Direct Election of Senators and Other Boring (or Not So Boring) Topics

15-year-old Helena wrote a hundred years ago today:

Wednesday, January 25, 1911. Oh what did I do today? About the same things as I do on other days. I’m sure it wasn’t so very much. Just the same old routine with no breaks.

Local Front Page News  a 100 Years Ago:



Senators, Governors and Congressmen Will Work For Direct Election of Senators, the Recall and Other Reforms

Milton Evening Standard, January 24, 1911


Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

My gut feeling is that if my 15-year-old grandmother read this headline that she yawned, and moved on to the next article. Hey, she was already yawning from boredom—why would articles about complex national issues pique the interest of a rural teen? But maybe, just maybe,  her teacher at McEwensville High School pulled topics of national importance into his lessons–and she might have had a basic understanding of the issue.

A hundred years ago US senators were not elected by popular vote. Instead they were elected by state legislators. In 1911 muckrakers argued that the system led to corruption and that industrialists and robber barons had undue influence in selecting senators.  (The 17th Amendment, which was adopted in 1913, instituted the direct election of senators.)  

Many social issues and governance issues were bubbling in the public conscience in 1911. Two other amendments were also adopted during the 1910s–the 16th in 1913 (it gave the federal government the right to collect income taxes) and the 19th in 1919 (prohibition). And, in 1920 the 20th amendment gave women the right to vote. I can picture high school students debating the pros and cons of prohibition and women’s suffrage.  Did Grandma take a stand on either issue?

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