One-hundred and thirty-one years ago today the world was introduced to Good Housekeeping magazine, an American household staple that would serve as the inspiration for the countless lifestyle blogs we devour today.
In honor of that crooked-numbered anniversary, we dug up the magazine's inaugural issue (available through Cornell University Library's Home Economics Archive) to see how well the advice holds up.
The first issue is subtitled, "A Family Journal," and comes in at 32 densely packed pages. The first two articles concern the building of a house by two different men: "the Man of Wealth" and the "Man of Work."
A Mr. Wynne, the aforementioned wealthy man, is building a house for his ever-expanding family and he is mostly concerned about having good drainage, which makes a lot of sense if you're building a house in the 1880s. It is the story of a very fine, very large house.
The second story follows the "mischievous" Tom, the working man, and his new bride, the "arch" Sally. It's a very standard "they may not have much, but they have each other" story. It's cute—there's a bit about how Sally explains to a neighbor that she'd rather her rug become faded from exposure to sunlight than live in a dreary home (same).
Tom also learns that complimenting his wife without prompts will give him some serious brownie points: "Do men ever know how far a little praise, a few kind words go to make a woman happy—and devoted?"
The next issue promises to reveal how they managed to have "things," lived cosily and comfortably on a small income, and without running into debt.
There are also lot of poems—or "fillers" used to literally fill the space between articles and ads— in GH, but the real fun is the advice, which overwhelmingly is addressed toward men to correct their boorish behavior. In retrospect, it's almost comedic how simple it all seems.
Take for example, cigars.
There is a lot of good stuff here: "smoke light-colored cigars" seems like a no-brainer. And stay away from the Maduros, especially the Colorado ones. And if you're thinking of smoking a cigar on an empty stomach, think again: "a light cigar after a hearty meal frequently aids digestion" but smoking one before a meal will cause the food to "lose its relish." These things are good to know.
Another particularly advice-filled section concerns how to interact with a woman on the street, something men are still trying to get the hang of.
It boils down to a simple acronym: A.R.Y.H. Always raise your hat.
There is a fiery screed about that modern menace/necessary convenience—you know what I'm talking about, the toothpick. Apparently, 1880s Americans were destroying the insides of their mouths by overusing toothpicks, leading to costly and horrific-sounding dental procedures.
The crux of the writer's lament is that toothpicks are a good idea in theory but absolutely disgusting to use (and especially see) in practice. "The toothpick is…a toilet article, and ranks with the toothbrush, the nail-cleaner, and the ear-spoon." Toothpick chewing is described as "villainous." Truly no one has ever hated toothpicks more.
If that advice wasn't good enough for you, or if you thought you could do better, Good Housekeeping in a sense asked its readers to put up or shut up, offering money for published tips in multiple parts and telling readers who did not like the content to pass it along to someone who would.
"How Shall We Train Our Girls" is a short column concerning "the solemn obligation of fatherhood," and essentially tells fathers to let their wives take care of raising their daughters.
That daughter of yours is an enigma, just like that Japanese art (what?) that they love so much. "Laissez faire is the true rule in paternal government of girls." Take it to the bank, buster.
The magazine circles back to practical advice with, "How To Help In Sickness and Accident: With Help That Shall Be Something More Than A Hindrance." The first tip: do whatever the doctor says. There is then a very lengthy paragraph about what a fever is. If someone has a fever, make sure they're in a well-ventilated room.
The other relevant information about a person with a fever you should know: keep them in a quiet part of the house and let their comfort levels determine the number of blankets on the bed (which shouldn't be too soft or too firm) and how many layers of clothes they have on. After all, they've got a fever, they're not catching a cold anytime soon. Oh, and don't even try to make them laugh their fever away.
Tucked in the bottom of a page are some real hints about moral as well as physical health. It opens with an eternal truth: "It is a well known fact that in women the vital grasp, tenacity of life, if we may so term it, is stronger than it is in man."
Your son making a racket? Send him outside to tire himself out. If your daughter acts the same, "she should not be checked or repressed."
But fret not, there are number of ways your impressionable daughter may find a "healthful and well balanced" life and avoid "an abnormal physical development," like "tricycle-riding," "lawn-tennis," and "general gymnastics."
Oh, and whether you have sons or daughters or a mix, know that "relating ghost stories and other frightful tales" to them is a terrible, terrible idea. It's best to stick to stories about punctuality. Keep 'em away from coffee and tea, as well.
There's a section about accidents that reads as very common sense, but then you remember that in the 1880s, people died "horrible deaths" all the time, so it was literally life-saving information to remind people to stop, drop, and roll if their clothes were to catch fire.
"A hostess has two very important duties to perform—one, not to neglect her guests; the other, not to weary them with too much attention." Is this advice designed to fail? Who can say.
"Butter forks, instead of knives, are used for rolled butter balls." Good to know!
In the bedroom: avoid "lassitude" with fresh air.
Use "pennyroyal" to kill vermin. And maybe try blue as the room's overall color scheme.
There's this helpful section about how men and women "should" act so that everyone gets what they want.
All the advice either throws shade or is just rude:
- He should eat his dinner pleasantly, even if it is a little cold through his having kept it waiting half an hour. 😈
- She should have hot strong coffee or breakfast, if she has to get up herself and make it. 😎
- He should, when intending to take a friend home to dinner, send a message to that effect to his wife. 💁
- She should never object to her husband smoking about the house. If he wants to smoke he will smoke, if he has to go somewhere else to do it. 👀
- He should, when in difficulty, consult his wife about the matter, and in nine cases out of ten, he will wonder that he allowed himself to be so troubled. 💅
- She should bear in mind that cheerful surrounding and a bright face are things appreciated and enjoyed, and that with them she can make a lord of creation her veriest slave without his ever know it. 💃
There are the usual standards, like beef or tomato soup, or creamed oysters, or various types of bread. Two (Borat voice) very nice options: Rolls and Prune Pudding.
The issue closes with several pages of a masthead and an extensive bibliography. And ads!
An organ, steel and gold pens, an organ. Everything one needs to turn their housekeeping game up a notch.
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org