Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote a story 10 Reasons I’m Glad I Don’t Live in the ’50s to clarify that with this blog, I’m singing the praises of the decorating, not necessarily the lifestyle or all the ins and outs of life then. A few of my reasons for life today vs. yesteryear were tongue-in-cheek. But on the main, I was dead serious about how, all things considered, I believe we are way better off today for very specific reasons — in particular due to civil rights and medical advances. A related case in point, spotted on ebay this week: Shoes fixed with leg braces, for a child, found at an estate sale in Texas. For polio? We’re guessing. See this photo reference from Harvard (link now gone).
Go to the listing (now ended): Those shoes were worn hard, worn right out. My mom tells me that, growing up the 1930s in rural Pennsylvania, there would regularly be quarantines for all the children when another child was diagnosed with polio. Can you imagine. Related to the usual topics of this blog: Some academics point to the historic preference for white tiled kitchens as a defense against disease. This all started with Florence Nightingale and her work to advance hospital sanitation around 1850. From that point on, homemakers and their servants started to aim for absolute cleanliness to ward off germs. White cabinets, floors and walls made it easier to see the dirt. “Sanitary kitchens” — that’s what they called them. Similarly, steel cabinetry — starting with steel Hoosier cabinets — were marketed as “vermin free” — rats and mice could not chew through and eat, or contaminate, your precious foodstuffs. Americans took the whole cleanliness thing even further, by linking personal and home hygiene to advancing socially and economically. I read all about this a couple years ago in the fascinating book Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (affiliate link). So… there was a well-evolved back-story to all that renowned midcentury focus on household cleanliness — including how we ended up with so many white kitchens. Thanks to seller Ray for giving me permission to feature these photos.