Since my last post, I’ve received requests for more excerpts from The Mother in the Home. Very well, we can do that!
Emilie did a good job with her title, “A Rush Order for Fancy Dress,” as it was the most requested. You can actually read this short story in its original context, the September, 1914 issue of St. Nicholas magazine, here. Immediately ahead of it is an article about “aquaplaning” on Lake George, which turns out to be water skiing on a homemade surf board pulled behind a motorboat. Some pages beyond it is a poem by Abbie Farwell Brown of the Boston Authors Club that I feel sure Emilie would have liked:
St. Nicholas was a magazine for children, and “A Rush Order for Fancy Dress” is about creating costumes for “two boys and two girls”–of Blue Hill, I am sure, the children up and down the East Blue Hill Road. “Aunt Jo,” of course, is Josephine Story/Emilie Loring. One of those children grew up and wrote a book about the Blue Hill people. She remembered that Emilie dressed up for a costume party as a “lady of fashion” with a lampshade for a hat!
Another available title is “How We Became Town Mothers,” which was closely adapted from “Why We Attended Town Meeting” in The Woman’s Magazine the following month, October, 1914. This was an issue mostly devoted to fashion–one of Emilie’s favorite topics! There’s an apron pattern on page 35 that our friend Heide at Apron History might enjoy, and I’m captivated by the designs of one hundred years ago–knitted hosiery, corset waists, and a “dressing sack.” I try to imagine going from shower to robe to dressing sack and finally, to a dress, in my morning routine. Those women had stamina!
Let me share “Preventable Waste” with you. I haven’t found it digitized anywhere, and Emilie’s advice is spot-on, even through its vintage details.
“Preventable Waste” by Josephine Story, 1917
“The first seven-leagued step towards the prevention of waste is the cultivation of order. If you don’t know where things are you can’t know what you have. In consequence, you rush madly out and spend money for something which, you will discover a week later, you had in the house. Doubtless that very week you denied yourself some pleasure which would have been purchasable with the very money you expended unnecessarily, which pleasure would have sent you singing and smiling along your home-making way.
“For a week, stop wishing you had more money and set your house in order. Begin with the kitchen–there are more leaks through which pennies may drip in that department than in an able-bodied sieve–have a place for everything and have everything labelled. Systematize! Plan to use what you have on hand first. Use pencil and paper and thought. Utilize that half cupful of corn for a chowder, the small bit of ham or lamb for timbals, before you rush to the telephone and order fresh material. With prices for foodstuffs jumping over the moon in company with the famous cow of Mother Goose, it behooves the home-maker to establish order in her pantries.
“Use the same method in regard to your clothing and see how much better dressed you will feel and appear. Put clothing away at the end of a season cleansed and mended. Before you sally forth to the shops on a spending fest exhume your treasures, examine them carefully and, as far as possible, use what you have. With patterns and an orderly mind and household, there is no reason now for a mother to deny herself attractive and suitable frocks that her daughter may go daintily gowned.
“If the dressing-case drawers are kept in order–veils, laces, handkerchiefs, gloves, ribbons and belts are kept carefully in their respective boxes, the owner can see in a flash what she has, and easily determine what she really needs to buy. Shoes, boots, slippers, overshoes, if kept cleansed, repaired and on a shelf, not on the closet floor, will last for years. Clothing of whatever kind, if kept brushed and pressed, will give to its wearer a well-groomed and prosperous appearance which the most expensive, uncared-for garment couldn’t possibly produce.
“Have your own desk and insist that the young people respect your property. Keep it supplied with inexpensive stationery as well as your monogrammed kind. How many times have you used the latter because you have been “jus’ nachrally shiftless,” and had neglected to provide the cheaper variety! Haven’t you often used paper, envelope and a two-cent stamp when a postal, had it been on hand, would have done the trick? Trivial things, you say scornfully. Perhaps, but how you love to increase your savings-bank deposit by even one dollar! What interest do you get on that dollar for one year? Possibly four cents. When you are tempted to give a disdainful sniff at the small economies, think of your savings-bank interest, and with what a self-satisfied, See-what-a-big-girl-am-I smirk, you will contemplate the item in your pass-book, “Int. to April, 1917, $00.65.”
“Before you decide that the bit of fun for which you and your husband are yearning would be an extravagance, scrutinize the list of things which you think you must buy. If your house and mind are in order, dollars to doughnuts that you will decide you can use what you have and save buying.
“Train yourself and the family, first, to keep belongings in order; second, to spend wisely. If you have the stamina and perseverance to do this you will search in vain in your household for preventable waste.”
Did you keep a list? To be prepared as Emilie was, I need to buy veils, laces, ribbons, overshoes, a garment brush, and monogrammed stationery. Can’t you just see her, standing at the telephone, ordering fresh foods to be delivered? Why do I keep imagining that things a hundred years ago were somehow less “advanced,” when clearly, she lived quite well, indeed. The veil, by the way, was for riding in a motor car, to keep oil smut off one’s face and hair. I feel no nostalgia for that necessity!
They had a four percent return on investments then? Not too bad, by current conditions. Luckily for Emilie, her “$00.65” had buying power. With it, she could choose a corset, a hat, a house dress, or two blouses.
Finally, I was a little charmed to see that “dollars to doughnuts” was already in use in 1917. I’ve used that expression for ages. In fact, now that I think of it, I wonder if I picked it up from reading Emilie Loring?
I hope you enjoy these Josephine Story articles as much as I do. Emilie Loring’s novels made her a best-selling author, but we see so much of her in these articles for other women. As I head to the kitchen to cook tonight’s dinner, I’ll have her in mind. No “able-bodied sieve” for my kitchen!