If you've never used microfilm, let me tell you, it can be a dismal pursuit. The glare of the screen, especially in sharp contrast to the surroundings of an older library, has temporarily blinded many historians! My beginning efforts were rewarded by finding documentation of the exact date the library opened, the names of its early librarians, and the titles of some of the first books on its shelves. But by the 1920s, I was sighing audibly with each turn of the reel. It seemed that after CFL established its own board of trustees and folded its fundraising efforts into Clarion's yearly Community Chest campaign (the forerunner of the United Way), the Women's Club didn't take as much of an interest in the library. After World War I, news articles about Women's Club activities scarcely mentioned CFL. Whereas the 1910s yielded several juicy pieces per month, by the 1920s I was slogging through three months' of issues (sometimes more) without finding a single tidbit.
So I couldn't help but be distracted by other stories that appeared in the paper. Clarion city and county certainly were vibrant communities at the time. Located near the Allegheny National Forest as well as significant gas and oil fields, the area had active lumber and drilling industries at one time. Agriculture was an important sector in the local economy, too. Although enrollment rose and fell from one year to another, Clarion Normal School (now Clarion University) added to the diversity of interests in town as well. This is not to say that everyone would have felt eager to live in Clarion at the time, however. Alongside "booster" perspectives, I found several disquieting articles and advertisements for the Ku Klux Klan, which may have had a substantial presence. According to scholar Philip Jenkins, more than 200,000 Pennsylvanians of all were members of the Klan during the 1920s.
|Ad for the KKK, Clarion Republican, |
August 19, 1926.
Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries are my favorite periods of American material cultural history, I also enjoyed the growing number and sophistication of advertisements in the newspaper. In the early 20th century, the Clarion Republican grew from 8 to 12 pages, much of it ads. In the 1920s, it published annual special issues on automobiles and radios, informing its readers of the latest models and features. It appears that Clarion residents had access to a plethora of new machines and products, including telephones, electric refrigerators, stoves, and washing machines, ready-made women's clothing, and bottles of soda pop. I was thrilled to find large ads for Crush soda, one of my favorite drinks. Its assertion of the beverage's "real food value" is quite funny when read with today's knowledge about diabetes, obesity, and other diet-related ailments. Mothers, were told that the American Medical Association endorsed the syrupy beverage and that they could give their children as much Crush as they liked "for it is good for them."
|Ad for Crush soda, Clarion Republican, |
March 18, 1926.
Our communities, at least sometimes, have different priorities than we do. Are we OK with that? Should we be?