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The Year That Was

History Podcasts

A look at history one year at a time, from as many angles as possible. Famous people, infamous people, obscure people; wars, revolutions, peace treaties, art, science, sports, religion. The big picture, in an entertaining podcast package. The complete first season of The Year That Was is now available. However, the podcast is now on hiatus. What happens next? That's a very good question! I'll let you know as soon as I've figured it out for myself. Thanks to everyone who has listened and reached out. This has been enormous fun. Keep in touch! -- Elizabeth


United States


A look at history one year at a time, from as many angles as possible. Famous people, infamous people, obscure people; wars, revolutions, peace treaties, art, science, sports, religion. The big picture, in an entertaining podcast package. The complete first season of The Year That Was is now available. However, the podcast is now on hiatus. What happens next? That's a very good question! I'll let you know as soon as I've figured it out for myself. Thanks to everyone who has listened and reached out. This has been enormous fun. Keep in touch! -- Elizabeth






After You've Gone

Actress Irene Castle cut her hair short in 1915 shortly before an operation for appendicitis. She liked it so much she never grew it back. In 1919, American women began following her lead. Newspapers were full of articles about the trend, but since it hadn't yet spread beyond major East Coast cities, critics in the heartland held their criticism. That would not last. This photo shows Alcock and Brown shortly after landing in Ireland at the conclusion of their record-setting Trans-Atlantic flight. You can see that the plane has tipped nose-first into a bog. Alcock and Brown are the two men in front of the plane in dark hats and coats. An estimated 12,000 Native Americans served in World War I, many of them volunteers. They received high praise for their courage acting on behalf of a nation that refused to grant them citizenship, abused their children and kep their tribes in penury. Emiliano Zapata was a skilled horseman, an inspirational leader and an unyielding revolutionary. He had no use for political theory and no patience for political compromise. He is still revered by many Mexicans for his unrelenting efforts for the poor and downtrodden. Concerned about the state of America's roads, the U.S. Army sent 80 trucks and cars to cross the country and evaluate the state of the roads. They averaged 6 miles per hour and at one point in the Utah desert had to be rescued by teams of horses. The experience planted a seed in one of the officers on the trip, an idea to create an efficient nationwide highway system.


Through Cloud, Hopeful: Eddington, Einstein, and the Eclipse of 1919

Arthur Eddington was committed to testing Einstein's General Theory of Relativity during the 1919 Solar Eclipse, not only to remove all doubts about the theory but also to demonstrate the value of scientific internationalism. But the British Army was determined to send him to the Front. Eddington faced the greatest challenge of his life: proving his opposition to violence and his dedication to science were both a matter of conscience. Conscientious objectors in Britain could be sent to prison if their claims were rejected by local tribunals. Many were sent to solitary confinement, while others were put to hard labor. This prisoner is standing on a stool to get a glimpse of the sky. Some COs were subjected to field punishment. Field punishment was introduced in 1881 following the abolition of flogging in the Army--so I guess that's a good thing? The punishment was applied to soldiers who disobeyed orders, which included COs who had been denied official status and continued to refuse to fight. Men would be tied up to a fixed object for up to two hours a day. Conscientious objectors were despised by the general public and often mocked in political cartoons. In this image, as in many, COs were depicted as unmanly cowards--as "sissies" with a major dose of homophobia. Einstein's General Theory of Relativity describes space as curving in response to the mass of heavy objects. The amount of the curvature depends on the mass of the object, so the Sun will cause greater curvature than the Earth. The Earth orbits the Sun because it is caught in the well of the Sun's gravity. One of the problems with most explanations of relativity theory, including my own, is that they imply that massive objects sit on top of space. In fact, they existing within space. This graphic tries to represent this concept. Eddington arranged for two expeditions to view the 1919 eclipse. One went to Sobral in northern Brazil and the other to Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea. Príncipe is a gorgeous tropical island with misty mountains and white beaches. Eddington was amazed at the lush landscape and tropical fruits; he ate about a dozen bananas a day. Some fifteen years before Eddington arrived, the world learned that the cocoa plantations in Príncipe, which primarily supplied Cadbury's Chocolate, were worked by enslaved laborers kidnapped from Angola. The Portugese government promised to stamp out the practice, but political instability meant that these efforts received little attention. It is unclear in 1919 if Eddington saw free or enslaved laborers at work. Northern Brazil, meanwhile, had been struck by a devastating drought in 1915 that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Many of those who survived fled the region, but the government feared they would cause instability if they arrived in Brazil's cities. What can only be called concentration camps were established and people were forced to live in them, as seen here. The drought was beginning to lessen in 1919, but the region was struggling. The eclipse observation teams arrived with telescopes, cameras, glass photographic plates, developer chemicals, motors, clocks, waterproof tents and more. Here you can see the set up in Sobral. The light from the Hyades had been traveling about 153 years when it reached Eddington's telescope. Scientists now know that at least one of the stars within the cluster has three planets, one roughly the size and composition of the Earth. It is considered unlikely any advanced life exists on the planet, but anything is possible. This is one of Eddington's original photos of the eclipse. It has been scanned, and the stars that he was measuring are circled and labeled. You can see that the stars are incredibly dim and hard to spot even when pointed out. The announcement by Eddington and Dyson caught the world's attention and newspapers struggled to make sense of the discovery. The Illustrated London News did a fairly good job of explaining what the astronomers were...


The Pursuit of Truth: Eddington, Einstein, and the Eclipse of 1919

In 1914, most scientists claimed their work knew no borders, but the Great War slammed the door on international scientific cooperation. So when a obscure German physicist named Albert Einstein presented a radical new explanation of gravity, he feared no one outside of Germany would be willing to help confirm his theory. He had no idea that his work would come to the attention of the one man able to make the critical observations and willing to explore German ideas--the pacifist astronomer Arthur Eddington. Arthur Stanley Eddington was born in 1882 to a devout Quaker family. He would remain a faithful member of the Society of Friends his entire life and shared their deep conviction in pacifism and opposition to war. Eddington's first total solar eclipse was in October 1912. This map show the path of totality. Eddington was stationed with several teams from around the world in Passa Quatro, Brazil. Unfortunately, the eclipse was rained out--an all-too-common occurance. While in Brazil, Eddington was likely told about the work of the still-obscure German physicist Albert Einstein. Einstein, seen here with his first wife Mileva, had already published several groundbreaking papers and had begun his work on general relativity. In 1913, he moved to Berlin to teach at the University of Berlin and become the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. Einstein discussed his Theory of General Relativity with the German astronomer Erwin Freundlich, seen here looking like the villian in an early silent movie. Freundlich passed the ideas on Charles Dillon Perrine, who most likely described them Eddington. Freundlich mounted an expedition to observe the 1914 eclipse in Russia to prove Einstein's predictions on the deflection of starlight. The 1914 eclipse passed over Sweden and Norway, into Russia, and down through the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Astronomers believed they would have the best conditions in Ukraine and Crimea, and many of them set up there in late summer 1914. War broke out before the eclipse took place. Freundlich and his German team were detained by Russian officials. British and American teams were able to go on with their work, but again, the eclipse was rained out. The teams then face the difficult task of getting out of war-time Russia. They all had to leave their equipment behind, and getting it back was a lingering headache. The American team didn't receive their telescope and cameras until 1918. This fascinating graphic from the weekly British illustrated newspaper The Graphic combines a map of the path of totality with a map of the conflict in Belgium and northern France, Serbia, and the Russian border. The graphic ominously describes "The Shadow Sweeping Across Europe." Allied outrage at German atrocities in Belgium prompted a spirited defense of German actions by scientists, writers, artists and theologians including Fritz Haber. The "Manifesto to the Civilized World," ( also known as the "Manifesto of the 93," offended Allied scientists and prompted many to call for complete repudiation of German science. Einstein refused to sign the Manifesto. British scientists relentlessly hounded German-born astronomer Arthur Schuster, despite the fact he had moved to Britain as a teenager. His son served in the British army and was wounded in the Dardanelles. At the same time, British physicist James Chadwick, who was studying in Germany in 1914, was detained in a former racetrack. He remained in German custody under dire conditions until the Armistice. Einstein published his complete Theory of Relativity in November 1915. One of the few German scientists who showed any interest was astronomer Karl Schwartzchild. Schwartzchild was serving in the army on the Russian front, where he put his advanced mathematic skills to use calculating artillery trajectories. In his spare time, while under heavy Russian fire, he worked through the math in...


Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Legacies of Fritz Haber

Note: This episode contains a description of a poison gas attack in World War I and a discussion of the injuries caused by different gases. I do not dwell on the details, but even the bare facts can be disturbing. There is also a discussion of suicide. Take care of yourself, and thank you. The title of this episode is taken from a famous poem by writer and soldier Wilfred A. Owen. His 1918 poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" quotes another poet, the Roman lyricist Horace, and his line "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." This translates as "It is sweet and fitting [appropriate, proper] to die for one's country." Fritz Haber was born in 1868 to Jewish parents in the town of Breslau, Germany. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry and earned a reputation as a hardworking and painstaking researcher. In 1919, he was both accused of war crimes and awarded a Nobel Prize. Ancient farmers understood the role of nitrogen in the soil, although they couldn't have told you what nitrogen was or how it worked. They knew, however, that land lost its productivity when it was farmed extensively. Farmers could renew their soil to some degree by adding dung and compost to the land. They also knew crop rotation was important. Medieval farmers, such as those seen in this image, generally used a three-field system. One field was used for grains, one for peas or lentils, and one left fallow. In the 19th century, scientists learned about the role of nitrogen in living things and discovered how certain bacteria are able to "fix" nitrogen and make it available to plants. The bacteria, known as "diazotrophs," are found in nodules such as you see above in the roots of plants such as peas and lentils. Crop rotation and manure were the best farmers could do until the discovery of the incredible effectiveness of South American guano in the mid-1900s. The above image depicts one of the islands off the coast of Peru where birds had deposited guano for millions of years. You can see the guano formed massive peaks. Miners hacked away at the guano so it could be exported to Europe and North America. Germany, like most modern nations, became heavily dependent on these imports, both for fertilizer and to make explosives. Clara Immerwahr Haber married Haber in 1901. She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from her university in Germany, a remarkable achievement for a woman in her era. Haber, however, expected only to keep house. Haber began work on ammonia synthesis in 1904. It was a matter of slow, painstaking work tinkering with temperature, pressure and the right catalyst. Above is a reconstruction of Haber's final table-top process. I compared the setup to the 1970s board game "Mousetrap." Haber's setup looks simpler than the Rube Goldberg contraption in the game, but his device was far more dangerous and likely to explode and send red-hot shrapnel flying everywhere. Carl Bosch, a brilliant engineer with the German chemical giant BASF, took over the ammonia synthesis project from Haber. He refined the process and expanded it to an industrial scale. His work was significant, which is why the process is known today as Haber-Bosch. The announcement of the invention of the ammonia process brought Haber international acclaim. His income soared, he became famous in Germany and soonhe was appointed the founding director of the new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. The institute is seen here shortly after its construction in 1911; it was a government-founded research organization and think tank, intended to keep Germany at the forefront of scientific research. When the Great War began, Haber immediately volunteered for service. He is seen here, at the front; he is the one pointing. He dedicated himself to using chemistry to win the war. One of his first contributions was to convince BASF to convert their ammonia factory to make the starting materials for explosives. This was a critical step for Germany, one that doesn't receive...


The Last Night of the Bubbling Glass: The Passage of the 18th Amendment

By 1914, the temperance movement had achieved significant gains in its goal to outlaw the sale of alcohol in the United States. But every push for nationwide prohibition had failed. Would the war--and the accompanying anti-German hysteria--give the Anti-Saloon League enough power to cross the finish line? Was a golden age of sobriety waiting on the other side? The Temperance Movement began in the 1840s and gained significant momentum through the rest of the century. Women were major leaders in the movement, with many pledging to never let the lips that touch liquor touch theirs. Unfortunately, this seemed to have little effect. In the second half of the 19th century, an influx of immigrants from beer-loving countries, including Germany and Ireland, dramatically increased the consumption of beer in the United States. German brewers arrived to meet the demand. The most successful among these brewers was Adolphus Busch. As owner of Anheuser-Busch, he built a massive, vertically integrated operation that controlled every aspect of beer production and distribution, from mining the coal that fueled the brewery to building the refrigerated railcars to deliver the beer to Anheuser-Busch owned saloons. Saloons were more than watering holes. They were hubs for the entire community and played important roles in the lives of patrons, especially when those patrons were recent immigrants. Pictured here is a saloon in Wisconsin. Notice the little boy sitting at the table with his own beer glass. Boys often accompanied their fathers to saloons. Women and girls, however, were not welcome, and a woman who stepped in a saloon ruined her reputation. Here's another saloon, this one from Michigan. In a saloon, men could meet friends, participate in local politics, eat a free lunch, take a bath, find a job, get his mail and pawn his watch. By 1900, most saloons were "tied houses." That is, they were tied to, if not actually owned by, breweries. In exchange for agreeing to sell only one brand of beer, a barkeeper would receive cash for his licensing fees, an inventory of glassware, and the furnishings for the saloon, including the pool tables and the mirrors on the walls. This photo shows a Miller bar in Chicago. Temperance activists believed saloons were evil through and through. This cartoon, probably from the mid- to late-19th century, shows children desperately calling for the father, who stands in his natty coat and top hat at the bar. The bartender is a grinning skull, and another skull atop crossed bottles decorates in the bar. In the background, a brawl has broken out. Clearly, nothing good happens at a saloon! Women's rights activists in particular believed that alcohol was the cause of domestic violence. In this illustration, a drunken man takes a swing at his wife as his children cling to his legs. Many woman suffragists believed that prohibition would stop violence in the home. The Anti-Saloon League became a force to be reckoned with by organizing all of the anti-alcohol groups. The League was led by Wayne Wheeler, a genial midwesterner that author Daniel Okrent noted resembled Ned Flanders. In fact, Wheeler was a passionate, focused organizer with a backbone of steel who could make or break political careers. Breweries tried reframe beer as a health-giving, nourishing beverage. The Saskatoon Brewing Company tried to sell their beer as "liquid bread." Knickerbocker Beer ran ads declaring "Beer is Food" and claiming that beer was not only "a wonderful aid to digestion" and a "valuable source of energy" but also "a mainstay of practical temperance." An Anti-Prohibition coalition produced this ad, showing a fat and happy baby drinking a stein of beer. No one was convinced by any of these campaigns. Once the United States entered World War I, a new argument began to be made against the alcohol industry: it wasted food and fuel. Americans were called upon to save food for the military, as well as for the British, French and...


Do You Expect Us to Turn Back Now: Alice Paul and the Fight for Woman Suffrage

Women in the United States began fighting for the right to vote in 1848, and by 1910 they had achieved a few hard-won victories. But success nationwide seemed out of reach. Then Alice Paul arrived on the scene with a playbook of radical protest strategies and an indomitable will. She focused in on one target: the president, Woodrow Wilson. How far would Paul and her fellow suffragists have to go to get Wilson's support? Dora Lewis was the member of prominent Philadelphia family. She was dedicated fighter for the right of women to vote. In 1919, Lewis participated in the Watchfires protests, in which suffragists burned the speeches of Woodrow Wilson to reject his hypocricy of speaking about democracy and justice without protecting them for women at home. The woman suffrage movement in the United States is usually said to have begun at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. The Convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and several friends and colleagues, produced a Declaration of Sentiments that called for women to "secure for themselves their right to the elective franchise." Elizabeth Cady Stanton (left) and Susan B. Anthony (right) met in 1851 and become close friends and dedicated fighters for votes for women. The "New Woman" of the turn of the 19th century was educated, independent, and career-minded. These women were more demanding than previous generations and less concerned about upsetting gender norms. I joked in this episode about New Women and their bicycles, but this was actually an enormous breakthrough for women. For the first time, women had freedom of movement that opened up a world that been narrowly restricted for previous generations. Alice Paul was charismatic, magnetic, and impossible to refuse. She was willing to work herself into the hospital and expected the same level of effort from her friends. (She is also, in this photo, wearing an awesome hat.) Alice Paul spent the years between 1907 and 1909 in the United Kingdom, where she joined the radical suffragette movement. She learned the power of protest in England, as well as the power of her own will. In 1909, Paul went on a hunger strike in prison and was force fed. This was a horrifying, traumatic experience--a fact that the suffragettes didn't hesitate to leverage in their promotional material. Paul's first major action back in the United States was the Woman Suffrage Procession of 1913. Scheduled the day before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, it achieved maximum publicity for the cause. This image was used as the cover of the official procession program. This photo shows the start of the procession, with attorney Inez Mulholland on horseback. Paul and other organizers intended to segregate African-American marchers to the end of the parade, but Ida B. Wells-Barnett had no intention of being segregated. She joined the Illinois delegation halfway along the route. Massive crowds viewed the parade. Without adequate police monitoring, the crowd got out of control, spilled into the street, and began harassing the marchers. In 1917, the Silent Sentinels began protesting daily at the White House. They carried banners demanding the president take action on women's right to vote. For several months, the protests were peaceful. But Paul began cranking up the tension in the summer, and D.C. police began arresting and detaining the protesters. Eventually, suffragists were sentenced to time at Occoquan Workhouse a grim, remote facility. Here several suffragists, including Dora Lewis, pose in their prison uniforms. Suffragist prisoners began protests in prison, refusing to wear uniforms or do assigned work. Some, including Alice Paul, went on hunger strikes. Prison guards reacted with increasing violence. Here one of the suffragists has to be helped to a car after a harrowing stay at Occoquan. At the same time the members of the NWP were protesting daily at the White House, members of the rival organization NAWSA were conducting a massive...


Flu Fences and Chin Sails: Answering New Questions about the Spanish Flu

Living through the COVID-19 pandemic raises all sorts of new questions about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919. This episode seeks to answer those questions. We look at the multiple waves of the flu, popular home remedies, who went to the hospital and who stayed home, how the federal government responded to the outbreak, the effect on the economy, resistance to face masks, and how the flu shaped the Roaring Twenties. Correction: In this episode I state that Arthur Conan Doyle stopped writing mysteries after the flu pandemic. This is simply not true. Doyle published numerous mysteries, including several Sherlock Holmes stories, between 1919 and his death in 1930. My apologies for the error, and thanks to the listener who caught it. Heroic efforts went into creating a vaccine for Pfieffer's Bacillus, which was believed by many doctors to cause the Spanish Flu. These efforts were all in vain, since Pfeiffer's Bacillus is a fairly common bacteria and not the cause of the flu. The actual cause would not be understood until the existence of viruses was proven in the late 1930s. The Spanish Flu hit in three waves, in the the spring of 1918, the fall of 1918, and the spring of 1919. There is no evidence that the relaxing of social distancing and/or quarantines triggered the second wave. It is more likely that the virus mutated into a more easily transmitted and more deadly form over the summer. However, the third wave can be linked to relaxed social distancing. Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root was a popular patent medicine used to treat the flu. So were onions and Vick's Vapo-Rub. Nurses played an enormous role during the Spanish Flu, perhaps a greater role than doctors, since recovery was largely the matter of careful nursing. A severe shortage of nurses put a huge burden on those trying to treat patients. The American health system was strictly segregated in 1918-1919, and nurses of color struggled to treat the patients that overwhelmed the small and underfunded African-American hospitals. There was no precedent in 1918 for the federal government to play anything other than a coordinating and research role during the Spanish Flu. But the situation was so dire that states and cities begged for help. Surgeon General Rupert Blue seemed unable to rise to the challenge. The Surgeon's General's advice on how to avoid the flu was distributed widely but offered little in real help and failed to acknowledge the severity of the situation. The 1918 mid-term election went ahead as planned, but in parts of the west, polling places were unable to open because too many workers were sick with the flu. Public campaigns urged individuals to cover their faces when coughing or sneezing and to avoid shaking hands. If this cartoon is any indication, some people thought the efforts were extreme. Cities railed at residents to stop spitting on the street. This was an enormous problem, although this warning seems particularly stark. Masks were adopted across the country, and some cities mandated their use. The masks became a symbol of the disease. This cartoonist pokes fun at their ubiquity by proposing new styles soon to come out of the Paris fashion houses. San Francisco required residents and visitors to wear face masks, and initially compliance was high. Red Cross workers sold masks at ferry terminals and on the street. But people soon tired of wearing masks, or wore them slung around their necks. Soon police and public health officers were busy fining and arresting scofflaws. Crowds packed the Civic Auditorium for a boxing match in November 1918, and a photographer snapped this image of hundreds of San Franciscans without a mask in sight. Dozens of city leaders were fined for violated the mask ordinance. The ordinance was lifted a few days later. However, the ordinance was re-imposed in January when the flu returned to San Francisco. This time, opposition to masks was not just heated but organized. An anti-mask league held a meeting to which...


Say It Ain't So: The Black Sox Scandal and Baseball in 1919

Baseball was the only truly national American sport in 1919, loved by fans across the United States. But the mood among players was grim--team owners kept salaries artificially low. When the Chicago White Sox won their league championship, the temptation to accept hard cash from gamblers to deliberately lose the World Series was irresistible. After all, what could possibly go wrong? The Wingfoot Express took its maiden voyage around Chicago on July 21st, 1919. The 150-foot long airship was filled with hydrogen gas--lighter than air, but extremely flammable. The dirigible caught fire in downtown Chicago, inside the Loop, right above the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, at the corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard. The entire ship was consumed in literally seconds. The five men aboard jumped and tried to inflate their parachutes, but only three were successful. One man, mechanic Carl Weaver, plunged through the skylight of the bank. In this photo of the bank before the disaster, you can see how the interior was ringed by a circle of teller stations. They enclosed an area where typists, telegraphists, and other bank staff worked. For security purposes, this inner area could only be accessed through two gated entrances. Flaming debris, including the engine and two full tanks, crashed through the skylight above this inner area, starting a massive fire and trapping employees inside. This image of the interior of the bank after the disaster gives some sense of the horror of those trapped inside. 13 people died in the crash, ten of them bank employees. Before radio, fans had few ways to follow a live baseball game. Newspapers would receive game updates by telegraph and posted results in their windows. In 1912, the Washington Post invested in an elaborate scoreboard system complete with lights indicating balls, strikes, and position on the field. You can see here fans gathered to "watch" the 1912 World Series. The American and National Leagues kept player salaries low with the reserve clause, a provision in player contracts that kept players tied to one team and unable to negotiate higher salaries. The clause also made it difficult for new teams and new leagues to attract top-quality players. The Federal League, founded in 1913, tried to operate as a third major league and ended up suing the established leagues for operating an illegal monopoly. This is an official scorecard of one Federal League Team, the Neward Peps. The case came before Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It couldn't have landed on the desk of anyone more deeply invested in the game of baseball. At the start of World War I, team owners were desperate to keep the game going and their players out of the trenches. One attempt to demonstrate their patriotism was the practice, seen here, of holding drill sessions with players before games. The War Department was not impressed and made players eligible for the draft after the 1917 World Series. The president of the American League, Ban Johnson, suggested reserving 18 players for each team and conscripting the rest. No one was impressed by this plan. While more than one third of major league players enlisted, others went to work for factories in essential industries such as steel manufacturing or shipbuilding. The players spent far more time playing baseball for factory teams than painting or welding, and team owners worried that major league baseball would be run out of business by industrial ball. Charles Comiskey, owner of the Chicago White Sox, denounced the factory team players as unpatriotic and sniffed that he wasn't sure he wanted them back on his team. The 1918 World Series was held in early September at the request of the War Department, so the second, most deadly wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic was just getting started when baseball ended for the season. Nevertheless, at least some players took to the field in masks to prevent the spread of the disease. I have been able to find out little about...


Radical and Agitator: William Monroe Trotter and the Fight for Justice

William Monroe Trotter was among the richest, best-educated, and most-well-connected African-American men in the United States--and he dedicated every ounce of his privilege into helping his fellow black Americans. By 1919, he had fought with the elder statesmen of his community, been arrested in protests over "Birth of a Nation," and denounced Woodrow Wilson's racial policies to president's face. But 1919 would bring one of Trotter's greatest challenges: he would need to learn how to peel potatoes. William Monroe Trotter was one of the most significant civil rights leaders in Amerian history, yet he is little remembered today. Trotter crossed the Atlantic on the SS Yarmouth as assistant cook--a strange position for a Harvard graduate with two degrees and a Phi Beta Kappa key. Trotter's father James Monroe Trotter fought in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Afterward, he served as the first Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia, a lucrative position where he earned a small fortune. James' only son William would inherit both wealth and influence, but James insisted that this privilege should be employed to fight for African-American rights. In 1899, William Monroe Trotter married Geraldine Pindell, known by friends and family as Deenie. She was passionate about civil rights as her husband. A year after his marriage, Trotter decided to fulfill the mission laid upon him by his father by publishing a newspaper, The Guardian. The weekly was dedicated to exposing racial issues across the United States. In 1905, Trotter, along with W.E.B. DuBois and several other black leaders, founded The Niagara Movement to advocate for civil rights and counter the message of the Tuskegee Machine. The organization collapsed within two years, largely because Trotter was so difficult to work with. In 1909, DuBois joined other activists to establish the NAACP with much the same aims. Trotter rejected the group, which he saw as dominated by white donors and leaders and too timid to tackle real issues. In response, he founded his own organization, which in time would take the name the National Equal Rights League, or NERL. The 1915 film The Birth of a Nation prompted immediate reaction from both the NAACP and Trotter's NERL. But those reactions took different forms. The NAACP focused on legal challenges and attempts to disprove the historical accuracy of the movie. The NERL organized public protests intended to demonstrate the depth of African-American opposition to whites. Among the protests Trotter organized was this one in Boston Common. The photo is extremely poor quality, but you can get a sense of the size of the crowd. At another Trotter-organized event, 11 protestors were arrested for disturbing the peace. Trotter was among them. At the end of the Great War, a dozen or so other delegates were elected to present an appeal for equal rights and justice to the Peace Conference. Among them were Trotter and Madam C J Walker. Walker has an incredible story--she built her business selling cosmetics and hair care products to African-American women into one of wealthiest and most successful in the country. At the same time Trotter was trying to get to Paris to present his appeal, W.E.B. Du Bois was organization the Pan-African Congress, which included representatives from African nations and the African diaspora. When Trotter returned home from Paris, Red Summer had begun. Trotter focused on creating a new organization that would help African-Americans defend themselves, using force against force. The ABB ceased to be a secret in 1921 when the armed response of African-Americans during the Tulsa Race Massacre horrified white Americans. The ABB was accused of conspiracy with all of the usual suspects of the era, including the Reds and the Wobblies. In this case, the Reds, were, in fact, a factor. Within a few years, the ABB had been absorbed by the American Communist Party. As these images show, whole...


There Is No Justice Here: The Red Summer of 1919

A constant threat of violence hung over the lives of African Americans in the early 20th century, an unrelenting terror that served to deter economic progress and enforce a racist social order. But 1919 was different: violence spread out of the south into northern and midwestern cities and took the form of random, terrifying riots. But the response of African-American leaders in 1919 was also different. They decided enough was enough. The time had come to fight back. Chicago's beaches in 1919 were not segregated by law, but any attempt by African-Americans to stand up to convention could prompt harsh and sudden violence. This is the white beach on the South Side, which started around 29th street. The beach used by African-Americans was a few blocks north, around 25th street. The two beaches were divided by a rocky inlet--and as five teenaged boys discovered that July, the line between them was all to easy to cross. In the South, the Jim Crow system enforced the segregation of all public places. African-Americans couldn't eat in the same restaurants, sleep in the same hotels, sit in the same movie theaters, use the same restrooms, or even drink the same water as whites. Ida B. Wells had not intended to take on the cause of lynching until her friend Thomas Moss was dragged out of jail and shot in a railyard. Her investigation into lynching was a bombshell that shattered the Southern narrative about racial violence. You can read Wells' original report, titled "Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases," ( online. General Pershing likely never intended the 369th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellraisers, to fight on the front lines, but under pressure from the Allies he turned them over to French command. They served with courage and distinction and won the respect and admiration of the entire French nation. Private Henry Johnson fought off a 24-man German patrol alone while wounded. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre--but received no medals from his own country. James Reese Europe served as the 369th's regimental band leader. A brilliant musician, conductor, composer, and arranger, he brought jazz to France. Author W.E.B. DuBois electrified readers of the NAACP magazine The Crisis with his essay "Returning Soldiers," which urged African-American veterans to fight racism at home. You can read the essay online ( Riots broke out in early summer in Charleston, South Carolina; Longview, Texas; and Washington, D.C. This sort of scene was happened frequently--black men were dragged out of trolley, as well as seized walking down the street or yanked out of businesses to be beaten by a white mob. Poet Claude McKay wrote "If We Must Die" in 1919 in the same spirit as Du Bois' "Returning Soldiers." It was a call for African-Americans to stand up and defend themselves against white attacks. You can read the poem online ( or listen to Ice-T read it. ( During the Chicago riot, bands of white men prowled the city looking for African-Americans. Here a group of men are running through a black neighborhood. Order was finally restored when the state militia arrived. Generally, the soldiers were impartial and prevent further attacks on African-Americans, but encounters between white troops and black men were still fraught. The riot in Omaha, Nebraska drew an enormous crowd, estimated at anything from 5000 to 15,000. Here you can see some of that mob surrounding the Omaha courthouse, which they eventually set alight. Newspapers across Arkansas ran headlines about the supposed uprising of African-Americans in Phillips County. Conductor and intelligence agent Water H. Loving submitted a report to the Department of War that explained that socialist, communist, and labor organizers had nothing to do with the violence in 1919;...


Reign of Terror: The First Red Scare

Americans felt under attack in 1919 as a series of riots, strikes, disasters, and bombings hit the country. After radicals attempted to blow up the house of Attorney General Mitchell Palmer, he decided enough was enough. It was time to stop the Red Menace using any means possible. But would Americans tolerate the loss of their civil liberties in the pursuit of Bolsheviks? A. Mitchell Palmer's home was devastated when a bomb exploded at his front door on the night of June 2, 1919. If Palmer had been at his usual spot in the library, he likely would have been killed. This is another view of the blast damage. Notice that all of the windows and the door were blown out. Eugene V. Debs serves as a case study of pre-war opinions about socialism. As leader of the Socialist Party in America, he was considered leftist, but not radical--until the Russian Revolution changed attitudes about anyone or anything related to communism. For saying basically the same things he had been saying for years, Debs was tried under the Sedition Act in 1919 and sentenced to ten years in prison. Many Americans believed in the progression laid out literally step by step in this political cartoon. Disturbances such as strikes would lead inevitably to Bolshevism and chaos. The majority of people believed that immigrants were mostly or wholly responsible for radicalism in the United States. It seemed the easiest solution was that proposed by the 1918 Immigration Act: deport them all. To be fair, not everyone believed the Reds were an imminent threat. While many political cartoons fed the fear, others mocked it, like this example, which pointed to the hysterical tone of the Overman Report. When A. Mitchell Palmer took the job of Attorney General in March, he was among the moderates. Everything changed when his house was blown up--and really, you can hardly blame him. Palmer placed the young but well-liked and hard-working J. Edgar Hoover in charge of intelligence for his Red hunt. Hoover quickly gained the trust of his boss and ultimately managed all of the planning and operations details of the November and January raids. After the November 7th raids, 249 people were deported to Russia. The sailed on the Buford, a ship that Hoover arranged to borrow from the war department. It became known as the Soviet Ark. Up to ten thousand people were rounded up in the January 2nd, 1920 raids. Individuals were arrested, searched, and held without warrants, often in deplorable conditions. Deportation hearings began almost immediately. This is a photo of men waiting to be called for hearings at Ellis Island. It was an incredibly fraught situation. Many of the suspected radicals had lived in the United States for decades. They had families and children--and their children had often been born in the U.S. and were therefore citizens. Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F. Post insisted on full constitutional protection for those rounded up in the Palmer Raids and ended up dismissing the majority of cases. He infuriated Palmer, who arranged for him to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Post's testimony was a major factor in Palmer's downfall. After all was said and done and the panic subsided, the anarchists struck again. The 1920 Wall Street Bombing left 38 dead and hundreds wounded. It was likely the work of the anarchists, who still had not been captured. Historic Newspapers If you are not familiar with the fantastic resource that is the Library of Congress Chronicling America site, let me introduce it to you. It contains scanned newspapers from across the country and the decades. Click here ( to find the results of a search of headlines nationwide on June 3rd, 1919, the morning after the bomb attacks. It's fascinating to compare the...


Pie in the Sky: The Wobblies and the Fight for Labor

The I.W.W. was a tough, militant, radical union, and its very existence terrified business owners, factory bosses, and the entire U.S. government. Since its founding, the law had been out to get the Wobblies. In 1919, as a record number of Americans went on strike for better wages and working conditions, would the union be able to help them? Would the union even survive? The Wobblies were so famous for singing that they repeatedly published their lyrics in "The Little Red Songbook," which contained Wobbly sayings and organizing advice as well as songs. "Big Bill" Haywood was tough and physically imposing, but he had a big heart and a gift for communicating with workers. Samuel Gompers was leader of the IWW-rival the American Federation of Labor. He cultivated a reputation for the organization as reasonable and cooperative--and achieved many results for his members. Pinkerton agent James McParland took over the investigation of the murder of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, and his handling of the main suspect was, shall we say, questionable. McParland was one of the country's most famous Pinkerton agents, known for his infiltration of the Molly Maguires--so famous, in fact, that Arthur Conan Doyle modeled a character in his novel The Valley of Fear on McParland and imagined a conversation between Sherlock Holmes and the real detective. The trial of multiple Wobbly leaders for the murder of Frank Steunenberg garnered nationwide--even international--press attention. The most successful IWW-led strike was the "Bread and Roses" strike in 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Many of the strikers were women, seen here on the picket line. IWW organizers urged the strikers to remain peaceful no matter how much the police and state militia threatened them. The strikers generally remained non-violent, although in one confrontation between the two groups a young woman was shot and killed. It remains uncertain who was responsible, but IWW organizer Joseph Ettor was placed on trial. No evidence connected him to the murder, and he was aquitted. Joe Hill was an uneducated, unskilled Swedish immigrant with a remarkable gift for songwriting--in an adopted language, no less. He was convicted of murder and executed by firing squad in 1915. His death can be seen as matter of perverse stubbornness in the face of officialdom--he refused to explain how he had received a gunshot wound on the night a former policeman was killed. Or it was a blatant miscarriage of justice in which a man with no connection to the the murder victim became a convenient scapegoat. Or perhaps it was both. In any case, Hill became a martyr to the Wobbly cause. This remarkable image shows striking miners and those considered their allies being loaded up into cattle cars on the morning of July 12, 1917 by the sheriff of Bisbee, Arizona and the self-appointed Citizens' Protective League. The men were told if they attempted to return to town, they would be killed. The cattle cars were abandoned across the New Mexico border, leaving the men without food or water. Sheriff Harry Wheeler was unconcerned that his actions might have been illegal. "It became a question of 'Are you American, or are you not?'" he said. In September 1918, 48 IWW offices across the country were raided. This image shows one office after the raid. More than one hundred IWW members and leaders were tried under the Espionage Act. Most were convicted and received sentences of up to twenty years. The union spent most of 1918 and 1919 raising money for defense and appeals. This was a Wobbly fundraising picnic. The banner reads, at the top, "We're in For You" and asks for money for the "Class War Prisoners." When the unions of Seattle called a general strike in January 1919, the mayor was so terrified he requested U.S. Army troops, including machine gun companies, be sent to his town. Actors walked out of Broadway shows in August 1919 in the first Actors Equity union strike. Here actors walk the...


Send All Available Personnel: The United States and the Great Molasses Flood

The Purity Distilling Company molasses tank dominated the North End of Boston, standing 50 feet tall over the surrounding tenements. Residents of the area were accustomed to the sight of tank oozing syrup from its seams and making strange rumbling noises from its depths. And one day in January 1919, life changed forever for Bostonians when the walls of the tank suddenly, inexplicably failed. Was it negligence? Or a vicious attack by anarchists? The molasses storage tank of the Purity Distilling Company stood 50 feet tall and 190 feet in diameter over the North End of Boston. It was constructed in a hurry to meet high demand for molasses to be distilled into ethanol and grain alcohol for rum. Margaret Sanger led the charge for birth control in the United States, opening the first clinic to offer contraception to women in 1916. Sanger founded the organization that would become Planned Parenthood. Sanger began publishing the Birth Control Review in 1917 to promote the cause of legalizing contraception. Since sending information about birth control through the mail was illegal, the magazine was sold by hand. Kitty Marion hawked the Birth Control Review every day in New York City for thirteen years, enduring every kind of harassment from passersby and the police. Even before the United States entered World War I, anti-German swept the country. Numerous states passed laws outlawing the speaking of German in public. These laws were passed in Iowa under then-governor Warren G. Harding. Hysteria about immigrants in general and German-Americans in particular created enormous pressure for people to prove they were 100 percent American. The American Protective League was a private organization that was authorized by the Justice Department to investigate the loyalty of Americans. I didn't go into this in the episode, but the American Protective League spawned a number of both sister and rival organizations, among them the American Defense Society. All of them recruited Americans to spy on their neighbors. This photo shows the extent of damage from the Molasses Flood. Here you can see the elevated railway that ran alongside the tank. If you look closely, you can see steel panels from the sides of the tank twisted under the rail line. This photo shows the damage to the train structure. Only the quick actions of the train brakeman saved the passengers on the following train. The Engine 31 Firehouse was knocked off its foundation, and the first floor collapsed. Several firefighters were trapped in a gap under the second floor ceiling, pinned by rubble, and threatened by a slowly rising tide of molasses. The Boston press was consumed with the story of the Molasses Flood for weeks. Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.) However, I only recommend books that I have used and genuinely highly recommend.


The Great Tide of Our Age: Colonies, Mandates and the Failed Promise of Self-Determination

Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points promised self-determination to colonies around the globe, raising hopes of independence and freedom for millions. But Wilson and the Allies had no intention of letting occupied peoples throw off imperialism. What would be the long-term consequences of raising the hopes and then dashing the dreams of so many people? Nguyễn Ái Quốc, aka Nguyễn Tất Thành, was born in French Indochina and fled to find better opportunities. He was living in Paris in 1919 and working as a busboy at the Ritz. His declaration on the rights of the people of Annam, a land better known today as Vietnam, was ignored by the Western delegates. Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem "The White Man's Burden." ( His purpose was to exhort the United States to join the colonial system by taking over and "civilizing" the Philipplines, which had recently come under American control. It is a deeply racist text, as is the cartoon above from Judge magazine, which shows John Bull (aka England) and Uncle Sam carrying "barbarians" over the rocks of oppression, ignorance and superstition toward the gleaming beacon of civilization. Mandates in the Pacific were all former German colonies. They included: 1. The South Pacific Mandate 2. Territory of New Guinea 3. Nauru 4. Western Samoa Mandates in Western Asia and Africa included: 1. Syria 2. Lebanon 3. Palestine 4. Transjordan 5. Mesopotamia (Iraq) 6. British Togoland 7. French Togoland 8. British Cameroon 9. French Cameroon 10. Ruanda-Urundi 11. Taganyika 12. South West Africa The Japanese delegates to the Paris Peace Conference wanted two things from the Allies: a racial equality clause in the League of Nations covenant and Shandong in China. Australia was one of the most vocal opponents to the racial equality clause. The country was dominated by the White Australia movement, which called to limit immigration to the continent to whites only. This is the cover of a popular song about this topic. When news reached China that the Allies had granted Shandong to Japan, protests erupted across the country. This photo shows a demonstration in Beijing. The May the Fourth movement led directly to the creation of the Chinese Communist Party. Protests also broke out across Korea, then under Japanese rule, in what became known as the March First Movement. The date is still celebrated in Korea as National Liberation Day. All of these photos of protests begin to look alike, but this one stands out because it shows women. It depicts a demonstration in Cairo in 1919 against British. What really alarmed the British about these demonstrations was that so many people, both Christian and Muslim, male and female, participated. Gabriele D'Annunzio was short and balding but incredibly charismatic. After years of fame as a poet, novelist, and playwright, he became a geuine war hero. In 1919, he adopted the cause of the Italian claim on Fiume. D'Annunzio's invasion of Fiume more closely resembled a picnic outing, except for all of the weapons. The new leader of city became known as "Il Duce" and surrounded himself with Italian special forces troops. Benito Mussolini closely followed D'Annunzio's conquest of Fiume and adoped many of his strategies in his March on Rome in 1922, right down to the black shirts and palm-down salute. D'Annunzio was dismissive of Fascism--he had done it all himself first--but Mussolini made a point of paying D'Annunzio's bills, giving him gifts, and appearing in photographs with the poet. Here they are in 1925, with Mussolini on the left and D'Annunzio, showing his age, on the right. Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn...


A Grubby Little War: The Collapse of the Ottoman Empire

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire set off a mad scramble for territory. No one paid any attention to what the people who actually lived in the former empire actually wanted. But in the heart of Anatolia, one Turkish general was determined to preserve his homeland. In 1914, the Ottoman Empire stretched from the border of Europe all the way to the Arabian Peninsula, although the amount of control actually exerted by Istanbul diminished with distance from the capital. The Gallipoli Campaign was a British strategy to attack the Central Powers from the southeast. The first step was to conquer the Dardanelles, the waterway that connects the Mediterranean with the Black Sea. The British assumed the weakened Ottoman army would provide little resistance. But under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal, the Ottomans mounted a spirited defense and drove off the Allied troops. This is an image of ANZAC Cove, where Australian and New Zealand troops, who bore the brunt of the invasion attempt, were headquartered. Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal became a national hero and the savior of Gallipoli. The Arab Revolt was a British-backed campaign of Bedouin troops to overthrow the Ottomans. Through daring raids, railroad attacks, and desert marches, the Arabs forced the Ottomans out of territory from the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Syria. In the Mesopotamian Campaign, British troops conquered modern-day Iraq, marching into Baghdad in 1917. This photo depicts British units parading through the city. Note that many of them were Indian soldiers, likely Sikhs from Punjab. When Russia moved south through the Caucasus into Turkey, the Turks believed that Armenians were aiding them. In retribution, the Turks carried out a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that killed, according to Armenian accounts, 1.5 million people. Photographed here are Armenian refugees at a Red Cross camp outside of Jerusalem. The Kurds live in a mountainous territory that overlaps the boundaries of today's Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurdish nationalist movement was in its infancy in 1919 and found it difficult to achieve international support for its aims. The British promised a lot of people a lot of things during the war, and most of those promises were incompatible. This map shows one proposed post-war configuration, with an independent Armenia and France in control of southern Turkey, northern Syria, and Lebanon. British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued a declaration in support of the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1917. This was a monumental step toward the eventual creation of the state of Israel--and prompted protests and riots among Palestinians. Prince Faisal, who expected to become King of Syria, invited himself to the Paris Peace Conference to plead his cause. Lawrence of Arabia, third from right, accompanied him as a translator and guide. They were very definitely not wanted. Faisal was later crowned King of the new Iraq. This is a rare photo of the ceremony. Notice that Faisal is surrounded by British military officers, a sight that would not have reassured Iraqis worried about the independence of their new country. Greek troops invaded Turkey in 1919, prompting a furious reaction. This is a photo of protests in Istanbul--notice Haghia Sophia in the background. Mustafa Kemal did more than protest. He headed to the Anatolian heartland with a core group of army officers and began organizing the Turkish War of Independence. His arrival in the city of Samsun on May 19, 1919 is a day of celebration in Turkey. This is an artist's depiction of Kemal's arrival. The Treaty of Sevres captured on paper the reality that Britain was attempting to establish on the ground. Notice the independent Armenia in the east and the French Mandate in Syria. Italians were granted a zone in southern Turkey and Greeks in the south and west. On paper, the Zone of the Straits was to be an international territory supervised by the League of Nations; on the...


No Question of Undue Severity: The India Independence Movement

At the end of World War I, Great Britain promised India increased autonomy with one hand and took civil rights away with another. The furious population welcomed the leadership of a nationalist with a compelling message of non-violence and self-reliance, one Mohandas K. Gandhi. But when Gandhi organized nationwide protests, the British reacted with fear and force, especially in Amritsar, where a mob lashed out against English residents. The confrontation would end in one of the most shocking events in colonial history. After Indians revolted against British rule in 1857, the British believed that only overwhelming force could keep the subcontinent under British control. This newspaper cartoon illustrates what the colonial authorities feared the most: that Indians would assault English women and children. Indian servants raised British children, cooked British food, washed British clothes, and tended to every British need. But the British never trusted the people among who they lived. Nearly 2 million Indian soldiers and support staff served in World War I. Nationalists expected that their loyal service would be rewarded by increased autonomy within the British empire. Mohandas K. Gandhi returned to India eager to employ his principles of non-violent resistance in the struggle for Indian independence. For Gandhi, spinning was both a practical way for India to become economically independent and a strategy for promoting traditional crafts. It was also a symbol of Indian self-reliance. Gandhi pushed spinning on everyone he met. Amritsar, in Punjab, is home to the Darbar Sahib, a holy site in the Sikh faith. This diagram of Jallianwala Bagh shows the size of the space, the location of the soldiers, and the limited number of exits. Brigadier-General R.E.H. Dyer was born in India and served around the empire as well as on the Western Front. He estimated his troops had killed between 200 and 300 people and asserted, "There was no question of undue severity." Among the reprisals Dyer imposed on Amritsar, the most notorious was the "crawling order"--the demand that Indians crawl on their stomachs down the street where the schoolteacher Miss Sherwood was attacked. Gandhi accelerated his non-cooperation protests after the Amritsar Massacre, eventually calling on peasants to stop paying their taxes. In March 1922, he was arrested and convicted of sedition. He was sentenced to six years but only served two. On August 1, 1919, Gopal Singh of the Ghadar Party presented Eamon de Valera with a sword. The sword was sheathed, a symbol of India's non-violence resistance to the British. But de Valera unsheathed it, marking Ireland's use of force. Both nations would achieve independence accompanied by bloodshed, but Gandhi's refusal to confront the British on their own terms infuriated the British in a way the Irish never did. Today, Jallianwala Bagh is a beautifully landscaped memorial shrine that includes this painting of the massacre, observed here by an Indian girl on the 100th anniversary of the event. Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.) However, I only recommend books that I have used and genuinely highly recommend.


Giving the Natives a Free Hand: The Irish Fight for Independence

The Irish had tried to free themselves from British control for centuries, always to fail. But in 1922, the Irish Free State took its place among the world's independent nations. Learn how an election, a shadow government, and a key literally baked into a cake brought independence to Ireland--along with a bloody civil war. Thomas Ash died in a British prison in 1917 after a botched forced feeding when he refused to lift his hunger strike. His funeral had every appearance of a state funeral, even though when Ash died he was considered a traitor by the British. Here a squad from the Irish Volunteer Army fire a volley at his graveside. The day after Easter 1916, Irish nationalist rebels seized key locations in Dublin in an attempt to spark a national uprising. Few photos were taken by the rebels. This rather poor quality image is one of the only in existence; it was taken from within the General Post Office and shows several soldiers. Notice how young many of them are. James Connally led forces in the General Post Office. He was praised for his courage and determination; Michael Collins later said he would have followed him through hell. Michael Collins was young, dashing, and handsome--and relatively unknown before the Rising. The American-born Eamon de Valera led troops in the southeastern part of Dublin. Within a day of the rising, British troops began pouring into the city and quickly overwhelmed the rebels. The situation rapidly deteriorated for the rebels. This drawing is an artist's depiction of the last day with the General Post Office. Notice the smoke from fires and the wounded Thomas Connally lying on a stretcher. On Saturday, they had no choice but to surrender. Dublin was left in ruins and 260 civilians were left dead. The British rapidly executed 16 men, inadvertently turning public opinion against them and creating a whole host of martyrs to the Irish cause. Commemorative posters like this were popular across Ireland. Irish republican leaders poured their efforts into winning the vote in the 1918 general election. They framed the election as a mandate on Ireland's future--and won. The Irish were well aware of the fight for self-determination among other European nations such as Czechoslovakia. When the Peace Conference opened in 1919, the Irish argued they deserved independence as much as the Czech or the Poles, sometimes using blatantly racist arguments. The first Dail Eireann, or Irish national assembly, moved rapidly to create a shadow government in early 1919. Michael Collins, the minister of finance, is second from the left; Eamon de Valera, president, is fifth from the left. Irish-American activists urged Woodrow Wilson to take up the cause of Ireland at the Paris Peace Conference. This postcard is a political cartoon that shows Uncle Sam escorting Ireland into the conference. Wilson refused to address the issue of Ireland, following the insistence of British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George that Ireland was not the business of the conference. Wilson would pay for this decision when Irish-Americans organized against the League of Nations and helped ensure its defeat in the the U.S. Senate. Eamon de Valera spent most of his first two years in office touring the United States to raise money and support for Ireland. He toured the entire country and made a remarkable visit to the Chippewa reservation in Wisconsin. He greeted the Chippewa as a representative from one oppressed nation to another. The Chippewa adoped de Valera as a member of their tribe and gave him this magnificent headdress. Meanwhile, back in Ireland, IRA units systematically targeted members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, killing and wounding hundreds. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Sir John French, denounced Sinn Fein as a "club for killing policemen." The British responded to the RIC attacks by sending in veterans of the Great War, nicknamed the Black and Tans for the dark coats they wore over khaki uniforms. The Black...


No Cause for Panic: The Spanish Flu Pandemic

The emergence of the flu virus that swept the globe between 1918 and 1920 was entirely unexpected, but the resulting pandemic can't be called an entirely natural disaster. Governments made decisions that made the flu much, much worse, and those decisions would have long-lasting consequences--and leave between 50 and 100 million dead. Colonel Charles Hagadorn was a respected officer who had served in the Philippines, Northern Mexico, and Panama as well as at West Point as a drawing instructor. His suicide was reported across the United States. Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois was like many of the army camps thrown together after the United States declared war on Germany. The camp's experience with the Spanish Flu was not unusual; many camps were devasted by the pandemic. In this photo, soldiers at the camp play baseball, probably during the months either before or after the flu, since during the crisis all hands were needed to care for the sick and tend to the dead. This photo depicts typical hospital conditions in army camps. It was taken at Camp Funston in Kansas, which some researchers believe was where the flu virus originated. Unusually virulent cases of flu had been reported in Kansas, and the camp saw some of the first cases in the United States. That did not stop the camp from sending soldiers to other camps across the country and to Europe. Despite the fact that cases of flu had been reported among navy personnel in Philadelphia, the city went ahead with its massive Liberty Loan parade in September 1918. The streets were packed with several hundred thousand people. Within days, tens of thousands fell ill. As the crisis continued, the Archbishop threw open churches for use as hospitals, ordered seminary students to help bury the dead, and allowed cloistered nuns to serve as nurses. Toward the end of the pandemic, the city had to recruit workers to dig mass graves for the dead. Cities tried to implement measures to limit the spread of the disease. Spitting on the street was a frequent target. Islands and remote communities tried to impose quarantines to keep out the sickness. Many of these, as in Prince Edward Island, Canada and Australia, proved ineffective. However, Gunnison, Colorado's strict restrictions kept the flu out of the community. Despite the dire situation, many governments tried to downplay the seriousness of the flu. They considered it important to maintain morale and avoid panic. The Albuquerque Morning Journal argued that fear took more lives than the disease. The flu was a global disaster, although I have found it difficult to find photos that give a real sense of its scope. This image is from Tokyo and shows schoolgirls wearing gauze masks in an attempt to prevent spreading or catching the disease. Masks were worn around the world during the flu outbreak. I mentioned in the episode the terrible losses in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Native villages across Alaska were hit particularly hard by the flu, and thousands of orphans were left in the aftermath of the pandemic. This photo shows a group of these orphans at the Kanakanak government orphanage. Mohandas K. Gandhi, seen here in a photo from 1915, was one of many political and social leaders who became seriously ill with the flu. Katherine Anne Porter, pictured here about 1912, nearly died in the influenza epidemic and was one of few writers of the era to chronicle her experience. It is a truth universally acknowledged that no matter how terrible the crisis, someone will try to make money off of it. The Victor Victrola dealer of Billings, Montana, for example, informed the public they could still enjoy music even while concert halls and movie theaters were closed if they bought their own record player. Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in...


Eggshells Loaded with Dynamite: Allied Intervention in the Russian Revolution

In 1919, thousands of American soldiers fought Russian troops on Russian soil--despite the fact President Woodrow Wilson had promised to allow Russia to determine its own political future. Why did the Allies rush to land troops in eastern Siberia and along the Arctic Ocean? And why have we forgotten all about it? General William S. Graves wanted to lead troops in France, but instead he was given confusing and contradictory orders and sent to Vladivostok in far eastern Siberia. The Americans joined representatives of multiple other nations in Vladivostok, including French, British, Romanian, Serbian, Polish and Japanese troops. Many of the British units were from Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. Representatives of the Czechoslovak Legion and the White Army were also on hand. In this photo, American soldiers parade through Vladivostok shortly after their arrival in 1918. I continue to struggle to find maps that show what I want. This one shows a few key points. First, the location of the territory firmly in Bolshevik hands, land generally surrounding Moscow, is in dark gray. The route of the Trans-Siberian Railway, along which the Czechoslovak Legion seized territory, crosses Siberia. Dark arrows indicate where various Allied troops landed and tried to advance into Russia. You'll notice arrows moving up from the South, from the Crimea and around the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. These were primarily French and British troops, and Americans weren't involved. I haven't discussed these attempted invasions just to simplify matters. Conditions in Siberia and northern Russia were predictably harsh. This photo shows American soldiers eating while sitting on a snow bank. This looks like a relatively happy gathering; it was not usually this pleasant. This photo gives at least an inkling how cold it was, especially in northern Russia. Most Americans had no idea their soldiers were in Russia until the issue was picked up by Senator Hiram Johnson of California. Johnson, a Republican who despised President Wilson, made the return of the troops his number one priority in late 1918/early 1919. He hoped the issue would carry him all the way to the White House. Johnson's pressure combined with the new-found strength of the Red Army and the general American desire to bring all of the boys home ended American intervention in Russia. Most troops in northern Russia were home by the summer of 1919. The Polar Bear Division, the 339th Infantry Regiment from Michigan, were welcomed with an enormous party in Detroit, seen here. Japan sent more than 70,000 troops to Vladivostok. The campaign became deeply unpopular at home, in part because its purpose was unclear, in part because it was a resounding failure. In order to rally public support, Japan produced numerous propaganda images. This one shows Japanese troops landing at Vladivostok to the great joy of the Russian people. The defeat of the Japanese army in Siberia contributed to the collapse of democratic rule in Japan. Americans might have forgotten about the Allied intervention in Russia, but the Russians certainly didn't. When Nikita Krushchev visited New York in September 1959, he pointedly brought up "the time you sent the troops to quell the revolution." Please note that the links below to Amazon are affiliate links. That means that, at no extra cost to you, I can earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. (Here's what, legally, I'm supposed to tell you: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.) However, I only recommend books that I have used and genuinely highly recommend.


The Object of Power: The Russian Revolution and Conflict in Eastern Europe, Part II

The world has been obsessed with the tragedy of the Romanov family for more than a century. It's easy to forget that the Tsar's family were among hundreds of thousands of people killed in the Revolution as well as in conflicts that swept across Eastern Europe. These conflicts would have lasting implications for the entire world. Notes and Links I have really struggled to find a map that shows what I want a map to show. None of them really focus on exactly what I'm focusing on, alas. But, this is one of the best I've found. This map is dated to the end of 1918. Notice the purple stripe that goes all the way across central Siberia--that's the Trans-Siberian Railway and the territory controlled by the Czechoslovak Legion. Eventually, the White Army would travel along the railway with the Czechoslovaks and fight the Red Army. The dark blue areas labeled "1" are areas where Allies invaded and seized territory. The reddish-brown area in the west is the territory controlled by the Bolsheviks. OK, here's another map--and you're going to say, "That's not even in English!" No, it's not, but work with me here. Just refer to the previous image. This map is a year or so later than the previous one. The Trans-Siberian Railway is the black and white line crossing the entire map. Those red arrows along the line show the path of the Bolsheviks moving against the Legion and the White Army as they retreat back to Vladivostok. Notice the dark red striped area in the upper west. That's the Bolshevik-controlled territory, and you can see from the red arrows how the Red Army moved out of this stronghold and across the entire country. Ukraine is the lime green area on the far left of the map. It was handed over to Germany in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, but Russia reclaimed it. The borders on this map reflect the final size of the new USSR by 1922. It's not hard to see the Romanov daughters as individuals. You can find biographies of each young woman online and learn all sorts of details of their lives. Here you see Tatiana seated, with Maria, Anastasia, and Olga from left to right. Similarly, Alexei is recognizable across history as a little boy whose life was shadowed by an incurable and painful illness but who liked to play tricks on his sisters and always wanted a bicycle. In contrast, the many victims of the Red Terror, and the simultaneous White Terror, are difficult to discern as individuals. I found photos from the Terror, but I'm not going to post them here. They are horrifying. Allied troops, including British, French, Japanese, and American soldiers, were sent to Vladivostok in the far east and Archangel north of St. Petersburg. French and British troops also fought in southern Russia. This photo depicts American units marching through Vladivostok. The Allies never sent enough men to make a real difference in the conflict, and they were withdrawn after having done little more than offend the Russians. The Allies took their own sweet time returning the Czechoslovak Legion to their newly formed homeland; the last troops weren't evacuated from Vladivostok until early 1921. The Legion was incredibly frustrated by the delay. This is a cartoon from a newspaper operated by Legion troops . It shows one last soldier standing along the Sea of Japan waiting for a ship home; it's dated, facetiously, 1980. This map shows the new nations created after the war in eastern Europe. Finland, Estonia and Latvia achieve independence from Russia. Poland was combined from portions of Russia, Germany, and the Austria-Hungarian empire. Notice the pale green strip extending to the Baltic Sea; that's the Polish corridor, that left East Prussia separate from the rest of Germany. Czechoslovakia, Austria and Hungary arose out of the former Austria-Hungarian Empire. The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was soon renamed Yugoslavia; it combined territory from Austria-Hungary with the former Serbia. Romania seized territory from its neighbors, gaining a...