Thursday, February 13, 2014

One Hundred Years Ago

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?


  1. An interesting review of history. My favorite parallel was having been born on the same day 45 years later (Friday, February 13). I was just looking at the family calendar this morning. Happy Birthday, Grandma!

    1. When we celebrated Mom's 90's birthday, Tim (my son-in-law) was exactly half her age, and that was noted at the time.

  2. Here is the link to the Economist article: — I was glad to be able to read it for free!

    I was surprised about the implication that Obama's decision to not use force in Syria may lead to WWIII: "his unwillingness to use force in Syria." But I do take the point, ". . . to assume that reason will prevail is to be culpably complacent. That is the lesson of a century ago."

    1. Thanks, Phil, for giving the link to the article in "The Economist," which I failed to do.

      I have been bothered at how all along "The Economist" has been so hawkish toward Syria and critical of the President for not using military force in Syria.

  3. The suggestion in the article from The Economist of a similarity to conditions of a hundred years ago doesn’t seem that real to me. The fact that China is the up-and-coming power in their model but with no particular claims in the Middle East where all the current turmoil is located makes their suggestion of a parallel not very real.

    However, I am haunted by the fact that economic ties between nations wasn’t sufficient to prevent World War I. It’s a reminder that nations are not always intelligent enough to do what’s best for their own self interests.

    It could be argued that all the unrest and conflict in the middle east that we are experiencing today can be traced to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.  It so happens that the 1st Balkan War (1912), the 2nd Balkan War (1913), the assassination of the Arch Duke (1914), and the beginning of WWI (1914) also were tied to the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire. It doesn't take much creativity to tie the causes of WWII to the terms of settlement after WWI. It's also pretty obvious that the Cold War was an outgrowth of WWII, and that the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and the Kosovo War (1998-1999) were results of both the Cold War and the conclusion of WWI.

    I'm not ready to make the claim that conditions today are similar to those preceding WWI. But from the above stated observations I am ready to make the case that international relations today are a result of previous actions that go back to the international situation prior to WWI.

    One conclusion to all this is that war seldom solves any problems and usually creates more (or reveals previously hidden underlying problems).

    The causes of WWI are fresh on my mind because I recently finished the book, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. Readers are invited to read my review on

    1. Clif, thanks for your substantial comments. Thanks, too, for mentioning "The War That Ended Peace" and linking to your good review of that book, which I currently have checked out but have as yet read hardly any of.

  4. In the original version of this article, I said that no woman voted for Wilson. Local Thinking Friend Will Adams wrote saying that that was not so as several states allowed women to vote before 1912. And, of course, Dr. Adams was correct. So I edited the article to say that no Missouri woman voted for Wilson (in 1912), which was true. But even Missouri gave women the right to vote in 1919, the year before the amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving that right to women in all the states.

  5. Responding to the end of the above article, local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard wrote,

    "I am not a professional historian, so my comments are suspect, but I think our world today is very different from the world of 1914. One major difference is that there is really only one world power now, although America's power is not unlimited.

    "In 1914, there was no organization like the United Nations and democracy was far less widespread. Europe today is probably more stable than at any time in its history, despite it economic and monetary problems. On the other hand, the various ethnic groups in the Balkans still hate each other.

    "I am much more concerned about global warming and resource depletion. Those problems could lead to some future wars as nations compete for scarce resources.

    "The major world powers (i.e., the U S, China, Russia, the EU, and perhaps Japan, India, and Brazil) need to work more closely together to prevent war and to promote the responsible use of resources. It will be a tough sell."