“The Shape of Things to Come” — Winter 1939

"Beauty on Ice." Bradshaw Crandell, Cosmopolitan, Feb 1939

“Beauty on Ice.” Bradshaw Crandell, Cosmopolitan, Feb 1939

In 1939 Jane Hall was hard at work as a screenwriter at MGM. Eight months later she would be on the cover of Cosmopolitan. I collected dozens of old Cosmos while working on Such Mad Fun. And though it does not contain any of Jane’s stories, the February 1939 issue of the magazine is fascinating. The cover design, “Beauty on Ice,” by Bradshaw Crandell, fits the current frigid conditions across much of the United States. What a difference there is between the magazine then and now as we’ve discussed before;. Until the 1960s, Cosmo’s young readers were interested in politics, art and good fiction. In February 1939, Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck was the “Cosmopolite of the Month.” The “Autobiography of America” section was a detailed story of what it was like to work as a government clerk. But perhaps most intriguing is the section on “The Shape of Things to Come — 1939.” Let’s look at the American situation. (Europe was covered in an essay by H. G. Wells.)

Renowned pollster, Dr. George Gallup, was founding director of the American Institute of Public Opinion. Iowa born and educated, Gallup had a stellar reputation for integrity and would become one of the leading Americans of the 20th century. He never took polling that was sponsored by special interest groups or political parties. Gallup explained to his readers that the Institute talked with “hundreds of thousands of typical American voters in cities, on farms, along the back roads — people of all ages and in all stages of life who represent a cross-section of the voting population.” He used 700 field investigators to determine some trends in American public thought. And this is what he found:

“We — the American people — are moving toward the right, toward a more conservative viewpoint in national politics.” In 1936 and in 1940 Franklin Roosevelt was elected president. Of course there was another election in 1938. The November 1938 election, with its Republican gains, “high-spotted the trend” towards this new conservatism. . . “Barring some emergency like war, the pendulum may continue to swing for the right next year because the public is no longer in a mood for experimentation to the same degree that it was when the New Deal came to power. What we are witnessing, and will witness, is a public desire for ‘leveling off” in the tempo of change brought about by the New Deal, a desire for consolidating the gains after a period of rapid social adjustment.”

Roosevelt was still in favor, Gallup explained, but the public now wanted Congress to “exercise greater control over” how money is spent. “The trend of popular thinking is away from centralization of power in the chief executive.” In fact, “it was only a few years ago that big business and its leaders were looked upon with disfavor, even distressed, by a critical public who demanded reforms of social and economic abuses.…” Now “the leadership of businessmen is gradually coming back in the popular favor” and “sympathy for business is indicated in many surveys which have found an increasing number of people saying business should be left alone.”

The biggest dilemma in 1939: “If the government stops spending it runs the risk of losing political support among the poor voters, who were strongly Democratic. But if taxes are increased that will “invite political defection in the middle and upper classes, where the Republicans have already made inroads.” Most people still believed that the government “should take responsibility for aiding the needy unemployed.” Gallup also found most people supported spending for national defense. “More than 70% of the voters felt the Army and Navy should be strengthened. “ But at the time this piece was written, the vast majority of Americans were reluctant to become involved in another European war.

Other conclusions of Gallup’s polling are also worth remembering today. “In the field of social problems the nation is likely to witness a spread of the birth-control movement, for it is approved by large majorities of both sexes and also of the campaign against venereal disease, one of the most popular campaigns ever undertaken by health authorities.” As for health insurance, Gallup’s Institute discovered “a marked trend toward voluntary health insurance. This movement for providing hospital care to individuals at a small monthly cost is approved by a decisive majority of voters who indicate that they are willing to pay anywhere from $1 to $3 a month.” Even if a dollar in 1939 is worth almost $17.00 today that’s a bargain!

The conservatives whom Gallup polled in 1939 accepted some of Roosevelt’s new deal reforms. His conclusion: “the public is seeking a path between extremes, a middle-of-the-road down which it can progress in democratic fashion after eight years of profound social upheaval.” Seems as if we are still looking for this path.

Many other polls compete with Gallup today, but information on important topics including our last election is at http://www.gallup.com/topic/election_2016.aspx.  And if you are ever in Jefferson, Iowa, consider a visit to The Gallup House.

Happy Holidays to all of you!  Delighted to report that Such Mad Fun has just been named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016.

I will Skype with book groups who decide to read Such Mad Fun.

A new Goodreads giveaway coming in January!