Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Olive Opened, Christmas 1914

Christmas 1914: Among the gifts 20-something Olive opened was a gift record from "Mable and Lydia." In this small paper pamphlet, tied with a red ribbon, Olive carefully tracked all the gifts she gave and received for the next six Christmases, through 1920. Eventually she became a friend of my grandmother, and through various hands passed her gift record until it came to mine this December.

A peek into this slim volume reveals the gifts given to a young woman at the time. Accessories, clothing — or fabric for making clothing — and books were popular, much as they are today. What's not popular today? Handkerchiefs, a plethora of which fill many lines of Olive's list, both as gifts given and gifts received. What else did Olive find under her tree that morning, Christmas 1914?

• An ivory mirror and comb from "Mamma"
• Drawnwork (embroidered) sheet and pillowcases from Grandma
• Dresser scarf from Martha
• Silk hose from Aunt Sophia
• Rambler Rose Waist — in other words, a printed blouse — from Aunt Martha
• Leather writing case from Aunt Mary
• Crocheted collar and cuffs from Aunt Alma
• Ribbon wrist bag from Auntie Hanson
• Japanese print from Marcella
• Henry Van Dyke's popular book The Spirit of Christmas from Thekla
• And a "Good Cheer" calendar from Ida

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Huskies today, "Lassies" yesterday

Women's basketball is big news today, thanks to UConn's Huskies beating the 88-game winning streak set by the University of California's men's team back in the 1970s.  Had it been a men's team to break the L.A. team's record, there would have been more coverage. No doubt.

But women's basketball has long been making history. In fact, just one year after John Naismith invented "basket ball" in 1891, Smith's College organized the first women's basketball team. Four years later, the first women's intercollegiate basketball championship was played between Stanford and the University of California at Berkley — before a crowd of 700 women.

Around the same time, high schools (including Western High School, Washington, D.C. — see inset), companies and local clubs started women's basketball teams, including such all-black girls' teams as the New York Girls and the Spartan Girls.

One New York Times story in 1907 reported on the Colgate YMCA women's team hosting two others: "The playing was fast and rough, and the girls were sprawling on the floor several times after lively scrimmaging. . . . There were many fouls called, not necessarily because the girls meant to be rough, but because they entered into the spirit of the contest with so much vim and aggressiveness that they slammed each other up against the wall with anything but girlish gentleness."

But all this ardor for b-ball wasn't without controversy. A number of colleges began banning women's basketball from intercollegiate competition. The Amateur Athletic Union took the position that women and girls shouldn't play basketball in public. And the split bloomers the players wore? In 1907, the Illinois State High School Athletic Association declared the costumes "objectionable" and that "the record of blacked eyes, scratched countenances and bruised bodies of the last season is an argument against the game as far as the lassies are concerned." At the time, that meant all 300 girls' basketball teams had to cancel their games.

Despite all that and even during women's baskeball decline before the passage of Title IX, girls and women have always played hoops. Congratulations to the Huskies for continuing to make history. 

P.S. December is Black Women's Basketball History Month.

Friday, December 3, 2010

You think Black Friday’s mobs are brazen?

Seemingly well-mannered shoppers window shop during the holiday season in New York City.                   Library of Congress Prints & Photographs.
Actually, crazed Christmas shoppers are simply following tradition. Back in December 1900, a gentleman was put upon to go Christmas shopping and was so enraged by his treatment by female shoppers and clerks that he wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times to complain. Here’s a snippet:
“[At No. 1 store] a more brazen, impudent, uncouth, ill-bred, and indecent specimen of womanhood has never before been on public exhibition. . . . At No. 2 there was simply a mob of women pulling, hauling, and crowding, affording just the kind of an opportunity sought by thieves and pickpockets. . . . At No. 3 the crowd was largely from the country, consequently it was more orderly and decent, but at No. 4 . . .the clerks showed more impudence than a grass-fed mule.  This experience, however, [was] well worth the expense and discomfort attending it, for it fairly demonstrated that a man has no rights which a woman respects in a department store, and therefore hereafter he cannot be expected to [shop for] Christmas presents.”

 So what were these “impudent vixens” buying back in 1900?
• gunmetal banks for children,
• fur coats for dolls,
• 25-cent toy cars,
• pretty silk-covered coat hangers — three for $1.25,
• needle cases, each the size of a "doll's opera-glass" case,
• traveler's inkstands, each packed inside a man's hatcase-shaped leather box,
• wood-famed petite calendars,
• luncheon name cards decorated with floral designs,
• ivory smoking sets, and
• elaborate silver toilet articles — mirrors, brushes, bottles and glove boxes.