Category Archives: Art and Illustration

In search of an extraordinary spring 1922 magazine cover

I haven’t done a post on magazine covers since last August. I tried early this year, but the covers I found were uninspiring. Has the Golden Age of Illustration come to an end, I wondered.*

I decided to give it another shot, and I spent a long time looking at covers from March and April 1922. They weren’t bad. Most of them were quite good, in fact. But nothing seemed new or fresh or different.

I expect Erté’s Harper’s Bazar covers to be attractive and haunting, but the March one is haunting without being attractive and the April one is attractive without being haunting.**

Erte Harper's Bazar March 1922 cover, couple kissing in silhouette.
Erté, March 1922
Erte Harpers' Bazar April 1922 cover, woman strewing flowers.
Erté, April 1922

This A. H. Fish Vanity Fair cover was solid but not memorable.

A.H. Fish April 1922 Vanity Fair cover, ballerina with pierrot.
A.H. Fish, April 1922

Are these either houses or gardens? I think not, House & Garden!

George Brandt House & Garden March 1922 cover, floral display.
H. George Brandt, March 1922
B.W. Tomlin House & Garden April 1922 cover, flowers in front of bas relief.
Bradley Walker Tomlin, April 1922

Okay, maybe I was just in a bad mood. I’ll stop carping now and just tell you what I found.

Regular Good Housekeeping cover illustrator Jessie Willcox Smith was her usual competent, family-friendly self.

Jessie Willcox Smith March 1922 Good Housekeeping cover, mother putting coat on child.
Jessie Willcox Smith, March 1922
Jessie Willcox Smith Good Housekeeping April 1922 cover, girl with green umbrella in rain.
Jessie Willcox Smith, April 1922

The kids were up to their usual wholesome fun at St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas March 1922 cover, boy and girl with dogs.
March 1922
St. Nicholas April 1922 cover, boy and girl feeding birds.
April 1922

With Ireland newly independent, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were especially festive.

Judge March 11, 1922 cover, woman in green beret with Irish Free State slogan.
March 11, 1922
J.C. Leyendecker March 15, 1922 Saturday Evening Post cover, girl dressed as Statue of Liberty with harp, Ireland independence.
J.C. Leyendecker, March 18, 1922

There was a newcomer, Tom Webb, at the Saturday Evening Post,

Tom Webb March 25, 1922 Saturday Evening Post cover, cowboy looking at Spring Styles ad.
Tom Webb, March 25, 1922

along with old Post hand Neysa McMein,

Neysa McMein March 11, 1922 Saturday Evening Post cover, woman in black dress sitting in chair.
Neysa McMein, March 11, 1922

as well as Norman Rockwell, already a SEP veteran at 28.

Norman Rockwell April 29, 1922 Saturday Evening Post cover, skinny boy lifting weights with poster of muscleman.
Norman Rockwell, April 29, 1922
Norman Rockwell April 8, 1922 Saturday Evening Post cover, man threading needle.
Norman Rockwell, April 8, 1922

The insanely prolific Rockwell was all over the place in March and April, at The Literary Digest

Norman Rockwell Literary Digest cover, March 25, 1922, man with girl reading book.
Norman Rockwell, March 25, 1922

and The Country Gentleman

Norman Rockwell Country Gentleman cover, April 29, 1922, auctioneer holding headless figure.
Norman Rockwell, April 29, 1922
Norman Rockwell Country Gentleman cover, March 18, 1922, smiling boy holding two dogs.
Norman Rockwell, March 18, 1922

and Life.

Norman Rockwell, March 23, 1922

For the Ladies’ Home Journal, N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew) painted a boy dreaming of stolen loot.

N.C. Wyeth Ladies' Home Journal March 1922 cover, boy reading book with picture of daydream of pirates.
N.C. Wyeth, March 1922

Over at Vogue, a Helen Dryden cover featured an old-timey couple,

Helen Dryden Vogue cover, March 1, 1922, woman in long dress and flowery hat with whiskered man in top hat.
Helen Dryden, March 1, 1922

and there were two new-to-me Vogue cover artists, Pierre Brissaud and Henry R. Sutter.***

Pierre Brissaud Vogue cover, April 1, 1922, woman and girl under umbrellas.
Pierre Brissaud, April 1, 1922
Henry R. Sutter Vogue cover, April 15, 1922, woman in cape looking down at valley.
Henry R. Sutter, April 15, 1922

So, this is all very nice, and if I hadn’t been looking at hundred-year-old magazine covers for over four years I might be impressed. It’s just that there wasn’t anything that hadn’t been done before.

And then I came across this Vanity Fair cover from March 1922, by newcomer Eduardo Garcia Benito, who had arrived in New York from Spain the year before.**** I hadn’t seen anything yet like the sleek, clear lines and bold colors of this cover, which would come to typify Art Deco illustration.*****

Eduardo Gracia Benito Vanity Fair cover, March 1922, man lighting cigarette for woman in front of foliage, Art Deco style.
Eduardo Garcia Benito, March 1922

And then I took a second look at the other March Vogue cover, by Georges Lepape, which, maybe because of the muted colors, I hadn’t paid particular attention to.

Georges Lepape Vogue cover, March 15, 1922, man putting fur coat on woman, Art Deco style.
Georges Lepape, March 15, 1922

Same minimalist design. Same clear lines. Same boyish silhouette on the woman.

Two years into the decade, the twenties have begun!

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*I had already expressed concern about this in my 1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown post.

**Here is an examples of an attractive and haunting Erté cover:

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, February 1918, masked woman looking out window at man.
Erté, February 1918

***UPDATE 5/1/2022: I looked into this some more and these both seem to be Vogue debuts. Brissaud went on to be a regular Vogue cover artist. Sutter only did six covers that I could find (i.e. that appear on art.com, which I think has all of them), all in 1922 and 1923. I haven’t been able to find much information about him other than that he lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

****This wasn’t Benito’s Condé Nast debut, though. This November 15, 1921, Vogue cover was his first (as far as I can tell) of many for the magazine.

Eduardo Garcia Benito, November 15, 1921

*****I could do without the “Women can smoke too!” message, though.

The Top 10 Posts of 1921

Happy 2022, everyone! I wish I had some memorable words of wisdom to share as we head into another uncertain year. But I don’t, so let’s look at some magazine covers, okay?

J.C. Leyendecker

As always, the year starts out with a J.C. Leyendecker New Year’s baby at the Saturday Evening Post. I had a bit of trouble with the semiotics of this one. I knew that the dove with an olive branch in its mouth represented peace, of course, and I knew that salting a bird’s tail symbolized something, but I forgot what. All I could think of was that the baby wanted to eat the dove of peace, but that didn’t make much sense.

Fortuitously, Googling “salting bird’s tail” took me to a Wikipedia article that features this very illustration and explains that sprinkling salt on a bird’s tail is supposed to render the bird temporarily unable to fly, ergo the baby is trying to prevent the dove of peace from flying away.

This was Leyendecker’s 17th New Year’s baby, the middle of his 36-year run, and a lot of other magazines had gotten onto the baby (or sometimes young child) bandwagon. There was a mechanic baby at Collier’s,

a cowboy tyke at Sunset,

Dan Sayre Groesbeck

a toddler cutting off his or her golden locks at Woman’s Home Companion,

and, boringly, a just plain baby at Good Housekeeping.

Jessie Willcox Smith

Even high-art Vogue is getting into the spirit.

Georges Lepape

St. Nicholas rings in 1922 with a carload of revelers, which is irrelevant to the whole baby theme but I had to shoehorn it in so I could crop this cover for the featured image up top.

Now let’s turn back to 1921/2021 one last time to look at the top ten posts of the year.*

Or, more accurately, the ten posts. This year, everyone gets a participation trophy. As was the case last year, longevity was rewarded, with the posts’ number of views roughly in order of when they were published.

#10. Summer 1921 Magazine Covers, Viewed Longingly from Wintery Cape Town.

This underachieving post from August bucked the “last published, lowest ranked” trend. It has lots of amazing artwork, though.

#9. Children’s Books: Your 1921 Holiday Shopping Guide.

In which I read children’s books from 1921 so you don’t have to. Not that I imagine you were under much pressure. I did find some good ones, though, and one gem: Unsung Heroes by Elizabeth Ross Haynes, a series of biographic sketches of notable people of African descent.

#8. Giving Thanks for the Friends I’ve Met Along the Way.

For my Thanksgiving post during the first year of this project, I wrote about ten people from 1918 I’m thankful for. In 2019, I wrote about ten illustrators. In 2020, three women illustrators. Having painted myself into a corner with these increasingly narrow categories, I struck out into a new direction last year and gave thanks for real-life (well, virtual real-life) people I’ve met as a result of this project.

#7. 10 books, articles, and PhDs about the world of 100 years ago that are just sitting there.

In my four years of trawling through the world of 100 years ago, I’ve unearthed a lot of potential projects that (as far as I knew) no one had tackled. I asked people to let me know if they were working on any of them, and was excited to hear from someone who has an extensive collection of Erté Harper’s Bazar covers (Project #1).

#6. Magazine Ads of 1921: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, and Meh.

I test-drove the ads in the June 1921 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal and found, along with some beautiful artistry, a passive-aggressive dish-breaking husband, a canned-meat picnic, and some vile Italian food.

#5. The Top 10 Posts of 1920.

J.C. Leyendecker 1921 New Year's cover, baby coal miner.

Last year’s champ: Magazine Ads Take Baby Steps Into the 1920s.

#4. I Read a Random 1920 Book.

Floor of Wanamaker's department store, 1920.

This post, in which I read Elements of Retail Salesmanship by Professor Paul Wesley Ivey, picked at random from the 1920 edition of Book Review Digest, was one of my favorites of the year. I even ended up making a (kind of lame) pilgrimage to Professor Ivey’s place of employment, the University of Nebraska. This was so much fun that I decided to make it an annual tradition. I’ve picked my random book for 1921 but haven’t read it yet.

#3. The Brownies’ Book: A pioneering magazine for African-American children.

Brownies' Book cover, July 1920
Albert A. Smith

I don’t think I love anything from a hundred years ago as much as I love The Brownies’ Book, the NAACP’s magazine for African-American children. You know how people want to go back in time so they can buy Apple stock? I want to go back in time and give W.E.B. Du Bois a bunch of money so that The Brownies’ Book can last more than two years (1920-1921).

#2. The Brief, Brilliant Career of Rita Senger.

Rita Senger Vanity Fair covers

Nothing in this project has meant more to me than this post, in which I set out to find out what happened to the promising young illustrator Rita Senger and ended up interviewing her granddaughter. I’m thrilled that it reached so many readers.

#1. The Best and Worst Magazine Ads of January 1921.

Indian Head cloth ad, woman with child, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.
Ladies’ Home Journal

For the second year running, a post about magazine ads tops the list. Note to self: do more posts about magazine ads.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

It tops the list of this year’s posts, anyway. As was the case last year, the top-ranking of all my posts this year was 1919’s My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge. While this post had more than twice as many views last year as the top 2020 post, it edged out the top 1921 post by only four views. The third most-viewed post this year was The Uncrowned King of Bohemia: The fascinating story of a not-so-great poet, a 2018 post about the poet George Sterling. At the other viewership extreme were a few posts that only got one view, including Exploring Provo—And Mormon History, which tied the record for daily views on the day it was published. Come to think of it, Provo may have been the last new place I explored before the world came to a halt.

My book list for this year is extremely feeble, only two books. For this I blame my 1920s best-seller discussion group. We’ve read a book a month over the past year, and I’ve kept up,** but most of them are from after 1921 so they don’t count. (Actually one of them was from the 1910s, but I haven’t written it up yet. (UPDATE 1/13/2022: Done!))

In 2018, I read almost nothing written after 1918. In 2019, I returned to the world of the present but went back to visit a lot. In 2020, I changed my the name of my blog from My Year in 1918 to My Life 100 Years Ago. In 2021, I posted about my first interview (which actually took place in 2020) and my first random book (although I read it 2020—there was a lot of catching up going on in 2021). So what will be new and different in 2022?

This year is the centennial of The Waste Land and Ulysses, so they’ll probably feature in some way. I’d like to look into what’s going with in the Harlem Renaissance. And I recently completed an ambitious project I look forward to telling you about soon.*** Other than that, who knows? If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past four years, it’s that there are surprises around every corner in the world of 100 years ago. I look forward to continuing the adventure.

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*If you go back and look at any of these posts, the wacko sizing of the photos and images isn’t my fault. Some weird WordPress glitch resized everything a while back.

**Well, until this month. This month’s selection, J.B. Priestly’s 1929 tome The Good Companions, seems likely to be my Waterloo. (UPDATE 1/13/2022: I finished it just in time!)

***I hope this is vague enough to avert the Promised Post Curse.

Children’s Books: Your 1921 Holiday Shopping Guide

Immersing myself in the children’s books of a hundred years ago has become one of my favorite holiday traditions, and it’s one that I especially appreciate during a season when many of our more extroverted traditions have to be set aside.

For my third annual children’s books holiday shopping guide (the previous ones are here and here), I turned first, as always, to pioneering children’s librarian and The Bookman columnist Annie Carroll Moore.

Who totally let me down. Her November 1921 holiday roundup starts out as a foray into incomprehensible whimsicality that seems to have something to do with an imaginary trip to France and England. Example: “Put a paper cover on John Farrar’s ‘Songs for Parents’ and paste up the title-page until you get to ‘Fairy London,’ then ask Rose Fyleman to give new titles to some of its enchanting verses and to the book itself while she autographs your last year’s copy of her ‘Fairies and Chimneys.’”

“What?” I asked in utter bafflement, and I’m someone who has actually read (some of) Fairies and Chimneys, which I recommended in last year’s holiday shopping guide.*

Moore, it transpires, actually made a trip to Europe. “I came back too late to do full justice to our own output of children’s books,” she tells us blithely, before rushing through the entire American national output, much of which she has not had time to read, on the last page. YOU HAD ONE JOB, ANNIE!**

November 5, 1921

Luckily, I had other help. Publishers Weekly’s November 5 Christmas Bookshelf issue included  an encyclopedic children’s book roundup, penned by an uncredited writer whose task of reading through dozens of children’s books had left him (or her, but it sounds like a him) entertainingly grumpy.*** The Survey magazine, which was published by the Charity Organization Society of the City of New York but is way more interesting than that makes it sound, ran an article called “The Season’s Books for Children” that includes some charity-ish selections like “a group of health rhymes and jingles written by the children of Public School Fifteen in New York,” but others that looked promising. One, which wasn’t reviewed anywhere else, turned out to be my Children’s Book of the Year. I recommend that you check it out if you’re otherwise just scrolling through and looking at the artwork (which is fine! You’re a busy person!).

Also, the Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s literature was first awarded in 1922 for books published in 1921. There were some runners-up as well (later designated as Newbery Honor Books), so that provided several good candidates.****

Without further ado, here are the books of the season.

Fables, Folk Tales, and Songs

An Argosy of Fables

Paul Bransom, from An Arbosy of Fables

Moore says that “Paul Bransom’s fine illustrations for ‘The Argosy of Fables,’***** selected by Frederic Taber Cooper, bespeak special consideration for this book, which is to be issued in two editions, both too expensive for most libraries I fear.” I fear too! When I saw the price–$7.50—in the Publishers Weekly roundup, I thought that it must be a typo. That’s $116.46 in today’s money.

The illustrations are fine indeed, but there are only 23 of them in the 500-page book, way too low a ratio of pictures to text to be worth plowing through prose like “The mouse besought him to spare one who had so unconsciously offended.”

Cantilene Popolari and Grilli Canterini

Cantilene Populari
Grilli Canterini

Moore devotes a huge amount of real estate in her column to Cantilene Popolari and Grilli Canterini, two books of children’s songs published in Italy. She says of Grilli Canterini that “the pictures are so full of the detail children love as to tell their own story to children of any race.”

These books may not be quite the thing, though, for children who (unlike me) have not been studying Italian. Also, the dedication in Cantilene Populari to the “future defenders of the rights and honor of our nation,” which Moore finds “refreshing,” is chilling in retrospect.

American Indian Fairy Tales

Publishers Weekly calls American Indian Fairy Tales “enchanting,” and John Rae’s illustrations are lovely, but I’m leery of a book that depends on the research of an “ethnologist and government agent” from 1837, as this one does.

John Rae, from American Indian Fairy Tales
John Rae, from American Indian Fairy Tales

For Young Readers

Orphant Annie Story Book

Johnny Gruelle, from Orphant Annie Story Book

Orphant Annie Story Book, written and illustrated by Johnny Gruell of Raggedy Ann and Andy fame, purports to be a collection of stories told by Little Orphant Annie, the household servant of the James Whitcomb Riley poem (and inspiration for the later cartoon character). Books featuring color pictures on every page hadn’t been introduced yet in 1921, but this one comes as close as any I’ve seen, so, even though the goblin illustrations freak me out, this is going on my list.

Bubble Books

Rhoda Chase

Bubble Books are slender books that come with records. There are fourteen so far, Publishers Weekly tells us, with two new ones out for the 1921 holiday season. Cooooooool! “The happy owner of the ‘Chimney Corner Bubble Book’ may snuggle up on a rug, close to the warm fire, and listen to the howling of the winter wind as the phonograph plays ‘The North Wind Doth Blow,’” PW says. Throw in some cocoa and some snow and you have my ideal life. The Child’s Garden of Verses Bubble Book sounds cool, too, as does the cut-out Bubble Book that you can find on this website devoted to all things Bubble Book.

For Middle-Grade Readers

Midsummer

Edward C. Caswell, from Midsummer

Katharine Adams’ Midsummer, which Moore called “a girl’s book of great charm,” seemed promising. It’s about two American children who visit Sweden, where I’ve spent a lot of time but, thanks to COVID and work, not lately. And it was a timely read, seeing that it was the summer solstice here in South Africa. But Midsummer started slowly, and also there was this,

so I was about to give up. But when a new day dawned (at 5:32, but luckily I slept later than that), I decided to give it another try. I figured that the sun might have been making me, like Audrey, our heroine, a little cranky. I skipped ahead to the chapter about the midsummer festival, and there were pancakes with strawberry jam, and slabs of sticky gingerbread, and a merry-go-round, and folk dancing, and a bonfire, and “Astrid wore her new pink and white dress and there were wide pink ribbons on her stiff little braids.” Also Swedish kids who think it would be much more exciting to visit Coney Island. I’m glad I gave it another try.

Modern Physiology, Hygiene, and Health

Survey magazine isn’t suggesting Mary S. Haviland’s Modern Physiology, Hygiene, and Health as a gift for a child; it’s more of a resource for teachers. I found it strangely compelling, though. First I checked out whether I was following the eleven steps to be a Modern Health Crusader.

  1. I washed my hands before every meal to-day. Check!
  2. I washed not only my face but my ears and neck and I cleaned my finger-nails today. Check! (Well, my finger-nails were already clean.)
  3. I kept fingers, pencils, and everything likely to be unclean or injurious out of my mouth and nose. Check!

I was on a roll!

From Modern Physiology, Hygiene, and Health

I failed a few of the later steps, though, like being in bed for at least ten hours with the windows open, drinking no tea, coffee, or other injurious drinks, and trying to sit up straight. (I am slouching on the sofa with my laptop as I write this.) And I wasn’t sure what to make of “I went to the toilet at my regular time.”

Margaret F. Brown, from Modern Physiology, Hygiene, and Health

Most of the rest of the book consists of Ruth and Paul talking to Uncle George in great detail about what should be in your house. There’s a lot of sensible talk about the need for fresh air, and some fun activities like picking out furniture for your living room from pictures in a magazine.

Still, as much as I, personally, might find Modern Physiology, Hygiene, and Health a delightful gift, it’s the book equivalent of giving a kid socks for Christmas. Even though it’s a bargain at eighty-three cents, I’m going to have to give it a pass.

Games—School, Church, Home

Survey magazine says that George O. Draper’s Games—School, Church, Home is “a convenient volume for the play director,” but, unlike Modern Physiology, I think it would be an excellent gift for children as well. They can play some of the games on their own, like Fox Den, which involves chasing each other around this diagram marked on the ground or in the snow,

From Games–School, Church, Home

and they can devoutly wish that they went to the kind of school where complete chaos reigns and games like Seat Vaulting Tag are played.

For Older Children

The Story of Mankind

Last year, I was startled by Hendrik van Loon’s contemporary-looking illustrations in his 1920 book Ancient Man, and I found the narrative interesting, if dated.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1920, pyramids on yellow background.
Hendrik van Loon, from Ancient Man

So I had high expectations for Van Loon’s The Story of Mankind, which was awarded the first-ever Newbery Medal in 1922.****** The illustrations were less bold and less numerous than those in Ancient Man, though, and, despite Van Loon’s claim that “this is a story of mankind and not an exclusive history of the people of Europe and our western hemisphere,” the vast majority of the book’s 465 pages are devoted to Europe and the United States.

Hendrik van Loon, from The Story of Mankind
Hendrik van Loon, from The Story of Mankind
Hendrik van Loon, from The Story of Mankind

Still, I kept coming across interesting facts as I flipped through the book, like that “Jesus” is a Greek rendition of the name that we know in English as Joshua, which is one of those things that everyone else probably knows but I didn’t. And, while I’m sure careful perusal would reveal some howlers, Van Loon’s treatment of non-Europeans is respectful by the standards of the day. Plus, no one can accuse Van Loon of dumbing down history for children. Here’s a sample:

If I ever decide to learn, for example, who exactly the Phoenicians were, I may turn to Van Loon. So might your favorite teenager, if he/she is of an intellectual bent.

The Old Tobacco Shop

Reginald Birch, from The Old Tobacco Shop

Moore assures us that William Bowen’s The Old Tobacco Shop “will give pure joy to boys and their fathers,” and it was a runner-up for the Newbery Medal. All of this did little to inspire my confidence in what I feared would be a heartwarming story about a boy’s coming of age as a smoker. The book’s opening—a father sends his little son, Freddie, out to buy tobacco for his pipe—didn’t help.

The Old Tobacco Shop turned out, far more weirdly, to be a trippy tale of why preschoolers shouldn’t smoke opium. Freddie disobeys the tobacconist’s warning never to smoke the “magic tobacco” stored in a pipe shaped like a Chinaman’s head, and tediously surreal adventures ensue. For anyone who’s on the fence as to whether to leave their head shop in the hands of a small boy, this is an instructive read. Everyone else can take a pass.

The Windy Hill

Another Newbery runner-up, Cornelia Meigs’ The Windy Hill is the story of a brother and sister who go to the country to stay with their uncle. He’s acting mysteriously, and they try to get to the bottom of it.

Edward C. Caswell, from The Windy Hill

And presumably succeed, but you couldn’t prove it by me. I wasted an hour two years ago on Meigs’ The Pool of Stars, about a girl who goes to the country and tries to figure out why her neighbor is acting mysteriously, and I’m not going to make that mistake again.

The Scottish Chiefs

The period of 1890 to the 1920s is referred to as the golden age of illustration. No one has ever accused it of being the golden age of children’s literature, though,******* so there were a lot of reissues of classic books with new illustrations. One of them Moore mentions is Jane Porter’s 1810 book The Scottish Chiefs, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. I checked it out and it turned out to be a rip-roaring tale of Scottish nationalism, although not rip-roaring enough for me to commit to reading all 503 pages. (The Scottish Chiefs, like many books that make their way into the childhood cannon, was intended originally for adult readers.) There were a lot of “thees” and “thys” for a story that starts out in Scotland in 1296, and sentences like, “I come in the name of all ye hold dear to tell you the poniard of England is unsheathed!” But there are also strong women characters, and an Elizabeth and Darcy-like marriage between our hero, William Wallace, and his wife Marion: “Affection had grown with their growth; and sympathy of taste and virtues, and mutual tenderness, had made them entirely one.” And the Wyeth illustrations are wonderful and numerous.

N.C. Wyeth, from The Scottish Chiefs
N.C. Wyeth, from The Scottish Chiefs
N.C. Wyeth, from The Scottish Chiefs

More Newbery Runners-Up

Bernard Marshall, from Cedric the Forrester

If you don’t want your kid to grow up with a one-sided view of 13th-century English-Scottish tensions, you can add Newbery runner-up Cedric the Forester, Bernard Marshall’s tale of an English nobleman and his squire in the days of Richard the Lionheart, to your gift list. Moore says that Cedric the Forester “is written in somewhat stilted style, but the idea of freedom is admirably brought out.” Apparently forgetting that she had just reviewed The Scottish Chiefs, she adds that “the historical period represented is one for which little story writing has been done.” Perusal of the first few pages includes the inevitable faux-Shakespearean dialogue and someone saying “gadzooks.” But there are also several aperçus by our narrator, Dickon (Cedric is the squire), like “My father laughed as one laughs at the sorriest jest when he is gay,” that left me inclined to follow him on his adventures.

Willy Pogany, from The Golden Fleece and the Story of the Heroes who Lived Before Achilles

Padraic Colum’s The Golden Fleece and the Story of the Heroes who Lived Before Achilles sounded promising, seeing as it was illustrated by acclaimed artist Willy Pogany, but the illustrations are in black and white and the stories are flatly told, so I passed.

George Varian, from The Great Quest

Charles Boardman Hawes’ The Great Quest is about a Massachusetts lad’s adventures fighting against slave traders in Africa. I figured that, despite the anti-slavery message, any 1921 book on this subject was going to be super-problematic. It was.

A Princeton Boy Under the King

“If Princeton is hovering in the background of your boy’s day dreams,” Publishers Weekly tells us, “he will want to read a story of student life at the College of New Jersey in the middle of the eighteenth century.”******* The history of my graduate alma mater is an interest of mine, so A Princeton Boy Under the King sounded like just the thing. I gathered from my own reading that the university’s early years consisted mostly of drunkenness and food fights in Nassau Hall, and I wondered whether A Princeton Boy Under the King would present a sanitized version. But no, that’s pretty much what goes down. It’s like an 18th-century This Side of Paradise.

The Children’s Book of the Year

Last year, I couldn’t find any books about people of color at all, so I recommended the magazine The Brownies’ Book, from the publisher of The Crisis magazine, which was described as being “designed for all children, but especially ours.” (I wrote about The Brownies’ Book in more detail during Black History Month this year.) Sadly, the magazine failed to meet its circulation goals and the December 1921 issue was the last of its two-year run.

Elizabeth Ross Haynes (photographer unknown)

As I learned in the Survey article, there’s a silver lining. “What is there in the autumn output to open up to the boy or girl any of the avenues of civic life; any of the nationalities with which we have been brought into greater contact since the war; of the Negroes, neighbors of the children of the South…?” the magazine asks. (Since almost no one else was asking this kind of question, I’ll skip over the “neighbors” issue.) The magazine points us in the direction of Unsung Heroes, by Elizabeth Ross Haynes, an African-American social worker, which was also published by The Crisis’ publishing company.

C. Thorpe, from Unsung Heroes

Each of the book’s seventeen chapters is a portrait of a notable person of African ancestry from the United States or elsewhere, including Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Haitian general Toussaint Louverture, Alexandre Dumas, and Alexander Pushkin. (I knew that Dumas was of partly African descent, but I didn’t know about Pushkin.)

C. Thorpe, from Unsung Heroes

The profiles in Unsung Heroes start out, like the children’s biographies of my youth, with fictional scenes from the subjects’ childhoods and go on to recount their later achievements. Some of the language wouldn’t make it into a book published today (“Many years ago a keen-faced little boy with protruding lips, Toussaint by name, was busy, day by day, tending a great herd of cattle on the Island of Hayti in the West Indies”), but I don’t care. The stories are compelling, and the fact that this book was written and published at all in 1921 is a small miracle.

Judging from Goodreads (0 ratings, 0 reviews) and Google Scholar (one hit, for a 1990 article on the history of African-American children’s literature that I had already read for my post on the children’s novel Hazel), Unsung Heroes is little remembered today. Haynes is my new unsung hero, and Unsung Heroes is my choice for Best Children’s Book of 1921.

Some Final Thoughts

Moore complains in The Bookman that “in robbing fairy tales of all their terrors and poetry of all its sadness, we have let loose a new sort of made-to-order story, which needs the cleansing wind, wide spaces, and hearty laughter created by Mary Mapes Dodge in her time.” My perusal of the Publishers Weekly roundup left me with some sympathy for Moore’s argument that children’s books were becoming generic. On the other hand, after all the morbid stories I came across last year, I was relieved to see 1921’s children better protected from the horrors of the world. There are worse things for a child than blandness.

Happy holidays, and happy holiday reading, to all of you!

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*Further research revealed that 1) John Farrar, who later founded Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, was the editor of The Bookman in 1921, and 2) Songs for Parents is a truly awful book of poetry.

**I also checked out Moore’s other 1921 Bookman column, from May. It starts out with the magazine’s new editor (Farrar) saying, “Won’t you give us something new and different in place of the old omnibus review? Make it purely fanciful if you like.” Dangerous words when spoken to someone who had a puppet as an inseparable companion. My desperate cries of, “No! Do the old omnibus review!” failed to turn back time, and this column turned up nothing useful.

***1920s Publishers Weekly is one of those magazines where the ads are as good as the editorial content, and this issue had a treasure trove. This one left me scratching my head, though.

****Sadly for me, there were no more runners-up until 1925. One of the 1925 runners-up, in an act of blatant favoritism by the American Library Association, was Moore’s horrible book about her puppet.

Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story, by Anne Carroll Moore
Cover of Nicholas: A Manhattan Christmas Story, by Anne Carroll Moore

*****It’s actually An Argosy of Fables, not The. 1920s book reviewers make an amazing number of mistakes with the titles of books.

******I first came across The Story of Mankind at the top of the list of Newbery Medal winners that was posted in my school library, and it totally creeped me out. The 1920s seemed like the stone age back then. Now they’re twice as far away and they seem like yesterday!

*******UPDATE 12/28/2021: Well, this syllabus for a class on the Golden Age of Children’s Literature dates it from 1865 to 1926, but the latest book on the reading list is Pollyanna, from 1913.

********Publishers Weekly’s holiday roundup includes a “Books for Boys” section and a “Books for Girls” section, along with a section for both boys and girls and others for younger readers. I was fuming about the sexism of this until I came across three books in a row on railroads in “Books for Boys.” “Fine, I admit it, I’m a girl!” I said. “Just give me a story about two friends who make a cake on a snowy day and leave out the baking powder, with disastrous consequences.”         

Giving Thanks for the Friends I’ve Met Along the Way

On Thanksgiving every year, I’ve taken the opportunity to give thanks for some aspect of my adventures in the world of a hundred years ago. In 2018, I expressed gratitude for ten of the extraordinary people I’d come across during my year of reading as if I were living in 1918, like scholar/editor/activist W.E.B. Du Bois, food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley, and bra inventor Mary Phelps Jacob. The next year, I paid tribute to ten wonderful illustrators. The year after that, it was three women illustrators. (I had meant to cover more, but Neysa McMein proved to have such a fascinating life that I had to stop or the turkey wouldn’t have been done on time.)

As I was contemplating what to give thanks for this year, my thoughts turned to one of the best parts of this project—the twenty-first century people I’ve encountered along the way. I’ve given them shout-outs before, but now they’re front and center. Here they are, roughly in order of when I “met” them.

Pamela Toler and History in the Margins

One morning in February 2018, just five weeks into my project, I noticed a spike in my traffic. I soon discovered that Pamela Toler had recommended my blog, then titled My Year in 1918, on her own blog, History in the Margins. We’ve kept in touch through our blogs and Twitter since then.

Cover of "Women Warriors" by Pamela D. Tonder.

Pamela has a job—“freelance writer specializing in history and the arts,” as she describes it—that I can imagine having in a parallel universe. She takes her readers down fascinating, little-known byways of history. Sometimes it’s a quick dive on a subject like the history of microphones, which end up being newer than she (or I) thought. Sometimes it’s a whole book, like Women Warriors, a fascinating history of women soldiers through the ages that combines the expertise of a Ph.D. historian (which she is) with the flair of the natural storyteller. Here’s a sample from the introduction: “As a nerdy tweenager I read everything I could find on Joan of Arc, from biographies designed to give young girls role models to George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.* As a less obviously nerdy graduate student, I was fascinated by Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, who led her soldiers onto the battlefield to fight the British in the Indian mutiny of 1857.”

I’m thankful to have discovered Pamela the writer, and even more thankful to have gotten to know Pamela the online friend.

Connie Ruzich and the Forgotten Poets of the First World War

World War I Twitter led me to Robert Morris University professor Connie Ruzich and her blog, Behind Their Lines, which originated with a Fulbright project on World War I poets. She describes her blog as “a site for sharing lesser known poetry of the First World War, what I think of as lost voices and faded poems.”

Connie’s book, International Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology of Lost Voices, came out late last year. Even though it wasn’t priced for general readers, I was seriously tempted to use some of my COVID stimulus check to buy it. I left the U.S. for South Africa shortly after it was published, though, and didn’t get around to it. So I was thrilled to discover while writing this post that that a paperback edition is on the way.

Connie still posts occasionally on her blog—her most recent post combines a number of my interests, including Amy Lowell, Harvard, and T.S. Eliot/Ezra Pound snarkiness—and she links to older posts on Twitter on poets’ birthdays, National Beer Day, and other relevant occasions.

Connie, like Pamela, has become an online friend. When I drove across the country last October,** pre-vaccination, it gave me a pang as I passed through Chicago and Pittsburgh not to be able to stop by and see Pamela and Connie.

Frank Hudson and the Parlando Project

Early on in this project, when I was posting several times a week, I’d occasionally feel overwhelmed. Whenever this happened, I’d give myself a little lecture, saying, “Well, Frank Hudson posts as often as you do AND writes a song for every post AND sings it.”

Amazing guy, that Frank.

For the typical Parlando Project post (tag line: “where words and music meet”), Frank takes a poem that’s in the public domain, puts it to music, and shares his thoughts about the writer and the poem. He covers a much wider time period than I do, all the way back to classical Chinese poetry, but he often records poems from 1910s and 1920s, including a multi-year serial performance of The Waste Land to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868)

Maybe I’m biased because it was my idea (okay, there’s no maybe about it), but my favorite of Frank’s songs is his interpretation of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem “Snow-Flakes,” featuring the wonderful line “This is the poem of the air.” In Frank’s rendition, recorded on Christmas 2018, “Snow-Flakes” and another Longfellow poem, “A Psalm of Life,” are being performed in a Beat Generation-era jazz club. If you’re in the mood for something seasonal but weary of the holiday standards, check it out!

Witness2Fashion and Century-Old Styles

Susan, the creative force behind the blog Witness2Fashion, is, like Frank, only a part-time resident of the world of a hundred years ago, but she stops by often. She’s a former theater costume designer who casts an expert eye on the fashions of the past while also tackling broader societal issues.

Delineator, January 1920

Witness2Fashion rang in the current decade, for example, with a visit to the January 1920 issue of Delineator magazine, showing us some Butterick patterns but then moving on to an article on sexual harassment called “It Won’t Do! A Warning for Business Women.”

Sometimes the posts take a more personal turn, like this one, featuring her detective work about the life of a TB patient named Ollie, a friend of her mother’s, whom she came to know through family photographs. My favorite Witness2Fashion post, with the irresistible title “Prudery in Advertising Used to Confuse Me,” is a mix of the personal and the historical.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1921

Susan and I check in with each other in the comments sections of our blogs every once in a while. When I wondered, a few months back, why hand-washing wasn’t one of the many uses listed for P and G White Naptha soap, she explained, “Naptha is a petroleum product, akin to mineral spirits (aka “Paint thinner,”) so you wouldn’t want to use it on your skin.” Mystery solved!

On a Witness2Fashion post about the evolution about corsets, I posted this comment: “I just came across a fascinating article in a 1922 issue of Printer’s Ink magazine, aimed at panicky corset sellers, assuring them that going corsetless is just a fad and reminding mothers to educate their daughters on the health benefits of corsets, including supporting internal organs and strengthening back muscles.” The actual Printer’s Ink article is unfortunately, as I have noted, lost in the mists of time.

It’s nice to have a kindred spirit!

Patty Stein and Rita Senger

Last year, I was wondering what happened to Rita Senger, a talented illustrator who disappeared from the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1919. A Google search led me to the blog of quilter Laurie Kennedy, who mentioned that Patty Stein, a fellow quilter, was Senger’s granddaughter. I e-mailed Laurie one night last November telling her of my interest in Rita Senger, and by morning I had heard from Patty.

Soon after that, I called Patty, who, while baking a cake, shared her memories of her grandmother, who traded her artistic career for marriage to a wealthy businessman. Rita came to life through Patty’s vivid stories, and hearing and writing about her was one of the high points of this project.

Old Books and New Friends

Last October, when I was out in Colorado, I spent two happy days virtually attending the annual meeting of the International T.S. Eliot Society. “Annual meeting” makes it sound like people introducing motions and voting, but it’s actually an academic conference. This was the year of the unveiling of the Emily Hale Archive at Princeton, which consists of over a thousand letters from Eliot to Hale, his long-distance companion of many years. The Eliot world was abuzz! But I digress.***

After the meeting, I followed some of the people I’d come across on Twitter. Just a few days later, one of them, Birkbeck/University of London lecturer Peter Fifield, tweeted that he was planning to start a 1920s best-seller discussion group. Needless to say, I was thrilled. In the year since, the group, which spans three continents, has read good books (The Home-Maker, So Big****) and not-so-good books (The Middle of the Road, The Green Hat) and problematic books (The Sheik, God’s Stepchildren), and we’ve had a great time talking about them all. (Sometimes, the worse the book, the better the discussion.) It’s become a group of friends that I look forward to seeing every month.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

I haven’t met any of the people mentioned here (yet) in person, but my interactions with them, on Twitter, in blog comments, on the phone, and on Zoom, have greatly enriched my life—a silver lining to the virtual world we’re living in. So, to all of them, and to the rest of you who have shared my adventures in the world of a hundred years ago, happy Thanksgiving!*****

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*This is me, except Eleanor of Aquitaine.

**Okay, sat in the passenger’s seat. My brother did all the driving.

***The T.S. Eliot gang almost got its own entry, but my interest in Eliot precedes this project, so they were disqualified.

****Going out on a limb here—this is next month’s selection so I’m only speaking for myself. But it’s Edna Ferber! And it’s wonderful!

*****I was going to round up this post with some charming Thanksgiving magazine covers, but this Norman Rockwell Literary Digest cover doesn’t look at all like a Rockwell,

and this pilgrim/Indian warfare-themed Rockwell Life cover leaves me scratching my head,

and what the hell, J.C. Leyendecker?

I think someone spiked the Thanksgiving cider over in New Rochelle.

10 books, articles, and PhDs about the world of 100 years ago that are just sitting there

People sometimes complain that the world of a hundred years ago is so picked over that there’s nothing left to write about.* After spending a year reading as if I were living in that period, though, I can tell you that there’s a treasure trove of subjects just waiting to be turned into books, articles, dissertations, or academic projects. Here are ten topics that I’m mystified that no one has gotten to yet.**

1. Archiving Erté’s Harper’s Bazar covers

Over the (yikes!) almost four years of this project, I have spent many happy hours finding online copies of Harper’s Bazar covers by Erté, the legendary art deco artist, designer, and crossword puzzle clue stalwart who worked as the magazine’s regular cover artist from 1915 to 1936. I included him in my Thanksgiving lists of 10 1918 People I’m Thankful For and Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For.***

But I have also spent many unhappy hours searching for Erté covers in vain. HathiTrust, the Google Books online archive, is missing some issues from 1918 and doesn’t have any at all for 1919 (or from 1923 to 1929, but I’ll worry about that in the future). I’ve found images for some, but not all, of these covers elsewhere, often on Pinterest, which is the source of most of my magazine cover images anyway. Those images that do exist aren’t at the level of quality that these important cultural artifacts deserve.

Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (Erté)
Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (Erté), date unknown

Someone needs to make high-quality digital scans of the full collection and archive them online**** before the original covers deteriorate any further. (Maybe Harper’s Bazaar—the extra A was added in 1930—has done this, but, if so, the archive isn’t available online, as Vogue’s is.) A book or scholarly article about the covers would be good, too. Get on this, digital humanities people!

2. A biography of cartoonist Percy Crosby

Rookie from the 13th Squad cartoon, Percy Crosby
From The Rookie from the 13th Squad, 1918

One of the most intriguing people I’ve written about for this blog is Percy Crosby, who penned the cartoon The Rookie from the 13th Squad. The hapless but ultimately stouthearted Rookie was the Sad Sack of World War I. Crosby, who received a Purple Heart after being hit in the eye with shrapnel, went on to create the popular cartoon Skippy, which the Charles Schulz website cites as an influence for Peanuts. He also, I kid you not, won the silver medal in the 1932 watercolors and drawing event in the 1932 Olympics.

Percy Crosby, date unknown

Crosby’s personal life was troubled, though. He ran with a hard-drinking crowd that included Jerome Kern, Ring Lardner, John Barrymore, and Heywood Broun. Following a violent episode, his wife divorced him and got a restraining order, and he never saw her or their four children again. He began taking out two-page ads in major newspapers, espousing left-wing views and taking on targets like the FBI, the IRS, and Al Capone. After a 1948 suicide attempt, he was confined to a mental hospital and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. One of the purported symptoms of his paranoia was his endless ranting about how Skippy Peanut Butter had violated the trademark on his character’s name. Now, I’m no intellectual property rights lawyer, but that doesn’t sound all that paranoid to me. Crosby himself believed that his left-wing views contributed to his prolonged confinement. He died in the mental hospital in 1964.

A biography of Crosby was published in 1978, but his life, and his long confinement, deserve a closer look.

3. Girl Scout badges through the ages

Cover of How Girls Can Help Their Country, Girl Scout handbook 1916

What gives you a better sense of what was expected of girls in a given era than its Girl Scout badges? Well, lots of things, probably, given that the 1920 edition of Scouting for Girls included badges for telegraphy (“send 22 words per minute using a sounder and American Morse Code”), bee keeping (“have a practical knowledge of bee keeping and assist in hiving a swarm…”), and rock tapping (“collect two or three scratched or glaciated pebbles or cobblestones in the drift”). But, as I discovered during my quest to earn a 1919 Girl Scout badge,***** Girl Scout badges do provide an interesting window into the era. I learned all about caring for sick relatives and found out what a cruel practice plucking egret feathers for women’s hats is.

Pictures of girl scout uniforms, 1960s.
Junior Girl Scout Handbook, 1960s

My own Girl Scout book was written closer to 1920 than to today (it had been around a while, but still!). There are some cool badges in that book, like Observer, where you learn about constellations and rock formations and make a conservation exhibit. Others, like Indian Lore and Gypsy, wouldn’t pass muster today.

The current badges look kind of trippy and feature topics like cybersecurity, coding, entrepreneurship, and preparing for STEM jobs. That all sounds way too stressful and careerist for me. Personally, I’d rather learn telegraphy.

Well, I’d better stop before I end up writing the book myself.

4. Did Daisy Ashford really write The Young Visiters?

Daisy Ashford, frontispiece, The Young Visiters (1919)

The Young Visiters, nine-year-old Daisy Ashford’s unintentionally hilarious account of sometimes unsavory high-society goings-on, became a runaway bestseller following its 1919 publication. The manuscript, written in 1890 or so, was discovered by the adult Daisy and circulated among her friends until it reached novelist and publisher’s reader Frank Swinnerton, who arranged for its publication, with an introduction by L. Frank Baum.

Or so the story goes. Some reviewers at the time were skeptical, and there was speculation that Baum himself was the author. When Ashford died in 1972 at the age of 90, her obituary in the New York Times mentioned the doubts about her authorship.

Here is the opening paragraph. You decide for yourself whether you buy it as the work of a preteen or if, like me, you’re with the skeptics.

Except you don’t have to leave it at that! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can figure  out the authorship for yourself. In recent years, researchers have used computer software that analyzes similarities between texts to discover new sources for Shakespeare’s plays and help unmask J.K. Rowling as the author of the mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I wonder what a comparison between The Young Visiters and the works of L. Frank Baum (or maybe Frank Swinnerton) would reveal. Go for it!******

5. The Crisis Press, The Brownies’ Book, and Jessie Redmon Fauset

The life and work of W.E.B. Du Bois is not exactly lost to history. To cite only one recent example of his place in the culture, the novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois was an Oprah book club pick and was long-listed for this year’s National Book Award. The Crisis, the NAACP magazine that he edited, is rightly celebrated as a groundbreaking publication for and about African-Americans. Less well-known are the side projects of the magazine’s publishing company, including books like Hazel, by Ruth White Ovington, the first children’s book to figure an African-American protagonist, and The Brownies’ Book, an all-too-short-lived magazine “designed for all children, but especially for ours.” Recent high school graduate Langston Hughes published his first poems in the magazine. There have been a number of academic articles about The Brownies’ Book, as well as a 1996 anthology, but the magazine and the Crisis Publication Company’s other ventures deserve to be better known today.

Jessie Redmon Fauset
Jessie Redmon Fauset, date unknown

While you’re at it, how about a biography of The Brownies’ Book managing editor Jessie Redmon Fauset, who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance?

6. Women Illustrators of the 1920s

Career opportunities for talented women in the 1920s were limited, but magazine illustration was one field where women could, and did, succeed. Their work and their lives are worth revisiting.

Why did Helen Dryden, once the highest-paid woman artist in the United States, end up living in a welfare hotel?

Helen Dryden, July 1, 1921

How did Gordon Conway make it to the top of her profession without taking a single art class?

Gordon Conway, January 1918

Why did talented illustrator Rita Senger disappear from the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1919? (Well, I told you all about that here.)

Rita Senger Vanity Fair cover, April 1918, Pierrot holding unconscious woman.
Rita Senger, April 1918

As for Neysa McMein, suffragist, Saturday Evening Post illustrator, best friend of Dorothy Parker, lover of Charlie Chaplin, Ring Lardner, Robert Benchley, and others, I just want to spend a winter afternoon reading a gossipy account of her life.

Saturday Evening Post Neysa McMein cover, 1916, woman wearing hat.
Nisa McMein, May 13, 1916

And there are lots more! Edna Crompton!

Metropolitan cover, September 1920, Edna Crompton, woman serving at tennis.
Edna Crompton, September 1920

Harriet Meserole!

Vogue cover, March 15, 1920, Harriet Meserole.
Harriet Meserole, March 15, 1920

Anne Harriet Fish!

Anne Harriet Fish Vanity Fair cover, March 1920, couples dancing.
Anne Harriet Fish

More on these amazing women, please!

7. The Life of James Hall

James Hall in the Lafayette Escadrille, 1917
James Hall in the Lafayette Escadrille, 1917

In May 2018, I read a May 1918 New York Times article about the apparent death of popular aviator Jimmy Hall, who had been shot down behind enemy lines. I decided to Google him to see if by any chance he had survived. But James Hall is a common name, and I kept getting articles about the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty. Eventually I realized that the courageous aviator and the successful writer were…one and the same!

First edition, 1932

Hall, it turned out, had been captured by the Germans. After the war, he moved to Tahiti, where he and co-author Charles Nordhoff penned Mutiny on the Bounty and other best-sellers.******* His wife was partly of Polynesian descent. Their son, cinematographer Conrad Hall, won three Oscars, including one for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Amazingly, no one seems to have written a biography of this fascinating man. If I haven’t done enough to persuade you to take on this project, it would definitely require a trip to Tahiti, where his modest house is now a museum.

8. Edna Ferber biography and revival

Edna Ferber, date unknown (State Historical Society of Wisconsin Visual Archives)

Edna Ferber checks a number of boxes to spark contemporary interest: she took on racism and sexism in her novels and short stories, and she may have been a lesbian. On top of that, she was a wonderful writer, at least judging from the early novel and short stories that I’ve read, featuring the dreams, disappointments, and, very occasionally, triumphs of department store saleswomen and accountants and stenographers. Ferber was a regular at the Algonquin Round Table, which would make for entertaining research.********

Man talking to woman at store counter, Roast Beef Medium by Edna Ferber
Illustration by James Montgomery Flagg from Roast Beef, Medium, by Edna Ferber (1913)

Harper Perennial Classics has reissued some of Ferber’s novels, which is a good start, but she’s due the kind of revival that Tim Page sparked for novelist Dawn Powell a few decades back when he published her diaries, her letters, and a biography. Any volunteers?

9. The Illustrators of New Rochelle, New York

Coles Phillips in his New Rochelle Studio, ca. 1921 (saturdayeveningpost.org)

High on the list of nonexistent books I’m longing to read is a group biography of Norman Rockwell, Coles Phillips, the Leyendecker brothers, and the other illustrators who turned suburban New Rochelle, New York, into one of the country’s most important artists’ colonies. If you can believe Wikipedia, New Rochelle was the source of more than half of the illustrations in major publications in the early 1920s.

I want SO much to read about J.C. Leyendecker’s romantic relationship with the model for his Arrow shirt ads

J.C. Leyendecker (vogue.com)

and about his brother Frank’s short life and tragic death.

Frank Leyendecker, June 1915

I want to read about Coles Phillips’ apparently happy marriage (one of all too few I’ve read about in the period) to his wife Teresa, who served as his primary model, “making up in keen interest and endurance what I lacked in pulchritude,” as she wrote in the Saturday Evening Post after his death in 1927 at the age of 46.

Coles Phillips, October 1916

I want to read about Normal Rockwell’s…well, I can’t think of anything I want to read about Norman Rockwell. But, if you write it, I’ll read it!

Norman Rockwell cover, Saturday Evening Post, February 7, 1920
Norman Rockwell, February 7, 1920

10. This one’s for me!

By now, you may be wondering why I’m asking the rest of the world to do all of these projects and not saving any for myself. Well, don’t worry—I’ve set aside a project, or two, or three. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to finish, or, um, start them, but I look forward to telling you more when I can.

In the meantime, get to work, everyone!

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*Actually, this is mostly an amateur opinion. The academics I know who are working on this period have more than enough to keep them busy.

**That I know if. If I’m wrong, please let me know!

***I’ve noticed recently that some of my old posts have gone all Alice in Wonderland on me, with small photos suddenly huge, like this squiggle from the Thanksgiving 2019 post.

I’ll get with WordPress to see what this is about and in the meantime am resizing the giant photos as I come across them.

****Or at least the covers (currently up to 1925) that are out of copyright.

*****Actually, a 1916 Girl Scout badge. My logic in using 1919 in the title was that this was the Girl Scout book being used 100 years ago at the time of the post. If I had known that this would go on to be by far my most popular post, read by many people who didn’t have a clue about my 100 years ago project, I would have used the 1916 in the blog post title.

******Go for it yourself, you might reasonably say. I tried once, with some different texts, and it’s kind of hard.

*******Speaking of fake child authors, Hall confessed in 1946 that he had written the critically acclaimed 1940 poetry collection Oh Millersville!, supposedly the work of a 10-year-old girl named Fern Gravel.

 ********That’s Ferber on the bottom right corner, looking like she’s wearing a skeleton mask, in the Al Hirschfeld cartoon of Algonquin Round Table members. I can’t post it here because it’s still under copyright.

Summer 1921 Magazine Covers, Viewed Longingly from Wintery Cape Town

Objectively speaking, winter in Cape Town is not all that bad. The temperature rarely dips below the high 40s, and a cold day is one when it doesn’t make it into the 60s. Subjectively speaking, though, winter in Cape Town is miserable. It rains a lot, and houses don’t have central heating, so we sit around freezing and grumbling.*

What I needed to improve my mood, I decided, was some summer fun from the covers of 1921 magazines. I could pretend I was somewhere hot, hanging around at the beach**

Jessie Willcox Smith
Sarah Stillwell-Weber
J.C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover, July 2, 1921, toddler with bucket.
J.C. Leyendecker

or the pool

Anne Harriet Fish

or fishing

Helen Dryden
Howard L. Hastings
Hugo Gellert

or playing golf

or camping

Howard L. Hastings

or basking in the moonlight

Erté

Erté

or canoodling

A.M. Hopfmuller

or cavorting about in the altogether,

Norman Rockwell
Warren Davis
A.M. Hopfmuller

or just hanging around,

Coles Phillips
Helen Dryden

maybe at the summer house.

Margaret Harper August 1921 House & Garden cover, country house aerial view.
Margaret Harper
Henry George Brandt June 1021 House & Garden cover, window of cottage with flowers.
Henry George Brandt

(Okay, these are not all ACTUAL wishes. I’m not much of a fisherman, for example.)

Lo and behold, I did actually make it to the northern hemisphere in time for the last few weeks of the summer. It turns out, though, that my image of Washington in August was a teeny bit romanticized. Life has been more like this

George Wolfe Plank

and this

Albert Barbelle

than this.

Colin Sealy

But I’ve had a great time hanging out with my friends,

and even though I haven’t spent much (okay, any) time working on my manuscript

George Wolfe Plank

I swear that’s going to happen before the fall sets in.

But fall is weeks away, so let’s not think about it right now. After all, in the words of the #1 hit song of late summer 1921, “In the meantime, in between time…”

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*Of course, I always keep in mind how fortunate I am compared to most people in Cape Town.

**If we were rerunning the Best Magazine Cover of a Woman Swimming with a Red Scarf on Her Head competition, we’d have some good contenders here.

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New On The Book List:

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie

Magazine Ads of 1921: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down, and Meh

I’ve looked at hundred-year-old ads from a lot of different angles over the years: admiring their artistry, seeing how they rang in the 1920s, expressing total befuddlement, and planning my perfect 1919 summer morning and dream 1920 vacation. One thing I’ve never done, though, is evaluate them in terms of their fundamental purpose: getting people to buy stuff.* So I decided to look at the ads in the June 1921 Ladies’ Home Journal and decide what does, and what doesn’t, capture my fancy.

Thumbs Up

Turns out that you can use this soap for laundry, dishwashing, and cleaning around the house. No mention of washing your hands, surprisingly. (UPDATE 7/2/2021: As Susan of witness2fashion points out in the comments, naphtha is a petroleum product and not suitable for use on the skin.) I don’t know how the ship fits into the story, but the illustration is appealing. I’ll take it!

Mmm, a can of fat! But look at those baked goods. Plus, you can send away for a free book of recipes by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey. I’m in!

I love this cozy scene, complete with a bedside bookshelf. The text brags that “wamsutta” made it into the dictionary, which sounds to me like the first step toward losing your trademark, but if Wamsutta’s happy I’m happy. I’ll take a set of percales!

I’m not sure why the owners of this mansion need a fold-out sofa, and if they do why it needs to go in the doorway, but this one is nice-looking as sofa beds go, and I’m impressed that it opens by one easy, well-balanced motion.** Yes, please send me handsome illustrated booklet and name of nearest dealer!

I’m a little freaked out by the clown, but real food, what a novelty!

I’m not QUITE convinced that the men looking downward in their dinner partner’s direction are admiring her vanilla dessert. But look at that cake! I’ll go to my grocer and insist on Burnett’s.

More cake? It would be rude to say no!

I know I’m supposed to be focusing on the products, not the ads, but I looked at this, said, “Coles Phillips!”, zoomed in, and saw his initials under the seat of the rocker. I’ll take the polish and buy the white shoes later.

If I were in D.C., I would be saying, “Are you out of your mind? It’s 95 degrees! I don’t even want to THINK about black stockings!” But I’m in freezing Cape Town–well, in the 50s, but no one here has central heating–so bring on the hosiery!***

Thomas Edison is offering $10,000 to whoever can come up with a phrase of no more than four or five words to convey the idea that his phonograph is not a mere machine but “an instrumentality by which the true beauties and the full benefit of music can be brought into every home.” That doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, so I can see why he’s looking for help. I’ll get on it.

If it’s not a corset, I’m all in.

The small print says you have to send them a name of a new LHJ subscriber, and I usually balk at selling out my friends to corporations. Plus, I already have a copy. Still, I love the idea of this giveaway.

I’ll take all the gingham! And sure, what the hell, send me the free book about Mrs. Prentiss’s humorous gingham-related experiences.

Can I skip the camera and buy the dress?

The Meh

Brown soap is so 1919.

Sure, I WANT an olive spoon and a pickle fork. But do I NEED an olive spoon and a pickle fork?

This bedspread is the definition of meh.

Thumbs Down

No! Nooooo! Traumatic flashbacks of the awful government-issued furniture that I had in my Foreign Service housing, and that my friend Emily once took the desperate step of jamming into a spare bedroom. Granted, they’re not selling furniture here, they’re selling Congoleum. Which, as attentive readers will remember, is actually tar paper.

This canned meat picnic might be fun for Mother, but it’s not going to be much fun for anyone else.

No offense to exploding fairies, but this is “fragrantly Parisian” and I have fragrance allergies.

Ditto for giant perfume bottle worshipers.

Not buying the “corn syrup is health food” claim.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it is not conditional on what kind of soap you use.

As an expert on Italy–as in, I’ve never been there but I’m taking a beginning Italian class–I take offense at this.

“They are fresh peaches…” Yeah, and I’m a debutante.

This one almost made “Meh” but was a victim of its placement in the magazine, right next to this story,

which made me wonder why she’s living the laundry dream all alone.

Speaking of helpful husbands, this one is so beguiled by this cabinet that he comes to the kitchen to give his wife a hand with the dishes. “What matter a few smashed pieces? Think how quickly he will learn.” Not even the nifty flour dispenser would make me willing to put up with this nitwit.

If I were judging artistry, this one would get kudos for the surprisingly modern graphics. However…prunes.

I don’t believe judging anyone by their appearance, let alone a baby, so I’m strictly commenting on the skill of the artist in replying “That it has a nice personality?”****

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*Well, there was the time when this ad left me desperately craving bread.

Welch Grapelade ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, grape jam on white bread.
Ladies’ Home Journal

**But frankly a little skeptical given my life-endangering experiences with ca. 1970 sofa beds at childhood sleepovers.

***The guy with 34 children who provides a testimonial for Durham Hosiery turns out to be real.

****Hideous-looking kids were surprisingly popular in 1921 advertising.

Rita Senger Vanity Fair covers

The Brief, Brilliant Career of Rita Senger

Remember Rita Senger, who illustrated the winning cover in the 1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown? “Next time I write about illustrators I love, I’m going to write about Senger,” I promised.

Vanity Fair cover, September 1915, Rita Senger, woman with sleeping Pierrot.

September 1915

And I tried! As I prepared for my Thanksgiving post on 1920 women illustrators I’m thankful for, I scoured the internet for illustrations by, and information about, Senger.

And came up with…almost nothing. Just a handful of magazine covers, most of which I’d already seen, the last one this August 1919 Vanity Fair cover.

Vanity Fair cover, August 1919, Rita Senger, harlequin and woman on bridge.

August 1919

What happened? None of the usual suspects, like findagrave.com and Wikipedia, yielded anything. Then I came across a blog post by a quilter named Lori Kennedy saying that fellow quilter Patty Stein was Rita Senger’s granddaughter. The post included one of Senger’s Vogue covers and some photographs of her and her family.

Armed with the last name Stein, I found a listing for a Mrs. Rita Senger Stein of Highland Park, Illinois, among the life members of the Art Institute of Chicago in its 1925 annual report. That was it.

Cover, Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1925.

If I wanted to find out more about Rita Senger, I realized, I was going to have to do something almost without precedent for this blog: contact an actual living person.*

So, one evening back in November,** I sent a message to Lori Kennedy asking if she could put me in touch with Patty Stein. By the time I woke up the next morning, there was an e-mail from Patty.

Patty turned out to be a delightful person, and we talked on the phone for almost an hour. She was making a cake as we talked, which I found extremely impressive, since I consider myself a decent baker but I can’t even focus if there’s music on in the background.

chocolate cake

Patty’s cake (Patty Stein)

This is Rita’s story, mostly as I heard it from Patty but incorporating some of my own research as well. Patty emphasized that she was only sharing the impressions of a granddaughter, which may not be entirely accurate. (The chronology of Senger’s magazine covers—and any possible inaccuracy in this respect—is mine.)

Rita Senger was born in New York City in 1893, the daughter of Adolph and Barbara (Ehrlich) Senger. (The name was sometimes spelled “Sanger.”) She was an art prodigy as a child, and she went to art school at the age of sixteen or seventeen.

Young Rita Senger at easel, ca. 1910s.

Rita Stein, ca. 1910s (courtesy of Patty Stein)

Rita’s father moved to Arizona after becoming ill with asthma, leaving Rita to care for her mother, three sisters, and two brothers (both of whom went on to become architects). Success as an illustrator came early. Her first Vogue cover appeared in June 1915,

Rita Senger cover, Vogue, June 15, 1916, woman walking dog.

June 15, 1915

and her first Vanity Fair cover—the one that won my magazine cover contest—followed three months later.

Senger illustrated one cover for each magazine in 1916,

Rita Senger cover, Vogue, June 15, 191, woman in hoop skirt.

June 15, 1916

Rita Senger Vanity Fair cover, July 1916, woman dancing on beach.

July 1916

two Vogue covers in 1917,***

Rita Senger Vogue cover, July 15, 1917, woman drinking tea under tree.

July 15, 1917

Rita Senger cover, Vogue, September 1, 1917, woman holding large feather.

September 1, 1917

one Vanity Fair cover in 1918,

Rita Senger Vanity Fair cover, April 1918, Pierrot holding unconscious woman.

April 1918

and the August 1919 Vanity Fair cover, the last in her career.

Patty is not sure how Rita met her husband, Joseph Stein. It was an unusual match for the time; he was Jewish and Rita, who came from a non-religious family, was not. Stein’s grandfather was one of the first Reform rabbis in Chicago, but he himself was not a practicing Jew. He was a wealthy businessman, the owner of Lucien Lelong, Inc., the U.S. affiliate of the Paris-based Société des Parfums Lucien Lelong. (The two companies were sold to Coty in 1953.)

These drawings of Lucien Lelong’s Paris office appear on a blog about the company’s history. The magazine and date are unidentified, but they look like ca. 1920s Vanity Fair to me.****

Illustrations of Lucien Lelong studio, Paris, possibly from Vanity Fair, 1920s?

Joseph had a keen artistic sense himself, and he paid a great deal of attention to the appearance of his products. Here is his patent for a Lucien Lelong perfume bottle:

Patent application for Lelong perfume bottle, Lelong.

United States Patent and Trademark Office

When Rita and Joseph married, she joined him in Chicago. The couple later settled in the suburb of Highland Park. Their son Tom, their only child, was born in 1920.

When I saw a picture of Rita with her extended family on Lori Kennedy’s website, I hoped that, having given up her career, she had gained a fulfilling life of a different sort. Life is rarely so simple, unfortunately. Like many parents of their time and class, she and her husband sent Tom to boarding school from an early age. Living outside of the hustle and bustle of the city, she felt isolated. “I believe she was a very frustrated artist and wife,” Patty said.

Rita did appreciate the benefits of wealth, though. In addition to their home in Highland Park, she and her husband owned, over the course of their marriage, an apartment on the Champs-Élysées and houses in Maine and in the Long Island town of Oyster Bay.

New Yor Times Headline, 6-Acre Estate Sold in Nassau County, 1-22-1942.

New York Times, January 22, 1942

Patty remembers Rita, whom her grandchildren called Tita after a mispronunciation by one of the children, as a tiny woman with a mink collar, pearls, and diamonds. She smoked at a time when that was the mark of a sophisticated woman. “They had an African-American cook who was always baking stuff—it was out of Gone With the Wind,” Patty told me. “I never remember her eating anything except pound cake and butter.”

Rita Senger and others at party.

Rita Senger Stein, center, at her son’s wedding reception, October 1943 (courtesy of Patty Stein)

After her marriage, Rita expressed her artistic side through patronage of the arts. In addition to her association with the Art Institute of Chicago, she was a collector, purchasing works by modern artists including the sculptors Kenneth Armitage and Henry Bertoia.

When their son Tom grew up, he wanted his own family to be very different from the one he was raised in. He married Pauline Blume, the daughter of Ernest Blume, a Marshall Field’s home goods buyer. Ernest and Joseph had had a nodding acquaintance before the couple met. The two men, who shared an appreciation for aesthetics, saw each other occasionally at lunch at Marshall Field’s.

Rita Senger Stein with her son and daughter-in-law, cutting cake, at their wedding.

Rita Senger Stein, far right, at her son’s wedding reception, October 1943 (courtesy of Patty Stein)

Tom and Pauline eventually settled in Colorado with their five children, whom Patty, the youngest, describes as “boisterous, smart, and mouthy.” Their sophisticated grandmother, who thought children should be seen and not heard, didn’t know what to make of them. She enjoyed them one at a time, and developed a special bond with her oldest grandson, but “five was way too many,” Patty said. One time, when Patty was little, she drew paper dolls and showed them proudly to her grandmother. Rita pointed out that the figures were out of proportion.*****

Art was an important part of the family’s daily life. “I did not grow up with a mom who had crocheted doilies on the sofa,” Patty said. When the family went to an exhibition of Bertoia’s work, Patty’s sister was told to stop touching the tree sculptures. “My grandmother lets me,” she said.

Harry Bertoia in sculpture studio.

Harry Bertoia with samples of his sculpture in the early 1960s (Harry Bertoia Foundation)

“She had so much influence on us five and our extended family,” Patty said of her grandmother. One of Rita’s nephews went on to be an artist and designer. Patty herself went on to a different kind of artistic career, as a ballet dancer.

When Rita was 85 years old, she and her husband moved to Denver so Tom and his family could care for them. One day, Rita sat Patty down and pulled out a portfolio from the 1920s, with drawings of nudes in copper and black. Until then, Patty hadn’t known that Rita had continued drawing after her career ended. “She was so gifted,” Patty said, “to see curves and shadows and lines where none of the rest of us could.”

Rita died on December 30, 1990, at the age of 97. For her descendants, her art collection, her furniture, and her own art work serve as tangible reminders of her artistic sensibility and her talent. For the rest of us, her art lives on online. The Library of Congress, which has the original of the July 1916 Vanity Fair cover in its collection, featured it in a 2002 exhibition titled “American Beauties: Drawings from the Golden Age of Illustration.”

Rita Senger Vanity Fair cover, July 1916, woman dancing on beach.

July 1916

The website for the exhibition states that “Rita Senger’s lithe beauty dancing on a shore (ca. 1916) embodied a freedom based on insistent individuality. Compared with their predecessors, [fellow illustrator Ethel] Plummer’s and Senger’s figures move freely in more public, open spaces.”

If Rita had enjoyed that same freedom in her own life, the world would be the richer for it. Still, I feel lucky to have discovered the work she did leave us, and, through Patty, to have learned this remarkable woman’s story. I can think of no better way to celebrate Women’s History Month than telling it here.

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*The “almost” being because in 2018 I called the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia and talked to a very nice woman who confirmed that the museum still owned the painting “Lead Kindly, Light,” by William Edouard Scott, which was featured on the cover of the April 1918 issue of The Crisis. Also, I e-mailed the Library of Congress in 2019 for a post that’s still on my to-do list. But contacting people whose job it is to answer your questions is very different from reaching out to a stranger and saying, “Tell me all about your grandma!”

Crisis cover, April 1918, black couple on wagon going north.

**I know, not exactly lightning speed. In my (feeble) defense, I left Washington, D.C., where I’d unexpectedly spent almost a year, for Cape Town shortly after my conversation with Patty, and after that I had some time-specific posts to do for the holidays, Black History Month, etc. Still!

***Or possibly three. Vogue’s website identifies this September 15, 1917, cover as being Senger’s,

Vogue cover, September 15, 1917, woman with purse.

but credits the September 1 cover, which is definitely hers, to Alice De Warenn Little, so it’s possibly that they flipped the attributions. Vogue published two issues a month at that point, and I’ve never come across two covers by the same artist during the same month.

****The life of Lelong, who was also a prominent couturier, makes for fascinating reading. During his marriage (possibly of convenience) to Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley, she had a messy entanglement with the writer Jean Cocteau, who was gay. Another one of Lelong’s wives later married Collette’s widower.

Lucien Lelong in 1925

Lucien Lelong in 1925 (National Photo Company)

*****When Patty told me this, I laughed and told her about the time my brother and I, aged about eight and nine, were designing houses on graph paper. My father took a quick glance at our floor plans and told us the plumbing was misaligned—the second-floor bathroom needed to be directly above the first-floor bathroom so that the pipes would line up.

December 1920 Magazine Covers Bring Holiday Cheer

The children’s books holiday shopping guide was going to be my farewell to 1920, but I’m back in Cape Town after an unexpectedly long sojourn in DC, and while all my friends there are longing for summer weather and the beach I’m pining for snow.*

And where better to find snow (in Cape Town, anyway) than on the cover of a December 1920 magazine?

The award for snowiest magazine cover goes to Helen Dryden at Vogue,

Helen Dryden Vogue cover, December 1920, woman looking out at snow.

December 15, 1920

followed by Motor,

Motor magazine cover, December 1920, woman at door with gifts.

Scribner’s,

Scribner's cover, December 1920, man on skis.

and The Farmer’s Wife, which consistently punches above its weight cover-wise.

The Farmer's Wife cover, December 1920, woman in snow.

Leroy Jansen

Santa makes an appearance on the Saturday Evening Post’s Norman Rockwell cover,

Norman Rockwell December 16, 1920 Saturday Evening Post cover, Santa.

December 4, 1920

on the Ladies’ Home Journal,

and, naturally, on St. Nicholas.

St, NIcholas cover, December 1920, Santa.

One of Santa’s helpers is hard at work on the Saturday Evening Post.

J.C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post December 25, 1920 cover, old man making toys.

J.C. Leyendecker, December 25, 1920

There’s holiday greenery at Modern Priscilla

Blanche K. Brink Modern Priscilla cover, December 1920, woman's face in Christmas tree.

Blanche K. Brink

and Century

Century cover, December 1920, old-time couple dancing.

and House & Garden.

Harry Richardson House and Garden cover, window with wreath.

Henry Richardson

They’re wrapping presents at Woman’s Home Companion

Woman's Home Companion December 1920 cover, woman with packages.

and hoping for presents at Literary Digest.

Literary Digest December 1920 Rockwell cover, children looking into toy story window.

Norman Rockwell

Screenland

Screenland December 1920 cover, Norma Talmadge.

and The Smart Set

Smart Set cover, December 1920, woman on green background.

pay halfhearted tribute to the holidays with red-and-green color schemes.

Children on Norman Rockwell’s Life cover ask, “Is he coming?”,

Norman Rockwell December 1920 Life cover, children waiting for Santa.

along with the children on Maclean’s up in Canada

Maclean's cover, December 1920, children waiting for Santa.

and millions of children around the world tonight, and a hundred years ago tonight.

Happy holidays to all!

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*Not that they actually have snow in DC at the moment, or pretty much ever at Christmas, but it did snow a week after I left. Which quickly turned into slush and then into ice, as my friends, who have little patience for my foul-weather nostalgia, were quick to remind me.

Crop from Helen Nyce, Visit to St. Nicholas, children and Christmas tree

Children’s Books: Your 1920 Holiday Shopping Guide

It’s that time of year again! The holiday roundup of children’s books is one of my favorite My Life 100 Years Ago traditions, if you can call something you’ve only done once before a tradition. (The year before last, I did a just plain holiday shopping guide.)

Illustration from children's books article, Publishers Weekly, November 6, 1920.

Publishers Weekly, November 6, 1920

Once again, I had a lot of help. Pioneering children’s librarian Annie Carroll Moore is on hand with a guide to fall books in the November 1920 issue of The Bookman,* and Margaret Ashmun has an article on Christmas books for the young and old in the December issue. Publisher’s Weekly has an expansive holiday roundup, and Literary Digest weighs in with fifty gift suggestions for children. The New York Times has an engagingly written writeup by Hildegarde Hawthorne, granddaughter of Nathaniel. (There’s also a Times article with the seemingly promising title of “Christmas in Bookland,” in which Coningsby Dawson blathers on for two pages about the wonders of motherhood and manages to only mention one book, An Outline of History by H.G. Wells.)

For the Very Young

I had an easier time finding books for very young children than I did last year, mostly thanks to Hawthorne. As far as I can tell, though, books with illustrations on every page were still unheard of.

Cover of Cinderella, illustrated by Margaret Evans Price, Cinderella with coach.

Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper, illustrated by future Fisher-Price co-founder Margaret Evans Price, has just seven illustrations in the 40-page text, plus some more at the beginning and end. Still, they’re charming,

Margaret Evans Price illustration from Cinderella, Cinderella doing chores.

Margaret Evans Price illustration from Cinderella, Cinderella running away from ball.

and Cinderella is going on my list.

Cover of The Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Nyce, 1920, Santa with toys.

The Night Before Christmas presents Clement C. Moore’s classic 1823 poem (actual title: “A Visit from St. Nicholas”) with illustrations by Helene Nyce.

Nyce illustration, The Night Before Christmas, 1920, children dancing in front of fire.

That’s a crop from one of Nyce’s illustrations at the top of the post.

Fantasy and Fairy Tales

Cover, Tales of Wonder and Magic, Katharine Pyle, 1920.

Tales of Wonder and Magic, a collection of fairy tales from around the world written and illustrated by Katharine Pyle, also turned out not to have many illustrations, which disappointed me at first, until I came across this one,

Tales of Wonder and Magic, Katharine Pyle, 1920, prince beating princess.

which made me wish it had fewer.

Cover, Treasure of the Isle of Mist, W.W. Tarn.

Hathitrust

Annie Carroll Moore calls The Treasure of the Isle of Mist, by the Scottish writer W.W. Tarn, “an exquisite fantasy of youth and autumn.” If your kid is transfixed by sentences like this, by all means add it to your holiday list:

Up through the calm water, to meet the eye of the gazer, came the green clearness of stone, and blinks of unveined sand showing white between the brown tangled blades of the great oar-weed; and you might see a school of little cuddies, heads all one way, playing hide and seek in the sea forest, and caring no whit for the clumsy armored crab beneath them, who crawled sideways, a laborious patch of color in the shimmering transparency. 

Cover, Fairies and Chimneys, by Rose Fyleman.

Rose Fyleman’s poetry collection Fairies and Chimneys is, in Moore’s opinion, “just the book to take up after leaving Fiona and The Student” (of The Treasure of the Isle of Mist). Since she presumably doesn’t mean after flinging the book aside in disgust, I had low hopes.

I was charmed by the poems, though. They’re told in the voice of a little girl who’s a staunch believer in fairies, who keep popping up in the midst of everyday life—on a bus on Oxford Street, for example.

Here’s one of my favorites, called “Wishes”:

I wish I liked rice pudding,
I wish I were a twin,
I wish some day a real live fairy
Would just come walking in.

I wish when I’m at table
My feet would touch the floor,
I wish our pipes would burst next winter,
Just like they did next door.

I wish that I could whistle
Real proper grown-up tunes,
I wish they’d let me sweep the chimneys
On rainy afternoons.

I’ve got such heaps of wishes,
I’ve only said a few;
I wish that I could wake some morning
And find they’d all come true!

My wish: that Fairies and Chimneys had more illustrations. There’s only one, this frontispiece,

Frontispiece, Fairies and Chimneys by Rose Fylman, two girls separated by fence.

plus this artwork on the inside cover.**

Lining pages, Fairies and Chimneys.

Still, pictures or not, this is going on my list.

Cover, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Abbott, 1920.

On to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illustrated “delightfully this time,” according to Ashmun, by Elenore Abbott. I checked it out and found actual delightfulness—and no violent illustrations!***

Illustration by Elenore Abbot from Grimm's Fairy Tales

Illustration from Grimm's Fairy Tales by Elenore Abbott, woman in veil with long braids.

Illustration from Grimm's Fairy Tales by Elenore Abbott, women at party.

Illustration by Elenore Abbott, Grimm's Fairy Tales, 1920, woman with swans.

On the list. I’m on a roll!

The Jewish Fairy book, 1920, cover.

I had just about given up on including any kind of diversity in this roundup when I came upon The Jewish Fairy Book in Hawthorne’s Times article. This collection of traditional Jewish stories by Gerald Friedlander, with illustrations by George W. Hood,

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, flying carpet.

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, palace.

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, girl and fairy on terrace.

Illustration from The Jewish Fairy Book, man walking out of cave.

would make a perfect (if belated) Hanukkah gift.

For Middle-Grade and Older Readers

Dr. Dolittle title page and frontispiece, 1920.

Annie Carroll Moore calls Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Dr. Dolittle “the most delightful nonsense story of the year,” and it’s the one undisputed children’s classic of 1920. I was going to buy a copy and (re)read it myself, but I bought one of the sequels by mistake and had to return it. This is just as well, because it turns out that modern editions have all the racism taken out, and I would potentially have ended up recommending a book where a Black prince tells this tale of woe:

Excerpt from The Story of Dr. Dolittle, racist passage.

The prince asks Dr. Dolittle to turn his skin white. Dr. D. works his magic, and lo and behold

all the animals cried out in surprise. For the Prince’s face had turned as white as snow, and his eyes, which had been mud-colored, were a manly gray!

Thanks to the blog Leaves & Pages for setting me straight.

L'Alsace Heureuse cover, Hansi, 1919.

Moore has high praise as well for L’Alsace Heureuse, by Hansi (real name Jean-Jacques Waltz), a French writer of Alsatian descent. “What a happy Alsace is pictured here,” she says. “No book yet written about the war will give children the interest of the pleasure of these pictures.” The pictures I found online were indeed charming,

L'Alsace Heureuse, Hansi, 1919, three Alsace women.

but given that “happy” isn’t usually the first word that early 20th century Alsace brings to mind, I had my doubts. I couldn’t find a complete copy of L’Alsace Heureuse, but the grim pictures I came across in Hansi’s 1916 children’s book L’Histoire d’Alsace leave me inclined to approach this one with caution. Plus, I see no evidence that L’Alsace Heureuse was translated into English at the time.

The Story of Our Country title page and frontispiece.

“E. Boyd Smith has written and illustrated ‘The Story of Our Country,’” is the totality of what Moore has to say about this book. I pulled it up on Hathitrust, typed “Negro” in the search bar, and found this:

Text from The Story of Our Country by E. Boyd Smith claiming Negro leaders favor segregation.

Next!

Title page and Frontispiece, Argonauts of Faith by Basil Matthews.

The 300th anniversary of the founding of Plymouth colony was celebrated a lot more enthusiastically than this year’s 400th, and there was no shortage of books about the Pilgrims. Moore’s favorite is The Argonauts of Faith, by Basil Matthews. Flipping through the illustrations, I found this one. “Would they scalp him? Would they torture him by fire?” the caption asks.

Argonauts of Faith illustration, white boy cowering from Indian.

They didn’t—they treated him kindly and he dined out on stories of his time with the Indians for the rest of his days—but I decided to give the Argonauts a pass anyway.

Sometimes, as with this reissue of H.E. Marshall’s An Empire Story, you don’t even need to go beyond the title page.

An Empire Story title page and frontispiece.

Illustrator N.C. Wyeth (father of Andrew) had a busy year,**** with new editions of Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!,

N.C. Wyeth illustration from Westward Ho!, bare-chested woman with dead man on her lap.

Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe,

N.C. Wyeth illustration from Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe shooting murtherers.

and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Courtship of Miles Standish.

N.C. Wyeth illustration from The Courtship of Miles Standish, man stabbing Indian.

No, no, and no. (And in case you think I’m being a prude, it’s not the woman’s bare chest I object to, it’s the—I checked the text—dead guy on her lap.)

Cover of Some British Ballads.

Of Some British Ballads, a volume of Child ballads with pictures by Arthur Rackham, Ashmun says, “The fortunate recipient will find herself saying over and over, ‘Binnorie, oh, Binnorie!’”

If you say so, Margaret. MY prediction is that the recipient will take a quick look at the text, see that it’s in old-timey English,

Text from Yonge Andrew, Some British Ballads.

come upon this illustration from “Yonge Andrew,”

Arthur Rackham illustration of Yonge Andrew, from Some British Ballads, man with naked woman.

and stick the book into the back of his closet for further perusing.*****

Cover, Ancient Man, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, pyramids on yellow background.

Every once in a while, I come across something from a hundred years ago that gives me a shock of recognition, seeming to come from a much later time. That’s how I felt when I saw the illustrations from Ancient Man by Dutch-American writer Hendrik Willem Van Loon.****** “Broad smears of color that tell a clear story none the less,” is how Hawthorne puts it, unknowingly summarizing the future of children’s illustration.

Ancient Man, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, man under tree.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1920, pyramids on yellow background.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem van Loon, 1920, red towers of Nineveh.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, man looking at horizon.

Ancient Man by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1920, Phoenician ship.

Ca. 1920 history is fraught with peril, though, so I downloaded the text onto my Kindle. I’m about halfway through. Some of it, like a description of African people’s woolly hair and thick lips and references to prehistoric man “and his wife,” doesn’t pass the modern sensibility test. Biblical stories are presented as literal history, and non-Western civilizations like China and Asia are completely disregarded. With these caveats, though, I’d recommend it, especially if you (like me) are hazy on who exactly the Phoenecians were.

For Young Adults

Older teens are always hard to shop for, and this year is no exception.

Story of Opal cover, 1920.

Moore, who has a habit of throwing adult books into the children’s roundup mix, has good things to say about The Story of Opal, a memoir by Opal Whiteley that was originally serialized in The Atlantic. Opal’s mom drowns on page 2 while she and Opal are boating.

Text from The Story of Opal, by Opal Whiteley

Her father dies in the next paragraph. He’s not at the logging camp with Opal and her mom at the time, which stands to reason seeing as he’s Henry, Prince of Orleans, or so Whiteley claimed (although she doesn’t mention him by name in this book as far as I can tell). I’m having just a TINY bit of trouble buying this.

Cover, The Good Cheer Book.

Ashmun says that The Good Cheer Book, compiled by Blanche E. Herbert, “will no doubt be a popular gift at Christmas.” Like everyone else, I could use some good cheer these days, so I opened it eagerly. Do you feel down in the dumps, John Edgar Park asks us in the opening essay. Well, yes, John, sometimes!

Here’s his advice:

Text of The Diagnosis, from The Good Cheer Book.

If the print’s too small for you, here’s a summary: “It’s all your fault! Suck it up!”

Cover of The Little House by Coningsby Dawson, 1920.

The Little House, Ashmun promises us, has “a real Christmas flavor.” It’s by, uh-oh, Coningsby Dawson, he of the bookless New York Times essay, and it’s told from the point of view of the house. “To have been responsible for the happy ending is pretty nearly as clever as to have made the story up out of one’s own head or, as we houses say, out of one’s own walls,” the house says.

That was this last straw. I decided to cast the critics aside and do my own search for a gift for the older teen.

Dust jacket, This Side of Paradise, first edition.

I’m reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise at the moment, for the third or fourth time. Each time I get something different out of it. When I was starting grad school at Princeton, what I loved was Fitzgerald’s swoony take on the place. “I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic—you know, like a spring day,” says semi-autobiographical hero Amory Blaine.

This time what I love is Fitzgerald’s unsparing take on the self-invention of his protagonist, who progresses from one stage of cringe-inducing idiocy to another over the course of his young life, from this early-teen love poem

Poem from This Side of Paradise, 1920.

to his first-day-of-college posturing (“he tried conscientiously to look both pleasantly blasé and casually critical, which was as near as he could analyze the prevalent facial expression”), to, if memory serves (I’m only up to the Princeton part), a fatuous romance and a freak-out about sex.******* It’s easy to for older people to lampoon the pretensions of the young, but not so easy when you’re in your early twenties yourself, as Fitzgerald was.  

In a previous post, I quoted critic John Walcott, who said in a 1917 Bookman essay that young people turn away from books that skewer their peers, like Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Bab: A Sub-Deb and Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen.  They take themselves with deadly seriousness, Walcott says, and don’t relish being spoofed. But, as I’ve written before, Fitzgerald, for all the fun he pokes at his characters, doesn’t just send them up; he loves them too. That’s what I appreciate most about him now, and that’s why I don’t think our young friend will turn him aside.

For Children of All Ages

The Brownies' Book, December 1920, black Santa on roof.

Library of Congress

What if your children aren’t white? Or what if they are, and you want to show them that the real world is more diverse than the one portrayed in the children’s books of 1920? Bookwise, there’s almost nothing out there, other than Hazel, which I wrote about last year. But there’s one wonderful gift you can give them: The Brownies’ Book, a magazine by the publishers of The Crisis for African-American children, or rather, as they put it, “designed for all children, but especially for ours.” This is, sadly, your last chance; December 1921 marked the end of the magazine’s two-year run. (UPDATE 3/1/2021: I wrote about The Brownies’ Book here.)

The 1920 Children’s Holiday Book List********

Cinderella, illustrated by Margaret Evans Price

Cover of Cinderella, illustrated by Margaret Evans Price, Cinderella with coach.

Fairies and Chimneys, by Rose Fyleman

Cover, Fairies and Chimneys, by Rose Fyleman.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illustrated by Elenore Abbott

Cover, Grimm's Fairy Tales, Abbott, 1920.

The Jewish Fairy Book, by Gerald Friedlander, illustrated by George W. Hood

The Jewish Fairy book, 1920, cover.

Ancient Man, by Willem van Loon

Cover, Ancient Man, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, pyramids on yellow background.

This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Dust jacket, This Side of Paradise, first edition.

The Brownies’ Book

The Brownies' Book, December 1920, black Santa on roof.

Happy holidays, everyone, and happy reading!

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*I’m also reading, and loving, Roads to Childhood, a 1920 collection of Moore’s columns.

**These pages are, I learned in the New York Times roundup, called lining pages. Elaborate lining pages were, apparently, all the rage in 1920.

Lining pages, The Story of Our Country.

The Story of Our Country

Argonauts of Faith lining pages.

Argonauts of Faith

Lining papers from Westward Ho!, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth.

Westward Ho!

***Granted, I got 125 hits when I searched for “killed.” But you can’t have Grimm without the grim.

****He was also busy illustrating the advertising campaign about pancake-making enslaved person Aunt Jemima.

Aunt Jemima saves colonel's moustache, October 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1920

*****Just as well that the young reader is likely to give “Yonge Andrew” a pass. It’s about a guy who seduces a young woman, tricks her into giving him her father’s gold and all her clothes, and sends her back to her father, who, seeing that she’s naked, locks her outside, where she dies. Or something along those lines—my old-timey English is a tad rusty.

******Van Loon would go on to win the first Newbery Award for his 1921 book The Story of Mankind, which incorporates much of Ancient Man.

Cover, The Story of Mankind, Van Loon, 1921.

*******“Did they actually do it?” my young self wondered. But my young self wondered that about a lot of people, including Madame Bovary, so is not necessarily the best guide in these matters. (UPDATE 3/1/2021: Having now reread the book, I have no idea what this was all about.)

********With the caveat that any book given to an ACTUAL CHILD should be given a more thorough read than I’ve given these.

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New on the (non-holiday) Book List:

Ten Days That Shook the World, by John Reed