Saturday, May 21, 2022

Kid Stuff

I have no particular reason for the subject of today's Graphical History Tour other than I happened to find a few editorial cartoons from May, 1922, that featured children. That, and it has been a terribly serious May of 2022, and I'm just not in the mood for anything terribly serious on a Saturday. 

"No Place to Go" by Clifford Berryman in Washington (DC) Evening Star, May 5, 1922

Once upon a time, if you were a city kid with time to go play outside, your only real option might be to play in the street. (I've noted before the phenomenon of fenced properties to keep the children out of the yard.) But the streets, once public spaces, had been taken over as the exclusive property of the automobile; and street baseball and Great Gatsby driving did not mix well.

Apparently, Pierre Charles l'Enfant had not provided for playgrounds when he designed Washington DC. By 1907, The need for spaces for children to play was recognized by President Theodore Roosevelt:

"City streets are unsatisfactory playgrounds for children because of the danger, because most good games are against the law, because they are too hot in summer, and because in crowded sections of the city they are apt to be schools of crime. Neither do small back yards nor ornamental grass plots meet the needs of any but the very small children. Older children who would play vigorous games must have places especially set aside for them; and, since play is a fundamental need, playgrounds should be provided for every child as much as schools. This means that they must be distributed over the cities in such a way as to be within walking distance of every boy and girl, as most children can not afford to pay carfare."

Yet, here we were, 15 years later, and Clifford Berryman still accused the City Fathers of ignoring the children.

"According to Gamaliel" by Roy James in St. Louis Star, May 7, 1922

Roy James accuses President Harding of ignoring the children on an entirely different issue. (And proves that this misinterpretation of Matthew 19:14 is older than any cartoonist alive today. At least he recognized the need to add punctuation to change the meaning.)

Wives and children of prisoners convicted of wartime offenses — primarily pacifists, Wobblies, and socialists arrested under the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918 — picketed the White House, Senate, and Justice Department in May, 2022. The children "crusaders," as they were called, carried signs reading "I never saw my daddy," "Free all political prisoners," and "Is free speech a crime?"

The Harding administration responded that while the President might sympathize with children deprived of their fathers, no "program of picketing or parading [should] ever influence the opinion of the executive." 

"A Strategically Located Remnant" by Roy James in St. Louis Star, May 17, 1922

Another cartoon from Roy James illustrates the difficulty in passing legislation to ban child labor — like reckless driving, at issue for several years at this point — through the Congress and courts. Another parallel issue here is that of "states rights," the refuge of scoundrels defending child labor, later segregation, and now control over women's reproductive rights.

Whenever someone brings up "states rights," you can rest assured that they come at the expense of the individual.

"Whoa, Bill" by Charles H. "Bill" Sykes in Philadelphia Evening Ledger, May 24, 1922

Here we see California's Republican Senator William Borah proposing that the U.S. formally recognize the Soviet Union as the legitimate —

Er, hold on a minute.

That's not a cartoon about children. It just depicts a grown man as one.

I guess it doesn't actually belong in this post.

Never mind.

"Is Your Child Normal?" by Gustavo Bronstrup in San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 1922


  1. In "The Battle with the Slum," (1902) Jacob Riis talks of a meeting where police chiefs were asked to put pins on a map of NYC to show the lowest crime areas and it turned out those were neighborhoods with playgrounds. TR was a good friend of Riis in his days as police commissioner and collaborated with him in helping clear up the slums. In fact, Roosevelt is the photograph on the title page of the book.

  2. "Everything takes ten years," said Abram S. Hewitt, when, exactly ten years after he had as mayor championed the Small Parks Act, he took his seat as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Small Parks. The ten years had wrought a great change. It was no longer the slum of to-day, but that of to-morrow, that challenged attention. The committee took the point of view of the children from the first. It had a large map prepared, showing where in the city there was room to play and where there was none. Then it called in the police and asked them to point out where there was trouble with the boys; and in every instance the policeman put his finger upon a treeless slum.

    "They have no other playground than the street," was the explanation given in each case. "They smash lamps and break windows. The storekeepers kick and there is trouble. That is how it begins." "Many complaints are received daily of boys annoying pedestrians, storekeepers, and tenants by their continually playing base-ball in some parts of almost every street. The damage is not slight. Arrests are frequent, much more frequent than when they had open lots to play in." This last was the report of an up-town captain. He remembered the days when there were open lots there. "But those lots are now built upon," he said, "and for every new house there are more boys and less chance for them to play."

    The committee put a red daub on the map to indicate trouble. Then it asked those police captains who had not spoken to show them where their precincts were, and why they had no trouble. Every one of them put his finger on a green spot that marked a park.

    "My people are quiet and orderly," said the captain of the Tompkins Square precinct. _ Jacob Riis, 1902, The Battle With the Slum.

  3. The elementary school I attended was built in 1910 with a decent-sized playground. I have noticed, however, that the portion that has been set aside as a parking lot has grown quite a bit.
    A testament to the inexorable hegemony of the automobile.