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Hot On The Historical Ephemera Trail… In The National Enquirer?

So I’m flipping through an issue of the National Enquirer from 1979, as I’m wont to do — don’t look at me like that, you’d do it too if you had some.

Women Born From 1905 to 1909 Had The Fewest Children

Women Born From 1905 to 1909 Had The Fewest Children

Anyway, I find this snippet (buried on page 63 of the issue dated February 20, 1979), titled “Women Born From 1905 to 1909 Had The Fewest Children.” And it fascinates me.

You know how I love to read about that feminist stuff — or, as some might say, turn everything into feminist stuff. But there’s just the three scant paragraphs. And it’s the National Enquirer for gosh-sake.

So, being in ‘the library’ (yes, that’s a euphemism for the bathroom) and, still pondering the subject of childless women who were born in the early 1900′s, I reach for whatever other reading material might be laying in the magazine rack.

Through what, again, can only be described as the Serendipity Of The Collecting Gods, my hand finds a back issue of The Keynoter, the Journal of the American Political Items Conservators published by the American Political Items Collectors.

On page 42 of that Winter, 2007, issue is an article titled “I Am For Playgrounds” by Steve Baxley. It describes the story behind the William Howard Taft celluloid button bearing the same slogan.

I Am For Playgrounds

Taft: I Am For Playgrounds

You, like political memorabilia collector Steve Mihaly, might wonder why this would be a political slogan — after all, who could possibly not be for playgrounds?

Baxley explains how back in the 1890′s urban areas were opening play lots where children could play within urban areas. Baxley writes:

Many women involved in the women’s suffrage movement also became involved in the Mother’s and Children’s Movement, which tried to influence state and local legislators to pass legislation protecting women and child laborers and create schools, kindergartens, and playgrounds to keep children off the street. Though these women could not vote, they were very successful in influencing stare and local government officials in achieving these goals. By 1905, many of the larger cities were providing appropriations for the maintenance of playgrounds.

In 1906 the Playground Association of America was founded. President Taft supported the group’s work as well as appropriations for playgrounds; this is where the button comes from.

What’s all this got to do with the low birthrate among women born between 1905 and 1909 — the very girls who would have played on those playgrounds?

I don’t know. Not really.

But the historian in me must make (educated) guesses.

The women born between 1905 and 1909 were the same young girls who grew up during the years of the women’s suffrage movement in the US. They would have seen the struggle, heard the talk, and knew they could have greater freedom of choice in living their lives. They too would see, if not quite be, part of the flapper movement. Activism and parenting being almost completely at odds with one another, some may have opted not to have children — and at this time, birth control, thanks to Margaret Sanger, was becoming a realistic option.

And, just as these young women were perhaps thinking of starting a family…

Along comes The Great Depression — the one of that started about 1929, not the one some say we are approaching now — and the birthrate fell about one-tenth globally from the rate during the “prosperous” 1920′s. In America, the birth rate dropped below the replacement level for the first time in history.

Pretty good guesses, huh.

But then I have all my ephemera to thank for that.  And my ‘library’ time.


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