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100 Years Ago: February 1920 — Getting Down to Business

Selected from the pages of The Middletown Press and lightly annotated by Sally Haase

President Escapes the Flu. Washington, Feb. 03, 1920: President Wilson just escaped the “flu.” During the past two weeks while Washington was in the grip of extreme cold weather, the president contracted a cold and Dr. Grayson insisted upon his remaining indoors. Dr. Grayson virtually mounted guard over the doors leading to the president’s apartment, permitting no one to enter who sneezed or showed symptoms of influenza.

France Wants Babies. Paris, Feb. 04, 1920: ”After five years of devoting all our energies to the destruction of life, France is now going to devote the next five years to the creation of life,” stated France’s first minister of hygiene and health. France proportionately had a higher toll in lost lives than any other country involved in the conflict. “We must endeavor…to make girls realize the nobility of motherhood: we must adopt measures to counteract infanticide and willful abandonment; we must also care for unmarried mothers while they are unable to work.”

Per Capita Wealth. Washington, Feb. 07, 1920: The United States treasury figures that your share, based on the amount of cash in circulation is $54.77. [Note: Feb. 12, 2020 per capita cash in circulation, reported by the Federal Reserve is $5,352. So what’s in your wallet?]

A Women’s Party? Washington, Feb. 09, 1920: A women’s party will be in the field after the ratification of the suffrage amendment, feminists here announced. Leaders, known as “extreme feminists,” strongly advocate that the new party stand for “women only” as political candidates. They are in favor of placing women candidates in the field for every office from president on down.

Spanish Flu In Poland. Washington, Feb. 11, 1920: Spanish influenza, in a form so virulent that it is baffling medical authorities by the suddenness of its attack and its almost certain fatality, is swooping through Poland. This is the third influenza epidemic that has swept over Poland in the past year and the most severe. Patients seldom live more than 24 hours after they have contracted the disease and complications that bring on hemorrhage of the lungs. Warsaw is given over to continuous processions of funerals.

Lansing Resignation Astounds Congress. Washington, Feb. 14, 1920: Official Washington was astounded by Secretary of State Lansing’s resignation following a sharp rebuke from President Wilson for having called cabinet meetings during his illness. Certain members of congress have already suggested that there should be an investigation as to the conduct of the government during these months. There was also considerable curiosity as to whether other resignations would follow. Secretary Lansing split with the president at the Paris peace conference and…was submitted to considerable embarrassment because he felt constrained to support the president’s views. While his staunch supporters declared it was simply the climax of personal differences, there were others who were bitter in their denunciation of the president’s action.

The president’s physician, Rear Admiral Grayson, had been invited to the first meeting for the purpose of determining the real condition of his patient. Informed of the meeting by Dr. Grayson, Wilson asked him to ask by what authority and to what purpose the meeting was called.

Villa Holds American For Ransom. Washington, Feb. 18, 1920: The Mexican bandit, Francisco (Pancho) Villa, is holding Joseph Askew, an American, for payment of ransom of $20,000. Villa maintains that $20,000 is an old debt owed by the state department by aiding an American mining concern to get a large amount of silver bullion out of Mexico during one of the periods of civil warfare and he was to receive $40,000 for his service. He will hold Askew until the state department pays the remaining $20,000.

Socialist Not Bolsheviki. Albany, N.Y., Feb. 18, 1920: A sweeping denial that the socialists of America are bolshevists or that they foster the adoption of a soviet government was made by Morris Hillquit, the party leader in America testifying as an expert in the proceedings against five suspended assemblymen. “We socialists in America are not bolsheviks,” declared Hillquit. “We are in reality social democrats of the Marxian type.”

Power To Decide Incapacity of President. Washington, Feb. 19, 1920: The cabinet is made the judge of the “physical, mental and moral inability of the president to perform the duties of his office, and upon a majority decision by the cabinet that there exists inability on the part of the president, the vice-president shall assume charge of the presidential office, by the provisions of a bill introduced in the house by Rep. Madden of Illinois. [Note: The issue was settled by the 25th Amendment in 1967.]

Get Down To Business! Washington, Feb. 23, 1920: Progressive republicans in congress made known their demands for immediate action for domestic legislation. The first open expression of the desire to speed up domestic legislation and do away with investigations and probes of the actions of the democratic administration insofar as they affect the passage of legislation for the future was from Senator Capper. He said, “While we have been probing, investigating and rambling over everything that was done or was not done during the war, including frauds and scandals, meriting the fullest publicity and promptest and most punishment…we have given scanty attention to such urgent and momentous matters as the railroad problem, reduction of government extravagance, the opening of European markets, the adjustment of capital and labor…and other important matters. Let us get down to business.”

More Hitting To Pep Up Baseball. New York, Feb. 23, 1920: Fandom’s plea for more “hitting” in the major leagues has been heard at last. The “Powers That Be” in baseball lent their ears to the cry of the fans some time ago and took heed. They have paved the way for freer hitting by curbing the pitchers. The decision of both big leagues to abolish the various freak deliveries by means of which the pitchers kept down the hitting was halted with satisfaction by the fans. No more shine ball, no more licorice ball, no more emery or talcum powder ball! And no more spitters after this season. Pitchers like Eddie Cicotte and Harold Carlson who have gained reputations for the use of the “shiner” or other freaks will have to get along without them next summer.

As Little Legislation As Possible. Washington, Feb. 23, 1920: Never in the history of the nation has the individual Congressman been up against it quite so hard as now [and the June conventions.] He admits he has no idea what the public wants. So he intends to be very circumspect lest he offends by stepping upon unsuspected corns. Damned if they do, and damned if they don’t, members confess they are in the position of the little boy who was warned to run away if he saw a snake. Instead, he began jumping up and down. “Why didn’t you run?” he was asked. “I didn’t know which way to run!” he protested. “Then what made you jump up and down?” asked again. “To keep him from biting me standing still.” There you have Congress.

100 years ago, much has changed and, then again, nothing has changed.


[Image: US Capital-Clip Art, Google Advanced Images]



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