The Americanization of Edward Bok
Edward William Bok (1863-1930)
Part 5 out of 7
painfully traversed by her forefathers during
the preceding thousand years. When we tend to
grow disheartened over some of the developments
of our American civilization, it is well
worth while seeing what this same
civilization holds for starved and noble
souls who have elsewhere been denied what
here we hold to be, as a matter of course, rights
free to all--altho we do not, as we should do,
make these rights accessible to all who are
willing with resolute earnestness to strive for them.
I most cordially commend this story.
One of Theodore Roosevelt's "Reports" as a reader of
Not long after, Bok decided to induce Colonel Roosevelt to embark upon
an entirely new activity, and negotiations were begun (alas, too late!
for it was in the autumn of 1918), which, owing to their tentative
character, were never made public. Bok told Colonel Roosevelt that he
wanted to invest twenty-five thousand dollars a year in American
boyhood--the boyhood that he felt twenty years hence would be the
manhood of America, and that would actually solve the problems with
which we were now grappling.
Although, all too apparently, he was not in his usual vigorous health,
Colonel Roosevelt was alert in a moment.
"Fine!" he said, with his teeth gleaming. "Couldn't invest better
anywhere. How are you going to do it?"
"By asking you to assume the active headship of the National Boy Scouts
of America, and paying you that amount each year as a fixed salary."
The colonel looked steadily ahead for a moment, without a word, and then
with the old Roosevelt smile wreathing his face and his teeth fairly
gleaming, he turned to his "tempter," as he called him, and said:
"Do you know that was very well put? Yes, sir, very well put."
"Yes?" answered Bok. "Glad you think so. But how about your acceptance
of the idea?"
"That's another matter; quite another matter. How about the organization
itself? There are men in it that don't approve of me at all, you know,"
Bok explained that the organization knew nothing of his offer; that it
was entirely unofficial. It was purely a personal thought. He believed
the Boy Scouts of America needed a leader; that the colonel was the one
man in the United States fitted by every natural quality to be that
leader; that the Scouts would rally around him, and that, at his call,
instead of four hundred thousand Scouts, as there were then, the
organization would grow into a million and more. Bok further explained
that he believed his connection with the national organization was
sufficient, if Colonel Roosevelt would favorably consider such a
leadership, to warrant him in presenting it to the national officers;
and he was inclined to believe they would welcome the opportunity. He
could not assure the colonel of this! He had no authority for saying
they would; but was Colonel Roosevelt receptive to the idea?
At first, the colonel could not see it. But he went over the ground as
thoroughly as a half-hour talk permitted; and finally the opportunity
for doing a piece of constructive work that might prove second to none
that he had ever done, made its appeal.
"You mean for me to be the active head?" asked the colonel.
"Could you be anything else, colonel?" answered Bok.
"Quite so," said the colonel. "That's about right. Do you know," he
pondered, "I think Edie (Mrs. Roosevelt) might like me to do something
like that. She would figure it would keep me out of mischief in 1920,"
and the colonel's smile spread over his face.
"Bok," he at last concluded, "do you know, after all, I think you've
said something! Let's think it over. Let's see how I get along with this
trouble of mine. I am not sure, you know, how far I can go in the
future. Not at all sure, you know--not at all. That last trip of mine to
South America was a bit too much. Shouldn't have done it, you know. I
know it now. Well, as I say, let's both think it over and through; I
will, gladly and most carefully. There's much in what you say; it's a
great chance; I'd love doing it. By Jove! it would be wonderful to rally
a million boys for real Americanism, as you say. It looms up as I think
it over. Suppose we let it simmer for a month or two."
And so it was left--for "a month or two." It was to be
forever--unfortunately. Edward Bok has always felt that the most
worth-while idea that ever came to him had, for some reason he never
could understand, come too late. He felt, as he will always feel, that
the boys of America had lost a national leader that might have led
them--where would have been the limit?
XXV. The President and the Boy
One of the incidents connected with Edward Bok that Theodore Roosevelt
never forgot was when Bok's eldest boy chose the colonel as a Christmas
present. And no incident better portrays the wonderful character of the
colonel than did his remarkable response to the compliment.
A vicious attack of double pneumonia had left the heart of the boy very
weak--and Christmas was close by! So the father said:
"It's a quiet Christmas for you this year, boy. Suppose you do this:
think of the one thing in the world that you would rather have than
anything else and I'll give you that, and that will have to be your
"I know now," came the instant reply.
"But the world is a big place, and there are lots of things in it, you
"I know that," said the boy, "but this is something I have wanted for a
long time, and would rather have than anything else in the world." And
he looked as if he meant it.
"Well, out with it, then, if you're so sure."
And to the father's astonished ears came this request:
"Take me to Washington as soon as my heart is all right, introduce me to
President Roosevelt, and let me shake hands with him."
"All right," said the father, after recovering from his surprise. "I'll
see whether I can fix it." And that morning a letter went to the
President saying that he had been chosen as a Christmas present.
Naturally, any man would have felt pleased, no matter how high his
station, and for Theodore Roosevelt, father of boys, the message had a
The letter had no sooner reached Washington than back came an answer,
addressed not to the father but to the boy! It read:
"The White House, Washington.
"November 13th, 1907.
"Your father has just written me, and I want him to bring you on and
shake hands with me as soon as you are well enough to travel. Then I am
going to give you, myself, a copy of the book containing my hunting
trips since I have been President; unless you will wait until the new
edition, which contains two more chapters, is out. If so, I will send it
to you, as this new edition probably won't be ready when you come on
"Give my warm regards to your father and mother.
Here was joy serene! But the boy's heart had acted queerly for a few
days, and so the father wrote, thanked the President, and said that as
soon as the heart moderated a bit the letter would be given the boy. It
was a rare bit of consideration that now followed. No sooner had the
father's letter reached the White House than an answer came back by
first post--this time with a special-delivery stamp on it. It was
Theodore Roosevelt, the father, who wrote this time; his mind and time
filled with affairs of state, and yet full of tender thoughtfulness for
a little boy:
"Dear Mr. Bok:--
"I have your letter of the 16th instant. I hope the little fellow will
soon be all right. Instead of giving him my letter, give him a message
from me based on the letter, if that will be better for him. Tell Mrs.
Bok how deeply Mrs. Roosevelt and I sympathize with her. We know just
how she feels.
"That's pretty fine consideration," said the father. He got the letter
during a business conference and he read it aloud to the group of
business men. Some there were in that group who keenly differed with the
President on national issues, but they were all fathers, and two of the
sturdiest turned and walked to the window as they said: "Yes, that is
Then came the boy's pleasure when he was handed the letter; the next few
days were spent inditing an answer to "my friend, the President." At
last the momentous epistle seemed satisfactory, and off to the busy
presidential desk went the boyish note, full of thanks and assurances
that he would come just as soon as he could, and that Mr. Roosevelt must
not get impatient!
The "soon as he could" time, however, did not come as quickly as all had
hoped!--a little heart pumped for days full of oxygen and accelerated by
hypodermic injections is slow to mend. But the President's framed
letter, hanging on the spot on the wall first seen in the morning, was a
Then, in March, although four months after the promise--and it would not
have been strange, in his busy life, for the President to have forgotten
or at least overlooked it--on the very day that the book was published
came a special "large-paper" copy of The Outdoor Pastimes of an American
Hunter, and on the fly-leaf there greeted the boy, in the President's
"To Master Curtis Bok,
"With the best wishes of his friend,
"March 11, 1908."
The boy's cup was now full, and so said his letter to the President. And
the President wrote back to the father: "I am really immensely amused
and interested, and shall be mighty glad to see the little fellow."
In the spring, on a beautiful May day, came the great moment. The mother
had to go along, the boy insisted, to see the great event, and so the
trio found themselves shaking the hand of the President's secretary at
the White House.
"Oh, the President is looking for you, all right," he said to the boy,
and then the next moment the three were in a large room. Mr. Roosevelt,
with beaming face, was already striding across the room, and with a
"Well, well, and so this is my friend Curtis!" the two stood looking
into each other's faces, each fairly wreathed in smiles, and each
industriously shaking the hand of the other.
"Yes, Mr. President, I'm mighty glad to see you!" said the boy.
"I am glad to see you, Curtis," returned Mr. Roosevelt.
Then there came a white rose from the presidential desk for the mother,
but after that father and mother might as well have faded away. Nobody
existed save the President and the boy. The anteroom was full; in the
Cabinet-room a delegation waited to be addressed. But affairs of state
were at a complete standstill as, with boyish zeal, the President became
oblivious to all but the boy before him.
"Now, Curtis, I've got some pictures here of bears that a friend of mine
has just shot. Look at that whopper, fifteen hundred pounds--that's as
much as a horse weighs, you know. Now, my friend shot him"--and it was a
toss-up who was the more keenly interested, the real boy or the man-boy,
as picture after picture came out and bear adventure crowded upon the
heels of bear adventure.
"Gee, he's a corker, all right!" came from the boy at one point, and
then, from the President: "That's right, he is a corker. Now you see his
head here"--and then both were off again.
The private secretary came in at this point and whispered in the
"I know, I know. I'll see him later. Say that I am very busy now." And
the face beamed with smiles.
"Now, Mr. President--" began the father.
"No, sir; no, sir; not at all. Affairs can wait. This is a long-standing
engagement between Curtis and me, and that must come first. Isn't that
Of course the boy agreed.
Suddenly the boy looked around the room and said:
"Where's your gun, Mr. President? Got it here?"
"No," laughingly came from the President, "but I'll tell you"--and then
the two heads were together again.
A moment for breath-taking came, and the boy said:
"Aren't you ever afraid of being shot?"
"You mean while I am hunting?"
"Oh, no. I mean as President."
"No," replied the smiling President. "I'll tell you, Curtis; I'm too
busy to think about that. I have too many things to do to bother about
anything of that sort. When I was in battle I was always too anxious to
get to the front to think about the shots. And here--well, here I'm too
busy too. Never think about it. But I'll tell you, Curtis, there are
some men down there," pointing out of the window in the direction of the
capitol, "called the Congress, and if they would only give me the four
battleships I want, I'd be perfectly willing to have any one take a
crack at me." Then, for the first time recognizing the existence of the
parents, the President said: "And I don't know but if they did pick me
off I'd be pretty well ahead of the game."
Just in that moment only did the boy-knowing President get a single inch
above the boy-interest. It was astonishing to see the natural accuracy
with which the man gauged the boy-level.
"Now, how would you like to see a bear, Curtis?" came next. "I know
where there's a beauty, twelve hundred pounds."
"Must be some bear!" interjected the boy.
"That's what it is," put in the President. "Regular cinnamon-brown
type"--and then off went the talk to the big bear at the Washington
"Zoo" where the President was to send the boy.
Then, after a little: "Now, Curtis, see those men over there in that
room. They've travelled from all parts of the country to come here at my
invitation, and I've got to make a little speech to them, and I'll do
that while you go off to see the bear."
And then the hand came forth to say good-by. The boy put his in it, each
looked into the other's face, and on neither was there a place big
enough to put a ten-cent piece that was not wreathed in smiles. "He
certainly is all right," said the boy to the father, looking wistfully
after the President.
Almost to the other room had the President gone when he, too,
instinctively looked back to find the boy following him with his eyes.
He stopped, wheeled around, and then the two instinctively sought each
other again. The President came back, the boy went forward. This time
each held out both hands, and as each looked once more into the other's
eyes a world of complete understanding was in both faces, and every
looker-on smiled with them.
"Good-by, Curtis," came at last from the President.
"Good-by, Mr. President," came from the boy.
Then, with another pump-handly shake and with a "Gee, but he's great,
all right!" the boy went out to see the cinnamon-bear at the "Zoo," and
to live it all over in the days to come.
Two boy-hearts had met, although one of them belonged to the President
of the United States.
XXVI. The Literary Back-Stairs
His complete absorption in the magazine work now compelled Bok to close
his newspaper syndicate in New York and end the writing of his weekly
newspaper literary letter. He decided, however, to transfer to the pages
of his magazine his idea of making the American public more conversant
with books and authors. Accordingly, he engaged Robert Bridges (the
present editor of Scribner's Magazine) to write a series of
conversational book-talks under his nom de plume of "Droch." Later, this
was supplemented by the engagement of Hamilton W. Mabie, who for years
reviewed the newest books.
In almost every issue of the magazine there appeared also an article
addressed to the literary novice. Bok was eager, of course, to attract
the new authors to the magazine; but, particularly, he had in mind the
correction of the popular notion, then so prevalent (less so to-day,
fortunately, but still existent), that only the manuscripts of famous
authors were given favorable reading in editorial offices; that in these
offices there really existed a clique, and that unless the writer knew
the literary back-stairs he had a slim chance to enter and be heard.
In the minds of these misinformed writers, these back-stairs are gained
by "knowing the editor" or through "having some influence with him."
These writers have conclusively settled two points in their own minds:
first, that an editor is antagonistic to the struggling writer; and,
second, that a manuscript sent in the ordinary manner to an editor never
reaches him. Hence, some "influence" is necessary, and they set about to
Now, the truth is, of course, that there are no "literary back-stairs"
to the editorial office of the modern magazine. There cannot be. The
making of a modern magazine is a business proposition; the editor is
there to make it pay. He can do this only if he is of service to his
readers, and that depends on his ability to obtain a class of material
essentially the best of its kind and varied in its character.
The "best," while it means good writing, means also that it shall say
something. The most desired writer in the magazine office is the man who
has something to say, and knows how to say it. Variety requires that
there shall be many of these writers, and it is the editor's business to
ferret them out. It stands to reason, therefore, that there can be no
such thing as a "clique"; limitation by the editor of his list of
authors would mean being limited to the style of the few and the
thoughts of a handful. And with a public that easily tires even of the
best where it continually comes from one source, such an editorial
policy would be suicidal.
Hence, if the editor is more keenly alert for one thing than for
another, it is for the new writer. The frequency of the new note in his
magazine is his salvation; for just in proportion as he can introduce
that new note is his success with his readers. A successful magazine is
exactly like a successful store: it must keep its wares constantly fresh
and varied to attract the eye and hold the patronage of its customers.
With an editor ever alive to the new message, the new note, the fresh
way of saying a thing, the new angle on a current subject, whether in
article or story--since fiction is really to-day only a reflection of
modern thought--the foolish notion that an editor must be approached
through "influence," by a letter of introduction from some friend or
other author, falls of itself. There is no more powerful lever to open
the modern magazine door than a postage-stamp on an envelope containing
a manuscript that says something. No influence is needed to bring that
manuscript to the editor's desk or to his attention. That he will
receive it the sender need not for a moment doubt; his mail is too
closely scanned for that very envelope.
The most successful authors have "broken into" the magazines very often
without even a letter accompanying their first manuscript. The name and
address in the right-hand corner of the first page; some "return" stamps
in the left corner, and all that the editor requires is there. The
author need tell nothing about the manuscript; if what the editor wants
is in it he will find it. An editor can stand a tremendous amount of
letting alone. If young authors could be made to realize how simple is
the process of "breaking into" the modern magazine, which apparently
gives them such needless heartburn, they would save themselves infinite
pains, time, and worry.
Despite all the rubbish written to the contrary, manuscripts sent to the
magazines of to-day are, in every case, read, and frequently more
carefully read than the author imagines. Editors know that, from the
standpoint of good business alone, it is unwise to return a manuscript
unread. Literary talent has been found in many instances where it was
This does not mean that every manuscript received by a magazine is read
from first page to last. There is no reason why it should be, any more
than that all of a bad egg should be eaten to prove that it is bad. The
title alone sometimes decides the fate of a manuscript. If the subject
discussed is entirely foreign to the aims of the magazine, it is simply
a case of misapplication on the author's part; and it would be a waste
of time for the editor to read something which he knows from its subject
he cannot use.
This, of course, applies more to articles than to other forms of
literary work, although unsuitability in a poem is naturally as quickly
detected. Stories, no matter how unpromising they may appear at the
beginning, are generally read through, since gold in a piece of fiction
has often been found almost at the close. This careful attention to
manuscripts in editorial offices is fixed by rules, and an author's
indorsement or a friend's judgment never affects the custom.
At no time does the fallacy hold in a magazine office that "a big name
counts for everything and an unknown name for nothing." There can be no
denial of the fact that where a name of repute is attached to a
meritorious story or article the combination is ideal. But as between an
indifferent story and a well-known name and a good story with an unknown
name the editor may be depended upon to accept the latter. Editors are
very careful nowadays to avoid the public impatience that invariably
follows upon publishing material simply on account of the name attached
to it. Nothing so quickly injures the reputation of a magazine in the
estimation of its readers. If a person, taking up a magazine, reads a
story attracted by a famous name, and the story disappoints, the editor
has a doubly disappointed reader on his hands: a reader whose high
expectations from the name have not been realized and who is
disappointed with the story.
It is a well-known fact among successful magazine editors that their
most striking successes have been made by material to which unknown
names were attached, where the material was fresh, the approach new, the
note different. That is what builds up a magazine; the reader learns to
have confidence in what he finds in the periodical, whether it bears a
famous name or not.
Nor must the young author believe that the best work in modern magazine
literature "is dashed off at white heat." What is dashed off reads
dashed off, and one does not come across it in the well-edited magazine,
because it is never accepted. Good writing is laborious writing, the
result of revision upon revision. The work of masters such as Robert
Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling represents never less than eight or
ten revisions, and often a far greater number. It was Stevenson who once
said to Edward Bok, after a laborious correction of certain proofs: "My
boy, I could be a healthy man, I think, if I did something else than
writing. But to write, as I try to write, takes every ounce of my
vitality." Just as the best "impromptu" speeches are those most
carefully prepared, so do the simplest articles and stories represent
the hardest kind of work; the simpler the method seems and the easier
the article reads, the harder, it is safe to say, was the work put into
But the author must also know when to let his material alone. In his
excessive regard for style even so great a master as Robert Louis
Stevenson robbed his work of much of the spontaneity and natural charm
found, for example, in his Vailima Letters. The main thing is for a
writer to say what he has to say in the best way, natural to himself, in
which he can say it, and then let it alone--always remembering that,
provided he has made himself clear, the message itself is of greater
import than the manner in which it is said. Up to a certain point only
is a piece of literary work an artistic endeavor. A readable, lucid
style is far preferable to what is called a "literary style"--a foolish
phrase, since it often means nothing except a complicated method of
expression which confuses rather than clarifies thought. What the public
wants in its literature is human nature, and that human nature simply
and forcibly expressed. This is fundamental, and this is why true
literature has no fashion and knows no change, despite the cries of the
modern weaklings who affect weird forms. The clarity of Shakespeare is
the clarity of to-day and will be that of to-morrow.
XXVII. Women's Clubs and Woman Suffrage
Edward Bok was now jumping from one sizzling frying-pan into another. He
had become vitally interested in the growth of women's clubs as a power
for good, and began to follow their work and study their methods. He
attended meetings; he had his editors attend others and give him
reports; he collected and read the year-books of scores of clubs, and he
secured and read a number of the papers that had been presented by
members at these meetings. He saw at once that what might prove a
wonderful power in the civic life of the nation was being misdirected
into gatherings of pseudo-culture, where papers ill-digested and mostly
copied from books were read and superficially discussed.
Apparently the average club thought nothing of disposing of the works of
the Victorian poets in one afternoon; the Italian Renaissance was "fully
treated and most ably discussed," according to one programme, at a
single meeting; Rembrandt and his school were likewise disposed of in
one afternoon, and German literature was "adequately treated" at one
session "in able papers."
Bok gathered a mass of this material, and then paid his respects to it
in the magazine. He recited his evidence and then expressed his opinion
of it. He realized that his arraignment of the clubs would cost the
magazine hundreds of friends; but, convinced of the great power of the
woman's club with its activities rightly directed, he concluded that he
could afford to risk incurring displeasure if he might point the way to
more effective work. The one was worth the other.
The displeasure was not slow in making itself manifest. It came to
maturity overnight, as it were, and expressed itself in no uncertain
terms. Every club flew to arms, and Bok was intensely interested to note
that the clubs whose work he had taken as "horrible examples," although
he had not mentioned their names, were the most strenuous in their
denials of the methods outlined in the magazine, and that the members of
those clubs were particularly heated in their attacks upon him.
He soon found that he had stirred up quite as active a hornet's nest as
he had anticipated. Letters by the hundred poured in attacking and
reviling him. In nearly every case the writers fell back upon personal
abuse, ignoring his arguments altogether. He became the subject of
heated debates at club meetings, at conventions, in the public press;
and soon long petitions demanding his removal as editor began to come to
Mr. Curtis. These petitions were signed by hundreds of names. Bok read
them with absorbed interest, and bided his time for action. Meanwhile he
continued his articles of criticism in the magazine, and these, of
course, added fuel to the conflagration.
Former President Cleveland now came to Bok's side, and in an article in
the magazine went even further than Bok had ever thought of going in his
criticism of women's clubs. This article deflected the criticism from
Bok momentarily, and Mr. Cleveland received a grilling to which his
experiences in the White House were "as child's play," as he expressed
it. The two men, the editor and the former President, were now bracketed
as copartners in crime in the eyes of the club-women, and nothing too
harsh could be found to say or write of either.
Meanwhile Bok had been watching the petitions for his removal which kept
coming in. He was looking for an opening, and soon found it. One of the
most prominent women's clubs sent a protest condemning his attitude and
advising him by resolutions, which were enclosed, that unless he ceased
his attacks, the members of the -- Woman's Club had resolved "to
unitedly and unanimously boycott The Ladies' Home Journal and had
already put the plan into effect with the current issue."
Bok immediately engaged counsel in the city where the club was situated,
and instructed his lawyer to begin proceedings, for violation of the
Sherman Act, against the president and the secretary of the club, and
three other members; counsel to take particular pains to choose, if
possible, the wives of three lawyers.
Within forty-eight hours Bok heard from the husbands of the five wives,
who pointed out to him that the women had acted in entire ignorance of
the law, and suggested a reconsideration of his action. Bok replied by
quoting from the petition which set forth that it was signed "by the
most intelligent women of -- who were thoroughly versed in civic and
national affairs"; and if this were true, Bok argued, it naturally
followed that they must have been cognizant of a legislative measure so
well known and so widely discussed as the Sherman Act. He was basing his
action, he said, merely on their declaration.
Bok could easily picture to himself the chagrin and wrath of the women,
with the husbands laughing up their sleeves at the turn of affairs. "My
wife never could see the humor in the situation," said one of these
husbands to Bok, when he met him years later. Bok capitulated, and then
apparently with great reluctance, only when the club sent him an
official withdrawal of the protest and an apology for "its
ill-considered action." It was years after that one of the members of
the club, upon meeting Bok, said to him: "Your action did not increase
the club's love for you, but you taught it a much-needed lesson which it
Up to this time, Bok had purposely been destructive in his criticism.
Now, he pointed out a constructive plan whereby the woman's club could
make itself a power in every community. He advocated less of the
cultural and more of the civic interest, and urged that the clubs study
the numerous questions dealing with the life of their communities. This
seems strange, in view of the enormous amount of civic work done by
women's clubs to-day. But at that time, when the woman's club movement
was unformed, these civic matters found but a small part in the majority
of programmes; in a number of cases none at all.
Of course, the clubs refused to accept or even to consider his
suggestions; they were quite competent to decide for themselves the
particular subjects for their meetings, they argued; they did not care
to be tutored or guided, particularly by Bok. They were much too angry
with him even to admit that his suggestions were practical and in order.
But he knew, of course, that they would adopt them of their own
volition--under cover, perhaps, but that made no difference, so long as
the end was accomplished. One club after another, during the following
years, changed its programme, and soon the supposed cultural interest
had yielded first place to the needful civic questions.
For years, however, the club-women of America did not forgive Bok. They
refused to buy or countenance his magazine, and periodically they
attacked it or made light of it. But he knew he had made his point, and
was content to leave it to time to heal the wounds. This came years
afterward, when Mrs. Pennypacker became president of the General
Federation of Women's Clubs and Mrs. Rudolph Blankenburg,
Those two far-seeing women and Bok arranged that an official department
of the Federation should find a place in The Ladies' Home Journal, with
Mrs. Pennypacker as editor and Mrs. Blankenburg, who lived in
Philadelphia, as the resident consulting editor. The idea was arranged
agreeably to all three; the Federation officially endorsed its
president's suggestion, and for several years the department was one of
the most successful in the magazine.
The breach had been healed; two powerful forces were working together,
as they should, for the mutual good of the American woman. No relations
could have been pleasanter than those between the editor-in-chief of the
magazine and the two departmental editors. The report was purposely set
afloat that Bok had withdrawn from his position of antagonism (?) toward
women's clubs, and this gave great satisfaction to thousands of women
club-members and made everybody happy!
At this time the question of suffrage for women was fast becoming a
prominent issue, and naturally Bok was asked to take a stand on the
question in his magazine. No man sat at a larger gateway to learn the
sentiments of numbers of women on any subject. He read his vast
correspondence carefully. He consulted women of every grade of
intelligence and in every station in life. Then he caused a straw-vote
to be taken among a selected list of thousands of his subscribers in
large cities and in small towns. The result of all these inquiries was
most emphatic and clear: by far the overwhelming majority of the women
approached either were opposed to the ballot or were indifferent to it.
Those who desired to try the experiment were negligible in number. So
far as the sentiment of any wide public can be secured on any given
topic, this seemed to be the dominant opinion.
Bok then instituted a systematic investigation of conditions in those
states where women had voted for years; but he could not see, from a
thoughtful study of his investigations, that much had been accomplished.
The results certainly did not measure up to the prophecies constantly
advanced by the advocates of a nation-wide equal suffrage.
The editor now carefully looked into the speeches of the suffragists,
examined the platform of the National body in favor of woman suffrage,
and talked at length with such leaders in the movement as Susan B.
Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, Anna Howard Shaw, and Jane Addams.
All this time Bok had kept his own mind open. He was ready to have the
magazine, for whose editorial policy he was responsible, advocate that
side of the issue which seemed for the best interests of the American
The arguments that a woman should not have a vote because she was a
woman; that it would interfere with her work in the home; that it would
make her more masculine; that it would take her out of her own home;
that it was a blow at domesticity and an actual menace to the home life
of America--these did not weight with him. There was only one question
for him to settle: Was the ballot something which, in its demonstrated
value or in its potentiality, would serve the best interests of American
After all his investigations of both sides of the question, Bok decided
upon a negative answer. He felt that American women were not ready to
exercise the privilege intelligently and that their mental attitude was
Forthwith he said so in his magazine. And the storm broke. The
denunciations brought down upon him by his attitude toward woman's clubs
was as nothing compared to what was now let loose. The attacks were
bitter. His arguments were ignored; and the suffragists evidently
decided to concentrate their criticisms upon the youthful years of the
editor. They regarded this as a most vulnerable point of attack, and
reams of paper were used to prove that the opinion of a man so young in
years and so necessarily unformed in his judgment was of no value.
Unfortunately, the suffragists did not know, when they advanced this
argument, that it would be overthrown by the endorsement of Bok's point
of view by such men and women of years and ripe judgment as Doctor
Eliot, then president of Harvard University, former President Cleveland,
Lyman Abbott, Margaret Deland, and others. When articles by these
opponents to suffrage appeared, the argument of youth hardly held good;
and the attacks of the suffragists were quickly shifted to the ground of
"narrow-mindedness and old-fashioned fogyism."
The article by former President Cleveland particularly stirred the ire
of the attacking suffragists, and Miss Anthony hurled a broadside at the
former President in a newspaper interview. Unfortunately for her best
judgment, and the strength of her argument, the attack became intensely
personal; and of course, nullified its force. But it irritated Mr.
Cleveland, who called Bok to his Princeton home and read him a draft of
a proposed answer for publication in Bok's magazine.
Those who knew Mr. Cleveland were well aware of the force that he could
put into his pen when he chose, and in this proposed article he
certainly chose! It would have made very unpleasant reading for Miss
Anthony in particular, as well as for her friends. Bok argued strongly
against the article. He reminded Mr. Cleveland that it would be
undignified to make such an answer; that it was always an unpopular
thing to attack a woman in public, especially a woman who was old and
ill; that she would again strive for the last word; that there would be
no point to the controversy and nothing gained by it. He pleaded with
Mr. Cleveland to meet Miss Anthony's attack by a dignified silence.
These arguments happily prevailed. In reality, Mr. Cleveland was not
keen to attack Miss Anthony or any other woman; such a thought was
foreign to his nature. He summed up his feeling to Bok when he tore up
the draft of his article and smilingly said: "Well, I've got if off my
chest, that is the main thing. I wanted to get it out of my system, and
talking it over has driven it out. It is better in the fire," and he
threw the torn paper into the open grate.
As events turned out, it was indeed fortunate that the matter had been
so decided; for the article would have appeared in the number of Bok's
magazine published on the day that Miss Anthony passed away. It would
have been a most unfortunate moment, to say the least, for the
appearance of an attack such as Mr. Cleveland had in mind.
This incident, like so many instances that might be adduced, points with
singular force to the value of that editorial discrimination which the
editor often makes between what is wise or unwise for him to publish.
Bok realized that had he encouraged Mr. Cleveland to publish the
article, he could have exhausted any edition he might have chosen to
print. Times without number, editors make such decisions directly
against what would be of temporary advantage to their publications. The
public never hears of these incidents.
More often than not the editor hears "stories" that, if printed, would
be a "scoop" which would cause his publication to be talked about from
one end of the country to the other. The public does not give credit to
the editor, particularly of the modern newspaper, for the high code of
honor which constantly actuates him in his work. The prevailing notion
is that an editor prints all that he knows, and much that he does not
know. Outside of those in the inner government circles, no group of men,
during the Great War, had more information of a confidential nature
constantly given or brought to them, and more zealously guarded it, than
the editors of the newspapers of America. Among no other set of
professional men is the code of honor so high; and woe betide the
journalist who, in the eyes of his fellow-workers, violates, even in the
slightest degree, that code of editorial ethics. Public men know how
true is this statement; the public at large, however, has not the first
conception of it. If it had, it would have a much higher opinion of its
periodicals and newspapers.
At this juncture, Rudyard Kipling unconsciously came into the very
centre of the suffragists' maelstrom of attack when he sent Bok his
famous poem: "The Female of the Species." The suffragists at once took
the argument in the poem as personal to themselves, and now Kipling got
the full benefit of their vitriolic abuse. Bok sent a handful of these
criticisms to Kipling, who was very gleeful about them. "I owe you a
good laugh over the clippings," he wrote. "They were delightful. But
what a quantity of spare time some people in this world have to burn!"
It was a merry time; and the longer it continued the more heated were
the attacks. The suffragists now had a number of targets, and they took
each in turn and proceeded to riddle it. That Bok was publishing
articles explaining both sides of the question, presenting arguments by
the leading suffragists as well as known anti-suffragists, did not
matter in the least. These were either conveniently overlooked, or, when
referred to at all, were considered in the light of "sops" to the
At last Bok reached the stage where he had exhausted all the arguments
worth printing, on both sides of the question, and soon the storm calmed
It was always a matter of gratification to him that the woman who had
most bitterly assailed him during the suffrage controversy, Anna Howard
Shaw, became in later years one of his stanchest friends, and was an
editor on his pay-roll. When the United States entered the Great War,
Bok saw that Doctor Shaw had undertaken a gigantic task in promising, as
chairman, to direct the activities of the National Council for Women. He
went to see her in Washington, and offered his help and that of the
magazine. Doctor Shaw, kindliest of women in her nature, at once
accepted the offer; Bok placed the entire resources of the magazine and
of its Washington editorial force at her disposal; and all through
America's participation in the war, she successfully conducted a monthly
department in The Ladies' Home Journal.
"Such help," she wrote at the close, "as you and your associates have
extended me and my co-workers; such unstinted co-operation and such
practical guidance I never should have dreamed possible. You made your
magazine a living force in our work; we do not see now how we would have
done without it. You came into our activities at the psychological
moment, when we most needed what you could give us, and none could have
given with more open hands and fuller hearts."
So the contending forces in a bitter word-war came together and worked
together, and a mutual regard sprang up between the woman and the man
who had once so radically differed.
XXVIII. Going Home with Kipling, and as a Lecturer
It was in June, 1899, when Rudyard Kipling, after the loss of his
daughter and his own almost fatal illness from pneumonia in America,
sailed for his English home on the White Star liner, Teutonic. The party
consisted of Kipling, his wife, his father J. Lockwood Kipling, Mr. and
Mrs. Frank N. Doubleday, and Bok. It was only at the last moment that
Bok decided to join the party, and the steamer having its full
complement of passengers, he could only secure one of the officers'
large rooms on the upper deck. Owing to the sensitive condition of
Kipling's lungs, it was not wise for him to be out on deck except in the
most favorable weather. The atmosphere of the smoking-room was
forbidding, and as the rooms of the rest of the party were below deck,
it was decided to make Bok's convenient room the headquarters of the
party. Here they assembled for the best part of each day; the talk
ranged over literary and publishing matters of mutual interest, and
Kipling promptly labelled the room "The Hatchery,"--from the plans and
schemes that were hatched during these discussions.
It was decided on the first day out that the party, too active-minded to
remain inert for any length of time, should publish a daily newspaper to
be written on large sheets of paper and to be read each evening to the
group. It was called The Teuton Tonic; Mr. Doubleday was appointed
publisher and advertising manager; Mr. Lockwood Kipling was made art
editor to embellish the news; Rudyard Kipling was the star reporter, and
Bok was editor.
Kipling, just released from his long confinement, like a boy out of
school, was the life of the party--and when, one day, he found a woman
aboard reading a copy of The Ladies' Home Journal his joy knew no
bounds; he turned in the most inimitable "copy" to the Tonic, describing
the woman's feelings as she read the different departments in the
magazine. Of course, Bok, as editor of the Tonic, promptly pigeon-holed
the reporter's "copy"; then relented, and, in a fine spirit of
large-mindedness, "printed" Kipling's peans of rapture over Bok's
subscriber. The preparation of the paper was a daily joy: it kept the
different members busy, and each evening the copy was handed to "the
large circle of readers"--the two women of the party--to read aloud. At
the end of the sixth day, it was voted to "suspend publication," and the
daily of six issues was unanimously bequeathed to the little daughter of
Mr. Lockwood de Forest, a close friend of the Kipling family--a choice
bit of Kiplingania.
One day it was decided by the party that Bok should be taught the game
of poker, and Kipling at once offered to be the instructor! He wrote out
a list of the "hands" for Bok's guidance, which was placed in the centre
of the table, and the party, augmented by the women, gathered to see the
A baby had been born that evening in the steerage, and it was decided to
inaugurate a small "jack-pot" for the benefit of the mother. All went
well until about the fourth hand, when Bok began to bid higher than had
been originally planned. Kipling questioned the beginner's knowledge of
the game and his tactics, but Bok retorted it was his money that he was
putting into the pot and that no one was compelled to follow his bets if
he did not choose to do so. Finally, the jack-pot assumed altogether too
large dimensions for the party, Kipling "called" and Bok, true to the
old idea of "beginner's luck" in cards, laid down a royal flush! This
was too much, and poker, with Bok in it, was taboo from that moment.
Kipling's version of this card-playing does not agree in all particulars
with the version here written. "Bok learned the game of poker," Kipling
says; "had the deck stacked on him, and on hearing that there was a
woman aboard who read The Ladies' Home Journal insisted on playing after
that with the cabin-door carefully shut." But Kipling's art as a
reporter for The Tonic was not as reliable as the art of his more
careful book work.
Bok derived special pleasure on this trip from his acquaintance with
Father Kipling, as the party called him. Rudyard Kipling's respect for
his father was the tribute of a loyal son to a wonderful father.
"What annoys me," said Kipling, speaking of his father one day, "is when
the pater comes to America to have him referred to in the newspapers as
'the father of Rudyard Kipling.' It is in India where they get the
relation correct: there I am always 'the son of Lockwood Kipling.'"
Father Kipling was, in every sense, a choice spirit: gentle, kindly, and
of a most remarkably even temperament. His knowledge of art, his wide
reading, his extensive travel, and an interest in every phase of the
world's doings, made him a rare conversationalist, when inclined to
talk, and an encyclopedia of knowledge as extensive as it was accurate.
It was very easy to grow fond of Father Kipling, and he won Bok's
affection as few men ever did.
Father Kipling's conversation was remarkable in that he was exceedingly
careful of language and wasted few words.
One day Kipling and Bok were engaged in a discussion of the Boer
problem, which was then pressing. Father Kipling sat by listening, but
made no comment on the divergent views, since, Kipling holding the
English side of the question and Bok the Dutch side, it followed that
they could not agree. Finally Father Kipling arose and said: "Well, I
will take a stroll and see if I can't listen to the water and get all
this din out of my ears."
Both men felt gently but firmly rebuked and the discussion was never
again taken up.
Bok tried on one occasion to ascertain how the father regarded the son's
"You should feel pretty proud of your son," remarked Bok.
"A good sort," was the simple reply.
"I mean, rather, of his work. How does that strike you?" asked Bok.
"His work as a whole," explained Bok.
"Creditable," was the succinct answer.
"No more than that?" asked Bok.
"Can there be more?" came from the father.
"Well," said Bok, "the judgment seems a little tame as applied to one
who is generally regarded as a genius."
"The critics, for instance," replied Bok.
"There are no such," came the answer.
"No such what, Mr. Kipling?" asked Bok.
"No," and for the first time the pipe was removed for a moment. "A
critic is one who only exists as such in his own imagination."
"But surely you must consider that Rud has done some great work?"
"Creditable," came once more.
"You think him capable of great work, do you not?" asked Bok. For a
moment there was silence. Then:
"He has a certain grasp of the human instinct. That, some day, I think,
will lead him to write a great work."
There was the secret: the constant holding up to the son, apparently, of
something still to be accomplished; of a goal to be reached; of a higher
standard to be attained. Rudyard Kipling was never in danger of
unintelligent laudation from his safest and most intelligent reader.
During the years which intervened until his passing away, Bok sought to
keep in touch with Father Kipling, and received the most wonderful
letters from him. One day he enclosed in a letter a drawing which he had
made showing Sakia Muni sitting under the bo-tree with two of his
disciples, a young man and a young woman, gathered at his feet. It was a
piece of exquisite drawing. "I like to think of you and your work in
this way," wrote Mr. Kipling, "and so I sketched it for you." Bok had
the sketch enlarged, engaged John La Farge to translate it into glass,
and inserted it in a window in the living-room of his home at Merion.
After Father Kipling had passed away, the express brought to Bok one day
a beautiful plaque of red clay, showing the elephant's head, the lotus,
and the swastika, which the father had made for the son. It was the
original model of the insignia which, as a watermark, is used in the
pages of Kipling's books and on the cover of the subscription edition.
"I am sending with this for your acceptance," wrote Kipling to Bok, "as
some little memory of my father to whom you were so kind, the original
of one of the plaques that he used to make for me. I thought it being
the swastika would be appropriate for your swastika. May it bring you
even more good fortune."
To those who knew Lockwood Kipling, it is easier to understand the
genius and the kindliness of the son. For the sake of the public's
knowledge, it is a distinct loss that there is not a better
understanding of the real sweetness of character of the son. The
public's only idea of the great writer is naturally one derived from
writers who do not understand him, or from reporters whom he refused to
see, while Kipling's own slogan is expressed in his own words: "I have
always managed to keep clear of 'personal' things as much as possible."
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not grow tired by waiting
Or, being lied about don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good or talk too wise;
If you can dream and not make dreams your master,
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with triumph and disaster,
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can stand to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by Knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the work you've given your life to broken,
And stoop and build it up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one pile of all your winnings
And risk it at one game of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again from your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss,
If you can force you heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on, though there is nothing in you
Except the will that says to them, "Hold on!"
If you can talk to crowds and keep your virtue,
And walk with Kings nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!
Copied out from memory by Rudyard Kipling.
Batemons: Sept. 1913
for E.W. Bok on his 50th Birthday
It was on Bok's fiftieth birthday that Kipling sent him a copy of "If."
Bok had greatly admired this poem, but knowing Kipling's distaste for
writing out his own work, he had resisted the strong desire to ask him
for a copy of it. It is significant of the author's remarkable memory
that he wrote it, as he said, "from memory," years after its
publication, and yet a comparison of the copy with the printed form,
corrected by Kipling, fails to discover the difference of a single word.
The lecture bureaus now desired that Edward Bok should go on the
platform. Bok had never appeared in the role of a lecturer, but he
reasoned that through the medium of the rostrum he might come in closer
contact with the American public, meet his readers personally, and
secure some first-hand constructive criticism of his work. This last he
was always encouraging. It was a naive conception of a lecture tour, but
Bok believed it and he contracted for a tour beginning at Richmond,
Virginia, and continuing through the South and Southwest as far as Saint
Joseph, Missouri, and then back home by way of the Middle West.
Large audiences greeted him wherever he went, but he had not gone far on
his tour when he realized that he was not getting what he thought he
would. There was much entertaining and lionizing, but nothing to help
him in his work by pointing out to him where he could better it. He
shrank from the pitiless publicity that was inevitable; he became more
and more self-conscious when during the first five minutes on the stage
he felt the hundreds of opera-glasses levelled at him, and he and Mrs.
Bok, who accompanied him, had not a moment to themselves from early
morning to midnight. Yet his large correspondence was following him from
the office, and the inevitable invitations in each city had at least to
be acknowledged. Bok realized he had miscalculated the benefits of a
lecture tour to his work, and began hopefully to wish for the ending of
One afternoon as he was returning with his manager from a large
reception, the "impresario" said to him: "I don't like these receptions.
They hurt the house."
"The house?" echoed Bok.
"Yes, the attendance."
"But you told me the house for this evening was sold out?" said the
"That is true enough. House, and even the stage. Not a seat unsold. But
hundreds just come to see you and not to hear your lecture, and this
exposure of a lecturer at so crowded a reception as this, before the
talk, satisfies the people without their buying a ticket. My rule is
that a lecturer should not be seen in public before his lecture, and I
wish you would let me enforce the rule with you. It wears you out,
anyway, and no receptions until afterward will give you more time for
yourself and save your vitality for the talk."
Bok was entirely acquiescent. He had no personal taste for the continued
round of functions, but he had accepted it as part of the game.
The idea from this talk that impressed Bok, however, with particular
force, was that the people who crowded his houses came to see him and
not to hear his lecture. Personal curiosity, in other words. This was a
new thought. He had been too busy to think of his personality; now he
realized a different angle to the situation. And, much to his manager's
astonishment, two days afterwards Bok refused to sign an agreement for
another tour later in the year. He had had enough of exhibiting himself
as a curiosity. He continued his tour; but before its conclusion fell
ill--a misfortune with a pleasant side to it, for three of his
engagements had to be cancelled.
The Saint Joseph engagement could not be cancelled. The house had been
oversold; it was for the benefit of a local charity which besought Bok
by wire after wire to keep a postponed date. He agreed, and he went. He
realized that he was not well, but he did not realize the extent of his
mental and physical exhaustion until he came out on the platform and
faced the crowded auditorium. Barely sufficient space had been left for
him and for the speaker's desk; the people on the stage were close to
him, and he felt distinctly uncomfortable.
Then, to his consternation, it suddenly dawned upon him that his tired
mind had played a serious trick on him. He did not remember a line of
his lecture; he could not even recall how it began! He arose, after his
introduction, in a bath of cold perspiration. The applause gave him a
moment to recover himself, but not a word came to his mind. He sparred
for time by some informal prefatory remarks expressing regret at his
illness and that he had been compelled to disappoint his audience a few
days before, and then he stood helpless! In sheer desperation he looked
at Mrs. Bok sitting in the stage box, who, divining her husband's
plight, motioned to the inside pocket of his coat. He put his hand there
and pulled out a copy of his lecture which she had placed there! The
whole tragic comedy had happened so quickly that the audience was
absolutely unaware of what had occurred, and Bok went on and practically
read his lecture. But it was not a successful evening for his audience
or for himself, and the one was doubtless as glad when it was over as
When he reached home, he was convinced that he had had enough of
lecturing! He had to make a second short tour, however, for which he had
contracted with another manager before embarking on the first. This tour
took him to Indianapolis, and after the lecture, James Whitcomb Riley
gave him a supper. There were some thirty men in the party; the affair
was an exceedingly happy one; the happiest that Bok had attended. He
said this to Riley on the way to the hotel.
"Usually," said Bok, "men, for some reason or other, hold aloof from me
on these lecture tours. They stand at a distance and eye me, and I see
wonder on their faces rather than a desire to mix."
"You've noticed that, then?" smilingly asked the poet.
"Yes, and I can't quite get it. At home, my friends are men. Why should
it be different in other cities?"
"I'll tell you," said Riley. "Five or six of the men you met to-night
were loath to come. When I pinned them down to their reason, it was I
thought: they regard you as an effeminate being, a sissy."
"Good heavens!" interrupted Bok.
"Fact," said Riley, "and you can't wonder at it nor blame them. You have
been most industriously paragraphed, in countless jests, about your
penchant for pink teas, your expert knowledge of tatting, crocheting,
and all that sort of stuff. Look what Eugene Field has done in that
direction. These paragraphs have, doubtless, been good advertising for
your magazine, and, in a way, for you. But, on the other hand, they have
given a false impression of you. Men have taken these paragraphs
seriously and they think of you as the man pictured in them. It's a
fact; I know. It's all right after they meet you and get your measure.
The joke then is on them. Four of the men I fairly dragged to the dinner
this evening said this to me just before I left. That is one reason why
I advise you to keep on lecturing. Get around and show yourself, and
correct this universal impression. Not that you can't stand when men
think of you, but it's unpleasant."
It was unpleasant, but Bok decided that the solution as found in
lecturing was worse than the misconception. From that day to this he
never lectured again.
But the public conception of himself, especially that of men, awakened
his interest and amusement. Some of his friends on the press were still
busy with their paragraphs, and he promptly called a halt and asked them
to desist. "Enough was as good as a feast," he told them, and explained
One day Bok got a distinctly amusing line on himself from a chance
stranger. He was riding from Washington to Philadelphia in the smoking
compartment, when the newsboy stuck his head in the door and yelled:
"Ladies' Home Journal, out to-day." He had heard this many times before;
but on this particular day, upon hearing the title of his own magazine
yelled almost in his ears, he gave an involuntary start.
Opposite to him sat a most companionable young fellow, who, noticing
Bok's start, leaned over and with a smile said: "I know, I know just how
you feel. That's the way I feel whenever I hear the name of that damned
magazine. Here, boy," he called to the retreating magazine-carrier,
"give me a copy of that Ladies' Home Disturber: I might as well buy it
here as in the station."
Then to Bok: "Honest, if I don't bring home that sheet on the day it is
out, the wife is in a funk. She runs her home by it literally. Same with
"The same," answered Bok. "As a matter of fact, in our family, we live
by it, on it, and from it."
Bok's neighbor, of course, couldn't get the real point of this, but he
thought he had it.
"Exactly," he replied. "So do we. That fellow Bok certainly has the
women buffaloed for good. Ever see him?"
"Oh, yes," answered Bok.
"Live in Philadelphia?"
"There's where the thing is published, all right. What does Bok look
"Oh," answered Bok carelessly, "just like, well, like all of us. In
fact, he looks something like me."
"Does he, now?" echoed the man. "Shouldn't think it would make you very
And, the train pulling in at Baltimore, Bok's genial neighbor sent him a
hearty good-bye and ran out with the much-maligned magazine under his
He had an occasion or two now to find out what women thought of him!
He was leaving the publication building one evening after office hours
when just as he opened the front door, a woman approached. Bok explained
that the building was closed.
"Well, I am sorry," said the woman in a dejected tone, "for I don't
think I can manage to come again."
"Is there anything I can do?" asked Bok. "I am employed here."
"No-o," said the woman. "I came to see Mr. Curtis on a personal matter."
"I shall see him this evening," suggested Bok, "and can give him a
message for you if you like."
"Well, I don't know if you can. I came to complain to him about Mr.
Bok," announced the woman.
"Oh, well," answered Bok, with a slight start at the matter-of-fact
announcement, "that is serious; quite serious. If you will explain your
complaint, I will surely see that it gets to Mr. Curtis."
Bok's interest grew.
"Well, you see," said the woman, "it is this way. I live in a
three-family flat. Here is my name and card," and a card came out of a
bag. "I subscribe to The Ladies' Home Journal. It is delivered at my
house each month by Mr. Bok. Now I have told that man three times over
that when he delivers the magazine, he must ring the bell twice. But he
just persists in ringing once and then that cat who lives on the first
floor gets my magazine, reads it, and keeps it sometimes for three days
before I get it! Now, I want Mr. Curtis to tell Mr. Bok that he must do
as I ask and ring the bell twice. Can you give him that message for me?
There's no use talking to Mr. Bok; I've done that, as I say."
And Bok solemnly assured his subscriber that he would!
Bok's secretary told him one day that there was in the outer office the
most irate woman he had ever tried to handle; that he had tried for half
an hour to appease her, but it was of no use. She threatened to remain
until Bok admitted her, and see him she would, and tell him exactly what
she thought of him. The secretary looked as if he had been through a
struggle. "It's hopeless," he said. "Will you see her?"
"Certainly," said Bok. "Show her in."
The moment the woman came in, she began a perfect torrent of abuse. Bok
could not piece out, try as he might, what it was all about. But he did
gather from the explosion that the woman considered him a hypocrite who
wrote one thing and did another; that he was really a thief, stealing a
woman's money, and so forth. There was no chance of a word for fully
fifteen minutes and then, when she was almost breathless, Bok managed to
ask if his caller would kindly tell him just what he had done.
Another torrent of incoherent abuse came forth, but after a while it
became apparent that the woman's complaint was that she had sent a
dollar for a subscription to The Ladies' Home Journal; had never had a
copy of the magazine, had complained, and been told there was no record
of the money being received. And as she had sent her subscription to Bok
personally, he had purloined the dollar!
It was fully half an hour before Bok could explain to the irate woman
that he never remembered receiving a letter from her; that
subscriptions, even when personally addressed to him, did not come to
his desk, etc.; that if she would leave her name and address he would
have the matter investigated. Absolutely unconvinced that anything would
be done, and unaltered in her opinion about Bok, the woman finally left.
Two days later a card was handed in to the editor with a note asking him
to see for a moment the husband of his irate caller. When the man came
in, he looked sheepish and amused in turn, and finally said:
"I hardly know what to say, because I don't know what my wife said to
you. But if what she said to me is any index of her talk with you, I
want to apologize for her most profoundly. She isn't well, and we shall
both have to let it go at that. As for her subscription, you, of course,
never received it, for, with difficulty, I finally extracted the fact
from her that she pinned a dollar bill to a postal card and dropped it
in a street postal box. And she doesn't yet see that she has done
anything extraordinary, or that she had a faith in Uncle Sam that I call
The Journal had been calling the attention of its readers to the
defacement of the landscape by billboard advertisers. One day on his way
to New York he found himself sitting in a sleeping-car section opposite
a woman and her daughter.
The mother was looking at the landscape when suddenly she commented:
"There are some of those ugly advertising signs that Mr. Bok says are
such a defacement to the landscape. I never noticed them before, but he
is right, and I am going to write and tell him so."
"Oh, mamma, don't," said the girl. "That man is pampered enough by
women. Don't make him worse. Ethel says he is now the vainest man in
Bok's eyes must have twinkled, and just then the mother looked at him,
caught his eye; she gave a little gasp, and Bok saw that she had
telepathically discovered him!
He smiled, raised his hat, presented his card to the mother, and said:
"Excuse me, but I do want to defend myself from that last statement, if
I may. I couldn't help overhearing it."
The mother, a woman of the world, read the name on the card quickly and
smiled, but the daughter's face was a study as she leaned over and
glanced at the card. She turned scarlet and then white.
"Now, do tell me," asked Bok of the daughter, "who 'Ethel' is, so that I
may try at least to prove that I am not what she thinks."
The daughter was completely flustered. For the rest of the journey,
however, the talk was informal; the girl became more at ease, and Bok
ended by dining with the mother and daughter at their hotel that
But he never found out "Ethel's" other name!
There were curiously amusing sides to a man's editorship of a woman's
XXIX. An Excursion into the Feminine Nature
The strangling hold which the Paris couturiers had secured on the
American woman in their absolute dictation as to her fashions in dress,
had interested Edward Bok for some time. As he studied the question, he
was constantly amazed at the audacity with which these French
dressmakers and milliners, often themselves of little taste and scant
morals, cracked the whip, and the docility with which the American woman
blindly and unintelligently danced to their measure. The deeper he went
into the matter, too, the more deceit and misrepresentation did he find
in the situation. It was inconceivable that the American woman should
submit to what was being imposed upon her if she knew the facts. He
determined that she should. The process of Americanization going on
within him decided him to expose the Paris conditions and advocate and
present American-designed fashions for women.
The Journal engaged the best-informed woman in Paris frankly to lay open
the situation to the American women; she proved that the designs sent
over by the so-called Paris arbiters of fashion were never worn by the
Frenchwoman of birth and good taste; that they were especially designed
and specifically intended for "the bizarre American trade," as one
polite Frenchman called it; and that the only women in Paris who wore
these grotesque and often immoderate styles were of the demimonde.
This article was the opening gun of the campaign, and this was quickly
followed by a second equally convincing--both articles being written
from the inside of the gilded circles of the couturiers' shops. Madame
Sarah Bernhardt was visiting the United States at the time, and Bok
induced the great actress to verify the statements printed. She went
farther and expressed amazement at the readiness with which the American
woman had been duped; and indicated her horror on seeing American women
of refined sensibilities and position dressed in the gowns of the
declasse street-women of Paris. The somewhat sensational nature of the
articles attracted the attention of the American newspapers, which
copied and commented on them; the gist of them was cabled over to Paris,
and, of course, the Paris couturiers denied the charges. But their
denials were in general terms; and no convincing proof of the falsity of
the charges was furnished. The French couturier simply resorted to a
shrug of the shoulder and a laugh, implying that the accusations were
beneath his notice.
Bok now followed the French models of dresses and millinery to the
United States, and soon found that for every genuine Parisian model sold
in the large cities at least ten were copies, made in New York shops,
but with the labels of the French dressmakers and milliners sewed on
them. He followed the labels to their source, and discovered a firm one
of whose specialties was the making of these labels bearing the names of
the leading French designers. They were manufactured by the gross, and
sold in bundles to the retailers. Bok secured a list of the buyers of
these labels and found that they represented some of the leading
merchants throughout the country. All these facts he published. The
retailers now sprang up in arms and denied the charges, but again the
denials were in general terms. Bok had the facts and they knew it. These
facts were too specific and too convincing to be controverted.
The editor had now presented a complete case before the women of America
as to the character of the Paris-designed fashions and the manner in
which women were being hoodwinked in buying imitations.
Meanwhile, he had engaged the most expert designers in the world of
women's dress and commissioned them to create American designs. He sent
one of his editors to the West to get first-hand motifs from Indian
costumes and adapt them as decorative themes for dress embroideries.
Three designers searched the Metropolitan Museum for new and artistic
ideas, and he induced his company to install a battery of four-color
presses in order that the designs might be given in all the beauty of
their original colors. For months designers and artists worked; he had
the designs passed upon by a board of judges composed of New York women
who knew good clothes, and then he began their publication.
The editor of The New York Times asked Bok to conduct for that newspaper
a prize contest for the best American-designed dresses and hats, and
edit a special supplement presenting them in full colors, the prizes to
be awarded by a jury of six of the leading New York women best versed in
matters of dress. Hundreds of designs were submitted, the best were
selected, and the supplement issued under the most successful auspices.
In his own magazine, Bok published pages of American-designed fashions:
their presence in the magazine was advertised far and wide; conventions
of dressmakers were called to consider the salability of
domestic-designed fashions; and a campaign with the slogan "American
Fashions for American Women" was soon in full swing.
But there it ended. The women looked the designs over with interest, as
they did all designs of new clothes, and paid no further attention to
them. The very fact that they were of American design prejudiced the
women against them. America never had designed good clothes, they
argued: she never would. Argument availed naught. The Paris germ was
deep-rooted in the feminine mind of America: the women acknowledged that
they were, perhaps, being hoodwinked by spurious French dresses and
hats; that the case presented by Bok seemed convincing enough, but the
temptation to throw a coat over a sofa or a chair to expose a Parisian
label to the eyes of some other woman was too great; there was always a
gambling chance that her particular gown, coat, or hat was an actual
Bok called upon the American woman to come out from under the yoke of
the French couturiers, show her patriotism, and encourage American
design. But it was of no use. He talked with women on every hand; his
mail was full of letters commending him for his stand; but as for actual
results, there were none. One of his most intelligent woman-friends
finally summed up the situation for him:
"You can rail against the Paris domination all you like; you can expose
it for the fraud that it is, and we know that it is; but it is all to no
purpose, take my word. When it comes to the question of her personal
adornment, a woman employs no reason; she knows no logic. She knows that
the adornment of her body is all that she has to match the other woman
and outdo her, and to attract the male, and nothing that you can say
will influence her a particle. I know this all seems incomprehensible to
you as a man, but that is the feminine nature. You are trying to fight
something that is unfightable."
"Has the American woman no instinct of patriotism, then?" asked Bok.
"Not the least," was the answer, "when it comes to her adornment. What
Paris says, she will do, blindly and unintelligently if you will, but
she will do it. She will sacrifice her patriotism; she will even justify
a possible disregard of the decencies. Look at the present Parisian
styles. They are absolutely indecent. Women know it, but they follow
them just the same, and they will. It is all very unpleasant to say
this, but it is the truth and you will find it out. Your effort, fine as
it is, will bear no fruit."
Wherever Bok went, women upon whose judgment he felt he could rely, told
him, in effect, the same thing. They were all regretful, in some cases
ashamed of their sex, universally apologetic; but one and all declared
that such is "the feminine nature," and Bok would only have his trouble
And so it proved. For a period, the retail shops were more careful in
the number of genuine French models of gowns and hats which they
exhibited, and the label firm confessed that its trade had fallen off.
But this was only temporary. Within a year after The Journal stopped the
campaign, baffled and beaten, the trade in French labels was greater
than ever, hundreds of French models were sold that had never crossed
the ocean, the American woman was being hoodwinked on every hand, and
the reign of the French couturier was once more supreme.
There was no disguising the fact that the case was hopeless, and Bok
recognized and accepted the inevitable. He had, at least, the
satisfaction of having made an intelligent effort to awaken the American
woman to her unintelligent submission. But she refused to be awakened.
She preferred to be a tool: to be made a fool of.
Bok's probe into the feminine nature had been keenly disappointing. He
had earnestly tried to serve the American woman, and he had failed. But
he was destined to receive a still greater and deeper disappointment on
his next excursion into the feminine nature, although, this time, he was
During his investigations into women's fashions, he had unearthed the
origin of the fashionable aigrette, the most desired of all the
feathered possessions of womankind. He had been told of the cruel
torture of the mother-heron, who produced the beautiful aigrette only in
her period of maternity and who was cruelly slaughtered, usually left to
die slowly rather than killed, leaving her whole nest of baby-birds to
starve while they awaited the return of the mother-bird.
Bok was shown the most heart-rending photographs portraying the butchery
of the mother and the starvation of her little ones. He collected all
the photographs that he could secure, had the most graphic text written
to them, and began their publication. He felt certain that the mere
publication of the frightfully convincing photographs would be enough to
arouse the mother-instinct in every woman and stop the wearing of the
so-highly prized feather. But for the second time in his attempt to
reform the feminine nature he reckoned beside the mark.
He published a succession of pages showing the frightful cost at which
the aigrette was secured. There was no challenging the actual facts as
shown by the photographic lens: the slaughter of the mother-bird, and
the starving baby-birds; and the importers of the feather wisely
remained quiet, not attempting to answer Bok's accusations. Letters
poured in upon the editor from Audubon Society workers; from lovers of
birds, and from women filled with the humanitarian instinct. But Bok
knew that the answer was not with those few: the solution lay with the
larger circle of American womanhood from which he did not hear.
He waited for results. They came. But they were not those for which he
had striven. After four months of his campaign, he learned from the
inside of the importing-houses which dealt in the largest stocks of
aigrettes in the United States that the demand for the feather had more
than quadrupled! Bok was dumbfounded! He made inquiries in certain
channels from which he knew he could secure the most reliable
information, and after all the importers had been interviewed, the
conviction was unescapable that just in proportion as Bok had dwelt upon
the desirability of the aigrette as the hallmark of wealth and fashion,
upon its expense, and the fact that women regarded it as the last word
in feminine adornment, he had by so much made these facts familiar to
thousands of women who had never before known of them, and had created
the desire to own one of the precious feathers.
Bok could not and would not accept these conclusions. It seemed to him
incredible that women would go so far as this in the question of
personal adornment. He caused the increased sales to be traced from
wholesaler to retailer, and from retailer to customer, and was amazed at
the character and standing of the latter. He had a number of those
buyers who lived in adjacent cities, privately approached and
interviewed, and ascertained that, save in two instances, they were all
his readers, had seen the gruesome pictures he had presented, and then
had deliberately purchased the coveted aigrette.
Personally again he sought the most intelligent of his woman-friends,
talked with scores of others, and found himself facing the same trait in
feminine nature which he had encountered in his advocacy of American
fashions. But this time it seemed to Bok that the facts he had presented
went so much deeper.
"It will be hard for you to believe," said one of his most trusted
woman-friends. "I grant your arguments: there is no gainsaying them. But
you are fighting the same thing again that you do not understand: the
feminine nature that craves outer adornment will secure it at any cost,
even at the cost of suffering."
"Yes," argued Bok. "But if there is one thing above everything else that
we believe a woman feels and understands, it is the mother-instinct. Do
you mean to tell me that it means nothing to her that these birds are
killed in their period of motherhood, and that a whole nest of starving
baby-birds is the price of every aigrette?"
"I won't say that this does not weigh with a woman. It does, naturally.
But when it comes to her possession of an ornament of beauty, as
beautiful as the aigrette, it weighs with her, but it doesn't tip the
scale against her possession of it. I am sorry to have to say this to
you, but it is a fact. A woman will regret that the mother-bird must be
tortured and her babies starve, but she will have the aigrette. She
simply trains herself to forget the origin.
"Take my own case. You will doubtless be shocked when I tell you that I
was perfectly aware of the conditions under which the aigrette is
obtained before you began your exposure of the method. But did it
prevent my purchase of one? Not at all. Why? Because I am a woman: I
realize that no head ornament will set off my hair so well as an
aigrette. Say I am cruel if you like. I wish the heron-mother didn't
have to be killed or the babies starve, but, Mr. Bok, I must have my
Bok was frankly astounded: he had certainly probed deep this time into
the feminine nature. With every desire and instinct to disbelieve the
facts, the deeper his inquiries went, the stronger the evidence rolled
up: there was no gainsaying it; no sense in a further disbelief of it.
But Bok was determined that this time he would not fail. His sense of
justice and protection to the mother-bird and her young was now fully
aroused. He resolved that he would, by compulsion, bring about what he
had failed to do by persuasion. He would make it impossible for women to
be untrue to their most sacred instinct. He sought legal talent, had a
bill drawn up making it a misdemeanor to import, sell, purchase, or wear
an aigrette. Armed with this measure, and the photographs and articles
which he had published, he sought and obtained the interest and promise
of support of the most influential legislators in several States. He
felt a sense of pride in his own sex that he had no trouble in winning
the immediate interest of every legislator with whom he talked.
Where he had failed with women, he was succeeding with men! The
outrageous butchery of the birds and the circumstances under which they
were tortured appealed with direct force to the sporting instinct in
every man, and aroused him. Bok explained to each that he need expect no
support for such a measure from women save from the members of the
Audubon Societies, and a few humanitarian women and bird-lovers. Women,
as a whole, he argued from his experiences, while they would not go so
far as openly to oppose such a measure, for fear of public comment,
would do nothing to further its passage, for in their hearts they
preferred failure to success for the legislation. They had frankly told
him so: he was not speaking from theory.
In one State after another Bok got into touch with legislators. He
counselled, in each case, a quiet passage for the measure instead of one
that would draw public attention to it.
Meanwhile, a strong initiative had come from the Audubon Societies
throughout the country, and from the National Association of Audubon
Societies, at New York. This latter society also caused to be introduced
bills of its own to the same and in various legislatures, and here Bok
had a valuable ally. It was a curious fact that the Audubon officials
encountered their strongest resistance in Bok's own State: Pennsylvania.
But Bok's personal acquaintance with legislators in his Keystone State
helped here materially.
The demand for the aigrette constantly increased and rose to hitherto
unknown figures. In one State where Bok's measure was pending before the
legislature, he heard of the coming of an unusually large shipment of
aigrettes to meet this increased demand. He wired the legislator in
charge of the measure apprising him of this fact, of what he intended to
do, and urging speed in securing the passage of the bill. Then he caused
the shipment to be seized at the dock on the ground of illegal
The importing firm at once secured an injunction restraining the
seizure. Bok replied by serving a writ setting the injunction aside. The
lawyers of the importers got busy, of course, but meanwhile the
legislator had taken advantage of a special evening session, had the
bill passed, and induced the governor to sign it, the act taking effect
This was exactly what Bok had been playing for. The aigrettes were now
useless; they could not be reshipped to another State, they could not be
offered for sale. The suit was dropped, and Bok had the satisfaction of
seeing the entire shipment, valued at $160,000, destroyed. He had not
saved the lives of the mother-birds, but, at least, he had prevented
hundreds of American women from wearing the hallmark of torture.
State after State now passed an aigrette-prohibition law until fourteen
of the principal States, including practically all the large cities,
fell into line.
Later, the National Association of Audubon Societies had introduced into
the United States Congress and passed a bill prohibiting the importation
of bird-feathers into the country, thus bringing a Federal law into
Bok had won his fight, it is true, but he derived little satisfaction
from the character of his victory. His ideal of womanhood had received a
severe jolt. Women had revealed their worst side to him, and he did not
like the picture. He had appealed to what he had been led to believe was
the most sacred instinct in a woman's nature. He received no response.
Moreover, he saw the deeper love for personal vanity and finery
absolutely dominate the mother-instinct. He was conscious that something
had toppled off its pedestal which could never be replaced.
He was aware that his mother's words, when he accepted his editorial
position, were coming terribly true: "I am sorry you are going to take
this position. It will cost you the high ideal you have always held of
your mother's sex. But a nature, as is the feminine nature, wholly
swayed inwardly by emotion, and outwardly influenced by an insatiate
love for personal adornment, will never stand the analysis you will give
He realized that he was paying a high price for his success. Such
experiences as these--and, unfortunately, they were only two of
several--were doubtless in his mind when, upon his retirement, the
newspapers clamored for his opinions of women. "No, thank you," he said
to one and all, "not a word."
He did not give his reasons.
He never will.
XXX. Cleaning Up the Patent-Medicine and Other Evils
In 1892 The Ladies' Home Journal announced that it would thereafter
accept no advertisements of patent medicines for its pages. It was a
pioneer stroke. During the following two years, seven other newspapers
and periodicals followed suit. The American people were slaves to
self-medication, and the patent-medicine makers had it all their own
way. There was little or no legal regulation as to the ingredients in
their nostrums; the mails were wide open to their circulars, and the
pages of even the most reputable periodicals welcomed their
advertisements. The patent-medicine business in the United States ran
into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The business is still
large; then it was enormous.
Into this army of deceit and spurious medicines, The Ladies' Home
Journal fired the first gun. Neither the public nor the patent-medicine
people paid much attention to the first attacks. But as they grew, and
the evidence multiplied, the public began to comment and the nostrum
makers began to get uneasy.
The magazine attacked the evil from every angle. It aroused the public
by showing the actual contents of some of their pet medicines, or the
absolute worthlessness of them. The Editor got the Women's Christian
Temperance Union into action against the periodicals for publishing
advertisements of medicines containing as high as forty per cent
alcohol. He showed that the most confidential letters written by women
with private ailments were opened by young clerks of both sexes, laughed
at and gossiped over, and that afterward their names and addresses,
which they had been told were held in the strictest confidence, were
sold to other lines of business for five cents each. He held the
religious press up to the scorn of church members for accepting
advertisements which the publishers knew and which he proved to be not
only fraudulent, but actually harmful. He called the United States Post
Office authorities to account for accepting and distributing obscene
He cut an advertisement out of a newspaper which ended with the
"Mrs. Pinkham, in her laboratory at Lynn, Massachusetts, is able to do
more for the ailing women of America than the family physician. Any
woman, therefore, is responsible for her own suffering who will not take
the trouble to write to Mrs. Pinkham for advice."
Next to this advertisement representing Mrs. Lydia Pinkham as "in her
laboratory," Bok simply placed the photograph of Mrs. Pinkham's
tombstone in Pine Grove Cemetery, at Lynn, showing that Mrs. Pinkham had
passed away twenty-two years before!
It was one of the most effective pieces of copy that the magazine used
in the campaign. It told its story with absolute simplicity, but with
The proprietors of "Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup" had strenuously
denied the presence of morphine in their preparation. Bok simply bought
a bottle of the syrup in London, where, under the English Pharmacy Act,
the authorities compelled the proprietors of the syrup to affix the
following declaration on each bottle: "This preparation, containing,
among other valuable ingredients, a small amount of morphine is, in
accordance with the Pharmacy Act, hereby labelled 'Poison!'" The
magazine published a photograph of the label, and it told its own
convincing story. It is only fair to say that the makers of this remedy
now publish their formula.
Bok now slipped a cog in his machinery. He published a list of
twenty-seven medicines, by name, and told what they contained. One
preparation, he said, contained alcohol, opium, and digitalis. He
believed he had been extremely careful in this list. He had consulted
the highest medical authorities, physicians, and chemists. But in the
instance of the one preparation referred to above he was wrong.
The analysis had been furnished by the secretary of the State Board of
Health of Massachusetts; a recognized expert, who had taken it from the
analysis of a famous German chemist. It was in nearly every standard
medical authority, and was accepted by the best medical authorities. Bok
accepted these authorities as final. Nevertheless, the analysis and the
experts were wrong. A suit for two hundred thousand dollars was brought
by the patent-medicine company against The Curtis Publishing Company,
and, of course, it was decided in favor of the former. But so strong a
public sentiment had been created against the whole business of patent
medicines by this time that the jury gave a verdict of only sixteen
thousand dollars, with costs, against the magazine.
Undaunted, Bok kept on. He now engaged Mark Sullivan, then a young
lawyer in downtown New York, induced him to give up his practice, and
bring his legal mind to bear upon the problem. It was the beginning of
Sullivan's subsequent journalistic career, and he justified Bok's
confidence in him. He exposed the testimonials to patent medicines from
senators and congressmen then so widely published, showed how they were
obtained by a journalist in Washington who made a business of it. He
charged seventy-five dollars for a senator's testimonial, forty dollars
for that of a congressman, and accepted no contract for less than five
Sullivan next exposed the disgraceful violation of the confidence of
women by these nostrum vendors in selling their most confidential
letters to any one who would buy them. Sullivan himself bought thousands
of these letters and names, and then wrote about them in the magazine.
One prominent firm indignantly denied the charge, asserting that
whatever others might have done, their names were always held sacred. In
answer to this declaration Sullivan published an advertisement of this
righteous concern offering fifty thousand of their names for sale.
Bok had now kept up the fight for over two years, and the results were
apparent on every hand. Reputable newspapers and magazines were closing
their pages to the advertisements of patent medicines; legislation was
appearing in several States; the public had been awakened to the fraud
practised upon it, and a Federal Pure Food and Drug Act was beginning to
be talked about.
Single-handed, The Ladies' Home Journal kept up the fight until Mark
Sullivan produced an unusually strong article, but too legalistic for
the magazine. He called the attention of Norman Hapgood, then editor of
Collier's Weekly, to it, who accepted it at once, and, with Bok's
permission, engaged Sullivan, who later succeeded Hapgood as editor of
Collier's. Robert J. Collier now brought Samuel Hopkins Adams to Bok's
attention and asked the latter if he should object if Collier's Weekly
joined him in his fight. The Philadelphia editor naturally welcomed the
help of the weekly, and Adams began his wonderfully effective campaign.
The weekly and the monthly now pounded away together; other periodicals
and newspapers, seeing success ahead, and desiring to be part of it and
share the glory, came into the conflict, and it was not long before so
strong a public sentiment had been created as to bring about the passage
of the United States Food and Drug Act, and the patent-medicine business
of the United States had received a blow from which it has never
recovered. To-day the pages of every newspaper and periodical of
recognized standing are closed to the advertisements of patent
medicines; the Drug Act regulates the ingredients, and post office
officials scan the literature sent through the United States mails.
There are distinct indications that the time has come once more to scan
the patent-medicine horizon carefully, but the conditions existing in
1920 are radically different from those prevailing in 1904.
One day when Bok was at luncheon with Doctor Lyman Abbott, the latter
expressed the wish that Bok would take up the subject of venereal
disease as he had the patent-medicine question.
"Not our question," answered Bok.
"It is most decidedly your question," was the reply.
Bok cherished the highest regard for Doctor Abbott's opinion and
judgment, and this positive declaration amazed him.
"Read up on the subject," counselled Doctor Abbott, "and you will find
that the evil has its direct roots in the home with the parents. You
will agree with me before you go very far that it is your question."
Bok began to read on the unsavory subject. It was exceedingly unpleasant
reading, but for two years Bok persisted, only to find that Doctor
Abbott was right. The root of the evil lay in the reticence of parents
with children as to the mystery of life; boys and girls were going out
into the world blind-folded as to any knowledge of their physical
selves; "the bloom must not be rubbed off the peach," was the belief of
thousands of parents, and the results were appalling. Bok pursued his
investigations from books direct into the "Homes of Refuge," "Doors of
Hope," and similar institutions, and unearthed a condition, the direct
results of the false modesty of parents, that was almost unbelievable.
Bok had now all his facts, but realized that for his magazine, of all
magazines, to take up this subject would be like a bolt from the blue in
tens of thousands of homes. But this very fact, the unquestioned
position of the magazine, the remarkable respect which its readers had
for it, and the confidence with which parents placed the periodical on
their home tables--all this was, after all, Bok thought, the more reason
why he should take up the matter and thresh it out. He consulted with
friends, who advised against it; his editors were all opposed to the
introduction of the unsavory subject into the magazine.
"But it isn't unsavory," argued Bok. "That is just it. We have made it
so by making it mysterious, by surrounding it with silence, by making it
a forbidden topic. It is the most beautiful story in life."
Mr. Curtis, alone, encouraged his editor. Was he sure he was right? If
he was, why not go ahead? Bok called his attention to the fact that a
heavy loss in circulation was a foregone conclusion; he could calculate
upon one hundred thousand subscribers, at least, stopping the magazine.
"It is a question of right," answered the publisher, "not of
And so, in 1906, with the subject absolutely prohibited in every
periodical and newspaper of standing, never discussed at a public
gathering save at medical meetings, Bok published his first editorial.
The readers of his magazine fairly gasped; they were dumb with
astonishment! The Ladies' Home Journal, of all magazines, to discuss
such a subject! When they had recovered from their astonishment, the
parents began to write letters, and one morning Bok was confronted with
a large waste-basket full brought in by his two office boys.
"Protests," laconically explained one of his editors. "More than that,
the majority threaten to stop their subscription unless you stop."
"All right, that proves I am right," answered Bok. "Write to each one
and say that what I have written is nothing as compared in frankness to
what is coming, and that we shall be glad to refund the unfulfilled part
of their subscriptions."
Day after day, thousands of letters came in. The next issue contained
another editorial, stronger than the first. Bok explained that he would
not tell the actual story of the beginning of life in the magazine--that
was the prerogative of the parents, and he had no notion of taking it
away from either; but that he meant to insist upon putting their duty
squarely up to them, that he realized it was a long fight, hence the
articles to come would be many and continued; and that those of his
readers who did not believe in his policy had better stop the magazine
at once. But he reminded them that no solution of any question was ever
reached by running away from it. This question had to be faced some
time, and now was as good a time as any.
Thousands of subscriptions were stopped; advertisements gave notice that
they would cancel their accounts; the greatest pressure was placed upon
Mr. Curtis to order his editor to cease, and Bok had the grim experience
of seeing his magazine, hitherto proclaimed all over the land as a model
advocate of the virtues, refused admittance into thousands of homes, and
saw his own friends tear the offending pages out of the periodical
before it was allowed to find a place on their home-tables.
But The Journal kept steadily on. Number after number contained some
article on the subject, and finally such men and women as Jane Addams,
Cardinal Gibbons, Margaret Deland, Henry van Dyke, President Eliot, the
Bishop of London, braved the public storm, came to Bok's aid, and wrote
articles for his magazine heartily backing up his lonely fight.
The public, seeing this array of distinguished opinion expressing
itself, began to wonder "whether there might not be something in what
Bok was saying, after all." At the end of eighteen months, inquiries
began to take the place of protests; and Bok knew then that the fight
was won. He employed two experts, one man and one woman, to answer the
inquiries, and he had published a series of little books, each written
by a different author on a different aspect of the question.
This series was known as The Edward Bok Books. They sold for twenty-five
cents each, without profit to either editor or publisher. The series
sold into the tens of thousands. Information was, therefore, to be had,
in authoritative form, enabling every parent to tell the story to his or
her child. Bok now insisted that every parent should do this, and
announced that he intended to keep at the subject until the parents did.
He explained that the magazine had lost about seventy-five thousand
subscribers, and that it might just as well lose some more; but that the
insistence should go on.
Slowly but surely the subject became a debatable one. Where, when Bok
began, the leading prophylactic society in New York could not secure
five speaking dates for its single lecturer during a session, it was now
put to it to find open dates for over ten speakers. Mothers' clubs,
women's clubs, and organizations of all kinds clamored for authoritative
talks; here and there a much-veiled article apologetically crept into
print, and occasionally a progressive school board or educational
institution experimented with a talk or two.
The Ladies' Home Journal published a full-page editorial declaring that
seventy of every one hundred special surgical operations on women were
directly or indirectly the result of one cause; that sixty of every one
hundred new-born blinded babies were blinded soon after birth from this
same cause; and that every man knew what this cause was!
Letters from men now began to pour in by the hundreds. With an oath on
nearly every line, they told him that their wives, daughters, sisters,
or mothers had demanded to know this cause, and that they had to tell
them. Bok answered these heated men and told them that was exactly why
the Journal had published the editorial, and that in the next issue
there would be another for those women who might have missed his first.
He insisted that the time had come when women should learn the truth,
and that, so far as it lay in his power, he intended to see that they
The tide of public opinion at last turned toward The Ladies' Home
Journal and its campaign. Women began to realize that it had a case;
that it was working for their best interests and for those of their
children, and they decided that the question might as well be faced. Bok
now felt that his part in the work was done. He had started something
well on its way; the common sense of the public must do the rest. He had
taken the question of natural life, and stripped it of its false mystery
in the minds of hundreds of thousands of young people; had started their
inquiring minds; had shown parents the way; had made a forbidden topic a
debatable subject, discussed in open gatherings, by the press, an
increasing number of books, and in schools and colleges. He dropped the
subject, only to take up one that was more or less akin to it.
That was the public drinking-cup. Here was a distinct menace that actual
examples and figures showed was spreading the most loathsome diseases
among innocent children. In 1908, he opened up the subject by ruthlessly
publishing photographs that were unpleasantly but tremendously
convincing. He had now secured the confidence of his vast public, who
listened attentively to him when he spoke on an unpleasant topic; and
having learned from experience that he would simply keep on until he got
results, his readers decided that this time they would act quickly. So
quick a result was hardly ever achieved in any campaign. Within six
months legislation all over the country was introduced or enacted
prohibiting the common drinking-cup in any public gathering-place, park,
store, or theatre, and substituting the individual paper cup. Almost
over night, the germ-laden common drinking-cup, which had so widely
spread disease, disappeared; and in a number of States, the common
towel, upon Bok's insistence, met the same fate. Within a year, one of
the worst menaces to American life had been wiped out by public
Bok was now done with health measures for a while, and determined to see
what he could do with two or three civic questions that he felt needed
XXXI. Adventures in Civics
The electric power companies at Niagara Falls were beginning to draw so
much water from above the great Horseshoe Falls as to bring into
speculation the question of how soon America's greatest scenic asset
would be a coal-pile with a thin trickle of water crawling down its vast
cliffs. Already companies had been given legal permission to utilize
one-quarter of the whole flow, and additional companies were asking for
further grants. Permission for forty per cent of the whole volume of
water had been granted. J. Horace McFarland, as President of the
American Civic Association, called Bok's attention to the matter, and
urged him to agitate it through his magazine so that restrictive
legislation might be secured.
Bok went to Washington, conferred with President Roosevelt, and found
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