Monday, November 26, 2007

More Gems From Minnesota's Past

As I said earlier, I've been enjoying the book "Bring Warm Clothes: Letters and Photos From Minnesota's Past" by Peg Meier. Although the letters and newspaper articles are more than 100 years old, I've been struck by how applicable they are to our modern-day life.

Here are some more gems I've found and my thoughts about them:

The next big election is less than a year away and I have to admit that I am already weary of it. I will pay attention, of course, because I don't want to waste my vote. Apparently elections grew old 120 years ago, too. Check out this article printed in the Minneapolis Tribune on April 3, 1887, during a spring election campaign: “An old Irish gentleman was making a speech last night at a political meeting, and referred to the fact that in his precinct there were 24 Democratic and 17 Republican candidates for alderman. He explained this great number by telling a story of a kind who sought the advice of his prophet on the weather one day when he wished to go hunting. The prophet said it would be a fine day. On the road the king met a farmer riding on a jackass, and the farmer warned the king not to proceed, as it would surely storm. It did storm, and the king called the farmer to learn how he knew of the coming storm, and the farmer replied that his jackass told him. The king then discharged his prophet and put a jackass in his position. “And from that day to this,” said the speaker, “every jackass wants an office’.”

From thoughts of politics, one must naturally move to thoughts of romance. That is, if one looks to Bill Clinton for guidance, I guess. In any case, I got a huge kick out of these excerpts from “The Book of Natures: a Full and Explicit Explanation of the Structure and Use of the Organs of Life and Generation in Man and Woman”, published in New York in 1875 and found in the library of a Cottage Grove man. After reading this, I must say that I am glad I am poor and that my husband values cleanliness as much as I do! “The rich are qualified for marriage before the poor. This is owing to the superiority of their aliment [food]; for very nutritious food, and the constant use of wines, coffee, etc., greatly assists in developing the organs of reproduction; whereas the food generally made use of among the peasantry of most countries ­– as vegetables, corn, milk, etc. – retards their growth.”

And then: “Too much importance cannot be attached to cleanliness. Men may be careless as to their own personal appearance and may, from the nature of their business, be negligent in their dress, but they dislike to see any disregard in the dress and appearance of their wives. Nothing so depresses a man and makes him dislike and neglect his home as to have a wife who is slovenly in her dress and unclean in her habits. Beauty of face and form will not compensate for these defects, the charm of purity and cleanliness never ends but with life itself. These are matters that do not involve any great labor or expense. The use of the bath, and the simplest fabrics, shaped by your own supple fingers, will be all that is necessary. These attractions will act like a magnet upon your husband. Never fear that there will be any influence strong enough to take him from your side.

As the Minneapolis Tribune reported on April 3, 1881, the girls apparently practiced cleanliness very well and did not worry that their intended would leave their sides. Far from it - they were showing their affections in a scandalous fashion that I fear I am likely to repeat when I go home for Christmas. Scandalous, I tell you, highly improper! “Engaged Girls. Fashion has decreed a change in his matter. The engaged couples of 1881 are not commanded to hide their endearments under a bushel. They may even kiss in company if they are changes about it. I saw a daughter of one of the wealthiest and most refined of our families touch lips with her husband-to-be before at least a hundred persons in a picture-room of the academy of design the other day. He had been out of town for a week, I was told, and their meeting here way by chance. She greeted him affectionately, but without ado, and put up her mouth in the most self-possessed way imaginable. He was not so cool about it; yet he gave her a smacking salute with a good grace, right in the presences of his future mother-in-law. The girl did not blush nor simper. Such a public kiss would have been scandalous in March 1880; but in 1881 it is fashionable and therefore proper."

Perhaps when I get home, Champs will give me a smacking salute, huh? I hope so - I can assure you that I will neither blush nor simper!

I am planning on one more installment of gems for later this week. I hope you enjoyed these!

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