Tips from a 1921 Good Housekeeping

Posted: May 15, 2013 by shawnfury in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

It’s 1921. You’re a parent. You have a boy or a girl. School doesn’t offer the challenges your child needs, or maybe it doesn’t provide the discipline that will be required when the kid goes on to their next step in life. Fortunately, if you subscribed to Good Housekeeping, you can look at 13 pages of advertisements for various military academies, boys’ schools, girls’ schools, Bishop’s schools, art schools, home economic schools, powder point schools and much, much, — no, really, much — more.

When we arrived at my parents’ house in Minnesota on Tuesday afternoon I quickly noticed a stack of very old magazines sitting on their very new dining room table. Old Life magazines. Look magazines from 1964. A Ladies Home Journal from 1961.

And a Good Housekeeping from June 1921. How could I not spend an hour digging through these?

Ma and Pa Fury collected the magazines at a recent estate sale for the late Ward Wendt, the owner of the famous Janesville Doll in the Window. According to the mailing labels, some of the magazines originally belonged to Ward and some to a local hospital, which ended up in Ward’s hands at some point. The most striking thing about Look and Ladies Home Journal? Their size. These are, were, massive magazines, dwarfing anything you’d see today.

look mag

Look previewed the 1964 political conventions and also offered readers the chance to get four records for only 98 cents, a ploy that pulled magazine readers in for another few decades, all courtesy of the RCA Victor Record Club. Chet Atkins, Mario Lanza, Charlie Mingus, Jan Peerce…they’re all available! Some interesting letters to the editor, particularly about a past story about swimsuits. Mrs. Eva Garrett of Jonesville, Va., wrote, “If magazines and other prints would quit showing and glamorizing [“indecently” dressed women] and really show how indecent it is to expose their bodies as they would a flower, maybe someday we can walk the sidewalks without being ashamed of being women…” Makes me wonder what she actually wrote before Look put it in brackets.

The Ladies Home Journal from June 1961 offered a look inside the life of England’s queen. First of three parts. Also, five miracle do-overs to please the man in your life. I’d list them here but I really think women should track down the magazine themselves and put the do-overs into action, especially if their men have a Mad Men fetish.


But the Good Housekeeping occupied most of my time, particularly the first section and all those ads for all of those schools.


The section begins with an intro from Good Housekeeping, which assures readers no school is listed until it’s been thoroughly investigated by the magazine. In fact, if parents aren’t satisfied with the schools, the magazine offered to pay back the first semester payment.

There are schools for every state. In Connecticut, send Johnny to “Eastford: The School for a boy. For the development of manly boys into good citizens — leaders of men, by a rational system of training mind, morals and body.”

In Illinois there was the Illinois College of Photography. “Good paying positions in the best studios in the country await men and women who prepare themselves now. Our graduates earn $35 to $100 a week.”

Many of the schools show pictures of boys on horses, though none of them specifically teach, as far as I can tell, equestrian skills. Military skills, yes. Leadership skills, of course. And there’s a woman on a horse, staring into an open door where two women are chatting.

Sporty types should check out the Powder Point School in Duxbury, Mass. “Thorough instruction. Clean, snappy athletics for every boy.” In Brewster, Mass., parents could ship their daughter off to “Personality Camp for Girls,” which boasted, “For the girls who aren’t the prettiest, you can still win over snappy boys with a great personality.” Not really, but it did offer “attractive bungalows” and “corrective gymnastics.”

The actual stories were not snappy, graphic-filled appetizers. Hopefully writers got paid by the word back then. The stories go on for pages, in tiny type. There was fiction and poems and an incredibly large number of ads for underwear. A longstanding tradition existed back then: Advice columns. This one was “Dr. Wiley’s Question – Box” an oddly punctuated column — why the em dash there? The first question wondered, “What is the best substitute for whisky in severe cases of pneumonia?”

Dr. Wiley’s response? “Whisky is the worst possible treatment to use in pneumonia unless the object is euthanasia.” Heh. Dr. Wiley with the smackdown on Mrs. S.J.E. of New York. He notes that fresh air and nourishing food are best substitutes for whisky and says “The medical profession is rapidly reaching the conclusion that the prescribing of whisky is wholly useless for remedial purposes.”

The final question is fascinating and offers a great glimpse into medicine in the early parts of the 20th century. A reader writes in about her grandmother’s cancer and wonders if there is risk of infection and “whether her laundry should be done separately from the rest of the family. Should her dishes be kept apart?” Dr. Wiley says it’s best to take no chances in spreading it and to be on the safe side precautions should be taken with grandma’s laundry and dishes. At least he didn’t tell her to cure it with whisky.

The magazines are an incredible look back into a different world. A different publishing world, a different cultural world, a different medical world. In 90 years someone will stumble upon old Dr. Oz columns and express amazement about how little he knew about illness and disease. They’ll hold old Sports Illustrateds and Esquires in their hands and ask their parents, “Paper? This is what paper felt like?” They’ll read advice columns and long nonfiction pieces. Or maybe they’ll just make fun of the ads. But I doubt they’ll enjoy them as much as I enjoyed these magazines.




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