For Gram, On Her 100th Birthday
My grandmother (my mom’s mom) was born 100 years ago today. We’re planning to honor her this weekend, which will be the 4th in my series of 15 25’s to 35 (yes, I still owe a post about the third one), but I wanted to give you a sense of what the world my grandmother was born into was like, and a few nods to the things that have come along since. Gram died 10 years ago this April, and I miss her dearly. This post is for her. -Sarah
Anna May Brown (later Dickerson) was born on March 25, 1916. At that time, the country was still a year away from declaring war on Germany, although much of the rest of the world was pretty entrenched in battle in WWI. Women still had the length of a presidential term to wait before they could vote in one. BMW was formed earlier that March. The company that would become Boeing was incorporated. Pancho Villa led Mexico in a fight against the United States.
Dadaism was a new art movement when my Gram was born. It was the year of the Easter Rising in Ireland. It was also the year that President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill incorporating the Boy Scouts. The Saturday Evening Post published its first issue with cover art from Norman Rockwell. The first published reference to “jazz” appeared in Variety. The National Park Service was created in 1916, and Margaret Sanger opened the first U.S. birth control center (a forerunner for Planned Parenthood), but one could still be arrested for lecturing on birth control, as was the case for Emma Goldman earlier that same year and Sanger herself a few months later. The toggle light switch was invented. Poland was established.
An elephant was hanged for killing her handler. The shark attacks that inspired Peter Benchley to write Jaws happened in July of 1916 in New Jersey. A town called Browning, Montana saw the greatest temperature drop in one 24-hour period, from 44 degrees Fahrenheit to -56 (that’s a 100 degree swing, for those of you who struggle with math). North Carolina and South Carolina saw record rainfalls. There were bombings in San Francisco and New Jersey. Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary, and Germany declared war on Romania, and Italy declared war on Germany. The U.S. Naval Reserve was formed. 1,000 people died when two Chinese ships collided off the coast of China. An avalanche in December killed 10,000 Italian and Austrian troops in Tyrol.
The first true supermarket, a Piggly Wiggly, opened. Congress passed the Workmen’s Compensation Act. The Red Baron won his first aerial combat. John D. Rockefeller became the first billionaire. The San Diego Zoo was founded. Georgia Tech defeated Cumberland in the most lopsided football game, 222-0, while coached by John Heisman. Albert Einstein completed his mathematical formulation of a general theory of relativity, which included gravity. Charlie Chaplin signed on with Mutual Studios and earned an unprecedented $10,000 a week.
The first woman was elected to congress that year. Women were allowed to attend a boxing match for the first time on the day my grandmother was born, and before Gram was a week old the first U.S. national women’s swimming championships were held. The first professional golf tournament was held and the PGA was formed. Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field) in Chicago opened, and the Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 7-6. At 42, Honus Wagner set the record as the oldest person to hit an inside-the-park home run. Daylight Saving Time began in Britain. Mary Pickford was the first female actor to secure a $1 million contract. The current formula of Coca Cola is released in the market. A U.S. postage stamp cost 2 cents.
Jack London died and Henry James died. Rasputin died. Woodrow Wilson was narrowly re-elected. Jackie Gleason was born that year, and Gregory Peck and Beverly Cleary and Ferruccio Lamborghini, Olivia de Havilland, Roald Dahl, C. Everett Koop, Francois Mitterand, Walter Cronkite, Betty Grable, and Kirk Douglas. Dinah Shore was born on Leap Day 1916.
In the 100 years since my grandmother was born, we’ve gone from roughly 2 1/2 dozen models of cars puttering around, to over 200, and nearly 300 million of them total on U.S. roads currently. The Cadillac Type 53, which debuted in 1916, was the first to position the gear shift and handbrake where they remain today. The last two states (Alaska and Hawaii) joined the union when Gram was in her forties; the three previous (Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Mexico) became states after my grandfather, who was nine years older than my grandma, was born. The first commercial jetliner debuted when Gram was in her late 30s, a year after my mother was born. Computers were still a couple of decades from earliest inception when Gram made her debut; now they fit in a pocket and can replace telephones, typewriters, radios, newspapers, calculators, thermometers, televisions, flashlights, GPSs, books, alarm clocks, regular clocks, coloring books, drawing tablets, notepads, voice recorders, cameras, video cameras, and, what Gram would have probably loved the most, a deck of cards.
A lot happened in the world in 1916, and in the 100 years since, but my favorite thing from that year was my grandmother. Happy 100th, Gram! We’re all toasting you this weekend.