I’ve written before of the bits of treasure unearthed as Mom and I cleared out her condo — letters and photos and mementos from long ago. Someone treasured them then – my father, stepfather, grandfather, mother, grandmothers – and now a few of them rest in my home. My own children will no doubt wonder at their significance in some distant moment in time. Such is the cycle.
On January 2, 1950, Life magazine published a special issue, their mid-century issue titled American Life and Times 1900-1950 for the cost of 20 cents. Life’s editorial team chose to document the half-century mark with topics such as The Golden Years Before the Wars, High Society’s High Jinks, Small-Town Life, The Last Gold Rush, Acceleration of Science, an article on Rudolph Valentino titled The Great Lover, Early Advertising, an immigrant story, The Audacious Americans, and The Killer with the Golden Fists (Jack Dempsey).
What intrigued me most, though, was Fifty Years of American Women. Irritated is a better description. I might even use the word ‘pissed off’ but you know I rarely use such terms. Fifty Years of American Women is by Winthrop Sargeant, a man Life describes as “its most philosophical and prejudiced writer”. In this admittedly tongue-in-cheek article, Sargeant suggests that “women are getting neither better nor worse, but that they go through cycles of civilization and decline very much like the cycles of history described by Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler. According to this theory, the rise of feminine civilizations seems to occur in response to a challenge … [in this case] war and war psychology.”
“The first civilization, a product of the Spanish-American war, was that of the Gibson Girl … she had dignity, a quality woman always has during periods of civilization and that she rapidly loses in periods of decline.”
I won’t go on. The article is way too annoying. Why on earth Life chose to comment on what women had achieved in fifty years with this sort of drivel makes me shake my head. But wait – perhaps there’s a clue. The executive team, board of editors, staff editors and all but two assistant editors – 40 people in total – were men. I bet they thought it was funny.
Some things never change.