John Held–1920s Cartoonist

John Held  illustrated this Life Magazine cartoon “Insatiable Neckers.”  Along with Norman Rockwell, he was perhaps the most well-known “drawer” in the 1920s.

Eva Tanguay’s Jody Rosen has written a piece about Eva Tanguay, a forgotten vaudevillian who was one of the most famous singers of the early twentieth century. In her self-presentation and marketing, Tanguay rivaled Lady Gaga. Eva was ubiquitous. Rosen writes: “If you read the press and popular literature of the first quarter of the 20th century, Tanguay is inescapable. Edward Bernays, the celebrated ‘father of public relations,’ called Tanguay ‘our first symbol of emergence from the Victorian age.’ The journalist and playwright George Ade dubbed Theodore Roosevelt ‘the Eva Tanguay of politics.’ One of her hits was titled ‘They’ll Remember Me a Hundred Years From Now.’ To Tanguay’s contemporaries, it must have seemed less like a boast than a foregone conclusion.”

Eva Tanguay probably put this feathered costume together without the benefit of a stylist.

Eva Tanguay probably put this feathered costume together without the benefit of a stylist.

Yet, Rosen points out, Tanguay is now the opposite of a household name (what would that be? a library name?)

Which of our present-day recording artists will find themselves lost in the sands of time in a hundred years? Does the fact that these days everybody and their mother can record a record using an iMac and distribute it over the Internet mean that music will be more or less easy to preserve?

Pullman and Race

History is full of ironies.  The landmark Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) involved an African-American man traveling on a Pullman car. The ruling upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation even in public accommodations (particularly railroad cars), under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” Still, the Pullman company took pride in its efforts to hire African Americans and pay them a fair wage.  Then, in the early 20th century, after George Pullman died the company neared insolvency.  The new president, Robert Todd Lincoln–President Lincoln’s son, determined to save the company, cut wages drastically and replaced the old wage system with one that required the Pullman porters to become dependent on tips as their main source of income.

The Widening Income Gap

Money mon-ay. Image by Tracy O on flickr.

Money mon-ay. Image by Tracy O on flickr.

Just in time for Labor Day, Slate writer Timothy Noah launched a new series called The Great Divergence, which attempts to explain what he calls “the most profound change in American society in your lifetime”: the growing gap between the people who have a lot of money, and the people who have less. Noah points out that in 1915, 1 percent of the American people had 18% of the nation’s wealth—a fact, he adds, that disturbed sociologists studying income distribution, and was partially responsible for the institution of an income tax, to keep angry socialists from gaining too much traction with the poorer masses. Meanwhile, in our day and age, the top 1% has 24% of our total income, and nobody’s too concerned (well, except Noah). Noah writes:

All my life I’ve heard Latin America described as a failed society (or collection of failed societies) because of its grotesque maldistribution of wealth. Peasants in rags beg for food outside the high walls of opulent villas, and so on. But according to the Central Intelligence Agency (whose patriotism I hesitate to question), income distribution in the United States is more unequal than in Guyana, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and roughly on par with Uruguay, Argentina, and Ecuador.

Most interestingly, when it comes to the themes of this course, in the coming parts of this series Noah’s going to explore possible historical rationales for this change. Could this have happened because of “race, gender, the computer revolution, immigration, trade, government policies, the decline of labor, compensation policies on Wall Street and in executive suites, [or] education”? My guess regarding the answer? A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Stay tuned.

The White Man’s Burden


In the late 19th century, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School became a model for non-reservation boarding schools throughout the United States. Established in 1879, this Pennsylvania school attempted to culturally assimilate Native American youth by teaching them English, practical skills for manual labor, and the importance of an individualistic, Christian life. Its founder and headmaster for 25 years, Colonel Richard Pratt, believed that complete immersion into mainstream American culture would only occur when youth attended non-reservation boarding schools, which separated them from their families and traditions, as opposed to the day schools that were prevalent at the time. The federal government and Christian missionaries agreed with this assessment, authorizing and supervising more boarding schools.

Cultural assimilation began with appearance. After the youth arrived at the school, staff cut the boys’ hair (often a source of pride) and gave them uniforms: starched shirts and pants for the boys and Victorian-style dresses for the girls. The youth were then photographed with their new physical appearances (see picture), documenting the transformation to convince skeptics, recruit new students, and continue federal funding.

While Pratt’s school was not known for severe punishments, his motto to “kill the Indian in him and save the man” influenced the staff of other boarding schools, who ridiculed native traditions, forced youth to go by English names, and abused them physically, psychologically, and sexually. In this way, Pratt’s efforts at assimilation aided the destruction of a generation’s Native American cultures. With tens of thousands of youth forced to attend boarding schools, many lost their native languages and were still haunted by abuses endured after returning home. Posted by Jennifer Levin


Diamond Jim’s Demise

The Austin Chronicle recently had a short review of UT history professor H.W. Brand’s recent book, The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield which it describes as “a sudsy melodrama” about a “scalawag, a showgirl, and a pistol-wielding pretty boy.” 

By page 98, Fisk is dead, but you can’t really feel entirely sorry for him.  Fiske, a contemporary of such Gilded Age legends as “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall and Cornelius Vanderbilt, aka Anderson Cooper’s great, great, great grandfather, was one shady character.   In 1866, he and his partner Jay Gould fought off Vanderbilt’s attempt to take control of the Erie RR by issuing phony stock. Then in 1869, the two conspired to corner the gold market.  (Think of that today, with gold selling at upwards of $1800 per ounce.)

Although a virtual outcast following what became known as the Black Friday scandal, Fisk hung on. A huge man, extremely extroverted, and the owner of a large wardrobe of loud clothing, “Jubilee Jim” Fisk fell desperately in love with a young divorcée and “actress,”  Josie Mansfield. Enter Edward Stokes, a handsome, smooth-talking oil man, and who also claimed Josie’s affection, then colluded with her to extort money from the hapless Fisk by threatening to reveal the financial chicanery the “Barnum of Wall Street” had detailed in his hand-written love letters to Josie.  Failing that, Stokes put an end to it all and shot Fisk dead. After which followed a massive funeral featuring a 200-piece band and Fisk’s own state militia unit.

Are there any characters like that around now? In an interview in the Austin American-Statesman, Prof. Brands said the closest modern parallel to Fisk is Donald Trump. “Fisk carried himself about New York the way that Trump carries himself about the world.”

The Haymarket Riot, Truth and Truthiness

Timothy Messer-Kruse became interested in US history textbook claims that no evidence linked the bombing and subsequent conviction and execution of seven defendants in the 1886 rally in support of working men. He did a lot of digging and found out otherwise. (He has now published two books on the Haymarket Riot.) He went to Wikipedia, which has been widely (but not uniformly) praised for the way in which it builds knowledge through crowdsourcing, to edit its entry for “Haymarket Affair.”   Interestingly, he got a good scolding for his effort. It seems that his sources and proof didn’t match popular wisdom.    You can read his account  here, in The-Undue-Weight-of-Truth.