1914: The Way We Were

1914 and Today

1914: The year my current work-in-progress–a sequel to The Calling of Ella McFarland–is set. (Tweet That!)

As an author of historical fiction, it goes without saying I enjoy most anything history-ish. In my research I’ve uncovered a bevy of facts, timelines, photographs, anecdotes, and personal commentaries about life in the second decade of the twentieth century

My Photo Album

These fascinating tidbits are gradually creating a snapshot collage fit for You Are There, a 1950s television series hosted by Walter Cronkite

“New” sometimes amounts to little more than an update of the “old.” But at other times, the new-fangled can’t hold a candle to old-timer ways. 

The Great Divide

Bar none, two of the best stories I’ve read to illustrate the great divide between 1914 and today are these: The first comes from the October edition of The Rotarian; the second from the October 31st edition of Telephony: The American Telephone Journal.

“God created the first talking machine; Alexander Graham Bell the second. Bell lengthened woman’s tongue and raised her voice until mere man struggles in vain to escape her.”

“After two trials in the county court S.J. Fuller, a prominent Fort Worth lumberman, has been convicted under the state law which prohibits the use of profane or abusive language over the telephone and fined $5. (Tweet That!) It was charged the lumberman ‘cussed out’ the chief operator of the Rosedale exchange of the Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Co. in Fort Worth when he was unable to get the connections wanted.” 

Political correctness didn’t exist in 1914.

1914 Families

The children of 1914 played with teddy bears, dolls, and cars. They stacked blocks, enjoyed tea parties, and went on imaginary safaris. 

My 21st-century grandchildren have done the same. But Barbie has little in common with the china-faced, stuffing-bodied doll of a century ago. 

How I would love to be a time traveler on a 1914 bus. I’d soak up my surroundings. Hairdos. Clothing. Dental work. And shoes.

For traveling comfort, hurrah for today!
Care to take off for New York in a 1914 bi-plane?

I’d watch and listen for how people thought. In their dress. Their manners. Their facial expressions. And their conversations.

Who were the 1914 Chatty Cathys? And the hometown comedians? Were their conversations peppered with profanity or crude remarks? 

Ordinary Life: 1914 Style

Want to trade your smart phone camera for the 1914 version?

Fashion. Women’s high-necked, low-hemmed 1914 fashion reflected the early-twentieth century values of modesty and virtue. What does the all-but-naked fashion celebrated on red carpets say about modesty and virtue in 2017? (I would post an example, but, frankly, they’re shameful.) My grandmother’s dress reflected her view on virtue. Does mine?

Church attendance. 1914 folks knew where to find one another on Sunday morning. A community might boast paved streets, but churches would abound. Restaurants were few and far between, but Sunday dinner in friends’ homes was common. Today Sundays often consist of hunting, golfing, boating, football, TV, brunch–you name it–anything but church. My grandmother’s friends knew where to find her on Sunday mornings. Do mine?

Bedtime prayers. 1914 parents read to their children at bedtime and capped off the day with prayers.

I suspect more often than not children in 2017 go to sleep to something on an iPod, iPad, or tablet. What do your children and grandchildren expect at bedtime?

For family-friendly games, I’ll take 1914.

Entertainment. Parlor and lawn games were common in 1914. So were reading and singing around the piano. Teens interacted at church socials and taffy pulls.

1914 Life, 2017 Style

Today most children and teens go for YouTube, video games, blow-’em-up movies, or nothing more than to be left alone behind closed doors. When given the choice, do your children or grandchildren choose a board or video game? Or something else?

I’m intrigued by the lives former generations lived. I often wonder how I would have handled losing children to measles or polio. Would I serve my family bread everyday if I had to make it from scratch? Complain about the heat if I had never experienced air conditioning or the cold if I had to stoke a fire? Make it to church on Sunday if I had to hook up a team to a wagon and endure the hard wooden seat as we bounced over ruts? 

Would I have joined other women in a suffragette picket line?

Would I have worn a corset–or simply rebelled?

There’s a reason why the hobble skirts of 1914 were a passing fad. Eeeegads!

What sort of hat would I have chosen–an unadorned one that hugged my head or something outrageous with feathers and flowers and a stuffed bird or two? 

So … Would I choose 19142017, or something in between? Honestly, when boiled down to their essences, love, family, friendship, and an-honest-dollar-for-an-honest-day’s-work have held their own. So has faith and its outworking in some quarters. Personally, I prefer taking what was good about life in 1914–like faith and love and devotion–and spit polishing it for 2017.

And–absolutely, positively, bet-your-bottom-dollar surely–I’d keep cursing on the telephone against the law!

How about you?

P.S. Which would you choose? Pickup Sticks or Rubik’s Cube?






A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born
for a time of adversity.
Proverbs 17:17

2 thoughts on “1914: The Way We Were

  1. Marilyn R

    Linda, thank you are sharing this fantastic post. Yes, I would prefer some things as they use to be. Families praying together, attending church, sitting down around the table for meals, modest clothing and visiting with one another on the front porch or playing together versus what is happening in family units today.

    1. I agree, Marilyn. Our world would be in a far different place if only … I long for Heaven more each day. Thank you for joining me in these thoughts and adding your touches. You’ve blessed me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Birth of a Character: Ella McFarland

From where does a novel’s character emerge? 

Ella Pyle, inspiration for the character Ella McFarland, at age 14

The character Ella Jane McFarland took shape as I considered Mama, my maternal grandmother. What patterns might have emerged in Mama’s kaleidoscope of life with a single twist in one direction or the other? The character Ella McFarland from The Calling of Ella McFarland emerged from this essential question.

Mama was born Ella Jane Pyle in Cooke County, Texas in 1886. Like Ella McFarland, she grew to adulthood as a farmer’s daughter in Indian Territory prior to Oklahoma statehood. 

Ella Pyle’s engagement portrait, 1904. Age 18

She married my grandfather—William Tribble Banks—in 1904 Indian Territory. Papa had lost an arm in a cotton gin accident but he never saw the loss of the limb as an impairment. With a bit of ingenuity, he farmed as other men did.

Although different in superficial ways, Ella Pyle and the character Ella McFarland are alike fundamentally. Like Ella McFarland, Mama possessed a will of iron and a rock-solid faith.

Mama never drove an automobile or voted. She never joined a woman’s club or spoke publicly. She never progressed beyond third grade. But Ella McFarland attended college and became a skilled teacher. She’s an advocate for women’s rights and speaks publicly as a suffragette

William Tribble and Ella Banks, 1910
William Tribble and Ella Banks, 1910

Touched by the plight of those in need, my soft-spoken grandmother tended sick neighbors. (Tweet That!) She prepared some bodies for burial. She never drove a car. But she handled a team of mules pulling a covered wagon from Oklahoma to the southern tip of Texas in 1923. (Roadways are a sight better today.) Ella McFarland is cut from the same mold.

Unlike many women today …

Ella Pyle sewed her own clothes. Ella McFarland does the same.
Mama never leaned back in a massage chair for a manicure/pedicure, but she picked 100 pounds of cotton a day. Ella McFarland could do the same.
Mama never shopped at a mall, but she cleared land for farming for $8 an acre and sewed up a dress in a matter of hours. Ella McFarland could do the same.
Ella Pyle never considered the merits of granite countertops over tile or real wood floors over laminate, but she made a home out of a corner in a barn. She used a broom on the dirt floor. If called to do so, Ella McFarland could do the same.
Mama with her four surviving children, circa 1940
Both women possessed single-minded devotion to their families and overcame hardship through pure grit and faith in Almighty Go. Both women’s lives testify to the hope and healing found outside themselves—in Jesus Christ
Ella Pyle and the character Ella McFarland were forced by circumstances to make decisions about their faith, family, and aspirations. 
Ella Jane Pyle Banks Anderson Know
By 1922 Mama had borne seven daughters and buried four. Her fourth daughter Eula succumbed to typhoid along with Papa. Ultimately she withstood the deaths of two husbands and five children. She experienced destitution few have known, yet she left a name worthy of a great-great granddaughter–my granddaughter Ella Jane–and the heroine of The Calling of Ella McFarland.
A portion of Ella McFarland is Ella Pyle, but a full ¼ of me is Mama. For that I’m very thankful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *