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Fullerton College and the modern world were born in the same year. In 1913 the world of domination and hierarchy was giving way to a world of self-rule. Empires as old as China and Russia and as recent as Britain found their authority challenged by revolutionaries. In the United States reformers raced against revolutionaries to change the old regime so that it landed softly instead of shattering. Business and everyday life were also modernizing. Coal-fired engines shrank continents and oceans to the size of fiefdoms and ponds. Americans ate grapefruit for breakfast and banana splits for dessert and gradually forgot that those exotic fruits traveled to their tables from thousands of miles away. Naively, city dwellers embraced the arrival of autos and trucks as quieter and less-polluting than the horses and mules that had clopped along city streets for centuries. A truckload of fruit symbolized the emergence of Orange County citrus and oil as the cutting edge of early 20th-century business. To extend the profitable boom, Southern California elites built massive aqueducts to compensate for sporadic rainfall. Modernity did not just arrive in Fullerton; Fullerton was one of its origins.
American society was rapidly becoming middle-class. Large corporations needed accountants and lawyers as much as miners and line workers. State colleges and land-grant universities made higher education increasingly affordable. Local school districts, such as Fullerton’s, began offering post-secondary classes that eventually became the California community college system. Other states followed the pattern. Educated employees staffed the management ranks of Ford Motor Company and filled out crossword puzzles in their spare time. And for the first time in 1913, some of them filed federal income tax returns.
In 1913 more and more Americans expected, worked toward, and attained a comfortable life with a rich culture. That culture at times reflected the country’s confidence, but at other times reflected the country’s anxieties about modernity. Just as the Ballets Russes’s “Rite of Spring” induced a riot in Paris, New York City’s Armory show of modern paintings led Theodore Roosevelt to declare, “That’s not art!”
In 1913, Americans commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which drew more attention than the actual war the U.S. was fighting in the Philippines. The American empire stretched across the Panamanian Isthmus and the Pacific Ocean, but European imperial capitals did not yet consider Washington to be their equal. Few leaders in government or in arms foresaw the apocalyptic bloodshed of the First World War, which began one year after Fullerton College began. But that war did more to upset the status quo than any revolutionary or modern artist ever dreamed. Like others born in 1913, such as Richard Nixon and Rosa Parks, Fullerton College entered the world at the breaking point of the modern age.
The pace was picking up, the lifestyle was improving, and agriculture was making room for urban living. The world was becoming smaller.