Tag Archives: South Africa

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

Part 1 of my quest to earn a Girl Scout badge from a hundred years ago did not go well. In a world of runaway horses and ornithopters and captain ball matches, I was a washout.

While I was catching my breath after this dispiriting exercise, I read more of the 1916 edition of How Girls Can Help Their Country, the Girl Scout handbook of the time.

How Girls Can Help Their Country, Girl Scout handbook, cover, 1916.

I learned, among other things, that

in Europe, Girl Scout Patrols are sometimes formed by grown women who wish to carry out the Girl Scout program of preparedness. Members of such Patrols are called Senior Scouts.*

So I’m a legit Girl Scout! And you all are my patrol. Senior Girl Scouts don’t have regular meetings, so we can dispense with rules like this one:

Passage from 1916 Girl Scout handbook about disgraced scouts becoming "dead scouts."

How Girls Can Help Their Country

And I thought taking away the Cyclist badge if you ceased to own a bicycle was harsh!

All right, on to the next 18 badges.

  1. PERSONAL HEALTH

Personal Health Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed dumbbells).

I nailed a few of the requirements, like

#3. Walk a mile a day for three months

Mary Grace McGeehan walking at Gamla Uppsala, Sweden, 1916.

Me, Gamla Uppsala, Sweden, 2016

and

#5. Take a bath daily for a year, or sponge bath.

Williams' talc powder ad, woman sitting by tub with maid, 1919.

Ladies Home Journal, May 1919.

(Well, a shower.)

Unfortunately, there’s also

#1. Eat no sweets, candy, or cake between meals for three months

and

#2. Drink nothing but water, chocolate, or cocoa for a year.

I love cocoa at least as much as the next person,

Cup of cocoa on table.

but I doubt it would be good for my personal health, and it definitely wouldn’t be good for my diet, to swap it for my morning tea. Besides, a year? I’m on a timeline, people!

FAIL.

  1. PUBLIC HEALTH

Public Health Girl Scout badge, 1916 (seal with stars and stripes from U.S. flag).

For this badge, they make you write a 500-word essay about the country-wide campaign against the housefly, and that’s just the beginning. It’s too tedious for words. But I pledged that in this round I would try to fulfill at least one requirement for each badge, so for this one I decided on

#6. Tell how her community cares for its garbage.

The City of Cape Town’s solid waste management department turns out to have a lot of interesting information online. Here is a map of the waste disposal infrastructure

Map of Cape Town waste disposal infrastructure.

iwmsa.co.za

and here is a photo of one of the landfills, which could be titled “Cape Town: Where Even the City Dump is Photogenic.”

Photograph of Cape Town landfill site with Table Mountain in the background.

iwmsa.co.za

So I’ve learned where my trash goes, which is a good thing to know, but

FAIL.

  1. HORSEMANSHIP

Horsemanship Girl Scout badge, 1916 (spur).

#1. Demonstrating riding at a walk, trot and gallop.

Cosmopolitan cover, April 1919, young woman with horse.

I have no horse, so this is not to be. But I can do this:

#6. State lighting up time, city law.

South Africa requires drivers to drive with headlights on between sunset and sunrise and when visibility is less than 150 meters.

FAIL.

  1. HOME-NURSING

Home Nursing Girl Scout badge, 1916 (cross).

#1. Must pass test recommended by First Aid Department of the American Red Cross. These tests may be had from Headquarters, upon request.

Yeah, if you pay thirty bucks!

#4. Know how to prepare six dishes of food suitable to give an invalid (p. 114).

I had already thrown up my hands on this when I was doing the Invalid Cooking badge, but out of curiosity I turned to page 114, where there’s a recipe for kumyss.**

Recipe for kumyss (sour milk) in Girl Scout book, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

Which, it occurred to me, is basically the same thing as amasi, a sour milk drink popular among African people in South Africa. Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom that, when he was hiding out in a safehouse in a whites-only area in Johannesburg before his arrest, he used to make amasi and leave it on the windowsill to ferment. One day, he heard two men talking outside in Zulu. “What is ‘our milk’ doing on that window ledge?” one of them asked the other. He moved to another safe house the next day.

If I ever have to serve amasi to an invalid, though, I’ll just buy it at the store.

Bottle of amazi (sour milk).

Pick ‘n Pay

I’ve got this one, though:

#3. Know how to take temperature; how to count pulse and respirations.

FAIL.

  1. HOUSEKEEPER

Housekeeper Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed keys).

#2. Know how to use a vacuum cleaner, how to stain and polish hardwood floors, how to clean wire window screens, how to put away furs and flannels, how to clean glass, kitchen utensils, brass, and silverware.

I have no idea how to put away furs or stain hardwood floors. And I’m starting to suspect that the authors of How Girls Can Help Their Country are just out to get free child labor. I do know how to polish silver, though. With toothpaste! It’s super-easy.

Before:

Tarnished silver fork.

After:

Silver fork.

(Not the greatest photographs, but look closely at the tines.)

#4. Tell how to choose furniture.

I’d just go to the furniture store and say, “Make my house look like this!”

Bozart Rugs ad, 1918, bedroom with colorful rug and furnishings.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1918

So I have clean silver, but

FAIL.

  1. INTERPRETER

Interpreter Girl Scout badge, 1916 (shaking hands).

Over the course of my Foreign Service career, I was certified as proficient in five languages: Spanish, French, Afrikaans, Khmer (Cambodian), and Lao. So I was excited to see that there was an Interpreter badge.

Mary Grace McGeehan at Angkor Wat, 1996.

Me, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 1996

Excited, but not cocky. After failing to earn the Civics badge despite having majored in government in college, I take nothing for granted.

#1. Be able to carry on a simple conversation in any other language than their own.

Here I am speaking Khmer:

 

Translation: “Hello, my name is Mary Grace. I’m American, but I live in South Africa. I used to live in Cambodia. Good-bye!”

Check!

#2. Write a letter in a foreign language.

A few years ago I took (and passed) the French government’s official language test for foreign language speakers at the Intermediate 1 and Intermediate 2 levels. For the Intermediate 1 test, we had to write a letter. I got a 22/25 on that section.

Check!

#3. Read or translate a passage from a book or newspaper in French, German, Italian, or in any other language than her own.

The second volume of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time, as the young folks call it) was published in 1919. In a fit of linguistic ambition, I bought a copy in French a while back.

Cover of A L'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, Marcel Proust.

Here’s my translation of the first page. (Summary: Whom should Marcel’s parents invite to dinner with M. de Norpois? There’s the unquestionably distinguished Professor Cottard, but he’s away. And Swann, but he’s a name-dropping upstart. Although some would argue that it’s the other way around. Added complication: Swann’s social stock has tanked since–SWANN’S WAY SPOILER ALERT–he married Odette.) I only got stuck once, on the word “esbroufeur,” which turns out to mean something along the lines of “twit” or “self-promoter.”

Handwritten translation of first page of A L'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs by Marcel Proust.

Check!

SUCCESS.

Well, that was anticlimactic. Let’s try it again, in library hand.

Handwritten word Success! with squiggles.

I could stop right here, proud to have finally earned a badge, but that wouldn’t be in the Girl Scout spirit. Plus, I always found it kind of sad when girls would wear vests with just a single badge. Onward!

  1. LAUNDRESS

Laundress Girl Scout badge, 1916 (iron).

#2. Press a skirt and coat.

“What is a skirt and coat?” was my first question. I know what they are separately, of course, but together? Fashion blogger Vintage Dancer helpfully explains that, ca. 1918, matching skirts and coats were sold together, like these:

Women in matching coats and skirts, Simpson's Catalogue, 1918.

Simpson’s Catalogue, 1918

I don’t have one of those, but I do have this beautiful Lao outfit that has been wadded up in my dry cleaning/ironing bag for several years.

Before:

Wrinkled Lao blouse and skirt on bed.

After:

Mary Grace McGeehan in traditional Lao skirt and blouse.

Check!

#3. Know how to use soap and starch, how to soften hard water, and how to use a wringer or mangle.

FAIL.

  1. MARKSMANSHIP

Marksmanship Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed rifles).

#2. Know how to load pistol, how to fire and aim or use it.

Let’s just skip this one, okay?

  1. MUSIC

Musician Girl Scout badge, 1916 (lyre).

By the time I was a Girl Scout, I’d given up my ambition to be an artist and shifted my interest to music. I took piano lessons, then guitar lessons. I learned to play the recorder on my own and would sit in my room tootling for hours. In eleventh grade or so, it dawned on me that I had no musical talent whatsoever, and I gave it all up.

Until now, that is.

There are three alternative paths to earning the Music badge: playing a musical instrument, singing, and bugle calls. I decided to dust off my recorder.

#1. Know how to play a musical instrument. Be able to do sight reading. Have a knowledge of note signs or terms.

The first challenge was to FIND my recorder, last seen in an immense pile of junk. Which I failed at, but a relative turned out to have one, luckily for you all because otherwise you would have had to hear me try to sing.

How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Paree) sheet music, 1919.

Library of Congress

I downloaded and printed the sheet music for that quintessentially 1919 song, “How ’Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”. Not having sight-read in three decades or so, I approached the task with a mix of excitement and trepidation. I sat down, stood the music in front of me, and…

It was all blurry! Sigh. I went to get my reading glasses. 

When I started playing, it was as if no time had gone by. I was sixteen all over again, playing in my room instead of doing my trigonometry homework. After a few runthroughs, I was able to produce this rendition:


My eleventh-grade assessment of my talent was not wrong. I am not Frank Hudson, nor was meant to be.*** But the requirement says nothing about playing a musical instrument well.****

Check! 

#2. Name two master composers and two of their greatest works.

Beethoven: Fifth Sympony and Ninth Symphony.
Mozart: Così Fan Tutte and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Check!

#3. Be able to name all of the instruments in the orchestra in their proper order.

Children with string instruments, 1920.

Chicago Tribune, January 20, 1920 (csoarchives.wordpress.com)

There’s an order? What for? With a little digging, I found a guy on Quora who explains that there’s a set order in which instruments appear on a musical score, which goes like this.

  • Flute
  • Oboe
  • Clarinet
  • Bassoon
  • Horns
  • Trumpets
  • Trombones
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion
  • Harp and/or Keyboards
  • Soloists or Choir
  • Violin I
  • Violin II
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Contrabass

After idly wondering for a few minutes how often 1919 Girl Scouts were called upon to score a symphony, I got down to business and memorized the list. It wasn’t too hard once I broke it down into reeds, woodwinds, percussion/vocal, and strings.

And now for the absolute, no question, best Girl Scout badge requirement of all time:

#4. Never play rag time music, except for dancing.

Check!

Handwritten Success! surrounded by squiggles.

  1. NATURALIST

Naturalist Girl Scout badge, 1916 (flower).

#1. Make a collection of sixty species of wild flowers, ferns and grasses, and correctly name them.

Or,

Colored drawings of wild flowers, ferns, or grasses drawn by herself.

Like everyone else, probably, I went for the second option. Here are my drawings of wild flowers in Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Nature Reserve. (Well, of photos of them on the internet.)  Criticial reaction: “Definitely better than the dog.”

Sketches of wildflowers from Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town.

#2. Twelve sketches or photographs of animal life.

Speaking of the dog, I think we can all agree that photography is my best bet here. The neighborhood cats and dogs kept running away before I could unlock my phone to take their pictures, though, and all I had after several outings was this photo of a pigeon:

Photograph of pigeon on street.

I was starting to worry that the neighbors would think I was crazy, so I decided to waive my policy of not giving myself credit for past work.

Kruger Park, South Africa, 2009

Rhinos in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Bird in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Impalas in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Elephant in Kruger Park, South Africa.

Zebras and giraffe, Kruger Park, South Africa.

Kunene region, Namibia, 2013

Elephants in front of rocky hill, Kunene region, Namibia.

Antelope in front of hills, Kunene Region, Namibia.

Giraffe in front of hills, Kunene Region, Namibia.

Boulders Beach, Cape Town, 2018

Penguins at Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Close-up of penguin at Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Penguins in distance in front of ocean, Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Penguins at Boulders Beach, Cape Town.

Handwritten Success! surrounded by squiggle.

Two in a row! I’m on a roll!

  1. NEEDLEWOMAN

Needlewoman Girl Scout badge, 1916 (scissors).

#1. Know how to cut and fit. How to sew by hand and by machine.

#3. Bring two garments cut out by herself; sew on hooks and eyes and buttons. Make a button-hole.

Longtime readers may remember the dress that I presented as evidence that Seamstress should not be my 1918 Girl Job:

Mary Grace McGeehan in homemade dress, 1983.

Me, 1983

I don’t think any more cotton needs to die to underscore this point.

#2. Know how to knit, embroider, or crochet.

I do know how to knit! I learned at the Girls’ Club, which I belonged to at the same time that I was in Girl Scouts.***** Here I am wearing a scarf that I knitted myself:

Mary Grace McGeehan in dress with knit scarf, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2012.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2012

#3. Produce satisfactory examples of darning and patching.

Closeup of portion of striped shirt with inexpert darning.

“Satisfactory” is pushing it. I think I’ll skip the patching. Luckily, we have Witness 2 Fashion to fill the seamstress/historian niche.

FAIL.

  1. PATHFINDER

Pathfinder Girl Scout badge, 1916 (pointing finger).

#2. Know how to use the fire alarm.

Why is this in the Pathfinder badge, I wondered. It turns out that if there was a fire a hundred years ago you ran down the street to an emergency call box that worked by telegraphy.

Photograph of policeman at call box, Washington, D.C., 1910s.

Police call box at corner of D St. and 13½ St. NW, Washington DC, 1912 (Library of Congress)

In modern-day South Africa, you contact the fire department by calling the emergency number, which for cell phones is—and I’m ashamed to say I did not know this—112.

Check!

#4. Know the distance to four neighboring towns and how to get to these towns.

Map of Western Cape, South Africa.

Google Maps

  1. Stellenbosch: 45 km via the N2 and R310.
  2. Hermanus: 115 km via the N2 and R43.
  3. Paarl: 60 km via the N1.
  4. Worcester: 115 km via the N1.

Check!

#5. Draw a map of the neighborhood with roads leading to cities and towns.

I drew a very nice map, but you’ll have to take my word for it. I know you’re not a robber, but putting a map to my house on the internet is a recipe for getting my bike stolen.

A solid performance, but sadly there’s also

#1. Know the topography of the city, all the public buildings, public schools, and monuments.

Seriously, Girl Scouts? Even taking into account the growth of cities in the past hundred years, you’re stretching the limits of the human capacity to memorize. Here is a list of the high schools in ONE of Cape Town’s districts:

List of high schools in Cape Town's Metro Central district from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia

I did visit a monument for this blog, though: the Cape Town Cenotaph, memorializing soldiers who died in World War I, on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.

Cape Town Cenotaph with wreaths, November 11, 2018.

FAIL.

  1. PIONEER

Pioneer Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed pick and axe).

This one only has two requirements.

#1. Tie six knots.

I skipped over the knots in the Boatswain badge, but here they are, back to haunt me. Girl Scouting is all about knots—leaders are even advised to have a knot-tying session during their troop’s first meeting—so I should get on this.

Here are the knots in How Girls Can Help Their Country

Illustrations of knots from 1916 Girl Scout handbook.

and here are my knots:

Six knots in yellow yarn on a table.

Check!

#2. Build a shack suitable for three occupants.

What?

FAIL.

  1. PHOTOGRAPHY

(The badge isn’t illustrated, but they tell us it’s a camera.)

1919 Kodak ad, girls looking at photo album.

Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1919 (Hathitrust)

#1. Know use of lens, construction of camera, effect of light on sensitive films and the action of developers.

#2. Be able to show knowledge of several printing processes.

#3. Produce 12 photos of scout activities, half indoor and half outdoors, taken, developed, and printed by herself, also 3 pictures of either birds, animals, or fish in their natural haunts (3 portraits and 3 landscapes).

I could quibble with the confusing math in #3, or I could reuse my animal photos from the Naturalist badge, admit defeat on the rest of the requirements, and declare myself done here.

FAIL.

  1. SCRIBE

Scribe Girl Scout badge, 1916 (book).

A literary badge! And me with a master’s degree in creative writing! I’ll skip the journalism option, which involves a lot of tedious memorizing and the writing of 12 news articles, and go straight to the creative one.

#3. Write a good story.

Good timing! I just had my first post-MFA publication, a short story in this anthology:  

Writing My City anthology, Cape Town, 2019

Check!

#2. Write a good poem.

A poem, maybe. A good poem? Not going to happen.

FAIL.

  1. SIGNALING

Signaling Girl Scout badge, 1916 (crossed flags).

#1. Send and receive a message in two of the following systems of signaling: Semaphore, Morse. Not fewer than twenty-four letters a minute.

#2. Receive signals by sound, whistle, bugle or buzzer.

I think I’ll stick with WhatsApp.

FAIL.

  1. SWIMMER

Swimmer Girl Scout badge, 1916 (life buoy).

#1. Swim fifty yards in clothes, skirt and boots.

Again with the swimming in clothes! Can’t these people just wear life preservers? And I’m not going to put someone’s life at risk so I can check off

#6. Saving the drowning.

FAIL.

  1. TELEGRAPHY.

Telegraphy Girl Scout badge, 1916 (telegraph pole with wires).

#1. Be able to read and send a message in Morse and in Continental Code, twenty letters per minute, or must obtain a certificate for wireless telegraphy. (These certificates are awarded by Government instructors.)

I think they’re starting to run out of ideas–this is an awful lot like the Signalling badge. And we have to learn Morse Code AND Continental Code? As nice as it would have been to go out on a high note,

FAIL.

But I’ve earned three badges, a huge improvement over my previous score of zero. I’m an interpreter, a musician, and a naturalist!

Interpreter Girl Scout badge, 1916 (shaking hands). Musician Girl Scout badge, 1916 (lyre).Naturalist Girl Scout badge, 1916 (flower). 

I’ve done some things I’ve been putting off doing for ages: mending my shirt, polishing the silver, and ironing my Lao outfit. I know what number to dial in an emergency and where my garbage goes. And I’ve opened my mind to a huge array of new (or newly rediscovered) activities. I’ve drawn flowers, played a song, and translated Proust.

Being an adult is way better than being a kid in most ways. There’s a satisfaction that comes with having reached a high level of skill in your professional specialty or personal area of interest. You have autonomy. And no one natters away at you anymore about keeping yourself pure.****** But one thing we lose is that endless sense of possibility. Kids play the recorder and tie knots and draw pictures of flowers because it’s fun and, who knows, it might lead to something someday. Or might not. That’s okay too. Why worry about the future when there’s a whole afternoon to while away?

This has been my most enjoyable My Year in 1918 project yet, and I say that as someone who had a LOT of fun taking a 1918 IQ test and searching for 1918 love and going on a 1918 diet. Now that I’ve finished earning badges, I’ll try to hold on to some of that that Girl Scout spirit in my day-to-day life.

Finished earning badges for now, that is. There’s an all-new 1920 handbook, full of new badges, to look forward to next year!

In the meantime, I promise never, ever to play rag time music, except for dancing.

*As opposed to this ca. 1963 Senior Girl Scout in a spiffy stewardess-like uniform. Seniors were in the upper grades of high school in those days. In theory, anyway—I never met anyone who stuck it out that long. I quit in seventh grade, a few months into Cadettes, because we spent all our time brainstorming about what we were going to do as opposed to actually doing anything. Besides, no one wore uniforms and badges were suddenly uncool, so what was the point?

Drawing of Senior Girl Scout in uniform from Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1963.

Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1963

**Along with the wackiest omelet-making method ever:

Text from 1916 Girl Scout handbook about someone dropping eggs on the floor when making omelets but still using them.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

***Blogger in-joke.

****For a more competent rendition of this song, here’s Arthur Fields singing it in 1919, with lots of cool pictures:

*****Don’t worry, How Girls Can Help Their Country assures us that Girl Scouts are allowed to belong to other organizations.

******Girl Scout Law #6.

A Girl Scout keeps herself pure in thought, word, and deed, Girl Scout Law, 1916.

The best and worst of November 1918: Fake and real armistices, osculation, and meat we’ll learn to like

With the centenary of the Armistice approaching, I wanted to celebrate, but how? I couldn’t find any planned events for Remembrance Day (as it’s called in the Commonwealth) here in Cape Town.* But I knew that veterans lay a wreath at the war memorial every year, so I figured they’d be doing something special for this one. I arrived at 10:30 and found marching bands marching, bagpipers piping (oddly, “Sarie Marais,” an anti-British song from the Boer War) and a big tent full of people. A young woman gave me a paper poppy.

Marching band in Cape Town.

There were prayers, hymns, and a speech by Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson, my old friend from Pretoria in the late eighties. (South Africa can be small-towny like that.) How to celebrate an event like this, in the presence of both current soldiers and elderly white veterans who won their medals doing who knows what, is always a fraught question in South Africa. Ian hit just the right note, highlighting the contributions of black soldiers in South Africa and the United States for whom the Allied victory didn’t bring freedom.

At 11:00, the hour of the Armistice, there was a two-minute silence, a tradition that, it turns out, originated in Cape Town. Representatives of diplomatic missions and veterans’ groups laid wreaths on the monument, and afterwards the rest of us were given white roses. Here’s where I placed mine, thinking about the soldiers I’ve gotten to know in my year of 1918 reading, many of whom who didn’t make it home.

Wreaths at base of monument.

Now on to the best and worst of November.

Best fake news: Allies win the war!

New York Evening World headline, War Over.

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

What’s fake about that, you may be asking. Well, check the date.

In one of the most monumental screw-ups in the history of journalism, the United Press Association (which later became the UPI) reported on November 7 that the war had ended. According to a gloating report in the New York Times, which didn’t run the erroneous story, reporters mistook a ceasefire in an area where French and German officials were meeting for the end of the war. The censors, who were responsible for weeding out secrets, not errors, OK’d the story, and the agency cabled its headquarters. Which didn’t bother to check with officials in Washington, the attitude being “What do they know?” Newspapers rushed out extra editions.

New York Times headline, Lansing is Swift to Deny Tale.

New York Times, November 8, 1918

Secretary of War Baker said this was news to him, and Secretary of State Lansing checked with Paris and issued a denial, but no one cared. New Yorkers poured onto the streets. In Washington, newspapers were dropped from helicopters. (CORRECTION: From an airplane. As an alert reader has pointed out, helicopters weren’t invented yet.) 1,500 women workers from the State and War Departments, who apparently didn’t take their bosses any more seriously than anyone else did, rushed over to the White House, where they waved American flags and cheered President Wilson.**

Later that night, when word spread that the war was in fact still going on, a lot of people were too drunk to care.

New York Times text, But there were others...

New York Times, November 8, 1918

Luckily, only four days passed before the…

Best real news: Allies win the war!

New York Times Armistice headline.

Or, more succinctly and colorfully,

Los Angeles Times headline, PEACE.

I worried about the fake victory celebration putting a damper on the real victory celebration, but that was just me being a gloom:

New York Times text, The glooms who said that New York...

New York Times, November 12, 1918

People went wild with joy all over again.

New York Times text, In such a few minutes that it was almost beyond belief...

New York Times, November 11, 1918

What persons were these, I wondered. Three-day-old persons? But the premature celebration had vanished from everyone’s heads, apparently.

New York Times text.

New York Times, November 11, 1918

Osculation ensued!

New York Times text, The soldier or sailor...who had got through yesterday inosculate...

New York Times, November 12, 1918

Best cartoon:

I only kind of get this Harry Gant Dart cartoon–something about the Germans not being in control of their own country anymore–but the drawing is amazing and it’s a refreshing change from all the cartoons about people hanging and strangling the Kaiser.

Cartoon of Berlin full of foreign people, stores, etc.

Judge, November 30, 1918

Best illustration:

Amid the celebration, a reminder of the conflict’s cost.

Painting of battle at Cantigny.

Frank E. Schoonover, Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1918

Worst Thanksgiving celebration:

New York Times headline, Day's Cheer for Wounded.

New York Times, November 29, 1918

According to the New York Times, New Yorkers were eager to entertain the troops, including 750 convalescent and wounded soldiers who had returned from France during the week and were quartered at Debarkation Hospital No. 3 at 18th Street and 6th Avenue. Between them, they had received 1,400 invitations–two each! Lavish dinners and theater tickets had been laid on. But, when their uniforms returned from the sterilization department and the soldiers “prepared to don them to sally forth to the feasts,” it turned out that they had  shrunk beyond recognition. A “big soldier,” presented with his outfit, declared it a “Boy Scout uniform.”

Many unsuccessful efforts were made by others to wear the shrunken military garb, and, of course, regulations barred them from appearing on the streets in any other clothes.

An emergency order went out, and 125 uniforms were procured. What to do with the rest of the soldiers? Waive the regulations in appreciation of the sacrifices they had made in securing the biggest military victory of all time? Don’t make me laugh!

The fortunate wearers of these went forth, while the others, grumbling at their ill-luck, reclothed themselves in pajamas and hospital blankets.

Thank you for your service, boys!

Worst Meats:

The headline had me worried

Headline, The New Meats That We Shall All LIke When We Learn to Use Them.

Ladies’ Home Journal, November 1918

and the illustrations confirmed my worst fears.

Illustration captioned Meaty Little Pork Snouts Served with Green Peas

Worst ad:

Since you didn’t die in the war…

Murad cigarette ad with Allied soldiers smoking.

Judge, November 9, 1918

Worst magazine cover:

Like I said, not a fan of the Kaisercide trope.

Maclean's magazine cover, soldier strangling Kaiser.

Best magazine cover:

I like this George Wolfe Plank Vanity Fair cover a lot,***

Vanity Fair cover of society women whispering to other woman.

and also the crisp, clear lines of this one from Golfers Magazine,

Golfer's Magazine cover of woman with golf bag.

but the best cover award has to have something to do with what happened during this momentous month.

This J. C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover is wonderful, but I’ve already given it enough love.****

Saturday Evening Post cover of soldier walking turkey.

I was just about to bestow the award on Norman Rockwell’s joyful soldiers on the cover of Life

Norman Rockwell Life magazine cover of smiling soldiers, 1918.

Life, November 28, 1918

when I thought, “Wait, what about Vogue?”, and found the winner, this gorgeous, understated Georges Lepape cover:

Georges Lepape cover of woman holding up heart, caption Le Coeur de la France, 1918.

Vogue, November 15, 1918

On to—can it be?—December!

*Of course, only reading news from 100 years ago didn’t help.

**This item, which I cribbed from Whatever It Is, I’m Against It, makes me blush on behalf of my fellow women State Department workers.

***If you’re wondering what’s happened to Erté, there aren’t any copies of the October and November 1918 issues of Harper’s Bazar, or even the covers, anywhere on the internet as far as I can tell.

****Fun fact: the soldier is Neil Hamilton, who later played Police Commissioner Gordon on Batman.

The Year Mandela was Born: South Africa in 1918

A couple of months into this project, I was chatting with my 13-year-old nephew during an outing to Simon’s Town, a coastal village south of Cape Town. He’s a YouTuber, and we were talking about building an audience. He had a bigger following than I did, and I was hoping he could give me some tips.

“What do you write about again?” he asked me.

“Things that happened a hundred years ago,” I said.

“Kids don’t care about that,” he told me.

“I don’t write for kids,” I said.

“Who do you write for?” he asked. “Old people?”

“Yes,” I said.*

“Then you should write about things that old people care about, like Mandela,” he said.

Four months later, on the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth, I’m taking his advice.

Nelson Mandela, ca. 1941 (Nelson Mandela Foundation)

A baby being born in a village in the eastern Cape is not the stuff of international headlines, of course, so I can’t tell you about the birth itself. I can tell you, though, about the South Africa Nelson Mandela was born into and would grow up to transform.

With war raging in Europe, the outside world wasn’t paying much attention to South Africa. There was a fascinating article about the country’s “native problem,” though, in the December 8, 1917, issue of the New Republic. It was written by R.F. Alfred Hoernlé, who, despite his Afrikaans-sounding last name, was a British academic (with a German grandfather) who had taught for three years at what is now the University of Cape Town.**

R.F. Alfred Hoernlé, date unknown

Hoernlé gets to the crux of the problem right away:

The native problem dominates the South African scene. Whatever political issues and movements show in the foreground, it supplies the permanent background. However much the white population of South Africa may be absorbed in the racial*** and economic rivalries of the immediate present, it cannot but be profoundly apprehensive about its future, as long as the native problem remains unsolved.

Hoernlé points out that

Though in name a democracy, South Africa is in fact a small white aristocracy superimposed on a large native substratum.

Not that he’s advocating anything crazy, like making it a real democracy.

It is not a question, mainly, of the natives’ present unfitness for the vote, which everyone must readily grant.**** It is a question of political development. No policy which would ultimately involve that the white should admit the mass of the blacks to political power has any chance of acceptance, on the face of the unalterable numerical superiority of the blacks.

Jan Smuts, Elliott & Fry, 1917 (National Portrait Gallery)

So what to do?

To that question a speech which General [Jan] Smuts delivered in London, in May of this year, furnishes an answer. He rightly characterizes the problem as one of maintaining “white racial unity in the midst of the black environment.” This depends, in part, on avoiding two mistakes, viz., mere exploitation of the natives, and racial intermixture. The white races, Smuts insists, must strictly observe the racial axiom, “No intermixture of blood between the two colors,” and the moral axiom, “Honesty, fair-play, justice, and the ordinary Christian virtues must be the basis of all our relationship with the natives.”*****

And how does Smuts plan to achieve this?  Hoernlé tells us that

Any incorporation of the black into the structure of white society is bound to raise, in the long run, the problem of admitting them to citizenship, giving them the vote, and treating them as the white man’s political equals. There is only one way of avoiding this result, and that way is segregation of the native—the creation of the land in a chequered pattern of white and black areas. This is the policy to which General Smuts pins his hopes…

The idea is, wherever there are large bodies of natives, to assign to them definitive areas within which no white man may own land. The native, on his side, is to be forbidden to own land in white areas, though he is to be free to go and work for the white man. The races having been thus territorially separated, each is to live under its own political institutions…

A beginning has so far been made by the Natives’ Land act of 1913, a purely temporary measure designed chiefly to prevent speculation in land in anticipation of later legislation.

Sol Plaatje, ca. 1900 (From “Native Life in South Africa”)

That’s one take on the Natives Land Act. Another comes from black writer and activist Sol Plaatje, who wrote in the 1914 classic Native Life in South Africa that

Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.

Map showing areas allocated to black South Africans under the Natives Land Act of 1913

The Natives Land Act prevented South Africans from buying land in 93% of South Africa. It would also have disenfranchised non-white voters in the Cape, the only place where they had the right to vote (some of them, that is—there were education and property qualifications), but the courts struck that provision down. As far as the law’s “purely temporary” nature goes, its impact continues today: under post-apartheid land restitution legislation, South Africans have the right to claim land taken from their ancestors only after its passage.

Hoernlé calls the partition/self-determination scheme “promising in principle.” The challenge, he says, is to come up with a fairer division of land than the one proposed by a recent commission, which allocates South Africa’s five million black inhabitants a little over 12% of South Africa’s territory and reserves the rest to the 1,250,000 whites. (This was exactly the breakdown when the black “homelands” were created during apartheid.)

If the “natives” are treated justly, Hoernlé said, there is a path to peace. But he’s not hopeful.

At present, the eye that would pierce the future, sees the deepening shadow of the native problem creep slowly but surely over the sunny spaces of South Africa.

Me in Pretoria (in flowery sundress), December 1989

People often ask me if 1918 reminds me of our world today. For the most part it doesn’t, at least as far as the United States is concerned. There are similarities, of course, but a country where lynchings were commonplace and women couldn’t vote and want ads specified Christians only is, thankfully, not one I recognize. The South Africa Hoernlé describes, on the other hand, differs hardly at all from the country I arrived in as a young diplomat in 1988.

It would take over seven decades for the South Africa Mandela was born into to change fundamentally—decades during which he would grow up, become a lawyer, join the liberation struggle, spend 27 years in prison, and emerge to lead his people to freedom.

Earliest known photo of Nelson Mandela (back row, fifth from right), Healdtown Secondary School

*No offense! The baseline here is 13.

**UPDATE 11/09/2019: Hoernlé popped up in Young Eliot, Robert Crawford’s biography of T.S. Eliot. He taught Eliot as a visiting professor at Harvard and later joined the Harvard philosophy faculty. Hoernlé was a (laudatory) reviewer for Eliot’s Ph.D. dissertatation and was chair of the  philosophy department when it considered, but ultimately decided against, offering Eliot a position.

***That is, English vs. Afrikaner.

****“Everyone” meaning whites, of course. Black South Africans don’t have a say in this matter because…well, they don’t have the vote. (Mostly. We’ll get to that.)

*****Jan Smuts was the Woodrow Wilson of South Africa, renowned statesman abroad and racist at home. He was considered a liberal in South Africa, which gives you an idea of why “liberal” remains a swear word among black South Africans today.