Saturday, August 24, 2019

In the Good Old Summer Time

As vacation season winds to a close, Summerback Saturday takes a break from wars and riots and bombings to remark on a phenomenon I noticed while searching for century-old cartoons about all that heavy stuff. See if you can figure it out.
"Sketches from Life" by Harry C. Temple in Cleveland Plain Dealer, summer, 1919
One more cartoon should do it.
"When They Were Making Their Vacation Plans" by Wm. Morris for George Matthew Adams Service, summer, 1919
They called the phenomenon "The Summer Widower." It appears to have been a common enough thing to be the premise of plenty of cartoons, just like cartoons of young lads splashing in swimming holes and of the same lads woefully toting bundles of books to school in September.
"The Summer Widowers' Party" by Sid Chapin in St. Louis Republic, summer, 1919
I'm not sure whether Chapin's cartoon ran in June or July; if it was the latter, Henry must still have had some prohibited beverage there in the basement, which would explain why he's prudently staying outside the frame.
"When the Family's Away" by R.M. Brinkerhoff in New York Evening Mail, summer, 1919
Perhaps Dad staying home while the rest of the family goes merrily away on vacation seems perfectly normal to you, but growing up, I recall only one time when Mom took us kids off without Dad. We took the train up to see her parents once; I think Dad went separately to a churchwide assembly or somesuch. (Not most people's idea of summer fun.) Otherwise, Dad drove us in the car whenever we went traveling.
"Tragedy of the Summer Widower" by Kenneth Chamberlain in Cincinnati Press, summer, 1919
If summer widowerhood were all poker games and loafing around, it would have been called summer bachelorhood. Having the house all to oneself had its downside, however, especially in those days when Papa couldn't figure out how to operate a dishcloth.
"Portrait of the Man Who Told His Wife..." by Wm. C. Morris for George Matthew Adams Service, summer, 1919
To get serious for a moment, the reason these summer widowers weren't joining their families on vacation is that they probably wouldn't have had a job when they got back. Even if they did happen to belong to a union, unions were still working to win their members an eight-hour day and a 40-hour week; guaranteed vacation time wasn't even under consideration.

Not that it was unheard of. President Taft had proposed in 1910 that workers should have two to three months of vacation time every year, only to have the proposal go nowhere. Not until the Great Depression did employers start to see the value in letting their workers take some time off to recharge their batteries: first white-collar workers, then eventually blue-collar workers as well. Unions began to see vacation time as a valuable bargaining chip, and by 1943, 60% of American workers were entitled to paid vacation.

But unlike much of the rest of the world, the U.S. has no law guaranteeing paid vacation time for anyone but members of Congress and state legislatures.
"A Midsummer Day's Dream" by H.H. Perry in Portland Oregonian, August, 1919
P.S.: We mustn't forget the working women of 1919 ... although I doubt their husbands were off with the kids to play with the Esquimaux.

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