It’s instructive at the end of any year to consider how far we have or haven’t come. But a single year is too brief to get a good sense of larger trends. Each of us knows how our own year went, and the media provides their own assessments, distorted by the currents of political partisanship and an overriding interest in ratings. (When the media tries a longer perspective the results can be even more peculiar: this morning on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal I heard Carl Cannon, senior Washington correspondent for Politics Daily, claim that the attacks on 9/11 were less a “defining moment” for the past decade than the gathering of politicians the following day to sing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol Building.) So I’d like to suggest a 100-year perspective–a look back to 1909–what for some must have been a terrible year they were happy to say goodbye to!
President: William H. Taft
Vice President: James S. Sherman
Federal spending: $0.69 billion
Cost of a first-class stamp: $0.02
Nobel Prize for Literature: Selma Lagerlöf (the first woman to win that prize)
Other Literary News:
T. S. Eliot begins writing poetry.
Ezra Pound publishes Personae and Exultations in the
United Kingdom (his third and third collections respectively).
William Carlos Williams self-publishes his first collection,
Poems, of which only two copies are known to exist.
Jean Cocteau, at age 19, publishes La Lampe d’Aladin.
Stephen Spender was born on February 28.
Yannis Ritsos was born on May 1.
German bacteriologist Paul Ehrlich finds a cure for syphilis.
Guglielmo Marconi (Italy) and Ferdinand Braun (Germany) win the Nobel Prize in Physics for development of wireless radio.
Composer Joe E. Howard introduced “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” a song that would remain popular for the next 50 years.
The most popular movie of 1909 was D. W. Griffith‘s The Restoration.
And perhaps the most heartening retrospective news from 1909 is this:
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded by prominent black and white intellectuals and led by W. E. B. Du Bois. Did the founders’ imaginations ever flirt with the idea of a black president of the United States, I wonder….