Thursday, January 14, 2010


A collage of Nicholson documents. 1910 era.

Hmm. I'm perusing a 1894 book on sex and gender relations, one that was sold outside the publishing industry, and although it is full of fascinating 'facts' I am going to focus on hair. Why? Well, a few nights ago I attended Mamma Mia at Place des Arts and as I waited for the show to start I noticed that the women in the audience, young and middle age and old, mostly had dyed hair, and the colours were all over the spectrum. (Well, the mostly found in nature spectrum.) I remarked upon this to my husband and said, "If this were 100 years ago, everyone's hair would be done up and we'd have our view totally obscured by ladies' hats."

Funny, because just a few years ago, when my son was in 11th grade (well, 6 years ago) I attended a parent's meeting and noticed that all the women, except for me and one other, had dyed hair, and dyed in the same way, with blond streaks. Like some kind of suburban uniform.

Just last year, I succumbed and dyed my dark brown hair (with a little grey) with streaks in two tones, red and blond. Right now, it's only half dyed, I just HATE sitting for hours in the hair salon.

Anyway, as I've written before, hats are no longer 'in style' because 'hair styling' is the new 'hats' and hair colour the new 'trimming.' The hair industry is a HUGE industry, as huge, I dare say, as the millinery industry was in 1910.

Back then, women wore their hair up and washed it rarely, once in three weeks was recommended. They brushed it a lot and from all I have heard, hair was beautiful back then, luxuriant.

Anyway, here's a bit from this 1894 'sex manual' about hair colour and character. It sounds ridiculous today, and a form of racial profiling, but, before you scoff, it is important to recognize how this kind of thinking permeates our own. We have our own prejudices about blonds, redheads and brunettes that still exist, despite the hair dying hodgepodge of today.

We know that a tall, skinny blond with big breasts is a 'trophy' today and when a rich and famous man has such a woman on his arm we understand why. Back then, in 1910, it was a plump, big hipped woman with big breasts and small feet and hands that was the trophy. In those days, artificially enhancing one's appearance to fit the ideal (except with corsets, which promoted morality and with elixers and with a simple toilet regimen)was considered tawdy and tarty. (So women like Flora, who didn't fit the bill, appearance-wise, had very little room to manoever. ) Today, of course, anything artificial goes, because it promotes consumerism and, in our society, whatever is good for business in 'good'.

Theses have been written about the allure of the Monroe/Harlow blond bombshell, half goddess, (for her hair is like light) and half whore (for her platinum blond colour is cleary subterfuge) ergo, the quintessential woman.


1. DIFFERENT COLORS.--Coarseness and fineness of texture in nature indicate coarse and fine-grained feelings and characters, and since black signifies power, and red ardor, therefore coarse black hair and skin signify great power of character of some kind, along with considerable tendency to the sensual; yet fine black hair and skin indicate strength of character, along with purity and goodness.

2. COARSE HAIR.--Coarse black hair and skin, and coarse red hair and whiskers, indicate powerful animal passions, together with corresponding strength of character; while fine or light, or auburn hair indicates quick susceptibilities, together with refinement and good taste.

3. FINE HAIR.--Fine dark or brown hair indicates the combination of exquisite susceptibilities with great strength of character, while auburn hair, with a florid countenance, indicates the highest order of sentiment and intensity of feeling, along with corresponding purity of character,combined with the highest capacities for enjoyment and suffering. {478}

4. CURLY HAIR.--Curly hair or beard indicates a crisp, excitable, and variable disposition, and much diversity of character--now blowing hot, now cold--along with intense love and hate, gushing, glowing emotions, brilliancy, and variety of talent. So look out for ringlets; they betoken April weather--treat them gently, lovingly, and you will have the brightest, clearest sunshine, and the sweetest, balmiest breezes.

5. STRAIGHT HAIR.--Straight, even, smooth, and glossy hair indicate strength, harmony, and evenness of character, and hearty, whole-souled affections, as well as a clear head and superior talents; while straight, stiff, black hair and beard indicate a coarse, strong, rigid, straight-forward character.

6. ABUNDANCE OF HAIR.--Abundance of hair and beard signifies virility and a
great amount of character; while a thin beard signifies sterility and a thinly settled upper story, with rooms to let, so that the beard is very significant of character.

7. FIERY RED HAIR indicates a quick and fiery disposition. Persons with such hair generally have intense feelings--love and hate intensely--yet treat them kindly, and you have the warmest friends, but ruffle them, and you raise a hurricane on short notice. This is doubly true of auburn curls.

It takes but little kindness, however, to produce a calm and render them as fair as a Summer morning. Red-headed people in general are not given to hold a grudge. They are generally of a very forgiving disposition.

Now, in my next installment of Flo in the City, my novel in progress based on the true life letters of, I am going to have Edith find a job as a private English tutor with a French Canadian family in Montreal. (She lived in Montreal in 1909, but I have no indication of what she was doing, so I decided to make her a tutor in my grandparent's home...It fits, because the next year Edith worked at Ecole Methodiste Westmount, a private school that 'converted' Roman Catholics to Methodism.) Anyway, she will be tutoring my Aunt Alice, was was a Titian-haired beauty, whose character, as I have had it described to me, pretty well fits the description above for auburn haired women.

I've done some research about my family for a future book and, luckily, talked about them with my mother before she died a few months ago. In many ways, the Nicholson and Crepeau families were similar: highly religious, with a very competent housekeeper mother who could cook up a storm and clean and who didn't have or want a maid. But they were different, too, in many ways. The Crepeau family was on the way up socially in 1910, the Nicholsons on the way down.