by Judy Westergard
Pastel on paper
available as giclee print through
One of my self-appointed January tasks is to clean my bookcases. Once a year I set myself the goal of winnowing through my stacks, if only to make room for new titles. But it’s a fool’s task. Inevitably some title grabs my attention; by noon I’m still stretched out on the floor, happily involved in an old title I’ve not looked at for a very long time. This time it’s Basic Principles of Domestic Science by Lilla Frich, B.A. First published in 1908, my 1913 revised edition was the home economics text book for the Minneapolis Public School system. I don’t recall how I acquired this book but I’m glad I did. What a kick it is to read about what was considered ideal homemaking a century ago. Proper tone is set on page 8 where students learn about classroom attire. “Each girl should be provided with a simple uniform...(which) consists of a cap, apron and sleevelets. A holder, hand-towel (sic) and a bag in which to carry the uniform back and forth to school are also needed.” Once in class, the girls learned the importance of cleaning, right down to how to care for a broom: “Brooms should be washed in hot soapy water once a week to keep them soft and pliable.... Do not wet the tacks or wires on the broom as they will rust and break.” “How to Dust” gets a full page of its own. After weeks (months?) of learning how to clean and how to prepare meals, students were ready to move on to the big show: A Company Luncheon for Six. Can you imagine the work of preparing crab meat cocktail, cream of tomato soup (this was made from scratch with home grown tomatoes canned earlier in the year); and zephyrettes. (Huh?) Main course: lamb chops, creamed potatoes, relish in lemon boats. Next course: Neufchatel cheese and pimento salad with fresh-baked yeast rolls. And at last, dessert: strawberry charlotte with strawberry sauce along with white cake with pink frosting. Oh...and fresh coffee. I think back to the young women whose families settled in Minneapolis in the early 20th century -- for the most part they were first generation daughters of Scandinavian and Eastern European immigrants -- and I wonder whether the real purpose of the Domestic Science class for which this text was intended wasn’t to prepare a girl for the likely job of maid or cook rather than the purported job of homemaker in her own home. Three hours later I get up off the floor and decide that my self-appointed task of cleaning my bookshelves isn’t such a big deal after all. In fact, it can jolly well wait ‘til I get around to it...maybe next year. Right now I need to prepare a luncheon menu for one: peanut butter sandwich and cold milk. It may not be elegant, but it sure is easy!