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100 Years Ago: July 1917


This is the thirty-first entry in a series of short reviews of National Geographic Magazines as their 100th anniversary of publication is reached.



As you can see from the cover, there are four articles in this issue documented.  Unlike the previous few issues, these are the only articles in the magazine.

The first article is entitled “The Rat Pest – A National Liability”, and was written by Edward W. Nelson, Chief of the U. S. Biological Survey.  Mr. Nelson wrote the recent article “The Larger North American Mammals” and an upcoming one on smaller North American mammals.  The article is twenty-three pages long and has twenty-one black-and-white photographs, two of which are full-page.

The subtitle of the article addresses the spirit of the article by stating “The Labor of 200,000 Men in the United States Required to Support Rats, Man’s Most Destructive and Dangerous Enemy”.  The author discusses the prevalence of rats world-wide, their proclivity for reproduction, and their habits.  He then discusses the sheer number of rats killed during several local eradication campaigns, both in cities and onboard ships.

While the rat’s ability to spread disease, especially plague, is discussed, the main point of the article is to make people aware of how much foodstuff is lost to rats (and mice) each year, not only by consumption, but also through contamination of uneaten vegetables and grains.  Besides disease and food loss, property damage is an additional cost by these rats.

The steps needed to address the rat problem are the discussed and include rat-proofing buildings, proper storage of foodstuffs, as well as coordinated efforts at eradication.  These efforts will not succeed, however, if they are taken piecemeal.  This fight must be organized and backed by legislation at the local, state, and federal level.


The second article is entitled “Russia’s Man of the Hour” and has the subtitle “Alexander Kerensky’s First Speeches and Proclamations”.  It is twenty-two pages in length and has seventeen black-and-white photographs, seven of which are full-page.  The editor compares Kerensky to Napoleon and gives a brief history of the Provisional Government which Kerensky heads.

What follows is Kerensky’s addresses and proclamations, translated for the National Geographic Magazine from official copies in the offices of the Russian Embassy in Washington.  In his early speeches and proclamations, Kerensky is serving as Minister of Justice.  During that time, he seems optimistic yet realistic about the problems facing the infant democracy.  As time wore on, he seems more pessimistic about the situation.

Later, Kerensky is named Minister of War and Navy.  Several of his orders and speeches of this time are included, ending with his order to attack in a new offensive in Galicia.


Article three is titled “Letters from the Italian Front”.  It is a series of correspondences from Marchesa Louise de Rosales to Ethel Mather Bagg, with Marchesa in Italy and Ethel stateside.  The article is twenty-two pages long and has twenty-two black-and-white photos, of which six are full-page.

In her letters, Ms. De Rosales, a representative of the Surgical Dressing Committee, thanks Ms. Bagg for recently delivered medical supplies including rubber sheets and the anesthetic “novo caiene”; and highlights what is still needed.  She tours hospitals, both at the front and back in Rome.  And she discussed the battles she has witnessed, the soldiers and nurses she has met, the wounded she has cared for, and the entertainment she has organized.

The problems caused by the arctic conditions along the battle line in the Alps are described, with sentries being relieved every 15 minutes so they didn’t freeze to death.  She also tells of how she used wool socks as a bribe/reward for a rescue mission to save some snowed-in soldiers.

But mainly her news is grim: the suffering of the wounded and dying, the loss of limbs, and the burial details.  Interspersed throughout, she highlights the need for supplies, both medical and nonmedical.  And she gives antidotal examples of these items being used effectively.


The last article in this issue deals with famine.  It is entitled “Fearful Famines of the Past”, and was written by the aptly named Ralph A. Graves.  The articles subtitle reads: “History Will Repeat Itself Unless the American People Conserve Their Resources”.  It is twenty-three pages long and has eleven black-and-white photographs, of which five are full-page.  Some of these images are quite graphic.

As the title suggests, this article is a history of famines, from ancient Egypt 6,000 years ago to modern times.  After Egypt, the famines in the bible are discussed; then of Rome, Mohammedan, and on to medieval Europe.  The histories of famine in England and in France are reviewed and their links to plague and to war are discussed.  Irish famines, both old and recent are mentioned with the latter causing a large-scale migration to America.  Finally, the recent famines of India and China are documented.

Throughout this long, torturous history, it is amazing how universal the practice of cannibalism is, both by location and through time.  While it is hard to imagine people stooping to such depths, it is also hard to grasp starvation itself.  The Americas, both North and South have been spared from wide-spread famine, for the most part.  It is here where the author make his plea to produce and conserve as much food as possible to help prevent, or at least mitigate a massive famine in Europe as a result of the war.


While there are only those four articles in this issue, the Society couldn’t help adding a little bonus to this issue.  As part of the advertisements following the article, National Geographic announced the establishment of the “National Geographic Society Ward in the American Ambulance Hospital, Neuilly, Paris, France”.

The need for this twenty-bed hospital ward is discussed and the members are asked to donate what they can towards its construction and operation.  There is a form at the bottom of the page to be mailed with the donation, along with a promise of no overhead.  All the money will go to Ward, none to the Society.

As an extra bonus for this inhouse ad, the facing page has a full-page, black-and-white photograph with caption.  It depicts a ward similar to the one the Society is proposing.



Tom Wilson

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