Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dancing with the Castles

Irene was idolized for her dancing, fashions and bobbed hair.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs

LOVE "DANCING WITH THE STARS"? It's just the most recent cultural sensation to popularize ballroom dancing.

A century ago, Irene and Vernon Castle were the "it" couple in American dance, not just conquering Broadway, vaudeville and motion pictures but popularizing such American favorites as the foxtrot and the turkey trot.

Soon the couple capitalized on their success, opening a restaurant, a nightclub and a dancing school (at which they sometimes charged $1,000 a lesson for particularly demanding clients); wrote the instructional book, Modern Dancing; and endorsed myriad products — from cigars to shoes.

Interestingly, their commercial success didn't mean they shied away from controversial choices, or perhaps it afforded them the luxury of making those decisions. After hearing the James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra at a private party, the Castles hired Europe's African-American orchestra to accompany their dance performances. They also hired Elisabeth Marbury, an open lesbian, to manage their dance team.

So popular were the Castles that even 20 years later — following Vernon's death while serving during World War I and Irene's several subsequent marriages — Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in the major motion picture, "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle." For a quick peek, check out this video.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Starry, starry girl

As a child, Annie Jump Cannon gazed at stars with her mother. As an adult, Cannon fell in love with astronomy.
One hundred years ago this month, Cannon began the work at Harvard University that would garner her awards and accolades — not only because she was the preeminent woman in her profession but because her work was unprecedented.
Within four years, Cannon, who was deaf, had compiled data on a whopping 225,300 stars and identified them under the spectral classes O, B, A, F, G, K and M — which developed into the famous mnemonic, “Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me.”
During her 40-year career, Cannon published additional star catalogs and discovered 300 yet-unknown stars. No wonder:
• Oxford University awarded Cannon in 1925 an honorary doctorate — the first ever for a woman;
• the National League of Women Voters named her in 1929 one of the 12 greatest living American women;
• and a moon crater was named after her.
Today, astronomers still rely on her work and the American Astronomical Society presents an annual award in her name to a female astronomer. This year’s recipient? Rachel Mandelbaum, a Princeton University researcher, whose many accomplishments include helping design children’s curriculum on the formation of the early universe. No doubt Cannon would approve.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Workplace Poetry, 1920

You think fax machines are obsolete? Check out this comptometer, a machine popular in business offices roughly 100 years ago and mentioned in the first poem below.
Back in 1970 when my first-grade teacher asked us to go around our classroom, telling what our fathers did for a living (can you imagine that happening today without myriad phone calls to the principal?), I was the only one who spoke up to say what my father and mother did. In fact, my mother was a writer, working in her home office, and even as a child, I understood that her job was important. What a role model she was for me.

Today I'm hopeful that the value women bring to home and the workplace are understood to be equally important. But you might be surprised how long the debate has gone on.

In 1920, sociologist Annie Marion MacLean published work-related poems in the Y.W.C.A.'s  Association Monthly. A sociologist and also a professor at the University of Chicago, MacLean focused her work on advocating for women's workplace rights. Two of her poems (below) address each side of the work-at-home and work-outside-the-home debate.

The Comptometer Operator
Alice is happy as can be.
She runs an adding machine
In an office downtown
At seventy-five dollars a month,
With a chance for promotion. 
And is infinitely happier
Than when she was nursing children 
At sixty a month and home.
"Silly," you say.
"Girls don't know when they are well off."
"Don't they?" sings Alice. 
"I have a key to the front door
Where I live, and no one reproves me."
"Stuff!" say you.
"Stuff of life," says she.

One of the Idle Rich
She was only a lady of leisure.
Yet she kept regular office hours
Like a paid worker,
For a philanthropic organization.
And superintended a household
Besides. She served on committees
To the number of ten, and
Kept her eye on the health 
Of her family.
People knew she would do
What she promised to do,
And urged work upon her. . . 
When the census taker came around,
He listed her as 
"A woman without occupation."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Swim suits and high heels

A 1911 issue of Puck magazine featured mermaids. Library of Congress.
SO HOW HAVE YOU BEEN SPENDING YOUR SUMMER? In a tent? By a pool? In front of a fan?
One hundred summers ago, girls and women were also trying to keep cool (1911 temps soared past the 100-degree mark in early July on the East Coast—sound familiar?) — plus living their lives and making headlines. Read the news’ items below and guess which ones are true. Then check out the answers — and the rest of the story.


  1. Thousands of young women were irate when scolded for “promenading on the beach and on the streets of this resort, clad in bathing suits and high-heeled shoes” by the Atlantic City mayor.
  2. A group of girls canoeing on the Allegheny River fought off 20 large muskrats as they tried to climb into their canoes.
  3.  Who needs lunchtime yoga? Many Manhattan “office girls” spent their breaks skipping lunch to ballroom dance to such hits as “The Glow Worm.”
  4.  The minister at a New York church started a girls’ gun club, hoping to develop his congregation’s young women into “crack shots.”
  5.  Seniors at a women’s college in South Carolina refused to receive diplomas at graduation from their state’s governor.
  6.  Despite the plane’s steering wheel snapping in two, a female aviation student brought the plane safely to the ground in St. Louis.
  7.  Female hotel employees played – and beat – a male baseball team.
  8. A teenage girl swam a whopping 21 miles — in 8 hours and 7 minutes — from East 26th Street in Manhattan to Coney Island.


  1.  True. While the combination of a swimsuit and high heels creates a scandalous vision today, back in 1911 the latest swim fashions meant knee-length woolen swimsuits, worn with black stockings and buckled shoes — hardly enough to get your undies in a bunch, even back then. 
  2. True. A couple of the girls actually fell out of the canoes and were bitten by the swimming rats. Yikes.
  3. True. Young women flocked to a restaurant that offered complimentary ballroom dancing to a live orchestra over lunch. While there were some male-female couples, most young women danced in groups for exercise.
  4. True. The minister at the Broad Street Park Methodist Episcopal Church founded the Girl Rangers Club.
  5. True. Winthrop College seniors snubbed tradition — and Governor C.L. Blease — for his racist policies and asked their college president, Dr. R.B. Johnson, to instead hand out the diplomas.
  6. True. Nina Hibbard grabbed the plane’s “elevator rod” and landed the plane with finesse. Onlookers cheered her death-defying feat. 
  7. True. The male players wore “ballet costumes, draperies of lace curtains” and other costumes. Perhaps they thought doing so would put them on equal footing with the women? Not so much. Go, girls!
  8. True. A crowd of thousands welcomed 17-year-old Rose Pitonof for her amazing swim.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Suffragists parade on the Fourth

Kids ride atop the shoulders of three patriotic women — perhaps on the way to a parade.
Many citizens celebrated last month when the New York State legislature passed same-sex marriage legislation. One hundred years ago, demanding equal treatment was another group of citizens: women. Suffragists joined New York City's Fourth of July parade in stage coaches decorated with flags and bunting; they said they were both celebrating the Spirit of 1776 and demanding the vote. 

"Some of us have come here in stage coaches, the public vehicle of the historic days of the American Revolution," said Mrs. Penfield, addressing the crowd from one of the coaches. "We visualize for you the difference between coach and motor car. It is as if we placed side by side the handloom and the modern factory. Coach and handloom are discarded. Let us remember that men and women of today who would be good citizens and helpful members of society cannot use the methods that were effective in the days of the handloom and the stage coach. We are living in the day of the motor car and the biplane."

The New York Times, which reported on the event, noted at the conclusion of the article that lemonade and sandwiches were served at the Woman Suffrage Party headquarters before the parade began and tea afterward. I guess even revolutionaries need sustenance.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Bachelor" women

Brides are depicted as June flowers on this Puck cover illustration, 1905. Library of Congress.
We often think of women pursuing education and careers as a modern occurrence — since the 1950s or so. But even at the turn of the century, this phenomenon was happening at such a significant rate that many single women, dubbed "bachelor women," were beginning to view marriage as a choice, not their "only means of livelihood." Men did not always welcome the change:
"One would have thought that all potential husbands would have welcomed a change offering assurance that in the future their proposals would be accepted on their merits, but this is not so. Many men feel it as a slight upon their sex that women, once the pressure of hard necessity has been removed, should choose single blessedness. Such perverse action on their part runs counter to the cherished masculine belief that any and every woman would always prefer some sort of husband rather than none at all."The New York Times, June 4, 1911

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sexy Swimsuit Tights, 1890

Talk about figure-flattering swimwear. Who needs Lycra? (The Jenness Miller Magazine, July 1890)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hitting the Links, 1902

 Leonara Harward shows off her form, circa 1905. Library of Congress.
Courage! Pluck! Endurance! Golf promised all these things to a young woman back in 1902 — at least according to the über-popular Girls' Companion weekly magazine. In its "Girls Who Excel in Sports" column (May 10, 1902), the writer promises the world to girls who take up the game: 

"Golf offers a girl fun, plenty of exercise and fresh air, and the chance to conquer. Without realizing it, she walks miles over the breezy links, drawing in deep breaths of fresh, pure air, broadening her chest, exercising her whole body, bringing the rose tint to her cheeks, and the sparkle to her eyes. In grappling with the difficulties of the game, she develops her skill and ingenuity, qualities that count on the links, and win for her the respect of other players. And she gets a good training for after years, for if she has the right stuff in her, she gains endurance, pluck, courage, patience and steady resolve, with which to meet the 'hazards' of the bigger game called life."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal wedding hullabaloo — 100 years ago

True love: Princess Victoria Louise married Prince Ernst August in May 1913. Photo thanks to

HAVEN'T GOTTEN YOUR FIX OF THE ROYAL WEDDING HOOPLA? Then check out these five early 1900s aristocratic nuptial festivities.

• Feb. 1901: Prior to the Spanish royal marriage of Prince Charles of Bourbon to the Princess of the Asturias, 5,000 people attended a royal ball. Reported The New York Times: “The magnificent structure, which was ablaze with electric lights, could scarcely accommodate the invited guests, whose carriages were wending their way thither as early as 9 o’clock.” Thither. Don’t you love it?

• Also Feb. 1901: Hollanders enthusiastically celebrated the marriage of their 18-year-old Queen Wilhelmina to Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The New York Times scoffed that the marriage was simply “an alliance” and that the German “princeling” had “nothing to lay at the feet of his mistress but his pedigree and his debts.” No matter: Queen Wilhelmina proved to be a capable, forceful and savvy ruler, with and without Henry — he passed away in 1934.

• June 1905: Following their age-old custom of escorting royalty, Berlin butchers accompanied the Duchess Cecilie of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to the Berlin castle for her wedding to Crown Prince William. Upon arrival at the Pariser Platz — outfitted with pillars decorated by images of flower-throwing bears (!) — she was met by both children and maids of honor, all wearing rose wreaths on their heads.

• May 1906: When King Alfonso XIII of Spain married Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain, the streets were carpeted with 1,200 tons of flowers and the bride rode to church in a tortoiseshell coach drawn by eight white horses. Let's see 2011's celebration top that.

• May 1913: Festivities began more than a week before Princess Victoria Louise of Prussia, the Kaiser’s favorite child and only daughter, married Prince Ernst August of Hanover in a “love match.” The Berlin nuptials featured a gala opera event, a 1,000-guest wedding banquet, an ancient Torch dance and a 36-gun salute.

Two AttaGirl notes:
A couple of these royal marriages are addressed at length at Visit to read more.

Congratulations to Heather, who will receive a copy of the real-life 1927 diary, Through No Fault of My Own. The winner? Chosen by my 13-year-old daughter.  Heather, just drop me a note at

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coco's diary: Don't read this "under pain of death"

Through No Fault of My Own is the bona fide diary of Coco Irvine, age 13, back in 1927.
A GIRL'S DIARY IS SACRED, often guarded by lock and key, always hidden in a secret location. That is, until it's found in a library.

Peg Meier, a retired newspaper reporter and author, discovered Coco Irvine's 1927 diary at the Minnesota Historical Society Library when researching another of her books, Wishing for a Snow Day: Growing Up in Minnesota, published late last year.

Meier says she had to stifle her guffaws in the library so funny were many of Coco's entries — although she didn't always mean them to be humorous. In one passage, the 13-year-old explains how when bouncing a basketball at school, she "inadvertently hit the fire alarm" and caused "a rumpus." She adds that "most everyone I know is the worst kind of sissy and they don't have the least idea of how exciting it is to hope very much with one side of you that the ball will hit the fire alarm and the other side is scared to death it will!" This adventure is tame by comparison to several of her other exploits, which would get any teenager in trouble still today.

No wonder her 80-plus-year-old diary finds wide publication this month as Through No Fault of My Own, the title selected in honor of her many entries that begin with those words.

Meier says she knew immediately that Coco's diary had to be published. "I'm so grateful that the University of Minnesota Press agreed," she says. Meier not only supplied the introduction, offering the Jazz Age context as the diary's backdrop, but researched Coco's family, history and estate. And what she found made the diary extra riveting: Coco was the daughter of a lumber baron and grew up in the mansion now home to the Minnesota governor.

Like to read more? Order the book directly from the publisher ( or through a major online seller. Better yet, leave a comment here: One lucky AttaGirl reader will win a signed copy.

Minnesota readers: Attend the book launch event on Saturday, April 16, 2 p.m., at Virginia Street Swedenborgian Church in St. Paul (sponsored by Common Good Books). Peg Meier will also read from the book at Magers & Quinn, Minneapolis, on Monday, April 18, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What Color is Love?

"He loves me. He loves me not." Library of Congress, 1910.
U.S. SENATORS GATHERED THIS WEEK at a hearing to discuss anti-Muslim discrimination and to determine if the Justice Department needs more resources to deal with the growing problem. Sadly, it seems unlikely that we'll ever live in a world without prejudice. Thankfully, there are always people who stand up against hate.

This week, 102 years ago, Californians Helen Gladys Emery, 21, and Gunjiro Aoki, 25, a native of Japan, fell in love and decided to marry. At the time, European-Americans and Japanese people were not allowed to marry in California; that state's legislature had passed the law just weeks before.

When the engagement news broke, a mob gathered outside her family's home and pelted Emery and her mother with rocks, rice and dead flowers as the two raced for a train to take them to Washington State, where Aoki, traveling separately, would meet them and the couple could legally marry. At the train station, another crowd gathered to hurl insults.

BUT THE YOUNG LOVERS STOOD STEADFAST: Aoki refused an offer of $1,000 from the Japanese community in San Francisco to give up his alliance. "Not for two million dollars," he answered. And before she left, Emery issued a public statement. In part, it read:

"I love Gunjiro Aoki, have loved him for some time, and sincerely hope to maintain my love for him despite all that may be said or done, despite the slurs on his character or the insults of the small-minded and petty individuals. . . . I cannot see why children born of such a union would possess to any lesser degree those attributes of Americanism, as judged in its highest and broadest sense, than, say, those born of a union between a native of Poland and one of the interior of Russia. Mentality, breeding, courtesy, honor, love of country and filial devotion are as much a part of the Japanese characteristics as they are American."

Turned away in Portland and Tacoma, the couple wed in Seattle — thanks to the mayor's permission and armed guards to prevent any more crowds from stopping or hurting them.

According to their great niece, playwright Brenda Wong Aoki, after the wedding her Uncle Gunjiro said, “To Christian spirit all things are equal. If you understand about love, you know it is the same in all nationalities. What is the color of love?”

The couple had five children and were married until Aoki's death in 1932. Incredibly, the U.S. government revoked Emery's citizenship for her marriage to Aoki — and reinstated it after his death and her name change to "Oakie."

AttaGirl notes:
Nancy Nichols will receive a copy of Friends Forever. The winner? Chosen by my 13-year-old daughter.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

AttaGirl Author Interview and Book Giveaway

TIME TRAVEL AND FRIENDSHIP intertwine in Friends Forever, a sparkling novel that jumps across a century as tween heroines grow up in the same house 100 years apart. Author Amy Ariel, an attorney and educator, shared her thoughts about her characters and the novel's 1912 setting with AttaGirl. Check out her answers — then leave a comment and your email address. One lucky reader will receive a complimentary copy of Friends Forever. 

Amy Ariel
Friends Forever offers a lively backdrop of circa 1900 events, particularly those that relate to civil and women's rights. Do you hope readers will be inspired to learn more about this time in history?
The Progressive Era is both challenging and inspiring. When we imagine the past, it's tempting to conjure a time more simple than the one in which we live. . . . 
I would be thrilled if my readers became engaged with Hannah and Abigail’s story and through it became more interested in the setting of Abigail’s life. However, what I hope most is that they will be intrigued by the idea of the past brimming with stories and become
inspired to read more of any of them.
Why center your story on this time in history?
Friends Forever began as a short story written as a birthday present for one of my then seven-year-old students, Amalia Hertel. When asked what she would like for her birthday she requested I write a story about a Jewish girl who wasn’t too much older than and at least as smart as her, and she wanted a story that wasn’t too ordinary. . . . [Later] when I picked up my short story [again] and watched it grow under my fingers, I journaled in Abigail’s voice to get a sense of her character. It became clear Abigail is a child of the Progressive Era. She wonders at one point whether anyone living 100 years in the future will ever stand at the corner of Marshall and Lexington and wonder about a girl like her. I hope after meeting Abigail, more people do just that.

Both girls in Friends Forever are great readers, and several popular novels are featured. Do you have personal early-1900s favorites? 
It was love that motivated me to include so many references to my favorite turn-of-the-century novels. Others, for older readers, will have cameos in the next book.
An element of magic allows Hannah to time travel in Friends Forever. If you could get to know a woman from the turn-of-the-century, whom would you choose?
There are at least two: Alice Paul and Clara Ueland. They were very different women, but each was strong and brilliant. I think of Alice Paul every time I vote, since she was one of the people who led the successful campaign for women’s suffrage. Clara Ueland was the first president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters. I would guess neither of them would let me be satisfied with anything I’ve accomplished so far in my life. Both of them would push me to learn more, be more, and accomplish more. I would love to spend time with women like that.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

10 Cool Women You've (Likely) Never Heard Of

March is National Women's History Month. Just a month? Pick any decade, any year for that matter, and you'll find women making history — although too often they're not the history-makers we learn about in school. To help right that wrong, just a smidge, AttaGirl, circa 1900, is pleased to acquaint you with 10 amazing women — a race car driver, a movie director and a self-made millionaire among them — who were breaking new ground roughly 100 years ago.  

Suffragist and adventurer Annie Smith Peck became the first woman to scale the Matterhorn in 1895, writing magazine articles to pay for her expedition. In 1911, Peck, then 61, climbed Peru’s Mount Coropuna, planting a "Votes for Women" banner at the summit.  . . Lizzie Arlington signed a professional baseball contract — the first woman to do so — and pitched for the Philadelphia Reserves in 1898 . . . . Despite the fact that she couldn't swim, retired schoolteacher Annie Taylor, 63, (see inset) was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel — and live. "I would caution anyone against attempting the feat," she told reporters after surviving the plunge in 1901. . . . Educator, orator, religious leader and businesswoman Nannie Helen Burroughs, the daughter of two former slaves, got started early, helping to establish the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 — at just 17 years old. . . . Alice Guy-Blaché, the motion picture industry's first female film director, made her first full-length feature in 1906 and went on to direct, produce or oversee more than 700 films. . . . Madame C.J. Walker created a line of hair-care and skin products for African-American women and, thanks to her marketing genius, became the first self-made female millionaire at the turn of the century. . . . Mary Harriman founded the Junior League, one of the oldest and best-known women's volunteer organizations, in 1901. Their first project? After her coming-out ball, the 19-year-old debutante organized her friends to bring all of her party bouquets to hospital patients. . . . Jesse Tarbox Beals was the first woman to make her living as a photojournalist, covering fires, floods and murder trials beginning in 1902 for the The Buffalo Inquirer in Buffalo, New York. . . . At age 17, Anna May Wong, a native Californian, starred in her first silent film, The Toll of the Sea, in 1922, and went on to become the first Asian-American superstar. . . . Race car driver and movie star Anita King was the first person to ever drive alone across the United States — from Los Angeles to New York City. Despite getting lost in the Nevada desert due to terrible signage, Wyoming mud that rose to the top of her hubcaps and much more, King accomplished the feat in 49 days in 1915, stopping to speak at 100 Paramount Theatres along the way. 


Monday, February 28, 2011

Turn-of-the-century Beauty


"THE CHEEKS AND LIPS PAINTED A SCARLET beyond anything nature would ever give is bad taste at any time, and is an index to a vain and foolish heart, and will not be found in beautiful girlhood."   

That's surprising advice given that this quote comes from Girlhood, a volume published in 1922. No doubt the author hoped to thwart girls' and women's increasing acceptance of cosmetics. Horrors!

But by then most women had thrown off the idea that cosmetics were sinful and had been wearing "lip rouge" for decades. Indeed, when men shipped out for World War I, many women took jobs and, with a few more coins in their purses, sometimes splurged on cosmetics — the term "makeup" wasn't invented until Max Factor coined it a decade or so later. What else could women place on their beauty shopping lists at the turn of the century?

• Safer powders and eye shadows  — previous versions often contained lead, nightshade or vermillion, a sulfide poisonous when ingested
• Various scented soaps, including Fairy soap — "in a class above all other toilet and bath soaps"
• Tinted nail powders and creams, including Graf's Hyglo nail polish paste, for buffing nails
• Dozens of perfumes, including those from longtime-maker Guerlain — Jicky, Champs Élysées (Paris was cool to use in marketing back then too) and, by 1925, Shalimar, my mom's favorite
• Antiperspirants and deodorants — previously, perfumes were used to mask body odor
• A "makeover," a wholly new concept, at an Elizabeth Arden salon
• Or a "Day of Beauty" at a Helena Rubinstein salon

What might they not have been buying by then? Madame Rowley's Toilet Mask, whose advertisement above was found in The Jenness Miller Magazine, January 1891. Impressively, its editor wrote in its pages that "nothing is permitted to appear in our advertising columns. . .for which the publisher is not willing to vouch." The toilet mask claims included making a face as soft and smooth as an infant's, without blemishes and wrinkles.  

Anyone know where I could get one?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Julia's Autograph Book

At the turn of the century, my great-grandma Julia was a tween living in a sod house in Garretson, South Dakota. 

But while her daily life differed greatly from ours today, that doesn't mean she didn't share the same thoughts and feelings of girls today. 

I know because her autograph book is a prized possession of mine, and it is filled with personal messages and poems (some in Norwegian) from friends, family members and even teachers.

In honor of Valentine's Day or perhaps for her birthday, Julia received this autograph book in February 1898.

Here are a few favorite entries:

What do you care for gold or silver,
What do you care for on sea or land,
All you seem to care for 
Is a handsome young man.
Your sister, Mary

When the golden sun is setting
And from care your thoughts are free
When of others you are thinking
May you sometimes think of me.
John Johnson

Look for goodness, look for gladness,
You will find them all the while.
If you bring a smiling visage
To the glass, you meet a smile.
Your friend, Libbie Tabor

Julia is your name:
Single is your life.
Happy is the little man
who gets you for his wife.
Your friend, Agnes

That "little man"—and he was short—turned out to be Severin, a Norwegian immigrant. They married in 1911 when Julia was just 22 and "S.L.," as he was called, was 24. Cheers to their 100th anniversary.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sweet & Nasty Valentines

"Grandma" sent this sweet Valentine postcard to "Stella" back in 1910.
Valentines haven't changed all that much in the past 100 years. Sweethearts still give one another love tokens. And kids still exchange paper valentines (although they're printed more often than homemade these days) and those ubiquitous pink boxes of candy hearts. 

Would you believe that NECCO, the New England Confectionery Company, started producing those tiny "conversation hearts" back in 1902 and that their popularity has never waned — although some original sayings, such as Oh Boy and Kiss Me, have been replaced by such au courant sayings as Jump 4 Me and U Can Do It. 

One turn-of-the-century Valentine fad that, thankfully, ended was sending "vinegar valentines." Also called "penny dreadfuls," these valentines featured an illustration of one individual each — say a piano teacher, "lovesick lass" or "silly singer" — accompanied by a nasty verse that insulted the recipient. Supposedly, the cards were often sent anonymously and post office clerks refused to accept some of them because of their vulgarity.

Here's one example of a not-terribly-insulting vinegar valentine:

To the Stylish Girl:
Paris hats become you greatly,
Richest cloaks you'll never lack;
They are sent home on approval,
Worn one night and then sent back.

Happy Valentine's Day from AttaGirl, circa 1900. May all of your valentines be sweet.

Monday, January 31, 2011

What's in a name?

Teenagers pose for a photo during a work break at Greenabaum's Canneries, Seaford, Del, in 1910. Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.
Had you been a teenager in 1911, you likely wouldn't have been named Kaitlin, Alexis or Samantha — names hugely popular 13 years ago. By the way, happy birthday, 2011 teens!
No, more than likely, your name would have been biblical, say Mary; romantic, like Emma (think Jane Austen—popular back then too despite no movie versions of her classic novels); or trendy, say Bertha or Clara—yes, Bertha was c'est chic back then.
The popularity of names changes over the years and the generations. Check out the list below and guess which baby names made the Top 20 list back in 1898 (these girls turned 13 in 1911), and which made that list in 1998. Good luck!

1. Ethel: 1898 or 1998?
2. Amanda: 1898 or 1998?
3. Annie: 1898 or 1998?
4. Rose: 1898 or 1998?
5. Sarah: 1898 or 1998?
6. Emily: 1898 or 1998?
7. Elizabeth: 1898 or 1998?
8. Anna: 1898 or 1998?
9. Grace: 1898 or 1998?
10. Victoria: 1898 or 1998?

Answers: 1. 1898, 2. 1998, 3. 1898, 4. 1898, 5. 1998, 6. 1998, 7. Both, 8. 1898, 9. 1898, 10. 1998

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

St. Paul Celebrates 125 Winters

Miss Nancy Rowe (above)  competed in the St. Paul Winter Carnival's "Fancy Skating Contest" roughly 100 years ago. There's no word whether she was a big winner, but we sure love her fur-trimmed skating costume. (Fingers are crossed that it's faux fur — doubtful, but we'll hope anyway.)

Beginning this month (Jan. 27-Feb. 6), the Winter Carnival, the nation's oldest winter festival, celebrates its 125th year. While girls and women no longer compete in "fancy skating" during the event, they do speed skate, play hockey, curl, play softball in the snow, run and cross-country ski.

Today it's 11 degrees — but feels like 3 degrees — Fahrenheit in Minnesota's Capital City. We hope they're all wearing their Cuddl Duds (designed and manufactured by O'Bryan Brothers, a Chicago company founded in 1921). 

Photo from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Yesteryear Etiquette: A Quiz

Did these well-dressed women, sitting pretty on a running board, follow etiquette's dictates?
Did you catch Downton Abbey last Sunday on PBS? While the soap-opera-like storyline of a wealthy family in 1912 England will keep viewers riveted, the etiquette of the residents and household staff of the stately home is equally fascinating to me. For the past 15 years, I've studied such turn-of-the-century etiquette and collected etiquette books — there are dozens — of that era. Interestingly, etiquette rules were no less taxing stateside, especially for the upper and middle classes. 
Take this mini-quiz to determine how well you might fare etiquette-wise if you woke up tomorrow as a young woman in 1912. 
1. As you walk down the street, you recognize a gentleman approaching with whom you have danced at a recent ball. You:
A. Keep your eyes focused ahead and acknowledge his presence only if he first greets you.
B. Offer a simple "Good morning."
C. Nod while offering a small smile.
2. You are a debutante and have accepted an invitation to a small garden party at your cousin's home. Suddenly, you are presented with a more enticing engagement. You:
A. Make a social call to your cousin to explain the need to change plans.
B. Keep your first engagement, no matter the more welcome invitation.
C. Ask your cousin politely if she might consider postponing her event.
3. You are visiting an art museum in the city when you come across a nude painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. You:
A. Avert your eyes from the licentious rendering and walk quickly to the adjacent gallery.
B. Sit primly on the nearby bench and sketch the masterpiece.
C. Appreciate the beauty of the painting and vow to learn more about Renoir.
4. You are seated at a formal dinner party. A young woman about your age arrives and is introduced to you. You:
A. Nod and smile.
B. Nod, smile and murmur her name.
C. Rise, nod, smile and murmur her name.
5. You are attending a matinee theater performance to which you have worn your favorite chapeau. You:
A. Leave it on — women are allowed to wear hats indoors.
B. Check it at the door when you enter the theater.
C. Remove it before the curtain rises.

1. C. When a young woman sees a man on the street with whom she has danced at a ball, "she bends her head slightly, looks directly at the person recognized, according him, at the same time, a slight smile or an amiable glance . . . though no further acquaintance may ever after exist between them." — Encyclopaedia of Etiquette, 1910
2. B. "A [débutante] must be punctual at all appointments, keep her engagements, and not change after accepting when something more delightful appears, answer invitations promptly, express appreciation for any kindness, look her prettiest and be always amiable and most charming even if her gown is spoiled and she has enjoyed only a few hours of sleep." — Etiquette, 1923
3. A. "Just as a conscientious, God-fearing girl would not read one page or one line of a book she knew to be bad, even so must she be taught to turn her eyes away unhesitatingly and instinctively, from an indecent engraving, or painting, or sculpture, no matter where she happens upon it. . . so that even when alone she stumbles on such objects, she would turn her eyes and her whole mind away from the object, as she would withdraw her hand or arm from the contact of red-hot iron." — The Mirror of True Womanhood, 1903
4. C. "A nod, a smile, and a murmur of the name, constitute full recognition of an introduction. . . . A woman rises to receive an introduction to one of her own sex." — Encyclopaedia of Etiquette, 1921
5. C. "At a matinee, a really considerate woman takes off her hat before the curtain rises." — Encyclopaedia of Etiquette, 1920 

Did you get. . . ?
1 - 2 answers right: Back in the day, your mother would have hung her head in shame.
3 - 4 answers right: Good thing you live in 2011.
5 answers right: Attagirl! You're a clever one!