Tag Archives: New York Times

The best and worst of June and July 1918: Insanity, proto-flappers, and octopus eyes

I’m not in much of a mood to wax philosophical, having recently made my second trip from Cape Town to Washington, D.C. in two months. So I’ll just say that I feel really, really sorry for all those people out there who aren’t spending the year reading as if they were living in 1918. Check out these bests and worsts of June and July to see why.

Best Magazine: The American Journal of Insanity

The American Journal of Insanity is so good that its name isn’t even the best thing about it. It’s full of case histories of various psychological conditions that read like novels.* The saddest is the story, in an article titled “The Insane Psychoneurotic,”  of a Romanian Jewish immigrant who studied to become a lawyer while working (like Marcus Eli Ravage and every other Romanian Jewish immigrant) in a Lower East Side textile factory. He fell into a depression after failing the bar exam three times, became elated when he passed on his fourth try, and then went blind. A doctor restored his sight by pressing a pencil against his eye and telling him that he would be able to see when he opened his eyes. He lost the ability to talk and recovered it when a woman volunteer agreed to his (written) request that she allow him to use her first name. He was institutionalized for a while and released to outpatient care when he seemed to be getting better. Twelve days after his release, though, he hanged himself.

There’s also an article on shell shock by a French doctor that deals in a sympathetic and nuanced manner with the often-dismissed condition, and that in no way justifies the discussion of his and his colleagues’ research in the New York Times under this headline:**

New York Times, July 2, 1918

Before awarding it the prestigious “Best Magazine” title, I figured I should check whether The American Journal of Insanity, like many other erstwhile subjects of my 1918 admiration (I’m looking at you, Marie Carmichael Stopes!), was a fan of eugenics, and in particular of the forced sterilization of “defectives.” So I did a word search of the 1918-1919 volume, cheated a little to glance at the 1919 article that came up, and found out that they were absolutely appalled by it. Way to go, AJI!

Best quote from a book in a review:  

Ambrose Bierce, 1892

“They had a child which they named Joseph and dearly loved, as was then the fashion among parents in all that region.” (From the Ambrose Bierce short story “A Baby Tramp” (1893), quoted in a retrospective on Bierce in The Dial, July 18, 1918.)

Worst Editorial: “Their Hope Doomed to Disappointment,” New York Times, July 27, 1918

A German newspaper has, according to a July 27 Times editorial, proposed that the German army undermine morale among American prisoners of war by making black and white soldiers live together in close quarters.

This, the deviser of the scheme thinks, would give keenest pain both to those thus united in misfortune and to Americans in general…His basis of belief is some vague knowledge he has of the negro’s place in the United States and an exaggerated and distorted notion of an antagonism existing here between the white and black races.

Which, the Times says, is totally not the case!***

Someone should tell the German editor that negroes are not hated in this country—that in innumerable white families they occupy positions that bring them into daily and intimate contact with the other members, especially the children, and it is the Americans who know the negro best that in proper place and season are most forgetful of racial differences or make most kindly allowance for them.

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

Best Ad: 

I wish I could honor a more healthy product, but Murad owns this category.

Scribner’s, July 1918

Worst Ad:

…Although not all Murad ads are created equal. This one looks like their regular artist was off sick so they hired a failed Italian Futurist as a temp.

New York Times, July 31, 1918

Best Magazine Covers:

I love this Georges Lepape portrait of a short-haired, drop-waisted proto-flapper.

Vanity Fair, July 1918

My favorite thing about this Erté Harper’s Bazar cover, called “Surprises of the Sea,” is the octopus eye.

On to August!

*Although they don’t seem, at this point in the history of psychiatry, to ever actually cure anyone. Which could explain why the case histories read like novels.

**Which first came to my attention as a “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It” Headline of the Day.

***Even though the very same issue has an article and an editorial about lynching.

On Marx’s 100th birthday, a surprising New York Times tribute

It’s May 5, 1918, the 100th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. There’s an admiring article about him in the New York Times Magazine.

My first reaction: What?

Illustration for John Spargo’s article on Karl Marx, New York Times Magazine, May 5, 1918

The New York Times was so conservative that it had recently let the president of Columbia University write the Times’ good-riddance editorial himsef after renowned historian Charles Beard resigned from the university’s staff over free speech issues. If you’re having trouble disentangling this sentence, you can read all about this episode here. Or you can just take my word for it: the Times was really, really conservative.

Then I started reading about John Spargo, who wrote the article, and got even more confused. The British-born Spargo was a leading socialist thinker and a founding member of the Socialist Party of America. He was the author of Karl Marx: His Life and Work.

What was going on here?

John Spargo, Midweek Pictorial, October 7, 1919

As I learned more about Spargo, it started to make sense. It turned out that he had resigned from the Socialist Party in 1917 after his attempt to get it to support U.S. participation in the war was roundly defeated. He started his own short-lived socialist party and helped found the American Alliance for Labor and Democracy, a pro-war labor organization led by AFL president Samuel Gompers.

In 1918, it all came down to where you stood on the war. Being a socialist was a less serious offense than being a pacifist. The defunct socialist magazine The Masses was on trial, but for obstructing conscription, not for advocating socialism (although that probably didn’t help).* Also, Wilson had until recently been trying to keep Russia’s Bolshevik government in the war (they made peace with Germany in March), so a hard-line anti-socialist stance hadn’t been in the national interest.

New York Times Magazine, May 5, 1918

In Spargo, the Times had found a prominent socialist who would argue in favor of the war in Marx’s name. Kind of, anyway. The headline of Spargo’s article reads “Today is 100th Anniversary of Marx’s Birth: Bitterly Opposed to Prussia and an Ardent Admirer of America—his Record Shows Where He Would Have Stood in the Present War.” Which overstates Spargo’s case, kind of.

Spargo writes that

because Marx wrote in the famous “Communist Manifesto” that “the workingmen have no country,” and because he was a strong advocate of internationalism, it has been generally supposed that Marx did not believe in nations or nationalism. This is a profound misconception.

Communist Manifesto, first edition, in German, 1848

According to Spargo, Marx was a strong German nationalist, and was no pacifist—favoring, for example, vigorous action against France in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. He hated militarism, though, “with all the fierce passion of which he was so magnificently capable.” His view on war was nuanced:

Always he asked himself whether a particular war, or the triumph of one or the other side in a particular war, made for human progress or against it.

Marx was also a “a great friend of America,” and a big Abraham Lincoln fan. According to Spargo, he played an influential role in Britain’s decision to stay out of the Civil War instead of siding with the south.

Therefore, Spargo says,

Having regard to his life’s record, we are justified in believing that, if Marx were alive today, he would hold in scorn those Socialists who, in the name of Socialist Internationalism, have proclaimed their opposition to America’s participation in the great struggle for freedom, democracy, and that independence and integrity of nations without which there can be no internationalism.

That’s a bit of a leap of logic. But it got Marx into the New York Times on his centenary.

Karl Marx, 1882

*Actually, it was between trials—Judge Augustus Hand (cousin of Learned) had declared a mistrial on April 27 after the jurors failed to reach agreement. One juror held out for acquittal and eventually persuaded one or two others (accounts vary) to side with him. When his fellow jurors found out that he was of Austrian descent, they threatened to have him lynched. “If I had noticed that man’s jaw, I never would have let him on the jury,” the prosecutor later said. A new trial was scheduled for later in the year.

Thursday Miscellany: What they did in 1918 because they didn’t have…

1918 situation: You want to make a movie about dolls coming to life.
Obstacle: Animation is in its infancy and mostly happening in Europe.
Solution: Make a stop-motion movie with custom-made dolls.

The 50-minute movie, called The Dream Doll, was released in December 1917.  You can read more about the film-making process in the January 1918 issue of Everyone’s magazine. Sadly, this movie doesn’t seem to be available online. Most silent movies are “lost,” i.e. there are no copies still in existence,* and this may be the case for The Dream Doll. So it’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that it was all a dream.

(UPDATE 5/4/2018: My recently discovered fellow back-to-1918 blogger, Whatever It Is, I’m Against It, found two short movies by Moss here.  The first one is from much later, but the second one, Mary and Gretel, is also from 1917 and is presumably similar in technique to The Dream Doll. WIIIAI is also on the swapped babies story, see below.)

Everyone’s magazine, January 1918

1918 situation: You want to show video clips of how to do your bit for food conservation by saving fat.
Obstacle: YouTube not invented.
Solution: Food-saving “movies,” i.e. photo sequences.

In the unlikely case that you want to make butter go twice as far by mixing it with milk and gelatin, or save butter by using chocolate instead, or use your inedible fat for soap making, you can learn how here.

Ladies’ Home Journal, March 1918

1918 situation: Babies maybe switched at birth.
Obstacle: No DNA testing yet.
Solution: Have everyone in the courtroom vote about who looks like who.

The reporters, court clerk, court interpreter, and spectators all thought that the babies had been swapped. The judge agreed, and ordered them swapped back. One of the mothers wanted to keep the baby she’d been raising for the past eight months. Too bad. Case closed!

New York Times, April 28, 1918

This post needs some color, so, apropos of nothing, here is the cover of the May 1918 issue of Woman’s Home Companion.

*Reasons: lack of storage space, deterioration, fires, and unawareness that people in the future would care.

1918 campus wars: Academic freedom at Columbia

Tension is high at the universities. Some say the war is unnecessary and immoral; those who support it cry “treason.” There’s a raging debate over free speech. Columbia University is at the epicenter.

Yes, 1968—but 1918 as well.

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

In 1917, the Columbia board of trustees came up with a plan to investigate the teachings of the university’s faculty members, in order to determine “whether the influence of a given teacher is injurious to private morals or dangerous to public order and security.”

The idea was eventually dropped amid widespread opposition—law professor Ellery Stowell called it “Prussianistic”—but in October the trustees fired two faculty members, James McKeen Cattell and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana, for anti-war activities. Their crimes: Cattell had written to Congress asking that conscientious objectors be exempted from service, and Dana was involved with the People’s Council, a pacifist organization.

Cattell had been the first American to publish a dissertation in psychology, and was the first American psychology professor.* Dana was a comparative literature professor and a grandson of both Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast.**  To the Philadelphia Ledger, that was the worst part: “The distressing feature of the situation is that both these men bear eminent names and come from long strains of patriotic ancestors.”

Charles Beard in 1917 (Library of Congress)

On October 8, noted historian Charles A. Beard resigned from the Columbia faculty in protest. Beard was one of America’s most prominent historians; his 1913 book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States remains famous (and controversial) today. He was pro-war himself, but, as he said in his resignation letter to Columbia president Nicholas Butler,

thousands of my countrymen do not share this view. Their opinions can not be changed by curses or bludgeons. Arguments addressed to their reason and understanding are our best hope. Such arguments, however, must come from men whose disinterestedness is above all suspicion…I am convinced that while I remain in the pay of the trustees of Columbia University I can not do effectively my humble part in sustaining public opinion in support of the just war on the German Empire.

Good riddance, the New York Times said in an October 10 editorial. In resigning, the paper snarked, Professor Beard “has just rendered the greatest service it was in his power to give.” About An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, the Times said that

it was pointed out to him at the time, with due kindness but frankly, that his book was bad, that it was a book that no professor should have written since it was grossly unscientific…It was a book that did Columbia much harm, just as the two professors who were recently dropped for seditious utterances did the university much harm.

If this type of nonsense was allowed to go on, the Times said, “we would soon see the doctrine of economic determinism applied to everything from the binomial theorem to the Lord’s prayer.” The trustees, the Times said,

have been very tolerant, very patient, and the university has suffered through the acts, the utterances, and the teachings of some of its professors who mistook the chairs they occupied for pulpits from which doctrines might freely be preached that are dangerous to the community and the nation.

Nicholas Murray Butler in 1916 (Library of Congress)

If you’re thinking that the Times is taking this way too personally, you might be onto something. According to a 1958 article in Columbia’s newspaper, the Daily Spectator, it was widely believed that Times publisher Adolph Ochs let Butler, who was a friend of his, write the editorial himself. That seems plausible. For one thing, the Times editorial board displays a surprising amount of knowledge about the inner workings of Columbia University. Also, the turnaround between Beard’s October 8 letter and the October 10 publication of the editorial was awfully speedy.

John Dewey, date unknown (New York Public Library Digital Archive)

Writing in The Dial on November 8, educationist John Dewey, who was also on the university’s (apparently very illustrious) faculty, said that the press had falsely portrayed the controversy as a free speech issue because the real issue, administrative control of the universities, was too boring. But just because it’s boring doesn’t mean it’s not important:

It is not too much to say that the final issue is how much the American people cares about the integrity and responsibility of the intellectual life of the nation.

Ellery Stowell in 1917 (Library of Congress)

In February 1918, Ellery Stowell, the law professor who had called the inquiry “Prussianistic,” submitting his own resignation. Stowell himself supported not only the war but the firing of Cattell and Dana. Like Dewey, though, he believed that the issue should have been left up to the faculty rather than the trustees.

Beard himself weighed in in the Dial on April 11:

At bottom and forever, the question of academic freedom is the question of intellectual and spiritual leadership in American democracy. Those who lead and teach, are they free, fearless, and worthy of trust?

If the trustees take over, Beard says,

men who love the smooth and easy will turn to teaching…Men of will, initiative, and inventiveness, not afraid of falling into error in search for truth, will shun such a life of futile lubricity, as the free woman avoids the harem.

Abbott Lawrence Lowell, “The World’s Work,” 1919

Beard praised Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who wrote in a December 1917 university report that

the teaching by the professor in his class room on the subjects within the scope of his chair ought to be absolutely free. He must teach the truth as he has found it and sees it. This is the primary condition of academic freedom, and any violation of it endangers intellectual progress.

Well said, President Lowell!***

The debate over free speech (or whatever you want to call it) wasn’t the only battle raging on the campuses. Also at issue was the whole essence of what a university, and the country’s intellectual life as a whole, should be about. Here, too, Columbia was at the center of the action.

But that’s an issue for another post.

Widener Library, Harvard University, 1914 (Harvard University Archives)

*He was also a eugenicist. He offered his children a cash gift of $1000 if they married the offspring of a professor.

**That ought to be worth at least $2000 to Cattell’s kids.

***I’d be a lot prouder on my alma mater’s behalf, though, if Lowell–who was the brother of poet and critic Amy Lowell–didn’t have such a sorry record on treatment of black, Jewish, and gay students.

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.

Wednesday Miscellany: Congressional courtesy, $100 apartments, and other bygone notions

I’ve been neglecting the New York Times lately. Here are some recent snippets.

With four special elections in New York, control of the House of Representatives, held by the Democrats in coalition with some small parties, was on a knife-edge. The result? A Democratic sweep, and courtesy all around.

New York Times, March 6, 1918

A defeated Republican candidate’s gracious response:

New York Times, March 6, 1918

Sigh…

This was the first time women in New York were able to vote. They did so in large numbers and–good news!–did not get up to all kinds of silly nonsense.

New York Times editorial, March 7, 1918

Now for some fact checking. John Francis Hylan, the Tammany mayor of New York, has told a story about a kind man on the shore at Palm Beach rescuing a toad that was being eaten by a jellyfish. Dubitation ensues.

New York Times, March 6, 1918

On to the classified ads. Hey, I want one of those too!

New York Times, March 6, 1918

Now that you’re caught up on the news, it’s time to party! Make a momentous decision on what to wear,

New York Times, March 3, 1918

put on your favorite hat,

New York Times, March 3, 1918

and head on out to the the hottest joint in town!

New York Times, March 3, 1918

(These articles were accessed at https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/browser. I make fun of the Times a lot, but I’m very grateful for this valuable resource.)

When half the country shut down

There seems to be a pattern: when something bad happens in 2018, it turns out that a similar, but way worse, thing happened on the same day in 1918. First the cold weather, now the shutdown.

Believe me, I know how bad a government shutdown is—I went through several of them during my Foreign Service career. But on January 21, 1918, half the country shut down.

The problem: ships full of war supplies destined for Europe were sitting idle because they didn’t have coal to fuel them. The fuel couldn’t get through because of congestion on the railways. So, on January 16, Fuel Administrator Harry Garfield ordered manufacturers east of the Mississippi and in Louisiana and Minnesota to shut down for five days beginning on January 18. In addition, all business establishments, with a few exceptions, were ordered to shut down for the next five Mondays.

Fuel Administrator Harry Garfield

The order, according to the New York Times, “came with an abruptness which left official Washington gasping.” Surprisingly, not many people asked, “What gives you the right to do this? You’re the fuel administrator, not the economic commissar.” But there were a lot of objections. The Times editorial page questioned Garfield’s competence, saying that “chloroforming a nation to spare it the pangs of hunger is not good therapeutics, it is malpractice.” The Senate, which was controlled by the Democrats but you’d never know it by the way they treated President Wilson, voted 50 to 19 in favour of a resolution requesting suspension of the order for five days to allow time to evaluate it. Too late! By the time the resolution was approved at “6:05 o’clock,” Garfield had signed the order and it “was flashed to every city in the country.” The Times noted that, after a day that “had been enough to try to nerves of every one,” Garfield seemed unperturbed. (It could be that, having been an eyewitness to the assassination of his father, President Garfield, at age 17, nothing seemed all that bad after that.)

In response to objections that workers would lose their wages, Garfield suggested that their employers could pay them. The board of U.S. Steel, though, decided that this was not such a good idea. Chairman E.H. Gary, who, according to the Times, “did one of the hardest day’s work in his busy life,” said that to pay idle workers “would establish a precedent that would eventually be unfair to the employer and the employe.” The New York State Federation of Labor estimated that 80 percent of the state’s 600,000 workers would lose their pay during the shutdown.

Railway Age (public domain photo)

For the first few days, things went all right. More coal was making its way to the ports, despite freezing temperatures and snowstorms. But then came the first Monday shutdown. Disaster! Federal officials had mobilized longshoremen to unload the thousands of tons of coal that had been rushed to the piers, but they were stopped by police and soldiers because they didn’t have photo IDs. The rule requiring the IDs wasn’t supposed to go into effect until February 1, but it was implemented early because of bomb threats. By the time it was lifted, most of the workers had gone home. Meanwhile, merchandise that arrived by train couldn’t be moved out of the rail yards to make room for the coal because, oops, the department store warehouses they were destined for were closed under Garfield’s order. The result of all the chaos: less than half the normal daily supply of coal arrived in New York.

Some theatrical fare on offer (January 22, 1918)

At least the idle workers had something to entertain them. Theaters had been given permission to stay open on Mondays and close on Tuesdays instead. On the first workless Monday, it was standing room only in the theaters and the vaudeville, motion-picture, and burlesque houses.