Staying healthy, 1920s style

The new year has come and gone and the holiday frenzy has finally ended. As we spend the next two months writing the wrong year on everything, we feel the chill of winter creeping its way around us as well. It’s important to stay healthy during these cold months when the first signs of winter colds develop, even if it does sound ideal to curl up on the couch in sweatpants, mug of green tea clutched in a vise grip, quilt wrapped tightly around your shoulders as you binge watch every season of Friends that Netflix so graciously gifted us this past holiday season. All that and more could be yours but without the disadvantages of sniffling and coughing.

As I prepared for the winter months and stock piled supplies like an apocalypse prepper, I thought of a pamphlet I saw in a collection I had recently worked on. The young man was named David B. Walker and I had the privilege to catalog his school notebooks. He attended several public schools in the West Philadelphia area. It was incredibly fascinating to see how education has changed since the 1920s and early 30s when Mr. Walker was in school. One of the things I came across from his school days was a ninth grade health project he made. image(5)The pamphlet really exemplifies how differently health was viewed in the 1920s as opposed to now. And rightfully so, since, you know, this was a prominent problem then:imageIt’s featured on the very first page of the pamphlet. We have a lot to be thankful for here in 2015. But, if you, like me, are worried about the inevitable epidemic of sickness that always comes around this time of year, perhaps a few tips from Mr. Walker’s pamphlet could be of service to you.

1.) Wash food that needs to be washed, including lettuce that you’re going to put slices of pears on. And always put your food into clean bowls, especially if you’re serving your brunch guests shiny peach slices in a huge bowl. It certainly pays to insist.image(3)2.) Air your bed clothes out every day. Wave those PJs in the air like you just don’t care (to be sick, that is). image(4)3.) If the outside of your house looks clean then germs won’t mess with you. And your neighbors will think you have your life together and your health on lock. Don’t mind the giant maids sweeping the sidewalk in the background – it was alllll you who cleaned that lawn! Go you!image(1)4.) And finally, invest in a Cleanerette. You can even “cleanerette” your clothes! It can help you out if you don’t want to wave those bedclothes around every morning. Clean those rooms once a week with your electrical appliances and let the healthy vibes flow on through.image(2)These are just a few of the tips that can be found in this pamphlet and only a glimpse at the collection itself. All joking aside, it’s always wonderful to be able to take a trip through time here at the Special Collections processing Center. Every day I get to see how people in the past thought, how they wrote, what they thought was important. The advertising was different, the colors, the art. It’s amazing to see the types of media people were exposed to and to think about how those forms shaped how they thought. So the next time I see advertisements for how to stay healthy, I’m probably going to think of this little pamphlet and how different everything is but also how it’s sort of the same. I mean, it is our own responsibility to stay healthy and we should all do our part to lead happy lives. Perhaps this will be the season and the year where we all get sick less. And if not, well, there’s always that Friends marathon…


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About Nikki Love

A student in the University of Pennsylvania's Post-Baccalaureate Program in Classical studies interested in ancient religion and the intersection of Hellenistic and Egyptian culture, specifically during times of political crisis and conflict. Also hopelessly in love with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, with superheroes, and with anything having to do with animals.

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