Tag Archives: Ladies’ Home Journal

Wish me luck on my 1918 diet!

Earlier this year, I was planning to write a post called “How I Lost 5 Pounds for My College Reunion on a 1918 Diet.” Well…that goal, modest though it was, was not achieved. But then last month my friend Emily* invited me to participate in a group diet contest on DietBet. (She invited all of her Facebook friends, so I didn’t take it personally.) I jumped at this opportunity to regain the silhouette of youth.

I had just the diet in mind, from this article in the March 1918 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal by Eugene Lyman Fisk, M.D., who was the medical director of the Life Extension Institute and the co-author, with Yale professor Irving Fisher, of the bestselling 1915 book How to Live.**

I expected 1918 dieting wisdom to be dubious, but Dr. Fisk, like fellow nutrition doc Harvey Wiley of Good Housekeeping, turns out to be pretty sensible.***

Dr. Fisk starts out by saying that

At age 25, Miss Blank, an average young woman, fully grown, 5 foot 4 inches in height, weighs 128 pounds; at 40 she weighs 138 pounds; at 50, 144 pounds. This gain over age 25 is practically all fat, and its distribution has sadly changed Miss Blank’s silhouette.

I’ll spare you the TMI and leave it that the reaction of this 5’4” over-50 upon reading this was “No wonder I feel so at home in 1918!”

Dr. Fisk counsels against trying to lose weight through exercise. To the extent that we stout (Dr. Fisk doesn’t pull any punches) 40+ women do exercise, it should consist of walking, gentle hill climbing, and a few setting-up exercises. Substituting easy yoga for the setting-up exercises, this is exactly my routine!

Some recent gentle hill climbing in Cape Town

But, really, it’s all about the food. Starting with….

Breakfast

On my otherwise ill-fated pre-reunion diet, I did make a permanent switch from my previous granola, banana, and tea breakfast to the one outlined by Dr. Fisk. With maybe a LITTLE more butter than he recommends, but I don’t take milk or sugar in my tea or use butter to scramble my eggs, so it cancels out, right? And it’s worked—I find myself more energetic in the mornings, and less likely to snack before lunch.

Breakfast, with a rusk instead of toast

After much experimenting, I’ve come up with a great recipe for microwaved scrambled eggs. Here it is:

MARY GRACE’S 30-20-10 MICROWAVE SCRAMBLED EGGS

Break two eggs into a small bowl or teacup. Add salt and pepper as desired. Cook eggs in microwave without stirring for 30 seconds. Stir, then return to the microwave and cook for 20 seconds. Scramble, then cook for an additional 10 seconds or more as needed.

Lunch

Here I’ve followed Dr. Lyman’s plan more loosely, but I’ve kept to the basic spirit of something vegetable-y, something bread-y, and some fruit. Here’s a recent literal interpretation

and a 21st century variation, featuring homemade tabbouleh and (not-homemade) hummus.

Dinner

Dinner is your basic protein-starch-vegetable combo. Sometimes I cook a chicken breast it in a foil pack at 350F for half an hour with whatever I happen to have around (typical ingredients are lemon, kale, garlic, aniseeds, and red pepper flakes). Lately I’ve been cooking frozen boneless chicken breasts**** in a pan with root vegetables and rosemary, which comes out way better than you’d expect. I’ve been eating a lot of grilled hake as well.

A recent dinner

Dr. Fisk is a big defender of potatoes, saying that

There is no tragedy in a fat woman***** eating a potato; the tragedy lies in the big pat of butter that is often melted in it, more than equal in fuel value to the whole potato.

My last name notwithstanding, I’m not much of a potatoes person, so I usually substitute couscous or rice or root vegetables as a starch at dinner. And I skip the stewed fruits for dessert. Virtuous, huh?

So How Am I Doing?

DietBet weigh-in

DietBet works like this: if you don’t lose 4% of your body weight during the competition period, your ante is divided among the people who do. With just eight days of the one-month contest to go, I’m only halfway there, so I need to step it up if I want to keep my money.

Although not to the extremes described in Maria Thompson Daviess’ 1912 novel The Melting of Molly, which was the very first book I read for this project. The gist, in case you missed it: Molly, a 160-pound 25-year-old widow, goes on a crash diet when she learns that her high school sweetheart, who’s in the Foreign Service, is coming back to town and wants to see her in the blue muslin dress she wore back when she had a 20-inch waist. Here’s the diet, as prescribed by her doctor neighbor:

Breakfast—one slice of dry toast, one egg, fruit and a tablespoonful of baked cereal, small cup of coffee, no sugar, no cream.

Dinner–one small lean chop, slice of toast, spinach, green beans and lettuce salad. No dessert or sweet.

Supper—slice of toast and an apple.

“Why the apple?” Molly mourns. “Why supper at all?”

Molly, busted with a jar of jam by the doctor

But I’m not going to do that! Crash diets are unhealthy! Besides, who has the discipline?******

I’ll stick with Dr. Fisk. Whose diet is, as I said, pretty sensible. The one thing that strikes a modern reader as odd is the tolerance for carbs. This isn’t surprising, since I can well remember a time—up to the 1990s—when no one cared about carbs, it was all about fat. Still, it’s strange seeing even poor starving Molly allowed three slices of (butterless) toast a day. Dr. Fisk does emphasize the importance of cutting down on starches, fats, and sugars, but he still allows, along with the potato at dinner, a piece of toast at breakfast and bread or a roll at lunch. (He stipulates that the roll should be made of rye, bran, or graham flour, but this isn’t only a nutrition thing—there was a huge wartime drive for wheat conservation, led by food czar Herbert Hoover.) Bread and potatoes, I guess, were such an important part of the 1918 diet that cutting back any further than this was inconceivable.

In happier times

I’ve followed my 1918 diet fairly closely, with just a few slip-ups here and there. I’m eating more lean proteins and vegetables and I’ve cut out Indian take-out, a former weekly staple. When I go out, I have grilled fish with vegetables. I rarely feel hungry or have cravings.

On the other hand, I don’t have high hopes of meeting my DietBet goal. I’m not too worried, though. For one thing, the entertainment value of our WhatsApp chat group is worth the money I put up. And, while it’s good to have a jump-start, healthy eating isn’t a one-month affair. If I just keep at it, I will—maybe not this month but eventually—regain the silhouette of youth.

Wish me luck!

The silhouette of youth, wasted in a drop-waist dress

*Whose blog you should check out! She writes about dinner parties and travel and decor and the NYU Writers in Paris program, where we met, and, a favorite topic of mine, how hideous embassy furniture is.

**Of course, when you see that someone was the director of the Life Extension Institute, your first question is how old he was when he died. Answer: 64. He died suddenly in 1931 on a trip to Dresden, where he had gone to visit the Museum of Hygiene. How to Live had an introduction by William H. Taft. And this is now the most irony-packed footnote of My Year in 1918.

***Not just about dieting. He was also a strong opponent of tobacco. Unfortunately, like so many otherwise admirable people of 1918, he was a—and if you’re a regular reader, you’ll be able to recite this along with me—horrible eugenicist.

****This is legit—the USDA says so. You just have to cook it longer.

*****I told you he doesn’t pull any punches.

******Well, Molly did. But, unlike me, she had a houseful of servants under orders to keep food away from her.

Miscellany: 1918 summer pleasures edition

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Miscellany.* Here’s an all-women’s-magazine edition, full of summer pleasures.

Get your wool bathing dresses here!**

Harper’s Bazar, June 1918

With stockings, of course!

Harper’s Bazar, August 1918

What is junket, I wondered. Answer: rennet. What is rennet, I wondered. Answer: an enzyme made by slicing up the stomach linings of young calves.

Sometimes it’s better just to wonder.

Woman’s Home Companion, August 1918

These outfits are adorable and all, but have the designers ever MET a boy?

Harper’s Bazar, August 1918

How many lively out-o’-door appetites can YOU find in this picture?

Woman’s Home Companion, August 1918

Why am I not sipping a new-day drink in a crisp white frock?

Ladies Home Journal, June 1918

Ladies Home Journal, July 1918

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer, everyone!

*Which, now that my schedule has changed from Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday to whenever I feel like it, is now just Miscellany instead of Thursday Miscellany.

**Okay, some are silk.

What’s Your 1918 Girl Job? Take This Quiz and Find Out!

One of the (few) disappointments about reading in 1918 is that nothing’s interactive. Of course, I understood when I started this project that my days of discovering what secondary Jane Austen character I most resemble were over for a while.* And I knew that crossword puzzles were a few years away from being invented.

But still, there could be quizzes, or personality tests, or…something. But no. The year peaked with the vocabulary-based intelligence test in the Literary Digest in February. After that, nada. Unless you were a kid, in which case you got to enter St. Nicholas magazine contests, and cut out paper dolls from women’s magazines, and make this actually extremely cool diorama that I am definitely going to get to one of these days.

Delineator, June 1918

Being a grownup, I was left to make my own entertainment. Which I did when I came across this article in the June 1918 Ladies’ Home Journal:

What’s a girl to do, LHJ asks, when the war’s over and the boys come home and want their jobs back? Answer: find yourself a girlier one.

But which one’s for you? LHJ helps you figure it out by providing questions where you match your skills and personality traits with each job.

Which, to the modern sensibility, screams QUIZ. So I added a scoring system and turned it into one.

Here’s how it works: Rank yourself on each attribute. If you have no basis for assessing yourself, estimate how you would score. Add up your points.

Okay, here goes! Get your 1918 pencils out.**

Who Will Make a Good Teacher?

Teacher and students standing next to the Lamoine [Washington] School in 1918 (Library of Congress)

THE GIRL WITH—

Steady nerves (1-5 points) and a sound body (1-5 points).

Clear brain (1-5 points), warm heart (1-5 points), and sympathetic imagination (1-5 points).

Power to build the school into the community (1-5 points).

Enthusiasm for boys and girls that will keep her from becoming a machine (1-5 points).

What Makes a Good Office Worker

American Lumberman, 1907

THE GIRL WHO HAS—

Swift, careful fingers (1-5 points) and an agile brain (1-5 points).

Good eyesight (1-5 points), good hearing (1-5 points), and good memory (1-5 points).

Good judgment (1-5 points) and a sense of responsibility (1-5 points).

The Successful Saleswoman

Loras College, Center for Dubuque History

THE SALESWOMAN YOU LIKE IS—

Alert (1-5 points), courteous (1-5 points, then double your score), and energetic (1-5 points).

Interested in her customer’s needs (1-5 points, then double your score).

Thoroughly acquainted with her stocks (1-5 points).

The Dressmaker and The Milliner

Loras College, Center for Dubuque History

TYPES OF ABILITY REQUIRED—

The seamstress must have skill in hand (1-5 points) and machine (1-5 points) sewing.

The dressmaker needs not only technical skill (1-5 points) but creative (1-5 points) and artistic (1-5 points) ability.

The milliner has need of artistic skill (do not score; included under dressmaker) and business sense (1-5 points).

The sewing teacher should combine technical knowledge (do not score; included under dressmaker) and ability to teach others (1-5 points).

 The Broad Field of Domestic Science

Home economics class, Toronto, 1911 (Archives of Ontario)

FOR THE WOMAN WITH—

Skilled hands (1-5 points, then double your score).

A practical turn of mind (1-5 points, then double your score) and the best training (1-5 points).

Ability to command the respect of other people (1-5 points, then double your score).

Got your score? Okay, here’s what, according to LHJ, you can expect from your girl profession. (The assumption being, of course, that you’re white and Christian.)

Teacher

New York Times, July 14, 1918

OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEACHERS—

Teaching is the oldest profession*** for girls outside the home. It offers greater variety of choice to-day than ever before and is especially attractive to the girl with social vision. It is a vocation, not a bread-and-butter job. Salaries are not high, but advancement is certain for the teacher that makes good.

Office Worker

New York Times, July 14, 1918

POSITIONS AND PAY—

Experienced stenographer, $10-25 a week;

Court stenographer, $2000-3000 a year;

Private secretary, $900-1800 a year.****

THE OUTLOOK—

The field is overstocked with half-trained, incompetent stenographers. But for girls with good general education and technical skill there is always room. There are too many $8 a week girls, too few $25 a week ones. For the girl with executive ability, broad education and business experience there are many new openings.

Saleswoman

New York Times, July 14, 1918

KIND OF PERSON IN STORES—

Errand and cash girls;

Cashiers and examiners;

Saleswomen;

Hands of stock and buyers.

WAGES AND CONDITIONS—

The average pay is low, hours long, and the work is not easy, but employment is steady for the competent worker. Hours have been shortened, however, and conditions improved by the activity of the Consumers’ League. Chances for advancement are good, however, for the ambitious girl in the employ of a good firm.

Dressmaker and Milliner

WAGES AND CONDITIONS—

A first-class seamstress or dressmaker is always in demand at $1.50 to $3.50 a day;

The millinery season is short and the hours long. The average milliner needs another trade for the dull season;

The salary for assistant sewing teachers is small, but good for heads of department.

Domestic Science

New York Times, July 14, 1918

SOME OF THE KINDS OF POSITIONS—

Matron or house mother in college dormitory;

Superintendent, purveyor, or dietitian in an institution;

Domestic science teacher in school or Y.W.C.A.;

Manager of a small hotel, summer or all the year;

Visiting housekeeper employed by private families or by the city;

Director of cafeteria, tea, or lunch rooms.

SALARIES—

Teacher, domestic science, $800 and up;

Cafeteria director, $700-1800;

Assistant matron, $200-600, plus board;

Matron, $600-1200, plus living expenses.

FUTURE—

The field of domestic science is not crowded and kinds of positions are multiplying.

I got TEACHER! (30/35.)

Which was a huge relief because, when I took the test before recalibrating it to make the points in each category match up, I got OFFICE WORKER. (27/35 this time around.) Being a court stenographer might be all right, given the interesting crimes I’m always reading about, like painting your pencil a treasonous color and wearing a second lieutenant’s uniform after being discharged for setting your yacht on fire to collect the insurance money. And being a half-trained, incompetent stenographer sounds appealing in a screwball comedy kind of way. But the problem with OFFICE WORKER is that the crucial question is missing: How well would you deal with taking orders all day from a man you’re way smarter than, for a fraction of his pay? I would get a 0 for that.

I got a terrible score in DOMESTIC SCIENCE. (18/35.) Being a matron in a college dormitory might be fun, though. Or director of a tea room. Reading Edna Ferber’s stories rid me of any ambitions I might have had of being a SALESWOMAN (24/35). As for DRESSMAKER (22/35), well, this picture of me in a dress I made in high school says it all:

If I were a middle-class American woman in 1918, I imagine that I would have been a teacher. Probably a pretty happy and capable one.

Or maybe I would have gone for a war job, like this one.

New York Times, July 15, 1918

Or this one—big enough for any intelligent man!

New York Times, July 15, 1918

Or—top choice—one of these.

New York Times, July 15, 1918

(All of these jobs were advertised in the “Help Wanted – Female” section—there were no gender-neutral want ads.)

Judging by what happened to most women, though, I’m not optimistic about my chances of hanging on after the men came home. It’s lucky, then, that I’m living a time when women can be diplomats. And late-in-life creative writing students. And time-traveling bloggers.

So…what’s YOUR 1918 girl job?

* The insipid Captain Benwick from Persuasion. Which is crazy. I’m totally Jane Fairfax.

** Don’t worry, I checked, and pencils weren’t made of lead back then, or ever. The reason we call the graphite in pencils lead is that graphite was mistaken for lead when it was first discovered.

*** “Oldest profession” struck me as an unfortunate choice of words, so I did a Google NGram,

which showed that this phrase has only been around since—about 1918, actually. I did some research (okay, looked on Wikipedia) and found that the phrase began making its way into the language after Kipling referred to “the most ancient profession” in an 1889 short story. This is the kind of discovery that makes all those hours of photo file size reduction worthwhile for the weary blogger.

**** A surprising omission from this list is bookkeeper. A lot of women had this job, including my grandmother (on my mother’s side–it was my grandmother on my father’s side who may have marched with the Czechoslovakians in the July 4 parade).