World War I offered teenagers many opportunities to be killed, maimed, or shell shocked. The chance for heroism didn’t preclude the first two options. Jack Cornwell, a fifteen-year-old sailor, became famous by dying bravely, and eighteen-year-old pilot Alan McLeod passed away months after inhaling smoke during a heroic fight and rescue; the fumes may have weakened his lungs and made him susceptible to the influenza that killed him.
There aren’t any household names on this list, although the great violinist Jascha Heifetz may be known to some of you.
1910: MARY PHELPS JACOB, eighteen
While brassieres had existed in various forms, Jacob is often credited with creating the first modern bra in 1910. Dressing for a big night out, the New Yorker ditched her usual corset, a constrictive undergarment that extended from below the breasts to the hips, for something new. Jacob took two silk handkerchiefs, some ribbon and cord, and fashioned a lightweight undergarment far less cumbersome than a corset. Jacob soon started sewing bras for friends and family members and received a patent for her creation in 1914. ALSO: Fanny Brice, eighteen, made her Ziegfeld Follies debut, charming audiences with her comic songs and offbeat characterizations. Barbra Streisand portrayed Brice in 1968’s Funny Girl.
1911: RODRIGUEZ CARPIO, eighteen
Carpio served as a guide and supplied fourteen mules for Hiram Bingham’s famed voyage to the ancient Inca site at Machu Picchu in modern-day Peru. Machu Picchu was built late in the 15th century and abandoned a century later.
1912: JOSEPH KALLUS, seventeen
Artist Rose O’Neill originated the popular Kewpie image, but it was Kallus who sculpted the first bisque (a form of porcelain) dolls. The Borgfeldt Company of New York hired Kallus to sculpt doll images and cast the molds. ALSO: Rayna Kasabova, fifteen, became the first woman to take part in a combat air mission when she dropped propaganda leaflets over what is now Edirne, Turkey, during the First Balkan War. She was a member of the Bulgarian Air Force.
1913: HANNAH SILVERMAN, seventeen
One of the most visible figures in the 1913 silk-worker’s strike in Paterson, New Jersey, Silverman was a seventeen-year-old firebrand who endured three arrests and led more than a thousand of her cohorts on a fifteen-mile march to New York City to generate support for the worker’s cause. Industrial Workers of the World founder Bill Haywood called Silverman the “greatest little IWW woman in America,” and labor leader Helen Gurley Flynn called her “the heroine of this strike. Some 24,000 workers had walked off their jobs, shutting down three hundred silk mills, but the six-month strike ended in defeat for the workers.
1914: ERICH KORNGOLD, seventeen
The Viennese prodigy was just seventeen when he completed the one-act operas Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta in 1914; they debuted two years later at the National Theatre Munich. Mahler and Richard Strauss called young Korngold a “genius” and Puccini said, “He has so much talent that he could give half of it away and still have enough left for himself.”
1915: ÉMILIENNE MOREAU, seventeen
A great French heroine of World War I, Moreau provided key intelligence and medical aid to Scottish soldiers attempting to liberate the city of Loos from German control. No passive patriot, she tossed grenades to ward off enemy solders and shot two Germans who were advancing on her first-aid station. She received the Croix de Guerre for her heroism.
1916: JACK CORNWELL, sixteen
During the World War I Battle of Jutland, Cornwell remained at his naval post despite a shell splinter in his chest that would kill him. His ship, the HMS Chester, took seventeen hits from 150mm shells launched by German cruisers; fourteen British and eleven German ships would sink in the North Sea near Denmark. Cornwell was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the United Kingdom’s highest honor for military valor in the face of the enemy. That year the British Boy Scouts adopted the Jack Cornwell Scout Badge and elementary schools celebrated September 30 as Jack Cornwell Day.
1917: JASCHA HEIFETZ, sixteen
Called “the greatest violinist who ever lived” by Itzhak Perlman, Heifetz left mouths agape with his New York, Carnegie Hall debut. “This Russian boy is beyond all possibility of cavil a divinely inspired marvel – the supremest genius of the violin,” wrote one critic. Born in Lithuania, then a part of Russia, Heifetz became an American citizen in 1925 and traveled an estimated two million miles on concert tours. Artists, authors, and other musicians were among his most spellbound admirers. After playing a London concert at age sixteen, Heifetz received a letter from playwright George Bernard Shaw that said, “No mortal should presume to play so faultlessly.”
1918: ALAN McLEOD, eighteen
The youngest Canadian to win the Victoria Cross, McLeod was a bomber pilot who took on eight World War I German Fokker triplane fighters in northern France. He shot down three of the enemy planes and took five bullets before his plane caught fire. McLeod made a crash landing and braved a machine-gun assault while pulling his observer from the burning wreckage of the plane. He dragged his comrade to safety before collapsing from exhaustion and loss of blood. He received the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valor offered by the British and Commonwealth armed forces. Back home in Canada, the war hero contracted influenza and died in November of 1918. It’s possible that smoke inhalation during his heroic fight and rescue had weakened his lungs and made him susceptible to the disease.
1919: Dorothy Smith Cummings, sixteen
A native of Newton Centre, Massachusetts, Smith Cummings began entering archery competitions at age of nine and won the first of seven National Archery Association Women’s titles in 1919. She won again in 1921, 1922, 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1931. Smith Cummings was inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 1974.
I recently read a Wikipedia item about Marlene Bauer, a fifteen year old who was named Associated Press Athlete of the Year, Golfer of the Year, and —here’s what caught my eye — Teenager of the Year for 1949.
I’d never heard of a Teenager of the Year and I don’t know what became of the award. Doesn’t matter. The idea is a good one that can be applied retroactively. I’ll start with the first ten years of the twentieth century today, and then go ten years at a time till I get to a 2010-2016 posting.
1900: MARY MACLANE, nineteen
MacLane, from Butte, Montana, wrote “The Story of Mary MacLane,” a “full and frank” depiction of her life and beliefs that sold nearly 100,000 copies in the first month of its April 1902 publication. The author, called the “Wild Woman of Butte,” shocked many contemporaries with her radical, feminist views. The New York Times called her book the “first of the confessional diaries” in America. ALSO: Euphemia Constable, sixteen, spotted saboteurs setting a dynamite charge on the Third Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada, before the bomb blast knocked her unconscious. She would be the star witness at a trial in which three men were convicted of sabotage … Carl Breer, seventeen, built the Breer Steam Runabout at his father’s machine shop in Los Angeles.
1901: PABLO PICASSO, nineteen
Picasso already bore the mark of genius when he gave the first major exhibition of his work at a gallery in Paris. Robert Pincus wrote that by 1901, Picasso “had created drawings, paintings and sculptures that would earn him an enduring place in art history, even if he had died then and there.” Among his teenage works: Yo Picasso and The Absinthe Drinker. ALSO: Ivor Evans, fourteen, was one of five Australians awarded a prize for designing the nation’s flag.
1902: CHARLOTTE HAWKINS, nineteen
In the early days of the 20th century, most African American schools prepared students for non-academic jobs such as carpentry, printing, and farming. Hawkins’ school, the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, started with a similar curriculum but expanded to include drama, music, art, literature, and more. In one of the most repressive eras for African Americans, Hawkins Brown was deter- mined to turn out well-rounded future leaders. ALSO: Harry Lew, eighteen, became the first African-American professional basketball player when his team, the Pautucketville Athletic Club of the New England League, played Marlborough.
1903: WILL McLAUGHLIN, eighteen
Described as “a young man of eighteen summers” by ohiohistory.org, McLaughlin rushed into a burning Chicago theater and rescued more than a dozen women and children before plunging to his death. The Iroquois Theater burst into flames during a matinee attended by 1,900 people, most of them women and children. ALSO: Aida De Acosta, nineteen, became the first female to pilot a powered aircraft by herself. The Cuban American met Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviator, on a trip to France and talked him into letting her pilot one of his di- rigibles. While she soared, Santos-Dumont followed below on a bicycle.
1904: LOUIS A. BAUMANN JR., ERNESTINE ATWOOD, seventeen
Baumann and Atwood, both seventeen, were the first male and female winners of the Carnegie medal for bravery, established by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1904. Baumann plunged into a pond near Pittsburgh to save sixteen-year-old Charles Stevick. It took Baumann three tries to bring in Stevick, who was unconscious and believed dead when he reached solid ground. One month later, Atwood dived into the ocean south of Boston to retrieve thirty-six-year-old Harry M. Smith, who had exhausted himself and sunk while trying to swim to a fifty-foot ocean float. ALSO: Ben Sands, thirteen, discovered the Lost Sea in Tennessee, one of the world’s largest underground lakes.
1905: AMANDA CLEMENT, seventeen
Some say Clement became baseball’s first female umpire at age sixteen in 1904; others say she debuted a year later. Stationed behind the pitcher, the usual placement for an ump in her day, she worked as many as sixty games a season for six years in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, earning $15 to $25 per game. “She demanded the players’ respect,” her nephew E.F. Clement told Sports Illustrated in 1971. “If they didn’t like it, out they went.”
1906: WILLIE HOPPE, eighteen
Hoppe (pronounced “hoppy”), upset the “Lion of France” to win the first of his 51 billiards world championships in 1906. Staging what the Associated Press in 1941 called “one of the most surprising sports upsets of the era,” he defeated Maurice Vignaux, aka “Lion of France,” at the 18.2 balkline billiards championship in Paris.
1907: PAULINE NEWMAN, sixteen
Described as a “frail-looking little woman” by The New York Times, Newman organized a successful New York City rent strike in 1907. She sought a reduction of eighteen to twenty percent in rents due to a depression that had thrust more than 100,000 people out of work. After fifteen days, the strike ended with 2,000 families receiving lowered rents. ALSO: Cromwell Dixon, fifteen, built and flew what he called a “skycycle” in 1907. His creation allowed the rider to pedal through the air — with the help of an enormous gasbag. Cromwell publicly debuted his skycycle on his fifteenth birthday. A crowd of 20,000 watched him ascend the city of St. Louis and take off during the International Balloon Race of 1907. He landed eight miles away in Illinois.
1908: ALTA WEISS, eighteen
Called the “Girl Wonder” in newspapers, Weiss pitched for a Cleveland-based barn-storming team called the Weiss All-Stars that compiled a 21-19-1 record in 1908. While the male players wore white uniforms, Weiss wore black. She played baseball while studying medicine, graduating from the Starling-Ohio Medical School in 1914.
1909: GORDON ENGLAND. eighteen
England in 1909 flew a glider named Olive at a height of one hundred feet in what is the first recorded soaring flight. He later won renown as an airplane engineer and designer as well as a race car designer.