Words to Live By
Prescriptive literature is a staple in the pages of the turn-of-the-century Ladies Home Journal. Serial non-fiction sketched out the lives of various girls and women, notably white and usually middle-class, as they came into contact with the shifting morals of modern life. These are cautionary tales, meant to shape the development of young woman in regards to character, manners, work ethic, beauty regime and style.
A new fictional feature entitled “The Girls I Knew,” by Emily Calvin Blake, debuted in Ladies Home Journal on September 1, 1910. The series follows impressionable Margaret and various friendships that influence her social, moral, and sartorial development. The series is a humorous addition to the prescriptive literature that is interleaved between advertisements for clothing, beauty products, and sewing projects, as Margaret’s errors meet the mostly gentle reproach of her family. The anxiety of changing gender roles is evident in “The Girls I Knew,” as Margaret confronts and is changed by characters that represent types of modern femininity.
And so ended the reign of Belle in my life. She had found me an average girl of fourteen, with a nature inclind to be frank and sincere, and had left me with some required traits that were in the way of developing very diasastrously when Daisy appeared.
Excerpt from The Girls I Know, Number 1: Belle, by Emily Calvin Blake
To Make or to Buy
Whether a family bought or made their own clothing at the end of the 19th century depended very much on class. Magazines made advertisements for fashions available to many people in different communities, which created a new desire for purchasing and making clothes. Along with the ads came social pressure to look one’s best.
“The female who is utterly regardless of her appearance may be safely pronounced deficient in some of the more important qualities which the term good character implies.”
The quote came from a book of dress patterns, readily available to anyone with the interest, and useful to someone who had the skill, time, and interest to create a refined look. This sentiment, that industry is tied to morality and can be seen in the way someone dresses, is very evident in pages of the Ladies Home Journal.
A Lovely Container
These three cover illustrations are by Harrison Fisher, whose "Fisher Girl," became a recognizable ideal of female beauty, "overwhelmingly rosy-cheeked, long-limbed, alone, and elegant."- The Norman Rockwell Museum