A newspaper article captivated all of 19th-century New York City. The New York Evening Newspaper hosted a rather risqué competition, where women in the Big Apple could write in answers to the question: “How Are Husbands Managed?” The 1892 advice competition had the judges reeling for reasons you must read to believe.
There was even a prize for The New York Evening Newspaper’s competition: Whoever submitted the best tips for “husband management” won a whopping $20 — that’s the equivalent of about $570 today. All that for writing your opinion on men and sending it into a newspaper? It sounded like a good deal to women of the 19th century.
One woman using the nickname “Experience” submitted an answer. “Like other animals of the omnivorous species,” she wrote, “you can best win their gratitude through their stomachs — but the mischievous species… can never be relied upon.” Lady Experience didn’t win. But she was one of many entrants.
She also had more to say. “Make yourself personally as attractive,” Lady Experience continued, “and [minister] to his material pleasures.” Plenty of women shared in Lady Experience’s warnings against the “animals” called men, but one contestant was a bit more direct with her answer to the question.
“Feed the brute.” That was all J. Nowett had to say on the subject! (She didn’t feel the need to use quite as many words as Lady Experience). Women’s submissions continued to flood the judges.
Mary Louise B. shared a lot of information in her response. Claiming she was married to three men at one time, Mary wrote that she’d made demands in exchange for her hand in marriage: “I condescended to do so upon the condition that he should be my willing, faithful slave.” She continued.
“He shall smile upon me,” Mary wrote, “kiss me and provide for me to the utmost extent of his ability. He must select for me the utmost choicest morsels of food, and bring me dainties when unable to provide them for both him and myself.” This Queen knew what she wanted and how to get it. Considering the times, that calls for respect!
While Mary Louise B. may have had an impressive list of demands, she didn’t impress judges like Miss Jeannie, who was all about caring for her husband. According to her contest submission, the 19th-century couple had a very progressive way of handling life’s challenges.
Jeannie’s husband was a mechanic, earning $3 a day— about $86 today. They split his income between the two of them, giving Jeannie some spending money, which she used for clothes and beer. Whatever was leftover, she saved, amassing about $1,000 (roughly $28,700 today). That money she spent a little more wisely.
See, her husband lost his job after the death of his employer. Jeannie explained, “I bought the business from the widow and it was continued in my name…it grew and prospered, and now we have over $50,000.” It’s no wonder her husband was so devoted to her, kissing her “ten times a day.” She added, “His only real fear…that [she] may die and leave him unprotected.”
After telling her story, Jeannie ended her contest entry with a question of her own: “Have I managed him well?” The judges didn’t seem to think so — Miss Jeanie was not named the winner! The competition was fierce, and the judges had a lot to consider. Like a woman named Eleets.
Eleets shared her nontraditional marriage ideals: “When she cannot do a thousand and one things that she would like to without being worn out—if she is cheerful and loving when he comes home [the husband] will excuse her.” With her next paragraph, Eleets showed New York City that women were more than mere housewives.
Continuing on, Eleets declared, “A wife is neither a slave, a lackey nor a sycophant, but a man’s companion for life. If mutual love exists management is unnecessary.” Ah, gender equality. Perhaps too progressive for 19th-century judges, Eleets didn’t win the contest. But, there were more entries to evaluate!
To the editor’s credit, he published even the most progressive submissions in the New York Evening Newspaper. But even the most woman-friendly entries are outdated for today’s standards. So, as you can imagine, some writings from the contest make us want to gag — they stand out to the modern reader like a sore thumb.
Three entries all expressed the same idea that catering to your husband, providing him with all his needs, no matter how big or small, was of utmost importance. One entry gleefully named “Glad-To-Be-Married” emphasized orderliness, even at a woman’s own expense.
“I was willing to endure almost anything for his sake,” Glad-To-Be-Married wrote. “I never bring up an argument and never find fault with him…our home is as happy as can be.” For another traditionalist, her entry had more specifics on what to do, explaining, “you can easily manage him through his love for creature comforts.”
Ada answered, too: “Give him a comfortable, low rocking chair in the warmest corner, slippers, pipe and cigars, his newspapers and books…[if] he had dozed off, be thankful his mind is at rest.” She ended her advice of marital devotion, adding, “A husband would rather domesticate with a turtle dove than a snapping turtle, therefore, if you can, avoid snapping.”
Emily Drissel recommended married women make a king out of their husbands. “Let him realize that he is your king of men, that the sum total of your existence is for his advancement and best interests.” She continued, “when he convinces you that you are wrong, be glad your education is being continued; and when you are right, it won’t be necessary to announce the fact.” Thank goodness none of these women were the winner!
Frances Grey caught the judges’ attention with her reply. She was close to victory and that $20 prize, but one line from her submission got her booted to second place. A woman working at The New York Evening paper had spotted the sentence, and she lobbied the other judges for second place.
Frances started out strong. “Make a man feel that he manages,” she wrote. “Subtle flattery goes a great way.” Then, she added the troublesome line: “Make yourself attracted to him, but also let him feel that you attract other men.” The bit regarding other men seemed “too worldly” for the female judge, so in the end, Frances was not picked as the winner.
The winner of the competition was Dot. She wrote, “There is no need for ‘management’ where love exists, and where there is no love all the management in the world would effect nothing.” Dot’s answer continued with a balance of the old-fashioned and the modern-day marriage.
“No slave to him should [his wife] be…but a true wife sharing his pleasures, taking pride in his advancement, soothing him in sorrow and giving him…warmth,” she wrote. “When disputes arise [the wife] should, if convinced of right, maintain her point, for when the argument has passed the husband will respect her all the more.” Dot went to the paper’s offices to collect her prize for winning — and stunned the judges.
In the editor’s office, Dot revealed her real name: Gretchen Frey. She was not a housewife herself, and at 18 years old, she’d only been legally allowed to marry for a short time. A fresh bachelorette, Dot followed the rules of Regency-era courting, which, as you can imagine, were pretty outrageous!
By the time Dot was living out a happily married existence in her forties, the dating scene had changed completely. In a nation struggling to recover from the Great Depression, young lovebirds were eager to find mates. Flipping through a magazine, Dot came across a column doling out advice to these hopeful singles. Her eyes stopped on one particularly strange tidbit.
It sounds desperate — even a little unhinged — to send yourself flowers, gifts, and love letters, but that’s exactly the advice given to young women in a ‘30s edition of Mademoiselle. It’s all so “college men” would think you’re popular!
According to a 1938 edition of Click Photo-Parade, most ladies just “get silly” if they drink, and the worst thing you could do is “pass out from too much liquor” because “your date will never call you again!” Good advice for everyone, right?
“When a man dances, he wants to dance,” Click Photo-Parade advised women. That meant no talking, no chatting, no conversation of any kind on the dance floor…especially if, God forbid, you talk about yourself.
Apparently, dating in the ‘30s was all about striking a balance between “approachable” and “unapproachable.” You want to look great on a date, but not like a million bucks, because doing so “scares him off,” according to Dix.
Are you cheerful, passionate, and a sparkling conversationalist? If so, then ‘30s-era author Dorothy Dix thinks you’ll be alone forever. “Men do not like sentimental women,” she wrote in her book How to Win and Hold a Husband.
No one likes a loud gum chewer, but back then, chewing gum of any sort on a date was a huge no-no. Women were advised that chewing gum made them “look bored” and, even worse, indecent. Who knew bubblegum symbolized so much?
The dating strategy of “playing hard to get” has been around for ages, but according to Dix, it’s more about not being a “telephone hound” and bothering him at work than it is about the girl seeming mysterious.
Can’t get a date in your hometown? Then you may want to try Europe. “Many a girl who is a social failure at home is a success abroad,” Dix elaborated. It’s the most insulting reason to go on vacation that we’ve ever heard!
Drastic times call for drastic measures, and if you’re pushing 30 and still unwed, then the most drastic thing you can do is ask the guy out for yourself. “Any woman can marry any man if she will just go after him hard enough,” Dix wrote.
There’s nothing sexier than a game of bridge, right? As Dix said, a woman has to be “entertaining and amusing” in addition to pretty, and Dix thinks that bridge is a great way to show off your intellect to a date.
One of the worst things you can do on a date is fix your makeup in the guy’s rearview mirror. “It annoys him very much to have to turn around and see what’s behind him,” according to Click Photo-Parade.
Don’t you dare talk about clothes (or anything you’re actually interested in) on a date. “Flatter your date by talking about the things he wants to talk about,” advised one Click Photo-Parade article.
There’s a lot a lady shouldn’t talk about on a date, but actually talking to another man is even worse…especially if he’s your waiter. In this case, the Click Photo-Parade writer suggests having your date do all the difficult food ordering.
Saying “don’t be awkward” is like saying “don’t be depressed.” It’s impossible to achieve and fully ignores the actual problem. Still, this didn’t stop dating experts from urging girls to avoid “sitting” and “speaking” awkwardly — whatever that means.
Men needed dating advice back then, too, and one of the “best” suggestions came from sociologist Willard Waller, who said that belonging to one of the “better fraternities” was a great way to get in good with the ladies.
This advice from Waller is definitely easier said than done. “A copious supply of spending money,” he claimed, was essential when wooing a lady. Back in the day, money truly was one of the most important parts of choosing (and getting) a date.
Cheesy pick-up lines had to start somewhere; we just can’t believe they ever worked! Back in the day, though, a good pick-up line was essential. As author Kevin White explained, a good pick-up line could put a guy’s “character” and “personality” on display.
Who cares what your date thinks, as long as he keeps asking you out? That’s Marjorie Hillis’ advice in her 1936 book Live Alone and Like It. You may not share your date’s viewpoints, but what does that matter in the long run?
If you got it, don’t flaunt it, and by “it,” we mean hobbies. “The mere whisper that a girl collects prints, stamps, tropical fish or African art is, alas, likely to increase her solitude,” Hillis claims. Leave your interests at the door, ladies!
Yep, the whole “when to call back” debate was around even in the 1930s. Back then, the rules were actually a little more straightforward: The women waited for the men to call, which normally happened a day or two after the date.
21. To prepare for all these amazing dates, women had to do some bizarre beauty rituals. You’ve probably gotten a good chuckle from a vibrating belt GIF. Taking the weight loss industry by storm, these jigglers were responsible for more giggles than gains.
22. In the 1930s, Cosmetics titan Max Factor was the mastermind behind the beauty micrometer. This torturous-looking device measured which areas of your face needed the most makeup. Charming.
23. It’s safe because it’s pink! Actually, of all the chamber-style beauty contraptions, the Vibrosaun was harmless. Inside the machine, heat and vibrations simulated exercise. While it moves those muscles, cold air was blasted into your totally relaxed face.
24. The minds behind this electric current treatment made big promises: “the equivalent of eight hours hard exercise,” they declared, “but the fortunate recipient doesn’t have to move off her comfortable couch.” Today you might call this a defibrillator.
25. There are two constants confirmed by this photo: dogs and beauty products are universal human obsessions. A person and her pooch get matching waves from a device that resembles a bunch of suspended microphones bumping into their noggins.
26. The mark of a great facial is that it involves the kind of machinery you’d see in a top dollar car wash. Really, they buffed out every imperfection.
27. Eyebrow trends are constantly changing, and back in the ’30s, an impressive arch was desirable. Electric treatments zapped out stray hairs to achieve the ideal curve. Similar processes exist today, with rising fads in brow tattooing and microblading.
28. Logistically, this product was a plain old mess. By the time you got your lashes out of the eyelash stencil, all the hard work was for naught. Though, this is probably great for scaring small children.
29. Stuck in a frumpy rut? Flag down the roadside beautician. She would give you a fresh cut right on the London sidewalks. Talk about speedy service. Admittedly, it lacked on the health code front.
30. You thought Kim Kardashian invented the contour, huh? Guess again. The trick of enhancing your best angles stretches back to the 16th century! Cosmetic entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein gave the 1935 version to her happy client.
31. Meet the shower cap’s superior: the shower hood. Basically, you enjoy all the cleansing qualities of bathing while maintaining a full face of makeup. German actress Inge Marschall gave it two thumbs up after she wiped away the mascara melting from her eyes.
32. For decades, sunlight therapy was used to combat a slew of illnesses, from glumness to tuberculosis. Members of the Arsenal football team were devotees, but the UV rays were used across the medical community, even on children.
33. If you throw a rock in Finland, you’re likely to bonk a relaxed Finn in a sauna on the head. They are sauna devotees, after all. That’s why this portable version is still manufactured today and is a popular alternative to birthing tubs.
34. Chuck your serums and hyaluronic acids in the trash. Apparently, milk is the secret salve we’ve searched for. After you finish your milk facial, drink up the rest to strengthen your bones. Or, you know, don’t.
35. New York in the 1950s hosted 24-hour health salons. If the urge to simmer in a steam cabinet struck at 3 am, you could make that happen. Glamour queens like actress Lola Fisher took full advantage of the never-closing spas.
36. Nope, not an open audition for magician’s assistants. These gals were working up a sweat in the comfort of massive steam boxes in the government-sponsored spa Roosevelt Baths in 1938.
37. What’s a twisted neck or two on the journey to sick abs? It’s not a good workout unless it’s incredibly dangerous, that was the 1930’s motto. This popular core machine fell from grace after its users suffered whiplash.
38. Before the “wet t-shirt” contest could walk, its bashful cousin, the “Neatest Figure” contest had a run. To drive their priorities home, judges put bags over the faces of contestants, successfully concealing their shame.
39. Don’t let those metal tools scare you. Maree Fox, a beauty therapist, was using ionization to smooth the skin, and it’s a proven method that continues today. This particular device was called the Electric Cathoidermie machine.
40. State of the art hair dryer or extraterrestrial brain sucker? Either way, the folks at the London Hair and Beauty Fair in 1936 were dazzled by the futuristic design. Standing dryers are undoubtedly less sci-fi influenced in current salons.
41. When they exhausted all the jiggling gadgets and beautifying tombs, some perfection chasers resorted to good ol’ fashioned plastic surgery. In the ’30s, you could get a little freshen up without leaving the beauty parlor.
Laughing at past inventions isn’t limited to the beauty field. So many items that were once normal now seem incredibly bizarre, like the bed piano. Today, when you’re sick in bed, you might pull out a laptop and watch Netflix; in 1935, you pulled out your bed piano and knocked out a few afternoon symphonies.
2. Television Glasses: Hugo Gernsback, the man known today as “The Father of Science Fiction,” dared to dream of strapping a television set to his face in 1963 — so he made it happen (and later inspired future 3D glasses, too).
3. Man from Mars Radio Hat: Speaking of entertainment on your head, in 1949, Victor T. Hoeflinch created this hat, which allowed wearers to listen to the radio on the go, so long as they didn’t mind wearing a hat that wasn’t exactly a fashion statement.
4. Dimple Maker: In the ’30s, a smile was nothing without a set of dimples to go with it. But the dimple-less were not the hopeless: the Dimple Maker could force dimples onto their smiles by digging into their cheekbones. It did not work well.
5. The First PET Scan Device: As if going in for a PET scan wasn’t scary enough, the first machine capable of performing one was this wire-wrapped monstrosity, developed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.
6. Wooden Bathing Suits: These barrel-like suits were invented in 1929 and, allegedly, acted like flotation devices for swimming (wood floats, after all). But they must have been restrictive!
7. Sunscreen Vending Machine: Tennis courts, swimming pools, and beaches of the 1940s offered this vending machine, which dispensed little globs of sunscreen right into your hands. Honestly, weird as this was, it could come in handy today!
8. Cone Mask: The inventor of these masks wanted to protect the wearers’ faces from things like hail and rain. Somehow, getting pelted with rain was a big enough problem that he couldn’t just, you know, tilt his head down like three inches
9. Pedal Skates: In 1913, Charles A. Nordling understood people look for any excuse possible not to walk, so he created the pedal skates. A bit cumbersome, yeah, but unlike many other items on this list, they nobly served their purpose for a while.
10. Cigarette Pack Holder: Because smoking one cigarette at a time was totally inefficient (and totally lame by 1950’s standards), this 1955 invention allowed smokers to stop dreaming about chain smoking an entire pack and start doing it.
11. All-Terrain Car: Invented in 1936, this English automobile ascended and descended slopes as steep as 65 degrees. With, what, 12 tires, it must have cost an absolute fortune to manufacture. Speaking of all-terrain…
12. Cyclomer: With six flotation devices, the cyclomer — also called “The Amphibious Bike — was designed to function on land and in water. In practice, it was clunky on dry land, borderline deadly in the water, and no one liked it much.
13. Goofybike: So the cyclomer didn’t catch on, but that wasn’t the end of all bike-alteration efforts. The Goofybike — seen in Chicago, 1939 — sat four people, one of which worked a sewing machine that kept the bike’s weight evenly distributed.
14. Pedestrian Shield: To reduce fatalities, inventors drummed up a shield reminiscent of a train’s cowcatcher to slap on the front of automobiles. It doesn’t look like a much better alternative to the front of a car.
15. Fax Newspaper: Imagine just wanting to catch up on your daily news and waiting (and waiting) for the darn newspaper fax to show up! Cool, but a paperboy standing on the corner was probably more efficient.
16. Shower Hood: Marketed as a way to keep your makeup intact, the shower hood prevented water from hitting your hair or face, which kind of defeated the major purpose of taking a shower altogether.
17. The Baby Dangler: Today, naming your device “The Baby Dangler” would make your peers mock you at best and land you in prison at worst; but back in the day, it was the perfect name for a device that strung up a baby between mom and dad.
18. A Radio-Controlled Lawn Mower: The lawn’s not going to mow itself, so why not invent a small mower operated with a remote control? Developed in the 1950s — and later celebrated by British royalty — the device survived time and still exists!
19. Ice Mask: There were plenty of reasons to drink in the 1940s, and inventors knew it. That’s why one developed the ice mask, which advertisers touted as a cure for the morning hangover.