November 28, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: What Did Teans Read? Part 1

I write fiction for girls ages twelve and up and all of my books are set during the Victorian Era in America.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I love all things nineteenth century.  I wondered – what did girls and young women read for magazines in the late 1800’s?  Did they have a Seventeen Magazine equivalent and if so, what was in there? I decided to find out.

It turns out that before the late nineteenth century, magazines for children were not differentiated by gender.  Both boys and girls read the children's periodicals such as Harper's Young People, Pepper and Salt and Youth's Companion, to name a few. A look into some volumes of Youth’s Companion from 1877, showed games and puzzles, features about royalty, politicians, world events and exotic locations.  The serialized stories were almost always morality tales involving poor children, orphans or dead children.  And often the story revolved around a child teaching an adult a lesson.  Consider this passage from an 1877 volume of Youth’s Companion:  Marshall is a ten year old boy.  His family has been wronged by a Mr. Hogan. Marshall had this exchange with his parents:

“The more fault you!” said his father.  “After that man’s treatment of you and all of us!  I’m ashamed of you, Marshall!”
But now kind-hearted Mrs. Morrison seconded her son, and said, -

“For the sake of his poor wife and children, Philip!   Think how we should feel if you were hurt in that way.  And consider – what I have heard you say many times – that it isn’t Mr. Hogan himself, but the bad spirit which drink has put into him, that does these things.” When a girl reached puberty and became of marriageable age, she put her hair up and her hem down and presumably switched from reading children’s magazines to lady’s magazines. Two prominent women’s magazines in the 1800’s were Godey’s Lady’s Book and The Ladies’ Home Journal (which is still extant today).  Both journals were formulaic:  articles on politics, royalty, world events, a serialized story, a patriotic article, sheet music, advice columns for both men and women.  Almost all of the articles on world events were written by men.  Articles on women’s fashion, babies, children and homemaking were written by women.  There was always an article on cooking, home decorating, fashion, and a feature for children. There were no articles on dieting, dating, sex, make-up or exercise - beyond advising girls that outdoor pursuits were healthful. 

As for Seventeen Magazine, no such equivalent existed back then. 










November 27, 2012

The Baby Farm: Book Two of the Secret Society of Sugar and Spice Accepted for Publication!

I am thrilled to announce that my third teen/young adult book The Baby Farm: Book Two of The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice has been accepted for publication by Whiskey Creek Press.  I do not have the release date yet but will post it here as soon as I receive it.

The Baby Farm is a sequel to The Secret Society of Sugar and Spice which will be available in March, 2013.

November 25, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Dorset, Take off that Corset!

Tightlacing of corsets was widely believed to be injurious to the health. Here are two quotes from  1871 and 1873:

Lacing. – If all the women insane on this subject were in the asylums, the accommodations would have to be largely increased.  The habit is a general one, and very injurious.  A good authority says:  “It has been found that the liver, the lungs, and the powers of the stomach have been brought into a diseased state by this most pernicious habit.  Loss of bloom, fixed redness of the nose, and eruptions on the skin are among the sad effects."  If prolonged, there is no knowing to what malady tight lacing might lead. Its most apparent effect is an injured digestion, and consequent loss of appetite.  Of this, however, it is often difficult to convince the practiced tightlacer, for vanity is generally obstinate.  But, looking at tight lacing without consideration of its effect on health, and merely as its tendency to improve or to injure the appearance, nothing can be more absurd than to believe that it is advantageous to the figure.  A small waist is rather a deformity than a beauty.  To see the shoulders cramped and squeezed together is anything but agreeable.  The figure should be easy, well developed, supple.  If nature has not made the waist small, compression cannot mend her work.  Good Morals and Gentle Manners for Schools and Families. Alex M. Gow, A.M. American Book Company, 1873. pg. 183-184.

The disturbance of the functions of the diaphragm is by no means the only evil of tight lacing.  The circulation of the blood and the electrical radiations are impeded thereby, in addition to which there is a still greater and more alarming evil.  I allude to the pressure which is thrown on the bowels, and from the bowels upon the womb.  The peculiar organization of woman renders the practice tenfold more injurious to her than it would be to a male.  The shocking prevalence of prolapses uteri, commonly termed falling of the womb, is greatly owing to the pernicious practice of tight lacing.
The fact is, it is a mistaken notion that wasp waists are pretty.  They look perfectly horrible! I would rather see a woman’s waist as big round as a bushel basket than to see it contracted to a size a trifle larger than the neck.  Plain Home Talk and Medical Common Sense.  E.B. Foote, M.D., A.L. Bancroft & Co., New York [etc.] 1871. pg.15.

Upcoming Appearances

"Big Stone Heart" makes a great Christmas present!

For all of my Minnesota and South Dakota friends:   I am doing a book signing at The Rendezvous Point in Wilmot, South Dakota, on Friday, November 30 at 4 p.m. (402 2nd street) and will have books for sale at the "Crafts Divine" Arts and Crafts show in Ortonville, Minnesota, on Saturday, December 1, from 9 am to 3 pm (200 Monroe Avenue). See you there.

November 22, 2012

Carol's Quaint Quotes

This quote was made after the November elections of 1896. Sound familiar?
"The political steak is broiled, the fire of excitement is cooling off under the searchlight of certainty, and the people at large are settling back into normal sanity, where it is hoped they many remain unhampered for at least two years." 
Western Womanhood. A Journal Devoted to the Interests of Women. Fargo, North Dakota, Nov. 1896. Vol.3, No. 5, pg. 6.

(Historical note:  William McKinley was elected president in 1896.  He was assassinated in 1901.)

November 20, 2012

Author's Notes: Carrie Wears a Corset

This week we are talking about corsets (see also "Teen Life Way Back When" from Nov. 18).  In Big Stone Heart, our heroine, seventeen-year-old Carrie Smith, dons a corset for the first time in her life.  Here is the text:

"Thelma had bought her a new pair of shoes, a corset and lent her an old, but refurbished hat. With the corset biting into her waist and breasts, she was uncomfortable. She had to admit, though, that her waist looked thinner and her back neater. Her breasts, though, were more evident than ever. Carrie winced and tried to slump her shoulders some to make them less conspicuous. It was to no avail. The corset held her ramrod straight. Thelma had also given her a soft, fringed white wool shawl to use. She draped this over her shoulders and across her chest. It did a satisfactory job of camouflage and she was grateful for this. The narrow new shoes pinched her feet after the broad boots she had been wearing. The hat with its new ribbons complimented her eyes and hair. Overall, she was satisfied. Still no beauty, she thought, as she stared in the mirror, but she’d do."

November 18, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: Dorset! Cinch Up That Corset

Most of us know that Victorian women wore tightly laced corsets to maintain the fashionable hourglass figure so desirable at the time.  However, what I didn't know until I started reading about this subject was that children, boys and girls, also wore corsets!  Notice in the illustration to the left from 1897, a baby, small girl, teen and a grown woman all wearing a version of a corset.
As soon as children were mobile they were put into so-called "waists".  For boys, the wearing of a waist was dropped after a few years.  But girls progressed through a series of waists to end up with the full blown corset.  As the girl matured, the corset became firmer and more shaped.  The baby's corset consisted of a stiff band of red or gray cloth which was corded for firmness. Mass market corsets ranged in waist sizes from 21 - 28 inches for a four year old to 19 - 28 inches by age twelve. In one catalog, the upper waist size was never more than 28".
By the 1840's and 1850's tightlacing became popular. Corsets became longer to reach several inches below the waist.  As they were cinched tighter and tighter concerns were raised about the negative effects of corsets on a woman's health.  More on that later this week under Medicine in the Nineteenth Century.
For additional reading and references, click the Extras tab.

November 16, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Bloodsuckers (and I don't mean vampires) Part 4

Some of the nastiest bloodsuckers of all were fellow human beings, not creepy critters.  Or should I say "bloodletters" for bloodletting was a mainstay of medical treatment for multiple ailments up until
the late nineteenth century. Indeed, in some parts of rural America, bloodletting persisted until well into the 1920's (Sir William Osler included the treatment in his 1923 edition of "The Principles and Practices of Medicine").

Bloodletting was the longest running tradition in medicine.  It was believed that the four "humors", blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile, must be kept in balance to maintain health.  Balance was restored by purging, starving, vomiting or bloodletting. The practice of opening a vein or artery to restore balance dates back to the Egyptians and Greeks.  It was used for over 2500 years for everything from insanity to hemorrhage (yes, hemorrhage was treated by taking more blood - yikes! what were they thinking?)

A vein (or in some cases, an artery) usually in the arm, leg or neck was cut diagonally or lengthwise with a small knife called a lancet and the blood collected in a bowl. There were elaborate directions for determining how much and how often bloodletting should occur.  With the advent of the scientific method, bloodletting was determined to be ineffective, even harmful, and it fell out of favor.

However, lest you think bloodletting is no longer practiced in modern medicine, think again.  In certain rare diseases such as hemachromatosis, polycythemia vera and prophyria cutanea tarda, withdrawal of a unit or two of blood has proven to be a very effective treatment.

For additional reading and references, see the Extras section.

November 14, 2012

Carol's Quaint Quotes

From The Ladie's Home Journal July, 1897. "Now What":

"These are the thoughts that should be carefully weighed and considered by every young woman who stands to-day with her college life behind her and a greater and fuller life before her.  Let nothing lead her to forget – whatever else she may wish to be, whatever desire, ambition or longing may come to her – that, first of all, she was designed by God to be a woman; to live her life in true womanliness, so that she may be an inspiration, a strength, a blessing, not necessarily to the world, but, what is infinitely better, to those within her immediate reach whose lives are touched by hers."

November 12, 2012


These days in America there seems to be a fascination for all things Amish - on television, that is.  For instance, television shows on the Amish have included "Breaking Amish" on TLC, "Amish:Out of Order" on The National Geographic Channel, "The Amish:American Experience" beginning in December on Iowa Public Television and a new series debuting next month on Discovery Channel called "Amish Mafia."

So what does this have to do with our ongoing series here "Teen Life Way Back When"?  Well, it occurred to me that Amish teens today are probably living life the same way they did back in the nineteenth century.  Or, in other words, would living in an Amish community today be like stepping back in time? Yes and no. Yes with respect to social customs, dress, and family life.  No with respect to modern conveniences.

You see, despite the public perception of black buggies pulled by horses and old-fashioned haystacks in the fields, the Amish do use some modern conveniences. It is true that most Amish do not use electricity from the public grid.  But they do use electricity in the form of diesel generators, batteries and solar power. They remain off the public grid in order to prevent worldly influences from entering the home and as a symbolic means of remaining separate from the world.

Although our fascination with the Amish may stem from a desire for a simpler life, if you've watched any of these series you have discovered that Amish families, and teens in particular, still have problems not too dissimilar from our own.

November 9, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Bloodsuckers (and I don't mean vampires) Part 3

Mosquitoes have had a profound effect on history.  One of the most significant examples in modern times is the role that mosquitoes played in the building of the Panama Canal, or rather, in stopping the building of the Panama Canal. Mosquitoes transmit malaria and yellow fever.  They suck the blood of an infected person then pass the disease along when they bite their next victim.

The French were the first to attempt a canal across the Panama isthmus. They began in 1880 but were forced to give it up by 1889.  There were lots of reasons why the French failed, but one of the major contributing factors was the horrendous death toll due to malaria and yellow fever.  You see, in those days the role that mosquitoes played in transmitting theses diseases was unknown.  It was believed that these diseases were caused by poor hygiene, exposure to a victim or noxious air. During the French era, 12,000 workers died of malaria and yellow fever during construction of the Panama Railway and 22,000 during the effort to build the canal. The French tried to stop the diseases, but because the cause was uncertain, their efforts were unsuccessful.

In 1897, Britain's Ronald Ross proved that mosquitoes transmitted malaria and yellow fever.  The United States bought the rights to build the canal in 1889.  By 1904 sanitation methods were in place that dramatically reduced the deaths due to these diseases.  These methods included:  drainage of standing water where mosquitoes bred, brush and grass cutting, oiling water that could not be drained, larvicides, fumigation, prophylactic quinine, installation of screens and the trapping and killing of adult insects.  By 1906 yellow fever was all but eliminated and malaria was markedly reduced thus allowing one of the construction miracles of the twentieth century to come to completion.

References and additional reading:

November 7, 2012

Author's Notes: Famous Blizzards

In Big Stone Heart, our heroine, Carrie Smith, is trapped in a railway car during a raging blizzard in the spring of 1886.  Last week, Hurricane Sandy hit West Virginia with a two day blizzard and three feet of snow. The photo shows our lake home as it appeared after a heavy snowstorm in the winter of 1996.  Note that the roof has been scraped to prevent it from collapsing under the weight of the snow.
Blizzards have been around since the beginning of time.  But there were some particularly horrific ones in the nineteenth century. Known as the Children’s Blizzard, The Schoolhouse Blizzard, or The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard, the storm that hit the Midwest on January 12, 1888 was particularly brutal.  The day dawned unexpectedly warm and folks went outdoors to do chores.  They sent their children to school.  When the blizzard struck, many were caught unawares.  Most children were kept at school, but some were not and this almost always ended in tragedy.  The death toll was 235.  Read the book The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin for a harrowing account of this storm.

Another cruel winter was immortalized by Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Long Winter. She wrote about the Snow Winter of 1880-1881 in which her family nearly starved to death.  In simple prose, she evokes the spirit of those early settlers who battled the elements in a desperate attempt just to survive.

November 4, 2012

New reading recommendations

For new Carol's Reading Recs, click here


The lovely lady in this photograph from 1887 is wearing a cuirass bodice suit, a shelf bustle and a flower pot hat.  Bustles were all the rage back in the Victorian era. They were worn under the skirt in the back, just below the waist. 
Ostensibly, the purpose of a bustle was to support the drapery of a woman’s dress.  I always thought the purpose was to enhance a lady’s backside as a sexual attraction, rather like high heels do today.  This quote from Wikipedia seems to confirm that impression: “Although most bustle gowns covered nearly all of a woman, the shape created by the combination of a bustle and corset (accentuating the rump, waist, and bosom) resulted in highly idealized representations of female sexual identity, at once exaggerated and concealed by the structures of adornment (reference under Extras)”

Bustles were popular in the mid to late nineteenth century.  They evolved over time.  At first, the bustle covered the sides and back and ended at the bottom of the hips.  They were composed of a variety of materials including pads, springs, ruffles, wires and curved boning. Later, the fishtail bustle gained popularity.  This model was narrow, knee length and adjustable.  One description of a fishtail bustle noted twelve steel springs encased in muslin and kept in place by elastic bands.  The Bloomingdale’s Catalog from 1886 showed a wide variety of bustles for sale ranging in price from 39 cents to $1.10 for a long fishtail made with steel.
The lengths that women will go to be fashionable never fail to amaze me.  Imagine trying to sit comfortably when you’re wearing a steel cage down to your knees!


November 1, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Bloodsuckers (and I don't mean vampires) Part 2

Delousing plant. 1918 U.S. Army Hospital, France, WW I
Are lice ever nice? No.  But some lice are nicer than others.  For instance, head lice, the scourge of school children, though disgusting ,doesn't seem to transmit any diseases.  Body lice, on the other hand, causes the disease typhus (not to be confused with typhoid fever - an entirely different disease). Lice suck human blood and often poop at the same time (I know, ick!).  When the person who has the lice scratches the place where he was just bitten, the poop (or feces for you medical types) is carried into the wound.  The bacteria that causes typhus, Rickettsia prowazekii, is in the poop. 

Body lice occur wherever people live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions with no or few opportunities to wash themselves or their clothing.  Epidemics have occurred throughout history, especially in times of war, extreme poverty and cold weather where people huddle together indoors.

The nineteenth century saw devastating epidemics of typhus.  More soldiers died of typhus during Napolean's wars than did of injuries sustained in battle (300,000 from typhus versus 100,000 from battle wounds).  Typhus decimated the Irish population in waves in 1816, 1821, 1836 and 1846.  The year 1846 was particularly bad.  The Irish were starving as a result of the potato famine.  Forced into workhouses, an estimated 190,000 people died of the disease.  The twentiety century saw typhus in the Civil War and both World Wars.

It wasn't until 1910 that the transmission of typhus by body lice was proven.  A vaccine was developed during World War II.  Today, typhus still occurs, not so much in America, but in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

 For additional reading and references: