Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


House and Home

Home Rational Home

Whereas Emily Post presented social propriety as a cultural legacy everyone could and should inherit, The Modern Priscilla magazine treated housekeeping as a profession, calling itself the "trade paper of the home." Published from 1887 to 1930 and addressing everything from needlework and fashion to cooking and decorating, its editors also published books on housekeeping techniques perfected in their state-of-the-art "proving plant." One of these books, The Modern Priscilla Home Furnishing Book, published in 1925, stressed rational planning in the home and counseled women to follow a plan based on the principle of "fitness to purpose." This plan had to consider both the sizes and shapes of rooms and the needs of their occupants, and it was made feasible by the how-to advice the book offered for inexpensively improving the home.

Such an approach reflects several housing trends that had been in motion since the 1870s. In response to the reform movement that had made high-quality, low-cost housing widely available for working people, architects and designers in the arts and crafts movement had generated a large body of "life-simplifying" magazines, booklets, and workshops. Their publications featured plans for building bungalows-the small house design favored after 1900-and their workshops taught men how to build practical furniture to replace the ornate, overstuffed, "overly-feminine" d├ęcor of Victorian times. The bungalow was instead to be more hospitable to men by virtue of its more rational design and less delicate and more comfortable furniture.

One of the Priscilla book's authors, Charles Alma Byers, was a leading proponent of the arts and crafts-bungalow movement. The book's inclusion of stencils for wall designs, its directions for reupholstering and re-caning furniture, and even its advice on how to decorate to keep a husband from going out at night, bear his imprint. The scientific tone the Priscilla editors took also reflected the home economics movement, the effort to establish principles of efficiency, "judicious consumption," and handicraft production in the home that would put women's work on par with men's professions.

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"The correct procedure" from Modern Priscilla Home Furnishing Book

Magazines, like The Modern Priscilla, encouraged women to think of homemaking as a profession vital to humanity's continued progress. As home economists, their goal was to replace ornate Victorian decoration with simple and comfortable modern be...
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