Archive for Thursday, December 31, 2009

Century of history

December 31, 2009

New Year’s Day is a time to look forward to new opportunities and success while facing complex challenges. Yet, while doing that we need to remember how far we have come in the past century. When the year 1910 dawned, there were many serious concerns for Americans.

There are some who like to talk about the “good old days,” but I doubt many of us would like to live in the conditions that area residents faced a century ago. It was a simpler time, but it was harsh and difficult.

In 1910, there were 92 million Americans who worked 48 to 60 hours per week for an annual average salary of $750. The United States was a segregated nation with portions of society forced to be second-class citizens and in many states, African-Americans and women did not have the right to vote.

At that time, the United States still had an agricultural-based economy. Few Americans were unionized and in many cases, working conditions were bad. If you were unemployed, well that was your problem and there was very little assistance available. The popular belief among business leaders was that the common American could not deal with free time and if given a shorter work week would soon plunge into debauchery.

In fact, from what I read, most Americans were afraid of the future. As is the case now, the world was changing rapidly. One of the biggest concerns was the expansion of automotive travel. The car was changing the travel habits and some were concerned about the economic effect it might have. Ed Mathews, who had been the Chieftain editor until 1909, often wrote scathing attacks on the automobile. He firmly believed that a horse and buggy was more dependable.

A century ago, Americans were very concerned about moral issues. Jesse Bader, a well-known evangelist, conducted revival services at the Christian Church and attacked the growing popularity of dancing. This prompted Imri Zumwald, Chieftain editor, to write a lengthy editorial stating public dancing was the first step toward immorality.

Prohibition was gaining popularity and was causing national debate. Church groups, in particular, were adamantly opposed to the sale of alcoholic beverages. The governor of Kansas had joined the chorus urging an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting possession of alcohol. In less than a decade, the “great experiment” of prohibition would be the law of the land.

Americans were also concerned about foreign affairs. In this case, they weren’t watching the growing storm in Europe, they kept a wary eye on Mexico. In 1910, the Mexican revolution broke out with rebels attempting to drive President Porfino Diaz out of office. One of the key events was the assassination of Emilio Zapata. Just a few years later, the Mexican revolution would lead to a bloody raid on U.S. soil by Pancho Villa and American troops being sent south of the border.

No one worried about problems in Europe or Asia because we were protected by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

William Howard Taft was president of the United States replacing the very popular Theodore Roosevelt. Taft was the heaviest American president weighing in at more than 300 pounds. He faced a variety of problems as the economy struggled to maintain stability.

There were a couple of notable firsts in 1910. The Boy Scouts were formed and they remain a tremendous character building institution. In Los Angeles, there was a glimpse of the changes coming in later years. Alice Wells became the first American police woman .

Yes, the world has changed a great deal in a century. There has been tremendous progress, and life is certainly much better a century later. About all I can add is to be optimistic, and have a safe and happy New Year.

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