Muffins (1852) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Muffins baked and blog post written by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger

When looking for a recipe to test, I immediately remembered a book I had cataloged for the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection , Ladies’ Indispensable Assistant, published in 1852 (available in digitized form through Hathi Trust or in print. 

Title page for book "Ladies Indispensable Assistant"

This book was memorable for its extraordinarily long title. When faced with titles of this length, catalogers frequently resort to truncation, but I had risen to the challenge:

Ladies’ indispensable assistant : being a companion for the sister, mother, and wife, containing more information for the price than any other work upon the subject : here are the very best directions for the behavior and etiquette of ladies and gentlemen, ladies’ toilette table, directions for managing canary birds : also, safe directions for the management of children, instructions for ladies under various circumstances : a great variety of valuable recipes, forming a complete system of family medicine, thus enabling each person to become his or her own physician : to which is added one of the best systems of cookery ever published : many of these recipes are entirely new and should be in the possession of every person in the land.

This mixing of food and medicine is fairly common in household management works of the time, when cooking, preparing home remedies, and caring for invalids all fell under the purview of the mistress of the household, but I had never before seen a household management book with instructions for keeping canaries, let alone one which felt the need to advertise this in the title.

In the hopes of producing something palatable and edible, I skipped the sections on home remedies and medicinal plants and went straight to the “valuable recipes.” I had high hopes, after all, the title page declared this “one of the best systems of cookery ever published.”

I settled on Muffins.Image of recipe in book. It reads: Mix a quart of wheat flour smoothly with a pint and a half of luke-warm milk, half a tea-cup of yeast, a couple of beaten eggs, a heaping tea-spoonful of salt, and a couple of table-spoonfuls of luke-warm melted butter. Set the batter in a warm place to rise. When light, butter your muffin cups, turn in the mixture and bake the muffins till a light brown.

Reading over the recipe, I had all the ingredients. However, several steps were required to convert this into a usable recipe for modern kitchens. First, the recipe was short on instructions, lacking rising time, cooking time or oven temperature, information difficult to provide at a time when cooking might be done over an open fire or on a coal burning cast iron stove. Since this was essentially an enriched yeast dough, like a brioche with less butter, I consulted similar modern recipes to get an idea of cooking time and oven temperature. I decided on 400 degrees Fahrenheit and to simply bake until light brown as instructed.

On to the ingredients. A quart of flour is approximately 4 cups. By comparison, the muffin recipe in my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook calls for 1 ¾ cups of flour to make 1 tin’s worth of muffins. So right away I knew I wanted to halve the recipe. This was also before modern instant yeast, so I knew the measurement of a half cup of yeast would be for some sort of home made yeast preparation, recipes for which I had leaved past before spotting the muffins. Since I did not want to grow my own yeast, I decided to use the active dry yeast I had on hand. 1 teaspoon would be the usual amount of yeast to use with my proposed amount of flour if I were making bread. The recipe called for “wheat flour,” which to modern readers might mean “whole wheat,” but in 1852 whole wheat flour was called graham flour, after health nut and fiber aficionado Sylvester Graham. Since this was a yeasted bread dough, I decided to use the white bread flour I had on hand. I also substituted cashew milk for regular milk, since that was what was in my refrigerator.

Photograph of ingredients used in the recipe: bread flour, active dry yeast, and cashew milk
Modern Ingredients

Here is the recipe I used, adjusted to modern measurements and reduced by half:

2 cups unbleached bread flour
1.5 cups cashew milk
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 beaten egg (grade A large white)
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

To compensate for my modern yeast, I proofed it in the warmed cashew milk with a tablespoon of sugar before adding the yeast-milk mixture to the flour. This made a very wet and sticky dough. It was so wet that I did not bother with covering it and simply left it on top of the stove to rise.

Photograph of wet dough in a glass mixing bowl
A very wet dough

I checked at 10 minute intervals until it looked “light,” hoping for a doubling in volume. After an hour I decided it had risen enough. I scooped the batter-like dough into a greased muffin tin and baked until light brown, which turned out to be 25 minutes.

Image of fully baked muffins in a metal muffin pan
Hot out of the oven!
Photo of a single deliciously golden brown muffin
The finished product

These were delicious hot out of the oven. They were crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside, sort of a cross between a roll and a muffin. They also reheated well in the microwave. I would make these again.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.

Brimming with wanderlust, Lillian Boxfish traveled to Manhattan to start her career as a “daring and unmarried” woman in 1926. And so opens the first chapter of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

This fascinating premise is inspired by the life of Margaret Fishback, a poet and pioneer in the advertising industry whose papers are part of the Hartman Center Collections. Kathleen Rooney, the author, uncovered the intriguing history of Fishback in the spring of 2007. With the support of a Hartman Center travel grant, Rooney looked through hundreds of documents, piecing together Fishback’s life story. Fishback was raised in Washington D.C., earned her bachelors from Goucher College in 1921, and became a divisional copywriter for Macy’s in 1926. She was immensely successful and employed her playful and witty language in diverse advertising campaigns. Her early career success was recognized by local newspapers, one of them describing her as “the highest paid advertising woman in the world.” She went on to work at several other advertising agencies including Cecil & Presbrey, Warwick & Legler, Young & Rubicam, and Doyle Dane Bernbach whose clients ranged from Chef-Boyardee to Simmons Beauty Rest. All the while, she built her poetry career, publishing several books, the most widely received One to a Customer: Collected Poems of Margaret Fishback (1947).

Black and white photograph portrait of Margaret Fishback
Margaret Fishback during her time at Doyle Dane Bernbach, c. 1950-1964, photograph by G. Maillard Kesslere, Margaret Fishback Papers, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Inspired by the remarkable career of Margaret Fishback, the story of Lillian Boxfish provides a mesmerizing glimpse into the personal life and inner most thoughts of a career-oriented, gregarious woman living and working in one of America’s most dynamic cities. The main character is an octogenarian residing in Murray Hill. She has an effortless routine, stopping by local establishments and regularly visiting old friends in the neighborhood. Rooney plays with time like she plays with language, seamlessly weaving flashbacks of Lillian’s young adult life in New York with the octogenarian’s meanderings.

Photograph of a stack of 5 books related to women in the advertising industry. "Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk" is on the top

Early on, we learn that Lillian grew up in Washington D.C. in a family that valued poise and polish over her natural adventurousness and inquisitive mind. Her mother strongly disapproved of these latter characteristics, hoping that Lillian would marry and pursue the domestic arts with great fervor. Instead, Lillian modeled her dreams after the life of her unconventional aunt, Sadie Boxfish. It was her aunt who introduced Lillian to poetry, which became one of her passions, through a series of postcards written about a fictional adventurist named Phoebe Snow.

Lillian’s mother seethed with disapproval whenever a new postcard arrived, painted with vibrant, playful words.

Miss Phoebe Snow has stopped to show
Her ticket at the gate, you know.
The Guard, polite, declares it right.
Of course—it’s Road of Anthracite

As Lillian recalls, “In [my mother’s] contralto above my ear I could hear, in her neat bosom behind my head I could feel, her disapproval: not of Phoebe, but of Sadie.” Although strong, her mother’s opinions were not strong enough to keep Lillian in D.C. and so the novel recounts a young woman’s quest of self discovery and professional success at a time when the diadem of the Chrysler Building first sparkled on the New York skyline.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is a refreshing and poetic novel. The prose is captivating, the characters are compelling, and the topics are relevant, ranging from discussion over equal pay to sexual liberation. A thrillingly progressive character for her time, Lillian Boxfish is delightfully portrayed in this historically-inspired novel by Kathleen Rooney. As the academic years comes to a close, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk should make your short list for summer reading.

“Who’s looney now?”: John Armstrong Chaloner’s fight to prove his sanity

Post contributed by Dr. Paul Sommerfeld, Rubenstein Graduate Intern for Manuscripts Processing and one of Duke’s newest PhDs in the Dept. of Music.

By the age of 26, John Armstrong Chaloner (1862-1935)—or to his friends, Archie—had amassed a fortune of $4 million and seemed poised to live the privileged life the wealthy elite of New York City enjoyed in the late nineteenth century. In 1897, however, his family had him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. Chaloner spent the next 22 years fighting to prove his sanity. His papers, a mixture of correspondence, legal documents, and writings by Chaloner himself, offer not only a fascinating portrait of Chaloner but also a snapshot of attitudes toward mental health in the early twentieth century.

In the 1890s, Chaloner became interested in psychological experiments. He believed that he possessed a new sense, which he termed the “X-Faculty.” Among many claims, Chaloner stated that the faculty provided him a profitable stock market tip, would turn his brown eyes gray, allowed him to carry hot coals in his hands unharmed, and caused him to resemble Napoleon.

Newspaper clipping with Chaloner and Napoleon
Milwaukee Free Press, Oct. 1911

Chaloner’s family regarded his claims—in addition to his blasé attitude toward the scandal of his divorced wife, the novelist Amélie Rives—as evidence of insanity. Chaloner continued to live near Rives’ estate in Albemarle County, VA, and even befriended her second husband. Chaloner’s brother reportedly labeled him as “looney.” In response, Chaloner’s family had him committed to the Bloomingdale Hospital in White Plains. On 12 June 1899, a New York court declared him insane and ruled that he be permanently institutionalized.

Letter from Chaloner to attorney, 3 July 1897
Letter from Chaloner to attorney, 1897 July 3

But Chaloner had other plans. He believed his family had him committed to seize his fortune and stop his experiments. Bitter sonnets composed during his time at the asylum reflect his anger and desire to clear his name. In November of 1900, he managed to escape to a private clinic, whose doctors declared him able to function in society. Thereafter, Chaloner plotted strategies to both overturn the New York verdict and change lunacy laws in America.

During his legal challenges, Chaloner became immortalized by the phrase “Who’s looney now?.” In the summer of 1910, Chaloner’s brother married the opera singer Lina Cavalieri and signed over control of his property to her. The marriage soon broke down, and Chaloner wired his brother the pithy catchphrase. Four years later Chaloner even titled one of his many books The Swan-Song of “Who’s Looney Now?” (1914), drawing on the phrase’s subsequent popularity.

Newspaper clipping about Chaloner's brother
New York City Evening Mail, 1910 Oct. 4

Chaloner’s correspondence, copious notes, and book drafts speak to his dedication in clearing his name. Filled with legal strategy and instructions to attorneys in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia, his letters trace his maneuvering within the legal system, reaching even the U. S. Supreme Court in 1916. In Chaloner v. Thomas T. Sherman, Chaloner sought damages for the withholding of his estate and fortune. Chaloner argued that because he was a resident of Virginia, New York had no jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court affirmed the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision.

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals legal brief
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals legal brief, 1914

Yet the courts of Virginia and North Carolina had declared Chaloner sane in 1901, allowing him to live and maintain business interests in both states. New York continued to declare him legally insane until 1919, when his family no longer challenged the petition and reconciled with Chaloner.

Letter congratulating Chaloner on his legal victory, 1919 July 8
Letter congratulating Chaloner on his legal victory, 1919 July 8

Like his dogged legal challenges, Chaloner’s book drafts, including Four Years Behind the Bars of “Bloomingdale,” or, The Bankruptcy of Law in New York (1906) and The Lunacy Law of the World: Being That of Each of the Forty-Eight States and Territories of the United States, with an Examination Thereof and Leading Cases Thereon; Together with That of the Six Great Powers of Europe—Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia (1906), are also filled with annotations and revisions that fill every bit of available white space. Not even a calendar from the University of Virginia escaped unscathed.

Calendar with Chaloner's notes, 1906
Calendar with Chaloner’s notes, 1906

Chaloner’s papers offer a fascinating portrait into the mind of a determined, if eccentric, man, while also simultaneously portending the burgeoning changes toward psychiatry in both medicine and the law that developed throughout the twentieth century.

The John Armstrong Chaloner Papers are available for research.

You Say You Want A Revolution: Revealing Lesbian-Feminist Atlanta

Post contributed by Hanne Blank, recipient of a Mary Lily Research Grant from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture. 

In 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial and countless celebrations thereof, the D.A.R. set forth a Bicentennial Declaration, a four-page statement of its beliefs.  In it, they took American culture and American men to task for dozens of crimes and misdemeanors perpetrated against womankind, calling “for an end to the conspiracy against women by the Man’s church and the Man’s state… the destruction of patriarchy, the rule of men over women.”

If this doesn’t sound much like the D.A.R. you’ve heard of, there’s good reason: this proclamation wasn’t issued by the Daughters of the American Revolution, but by a cadre of firebrand lesbian feminists – Dykes for an Amerikan Revolution — who cheerfully reclaimed the über-Establishment group’s acronym for themselves.  Far from wanting to celebrate some elite patrimony, this D.A.R. wanted “full power to levy war against sexism, racism, classism and all other oppressions…with a firm reliance on the strengths of our pioneer foremothers and sisters, reborn in us, as lesbian feminists.”

The D.A.R.’s “Lesbian Feminist Declaration of 1976” is just one of many lesbian feminist manifestos, mission statements, memoirs, and utopian missives tucked into the papers of the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance (ALFA), bright traces of an era not so very long ago where many second-wave feminists, not just the D.A.R., engaged in a very different American experiment.

Riffling through ALFA’s papers is a deep dive into this social and political moment. Even a cursory tour through the twenty-some years of ALFA’s newsletters, pamphlets, and papers overwhelms the researcher with a sense of a tight, sometimes contentious community full of heady politics, plans, and personalities. It is surprisingly seductive.  I did not approach the ALFA papers to research the group itself – I research feminist health care in the South, and was looking specifically to find out the extent to which it might’ve been part of the concerns of the lesbian community in Atlanta’s 1970s and 1980s – and yet in a matter of hours I fell headlong down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Imagine, if you will, a rented clubhouse to which any member could – by arrangement – get a key.  A woman, or a group of women, might unlock the doors of the ALFA house to visit the ALFA library, hold a meeting, convene a coven, or put together a potluck.  Imagine the voices, the laughter, the intensity of a small house full of passionate, thoughtful, iconoclastic, sometimes hot-headed women learning, organizing, and socializing.

In the pages of ALFA’s newsletters, notes, and other documents, we see Atlanta’s lesbian feminists dancing until they dropped at monthly Boogie Women dances and furiously typing up newsletters that featured complete monthly rosters of women’s events from concerts to consciousness-raising groups.   In what seems a perpetual whirlwind, ALFA women simultaneously created, curated, and celebrated a burgeoning by-women-for-women culture: women-owned restaurants, feminist therapy collectives, women’s self-defense classes, lesbian sexuality workshops, dyke softball tournaments, DIY gynecology seminars, political rallies, community debates over subjects like butch/femme and BDSM.  Even the ads placed by community businesswomen were, like this one, definitely and defiantly, sometimes hilariously, lesbian feminist.

Advertisement for "Lesbian Haircutter Makes House Calls - Pam Martin, P.H.D. (Professional Hair Dresser)." Above text is hand drawn cartoon, showing two women, one with scissors in her hand, the other saying "Thank Goddess you're here! Yesterday my mother said she liked my hair"

Lesbian feminist culture and community was ALFA’s raison d’etre.  As such, it often wrestled with questions of separatism.  Here and there in the newsletters and other papers we can trace discussions about whether separatism was crucial to lesbian identity and survival or not, whether lesbian-identified and straight-identified women’s loyalties were too different for them to truly share political goals, let alone cultural space.

But separatism was not always something that sprang out of an “us versus them” mentality.  Just as often, what motivated the conversation seems to have been sincere curiosity.  Like the D.A.R. — whose 1976 manifesto made its way into ALFA’s files via the era’s mimeographed, photocopied, and snail-mailed networks of feminist activist work and writing –the women of ALFA wondered what women’s lives, and lesbian lives, might be like if women had an alternative to living in a (racist, ageist, ableist, classist, capitalist) patriarchy.

If it could be escaped, maybe women would be able to access an “ovarian intellect” without the customary overlay of “male-functionalization” they perceived in their lives and thoughts.  Perhaps then women would be able to express themselves and their genders (to say nothing of their sexual desires) in genuine freedom, without falling into the tropes and traps of patriarchy.  As they struggled, strategized, and partied together, the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance, like so many other women’s communities across the country, was engaged in constant experimentation.  Atlanta’s lesbian feminists pushed boundaries, their own as well as the wider world’s, as they wove their webs of women’s community out of little more than motherwit and the desire to see if they could.

As with the world-transforming aspirations of many other 1970s radicals, ALFA eventually sputtered out.  It folded in the early 1990s, victim of the AIDS crisis and the cultural and economic retrenchment of the Reagan years.  But as the newsletters, the flyers, and the meeting minutes in ALFA’s papers tell it, ALFA was full of stalwart, soulful daughters of a distinctively American revolution.

Hanne Blank is an historian and writer of numerous books including Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality (Beacon Press, 2012) and Virgin: The Untouched History (Bloomsbury, 2007).  Currently a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University, she researches the history of feminist and womanist health in America’s Deep South during the 1970s and 1980s and is additionally at work on a book entitled FAT.

Kerry Cake and Sadie Seal (1971) – Rubenstein Library Test Kitchen

Post contributed by Erin RyanDrill Intern for the Duke University Archives. 

When I first signed up to do a Rubenstein Test Kitchen blog post, my plan was to do something from an early-to-mid 20th-century vegetarian cookbook in our collections. I’ve been a vegetarian since the mid-’90s.

Photograph of the cover ofr "401 Party and Holiday Ideas for ALCOA"But then, as I was browsing our library catalog, I came across 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America, 1971) in our Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks. I was intrigued; my grandfather—my dad’s father—worked for ALCOA for about 35 years, until his retirement in the early ’80s.

Pretty soon, I was hooked.

This amazing book features the creations of one Conny von Hagen, who worked as a designer for ALCOA, still one of the largest producers of aluminum.

Conny was also behind 1959’s Alcoa’s Book Of Decorations: A Year-Round Treasury of Easy-to-do Decorations for Holidays and Special Occasions. According to the timeline on their website, ALCOA introduced aluminum foil to the U.S. in 1910—you can see some “Alcoa Wrap” next to Conny in the picture below. This introductory page also explains that her designs appeared on TV, in newspapers and in magazines.

Photograph of page from "401 Party and Holiday Ideas" showing the author Connie Van Hagen  showing off the aluminum foil crafts she has created

401 Party and Holiday Ideas from ALCOA has ideas for 24 separate occasions, from Christmas and Hanukkah to “Teen-Age Party” and Election Day.

Photograph of page from book showing Election Day craft. Features four young women wearing dresses made of aluminum foil over red, white, and blue shirts and tights.  They area lso wearing hats made of aluminum foil and appear to be handing out campaign literature or other election material.

For this post, I decided to make (1) a food recipe; (2) a foil creation.

The food: Kerry Cake

I made Irish Apple Cake, or Kerry Cake, from the “Saint Patrick’s Day” chapter of 401 Party and Holiday Ideas. Criteria: It had to be vegetarian, and it had to be easy (I was pressed for time). I also wanted to serve it at my Easter family gathering. I didn’t like any of the Easter recipes, though. So a quick look through the rest of the book, and I settled on this:

Photograph of original "Kerry Cake" recipe

My ancestry is mostly Irish, but I did not know anything about Kerry Cake until I read here that it is a traditional Irish apple bread that was baked in an iron cooking pot called a bastible, hung over the fire.

Photograph of ingredients for Kerry Cake recipeBut this 1971 recipe just called for an 8-inch cake pan in a regular oven, and that’s what I used. I was making this in my mom’s kitchen, so I got to use the sifter that had belonged to her mom. Mom told me we had relatives from County Kerry, too.

I’m a pretty laissez-faire cook, in general. So I didn’t mind that the recipe didn’t specify what kind of apples to use, how big to cut the pieces, etc. I went for Granny Smith. They were pretty huge apples, so Mom and I decided I should just use two, to equal the “three medium” the recipe called for.

In all, it took me about 50 minutes to grate the lemon rind, cut up the apple, and put the batter together. I greased the pan with butter, baked it exactly according to instructions (30 minutes at 375), and it came out perfectly.

Photograph of finished Kerry Cake in pan on countertop

I whipped some heavy cream and served this cake at our Easter dinner. I was afraid it would be bland without spices, or that the lemon would taste strange. But it was delicious. Moist, not too sweet, and the lemon was exactly the right amount to accentuate the apples and butter. There were six adults at dinner, including a guest from Colombia, and everybody loved the Kerry Cake. Almost the whole cake was gone by the end of the night.

The foil creation: Sadie Seal

So many ideas here! It was tough to choose, but I settled on Sadie Seal, one of the circus animals on offer in the Kids’ Korner section.

Photograph of page in book giving directions for making a variety of animal out of aluminum foil, including "Sadie Seal"

In her introduction, Conny said to use things that were lying around the house to construct our decorations, so I rounded up a bunch of felt, foam balls, pompoms, and other supplies I had left over from a Halloween costume I never made. I already had a roll of heavy-duty foil in my cabinet. The instructions were not very detailed, as you can see from the photos below, but I did my best.

Two photographs of "Sadie Seal" in progress. The first shows a pom pom and foam ball on aluminum foil. The second shows the foil wrapped around the pom pom and foam ball but not yet looking like a seal.
Making the “mouth” was not easy. Once I cut off the extra foil, I was left with a hard, solid lump of metal that was sharp and nearly impossible to shape.

No guidance either on how to make the flippers. My first attempt gave her absurdly long arms; then I shortened them so much they didn’t touch the floor; and then went with my imperfect third try. I pinned the flippers on the body, cut some eyes out of black felt and pinned those on too. I couldn’t find any ribbon for her neck …  so … voila!

Photo of finished Sadie Seal which looks a little like a bird.

I was disappointed at first. It took me about 40 minutes to make this odd little bird-like creature and she didn’t look like the picture at all. But … I took her home on Easter weekend to show her to my gathered family. Once she had ridden with me in the car for 2.5 hours, looking at me with her little felt eyes, I felt like we’d bonded. Plus, everybody thought she was cute. (Mom thought she looked like a turtle.)

*I promise: all extra foil scraps from this project were duly recycled! But I’m not recycling Sadie any time soon. I’m pretty fond of her now. She’s staying on my desk.

Talking to Customers Through the Screen Door: JWT, Lux soap, and the surprising ecological expertise of 1920s American consumers

Post written by Spring Greeney, a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a recepient of a Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History Alvin A. Achenbaum Travel Grant.

Since at least the late 1930s, advertising firms have been soliciting consumer feedback using what marketing guru Ernest Dichter termed the “focus group:” a laboratory-like controlled environment in which users test a single product while observed or interviewed by product developers. The focus group’s more place-based antecedent, the test kitchen, relies on a similarly anodyne concept of space: gleaming appliances, linoleum flooring, and replicability are the test kitchen’s distinguishing features.

But what more place-attentive research strategies did an advertising giant like J. Walter Thompson Company employ to solicit consumer perspective? To put a finer point on it: prior to the mid-century consolidation of a truly mass market in the U.S., how did a company like JWT account for local heterogeneity—differences in climate, topography, demographics, or consumption habits—when attempting to transform regionally popular products into truly national brands?

In its century-long relationship with JWT, the Lever Brothers soap company serves as an excellent case with which to answer questions about the environmental history of marketing. A British soap manufacturing company begun in 1885, Lever Brothers’ president William Leverhulme had begun as a wholesale butter grocer, a fact that kept the man attentive to the fundamentally ecological roots of his company’s product line. After purchased soap manufacturing plants in Boston and Philadelphia in 1897 and 1899, respectively, Leverhulme set his sights on selling Lever-branded soaps in the expanding U.S. consumer market.

Such sales would not be realized. U.S. sales stagnated following the 1907 roll-out of Lux Soap Flakes and Rinso Laundry Powder in northeastern grocery stores. Consumers remained unmoved by advertising appeals boasting that “This Wonderful New Product Won’t Shrink Woolens!” with the only uptick in sluggish sales confined to March and April. Boxes of Rinso laundry powder, similarly, lingered on drugstore shelves.

Why were American consumers so uninterested? Convinced of the attributes of advertising, the head of the U.S. division of Lever Brothers signed a contract with JWT in 1916 to answer precisely this question.

With focus groups still two decades away, JWT account managers adopted a simple boots-on-the-ground research strategy. In conversations had over fence posts and through screen doors, JWT employees talked with potential customers everywhere from “small towns and Farms in Iowa and South Dakota” to apartment complexes in Chicago, Louisville, New York. 399 interviews in 1918; 328 in 1919; 1741 in 1921.

Photograph of typewritten document showing the number of interviews conducted by JWT
Interview log from JWT’s interviews with consumers about Lux soap.

The results were astounding. “Resistances from the customer were mainly … the limitations of the appeal—Lux for washing woolens,” reported one executive, observing that many American buyers of Lux wore silk or synthetics rather than woolen undergarments. “Women liked Lux for easy suds, satisfactory cleansing of dishes and easier on hands,” reported another, with wonder that a product intended for washing flannels was ending up in the kitchen sink. Added another, betraying some defensiveness while bolstering the firm’s claims to effective person-to-person research, “These facts show a continuous contact with the Lux situation.”

Consumers, for their part, were full of ecologically specific requests and recommendations. In New England, buyers explained that they only used Lux during the months of spring cleaning, March and April, to soak winter odors out of woolen blankets and sweaters headed to the attic. The year-round Lux sales pitch (“Won’t shrink woolens!”) had been culturally and seasonally off-key. Or consider this revelation about water chemistry. In regions of the country where hard water was common because of calcium- or magnesium-rich bedrock, Rinso was unpopular because it reacted with dissolved calcium to form a “soap curd” on the top of the wash water. The same problem was cropping up in cities like Boston and New York, where the advent of indoor plumbing had subverted the 19th-century practice of collecting rainwater—always soft—for washing clothes.

Lever Brother products changed in accordance with consumer feedback. As early as 1917, ad copy of Lux began boasting, “Won’t turn silks yellow! Won’t injure even chiffons!” and the box featured reminders that the soap could be used to wash dishes. Lever commercial chemists, meanwhile, increased the fat content of the laundry powder to allow its claim as “the granulated hard-water soap.” The shipping department, meanwhile, acknowledged heterogeneity on the national marketing map: “We are now shipping into the so-called hard water districts Rinso containing 45% fatty acids and the present plans are to bring this percentage up to 48%.” More fatty soap, even if more expensive, would allow uniform product performance across region, regardless of ecological distinction.

Consumer insights such as these, collected via “old-fashioned” direct interviews and telephone calls, remind us that JWT’s early research strategies solicited crucial information for securing Lever Brothers’ financial success in the U.S. JWT’s papers with Lever Brothers also remind us, in echoes, that consumers themselves were active workers and shapers of their local environments. As workers, not just buyers, homemakers were placed in direct contact with messy nature appearing in gritty wash water, uncooperative soaps, delicate fibers, and the weight of wet wool. When and how such consumer identities become politicized, as in the case of the 1970s Lake Erie water pollution contests, is intimately tied to the half-century development of Lever Brothers itself.

 

Re-Imagining: Revisited and Revived

Cover of book "Bless Sophia: Worship, Liturgy and Ritual of the Re-Imagining Community"Join the Bingham Center for a two-day event celebrating the history and future of the Re-imagining Movement.

Date: Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Time: 3:30 p.m. reception, followed by a talk at 4 p.m. by Dr. Sara M. Evans
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room (Rubenstein Library Room 153)
RSVP via Facebook (optional)

Date: Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Time: 12 p.m. with Dr. Sherry Jordon and Dr. Evans; Light lunch served
Location: Forum for Scholars and Publics (Old Chemistry Building Room 011)
RSVP via Facebook (optional)

Photograph of Sara Evans
Dr. Sara Evans

On Tuesday, April 18, distinguished historian Dr. Sara M. Evans, WC’66, will provide a history of the Re-Imagining Movement nearly 25 years after 2000+ theologians, clergy, and laity assembled at the first Re-Imagining conference to address injustices to women and promote equal partnership with men at all levels of religious life. The conservative backlash it prompted inspired conference organizers and participants to create the Re-Imagining Community still active today.

Photograph of Dr. Sherry Jordan
Dr. Sherry Jordon

Then, join us on Wednesday, April 19 as feminist theologian Dr. Sherry Jordon and Dr. Evans discuss the future of the Re-Imagining Movement. Light lunch served.

The events are co-sponsored by the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke; the Duke Divinity School; the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University; the Duke University Chapel; and the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South.

Organizing Lowndes County: Then and Now

Organizing Lowndes County: Then and Now

Date: Monday, April 10

Time: 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Location: Amadieh Family Lecture Hall, Smith Warehouse, Bay 4

Home to the Black-led independent political party that first adopted a snarling black panther as its symbol, Lowndes County, Alabama, has long been a stronghold for organizing around Black political and economic rights. In this roundtable discussion, Civil Rights Movement veterans Jennifer Lawson and Courtland Cox will be joined by Catherine Flowers, Lowndes-native and founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE). They will speak about their experiences organizing in Lowndes County past and present, from building the Lowndes County Freedom Party in the late 1960s to fighting for access to clean water and sewage disposal today.

 

Co-sponsored by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University Libraries, and the SNCC Digital Gateway Project

Technology, Hope, and Motherhood: What We Can Learn from the History of the Infant Incubator

Date: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Rubenstein Library Room 153 (Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room)

Professional headshot of Jeff Baker
Dr. Jeffrey Baker

Join the Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series for our next talk by Jeff Baker, M.D., Ph.D., on Technology, Hope, and Motherhood:  What We Can Learn from the History of the Infant Incubator. At the turn of the last century, a new medical invention known as the infant incubator captured the imagination of physicians and the public.   The device became a public sensation and appeared in settings ranging from hospitals to world fairs midway side-shows (complete with live infants).   But in the process it set off a great controversy regarding whether so-called premature and weak infants should be rescued in the first place, and whether their care should be entrusted to mothers, physicians, or scientifically-trained nurses.

Dr. Baker is the Director of the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine at Duke University. He is the author of The machine in the nursery : incubator technology and the origins of newborn intensive care (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) and a leading authority on the history of neonatal medicine.

The talk will be held in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, of the Rubenstein Library at Duke University. All are welcome to attend.  Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections.

A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Health Advice for Scholars and Students

19th century illustration showing two school boys sitting opposite one another at a table. According to the image's caption, the one on teh left is showing poor writing posture, while the one on the right is showing the proper posture.
Calvin Cutter. A Treatise on Anatomy, Physiology, and Hygiene: Designed for Colleges, Academies, and Families. Philadelphia, 1852.

“It is an old complaint,” wrote the eighteenth-century Swiss physician Samuel-André-Auguste-David Tissot, “that study, though essentially necessary to the mind, is hurtful to the body.” Student health is the subject of a new exhibit entitled “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Health Advice for Scholars and Students,” now on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room.

Photograph of the title page of the book "The Haven of Health"
Title page to Thomas Cogan. The Haven of Health… London, 1612.

Since antiquity, scholars and students have been bombarded with warnings about the potential health hazards associated with a life of sedentary study, the medical side effects of which have been said to range from a loss of vision, cramped posture, and consumption to melancholia, bad digestion, and even hemorrhoids. Heeding these warnings, scholars and students have for centuries turned to medical guides for advice on how best to counteract the effects of “hard study.” While such guides often vary as to specifics, all commend some form of attention to diet, exercise, and regimen as means to a long and healthy life, urging adherence to an ancient ideal: mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.

Image in honor of W.W. Card, director of athletics at Trinity College. Image includes 11 photographs of Card in various athletic poses.
“Health and Strength,” Wilbur Wade Card Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

The items in the exhibit trace the history of medical advice written specifically for scholars and students and reflect the wide range of approaches to scholarly health.  The exhibit, on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, runs through July 16, 2017.

A Sound Mind in a Sound Body is curated by Thomas Gillan, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University