Let’s Read Modern Priscilla, August 1920!

Modern Priscilla ran from 1887 to 1930, as a staple hobby and homemaking magazine that focused heavily on needlework and fashion design. This is a homemaking magazine for middle-class women who have the time to make things like tatted lace and pretty hostess aprons. Aprons that could also be sold at weekend church bazaars, to bring in a little side money that may or may not actually be desperately needed.

What was going down with the country in 1920? A dearth of men, most likely. The 1918 flu pandemic had left a nation traumatized and mourning, on top of the losses of soldiers from the First World War and the ones who came back that were unable to work for any number or reasons. This was also the age of the suffragette, and the magazine’s overall tone seems geared towards a very restrained but definitely present sense of empowerment. Modern Priscilla is full of little hints and features that encourage women to save money and put their skills as seamstresses to work – as well as ads that appeal to women to sell small things like hosiery and beads. Women winning the right to vote opened the country’s mind to the possibility of many things that a woman could suddenly be allowed to do, and supporting a family in the absence of a male breadwinner suddenly seemed to be on the verge of plausible.

The cover artist for this month was Nana French Bickford, who illustrated many children’s books, among them a version of Little Black Sambo that’s just as bad as you think it is.

So Uncle Ben is some kind of…ghost…that appears as an apparition with a bowl of cream of wheat…to children while playing. Don’t go in that house, kid, it’s not going to end well for you.

For the TLDR crowd, no, that is not Priscilla in the center. That’s Eleanor Porter, who wrote Pollyanna and had passed away a few months before this issue. They were really hyped about publishing one of her last stories – there’s more than one mention in this issue of an upcoming serial starting in the next issue. Priscilla seems to be a sort of mascot for the magazine and the editors write in her voice.

That outraged section on the teachers getting shafted in favor of a war memorial is quite sharp. The 19th amendment had passed in June, and would be officially ratified by the time this issue was out, so there is an immediate call for women to use their newfound voting power to benefit themselves (and the greater society) as teachers.

May we play this one, mother?

Yes, darling, but softly so that Gerte the maid doesn’t hear it. We don’t want her enjoying our music. Gerte, put this record in the grafonola for the children and then walk away quickly, but not so quickly that you disturb us with your hurrying.

When nothing else in your life seems grateful, remember how good it feels to wash with soap.

“As long as the apron is the feminine badge of housewifely virtues, apron booths at bazaars will be foregone conclusions and profitable enterprises.”

As an apron aficionado, I must say that these are all pretty darn cute.

Pretty things you can make from raffia, which comes from “Porto Rico”. I hope you’re talented and skilled on the level of a professional furniture designer, because this isn’t exactly a rainy day craft project. That butterfly hat is bad ass though.

That embroidered belt on the far left dress is really cute.

Those creepy-ass Campbell’s Soup kids have been around for way too long.

I love the honesty of the first paragraph that’s just “even if you don’t get around to making this stuff, we just wanted to put pictures of cute babies on this page and we don’t think anyone will have a problem with it”.

I found two definitions for Naptha – one was paint thinner, one was a crucial ingredient in napalm. Either way, this is probably not something you should be washing your clothes in.

I wonder what the executives at Brunswick in 1920 would do if they knew that in 2018 their record label was chiefly associated with superhits of 70’s R&B, being an institution of black culture?


also comes in pink, brunette (how does that work) and just clowny clown clown white.

Back then ketchup was like the tenth most popular product they had.

“You have more sweaters than any other THREE girls I know!”

There’s a line at the bottom that specifies “All products have been approved by the Priscilla Proving Plant”, which is something like modern the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, but also brings to mind some kind of divine potted begonia that various household detergents are presented to in hope of approval.

A quick informal poll on a Day Thread revealed that no commentors in 2018 would wear that sweater. The hat, however, was much admired.

Take note of that Colgate talc ad: with just enough boric acid to keep roaches from eating your baby!

In case you’re wondering, Coca-Cola had taken the cocaine out of its recipe long before 1920. Officially, anyway.

Phil P. Parcells murdered 14 people between 1917-1935 and told the police that his parrot, Polly, had told him to do it. The police found no evidence of him ever owning a parrot.

(just kidding)

How to dress your baby up like a cute little ghost! And make cute clothes for your toddler that have far more pockets than clothes for a grown woman would.

Tips on upcycling your old stuff by adding little details like embroidery. What’s your favorite one? I dig the 5353-8.

There’s a corn upon my toe
and I know it has to go
ask your druggist for Blue-jay
the scientific new-day-way

Please don’t be long
please don’t you be very long
please don’t be long
Or I may lose my fee-eet

That’s a lot of wordy text in the Curads ad for something that tells you absolutely nothing about the 1920s answer to a maxi pad.

I love how happy that lady is. She’s got her party pearls on and she’s gonna go to-night and to-morrow alright!

  • Woman can’t drive because she is both a woman and of Irish descent
  • Woman accidentally runs over a man after a day of flower-gathering in the countryside with her bff
  • Woman flees home in a flagrant hit-and-run
  • Oh no! Turns out she ran over her husband!
  • HO HO, but don’t you worry! He’s just screwing with her so that she’ll never drive again! Sheila’s reign of road terror has come to an end!

Wow, they just hate each other so much.

I might actually make that spiced lemonade. The cider punch (with “charged” water, meaning carbonated water) also sounds pretty good.

Most of these recipes are surprisingly palatable, they’re just bland as all get out and seem to be mostly variations on the same five ingredients. It really isn’t a stretch that these “foreign” recipes are all from the same corner of the globe, where people happen to eat a lot of things with butter and flour and milk and onions. The French “ramekins” are just cheese souffles.

That “Spanish tamale loaf” on the other hand…yikes.

Whoever wrote this ad copy seemed to really be in the mood to hurt something at the time.

Let’s honor the god of corn by making raisin corn muffins!

I know you’re wondering what the hell HEBE is. It’s…well, it’s not milk! The can describes it as A COMPOUND OF EVAPORATED SKIMMED MILK AND VEGETABLE FAT, which I dunno about you but I gotta get a tall cold glass of that and pronto. Apparently it was so gross and such an abomination to nature that dairy farmers lobbied to get it off the shelves, and it was only around for a year or two. Yes, it was so awful that the farmers managed to get it pulled from production because it was ruining the reputation of actual milk by association.

They were doing so well until they got to that almond salad. Which appears to be a molded jello monstrosity of almonds, pickles, and pineapple chunks in gelatin activated with pickle juice and pineapple juice. SERVE COLD WITH MAYONNAISE.

“Meatless” in this context meaning “safe for Catholics”.

The Arcady Dressing sure does sound like something you should be putting on vegetables, am I right?

Maybe I’m just dense, but I’ve read the sentence “the…can is so large that [it] is no more expensive than before the war” and I have no idea how that makes any sense. And again, THE BABY POWDER HAS BORIC ACID IN IT.

The 1920 middle-class idea of “picnic food” was a fancy meat roast surrounded by vegetables or pasta in a big covered dish, which you instructed your maid to bring out to you as you ate dinner at a heavily-laid table in the backyard. Really getting out into nature there.

What’s with the repeated use of “masculines” to refer to men in the household?

Handy tips approved by the Priscilla Plant. I actually like the tip to offset yellowed pictures (kept “for reasons of sentiment”) with a blue-tinted picture frame.

The “prize geographical story” is incredibly hard, and I’m assuming that it wasn’t unusual for kids back then to have US almanacs with just lists of cities in all the states. Because I was using Wikipedia to look up what the answers could be and it took me an hour just to get through the first paragraph. Then again, kids had a lot of time on their hands during summer vacation back then.

As for the weird-ass game of nature charades:
“The whole word dandelion could be acted by a dialogue between children dressed like Italians and armed with paper bags and knives, industriously digging dandelions in the grass, supposedly, and then carrying their bags about saying, ‘Here-a, you! Get-a da leaves here’!”

I am at a total loss for explanation.

Given what I’ve learned about substances and solvents from this era after reading this issue, I’m just going to assume that Fairbank’s Gold Dust Washing Powder was actually made from the bones of factory worker orphans who had lost their lives in industrial cleaning solvent production accidents.

Baby Harriet Ducksburg gained over nine ounces since switching to Eagle Brand condensed milk, and her mother has never let her forget it.

Thanks for reading another week with me! Next week will be a special review of the first magazine sent to me by a fellow Avocado!


Fortean Times, June/July 2001!