“My husband is out of employment and has been for some time…. Our savings are gradually disappearing, and I am so helpless. I don’t know a thing I can do to earn money….” The Woman’s Home Companion invited her to sell magazine subscriptions.
One of the fascinations of vintage women’s magazines is their “time capsule” quality. While reading through them for fashion information, I can’t resist the advertisements, which give me a idea of the era’s preoccupations (zeitgeist is the correct word, I suppose.) What was new — from zippers to steam irons? What did advertisers want people to worry about, from halitosis and pyorrhea to underarm hair? In the Thirties, massive male unemployment found many women desperate to help support their families.
Before color photography was widespread, black and white photos were hand tinted — “We instruct you by our new simple Photo-Color process and supply you with work.” Coloring printed images was already “women’s work.” In the 19th century, some women had earned money by hand-painting fashion plates with watercolor.
I realize that researchers tend to notice what they expect to find, so it’s not surprising that, as the child of people who married in 1933 — in the heart of the Great Depression — I noticed these little ads crowded into the backs of magazines.
Here is a selection of ads which promised women that they could earn money at home, with no experience or skills. Some of them were probably preying on the desperate — but perhaps I’m just cynical….
Women might also try to start a candy business….
Or sell clothing…
[I don’t think it would be easy to sell dresses or anything else to your friends and relatives if you were all equally broke….]
Fireside Industries said there was a market for hand-painted decorative items:Selling greeting cards, stationery, and especially Christmas cards, was advertised as a way to make money.
The words “Earn,” “Easy,” and “Extra Money” appear again and again, often with the promise that women can work from home..
From my own experience in door-to-door sales, sometimes you have to sell a “quota” amount before you qualify for the commission. In 1967, if I didn’t sell enough children’s encyclopedias to meet my weekly sales quota, I didn’t get paid at all. I believe some car salesmen still face this problem.
Other ads [which I regard less cynically] offered educational opportunities leading to a new career — in hotel management, dressmaking, or nursing.
Back in the 1920’s, Lewis would teach you how to run a tea room, so this was an established business school:
Ads for nursing schools were also traditional, and little changed from 1924 to 1937 — except for the potential salary and the hats.
I have some respect for the ads that suggested professional training for women who, like this one from the ad I began with, had never expected to work outside the home.
And I can’t resist sharing (again) the “ad from the back of a magazine” that startled me into collecting them:
Now, that is desperation.