Tuesday, July 19, 2016

To Brush or Not to Brush

by Connie Cortright

I was doing some writing last night and came up with a question that needed answering. I thought I'd share a bit of what goes on in a writer's mind when working on historical novels.

In my book, the mother yells up the stairs at her girls. "Don't forget to comb your hair and brush your teeth." STOP. Wait a minute. Did children brush their teeth back in the 1920s? What types of toothbrushes did they use back then? Did they have toothpaste or have to use tooth powder? Those are some of
the questions that I needed to answer before I could write another word of my book.

After Googling several topics online - including dental hygiene, dental care, toothbrushes and toothpaste in 1920s- I came up with conflicting information. Some of the sources said that as late as the 1920s "many Americans did not brush their teeth" and other sources said that in the 1920s Americans obsessed with oral hygiene.

Finger toothbrush - Courtesy of Wiki-commons
I'm thinking that it was the case of rural versus city life back then. As in the case of electricity, city dwellers enjoyed the conveniences of electric appliances many years before rural areas experienced anything like that. Residents in cities had more access to dentists and dental hygienists-which first started in the early 20s.

Children in city schools were exposed to the good habit of brushing their teeth twice a day. The public school system of New York had a "Toothbrush Drill" as early as 1912-1913 teaching the children this song: "Here we are coming to clean our teeth, clean our teeth, clean our teeth/Here we are coming to clean our teeth; and we do it night and morning." Popularizing the Toothbrush

On the other hand, toothbrushes were made of boar bristles in the 1920s which tore up the mouth and gums, discouraging people from using them. Many people preferred to clean their teeth with much softer rags. By then the toothbrush handles were made of plastic celluloid replacing the former bone or wooden handles. Softer synthetic bristles, like ours today, weren't invented until the 1938 replacing the animal hair bristles.

For traveling, the finger toothbrush was used. Made entirely out of rubber, the devise fit over a fingertip so that the user could apply the brush to their teeth.

Courtesy of Wiki-commons
The obsession with oral hygiene came in the 1920s with all the advertisements in magazines, newspapers, and eventually on the radio. As the modern appliances entered their homes, people became  more concerned with their hygiene in general - they had more time to worry about this than they did ten years before. Facial creams, hair shampoos, and toothpaste advertisements sprang up vying for the attention of housewives who were concerned about personal hygiene for the first time.

Courtesy of Wiki-commons
Tooth powder, for cleaning your teeth, was originally produced in the form of jars. By 1930s, tooth paste became more popular. Some of the same toothpastes we still have today were already in production then. Pepsodent and Colgate are two of the brand names I recognized in ads. Colgate's Ribbon Dental Cream was popular back then, as was Pepsodent.

So what did I conclude about putting that sentence in my novel? I'll leave it in. I'm sure a mother somewhere in Racine, Wisconsin told her children to brush their teeth back in August, 1926.

Information taken from: "From Oral Health to Perfect Smiles: Advertising and Children's Oral Health" by Heather Munro Prescott.



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Swimming Suit Beauties -- Way Back Then

by Connie Cortright


Courtesy of Wiki Commons
The Miss America pageant is approaching it's 100th anniversary in a couple years. Held in Atlantic City, it was started in 1921 with the name "Fall Frolic" by local businessmen to extend the summer tourist season beyond Labor Day. The first woman crowned as the winner was sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman.

The next year, the East Coast newspapers wanted to increase their circulations, so joined in with the sponsorship of the event. In the beginning years, rules for the contest didn't exist. There were girls from the age of fifteen and women who were married that competed for the title of "Miss America", which was first used in 1922. The youngest person to win the title of Miss America was fifteen-year-old Miss Connecticut, Marian Bergerson in 1933. After that, the rules for the contest specified that contestants had to be 18-26 year old single women.

During the 20s, the contest was named "Inter-City Beauty Contest" because the contestants were winners of local city competitions from such locations as New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Camden, and Ocean City. It wasn't officially named "The Miss America Pageant" until 1940.

The pageant was controversial from its inception because of the "loose morals" that were displayed by the contestants. Most of the people in the US were offended by the bobbed hair cuts and bare arms and legs that the women had to display, especially in the Bather's Revue portion of the contest. The dissenters won the argument when the annual event was cancelled in 1928.

The terrible economy during the Depression even affected the pageant. It was cancelled for several years and didn't resume it's annual competition until 1933. The five years between '28 and '32 were the only ones that the pageant hasn't taken place in September since the 1921 start.

The winners of the early contests were awarded anywhere between $100 in 1921 and $100,000 in 1926. With the popularity of the contest expanding, "Miss California" won the contest in 1925 and became Miss America. That was the year that the contest was broadcast live on the radio. Not too many radio stations were in existence that year, but the contest grew more in popularity as radio stations expanded.

During the 1930s, news about the contests was published in newspapers and journals across the country. Newsreels, shown in movie theaters, allowed people to actually watch the women participate in the contest even if it was seen after the fact.  It was first broadcast on television in 1954.

The early contestants competed to win money and often movie contracts. In 1944 the prize for the contest was changed from cash to college scholarships. The contest became more accepted as main stream after that time.

While growing up, I remember watching the Miss America Pageant every year. I'm not sure how important it is in the lives of Americans today, but it is an icon of our country that has lasted for almost a hundred years. That's quite an accomplishment in itself.

Information taken from Miss America - Wikipedia and Miss America - History

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Man Caves of the 20s

by Connie Cortright

My second book starts with a scene where Romy Iverson goes to the local feed mill, but I'm wondering how many readers actually know what a feed mill is these days.

In many small towns, feed mills were a place for men to congregate to get the latest news of the week. Of course, the farmers brought homegrown corn or oats there to get ground into pig feed or cow feed, but the feed mills were more than that.

In the early twentieth century, agriculturists learned the importance of an animal's diet on how fast they grew or how much milk they produced. The scientists developed formulas for fodder for each animal, adding natural raw nutrients to the corn and oats to reach specific requirements for each type of animal. Farmers were encouraged to bring their homegrown grains to the mills to get ground up and the nutrients added to reach a more balanced diet.

In the nineteenth century and into early twentieth century the feed grinders at the mills used buhr mills - commonly known as millstones. The grain would be fed in between two large stones and crushed into smaller pieces for the cows to eat. Then the other nutrients would be added to the fodder. They would often be located beside rivers, using water to power the mill wheels.

Hammer mill -Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
In the 1930s, companies such as Gehl invented hammer mills to grind the grain. The Gehl Grain Grinder was installed at local feed mills using hammer bars connected to high speed rotating discs. The centrifugal force of the discs made the hammer bars swing, crushing the grain into pieces small enough to fall through a screen into the hopper where the nutrients were added.

Men would bring their grain to the feed mill early in the morning and sit around a potbelly stove in the feed store sharing the latest news or concerns about the economy and politics. Many of these feed mills in communities formed co-ops, where limited supplies could be purchased in their stores.

I wonder if the feed mill workers knew as much about the farmer's lives as hairdressers knew about women's lives. I'll let you decide by reading a short portion of "Lead Me Home":

The mill was crowded with the usual Saturday morning busyness. Romy backed his 1928 Ford truck to the hopper with caution. Pa would detect a new scratch on the seven-year-old vehicle in no time, even though the truck had taken a beating many times before. On the opposite end of the lengthy building, other farmers were parked at the loading dock, packing bags of feed into their trucks. They must have arrived before first light.
“Howdy, Ralph.” Romy shivered as the cold March wind crawled down his neck before he got a chance to button his ragged brown coat. No money for a new one these days. He grabbed his shovel and jumped into the back of the truck. “Pa wants this corn ground up.”
“Got it. We s’posed to add anything to it?” Ralph lowered the tailgate.
 “The usual, plus one hundred pounds of oats. We’re out already.” Dust invaded Romy’s nostrils as he shoveled corn into the hopper.
“Looks like you’re in a hurry there.” Cackling, Ralph grabbed a shovel and jumped into the back to help. “I bet you’re goin’ to meet a doll. You’re always looking for pretty girls.”
“Oh, baloney, Ralph. You don’t have to pester me about dames every time you see me.”
“Sure I do.” Ralph wiped his forehead with his bandana. “Since I’m your Pa’s best friend, I have to help him keep you in line when you’re in town.” Scraping the last of the corn from the truck bed, he slapped Romy on the back. “You’ll get over your shyness someday.”  

Romy shook his head. If only. “I’ll be back in an hour to pick up the feed.” He jumped to the ground and headed toward the front of the truck. “Thanks for the help.”


Information taken from: antique-hammer-mill and Klema Feeds History