Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Hole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

by Connie Cortright

Some time ago, we remodeled our bathroom in our 1926 house. The new shower and sink make our life so much easier in our morning routine. I wonder what bathrooms were like back in the 20’s and 30’s – before indoor plumbing.

Houses in cities and towns had electricity and indoor plumbing in the 1920’s and for sure by the 1930’s. Farms weren’t so lucky to have these luxuries, however. What facilities did they use on a farm before indoor plumbing?

Most everybody knows families had to use outhouses for their daily needs. But what were those actually like? I have it on good authority that these facilities ranged from comfortable to hardly usable – from pictures of women on the walls to watching spiders as your entertainment. 

Most outhouses had two holes – a smaller hole built at a lower height for children and a larger one for the parents. The holes, cut in wood, were covered by a hinged board. One had to be careful of splinters from the board, but after much use, the wood became worn down and smooth. I was assured lime was thrown into the holes on a weekly basis to keep down the odor and aid in decomposition.

“What about toilet paper?” you ask. Again, I have it on good authority that catalogs were the “in” thing to use for this purpose. Sears and Montgomery Wards were the best ones. This too, could be a source of entertainment until needed. A page was torn out when necessary, but the shiny colored advertisements were shied away from.

Most facilities had a window in the door that swung out. A latch would be fastened upon entry to dissuade any uninvited guests. By the way, both holes were not actually used at the same time, unless two same-sex siblings found this arrangement necessary.

In winter or at night, going to an outhouse was not a pleasant task, so chamber pots were then used in bedrooms. The unpleasant task of emptying these containers was left to an unlucky person in the family – probably the mother.

 What about the other purpose of a bathroom – taking a bath? This varied from house to house, but it always occurred on Saturday night before bed, whether one needed a bath or not. A common practice would be for the round washtub to be set up in the kitchen area, close to the warm stove with hot water in the reservoir. I’ve also read that some houses had an actual bath room – a closet size room with an oval tub in it.

In either case, the tub would be filled with a pitcher or bucket before bathing. The youngest person in the family would take a bath first in shallow water. As the size of the person grew, so did the level of water with more warm water added each time. Keep in mind that the water was not emptied between the baths of different people- more water was added to heat it up- that’s all. When Pa finished his bath in a full tub, the tub would have to be emptied bucket by bucket out the back door. When the tub was light enough to be lifted, the strongest people would carry it out to empty it outside.

When electric lines were finally wired into the farm and an electric pump was hooked up on the well, these practices were no longer necessary. A bathroom was added with indoor plumbing as soon as possible to make everyone’s life easier.

It makes me appreciate our newly updated bathroom more than before!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Glass With Class

by Connie Cortright

Have you ever seen a colored glass vase or candy dish sitting on a shelf or in a hutch at your grandmother's house? Maybe the glass item was multi-colored like the one in the picture on the left - called carnival glass because of the pinks, blues, and greens that show up when light is reflected off it. Sometimes it seems to look a dull amber and then breaks into a rainbow of color in bright light.

Or the glass item might be a pale yellowish-green color - called vaseline glass. Some of the glasses might even be a pinkish or cobalt blue color. All these antique colored items are very beautiful and worth quite a bit of money these days.

Did you know that your grandmother or great-grandmother might have pulled these beautiful pieces of glass out of an oatmeal or detergent box during the 1930s? Or she might have gotten it free one afternoon when she went to the movie theater and bought a ticket. It might have been a giveaway item in the corner market for purchasing ten dollars of groceries in a single shopping trip.

All these colorful items are called depression glass. From the late 20s into the 30s glass manufacturers mass-produced intricately formed glass pieces that were made of poor quality. These molded glass items often contained bubbles under the surface or other flaws that more expensive glassware did not have. They were inexpensively made and given away to brighten someone's day during these trying years.

Women collected these different types of depression glass, making entire place settings of the same color from purchasing groceries in the same store. The manufacturers made the cups, plates, bowls and serving pieces for the set, giving away a different piece each week.  This was also a marketing technique, keep the customers coming back to get the next item.

Vaseline Glass under ultraviolet light
One type of depression glass was actually made from uranium, in some cases up to 25%. This type of glass was nicknamed vaseline glass because of its usual pale yellowish-green color. Of course, during the late 30s and into the early 40s, uranium became used in a much more important way for the War Department, so this type of glass was discontinued. There was no need to worry about radioactivity with this glass since it was considered to be harmless even if some pieces could be detected by a Geiger counter. Under a ultraviolet light the items turn into a beautiful bright green.

The amazing thing is that today this depression glass, that was given away free in an oatmeal box, is an item in demand by collectors. Antique dealers  study copies of "The Collector's Encyclopedia of Depression Glass" to find out what is a good buy and how to choose the best items.

Wouldn't it be nice to know today what items we use in our daily lives will end up as collectors items someday? Seventy-five years from now maybe your child's lunch box with Dusty Crophopper on the front will be sold for a hundred dollars. That thought alone would motivate us to take special care of it and make sure it was never scratched or chipped. Someday, someone could sell it for high quality then. What do you you think will be a collector's item from everyday life today?

Information taken from Uranium glassDepression_glass, and
Antiques-About Depression Glass.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Peek into Grandma's Underwear Drawer

by Connie Cortright

Last week we took a peek at Grandpa's drawer, so we need to do equal time this week. After all women have equal rights nowadays. We need to find out what was in Grandma's underwear drawer - a much more complicated subject.

Men's union suits pretty much stayed the same from the late 1800s to 1930s, except for sleeve length and colors. However, women's undergarments changed almost every decade along with the fashions of the day. Women's prerogative, I guess. The one thing remaining almost constant was bloomers, also known as knickers.

Bloomers were first used in the 1850s by women who wanted to pursue physical activities not possible with long dresses, such as cycling and tennis. When they were first worn, they were baggy pants of ankle length, narrowing at the cuff, worn with a shorter skirt over them. This allowed the ladies to participate in a sport while preserving Victorian decency.

During the early 1900s, the baggy-legged bloomers were shortened to knee length and worn without an over skirt - the forerunner of shorts today. They were again used in athletic events, especially by girls attending school.

By the early 1920s bloomers, also known as step-ins, had become a loose fitting undergarment shorter than skirts with a camisole worn on the top. When the flapper-look of the Roaring Twenties came to popularity, the step-ins and camisole was topped with a corselette flattening the bust and controlling the hips. This was important to women because of the boyish silhouette style of the late 20s. They tried to hide all curves and stop the jiggling of the hips under the straight dropped-waist dresses.

The 30's fashion brought back the natural waistline and more emphasis on natural body curves so again undergarments changed. Brassieres, or bras as they were called by then, resembled our modern garments with the intention of support and lift, much different than in the 20s. They were combined with girdles and attached garters to bring out the shapeliness of women.

Underneath all these fashions was the basic bloomer - a baggy open-legged knee-length pantalette. Late in the 30s the modern day version of undergarments became popular because women wore more pants or shorts in public. However, some of the older women, like my grandmother, never gave up wearing bloomers, evidence from the contents of our clothesline when I was little.

I can't imagine what our grandparents or great-grandparents would think if they could take a peak into our underwear drawers today. They would be shocked, I'm sure. Just as they would be mortified to see their underwear drawers' contents discussed on a blog today. Things have surely changed since the 20s and 30s.