What a difference a century makes

A dip into the press archives from 1910 reveals something of the zeitgeist of the times.



 NY TIMES August 14, 1910. Copyright: The New York Times


As the year draws to a close journalists rarely miss the opportunity to take stock of how the media covered the preceding 12 months. 


Why don’t we try something different? Why not rewind the clock 100 years, dip into the press archives available and take a tour of not 2010 but 1910? Let’s see if we can sample the zeitgeist, the spirit of the time, as seen through the eyes of mainstream Western press. 


I’m not going to do this chronologically from January to December, so enjoy this somewhat random, somewhat bumpy ride:


From the New York Times July 4, 1910 we find a small article entitled: 


Zionists in Convention

Express hope for haven in Palestine for European Jews


In Pittsburgh “Three hundred delegates of the American Federation of Zionists, together with 2,000 local Jews, met here to-day in their thirteenth annual convention. The tenor of the addresses was that the hope of a national haven in Palestine for the oppressed Jews of Europe would soon be realized.”


A couple of months earlier on May 9, 1910 the same newspaper reported:


Palestine Colonists Back


In Portland – “Sixty-six of the eighty-six persons on the barkentine kingdom, which arrived yesterday from the Holy Land comprised the colony of the Holy Ghost and US Society of Shiloh Me.”

They interview a chap called Rev. Frank W. Sanford who said “the settlement in Palestine would be abandoned for the present, but that members might return later”.

The Reverend seemed to be missing home. “It is a pleasure for me to breathe the air of Maine again… and we shall all be glad when we get back to Shiloh.”


Over to the Philadelphia Record on January 12,1910.


Starving man hurls clubs at gay diners


No, it wasn’t a homophobic attack. More like a happy-phobic one. Words do indeed evolve fascinatingly. Some humans evolve from one race to another within years, according to the story that was just above it which read: 


Negro woman turning white


The article pondered over the strange condition of Lucretia Carpenter from Long Island.


Although some humans may not have evolved at all, at least that’s what some readers of the NY Times might’ve gathered after reading an editorial from Dr Irving W.Voorhees on August 27, 1910 which was titled:


Darwin’s Theory Losing Ground


Another interesting piece on being human in the NY Times was their transcript on May 13, 1910 of a lecture of former President Theodore Roosevelt called “The World Movement” given at the University of Berlin: 


“The German strain in our blood is large…”

“We have taken from you, not only much of the blood that runs through our veins but much of the thought that shapes our minds….thanks to the wise foresight of his imperial Majesty, the present Emperor, the intimate and friendly connection between the two countries is now in every way closer than it has ever been before.”


Arguably, this has held true this past century apart from the odd world war or two that killed millions.


On the subject of war, the Boston Evening Transcript on March 9, 1910 had an article: 


Suffrage War Opens

Debating the issue of whether women should vote in the US we come across a fascinating lady called Madame Belle-Ranske of London speaking to audience of female anti-suffragists highlighting how “unbalanced woman can be when she goes into politics”, her “inexperience and blundering can make everything worse” and reminding them that “woman has now all the proper responsibilities that she can stand”. 


Back to the NY Times on August 14, 1910 – and a feature on religion in Africa.


Mohammedanism’s startling increase in Africa 


Unless Christian Missions Increase Their Activities, Says the Berlin Missionary Society, the Dark Continent Will be Completely Conquered by Islam


A few choice quotes: “Mohammedanism has been well established in the Dark Continent for many centuries. It has its Egyptian stronghold from which to work: it has missionaries zealous for their faith, and, what is more, it finds in every trader, in every Arab who crosses the desert a means of spreading the propaganda.”


German missionaries were concerned: “When once the negro has been won over to Islam he loses his natural respect for the whites and his naive tractability, and becomes imbued with mistrust not only toward Christian missions but also toward the white race and European dominion.”


But all was not lost it seems, “The black man of intelligence readily absorbs the white man’s learning, and with it has a natural tendency to take in his religion, too. Adaptability is a marked characteristic of the negro, and up to the present he has not drawn very fine distinctions.”


Matching the missionary hubris was pride of the technological kind, this time from October 21 in the Montreal Gazette:


Olympic, the largest steamer in the world, successfully launched yesterday


“Indeed, if the Olympic and her sister vessel, Titanic [soon to be launched] were placed end to end under the Brooklyn Bridge, they would completely block the East River and extend over the shore one hundred feet on each side.”


No description of how they might deal with icebergs, unfortunately.


The Glasgow Herald on April 21, showcases a detailed, and worrying crime trend in British-held Egypt.

Egypt’s Criminal Statistics 

An unfavourable report


It sits next to another article titled:


Anglo-Egyptian Sudan 

Question of International Status

An important judgement


It talks of a mixed-court judgement ruling, among other things,

“The Sudan has not returned to Egypt free of all charges, but encumbered with the right of conquest, to the profit of Great Britain who in large measure contributed to the cost of the War”.


Remembering of course that in the 1920s, the British went about dividing Sudan into two separate territories – a mainly Arabic-speaking, Muslim north, and a predominantly Christian and Animist south. 

Did I hear anyone say 2011 referendum?

Moving to The Milwaukee Sentinel on December 14 with an article warning:



Revolutionary fervour in Turkey’s dependency reported to have reached breaking point


“Turkish officials expect the whole of Arabia will soon be in arms against their further rule.”


“The Arabians hate the young Turks, branding them as infidels. The majority of Arabians are true Mohammedans and almost fanatical in their religious zeal.”


The Boston Evening Transcript of August 25, 1910 had an article saying,




It’s a story about a millionaire philanthropist decided against distributing any more pasteurized milk because of opposition to it. 

“Scientists are divided as to the value of pasteurized product…” the paper says.


There was no crying over spilt milk among the recently annexed Koreans in the article above it.


Korea Takes News Quietly

Unofficial Announcement of Annexation is Made at Seoul


“Unofficial announcement of the annexation of Korea by Japan was made here today…”

“Many of the leading Koreans appear unconcerned about the change in the status of their country.”


When Japan was later defeated in World War Two, the victors didn’t really know what to do with Korea, and so the Soviets took the North and the US took the South. The rest that followed of course, was anything but quiet.


With Apartheid still almost half a century away, The Sydney Mail on August 17, 1910 highlights:




“The Dominion of South Africa apprehends serious trouble from attempts to solve the native franchise problem.” 


And over across the Atlantic, 16 years before the birth of Fidel Castro and 49 years before he would reshape Cuba into a communist republic, The Pittsburgh Press of June 28, 1910 had a tantalizing headline:



Biggest sporting resort in western hemisphere to be erected in Cuban capital


“It will be backed by Cuban and American capitalists who have incorporated a $400,000 company.”


“The promoters plan to make Havana the biggest gambling Mecca in the world outside of Monte Carlo and possibly Nice and Venice…”

“The franchise gives the company the right to use during its ‘carnival seasons’ all the vacant lots belonging to the city, on which it is proposed to erect temporary gambling booths and places for other amusements. The purpose of this is to give the company an ironclad monopoly on all gambling privileges in the city.

“The city authorities have promised the utmost security from interference and in return the company will probably be called on to make a liberal division with the city, though in what form has not yet been determined.

“President Gomez himself is quoted as favoring the enterprise, and other government officials are openly supporting it.”


Should we sharply judge those leaders, experts, laymen and journalists from a century ago – or are we too merely products of our time in the slideshow of the human experience?

And when the time comes for us to be judged, perhaps a hundred years from now in 2110 – will our words and reports, observations and proclamations, lectures and pontifications leave a legacy of inspiration or humiliation?

Will our descendants cast a backward glance at us as a stepping stone to their greatness, or their destruction?


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