American Cultural History – The Twentieth Century 1910 – 1919


FACTS about this decade. 

  • Population:  92,407,000
  • Life Expectancy:  Male 48.4   Female: 51.8
  • Average Salary  $750 / year
  • The Ziegfeld girls earned $75/week.
  • Unemployed 2,150,000
  • National Debt:  $1.15 billion
  • Union Membership: 2.1 million Strikes 1,204
  • Attendance:  Movies 30 million per week
  • Lynchings:  76
  • Divorce:  1/1000
  • Vacation:  12 day cruise  $60
  • Whiskey $3.50 / gallon, Milk $.32 / gallon
  • Speeds make automobile safety an issue
  • 25,000 performers tour 4,000 U.S. theaters
  • Writers Dreamtools | Lists
The 1910s was a decade of great change for America.  It was during this decade that the United States was first considered a world leader.  Many of the issues of 1910 are ones we face today: including the escalation of immigration and poverty, labor and monopoly battles, work safety and child labor problems.  World War I – the first ‘war to end all wars’ raged. The 1910s were the decade America came of age.


great granddad 1910s - sailor suit.The purpose of this web and library guide is to help the user gain a broad understanding and appreciation for the culture and history of the 1910s, the decade which began with America’s efforts to reform itself and ended with its efforts to reform the world.   In a very small way, this is a bibliographic essay.  While there is no way we can link to everything, we have attempted to find areas of special interest and to select information that we continue to hold dear – movies we watch, songs we sing, events that move us, people we admire.

To see the whole picture, we encourage users to browse all the way through this page and then visit the suggested links for more information on the decade.  We feel the best way to immerse oneself in a topic is to use both Internet and the library.  The real depth of  information is best read in books.  More photographs, more information, more depth.   Then, there is information that will be found only on the Internet; a journal from someone, youtube clips, and photographs like those on our pages.  We invite you to write. Thanks for the visit.  ENJOY!


Traveling in the 1910s by taxi, ice truck and chauffeur
The Progressive Era lasted from 1895 until World War I.  This was a period of unrest and reform.  Monopolies continued in spite of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Social problems flourished in the U.S.  During the 1910s labor unions continued to grow as the middle classes became more and more unhappy. Unsafe working conditions were underscored by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in which 145 female workers were killed.  Children were hired to work in factories, milles, and mines for long hours in unsafe and unhealthy conditions.  Though efforts to pass a federal law proved unsuccessful, by the middle of this decade every state had passed a minimum age law.   A commission found that up to 20% of the children living in cities were undernourished, education took second place to hunger and while children worked, only one-third enrolled in elementary school and less than 10% graduated from high school.  The status of the Negro worsened.  Skilled negro workers were barred from the AF of L.   Women were also striving for equality.The first suffrage parade was held in 1910 – the 19th amendment finally ratified in 1919. WWI

The Over There decade meant more than just sending our ‘boys’ over to fight during WWI.  American became the most highly industrialized country during this time. Mass production of cars created a nationwide prosperity and resulted in one of the most profound social changes in America’s history.  Popular culture became a lucrative national product for the United States.  All over the world people were dancing our dance crazes, listening to our jazz tunes, wearing our fashions, falling for our pop fads, and buying our products. Tobacco was a big business, with  immigrants to New York City accounting for 25% of the tobacco purchasing.

Historic events include the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912 when more than 1500 people lost their lives. The first moving assembly line began in 1914 and in 1915, the one millionth Model T ($345) rolled off the assembly line.  Other news events included the initiation of the The National Park Service and Prohibition (1919).   Jim Thorpe, an American Indian,  won gold medals at the Olympics (although his medals were later taken away because he had played baseball for a salary earlier in his career), the first parachute jump was made, and the Girl Scouts of America were formed.   Altogether, a decade to remember.

The Presidents were
William Howard Taft 1909-1913
Woodrow Wilson 1913-1921

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory - see at LINKS

  • Historical Atlas of the 20th Century   |  Collection of maps and stats of the 20th century
  • Early Information and Technology   |  Pictures and essays from Library of Congress.
  • American History 1865-present   | Chronological arrangement of history of this century
  • Biography Index   |  Biography of over 15,000 famous persons.
  • Genealogy Guide   |  Helpful guide for locating past people, places and events.
  • Biographies Subject Guide   |  Books and Internet sources for finding people.




REF E18.5.U75 Timetables of American History Include history and politics, the arts, science and technology, and other info of interest.
REF E169.1.G664 Columbia Chronicles of American Life 1910 – 1962 Great source for the decades, divides each by topics from news to movies.
REF E178.5.A48 1981 Album of American History
Vol 13
This is a great book to give the reader the real flavor of the decade because it is made up of photographs, captions, and excerpts from important books, essays and articles of the period..
REF E174.D52 Dictionary of American History From very brief to multi-page signed entries on topics in American History.
REF E169.12 A410 American Decades: 1910-1919 Great source from Gale.  Chapters include education, fashion, govt, law, lifestyles, media, and more.
REF E169.1A471872 1995 America in the 20th Century 1900-1909 is in volume 2.  Typical of Marshall Cavendish, this encyclopedic set is accessible and gives easy to use background information for this decade.  Covers from art to transportation.
REF E173.A793 The Annals of America Use volumes 12 and 13.  Set contains essays and excepts from important writers and on important topics of the time.  Most valuable for this research.


Three fundamental concepts concerning art in America were seriously reconsidered between 1910 and 1920.  1)  What ‘art’ is, 2)  who makes decisions about standards, and 3) how art is shared with the viewing public.  (SeeAmerican Decades 1910-1919, p 40.)  The Eight from the Ashcan School – Robert Henri, John Sloan,William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Arthur B. Davies – put on an exhibition of their works in 1908.  No juries and no prizes were awarded.  The City became a subject for the realist movement which was already underway.  Artists painted scenes of the less glamourous aspects of modern life.  These became known as the Ash Can realists (The Eight above were part of this group.) They depicted gritty New York scenery and lower class residents.  Some impressionists (John Marin) and cubists or expressionists  (Max Weber) and futurists (Joseph Stella) also painted the city.  Industrialism was also a subject for the realistic art forms.  Despite social change, the arts were not yet enlightened. Horace Pippin came back from the war in 1919 with sketches of the French countryside and horrors of battle.  He buried his sketches in a chest drawer where they weren’t found for another ten years.   Norman Rockwell painted his first cover for Saturday Evening Post in 1916.

Realism, primitivism, symbolism, Fauvism, Dadaism, Futurism, and Cubism were all “-isms” of this decade. Rice University - 1917, see at www.rice.eduGeorgia O’Keeffe began painting her sexual and controversial abstract forms.   Other American arts of the decade included James McNeill Whistler, Childe Hassam and Mary Cassatt. Alfred Stieglitz was one of the  most renown artists of this era.  He elevated photography to an art form.

Important buildings of the period include the neo-gothic The Woolworth Building, the neo-classical The New York Public Library,  Rice University (right), Grand Central Terminal, Midway Gardens (Frank Lloyd Wright), and MIT.

Art Net World    |  Searchable Database, includes art magazine, galleries, auctions.
Art Subject Guide   |  From Kingwood College Library, guide to movements, museums, and periods.
National Gallery of Art   |  Search through the wonderful National Gallery in Washington, DC.
National Portrait Gallery   |  See people of the time painted by famous artists.
Online Great Buildings    |   Links to great buildings of the decade, and their architect.
Sears Modern Homes  |  A site containing images, history and information on catalog homes sold between 1908-1940.


American Art: History and Culture Overview by era.  By Wayne Craven.
ND205.Z4 1987 300 Years of American Art I consider this the best source.  Very good explanation of movements, then 1 page entry on important artists, a color photo of one of their works, 10 year average of value of their art, and public collections list.  2 volumes.


Uncle Remus' Tarbaby - see at intellectual revolt against materialism spawned several books including those listed below (Books That Define the Time).  The Education of Henry Adams assailed the nation’s failure to live up to its founders’ ideals.  Walter Lippman and John Dewey were writing.  Poets including Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams,  Amy Lowell,  T.S. Eliot (The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock), Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson,  and Carl Sandburg.

Edith Wharton wrote Ethan Frome and Willa Cather published O Pioneers! and My Antonia.  Popular books of the period included The Secret Garden (Francis Hodgson Burnett), Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence), Of Human Bondage (Somerset Maugham),  Wild Fire (Zane Grey), Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs), .    In 1912 and 1913, there was a separate list of best sellers by the Publisher’s Weekly.  Then the list was abandoned until 1917 when fiction and non-fiction books became more popular than ever before.   War books included Mr. Britling Sees it Through (fiction by H.G. Wells),  and Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey.  Robert W. Service was on the best seller list for two years with Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.  Dere Mable, [book available on Google Scholar] (Gershwin wrote the music and Dere Mable went on Broadway) containing humorously spelled letters from the war by Edward Streeter spawned two sequels, Same Old Bill, Eh Mable! and As You Were, Bill!  The number one fiction of 1919 was The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, later made into a movie.  A single copy sold for $1.90 – industry insiders felt the public would never pay $2 for a book but were happy to be proved wrong!  (Oh for the good old days!)   Margaret Sanger published information on birth control and women during this time.

Books That Define the Times
George Eastman brought photography to the masses.
The Smart Set by H.L. Mencken
The New Republic by Herbert Croly
The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Jackson
Uncle Remus  by Joel Chandler Harris
The Economic Consequences of the Peace by J.M. Keyes
The American Language by H. L. Mencken
Democracy and Education by John Dewey
Family Limitation by Margaret Sanger


Books About Books 
E173.A793 Annals of America Vol 11-12 contain essays by the important writers of the time, including excerpts from books listed above.
REF 1003.2.C66 1993 American Literacy 4-6 page essays on 50 books that define the American culture.
REF Z1219.C96 1905 (annual) Book Review Digest Indexes and abstracts book reviews.  Use it to find books written during the period and their reviews
REF Z1003.2.C66 1993 American Literacy Includes 50 books that define our culture.

FADS & FASHIONFashion in the 1910s.
The Gibson Girl was it the last year of its popularity.  Women were begining to want to think more of comfort during the 1910s, although many quickly fell for the hobble skirt.  Fabrics became lighter, colors are brighter, and styles are looser.  Lowered necklines became popular and sales of cold cream and lemon extract escalate. The Tea Gown was worn ‘at home.’ The sack, the sheath, oriental costumes, harem trousers, and the Hellenic tunic were all introduced.  These were important years for furs.  Head gear was worn, very costum-y.   When the war began, fashion design and export came to a standstill.  “Made in America” fad began. New materials and technologies made more colors available.    The suffragettes started a more comfortable fashion – no more hobble skirt – and lots of pockets.  Hemlines inched up (to show ankles :-).

Men, during the 1910s,  wore striped trousers, a morning coat and starched white shirt.  A top hat and frock coat were also worn.  At home, informal lounge suits, tweed jackets and striped blazers were popular with dinner jackets in the evening.


  • Costumer’s Manifesto     |  Links to world wide of fashion .  Good ones.
  •  Clothing and Garment Manufacturing   |    Clothing and uniforms 1900-1920.
  • The Costume Gallery – 1910-1919   |  Photos and links.


Theda Bara, a silent sLant's in 1910s - camping.creen star, made vamping popular for five long years.  Hot toys included the erector set, tinker toys, and lincoln logs.  The Ouija Board became popular.  Sales of this game soared.  The Model T was affordable, so speed became a big fad.  Chevrolet,DeSoto, Dodge, and Nash all were introduced during the 1910s. Prestige models became worth going into debt for – cars like Cadillac, Buick, Pierce, Haynes, Packard, and Studebaker.    Ocean liners (floating hotels) were the rage.  Both the Titanic and the Lusitania sunk during this decade. A neatly sized folding Kodak made picture taking easier and more popular for the masses.

Ballroom dancing was popular.  Dance crazes included the  Fox Trot and the Tango. Irene and Vernon Castle were ‘off the charts’. Boston, New York, and Cleveland banned the tango.  Parents worried about loosening morality.  After all, lipstick was worn, actresses showed their legs.  Oh my! Dangerous times!  The Chautauquas (or camp meetings) entertained and inspired children (and adults) toward a christian path.  These were tent meetings, entertainment spiced with religious, educational and political messages.

REF E169.1.P19 1991 Panati’s Parade of Fads, Follies and Manias Arranged by decade, includes fads, dance crazes, radio, tv, popular books and songs.
E 169.1.R7755 1964 Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America Important essays analysing mass culture in American history.
E169.1.S9733 1984 Culture as History : The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century Excellent source for this topic. Events which transformed the social, political and cultural face of America in this century.
E178.6.D67 1993 Reader’s Digest Discovering America’s Past A book to own – photographs and info on America’s customs, legends, history and lore.

  Costumes / Fashion


REF GT610.M46 1990 Men’s Fashion Illustrations from the Turn of the Century Illustrations of men in all dress styles from 1910-1919. A few women have been added to the pictures.  Background add to feeling of period.
GT605.W5  1963 Five Centuries of American Costume Chapter 9 discusses the dress of men and women from 1900-1919.  Illustrations included.
GT605.H35 1992 Common Threads: A Parade of American Clothing Includes an overview of the 20th century,  then chapters on contributors to changes in fashion.  If you only see one book, this is the one.  It has photographs of people in turn of the century dress styles from the suffragettes to the businesslike attire of women & workman’s factory attire to those in the ‘oldest profession’.


The 1910s were called the Ballroom Decade.  Many of the trendier restaurants were equipped with dance floors.   Black Americans continued to write and perform ragtime, blues and jazz.  Popular songs of the decade (many made popular because of WWI) included Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Danny Boy, You Made Me Love You (Al Jolson), Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life, The Aba Daba Honeymoon, and All I Do is Dream of You. War songs (listen to the originals) included Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, Keep the Home Fires Burning,  Over There,  Til We Meet Again, Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, and Hinky Dinky Parlay Vous.

Jerome Kern and George Gershwin (this is a fabulous site) continued to produce music and musicals throughout the decade. Al Jolson began on stage in blackface. (film from 1927)   Fanny Brice migrated  to the Ziegfeld Follies, Vernon and Irene Castle and Fred Astaire danced,  Vaudeville boomed,  Speakeasies (listen to the audio) sold booze, and entertainers sang Over There.


  • American Popular Music 1900-1950   |  A look at the music and the times.
  • American History in Song    |  Covers all periods of American Song
  • Music in the Public Domain   |  Includes song lists – with links to some lyrics.


REF ML200.H15 1996 A Chronicle of American Music 1700-1995 Arranged by year, historical highlights, world cultural highlights, American art and literature, music – commercial and cultural.
REF ML197.S634 1994 Music Since 1900 Arranged by day, includes important premiers and musical events.
REF ML128.S37L4 1984 The Great American Song Thesaurus Arranged by year, summary of world and musical events, list of important songs.
REF ML390.S983 1986 Show Tunes 1905-1985 Features important composers.  Lists their shows and the published music for each show.


Teens enjoyed Theda Bera and vamping, a seductive, sexual dance and posturing.  Americans flocked to the Ziegfeld Follies and Vaudeville on Broadway to see such stars as Fannie Brice, Fatty Arbuckle, and Bojangles RobinsonBill “Bojangles” Robinson, who as a child tapped his way into legend for nickels and dimes.  Bojangles invented the ‘stair tap’.  Musicals had major audience appeal.  Jerome Kern continued to be popular throughout this decade with such hits as Oh, Boy! and Leave It To Jane (Lyrics for both by P.G. Wodehouse).  Irving Berlin, Richard Rogers, Cole Porter,  and George and Ira Gershwin (Dere Mable) all had hits during this decade, and Victor Herbert’s Naughty Marietta, premiered on Broadway. Plays other than musicals included those by George Bernard Shaw, Booth Tarkington, and Sinclair Lewis. Movies were extremely popular in the 1910s.  Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith), The Floorwalker (Charlie Chaplin), Daddy Long Legs, Les Miserables (Weber version from this link) and A Tale of Two Cities.  Top box-office stars were  Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks (The Golden Couple,)  and Pearl White (The Perils of Pauline.)


Broadway 101 chronologically.
Gershwin – fabulous!

Biography Records    |  Search the artist files – excellent list and music.


REF PN2189.L85 1983 Twentieth Century Theatre A theater buff’s bible.  This book lists and describes by year premiers, productions, revivals, events, births/death/debuts in both America and Great Britain.
REF PN1993.5.U6H55 The Transformation of Cinema Volumes 1 and 2 are needed to cover this decade.  A great source for information about early cinema.  Photographs.
REF ML390.S983 1986 Show Tunes: 1905-1985 Lists and discusses major lyric and music writers of the periods.
REF E 169.1.G664 1995 The Columbia Chronicles of American Life From 1910 to 1992, facts, figures, and photos of American culture.  Worth seeing.

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