Tag Archives: Household Puzzles

A Diet of Doughnuts

26 Jan

One of the interesting things about reading Isabella’s books is the window they give us into how people lived between 1870 and 1920. From fashion to modes of travel, Isabella’s stories chronicle how different her daily life was from our modern lives today.

Donuts-Crisco ad 1915

One noted difference is how people ate around the turn of the 20th Century. Back then meat, vegetables and potatoes were diet staples; and when one of those ingredients was lacking, people relied on affordable food, like johnny-cakes, to fill their stomachs. Sally Lunn cakes helped celebrate special occasions; but of all the foods that Isabella mentioned in her books, it was the humble doughnut that appeared on the menu most often.

Donut lard ad-Boston Cooking School Magazine 1913

Because they were small and easily transported, children took doughnuts to school for their noon meal. When Wayne Pierson took the job of teacher in a small town in By Way of the Wilderness, he toured the school-house and found it somewhat lacking:

He had taken in each dismal detail—the air of desolation, the hacked desks, the smoky walls, the grimy windows, and the indescribable odor adhering to an old schoolroom: odors made up of generations of lunches—bread-and-butter, and headcheese, pie, and doughnuts.

Donuts 1916 Crisco ad

And in A New Graft on the Family Tree, a kind farmer’s wife fed wandering John Morgan breakfast, then gave him a pocket-full of doughnuts to take along on his journey.

Dusted with sugar, doughnuts were also served as a dessert.

Scott Towels ad 1915

 

In Christie’s Christmas, a generous farm family fed the passengers on the nearby stalled train with:

Bread and butter, piles of it; a soup-plate piled high with slices of ham, thin, and done to a crisp, and smelling, oh, so appetizing! Sheets of gingerbread, great squares of cheese, a bowl of doughnuts, another bowl of quince sauce, and a pail full of milk.

Ad 1919

And in David Ransom’s Watch, Hannah Sterns served the neighborhood boys’ literary club “doughnuts, or cookies, or seed cakes, or the ever popular tea-cakes. Scarcely a meeting of the club that winter but some dainty was offered in Harlan’s name in the way of refreshment.”

At Ermina’s wedding in Household Puzzles, the family couldn’t afford to serve cake, but they had doughnuts and “delicious coffee to drink with them.”

Donut making illustration Good Housekeeping Jan 1907

Today we think of doughnuts as a breakfast food for the most part, but in Isabella’s time, doughnuts—from humble and plain to cake-like confections—were served with almost any meal.

You can read previous posts about other food items mentioned in Isabella’s books:

Delicious Johnny-cakes
Sally Lunn at Mount Vernon

Delicious Johnny-Cakes

11 Jun

Johnny-cake was a staple on the menu of almost every meal prepared in an Isabella Alden novel. That’s because johnny-cakes were inexpensive to make and they were filling and satisfying. They were much like pancakes, but were made with corn meal instead of flour. The basic recipe was simple:

To a quart of Indian meal (corn meal) add a teaspoon of salt, a tablespoonful of sugar. Sift, scald with boiling water so as to make a very thick mush. Let it cool a little, then thin with milk so it will drop from a spoon. Have a griddle hot and well greased, and drop a spoonful of the batter for each cake. When brown, turn and brown the other side.

Johnny-cakes were usually served hot with butter or honey.

Ad Ladies Home Journal March 1919 ed 01

In Household Puzzles, Maria Randolph could make a delicious creamy johnny-cake that was so good that after eating them, “the comfort of the Randolph family reached a height unknown for weeks.”

In Mara, easy-going Gertrude was so placid about planning her wedding, her mother accused her of being willing to be “married in her old brown serge, and to have johnny-cake and warmed-up potatoes for refreshments.”

Frying griddle cakes ad 1919 ed

And when Mrs. Adams decided to earn a bit of extra money by keeping house for the Ward family in The Hall in the Grove, she had to put together a quick dinner for the family:

It was just the simplest of dinners: a dish of baked potatoes, a platter of beefsteak, a plate of butter, a plate of steaming johnny-cake, and a pot of tea. No pickles, or fruits, or relishes of any sort.

There were probably as many variations of johnny-cake as there were cooks. Some cooks fried them in bacon grease instead of lard, which gave them an attractive gold color and added flavor.

Ad Ladies Home Journal March 1919 ed 02

Adding an egg or two, sour cream or buttermilk made johnny-cakes light and fluffy.

Instead of frying, some cooks baked johnny-cake in the oven in a large pan, which they cut after baking into several servings.

In warm months when fruit was plentiful, cooks added applesauce or bits of apple, sliced strawberries, stewed pumpkin or peach preserves to their batter for a special treat.


Click here to read more about Isabella Alden’s books mentioned in this post.

Lady Entrepreneurs

25 Mar

Woman in BonnetThe heroine in an Isabella Alden book was a strong woman. She may not have known how strong she really was; but when trouble struck, it was the heroine of the story who stepped up and took action in order to save the family.

That’s what Claire Benedict did in Interrupted. She bravely took on the responsibility of supporting her mother and sister by taking a job as a music teacher in a far-away city.

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Ad in The Daily Pioneer, Bermidji, MN, December 4, 1903

Ad in The Daily Pioneer, Bermidji, MN, December 4, 1903

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In Four Mothers at Chautauqua, Isabel Bradford also decided to teach. She opened a School of Expression where she taught physical exercise techniques and grace of movement to women in New York City.

Borax ad 1915 cleaning laces

And in Pauline, Constance Curtiss supported herself (after rashly running away from her husband) by offering a variety of homemaking services, from laundering cuffs and collars to canning fruits and vegetables for busy housewives.

At the time Isabella’s books were written, women, as a rule, weren’t trained to take their place in the business world. They couldn’t vote and in many states they couldn’t own property. It was unusual for a woman to own her own business and even more unusual for her business to  succeed.

Buffalo NY Courier 1892

A news item in an 1892 edition of the Buffalo Courier, expressing surprise that a woman could 1) own a business, and 2) be successful at it

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Starting a business that involved working in other people’s homes—as Constance Curtiss did—or opening an exercise studio—which was Isabel Bradford’s plan—may have been viable for some women; but for a few Alden heroines, working outside the home posed a problem. For starters, opening a shop or renting studio space required investment capital, as this ad in a 1908 edition of The Delineator magazine shows:

The Delineator ad Jan 1903

In other instances the heroines lacked marketable skills or they had unique family responsibilities that demanded they remain at home.

That was the case with Joy Saunders in Workers Together. Her very protective mother didn’t want to see her lovely daughter toil for wages out in the world; but with hard work and clever management, Joy and her mother ran a flourishing boarding house.

In Household Puzzles and its sequel, The Randolphs, Maria Randolph supported her entire family by running a laundry business out of her kitchen.

1864 ad for a clothes wringer

1864 ad for a clothes wringer

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Constance Stuart did laundry, too. In the book Pauline, Constance specialized in laundering women’s delicate lace collars and cuffs, and she had a knack for laundering worn curtains and old linens so they looked almost brand new.

Illustration of Ladies' Collar and Cuff. From Myra's Threepenny Journal, March 1882

Illustration of a ladies’ collar and cuff. From Myra’s Threepenny Journal, March 1882

 

And in Her Associate Members, Mrs. Carpenter earned a living by ironing other peoples’ clothes in her sparse little kitchen.

Sad Irons

Doing laundry and ironing as a way to earn money was fairly common for women in Isabella Alden’s time. That’s because doing the laundry was such time-consuming work, even for small families, that homemakers across the country struggled to accomplish the task on their own. Modern conveniences, like wringers and ironing machines did little to ease the load.

Trade card from the 1880s

Trade card from the 1880s

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“Monday is the washing day of all good housekeepers,” declared The Household, A Cyclopaedia of Practical Hints for Modern Homes. This book, published in 1886, promised to make washing day easier by setting out step-by-step instructions for accomplishing every phase of the task: from making starch to eradicating fruit stains and bleaching white goods.

The Household pg 229 ed

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The volume of laundry to be done was often staggering. In Victorian-age America people wore layers of clothing, beginning with long drawers and undershirts for men; corset covers, chemises, drawers and petticoats for women. Often these items were made of wool, which made them extremely heavy once they were wet.

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1882 magazine ad showing the detail and trimmings on underclothing. Click on the image to see a larger version.

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Over these layers they wore shirts and shirtwaists, trousers and skirts, jackets and coats. Collars and cuffs gave the finishing touch to every outfit, but because collars and cuffs were easily soiled, they were changed a minimum of two or three times a day. Collars and cuffs also required the most care and skill in laundering.

An 1882 ladies' magazine Illustration

Illustration of a ladies’ collar in an 1882 fashion magazine.

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Men’s collars and cuffs were heavily starched until they could stand on their own. This paragraph from The Household instructed homemakers on how to make and apply the starch:

The Household starch ed

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With such heavy starch, the best laundresses knew that men’s collars and cuffs had to be ironed over a rounded form; otherwise, if ironed flat, they were likely to crack when they were fitted around the throat or wrist.

A 1905 Street Car advertisement

A 1905 Street Car advertisement

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Women’s collars and cuffs were just as challenging to launder and finish. Fluted fabric was a popular detail in ladies’ fashion, and it was difficult to keep the flutes crisp and well-shaped after washing.

A Chemisette with Lace and Fluting, ca. 1882

Illustration of a Chemisette with lace and fluting, from a 1882 ladies’ magazine.

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Laces were easily scorched if an iron was too hot and they were just as easily discolored if they were pressed with an iron that wasn’t perfectly clean.

An 1882 illustration of a linen and lace collar

An 1882 illustration of a linen and lace collar

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With so much preparation required and a good deal of heavy lifting, it usually took two women working all day to get the laundry done in an average household. And if the lady of the house didn’t have a family member or neighbor to help her, she often hired a portion of the work out.

Borax ad 1915

But finding a good laundress was a challenge. Isabella Alden commented on that fact in The Randolphs:

While the world seems to be full of people who are willing to teach our children to strum on the piano, to draw impossible-looking trees and people, to jabber in a dozen different tongues, the lamentable fact remains that in every town and city it is really a difficult matter to get one’s collars and cuffs starched and ironed decently without paying a fabulous price for it.

Ironing-Three Ladies

The need for an extra pair of hands on laundry day opened the door for talented and hard-working women like Constance and Maria to earn a living.

To promote her new business, Constance Curtiss washed and mended the curtains that were “just falling to pieces before our eyes” in her landlady’s house, much to the landlady’s amazement:

“The girl darned them and washed them and rinsed them in starch water and stretched them till they looked as though I had put my hand in my pocket and paid for them out of the store, as I expected to. She does beat all!”

The landlady was so impressed she told her friends and neighbors of Constance’s skill. In very short order, Constance had more work than she could handle and had to write polite notes every evening to decline any new engagements.

Ironing

In Household Puzzles, Maria Randolph started her laundry business after her brother Tom told her that his co-workers admired his clothes:

Tom needed assistance in the matter of a button and was glad to find Maria at liberty for a minute to sew it on. During the operation he laughed outright at his own thoughts, and then proceeded to explain.

“One of my brother drivers came to me last night for a confidential chat. I wish you could have seen his puzzled and important face. He is that Jerry that you think is so good-natured. What do you think he wanted?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. This button has split in two, Tom.”

“Well, here’s another. I couldn’t imagine what he was coming at. He called me aside and looked so important. He begged my pardon for troubling me—they are all remarkably polite to me—and he said that four or five of them had been having a time with their washerwoman because she didn’t use starch enough. They’re wonderfully particular fellows on Sunday. She ironed in wrinkles, too, he said; and then, after considerable stammering, he managed to get out that a number of them had been talking over the immaculateness of my linen, and had decided to get me to negotiate with my washerwoman, whoever she was, to see if she would do their work. The poor fellow was utterly crestfallen when I told him that my laundress was my sister.”

Industrious Maria saw an opportunity to earn money to pay for the medicine and medical care her father needed.

So she washed and ironed for the street-car drivers exactly as she had planned to do. They had few clothes to spare for the wash, but it must have been a delight to them to see the smoothness and whiteness of those few. Maria took great pains with them for two reasons: one, because she liked to hear Tom tell of their exclamations of delight, and the other, that she had a habit of doing well what she did at all. This new way of earning money was very helpful, and added not a little to the comfort of the invalid who was slipping away from them in such a quiet fashion. Sometimes it took all her resolution and a fond remembrance of how much her father enjoyed the oranges and strawberries to keep her heart in the work.

Doing a family’s laundry alone was a strenuous task and in Maria Randolph’s case, the hard, physical labor of the work took a toll on her health. But the work also had its rewards.

As Maria had a great deal of pride of execution, and an indomitable determination, and a secret plan to make herself and her father independent thereby, she worked with a will.

Before long, Maria’s business expanded enough so she could hire several “hard-working girls who were glad to be taught that which she had worked out by her own wits and the help of her eyes when she visited certain famous laundries.”

A 1910 Laundry Class for Girls

A 1910 laundry class for girls

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As part of their laundry duties, Maria probably taught her employees the proper way to fold clothes for customers. These plates from a laundry manual published in 1900 illustrate the correct procedure for folding drawers, shirts, and night clothes:

Laundry Manual 1900 Plate No 3

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Laundry Manual 1900 Plate No 6

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Laundry Manual 1900 Plate No 2

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And though her family and friends were appalled when Maria decided to advertise her business, she was proud to hang a small sign outside her home, “tacked in a conspicuous spot, and the letters on it were unmistakably clear and plain:

Marias Sign 2


 

Would you like to know more about sad irons and how they were used? Click here to view an article at Collectors Weekly.

Read our previous post about The School of Expression that inspired Isabel Bradford in Four Mothers at Chautauqua.

Click here or return find out more about Isabella’s Books mentioned in this post.

This Woman’s Work

17 Mar

Many of the women in Isabella Alden’s books had to earn a living to support themselves or their families. That was the case with Maria Randolph in Household Puzzles, who took in laundry so she could buy medicine for her father and pay the family’s bills.

Women in Sewing Factory

And in Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant, Mrs. Bryant supported her children by sewing late into the night, when she wasn’t working long hours at the local canning factory.

Women working at the Endicott Johnson tanning factory

Women working at the Endicott Johnson tanning factory in New York

 

Earning a living wage wasn’t an easy thing for women to do in the years between 1880 and 1920. Competition for jobs was fierce, as more and more women entered the job market and took over low-paying, repetitive jobs that men once held—and they earned considerably less than men did for performing the same work.

Women working at the Anheuser Busch Bottling Company

Women performing manual labor at the Anheuser Busch Bottling Company

 

The majority of jobs open to women were manual factory work and service employment. Both were physically demanding. If a woman was lucky enough to find a position, she could count on working long hours in often poor conditions.

New York hat makers, 1907

New York hat makers, 1907

 

In factories there were few breaks in the long work day. Employers commonly boarded up windows to keep employees from being distracted; and they blocked doors to discourage workers from leaving their posts before the workday was done.

Seamstresses at Eaton's Department Store, Toronto

Seamstresses at Eaton’s Department Store, Toronto

 

Those were some of the conditions that lead to one of the worst work-place disasters in American history: the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist fire. A New York clothing manufacturer, The Triangle Waist Company, locked its workers inside their assigned work areas so they couldn’t leave. Most of the workers were young women and girls as young as fourteen.  When a fire broke out, their only means of evacuation was a dilapidated fire escape that collapsed under the weight of the first few workers who scrambled to safety.

Click on the image to view a pdf of the full page.

Click on the image to view a pdf of the full page.

 

The fire took a horrific toll: 147 people burned to death or died as a result of jumping or falling from the upper floors of the burning building.

Work in private service had its own set of challenges. Women worked long hours as house maids, cooks, and charwomen (women who clean other women’s houses).

Cooks in the kitchen of a private home.

Cooks in the kitchen of a private home.

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The work was physically demanding and they were often treated poorly. Isabella Alden gave an example of such treatment in her book, Pauline. In the story, Constance Curtiss had to fight off the unwanted advances of her employer’s eldest son because he thought a working woman wasn’t due the same level of courtesty as a lady who was his social equal:

Maid3She had always taken the position that no self-respecting young woman need fear being treated other than respectfully by men; that girls probably had themselves to thank for carelessness when any man attempted familiarity. Yet the only excuse that she had given Mr. Emerson was the fact that she had chosen to make herself useful, on occasion, in his mother’s kitchen, and accept payment in money. This, it seemed, not only shut her out from Mrs. Emerson’s parlor as a caller, which she had expected, but made the son feel privileged to call her “Ellen” and treat her with a familiarity that could have been justified only by long and intimate acquaintance. She felt that such a state of things was a disgrace to American civilization.

For a woman who was lucky enough—and had the financial means—to afford an education, she could go to school and be trained to work in a more skilled capacity as a teacher or nurse.

Newspaper ad for a New York nursing school

Newspaper ad for a New York nursing school

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Summer residents at Chautauqua Institution could take advantage of courses in stenography, teaching and library science—training that opened up new job opportunities for women. (Click here to read more about courses at Chautauqua Institution.)

Jobs_Teacher

But that kind of training cost money. Women who had to support themselves and their families often took whatever work they could get, leaving them at the mercy of their employers’ whims and wage structures.

As Constance Curtiss discovered in Pauline, she had to put up with long hours and some embarrassing mistreatment if she wanted to keep her job.

She meant to be brave and true, and to demonstrate that the religion of Jesus Christ was of sufficient strength to bear any weight; but in order to do this she need not accept the attentions and take pleasure in the scenes that other women of her age would naturally accept and enjoy. God did not ask this of her; she was thankful that she felt sure of it. How, then, was she to ward off such attention?

On her knees that night she gave herself solemnly to the work; and the sense of humiliation that Henry Emerson’s treatment of her had induced, passed. It had come to her that she might in this way have been permitted a glimpse of his true character for a purpose.

Constance’s prayers were answered. With patience and God’s help, she found a solution to the dilemma of her employer’s son, and in the process, she became God’s agent in saving a young soul.

Next week’s post: Lady Entrepreneurs in Isabella’s Books


 

Want to learn more about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire? This brief video from CBS marked the 100 year anniversary of the tragedy:

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And this documentary video provides a more comprehensive look at the fire and its aftermath:

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Click on the book covers to read more about Isabella’s books mentioned in this post.

Cover_Pauline    Cover_Household Puzzles and The Randolphs    Cover_Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant

Helen’s Alexandre Gloves

28 Oct

Helen Randolph loved the finer things in life. She measured almost every important life event—from her mother’s funeral, to the eligibility of the suitors who courted her—by the cost of the clothes she wore at the time. Throughout the book Household Puzzles, Helen’s material-girl-grade spending habits played a major part in her family’s descent into poverty.

For example, at her mother’s funeral, Helen’s eye for fashion detail required that she and her sisters dress in a way that was “very neat and plain and appropriate.” Isabella Alden believed that to be very neat and plain and appropriate at funerals means to pay somebody a good deal of money. She wrote that Helen and her three sisters “were shrouded in long crape veils, and about the details of their dress everything was appropriate also, from the perfect-fitting Alexandre kids to the wide black bordered cambric handkerchiefs.”

Advertisement for Traver Kid Gloves

The only problem was the family couldn’t afford the veils or the gloves. Helen’s insistence that they buy the items on credit anyway—knowing they could never repay the debt—reveals a lot about her character. And the fact that Helen got her way also shows the weakness of her family in standing up to her, because, in the end, Helen and her sisters wore the Alexandre Kid Gloves.

Panels of a folding trade card for Foster’s Kid Gloves

Alexandre Kid Gloves were no ordinary gloves. They were manufactured in the Grenoble region of France, an area that was home to the world’s finest glove-makers. Yet above all its competition, Alexandre Kid Gloves enjoyed a reputation for exceptional quality and fit.

Alexandre Kid Gloves ad

Alexandre kids were celebrated as the finest French-made gloves available, and they were hard to come by. In the late eighteenth century, only one American importing firm had exclusive rights to sell Alexandre gloves in America, which added to the merchandise’s cache.

Lady’s beaded Alexandre gloves, circa 1890

By nineteenth century standards, Alexandre gloves were quite expensive. While the average pair of American-made ladies’ kid gloves cost about $1.00 (as illustrated by this retailer’s price list), Alexandre gloves cost three or four times that amount.

Glove retailer’s price card. The number of buttons (2-button, 4-button, 6-button, etc.) denoted the length of the glove.

At the time Household Puzzles was published in 1875, the average urban family income was about $700 a year (or $58 a month); of that amount, two-thirds was spent on food and heating, leaving just $19 a month for housing, clothing, medical care, entertainment, and saving for old age.

The Randolph family’s income was far below that of the average family. Yet Helen schemed and planned in order to buy the gloves. She even reasoned that if three pairs of American-made gloves cost $6.75, it was still a better deal to buy one pair of Alexandre gloves for $3.75. It just made sense to her.

She may have learned about the cost of Alexandre gloves from her suitor, Horace Munroe, who was a merchant of “highly cultivated taste” who stocked gloves and ribbons and merinos and muslins in endless variety.

Horace himself wore Alexandre kids, “of a pale stone color” on the day he proposed marriage to Helen. Colored gloves were quite fashionable (except for evening wear). Fashion magazines like The Delineator, Metropolitan, The Muncy, and Holland’s kept ladies and gentlemen abreast of the newest colors and styles of gloves to be worn in the coming months.

Gloves weren’t just an accessory for men and women; they were essential articles of clothing. Ladies never left their homes during the day without their gloves. They wore them constantly while in public and didn’t remove them until they returned to the privacy of their own homes. Even while drinking tea or eating a meal, ladies kept their gloves on; they simply unfastened some buttons at their wrists in order to slip the fingers of their gloves off.

Drinking tea while wearing gloves.

Gloves were also essential for evening and at the end of the nineteenth century, white kids were absolutely required for evening occasions for both men and women.

Gloved young ladies enjoying a performance in George Elgar Hicks’ painting, “Fair Critics,” 1886

It’s not surprising, then, that white kid-skin gloves were often bought by the dozens, rather than by the individual pair, in order to ensure a supply of clean and pristine gloves for all occasions. With those quantities in mind, only wealthy individuals could afford to wear exceptional glove brands on a daily basis.

Many style-conscious women tried to pass their American-made kid gloves off as French-made Alexandres. And some unscrupulous retailers marketed lesser-quality kid gloves using the name “Alexandre.”

Advertisement from The Milwaukee Journal, December 1890

In fact, the exclusive importer for Alexandre gloves (A. T. Stewart) was constantly battling look-alike and knock-off merchandisers; and on several occasions, took out ads warning the public about imposters:

Notice published in The Roundtable Magazine, Nov. 30, 1867

All Alexandre merchandise was marked with the company’s distinctive logo. On gloves, the mark was stamped on the inside of the glove near the wrist:


Gentlemen and ladies who owned Alexandre gloves took care to ensure the label was visible when they unfastened their gloves at the wrist. And if the weather allowed, some women were known to carry one of their Alexandre gloves (in a way that the brand logo was visible, of course) while hiding their gloveless hand in a muff.

In the end, Helen got her pair of Alexandre Kid Gloves and she accepted Horace’s marriage proposal; but whether she found happiness with either remained to be seen.

 

Tidies in Every Home

21 Oct

An essential accessory in every well-managed home in the late 19th Century was the tidy. A tidy was a piece of cloth used to protect furniture. Tidies were draped over the backs of chairs or placed on the flat tops of tables, dressers, or chests of drawers.

Tassled tidy in a Victorian sitting room

Today we’d call them doilies or antimacassars. Depending on the household and a family’s means, tidies could be very simple and plain or elaborately decorated creations of silk, velvet, or other costly materials.

1890 photo of a Scottish sitting room with a tidy draped over pillow on the front center chair

Tidies weren’t just decorative; they served a very useful purpose. Without tidies, upholstered furniture would have been ruined at an alarming rate by the grooming products people used.

Image of Ayers Hair Vigor trade card with young woman

At the time, men, women and children used hair dressings of various kinds on a daily basis. Unfortunately, hygiene habits were different then and people didn’t wash the dressings from their hair with the same frequency. Housekeepers draped tidies over the backs of chairs and sofas to keep all that hair oil and cream from rubbing off on the furniture.

Like today, there were hair products for every need. For ladies, Ayers Hair Vigor offered delicately perfumed hair dressings.

 

Front side of an Ayers Hair Vigor trade card     Back of the trade card detailing manufacturer's claims

Rowlands’ Macassar Oil (from which we get the word, antimacassar) advertised its product as a pure oil that prevented grey hair.

Macasar Oil ad 1895

There was Mellier’s Hair Dressing, made with quinine, which the manufacturer claimed relieved dandruff, itching or irritated scalp.

Melliers Hair Dressing with quinine

There were even hair products that claimed to cure baldness, such as Barry’s Tricopherous preparation, which guaranteed that it would restore hair to bald heads.

    

And Halls Hair Renewer also promised to “stimulate hair growth,” as well as cleanse and beautify hair.

    

Perhaps one of the most popular products was Seven Sutherland Sisters’ Hair Grower, which hit the market in 1883. The product was named for the seven daughters of the Sutherland family, who bottled a foul-smelling concoction developed by their mother, which they claimed gave them healthy hair that reached almost to the floor.

Seven Sutherland Sisters advertising card

The Sutherland sisters used their own images to advertise their hair grower and toured the country promoting their product.

Photo of Victoria Sutherland

With so much hair dressing in use, efficient housekeepers relied on tidies to protect their furniture from staining and damage. Tidies had to be laundered and changed frequently, and women kept a good stock of them in the house at all times.

Tidy from Godeys Ladys Book 1880

Tidy pattern from Godey’s Lady’s Book 1880

Instructions for making tidies filled the pages of women’s magazines and manuals. Whether crocheted, embroidered, or adorned with ribbons and lace, new designs were as varied as they were plentiful.

In many of Isabella Alden’s books, the heroines engaged in sewing tidies for their homes. They also made tidies to give as gifts or sell in order to raise funds for the church or to support missions.

 

Tidy pattern from Peterson’s Magazine, June 1888

In Household Puzzles, Carrie Hartley crocheted a tidy, “a pretty thing of wreaths and leaves.”

“Isn’t it lovely?” she said, holding it up to view. “I am perfectly wild over fancy work.”

And in A New Graft on the Family Tree, Louise received so many new tidies as wedding gifts, her sister Estelle didn’t think she could ever use them all. By Christmas, however, Louise had made use of a good number of the tidies:

Perhaps no one little thing contributed to the holiday air which the room had taken on more than did the tidies of bright wools and clear white, over which Estelle had wondered when they were being packed.

Louise thought of her and smiled, and wished she could have had a glimpse of them as they adorned the two rounding pillow-like ends of the sofa, hung in graceful folds from the small table that held the blossoming pinks, adorned the back and cushioned seat and arms of the wooden rocking-chair in the fireplace corner, and even lay smooth and white over the back of Father Morgan’s old chair, which Louise had begged for the other chimney-corner, and which Mrs. Morgan, with a mixture of indifference and dimly-veiled pride, had allowed to be taken thither. Little things were these, everyone, yet what a transformation they made!

 

Tidy pattern Peterson Mag Jan 1888

Tidy pattern from Peterson’s Magazine, January 1888

 

Tidy pattern from Petersons Magazine Oct 1888

Tidy pattern from Peterson’s Magazine, October 1888

Some tidies required extraordinary skill and patience to accomplish. Creating them often involved long hours of painstaking effort; but sewing tidies (and other needlework projects that fell into the category of “fancywork”) was a way for ladies to express their creativity and imaginative vision, while beautifying their homes.

Drawing-room at Sevenoaks by Charles Essenhigh Corke, 1905

Would you like to read more about the seven Sutherland Sisters and their remarkable hair that made them a fortune? Click on the following links to read articles in Yankee Magazine and Collectors’ Weekly:

Yankee Magazine: http://www.yankeemagazine.com/article/history/seven-sutherland-sisters

Collectors Weekly: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/the-seven-sutherland-sisters-and-their-37-feet-of-hair/

You can click on any of the images in this post to view a larger version.

Light the Lucifer

11 Apr

Cook

In Household Puzzles, practical Maria Randolph took on the responsibility of cooking the family’s meals.

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Her kitchen in 1874 might very well have looked like the kitchen in the photograph below of the Ulysses S. Grant home in Galena, IL.

U S Grant Kitchen 1865

The iron cook stove in the picture was typical for 1865 (nine years before Household Puzzles was published) but its fittings, including the warming oven and iron kettles, were built to last and would have remained in operation for decades.

Lucifer Matches 2

Stoves of the period were fueled by wood or coal. To light the fuel, cooks like Maria used friction matches, commonly called lucifers. Originally, Lucifer matches were developed by a man named Samuel Jones in 1830. Like many other match manufacturers, Mr. Jones made his Lucifers with sulphur tips which were then dipped in phosphorus; but Mr. Jones’s real claim to fame was his packaging. He was the first to sell his matches in small, rectangular cardboard boxes along with sandpaper on which to strike the match. The box even included instructions (in case there was any doubt) on how to light a match.

Lucifer Matches

The packaging proved so popular, “lucifer” soon became a generic name for matches.

In addition to instructions, the lucifer box also included a warning:

“If possible, avoid inhaling gas that escapes from the combustion of the black composition. Persons whose lungs are delicate should by no means use the lucifers.”

In fact, the phosphorus tips not only gave off fumes, they were deadly if swallowed. Ingesting match heads was a common method of committing suicide and small children were often accidentally poisoned by swallowing match heads.

 Household Puzzles describes how Maria fumbled for the match-safe on the kitchen table and muttered “as the vile fumes of the lucifer curled into her nose.”

Maria was a smart housekeeper to hold her matches in a match safe. Because lucifers were highly combustible, they were kept in match safes made of metal. These examples of match-safes hung on the wall and kept lucifers dry, safe, and out of reach of children’s fingers.

Match Safe 2    Match Safe 1860

Quotable

4 Feb

Pansy 11 editedOne reason why our friends are not converted is because we, their leaders, walk so crookedly that we keep them all the time stumbling over us.

Household Puzzles

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