My dear friend Patrick Culliton sent me these wonderful photos taken at the turn of the 20th Century. Then he asked, “What was it like?”
Well, many of these photos were taken after I left the 20th Century, but they all look very familiar–as if nothing much changed between 1910 and 1927.
I felt a rush of nostalgia for this time long gone.
I can tell you a bit about what it was like, at least in 1910, when I left the 20th Century for good.
It was quiet, much more formal, but less stuffy than you probably imagine. People then were all so different, more eccentric, and less codified in dress and ideas than they are depicted in the moving pictures today.
Progress was being made. Most everything really important that could be invented had already been invented–by that we meant that we had created all that we could possibly imagine we might need for a happy, productive life. Telephone, automobile, radio, jazz…what else could you possibly need?
We believed the next real progress would be in international relations, better living conditions for workers and the poor, and progress in education and science and technology.
The Gold Rush/Old West mores of “Get while the getting is good” “Every man for himself” “Do unto others before they do it to you.” “Never give a sucker an even break” and “Everyone is responsible to deal with things for himself” were slowly being replaced with Progressive values–except among the businessmen.
The excesses of the robber barons and the powerful cabals, and their merciless repression of labor convinced the majority that the individual really couldn’t fend for himself against these vested interests, and needed to band together in unions and parties to defend and protect their interests from those who would despoil the environment, take national resources for their own use, and exploit working people in unsafe, ill-paid and harsh working conditions.
The world of the 21st Century is much better!
Progress really has been made, and freedom and civil rights have been extended further than I could have imagined, even as a “free-thinker” in 1910!
There is still much to be done, and much that can be lost if we forget the hard won struggles that created our middle class, and forget the lessons we should have learned under Teddy R.