Back in the second week of March, I wrote the first part of a two-part Town Crier that looked back 100 years to 1920. By sampling newspapers from the first six months of the year we could see that things were pretty similar in some ways. They were having a pandemic (the Spanish Flu), the economy was trying to boom and it was an election year.
When I’m digging through past newspapers I like to go to the Dalton State College library and scroll through the microfilms of old papers there. After I had completed part 1 and was getting ready to go back and dig through the second half of the year for part 2, the new coronavirus (COVID-19) hit and everything shut down. I kept waiting for the library to open up but it didn’t happen.
Therefore I’m using a different resource: the internet. There’s a site for Georgia Historic Newspapers (gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu) and all the Dalton papers are on there until last few years. I’m digging through August, October and December to get a snapshot of the second half of 1920 and maybe ... just maybe ... find something inspiring in those times.
The first thing that struck me about an August Dalton paper was the full-page ad for a clearance sale of furniture and appliances at a place called Leonard-McGhee Furniture Co. They were trying to clear out the store for the fall merchandise and as they put it pretty transparently “We need the space (and the money)." “Make four dollars do the work of five” the ad yells.
Below they list all kinds of items and what they are going for. They have $5 rocking chairs going for $4 all the way up to $37.50 rockers going for $30. I’m kind of curious about what the difference between a $5 rocker and a $37.50 rocker is. Does one rock further than the other? Do you get more rocks per hour?
Interesting to us in Dalton are the rug prices. From small rugs that would probably go in front of the stove for $2 all the way up to room-size rugs of 9-by-12 for $80 on sale. The types of room rugs for sale include “Matting Squares,” “Grass Squares” and “Fiber Squares” (not sure what those are unless they’re like sisal) and then at the high end “Brussels Squares” and “Axminster Squares."
They were selling beds as well and mattresses to go along with them. I noticed something interesting about the mattresses. For $20 you got a $25 mattress, a difference of $5. For $24 you got a $30 one, $6 difference. For $32 you got a $40 one, difference of $8 and for $40 you got a $50 mattress, a difference of $10. The ad said “and so on through the line." I’m not the sharpest math wiz but wouldn’t you eventually buy a mattress so expensive they’d have to pay you to take it?
Front page news
Meanwhile, on the front page, you could tell it was an election year. And not just for government politicians. There were plenty of clubs and organizations that were reporting either upcoming conventions where leaders would be elected or officers that had already been voted in.
Among the organizations that were in the middle of electioning were the Odd Fellows who were announcing they had an upcoming, five-county division convention. The Odd Fellows’ hall was on Hamilton Street at that time (later it would be on Fort Hill) but they were also having exercises of some type at the courthouse.
Another article states that “Stafford” was re-elected as commander of the local Camp of Confederate Veterans. All the other officers were also elected and the announcement that the annual reunion of Confederate veterans would be in October at Houston, Texas. By the 1920s the remaining veterans would have been like the World War II veterans now as far as their age goes, in their 80s and 90s. And Congressman Gordon Lee announced he was running again for the 7th District.
Jumping ahead to October, there were a couple of stories that captured the headlines. The most notable was that women were registering to vote for the first time in America in 1920. The front page story states the members of the local Women’s Club marched en mass to the courthouse to register.
The first woman in Whitfield County to ever register to vote was Mrs. W.E. Mann. She was followed by all the members of the club.
There were still some catches to the law; only women over 30 could vote and under Georgia state law you had to be registered a year before voting in a national election so they would not be voting in November's presidential election. Dalton, however, was more forward thinking; the women would be allowed to vote in the December city elections of that year, so within a couple of months the women would be exercising their new rights for the first time.
The other big news in October 1920 was of course — the fair! Back when a large percentage of the citizens here were farmers, the fair was more than just a midway of thrill rides and a handful of livestock. It was a bigger deal then for the agricultural aspects. The headline said “Greatest Fair” held and that it was a great way to show off “Whitfield County’s vast resources."
Regarding the midway, “Amusements Extra Good” was splashed across the front of the paper. It consisted then of six good shows, TWO rides and many concessions. Award winners were announced in the paper for everything from a quilt made up of 84,000 separate pieces (sounds fantastic, but that’s what it said) to livestock to produce products.
The national election was upcoming and there were articles getting the public ready to vote. The newspaper said the ballot was about a yard long with a lot of important amendments on it. In these days of warring parties it’s interesting to note that the only differences in the Republican ballot and the Democratic ballot was at the top for president, and a new senator to Washington.
Warren G. Harding won the presidency that year with future president Calvin Coolidge as his vice president, and for the Dems' future president Franklin D. Roosevelt was the vice presidential nominee.
The rest of the ballot for state and local positions were all Democratic candidates such was the strength of the Democratic Party in the South back then. There were several statewide amendments up for vote regarding the Georgia Constitution, including votes on funding schools and county seat choices for five new counties in the state. I’d name the new counties here but I haven’t even heard of them these days.
A glance at the end of the year
Let’s finish off 1920 with a look at December's newspaper. There were of course several Christmas ads but most of the ads didn’t mention Christmas by name. You can tell it’s the season because the paper is full of ads for everything from new Dodge cars to department store sales to railroad tickets.
There’s an ad for Bank of Dalton featuring the words “Service” and “Safety,” which is ironic considering that in just a few years the Great Depression would hit and many banks (but not Bank of Dalton) would go under forever and people would lose their life’s savings.
But there were economic forces at work in December of ’20. Prices were falling and that was a reason in conjunction with Christmas for so many sales.
Evidently prices had been high and were due to come down and it was happening then. If you’re buying shoes, clothes or furniture that’s a good thing. If you’re trying to sell your cotton and corn that’s a bad thing. It was winter so most of the harvests were in and already sold but there were certainly wholesalers in the area that had perhaps bought higher and were now having to sell lower. That seems to be the case for some of the dry goods stores in town going ahead and using Christmas sales to take a little of the sting out of dropping profits. Of course as the '20s continued the economy would boom ... until the bust.
An interesting thing is that the paper proclaims on its masthead that it is an official organ of Whitfield County and the State of Georgia. That means it’s a place where official and legal notices can be posted; for example estate sales or bankruptcies. The paper came out on Thursdays once a week and an annual subscription cost $1.50. On the opposite side of the page was a poem because ... well, people read poems back then. Meanwhile, the headlines proclaimed what must have been a crime spree: farmers kill each other in a feud, and in Murray County a man was killed at a moonshine still.
Remember back in October when women were registering to vote for the first time? Well now that the local election was coming, for the first time a woman was running as a candidate. Miss Mary Wheeler announced her candidacy. She was up for clerk running against the incumbent ... a male. She made history but didn’t make office, losing to the incumbent.
Looks like women were making headway in politics. Sound familiar?
I hope while we’ve taken a little snapshot look at 1920 you’ve seen two things: how much times have changed, and how little times have changed!
Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.