Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Saturday Snapshot #7

     Today's snapshot comes from Bernard Linzmeier. It is of his mother, the smaller girl on the right, and her sister, three years older, on the left.
    He says the photos was taken in the late 1920s near Homan Avenue, looking west down 16th street. The sign behind them, he says—I can't read it—is for the Kosner Star Sausage Company.
     But none of that is why I decided to post the photo. There is something going on in this picture that was one of the more radical developments in feminism in the 1920s. I wonder if you'll notice it, unprompted.
    All five girls here reflect this change, whereas, a decade earlier, they would not.
    Look closely. Perhaps pause on the lone boy—it looks like he's holding a Brownie camera, which was popular at the time, and would be a sly wink at today's theme. Hard to tell. Could be just a box. Photos can be deceptive, the way if, you look to the far left, there is what, for a moment, struck me as a hand holding a cell phone, as if taking a photo of the girls. It's not, of course, just the deceptiveness of the shape. Funny to consider though.
     It's the hairdos—they all have bobbed hair, which represented rejection of previous norms of femininity. The fashion started around World War I with a few pioneers, French actresses and such, and by the early '20s young American women—"flappers"— were dressing in short skirts, flinging away their corsets, and sheering off their long hair, which had forever been the very definition of femininity. By the time this photo was taken, it had filtered down to the schoolyard, as fashions do.
    Girls had long had short hair before, of course—Pixie cuts, and such. But the frizzed out look was particular to the bob, three of the five girls have it, and if you want to get a grasp of just what a radical act bobbing your hair once was that had in a few years become tame enough for girls to convince their parents to allow, track down F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1920 story, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," a "drama of the shifting, semi-cruel world of adolescence." Mean girl Marjorie feels oppressed by having her Wisconsin cousin, Bernice visit her, and, in pretending to befriend her, goads her into bobbing her hair, to the shock of all and, well, better just to read it. You see Fitzgerald delving into his favorite themes of flaming youth and the upper crust, with a surprise ending I wouldn't dream of hinting at. For a 98-year-old story, it holds up well.
     The big deal over how women styled their hair is a reminder that women have always struggled to crawl out of the box that society, aka men, have tried to keep them in. Even in the smallest detail of their lives—how long their hair should be—the choice was not so much their own as imposed upon them. A battle which, as we all know too well, continues today.



  1. I love to study old photographs. I love that we get a detailed glimpse of life, sometimes 100 or more years in the past. A photograph is the gift a precise moment in time. A moment preserved, that would otherwise pass without notice.

  2. This new Saturday thing is great. But, as with most of your columns and posts, always leaves me wanting more.
    An entire book of people, places, photos, books, stories that ended up having an unexpected effect on you.
    An extened
    You were never in Chicago.
    Crap, a compilation of your favorite blog posts or columns. Maybe compiled by one of your coleagues or researchers (if they still employ those underappreciated workhorses of journalism).
    Bottom line: I really enjoy these.

    1. That would be nice. A pal in publishing brought that up last week, and I said, "Sure," at which point, I imagine, he'll never mention it again. Maybe I'll shoot him an email. Publishers are afraid to publish anything at this point because most books don't work.

    2. Publishing has really changed. For almost 10 years i worked on the fulfillment side of a publishing company. The shifts in publishing platforms, the market, and the changes in reading habits and attention spans of the average person all combined to disastrous consequences for a lot of people.
      I know that change is inevitable, but the downside of the digital information revolution, when combined with our current political situation, has me fearful of an Orwellian future where history can be changed at the whim of the powerful and all evidence of the truth vanishes into the electronic fire.
      Sorry again.
      Bottom line:
      I'd buy it.
      But i know that doesn't amount to much today.
      Have you given any thought to a Vanity press?
      Some of them are really inexpensive. And while i hate putting money in Bezos' pocket, if you have the knowledge and skill, Createspace can publish for next to nothing. They can also cost you a fortune if you don't have any idea what you're doing.

  3. Coincidentally, my cousin displayed a 1916 school yearbook photo of our great aunt, who was a recurring figure in our young lives as an old retired school teacher, who constantly remonstrated with us to join the "clean plate club." I was surprised that she and the person shown above her in the yearbook had short haircuts; I thought the short hair came later.


  4. Neil did a surprisingly appropriate tie in with family history. Before my aunt bobbed her hair, she had an elaborate sausage curl hairstyle. Very independent, Aunt Gertrude kept the bob style, attended Roosevelt College, joined the WAC during WWII, and was a radio operator for the Army Air Corp. Perhaps for another day I'll submit a photo of my Grandmother sporting one of her flapper outfits

  5. I fear you shall now be swamped with old family photos. I enjoy them, at times ....

  6. That's my late mother's old stomping grounds...the West Side, which later became known as Lawndale. My grandmother owned what was then known as a "candy store" (aren't they still called that in New York?) at 15th and Kedvale. My mother and her parents and her younger sister lived in the back of the store.

    She was born in 1920, spoke only Yiddish until she began school, and would have been about the same age as the girls in the photograph. It appears as though they are standing on the sidewalk in front of their school. If my grandmother's candy store were a little closer (it was about a mile away), I'd might be able to say: "Who knows? Maybe she was one of them."


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