A look at history one year at a time, from as many angles as possible. Famous people, infamous people, obscure people; wars, revolutions, peace treaties, art, science, sports, religion. The big picture, in an entertaining podcast package.
The Last Night of the Bubbling Glass: The Passage of the 18th Amendment
By 1914, the temperance movement had achieved significant gains in its goal to outlaw the sale of alcohol in the United States. But every push for nationwide prohibition had failed. Would the war--and the accompanying anti-German hysteria--give the Anti-Saloon League enough power to cross the finish line? Was a golden age of sobriety waiting on the other side?
The Temperance Movement began in the 1840s and gained significant momentum through the rest of the century. Women were major leaders in the movement, with many pledging to never let the lips that touch liquor touch theirs. Unfortunately, this seemed to have little effect.
In the second half of the 19th century, an influx of immigrants from beer-loving countries, including Germany and Ireland, dramatically increased the consumption of beer in the United States. German brewers arrived to meet the demand. The most successful among these brewers was Adolphus Busch. As owner of Anheuser-Busch, he built a massive, vertically integrated operation that controlled every aspect of beer production and distribution, from mining the coal that fueled the brewery to building the refrigerated railcars to deliver the beer to Anheuser-Busch owned saloons.
Saloons were more than watering holes. They were hubs for the entire community and played important roles in the lives of patrons, especially when those patrons were recent immigrants.
Pictured here is a saloon in Wisconsin. Notice the little boy sitting at the table with his own beer glass. Boys often accompanied their fathers to saloons. Women and girls, however, were not welcome, and a woman who stepped in a saloon ruined her reputation.
Here's another saloon, this one from Michigan. In a saloon, men could meet friends, participate in local politics, eat a free lunch, take a bath, find a job, get his mail and pawn his watch.
By 1900, most saloons were "tied houses." That is, they were tied to, if not actually owned by, breweries. In exchange for agreeing to sell only one brand of beer, a barkeeper would receive cash for his licensing fees, an inventory of glassware, and the furnishings for the saloon, including the pool tables and the mirrors on the walls.
This photo shows a Miller bar in Chicago.
Temperance activists believed saloons were evil through and through. This cartoon, probably from the mid- to late-19th century, shows children desperately calling for the father, who stands in his natty coat and top hat at the bar. The bartender is a grinning skull, and another skull atop crossed bottles decorates in the bar. In the background, a brawl has broken out. Clearly, nothing good happens at a saloon!
Women's rights activists in particular believed that alcohol was the cause of domestic violence. In this illustration, a drunken man takes a swing at his wife as his children cling to his legs. Many woman suffragists believed that prohibition would stop violence in the home.
The Anti-Saloon League became a force to be reckoned with by organizing all of the anti-alcohol groups. The League was led by Wayne Wheeler, a genial midwesterner that author Daniel Okrent noted resembled Ned Flanders. In fact, Wheeler was a passionate, focused organizer with a backbone of steel who could make or break political careers.
Breweries tried reframe beer as a health-giving, nourishing beverage. The Saskatoon Brewing Company tried to sell their beer as "liquid bread."
Knickerbocker Beer ran ads declaring "Beer is Food" and claiming that beer was not only "a wonderful aid to digestion" and a "valuable source of energy" but also "a mainstay of practical temperance."
An Anti-Prohibition coalition produced this ad, showing a fat and happy baby drinking a stein of beer. No one was convinced by any of these campaigns.
Once the United States entered World
Do You Expect Us to Turn Back Now: Alice Paul and the Fight for Woman Suffrage
Women in the United States began fighting for the right to vote in 1848, and by 1910 they had achieved a few hard-won victories. But success nationwide seemed out of reach. Then Alice Paul arrived on the scene with a playbook of radical protest strategies and an indomitable will. She focused in on one target: the president, Woodrow Wilson. How far would Paul and her fellow suffragists have to go to get Wilson's support?
Dora Lewis was the member of prominent Philadelphia family. She was dedicated fighter for the right of women to vote.
In 1919, Lewis participated in the Watchfires protests, in which suffragists burned the speeches of Woodrow Wilson to reject his hypocricy of speaking about democracy and justice without protecting them for women at home.
The woman suffrage movement in the United States is usually said to have begun at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The Convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and several friends and colleagues, produced a Declaration of Sentiments that called for women to "secure for themselves their right to the elective franchise."
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left) and Susan B. Anthony (right) met in 1851 and become close friends and dedicated fighters for votes for women.
The "New Woman" of the turn of the 19th century was educated, independent, and career-minded. These women were more demanding than previous generations and less concerned about upsetting gender norms.
I joked in this episode about New Women and their bicycles, but this was actually an enormous breakthrough for women. For the first time, women had freedom of movement that opened up a world that been narrowly restricted for previous generations.
Alice Paul was charismatic, magnetic, and impossible to refuse. She was willing to work herself into the hospital and expected the same level of effort from her friends. (She is also, in this photo, wearing an awesome hat.)
Alice Paul spent the years between 1907 and 1909 in the United Kingdom, where she joined the radical suffragette movement. She learned the power of protest in England, as well as the power of her own will.
In 1909, Paul went on a hunger strike in prison and was force fed. This was a horrifying, traumatic experience--a fact that the suffragettes didn't hesitate to leverage in their promotional material.
Paul's first major action back in the United States was the Woman Suffrage Procession of 1913. Scheduled the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, it achieved maximum publicity for the cause. This image was used as the cover of the official procession program.
This photo shows the start of the procession, with attorney Inez Mulholland on horseback.
Paul and other organizers intended to segregate African-American marchers to the end of the parade, but Ida B. Wells-Barnett had no intention of being segregated. She joined the Illinois delegation halfway along the route.
Massive crowds viewed the parade. Without adequate police monitoring, the crowd got out of control, spilled into the street, and began harassing the marchers.
In 1917, the Silent Sentinels began protesting daily at the White House. They carried banners demanding the president take action on women's right to vote.
For several months, the protests were peaceful. But Paul began cranking up the tension in the summer, and D.C. police began arresting and detaining the protesters.
Eventually, suffragists were sentenced to time at Occoquan Workhouse a grim, remote facility. Here several suffragists, including Dora Lewis, pose in their prison uniforms.
Suffragist prisoners began protests in prison, refusing to wear uniforms or do assigned work. Some, including Alice Paul, went on hunger strikes. Prison guards reacted with increasing violence. Here one of the suf
Flu Fences and Chin Sails: Answering New Questions about the Spanish Flu
Living through the COVID-19 pandemic raises all sorts of new questions about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. This episode seeks to answer those questions. We look at the multiple waves of the flu, popular home remedies, who went to the hospital and who stayed home, how the federal government responded to the outbreak, the effect on the economy, resistance to face masks, and how the flu shaped the Roaring Twenties.
Correction: In this episode I state that Arthur Conan Doyle stopped writing mysteries after the flu pandemic. This is simply not true. Doyle published numerous mysteries, including several Sherlock Holmes stories, between 1919 and his death in 1930. My apologies for the error, and thanks to the listener who caught it.
Heroic efforts went into creating a vaccine for Pfieffer's Bacillus, which was believed by many doctors to cause the Spanish Flu. These efforts were all in vain, since Pfeiffer's Bacillus is a fairly common bacteria and not the cause of the flu. The actual cause would not be understood until the existence of viruses was proven in the late 1930s.
The Spanish Flu hit in three waves, in the the spring of 1918, the fall of 1918, and the spring of 1919. There is no evidence that the relaxing of social distancing and/or quarantines triggered the second wave. It is more likely that the virus mutated into a more easily transmitted and more deadly form over the summer. However, the third wave can be linked to relaxed social distancing.
Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root was a popular patent medicine used to treat the flu. So were onions and Vick's Vapo-Rub.
Nurses played an enormous role during the Spanish Flu, perhaps a greater role than doctors, since recovery was largely the matter of careful nursing. A severe shortage of nurses put a huge burden on those trying to treat patients.
The American health system was strictly segregated in 1918-1919, and nurses of color struggled to treat the patients that overwhelmed the small and underfunded African-American hospitals.
There was no precedent in 1918 for the federal government to play anything other than a coordinating and research role during the Spanish Flu. But the situation was so dire that states and cities begged for help. Surgeon General Rupert Blue seemed unable to rise to the challenge.
The Surgeon's General's advice on how to avoid the flu was distributed widely but offered little in real help and failed to acknowledge the severity of the situation.
The 1918 mid-term election went ahead as planned, but in parts of the west, polling places were unable to open because too many workers were sick with the flu.
Public campaigns urged individuals to cover their faces when coughing or sneezing and to avoid shaking hands. If this cartoon is any indication, some people thought the efforts were extreme.
Cities railed at residents to stop spitting on the street. This was an enormous problem, although this warning seems particularly stark.
Masks were adopted across the country, and some cities mandated their use. The masks became a symbol of the disease. This cartoonist pokes fun at their ubiquity by proposing new styles soon to come out of the Paris fashion houses.
San Francisco required residents and visitors to wear face masks, and initially compliance was high. Red Cross workers sold masks at ferry terminals and on the street.
But people soon tired of wearing masks, or wore them slung around their necks. Soon police and public health officers were busy fining and arresting scofflaws.
Crowds packed the Civic Auditorium for a boxing match in November 1918, and a photographer snapped this image of hundreds of San Franciscans without a mask in sight. Dozens of city leaders were fined for violated the mask ordinance. The ordinance was lifted a few days
Say It Ain't So: The Black Sox Scandal and Baseball in 1919
Baseball was the only truly national American sport in 1919, loved by fans across the United States. But the mood among players was grim--team owners kept salaries artificially low. When the Chicago White Sox won their league championship, the temptation to accept hard cash from gamblers to deliberately lose the World Series was irresistible. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
The Wingfoot Express took its maiden voyage around Chicago on July 21st, 1919. The 150-foot long airship was filled with hydrogen gas--lighter than air, but extremely flammable.
The dirigible caught fire in downtown Chicago, inside the Loop, right above the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, at the corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard. The entire ship was consumed in literally seconds. The five men aboard jumped and tried to inflate their parachutes, but only three were successful. One man, mechanic Carl Weaver, plunged through the skylight of the bank.
In this photo of the bank before the disaster, you can see how the interior was ringed by a circle of teller stations. They enclosed an area where typists, telegraphists, and other bank staff worked. For security purposes, this inner area could only be accessed through two gated entrances.
Flaming debris, including the engine and two full tanks, crashed through the skylight above this inner area, starting a massive fire and trapping employees inside.
This image of the interior of the bank after the disaster gives some sense of the horror of those trapped inside. 13 people died in the crash, ten of them bank employees.
Before radio, fans had few ways to follow a live baseball game. Newspapers would receive game updates by telegraph and posted results in their windows. In 1912, the Washington Post invested in an elaborate scoreboard system complete with lights indicating balls, strikes, and position on the field. You can see here fans gathered to "watch" the 1912 World Series.
The American and National Leagues kept player salaries low with the reserve clause, a provision in player contracts that kept players tied to one team and unable to negotiate higher salaries. The clause also made it difficult for new teams and new leagues to attract top-quality players. The Federal League, founded in 1913, tried to operate as a third major league and ended up suing the established leagues for operating an illegal monopoly.
This is an official scorecard of one Federal League Team, the Neward Peps.
The case came before Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It couldn't have landed on the desk of anyone more deeply invested in the game of baseball.
At the start of World War I, team owners were desperate to keep the game going and their players out of the trenches. One attempt to demonstrate their patriotism was the practice, seen here, of holding drill sessions with players before games. The War Department was not impressed and made players eligible for the draft after the 1917 World Series.
The president of the American League, Ban Johnson, suggested reserving 18 players for each team and conscripting the rest. No one was impressed by this plan.
While more than one third of major league players enlisted, others went to work for factories in essential industries such as steel manufacturing or shipbuilding. The players spent far more time playing baseball for factory teams than painting or welding, and team owners worried that major league baseball would be run out of business by industrial ball.
Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox, denounced the factory team players as unpatriotic and sniffed that he wasn't sure he wanted them back on his team.
The 1918 World Series was held in early September at the request of the War Department, so the second, most deadly wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic was j
Radical and Agitator: William Monroe Trotter and the Fight for Justice
William Monroe Trotter was among the richest, best-educated, and most-well-connected African-American men in the United States--and he dedicated every ounce of his privilege into helping his fellow black Americans. By 1919, he had fought with the elder statesmen of his community, been arrested in protests over "Birth of a Nation," and denounced Woodrow Wilson's racial policies to president's face. But 1919 would bring one of Trotter's greatest challenges: he would need to learn how to peel potatoes.
William Monroe Trotter was one of the most significant civil rights leaders in Amerian history, yet he is little remembered today.
Trotter crossed the Atlantic on the SS Yarmouth as assistant cook--a strange position for a Harvard graduate with two degrees and a Phi Beta Kappa key.
Trotter's father James Monroe Trotter fought in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Afterward, he served as the first Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia, a lucrative position where he earned a small fortune. James' only son William would inherit both wealth and influence, but James insisted that this privilege should be employed to fight for African-American rights.
In 1899, William Monroe Trotter married Geraldine Pindell, known by friends and family as Deenie. She was passionate about civil rights as her husband.
A year after his marriage, Trotter decided to fulfill the mission laid upon him by his father by publishing a newspaper, The Guardian. The weekly was dedicated to exposing racial issues across the United States.
The Guardian's first target was Booker T. Washington, president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. A generation older than Trotter, Washington was born into slavery and had no family wealth or connections to help him. He fiercely protected Tuskegee through any means possible, including compromise and accommodation with the racist southern regime.
In 1905, Trotter, along with W.E.B. DuBois and several other black leaders, founded The Niagara Movement to advocate for civil rights and counter the message of the Tuskegee Machine. The organization collapsed within two years, largely because Trotter was so difficult to work with.
In 1909, DuBois joined other activists to establish the NAACP with much the same aims. Trotter rejected the group, which he saw as dominated by white donors and leaders and too timid to tackle real issues. In response, he founded his own organization, which in time would take the name the National Equal Rights League, or NERL.
The 1915 film The Birth of a Nation prompted immediate reaction from both the NAACP and Trotter's NERL. But those reactions took different forms. The NAACP focused on legal challenges and attempts to disprove the historical accuracy of the movie. The NERL organized public protests intended to demonstrate the depth of African-American opposition to whites.
Among the protests Trotter organized was this one in Boston Common. The photo is extremely poor quality, but you can get a sense of the size of the crowd.
At another Trotter-organized event, 11 protestors were arrested for disturbing the peace. Trotter was among them.
At the end of the Great War, a dozen or so other delegates were elected to present an appeal for equal rights and justice to the Peace Conference. Among them were Trotter and Madam C J Walker. Walker has an incredible story--she built her business selling cosmetics and hair care products to African-American women into one of wealthiest and most successful in the country.
At the same time Trotter was trying to get to Paris to present his appeal, W.E.B. Du Bois was organization the Pan-African Congress, which included representatives from African nations and the African diaspora.
When Trotter returned home from Paris, Red
There Is No Justice Here: The Red Summer of 1919
A constant threat of violence hung over the lives of African Americans in the early 20th century, an unrelenting terror that served to deter economic progress and enforce a racist social order. But 1919 was different: violence spread out of the south into northern and midwestern cities and took the form of random, terrifying riots. But the response of African-American leaders in 1919 was also different. They decided enough was enough. The time had come to fight back.
Chicago's beaches in 1919 were not segregated by law, but any attempt by African-Americans to stand up to convention could prompt harsh and sudden violence. This is the white beach on the South Side, which started around 29th street.
The beach used by African-Americans was a few blocks north, around 25th street. The two beaches were divided by a rocky inlet--and as five teenaged boys discovered that July, the line between them was all to easy to cross.
In the South, the Jim Crow system enforced the segregation of all public places. African-Americans couldn't eat in the same restaurants, sleep in the same hotels, sit in the same movie theaters, use the same restrooms, or even drink the same water as whites.
Ida B. Wells had not intended to take on the cause of lynching until her friend Thomas Moss was dragged out of jail and shot in a railyard. Her investigation into lynching was a bombshell that shattered the Southern narrative about racial violence.
You can read Wells' original report, titled "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases," online.
General Pershing likely never intended the 369th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellraisers, to fight on the front lines, but under pressure from the Allies he turned them over to French command. They served with courage and distinction and won the respect and admiration of the entire French nation.
Private Henry Johnson fought off a 24-man German patrol alone while wounded. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre--but received no medals from his own country.
James Reese Europe served as the 369th's regimental band leader. A brilliant musician, conductor, composer, and arranger, he brought jazz to France.
Author W.E.B. DuBois electrified readers of the NAACP magazine The Crisis with his essay "Returning Soldiers," which urged African-American veterans to fight racism at home. You can read the essay online.
Riots broke out in early summer in Charleston, South Carolina; Longview, Texas; and Washington, D.C. This sort of scene was happened frequently--black men were dragged out of trolley, as well as seized walking down the street or yanked out of businesses to be beaten by a white mob.
Poet Claude McKay wrote "If We Must Die" in 1919 in the same spirit as Du Bois' "Returning Soldiers." It was a call for African-Americans to stand up and defend themselves against white attacks. You can read the poem online or listen to Ice-T read it.
During the Chicago riot, bands of white men prowled the city looking for African-Americans. Here a group of men are running through a black neighborhood.
Order was finally restored when the state militia arrived. Generally, the soldiers were impartial and prevent further attacks on African-Americans, but encounters between white troops and black men were still fraught.
The riot in Omaha, Nebraska drew an enormous crowd, estimated at anything from 5000 to 15,000. Here you can see some of that mob surrounding the Omaha courthouse, which they eventually set alight.
Newspapers across Arkansas ran headlines about the supposed uprising of African-Americans in Phillips County.
Conductor and intelligence agent Water H. Loving submitted a report to the Department of War that explained that socialist, communist, and labor organizers had nothing to do with the violence in