The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: The 1910s

Table of Contents

1910s – An Overview

The 1910s was a decade of great change for America.  It was during this decade that the United States was first considered a world leader.  Many of the issues of 1910 are ones we face today: including the escalation of immigration and poverty, labor and monopoly battles, work safety and child labor problems.  World War I – the first ‘war to end all wars’ raged. The 1910s were the decade America came of age.

The Over There decade meant more than just sending our ‘boys’ over to fight during WWI. American became the most highly industrialized country during this time. Mass production of cars created a nationwide prosperity and resulted in one of the most profound social changes in America’s history.  Popular culture became a lucrative national product for the United States.  All over the world people were dancing our dance crazes, listening to our jazz tunes, wearing our fashions, falling for our pop fads, and buying our products. Tobacco was a big business, with  immigrants to New York City accounting for 25% of the tobacco purchasing.

Historic events include the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912 when more than 1500 people lost their lives. The first moving assembly line began in 1914 and in 1915, the one millionth Model T ($345) rolled off the assembly line.  Other news events included the initiation of the The National Park Service and Prohibition (1919). Jim Thorpe, an American Indian,  won gold medals at the Olympics (although his medals were later taken away because he had played baseball for a salary earlier in his career), the first parachute jump was made, and the Girl Scouts of America were formed.   Altogether, a decade to remember.

The 1910s represent the culmination of European militarism which had its beginnings during the second half of the nineteenth Century. The conservative lifestyles during the first half of the decade, as well as the legacy of military alliances, would forever be changed by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, on 28 June 1914. The murder would trigger a chain of events in which, within 30 days, war would break out in Europe. The conflict would drag on until a ceasefire was declared on November 10, 1918 leading to the controversial, one-sided Treaty of Versailles, which would be signed on the 28 June 1919.

The war’s end triggered the abdication of aging monarchies and the collapse of the last modern empires of Germany and the Ottomans and Austria-Hungary, the latter splintered into Austria, Hungary, southern Poland (who acquired most of their land in a war with Soviet Russia), Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as the unification of Romania with Transylvania and Moldavia. However, each of these states (with the possible exception of Yugoslavia) had large German and Hungarian minorities, there creating some unexpected problems that would be brought to light in the next two decades.

The decade was also a period of revolution in a number of countries. Mexico spear-headed the trend in November 1910, which led to the ousting of dictator Porfirio Diaz, developing into a civil war that dragged on until mid-1920, not long after a new Mexican constitution was signed and ratified. Russia also had a similar fate, since the Great War led to a collapse in morale as well as to economic chaos. This atmosphere encouraged the establishment of Bolshevism, which would be later renamed as Communism. Like the Mexican Revolution, the Russian Revolution immediately turned to civil war that would drag on until approximately late 1920.

FACTS about this decade.

  • Population:  92,407,000
  • Life Expectancy:  Male 48.4   Female: 51.8
  • Average Salary  $750 / year
  • The Ziegfeld girls earned $75/week.
  • Unemployed 2,150,000
  • National Debt:  $1.15 billion
  • Union Membership: 2.1 million Strikes 1,204
  • Attendance:  Movies 30 million per week
  • Lynchings:  76
  • Divorce:  1/1000
  • Vacation:  12 day cruise  $60
  • Whiskey $3.50 / gallon, Milk $.32 / gallon
  • Speeds make automobile safety an issue

· 25,000 performers tour 4,000 U.S. theaters



War, peace, and politics

Culture and Arts

The intellectual revolt against materialism spawned several books including those listed below (Books That Define the Time).  The Education of Henry Adams assailed the nation’s failure to live up to its founders’ ideals.  Walter Lippman and John Dewey were writing.  Poets including Ezra Pound, William Carlos WilliamsAmy LowellT.S. Eliot (The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock), Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson,  and Carl Sandburg.

Edith Wharton wrote Ethan Frome and Willa Cather published O Pioneers! and My Antonia. Popular books of the period included The Secret Garden (Francis Hodgson Burnett), Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence), Of Human Bondage (Somerset Maugham),  Wild Fire (Zane Grey), Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs), .    In 1912 and 1913, there was a separate list of best sellers by the Publisher’s Weekly.  Then the list was abandoned until 1917 when fiction and non-fiction books became more popular than ever before.   War books included Mr. Britling Sees it Through (fiction by H.G. Wells),  and Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey.  Robert W. Service was on the best seller list for two years with Rhymes of a Red Cross ManDere Mable, [book available on Google Scholar] (Gershwin wrote the music and Dere Mable went on Broadway) containing humorously spelled letters from the war by Edward Streeter spawned two sequels, Same Old Bill, Eh Mable! and As You Were, Bill!  The number one fiction of 1919 was The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, later made into a movie.  A single copy sold for $1.90 – industry insiders felt the public would never pay $2 for a book but were happy to be proved wrong!  (Oh for the good old days!)   Margaret Sanger published information on birth control and women during this time.

Books That Define the Times
George Eastman brought photography to the masses.
The Smart Set by H.L. Mencken
The New Republic by Herbert Croly
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Jackson
Uncle Remus  by Joel Chandler Harris
The Economic Consequences of the Peace by J.M. Keyes
The American Language by H. L. Mencken
Democracy and Education by John Dewey
Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger

Also –

Literature and arts

Others Events

Sinking of the Titanic.

Sinking of the Titanic.

World leaders



The Gibson Girl was it the last year of its popularity.  Women were beginning to want to think more of comfort during the 1910s, although many quickly fell for the hobble skirt.  Fabrics became lighter, colors are brighter, and styles are looser.  Lowered necklines became popular and sales of cold cream and lemon extract escalate. The Tea Gown was worn ‘at home.’ The sack, the sheath, oriental costumes, harem trousers, and the Hellenic tunic were all introduced.  These were important years for furs.  Head gear was worn, very costum-y.   When the war began, fashion design and export came to a standstill.  “Made in America” fad began. New materials and technologies made more colors available.    The suffragettes started a more comfortable fashion – no more hobble skirt – and lots of pockets.  Hemlines inched up (to show ankles :-).

Hobble skirts

Men, during the 1910s,  wore striped trousers, a morning coat and starched white shirt.  A top hat and frock coat were also worn.  At home, informal lounge suits, tweed jackets and striped blazers were popular with dinner jackets in the evening.

Theda Bara, a silent sLant's in 1910s - camping.creen star, made vamping popular for five long years.  Hot toys included the erector set, tinker toys, and lincoln logs.  The Ouija Board became popular.  Sales of this game soared.  The Model T was affordable, so speed became a big fad.  Chevrolet,DeSoto, Dodge, and Nash all were introduced during the 1910s. Prestige models became worth going into debt for – cars like Cadillac, Buick, Pierce, Haynes, Packard, and Studebaker.    Ocean liners (floating hotels) were the rage.  Both the Titanic and the Lusitania sunk during this decade. A neatly sized folding Kodak made picture taking easier and more popular for the masses.

Ballroom dancing was popular.  Dance crazes included the  Fox Trot and the Tango. Irene and Vernon Castle were ‘off the charts’. Boston, New York, and Cleveland banned the tango.  Parents worried about loosening morality.  After all, lipstick was worn, actresses showed their legs.  Oh my! Dangerous times!  The Chautauquas (or camp meetings) entertained and inspired children (and adults) toward a christian path.  These were tent meetings, entertainment spiced with religious, educational and political messages.

The 1910s were called the Ballroom Decade.  Many of the trendier restaurants were equipped with dance floors.   Black Americans continued to write and perform ragtime, blues and jazz.  Popular songs of the decade (many made popular because of WWI) included Alexander’s Ragtime Band (Irving Berlin), Danny Boy, You Made Me Love You (Al Jolson), Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life, The Aba Daba Honeymoon, and All I Do is Dream of YouWar songs (listen to the originals) included Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, Keep the Home Fires BurningOver There, Til We Meet Again, Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, and Hinky Dinky Parlay Vous.

Jerome Kern and George Gershwin continued to produce music and musicals throughout the decade. Al Jolson began on stage in blackface. Fanny Brice migrated  to the Ziegfeld Follies, Vernon and Irene Castle and Fred Astaire danced,  Vaudeville boomed,  Speakeasies sold booze, and entertainers sang Over There.

Teens enjoyed Theda Bera and vamping, a seductive, sexual dance and posturing.  Americans flocked to the Ziegfeld Follies and Vaudeville on Broadway to see such stars as Fannie Brice, Fatty Arbuckle, and Bojangles RobinsonBill “Bojangles” Robinson, who as a child tapped his way into legend for nickels and dimes.  Bojangles invented the ‘stair tap’.  Musicals had major audience appeal.  Jerome Kern continued to be popular throughout this decade with such hits as Oh, Boy! and Leave It To Jane (Lyrics for both by P.G. Wodehouse).  Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers, Cole Porter,  and George and Ira Gershwin (Dere Mable) all had hits during this decade, and Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, premiered on Broadway. Plays other than musicals included those by George Bernard Shaw, Booth Tarkington, and Sinclair Lewis. Movies were extremely popular in the 1910s.  Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith) Trailer on YouTube , The Floorwalker (Charlie Chaplin), Daddy Long Legs, Les Miserables (Weber version from this link) and A Tale of Two Cities.  Top box-office stars were  Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks (The Golden Couple,)  and Pearl White (The Perils of Pauline.)

Theda Bera


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