America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXII
THE NEW LEISURE

DURING THE YEARS OF PROSPERITY THAT ENDED SO ABRUPTLY with the collapse of the stock market in the fall of 1929, faint voices might be heard asking where the dominance of the movies, the ballyhoo of sports, the successive crazes for so many other amusements, were leading the American people. The depression of the 1930's brought this question home with a new intensity. The further increase in leisure for the great majority of workers, caused partly by economic circumstance and partly by governmental action, suddenly awoke the country to the change that had come over old ideas on the relationship between work and play. We were fully launched on what James A. Garfield half a century earlier had said was the second great struggle of civilization -- "What shall we do with our leisure when we get it?"

For three centuries the American tradition had placed an emphasis on work which made it the chief purpose of existence. "Business to the American," an Englishman could write even in the 1920's, "is life's great adventure; it is sport, work, pleasure, beauty and patriotism rolled into one."1 Puritanism had imposed a religious sanction on this concept. Idleness could have no place in a world where labor was the greatest good. But with the depression the revolutionary transformation wrought by the machine could no longer be ignored. It had not only made leisure possible for the mass of people, but had imposed it upon them whether they wanted it or not. Boon or Pandora's box of new evils, there could be no escaping it. And since it was not in our nature to accept it easily, gratefully ("Pleasure does make us Yankees kind o' winch"), we examined it with some foreboding

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America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940
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