January 1, 2020

January 1913 - Chronicles of the Year Before The Great War

Louis Armstrong, who gave us, amongst
many other wonderful pieces
"What a Wonderful World"

Will it be a magical year, where people finally unite to repair wrongs and build a better and brighter future...or will it instead toll the dramatic and painful end to another era (unless we are already in its throes)? 'Another,' for as history demonstrates, though we keep expanding our knowledge, we are still prone to repeating history in never-ending cycles.

It is with this in mind (as well as research for a future book series), that I've been reading about the beginning of the 20th century.

The years leading to 1914, the end of the Belle Epoque, were full of sudden bursts of creativity and scientific/technological advancements, sometimes so quick people couldn't cope with them.

Velocity can be frightening as well as deeply exhilarating, and it is this fear and rejection of change that also echoes across the century. In 1900 the most profound change of all was that in the relationship between men and women, and many indications point towards a deep anxiety on the part of men whose position seemed no longer secure. For the first time in European history women were being educated en masse, earning their own money, demanding the vote and, crucially, suggesting that in an industrial age physical strength and martial virtues were becoming useless. Men reacted with an aggressive restatement of the old values; never before had so many uniforms been seen on the street or so many duels fought, never before had there been so many classified advertisements for treatments allegedly curing 'male maladies' and 'weak nerves'; and never before had so many men complained of exhaustion and nervousness, and found themselves admitted to sanatoriums and even mental hospitals. (The Vertigo Years Introduction by Philipp Blom)

Could anyone have predicted that this deep malaise felt across the Western World would have led to something as horrendous and catastrophic as the first World War, even for those who'd relished the idea of going to war in the first place?
Art by Esra G├╝lmen

Thus we start the year 1913 (or 1912+1), as Florian Illies describes quite charmingly in his book 1913 - The Year Before The Storm, with a gunshot in New Orleans. The shooter? Twelve year old Louis Armstrong. But when he's sent to the Colored Waifs' Home for Boys, where its director hands him a trumpet, and thus the world was gifted with wonderful music for years to come.

January 1913 is also when Stalin arrives in Vienna, engrossed in the writing of his Marxism and the National Question; Sigmund Freud adopts a stray cat who'll witness the end of his relationship with former student Carl G. Jung; Vanity Fair is launched; the bust of Nefertiti is discovered in Egypt to be whisked away to Germany; Austrian figure-skater Alois Lutz comes up with a spinning jump that still bears his name; ecstasy is born; all while the sinking of the Titanic is still a tragedy much talked of.

The world is still spinning on, and yet...

December 30, 2019

Joy To The World...

Image by Peggy Choucair from Pixabay

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.

Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
~George Bernard Shaw

October 1, 2019

Celebrating Great People - Madam C. J. Walker

The world loves a rags to riches story (or at least I do), particularly when it happens thanks to the person's own hard work (as opposed to a Cinderella story).

So today I'm going to speak a little about the great Madam C. J. Walker.

Born Sarah Breedlove two days before Christmas 1867 in Louisiana, Madam C. J. Walker is touted as the first female self-made millionaire (1). Not only that, but she was also a philanthropist, social activist, and patron of the arts. Truly an all-round source of inspiration.

Sarah's parents and her five older siblings were slaves on a cotton plantation, and she was the first of the family to be born free thanks to signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. Unfortunately, she lost both her parents by the time she was seven. This forced her to start working at 10 as a domestic servant (in the kitchens), having received very little formal education prior to that through Sunday school.

"There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard."

She married at 14, became a mother at 18, but when she lost her husband, Sarah moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she barely made a living as a laundress. This job, however, on top of being thankless, was really rough on her health, and she developed a number of scalp-related issues, including baldness.

Around 1904, Sarah started selling the hair care products of another entrepreneur and future rival (2), and used her spare time to develop her own line. This side business of hers got her in trouble with her employer, who accused her of stealing her formula (despite the ingredients having been in use loooooong before any of these women were born).

A couple of years later, after getting married to Charles Walker, Sarah started her own enterprise and became known as Madam C. J. Walker. She was 36.

"I got my start by giving myself a start."

In the years that followed, the family relocated several times, opening and closing beauty parlors and schools where they could train other women in the business, and also teach them how to become financially independent (3). Then, in 1910, Madam Walker settled in Indianapolis where she opened the Madam Walker Manufacturing Company headquarters.
Advertising for Madam Walker products

The headquarters grew to include factories, hair salon, beauty school, R&D lab, and a large sales force. Best of all, is that Madam Walker was an equal opportunity employer and hired many women to work for her, including in managerial positions!

Now, to stress the importance of this fact, I would like to remind that back then, women were considered second-rate citizens with very few rights, if any (women in America weren't allowed to vote until 1920, so ten years later, and only in 1948 did women in Belgium get full voting rights).

Part of her success came from the fact that Madam Walker was the queen of advertising. She knew the importance of branding (even her sales force had strict uniform rules), and flooded newspapers and magazines with ads. Not only that, but she ended up being an advocate for many causes (including education for girls), gave public speeches across the country, and donated to a number of philanthropic causes, for, in her own words, "Your first duty is to humanity."

Madam Walker passed away at 51, shortly after the end of WWI, and received much posthumous and well-deserved recognition for her contributions.

"I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them."

Ad for competing product Poro
(where Sarah first started in the hair product bus.)

(1) Although technically her net worth at death was estimated at around $600K, if you account for  inflation, that would equate to almost $9M in 2018...so yeah, first self-made woman millionaire!

(2) Annie Malone. She, Like Madam C. J. Walker, was also orphaned at an early age, but was able to attend school and study chemistry. Studies which, although interrupted due to illness, she put to good use to develop her hair care products.

(3)  She also taught women how to budget and build a business.

Other Notes: