Helen Lena Cousins, my mother, was born 100 years ago today, on Friday the 13th in February 1914. She was born near Half Rock, Missouri, in rural Mercer County. If you don’t know where Half Rock is, it is a few miles southeast of Topsy(!).
Mom married my father, Hollis Seat, in 1935, two years after they graduated from high school in Grant City, Missouri—the same high school I graduated from 22 years later. She passed away 13 days after her 94th birthday in 2008, having lived most of her long life in Worth Co., Mo.
In 1914, Helen was the second most popular baby girl name (after Mary). Perhaps it was such a popular name in the 1910s because of the fame of Helen Keller, who turned 34 in 1914.
(My father used to tell about a Helen Hunt who worked in the lumber yard at the same time he did in the late 1930s. When customers needed help finding something they were looking for, sometimes they were told, “Go to Helen Hunt for it.”)
In thinking about my mother being born 100 years ago, I began to investigate some into what this country was like in 1914. There had already been a lot of changes between then and the world I first remember, from about 1944. And the changes between 1914 and now are very great indeed.
The population of the U.S. was just over 99,000,000 in 1914; it has now more than tripled to over 317 million. The average lifespan has also grown greatly: in 1914 life expectancy in the U.S. was under 55 years and now it is over 77.5, more than a 40% increase.
Woodrow Wilson, about whom I wrote recently, was President when my mother was born—but her mother did not vote for him. In fact, no Missouri woman voted for Wilson, as women in Mo. were not given the right to vote for President until 1919.
In 1914, Ford Motor Company began using a moving assembly line, dropping the cost of a Model T to $440. It also initiated an eight-hour workday and a daily wage of $5, which was excellent for the time. That reflected Henry Ford’s belief that well paid workers would put up with monotonous work, be loyal, and, most of all, buy his cars.
Speaking of cars, there were already around 1,500,000 motor vehicles on the road in 1914, about 10 for every 660 people. Now there are over 250 million passenger vehicles, around 10 for every 13 persons in the U.S.
There have also been great changes in the availability and use of electricity, telephones, toilet facilities, air travel and so forth. I wonder how old Mom was she when she first had access to electric lights and an inside toilet at home—many years after 1914, I’m sure.
One hundred years ago the most significant world event occurred in June 1914: an Austrian archduke was assassinated. That led to the beginning of the Great War (now known as World War I) on July 28—although the U.S. did not enter the war until 1917.
Since that tragic event is so significant, I plan to write more about it later this year. And it will be interesting to consider how much the world’s political situation now is similar to what it was in 1914.
In their 12/21/13 issue, The Economist wrote that there are now “uncomfortable parallels with the era that led to the outbreak of the first world war.” Do you see any of those parallels?