Rain water for the face with nutmeg oil was a good complexion wash, a mixture of olive oil and oil of roses was good for the hair, citric acid and salt put out in the bright sun removed stains from clothes, and alum removed vermin as well as relieved croup when mixed with sugar. These are just a few of the remedies provided in the early 1890s "Every-Day Cook-Book" by Miss E. Neil. Last week, for a nostalgic look into early American history, this column shared some of its hearty recipes such as head cheese and others using ingredients including a calf's head and brains; not for the squeamish or faint of heart. Keeping in mind it was from a time when women labored to prepare meals from scratch and worked so hard to manage a household, it is no wonder that they also had a bag of tricks for nursing sick family members and their own beauty, exhausted as they must have been.
As for personal beauty or how to be "handsome," Miss Neil asked, "Where is the woman who would not be beautiful? If such there be, but no, she does not exist." Beauty, it was believed, could control men and enabled women to also manage, influence, and retain adoration of the men in their lives, and they should therefore look their prettiest at all times. Admittedly, all of us are not blessed with good features, but according to Miss Neil can correct deformity and develop our figures. As today, it was recommended that the first step was to keep clean and to bathe regularly. It sounds like a type of exfoliation with directions given to briskly rub the body with a pair of coarse toilet gloves to a glowing redness. Only those women with "ample leisure" were able to "take a plunge" or sponge bath three times a week with a sun bath every day. It was recommended that a woman "denude" herself in a seat near the window to take in the warm rays of the sun. Restless women could dance for the same beneficial and delightful benefits of the sun, or as another option, take down her hair and brush it while taking in the sun. Separating the locks on a clean white towel could remove the dust from the previous day, making it unnecessary to wash it. Of course, we now know about the benefits of sun exposure and Vitamin D.
A smooth and creamy complexion without blemishes and wrinkles has always been the goal of all women, at any age and in all times. Today there is a plethora of products, many of which are quite expensive. A look back 120 years ago in the columnists' grandmother and great grandmother's book provides a few basic routines. White wax, honey, and the juice of lily-bulbs melted and stirred was said to remove wrinkles. A complexion wash was made from one drachm (unit of volume) of powdered gum of benzoin, nutmeg oil, orange-blossom tea, sherry wine and rain water. Superfluous hairs could be removed by spreading on a piece of leather equal parts of garbanum and pitch plaster and then of course, the yank to remove it all. The book instructed that kerosene would also remove this hair. Like today, there was also the bad breath problem. It stated that "nothing makes one so disagreeable to others" and that neatness and care of the health would prevent and cure it.
Many years ago women regularly brushed their hair to care for it and remove dust without frequent washings as done today.
What about home health care and nursing? How to cure a chilbrain, catarrh, felon, whitlow, bilious headache, and ague could perhaps be addressed if we even knew what they were. These were addressed with some unusual procedures and ingredients 120 years ago. How about some galangal root with a quart of gin for a fever or a cold shower for two hours after a stroke of lightning? A hot flannel dipped in boiling water and sprinkled with turpentine was used to relieve a cold on the chest. Convulsion fits were eased by a very hot bath and the lower parts of the body rubbed. Cuts or hemorrhages could be controlled by placing unglazed brown wrapping paper from the grocer over the wound. Mud was good to cure a bee sting and a red-hot iron applied for eight seconds over wounds with resulting black tissue was the procedure for dog bites. Salt pork or fat bacon simmered with hot vinegar applied to the throat helped ease its soreness and pumpkin seed and castor oil removed tapeworms. After all this sickness, a great room deodorizer was to burn sugar on hot coals or vinegar boiled with myrrh and sprinkled on the floor.
The "Every-Day Cook-Book" continues with a fascinating look into how to keep house and raise children. Next week we'll see how that compares to today. What would "Mary," the original owner of this book in 1893 have to say?
Make it a good week, seek out the sun, and consider dancing in it, Mary and Rosamond
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