Letters of the Century: 1920 – 1929

America from 1920 – 1929: PROHIBITION! happens, but hey, women get the vote • Chanel No. 5 and the Miss America Pageant make their debut • The first issue of Time is published • Silent Cal becomes president • The Great Gatsby, you guys. • The ridiculous farce that was the Scopes Trial • Rin Tin Tin almost gets nominated for an Oscar • Charles Lindberg flies solo across the Atlantic Ocean • The Jazz Singer starts the wave of “talkies”, followed shortly by Mickey Mouse • the second ridiculous farce that was the Sacco and Vanzetti trail • The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre • A Farewell to Arms, The Sound and the Fury, and Look Homeward, Angel get published • …and the stock market crashes!

Most precocious kid: “Then she asked what capitalists are I said they are the ones who rob the workers…” • 11 year old Gertrude to Eugene V. Debs

Best reason to be grateful for NYC condoms: “When the baby was born and I was sent home, they told me never to have an other baby. When I asked the doctor how was I to stop that he said, “Learn.” • a housewife to the excellent Margaret Sanger

Most entitled artist: “PLEASE ALTER THE FOURTH ACT OF “ST. JOAN” SO COMMUTERS CAN CATCH LAST TRAIN TO THE SUBURBS.” • Theatre Guild to George Bernard Shaw

“ALTER THE TRAINS.” • George Bernard Shaw

Most deserving of fan letters: “I have had two more letters from strange females who saw my photo in the paper. One about 40, gushing, you know; and the other about 14 – on pink paper and terrible spelling.” • from William “Billy” Faulkner to his mother

Best friends: “I wonder what your idea of heaven would be – A beautiful vacuum filled with wealthy monogamists. All powerful and members of the best families all drinking themselves to death. And hell would probably be an ugly vacuum full of poor polygamists unable to obtain booze or with chronic stomach disorders that they called secret sorrows.” • Hemingway to Fitzgerald – this whole letter is wonderful.

Best description of American exceptionalism: “Like an American life had to give him something at once, and all the the time.” • Edgar Lee Masters to Edwin Reese

Deepest motherly tradition: “She stands deep in the mire herself, but holds her family up in the sunlight.” • a housewife to Women’s Home Companion

Best good argument applied to a bad idea: “There is no such thing as essential liberty. Liberty, as I see it, is the largest use of one’s personal desires consistent with the common good…once a man had a right to dispose of his daughter as a chattel, a right which he doubtless cherished as sacredly as the bootlegger cherishes his right to sell his liquor…new conditions make new morals. ” •William Allen White defending Prohibition to his friend Gabriel Wells

Least self-aware plea for civil rights, or most unintentional irony: “I am desirous of drawing your attention to the maladministration of justice in Queens County, New York City, relative to the attack precipitated by the police of New York…on the basis that the Klan is illegally operating in the State of New York. This attitude has not the semblance of an excuse, but merely justifies the clubbing and beating of innocent men and women because they differ religiously with him and have endeavored to exercise their Constitutional rights.” • Klansman Paul M. Winter to Governor Alfred E. Smith [italics mine]

Best comparison: “Undoubtedly President Roosevelt would have taken some such vigorous action, and the Wall Street leaders would have known that he was in earnest and would not have hesitated to cooperate with his administration to the utmost.” • William Randolph Hearst to President Herbert Hoover

For more, go here and here.


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