The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What was New Year’s Day front-page news 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago?

Princess Xenia’s 1923 arrival, a D.C. centenarian’s 1948 birthday, a Redskins 1973 victory and a Kennedy’s 1998 death made headlines

The Washington Post front page on Jan. 1, 1973.
3 min

The New Year is a time for taking stock — for newspapers as much as for out-of-shape Americans resolving to do better. Front pages from New Year’s Day serve as a sort of time capsule, capturing the country’s psyche as it looks forward and backward.

So what was on the United States’ collective mind as it rang in the New Year in decades past? Let’s take a look at what The Washington Post put on its front page.

A century ago — when a photo-free A1 was far more cluttered with text than today — the news was all over the place. Some of it was serious and geopolitical: an ongoing war in Turkey, the economic effects of the Panama Canal, the continuing debate over World War I reparations. Some was dramatic: a congressional debate in Mexico that nearly turned violent, with pistols drawn and duels proposed.

And some, as was typical of the era, captured high society. Under the headline “Princess Xenia Decides She Will Like America,” the paper reported that Princess Xenia Georgievna of Russia and her husband, the American tin scion William B. Leeds Jr., had arrived in New York and intended to have a good time.

Meanwhile, it was a day of setbacks for the Ku Klux Klan, which was banned in France and whose endorsed candidate lost the Houston mayor’s race.

In 1948, The Post’s front page marked the start of a new year by celebrating the beginning of a new century for a local centenarian, Martha Bennett of D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood. The coverage included the front page’s sole photo, a sign of the paper’s gradual visual evolution over the previous 25 years. But much of the other top news was political (a federal court ruling against a law giving D.C. residents legal equality with residents of states, President Harry S. Truman’s feelings about a third-party challenge) and agricultural (privacy for traders in commodities markets, a federal investigation into local milk producers).

Fifty years ago, in 1973, the editors were feeling particularly cheerful, splashing a banner headline across the front page celebrating the Washington Redskins’ New Year’s Eve win that sent them to the upcoming Super Bowl. (The team, now known as the Washington Commanders, would lose to the Miami Dolphins.) Beneath that top story was the news of a halt to some bombings in Vietnam, division over school busing in Prince George’s County and the story of a local man killed fighting a purse snatcher.

A quarter-century ago, in 1998, the paper’s focus had turned even more local, amid a difficult time for the District. The city had shed more than 10,000 residents the previous year, the top story reported, taking the population to its lowest level since the Great Depression (and more than 20 percent below today’s count). Meanwhile, Mayor Marion Barry was mulling a bid for a fifth term, after he’d spent time in prison on drug charges, made a comeback and then seen the federal government take away much of the city’s governing autonomy as its finances crumbled. (He ultimately decided against running.)

But there was national news, too. The paper reported the death of 39-year-old Michael Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, in a skiing accident. And in a headline whose significance would baffle most readers today, it announced a judge’s ruling allowing regional Bell companies into the long-distance telephone market. “This is huge,” an industry analyst told the paper. Happy new year to the temporary titans of telecommunications.