Earlier generations endured hardship, too

Published 8:15 am Monday, April 6, 2009

If you think things are bad in the world this year, maybe it would help to look back a century or so. Maybe things today are not all that bad.

Consider 1909. Those folks, like us, were entering a new century. They had no idea that the roof was about to fall in with two world wars.

In Italy, 200,000 people died in an earthquake centered in Messina. Many more were expected to die from starvation and pneumonia. The U.S., Greece and Argentina sent aid.

Some were saddened that year by the approach of Prohibition as state after state adopted a dry status.

It was reported that dry counties in the South consumed more liquor than before Prohibition was introduced.

William Howard Taft was sworn in as president. The ceremony was moved inside the White House because of a blizzard.

Army recruiters were told by the government to slow down on signing men (only) to army service. The entire U.S. Army numbered 77,000. Old timers will remember that soldiers in that army made something like $21 a month.

Sen. William M. Stewart from Nevada introduced an amendment to the constitution saying that race or color should not impede any American from voting. Congress passed the amendment, but it took a long time to enact it.

Former President Teddy Roosevelt killed a rhinoceros and three tigers in Africa. What would the PETA (People for Ethical Treatment for Animals) have to say about that?

In Morocco, Jews were forbidden to look at the Sultan’s palace. Harvard Law School refused to admit a woman.

The mayor of New York vetoed equal pay for female teachers and the Vatican denounced women’s fashions as immodest. Mary Pickford (real name Gladys Smith) was paid $40 each week for her work in D. W. Griffith’s silent films.

Barney Oldfield set world records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Glenn H. Curtiss set a record by flying 12.42 miles in 15 minutes.

A flood took 1,200 lives in Monterey, Calif.

The machines of political parties ran all big city elections.

In Cherry Point, Ill., 400 miners died as a result of an explosion inside the mines. Mine deaths for the year totaled 2,494.

The year 1909 saw 26 football deaths and 70 injuries.

Caruso sang in his first radio broadcast from New York.

In Egypt, an Islamic revolt was growing with the Christian premier assassinated. Riots broke out in the West Indies. An American soldier was killed in Nicaragua in a rebel uprising.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet, taking refuge from the Chinese.

Pope Pius X refused an audience with Charles Fairbanks, a Methodist and former U.S. vice president.

Prince Ito, 72, Japan’s greatest statesman, was assassinated by a Korean national.

On days when you feel a little down, think about these disasters and try these figures: Average life expectancy in the early 1900s was 47 years. Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub; eight percent had a telephone. In the U.S. there were only 8,000 cars on the road and there were only 144 miles of paved road in the whole country.

Cheer up. Things could be worse.

(And if you’re still not feeling up to snuff, let me know and next week we’ll come forward in time about 20 years and talk about 1929.)

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index. He does not remember 1909. He looked it up.