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When Will America Fulfill Its Promise?

“Let America Be America Again”

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free….

“I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!” — Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

I first encountered this poem (click here for the complete text) in a textbook when I was teaching American Literature. It has always moved me, that last line. His hope, his courage and tenacity, his determination that American principles — which could and should be a light to the world — will someday be reality for all of us.

Langston Hughes is also famous for this poem:

I, Too

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.” — Langston Hughes

I think “Let America Be America Again” was the first poem that got me thinking about the difference between immigrants who came here voluntarily — inspired by the dream of equality, and the hope that their own hard work would build a better life for their children — and the very different “America” of those who were torn from their families, shipped here in chains, sold into slavery, and even denied the right to think, “I can bear this because my children will have a better life.”

The children of the enslaved were taken from their arms and sold into slavery.

In all the long list of injustices and cruelty “the darker brother” and sister have endured, think of that difference between black lives and all the rest of us.

Their children were sold. No matter how difficult the lives of other immigrants to America may have been, the “American Dream” was different for those who came here by choice. Black families were torn apart, and few were reunited after Emancipation. How can we ever make reparation for that crime?

So I keep thinking of Langston Hughes. If he could keep faith with the Dream, the rest of us have no excuse. We ought to be ashamed. Why is equality still only a dream? It’s time to repeat — and act on — his words:

“And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!”

[Yes, the children of native and aboriginal peoples have been taken from them, too. Another injustice with long-lasting effects.]

 

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The Family Portrait: My Genealogy Rabbit Hole No. 1

Normally, I would post this rather personal essay on my other blog, Remembered  Summers.  My interest in old photos had largely to do with dating them, since dated pictures of ordinary people’s clothing are important to fashion research. That’s how I fell into genealogy research. Caution: This one is long, personal, and sad.

“I was just trying to….” You know where that leads online: you start looking for a simple answer that will “close the file” on an unidentified photo or a distant relative you don’t really care about — and months later you emerge, a wiser but sadder family historian.

Seriously, I can’t say I am happier for the things I am learning. Today, I’m writing about a photo that took many weeks — spread over several years — to identify.

My Mystery Photo: Family photo with one person (at right) missing

I had a satisfying moment this week: my detective work was confirmed when I found a duplicate of my mystery photo in a historical collection online! It was an “unidentified family group” — and I was able to tell them who those people were. Finding it was especially gratifying because the copy in the San Mateo County Historical Society’s possession was complete, while mine had one person cut out of it.

But identifying that photo — with one person scissored out of it — couldn’t be done without also discovering why my mother, and my grandmother, and my aunt never talked about those relatives. It wasn’t a story you would tell a child; it is a story that makes me sad.

My great-grandmother, Catherine (or Katherine or Katharine) Kiernan (or Kernan) Lipp. Photo circa 1870s. She was born in New York City in 1852.

I wrote some time ago about “meeting” my maternal great-grandmother when my Aunt Dorothy identified her photo for me.

Dorothy seemed surprised — almost shocked — that I didn’t know who this woman was: “That’s grandmother Lipp!” she cried.

But how could I know? She died over two decades before I was born, and we didn’t have family pictures on the walls in my parents’ house. Dorothy herself died many years ago, but the photo she put a name to has enabled me to recognize Catherine Lipp (the spelling on her tombstone) as she ages in other photos.

Studio carte de visite. Her costume looks late 1860s to early 1870s to me.

Catherine Kiernan Lipp in old age.

Her voluminous skirt with straight waist and fabric pushed toward the back says “later 1860s” to me.

She married William Henry Lipp in the early 1870s, and her first child, William Henry Lipp, Jr., was born in San Francisco in June, 1873.

The photograph of Katherine with a group of her children was taken by photographer James Van Court in Redwood City, California, 27 miles south of San Francisco., where the Lipp family eventually settled.

Catherine with her youngest child, detail, studio photo by James Van Court, Redwood City. Catherine has a comb in her hair, but she was probably too busy — with six children — to do her hair in an elaborate style.

First Clue to the group photo: The name and location of the photo studio is on the back.

Back of Lipp family photo: “James E Van Court, Redwood City”

I found a marvelous book which can be previewed online: Pioneer Photographers of the Far West, A Biographical Dictionary. It said, “Van Court, James Edward (1841–1923) Photographer; active San Francisco 1864–84; Redwood City, Calif., 1884–95.”

That gave me a date range for the picture: “Redwood City, 1884 to 1895.” All I had to do was figure out when Catherine Lipp would have had six children whose ages and genders matched the children in this photograph.  BUT: what about that child who had been scissored out of the picture? The “coffin shape” of the missing piece seemed ominous. And I had learned that one of her sons died by suicide….

First: who was the boy in a grown-up suit (complete with watch chain?)

Her is dressed like a grown man, but he’s barely a teenager.

The number of Lipp family members buried in the Old Union Cemetery in Redwood City is extensive.

Boys born to Catherine Lipp were William Jr. (in 1873,) Charles (in 1888,) and Robert, born in 1901.  Robert was not yet alive between 1884 and 1895, so he’s not in the picture.  Charles would have been only seven by 1895. Therefore, the boy in the suit is William Henry Lipp, Jr. He would have been a grown man (over 20) by 1895, so this picture must have been taken in between 1884 and 1890. Probably closer to 1884.

Another clue is the baby on its mother’s lap: possibly not old enough to sit by itself.  There is another child, a toddler, holding a ball: Two children born less than  30 months apart.

But the clues that that really helped were the girls’ hats! The girl at top right and the girl beside Willie are holding identical wide-brimmed hats.

Two proper little ladies with their matching dark straw hats.

Finally I saw part of the third hat — which must have been in the hand of the missing child: another girl.

A third hat means a third girl!

In 1885, Catherine had 6 living children: William (born June 22, 1873;) Lillian (born July 4, 1875;) Alice (born Jan. 10, 1878;) Maud (born Nov 21, 1879;) Sarah Elizabeth (born Dec. 25, 1882;) and Fannie (born Nov. 10, 1884.) I think Summer or Fall of 1885 is the probable date of this photo.

The missing girlchild is my wonderful grandmother, Lillian! Presumably my mother or my aunt wanted to put a picture of their mother in a locket or separate frame, and cut out her image. The coffin shape that disturbed me was purely an accident.

Trying to verify that the Van Court photo was taken in the studio rather than the Lipp home, last week I scrolled through hundreds of Van Court photos at the San Mateo Historical Society’s online collection. And I found a perfect copy of my photo:

Photo property of San Mateo County Historical Society Museum. I have inquired about purchasing the blogging rights, but COVID closure seems to be causing a delay.

William Henry Lipp, Jr. as a boy. He would have been 12 in 1885.

Alice would have been seven going on eight in Fall of 1885.

Alice Clarissa Lipp, almost 8 years old in Fall, 1885.

Maud Adeline was born in November of 1879.

Maud Adeline Lipp would have been almost six in Fall, 1885.

Sarah Elizabeth Lipp, holding a ball, was born on Christmas day, 1882.

Sarah Elizabeth Lipp was not yet three in Fall of 1885.

Baby Fannie Louisa was born in November 1884.

Baby Fannie Louisa was almost a year old in Fall, 1885.

My grandmother, Lillian, born in 1875, is the one cut out of the picture.

My maternal grandmother, Lillian Lipp Barton. She’s about 10 here.

Why was someone so cavalier about ruining the group photo? Probably because seeing these other children made her sad. Or she never knew them.

My great grandmother changed from this clear-eyed beauty …

Catherine Lipp, about 20 years old.

… to this sad and exhausted woman.

Catherine Lipp in her sixties.

What I didn’t know, until this research, is that the worst thing that can happen to a parent had happened to her. And it happened over and over and over again.

Her two eldest children lived into their seventies. William Henry Lipp, Jr. took over his father’s ice business in 1898, when the older man retired.

William H. Lipp, Jr. with his niece Vera, whom he raised. After 1910.

Oldest girl Lillian, born on the fourth of July 1875, was my wonderful Grandma Barton.

Left, Lillian Lipp Barton in 1949 at my birthday party. She kept house, gardened, attended Whist parties, walked downtown for lunch with friends, baked a pie every Saturday and a cake every Sunday. Her home was a refuge for me — orderly and calm, where no one ever shouted or said cruel things.

But…. Only William and Lillian can be said to have lived happy lives.

Catherine’s family grew quickly. Alice was born in 1878,  followed by another girl, Maud, in 1879.

In October 1881, Catherine’s fifth child was born, but died at 2 weeks, without being named.

Sarah Elizabeth came along in 1882, followed by Fannie in 1884.  Those are the six children in the photograph, which I have dated to late in 1885.

On January 31, 1887, Catherine had twins, Blanche and Mabel.

On October 20th, 1887, Blanche died, and Mabel died seven days later. They were 9 months old.

On January 3, 1888, Sarah Elizabeth died. She had just turned 6.

Sarah Elizabeth circa 1885.

Five days later, on January 8, 1888, Maud died, too. She was 9.

Maud circa 1885.

[Those who don’t appreciate 20th century vaccines and antibiotics should think about how quickly those four little lives were lost — between October 20, 1887  and January 8, 1888.]

In August of that terrible year, Catherine’s next son, Charles Harrison Lipp, was born (Aug. 18, 1888.)

In 1891, a third son, Robert Edward Lipp, was born (April 27, 1891.)

In 1893, Lillian, the eldest girl, aged 18, married my grandfather, Clarkson Bigham Barton (who was usually called Charles.) Eventually four healthy children arrived — the youngest being my mother.

In 1894, Catherine had her last baby, Sarah Frances Lipp (July 8, 1894.)

In 1895, grown son William H. Jr married Barbara Miller; in time they had a baby boy, Everett. The marriage didn’t last. (Barbara remarried in 1904.)

W.H. Lipp, Jr. and his baby son were living with his parents and younger siblings in the 1900 census.

In September, 1900, Catherine’s grandson Everett died of scarlet fever. He was three.

William eventually married again, but had no children.

Catherine’s grief was not over.

Alice Lipp circa 1885.

Daughter Alice grew up and married August Moosbrugger, a Russian emigre who became a naturalized American citizen in 1904. Their daughter Vera had been born in May, 1902. In 1908, suffering from a serious illness and perhaps worried that he would be a burden on his wife and child, August went into a bar where he had formerly worked and shot himself in the head.

Alice struggled to find work, but by the 1910 census Vera was living with her uncle, Will Jr., and his Danish wife, Marie.

Marie and William Lipp, Jr. with his mother, Catherine, and her grand-daughter, Vera Moosbrugger.

Vera’s  mother, Alice Lipp Moosbrugger, died in Agnews State Mental Hospital in 1921.

Alice Lipp circa 1885. Died 1921.

Charles Harrison Lipp committed suicide in 1912. He was almost 25, and recently married.

Robert Edward Lipp worked for his family’s Ice Company.

Robert Lipp driving one of his family’s ice trucks in 1915.

In 1913, his quick thinking and bravery made the news:

San Francisco Call article, Feb. 17, 1913.

It was a shock to find Robert’s WW I draft card; he was exempted from service in 1917 because he was “Insane.”

WW I draft card for Robert E. Lipp. He was a patient at Agnews State Hospital.

Robert Edward died in Agnews State Mental Hospital in 1917. He was 26.

Catherine Lipp’s husband died in 1919. In the 1920 census, there were just three women living in the family home: Catherine (right,) Fannie (left,) and Sarah Frances, (center.)

The last three Lipp women at the family home.

Fannie Louisa was working as an accountant for the family business in the 1920 census.

Probably Fannie Louisa Lipp, photographed with her younger sister and mother.

But she died in Agnews State Mental Hospital in 1923.

Probably Sara Frances Lipp, before 1920. She was born in 1894.

Sarah Elizabeth was admitted to Sonoma State Hospital for “feeble minded children”  in 1921; she died and was buried there in 1928.

Of Catherine’s 12 children, two survived to a healthy old age. Five died in childhood. One committed suicide. Four died in mental hospitals.

And this is where my search gets personal. Discovering this information, which was never mentioned in my family, casts new light on my attempts to know and forgive my own mother. Her death, when I was nine, released me from years of misery. I have never grieved for her, never missed her. I remember her as a bitter, jealous, angry woman who poured her frustration and unhappiness into my ears from the time I understood language. She wanted me to love her, and only her. Everyone knew how much she loved me, how proud she was of her only child, born when she was forty, after twelve years of marriage. Everyone believed she would never hurt me — physically.  She drove me to tears almost every day, cursing, saying awful things about my father — which, I knew, she wanted me to repeat to him. Part of her frustration was that I refused. How could I say I loved only her, when I wasn’t allowed to lie? When I was very young, I once said to my mother, “I love Grandma.” From the shocked look on her face, I knew I must never say that again. Later, on the few occasions when I tried to hint to adults that being alone with her had been torture, they said, “It’s a shame that you never knew her when she was really herself.” I wasn’t sure what that meant.

Now that I know her family history — that many of her aunts and uncles suffered from mental illness — I have to consider that she may have been clinically ill, and unable to control herself. And if that is true, then it should be easier to forgive her…. I’m working on it.

My mother and me, 3rd birthday.

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Viewing Recommendation: Craft in America

"Portrait of a Textile Worker;" art quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

“Portrait of a Textile Worker;” art quilt by Terese Agnew. Image from tardart.com

One of my favorite, most relaxing series to watch is Craft in America, a PBS show that visits four different artists/craftpersons in each episode. To my delight (and heaven knows why) many episodes are currently available on YouTube!

I just watched (for the third or fourth time in several years) the episode “Craft in America: THREADS.” A feast for the eyes and food for the brain: artist Faith Ringgold’s quilt/paintings ( I see new details every time,  and she is an extraordinary teacher with stories to share;) weaver Randall Darwell and his partner Brian Murphy (the colors! the textures! the partnership!) fiber artist Consuelo Jiminez Underwood (weaving with safety pins, and wire, and a message for our times;) and quilter Terese Agnew, whose “Portrait of a Textile Worker” I wrote about here.  Agnew uses a traditional form (quilting, piecing and embroidery) to make beautiful textile art with thought-provoking content. (In one quilt, cedar waxwings congregating in a parking lot were the inspiration — but the employees crossing the parking lot have pink slips in their pockets, because that’s what happened to them while she was making the quilt.)

I was one of the thousands who sent Agnew an envelope full of clothing labels…

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/img_0036.jpg

… which she stitched together to make “Portrait of a Textile Worker;” the finished quilt measures 98 by 110 inches. This photo gives you an idea of its size:

Teres Agnew with "Portrait of a Textile Worker;" from article about Craft in America series, SFgate.com

Terese Agnew with “Portrait of a Textile Worker;” from an article about the Craft in America series, at SFgate.com

I’ve been sheltering in place for over a month now; armchair travel, beautiful, hand crafted things, and inspiring conversation come to me via Craft in America.

Even episodes featuring crafts that don’t usually excite me (like furniture making or wrought iron making) are a trip out of myself — something different, something new, and something inspiring.

Did I mention beauty?  The work of  Chugach Aleut jewelry artist Denise Wallace is a good example of where Craft in America may take you. Wallace is featured in Craft in America: COMMUNITY.  Find a complete list of episodes at Craft in America or, for episodes you can watch  on YouTube, here.

Note: I do wish the episode titles gave more detail about content (Is Terese Agnew in THREADS or in QUILT? — Is Denise Wallace in LANDSCAPE or ORIGINS or COMMUNITY? but that’s a quibble.)

 

 

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Home-Made Masks: Patterns for Making and Donating

During World War I, the Red Cross invited home stitchers to make needed medical masks and gowns. Patterns were issued through women’s magazines.

NOTE: I am not a qualified medical practitioner. I am merely reporting on the work being done by a group of people I know. I’m going to share some of the websites they discovered.

EDITED April 17, 2020:   Some of the links in this post no longer go where they used to go:  After completing a batch of masks for Kaiser hospital, I discovered that the link no longer takes me to mailing instructions.  I’m currently in contact with another organization in the SF Bay Area.  I chose to make masks for Kaiser because I’m currently not only housebound (sheltering in place) but physically limited by a knee problem, so just going up and down stairs or driving a car is a challenge. I wanted to mail them! Sigh…. The thing is, when I make the same masks for friends and neighbors, I make a few improvements — like cutting the face lining from 100% cotton T-shirt knit, or using twill tape for the ties, which saves a lot of time. I can even substitute elastic ear loops for the ties if I want. Much faster construction! The T-shirt lining has 2 purposes: 1} it’s comfy and perspiration absorbent next to your face and 2) (something many of my friends making masks advise) the inside of the mask cannot be mistaken for the outside if you remove it and put it on again. It’s still completely washable, just not washable in a hospital autoclave!

ADDED April 18, 2020: In the San Francisco Bay Area, the<a href=”https://sites.google.com/view/makemeppebayarea/home”&gt; MakeMePPEbayarea</a> site has a constantly growing spreadsheet of shelters and institutions that need non-medical quality masks. (non-elastic preferred)  Now that we’re legally required to wear masks when leaving our homes, the need will probably grow…. (If you visit the MakeMePPE bayarea site, be sure to click on the icon at the top right of the spreadsheet to expand it. Some listings have “urgent need.”)

From an article in Delineator, December 1917. It asked, “What Can You Do?”

The community of theatrical costumers in the San Francisco Bay Area has been making masks for distribution to shelters and to other people who need a face mask, but whose need for surgical quality masks is not as great as that of doctors, nurses, and first responders — Those on the frontlines need surgical quality, medical masks. But others — including other hospital staff — are better off with a good quality home-made mask than no mask at all. The non-profit Kaiser Permanente hospital chain has issued a clear, easy to follow, well illustrated pattern for a pleated, all-cotton face mask. Click here to read about it: it’s a pdf pattern which you can print. Follow all instructions carefully — like prewashing the 100 % cotton fabric several times in hot water before you start making anything. (And maintain sterile conditions in your work area, of course.) Masks like these can be used by people who need to leave their shelter-in-place to carry out necessary tasks. They are not as effective as disposable medical quality masks, but they are better than nothing, and they are washable and re-useable.  (Remember, wearing a mask helps to protect others from people who do not yet know they are infected.)

Kaiser wrote: “While the CDC does not consider homemade masks to be effective personal protective equipment inside our clinical environments or for those caring directly for people with COVID-19, staff members in nonclinical areas may use their own personal masks.

“This is where you can help. Kaiser Permanente has developed step-by-step instructions for making masks at home. Please look at these instructions and consider making masks to donate. (A how-to video will be added shortly.) Your time and talents will be much appreciated by the Kaiser Permanente family.”  To see the full letter, click here.

(For a good study of fabric effectiveness in home-made masks, click here.) (There’s a trade-off between effectiveness and the necessity for breathing normally….)

If you are feeling useless (or helpless) stuck at home, and you have a sewing machine, you might try making masks. Contact a senior citizen community, a rest-home, a homeless shelter, a food bank — even some hospitals in your community, and be sure they will accept home-made masks before you start making them. If so, what kind do they want? Figure out how you will deliver them, too. The Deaconess website, from Indiana, even has a way for groups in need to contact mask-making volunteers. Click here.

Kaiser Hospital has even set up a way for these masks to be mailed to Kaiser at Kaiser’s expense.

Other hospitals that my costumer friends have contacted require different types of mask. Some want a seam over the nose. Patterns are available. Some masks use 1/4 inch elastic instead of ties. 

That’s why you need to contact the hospital or group that you will send them to before making masks, to be sure you are supplying what they really need.

The mask pattern from Kaiser is easy to make from cotton fabrics and supplies you probably already have, which is why I featured it. (Is there a stitcher or quilter who doesn’t have a stash?)

I haven’t used my sewing machine in several years, so I don’t know yet if it will even work! But I wanted to spread the word about what a remarkable group of costumers is doing right now.

And, since we can always use a bit of humor, I’m sharing this image from a vintage ad:

A nurse examines toilet paper in this ad from 1935.

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Musings for December 2019

Simplicity pattern 7734 included this Russian styled blouse. 1968.

I’ve mentioned before what a privilege it is to live in a city where many cultures mix and thrive. Lately I keep thinking about how much I have learned from casual meetings.

In the 1990s, one of my university students — a little older than the others — was a recent immigrant from Russia. One day, before class, I asked him how he wound up in California.

Ilya said, “I was born in Moscow. My parents were born in Moscow. But do you know what it said on my Russian passport? Under ‘nationality’ it said ‘Armenian/Jew.’ ”

“Two persecuted minorities!” I gasped. Ilya laughed and nodded vigorously. That’s why he decided to become an American.

Imagine going through life knowing that you would always be an “outsider,” never considered a “real” citizen, even after many generations. I told him, “I’m glad you’re here.”

Once again this week, the current President of the United States suggested that people of Jewish ancestry or belief owe their loyalty to the nation of Israel, rather than the United States. I urge you to read this post at Envisioning the American Dream, in which Sally Edelstein explains — yet again — that she is an American. As you read it, remember what was written on Ilya’s Russian passport.

French couturier Doucet described this jacket as “Russian” in 1917. Sketch from Delineator magazine, September 1917.

Around 2007, I joined a neighborhood society for artists. After a meeting, I found myself chatting with a painter named Marina — a Russian emigrant who was old enough to be Ilya’s grandmother.

Marina told me her story:  “I was always good at learning languages. By the time I was fifteen I was getting work as a translator. I used to work with foreign businessmen who needed help getting around in Moscow. One week I worked for an American businessman; after a few days he asked if it would be possible to visit a synagogue. He wanted to pray there. I told him ‘yes’ — that my family was Jewish, too. Then he said, ‘I want to show you something.’ He took out his passport and opened it. He said, ‘I’m a Jew, like you. But look what it says on my passport.’ Under ‘nationality,’ it said, ‘American.’ ”

“From that moment,” Marina told me, “I was determined to become an American. I finished school, I attended university, I worked…. But always in my mind I had this goal: I would be an American, no matter how hard or how long it took. And here I am, for many years now. I raised my family here.”

What can you say to a story like that? I say, “I’m glad you’re here.”

The side closing on this boy’s suit from 1924 qualified it for the “Russian” description. Butterick pattern 5202.

If you asked me fifty years ago whether I led a life of privilege, I would have said, “No.” My father did manual labor. Money was scarce. But my parents managed to build a little house, with a little apartment behind it, then buy the lot next door and build a little duplex on that…. Which eventually gave me the freedom to choose a career that didn’t provide much income. (You can work very hard in the theater and never make a living wage consistently.) So I was lucky. I was born in the U.S.A. (like my parents and their parents. They were lucky, too.) We never had to make the hard choices Ilya and Marina had to make. We didn’t have to leave everything behind and struggle to begin a new life.

Another story that I remembered today: My husband is an amateur violinist; about a decade ago his string quartet played a concert at  the Sherith Israel temple. I was amazed by the huge building, the beautiful dome, the stained glass windows, the balcony and all the polished wood that contributed to great acoustics. At intermission, in the ladies’ restroom, I found a woman bathing her face in cold water, trying to stop her tears. When I asked if I could help her, she told me that she was crying with joy. I don’t know if she was Russian or Ukrainian or what country she came from, but her accent suggested the former USSR.

“I’m crying because this place is so beautiful…. And because you can tell it’s been here for a long, long time….”

She was right. I just learned that Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco is one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. It was founded during the Gold Rush — before California became a state. Over the years its physical location changed, but the current building on California Street was begun in 1904.   The lady with tears running down her face was thinking of all the generations who worshiped freely, who were part of the larger community, who prospered and were able to build a place of worship equal to any in this city.

I don’t know where she came from, but clearly, her family had not experienced seven generations without persecution.

How lucky I am to take such freedom for granted. Perhaps you are that lucky, too.

I never want to see the day when an American citizen’s passport says “something /something” instead of “American.” ***

In case you’re wondering:  I don’t have any Jewish ancestors — that I know of. Genealogy is turning up surprises: a Methodist elder here, a suicide there, and quite a lot of relatives who were deliberately forgotten. I’m the product of parents who had no religious beliefs, but who started me on ten years of Catholic education, the last four at a college where everyone graduated with a minor in theology and philosophy. Let’s say I’m still open to new ideas.

In some towns, it’s easy to assume that everyone has the same background. Not here. Because I live in a large urban area, it’s possible for me to be friends with people for decades without ever hearing about their religious affiliations, unless it comes up in casual conversation. (I figure that, if you judge the tree by the fruit it bears, and the fruit is good, the name of the tree may be irrelevant.) At a dinner party, an old friend seated me next to her pastor, a Unitarian minister. [Deduction: Barbara is a Unitarian! Surprise!] A co-worker once mentioned that she was dreading Chinese New Year at her mother’s house, because she would have to spend hours on her knees, worshiping her ancestors. She also mentioned that she would have to dress in new — or at least, clean — clothes from the skin out. [Nice coincidence: Scrubbing the house and paying all your debts for the New Year is a Scottish tradition and a Chinese tradition.] Once, my father’s boss invited us to watch the Chinese New Year’s parade from the balcony at a large Buddhist church, where he was a Board Member. [He’d never mentioned his religion, but perhaps Buddhist compassion made him give my 65 year old father a job when no one else would hire him? Those eight extra quarters of work qualified my father for Social Security and Medicare, so it was a very big deal. Thank you, Mr. Yee.] My husband’s quartet had to reschedule their weekend practice day when the cellist was elected president of her [very] liberal Congregation. “I thought you were a Catholic,” my husband said. “I am,” she replied, “but my husband and my son are Jewish, so….” [So, she observes one Sabbath on Saturday, another Sabbath on Sunday….]

I love the way we all fit together. Incidentally, I’m one of those people who wishes strangers “Happy Holidays,” because around here you make friends with people from all over the world. I don’t assume that everyone celebrates the same holy days — or even the same “new year.” (I joke that, if I fail to keep the New Year’s resolutions I made on January 1st, I’ll get another chance on Chinese New Year, or even Nowruz (my dentist’s parents were born in Persia.)

So — Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate. Count your blessings.

*** Technically, the “nationality” line on my passport says “United States of America.”

 

 

 

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The Rapidly Changing Corseted Shape: Part 3, 1912 to 1914

The corset of 1914 is well below the bust, and is not intended to make the waist look smaller.

There were two big changes in 1914. The corset is no longer expected to support the bust, and the days of the wasp waist are over.

American Lady corset ads from 1912 and 1914. Right: No tiny waist here.

The 1912 corset was higher and longer, and it made the waist smaller; the corset of 1914 is below the bust, and does not constrict the waist. These are both advertisements from the same corset company, less than 3 years apart.

Delineator ran an article about the corsets of 1914, and it may surprise you (as it did me) to see these early references to the natural, girlish figure.

From an article on corsets by Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914, p. 38.

“The corset of former years gave a woman a mature, well-developed, matronly figure. The corset of to-day makes her look like a very young girl.” [I find the 1914-1918 figure very un-girlish, but….”fashion writing.”]

“This is the day of the …drooping, boneless pose,” the body “as straight and yielding as a very young girl’s.” That sounds like the 1920s, but it was written before World War I. “The silhouette … for 1914 … is the straight figure, with small hips, large waist, and no bust.”

One big change is that the tiny waists of the Edwardian era are no longer fashionable.

These corsets “compress the hips as much as possible,” “leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its normal size….” “Practically unboned, …The softness of the material follows the natural curve of the abdomen, …and in many cases there is even a slight curve in the front bone.”

American Lady corset ad, July 1914.

“Among smart women the size of the waistline has increased three  inches in the past three or four years. Large women still cling to their waistlines, but the corset should only measure two inches less than the waist — a twenty-four inch corset for a twenty-six inch waist.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Back lacing of a 1914 corset. Delineator, April 1914. “If necessary you can wear a brassiere with it.”

As seen in the corset back illustration above, a gap between the sides of the corset was customary, so this corset did not decrease the waist measurement at all.

Since the 1914 corset started below the bust, some women felt the need to wear a brassiere. However, the brassiere of 1914 “confined” the bust, rather than supporting it.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. There is nothing natural about this silhouette. [“Breasts? What breasts?”]

The back waist of the brassiere was much higher than the front, reflecting the posture of the period, which was changing, but not yet completely natural. (The long center front tab attaches to the corset to keep the brassiere anchored down in front.)

Back view of the DeBevoise brassiere, May 1914. You can see the vertical bones or darts in the front, the front closing, and the tab.

Less constrictive brassieres were available, offering no support, just nipple coverage..

This DeBevoise low-backed brassiere was recommended under evening dresses, which were usually made of thin fabrics. June 1914, Delineator.

Not all women wore brassieres. These fashions suggest the “absolutely free,” natural bust of 1914:

These women are showing a natural bust, probably not wearing brassieres with their low corsets. Butterick pattern illustration, June 1914.

“The uncorseted effect is produced by leaving the bust absolutely free, letting out the waist to its natural size and in the hip-confining sections of the corset using a very soft, pliable, practically unboned material that leaves the figure almost as soft and supple as if no corset were worn.” — Eleanor Chalmers in Delineator, April 1914.

Butterick illustration from April 1914. The natural, uncorseted bust line.

However, stout women were advised to wear a brassiere with the low-waisted 1914 corset:

Stout women were advised to wear a brassiere to avoid looking “slovenly.” DeBevoise brassiere ad, June 1914.

DeBevoise brassiere ad, May 1914. This ad is not necessarily aimed at stout women. That bust shape is an early version of the 1920s’ flattened chest.

“…Appear ‘uncorseted’ without looking slovenly…. Your corset will not make a ‘ridge’ in your gown.” Bulging flesh at the top of the corset (in front or in back) must have been a problem for many women.

La Camille “Ventilo” front-lacing corset ad, April 1917.

Three years after 1914, corsets were still higher in the back than in the front. A ridge of flesh above the corset was often a problem, except for the very slender. A brassiere helped control the back bulge, as well as a possible overflow in front.

The waistline is high and not especially small on these patterns from April 1914. “Slouch” pose at right.

Again, it’s hard to see why the corset of 1914 had to compress the hips during the “tunic” era. But the corset did affect posture. And some women chose a sleeker silhouette, without the tunic:

Butterick patterns in Delineator, January 1914.

Quick comparison 1907 to 1914:

Corset ads 1907, 1910, 1912, 1914. All from ads in Delineator.

Styles to come: The low, natural-waist-size corset of 1914 was still fashionable in 1917, but it was getting shorter and less rigid.

Corsets 1914 and 1917. The woman in the ad on the right has an almost “natural” figure.

For a previous post about the change in fashionable figures from 1914 to 1924, click here.

For corset change between 1907 and 1910, click here.

For corset change between 1910 and 1912, click here.

NOTE: I am not writing an authoritative history of corsets, just offering images from one or two sources in the hope that serious researchers will find them helpful. I have chosen extremes for the sake of contrast, but women could choose from a wide range of styles, and many continued to wear their old corsets until they wore out.

 

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Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1910s and WW I era, Bras, Corsets, Corsets, Corsets & Corselettes, Foundation Garments, Girdles, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Uncategorized, Underthings, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, World War I

All-American Cooking

I don’t usually talk about where I live, but I do appreciate San Francisco for more than the mild climate and the Silent Film Festival.

My husband, in Texas, late 1940s. Me, in California, about the same time.

I keep being reminded how lucky I am to have grown up in a part of the U.S. which was built and is constantly sustained by immigrants from all over the world. (It’s not just the great food, but sharing a meal is a traditional way of getting to know our neighbors.) My experiences growing up near San Francisco were different from my husband’s, who remembers attending segregated schools in a North Texas town. (My own schools were segregated not by official policy, but by neighborhoods in a “walking distance to school” approach. Definitely not ideal. And California — to our shame — was the leader in many anti-immigrant policies, like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 — an extraordinary example of ingratitude, since it was chiefly Chinese workers who tunneled through the Sierra mountains in the 1860s –making the Union Pacific Railroad that linked California with the rest of the nation possible.)

Recently, I was reminded of one of the things I learned by living here. Our SF neighborhood movie theater showed Harold and Maude for Valentine’s Day. There is a glimpse — just a few seconds — of Maude’s wrist. In the sixties, in San Francisco, one customer of the bank where I worked — an admirable man, a pillar of the community — was an Auschwitz survivor. Whenever he wore a short-sleeved shirt, I saw his concentration camp tattoo; that’s not something you forget.  Maude has row of numbers on her arm, too; it’s a detail you might not understand, if you grew up in a town where most people have the same background, the same churches, the same politics.

My California parents (born in 1904) embraced diversity. They believed in the American “melting pot” idea — that the stew is more delicious if everyone puts something in. Speaking of stew…

Pozole is a sort of stew popular in the American Southwest. It uses many traditional Mexican ingredients. One day at the grocery store, a young woman in line behind me saw the tomatillos, the chiles, and the hominy I was buying. “Are you making pozole?” she asked, clearly surprised. When I said I was, she told me that her mother was born in Mexico, but her husband was from Palestine. Pork shoulder (on sale at $.99 per lb; one recipe makes a huge pot of pozole) is the usual meat for this dish, but her Muslim husband doesn’t eat pork. So she substitutes chicken thighs (which were also on sale at $.99 per lb., although mine weren’t halal.) I tried it and discovered that I much prefer the chicken version! How lucky I am that she spoke to me. That’s what I call All-American(s) cooking.

At a potluck party last year I met a woman who is active in a Jewish genealogy group. She has had amazing success exchanging information and photos with people around the world. [From a picture she posted, a stranger in Europe recognized the house her ancestors once lived in — it was next door to his ancestors’ home. In the 1920s, those close neighbors had exchanged photos — so he had photographs of her family that her own ancestors had lost in the Holocaust. Now she has copies.] In addition to being very helpful with genealogy advice,  she had brought to the party the best kugel (a noodle and dairy dish) I have ever tasted. I confess, I had three helpings over five hours! She said, “I like to experiment with Italian dairy products — sometimes I use ricotta, or mascarpone. This time, as I was putting in the spices, I added some cardamom.” Wow! It was exceptional. (When I told a Muslim friend whose father was born in India about the cardamom, she laughed with delight.) Another example of All-American(s) cooking.

From the food truck at a farmer’s market, I ordered a sort of soft taco: barbecued pork, plus a dash of Asian plum sauce (the kind you spread on your rice pancake with mu shu chicken or pork,) plus a handful of baby greens, rolled in a warm corn tortilla. Southern barbecue, Chinese sauce, wrapped in a corn tortilla: fabulous All-American(s) cooking.

San Franciscans sharing food, sharing stories: Just a few reasons why I love this town.

Two book critics at my breakfast table.

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Filed under 1940s-1950s, Boys' Clothing, Children's Vintage styles, Musings, Uncategorized

Costume Communicates

College students, Woman’s Home Companion, October 1936.

Many years ago, I finally had time to take a life drawing class. During a break, the woman next to me introduced herself. She was a psychologist. When I told her I was a costume designer, she shared this story — one that taught her the importance of dress, and how much it communicates.

When she was completing her post-graduate degree, starting to look for jobs, she was also asked to do group counseling with high school students who were having behavior problems.

As it happened, on the day of her first group session with the students she also had a very important job interview. She dressed in her best (and only) suit, with high heels she would never have worn on campus for a usual day; she got up early to do makeup and style her hair (instead of pulling it back into her usual “no-time-to-do-my hair” ponytail,) and she carried a briefcase instead of her backpack. She wanted to look as grown-up and professional as possible for the job interview.

Two dressy suits made from Butterick 7928, October 1956, Butterick Fashion News.

She went straight from the interview to her first session with the high school students. It went really well. She felt that they were glad to participate and have a chance to get help with their problems.

A week later, she went straight from attending her own university classes to the high school. That session did not go so well. The students didn’t volunteer or participate as they had. They became quiet, sullen, obviously bored. Every week, every session felt worse. The students who had been so eager were almost hostile now. The young psychologist stayed up nights trying to figure out how to get the group sessions back to that promising first day.

Finally she realized she had to deal with the problem openly; she asked, “What changed?” One girl was willing to answer:

“That first day you came, you seemed to really be interested in us; you listened to us, and we thought maybe you could help make things better. You were all dressed up, and we thought ‘Somebody important cares about us!‘ But then you saw that we was just poor kids, and the next time you came here looking just any-old-way because we didn’t matter.”

“Oh, dear god,” thought the young psychologist. It hadn’t occurred to her that dressing as what she really was — a graduate student in college — would send that signal to them. She realized that being dressed formally had given her extra authority, and built confidence that she was really a doctor. But she hadn’t considered the reverse. She had never thought to carefully explain her real status:  she was a student, like them; poor, like them.  And being honest months later — “I really needed that job, so I tried to look professional and grown-up for the interview” — didn’t help, because it still meant she hadn’t thought it was equally important to dress professionally for them — clients who didn’t pay.

It’s a sad story that has stuck with me all these years. The shaman’s feathers and paint, the doctor’s white coat, the banker’s suit: clothes establish our identity. Whatever we wear tells other people something about who we are, what they can expect from us, and how we expect to be treated. Like it or not, costume communicates.

Doctor, nurse, and baby in an ad from 1937. Delineator.

We know at a glance that this is not a family; and we know these people are trying to help the baby — because we can “read” their clothes, without any conscious thought about what is going on here. We read each other all the time.

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Filed under 1930s, 1950s-1960s, Musings, Tricks of the Costumer's Trade, Uncategorized

Beach Overalls: Butterick 3184

Left, overalls to wear on the beach — Butterick 3184, Delineator, June 1930.

These beach overalls deserve a blog post of their own.

Butterick 3184, June 1930.

“Sunburn” was the old way of describing “a tan.”

This editorial illustration from March 1932 shows a similar but not identical beach outfit. (These have a hip yoke.) Delineator. Illustrated by Leslie Saalburg.

The front view is shown at left. Butterick 3184, 1930. Note the three [?] bust darts.

The back is low to match the evening clothes of the 1930s — but that big “X” where you weren’t tanned would not be lovely.

https://witness2fashion.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/lhj-1936-feb-cover1.jpg

Ladies’ Home Journal cover, February 1936.

Wide legged overalls seen in an ad, Delineator, June, 1932.

You can find a picture of the pattern pieces for Butterick 3184 on pinterest. The pattern did include the “bodice like a working man’s shirt.”

Very wide-legged pajamas were also popular in 1931. See The Fascinating Pajama 1931.

 

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Filed under 1930s, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Uniforms and Work Clothes, Women in Trousers

Hot Lips Cigarette Lighter, December 1930

The Hot Lips electric cigarette lighter — perfect for Christmas, 1930. Ad from Delineator, December 1930.

Part of the pleasure of reading vintage magazines is the advertisements I find. This ad ran from the top of the page to the bottom, so I have broken it into segments for legibility.
Here, from 1930, is a Christmas gift you might actually encounter at an antiques fair:

Top of ad. “The liquid, graceful beauty of this sculptured head will enhance your library table.” — It must be a high class item, huh?

Bottom of ad for a Townsend-Wulff, Inc. Hot Lips electric cigarette lighter. Delineator, December 1930, p. 91.

It looks like the button is on the back of her neck, so you just put your hand around her neck to pick her up and turn her on…. “Perfect prize for bridge tournaments and golf tournaments.”

In 1930, ten dollars was not cheap.

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Filed under Uncategorized