Better Homes and Gardens was founded in 1922 as Fruit, Garden, and Home by Woodrow Wilson’s former Secretary of Agriculture, magazine mogul Edwin Thomas Meredith. The first editor was the author Chesla C. Sherlock, who guided the magazine through the transition from a farmer’s magazine to more of a lifestyle magazine and changed the name in 1925 to Better Homes and Gardens (and later killed his wife and himself in a murder-suicide – for real). Although the magazine is one of the major “Seven Sisters” magazines targeted largely at women, the magazine didn’t have a female editor-in-chief until 1993.
The cover illustrator for this month was Max Streckenbach, who was basically to Better Homes and Gardens what Norman Rockwell was to The Saturday Evening Post. This issue is packed with dreamy prose and art nouveau illustrations, and best of all, bizarre recipes involving all sorts of things presented in gelatin. I’m really excited to review this issue because old-fashioned party/luncheon cooking is one of my other favorite things to nerd out about, and this one has quite a few elaborate head-scratchers all popped out of the ring mold.
Take note of this sink; we’re going to come back to it in a bit. Isn’t it amazing how copy writers of this era found so many words to describe a kitchen sink? How soothing they sound! How melodious! How perfectly reassuring that I can still get it in white if I don’t want it in bubblegum-barf pink!
Going back a decade from the Plymouth ad of last week, they’re still really big on that “roadability” catchphrase. Check out that roaring 45 horsepower! Which is probably exactly enough needed to haul around five people in a cast-iron boat on wheels, as long as there aren’t any steep grades to go up. Or gentle rolling hills, or anything resembling a lump in the road, otherwise everyone’s getting out and pushing.
Essex: Our Car Has Brakes!
So, to call attention to that historical elephant in the room, the great stock market crash of 1929 was coming in about eight months and people were generally feeling pretty good about their new President, which would not last long. While the Great Depression didn’t immediately ruin everyone, this magazine with its ads full of domestic servants, dream kitchens, and sparkling children’s playroom furnishings would probably have looked screamingly opulent to a person reading it by the end of the year.
In my mind this woman only has one telephone for her gigantic estate, and this maid just follows her around all day with the phone on a tray so that she can plug it in for her.
“Mildred, I’m going into the drawing room, bring the telephone. Mildred, I’m going into the sun room, bring the telephone. Mildred, I’m going into the dressing room, bring the telephone.”
Gotta love that gentle but firm imperative voice that every 20s and 30s ad is written in.
The artists designing these illustrations sure knew how to put a room together.
It seems strange to wash your clothes and your dishes in the same kind of soap, doesn’t it?
I love the design of the Chipso box.
“My wife didn’t give a crap about gardening, so I got into it on my own, and I started to like it. Then I killed my wife and made her into fertilizer for my flowers.”
From an article on a floor plan for someone’s dream home, which has the most beautiful and evocative descriptions of the interior and suggestions for furnishings. I find that reading through it is immensely meditative and relaxing. And I’m totally going to build this home for my Sims and burn it down later with them in it.
The reader mail isn’t all that interesting, unless you actually do enjoy gardening, but I can’t resist a picture of a cute little girl and her cute dog.
I’m no botanist, but the practice of sending people overseas to take native plants and bring them back to America is kind of the worst thing ever, right? Like, fundamentally a bad thing? This is how we end up with stuff like kudzu? And people literally died doing this!
While this looks like an art nouveau dream kitchen, take a closer look at that center illustration – with the big floating “Standard” brand sink that this magazine runs beautiful full-color ads of – and note that the bigass fancy sink is completely blocking that drawer on the end of the counter! And this “thoroly modern testing-tasting kitchen” was designed and built to order by the editors of Better Homes and Gardens!
You all know I love my early 20th century articles on child-rearing. This one was going along just fine until we got to “the old woodshed wasn’t so bad an idea”, implying that it was cool to beat the shit out of your kids, as long as it wasn’t in the playroom.
Some lovely color illustrations of trendy flowers. I like the wording of “Do You Want to Raise Iris?”, which in my head sounds exactly the way my mom would say “Do you want to do the dishes?”, as in you don’t actually have a choice here, and you’re going to raise those iris whether you want to or not.
Got leftovers? Just mash ’em into a ball and deep fry! Now they’re fancy!
The winter of 1928-1929 saw a serious influenza epidemic, and there was still a lot of lingering trauma from the worldwide catastrophe of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, so you’ll notice a lot of stuff in here, such as this ad and the linoleum floor ad, about the sanitary and protective qualities of building materials. At first I thought this was an illustration of dirty lower-class street urchins attempting to ruin your child’s moral and social standing, until I saw the captions. I like how the Illness kid is dressed like he’s ready to party.
That asshole kid who knocked your kid down is Listerine, see, and your kid crying in the snow is typhoid, so bathe yourself in Listerine and make sure to beat your son for crying in public.
Dice the fowls, but do not chop. Huh?
The “sweet cucumber slices” are sliced dill pickles that you have gone through the trouble to pickle a second time. Why would you do that? WHY?
The shade roller ad is the only ad or article or anything in the whole magazine that shows a man doing something vaguely parental.
You’d think there would be a reprieve from the horror of jello salads, right? Think again – it’s still endless molds of gelatin and mayonnaise, except now it contains lima beans.
I love the design of the MEL’O logo.
As far as these go, they aren’t too bad – the orange cupcakes with orange frosting sound nice, and the stuffed meatloaf is just stuffed with potatoes. I question the noodle ring and wonder why on earth you’d go through all that trouble when you can just mix everything together as a casserole, but that’s not how things worked in 1929 when your entire self worth relied on making dinner for your family.
The 1920s interpretation of French dressing was usually lemon juice and olive oil or oil and vinegar, so while it wasn’t exactly what it is today (typically ketchup, sugar, vinegar, and paprika) just picture some canned fruit filled with marshmallows and then dump a cup of vinaigrette over it for whatever reason.
I brought that stuffed prune salad with French dressing to my last work potluck and not only did no one tell me how attractive it was, no one’s looked me in the eye since.
Everything about the Oak Flooring Bureau ad, from the tone of the header to the photograph, is just so unsettling.
Instructions for the ham molds include “decorate with little hatchets for Washington’s birthday”, and that was TOTALLY A THING back in the day for celebrating President’s day. I think they mean little hatchet shapes cut out of paper (I’ve never seen it specified, so I guess it was something that everyone just knew about), and for those who don’t remember, it’s evoking the folk myth that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and admitted that he did it (way to go George). But why be so subtle about your patriotic spirit? For your next President’s Day party, why don’t you bring a tomato jelly mold with a full-sized hatchet embedded in it? Surely everyone will get it.
“Ah very good, the Kaffee Hag is here.”
“Now, don’t be brusque, John, I believe her name is Florence.”
Innovations in the 1929 kitchen include a stove exhaust fan, in case we need a reminder of how good we have it today.
Everything about this is simply amazing.
Mentholatum is still being sold today. Probably with less cocaine, to keep down costs.
“Isn’t this darling, we can have this built for the children to play in and put in those fairy wand linoleum floors.”
How to be a finaincially independent man, and if you’re a woman, how to be financially stable until you find a husband.
“I say, Ethel, your floors are so shiny that I can see my own face in them!”
“Why, thank you for noticing, Ida. I like to stare at my face in the reflection in the floor for hours at a time and wonder what I’m doing here, and whether or not I actually exist. Old English wax – you, too, can have lovely floors.”
Are YOU getting the best use out of your withering glare?
GET IN! BEFORE THEY TAKE AWAY OUR RIGHT TO VOTE!
Remember, it’s all Mother’s fault if the children die from typhus!
Hot trend of 1929: fences!
Buy one now before October!
That apron is ADORABLE.
More greatest hits from the school of repressive child-rearing, and nice little crafts and games suggested by kids.
The snowman poem is very cute, as is the kid named Fred F. Plumpton who is obsessed with clocks.
Apple crumble seems to have been have been very popular, since recipes for it appears at least twice in this magazine alone, but apples are a hardy winter fruit so it makes sense that people would have a lot of apples and not much other fresh fruit in February.
The last paragraph hits me in the feels a bit, as I am happening to write this on the Fourth of July.
Willy Pogany was one of the defining illustrators of fairytales in this era, which has endured as what many people today consider to be the default of what a fairytale illustration should be. The color proportion key is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it comes through very well in the illustration of the rug itself.
Do you prefer your rugs to be restrained or riotous?
The food editors of SOME of the leading women’s magazines say that the flour you use has a great deal to do with the flavor of the foods you bake, but at Better Homes and Gardens we say it’s actually more to do with how much mayonnaise-jello and marshmallows that you use.
Thank you for reading another week with me! Next week will be that long-delayed trip to the outdoors with dirty hairy hippies and breathtaking mountain vistas galore – Backpacker magazine, June 1979!
(not my picture)