[More review of our family for my kids, 13 grandchildren and anyone else who wants to hitch-hike along.]
When Frances Catherine Cleary, head of the J.Walter Thompson Chicago office production department (my mother) and Harold Nicholas Roeser, sports writer for the old Chicago American (my father) played golf at Dempster public course in 1919, a year after World War I (she playing along at first that she was from the steno pool so as not to make him uncomfortable) , the nation was poised on the lip of a great booma boom that ever since has been calumniated as an era of greed, selfishness and stupidity which inevitably led to the birth of modern liberalism and the exemplary growth of the corporate state. Only now are historians beginning to understand that the `20s were not evil, greedy and pleasure-bentbut the era of liberalism that followed, pursuing denser regulation, higher taxes and more government overseeing carrying into the present day has been decidedly deleterious.
The idea has been promulgated that wild speculation participated in by people of the whoopee era who danced on the edge of a volcano caused the stock market crash of 1929 and brought the so-called flapper age to sobriety. That view has been ingrained into history by three villains: H. L. Mencken the equal opportunity hater and Nietzsche buff, John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., which was taken up by a pack of imitators in the media. Not so. The era was entirely justified by the chaos produced by Woodrow Wilsona chaos that must be understand before we get to the `20s which was a justifiable anti-Wilson correction. Several points:
Driving himself with frenetic energy, Wilsons own language became intemperate and grandiose. The treaty, he said, constituted the incomparable consummation of the hopes of mankind. The treaty is an unparalleled achievement of thoughtful civilizationthe first treaty ever made by great powers that was not made in their own favor. Nonsense, even with the liberal hype historians are concluding that (a) the Kaiser was in no way an approximation of Adolf Hitler and (b) the punitive sanctions on Germany spurred a demagogue like Hitler to arise to appeal to the patriotism of the German people.
Wilson produced such a grandiose scenario as he crossed the nation by train, that he turned off the public. It had had enough of grandiose dreams and wanted to get back to peace. The candidate named by the Republicans to oppose this was Warren Harding. Again, the spectacle of Harding that has emerged has been wildly inaccurate. Harding was far-far from the worst president of the United States as he has been commonly adjudged in polls by liberal professors. Indeed, he was a surprisingly good one. Heres why:
Harding was a small town newspaper editor (Marion, Ohio) who could write well but on occasion had trouble with syntax. What he wanted to do more than anything else was to restore this nation to normality. Instead of saying normality he postulated an ungrammatical word normalcy. There is no such word as normalcy but liberal historians and effete newspaper commentators have used it ever since to maintain he was a boob. But his private papers reveal how well read he washis favorites being Carlyle, Dickens, Pope and Shakespeare.
The rumor out on Harding from the first time he ran, for the State Senate, was that there were African-Americans in his lineage. Answer: probably but studies of his heritage were never fully resolved. What is certain is that he was the first president to issue a pledge to fight discrimination, to receive an honorary doctorate from a black college.
Harding had some limitations. He liked the girls, he liked playing cards and drinking with his buddies. But his instincts were far-far better than Wilsons. He has been accused of returning the nation to laissez-faire economics and isolationism. He did on laissez-faire but favored membership in the World Court which the Senate refused to endorse. He ended the rigid controls on the economy placed there by Wilson during World War I, assuredly.
If, in fact, Warren Harding was the first president to be partially of African American heritage, he did his black ancestry proud even though he has never received sufficient credit. To-wit:
During World War I the top income tax rate had been hiked from 7% to 73%! Harding believed this was unconscionable and produced tax relief with the aid of his treasury secretary Andrew Mellon. Wilsons supporters cried that if the high taxes were cut there would be ruinous inflation. Harding and Mellon denied it and were proved right. The top rate went down from 73 to 40 and later to 25. And as result federal revenue increased but economic activity multiplied many times over. Was Harding a miserable failure and was his successor Calvin Coolidge a bumbler? Listen to this: in 1926 unemployment reached a low of 1%. Yesone percent.
It is inconceivable that the president who followed Woodrow Wilson is regarded as the worst of all 43 presidents than his predecessor who (a) got us into war and (b) formulated a peace agreement that inevitably produced World War IIseen as gigantic martyr and statesman. In fact, he was one of the more successful presidents. Its a great irony that because he liked the girls, his reputation has suffered at the hands of the same liberal progenitors of the current crop who call Bill Clinton effective. Warren Harding belongs not just in the middle category of effective presidents but somewhere in the top third.
Times were very good when Frances Catherine Cleary and Harold Nicholas Roeser went out together in Chicago. There was a prudent morality in effect that largely negated chance for impropriety: young people lived at home with their parents until they married. Were there young people who misbehaved? Absolutelybut nothing nothing in that so-called riotous age compared to today. If there was a reaction against Victorian ideas of morality, it came from the intellectuals. Assuredly women changed their dress styles, some took up smoking. Prohibition, an unwise policy, came during World War I largely through the feminist movement and the fact that many young men who would have opposed Prohibition were in the military.
Gradually as they came to fall in love, Frances Catherine admitted to Harold Nicholas that she was doing far better at J. Walter Thompson than she had led him to believe. But rather than making him jealous, before they married in 1923, it spurred him to leave the newspaper business and do what he really wanted to doget involved in promoting European travel. Because of his facility with German, he joined a one steamship line, then transferred to a German steamship company as salesman and quickly became top salesman of the line to a number of Chicago businesses.
By the time they married, she was still making more than he but he was coming upcoming up to the point that she felt she should leave J. Walter regretfully but with no inner-confusion.
What did he see in her? His diary says that he was smitten with her deep blue eyes and her saucy attitude of practicality which was a welcome relief from his Germanic-style deep thinking which could lead to melancholy. She convinced him to drop the deep thinking stuff and be practicalalthough he could never be so practical as she.
What did she see in him? She kept no diary but I know full well. She was two-years older than he and she felt sorely that in her ambition to get ahead at the ad agency, she had missed out on a lot of things: books, culture and the study of politics. She had become convinced that the World War was needless but until she met him, didnt really know why. She didnt care that he didnt dance; she preferred to ask his advice about a lot of things she had never thought of beforethe economy, politics, international affairs. She couldnt feel the same way with, let us say, Ted Jardin who was her equal at the agency: he was interested in just what she wasgetting ahead. But she wanted more than that.
She was rather concerned, it is intriguing to note, that perhaps Harold Nicholas was less interested in the Catholic Church than was she (as it turned out, he became so passionately involved so prayerful that she thought he was over-doing it just before he died). And too, she felt that she should get married and have a family. There was nobody in the ad business who talked with her the way this German did or who could get her to laugh.
Most importantly, at 27somewhat late in working-class genre--she wanted to get on with building a family. She had been told that it might just might be very difficult for her to conceive and, after marriage some people told her she should break free of the enervating cycle of energy that was the advertising business and become a housewife. She had two sisters who had already marriedone, Marie, an older sister, married George Helfrich the second, Alice, a younger sister, had married William Kane. Frances decided: Harold Nicholas Roeser was the guy for her. Not Ted Jardin who would bring J. Walter office politics home every night to her. She had dated a lot including a lot of good dancers but after the dancing was over there was too little to talk aboutjust mundane, dumb things. Not with this German.
With that in mind, they married on January 17, 1923 he the assistant western passenger manager at the North German Lloyd and she staying at J. Walter until she would have a family but still determined to become a housewife, learn how to cook (she had never learned how because she spent her young adult years at the office and her mother cooked for her). They pooled their income and decided to buy a house right offin a scarcely developed area on the far northwest side of Chicago, a subdivision called Edison Park Edison after the man who invented the lightbulb Edison because it was one of the first areas of Chicago to install electric street lights. And they went to Europe on the North German Lloyd steamer Berlin, which gave Father got a discount. Going to Europe in the early `20s was rare indeed for non-super wealthy. On the ship she stumbled going downstairs and badly sprained her ankle: he dutifully brought her meals to her easy chair.
In Italy, she still had a bit of the kid in her at 27. They were biking in Rome and she saw a devastatingly handsome policeman directing traffic. She gave him a flirtatious look which she had practiced evidently at J. Walter, batting her eyelashes flapper-style only to find that when she and Harold stopped for coffee, the cop came into the restaurant, sat down and importuned her to see him, heedless of my fathers presence! God, said Father, we were both amazed! Then she got terrified! I wanted to deck him but swinging at a cop in Rome wouldnt exactly be the smartest thing to do. This guy was gesticulating in Italian that Fran wanted to go with him! He left, backing out of the restaurant, with many honeyed Italian words to describe his affection for her! That cured Frances Catherine Roeser nee Cleary and she never raised her eyes to look at Italian cops again.
Enough of that, she said when I reminded her of it when she was in advanced age. You get me talking too much!