Category Archives: Magazines

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.

The Brownies' Book header

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

I spent much of today binge-reading the first fourteen issues of The Brownies’ Book, the NAACP’s magazine for African-American children. Doing this on the last day of Black History Month is the blogging equivalent of cracking open the textbook for the first time on the night before the final exam, but I had a wonderful time taking in the stories for and about African-American children, reading the poems and games chosen especially for them, and, most of all, hearing from the children in their own words.

The Crisis October 1918 cover, photo of toddler

In 1919, W.E.B. Du Bois, the editor of the NAACP magazine The Crisis, announced the upcoming launch of a new magazine “designed for all children, but especially for ours.” The Crisis ran a children’s issue every October, featuring African folk tales, stories and poems about African-American children, and photos of cute babies; The Brownies’ Book included these and many other features. Jessie Redmon Fauset, the literary editor of The Crisis, served in this position at The Brownies’ Book as well, and later as its managing editor.

Jessie Redmon Fauset

Jessie Redmon Fauset, date unknown

There’s no way I could do justice to this wonderful magazine in one blog post, so I’ll just share a few of my favorite items.*

“The Jury,” a page of letters from young readers, is the part of The Brownies’ Book I enjoyed the most. In the January 1920 inaugural issue, a boy named Franklin Lewis, who dreams of being an architect but isn’t sure if this is possible, writes in asking “if you will please put in your paper some of the things which colored boys can work at when they grow up.”**

Letter to editor, The Brownies' Book, January 1920.

The Brownies’ Book, January 1920

This photograph of children in the “Silent Parade,” the famous 1917 march protesting violence against African-Americans, also appeared in the inaugural issue.

Children marching in Silent Parade, 1917, The Brownies' Book.

The Brownies’ Book, January 1920

A profile of child violinist Eugene Mars Martin, with this accompanying photo, ran in the “Little People of the Month” feature. Mars, I was saddened to learn, died suddenly at the age of 22 while working as the director of a music school.

Eugene Mars Martin, The Brownies' Book, Januar 1920.

The Brownies’ Book, January 1920

This cri de coeur by a reader, addressed to The Crisis but printed in “The Jury,” is both sad and hilarious. “P.S. I’m only fifteen years old, so please have a little pity,” she concludes.

Letter to the editor, The Brownies' Book, 1920

The Brownies’ Book, April 1920

Here are some drawings sent in by readers.

Illustrations from readers, The Brownies' Book, May 1920

The Brownies’ Book, May 1920

The pageant in this photo took place at Atlanta University, where Du Bois had formerly served as a professor.

Pageant, Atlanta University, The Brownies' Book, 1920

The Brownies’ Book, September 1920

The Brownies’ Book encouraged readers to send in their high school graduation photos and printed them all. Check out the graduate in the middle row on the right.

The Brownies' Book graduation photos Langston Hughes.

The Brownies’ Book, July 1920

Here he is with a byline, describing games children play in Mexico, where he had gone to live with his father after his graduation. (UPDATE 5/1/2021: After reading this post, Frank Hudson of The Parlando Project put the words of a Langston Hughes poem from The Brownies’ book to music.)

Langston Hughes article, The Brownies' Book, December 1920.

The Brownies’ Book, December 1920

I also love “The Judge,” the monthly column where a wise elder (could it be Du Bois? (UPDATE 5/1/2021: no, it was Fauset)) teaches lessons to children in a nuanced and non-preachy way. I was sorry to see the Judge explaining to children why they shouldn’t have done the things that led to whippings, but happy to see him back in the next issue gently telling the parents that there are more effective ways to discipline children.

Particularly popular among readers were the stories of African-American role models like Frederick Douglas, surveyor and almanac writer Benjamin Banneker, and Katy Ferguson, a freed slave who founded the first Sunday school in New York.

Katy Ferguson, The Brownies' Book, June 1920

Katy Ferguson, The Brownies’ Book, June 1920

And then there were the covers. Unlike The Crisis, which frequently used well-known white illustrators as cover artists, The Brownies’ Book featured work by African-American illustrators, including many women.

Brownies' Book cover, March 1920.

Albert Smith

The Brownies' Book cover, May 1920, girls dancing around maypole.

Laura Wheeler

Brownies' Book cover, July 1920

Albert Smith

As ahead of its time as it was, The Brownies’ Book was of its time as well. There were some head-scratching features, such as the stories about babies who scored impressively on eugenics tests.*** I didn’t know quite what to make of the story of how Mississippi Senator Blanche Bruce saved his former owner from the poorhouse by intervening with the President to get him a shipyard job, and then, to save him from the humiliation of knowing he had been rescued by his former slave, asked Mississippi’s white senator to make the nomination in his place. (UPDATE 2/1/2021: The blogger at Whatever It Is, I’m Against It, who writes about the New York Times of 100 years ago, points out in the comments that Bruce’s owner was also his father. This sheds a fascinating new light on the story.)

Drawing of Senator Blanche Bruce, The Brownies' Book, March 1920.

The Brownies’ Book, March 1920

These are minor quibbles, though, about a magazine that, in the face of the uniform whiteness of children’s literature, gave African-American children stories about children who looked like them, and about adults whose achievements they could aspire to emulate.

The Brownies’ Book only lasted two years. The magazine wasn’t able to meet its circulation target, and the December 1921 issue was its last. As much as that breaks my heart, it seems like a small miracle that it existed at all.

I’ve only scratched the surface. For more, you can read the magazine here.

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*I’d promise to return to The Brownies’ Book later but fear invoking the Promised Post Curse.

**I do have my doubts about whether Franklin was real. This and some other letters strike me as suspiciously on the nose in espousing the magazine’s beliefs. Others are unmistakably from real children.

***One baby was declared perfect except for a slightly imperfect left tonsil.

The Best and Worst Magazine Ads of January 1921

The thing I miss most about reading ONLY as if I were living 100 years ago is the Best and Worst posts. I just don’t do enough hundred-year-old reading anymore to determine what’s the best magazine or short story or woman swimming with a red scarf on her head of the month. (Well, I could probably do that last one.) But then it dawned on me that I can judge to my heart’s content if I just narrow the field. To, say, advertising, which I vowed to write about more often anyway after my only 2020 post on the topic ended up being the most popular post of the year. (UPDATE 2/6/2021: Oh, wait, there was also third-place post My Dream 1920 Summer Vacation.)

So, having looked through the Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, I present you with the best, worst, and various other superlatives of January 2021 advertising.

Cutest Old-Timey Product

Having this in the kitchen would ALMOST be worth the incredible hassle of cooking with it.

Florence oil stove ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Least Cute Old-Timey Product

We can all be thankful that we don’t live in a world where linoleum rugs are a thing.

Armstrong linoleum rug ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Congoleum linoleum rug ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Worst Product Name

Merely dumb-sounding

Tweedie boots ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, woman's boot.

Ladies’ Home Journal

and incomprehensible

Fels-Naphtha soap ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

lose out to pure evil.*

Vollrathware ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, white crockery.

Good Housekeeping

Least Convincing Advertising Claim

There are plenty of dubious claims, like this

Sun-Maid raisins ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, raisins are a beauty food.

Ladies’ Home Journal

and this

Pillsbury's ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, gee I like bran muffins.

Good Housekeeping

and this,

White and Whyckkoff's stationeary ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

which, if you can’t read the small print, is about a woman who decides to go to a party based solely on the quality of the inviter’s stationery. Strong contestants all, but I’m taking an Italian class at the moment, and one of my classmates recently sent us pictures of his Italian grandma’s gnocci preparations,

Gnocci on tray.

Tomato sauce preparation.

Gnocci with meat sauce.

Karl Robert Schaberg

so I know whereof I speak when I award top honors in this category to

Good Housekeeping Quaker macaroni ad, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

Most Absorbing Narrative

Helen and her friend muse about men, gas mileage,** and socialism on their way to pick up Helen’s husband Harry at the station.

Overland Ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Most Distinctive Advertising Trend

Trompe-l’oeil curling pages were apparently all the rage.

Mazola oil ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, curling page.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Faust instant coffee and tea ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, curling page.

Good Housekeeping

Most Retro Ad Design

As I’ve mentioned, the perfume industry hasn’t gotten the memo that Art Nouveau*** is over.

All-the-Petals perfume ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, dancing fairy.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Least Cute Kid

In this always-competitive category, here are the runners-up

Beech Nut peanut butter ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Baker's cocoa ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, children making cocoa.

Good Housekeeping

and the winner.

Burnett's vanilla ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921, girl holding vanilla.

Good Housekeeping

Least Appropriate Literary Reference

Because what says “let’s go whitewash some fences!” like a necktie?

Tom Sawyer ad, Ladies Home Journal, January 1921, boys wearing neckties.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Most Diet-Busting Ad

If I hadn’t been so hungry when I was judging this category, the prize probably would have gone to this,****

Royal Baking Powder ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, cake and pastries.

Ladies’ Home Journal

but after seeing this

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

Ladies’ Home Journal

I yelled out desperately to my husband, who had just returned from the grocery store, asking him if he had bought any bread. Which, given that we had vowed to abstain from it, he hadn’t. All I could think about was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and my Swedish-inspired smoked salmon salad,

Smoked salmon salad with avocado and egg.

which I normally love, just wasn’t doing it for me. This didn’t help.

Yeast foam ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

If you needed proof that advertising, even 100-year-old advertising, works, there it is.

Least Diet-Busting Ad

Morris canned meat ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

Creepiest Ad

Creepiness was a surprisingly popular advertising trend a hundred years ago. I first took note of it in my least popular post of 2018. It’s still with us in the form of these corn medicine drop people

Corn remover ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, faces in drops.

Ladies’ Home Journal

and, the winner, this giant wall baby.*****

Nujol ad, Good Housekeeping, January 1921.

Good Housekeeping

Best Good Riddance

I’ve been meaning to do a post on Aunt Jemima for months, and have done a huge amount of research, which is a sign I’ll probably never get to it. So I’ll just say that after years of ads where she’s constantly ordered to make pancakes as an enslaved person

Aunt Jemima ad, Women's Home Companion, Last Christmas on the Old Plantation

Good Housekeeping, December 1919

and hassled for free pancakes even after emancipation,

Aunt Jemima ad, Ladies' Home Journal

Ladies’ Home Journal, January 1920

I’m pleased to see her heading up north to finally earn some money.******

Aunt Jemima ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921, good-bye to the old plantation.

Best Multiculturalism

This isn’t a highly competitive category, with only one contestant featuring people of color in non-servant roles. Here it is:

Columbia records ad, January 1921, Ladies' Home Journal.

Ladies’ Home Journal

Most Revolutionary Ad

There I was, flipping idly through the Ladies’ Home Journal, when I saw this.

First Kotex ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

“Wait, what?” I said. I had never seen an ad for a sanitary product in a 100-year-old magazine before. Deodorant was about as personal as advertising got.

Mum deodorant ad, Ladies' Home Journal, January 1921.

Ladies’ Home Journal

I did some research and found that, while disposable sanitary napkins had been around in various forms since the 1880s, this was indeed the first advertisement for them in a major magazine and, therefore, their debut as a large-scale commercial product. The ad, which never explains exactly what these newfangled things are for, says that they’re made of a material that was first used for soldiers’ bandages during the war. This struck me as probably bogus but turned out to be true.

Best Ad Artistry

I read an interview with Lionel Messi once where someone asked him who the best player in soccer was. He said that there were himself and Ronaldo and then there was everyone else, and he went on to rank-order everyone else. In 1920s advertising terms, that would be Old Dutch Cleanser and Indian Head cloth. Old Dutch Cleanser is absent from LHJ and GH this month, so the winner by forfeit is

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

Ladies’ Home Journal

On to February!

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*Actually there was a worse product name, which was (unintentionally) an ethnic slur, but it was disqualified from inclusion for that reason.

**Twenty-five miles per gallon!

***Which I love, don’t get me wrong. Missing the heyday of Art Nouveau is one of my greatest regrets about the timing of this project, up there with coming along after Jessie Willcox Smith replaced Coles Phillips as Good Housekeeping’s regular cover artist.

****Unless I DQ’d it out of annoyance over its sexism.

*****In fairness, Nujol also has one of the best ads ever:

Nujol constipation ad, 1918, woman with baby.

Woman’s Home Companion, January 1918

******Of course I realize that the whole thing is still highly problematic.

Crop of Good Housekeeping cover, January 1921.

The Top 10 Posts of 1920

Happy new year, everyone! I’m sure you’re as glad to say good-bye to 2020 as I am.

It is, incredibly, my fourth New Year’s here at My Life 100 Years Ago. That’s four Saturday Evening Post covers by J.C. Leyendecker. In 1918 we had a baby soldier,

J.C. Leyendecker New Year's cover 1918, baby soldier.

in 1919 a baby celebrating peace,

J.C. Leyendecker New Years 1919 cover, baby letting doves out of cage.

and in 1920 a shushing baby,

J.C. Leyendecker January 2020 Saturday Evening Post cover, baby with camel toy.

which didn’t make much sense until I realized that it was a censored version of this original:

J.C. Leyendecker painting of baby with whiskey bottle and camel toy.

sotheby.com

This year we have a baby coal miner.

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

This puzzled me, because the violent conflicts in the mining industry seem more up The Liberator’s or The Crisis’s* alley than the business-friendly Post’s. The magazine’s website explains that “the 1921 cherub anticipates an end to the bitter coal miners’ strike in Alabama.” If Leyendecker were still at it (his streak ran from 1907 to 1943), this year’s baby would be getting a vaccine.

Meanwhile, Good Housekeeping and Sunset have New Year’s babies of their own, going for cute and creepy respectively.

Good Housekeeping Jessie Willcox Smith cover, January 1921, child on moon.

Jessie Willcox Smith

Robert Kearfott Sunset cover, New Years 1921, baby.

Robert Kearfott

The Top 10 Posts

I only published 15 posts total this year, and the top ten were the first ten. This struck me at as strange and a little alarming at first, but when I looked more closely at the numbers it made sense. Four out of the top five were from March, April, and May—i.e. peak COVID lockdown time, when everyone was desperate for entertainment.

#10. The Top 10 Posts of 1919…and a new name for a new decade

Vanity Fair cover, January 1920, cartoon of people driving cars.

John Held Jr.

This is kind of meta.

#9. 5 Old Posts That Might Come in Handy Around Now

Coles Phillips Luxite hosiery ad.

Coles Phillips

I thought you all might want some diversions during those grim first weeks, so I compiled some quizzes I’d published over the years. Except, oops, I forgot What’s Your 1918 Girl Job?

#8. Are You H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s Ideal Woman? A Quiz

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan

Smart Set co-editors H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan may have been the greatest critics of their era, but their attitude toward woman left a lot to be desired. I had a wonderful time writing this post on July 4 and managed to finish it just in time to watch the fireworks from the roof of my building. This is probably my favorite post ever as far as the pictures go.

#7. Magazine Covers Ring in the 1920s

La Vie Parisienne cover, January 1920, woman in fur behind snowy branch.

“Forget the words, I just want pictures!” readers often tell me, although somewhat more politely than that. This year, I listened.

#6. You Be the Judge: The 1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown

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

Rita Senger

It was fun comparing magazine covers from 1915 and 1920, and I enjoyed hearing about your favorites. Rita Senger’s winning 1915 Vanity Fair cover took me in a fascinating direction that you’ll be hearing about soon. (UPDATE 4/6/2021: You can read more about Rita Senger here.)

#5. The doctor and the chorus girl: A heartbreaking tale of interracial love

Eugene Nelson and Helen Lee Worthing, 1929.

This Valentine’s Day post started out with idle curiosity—what happened to four aspiring actresses after they won a movie magazine contest? It turned into a bit of an obsession as I delved into the lives of popular Follies girl Helen Lee Worthing and her husband Eugene Nelson, a prominent African-American physician. Of all the posts I’ve done, I may be proudest of this one, and I’m glad it found so many readers.

#4. 1920 magazine covers bring late winter cheer

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

Anne Harriet Fish

I celebrated my return to the northern hemisphere with some wintry cover art, not suspecting that another winter would be on the way by the time I returned to South Africa.

#3. My Dream 1920 Summer Vacation

If we couldn’t go on vacation this year, at least we could dream of beaches…and white shoes…and gramophones.

#2. Bernice Bobs Her Hair…and I Bob Mine!

Crop of illustration from Bernice Bobs Her Hair, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

With the salons closed, I got into the F. Scott Fitzgerald spirit and gave myself a homemade bob.

#1. Magazine Ads Take Baby Steps Into the 1920s

Indian Head Cloths ad, women at beach, Ladies' Home Journal, April 1920.

Okay, I get the hint! I’ll do another ad roundup soon.

Honorable Mention

Vintage photo, young male couple.

 A Pioneering Gay Novel of 1919. Not that being #11 out of 15 is such a spectacular achievement, but I can’t resist giving this post a plug. Finding a novel about a loving gay couple who just wanted to live like normal people was my biggest surprise of the year.

Dishonorable Mention

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

Helen Dryden

December 1920 Magazine Covers Bring Holiday Cheer. As I mentioned, the last five posts were the least popular, and the last post of all is on trend with the fewest views. Also: I see I’m in a bit of a blog title rut.**

Best-Performing Post from a Past Year

Girl Scout troop, 1916.

How Girls Can Help Their Country

My Quest to Earn a 1919 Girl Scout Badge. This was my most fun post ever, and it lives on, with more than twice as many views in 2020 as the #1 post published during the year. In the meantime, a new edition of the Girl Scout handbook has been published—I should get on it.

Best Readership News

You know how when you’re just starting out in your profession you work like crazy, and then when you get more senior you can just coast? Yeah, me neither, but blogging works like that. In 2018, when I was reading full-time as if I were living in 1918, I published 94 posts. In 2019, I had 21. This year, 15. But here’s what happened to the numbers.

Blog stats, 2018-2020.

There are technical and highly boring reasons for this having to do with the impact of longevity on how search engines assess websites, but whatever! I’ll take it!

Happy 2021! May it be better than your 2020.

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*The January 1921 Liberator and Crisis covers:

Liberator January 1921 cover, Cornelia Barnes, people walking down street.

Cornelia Barnes

Crisis cover January 1921, statue of man with Sphinx.

**Although not as bad of a rut as the time back in 2019 when four out of five posts in a row started with “Celebrating.”

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.

Jessie Willcox Smith cover, Good Housekeeping, November 2020, two children praying over soup.

Three 1920 Women Illustrators I’m Thankful For

On Thanksgiving 2018, the first year I had this blog, I wrote about ten people I was thankful for. They were all over the map—a social worker, the designer of the first bra, and a food safety pioneer, among others. Last year, I narrowed my focus to ten illustrators I was thankful for. This year, I’m narrowing the focus further, to women illustrators. I’m also reducing the number, because ten illustrators was exhausting for me and, let’s face it, maybe you too.*

Neysa McMein

Neysa McMein at easel, 1918.

Neysa McMein, 1918 (Library of Congress)

You know those implausible historical movies where the main character is involved in every notable event of the era? Like, if the heroine were living a hundred years ago, she’d be a suffragist and also entertain troops during the war and also be best friends with Dorothy Parker and also be a famous painter whose studio was a salon where people like George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward and H.L. Mencken would party on while she painted away at her easel, ignoring them?

That’s Neysa McMein.

McMein was born in Quincy, Illinois in 1888, with the much more prosaic first name of Marjorie. Her father, who owned a printing company, was an alcoholic, and the family was not a happy one. McMein studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and then moved to New York in 1913, working briefly as an actress before turning to illustration. Commercial success eluded her until, at the advice of a numerologist, she changed her name to Neysa, after a favorite racehorse. She soon sold her first cover to the Saturday Evening Post.**

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

May 13, 1916

Nearly sixty other Saturday Evening Post covers followed.***

Neysa McMein Saturday Evening Post cover, March 6, 1920.

March 6, 1920

Neysa McMein Saturday Evening Post cover, woman pilot.

August 11, 1917

As I have previously mentioned, McMein was active in the suffragist movement.

Neysa McMein marching in a suffragist parade, 1917.

Neysa McMein (New York Times, November 4, 1917)

When the United States entered the war, McMein was, according to her hometown paper, one of seven artists chosen by the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the War Department’s Committee on Public Information to go to France to illustrate the American war effort. Except, oops, she was a woman, a fact that had eluded the Division. What to do? McMein solved the problem by volunteering to go overseas as a YMCA volunteer instead. She entertained troops with Dorothy Parker,**** to considerable acclaim, and was saluted by a soldier with a poem that included this verse:

She’s a lady of fame, this Neysa McMein,
And she numbers her friends by the host;
She’s the party that places
Those wonderful faces
On the Saturday Evening Post.

In her downtime, McMein managed to contribute to the war effort artistically as well.

WWI poster, Neysa McMein

Neysa McMein,1918 (Library of Congress)

After the Armistice, she returned to New York, sold more magazine covers, became part of the Algonquin Round Table set, moved in with across-the-hall neighbor Dorothy Parker when Parker’s marriage broke up, hosted the aforementioned salon, and, in 1923, married John Baragwanath.***** Their daughter Joan was born the next year. It was an open marriage that allowed for affairs with Charlie Chaplin, Ring Lardner, Robert Benchley, and others.

McMein was McCall’s magazine’s regular cover artist from 1923 to 1937. She also worked as the magazine’s film reviewer.

McCall's cover, April 1924, Neysa McMein, woman wearing colorful hat.

April 1924

Neysa McMein McCall's cover, June 1925, woman graduating.

June 1925

She also did advertising work.

Neysha McMein Palmolive soap ad, Egyptian woman.

Neysa McMein, 1918 (metmuseum.org)

Adams gum ad, Neysa McMein, 1930, woman with chewing gum.

Motion Picture Classic, 1920

McMein painted portraits as well, and this allowed her to continue working when magazines turned from illustration to photography. Among her subjects were Herbert Hoover, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charlie Chaplin, and, of course, Dorothy Parker.

Neysa McMein portrait of Dorothy Parker, ca. 1922.

Portrait of Dorothy Parker by Neysa McMein, ca. 1922 (dorothyparker.org)

Oh, and I almost forgot, she drew the original Betty Crocker.

Betty Crocker by Neysa McMein, 1936 (bettycrocker.org)

bettycrocker.com

McMein died in 1949 at the age of 61.

McMein wasn’t among the most technically accomplished illustrators of her era. A large percentage of her covers could be described as “woman who looks kind of like Neysa McMein in hat in front of white background.” But she was one of the most popular and highly paid illustrators of her time. And what a life she lived!

Thank you, Neysa!

Edna Crompton

If you’re thinking about how this is all very interesting but you have a kitchen full of Thanksgiving dishes to` get to, don’t worry, I could hardly find any information about the other two women we’re celebrating today. The sum total of what I’ve been able to find about Edna Crompton (mostly from this website) is that she lived from 1882 to 1952 and that she painted portraits and created calendars in addition to her magazine illustrations. As the 1920s progress, we’ll be seeing more of her as a regular cover artist for Redbook. If you know anything else about her, please let me know!

In the meantime, we’ll have to content ourselves with enjoying her art.

Edna Crompton Saturday Evening Post cover, 1917, woman looking longingly at hat.

March 31, 1917 (saturdayeveningpost.org)

Edna Crompton Modern Priscilla cover, February 1918, woman with letter.

February 1918

Edna Crompton Judge magazine cover, pilot and woman in plane.

Edna Crompton Thanksgiving Judge magazine cover, 1920, woman holding teacup.

November 20, 1920

My favorite is still the Metropolitan cover that was featured in the 1915-1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown:

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

September 1920

Thank you, Edna!

Harriet Meserole

Vogue cover artist Harriet Meserole also kept a low profile. I found a Find a Grave entry for a Harriet A. Meserole (1893-1989) buried in a Brooklyn cemetery, who, date of birth-wise, could be our Harriet. I learned on a website about the history of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that the Meseroles were a prominent Greenpoint family, descended from French Huguenots who arrived in 1663. No mention of Harriet, though.

As far as I can tell, Meserole illustrated exclusivly for Vogue, and 1920s issues of Vogue are infuriatingly hard to access. They’re not archived at Google’s Hathitrust Digital Library, my main source of hundred-year-old magazine. Vogue has an online archive, but  you need to be a subscriber to access most of it.****** Luckily, fashionmodeldirectory.com, which is much more intellectual than its name suggests, has a page about Meserole. FMD couldn’t find much biographic information either, but they say that her work appeared inside the magazine as well as on the cover, and they provide the following 1923 quote from her, presumably from Vogue: “”I like simplicity in all things and people. I hate prettiness and ice cream. I also like being one of your younger artists.” Questionable taste in desserts aside, she sounds charming!

Here’s Meserole’s first cover for Vogue, from February 1, 1919.

Vogue cover, Harriet Meserole, 1919, woman on white background.

February 1, 1919 (vogue.com)

Her first full cover was this one, which made an appearance on my post on late-winter covers of 1920:

Vogue cover, March 15, 1920, Harriet Meserole.

March 15, 1920 (vogue.com)

This is all from 1920, as far as I know, but there are many more to come.

Harriet Meserole Vogue cover, 1924, woman in kimono outside house.

July 15, 1924 (vogue.com)

Harriet Meserole Vogue cover, 1924, woman looking out window.

October 1, 1924 (vogue.com)

I’m thankful to have Meserole’s bright future to look forward to.

Thank you, Harriet!

I’m thankful, too, for all of you who have shared my time travels with me over the past three years. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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*It was originally going to be five, but life and Thanksgiving cooking got in the way. Sorry, Cornelia Barnes and Jessie Willcox Smith, I’ll get to you at some point! My good intentions live on in the photo at the top of the post, from Smith’s November 1920 Good Housekeeping cover.

**I know. It sounds bogus to me too.

***You can see them all at the Saturday Evening Post’s wonderful art archive, and you can watch a video about McMein’s life and art on the magazine’s webiste as well.

****When they invent time travel, this is going to be one of my first stops.

*****They met at the house of dancer Irene Castle.

Irene Castle, Cosmopolitan, March 1918.

Irene Castle, Cosmopolitan, March 1918

******I’m severely allergic to perfume, so subscribing to Vogue would be like subscribing to the Tear Gas Canister of the Month Club.

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New on the Book List:

There’s quite a lot new on the book list because I keep forgetting to do this. The newest entry is Mary Marie, by Eleanor Porter. (UPDATE 11/29/2020: I’ve just added a writeup of John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World, which I finished listening to as an audiobook a few days before Thanksgiving.)

Banner of 1915 and 1920 magazine covers

1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown: And the Winners Are…

The people have spoken! And the people, it turns out, like athletic, adventurous women and hate scantily clad women.

Let’s back up a minute. In case you haven’t been following along, in my last blog post I asked the people to vote on whether 14 magazines (and two mismatched pairs) had better covers in 1915 or 1920. This was in the context of me being a 1920 crank going on about how things were better in the 1910s. But enough with the explanation…you can check it out yourself.

On to the winners:

1. Vogue

Helen Dryden, September 15, 1915

Helen Dryden, September 1, 1920

This is the first of several matchups where an artist faces off against him/herself. Dryden is a favorite of mine, previously featured in my posts on Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For and Five Inspiring Women of 1919. The winner, which also got my vote, is Dryden’s colorful 1915 cover, which bested her uncharacteristically subdued 1920 cover with 58% of the vote.

2.  Harper’s Bazar

Erte Harper's Bazar cover, September 1915, three women

Erté, September 1915

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, September 1920

Erté, September 1920

Another self-matchup, Erté vs. Erté.* This was inevitable, because Erté, who was one of the Ten 1918 People I’m Thankful For, was Harper’s Bazar’s regular cover artist from 1915 to 1936. I’m thankful that I have a decade and a half of his illustrations to look forward to, but his October 1920 cover wasn’t one of my favorites. Readers agreed, with the 1915 cover winning 59% of the vote.

3. Ladies’ Home Journal

Ladies' Home Journal cover, September 1915, Lester Ralph, woman sitting on naval mine.

Lester Ralph, September 1915

Walter Biggs, September 1920

This boring vs. weird matchup featured Leslie Ralph’s woman sitting on what looks like a German naval mine vs. Walter Biggs’ popular parasol-carrying woman. I was of two minds here but ended up going for the 1920 cover because at least no one was about to blow up. Readers are made of sterner stuff than I am, though, and the 1915 cover won 71% of the vote.

4. Vanity Fair

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

Rita Senger, September 1915

Warren David Vanity Fair cover, September 1920, naked women dancing.

Warren Davis, September 1920

Rita Senger’s 1915 Vanity Fair cover is my favorite of the bunch, winning my enthusiastic vote against Warren Davis’ frolicking naked women. I admired the first Warren Davis cover I saw, way back toward the beginning of this blog, but I soured on him when I learned that drawing naked women was the only thing he ever did. Readers shared my taste, giving Senger a lopsided 91% victory.

5. The Crisis

The Crisis, September 1920, photo of bust by C. Matey.

Sculpture by C. Matey, September 1915

The Crisis, September 1915, The Colonel of the 8th Regiment.

Unknown artist, September 1920

I was disappointed that both of these covers featured photographs, as opposed to, say, a Frank Walts drawing or a William Edouard Scott painting. I voted, with mixed feelings, for the 1920 cover featuring a sculpture by the mysterious (or, at least, not easily Googleable) C. Matey, which led the polls with 57% of the vote.

6. St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas cover, September 1915, Charles Livingston Bull, children sailing.

Charles Livingston Bull, September 1920

St. Nicholas magazine cover, September 1915, Norman Price, motorcycle stunts.

Norman Price, September 1915

If I could jump into one of these covers, Mary Poppins-style, I’d definitely opt for sailing over watching dangerous motorcycle escapades (both of which apparently require a necktie). But as a cover I went for the eye-popping red and the action of the 1915 cover. I was in a minority here; 55% chose sailing.

7. Cosmopolitan

Cosmpolitan cover, September 1915

Harrison Fisher, September 1915

Cosmopolitan cover, September 1920, Harrison Fisher, woman drinking tea with dog.

Harrison Fisher, September 1920

A Harrison Fisher vs. Harrison Fisher faceoff, with similar young-woman-drinking-something themes. The one with the dog (title: “You Beauty!”) struck me as a bit unsanitary, so (putting aside my resentment over just happening upon it after spending an hour searching for images of women drinking through straws for my Are You H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s Ideal Woman? quiz) I went with the 1915 cover. 62% of readers agreed.

8. Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping cover, September 1920, Coles Phillips fadeaway girl.

Coles Phillips, September 1915

Good Housekeeping cover, Jesse Wilcox Smith, September 1920, little girls hugging in doorway.

Jessie Willcox Smith, September 1920

As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, I adore Coles Phillips, who was Good Housekeeping’s sole cover illustrator for a two-year stretch in the 1910s.** If I had known about him two years ago, My Sad Search for 1918 Love might have ended differently. I don’t adore Jessie Willcox Smith, who was at the vanguard of the cutesification of magazine art (although I do adore her illustration from At the Back of the North Wind featured in the 1919 children’s books holiday shopping guide and her Good Housekeeping New Year’s 1918 cover). 83% of voters agreed with me.***

9. The Masses/The Liberator

The Masses cover, September 1920, Cornelia Barnes, children dancing near organ grinder.

Cornelia Barnes, September 1915

The Liberator, September 1920, Hugo Gellert, boy on flying horse.

Hugo Gellert, September 1920

As I noted in my previous post, The Liberator arose in the ashes of The Masses, which closed after staff members were charged with conspiring to obstruct conscription. I’m a fan of Cornelia Barns, who drew a proto-New Yorker cartoon I loved, and an even bigger fan of Hugo Gellert and his wonderful covers for The Liberator (including its inaugural issue). This isn’t my favorite Gellert, though, and I ended up voting for Barnes. 57% of voters agreed.

10. The Smart Set

Smart Set cover, September 1915, John Held Jr., man in polo clothes with woman.

John Held Jr., September 1915

Smart Set cover, September 1920, Archie Gunn, man and woman on boat.

Archie Gunn, September 1920

The Smart Set is one of the few magazines where what’s inside is consistently better than what’s on the cover. I did like John Held Jr.’s cheery 1915 polo cover; less so the people in the boat who you just know are racist. A lopsided 86% of readers agreed.

11. Photoplay

Photoplay cover, September 1915, Mary Pickford.

Unknown illustrator, September 1915

Photoplay cover, September 1920, Rolf Armstrong, Constance Talmadge.

Rolf Armstrong, September 1920

Movie star vs. movie star. I could have gone for either one of these, and in choosing the 1920 cover I was perhaps slightly biased by my fondness for Rolf Armstrong, although this isn’t one of my favorites.**** I was in the minority here, with 55% of readers choosing the 1915 cover by an unknown illustrator. (I originally credited the 1915 illustration to Anita Stewart, who, an alert reader pointed out, is actually the subject. Kicking myself!)

12. La Vie Parisienne

La Vie Parisienne cover, September 25, 1915, woman shooting arrow.

Unknown artist, September 25, 1915

La Vie Parisienne, September 18, 1920, woman playing golf with caddy.

Unknown artist, September 18, 1920

I lucked out in having two La Vie Parisienne covers that are suitable for a family blog. I prefer the clear lines of the 1915 archer, and so did a whopping 90% of readers.

13. Life

Life cover, September 8, 1915

Emery, September 8, 1915

Life cover, Rea Irvin, September 23, 1920, woman on throne.

Rea Irvin, September 23, 1920

I’m a big fan of future New Yorker illustrator Rea Irvin, but not so much of his 1920 Life cover (although it bears closer scrutiny since the picture seems to be embroidered). I have no idea who Emery is, but his or her whimsical take on hat fashions is a lot of fun. 76% of readers agreed.

14. Saturday Evening Post

Saturday Evening Post cover, Charles Livingston Bull, September 18, 1915, owl in front of sun.

Charles Livingston Bull, September 18, 1915

Saturday Evening post cover, September 25, 1920, Alfred E. Orr, man painting name on mailbox.

Alfred E. Orr, September 25, 1920

I had second thoughts about some of my choices, none more than this one. I voted for Alfred E. Orr’s man painting a mailbox when clearly the correct choice is Charles Livingston Bull’s owl. A consequential choice, since there was a dead heat here.

15. Metropolitan

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

Edna Crompton, September 1920

Metropolitan cover, September 1915, young woman in straw hat.

Unknown artist, September 1915

Despite my 1910s leanings, I’m not blind to the ways that the 1920s are better, including more women being portrayed as being physically active as opposed to standing around with their clothes falling off. 90% of readers agreed.

16. The Best of the Rest

Red Cross cover, September 1920, Gerrit Beneker, worker in front of skyline.

Gerrit Beneker, September 1920

Golfers magazine, September 1920, man swinging golf club while woman watches.

Unknown artist, September 1915

For the last matchup, I paired up two covers that didn’t have a counterpart in the other year but that I couldn’t bear to leave out. My favorite, and that of 75% of readers, was Gerrit Beneker’s 1920 builder on the cover of Red Cross (the magazine’s second to last issue).

And the winning cover is…

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

Rita Senger, September 1915

I’m new at this polling business, and if I had it to do again (which I no doubt will, given how much fun it was this time) I would allow everyone to vote for their favorite cover of all. As it is, I’ll have to go with the cover that had the highest vote percentage. This isn’t really fair because it may just reflect the weakness of the competition, but so be it.

All caveats aside, I’m delighted to announce that the winner is Rita Senger’s wonderful Vanity Fair cover, which, as noted, is also my favorite. It edged out the 1915 La Vie Parisienne cover by a few tenths of a percentage point. Next time I write about illustrators I love, I’m going to write about Senger.

And the winning year is…

Saturday Evening Post January 9, 1915 cover, J.C. Leyendecker, New Year's baby brushing away military hats.

J.C Leyendecker

1915 was the overwhelming winner, beating out 1920 in twelve of the matchups, with three victories for 1920 and one tie. Interestingly, given that it was my grousing about the decline of magazine illustration that spurred the contest, I voted for 1920 six times, twice as often as the average reader.

So it’s been officially, objectively proven: the 1910s rule!

And the winning reader is…

Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat, by Deborah Kalb

…Allison Silberberg, who has received a free copy of Deborah Kalb’s wonderful middle-grade novel George Washington and the Return of the Magic Hat. Allison’s favorite cover is the Red Cross “The Builder” cover, which makes a lot of sense given the former Alexandria, Virginia, mayor’s commitment to building communities. You can find Allison on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

And the winning new (to me) blogging technology is…

Readership during the week the Magazine Cover Smackdown was published shattered previous records, even when taking into account some iffy botlike behavior on the day before publication. So clearly readers like polls! Judging from the low number of votes as a percentage of views, though, readers are not as fond of voting in polls as they are of reading them.

That’s fine! It’s just a blog poll! It’s not like the future of America is at stake!

Which is not something that can be said for the other election that’s going on right now. So, as we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage,***** make sure to

League of Women Voters poster, 1920, women looking at Capitol.

League of Women Voters poster, 1920

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*Estimated amount of time that I have spent over the course of this blog putting the accent mark in Erté’s name (or, rather, pseudonym): two hours.

**For more Fadeaway Girls, check out my Pinterest board.

***Not that I’m judging you 17 percenters. In fairness to Smith, this is a beautifully illustrated cover—I love the green doors and the shadows.

****That’s Armstrong’s Metropolitan cover on the blog banner, unless you’re reading this in the future when I have updated the banner, in which case here’s the old one, featuring 1919 covers. It was a thing of beauty (future me says), and I miss it so much!

*****Of course, it would take decades more of struggle before African-American men and women’s right to vote was fully honored throughout the country.

Rodin, Young Woman Reading an Illustrated Journal, ca. 1880

You Be the Judge: The 1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown

An occupational hazard of reading as if you were living a hundred years ago is that you start turning into a curmudgeon. “Things were so much better in the 1910s,” you (okay: I) grumble on a regular basis, apropos of 1920. Not everything, of course—the 1910s had the war and the Spanish influenza, for starters, and with starters like that there’s no point racking your brain for additional examples. But some things definitely got worse.

The font at The Smart Set, for example. What were H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan thinking?

Headline "Novels, Chiefly Bad," H.L. Mencken, Smart Set, August 1919

Smart Set, August 1919

Headline, "Books More or Less Amusing," H.L. Mencken, Smart Set, August 1920

Smart Set, August 1920

Dorothy Parker was fired from Vanity Fair in January 1920, so good-bye to her theater reviews

Excerpt from Dorothy Parker theater review, Vanity Fair, August 1919

“The First Shows of Summer,” Vanity Fair, August 1919

and hate poems.

From "Our Office: A Hate Poem," Dorothy Parker, Vanity Fair

“Our Office: A Hate Poem,” Vanity Fair, May 1919

And then there are the magazine covers. Every time I’ve thought about doing a magazine cover post in the last few months, I’ve found some dispiriting examples,

Modern Priscilla cover, woman wearing scarf

Good Housekeeping cover, April 1920, girl wearing bonnet

Maclean's magazine, March 15, 1920, womn carrying calla lilies

thought wistfully about the good old days,*

Crisis cover, April 1918, Willian Edouard Scott, black couple on wagon.

William Edouard Scott

Vogue Helen Dryden cover, February 15, 1918, woman looking in mirror.

Helen Dryden

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, May 1918

Erté

and given up.

I wondered sometimes whether I was being fair. Maybe, like so many people, I was longing for a golden age that only existed in my mind. But how to measure such a thing?

And then inspiration struck. The magazines could duke it out, mano a mano, 1920 vs. the 1910s. I chose 1915 as the opponent, a nice round number but not so far back that it’s super-old-timey like this 1910 Ladies’ Home Journal cover:

Ladies' Home Journal, September 15, 1910, woman in big hat.

As I assembled the covers, it dawned on me that maybe I still wasn’t being fair. What was to stop me from picking all the 1915 covers to prove a point? I pondered this for a while, and then the answer came to me: the people!

Normally, I’m very limited as to what I can do on this blog because I’m a wordpress.com member, meaning that WordPress hosts my blog as well as being the platform for designing it, as opposed to the far cooler wordpress.org members, whose blogs are hosted by other companies so they can get all sorts of plug-ins that don’t run on wordpress.com.** But one thing that wordpress.com lets you do now is run polls. And what’s more fun than a poll?***

So I leave it to you, the people, to decide, for each of the 16 magazines below, whether its September 1915 cover (top) or its September 1920 cover (bottom) is better. (In several cases, as it turns out, artists are competing against themselves.) The polls will stay open for a week, and the winners will be announced in early October. If the covers I’m rooting for don’t win, I promise to accept your verdict graciously. Because that’s what democracy is all about!

And, in case you find your energy flagging, there’s a prize at the end.

1. Vogue

Helen Dryden, September 15, 1915

Helen Dryden, September 1, 1920

 

2. Harper’s Bazar

Erte Harper's Bazar cover, September 1915, three women

Erté

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, September 1920

Erté

 

3. Ladies’ Home Journal

Lester Ralph

Walter Biggs

 

4. Vanity Fair

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

Rita Senger

Warren David Vanity Fair cover, September 1920, naked women dancing.

Warren Davis

 

5. The Crisis

The Crisis, September 1915, The Colonel of the 8th Regiment.

The Crisis, September 1920, photo of bust by C. Matey.

Sculpture by C. Matey

 

6. St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas cover, Norman Price, September 1915, motorcycle jump.

Norman Price

St. Nicholas cover, September 1915, Charles Livingston Bull, children sailing.

Charles Livingston Bull

 

7. Cosmopolitan

Cosmpolitan cover, September 1915, Harrison Fisher, young woman sipping milkshake in red hat.

Harrison Fisher

Cosmopolitan cover, September 1920, Harrison Fisher, woman having tea with dog.

Harrison Fisher

 

8. Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping cover, September 1920, Coles Phillips fadeaway girl.

Coles Phillips

Good Housekeeping cover, Jesse Wilcox Smith, September 1920, little girls hugging in doorway.

Jessie Willcox Smith

 

9. The Masses/The Liberator****

The Masses cover, September 1920, Cornelia Barnes, children dancing near organ grinder.

Cornelia Barnes

The Liberator, September 1920, Hugo Gellert, boy on flying horse.

Hugo Gellert

 

10. The Smart Set

Smart Set cover, September 1915, John Held Jr., man in polo clothes with woman.

John Held Jr.

Smart Set cover, September 1920, man talking to woman on boat.

Archie Gunn*****

 

11. Photoplay

Photoplay cover, September 1915, Mary Pickford, Anita Stewart cover design.

Photoplay cover, September 1920, Rolf Armstrong, Constance Talmadge.

Rolf Armstrong

 

12. La Vie Parisienne

La Vie Parisienne cover, September 25, 1915, woman shooting arrow.

La Vie Parisienne, September 18, 1920, woman playing golf with caddy.

 

13. Life

Life cover, September 8, 1915, Emery, women with long-feathered hats.

Emery

Life cover, September 23, 1920, Rea Irvin, woman on throne.

Rea Irvin

 

14. Saturday Evening Post

Saturday Evening Post cover, September 18, 1915, Charles Livingston Bull, owl in front of orange sun.

Charles Livingston Bull

Saturday Evening post cover, September 25, 1920, Alfred E. Orr, man painting name on mailbox.

Alfred E. Orr

 

15. Metropolitan

Metropolitan cover, September 1915, young woman in straw hat.

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

Edna Crompton

 

16. The Best of the Rest

There were two covers that didn’t have a counterpart in the other year but that were too good to leave out, so I’ll let them face off.

Golfers magazine, September 1920, man swinging golf club while woman watches.

Red Cross cover, September 1920, Gerrit Beneker, worker in front of skyline.

Gerrit Beneker

 

That’s it, the hard work of voting is over. Now for the prize!

Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat, by Deborah Kalb

My friend and fellow blogger Deborah Kalb’s book Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat is being published this week. It’s the third in a series of books about the adventures of a group of fifth-grade friends who travel back in time and meet America’s founding presidents. The first three readers who let me know which magazine cover was their favorite will receive a free copy. You can post a comment below or drop me a line through the Contact page.******

I’ve read the book and highly recommend it—it’s a lot of fun but at the same time it engages seriously with the issue of slavery. As the U.S. prepares to choose its next president, the timing couldn’t be better. So hurry up and vote!

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*I know, apples and oranges. But I’m describing a mental state, so bear with me.

**Like PUTTING PHOTOS SIDE BY SIDE, FOR EXAMPLE, WORDPRESS!

***Besides a quiz, I mean.

****The Masses, a socialist monthly, ceased publication in 1917 after editor Max Eastman and several staff members were charged with conspiring to obstruct conscription. Eastman and his sister Chrystal Eastman founded The Liberator in 1918.

*****Which I am very proud to tell you I deciphered from this:

Illegibile signature, Smart Set cover, September 1920.

******For readers living outside the United States, I’ll do my best to get a copy to you, but I can’t make any promises.

My Dream 1920 Summer Vacation

My years of reading as if I were living 100 years ago haven’t turned me into much of a nostalgist. In general, whatever is awful in the early 21st century was even worse in the early 20th century. Back then, the United States was a racist, sexist, war-scarred country. The white supremacist violence of the Red Summer of 1919 was far worse than what we’re experiencing now. We lost half a million more lives to the Spanish influenza than we’ve lost so far to COVID, among a population a third the size of today’s.

Poster of man next to devil with text "Halt the epidemic! Stop spitting everybody," 1918.

Poster, United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, 1918 (Free Library of Philadelphia)

Not that I’m minimizing what we’re going through now. We’re supposed to be better than our predecessors, and the fact that we can even draw parallels between that terrible time and our own shows that we haven’t done a very good job of learning lessons from the past.

Still, as this awful summer crawls to an end, I’m starting to feel like I wouldn’t mind spending some time in 1920.

Women have the vote!

League of Women Voters poster, 1920, women looking at Capitol.

League of Women Voters poster, 1920

Corsets are going out of fashion!

Polly Anna underwear ad, women in underwear with parrot, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

The pandemic is over, and people are free to go places and do things!

Kodak ad, man and woman next to car, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The perfect destination for an imaginary vacation. You can come too!

A house at the seaside is just the thing, wouldn’t you agree?

Columbia Grafonola ad, people at beach house listening to gramophone, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

We’ll pack our clothes,

Lux soap ad, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920, woman packing clothes.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

making sure not to forget to bring along our white shoes,

2 in 1 shoe polish ad, woman's foot in white shoes, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

or our maid, whose greatest joy in life is cleaning them.

Bon Ami ad, maid cleaning white shoes, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

We’ll round up the kids,

Tom Sawyer clothes ad, boy waving to people having picnic, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

but not the scary-looking ones,

Royal Baking Powder ad, children eating cake, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

Royal Baking Powder ad, children eating cake, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

and set out overland in the Overland.

Overland car ad, family in car in countryside, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

Whew! That was quite a journey.

Vode Kid shoe ad, couple resting in living room, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

I need to freshen up.

Fairy soap ad, woman drying herself with towel, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

I brush my hair,*

Prophelactic Penetrator hairbrush ad, man brushing hair, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1920

sprinkle on a little talcum powder,**

Williams' Talcum Powder ad, woman in dressing room with man in doorway, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

dab on some Odorono,

Odorono deodorant ad, "The Most Humiliating Moment of My Life," Ladies' Home Journal, 1920

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1920

and I’m all set to go.

Of course we brought along the Grafonola.

Columbia Granfola ad, man bringing Granfola to summer house, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

Or the Victrola. Whatever! It’s party time!

Victrola ad, people dancing at party, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

We’ll go swimming

As-The-Petals talcum powder ad, women swimming in ocean, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

Mulsfield Cocoanut Oil Shampoo ad, woman with long hair looking at reflection in ocean, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

and play games

Goody Middies blouse ad, girls in athletic outfits, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1920

and watch fireworks

Vivaudou Maus fragrance ad, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920, woman looking at lanterns and fireworks.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

and go on picnics

Pillsbury's flour ad, people at picnic with cakes, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

and Sunday drives.

Overland car ad, family riding with the top down, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

If it gets too hot, we’ll just loll around in fetching outfits.

Indian Head cloth ad, women sitting on hill, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

Lux soap ad, women standing on hill, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

Congoleum linoleum ad, women sitting on porch, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

The fresh air will do the children a world of good

Slipova clothes for children ad, children playing outdoors, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

and maybe wean them off their weird obsession with bread.

Fleischmann's Yeast ad, boy calling friends, loaf of bread, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, July 1920

Fleischmann's Yeast ad, child reaching for bread, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

And of course it wouldn’t be summer without some romance.

Vode shoe ad, man in evening clothes staring at woman's foot, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1920

Enjoy it while you can! All too soon we’ll be cleaning up the summer house

Old Dutch Cleanser ad, can of cleanser on linoleum floor, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1920

(just kidding, that’s the maid’s job),

Nashua Wood Blankets ad, maid hanging blankets on line while children fold, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1920

heading back home,

Overland car ad, car driving through countryside, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1920

and sending the kids off to school.

Compton Corduroy ad, boy arriving at school, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1920

Kalburnie Zephyr gingham ad, girls with teacher at school, Ladies' Home Journal, 1920.

Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1920

But it’s nice to get away for a while, isn’t it?

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*I try to keep this a family blog, but oh 1920, you test me sometimes.

**A very little, since it’s full of asbestos.

H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan

Are You H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s Ideal Woman? A Quiz

Hi, everyone! It’s been a while. For a few weeks I was working full-time and also taking this online course at MIT, which taxed my ability to maintain a basic level of sanitation, let alone write a blog. Now that I’ve switched to part-time I have quite a backlog,* but if a post sits around in my head for too long it starts to feel like homework, and it’s Fourth of July weekend and who wants to do homework?

Cover, Smart Set, July 1920, man and woman in bathing suits.

Smart Set, July 1920 (modjourn.org)

Luckily, 1920 came through, in the form of an article by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan in the July 1920 issue of Smart Set called “Répétition Générale.” There are often articles called “Répétition Générale” in Smart Set, consisting of Mencken and Nathan, the magazine’s co-editors (and literary critic and drama critic respectively), going on about whatever they feel like.**

This time, what they feel like going on about is The Ideal Women. Italics theirs, followed by a list of 57 qualities this paragon possesses.

“Yay!” I said. “Quiz time!”

Longtime readers might be thinking, well, she has some nerve, given that I wrote an entire blog post on how Mencken is not my romantic ideal, and another one rejecting Nathan as a possible suitor. But just because you don’t love someone doesn’t mean you don’t want them to love you. So I got out my pen to tally my score. You can follow along, marking your answers as true or false. Because one can only endure so much perfection, I pared the 57 questions down to 25. There’s a scoring chart at the end.

Here goes!***

Smart Set headline, Repetition Generale, H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, July 1920.

The Ideal Woman—

1. In writing a letter, she never adds an apostrophe to every word ending with S, and, when she makes a blot, never undertakes facetiously to comment on it.

TRUE. I never, ever get apostrophes wrong. Admittedly I don’t make many ink blots these days, but due to the ferocity with which I oppose misplaced apostrophes I will give myself full credit here.****

2. Upon deliberately touching a man’s foot under the table, she never makes a pretence of having believed it was the leg of the table and of ejaculating, “Oh, sorry.”

Saturday Evening Post cover, Norman Rockwell, May 1, 1920, man and woman at Ouija board.

Norman Rockwell, May 1, 1920

TRUE. Side note: I think Mencken and Nathan are deluding themselves here.

3. After eating a particularly sticky piece of candy, she doesn’t place her hand on one’s shoulder under the guise of a sudden burst of affection.

Tootsie Roll ad, Saturday Evening Post, May 22, 1920, woman putting candy in mouth.

Saturday Evening Post, May 22, 1920

TRUE. Because I’m not five years old.

4. If she desires to say “I love you,” she says it in English and doesn’t go in for “je t’aime.”

A Dance in the Country, Auguste Renoir, 1883, couple dancing.

A Dance in the Country, Auguste Renoir, 1883

TRUE.

5. She can drink a lemonade or an orangeade, a gin daisy, a milk punch or a mint julep through a straw without making a noise like the last quart of water running out of the bath-tub when she gets to the bottom of the glass.

October 1914 Coca-Cola calendar, woman drinking through straw.

prices4antiques.com

TRUE. See #3.

6. She never makes use of such phrases as “yes indeedy.”

TRUE. As far as I can recall I have never in my life said “Yes indeedy.”

7. She signs her name simply and doesn’t put a bow-knot with two dots underneath it below the signature.

TRUE. Viz:*****

Signature "Mary Grace McGeehan" in library hand.

8. Her handbag contains just and only such articles as she needs, and isn’t packed full of two month’s old streetcar transfers, tops of pill boxes, keys the identity of which she has long forgotten, addresses of dressmakers long since deceased, cigar bands with sentimental histories, and a number of archaeological fuzz-covered salted almonds.

FALSE. It’s only because Coronavirus has brought my handbag-carrying days to a temporary halt that you are not being subjected to an inventory or, worse, a photograph.

9. When tiffing with one over the telephone and at a loss for an appropriate retort, she never tries to gain time by resorting to the subterfuge of clicking the hook up and down and, blaming it on Central, exclaiming, “Isn’t that ma-ddening?”

Women at C&P Telephone Exchange, Washington, D.C., ca. 1920, Herbert French.

C&P Telephone Exchange, Washington, D.C., ca. 1920 (Herbert E. French)

FALSE. I was going to give myself this one until I remembered the time back in the eighties when, desperate to shake off a cluelessly persistent admirer, I unplugged the phone in mid-sentence, and then blamed the phone company when he called back.

10. It is possible for her to pucker up her lips and whistle without imparting to her face the aspect of a dried-up lemon.

FALSE. I can’t whistle so am thankfully spared the dried-up lemon test.

11. She is able to find the telephone number of John Smith & Co. without first looking through all the B’s, M’s, and P’s.

New York telephone directory listings, 1920.

New York Telephone directory listings, 1920 ( Bell Telephone News, Volume 9, Number 9, April 1920)

TRUE. (UPDATE 7/5/2020: Hey, I know one of these guys! The last person on the list, Walter C. Arensberg, was a would-be poet and noted modern art collector. I made fun of one of his poems here.)

12. Entertaining a male guest in her home, she is able imperturbably to observe a spark fall from the latter’s cigarette without following it with her eyes and making sure that it doesn’t burn the carpet.

H. L. Mencken caricature by McKee Barclay, 1920 (Digital Maryland)

FALSE. Okay, it’s their ideal, but “willingness to risk having your house catch on fire to accommodate my sloppy habits” is pushing it.

13. She is able to pass the windows of a man’s club-house without looking in.

Photograph of the Townsend house, now the Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C., 1915.

Townsend House, now the Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C., 1915, Francis Benjamin Johnson (Library of Congress)

TRUE. Granted, I haven’t had a lot of opportunities lately, but I lived not far from the Cosmos Club in D.C. before it went coed in 1988, and I never tried to peek inside.

14. When in a theater, she doesn’t give birth to a look of annoyance when someone (who has paid for it and has a perfect right to it) comes and takes the seat next to her upon which she has placed her hat.

Theater audience, Plaza Theatre, Geelong, Victoria, Australia, 1920.

Plaza Theatre, Geelong, Victoria, Australia, ca. 1920 (Museums Victoria)

TRUE. But I’m lucky this is about theaters, not trains.

15. She is able to walk through one of the poor tenement districts and observe a small child without remarking that the child looks as if it didn’t get enough to eat.

Lower East Side, New York, street scene, ca. 1915.

Lower East Side, ca. 1915 (Library of Congress)

TRUE.

16. When, in an elevator, an operator calls out the sixth floor, at which she desires to get out, she gets out without asking the operator whether it is the sixth floor.

Men tipping hats at woman going into elevator, from the John Lloyd film High and Dizzy, 1920.

Still from “High and Dizzy,” 1920

FALSE. Although with me it’s more a case of the door opening, people starting to get out, and me saying, “Oh, wait, is this six?”

17. She is able to play a sentimental song on a piano without trying to sing it.

Sheet music, I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time, man and woman walking past apple tree, 1920.

Sheet music, 1920 (indianahistory.org)

FALSE. First of all, there’s my inability to play a sentimental song on a piano, period. But there’s also my desire to sing along with whatever music is playing under whatever circumstance, which I often, but not often enough, manage to suppress.

18. She has the kind of lips that look permanently as if they had just said “if.”

FALSE. Although be careful what you wish for:

Photograph

Me when I just said “if”

Me when I didn’t just say “if”

19. She never asks one to explain to her just what it is that causes the illumination on fireflies.

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, May 1918

Erté, May 1918

TRUE. The master****** of my house in college was one of the world’s foremost experts on bioluminescence, and I never even asked him that. Although that’s a bad example, since I went through college with the extremely misguided policy of never asking anyone in a position of authority anything.

20. She never has her photograph taken showing her looking wistfully at a lily.

Calla Lilies, Irises and Mimosas, Henri Matisse, 1913.

Calla Lilies, Irises and Mimosas, Henri Matisse, 1913

FALSE. When I lived in Cambodia, this was the default photographic pose for women.

21. She has never read Laurence Hope’s “India Love Lyrics.”

Passage from "India's Love Lyrics" by Laurence Hope.

From “India’s Love Lyrics,” by Laurence Hope, 1902

TRUE. Although naturally I had to check it out, and if this passage is anything to go by, it’s pretty steamy by ca. 1900 standards.

22. When a phonograph starts playing a swinging fox-trot, she is able to sit still and behave herself instead of standing up and vouchsafing a movement or two symbolic of her gracefulness and irrepressible gypsy blood.

Sheet music for The Vamp, 1919, woman with flower in hair.

Leo Feist Inc., 1919 (National Museum of American History)

FALSE. See #17.

23. When lunching and shown the tray of French pastry, she is able to make her selection at once, without rolling her eye lingeringly around the platter three or four times.

Illustration of pastries from The Book of Cakes, 1904.

The Book of Cakes, T. Percy Lewis and A.G. Bromley, 1904

FALSE. I see no need whatsoever to justify myself here.

24. There is in her family no rich relative of whom she is very proud but to whom, by way of screening the pride, she is in the habit periodically of alluding in derogatory terms.

Publicity photo of Irene Noblette, also known as Irene Ryan, 1930.

Publicity photo of Irene Ryan, 1930 (beverlyhillbillies.fandom.com)

TRUE. Irene Ryan, best known as Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies, was my grandfather’s cousin’s wife. I have never in my life said a word against her.*******

25. She has at no time in her life evinced any curiosity to see Chinatown.

FALSE. I have, in fact, evinced so much curiosity about Asia as to move not only to Cambodia but also to Laos. Here I am at the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khuong, Laos, in 2008.

Plain of Jars, Xiang Khoang, Laos

That’s it! Time to tally up your scores.

21-25: You are silent film star LILLIAN GISH, with whom Nathan was desperately in love, but who turned down his many marriage proposals.********

Head shot of Lillian Gish, ca. 1919.

Lillian Gish, ca. 1919

16-20: You are writer and college professor SARA HAARDT, whom Mencken married in 1930, when he was 49 and she was 32. She was in poor health at the time of their marriage and died five years later.

Sara Haardt Mencken, wife of H.L. Mencken, 1919.

Sara Haardt Mencken, 1919

11-15: You are Mencken’s longtime lover MARION BLOOM, of whom he wrote in a letter to her sister (!), “Like all other right-thinking gals she wants a husband…For me to marry her would be sheer insanity. The first time she began her childish nonsense about Kant, Hegel, materialism, etc., I’d walk out of the house and never come back.”

Marion Bloom, lover of H.L. Mencken, date unknown, from In Defense of Marion.

Marion Bloom, date unknown

1-10. You are a PROVINCIAL SCHOOLMA’AM, a SUPERSTITIOUS BLUESTOCKING, a SUNDAY SCHOOL-TEACHING VIRGIN, or any of the other terms that Mencken hurled at women, real and imagined, who didn’t share his taste in literature. Although, given the wording of the questions, you’re more likely to be one of the less intellectual members of the Ziegfeld Follies chorus.

I got a 15, so I’m a Marion, one point away from being a Sara. That’s fine with me. They both seem like decent people, dubious taste in men aside. But don’t worry, whatever your score, there’s no chance whatsoever that Mencken or Nathan will call you up, forcing you to cut off the line and blame Central.

Have a safe and happy July 4 weekend, everyone!

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*Including, as I tweeted, a post about the (arguably) first gay American novel, which I didn’t finish in time for LGBT Pride month but will get to sometime. (Except that, oops, I just invoked the promised post curse.) (UPDATE 5/24/2021: I actually did this! Curse averted.)

**Must be nice, I thought reflexively, until I remembered that I don’t exactly have a lot of editorial restrictions here.

***As always, men are welcome to play along! You’re at an unfair advantage, though.

****Apostrophized plurals are a particular scourge in South Africa, where I live most of the time, because in Afrikaans you put an apostrophe before the S when a word ends with a vowel (e.g. foto’s), and this spills over into English.

*****This isn’t my real handwriting–it’s a not completely successful effort at library hand. I don’t think signature forgery is much of a thing anymore, but best to be on the safe side.

******A title that was, amazingly, only retired four years ago. We used to actually call the person “Master So-and-So.”

*******I learned just now that she and her husband Tim Ryan were a well-known vaudeville duo, and that they divorced in 1942.

********And, according to some sources, dumped him when she found out he was Jewish.