Monday, January 18, 2021

1921 Legislative Session Starts with Idolatry for Pioneers, Animus for Japanese

The 1921 Legislative Session started 100 years ago and the afternoon paper led with some humor.

Senator LaFollette Wakes Ups

State Senator Alec LaFollette, in his 70s and a member of the extended family of "Fighting" Bob LaFolette of Wisconsin, though considerably more conservative, was apparently a little notorious for nodding off in his later years. (He died in 1927.)

Full strip opens Legislative coverage
January 17th, 1921

But the underlying mood was considerably less humorous, nothing like any exuberant "roaring 20s," but defensive and nativist.

In his opening address to the Legislature, Governor Olcott called for legislation against Japanese residents and immigrants. "Keep Oregon's Pioneer Blood Pure," ran the subhead, and Olcott is directly quoted saying, "Here in Oregon the pioneer blood flows purely and in more undiluted stream than in any other state of the union."

Nativism, January 11th, 1921

The papers are full of nativist sentiment.

November 6th, 1920

It did not take long for legislators to respond.

February 15th, 1921

Ultimately they failed in 1921, but it came back in 1923's Alien Land Law.

February 21st, 1921

February 24th, 1923

Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair also called for strengthening the eugenics laws, a different approach to race and bloodlines. In addition to advocating for mental tests as a prerequisite to marriage, and compulsory sterilization on failing the test, she "saw a solution to the Japanese question in sterilization of the women who immigrate to this country."

Eugenics, January 8th, 1921

As the 1920s unfold they will be interesting to follow. History doesn't just repeat itself. They had Prohibition; we have legal pot and booze by mail order and restaurant delivery service.

via Twitter

But one thread in our reactionary right can be seen clearly in The Great Gatsby. Tom Buchanan, a Yale grad and not someone at all on the margins, is not just a brutish man, he says things that have a real constituency and popularity.

"Civilization's going to pieces," broke out Tom violently. "I've gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read 'The Rise of the Coloured Empires' by this man Goddard?"....

"Well, it's a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be—will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved...."

"Well, these books are all scientific," insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. "This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It's up to us who are the dominant race to watch out or these other races will have control of things...."

"This idea is that we're Nordics. I am, and you are and you are and—" After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod and she winked at me again. "—and we've produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art and all that. Do you see?"

For more on the way our conception of Pioneer heritage has been shaped, see notes on Jason Lee.

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