The 1910s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Topics in the News

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The 1910s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Topics in the News



During the 1910s, African Americans were plagued by racial prejudice. At the time, 90 percent of blacks lived in areas such as the South where Jim Crow laws (a system of laws that kept black people separated from whites) segregated them in every aspect of daily life. Schools, restaurants, and theaters were designated for "whites only" and "blacks only," as were drinking fountains and restrooms. Because the administration of President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) was comprised of men of influence who favored racial segregation, policies of racism extended into the various federal departments. For example, as the United States entered World War I in 1917, the U.S. Armed Forces, under Secretary of War Newton D. Baker (1871–1937), increased its manpower and became one of America's most racially divided institutions.

The majority of African Americans were very supportive of the war effort, purchasing Liberty Bonds (investments that helped finance the military), working on drives to conserve materials needed for the war effort, and serving on draft boards. Many imagined that their patriotic efforts would lead to a more balanced image of blacks as good citizens. This, however, was not to be. Of the 5,300 blacks who joined the U.S. Navy, most were restricted to servant positions. The Marines accepted no blacks. The army drafted many African American professionals such as doctors and dentists; however, instead of becoming commissioned officers, they were given the lowly rank of private. Few African Americans were given positions considered prestigious and responsible. Black soldiers lived and trained separately. Their morale was low, and so they sometimes failed to fight well at the front lines. The 369th Infantry from New York, however, performed courageously on the front lines, and was honored by the French government for its bravery.


When Congress declared war in April 1917, public reaction was divided for reasons of ethnicity, national allegiance, and philosophy. Russian American Jews resented being allied with Russia, having experienced persecution from that nation's established order. Austro-Hungarian Americans and German Americans bristled at depictions of their homelands as the enemy. Those who opposed the war found themselves harassed. For example, a Rutgers University student who refused to take part in a Liberty Bond rally (a get-together to promote the sale of government bonds to support the war effort) was smeared with tar and covered with feathers and then paraded through the streets of New Brunswick, New Jersey, as punishment for his antiwar political stance.

The Fundamentals

From 1910 to 1915, a twelve-volume set of books called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth was published and distributed at no cost to any interested person. The books were available through the Young Men's (and Young Women's) Christian Association (YMCA and YWCA), pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. Edited by Amzi Dixon (1854–1925), a Chicago pastor, the books were commissioned and paid for, at a cost of $250,000, by oil magnate Lyman Stewart (1840–1923) and his brother Milton.

The purpose of The Fundamentals was to set down the truth of traditional Protestant Christianity as revealed in the Bible. The books were intended to counter the approaches of rising liberal movements that tended to compare and contrast religious texts with scientific theories such as Darwinian evolutionism, which dealt with the origin of life and the survival of the fittest.

The articles in Dixon's volumes were written by leading scholars of the conservative religious movement. They consisted of personal testimonies of religious experiences and attacked a number of non-Protestant religions and sects. The writings defended the "pure truth" of the scriptures and did not deal with political and ethical questions. While more than three million copies were distributed, the concept of Fundamentalism in religion did not develop strongly until 1918.

Certain members of the Socialist Party who opposed America's entry into the war were treated harshly by members of the public who backed the fight in Europe. The situation became so extreme that, in Illinois, a German American socialist who had never spoken out against the war was lynched. Members of the socialist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) labor union were not only against America's entry into war, but also were stirring up hostilities against such American institutions as the Protestant church. In 1914, IWW members (who were known as Wobblies) went from church to church in New York City demanding overnight accommodations. "If you put us out, the floor of this place will run with blood," declared IWW leader Frank Tannenbaum (1893–1969) to one pastor. The IWW accused organized religion and popular evangelists such as Billy Sunday (1862–1935) of being hypocrites. They claimed that leaders of organized religion withheld charity. As a result, socialist labor movement members such as Joe Hill, William "Big Bill" Haywood, Morris Hillquit, John Reed, and Emma Goldman were viewed with suspicion by the government as well as by the public, and they were criticized for speaking out against the war.

Conscientious objectors (those who refused to fight based on religious convictions) were tucked away in camps. They were taunted until some gave in to being drafted into the military. Meanwhile, the American Protective League (APL), an organization of volunteers under the Justice Department, conducted loyalty investigations. They posed as federal agents, using false "Secret Service Division" cards; they employed covert tactics such as wiretapping and actually broke into the homes of people suspected of avoiding the draft. In the Slackers Raid of September 3 to 6, 1918, APL agents rounded up fifty thousand suspected draft dodgers in New York City. Even though illegal means were used to gather evidence, sixteen thousand people were found guilty of having violated the Selective Service Act.


Immigration patterns through the 1910s show a two-way trend. One-third of immigrants from Italy, Hungary, and Croatia who arrived between 1908 and 1914 returned to Europe. When war erupted in the "old country" in 1914, many newly arrived immigrants felt it would be in their best interests to return to their homelands before all connections were severed. At the same time, many Europeans were fleeing their homelands to avoid becoming battle casualties. The most stable group of immigrants were the Eastern European Jews, who usually stayed in the United States rather than return to their European homes where pogroms (the organized massacre of people for religious reasons) were rampant.

By 1910, more than 75 percent of the populations of New York City, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit were made up of immigrants and their children. Asians from China and Japan settled in San Francisco. Slavs found work in the Chicago cattle slaughterhouses or in mines in the upper Midwest. Many Italians entered the construction industry in New York City and built the subways and bridges linking the New York City boroughs. The majority of Jewish males who entered the United States between 1899 and 1914 were classified as skilled workers and found employment in New York City's garment industry as garment cutters, tailors, accountants, and even factory owners. For many immigrants, becoming American meant changing their appearances: shaving beards, cutting their hair in American styles, and adopting new fashions. They learned English; often the children learned the language in public schools and taught it to their parents. Adult schools were established by social reformers such as Jane Addams (1860–1935) and Frances Kellor (1873–1952) to help immigrant families adapt to American lifestyles.

Immigration, 1910 to 1919

YearNumber of ImmigrantsTotal U.S. Population

By 1917, anti-German feelings mushroomed into a kind of hysteria among Americans, who were coming to view all immigrants as potential enemies. As stories of German atrocities in Europe, such as the rape and murder of women and children, filled magazines and movie screens, this general distrust of Europeans developed into broad misgivings about the nation's immigration policies. In his third annual message to Congress, President Wilson echoed these sentiments by declaring, "There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty in to the very arteries of our national life.… Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out." In 1917, the first legislation to limit immigration was passed, requiring literacy tests for immigrants and banning many Asian laborers. Such feelings did not fade after the war ended in 1918. Three years later, Congress passed legislation to impose major restrictions on European immigration, limiting the number of Southern and Eastern Europeans who could enter the United States each year.


Since the 1870s, two significantly different schools of architecture had coexisted in relative harmony within U.S. cities. One school, which incorporated older styles with intricate sculpture designs, was based on the teachings of the École des Beaux Arts (the School of Fine Arts) in Paris. Additionally, this school spearheaded a revived interest in Gothic art and architecture, which had flourished in Europe from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. The other, more modern school of architecture took its lead from the Chicago school of urban architecture and other movements that stressed simple lines and functional styling.

While the 1910s did not inaugurate any major new style of architecture, it was a time for improvements in building styles. For instance, in New York City, tall structures had become a popular design for commercial buildings. Captains of industry considered the height of their office buildings as measures of corporate success. As these skyscrapers were constructed, one next to another, they blocked the sun and even changed weather patterns on the ground level. In 1916, legislation was passed in New York City that required buildings higher than one hundred feet to be tapered away from the street. The new law resulted in better air movement and an increase in sunlight at street level. No longer would buildings be designed along the stiff, block styling of the neo-Gothic Woolworth Building (1913), designed by architect Cass Gilbert (1859–1934). In future decades, this improvement would result in skyscrapers with graceful designs, such as the Chrysler Building (1930) and the Empire State Building (1930–31). Many of the nation's grandest railroad stations were built during the 1910s. In New York City, Pennsylvania Station was completed in 1910, and Grand Central Station was opened in 1913. Both were done in the Beaux Arts fashion.

Most business structures built during the decade were examples of the Beaux Arts school, even though prominent architects such as Chicago-based Louis Sullivan (1856–1924) and his most renowned student, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), advocated the use of less-cluttered designs. Sullivan and Wright believed that "form follows function," which meant that the building's design should serve its purpose. During the decade, Sullivan designed bank buildings in the Midwest, and Wright fulfilled many contracts for his "prairie houses": structures that were long, low, and horizontal, and that mirrored the lines of the flat, open prairie. They were constructed using such natural materials as wood and stone. Wright also designed apartment houses, pavilions, gardens, hotels, and country clubs in the United States and in Japan.

Most of the major commercial and government buildings were built in the Beaux Arts style because of the conservative nature of those in charge of choosing architecture firms. It was not until 1922, when leading Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950) won a prize for his semimodern design for the Chicago Tribune Building, that America's taste makers, the prominent designers and corporate and government leaders, began moving away from the Beaux-Arts school toward the simpler lines of the sleek, functional modern skyscraper.

Throughout the decade, German-born industrial designer Albert Kahn (1869–1942) designed industrial plants. His facilities had simple modern lines and plenty of windows to make maximum use of natural light. From 1909 to 1914 in Highland Park, Michigan, Kahn designed and built structures made of reinforced concrete, a relatively new building material. The plants featured large, steel-framed windows, and were designed so that all the assembly line work of building a Model T Ford could be done under one roof. In 1917, Kahn completed the half-mile-long "Building B" for the Rouge River plant near Detroit, Michigan. He continued building modern plants for Ford into the next decade.


For decades, American homes had featured large, overstuffed furniture in relatively small, darkened rooms. By 1910, this style of interior home design was being condemned in magazines and homemaker manuals as old-fashioned and tasteless. The new fashion called for airy living spaces. Much of the change in taste was due to the enthusiastic acceptance of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's home plan, which featured living spaces set up to accommodate multiple activities. Older, more traditional homes for families of comfortable financial means had a separate room for each family activity: a family room for spending time with loved ones; a sitting room or parlor for visits with guests; a library for keeping books and office records; and music and sewing rooms for those activities. In the modern homes of the 1910s, the living room fulfilled the combined functions of all these old-fashioned rooms. In the spirit of combined usage, the kitchen even doubled as an informal dining room.

The colors of old-fashioned interiors had been rather dull. Walls were covered with heavily patterned wallpaper, and the furniture was upholstered in dark tones. The new interiors, however, were painted in bold colors with dark wood-stained trim. In order to take advantage of natural lighting, window trims were lightweight, without the traditional heavy layers of draperies. Shelves for books, knick-knacks, and cutlery were built into the walls.

A Woman's Work Is Never Done!

As more jobs became available to women during the decade, fewer females accepted work as domestics (servants), and more housewives took paid positions outside the home. New homes were built without back staircases, since they were no longer necessary to keep house servants out of sight while they performed their duties. This modern lifestyle resulted in working women, with less time at home to do housework, having to do all the household tasks without the aid of servants.

Salvation came in a stream of newly invented, time-saving devices. Large iceboxes kept foods cold, so that they would not spoil. Gas ranges made cooking cleaner and more efficient than the old-fashioned coal-burning stoves. Hand-cranked washing machines replaced the drudgery of scrubbing laundry in tubs on finger-blistering washboards. Hot-water heaters and telephones added luxury to the middle-class lifestyle.

More than any other improvement, electricity added quality to home life. By 1919, 41 percent of Americans were using electricity to power appliances and bring a form of daylight to the home long after night had fallen.

Mission-style furniture became the most popular modern style. It was based on the Arts and Crafts Movement, a turn-of-the-century trend that originated in England and called for the use of natural elements such as wood and stone for a plain, hand-carved look. The furniture was factory-manufactured and called to mind the interior design of the Spanish missions of old California and the American Southwest. Among the most prominent makers of these pieces were Gustav Stickley (1857–1942) and his brothers, whose designs were widely copied by furniture factories across the country. Mission furniture often is made from oak and has vertical slats. It includes chairs, tables, desks, and headboards for beds. Because the chairs are not stuffed and upholstered, throw pillows often are utilized for comfort and a touch of color.

While working-class families saved to acquire a modern home with mission style interior design, the upper classes were more intrigued by the Art Nouveau style. This decor featured aspects of the human form and nature (such as trees and flowers) and was available in furniture, lamps, textiles, metalworks, clocks, and decorative glass pieces. The leading American artist and designer of Art Nouveau items was Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933).


As the decade unfolded, the Model T automobile, manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, may not have been every American's car of choice; however, it was the only automobile that many Americans could afford. By 1914, due to the efficiency of the Ford factory assembly line process, a brand new Model T, known as a "Tin Lizzie," was turned out every twenty-four seconds! The retail cost was $440, about half of its 1908 market price of $850. With the standardization of this model, available "in any color as long as it is black," plus the availability of standard auto parts, working-class Americans were content to "have wheels." The working class did not question the color of the Model T because they did not equate automobiles with fashion.

During the 1910s, however, a number of automobile manufacturers in the United States began competing for business among customers who could afford a car more stylish than the Model T. These manufacturers attracted customers by offering technical innovations and design improvements. One innovative U.S. automaker was Cadillac, which in early 1911 offered an improved starter designed by Charles F. Kettering (1876–1958). In the next three years, 90 percent of American auto manufacturers also offered this starter. Only Ford, not wishing to raise its prices, did not license the starter. In 1914, two of Ford's employees, John (1864–1920) and Horace (1868–1920) Dodge, formed their own company and manufactured an all-steel-bodied car for a price just above that of the Tin Lizzie.

With the growing number of automobile manufacturing companies during the decade, more cars became available at fairly low prices. To compete for customers, carmakers paid attention to the appearance of their products as well as to the general ease of driving. In 1909, car manufacturers began to look for ways to "streamline" (give an uninterrupted flow or contour to the auto body) their models. At the fourteenth annual automobile show in New York City in 1914, there appeared a line-up of good-looking models featuring machine-pressed steel bodies. As machine pressing replaced the hand-pounding of metal sheets, automobiles proved that

they could be good looking as well as affordable. No longer did the automobile look like a nineteenth-century carriage. Even so, it would be almost twenty years until models would be sleek and really fluid in their design.


As the decade opened, women who worked for pay worked mainly in their own homes as seamstresses, laundresses, and in other peoples' homes as domestics (servants). During the decade, women increasingly took jobs in offices as typists, secretaries, and receptionists, where they were required to wear conservative, functional fashions. The old-style delicate and frilly dresses would have been intrusive and impractical in the modern office of the 1910s. When the country entered World War I in 1917, women also filled jobs that had been vacated by men who joined the military. During the war, 2.4 million women were employed in war-related industries, working in offices and on assembly lines. A functional style of clothing was needed to meet the needs of the female industrial worker.

Aside from becoming more active in the workplace, women also were learning to drive cars, enjoy ballroom dancing, and participate in sports and leisure activities. All these activities called for more comfortable clothing styles. Dresses that limited body movement also limited fun and adventure. Women said farewell to outfits that were long enough to sweep the street, weighed ten pounds, and featured awkward accessories such as deep pleats, ribbons, large adornments, and bustles (pads or frames that expanded the fullness at the back of the skirt). Modern clothing was simple and lightweight and followed the line of the body.

More than ever, clothing styles for working-class, middle-class, and even wealthy women were similar in style, due to the new widespread distribution of national magazines that featured fashions. Women of varied economic brackets had access to magazines such as Ladies' Home Journal, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar, that showed the latest fashions. Furthermore, women no longer had to sew their family's clothing. Instead, they mail-ordered from catalogs or shopped in ready-to-wear stores, chain stores, and department stores for fashions seen in magazines. As fashion awareness spread, the difference between a typist's clothing and that of a Rockefeller or Vanderbilt was not the general look of the garment but the more subtle details of styling and fabric. Lower-priced items were mass-produced and made of standard cotton or wool. A more expensive item was custom-tailored of silk, linen, or a fine woolen gabardine or tweed. Either way, the styles were essentially the same.

Women found that skirts worn with shirtwaist blouses were a relaxed and inexpensive alternative to restrictive dresses with stiff, high-cut collars. Tucked into a skirt, the blouse looked businesslike. Untucked, as became fashionable in 1914, it was suitable for leisure. By the early years of the decade, clothing manufacturers were turning out affordable fashions for middle-class women. An example is the "tailor-made," which actually was a ready-to-wear suit that cost $10 to $20. By 1910, the shirt-waist was the mainstay of many clothing manufacturers.

To meet the demand and keep prices affordable, much of this modern clothing was produced in sweatshops (factories in which workers toil for long hours at low wages under poor and sometimes hazardous conditions). Sweatshops have long been associated with the garment industry. One of the most publicized disasters in the history of sweatshops occurred in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on New York City's Lower East Side. A fire broke out in the cramped space where the workers sewed, and 146 women laborers were killed. While the tragedy led to improvements in domestic labor laws, sweatshops continue to thrive in many parts of the world.

Irene Castle, Fashion Trendsetter

Entertainer Irene Castle (1893–1969) was not only a popular ballroom dancer but also a trendsetter in women's fashion. With her husband Vernon (1887–1917), she introduced such dances as "the one-step" and "the Castle walk." In addition to her dancing, women were captivated by Castle's clothing and hairdos.

The Irene Castle "look" consisted of chiffon evening dresses that flowed in simple lines to allow for her dance performance. Castle was among the first women to abandon corsets and stiff petticoats that restricted movement and distorted the natural figure. Instead, she favored bloomers (loose underpants) and slips. When she had her hair cut to the nape of her neck and then placed a necklace on her head to keep her hair in place, women began to imitate the look.

With more fluid lines in women's fashions, undergarments had to be redesigned. Gone were the whalebone corsets that laced up tight enough to affect one's circulation and stiff petticoats worn in layers. They were replaced by bloomers and slips. Hats continued to be a fashion "necessity," but they, too, were simplified. The final year for huge, cumbersome hats sporting feathers and even exotic birds was 1910. After that, most hats were smaller and either turban-shaped or geometric-shaped.

By mid-decade, women were so comfortable in their daywear that they stopped the custom of changing into dinner dresses each evening. Parisian fashion designers such as Paul Poiret, Mademoiselle Paquin, and the Callot Soeurs (sisters) were offended by the turn in women's fashion away from the formal towards the functional. The French designers offered the "hobble-skirted" suit. It resembled the shape that would be adopted for the Coca-Cola bottle in 1916. This design, which restricted the length of a woman's stride, failed to sell, however. American designers countered with the popular "suffragette suit," which had a slit to allow for long steps. Rather than lose their clientele of wealthy American women, the French adjusted their styles to an understated look. After World War I, American tastes ran towards the new, sportier French designers, including Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, Jean Patou, and Madeleine Vionnet.


Clothing for men also reflected changes in lifestyle. With central heating newly installed in homes and offices, men no longer needed to wear bulky one-piece union suits as underwear during cold weather. Instead, they sleeked down their underwear to undershorts and a sleeveless undershirt. Soon men's suits were slimmed down to accommodate the new, less bulky line. Shoulder pads were thinned, and trousers became more fitted, ending in a cuff (a turned-back hem). Vests, still called waistcoats, were worn, as well as neckwear such as bow ties and ascots (scarves folded under the chin). Detachable, stiff shirt collars still were stylish. Since these were the days before elastic and spandex, garters were used to hold up socks.

Suits generally were made of woolen fabrics. Men wore lighter-weight woolens in warm seasons. Oxford tie shoes replaced high-button shoes that had to be buttoned shut with a special hook. Hats changed with the seasons. Braided straw "boaters" were fashionable in summer, and brimmed fedoras and rounded derbies were worn during the remainder of the seasons. In place of the pocket watch, the wristwatch was introduced in 1914. During the war, wearing a belt became fashionable, replacing the suspenders that men had worn to keep their trousers up. After the war, men adopted the military style trenchcoat, made by the British design house of Burberry.

The Norfolk jacket, allegedly based on a hunting jacket worn by an eighteenth-century Duke of Norfolk, became the jacket of choice for middle- and upper-class leisure activities such as golf and horseback riding. The jacket was fitted with a yolk (a shaped piece of fabric at the shoulders). With it, men wore knickers (shorter pants gathered at the knee) for golfing, and custom pants for other activities. Ankle-length topcoats, a fashion started by Harvard students in 1910, grew in acceptance as the decade progressed, particularly since the coats were practical for automobile driving. At the time, many roads were unpaved, and trouser legs might easily be dirtied by mud.

At the beginning of the decade, children mainly wore miniature versions of adult fashions. Poor children usually wore remade hand-me-downs from their parents' wardrobe. During World War I, ready-to-wear manufacturers began producing children's play clothes. They provided girls with the "gym slip," which consisted of loose, knee-length bloomers and tunic tops. For playtime, boys began wearing knee-length pants with knee socks and open-collar shirts. Following in the fashion of adults, all children wore hats in public.

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The 1910s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Topics in the News

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The 1910s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Topics in the News