The Comstock Act is a federal statute passed by Congress in 1873 under the name, "Act of the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use". The statute criminalized possession and distribution of information about or devices or medications for "unlawful" abortion or contraception. The act also banned the import of these materials from abroad. The punishment for violation of the act could include up to five years of imprisonment with manual labor and a fine of $2,000. Vestiges of the law endured in America until the 1990s.
Doctorow's use of intertextuality, his mix of historical and fictional characters, and his rewriting of the narrator and the characters' identities all point to how reality and history are not fixed notions and they are rewritten and recreated continuously.
Historiographic metafiction is a genre of literature in which authors call into question the reliability of history through the literary devices of metafiction. These novels blur the line between history and fiction based on the idea that history is constantly being written and rewritten through the subjective point of view of different historians. Each historian must use their imagination to construct a history based on previous texts which were also imagined by historians, with each new history becoming more fictional than the last. Historiographic metafiction is distinguished from historical fiction in that the former is characterized by a distrust for history. Historiographic metafiction also includes allusions to other "artistic, historical, and literary texts (i.e. intertextuality) in order to show the extent to which" both literature and history are dependent on discussion.
An example of this in Ragtime would be the rewritten identity of America that Doctorow presents from the beginning to the end of the book. In the first chapter of the novel, Doctorow writes that "there were no Negroes. There were no immigrants." However, this contrasts with the American family we see in the last chapter of the novel. Mother adopts a Latvian immigrant girl and an African American boy in a nation that supposedly did not have any black people or immigrants. Doctorow creates an unrealistic historical image of America dealing with issues of racial purity, national identity, unity, and prosperity that he then deconstructs.
Below is an incredible essay on Ragtime and the genre of historiographic metafiction by English professor at Oklahoma State University, Paula Anca Farca:
This same winter found Tateh and his daughter in the mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. They had come there the previous autumn, having heard there were jobs. Tate stood in front of a loom for fifty-six hours a week. His pay was just under six dollars. The family lived in a wooden tenement on a hill. They had no heat. They occupied one room overlooking an alley in which residents customarily dumped their garbage. He feared she would fall victim to the low-class elements of the neighborhood...The dismal wooden tenements lay in endless rows. Everyone from Europe was there--the Italians, the Poles, the Belgians, the Russian Jews. The feeling was not good between the different groups.
In early 1912, a state law was introduced limiting the number of hours women could work to 54 hours per week. Instead of shortening the work week as instructed, the mill owners of the American Woolen Company shorted the paychecks of their women mill workers. Despite not belonging to any union, a few Polish women went on strike on January 11 when they noticed the shorted paychecks. On January 12, 10,000 workers walked off the job, with the number soon rising to 25,000, many of whom were immigrants. Nationalities represented in the Lawrence Textile Strike include Italian, Hungarian, Portuguese, French-Canadian, Slavic, and Syrian. The city of Lawrence rang its riot bells in panic. Many strikers met the next day with an organizer from the I.W.W. to set their demands--15% pay increase, 54 hour work week, double pay for overtime, elimination of bonus pay.
On January 29, Anna LoPizzo was shot, allegedly by police as they broke up a picket line. Police instead arrested strike organizers Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti for the murder of LoPizzo who were at a meeting three miles away at the time of her death. After this arrest, martial law was declared and all public meetings were declared illegal.
Violence around town led many children of immigrants to be sent to New York, as Tateh attempted to do with Little Girl. Around 200 children were sent away on trains, with some 5,000 people showing up at the station to receive them in a demonstration of solidarity and to assist with finding them foster homes. The success of the so-called "children's crusade" in bringing awareness and sympathy to the Lawrence strikers led the authorities to send militia to intervene with the next attempt to send children to New York. Mothers and children were clubbed and arrested. Children were separated from their parents. The brutality of this event gained national coverage and led to an investigation by Congress. Seeing the national reaction and fearing further government involvement, the mill owners gave in on March 12 to the strikers's original demands at the American Woolen Company.
The Lawrence Textile Strike is sometimes called the "Bread and Roses" strike because of a speech given by Rose Schneiderman invoking the slogan, "We want Bread and Roses, too":
What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist--the right to life as the rich woman has it, the right to life, and the sun, and music, and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.
This rallying cry signaled to the world that workers wanted more than just economic benefits, but for their basic humanity to be recognized.
...he had therefore agreed that some sort of temporary accord between the socialists and the anarchists was advisable, if only for the evening, the funds raised for the occasion would go to support the shirtwaist makers, who were then on strike, and the steelworkers and McKeesport, Pennsylvania, who were on strike, and the anarchist Francisco Ferrer, who was going to be condemned and executed by the Spanish government for fomenting a general strike in Spain.
Led by Clara Lemlich and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, or the Uprising of the 20,000, took place from November 1909 to March 1911. Women in the garment industry, New York's largest industry, were severely mistreated, working up to 75 hours a week, required to pay for their own equipment, their clothes lockers, and even the seats they sat upon. The toilets were outside of the building, separated from the workroom by padlocked steel doors so that the women must ask for permission to go to the bathroom.
Seventy percent of the shirtwaist factories was Jewish women. Many of these immigrant women had been a part of the Bund, the General Jewish Worker's Union in Russia and Poland, so they were no stranger to organized labor. After the ILGWU called for a strike to improve working conditions and unionize the shirtwaist factories, the one thousand who responded to the strike appeal paid bitterly. They were taunted, threatened, and even arrested. Morale weakened after five weeks of a feeble strike. In November the ILGWU called for an emergency meeting to raise morale and continue the strike, at which Clara Lemlich, a 19 year-old Jewish worker, outshone the male speakers by delivering an impromptu speech in Yiddish that appealed for united action against all shirtwaist manufacturers. "In an industry with some 32,000 workers..., over 20,000 shirtwaist workers--all women--joined the Triangle strikers in a citywide walkout."
In the first month of the strike, 723 girls were arrested. The press, the clergy, women's suffrage leaders, and many upper-class New Yorkers lent support to the shirtwaist strikers. Many wealthy women provided bail money and even marched with the strikers on the picket lines. The shirtwaist management "had lost the war of public opinion".
Finally, the management consented to negotiate. Under the new terms, the workweek was reduced to 52 hours, four paid holidays were provided, employees were no longer required to provide their own tools, and a joint grievance committee was created to negotiate any further issues. The successful strike was an important milestone for the American labor movement and especially for garment industry unions.
Henry Ford had begun making cars in the 1900s, and had already developed the Model T, a "car for the masses", by 1908. It was October 7, 1913, however, that shaped Henry Ford's future and the future of manufacturing as well.
Before the assembly line, car manufacturing was expensive and time consuming. Teams of workers would rotate among stations with a single car, which meant each worker had to be trained in the manufacture of the entire car. Upon the invention of the assembly line, one car traveled among workers instead, with each worker contributing one part to the whole. A 3,000 part machine was broken down into 84 steps performed by these groups of workers. The change was "immediate and significant". In 1912, Ford Motor Company produced 82,388 Model T's sold for $600 each. By 1916, production had reached 585, 388 Model T's at $360 per car. Production time for one vehicle dropped from 12 hours to just 90 minutes. Production cost for one vehicle dropped from $850 to less than $300.
He also raised minimum wage for Ford factory workers from $2.34 for a nine hour day to $5 for an eight hour day. This change began what is known as "the Great Migration" of workers from around the world to the industrial mid-west, specifically to work for Ford. Ford's $5 work day also enabled his workers to actually buy the vehicles they built. This created both loyalty and the rise middle-class consumerism among workers.
What does that actually mean? Socialism comprises a range of economic and social systems. The central ideas of socialism include social ownership, which places ownership of the means of production (facilities, machinery, tools, capital) with the public or with employees of a certain enterprise, and democratic control of the means of production, which places autonomy over working conditions, leadership in the workplace, and day-to-day operations back in the hands of the workers. Socialist political movements are primarily directed against the social and economic problems wrought by capitalism, problems that socialists such as Tateh would have felt on a regular basis.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies organized into voluntary institutions. Anarchism believes the state, as well as other authority or hierarchical organization, to be unnecessary and harmful. Like socialism, there are many strains of anarchism, the most common being social anarchism (or socialist anarchism), which shares a strong belief in community and social equality with socialism.
Harry Houdini was born Erik Weisz to Mayer Samuel Weisz and Cecilia Steiner Weisz when Cecilia was 33 years old, "somewhat late by 19th century standards". The two shared an intense bond since Erik was just an infant. According to Cecilia, she just had to hold Harry to her breast to get him to immediately stop crying. When Erik, now Harry Houdini, struck out with one of brothers in a magic act performed at city carnivals, museums, and beer halls, he relied on his mother for encouragement. They frequently wrote to each other, and Cecilia helped select his costumes even after he became famous. Houdini would even sit on his mother's lap at times "to re-enact the story of the calming influence she had on him as a child". Houdini called her his "angel on earth" and his "guiding beacon of [his] life".
Houdini's father's last wish on his deathbed was that his son would take care of Cecilia, and after Houdini broke through to fame, he made sure to keep this promise. He bought Cecilia a home in a well-to-do part of town with many foreign residents so that his mother could speak with her neighbors (she never learned English very well). At this point, Houdini had married Wilhelmina Beatrice "Bess" Rhaner, a Catholic who must have surprised Cecilia, a staunch Jew. They managed to get along despite religious differences, and Houdini once called them his "two sweethearts". It is impossible to say which one of his sweethearts he cared for more. He once threw a party at which his mother presided over the guests as "Queen Cecilia", wearing a dress made for the Queen of England and sitting on a throne, lavished with gifts and adoration.
Cecilia died on July 17, 1913 at age 72 of a fatal stroke while Houdini was performing in Copenhagen, Denmark. At a press conference, Houdini received a trans-Atlantic telegram containing the news of his mother's death. After reading the telegram, he fainted; once revived, he sobbed inconsolably, moaning in grief for his dear mother. Later he said of the event, "I who have laughed at the terrors of death, who have smilingly leaped from high bridges, received a shock from which I do not think recovery is possible." The Weisz family delayed the burial, against Jewish custom, so that Houdini could look upon his mother one last time.
Doctorow goes on to describe how Houdini's enormous grief for his mother led him to seek out mystics and séances to communicate with his deceased mother, but all he found was fraud. This was the genesis of Houdini's anti-Spiritualism campaign that took up a large part of his later career. This is a great story, but it's not exactly true. It would actually be 10 years before Harry unmasked his first phony medium. In addition, the myth that his interest in Spiritualism was sparked by Cecilia's death is false. By the time of her death in 1913, he already had enough experience with Spiritualism throughout his career to let him know it's false.
His relationship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, is truly the link between Cecelia Weisz and Spiritualism. On June 17, 1922, nearly nine years after Cecilia's death, Doyle's wife gives Houdini a séance that is clearly a sham. Houdini keeps quiet about his doubts to not shame Lady Doyle, but his silence is mistaken for approval by Doyle himself. After Doyle publicly announces that Houdini has been influenced by the spirits, Houdini must defend himself, and suddenly he is in a debate over Spiritualism with one of the leading intellectuals of the century, a debate he is determined to win. And so begins his public anti-fraud crusade, as described in Ragtime.
It was as if, now that his mother was dead, heaven had to be defended...He himself went to seances disguised as a gray-haired widow in a veil. he would shine a portable electric torch on the thin wire that caused the table to levitate. He roe the covering from the hidden Victrola. He plucked trumpets out of the air and grabbed by the scruff of the neck confederates hidden behind drapes. Then he stood up and dramatically cast of his wig of waved gray hair and announced who he was. He accrued lawsuits by the dozens.
...the British passenger liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a U-boat off the southwest coast of Ireland. The Lusitania, registered as an armed merchant ship, was secretly carrying a manifest of volatile war matériel in her holds. Twelve hundred men, women, and children, many of whom were American, lost their lives, among them, Father, who was going to London with the first shipments for the War Office and the Admiralty of the grenades, depth charges, and puttied nitro that undoubtedly contributed to the monstrous detonations in the ship that preceded its abrupt sinking.
The RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner that was at one point the world's largest passenger ship. Before she left New York on May 1, 1915, the German embassy placed an advertisement in a United States newspaper warning passengers of the dangers of sailing on the Lusitania due to intensifying submarine warfare in the Atlantic between Germany and Britain. A German U-boat torpedoed the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing nearly 2,000 of the passengers and crew. After the explosion from the torpedo, another larger explosion from the hundreds of tons of secretly carried war munitions sank the ship in 18 minutes.
Because the Lusitania was a non-military passenger and cargo ship, Germany was accused of breaching the international Cruiser Rules. Germany argued that the secret cargo made the Lusitania a legitimate military target.
Of the 1,198 deaths, 126 were American, causing an outbreak of protest in the United States and shifting public opinion against Germany. This was a factor in the United States declaring war on Germany two years later. Even after World War I, successive British governments claimed that there were no munitions aboard the Lusitania, and Germans were not justified in treating the passenger ship as a naval vessel and military target. In 1982, however, the head of the British Foreign Office's North America department consented that there is a significant amount of ammunition in the wreck that might be dangerous to salvage teams.
After two unsuccessful missions to the North Pole in 1898-1902 and 1905-06, Admiral Robert Peary embarked on his third and final expedition in the summer of 1908. His previous expedition reached 150 miles from the pole, but Peary's elusive dream was still waiting to be fulfilled. Their ship, the SS Roosevelt, captained by Rober Bartlett, set off from New York City with Peary, Henson, and 22 other men in tow on July 6, 1908. Doctorow describes how groups of men would forge the path and stake out camps in advance of Peary himself. When Peary decided he was close enough to set out on his own, he asked Bartlett to stay behind with the ship. With Peary came his assistant Matthew Henson, who had joined Peary for his Greenland expedition in 1891, and four Inuits, Ootah, Egigingwah, Seegloo, and Ooqueah.
On April 6, 1909, the group established Camp Jesup at what Peary believed to be the North Pole. After his highly publicized expedition, Frederick A. Cook came out to challenge Peary's claim to be the first to reach the North Pole. Cook claimed to have reached the pole by dogsled a year prior. Major controversy surrounded Peary's expedition for some time after, but Congress formally recognized Admiral Peary's claim in 1911.
Modern studies have revealed that neither Cook nor Peary actually reached the pole, but Peary came closer, falling just about 30 miles short of the pole itself. Peary held his claim until May 3, 1952 when U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph O. Fletcher stepped out of a plane and walked to the exact location of the North Pole, becoming the first person to definitively reach the pole.
Mother said He is well-spoken and conducts himself as a gentleman. I see nothing wrong with it. When Mr. Roosevelt was in the White House he gave dinner to Booker T. Washington. Surely we can serve tea to Coalhouse Walker Jr.
In October 1901, Theodore Roosevelt invited his adviser, Booker T. Washington, to dinner at the White House with Roosevelt and his family. The day after the dinner, the White House released a statement titled, "Booker T Washington of Tuskegee, Alabama, dined with the President last evening". Southern press and politicians responded viciously, attacking the character of both Washington and Roosevelt. Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina said, "we shall have to kill a thousand n*ggers to get them back in their places". Northern press were more accepting, highlighting the accomplishments of Washington and suggesting that the dinner was Roosevelt's attempt to show he was everybody's president. Even the black community was divided over Washington's appearance at the White House. Some responded positively, while others painted Washington as a hypocrite for agreeing to the dinner in the first place.
After this reaction, no other African American was invited to dine at the White House for nearly thirty years.
Legendary ragtime composer, Scott Joplin, wrote his first opera about this polarizing event, entitled A Guest of Honor. To this day, no copy of the score has been found, and it is considered lost.
Dramaturgy for the Ragtime musical and novel.
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