April is National Poetry Month, so we’re taking a look at some of the poetry we’ve seen in Chronicling America – the Library of Congress’s online newspaper database. One specific historical event in the early 20th century spawned a variety of poetry: World War One. Several different strains of poetry came out of the war and helped to tell the story of people in the trenches as well as those on the home front.
The early poetry of World War One was marked by a strain of romanticism and a tendency to view the war through a majestic or heroic lens. This can be seen in the famous poem “In Flander’s Fields” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, as well as in the variety of poems written in response to it. These poems sought to assure the reader that the war dead would not be forgotten, their sacrifice would not be in vain, and that the torch would be passed on should a soldier falter.
Poetry written on the home front played a key role in national propaganda as well. The English poet Jessie Pope was a key figure in producing nationalistic poetry that urged men to enlist, and scorned those who did not. Local poetry, as shown by the poem from the Cordova Daily Times, broadly repeated this theme and took a patriotic and nationalistic stance.
“The Call” by Jessie Pope
Who’s for the trench— Are you, my laddie? Who’ll follow French— Will you, my laddie? Who’s fretting to begin, Who’s going out to win? And who wants to save his skin— Do you, my laddie?
Who’s for the khaki suit— Are you, my laddie? Who longs to charge and shoot— Do you, my laddie? Who’s keen on getting fit, Who means to show his grit, And who’d rather wait a bit— Would you, my laddie?
Who’ll earn the Empire’s thanks— Will you, my laddie? Who’ll swell the victor’s ranks— Will you, my laddie? When that procession comes, Banners and rolling drums— Who’ll stand and bite his thumbs— Will you, my laddie?
Much of the poetry from the front lines took a far less romantic view of the war. The poem “The Song of the Mud” by Mary Borden, an American front-line nurse, starts out tongue-in-cheek talking about mud as a fashion statement. As the poem progresses, though, it begins to discuss the mud as a watery grave that sucks people down, without leaving a trace they were ever there. It’s a haunting description of the battlefield, that clearly bears traces of Borden’s time on the front lines.
The English poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon both wrote poetry in the trenches that speaks to their experience and what they saw in France. The titles of their works alone, from Siegfried’s “Death’s Brotherhood” to Owen’s “The Anthem for Doomed Youth,” speak to the horrors they witnessed.
Owen’s most famous work, “Dulce et Decorum est,” was a scathing critique of and direct response to the patriotic and jingoistic poems written on the home front during World War One. Describing the horrors of a gas attack, Owen grimly writes that if those back at home had witnessed the same things he had, they would not write of the war in the romantic way that they did. The poem originally featured a dedication to the aforementioned Jessie Pope, but it was removed before publication.
“Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime… Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.
Few topics have proved as enduringly controversial in American history as evolution and the origins of humanity. Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, was published back in 1859 when slavery was the main issue dividing Americans. Although his first book only discussed animals, many people quickly grasped what Darwin later made explicit: his theory of evolution applied to people as well. Even today, over 150 years later, the teaching of his theory remains divisive to many people.
It was in response to this perceived threat that in 1924 the state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, which banned teaching evolution in schools – the first state law of its kind in America. The American Civil Liberties Union almost immediately put out a notice challenging the law and offering to help anyone who would defy it. The stage was set for a great confrontation, and an even greater media frenzy.
Seeing an ad by the ACLU in a newspaper, some opportunistic businessmen from Dayton, Tennessee, figured if they could arrange to have the trial in Dayton then the town would be packed with visitors and give the local economy a needed boost. They were able to enlist a local teacher, John Thomas Scopes, to help them with their plan. Scopes was a science teacher and football coach with little experience teaching biology – he was not even sure he had ever actually taught evolution in a classroom. Nevertheless, Scopes was opposed to the law and agreed to be indicted for violating the Butler Act. Within a week of the act’s passage, the media apparatus of the entire nation had snapped its attention to Dayton.
Although thousands of miles away from the scene, Alaska’s newspapers turned their attention south too. Every Alaska newspaper with coverage in 1925 digitized for Alaska’s Digital Newspaper Project reported on the Scopes trial with new developments often making front page headlines. An article in Smithsonian Magazine noted that while the plan to bring attention to Dayton had succeeded, the attention was often derisive. This observation is borne out in the scathing articles and cartoons from national papers, and Alaskan newspapers too.
The editorials of both the Daily Alaska Empire and the Seward Daily Gateway were harsh in their critique of both the trial and the town that played host to it. In an editorial entitled “Dayton’s Show Proves Nothing,” the editor of the Daily Alaska Empire made his opinion on the spectacle clear:
“For a few brief days the town enjoyed the notoriety that comes from being carried on the front pages of the newspapers of the nation … It achieved its notoriety, or prominence, depending upon the viewpoint, cheaply. It basked in the glamor of publicity brought about by a freak law, its violation and the enlistment of famous counsel to conduct the resulting case. “
The editor praised the separation of church and state and compared prosecutor William Jennings Bryan’s anti-evolution efforts to the Ku Klux Klan and its efforts to suppress Jews and Catholics.
The Seward Daily Gateway pilloried the trial in an editorial, commenting that “[the trial] is rapidly developing into a farce – a farce which can do no good to the church members prosecuting Scopes and which can prove nothing for or against evolution”. Deriding both the trial officials and jurors, the Gateway criticized Tennessee as “the last state in the union which should attempt to prove [or] disprove scientific subjects,”  and pointed out that nobody was upset by botanists changing God’s creations. The Gateway’s editor, while seemingly open to the concept of the evolution, tried to support his point by trotting out a number of racist notions and stereotypes to show that humans might have evolved over time.
As historic as the trial was, the editor of the Seward Daily Gateway was not far off in calling it a farce, and the Daily Alaska Empire correctly pointed out that the trial’s outcome was never in doubt; Scopes had admitted to teaching evolution, a point nobody was denying. For all of the pomp and circumstance that came with having the celebrated orator and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan as the prosecutor and famed criminal defense attorney Clarence Darrow as the defense, the trial was brief and fairly straightforward. The defense attempted to have the Butler Law declared unconstitutional early on, but the judge overruled the motion – thereby removing most suspense about the trial’s eventual result.
The trial was brief, lasting just a couple of weeks, but far from predictable. It still had plenty of exciting moments to hold the nation’s attention: from the composition of the jury (all church members), controversial opening prayer, and refusal of the court to admit expert testimony from the many scientists who showed up in Dayton eager to help. Perhaps the most astounding moment came when the defense called the prosecutor himself, William Jennings Bryan, to the stand to testify about the bible. The picture of these two renowned Americans, arguing in an open-air court session – the judge had moved the court out of doors on account of the heat – about the bible and evolution, is one of the iconic images from the decade.
Without a successful challenge against the constitutionality of the law, however, there was little reason for Scopes’ trial to continue. After the judge ruled Bryan could not be called upon as a witness again, the defense saw little point in continuing. Darrow asked that his client be found guilty so that they could appeal the verdict and challenge the law in a higher court. A guilty verdict was duly returned a few minutes later and Scopes was fined $100, which several parties offered to pay. The fine was later voided by a higher court.
Several other states would soon follow Tennessee in passing legislation to ban teaching evolution. Tennessee’s law remained until 1967 when it was repealed by the legislature. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Supreme Court weighed in and unanimously declared these state’s laws were a violation of the First Amendment. Since then, various laws regarding the teaching of evolution and biblical creation have been passed across a number of states – with many of them being struck down and others still under debate – as the argument over how to teach about the origin of humans continues.
As for the persons involved in the case, the nation received a shock when William Jennings Bryan suddenly passed away just five days after the end of the trial. His funeral procession and burial at Arlington would fill the headlines of newspapers as the furor of the Scopes trial subsided. Scopes himself gave up teaching after the trial. He moved to Venezuela several years later to avoid recognition. However, he returned to Dayton in 1960 for the premier of a movie based on the trial.
Dayton’s moment in the sun swiftly came to an end, and the references to it afterward were generally derisive in nature. But despite the barbs and jabs, this small town could boast that for several weeks it held the national spotlight. History’s gaze – often focused on the lights of the big city – still fixes on Dayton, Tennessee in the classrooms of history teachers and the chapters of textbooks across the nation.
Today marks Remembrance Day for approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese Ancestry who were forcibly displaced and incarcerated in concentration camps during World War II. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, unfortunately, anti-Japanese sentiment and jingoism, in the guise of military necessity, prevailed. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of American citizens from the West Coast. Under the order of General John Lewitt, people of Japanese ancestry – most of them American citizens – were made to hurriedly pack a few belongings and sent to isolated and hastily constructed camps around the country, where most remained until the end of the war.
Japanese American families were rarely able to recover their homes and thriving businesses after the war and had to start over. Many were middle-aged and had spent decades contributing to United States communities.
Juneau Elks Team (c.) 1940 (l to R) Stack, George, Eddie, Bill, Jack, Ham Kumasaka, Sam Tagachi, Oscar, Ray, Mahoney, Max Lewis. Kumasaka Family. ASL-M286-9-3
A number of Japanese Americans outwardly resisted when asked to complete a loyalty questionnaire. The government began sending resisters to the Tule Lake camp, where conditions worsened for the detainees. Eventually, 5,000 Japanese Americans held at Tule Lake renounced their U.S. citizenship in protest. For more details about the complexities of the resistance, please explore DENSHO, a grassroots site with a mission to “preserve and share history of the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans to promote equity and justice today.” See Japanese American response to incarceration on Densho. The site has extensive educational information in a multi-media format.
In the 1944 case Korematsu v. U.S.the Supreme Court addressed the legality of the forced deportation and incarceration of Japanese American citizens. In a 6-3 decision, the Court found Order 9066 legal. In one of the three dissents, Justice Frank Murphy decried the majority opinion as a “legalization of racism.” Justice Owen Roberts noted in his dissent this was a “case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry.” Note: it is also important to remember on this day that when the United States Army called for volunteers from those held in the camps, thousands of Japanese American citizens volunteered, and served with distinction in the war.
As the tide of the war turned in favor the United States, Americans of Japanese ancestry were allowed to return leave the camps and return home. In many cases their houses or businesses were Sold, Damaged, Stolen, or Gone. After the war ended, many newspaper editorials spoke of public regret over the unjustified treatment of Japanese Americans. An editorial from the Washington Post in 1946 called the whole incident a “smudge upon our national honor and a threat to elementary principles of freedom.” In an article praising the Medal of Honor recipient, Sadao S. Munemori, the Christian Science Monitor remarked that “No honor paid to his name can settle the debt the United States owes to the thousands of his countrymen who suffered serious economic losses when they were evacuated from their west coast homes in an improvised, overexcited action.” In 1988 Congress passed legislation that apologized for the incarcerations and provided for $20,000 payments to people who had been incarcerated.
Be sure to see our own Juneau families’ stories displayed on six panels in the APK atrium at the Alaska State Libraries, Archives, and Museum in Juneau! The display will be up through Tuesday, February 23! Or, you can view the families’s collection on Alaska’s Digital Archives at: Japanese-American Incarceration, Juneau Families, bulk 1940s. ASL-MS 286. In addition, at the display, pick up a free copy of Quiet Defiance, by Karleen Grummett, courtesy of the Empty Chair Project via the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. The book weaves together family narratives with archival research, The film, The Empty Chair, filmed by Greg Chaney, features Alice Tanaka’s interviews with other Juneau Japanese American family members and is available at the public library or for sale at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, as is the book. The Empty Chair project began as a memorial in Capital City Park in downtown Juneau.
Written by Anastasia Tarmann and Christopher Russell
Although Covid has slowed down some of our work on the Alaska Digital Newspaper Project, it hasn’t stopped it! As part of our 2018-2020 cycle with the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, we have uploaded over 35,000 pages to Chronicling America from the following newspapers:
The New Native (Hydaburg, Alaska)
The Free Press (Fairbanks, Alaska)
The Alaska Socialist (Fairbanks, Alaska)
The Midnight Sun (Wales, Alaska)
The Nome Daily Nugget (Nome, Alaska)
The Nome Nugget (Nome, Alaska)
Tundra Times (Fairbanks, Alaska)
Kodiak Mirror (Kodiak, Alaska)
The Daily Progressive-Miner (Ketchikan, Alaska)
The Ketchikan Miner (Ketchikan, Alaska)
The Ketchikan Mining News (Ketchikan, Alaska)
The Daily Alaska Empire (Juneau, Alaska)
The Alaska Daily Empire (Juneau, Alaska)
Over the next year we expect to upload another 70,000 pages to the Library of Congress website: Chronicling America. We have also begun the process of selecting titles to digitize for the 2020-2022 cycle and are excited to add even more of our historic Alaskan newspapers to this public resource, and make them available to everyone.
If you voted in this latest election, then congratulations are in order, you participated in the democratic process during a global pandemic. A national election has not happened amidst an outbreak of this scale in over 100 years, not since the 1918 midterm elections. The elections of that year were held against the backdrop of the Spanish Flu, a global pandemic that claimed over 50 million lives worldwide. As bad as the Spanish Flu was, it wasn’t the only thing affecting turnout that year; the 1918 midterms happened during the tail end of World War 1, a conflict which saw over 4 million Americans – who were all eligible voters – serve in the armed forces.
The Spanish Flu first hit U.S. shores during the spring of 1918, but it was the second wave of the Spanish Flu in the fall of that year that did the most damage to the nation. The virus affected the nation asynchronously, hitting the east coast hardest in September and October and the west coast following behind by about a month; so while the second wave of the Spanish Flu had largely wound down on the east coast by Election Day and people cast their ballots like usual, the opposite was true of the situation on the west coast.
The pandemic caused the cancellation of many political events, including rallies and speaking engagements, prompting outrage and even accusations of election interference by some politicians. Some local elections on the west coast were postponed because of the virus, however, congressional midterm elections went ahead as planned. With bans on the normal stump speeches and rallies, this election marked a shift in political campaigning as many politicians turned to methods that are now trademarks of election years: advertisements, telephone calls, and lots of mailed political literature.
To combat the spread of the virus, some polling stations focused on disinfecting throughout the day, others tried to discourage people from lingering longer than necessary, and still others required masks in order to vote. The city of South Bend in Indiana banned the display of results in newspaper storefronts, for fear of people congregating around the windows.
At 40%, Voter turnout was low for the 1918 midterm elections, compared to 52% for the previous midterms, but the role of the World War 1 draft makes it difficult to assess the exact impact the virus had on turnout. Further complicating the calculations is the fact that the percentage of the population that could vote had been steadily increasing as various states passed women’s suffrage, prior to the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920.
Regardless of who they voted for, everyone received a pleasant surprise shortly after the election. An armistice was signed just six days after the midterms ended, World War 1 was over. Sadly, as people took to the streets to celebrate and as many American troops began returning from Europe, a third wave of the Spanish Flu would hit the U.S. The unfortunate confluence of the election, mass celebrations, and the return of so many soldiers from overseas made a third wave a matter of if, not when. The potential role of the elections in spreading the disease is impossible to know. With vaccines for Coronavirus on the horizon though, there is reason to hope that this coming spring will not see the continuation of our own terrible pandemic but will instead witness much needed relief and a return to normalcy.
As the nation settles in for hearings on the nomination to the Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett, it is worth looking back at previous confirmation hearings from the 20th century. Today’s televised and heavily reported confirmation hearings bear little resemblance to those from a century ago – Prior to 1929 debate on Supreme Court nominations typically happened in closed Senate sessions.
The newspapers we have digitized here at the Alaska Digital Newspaper Program are primarily from 1900-1963, and during that time 41 different people were nominated to be justices of the United States Supreme Court. Of those 41 nominees from 1900 to 1963 all but one was confirmed by the Senate. However, it would be a mistake to think that the 40 confirmations were all without controversy. There were several Supreme Court nominations in the early to mid-nineteenth century that provoked considerable opposition and controversy. Among the most contentious nominations were those of Hugo Black and Louis Brandeis, each for vastly different reasons, which this blog will examine in more depth.
In 1916, when presented with the second opening on the Supreme Court during his term of office, Woodrow Wilson opted to nominate a progressive lawyer from Boston, Louis D. Brandeis, known as the “People’s Attorney.” Brandeis had a reputation for championing the rights of working class Americans; as one senator put it: “Brandeis, when you come down to the truth of it all, has performed a great service for what we call the ‘under dog’ in the fight.”
Over the course of his career as an attorney, Brandeis had fought against a merger of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford railroad with the Boston and Maine railroad to prevent a monopoly. He successfully fought to limit the working hours of women, in an Oregon case that established a ten-hour workday. It was this case that established the phrase “Brandeis Brief” for his use of data and statistics that went outside of legal arguments and instead addressed sociological, economic, and even medical issues.
For all of the popularity that Brandeis’ cases had won him, they also gained him a share of infamy, and the confirmation hearings for Louis Brandeis would be among the wildest and most contentious in the nation’s history up to 1916. It was also the first confirmation hearing to happen in open sessions of the Senate, something that did not become regular until the 1920s. Opposition to Brandeis came from several groups, including business interests, former President William Howard Taft, and even the American Bar Association.
Over a hundred witnesses would be called to the stand to testify to Brandeis integrity, ethics, and judicial temperament. One witness testified that it was only “big business interests” that were fighting Brandeis’ confirmation, and some newspapers supported this argument, alleging:
“[h]e is opposed for the reason that he has stood for the masses in the encroachment of privilege…That he has refused to lend his great mind and legal ability to great capitalist interests for a mere monetary legal retainer. For all these faults, if faults they are as alleged by some, he is condemned.” 
As the first Jewish person ever nominated to the Supreme Court, Brandeis had to contend with “a deep vein of anti-Semitism.” Unlike most Supreme Court nominations of the early 20th-century, which were usually approved within one to two weeks, it was over four months from Brandeis’ nomination to his confirmation in June. Among all nominees to the Supreme Court in history, the 117 days that passed between Louis Brandeis nomination and eventual confirmation is unmatched. Ultimately Brandeis would be confirmed by a vote of 47-22, and would become one of the most famous justices the Supreme Court had seen.
Hugo Black was appointed against the background of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program in 1937, after Roosevelt’s plan to increase the size of the Supreme Court had failed. Black, a senator from Alabama who had voted for all of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs so far, was nominated to fill the vacancy of Willis Van Devanter. His status as a standing senator – at the time considered a free pass to the Supreme Court if nominated – did not make his confirmation as easy as expected.
Black’s personal racial animus and bigotry became focal points in the battle over his confirmation, and his personal views would be carried by major newspapers across the country. Nominated by Roosevelt on the 12th of August, opposition to Black’s appointment was initially not too serious, but several days later rumors began circulating that Black had been involved with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and might even still be a member. Black stayed silent in the face of these rumors, and without anything substantial to back them up, Black was confirmed by the Senate on the 17th of August by a margin of 63 to 16.
Less than a month later his history with the KKK once again took center story though, when a newspaper in Pittsburgh published evidence of Black’s participation in meetings, and even that he had been awarded a “grand passport,” that provided a type of lifetime membership. While rumors of his involvement provoked calls for further investigation, the emerging evidence led to widespread condemnation and outrage. Newspapers and political cartoonists had a field day as the newly confirmed justice of the highest court was confirmed to have been involved with the KKK, leading to intense scrutiny. There was much speculation regarding Roosevelt’s prior knowledge of Black’s background – embarrassing Roosevelt in no small measure.
Black was on vacation in London when the news hit the stands and he was hounded by the press during his stay. Upon his return to the United States, the newly appointed justice of the Supreme Court confronted the allegations in a public radio address, admitting that he had been a member of the KKK 15 years ago. Black said he had dropped any association with the Klan and resigned his membership before becoming a senator, and he further argued that his voting record as a senator refuted any charges of racial bias.
Black’s speech failed to satisfy most of the nation, in part because he did not offer any remorse or apologize for his membership in the KKK. However, motions to unseat Black were unsuccessful as membership in the Klan was itself not illegal and was prior to his appointment. Concerns in 1937 about looming conflict in Europe interrupted the controversy though and diverted the nation’s attention. In spite of his past, Black would go on to surprise many of his detractors over the course of his career, which lasted until 1971. His support for civil rights and protection of civil liberties helped Roosevelt to feel vindicated in his decision, despite the tumult of his confirmation.
Last month, this country marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which granted women across the nation the right to vote. While some states had already passed laws granting partial or total suffrage to women, this amendment applied to every state. Alaska had already passed a women’s suffrage law back in 1913, earning praise from suffragists across the nation. The victory of the 19th Amendment did not mark the end of restrictions on voting rights, however, and while the 19th Amendment helped to grant women the vote, many Americans were still denied a voice in their government on account of their race. Women of color and racial minorities did not benefit from the passage of the 19th Amendment.
Alaska Natives were largely denied the vote on the basis of the Alaska Citizenship Act of 1915, which introduced a number of additional qualifications Native Alaskans had to meet to qualify as citizens. Among the provisions listed, Alaska Natives who wanted to become citizens had to give up all tribal affiliations, undergo an examination, and obtain endorsements from five white people. This act was used to hinder the ability of Alaska Natives to vote or participate in government.
The Alaska Citizenship Act would be successfully challenged in 1922, after Tlingit natives “Tillie” Tamaree and Charlie Jones were both arrested – Charlie for voting and Tillie for encouraging him to vote. With Tillie’s son, William Paul Sr., acting as attorney, the charges were fought and successfully overturned in court. In 1924 the federal government passed the Indian Citizenship Act, granting citizenship to all Native Americans. The state of Alaska soon passed a bill in 1925, however, that made completing an English literacy test a requirement to vote. A 2019 report by the Alaska Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted the “English literacy test is significant because Alaska had an official government policy that established a segregated school system and discouraged building high schools in rural villages.” In effect, official state policy disenfranchised thousands of Alaska Natives and prevented them from voting.
An Alaska Native or other racial minority voting was for many white people in Alaska a specter hanging over their heads. The editor of the Alaska Daily Empire in the 1920s wrote many articles balking at the idea of large groups of Alaska Natives voting. In 1925, the Alaska Daily Empire claimed: “we must have a white man’s party not alone for the protection of the white people of Southeastern Alaska. . . but because the welfare of the Indians demands it.” Racism dressed as paternalism frequently appeared in newspapers, government policy, and public comment in Alaska, and was often filtered through the trope of Native dependency on and inferiority to white people. A resident of Sitka in 1924 fretted that without literacy tests in the upcoming elections the Native Alaskans would be in control of the local government and school board, saying that “When this happens our public school is certain to be overrun by Indian children to the very great detriment of the schools and the pupils now in attendance.”
It was not until 1965, when Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Voting Rights Act, that literacy tests and other methods of voter restriction were declared illegal. A follow-up amendment in 1975 extended additional protections to “minority groups who have experienced historical discrimination and disenfranchisement due to limited English-speaking abilities,” of which one of the groups selected for additional protection was Alaska Natives. Although much time has passed since the VRA was signed into law, restrictions on voting access and failure to accommodate those who speak native languages continue to be issues in Alaska. The right to vote is truly amazing, and it cannot be taken for granted. Many people in this country have worked hard– sometimes risking their lives – to be able to vote.
Reminder: The deadline to register to vote in Alaska is October 4th!
When the expeditions of Frederick Cook in 1908 and Robert Peary in 1909 reached the North Pole, it might have seemed like the era of expedition to the top of the world was at an end, but in fact it was only beginning. While the world was engrossed by Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic in 1927, a series of daring flights had been taking place over the North Pole – first by Richard E. Byrd in 1926 and then later by Roald Amundsen in the Italian dirigible Norge. These efforts would culminate in the flight of Hubert Wilkins over the North Pole in 1928.
Many of these early expeditions to the North Pole faced scrutiny in their claims. GPS did not exist and and it was up to the navigational data explorers collected to verify and prove their claims. Doubts still remain about Peary’s claim to have reached the North Pole, while Cook’s has been widely discredited.
Richard E. Byrd’s claim, while initially accepted by some, had its share of doubters too, in part due to the much faster than anticipated flight time; it received a more severe hit in 1996 when it emerged that Byrd’s journal contained his estimations of the plane’s ground speed but no written calculations to show how Byrd reached those numbers. The limitations of the navigational technology Byrd was using, and the possibility that he was doing speed calculations in his head for over 15 hours that required him to make very precise readings, have convinced many that Byrd likely did not reach the North Pole.
The first widely accepted claim to reach the North Pole was made by the Norge, which departed from Spitsbergen, Norway and landed at Teller, Alaska – its original destination was Nome, but bad weather forced it to land early. Once it had landed in Alaska, the Norge was disassembled and ultimately transported back to Europe. The Italian, Norwegian, and American flags were dropped from the Norge as it flew over the North Pole.
From 1926-1928 a series of expeditions were carried out by Hubert Wilkins, an Australian, who was intrigued by the possibility of undiscovered lands near the North Pole. Wilkins and his team made several trips through Juneau by ship, and then travelled from Seward to Fairbanks and ultimately to Point Barrow in the far north. Point Barrow was used by Wilkins and his pilot, Carl Ben Eielson, as the take off point for their expeditions over the North Pole. Wilkin’s endeavors didn’t immediately bear fruit, and just over a month after passing through Juneau his plane crashed in the snow while trying to take off from Fairbanks.
Through 1926 and 1927 Wilkins undertook a number of different flights, with his efforts and progress constantly reported by the press in Juneau. It was in April of 1928 that he made a complete flight over the North Pole, starting in Port Barrow, Alaska and ending in Spitsbergen, Norway just over 20 hours later. The news of his successful arrival was delayed by several days due to a lack of wireless radio access at Spitsbergen, but when word of his achievement reached the outside world it was trumpeted in the headlines. The first of several awards for Wilkins came just several days later from the National Geographic Society and the accolades culminated in a knighthood for him.
Not content to rest on their achievements, Byrd and Wilkins both began to make plans for aerial flights over the South Pole and Antarctic region, as their focus shifted away from the North Pole. For a brief period of time, however, Alaska was the hub of many an explorer, all seeking to make their mark on history.
By Christopher Russell
Issues of the Alaska Daily Empire and Daily Alaska Empire Newspapers
World War One was the first war that fully made use of the developments and creations of the Industrial Age. Trench warfare, mass artillery barrages, and hopeless charges against fortified positions all contributed to a catastrophic death toll. When many soldiers in the war began demonstrating symptoms of panic, problems sleeping, and trouble talking or even walking, people were quick to put the blame on these newly developed and terrifying instruments of war. Charles Myers, an English physician who coined the term ‘shell shock’, hypothesized that these problems were due to the physical trauma of exploding shells and their blast waves.
As more people began showing symptoms, including those who had never been close to a shell or even heard one, theories began to shift and both a physical and psychological form of shell shock were adopted by physicians. In the days before PTSD was a diagnosis, or much was known about the psychological effects of combat, cases of shell shock were viewed with scorn by many. In 1922 the English War Office Committee released the findings of its inquiry into shell shock, noting that “fear is the chief factor in both cowardice and emotional ‘shell shock’.” Treatments for shell shock at the time varied and ranged from the bizarre to the downright brutal. Treatments like introducing parrots into hospital wards, painting the rooms bright colors, and organizing singing lessons were mixed in with severe electroshock therapy.
June is PTSD Awareness month, and although psychological trauma would not receive that diagnosis for many decades, and not a few wars to come, it is important to recognize that World War One and shell shock helped bring this issue to people’s attention. The biggest improvement has been recognizing that this trauma is not the result of cowardice or character flaws from those suffering from it. High suicide rates of World War One veterans in the United States attest to the damage that this belief caused. The shell shock of the first World War would morph into War Neurosis, then Battle Fatigue, Combat Stress Reaction, and eventually Post-Vietnam Syndrome. Finally, in 1980 the American Psychological Association added PTSD to its manual of “Mental Disorders.”
Written by Christopher Russell
Report of the War Office Committee of Enquiry into “Shell-Shock.” Army Medical Services Museum, Keogh Barracks. License: CC-BY-NC accessed through Wellcome Library
Bluhm, Robyn and Brandt, Marisa, and McDonald, MaryCatherine. From shell-shock to PTSD, a century of invisible war trauma. PBS NewsHour, Nov 11, 2018.
Friedman, Matthew J. MD PhD. History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Alexander, Caroline. The Shock of War. Smithsonian Magazine, September 2010.
Newspaper articles from the Cordova Daily Times, and the Alaska Daily Empire.
IN 1912 the Assistant Surgeon General of Alaska, R.A. Kearney, wrote that “Unless some ways are used to check tuberculosis among the native Indians of Alaska the race will become extinct there in sixty or seventy years.” In 1918 the threat from Tuberculosis was still critical, indicated by a front page article in The Cordova Daily Times warning of the potential extinction of Alaskan natives from the disease. Tuberculosis did not cause the end of Alaskan Natives, but it did take a heavy toll on their communities, and it is not the only outbreak that has done so over the years. Just one year later, in 1919, a recent arrival to Anchorage told of his experiences as part of a prospecting trip, where he witnessed Alaskan Native camps devastated by influenza. He described finding unburied bodies at some camps, and other camps where the dead outnumbered the living and survivors who were barely alive themselves.
Medical missions to Southwestern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands in the summer of 1919 were able to help some communities, but often found themselves arriving too late, when burying the dead, rather than administering medical aid became their objective. Of the 1,113 official deaths from the Spanish Flu recorded by the state of Alaska, 81.7% were Alaska natives, although they accounted for only 48% of the population. Many people suspect the actual number of deaths is far higher, with some estimates from historians as high as 3,000.
Today native communities in Alaska face a new disease but a familiar threat, this time from Coronavirus. Smaller rural and native communities in Alaska endure a lack of running water or sanitation services, making compliance with CDC recommendations virtually impossible. Alaska has so far avoided the high Coronavirus case counts that have plagued other states, but data from the lower 48 states indicates that Native American communities are once again bearing the brunt of an outbreak. New York, the U.S. state with the highest infection rate per capita, still has a lower rate than five different tribal nations (although it must be noted the populations suffering the highest rates are also minorities as well). In Arizona, native Americans make up 18% of the deaths from Coronavirus, despite comprising just over 5% of the state’s population. The struggles that rural communities and tribal nations have had in gaining access to healthcare, running water, or sanitation supplies underlie the risks facing Native Americans and Alaska Natives from the novel Coronavirus.
Written by Christopher Russell, with edits from Anastasia Tarmann
The Socialist Press is a weekly newspaper that was published out of Fairbanks in the 1910s. Its earliest issue is dated June 20th, 19142, and the paper’s editor was George Hinton Henry, formerly of the Yukon Press (Tanana). Mr. Henry was bold in his editorial assertions, which evidently caused quite the stir among the Fairbanks community–including among those of Socialist affiliation–for his unabashed critique of individuals, regardless of standing in society; however, Henry was not without support, from the judges who dismissed some of the libel cases brought up against him, to fellow newspaper editors like Frederick Heilig of the Fairbanks Times who occasionally published editorials in his defense1.
Years after publication ceased, Henry’s printing press was shipped to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, from where it was eventually put on loan to the Circle District Museum, given its historical significance as the first printing press in Interior Alaska—said to date from 1893 by import of the Episcopal Church1.
The first printing press of Interior Alaska1
Although the Socialist Press is selected for digitization by the Alaska National Digital Newspaper Project, all known surviving microfilms of the newspaper are currently of 3rd generation quality, and paper copies are lacking as well. This considered, any private collectors who may have preserved paper copies at home or elsewhere, please contact the Alaska State Library Historical Collections, (907) 465-2925, where we will very graciously accept donations of material, to be digitized and returned promptly to the donor. History will be indebted to your generosity!
Atwood, Evangeline, and Lew M. Williams. Bent Pins to Chains: Alaska and Its Newspapers. (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2006), 36, 140.
Nicolson, Mary C., and Mary Anne Slemmons. Alaska Newspapers on Microfilm, 1866-1998. (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, 1998), 81.
The two-year grant provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2018 is still paving the way for more digitization of Alaskan newspapers. Patrons may now expect to see, among the newspaper titles going live on the Library of Congress website later this year, a span of 23 years of the Kodiak Mirror—from 1940 to 1963.
The name Kodiak comes from the Innuit word kikhtak, meaning island. Home of the Kodiak bear, where that species has thrived for 12,000 years, it is Alaska’s earliest Russian-American settlement, where in 1784 Grigory Shelikhov arrived with his fleet to establish a trading post.
At the time of the Mirror‘s first publication on June 15, 1940, its originator Gene Dawson was rallying for the incorporation of Kodiak as a first-class city. In a matter of weeks Dawson’s call would be answered—the courts approved incorporation on July 1, 1940. The following year, Dawson sold his printing rights to Bill and Lillian Lamme; and the paper would change hands more than a half-dozen times in the subsequent decades of its publication, before assuming its current title of the Kodiak Daily Mirroron January 27, 1976.
Follow our Instagram account to read sample articlesas they are being made available in digital format for the first time.
A front-page article from the January 30, 1953 printing of the Kodiak Mirror
Atwood, Evangeline, and Lew M. Williams. Bent Pins to Chains: Alaska and Its Newspapers. (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2006), 483.
Nicolson, Mary C., and Mary Anne Slemmons. Alaska Newspapers on Microfilm, 1866-1998. (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, 1998), 128.