If you only learn one dance from the Twenties, make it the foxtrot. It’s simple, it offers lots of variety, and it goes with everything. (Kind of like that little black dress or your favorite tux). Adding the foxtrot to your dance routine helps you glide through a Twenties party.
Because of the dance’s popularity, almost every song in 4/4 time billed itself as a foxtrot. Some were slow and others fast, but as long as the beat is correct you can foxtrot to it all. Marking “a new foxtrot” on the front of sheet music guaranteed some sales. Piano players often wanted to provide danceable music for evening guests. Foxtrot also guaranteed that you wouldn’t go home with a dirge. It also labeled the song as current with the times, since everyone was dancing the foxtrot. (At least, it seems that way from the music that survives.)
Learn to Dance the Foxtrot Online
This Youtube video shows many different ways the foxtrot appeared through the Twenties. In a little over six minutes you can see the basics as well as some fancy foxtrot footwork, all from vintage clips.
Long, long, short-short… long, long, short-short. This step sequence helps to create the signature swaying movement that characterizes the foxtrot. However, you can start by simply taking one step after another: walk, walk, walk, walk. This video playlist shows you the basics and beyond, in 26 very short clips from the Sway Ballroom Dance studio.
If you need to learn to foxtrot in a very small space, try this video. In it a dance instructor leads you through a slow foxtrot in a very tight living room.
On the other hand, if you prefer more traditional instruction, this introduction by May I Have This Dance takes you from the beginning to a foxtrot promenade that glides you around the room.
Adding the foxtrot to your dance routine means you never have to sit along the wall at a Twenties dance party. Whether you gather with a few close friends for dinner and dancing at home, or attend a Twenties bash at a large venue, you will be well prepared with a good foxtrot. And if you’d like a few songs to trot to, you might want to check out this post on Twenties music hits.
Saving magazines for a century? Or even fifty years? Why would people do this? What was so engaging about these periodicals that they lived in the bottom of a cupboard or drawer for that length of time?
Some of these magazines stay with a family for three or four generations. I’m a third generation owner myself. While visiting my husband’s 94 year old grandmother on my honeymoon, we uncovered a stack of needlework magazines from the 1930s. She sent them home with me. I’ve taken care of them lovingly ever since. In not too many years they will reach their centennial anniversary. Maybe I’ll bake them a cake.
Learning New Skills
Actually, people held onto their magazines for several different reasons. They were considered valuable. Women’s magazines often contained step by step cooking instructions for new cooks. Divided into twelve to fourteen months (or even longer), each article told how to create a specific type of food. If you used those magazines to learn how to cook, or even to refresh your memory, you aren’t going to throw out the “breads” issue.
Experiencing the Best Authors and Illustrators
They also contained some of the best writers of the day. Edna Ferber, Mary Roberts Rhinehart, Kathleen Norris, Temple Bailey, and Faith Baldwin filled the pages. These authors, and more like them, kept women reading and subscribing for more. Usually the stories focused on relationships, but sometimes readers found a mystery or humor. Some of the stories focused on a social problem. And many times subscribers read through a new serialized novel by a famous author before its publication. Each issue published a few chapters of the novel until it was complete. The magazines with the best stories tended to be kept by their owners. Scroll through one of those magazines, Woman’s Home Companion.
Some magazines published new or famous art prints that could be removed and framed for the home. Others specialized in current or new popular artists. (Norman Rockwell, for instance, illustrated for The Saturday Evening Post for years.) Almost all these illustrations used charcoal, pencil, or ink drawings printed in black and white. They were still eye-catching and well done. Some magazines placed a color seasonal print on the cover every month to catch readers’ eyes. Others used the cover to highlight a project inside.
Reading for New Recipes
As the seasons turned, home managers turned to the pages of last year’s periodicals looking for useful, seasonal recipes. All cooking in the 1920s and 30s was seasonal cooking, unless the cook could obtain food in a can, or personally canned it herself the year before. Although many periodicals preached meal planning, the monthly menu calendar proved a welcome sight to many a weary cook. Sometimes published recipes were family favorites. Others combined familiar ingredients in new ways. During the Colonial revival of the 1920s, some periodicals published colonial-style recipes that used cornmeal as an ingredient.
Providing Patterns for Crafting
Some readers saved magazines for the needlework patterns. For example, filet crochet reached its heyday during the 1920s and 30s. Needleworkers who enjoyed that type of crochet work kept their magazines so they had ready access to patterns that all too soon dipped into obscurity. If someone liked to tat lace, the magazines provided a goldmine of patterns. Each issue of a needlework periodical until the 1940s or beyond featured one or more tatting patterns to keep those shuttles moving. My favorite tatting pattern of all time dates from 1919. Without saving magazines for a century, I never would have met this pattern.
Often, the magazines stayed around to be brought out every now and then in a fit of nostalgia. “Do you remember when…” can be a great story starter. A comment about an article sparks a family story. In addition, there is something precious about keeping Grandma’s magazines that she loved enough to treasure for fifty years. Paging through them brings up memories of Grandma’s baked bean recipe – with no barbecue sauce, thank you. Only savory beans for Grandma. Looking at the needlework patterns brings to mind the room dividers she embroidered in brown and green. (Wonder what ever happened to those?) Memories become as mellow as the pages that turn when we look through the old magazines that stay in the family generation after generation. There’s something to saving magazines for a century. Especially if they’re good ones.
Some hints from yesterday age like old milk. Others stand the test of time. Even if a few details need to change to fit into our lifestyles today, the basic information in these hints remains useful. Use these 5 vintage craft hacks to make your life easier. All these hints are curated from my vintage collection.
1. Suitcase Sewing Room or Hobby Holder
For somone living in a small apartment or living space, an inexpensive Japanese suitcase makes an excellent substitute for a sewing room. The bag (or elasticised pocket) inside the cover provides a splendid place to keep patterns, scraps of cloth, and so on. The case itself holds the sewing. A pincushion can be attached to the side. A box holds thread, scissors, thimble, chalk, tape measure and pencil. Such a suitcase looks neater than a cardboard box or open bin, is more durable, and easily carried about or kept beside the machine.
The Japanese suitcase was simple, inexpensive, and extremely useful for short trips or household organization. Of course, this will work for any portable hobby. Do you like quilling, a form of paper craft? Interested in Chinese brush painting? A case like this keeps your supplies together. Many hobby stores sell comparable containers that add both organization and atmosphere to a small home space. If your interior decoration tends more towards the Forties, Fifties, or Sixties, a vintage suitcase works well there, too.
2. Counting While Knitting or Crocheting
Many needleworkers knit, crochet, or tat lace while talking with family or visitors. Or they watch a movie or television series while making progress on that new afghan or sweater. If the worker pays too close attention to the conversation or the show, mistakes work their way into the design.
Here’s a trick which helps with mistakes due to conversation or an engrossing movie. If you are knitting, say, eight stitches, count them backward. Eight, seven, six, five, and so on. When you reach one you know you knitted to the end of that count without needing to keep any particular number in mind. So if making shells in crochet, count: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 double crochet stitches, and that shell is done.
3. Store That Afghan or Blanket Away
Some things are better when they are hidden in this 1920s vintage craft hack. Perhaps you keep a fleece blanket or light afghan on your sofa or comfy chair. It’s not a current color, the thing doesn’t match your decorating scheme, but you love it. Its warmness, snuggly factor, and comfortableness brings a smile to your face every time you pick it up.
Make a simple square sofa pillow cover. It can zip, button on the back, or fold over. Look here to find instructions for a simple folding envelope pillow cover. If you want to be fancy, add buttons to the back to keep it more secure.
Then fold up your beloved blankie and slip it into the cover until you need it the next time. Voilá! Now you have a new decorator item and the blanket remains well within reach for those days when you find the air a little chilly.
4. Do You Carry a Handkerchief?
…and wear woven fabric blouses? Whether cotton or silk or linen, old clothing can be put to good use. When their time is over as tops, cut them down into individual handkerchiefs. From a button-down blouse with no darts you can get one from each front side, and two or more from the back, depending upon the cut of the material. You may even be able to cut one from each sleeve. You just scored half a dozen handkerchiefs for the time it takes to cut and hem them.
Roll the hems and sew them by hand. Make a pretty finish by overcasting the rolled hems in two directions to give the appearance of cross stitch. Then embroider a flower or emblem in the corner. If you prefer, use a sewing machine for a 1/8-inch hem. The corner embroidery really livens up the handkerchief and makes it a joy to use.
If you crochet or tat, you can always add a lacy border to the hems and for the price of your decorations you have a one of a kind, artisan vintage handkerchief. This is one of the vintage craft hacks I’ve used for years and it gives new life to old fabric.
5. Paper Reed for Basketwork
After World War I, basket making reed became expensive for home basket makers. One basket maker began using the brown paper that was used for wrapping packages. Brown paper grocery bags would work as well. Cut the brown paper into 2-inch strips for a large basket. For a small basket made with finer reed, cut the paper into 1-inch strips. Dip the strips into water and then twist them. When dry and stained with a coat of shellac, it’s strong enough to weave with and more artistic than imported basket reed.
This technique continues to be used today. Not too long ago, in 2019, one of the shops sold baskets made from twisted newspaper strips. Periodically you can also find baskets in the stores made from twisted paper strips, which is what this describes.
While all of these vintage craft hacks might not appeal to you, I hope that one or more sparks your creativity today.
How did people listen to the music hits of 1921? Only city dwellers listened to the hits on a radio station in the early Twenties. Unless, that is, an enterprising youngster in the household fell in love with radio and rigged up her own wireless for everyone to enjoy. Even then, only one person could use wireless headphones at a time.
If you wanted to actually listen to music in 1921, the phonograph was your best bet. With a phonograph and a stack of recorded disks (what we today call a record player and records), an owner could listen to classical, popular music, or opera. However, a phonograph could be expensive. In 1921 a Victrola cost a purchaser anywhere between $25 and $1500. Victrola advertised heavily, and they became a household name in phonographs.
If you didn’t have a phonograph or a wireless, several options existed. Most people consumed their music via the piano. Companies produced sheet music for all the hits (and some not-so-hits) and you bought it at the local store. Sometimes you found sheet music in a sheet music store, but by the Twenties you increasingly found it at your corner general store. If the store carried many miscellaneous items, it probably also carried sheet music.
Some of the Year’s Greatest Hits
This year we listened to Marian Harris sing I’m a Jazz Vampire. Here are the lyrics. This song shows all kinds of promise for inclusion in Twenties-themed parties through the year.
Paul Whiteman, who called himself the King of Jazz, scored yet another hit with an Irving Berlin melody, Everybody Step. This foxtrot appeared in a 22-scene stage production called Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue. The Music Box Revue opened at the Music Box Theatre in October of 1922 and ran for nine months. Irving wrote the music.
Eddie Cantor sang “I’ll tell the world I love you, Don’t forget your promise to me, I have bought the home and ring and everything” in Margie. This site offers lyrics and a little more about the song and its creators.Even if you don’t follow 1920s music, Margie is a song you may recognize when you hear it.
Ain’t we got fun?
Ain’t We Got Fun? was featured in the musical revue Satires of 1920, which opened in California in August of 1920. After that this foxtrot took on a life of its own, appearing in vaudeville, on various artists’ recordings, and even appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The song takes a devil-may-care look at a life of poverty, with lyrics like: Landlords mad and getting madder Ain’t we got fun? Times are so bad and getting badder Still we have fun There’s nothing surer The rich get rich and the poor get laid off In the meantime, in between time Ain’t we got fun?
And a chat about 1921 music wouldn’t be complete without that timeless gem, I’m Just Wild About Harry. This song is part of almost every 1920s revival. “He’s sweet, just like chocolate candy/ And just like the honey from the bee./ Oh, I’m just wild about Harry/ And he’s just wild about/ Cannot live without/ He’s just wild about me!
So the next time you want to trot or jitter or sway to the hits of the Twenties, give some of these a try. You also might be interested in an earlier post where I talk about about vintage Forties music and how to locate it online.
Spice up your next Fifties party with these crocheted drinking glass covers, also called glass jackets. Very popular in the late 1940s and 50s, these crocheted covers absorbed condensation from cold drinks so that coasters weren’t needed. More than a cup cozy, the solid bottom helps to keep liquid off the table.
Usually crocheters made these in one color. Most of them were white. However, you can make them in colors to coordinate with your party. If each one sports a different color, locating identical lemonade glasses becomes much easier.
Shades of white, gray, and blue would look wonderful at a winter holiday party. How about bright colors for a summer Tiki gathering? An autumn or Halloween party would sparkle with glass jackets in shades of brown, green, and orange.
What you will need
To make these you will need size 20 thread and a size 11 crochet hook. These will fit a glass with a diameter of 2.25 inches and it comes 2.5 inches up the side of the glass. To illustrate the pattern, I used size 10 thread and a size 7 crochet hook. Mine fits a pint glass nicely. Two balls of Aunt Lydia’s Crochet thread in size 10 (350 yards per ball) should be plenty to make four large glass jackets. Three balls of Handy Hands Lizbeth size 20 thread, at 210 yards per spool, will make four covers in the smaller size.
This pattern uses a lot of abbreviations in order to keep the instructions as short as possible. Here they are:
Ch (chain) sl st (slip stitch) rnd (round) st (stitch) sk (skip) sp (space) lp (loop)s sc (single crochet) dc (double crochet) pc st (popcorn stitch): work 5 dc in the same stitch, remove the hook from the loop, insert the hook into the first double crochet [or 3rd chain of a chain-3 start]. Reach around the back of the stitches, grab the loop, and pull it through. Make a chain to tighten the stitch and hold it. scd (short double crochet) this is the same as a half double crochet, or hdc. Thread over hook once, insert in stitch and pull through, thread over again and pull through all the loops at once. * * repeat whatever lies between the stars, as many times as the instructions say.
Begin at center of base with ch 3, work 8 sdc in first st of ch, jon with sl st into first sdc.
Rnd 2: 2 sdc in each st. Do not join this or following rnds, but always place a marker at the beginning of a rnd.
Rnd 3: 1 sdc in first st, * 2 sdc in next st, 1 sdc in next sts, repeat from * all around, ending rnd with 2 sdc in last st.
Rnd 4: Increase in every third st by working 2 sts in one.
Rnd 5: Increase in every 4th st.
Rnd 6: increase in every 5th st.
Rnd 7: increase in every 6th st.
Rnd 8: Increase in every 7th st.
Rnd 9: Repeat Rnd 5.
Rnd 10: Increaase 10 sts evenly spaced (90 sts).
Rnd 11, 12, 13: Work these rnds even, putting 1 sdc into each sdc. At the end of rnd 13, join to the first stitch with a sl st. Ch 1, and turn.
Rnd 14: Work one sc over each sdc, join, turn. (You are working the sc on the back of the work. Turning again at the end of the row, you are again facing the front side of your work.)
Rnd 15: Ch 3 (this counts as 1 dc), 4 dc in same sp, and with these make a pc, ending with the holding ch as in the instructions above. Ch 2, * sk 2 sts, pc st in next st, ch 1, repeat from * all around, join.
Rnd 16, 17, 18: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 1, pc st in next lp, repeat from * all around, join.
Rnd 19: (Ch 5, sc in next pc st) 3 times, * ch 3, pc st in next pc st, ch 3, sc in next pc st, (ch 5, sc in next pc st) 4 times, repeat from * around, end with ch 2, dc in next pc st (this brings thread in position for next round.)
Rnd 20: * (Ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, repeat from * all around in same manner ending rnd with dc in dc, omitting last ch 3 at end of rnd.
Rnd 21: Pc st over dc, ch 3, sc in next lp, * (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, (ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp) twice, repeat from * around ending with ch 3, join.
Rnd 22: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * 8 times, ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, ch 3, join.
Rnd 23: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, ending with ch 3, join.
Rnd 24: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, * ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, ending with ch 3, join.
Rnd 25: Sl st to lp, pc st in same sp, *ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) 4 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, end with dc in pc st.
Rnd 26: Pc st over dc, *ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, end with dc in pc st.
Rnd 27: Pc st over dc, *ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around, end with dc in pc st.
Rnd 28: Pc st over dc, * ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * 8 times, ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 5, sc in next lp, dc in pc st.
Rnd 29: Pc st over dc, * ch 3, sc in next lp, (ch 5, sc in next lp) twice, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, ch 3, pc st in next lp, repeat from * around ending with ch 3, sl st in pc st.
Rnd 30: Sl st to lp, sc in same sp, * (ch 5, sc in next lp) 3 times, (ch 3, pc st in next lp) twice, ch 3, sc in next lp, repeat from * all around in the same manner, ending with ch 1, sc in sc.
Rnd 31: (Ch 5, sc in next lp) 4 times, ch 3, pc st in next lp, ch 3, sc in next lp, repeat from beginning all around in same manner ending rnd with sl st in sc.
Next 4 rnds (32, 33, 34, 35): sl st to lp and work a pc st in each lp with ch 1 between pc sts.
Rnd 36: Work 2 sc in each lp and 1 sc in each pc st all around, join, and cut thread.
For many home managers from 1909 to 1929, the fireless cooker seemed truly a wonderful appliance. While everyone complained about the cost of coal (which everyone seemed to do, constantly) the cook who owned a fireless cooker had an advantage. She could prepare dinner early in the day, set it up, turn off the stove, and go about her day. It also saved on fuel costs, a double-win.
Although invented near the end of the 1860s, the fireless cooker really took off after 1900. A bright new century dawned with new ideas. Many gadgets filled the home during this time and the kitchen received a good number of them. Manufactured fireless cookers were popular. They walked in step with the time-saving future. Cookbooks of the time sometimes instructed the cook to “drop the mixture into the fireless cooker” so that they could continue with their day. Some even contained an entire chapter of fireless cooker recipes.
How Fireless Cookers Work
The concept behind fireless cooking was simple. You prepared a recipe that needed a long time to cook, such as a bean soup, hot cereals, or meats that benefit from long slow cooking. The work that goes into the preparation is important. Food needs to be heated to a high enough temperature that it continues to cook for the next several hours without additional heat. Therefore, most of the time the recipe is boiling when it transfers to the fireless cooker.
The cooker itself (sometimes called a hay box) consisted of a metal or wooden box with a lid and one or two holes. Each hole contained a metal pot with a lid and two stones, like pizza stones but thicker. These stones went into the oven to heat while you mixed and heated your recipe.
When your recipe boiled and your stones were hot, you removed one stone from the oven and placed it into the bottom of the hole. Then you filled the metal pot with your boiling hot mixture, carefully moved it to the cooker, and put the lid on it. Another hot stone went on top of the lid. Finally, you closed the lid of the cooker and the heat came from top and bottom stones to keep your meal toasty and cooking until it was time to eat.
Some cookers operated a bit differently. However, the goal was to keep the heat inside a tightly insulated box long enough to cook the food and keep it safe. When it was time to eat you opened the box lid and took the lid off the canister. Like magic, dinner was ready. The trick was learning to cook an entire meal in a fireless cooker so that you only needed to whip up dessert.
Reading Further… and Recipes
While fireless cookers are no longer made, material abounds on the Internet and maybe even at your local library on how to make your own. Homemade Fireless Cookers and Their Use, by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in 1919 explains how to construct a cooker. Then it provides several recipes for its use. Since this is a historical document, the first page states that modern scientific standards are not in use here. In 1913, The Fireless Cook Book provided instructions for creating your own cooker as well as 250 recipes to delight your household.
In 1917 a patent emerged for an electric fireless cooker. Then in the 1970s that idea emerged again. This time we called it the Crock Pot. Later I’ll write about some fireless cooker recipes I stumbled across recently. If making your own fireless cooker for your kitchen doesn’t thrill you, you can always adapt these recipes for use in your home crock cooker.
Making Your Own – Safety First!
If you do construct your own fireless cooker, be sure to adhere to current safety standards. Many of these were filled with asbestos. While I’m sure they retained heat, I hate to think what else they did. And remember: These cookbooks do not adhere to current food safety standards. You may need to do some research to ensure the food will be safe.
Thinking about making one yourself? If you do, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear.
Bille Campbell is an individual. The year is 1911 and in Motor Maids School Days she decides to attend school for the year in West Haven, since her father will be working in Russia for the year and she is motherless. She stays with an elder cousin, Helen Campbell. Spinster Helen acts as both chaperone and guide to Billie. West Haven is a seaside town, filled with seaports, strange people, and high school hijinks. Fifteen year old Billie drives up to the school in her own bright red motorcar, which becomes the centerpiece for many adventures to come.
This book is the first in the very short Motor Maids series for teen girls. My copy belonged to my grandmother, and she loved it enough after receiving it sometime around age fourteen to keep it for the next 65 years.
Turn of the Century Culture
And there’s a lot to love with this book. To begin with, it starts off a six-book series which leads the Motor Maids far away from the sleepy seaport town of West Haven. Motor Maids School Days is a look into the culture of the early 1900s. Yes, it’s fiction. But it also tackles topics that most of us only read about in passing. Or those cultural artifacts we see in an old photo and wonder what happened.
For one thing, the book explains high school girls’ clubs. The high school sophomore class of girls at West Haven High School is divided into two groups: The Mystic Seven and the Blue Birds. The Blue Birds consists of all the girls not in the Mystic Seven. Seventeen of the girls join the Blue Birds. Reading carefully shows the ebb and flow of interaction between the two clubs, as the book talks about get-togethers, outings, and overnights.
School Days also talks a lot about the class system of 1900 – 1915. Some families are in, and others are out – merely based on their financial position within the town. It contains characters who are “haves” as well as those who are “have nots,” and weaves them nicely through the pages of the novel. Sometimes you feel like you get to know supporting characters better than you do the protagonist Billie. Elinor Butler introduces us to her seafaring family, and Mary Price shows us life with her mother’s tearoom.
You also read about vintage fashion and how it reflected social status. For someone fascinated by the fashions of 1910-1915, this could be worth reading the book on its own. Ulsters, veils, wraps, and dresses all take their place as part of the story.
Wrapped up in all this vintage detail you discover a mystery. Billie and her friends find themselves involved in a bizarre cat and mouse game, avoiding people whose names they don’t know as they attempt to unravel the threads that lead to an answer.
Signs of the Times
Because the book appeared in 1911, it contains outdated terms and ideas. One of the girls in the story is overweight, and although she appears in several of the stories and is a general favorite of everyone, they still tease her. Even though West Haven sits as a port town, with ships arriving with cargo from everywhere, some of the visiting characters have unflattering descriptions. These serve to increase suspense in the novel, and perhaps that is how they were intended, but at times they seem odd, especially on this fourth or fifth reading of the novel. And of course, because of the time period, servants are sometimes identified by race.
Who was Katherine Stokes?
Also a sign of the times, a lengthy search turned up nothing about the author. The book’s publisher, Hurst & Company, specialized in series books by the time the Motor Maids books released, and the company folded in 1919. If Hurst managed to stay in business, we might have even more Motor Maids books to read. Katherine Stokes, the author, appears nowhere. Only six books carry her name in any search and these are the Motor Maids books. Katherine may have been a pen name for an author or committee that churned out series books.
With absolutely no evidence to support this, I also suggest that she may have been a real person. Katherine Stokes might have taught seventh grade in Hartford, Connecticut. A Katherine Stokes appears in the Hartford school listings for the years before and after the Motor Maids books were published. A seventh grade teacher stood in a perfect position to write a series about independent teenagers. This Katherine was single, and she rented rooms and houses through this entire period, so she probably had the time to devote to constructing six books. This, however, is complete conjecture. If anyone has information on Katherine Stokes the author, I would love to know her story.
Get Your Copy
You too can read Motor Maids School Days. One of the great things about these older books is that they are freely available. This bodes well for readers who love turn of the century fiction. You can download a copy from the Internet Archive here, or you can download it or read it online at Project Gutenberg, here. Download a free Kindle version from Amazon. Amazon also sells reprints. If you want an original 1911 copy, and your grandmother or great-grandmother doesn’t have one, try eBay.
Today I give you the rest of the story. We haven’t even gotten to the confession part yet! But first, a little more background. If you haven’t read the first half of the story, start here.
When G. Lynn Sumner helped to create and release this story for the women’s periodicals of 1919, this was a gamble. No one had ever tried to sell with a story before. Today it’s become so commonplace that we view it as cliché. Back then, however, it was new.
And how did it work? Over the next few years, running these full-page story advertisements, the company brought in over 12 million dollars… from a product that cost its purchaser $61. However, that $61 had the buying power of nearly $1,000 in 2021 dollars. So this was no small investment for a person who wanted to either cut costs or start her own shop as an entrepreneur.
But how did it work for the women who sent their money to this school? Was it a waste of their time, energy and resources? Actually, the program really did work. One of their 1920s newsletters, sent to students and graduates of the program, lists several Apprentice Wanted ads from graduates who set up dressmaking shops in their own towns and now needed extra help. The newsletters also printed real letters from students that told of how much money they saved on clothing. Some families saved from 1/3 to 1/2 of their annual clothing budget by designing and making clothing at home.
Even though these stories were fictional, and the women reading them probably knew the magazine ads weren’t true, the stories spoke to felt needs of the readers: an inability to fit in; loneliness; desperation over finances; feeling less-than or socially inept. In the world right after World War I, where sickness seemed to go wherever it wanted and prices continued to climb, these feelings were real and tangible. And in some small way, the Institute provided a glimmer of hope.
Enough of the numbers. On with the story.
Never will I forget that Wednesday evening. It was the most wonderful of our lives! We had never seen our Cinderella looking quite so sweet, so beautiful. And such a dinner as she gave us! After dinner she took us all through her new home and then, gathering us before a great log fire in the living room, she told us her story:
“Of course you all know what a wretched, forlorn creature I was when I first came to the office, she began. That is all past now and I have blotted out of my memory the heartaches of those first cruel weeks when my shabby attire made me a fit subject for ridicule.
“I had never known what it meant to have stylish, becoming clothes. My home was in a little cross-roads town in Iowa. My mother died when I was a mere child and my father brought me up in a good, substantial home, but with never an opportunity to get out and see how other girls lived. I had no chance to learn the things about clothes that would have been familiar to most girls of my age.
“Two years ago father died, and when his affairs had been straightened out there was only a few hundred dollars left. So I went to Benton City and took stenography at the business school there. As soon as I had finished my course I came here and within two days had secured a position at Warners.
“And now for my confession. At the office for the first time in my life I realized how different I was from the other girls. I saw that I was not one of you. I did not know how to make myself attractive. And i felt it. At first I was tempted to give up and go back to the little country town i had left. But one night at the boarding-house a young woman whom i had to secretly admired, but never spoken to, slipped her arm through mine after dinner and said, “Come up to my room, child. I want to talk to you.
“Once in her room she looked down at me with the kindest smile, and said, ‘I am Louise Stewart. I have the little dress-making shop on Wilcox Square that you pass on your way to the office. Two years ago I couldn’t sew a stitch. Today folks say I’m the best designer and dressmaker in this city. And I learned all about planning and making fashionable clothes – right in my own room evenings.’
“‘I have seen you going to your room every night,’ she continued. ‘How would you like to use some of your evenings learning to make stylish, charming dresses for yourself, garments that will be a delight to wear, wonderful dresses, waists and suits that will surprise your friends.’
“‘Oh, tell me how!’ I fairly gasped.
“‘Sit right down now,’ she said, ‘and write a little note to the Woman’s Institute and simply tell them that you would like to learn to make your own clothes.’
“She gave me the address and told me this great Institute had developed a wonderful plan by which any woman or girl, wherever she might live, could learn right in her home or boarding place, in spare time, to make all her own clothes and hats.
“‘You may doubt your ability to do it,’ she said. ‘Never fear. So did I. But come into my shop someday and see the dresses I make!’
“I hurried to my room, wrote the letter, and mailed it at the corner 20 minutes later. And that night I dreamed I was making and wearing more beautiful clothes than I had ever seen on living people, and that every one liked me!
“In a few days an attractive, illustrated booklet came, telling me about the Woman’s Institute and its 45,000 members. The booklet contained many wonderful letters from these members praising the work of the Institute and telling how easily they had learned at home to make their own clothes. There were letters from housewives, business women, girls at home or in school, girls in stores, shops and offices. And there were, oh, so many letters from mothers who poured out their thanks because the Institute had taught them how to have dainty clothes for themselves and their little ones at a mere fraction of what they had cost before!
“Many others wrote that the Institute had made it possible for them to take up dressmaking and millinery as a business. Some now have important positions in big, fashionable city shops; others, like Louise Stewart, are making money in cozy, exclusive shops of their own. Still others have secured good-paying positions as teachers of sewing and dressmaking.
“The Institute members, I found, are of all ages. There are girls of 15 or 16 and women of 50 or 60. The majority live in the United States, but there are hundreds in Canada and in foreign lands — all learning dressmaking or millinery at home just as successfully as if they were together in a classroom!
“Well, when I read all those letters and then read in detail about the plan by which the Institute teaches, I knew that, what all these other thousands of women and girls could do, I could do.
“So, without telling anyone, I joined the Institute and took up dressmaking. I could scarcely wait until my first lesson came. And when at last I found it on the table in the hall one night, I carried it upstairs to my room and opened it as if it were a love letter! Turning the pages, I looked at the wonderful pictures! There are nearly 2000 in the dressmaking course alone and they illustrate perfectly just exactly what to do.
“And the delightful part of it is that almost at once you start making garments. Why, that little blue organdie waist you admired so much I made from my third lesson! The course can easily be completed in a few months by studying an hour a day. I found my couldn’t help learning rapidly! The textbooks seem to foresee and explain everything. And the teachers take just as personal an interest as if they were right beside you.
“And what was most important to me, I learned not only how to make every kind of garment, but I learned what colors and fabrics were most appropriate for me, how to develop those little touches that make clothes distinctively becoming to the wearer. My course opened up a whole new world to me. When, after just a few lessons, I finished my first dress and stood before the mirror, I hardly recognized myself. I was tempted to wear it the next morning to the office, but I determined to keep my skill a secret until I had enough new things made so that I would never need to wear the old ones again.
“The lessons followed each other so naturally that I was soon working on difficult dresses and suits. Gradually, I learned to copy models I saw in the shop windows, on the street, or in fashion magazines. Every step was so clearly explained that the things I had always thought only a professional dressmaker could develop were perfectly easy for me!
“Luckily, I began my studies in the summer time and by fall I had more and prettier clothes than I had ever seen before in my life, and they cost me only one fourth of what ordinary clothes would have cost ready made. I couldn’t possibly have had them any other way.
“A little while after starting the dressmaking I had taken up millinery, too, and soon I was making and trimming hats such as I have been wearing lately. And so, just a few months from the eventful night when Louise Stewart told me about the Institute, I walked in on you that morning — in the results of my evenings of delightful secret study.
“My wedding clothes! You girls saw them before dinner – did you ever see any more beautiful? Well, I made every stitch myself — a whole section of my course was devoted to complete directions for planning and making a bride’s entire outfit. I didn’t have the least bit of trouble – even with my wedding dress.
“So that’s my confession. The rest of my story you know – what a wonderful change this made in my life – how friends and happiness seemed to follow close upon the change in my appearance that lead you to call me Cinderella. I adore that name! The whole thing is like a fairy story! But of one thing I am sure — I owe it all to the Woman’s Institute. “
The page goes on to explain how the reader, too, can see the same or similar results as Cinderella if she will only take the time to complete the tiny interest form at the bottom of the page. Many women did. And many learned to sew their own clothing. Foundation garments like corsets were still purchased, and stockings were bought ready made, but the Institute told its students how to make every other article of clothing they needed, from underwear to a wedding trousseau. And the women, by and large, learned the skills they set out to master.
The year was 1919, and a company was about to try something new in the world of advertising. Known as the Woman’s Home Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, it was trying to reach women who were interested in learning how to sew, cook, or make their own hats at home.
Some of them were teachers who needed to look presentable but received little money to make that happen. Others worked in the offices of the cities, and found that after the month’s room and board were paid, they had little left for the luxuries of life. Most were housewives old and new. Some longed for an artistic outlet outside the home, while others needed a little help to make ends meet.
They had only been in business for three years, as an offshoot of a larger correspondance school. Here Mary Brooks Picken served as Director of Instruction. She wrote most of the manuals used in the courses. She had a passion for helping women to succeed in the places they could. And students were enrolling, but it was slow. Then one night the president of the Institute, G. Lynn Sumner, decided to take a chance. Try something entirely different. He, along with the advertising firm that worked with the school, decided to tell a story designed to gather students. Their first story was called Cinderella’s Confession and it was so successful that they used it over, and over, and over. In time this story appeared in most of the popular women’s magazines of 1919-1925. Here it is.
I’m giving you the first half this time, and you’ll find the second half in the next post. These stories each completely filled a page with tiny magazine text, with only a black and white illustration and a small coupon to break the sea of type.
The story of how a shabby little stranger became the best dressed girl in our town
Her real name was Enid, and I’ll never forget how she looked that first morning! When she came in the door the whole office stopped and stared and – I am ashamed to say it – we grinned. That dress – I suppose it had been stylish once, about five years before! Its tired-out bronze color made her face look even paler than it was and it fit her as if it had been made for a big sister. A faded old-rose toque set dejectedly upon her mass of unruly yellow hair. She was a picture – so shabby and forlorn that I pitied her!
We all thought she’d gotten into the office by mistake. But she hung up her hat and made herself at home at Sarah Long’s old desk. And there she quietly did her work for months – always the office mystery and always an object of pity among the rest of the girls at Warner’s. Hartley, the office manager, told us all he knew about her – an orphan from a little town in Iowa – that was her story in a nutshell. She roomed alone, and in the office and out she kept to herself. The truth was you just couldn’t invite her out – in those clothes. And so we simply came to regard her as an office fixture that nobody quite understood.
Then one morning, early in the fall, Enid gave the office its second shock – a more surprising one, if possible, then the first. Everybody was on time that morning – except Enid. We spent the first few minutes after the bell rang wondering where she could be. But by 9 o’clock we had all nicely settled down to work and the typewriters were clicking like mad when the door opened and in walked a wonderfully radiant creature in the neatest, prettiest, most becoming dress you ever saw and a charming hat you just knew had been made for that little blonde head!
Every typewriter stopped as if by magic, and two dozen audible murmurs of admiration registered the effect on that office full of girls. Hartley looked up from a sheet of figures with a frown, then smoothed down what hair he had with one hand, yanked off his spectacles with the other, and rose to learn the caller’s business. He was halfway between his desk and the door before the young lady who had caused all the commotion smilingly removed her hat, and we realized for the first time that it was Enid!
No one in the office could keep her mind on her work the rest of that morning. After months of the shabby bronze dress, the old-rose toque, this was too much! And no one ever realized before how pretty Enid really was. But in her new attire she was simply a new creature. The transformation was so complete that even the old name didn’t fit, and it just seemed natural that from that day we should call her “Cinderella.”
Next morning, Cinderella was dressed just as tastefully in another charming dress. She had evidently worn the old outfit until she was ready to give us a steady surprise, because after that her dresses, waists, skirts and hats were always becoming and stylish to the last degree.
I never saw such a complete and sudden change in the attitude of a lot of girls. Cinderella, instead of being ignored, became the pet of the whole office. The girls consulted her about their clothes, beaux, and other things. She was deluged with invitations. Her costumes were admired in and out of the office and she was the envy of every girl in the place.
Gradually she became popular in the social life of the town. She was in constant demand at parties and dances. Cinderella, the little stranger, had taken the town by storm and all because of her magic transformation from shabby attire to radiant, becoming clothes.
One Saturday in December, as we were all leaving the office, Cinderella called us together.
“Girls!” she said. “I’ve a secret to tell you. This is my last day at the office. I’m going to marry Tom Warner next Monday!”
Tom! Cinderella was certainly living up to her reputation for surprises. Tom was the oldest son of the boss and one of the most promising young men in town. We could hardly believe our ears, but a moment later she stepped into Tom Warner’s big gray limousine and was whisked out of sight.
None of us dreamed how much Cinderella would be missed in that office. We would gather into little clusters after lunch and recall her coming to the place and what a wonderful change had come over her and all the rest of us when she blossomed out in distinctive clothes that made her attractive, beautiful and lovable.
Then one morning Dan Hartley found in his mail a dainty scented envelope bearing a gold monogram. He opened it, called us all around him and read:
Dear Girls and Boys: I’m coming home tomorrow and I miss you all so much that you’re to be the very first guests at our new home. I want you all to come out to 301 Arlington Avenue next Wednesday evening. Come right up from the office and don’t bother about Sunday togs. I’m going to make my confession and I don’t want any of you to miss it. With love, Cinderella.