East Tennessee History: Today in 1920

Published 3:50 pm Tuesday, April 28, 2020

We are living in a very interesting age. The 2020’s have started off as being a little troubling, but if we have a little faith, we can count on the future being brighter. Someone said recently that this is a special leap year. January had 31 days, February had 29, March felt like three months and April seemed like four years.
With things around us a little troubling, it is a good time to look at the world 100 years ago this year. Some of the things our ancestors faced may surprise you and other things may put a smile on your face.
In 1920 most people owned a car for the first time, thanks to Henry Ford. His assembly line made owning a car affordable, and his Model T’s were the most popular and inexpensive car made. You could have one in any color you chose as long as it was black!
In 1920 people started driving on paved roads with their cars, and going on drives in the country on Sundays became a relaxing pastime. Many said the car was going to be the downfall of society because it was keeping people out of church.
In 1920 the telephone connected people for the first time, but it could be expensive. A three-minute call from Denver to New York cost around $20.
In 1920 the average life span in the United States was about 54. Today it is about 77. I guess I would be living on borrowed time in 1920!
Children only attended school 75 days in 1920. Compare this with today when they usually spend 180 days in school. Many children back then had to be out of school during the spring, summer and part of the fall for farm work.
In 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed, creating Prohibition. This amendment banned the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages. It was repealed in 1933 and is the only Constitutional Amendment to be repealed.
Also, in 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote. Think about it for just one moment. Most white men could vote for 144 years before the nation recognized a woman’s right to vote.
The first commercially licensed radio broadcast was heard. The station was KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pa., and soon the radio became a family experience. The entire family would gather around a radio and listen to news, comedy shows and music.
In this area people started listening to the “Grand Ole Opry” every Saturday night. Some of the more conservative people in the mountains called it the “Grand Old Uproar” because they considered it sinful.
From 1900 to 1920 the leading causes of death were:
1.   Pneumonia and the Flu
2.   Tuberculosis
3.   Diarrhea and other intestinal issues
4.   Heart Disease
Most students did not finish high school in 1920. They were too busy working on a farm or getting a job to bring in money for the family. For example, my father only finished the ninth grade and then he went to work. My mother only finished the sixth grade. She had to stay home and help her mother take care of the other nine children in the family.
Women washed their hair in eggs or Borax. They said it gave it a special glow!
Finally, people took a bath once a month whether they needed it or not. Many thought you needed the layer of dirt to protect against dangerous illnesses.
If we have learned one thing from the past, 244 years of American history, it is that this too shall pass. Look on the bright side. You could have to use an egg to wash our hair.

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