Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Small Houses of the 1920's

We've been reading about house-building in America in the early 1900's. The President of the U.S., along with others, developed a plan for smaller homes to be built so that everyone could have a house. If you got the houseplans, nine other little booklets were included, dealing with landscaping, gardening, interior decorating and home improvement. They were considered "small" because they were a departure from the grand Victorian homes of the 1800's, but by todays standards, they are large. After reading this article, you may begin to notice quite a few of these houses in your town. These were also called "bungalows," miniature Victorians, and miniature southern colonial.

This blue house is from

President Harding, at the dedication of the "Home Sweet Home" at Washington, stated:

"The home is at last not merely the center, but truly the aim, the object and the purpose of all human organization. We do not see to improve society in order that from better homes we may bring forth better servants of the state, more efficient cannon fodder for its armed forces; rather, we seek to make better homes in order that we may avoid the necessity for conflict and turmoil in our world.

"The home is the apex and the aim, the end rather than the means of our whole social system. So far as this world knows or can vision, there is no attainment more desireable than the happy and contented home."

(Interior sketches from

From a newspaper of the year of this housing project; (Can you imagine a newspaper writing this today?"):

"Of the man's part in the building of a home, all that the normal man does, in the struggle for life, is really that he may have a happy home, wehre he can rear his family, give them such advantages as his means can afford, and start them in their own lives with such aid as will best help them.

"The crowning joy of the typical man is in the home, to which he can repair when his day's work is done.

"But whatever the joy which the man gets from a happy home, it pales into insignificance when compared with the radiance which it brings to the soul of the gracious personage who, by her own competence, her own self-sacrifice, and out of the depths of such love as is beyond the comprehension of any man, makes the home what it is, and where she reigns supreme.

"No other ideal has the beauty of the ideal home. No other purpose can be nobler than increasing their number and their comfort. No other theme could be more inspiring."
More information here from other sources:

The Better Homes Campaign
Better Homes in America, Inc., a private organization founded in 1922, spearheaded a national campaign for domestic reform focused on educating homeowners about quality design and construction. Promoted by The Delineator, a popular Butterick publication for women, the organization gained the support of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and formed a nationwide network of local committees that encouraged both the construction of new homes and home remodeling projects. A national demonstration home, "Home Sweet Home," a modernized version of songwriter John Howard Paynes's Long Island birthplace, was constructed on the National Mall in 1923, and "Better Homes Week" activities and competitions were held nationwide. Annual competitions recognized the work of architects, such as Royal Barry Wills of Boston and William W. Wurster of San Francisco, whose small house designs would influence popular taste nationwide for homes described as New England Colonial or Monterey Revival.(117)

from another source:

Better Homes MovementThe Better Homes Movement was a nationwide campaign initiated in 1922 in the pages of the Butterick Publishing Company's household magazine, The Delineator. The campaign celebrated home ownership, home maintenance and improvement, and home decoration as means of motivating responsible consumer behavior that also expanded the market for consumer products. In cities and towns across the country, annual campaigns--or "better homes demonstration weeks"--encouraged citizens to own, build, remodel, and improve their homes and distributed advice on creating home furnishings and decorations. The Guidebook for Better Homes Campaigns in Rural Communities and Small Towns shows how the campaign sought to communicate its ideas. School Cottages for Training in Home-making shows how high-school courses incorporated the ideas of the campaign.

The Better Homes Movement received broad support from both government and industry. President Coolidge served as honorary chairman of the Advisory Council of Better Homes in America, and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, a prime mover in that organization's formation, was president of its board of directors. The movement sought to educate consumers, but it also served the interests of powerful groups and organizations. The connection between the campaign's educational and commercial concerns is illustrated by Herbert Hoover's essay "The Home as an Investment," in the Better Homes in America Plan Book for Demonstration Week, October 9 to 14, 1922.
See also: "Homemaker-Consumer Life in Washington, D.C., 1922-23" from the Anna Kelton Wiley Papers.

Published in 1922 by the Bureau of Information of Better Homes in America, this pamphlet consists of one letter, a plan proposal, and nine essays prepared by government and other authorities on the significance of Better Homes campaigns and on various phases of home- building. The first two essays, written by President Calvin Coolidge and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, encourage home ownership and discuss the home as the foundation of American social institutions. Other components include a blueprint for Better Homes Demonstration Week from October 9 to October 14, 1922, and essays on house construction, interior decoration, and the impact of zoning on the home. An organizational chart for Better Homes in America, with its National Advisory Council and Bureau of Information at the top and seven subcommittees at the bottom, appears on page 10.

This is just one example of the 1920's houses. There are many different styles.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


When your life is based in the home, you might as well make it the most wonderful place on earth. There are certain elements that make home life different than anything else. Some things that change the over all look and atmosphere of the home are surprisingly simple and only require a few cents and a little bit of effort.

*Use all your senses--touch, smell and taste, sight, and sound, and get an over-all feeling for your home. Use a combination of old and new, handmade and purchased items to give it that homey feeling.

*Use colors in the house that make you like best and feel happiest around.

*Make the most of light. Don't block windows where there is a pleasant view to certain spots of your yard around your house. Arrange furniture in such a way that it takes advantage of the daylight, or the sunset.

*Line up books according to their subject and size, or for a change, try putting them in color categories, according to the color of the binding.

*Add interesting touches to your house cleaning: a photo in a shelf of books, or a left over gift-wrap inside of a drawer. The number of things you can do to make things beautiful while putting things in order, is limitless.

*Clean up the living room on your way to retire at night. When you get up in the morning, your mood will not go down immediately, as it often does when we wake up to piles of disorganization.

*While reaching into a space such as a cabinet or refrigerator to get something, take a second to neaten and discard empty containers.

*Think about breakfast the night before, so that it can be planned to be more leisurely even if you have a time limit. Set the table and prepare what you can ahead of time to be retreived easily from the fridge.

*If you'll allow yourself time in the morning to prepare your appearance for anything (company, being called suddenly outside the home), you will set your mood on the upside in the very beginning of the day. If possible, dress to compliment your home. Home sewing is a great advantage, in that the sewer can sew clothing for inspiration as well as use.

*When you change your bedding, engage the help of someone to turn the mattress around so that it has equal wear and tear all around it. Make a decorative pillow to add to the newly made bed. I used to make these pillows whenever my husband had to go on a trip, and now I enjoy quite a number of them on the beds, from a birdcage shaped cushion to a large pink pig, and satin heart-shapes with ruffles for the guest room.

*If you haven't pruned your apple tree, you can cut down the shoots just when the buds appear on them, bring them into the house and perch them in a large tin vase on a table, to watch them unfold into those enchanting pink apple blossoms.

*The dollar store has a scented cleaning product that doesn't seem as toxic as commercial products, which comes in lime, berry, vanilla or other scents, which you can put on a cloth to wipe your sinks, cabinests, floors,or just about anything except wood, in the kitchen or bathroom. Get one in the color that goes with your decor, and it helps make cleaning pleasant.

*If you don't like to burn candles for light and scent, there are now battery opperated candles from and some electric ones with scented bulbs from

* If you have small trash cans in different rooms, always line them with a plastic bag. It is very unsanitary to put trash directly into a container, which collects mold and mildew and requires cleaning. You can purchase scented trash bags or use plastic grocery sacks which you can scent yourself by placing those "free" perfume strips on cards that you often get in the mail or in promotional sales flyers in the mail. Emily Barnes suggests you add a paper doily to the edge and fold the bag over the container, tying it down with a wired ribbon.

*Keep a basket or atrractive container by the front door to collect items that must be returned or delivered somewhere else. If you have a stairs, keep a container to collect items to go upstairs in one trip.

*Have an assortment of "house ingredients" to make your house complete: books, lamps, pillows, wrought iron, shiny metal, lighting (lamps, candles, etc), wood, rugs and floor coverings, crystal and glass, ceramics, and cloth items. Everyone has some of these things, and they can be combined to make your surroundings comforting and bright.

*If you have children, they need to grow up in the most cheerful atmosphere possible. YOU can do it better than anyone else. Create a decor that will having meaning to them. Take them on a house tour of your own dwelling, pointing out the reason that things are being used or placed where they are, where they came from, and why they were chosen. This "house appreciation" tour will increase their love for their home and family.

*Keep a house journal, with pictures of progress you have made. Include a pocket to keep purchase papers and care instructions, receipts and paperwor. Write dates that things were done, such as painting projects, furniture rearranging and replacements. This will be an inspiration later on. I know one woman who has a photograph scrapbook journal where she kept a running log of her husband's work on their house. She has photographs of all the things he made in his wood-working shop--shelves, a quilt rack, a table, etc., and his yard work from start to finish. This may not be feasible for everyone, but it is not too late to photograph a finished room and see how it looks, put it in a book, and enjoy it later.

*Plan to host something in your home at least once a season, whether it be a celebration, or a teaching opportunity of art, sewing or crafts, or a friend for tea. These kinds of things increase the meaning and purpose of home living and motivate the homemaker to maintain it make it attractive so that others can learn from her example and be comforted by her hospitality.

*Besides keeping a daily list of things to do, and a daily routine, set out work reminders or work stations in various rooms that will beg to be done. For example, put your peat pots and seeds beside the kitchen sink when you have finished cleaning the kitchen. This will remind you to get that job done sometime during the day. Put a pile of unfolded towels from the dryer in the bathroom. That will remind you to fold them the next time you are in the bathroom. Set out a sewing project in a neat basket, or letter writing materials on the desk with the letters you need to answer. Put hooks and decorations that need to be hung, in the room that they need to go, so that it will jolt your memory as you walk through.

*The most neglected rooms in the house seem to be the bedrooms, laundry room, pantry, porches, offices and spare rooms. We think that no one will see these rooms so we may not pay particular attention to their organization or decor. However, they will have an effect on your mind and your mood. Cleaning them and arranging them will add to a sense of well-being in the home.

I'm not an expert on home organization and still have a long way to go to get caught up after the children have grown. I am just learning many of these techniques as I've been able to take a more critical look at my house. When you are home most of the time, you might as well make it as pleasant as possible, and if possible, better than anywhere else you've ever been. If you can look at work as an opportunity to improve your home and your own stamina, it will increase your willingness to do it.

photo from

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Family Education

There is a lot of talk about "homeschooling" going around, and for the sake of understanding, we did "homeschool" our children. However, the term "homeschooling" does not accurately describe the experience at all. For us, it was family based learning.

We didn't always stay at home, or even learn at home, and we didn't conduct it like any school. Wherever we were, we could learn, and we looked for opportunities not just to collect knowledge, but to experience life, grow in wise behaviour, and develop our thinking so that we could understand the things that confronts us in life. We thought about the pioneers and how the children participated in life with their parents, erstwhile learning to read and write in the evenings by lamplight. This seemed far more balanced that constantly doing paperwork.

"School" in Greek is "schule," which means "spare time." In bygone days, people would take some leisure time to go and listen to lectures on various subjects such as science, mathematics or philosophy. We had this "spare time" concept in mind, when we nurtured our children. (Today, not everything has to be learned in a place set apart for book-learning. Knowledge is accessible and widely available in many forms!)

Life was to be lived, and school was reading and writing about the life we were discovering. Once the children learned to read, they were encouraged to research from books and magazines, the things that fascinated them, whether it be a country of the world, a language, art, music, science, writing, landscaping, or publishing.

Every day was filled with purpose, and that is why family-based learning continues to affect my attitude and my life as a grandparent. Even when the children are grown, there is so much to look forward to. When our family-based education was completed, I felt that we were just getting started, but it really had never ended. By showing the children how to research something, or how to overcome a problem, or see a project through from start to finish, we gave them the tools for victory in their lives. Each child was taught to have a strong sense of purpose, which to this day remains our basis of stability, from the age of 2 to 62. (the exact ages of the youngest to the eldest in our combined families).

One thing that I observed about many people who were just married was that they were depressed. When I inquired about their backgrounds, I found that all of them were highly socialized in their youth, with full schedules of activities. Family-based learning, however, was more of a natural socialization, brought about by their service to others, hospitality, classes they took in music or art, and their own businesses which brought them into contact with customers. They didn't have years and years of forced socialization. When the socialized children married, they had greater difficulty settling down and being quiet at home with one person.

A habit that helped our family a great deal was a forced "quiet time." A few hours a day, usually during the hot afternoons, they were each to find a place by themselves and either take a nap, lay down, read, write, or just stare into space for awhile, and be quiet. At first, they didn't like this, and it was their mother who fell asleep, while they crept around doing things. Eventually they came to look forward to this quiet time and now as adults, say that those were the most precious hours of their youth.

Another rich experience that we enjoyed was daily walks. There was a special technique to this. Everyone had to observe what was going on around them and use all their senses to experience it. And, not only would the physical sensations of the walk be important;-the spiritual benefits as well. When we arrived home, they were encouraged to write in their journals everything that happened on those walks, both within their minds and in nature, which included little drawings and colored illustrations.

I wasn't always actively looking for "lessons" and it wasn't a drill-seargant type of education, but when there was an opportunity to expose my children to something good, I took it. Walking past a store, I might notice an advertisement for a free classical concert in a local park. One advantage of home based learning, is that you are not confined to the classroom and can get up and go when you want to. There might be a nice sunny day where good common sense dictated that it would be better to take a sketchpad and some paints to a scenic area outside and learn about art. A cold, gloomy day may have triggered off a lesson in hospitality. (People need hospitality more on dark, dreary afternoons).

Family-based learning, or "parental schooling," is very flexible and enables the children to live a real life and learn how to have a good family of their own someday. Instead of waking them up in the dark hours and rushing them "somewhere else," they learn to be content where they are. One of the things that many people suffer when they settle down to home life as young married couples, is restlessness. If you get up in the morning and go somewhere else for years and years, it is difficult to overcome this tendency.

We found that a study of our society of the 1800's yielded a great insight into how life was conducted when people were more family oriented. This might be a study worthwhile for other families, to discover how our forebearers of the Victorian era conducted their daily lives, what they ate, how they dressed, their recreation, their crafts, hobbies and art, their family celebrations, and their businesses.

As a result of our family based learning, our children have had a rich education. When they were a certain age, they were encouraged to order as many books as they liked, from several catalogs, on the subjects that interested them. In the early 80's there wasn't as much available to the homeschool community, so we used a catalog called "Dover." One of our children ordered some books about Leonardo Da Vinci and Michaelangelo.
(One of these artists was the inventor of the paint-by-number method).

There are those who say that education cannot be accomplished unless a child sits in a room with 25 other children and listens to one teacher. They insist he must also be in that school building daily for 5 hours. This does not guarantee that the student is absorbing what he is learning, nor does it prove that the mind is engaged fully all of the time. Family based learning, in our experienc, kept the mind alert to the conscience--to the needs of others, to personal responsibilities and to the presence of God.

Sometimes people were very concerned that being cooped up together we would grow tired of one another and just quarrel all the time, but they inteacted together just fine and retreated to private places when they wanted to be left alone. One cannot say that going to school in a group was any more exciting. Often those children grew tired of the same group and even dreaded facing them day after day. We found home a place of forbearance, with a chance to start afresh with each other the next day.

As these elements of family learning were translated into the home, respect for life and property increased. Our home became a most desireable spot. We shared our values and preferred one another's company for an outing, a conversation or a tea party. The house was a place of beauty and order. The way we spent our time had meaning. Home was a place where we were happy.

(More to come)

"Into the Garden" by Susan Rios

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I thought this letter would help others gain insight into the reason for homemaking. Even when we are unable to make things really nice, due to unforseen interruptions, our presence is greatly felt and needed in the home. I found an interesting story about kitchens here May03/
Mrs. Sherman, I cannot restrain myself any longer! I must thank you, and thank you again!

I have been reading your columns for some years now and always look forward to them for the inspiration you provide. You truly understand what makes a woman happy and successful as far as homemaking is concerned: love. It is love for my family, loved ones, and community, and for myself also, that is my motivation to provide a home which is clean, pretty, and full of good things.

It is the simple joy of my table, set with lovely linens and flowers, and dishes filled with good and nutritious food. Or my living room, filled with clean and comfortable furnishings, not costly and pretentious but homey and warm, inviting family and guests to linger over tea and good conversation. My linen closet contains pretty pressed and folded linens with which I can decorate my home in any season, for any manner of affair. And so I thank you, for the understanding and shared joy of these small things that you show in your writing. And for understanding, too, of the richer rewards of such efforts and simple joys: a happy and contented family, a community enriched by loving communication, sharing our lives and our gifts with others.

Finally, I thank you for the fact that you understand that homemaking is but one facet of the complete person that we are. I don't feel that because I delight in arranging flowers I cannot likewise enjoy reading books on philosophy or gaining a deeper insight on current events. Nor do I feel that my life is narrow and selfish; in fact, my role enables me to give of myself and my talents as I know I could not do if I worked a full-time job. And everything that I say about myself is equally true of all the women who, like yourself, are at home. And so, I thank you, for helping others to understand us better, and to give us the inspiration that we sometimes need.

All my best,


Photograph by Lisa Hollinger

Monday, April 10, 2006

Good Attitudes About Home

This poem and thoughts are from a booklet by Mary Brooks Picken, which is titled, "Thimblefuls of Friendliness" and was written 1924.

"Stepping Stones"

"Isn't it strange that Princes and Kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And just plain folks like you and me,
Are builders for Eternity?
To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass and a book of rules,
And each must make ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone."

I heard a young woman say the other day, "Oh, I give up. What's the use of my trying to be anybody or trying to have nice things? My ambitions only make me restless and miserable."

But we all know that ambitions once entertained are hard to lose. The farther you come from attaining them, the more miserable you will be. Hence the need of continual effort.

To the woman who says, "What's the use?" one might say: "What's the use of working, of washing the dishes, of getting up in the mornings, of liking air and sunshine and pretty things?

There isn't any real use, perhaps, in it all, but it is, oh so satisfying, to go into a kitchen to cook dinner where everything is happily clean and in place.

What a satisfying, luxurious feeling it is to crawl into a well-made, cozy, bed.

What a delight to don fresh, clean clothing.

What a self-respecting feeling one has when one puts on a well-made dress that is appropriate and becoming.

And these things take time and effort, but they pay double in sheer pleasure.

And we should use our energies to make happiness come for every effort, pleasure for every thought that we give to family, home, or clothing, and thus make of all our responsibilities stepping stones to success, via happiness.

For surely, when we are happy, we are successful, at least in that little domain where we are queen. No matter what our environment, no matter what our circumstances-a singing teakettle, a cozy fire, some one to care for, some to care, a conscience that does not disturb--all these help in our walk up the steps to divine content.

For some of us it may seen a long journey but trying makes it interesting. And we have the satisfaction all the way of having done our best with our "bag of tools", our "shapeless mass", and "book of rules."

When I was growing up, I knew many girls to get out of work by not wanting to do it. Sometimes I thought my mother pretty severe because she expected us to wash the dishes. It was part of the work for my sisters and me. She expected us to arrange the table, make the beds, peel the potatoes, help on wash day, and iron the plain things. It never occurred to us to say, "I don't want to do it." I admit many times I didn't really want to, but I should only have made myself ridiculous by saying so.

Self-pity was not scarce with me sometimes, especially when there was an all-absorbing book that I wanted very much to read or a guest who had interesting things to tell after dinner that I wanted very much to hear, or when the call came on a sleepy morning to get up quick and help with breakfast. But now I realize that having to do things, being expected to do them without any alternative was good for me.

Girls who grow up and take the mother place in the home understand little girls and little boys who don't want to do things. Yet they know from experience that success and a happiness within come from learning, as children, to do the things they don't want to do when they don't want to do them."

Note: I find some things in this book to be very much like "Beautiful Girlhood," which is available online, and is free domain. My daughter copied off some of the chapters to give to a woman to help her teach young girls.

Go here and read some excellent and timeless instruction that will fill the heart with love and contentment.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Place to Relax

Before I get started here I'd like to thank everyone for posting links to their blogs. While women today may not have the benefit of mothers and grandmothers who were dedicated homemakers, they now can glean from other women through these blogs. These are very helpful when you feel like "talking over the fence" with someone.

I can remember women visiting throughout the week and talking about child-care, cooking problems, or sewing. In the 60's I first heard the most disparaging remarks about such conversations. Women who had been to college returned home saying things like, "After all the education I have received, I'm not going to spend my life in conversations about baking cookies."

Isn't it interesting that even the educated women at work really want to talk about babies, recipes and home decorating., or finding a husband and settling down to matters at home. They didn't end up, after all, spending their lives talking about all the things they learned in their education.

When you need a place to relax, consider something just outside your front door: a porch area or a little place along the side of your dwelling, where you can have some pots of fragrant flowers, and a place to sit and let your mind rest. I was recently given a plant called Daphne. It is the most fragrant bush. Planted near the entrance of your house, it will give you a whiff of the most elegant perfume as you walk in.

I see (LAF) is updated today. Lots of good articles there and if you click on "more headlines" at the end of the front page, there is a cute video you can watch online, from one of the articles.