Within an hour or so of each other on the weekend, emails arrived from two friends – one from Nancy Leitz whom you know from her family tales at The Elder Storytelling Place and the other from John Brandt, whom I've known for nearly 40 years.
The serendipity of the emails is that they contain the same kind of material. The contents are not necessarily new; people have been forwarding historical print advertisements for years. But while looking at two different collections, what leaped out this time is how dramatically our culture has changed since we elders were young.
Nancy's images are from a 1934 Montgomery Ward catalog – Monkey Wards, my mother called it. Even if that date is seven years before I was born, the pages are familiar to me.
Here are some shoes that look almost modern; I've seen similar ones on young women dressed for work. I'm guessing the price has increased by about 10,000 percent.
Aren't we glad, however, that we aren't wearing these torture garments anymore:
This ice box is similar to the one we had during World War II. There was a drip pan at the bottom and my mother often recalled that we could never go away over night lest the pan overflow and flood the kitchen.
I realize that the Montgomery Ward catalog was a lifeline to rural America, but I was still surprised to see the listing for live chicks. And look at that price!
John's group of ads were designed for shock value showing how ignorant we were 70 and 80 years ago. Cigarettes, then, were widely used and look at by whom:
There is another with Ronald Reagan, then still an actor, touting Chesterfields. The Santa cigarette ad is likely from the 1930s or early 1940s since perhaps you too recall that “Lucky Strike green went to war and didn't come home.”
Ads pushing Coca Cola and 7-Up for infants were surprising enough; then there was this one:
If you have ever questioned what difference the second-wave women's movement of the 1960s made in women's lives and the importance of language in changing people beliefs and attitudes, take a look at these ads for a Kenwood mixer, a Pitney-Bowes postage machine and Chase & Sanborn coffee. It is hard to believe these images and language were ever tolerated.
Well, it's hard to say this many decades removed from the ad, if this is punishment or soft porn.
The one ad in John's bunch that portrays something that has not changed much is this one for the prescription drug, Thorazine. In some nursing homes today, elders today are routinely controlled through over-medication. The only difference half a century later is that it has become somewhat of a secret.
This has been an interesting little cultural survey of our early lives. Now here's your assignment for today: what do you think people in the future, 50 or 60 years from now, will find about us and our lives to be as odd, wrongheaded, surprising or shocking as these ads about life in the early 20th century are to us?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Superstitions in China