Saturday, 8 November 2014

Every Woman in 1912

Last week my partner and I had a long weekend in country Victoria at the annual Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival. My partner, Geoff, is a veteran of this event being a die-hard fan of modern jazz, but it was my first time at the event. And what a marathon! Concerts from 10.00 in the morning until midnight - and I don't even like jazz! Having said that, it was a most enjoyable weekend, although I had to take time out on several occasions. On one of those occasions I took myself to the nearby historic town of Beechworth to trawl the antique shops for treasures.

I was delighted to buy a volume of Every Woman's Encyclopedia from 1912 (and for a good price too!) In a hard back loose cover are five volumes (one is missing, sadly) of this fascinating and most amusing publication. Here is a similar volume on sale from Amazon for $300! Admittedly, it has all six volumes in better condition than mine, but I still feel like I have scored a bargain.

Mine is the Eighth Volume.
Inside are five paperback publications like this:

Apparently this publication was very popular with middle class women and was considered to be very modern in its attitudes, encouraging women to be active in many fields, although it does stop short of saying they should be allowed to juggle families and careers.

Here is one of the delightful illustrations:

There are many of these Victorian type romantic illustrations, although there is no fiction published in this journal, so none of the romance stories typically appearing as women's entertainment in women's magazines later in the 20th century. This journal prided itself on being a "practical magazine" and is full of articles for the edification of the educated woman.

I read a scary article about the future of eugenics, which commented on how the government should give medical assistance to the healthiest individuals and should withdraw it from the unfit. Another article lamented the misfortune of a "mesalliance" and how any marriage between people of different classes was bound to end in misery. The same journal also ran a feature on actresses who had managed to snare a peer - no doubt the kind of mesalliance the writer of the first article had in mind. Here are some of those "lucky" gals:

My favourite part of these magazines would have to be the fashion illustrations. Some of these are photos, like this one:

This lady is wearing the latest Paris fashions for the spring of 1912. "A delighful gown  for outdoor wear in mousseline of a soft blush rose colour and satin of a deeper shade. An original and quaint hat in taffetas completes the toilette."
And don't you just love that "original and quaint" hat?

However, what I think I like even more are the line drawings of fashions for women and girls. Like this:

This is a bathing costume. "The modern sea nymph's toilet is a very winsome affair, of which the piquant little cap forms an important detail." I, however, prefer the ballet slippers, and I am imagining them full of sand.

Besides serious social comment and fashion, there are also, of course, the beauty articles. I did read the article on how to keep your teeth beautiful. Maybe they knew something we have forgotten?

This lady was celebrated for her beautiful teeth. I got all the way to the end of the article and the author, sister of the lady in the photo, didn't actually tell. As long as teeth were cleaned (with "anything to hand") all was good, and her life was too short to give up eating sweets. She did cite a celebrated actress with having told her secret - pass a piece of tape between the teeth every night. Who knew they did dental floss back then?

Of course, the main reason I sought out this publication in the first place was for the patterns, and there are many delightful patterns - knitting for babies, crochet lace and embroidery patterns. I was particularly taken with this design utilising beetle backs:

I have come across pictures of  gowns embroidered in this way before. I find it very creepy. Here is an example of an extant piece:

I was recently talking to my son-in-law's grandmother about embroidery, and she told me that she used to embroider using fish scales as sequins, an ingenious idea although possibly smelly. Actually, I looked it up and it was very pretty. I wonder how they dyed them.

Of course, a highlight of any vintage magazine is always the advertisements. These Pears Soap ads have been republished as posters for many years:

And who ever thought that one's corset rusting would be a feminine problem?

I didn't realise that the Edwardians were so conscious of health and fitness. The roots of calisthenics must have been in these exercises for girls:

And every volume has a section on first aid. I hope the models were well rewarded as they appear to be long suffering and are excellent at their job.

I was very surprised to read that caravanning and camping were considered excellent recreations for young women. I do think this must have been considered a very modern idea in its time. Groups of women could travel together, although it is advised that unless at least one young lady is particularly knowledgeable about horses a practical lad of 14 or 15 should be hired as a horseman. Mixed groups of young people could holiday "duly chaperoned by a married couple".

And finally, my favourite recreation appropriate for a young lady, staging a pastoral play at home:

This is barely the tip of the iceberg as regards the fascinating content of these journals. Some other fans have created a wiki which has scanned, transcribed and indexed the entire encyclopedia, published fortnightly from 1910 to 1912.'s_Encyclopedia_Volume_1.djvu

I am a bit sorry I have shared this newly discovered secret. Like the Flora Klickmann books in my earlier post, I will now have to compete with more readers for these gems should they ever surface on ebay. (and I did recently miss out on one of those, and they are going for more money) Must be my own fault - big mouth. I can't keep a secret!

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