History, and a Society, in the Making

History, and a Society, in the Making

Ann Hagedorn

Terrorist-generated paranoia, racial unrest, immigration raids, government investigating the private lives of citizens, controversial forms of marriage, a contested U.S. intervention abroad, and hotly-debated scientific advances. Harsh realities, all, to an American in 2007. And so they were to an American 88 years earlier, as author and journalist Ann Hagedorn ‘71 details in her latest book, Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919, published in April by Simon & Schuster. Employing five solid years of research and a rich cast of characters, Hagedorn presents what Kirkus Reviews has called a “fluently written, constantly surprising” narrative of a year in U.S. history that directly influenced–and uncannily reflects–many modern-day issues. Under advice from the author, we consider a handful of the many events of 1919 that helped shape the America that we know today.


Photo: Getty Images

January 18, 1919: Dozens of nations convene for the Paris Peace Conference, which over the next seven months reshaped the map of the world and established new spheres of geopolitical influence, thereby setting the stage for future international conflicts, including World War II

Photo: Chicago History Museum

May 29, 1919: Upon observing a total solar eclipse, British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington proved Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Photo: LaBadie Collection

June 12, 1919: Fearful that Bolshevist forces might cause a revolution in the U.S., government agents raided and effectively forced the shutdown of what was known as the Soviet Bureau offices in New York City, where officials from hundreds of companies met with Soviet representatives to set up business deals. Despite the hopes of corporate America to open markets in the new Soviet Union, the potential for most ventures was lost.

Photo: Getty Images

June 14-15, 1919: Aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight, 1,890 miles from Newfoundland to Ireland.

Photo: University of Michigan

August, 1919: An ambitious and bright 24- year-old lawyer, John Edgar Hoover, was appointed to head the FBI’s new General Intelligence Division. By the end of the year, Hoover had compiled hundreds of thousands of files on Americans in his very famous index, expanding and strengthening the domestic intelligence system that was set up during WWI.

Photo: Corbis

August, 1919: After months of spying on African Americans to determine the cause of race riots in 26 cities, the Negro Subversion Unit of military intelligence reported that America’s race problem had little to do with Bolshevism, contrary to government claims. The two problems cited were segregation and the African American desire for inclusion in the democratic system that so many had died for in the war. But that report never went public, and segregation became the government’s solution to racial tensions.

Published November 2020