housekeeping, March 1918

Most of Dr. Wiley’s advice is more sensible than this. In the March edition of his monthly Good Housekeeping feature “Dr. Wiley’s Question-Box,” C. A. B. of New York asks:

A friend of mine is most anxious to join a certain branch of the U.S. service, but due to his height (6 ft. 2 in.) finds it will be necessary to take on 25 pounds additional weight before he can qualify. Can you give him advice as to how he can go about getting up to the required number of pounds?

 Dr. Wiley replies:

If your tall friend has a normal digestion he can increase his weight by over-eating and under-exercising. If he will go into a state of hibernation, so to speak, sleep fourteen hours a day, and lie perfectly still the rest of the time, eat large quantities of starch, sugar, ice-cream, cake, and other fattening substances, he will probably be able to gain twenty-five pounds in weight. When he does this, however, he will be far less efficient physically than he was before, and less suited to serve his country.

 Dr. Wiley tells M. MacE. of Ohio that, whatever the Food Administration might say, corn syrup is not in fact “the most healthful and easily assimilated of all sweets.” He tells A.L.S. of Kansas, a flour miller, that white flour is “the base of nearly all the bad nutrition in the United States.”

I was curious to find out more about Dr. Wiley. He turned out to be a fascinating character and an important figure in U.S. history.

Portrait photograph of FDA founder Harvey Wiley, 1867.

Harvey Wiley, 1867 (Library of Congress)

Dr. Wiley was born in a log cabin in Indiana in 1844. He attended medical school after serving in the Civil War and then taught at Butler College and Purdue University. He was highly regarded as a teacher, but his unusual behavior raised eyebrows. According to his autobiography, a member of Purdue’s board of trustees stated that:

we are deeply grieved at his conduct. He has put on a uniform and played baseball with the boys, much to the discredit of the dignity of a professor. But the most grave offense of all has lately come to our attention. Professor Wiley has bought a bicycle. Imagine my feelings and those of other members of the board on seeing one of our professors dressed up like a monkey and astride a cartwheel riding along our streets.

 After being passed over for Purdue’s presidency, apparently for being “too young and too jovial,” he was appointed chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and moved to Washington, D.C., where he was the second person to own an automobile (and the first to have a serious accident).

Dr. Harvey Wiley in his USDA lab.

Dr. Wiley in his USDA lab (FDA)

Dr. Wiley skyrocketed to national fame after assembling a group of healthy young civil servants and testing various food additives on them, steadily increasing the amounts until they became ill. The group became known as the “Poison Squad.” (You can read about it in this 2013 article in Esquire.) He was given a more dignified nickname—“Father of the Pure Food and Drugs Act”—after passage of the landmark law in 1906, and was appointed the first commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. His enforcement of the act won him powerful enemies, though, and he resigned in frustration in 1911. According to the FDA, a newspaper headline read, “WOMEN WEEP AS WATCHDOG OF THE KITCHEN QUITS AFTER 29 YEARS.”

Cartoon of Uncle Sam holding bottle saying Old Doc Wiley's Sure Cure.

Cartoon, date and source unknown (FDA)

Dr. Wiley spent the rest of his career at Good Housekeeping. There was some irony in this, since, according to Esquire, he was an outspoken misogynist, given to calling women “savages” and questioning their brain capacity.

He came around in the end, though. In 1911, the longtime bachelor married Anna Kelton, a prominent suffragist who was half his age. They had two sons. Anna Kelton Wiley contributed an article to the February 1918 issue of Good Housekeeping called “Why We Picketed the White House.” The magazine ran a disclaimer next to the article saying that, while it does not believe in picketing the White House,

when the White House pickets secured so distinguished a recruit as the wife of Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, we offered to open our pages to a statement of the reasons for the picketing.

Suffragist holding protest sign, Good Housekeeping, 1918.

Good Housekeeping, February 1918

 Anna Kelton Wiley writes in the article that it was only after attempts to gain the vote through less confrontational methods failed that she and other suffragists*

determined to organize at the White House gates, 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.

 In this effort, she writes, she was

upheld by a fearless husband, who said, “I have fought all my life for a principle. If it is your conscience to go, I will not stand in your way.”

Like most pioneers of the past, Dr. Wiley did some things that seem questionable now. Systematically poisoning a group of healthy young men wouldn’t have won FDA approval today. But it’s thanks in part to him that there is an FDA. And it’s thanks in part to Anna Kelton Wiley that women won the right to vote. Now, that’s a Washington power couple we can celebrate.

Commemorative stamp of FDA founder Harvey Wiley, 1956.

Commemorative stamp, 1956 (U.S. Post Office)

Okay, time for some nice healthy chocolate!

UPDATE 10/24/2018: There’s a new biography of Dr. Wiley called The Poison Squad, by journalist Deborah Blum. Now (or, rather, after 2018 ends) I can find answers to all my questions about him, like did he really have the first serious automobile accident in Washington, D.C. history?

*But not all—the magazine ran an article the next month by Carrie Chapman Catt, President of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, called “Why We Did Not Picket the White House.”