Euthenics: It’s Not What You Think

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Nov 7, 1925 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

A brief item in “The Talk of the Town” for Nov. 7, 1925, mentioned the groundbreaking for a new building at Vassar (Lois Long’s alma mater) dedicated to the study of something called “Euthenics.” The term was used by Ellen H. Swallow Richards (Vassar, Class of 1870), based on the Greek Euthenia, which described a good state of the body, including prosperity, good fortune and abundance.

After Richards died in 1911, the idea was taken up by another Vassarite Julia Lathrop (’80) who teamed up with fellow alumnae Minnie Cumnock Blodgett (’84) to create a program of Euthenics at Vassar, against the protestations of some faculty who found this new field of interdisciplinary study suspect. It didn’t help that some even confused it with the racist “eugenics” movement.

At a time when many academic disciplines were moving in the direction of specialization, students in euthenics could study horticulture, food chemistry, sociology, statistics, education, child study (Lathrop would serve as the first chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau), economics, economic geography, physiology, hygiene, public health, psychology, domestic architecture and furniture. The New Yorker had this to say about the new area of study:

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The “daisy chains” referred to above are one of the oldest traditions at Vassar. Every year, the senior class chooses sophomore women who demonstrate superior leadership and class spirit to carry a 150-foot chain of daisies and laurel at Commencement.

Carrying the “Daisy Chain” at Vassar, 1925 (Vassar College)

The New Yorker was also anticipating the upcoming Automobile Salon at the Commodore Hotel, including the news that autos would break from sober black and navy into a palette of colors:Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.10Screenshot 2015-07-20 09.35.19

1925 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (

“Profiles” featured Gen. John J. Pershing, while “Sports of the Week” featured the Oct. 31 “Cornell-Columbia battle” at the Polo Grounds (Cornell prevailed 17-14). That same day in New Haven, Yale humbled Army 28-7.

In her fashion column “Fifth Avenue,” Lois Long paid a visit to designer Paul Frankl’s store, where she admired his collection of “four-dimensional furniture, including his “skyscraper” bookcases:

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Paul Frankl “skyscraper” bookcase, ca. 1927. Fashioned from maple and trimmed with Bakelite (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

In her “Tables For Two” column, Long’s previous criticism of Sardi’s (lack of celebrity sightings) received this reply:

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Main Dining Room of the old Sardi’s, 234-36 West 44th St. New York. (Museum of the City of New York)

In her latest dispatch from Paris, Janet Flanner wrote that Philadelphia movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum was making a haul of Rodin sculptures. The French found it interesting but not alarming:

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Mastbaum would die the following year and donate his Rodin collection to the city of Philadelphia. It is the largest collection of Rodin’s works outside Paris. Flanner also offered this tidbit on a new, scandalous book by Texan Gertrude Beasley:

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In a 2000 article for Texas Monthly (“A Woman of Independent Means”), Don Graham wrote that “no other book in Texas literature is quite like Gertrude Beasley’s little-known memoir, My First Thirty Years. For one thing, it was published in Paris in 1925 by the avant-garde press Contact Editions (it was banned in Britain and America), which included among its authors Ernest Hemingway.” He wrote that Beasley’s book established itself “as a provocative and highly subversive text: She recounts her birth as the violent outcome of marital rape by her father…Things go downhill from there…” You can read more about Beasley, and her “disappearance,” in this Texas Observer article.

In “Motion Pictures,” The New Yorker (via critic Theodore Shane) cuts actress Marion Davies a little slack:

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Channelling her inner Pickford: Marion Davies in The Lights of Old Broadway.

And if you doubt the Francophile ambitions of New Yorker readers, here are two ads written almost entirely in French:

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And to end on an amusing note, more perils of Prohibition, courtesy of Rea Irvin:

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Up Next: Party Time!

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Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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