Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Friday, June 4, 2021

Ida, Nellie and Ida: Trailblazing Women Journalists in the Victorian Age

I thought I would take a break from the coronavirus pandemic and politics to take a look at the history of the craft we call journalism.  The late 1800s were a period of yellow journalism led by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst where sensational headlines were what sold newspapers.  There were trailblazing male and female journalists who worked on hard news stories that mattered to people's lives.


Ida B. Wells (profiled in the above video) was born into slavery in 1862.  She never forgot her background and she wrote extensively on the horrors of lynching and discrimination in post reconstruction south.  She died in 1931.  There is now the Ida B. Wells society to support investigative African American Journalism.  She also received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 2020.

Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) was another female trailblazer who was born near Pittsburgh.  She went undercover in a mental institution to expose the abuse that women received there.  She then went on an journey to simulate Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days.  She managed to complete the journey in 72 days and had many great stories to tell.  She died in 1922 only 2 years after women got the right to vote.

The last trailblazer in this post is Ida Tarbell who wrote the seminal book (The History of Standard Oil) that brought down John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil monopoly.  Like Nellie Bly, she was from the Western Pennsylvania.  Unlike Wells and Bly, she was born before the Civil War and lived until 1944.  The journalist and whistleblower Wendell Potter has created a news organization named after Tarbell.

I don't know if Ida, Nellie and Ida ever met.  They must have known about each other.  It  would make for an interesting play with the three of them discussing their work and comparing notes and the struggles they faced.  There were other significant male journalists at this time such as Upton Sinclair.  Did he have advantages that the other three ladies didn't?

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

PBS Program on Data and Pandemics

PBS has a good series on how medicine has learned to fight pandemics.  This particular episode focuses on how data is used to understand and limit pandemics.  It starts with how William Farr used data to track a cholera outbreak.  I've embedded this episode here for your enjoyment and information.

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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Protests and Pandemics: Lessons from History

Watching the developments of the past week were surprising even to me. Were the up swelling of protests over the death of George Floyd and the corona virus pandemic totally unrelated?  Is Trump's generally incompetent leadership a factor?  The mostly peaceful demonstrations have been occurring just as the turbulent restriction from the pandemic are being lifted.  Do people just have more time now to pay attention to the news surrounding Floyd's death?  History may provide some clues.

The late 1910s were a largely forgotten turbulent time in our nation's history.  We had just entered World War I, the battle over women's right to vote was reaching a critical stage, the brutal race riots in Tulsa, OK were happening just as the Ku Klux Klan was becoming a national force, and of course the Spanish Flu epidemic was rampaging globally,  None of these things occurred in a vacuum.  

The Spanish Flu may not have originated in Spain but it was the first country to report on it as the news was censored in the neighboring countries fighting in World War I.  It unknown where the pandemic started but it was first observed in Europe just as U.S. soldiers arrived there in 1918.  Returning soldiers brought it back home with them and it spread quickly.  Worldwide it killed approximately 50 million and in the U.S. the death toll was around 675,000.

While this was going on the suffragettes led by Alice Paul were getting close to the Seneca Falls convention of 1848's goal of achieving votes for women.  Woodrow Wilson eventually was convinced to support the amendment along with the proposed 18th amendment to usher in prohibition.  The suffragettes hoped that prohibiting drinking would curb domestic violence against women. 

Maurice Decaul: Commentary on "Close Ranks" and "Returning Soldiers" by W.E.B. Du Bois from The Gilder Lehrman Institute on Vimeo.

African American's fought in World War I hoping that it would improve their standing in society, it did not.  They came home to the same racism that they had experiences before.  W.E.B. DuBois had supported Wilson but was disappointed when they returned home.  Two years later things exploded when lynchings occurred and the KKK began a resurgence.  Things came to a boiling point when a race riot occurred in 1919 in Chicago and the  deadliest race massacre in U.S. history in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921.  In Johnstown, PA, another racial incident occurred in the Rosedale section when African American and Mexicans were driven out of the city in response to the shooting of police officers.

In addition to these other issues the government was involved in the Palmer raids which were conducted against suspected communists who had just come to power in Russia.  This was a precursor to the McCarthy hearings of the 1950's.  The socialist Presidential candidate Eugene Debs and Alice Paul were briefly imprisoned as a result.

These problems were exacerbated by small economic depression which followed the war.  In response to all of this, Warren G. Harding ran for president where he promised a "return to normalcy" from the turbulence of the last years of Wilson's Presidency.  He won in a landslide with the votes of women who could vote for the first time.  The roaring 20's and the corruption and hypocrisy of prohibition followed.

History does not repeat itself but it does rhyme sometimes.  Many of the same forces at work then are at work now.  Mostly peaceful protests occurred in response to the death of George Floyd as in the video above.  Joe Biden may be successful running as a normalcy president but will he be able to address all of these forces in a way that Trump is unwilling to?

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and Ayn Rand

Steve Ditko is Johnstown, PAs most famous author and illustrator.  He co-created Spider Man with Stan Lee in the 1950s.  I admit I had never heard of him until I started my book.  According to his Wikipedia page he was born here in 1927 and died in 2018 in New York City at age 90 which was a few months before Stan Lee passed away.

His page says that he split with Lee in the 1960s and did not speak to him for years.  Ditko seldom did interviews but his page says he was influenced by Ayn Rand's objectivist ideas which he expressed in his comic Dr. A.  She was interviewed by Phil Donahue in 1979.

It seems to me that Spiderman is at odds with Ayn Rand's objectivism.  I confess I'm not an avid reader of Spider-Man but in the movie with Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker (Spider-Man's alter ego) is told that "with great power comes great responsibility" by his uncle.  Spider-man becomes very altruistic leaving a note after his escapades saying "from your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man."  

I don't know Stan Lee's philosophy but many of his other comic book heroes could be thought of as altruistic.  I never read Mr. A but Ditko's page says he embodies Rand's philosophy.  Is Ayn Rand the reason Ditko and Lee parted ways?  Neither of them really ever said or ever will.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

A Documentary on African Americans in Johnstown

The late Dr. Bruce Williams, professor of Anthropology at the Pitt Johnstown campus or UPJ as we call it, produced a documentary called We'll Make the Journey on the history of African Americans in Johnstown in 1992.  Seventeen older African Americans in the city were interviewed.

The documentary states that there were two big African American migrations to the city: one in WWI and one in the 1920s.  It also states that there were African Americans here as early as 1870.  According to the US Census they were here as early as 1850.  The video is available above for you to see.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Job Mobility for Slavic and Hungarian Steelworkers from 1900-1950

Below is another excerpt from my upcoming book on Johnstown by the numbers.  It is a discussion of the job mobility of East central European immigrants in the steel mills in Johnstown, PA from 1900-1950.  
 Ewa Morawska (1985) in For Bread with Butter: Life-Worlds of East Central Europeans in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 1890-1940 thoroughly chronicles the struggles of East Central European Immigrants namely Slavic, Hungarian, and Austrian immigrants in the city in the early part of the 20th century.
Morawska (1985, p. 100) found that in the steel industry approximately 7% of East Central European immigrants who remained in the city moved up from unskilled or unspecified semiskilled laborers in the mills to semiskilled or skilled workers from 1900 to 1920.  She also looked at first generation immigrants who remained from 1915 to 1930 and for 2nd generation immigrants from 1920 to 1949/50.  These numbers are summarized in the tables below.  There were not enough first generation immigrants to follow from 1900 to 1930.  First generation immigrants tended to move from city to city, especially in the early days that they are in the US.
Table 1a shows how job mobility was for first generation immigrants from 1900 to 1920 and from 1915 to 1930 and for second generation from 1920 to 1949/50.  These were immigrants who remained in the city during the periods in which they were tracked in the Census and the city directories.  The numbers on the observed side of the table are the actual shifts of immigrants from unskilled or unspecified semiskilled to semiskilled or skilled, vice versa, and immobile (no change in employment status in the mill over the period).  The Expected with no Discrimination side of the table shows what the numbers that would be if the overall mobility rates were the same as they were for western European immigrants or native workers (no discrimination).
Table 1a
Job mobility from unskilled or unspecified semiskilled to skilled or semiskilled steelworkers for 1st & 2nd generation East Central European Immigrants (Morawska, 1985, pp. 100, 164, 166)
Observed %
Expected % with no Discrimination
upward mobility
downward mobility
upward mobility
downward mobility
1900-1920 1st gen
1915-1930 1st  gen
1920-1949/50 2nd gen

            The upward mobility rates for both first generation periods were considerably lower than they were for the second generation and for the numbers we would expect if there were no discrimination.  The downward mobility numbers were higher for second generation mill workers than for first generation workers and for what would be expected if there were no discrimination.  The downward mobility numbers were identical for the 1900-1920 and the 1915-1930 periods for the first generation were both nearly identical to what would be expected if there were no discrimination.
Morawska, E. (1985).  For Bread with Butter:  Worlds of East Central Europeans in

Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 1890-1940.  Cambridge: New York.

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Johnstown (PA) Books

It has been harder to find time to write on this blog between work, working on my book, and life in general.  Tonight I did have time to write about some of the books that have been helpful to me in writing my book.    

The first series of books I would like to discuss is Randy Whittle's two part series on Johnstown's History.  The first part covers the aftermath of the 1889 flood starting in 1895 up to the period right after the 1936 flood.  The second begins with the Johnstown steel strike in 1937 up to the aftermath of the 1977 flood.  Published in 2005 and 2007, both volumes are meticulously researched and engaging reading.

The second book I would like to discuss is For Bread with Butter: The Life-Worlds of East Central Europeans in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, 1890-1940 by Ewa Morawska.  The book chronicles the experiences and struggles of East Central Europeans in Johnstown.  It covers the conditions of Balkan Slavs, Austrians, Hungarians, Polish, Romanians, Russians, and Czechoslovakians in their home countries and here in Johnstown.  It is meticulously researched and very enlightening but it is very academic.

Johnstown: The Story of a Unique Valley is an edited book with different chapters written by different authors in their own specialties.  This book has been very helpful in researching Johnstown's past, its flora and fauna, and other issues relevant to the area.  It was written in 1985 along with Morawska's book.  

Of course no listing of books about Johnstown would be complete without David McCullogh's book about the Johnstown Flood.  There have been many other books on the topic including a recent one by Al Roker but his was the one that was able to interview some of the last survivors of the tragedy.  You can vote for this version or any other nonfiction book you want on my list of the greatest nonfiction books of all time.

Another book I found useful was Johnstown's Nineteenth Century African American History Primer by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.  It chronicles how the city was one of the stops on the underground railroad, how this group was settled by African Americans before 1850, and how it was changed by the Civil War and the great flood of 1889.  It is not available on

The last book I would like to discuss is not really a book.  It is a Master's Thesis titled A History of Homelessness- A Geography of Control: The Production of Order and Marginality in Johnstown, Pennsylvania by Donald M. Mitchell.  It was written in 1989 and chronicles the housing issues in the city.  It is available in the Pennsylvania Room of the Cambria County Library in Johnstown.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Nonviolent Movements In Western PA? If You Know of One Let them Know

Iraq Body Count of Violent Civilian Deaths In Iraq Since 2003
I have been swamped with work and consulting and haven't been able to post here.  I should have time in the next few weeks.  There have been various online researchers who collect data from the public to describe a social phenomena.  Iraq Body Count relied on crowd sourcing to track civilian deaths in Iraq since the US invaded in March 2003.  Their current estimate ranges from 180,000 to 202,000 civilians for civilians and 268,000 death including combatants.  The researchers for this site admit that this count is low but the trends in the graph above reflect the most violent periods in the war: The initial invasion, The height of the Sunni Insurgency in 2006 and 2007 and the invasion of ISIS in 2014-2017.

Nonviolent resistance movements chronicled.
There were lots of protests against the Iraq war world wide.  The website Non Violent Resistance, created by George Lakey in 2011 at Swarthmore College, describes more than 1000 campaigns for social justice throughout history and the world.  The oldest movement mentioned is in ancient Egypt in 1170 BC when laborers went on strike for pay.  Looking at the above map it looks really crowded.  There are four movements mentioned from antiquity. 

Non Violent Movements in Pennsylvania
Looking at the map above it looks really crowded.  However when one zooms into a local area (such as my home state of Pennsylvania, where Swarthmore is located, as seen above), it looks more sparse.  If you are aware of movements for social change that are not included please let them know at

Next I will write on the Southern Poverty Law Center's new hate group map.

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Another David and Goliath Super Bowl?

The match up in Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons resembles the matchup in New England's first Super Bowl win.  Super Bowl XXXVI (37 in Arabic numerals) was a match-up between the Patriots and the St. Louis Rams.  In 2002, the Patriots had an unproven young quarterback in Tom Brady and the Rams had NFL MVP Kurt Warner.  The Patriots had an 11-5 record while the Rams had a 14-2 record in the regular season.  This year the Falcons had an 11-5 record while the Patriots were 14-2.  In 2002 the nation was still smarting from the 9/11 attacks while this year the nation is coming to terms with Trump's victory in November.  Bill Maher has a funny take on the game and Brady and coach Bill Belichick's relationship with Trump. 

In the game the Patriots allowed over 400 yards of offense but forced the Rams to commit three turnovers and held them to three points for almost all of the game.  The Rams came up with two late touchdowns to tie the game at 17.  Tom Brady then dove the team down the field to the game winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri.

An upset of the Patriots by the Falcons may not be an upset on the same order as the Jets beating the Colts in Super Bowl III or the Giants beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII but those who like to root for the underdog will certainly be rooting for Atlanta.  Nate Silver at gives the Patriots a 61% probability of winning.  His model gave Donald Trump a 28.6% probability of winning the White House and we know how that tuned out.  It is the desire to beat the odds that makes sports so exciting.  This isn't always the case in politics.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Essay on Human Rights

 This is an essay I wrote for admission to a Masonic lodge.
               Opinions differ about what human rights are.  The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, has 30 articles.  The Declaration of Independence famous statement that “all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has been the sacred statement of human rights for Americans since 1776.  The rallying cry of the French Revolution was “Liberte`, Egalite`, Fraternite`” or “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.”  Exactly what Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness or Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood mean has been the subject of debate ever since 1776.  Do rights mean that one’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should eclipse other’s pursuits?  What is exactly the amount of life, liberty, happiness and equality that is sufficient for humanity?  This debate is an important one to have and is one that could never be fully resolved as new situations arise and as knowledge of the human condition improves.
                Definitions of what human are can be boiled down to basic principles just as Jesus states that all the laws of Moses can be boiled down to two phrases: “Love God with your whole heart, whole mind and whole soul and love your neighbor as yourself.”  For me the question of human rights boils down to a question of justice.  Like human rights, definitions of justice vary from topic to topic.  An early definition of justice is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in The Republic which was his vision of the ideal state.  He stated that justice is the harmony between the needs and abilities of individuals and the needs of the state.
                We are all created equal but we are not all created alike.  There are basic human rights that everyone needs such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression, access to health care, education, and information with which to make informed decisions about how to fulfill one’s own rights and the rights of others. 
      There also things that certain individuals need to correct for past injustices such as those which were done deliberately to other individuals such as through racism, sexism or almost any other -ism or those that occur through a mishap of nature such as a natural disaster or through a genetically inherited disease or those that occur through some combination of nature and deliberate actions by other humans.  Correcting these injustices is difficult as people may disagree on what the appropriate corrective measures are.  The debate about appropriate corrective measures should continue as no one individual has access to all of the necessary information that is needed to provide these measures.  This debate should proceed with respect to others with the goal of finding the truth that allows for the appropriate corrective actions to take place.

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