Wonder Pills!

The American Woman, July Issue, 1915

There are times during my research into the early 1900s when I am convinced that despite the differences in fashion, people really haven’t changed all that much. Then again, there are times when I cannot believe that we are residing on the same planet, much less in the same country. This morning was one of those times.

 I was browsing through the July 1915 issue of American Woman magazine for a Cadillac advertisement to go along with another article I intended to write. Instead, I became captivated with an ad for Sargol, a pill designed to make people fatter.

 Let Us Make You Fat–50c Box Free

Hold on a second. People wanted to be fatter? I looked closer. A healthy, robust couple playing in the sand observe an emaciated, pale couple standing several feet away.

      “Gee!” says the woman. “Look at that pair of skinny scarecrows! Why don’t they try Sargol?”

      “Maybe they are time travelers from 2012,” I volunteer. “Emo-Vampires haven’t made it big yet, but this is the look your great-grandchildren will go for!” She ignores me, and I read on.

This is a generous offer to every thin man or woman reader of this paper. We positively guarantee to increase your weight to your own satisfaction or no pay. Think this over–think what it means. At our own risk, we offer to put 10, 15, yes 20 pounds of good, solid “stay there” flesh on your bones to fill out hollows in cheeks, neck or bust, to get rid of that “peaked” look…

We particularly wish to hear from the excessively thin, those who know the humiliation and embarrassment which only skinny people have to suffer in silence.

Thin people were humiliated and embarrassed? I knew I was living in the wrong century!

Always the curiosity hound, I googled Sargol, just to see if I could discover the ingredients. But I discovered much more than the mere components of this wonder drug. Volume II of Nostrums and Quackery, presented by the American Medical Association and Arthur Joseph Cramp, M.D., and which is available free of charge through Google eBook, details the trial of the makers of Sargol. Shockingly enough, Sargol doesn’t work!

According to Nostrums and Quackery, Sargol was created by Wylie B. Jones and Oliver C. Kingsley in Binghamton, New York in 1908. In 1912 Herbert B. Woodward replaced Mr. Kingsley in the business. They advertised that Sargol would put weight on people, no matter what the underlying cause of the weight loss. People suffering from tuberculosis, diabetes, abdominal tumors and much more were all assured that Sargol would return to them the healthy pounds stolen by their various diseases. They were investigated, and after a thirteen week trial, they were found guilty of fraud and fined $30,000, which was paid in February of 1917. During the time they produced Sargol, it was estimated that they defrauded their victims out of $3,000,000.

So what, exactly, did Sargol contain? Turns out, it was mostly Extract Saw Palmetto.


A Mother’s Day (in ads)

For this year’s Mother’s Day Moment, I thought I’d share two advertisments taken from the October 1916 edition of The Ladies’ Home Journal. I love the colors and artistry of the above ad for Naphtha soap, which I remember my grandma telling me about using. The ad admonishes women to “Save your energy for pleasanter things than washing clothes.”

P. and G.–The White Naphtha Soap really washes clothes while they soak.  You have for your other work the time you now spend with washboard and boiler. After the clothes are on the line, the best part of the day is before you to sew, read, shop, visit or romp with the children.

The next ad plays on the natural guilt all mothers seem to have over the consequences of not taking the best care possible of our children.

Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going to lay the guilt aside for the moment and go take a nap. Happy Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is Every Day

The fashions may change, but the relationship never will.

I saved this magazine especially for my Mother’s Day post, expecting to find amusing anecdotes highlighting the differences between how we mother today and how our great-grandmothers mothered a century ago. But curiously, blessedly, I couldn’t find much. When it comes to mothering our babies, not a lot has changed.  Oh, methods have changed. Medical care has changed. Nutrition has certainly changed. But, looking at the bigger picture, it seems that mothers pretty much want the same things for their children no matter on what year the fluttering calendar pages have come to rest.

I think we can agree that magazines speak to the social concerns and aspirations of the day. Even if the individual reader finds herself unable to live up to those aspirations (like I fail to live up to the standards of Martha Stewart Living), we can still learn what a good portion of the population was aiming for by reading the magazines of the time. And going by this magazine, I’ve realized that our sisters of the early 1900s were a lively, opinionated, caring group of mothers, who put their efforts in to raising their children and running their households to the best of their ability. Is that any different than what I do?

Just like any present-day parenting magazine, the March 1916 issue of The Mother’s Magazine contains articles ranging from broad social concerns to problems that crop up closer to home. Our 1916 mothers read articles on improving the school system and the National Baby Week movement, which aimed to educate parents across the country  toward more healthful infant care,ultimately reducing the yearly number of infant fatalities. They also read about more personal concerns, such as coping with interfering mothers-in law, reducing the work load around the house, baby’s hygiene and nutrition, care of a sick child, and the best general parenting methods. They found new recipes to try (a whole article on ways to prepare bacon!), articles on the current fashions, and many, many advertisements–all selling ways to bring up a superior child, improve their looks, boost their health, and make a little money on the side. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

Some of it is beautifully written and spot-on applicable to my own mothering, making me forget that I am reading something vintage. Instead, I find myself reading with the intent of applying it to my own family. On page 65, I read:

The Sunshine, by Margaret Blaine

The child’s character in future years will reflect just as much sunshine and cheer as surrounded him from the earliest days. We recognize unthinkingly that the child is a reflection of his surroundings. The whining child lives with irritable people. The rude child is not treated courteously. We recognize the beloved child at once. Whatever of strength or weakness may be hidden in the child’s heart his manners and mannerisms, the habits that will make him attractive or the reverse, are the reflections of his surroundings. No child speaks a harsh word until he has heard one. No child lies, in the essential meaning of the term, if he is brought up in an atmosphere of kindness. And the beginning of this silent training is in the very beginning of his life. Love and truth must wrap the cradle. Firmness and self-control must be the mother’s while the babe yet sleeps in her arms.

On another page, I found myself laughing out-loud with Elna H. Wharton, when she writes:

When baby was tiresome or unmanageable he was my child; when he was cunning or unusually handsome, he was “John’s baby” or “my grandchild.” I came to discover that my mother-in-law’s devotion to our baby was purely selfish. She did for it what gave her personal gratification, and skipped nimbly out of the way of any of the hard, disagreeable tasks connected with his care. It wasn’t that I wanted her to do them; it was only that the sentimentality without real service finally got on my nerves.

Nothing out-of-date about that!

Of course there were some things here and there that  gave me pause. From the aforementioned bacon article, I give you a recipe for–wait for it–Calf’s Head with Bacon. They say bacon makes any dish good, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Calf’s Head with Bacon

Take half a calf’s head, remove the brain carefully, wash it in cold water, and put it in a basin of water with a little vinegar. Wash the calf’s head in salted water, then boil it in seasoned water or stock and cook till tender, together with a piece of lean bacon. Take up the head, drain, and serve with slices of boiled bacon. Serve with brain sauce.

Are you now wondering how to make ‘brain sauce’? Keep reading!

Brain Sauce

Drain the brain mentioned in the foregoing recipe, remove the skin, and put it in a saucepan with enough water to cover, adding one-fourth teaspoonful of salt. Boil up quickly and place in cold water, then drain again and chop it finely. Now add the chopped brain to one cupful of white sauce. Season to taste and serve.

Hmmmm… I think I’ll save that recipe for Father’s Day! Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.

Victorian Cooking Lessons

Who knew that antique cookbooks could be such fun? The star of today’s blog is a grand old lady, The Lakeside Cook Book, No. 1 and 2, A Complete Manual of Practical, Economical, Palatable and Healthful Cookery. Written by “N.A.D.” and published by Donnelley, Gassette & Loyd in 1878. I think she looks pretty good for being over 130 years old.

The Lakeside Cook Book

She was sent to me by my good friend, eBay, as part of my research into farm life in the early 1900’s. Though the book is older than that, I could easily see it still being in use in rural kitchens in 1915. After all, I have several not-so-new cookbooks that my own mother passed on to me. In any case, relevant to my research or not, it was simply too cool to pass up.

While meandering through this delightful little slice of history, I couldn’t help but notice how long many of the recipes took to complete. In the same way that gasoline laundry detergent made me appreciate my bottle of Tide, many of these recipes make me appreciate how little time I have to spend in the kitchen. I recall that in one of my favorite childhood books, Rilla of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery, housekeeper Susan says one morning that if she got to work on a wedding cake immediately, she could have it ready for the oven by afternoon. I always wondered what took her so long to mix batter. Now I understand. Look at this recipe for Wedding Cake.

Wedding Cake

How long do you imagine it would take you to seed and chop one and a quarter pounds of raisins? The idea of having to seed any amount of raisins sends chills down my spine.

Look at this recipe cheerily named Cremated Apples. I’m having trouble imagining the final product.

Cremated Apples

This recipe brings to mind another issue. There were no temperature indicators on the ovens. I remember my grandma trying to adapt her mother’s old recipe for corn pone. The recipe called for a “quick” oven, just like this one. But what exactly is a quick oven? According to Barbara Swell, in her wonderful book, Log Cabin Cooking, a quick oven was hot enough that you could only hold your hand inside for 35 seconds. In a moderate oven, you could hold your hand in for 45 seconds, and in a slow oven, you could hold your hand inside for a full minute.

Some of these recipes had me googling up a storm as I had no idea what they were describing. Pie plant?

What is Pie Plant?

Pie plant is rhubarb! I would have never guessed. Does anyone know what Irish Moss is? And look at the amount of time the following recipe would take.

It turns out that Irish Moss is a particular kind of seaweed, considered a superfood when eaten raw. This recipe was in the category of “Custards and Creams,” and sounds as though it was cooked rather thoroughly.

Finally, here is my favorite recipe. It reminds me of my grandma telling me all about making apple butter in a giant kettle in their front yard. She described how luscious the scent of the cooking apples was and how people would stop by to comment on how wonderful it smelled. I think I’ll try this one in my kitchen just to see exactly what she meant.

Of course, I’ll have to have an afternoon free, if I’m going need to stir constantly for two or three hours. What do you think? Will you try any of these recipes yourself? Be sure to let me know if you do. Thanks for reading.