Message Area
lblHidCurrentSponsorAdIndex =

  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Who We Were, Where We've Been

article number 319
article date 02-25-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
The War is Over … You Return To an Evolved Lifestyle, 1919
by Frederick Lewis Allen, assembled by Agnes Rogers

From the 1947 book, I Remember Distinctly.

EDITORS NOTE: It is difficult to layup this fantastic coffee table book for a web presentation. In our presentation, pictures follow the commentary specific for that picture.

The war is over! Crowds in Fifth Avenue, New York, celebrate the signing of the Armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918. The picture below looks southward from a point opposite the Public Library at 42nd Street. Note the horse-drawn vehicles and the absence of automatic traffic lights. In those days traffic on this famous avenue was controlled from high metal traffic towers in mid-street, several blocks apart.


A little before three o’clock on the morning of November 11, 1918, the State Department in Washington gave out the official word that the war—World War I, as we now call it—was over, and that within a few hours the guns in Europe were to cease firing.

Great care was taken to assure the public that the news was authentic, for four days earlier a false report of the end of hostilities had caused wild and prolonged celebrations all over the United States. (History came close to repeating itself in this respect twenty-seven years later: remember the false report of German surrender in May 1945, and the premature celebrations of Japanese surrender in August 1945?)

All day long there was wild rejoicing. When President Wilson had received the wonderful news in the White House before dawn that morning, he had written out in pencil a message to the American people which reads, perhaps, a little ironically today:

“My Fellow Countrymen: The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober, friendly counsel, and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.”

Thus began—with hopeful phrases, and with cheering and shouting and blowing of horns, and with dancing in the streets (as caught by the camera in the picture below)—the Period Between the Wars, which was to last twenty-three years and twenty-six days.


The war was over, but there were still over two million American soldiers in Europe, and the terms of peace had yet to be settled. Woodrow Wilson determined to take a leading part in their settlement. He would himself head the American delegation to the Peace Conference, going to Paris with a commission which included only one Republican (a diplomat named Henry White) and no senators.

And he would use all his vast influence to get a League of Nations organized and incorporate its covenant in the Peace Treaty itself. (Things were arranged differently in 1945, President Roosevelt having a long memory.)

The task which Wilson set himself was imposing, but he was at the summit of his international prestige and almost anything seemed possible for him.

Had he not, as the man most trusted by Allies and Germans alike, been the chief negotiator in the interchanges that had led to the Armistice? Did not his phrases as the spokesman of triumphant democracy ring throughout the world?

It was with a confident smile that he stood on the bridge of the George Washington on December 4—only three weeks after the Armistice—as the ship left New York to take him to Europe on his peace-making errand, and waved his formal silk hat while whistles blew and guns boomed in salute.


It was a time when …

The Model T Ford was the most plentiful car on the road.


“Doug and Mary,” and Charlie, were the reigning stars (here shown with D. W. Griffith).


Women’s afternoon dresses were elaborate.


Paul Whiteman’s band played for many a the dansant.


Douglas MacArthur was about to be chosen as the head of West Point.


Babe Ruth was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.


It was a time before ...

red fingernails and women smoking


cellophane, ‘Reader’s Digest’, and the new ‘Life’ magazine




cocktail parties


radio broadcasting


drum majorettes


tourist cabins


crossword puzzles


People looked different then. In those days of 1918 and 1919, when the war was just over and the nation was gradually settling back to the uneasy ways of peace, there were striking contrasts with today. We have suggested some of them on the preceding page, but there were many others.

For instance, there were no talking pictures; the movies—overwhelmingly popular—were silent, with the actors inaudible and their remarks conveyed to the audience in titles flashed on the screen in brief interruptions of the action.

Not only were there no cocktail parties, but a bar was a place frequented by men only, and if it was not connected with a hotel or a club but operated independently, it was called a saloon.

Few women smoked. And as for the appearance of women, it was extraordinarily different. There were no short skirts then, or flesh-colored stockings; short hair was associated in the public mind with Bohemianism and radicalism; and make-up (unless well concealed) was associated with actresses and “fast” women.

The picture shown below, from Vogue for May 1, 1919, illustrates well the sort of silhouette that fashionable women hoped to present. The skirt comes to within six inches of the ground, the shoulders are sloping, the figure flat (and slouching), and the point of greatest width is at the hips or below.


There was no sun-tan vogue then. On July 1, 1919, ‘Vogue’ admonished its readers: “If the wise woman heeds the advice of a very wise specialist, she will devote time and thought during the next two months to protecting her complexion and hair against the damaging effects of wind, sun, and salt-water bathing. This particular specialist holds that the importance of keeping the skin and hair from becoming sunburned cannot be too much stressed.”

And as for the status of make-up in general, an advertisement of toilet requisites in Altman’s Book of Styles for the Fall and Winter of 1919-20 included no lipstick, no nail polish, no eye make-up, no brilliantine—only extracts, toilet water, face powder, creams, sachets, face astringents, and (presumably for really deceptive application) rouge.

But when winter came around, the woman who could afford an expensive fur coat had her full chance for lavishness. The ladies below were pictured in Vogue for August 15, 1919, in a preview of winter fashions. The one on the left is wearing black Alaskan seal; the one in the middle, chinchilla; the one on the right, ermine with a sable collar. (Mink was not then the symbol of luxury.)

Vogue’s caption for the picture remarks, clearly without overstatement, that these furs “are somewhat indefinite as to form.”


Here are “Misses’ Tailored Suits” for the fall and winter of 1919-20, as shown in the catalogue of Altman’s department store in New York. They are in navy blue and brown, the “paramount winter shades.”


Do any feminine readers of this book recall doffing their middyblouses to put on party frocks like those that these little girls are wearing, with black or white cotton stockings?


There has been a revolution in women’s underwear since the demure items pictured below appeared in Altman’s Spring and Summer Catalogue for 1919. Not only did women in those days wear more layers of clothing, but the garments themselves and the terminology were different. Here are pictured “American-made undergarments” (meaning machine-made, as opposed to hand-made foreign importations) and “dressing sacques.”

Note the names applied to them: corset cover, combination, bloomers, petticoat, and drawers. Other garments favored at the time were the chemise, envelope chemise, camisole, bodice, and princess slip. And, naturally, the corset.

You will search the advertisements of those days in vain for a girdle. It was just about this time that young girls began to shock their parents by abandoning their corsets and rolling their stockings below the knees when they went fox-trotting to the music of the barbaric saxophone; but so far the revolution had hardly affected department store sales.


Below are some characteristic shoes of the time, from Altman’s catalogues for 1919-20. In those days few women wore low shoes in winter without spats to protect their ankles from the cold; if they did not wear spats, they wore high shoes—some of them of a really noble altitude—which might have buckskin, kidskin, cloth, or suede tops in light tan or gray.


By contrast, the American man looked in 1919 very much as he does today. True, there were millions of recent immigrants, workmen, and farmers who did not possess “city clothes”; the standardization of men’s attire has increased sharply since then, when the farmer on a trip to town was instantly recognizable as a “rube.”

But the well-dressed man of 1919 would hardly attract attention now if he were to appear on the street. The young man pictured is one of the Arrow Collar men” sketched by L. T. Lyendecker in innumerable advertisements; he represented the approved type of clean-cut good looks, vintage 1919.

The collar that he wears in the picture is rather low for 1919 (and would be high for today). It was sold either starched or soft, but he would hardly have been expected to wear it soft to the office; the soft collar was still generally reserved for play.


There were differences, of course. Trousers were narrower and likely to be a little shorter than today, as you will see from the picture, which is from Altman’s Spring and Summer Catalogue for 1919. The man of that day was likely to wear a derby hat in winter and a cloth cap for motoring or country use, and only a few eccentrics ventured to go hatless in the city in any weather.

In the evening he was more likely than now, if he had the means, to wear a tail coat with white waistcoat and white tie for formal occasions (with white gloves for dances), though the dinner coat was already invading the tail coat’s territory.

If he had reached man’s estate he would hardly have gone without a waistcoat—or an undershirt, for that matter—except perhaps in the country or in really hot weather. He had never seen tennis shorts, and the underwear now known as shorts he called drawers or B.V.D.’s, after the name of a principal maker.

His standard costume for stylish summer wear was a blue coat and white flannels. But all these 1919 items of dress are still occasionally seen; there has been no revolution in man’s appearance.


Automobiling was something else again. Below, a family sets out for a jaunt in a new Model T Ford, 1919 Model. Note the narrow tires, vertical windshield, and high clearance (very useful on rocky or muddy roads).


Other cars were longer, sleeker, more rakish. Below is an Oldsmobile, 1920 model (with, you will notice, smooth front tires and a smooth spare for a front wheel).


Next is an Apperson 8, as advertised in ‘Town and Country’ for February 1, 1919. If you are struck by the coincidence that all the cars on this page are open, remember that less than eleven per cent of the cars manufactured in 1919 were closed. The sedan had hardly begun its rush to general popularity.


There were some closed cars, of course, like the Cadillac model 59 (1920-21) . . .


. . . And below are three makes of cars now vanished: the Milburn Light Electric, the Haynes, and the (air cooled) Franklin.


Does anybody remember also the Moon, Cleveland Six, Scripps-Booth, Jordan, Grant Six, Kenworthy, Roamer, Owen Magnetic, Auburn, Bay State, Chandler, Peerless, Jewett, and Locomobile—all on the roads in 1919 and 1920?

Automobiling was spectacularly different then. There were no automatic traffic lights, no officially numbered highways, few concrete roads, and so many bad stretches of road almost everywhere that the Official Automobile Blue Book (New England volume) for 1921 gave the following instructions as to “What to Take on the Tour—and How to Prepare for It”:

“A most it important item is the tow line—either hempen rope, chain, or steel wire cable. . . . Tire chains should always be carried; likewise some single chains or mud hooks. There are also several automatic ‘pull-out’ devices which enable one to drive through places that might be otherwise impassable.. . .

“Where mountain roads, sandy stretches, and muddy places are to be met with, or where the condition of the road depends on the weather, a shovel with collapsible handle and a good camp axe often repay a hundred-fold the trouble of carrying them. To some a compass may appear superfluous, but the seasoned tourist commends it.”

What rural highways were like in wet weather it is almost impossible to imagine today. below is a Ford on a road near DeQueen, Arkansas, before it was improved in 1918.


Below, same car, same man, same driver, but the road considerably improved.


Next we have reproduced for careful inspection the Automobile Blue Book’s description of the way to drive from Columbus Circle, New York City, to Poughkeepsie. The pavement is described as “macadam, brick, concrete, and wood block all the way”—but that was for an exceptionally well traveled route.


In the same 1921 volume, the description of the route from Richford, Vermont, to Montreal, includes the warning: “Chains on all four wheels absolutely essential in wet weather.” And in June 1920 the Hudson River Day Line advertised its ships in the ‘New York Times’ as follows: “No tire trouble this way—run your car on the steamship and you’ll really enjoy the trip. No dust, no dirt, no bad roads to bother.”

Aviation, too, was then in a rudimentary stage of development. Below is the frail-looking flying boat, the Navy’s NC-4, which in May 1919 made the first perilous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean—but did it by way of a stop at the Azores. (It was in June of that year that Alcock and Browne made the first successful direct flight, from Newfoundland to Ireland, eight years ahead of Lindbergh.)


Next, you will see the personnel of the three Navy flying boats which attempted the ocean flight, including the successful NC-4. With them (in the front row, wearing straw hats) are Secretary Josephus Daniels of the Navy and the handsome young Assistant Secretary, Franklin D. Roosevelt.


If you went to the movies in 1920, you probably enjoyed seeing Douglas Fairbanks laughing and swaggering and leaping from roof to roof in The Mark of Zorro.”


Mary Pickford, in “Pollyanna”, was reminiscent of everybody’s childhood sweetheart. It was in 1920 that she and Douglas Fairbanks, king and queen of the silent screen, were married, to the delight of millions.


Next is a scene from another success of 1920, “The Kid,” with Charlie Chaplin, whose gift for humorous and tender pantomime was already conquering the world, and little Jackie Coogan.


Here are three other stars of the silent movies just after World War I.

Below is Gloria Swanson, being a very sultry girl indeed in “Male and Female,” produced in 1919; this was some time before she married the Marquis de Ia Falaise de la Coudray.


Next is Erich von Stroheim, in a scene from “Blind Husbands,” which he directed himself in 1919.


And below is Pearl White, heroine of many a wild melodrama and thriller serial picture, about to escape—as she did in every picture—from black-hearted men in a 1919-20 film called “The Black Secret.”


Possibly you can get just a hint of why Rudolph Valentino, the “sheik,” entranced women by the millions until he died in 1926. Here he is shown with Alice Terry in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” produced in 1921.


And you may gather that Douglas Fairbanks—here shown in “The Three Musketeers,” another 1921 film—didn’t even need a sword to stand off eight or ten swordsmen on a staircase. If the fight became too thick, he would probably swing himself over the staircase or up among the rafters. There have been athletic movie heroes since his heyday, but few so mightily gymnastic.

< Back to Top of Page