Week 6: The New Woman
Welcome to HST 202 Week Six! This is the sixth learning module looking at the post war society of America.
Carnes, Chapter 24: Postwar Society and Culture: Change and Adjustment
Schweikart CHAPTER FOURTEEN: War, Wilson, and Internationalism, 1912–20
America’s war against alcohol began, oddly enough, with an attack on Coca-Cola. One of the first products challenged under the 1906 Food and Drug Act, Coke had eliminated even the minute portions of cocaine it had once used in the cooking process years before. The drink had originated with an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John Pemberton, and his Yankee advertiser, Frank Robinson, from a desire to create a cold drink that could be served over ice in the South to compete with hot coffee and tea. Pemberton had concocted the mixture from kola nuts, sugar, caffeine, caramel, citric acid, and a fluid extract of cocaine for a little euphoria. After Pemberton fell ill—one biographer claims of a cocaine addiction—Asa Griggs Candler, another pharmacist who suffered from frequent headaches, took over after discovering that Coke alleviated his pain. By that time, pharmaceutical tests had showed that Coca-Cola contained about one thirtieth of a grain of cocaine, or so little that even the most sensitive person would not feel any effects short of a half dozen drinks. Candler thought it unethical to advertise a product as Coca-Cola without any cocaine in the contents, but he realized that the growing public clamor for drug regulation could destroy the company. He therefore arrived at a secret formula that began with a tiny portion of cocaine that through the process of cooking and distilling was ultimately removed.
Since the late 1890s, Coke had been the subject of attacks by health activists and temperance advocates. Many Progressives, especially Dr. Harvey Wiley, the leader of the government’s case brought by the Food and Drug Administration in 1909–10, recklessly endorsed some products and condemned others. Wiley sought to expand his domain as much as possible and initiated a highly publicized case against Coke that culminated in a 1911 Chattanooga trial. By that time, there were no trace elements of cocaine in the drink at all, and the government’s own tests had proved it. This prompted Wiley to switch strategies by claiming that Coke’s advertising was fraudulent because Coca-Cola did not contain cocaine!
The effort to prosecute Coke went flat, but convinced Progressive reformers that government could successfully litigate against products with “proven” health risks. Wiley’s effort to get Coke was a test run for the Eighteenth Amendment, or the “noble experiment” of Prohibition, which involved the direct intervention of government against both social mores and market forces and, more than any other movement, epitomized the reform tradition.
Temperance had a long history in American politics. Maine passed the first state law banning the sale of alcohol in 1851, based on the studies of Neal Dow, a Portland businessman who claimed to have found a link between booze and family violence, crime, and poverty. Abraham Lincoln had run on a platform of temperance. For a while, eliminating alcohol seemed a necessary component of the women’s movement as a means to rescue wives from drunken abuse and to keep the family wages from the saloon keeper. Alcohol, by way of the saloons, was linked to prostitution, and prostitution to the epidemic of venereal disease. “Today,” declared Dr. Prince Morrow, a specialist on sexually transmitted diseases, “we recognize [gonorrhea] not only as the most widespread but also one of the most serious of infective diseases; it has risen to the dignity of a public peril.”
Convinced that unfaithful husbands were bringing home syphilis, doctors warned of the “syphilis of the innocent”—infected wives and children. Then there was the alcohol-related problem of white slavery, brought before the public eye in the 1913 play Damaged. At that point a public clamor arose, and Congress reacted by passing the Mann Act of 1910, which prohibited the transport of women across state lines for the purpose of prostitution...
…A revealing look at the Janus-faced nature of Progressive policy can be gleaned from the approach to enforcement of the antialcohol campaign. The Volstead Act, passed in 1919 over Wilson’s veto, provided an enforcement mechanism, but instead of placing the Prohibition Bureau inside the Justice Department, where it belonged, Volstead made it a part of the Treasury Department. “Revenooers” broke up illegal stills, and agents crashed into speakeasies; and when the government had no other evidence, it charged mobsters with income tax evasion, which was what finally put Al Capone behind bars.
Reform zeal during this time led to the formation of an anti-tuberculosis league in 1897, the American Conference for the Prevention of Infant Mortality in 1909, the National Mental Hygiene Committee that same year, the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness in 1915, and a half dozen more. The founding of the American Eugenics Society in 1923 by biologist Charles Davenport, Alexander Graham Bell, and Luther Burbank was more chilling. Indiana and California mandated sterilization of confirmed “criminals, idiots, rapists, and imbeciles” whose condition was viewed as “incurable” based on the recommendation of three physicians. All of these organizations and movements captured the Progressive view that disease and imperfection of any kind could be “reformed” through human action.
As with most other reform movements in America, Prohibition started among upper-class females, and, as was often the case, the targets ultimately were lower-class men. According to the pietistic conscience, the lower classes were naturally the morally weaker classes, but predictably it was pietist women who after 1870 rushed toward political and social protest to save the family. And who could be numbered among these “morally weaker classes”? None other than immigrants, Irish, Italians, and Poles. In the eyes of Progressive reformers, the drinking habits of the foreigners reinforced the political corruption where fat, cigar-smoking backroom pols mobilized armies of drunken immigrants to pad their machine’s vote.
Whether temperance itself was ever the sole objective of the women’s groups who participated in the Prohibition movement invites skepticism. Many feminist leaders latched on to Prohibition only as an organizational tool that would permit them to mobilize for the “real” effort, women’s suffrage…
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Forum Discussion #7
Steamboat Willie is a 1928 American animated short film directed by Walt Disney. The cartoon is considered the debut of Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie, although both the characters appeared several months earlier in a test screening of Plane Crazy. Steamboat Willie is especially notable for being the first Disney cartoon with synchronized sound, as well as the first cartoon to feature a fully post-produced soundtrack. Watch this animated short. Then answer the following:
Pop culture is a touchstone of any society. How did animation “change the game” as far as media was concerned?
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