The Fascinating History of Black History Month

By Kaleena Fraga

As a site dedicated to presidential history, we spend most—read, almost all—of our time talking about white men. The United States has only had one Black president and the stories from Barack Obama’s two terms are still so recent that they rarely make it onto this site. (Although we did enjoy writing about his colorful presidential portrait.)

That being said, we’re going to dedicate this post to Black History Month—February—and, specifically, the man considered to be the “Father of Black History”: Carter G. Woodson.

The History of Black History Month

Gerald Ford was the first president to recognize Black History Month in 1976 | Library of Congress

So, first things first—and this will involve a few white presidents—how did Black History Month come into being?

Gerald Ford first recognized Black History Month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. Ford encouraged Americans to: “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Subsequent presidents also acknowledged Black History Month and in 1986, Congress fortified it by law—calling upon the president to make an annual proclamation.

But presidents like Ford were only building on something that had been around for a long time—giving a platform to a movement that had begun in earnest at the beginning of the 20th-century.

Carter G. Woodson: The “Father of Black History”

Dr. Carter G. Woodson is considered to be the “Father of Black History” | U.S. National Park Service

Who was Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History”? Born in 1875, the son of former slaves, Woodson chased every educational opportunity that he could find. After years of balancing his schooling with work, Woodson earned a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a Phd from Harvard University, both in history. During that time, Woodson noticed something peculiar and upsetting—a distinct lack of Black history in his curriculums.

To remedy this, Woodson—alongside the minister Jesse E. Moorland—founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or the ASALH) in 1915. Their organization sought to promote the study of Black history and celebrate Black accomplishments.

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” Woodson noted.

In 1926, the group decided to promote their mission with the creation of “Negro History Week.” Woodson chose the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Each year, the week would have a theme, which focused on topics like Black poetry, the addition of Black history to school curriculums, or a focus on Black luminaries like Douglass. This tradition continues to this day.

In his book, The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933), Woodson lay out his case for what was wrong with the current American education system. Education, he argued, was vital. “When you control a man’s thinking,” Woodson wrote, “you do not have to worry about his actions.” He pointed to the “mis-education” of Black people in America as a means of oppression. “The oppressor has always indoctrinated the weak with this interpretation of the crimes of the strong.”

Woodson faced a steep, uphill battle. By the 1960s, the most popular eighth-grade textbook included only two Black Americans’ names since the Civil War. Author James Baldwin noted that in his own schooling: “I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history because it seemed that that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

Woodson would have sympathized. He noted: “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” Representation in history is important.

This began to shift as the Civil Rights movement gained steam. A number of colleges and universities took Woodson’s Negro History Week and transformed it into Black History Month—which led to Ford’s address in 1976.

But the work is far from done.

White supremacy is, sadly, still a powerful presence in this country. Americans continue to grapple with issues like systemic racism, implicit biases, and even how we should evaluate our own history—looking at you, Confederate monuments.

Could transforming education change hearts and minds? Woodson thought so. He concluded that racial prejudice: “is merely the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

That is, the erasure of Black accomplishments and lives in the past has a devastating effect on the present.

America’s first Black president agreed with this. According to his memoirs, A Promised Land, Barack Obama saw representation as one of the defining reasons to run for president. As he talked over the possibility of a run with friends and family, Michelle Obama asked him: “Why do you need to be president?”

President Obama bends to allow the son of a White House staff member to touch his head . The boy wanted to see if the President’s haircut felt like his own. May 2009. | The White House

Obama said: “There’s no guarantee we can pull it off. [But] I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently. I know that kids all around this country—Black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don’t fit in—they’ll see themselves differently, too, their horizons lifted, their possibilities expanded. And that alone…that would be worth it.”

Happy Black History Month! We may have only had one Black president, but the American presidency is packed—packed—with Black stories. We’ll try to do a better job of including more of those here.

Some recent books that History First enjoyed that tell Black stories:

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama

The Sword and the Shield by Peniel E. Joseph

And *anything anything anything* by James Baldwin.

What Did The World Look Like In 1921?

By Kaleena Fraga

Well, 2020 has been a wild ride. What will 2021 hold? Last year, we discussed what the world looked like in 1920—now, let’s take a look back at how things were in 1921.

Since we’re all about American presidents at HF, we’ll start with the presidency in 1921:

Who Was President in 1921?

Warren G. Harding in June 1920 | Library of Congress

In 1921—just as in 2021—there was a new man in the White House. In January 2021, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president, replacing Donald Trump. In March 1921, Woodrow Wilson left the White House, limping to the end of his term after a devastating stroke. He would be succeeded by Warren G. Harding.

Harding is considered by some to be one of America’s worst presidents. His administration was marked by impropriety (the Teapot Dome scandal) and Harding often admitted he felt overwhelmed by his duties. He once described himself as “a man of limited talents” and once said “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.”

In fact, Harding may be better known for dramas that emerged after his presidency came to an early end—he died in office in August 1923 of a heart attack. Rumors quickly spread that his wife, Florence Harding, had had something to do with his death. She was the last person with him, she refused an autopsy, and she inherited his estate. Some speculated that she’d killed her husband to spare him from looming corruption charges.

Later, it came out that Ms. Harding may have had another reason to kill her husband: The president had been having an affair. In 2009, many of Harding’s love letters to his mistress, Carrie Fulton Philips, were published. The letters are…quite steamy.

William Howard Taft Attains His Goal

William Howard Taft as Chief Justice, 1925 | Library of Congress

William Howard Taft had a pretty great 1921. Taft had been president from 1909 to 1913—but all he’d ever really wanted was to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His wife, Nellie, was behind his push into presidential politics. Taft was probably relieved when he lost his reelection bid in 1912, during a campaign that pitted him against his predecessor and former friend, Teddy Roosevelt.

When Taft became president in 1909, he noted to a friend that “if I were now presiding in the Supreme Court of the United States as Chief Justice, I should feel entirely at home, but with the troubles of selecting a cabinet and the difficulties in respect to the revision of the tariff, I just feel a bit like a fish out of water.”

In 1921, he finally achieved his goal. It had been a long time coming—he had been promised an appointment to the Supreme Court by President McKinley and by President Roosevelt. Other responsibilities had come his way, instead. And Nellie Taft wanted desperately for her husband to be president.

On October 3rd, 1921, Taft was appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President Harding. “This is,” Taft declared, “the greatest day of my life.”

Franklin Roosevelt Develops Polio

Franklin Roosevelt (upper left) one year before developing polio | National Archives

In 1921, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was thirty-nine years old and on the upswing. After seven years in the Wilson administration (he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913-1920) he’d been picked to run as James M. Cox’s vice president under the Democratic ticket. Roosevelt and Cox lost to Harding and Calvin Coolidge—but Roosevelt was young, healthy, and popular.

Then, illness struck. During the summer, Roosevelt began to develop strange symptoms—what started as lower back pain alarmingly progressed to the point where Roosevelt could no longer support his own weight. Doctors presented Roosevelt with a surprising diagnosis: he had infantile paralysis. Polio. At the time, there was no cure.

Roosevelt withdrew from the public sphere. But with the encouragement of his wife, Eleanor, and his doctor, he decided to reenter politics in 1924.

By 1932, Roosevelt would make another run for the presidency—this time, on top of the ticket. He would win that race, and the three that followed, to become the longest-serving president in American history.

What Was Life Like in the US in 1921?

The 1920s were the beginning of a wild and turbulent decade in America—and the world. After the pain of the First World War and the 1918 Flu Pandemic, an age of prosperity had swept into place.

This was the decade of Prohibition, speakeasies, flappers, and extravagance—an era captured exquisitely by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby.

It was also a decade of horrifying racial violence. By 1921, the Civil War had been over for a generation. But scars of the conflict remained. Some were invisible; some were all too prominent. Between 1900 and 1920, the country erected a wealth of Confederate monuments.

Smoke in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 | Library of Congress

In 1921, the Tulsa Massacre tore through the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the last days of May and into June, White mobs ravaged the Black neighborhood, destroying businesses and killing citizens. The attack destroyed more than 35 blocks of businesses—a wealthy stretch of town considered “Black Wall Street”—and killed perhaps as many as 300. It is considered to be the worst incident of racial violence in American history. Reports of the attack were subsequently suppressed—it would take nearly a century for full details to emerge.

Dramatic moments reigned from the beginning to the end of 1921. The year saw high moments of American comedy (Charlie Chaplin and The Kid) and status-quo-shattering change (The Republic of Ireland won its independence at the end of year). Quiet events in 1921 planted violent seeds—Adolf Hitler became the Führer of the Nazi party that July, and fascists gathered power in Italy.

What will 2021 hold? Minor events today could blossom into something unimaginable tomorrow. Last year certainly gave historians plenty to parse through. We’re betting that 2021 will be another eventful year.

When Presidents Hide Health Scares

Hmmm…I wonder why this subject has come to mind. In any case, presidents have a tendency to hide their health concerns from the American public. We take a look at two examples of American presidents who hid health scares.

Woodrow Wilson’s Stroke (1919)

Woodrow and Edith Wilson, June 1920 | Library of Congress

One of the most striking moments of obfuscation from the White House belongs to Woodrow Wilson. In 1919, the president suffered a devastating stroke.

On September 3rd, the president had embarked on a country-wide train trip. He wanted to convince his fellow Americans to support the League of Nations. During the trip, Wilson’s health suffered. He lost his appetite and his asthma began to bother him.

On September 25th, Wilson took a turn for the worse. His wife, Edith, noticed that her husband’s facial muscles were twitching and Wilson complained of nausea and a splitting headache. On September 26th, Wilson’s speaking tour was canceled. On October 2nd, back at the White House, the president suffered a devastating stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

Although news of the president’s stroke began to come out in February 1920, most Americans did not realize its severity. They didn’t realize that—as Wilson struggled to recover—his wife had taken over as de facto president. After all, this was decades before the 25th amendment would put a process in place for what to do when the president is incapacitated.

Edith Wilson, who described her role as a “stewardship” denied that she made any decisions on her own. But she admitted that she decided “what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.”

Grover Cleveland’s Jaw Surgery (1893)

President Grover Cleveland print, 1884 | Library of Congress

Grover Cleveland, who holds the amusing honor of being the only American president to serve two, non-consecutive terms, also hid his health problems from the nation.

Shortly after his inauguration—his second, that is, in 1893, eight years after his first—Cleveland noticed a strange rough spot on the roof of his mouth. A few months later it had grown in size and his doctor confirmed what Cleveland feared. The president had cancer. “It’s a bad looking tenant,” Cleveland’s doctor told him. “I would have it evicted immediately.”

Cleveland knew he would have to hide his condition from the public. In 1893, a considerable stigma existed around cancer, called the “dread disease.” In addition, Cleveland feared that revealing his illness would send the already suffering economy into a tailspin.

The solution? Cleveland told the public that he was going on a fishing trip. And although the president would spend a few days on a yacht, he would not be doing any fishing. Doctors had been summoned to remove the cancer from his mouth.

During the 90-minute surgery, a team of six surgeons aboard a moving vessel extracted the tumor, five of Cleveland’s teeth, and a section of the president’s left jawbone. They did this through the roof of the president’s mouth—which left no marks to alert the public. Indeed, keeping Cleveland’s famous moustache intact was a stipulation of the surgery.

The American public was kept entirely in the dark. When an astute journalist named E.J. Edwards published the truth of the matter in the Philadelphia Press, the president and his team firmly denied it. The public turned against Edwards, labeling his story a “deliberate falsification.”

Edwards’ reputation was in tatters—but, twenty-four years later, he would be redeemed. In 1917, one of the surgeons from the boat acknowledged that Edwards had been right, noting that the journalist had been, “substantially correct, even in most of the details.”

By then, however, Cleveland had left office and died of a heart attack.

Other examples of American presidents hiding their illnesses abound throughout the country’s history. John F. Kennedy struggled with Addison’s disease and back issues. Some close to Ronald Reagan—including his own son—claim that the president suffered from Alzheimer’s while in office, although the majority of those close to Reagan deny this.

Franklin Roosevelt also presents an interesting case. Despite a persistent belief that he hid his polio from the public, the president’s condition was not a secret—newspapers had published articles that included information about his wheelchair and leg braces. The president’s disability was discussed often.

However, Roosevelt believed it was important that Americans did not see him in a wheelchair. He wanted Americans to believe that he was capable. That’s why he would stand to give a speech, even at great cost to himself. (If you look at photos of Roosevelt speaking while standing, you may notice how tightly he grips the edges of the podium.)

Roosevelt also asked the press to avoid taking photographs of him walking or being transferred into a car. They didn’t always follow the rules. But if someone did snap a photograph of Roosevelt that the president didn’t like, the Secret Service leapt into action.

In 1936, Editor & Publisher reported just how the Secret Service would react to an aggressive photographer—by taking the camera and tearing out the film. In 1946, the White House photography corps backed this up. They acknowledged that if they took the kind of photographs that the president had asked them to avoid, they would have “their cameras emptied, their films exposed to sunlight, or their plates smashed.”

In any case, hiding health scares seems to be a strong tradition among American presidents. It makes sense. It’s easy to draw a line between the health of the nation and the health of its executive.

Calvin Coolidge Goes to Cuba

By Kaleena Fraga

Some of you may know that I’ve started a podcast with a former colleague of mine. Yesterday in Travel focuses on moments in travel history—but there’s quite a bit of overlap with what we like to discuss here at History First.

In our last episode, my co-host and I discussed President Obama’s 2016 trip to Cuba. As part of our discussion, we touched on Calvin Coolidge’s 1928 trip to Cuba and man—that’s a fantastic story.

Today, we’re going to delve into Coolidge’s 1928 trip. At the time, it seemed like a rather serene affair. The wild truth about the trip didn’t come out until decades later.

Why did Calvin Coolidge go to Cuba?

Thirty years before Calvin Coolidge visited Cuba, Theodore Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then, the United States, empowered by the Platt Amendment, reserved the right to intervene in Cuban affairs. (The 1903 amendment also leased Guantanamo Bay to the Americans.)

By 1928, attitudes toward the Americans had soured. Even Coolidge, who expressed little interest in foreign affairs, recognized the need for action. His term in office lasted between 1923 and 1929—a lull of a decade between WWI and WWII—and many of the foreign affair issues of the day had to do with American intervention in Latin America. (Coolidge himself had only left the country once before—for his honeymoon in Canada.)

Coolidge went to Cuba in 1928 to attend the Pan American Conference in Havana. The president and his entourage sought to persuade delegates away from passing anti-U.S. resolutions. Many Latin American countries critiqued American military interventions in places like Panama, Hondorus, Nicaragua, and Haiti, and Coolidge wanted to keep the peace. (This was not helped by the fact that Coolidge ordered an invasion of Nicaragua as he prepared to depart for Cuba.)

In Cuba, Coolidge extended an olive branch. He emphasized—in an attempt to quell criticism—that all the countries in the Pan American conference were equal. Coolidge focused on “peace and goodwill” in his public remarks—although he arrived in Cuba on a massive WWI battleship called Texas.

Overall, Coolidge saw the trip to Cuba as a way to begin a campaign for world peace. The ensuing Kellogg-Briand Pact, a worldwide peace treaty that banned war, hoped to avoid the violence of WWI in the future. Of course, sadly, the world leaped into the bloody conflict of WWII not soon after the Pact was created in 1928.

What happened during the trip to Cuba?

If you read the newspapers of the day, you would have the impression that a serious president had conducted his serious mission, seriously. After all, this was a serious time, right in the apex of the Prohibition era in the United States—not that Coolidge was much of a drinker.

But thirty years after the trip, one of the traveling members of the press revealed that Coolidge’s trip to Cuba wasn’t the stodgy affair that it had seemed in the papers. Beverly Smith Jr. had accompanied the president as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. In 1958, he revealed that much of the trip never made the papers.

The 6 day junket to Cuba and return had in it elements of pageantry, drama, comedy, and farce…it became, in its latter stages, a large scale smuggling operation. The whole show took on a special illicit zest because it was conducted under the dour, dead-pan aegis of President Coolidge—Silent Cal, Cautious Cal, austere symbol of the old Puritan virtues, staunch upholder of the Prohibition Amendment.

Beverly Smith, Jr.

The trip got wild from the get-go. Once the party traveling with the president arrived in Key West, they quickly realized that—despite the strict state of Prohibition around the country—alcohol still flowed freely in the bars of this Floridian city.

The president went to bed at a respectful hour. After all, people called him “Silent” Cal not “Fun” Cal. (Someone—perhaps Alice Roosevelt Longworth, although she later denied it—once described Calvin Coolidge as having the expression of a man “who has been weaned on a pickle.”)

When Coolidge’s secretary announced that the president had gone to bed, the party began. “With these words,” Smith wrote thirty years later, “the dignity of the tour began to crack. It was as though mice had been informed that the cat was away.”

The party lasted all night, with many people stumbling home in the wee hours of the morning. The next day, one reporter was so drunk that he fell into the ocean while boarding the ship to Cuba. Smith, looking back, noted that at the time many Americans saw it as their patriotic duty to “[sluice] down any drinks within reach.” Clearly, the traveling press corp felt up to this particular patriotic challenge.

Once the USS Texas landed in Cuba, Coolidge and his party were greeted by a massive crowd—perhaps up to 200,000—of cheering Cubans. In her biography of Calvin Coolidge, Amity Shlaes wrote, “Thousands climbed onto the Morro Castle and the rooftops of buildings, craning their necks to get a glimpse of the battleship USS Texas as it moved into the harbor.”

Smith noted that even the usually subdued Coolidge cracked a smile at the reception. “[The president] showed more animation than usual. He bowed, he smiled, he took off his silk hat.” The crowd included—to Coolidge’s horror, once he made the realization—an enthusiastic group of “highly painted young ladies” from a nearby brothel.

The president once again retired early. Once again, the press took to the streets. There, the group of reporters made a thrilling discovery. One of their own had an uncanny likeness to the president. “I suspect,” wrote Smith, “that there are some older Havanas who believe that Cal, outside office hours, was a gay dog.” (Remember—this was the 1920s!)

At one point during their stay in Cuba, Coolidge was presented with a diplomatic conundrum. At the estate of Gerardo Machado, the president of Cuba, Coolidge was offered an alcoholic drink. At least—someone tried to offer him one. And what was the president to do? He couldn’t take the drink in front of the press corps. But a refusal could be seen as a diplomatic faux pas. Smith wrote:

“Cal himself, of course, was the cynosure of the drama. As the tray approached from his left, he wheeled artfully to the right, seeming to admire a portrait on the wall. The tray came closer. Mr. Coolidge wheeled right another 90 degrees, pointing out to Machado the beauties of the tropical verdure. By the time he completed his 360-degree turn, the incriminating tray had passed safely beyond him. Apparently, he had never seen it. His maneuver was a masterpiece of evasive action.”

Beverly Smith, Jr.

As the presidential party prepared to pack up and leave—back to dreary, dry America—the press suddenly got word that they would not need to go through customs in Florida. So…if no one was going to check their bags…

Yes—a mad dash ensued to buy as much alcohol as possible to smuggle home. (They were just doing their patriotic duty, right?) Some reporters bought extra suitcases. Others threw out their clothing to make room for all that rum.

Smith wondered if the president secretly knew. “Was it, incredibly, Calvin himself, out of that quirky humor which was supposed to lurk behind the vinegary Vermont visage?” Smith wondered thirty years later.

Maybe Cal did have a secret sense of humor. He certainly had a simple, straight-forward way of doing things. One of History First’s favorite anecdotes about Silent Cal is that, when asked if he would run for a second term, he handed his press secretary a note that said simply: “I do not choose to run for president in nineteen twenty-eight.” (Probably a good decision. The economy crashed in 1929.)

Calvin Coolidge stated simply that he would not run for reelection | Library of Congress

If you’re curious to learn more about President Obama’s trip to Cuba in 2016, then I encourage you to take a listen to our podcast episode! We get into how the trip happened, what happened during the trip—spoiler alert: it wasn’t as wild as Cal’s trip, but, then again, maybe we’ll learn more in 30 years—and what Obama’s trip to Cuba means for Americans who want to go there today.

What Did the World Look Like in 1920?

2020 is already off to a dynamic start. What was the state of the world 100 years ago, as it rolled into a new decade?

By Kaleena Fraga

The new year has certainly gotten off to an eventful start. In the first month of 2020, we’ve seen massive fires, sabre rattling, an impeachment trial in the United States, and the end (or the beginning?) of the Brexit saga in the EU. Whew. So what did the world look like 100 years ago? Did people at the time feel that the 1920s started on a similarly chaotic foot?

Obviously (obviously) we’re all about the presidential side of things. So what was the White House situation in January of 1920?

The presidency in January 1920

In 1920, Woodrow Wilson was completing his second term in office. Or, was he? While rallying support for his League of Nations plan in October 1919, the president suffered a debilitating stroke. His wife, Edith effectively took control.

Without the 25th amendment, which would not be ratified for another half-century, there was no way to remove Wilson from office. Not that many people knew about his stroke—in the pre-social media age, Edith Wilson was effectively able to keep her husband’s condition under wraps.

The president’s wife later denied that she’d ever served as president herself, but she did acknowledge her “stewardship” of Wilson’s last year in office.

The average American had no idea. They weren’t habitually checking Twitter like some of us do today.

Presidential campaigns in 1920

As in 2020, 1920 was an election year. Wilson, a Democrat, had broken up a reign of Republicans that had existed since the Civil War. (Wilson and Grover Cleveland were the only Democrats to be elected president between 1860 and 1932.)

Americans wondered who their candidates would be—especially because Theodore Roosevelt, who had energetically barnstormed for a third term in 1912, had died one year earlier, in January 1919. (A Roosevelt would be on the ticket in 1920—Theodore’s fifth cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as the vice presidential candidate for the Democrats.) In January 1920, it seemed that the country might see William Jennings Bryan run—again.

Despite his health, Wilson hoped for a third term. It wouldn’t be. He received little support from the party and died four years later. In any case, Wilson believed that campaigns required vigorous time on the stump. As Jeffrey Normand Bourdon so eloquently describes in his book From Garfield to Harding: The Success of Midwest Porch Campaigns working the stump resulted in victory for Wilson 3/4 times. But in 1920, the ill president could hardly pick up the reins of his old campaign technique.

Which resulted in a fascinating twist. Although the campaign would not start in earnest until the summer (reminder: the 2020 campaign has been dragging on for two years), the Republican nominee and eventual victor, Warren G. Harding, resorted to front-porch campaigning. This technique, as Bourdon describes, had served as a happy medium between seeking the presidency and letting “the office choose the man”—i.e., displaying none of the presidential ambition that was considered fatal in the 19th century.

Popular in the late 19th century, front porch campaigning had lost its shine as great orators like Theodore Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryan made their mark on American presidential campaigns. But it had proven effective for James Garfield and William McKinley, and Harding went this direction as well.

Harding campaigned on a “Return to Normalcy” and “America First” following the end of WWI. His campaign marketed him as a patriotic family man. Waving to crowds from his front-porch, this was easy for voters to accept. His opponent, James Cox, was divorced. This made Harding’s front-porch persona all the more appetizing.

Harding’s status as a married man gave him a special boost in 1920, the first year American women could vote. The divorced Cox, at a disadvantaged, was portrayed as desperate for women’s votes. A judge involved with Cox’s case told the Los Angeles Times he believed the candidate’s divorce would cost Mr. Cox “a million votes.”

In the end, Harding carried the day by about seven million votes. The victory would be short lived. Harding died of a heart attack in 1923, elevating his vice president, Calvin Coolidge, to the White House.

The state of the world in 1920

But what did the world look like in 1920? Did the year burst into being with the same cascade of events that we’ve seen in 2020?

The new year picked up to a brisk start. Billy Joel could write a song about it. In January alone, an earthquake hit Mexico; the Treaty of Versailles was ratified (without the United States); Babe Ruth was traded to the New York Yankees, Prohibition began, launching an era of bootlegs and speakeasies—the list goes on and on. The war had ended in November of 1918, but the world was still untangling the results. We all know how that turned out.

In summary, life continued to charge forward. In 1920, as in 2020, each day brought an avalanche of something different. But maybe it felt slower. After all, people in 1920 couldn’t spend all day watching events unfold across their phone screen.