Currently viewing the category: "Social History"

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

I bumped into these interesting video time capsules at the fantastic National Library of Medicine site for digital projects. They are mainly mid-20th century films made for soldiers (on malaria, keeping yourself clean, nutritional behavior in the field in tropical lands, so on) though there are some public service announcements dedicated to the public.


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The Inside story "This film outlines the most common emotional illnesses that may be
suffered by a civilian upon entering a military service and suggests how
the individual serviceman can deal with them. Anxiety can be caused by
isolation from family and familiar circumstances, the pressures of
military training, lack of privacy in barracks life, and worry about
performing one's duty. Footage of a sailor in the above situations is
shown. A navy psychiatrist reassures a troubled seaman, helps him to
understand what is happening to him, and gives him material to read that
will guide him in his recovery. The seaman shares his reading material
and his new self-knowledge with his buddies. They too suffer in
greater or lesser degree from some of the effects of anxiety. Animation
is used to illustrate the workings of the unconscious mind."


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Fight syphilis "This film outlines the individual's role in combatting syphilis through
education, blood tests, prompt medical treatment, and avoidance of
quacks. Shots includes montage of quack remedies for venereal disease".

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1964

I've unearthed another rare and exceptional document from the "collection" (read "heap") here, a 38-page mimeographed document that is a logical and reasonable response of the Japanese-American community in Seattle to their impending removal and impundment of via Executive Order 9066 (1942):

Report submitted to Tolan Congressional Committee on National Defense Migration Emergency Defense Council Seattle Chapter Japanese American Citizens League.

000--tolan

“….there must be a point beyond which there may be no abridgement of civil liberties and we feel that whatever the emergency, that persons must be judged, so long as we have a Bill of Rights, because of what they do as persons We feel that treating persons, because they are members of a race, constitutes illegal discrimination, which is forbidden by the fourteenth amendment whether we are at war or peace.”– A. L. Wirin, Counsel for the Southern California Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking on the internment of Japanese-Americans, 1942

" We make these statements, not because we fear evacuation, but because we believe, to the bottom of our hearts, that the best interests of the United States, our nation are to be served by being permitted to stay, work, fight, and die for our country if necessary here where we belong."–Response by the Japanese American Citizens League to Internment Camps, 1942

This excruciating, heart-rending 1942 document was submitted by the Japanese American Citizens League (of Seattle, Washington) to the Tolan Congressional Committee with recommendations, proposals and requests in the event of the removal of Japanese citizens from “sensitive” areas in western America. It is an exceptional report, a well-reasoned response to the developing and calamitous American fear of Japanese fellow-citizens; a fear which was swiftly leading itself to xenophobic actions the result of which was the internment of 120,000 American citizens in non-lethal concentration camps.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1961



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Looking through some of the books here at home today I found Thoughts on Prison Labor, etc etc…by a Student of the Inner Temple1, a book on prison and punishment, published anonymously in London in 1824. What struck me right away was the plan of the Cold Bath Fields Prison, and the unusual dark line that ran along the left side of the image, connecting a "regulating fly" to this:

Treadwheel999

"tread wheels" are just what they sound like. They were used as a means of punishment and control, keeping the prison population busy and occupied. In general, the tread wheel was used in many prisons, and even though there were hundreds of people working on them int he course of a day employing thousands and thousands of steps to move the giant wheels, the large devices were connected to nothing. I guess they could have been connected to a grinder or something that would transmit the generated power into some purpose, but–at least in this case–the only thing the wheel was connected to was a fly wheel, which I assume helped govern the amount of force necessary to produce motion in the tread wheel.

Cold Field Baths was a prison of long standing and had been functioning for about 200 years at the time of publication of the book. For the most part the prison held low-level criminals, mostly with sentences of two years and under. People–men, women and children–served time there for vagrancy, some felonies, misdemeanors and unresolved debt (which is where most of the children come into the picture, as the debtor often found himself imprisoned with his family).

Each of the ganged three wheels would accommodate 30 people. There were six units of three tread wheels at work, meaning that there could be 360 people working the wheels at any given time. That's a lot of energy produced in the pursuit of obedience. And punishment.

This is the detail from the frontispiece map, in full below:

Treadwheel998

  • (There were additions to the prison performed in 1850, which greatly expanded the place. The original prison though is still visible in the plans. See Note 2.)

Here's a view of what those treadmills looked like, giving a prisoners'-eye view of the proceedings, this coming from 1864:

File:Coldbath-fields-treadmill-mayhew-p306.jpgEvidently people would work on the tread wheel for periods of 10-15 minutes, which would explain the lines of men walking to their turns, above. Standing and slow walking was the cool-down exercise.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

[With thanks to Andrea Pitzer for surfacing this map today, and also to Slate Vault's Rebecca Onion for the story on the map, here.] All that I've done below is post some of the detail of the Library of Congress copy of this map so that county details are clearly visible.

Lynchings by states and counties in the United States, 1900-1931 :
(data from Research Department, Tuskegee Institute) ; cleartype county
outline map of the United States
, and printed by the American Map Company (NYC), ca. 1931. Source: the Library of Congress; follow for a downloadable 5 meg copy.



Also see White Newspapers' First Photo-Documented Coverage of a Lynching.

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1950

Mccay new york951
The revolutionary comic strip generator Winsor McCay had a great 12 months in 1904/1905. McCay may have been the Einstein of his field, and his
work I think may still be the standard bearer for high excellence and
creativity. It was in 1904 that he began his Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, which seems to have also launched the main character for the creation of his crowning masterpiece of the medium, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which would premier in 1905. (McCay's work was appearing in two different newspapers in New York in 19041, forcing him to contractually sign his work for Rarebit as "Silas").
Nothing had really quite been seen like that before, two newspaper
strips that were filled with vision and elegance and weirdness and the
bizarre, beautiful stories illustrated on one sheet of paper, of great
imagination and a wide stretch of subversiveness. They so captivated the
readers of the time that McCay went off on illustrative lecture
circuits, found movie (in their relative infancy) versions of his work,
and performed in vaudeville venues along with Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields.

Mccay new york952
What is different in Rarebit from McCay's other work seems to be its new material from strip to strip–there's no recurring characters–unlike Nemo, which has storylines that continue for periods of weeks–and there is a great reliance on message than in the usually-beautiful artwork that is found in Little Nemo. Rarebit tells a social story, and is capable of satirizing political and other issues; this is almost never the case in Little Nemo.

Mccay new york950
There's also the appearance of giants in –this one, in particular, we see a New York City stomper of varying heights. The giant seems tallest when standing on the New Jersey palisades; when he gets to Daniel Burnham's Beaux-Arts Flatiron/Fuller building–which had just been completed a few years before this strip–he rises above it by about 1/4, making him about 400' tall. When he gets to the Statue of Liberty, which is about 305' from ground to the base of the torch, making the giant somewhat shorter than earlier, tough he seems his mightiest when sitting on the center span of the Brooklyn Bridge, this portrayal making him seem considerably taller than the earlier 400', as the height of the bridge from tower to river is about 276'). I'm not altogether sure of how early NYC-attacking giants come in in the literature, though there are plenty of other appearances of giants in the history of myth and literature (including the Cyclops, Eoclesia, Paul Bunyan, Fatna/Fanolt, Gargantua, Goliath, Orin, the Kraken, Rukh, Zeus, and so on, all of whom come before our Wall-Street-Wrecking giant rarebit fiend. (I wrote earlier in this blog on an Alphabet of Giants, here). There is an 11-minute movie ( The Pet, 1921) by McCay featuring a city-attacking giant, which may actually be the first movie featuring a gigantic-anything distributing mayhem on a city:

Its unclear to me why a person should have nightmares from the seasoned
cheese slathered toast that it is rarebit–it seems fairly innocuous,
unless of course it is weirdly seasoned or the cheese is bad. But this
is Cartoonlandia, which means anything is possible.

Notes

1. The strip ran from September 1904 to 1911; it appeared in different papers and under different title for a few years from 1911-1913, and then once again revived under a different name in bits and spurts from 1923 to 1925.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1946

I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a list of the personal daily cost of antique drug use, though I did manage to stumble across one in a remarkable little pamphlet by Edward C. Jandy called Narcotic addiction as a Factor in Petty Larcency in Detroit (published November 1937). There’s a lot packed into its 23 pages, not the least of which is a pretty sophisticated look at how to examine the costs of drug addiction to the sales economy of that city. One of the interesting historical bits that emerges from it is a list of the daily cost of the addiction of one of the target study groups–a selection of 43 local addicts with a combined 673 years of addiction (averaging an unholy 15.5 years of addiction/person).

Drug prices934
[Full list in the Continued Reading section.]

There are immediate limitations to this info–for example there is no correlation to the number of years of addiction to the individually-reported daily drug costs–but since this data seems to be fairly rare it does at least give some idea of the strain of usage per person.

And what does it mean to spend $5/day on your heroin habit? CPI is useful, but it is better to look at what that figure means in terms of the average salary and costs of basic goods. If you were working back there in a bad spot of the Depression in 1937 the average salary was about $1,700/year, which means that if these addicts were working (and the great majority wasn’t) then they would be spending about 1/3% of their annual income per day–or a little more than all of their daily salary–on their everyday habit. Spending $1,800 a year on drugs on a $1,700 salary leaves not-so-much-room for anything else but crime, and not having any income at all would mean that all of that money would have to be from criminal activities.

In another (potentially gross) way of thinking about this expense is by looking at the average salary in 1937 being about 1/30th of what the average American family income is in 2012, so the daily $5 heroin hit would be something like $150 today, which sounds about right. And if you applied that multiplier to some other standard 1937 prices1, the numbers are fairly constant from then to now–the big exception being postage stamps (which would be $1.50 for a first class stamp) and gasoline ($6/gallon), both of which would show a decline. Again, that’s a very crude approximation, but it does pause.

The author then does some tricky and interesting semi-statistical work with the bottom line showing that drug addicts stole a total of about 3% of the total retail sales (of $545 million) in the U.S. That’s a big number–in today’s economy, which currently stands at about $33 billion in thefts (or 1.5%) that would 3% for just addicts would be an enormous number, twice the national general total which would spike drug losses at $100 billion for theft alone.

I’m thinking that these 1937 stats might be a little (or a lot) loose, but it the report still is decently argued and nicely presented though the data might be not-great–and the daily/habit numbers are a fine thing to find.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post


Newsboy
I've posted a number of times in this blog on child labor in the U.S. Today's post is a simple display of images made by the great Lewis Hine (1874-1940) that are housed at the Library of Congress (findable here) showing the state of the child worker in the first quarter of the 20th century. The children are chauffeurs, bootblacks, delivery boys, messengers, food vendors, shuttle runners (and all sorts of mill work activities), miners (coal handlers, underground mule guides, etc.) and many other jobs, including of course the most iconic and visible reminder that children were working–the newsboy. Hine's documentary evidence shows the children working in all manner of weather, at all times of day and night, in all sorts of working conditions–and of course showing how little and frail and open-to-abuse the children were.

Each of the images below is expandable and linked to the original at the Library of Congress site; shown below are two of the ten pages of images.


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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

"There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings
profit only to employers. The object of employing children is not to
train them, but to get high profits from their work."
–Lewis Hine, 1908

These broadsides are tough going. They are the work of advocates and reformers who sought to give children an even chance at growing up as children, rather than joining the hundreds of thousands of 6-12 year olds already in the workforce in America in the first decade or two of the 20th century. They were a simple and very powerful appeal to business-owners and parents to resist the temptation of child exploitation–none though so far as I can tell directly addressed the children. See my other posts on this topics here:

[Source for the following images at Inquiry Unlimited, follow the link for other examples. ]

Child work making_human_junk

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1869

I was picking my way through Mr. Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (written in 1783/4), and dipped into Query 14, "Laws". Six pages in came the Great Man's thoughts on being white and being black. He really didn't have much hope for the black person in the new United States, and in an odd way, I think, did a sort of arithmetic calibration on the black race, giving a few points here and there "for", and piling up the count "against", making an overall large negative number for the possibility of the black and white races living together. [The full text of the work us available, here.]

In very many cases in his later writing Jefferson re-evaluates this thinking, as seen in this example, writing to Benjamin Banneker in 1791 ('"No body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence"), and in many others (as in the very full example1 of this 1809 letter to Henri Gregoire, shown below).

Jefferson had already written somewhat earlier in the book about blacks on page 197, where he discusses albinism in black people as part of a natural history chapter dealing with animals:

To this catalogue of our indigenous animals, I will add a short account of an anomaly of nature, taking place sometimes in the race of negroes brought from Africa, who, though black themselves, have in rare instances, white children, called Albinos…

This is not promising. This is also the first appearance in the book of the word "negro". [I wrote a short bit on the history of the fight for the capitalization of the letter "N" in "Negro" here; this was a fight that dragged itself into the first third of the 20th century.]

I am no Jefferson scholar, not by any means. Only familiar with the "basics" of Jefferson, and his design and architecture and technical aspects, and somewhat familiar with his writing on the basic morality of slave-holding, I was surprised to find what he had written about constitution of black people here in the Notes.

Perhaps I shouldn't've been so, but I was. Perhaps I wasn't as familiar with Jefferson during the time of the Revolution as I thought, seeing him as not only a man who changed the product of his time but who was also a product of them, writing in his present on the state of blacks in America that seems to have been seen as a great error in the mind of the Thomas Jefferson who would read these thoughts in the future, and refute (and perhaps repudiate) them.

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Elvis detail

I really do love these bits of unusual Americana, something from the early ages of iconic Americans that give a quick glimpse into an average day of a famous-someone way before they became who they became.

Elvis

[Image from the American Heritage Auction Gallery, where the item is being auctioned, here.]

[Elsewhere in this blog I wrote about what I learned from Johnny Cash's report card (here) from just a year later, in 1949.]

Johnny cash report card584

Getting back to Elvis: this is a back-of-the-book-in-a-paper-pocket borrower's card from a library book borrowed by Elvis Presley in 1948. The book–written by Bessie Rowland James (b. 1895)– was Courageous Heart, a Life of Andrew Jackson for Young Readers, and was published in 1934. I guess it was appropriate reading,as the Presley family had just (September 12) moved from Tupelo into their new small apartment at 578 Poplar Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee–Jackson being a more-or-less Native Son (though other states claim him as well).

To accompany the J.R. Cash report card is Elvis' third grade card:

Elvis report card[Source]

Elvis courageous heart

As near as I can determine, this is 578 Poplar Street today:

Elvis home_edited-1
[Source: Google Maps]

Elvis was enrolled at Christine School (formerly known as the Market Street School, and also as the Smith School) on Third Street in Memphis to complete 8th grade the next day, September 13, 1948. The school was demolished in 1948. The book evidently survived.