Slate.com’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.”
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?
Those looking for a preview of some of the themes we’ll talk about in Unit 2 might be interested in reading this excerpt of Douglas Brinkley’s recent book on Teddy Roosevelt, The Wilderness Warrior. (Here is a link to the NY Times excerpt.) Roosevelt’s administration (1901-1909) took dramatic action to preserve national parks, setting a precedent for the twentieth-century efforts to set aside public lands. But this chapter is about Teddy’s early years, in which he loved nature so much that, Brinkley reports, he once saw a picture of a fox in a book and called it “the face of God.” That’s way before he saved that Teddy bear. This excerpt shows how Teddy, born the year before Darwin published On the Origin of Species, grew up along with acceptance of the theory of evolution, developing the appreciation for nature that he carried into the Oval Office. As TR himself would have said, Bully!
In Texas, we’re used to the endless stretch of overheated days and nights that extends from March to October (I exaggerate, but not by much!) We’ve modified our infrastructure so that we rarely need to be outside of air conditioned homes or offices, and as a result, not many people die as a result of the heat in the summer. Elsewhere in the country, and back in time, things were different. A professor of history at Bilkent University, Edward P. Kohn, has written a book about the great New York heat wave of 1896, which killed an estimated 1,300 people. (Here’s a link to an editorial Kohn wrote on History News Network about his book.) Kohn writes that although average temps during this ten-day heat wave were “only” over 90 degrees F, people who lived in tenements with poor ventilation (like the ones photographed by Progressive crusader Jacob Riis) endured indoor temps up to 120 degrees F. Teddy Roosevelt, who was the President of the Board of Police Commissioners at the time, instituted a scheme whereby poor people could access ice for free (ice was expensive back then).
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
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.