Hundred-Year-Old Fashions for Stout Women

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, September 5, 1912: Ditto.

1912 Dress and Coat for Obese Women

Source: Ladies Home Journal (February, 1912)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm—I guess that it was a slow week for Grandma. This is the third day in a row that she hasn’t written much. It seems odd. It’s the second week of the school year—and I’d have guessed that she would have been bubbling about the happenings.

In any case, I’m going to go off on a tangent . . .

Several days ago, a reader commented that in the old days that wealthy people were often overweight—or to use the term that was commonly used a hundred years ago, “stout.”

Her comment reminded me that the February, 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal showed fashions for stout women:

Many distinctive features favorable for the woman who is included to stoutness of form are typified in the graceful, fringed wrap on the first figure in the group above. It is made of dull-finished black satin—for the stout woman will wisely pass by the more lustrous satins, which tend to accentuate plumpness.

A charming house dress for afternoon or for more informal evening occasions is pictured on the second figure in the group above. Here a soft old-rose satin is used for the foundation dress, brought into a subjection more becoming to the stout woman by the overdress of marquisette in the same shade.

1912 woman's suit

There is a pleasing fitness not only in the quiet colors used for the semi-dressy tailored suit, but also in the right placing of the lines of the coat and skirt for a figure inclined to overfullness.

The 1912 Presidential Campaign: The Republicans, the Democrats and the Bull Moose Party

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, September 3, 1912: Nothing doing today.

Willaim Howard Taft

President William Taft (Republican)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since nothing much happened in Grandma’s life a hundred years ago today, I’m going tell you a little about the 1912 presidential race.

(Somehow with the Republican convention last week and the Democratic one this week, this seems like an appropriate time to step back and take a look at the big picture.)

Lots of economic, social, and environmental issues dominated the campaign rhetoric in 1912:

  • How much power should corporations have?
  • Should tariffs be high or low?
  • Was the government corrupt?
  • Did political machines have too much power?
  • How important were environmental issues?
  • What role should government play in developing social welfare policies?
  • Should woman have the right to vote?
  • What role should Blacks have in the political process?
  • Should children be allowed to work?

In 1912, William Taft was the current president, but there was a three-way race between Taft (Republican), Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose Party), and Woodrow Wilson (Democratic).

Theodore Roosevelt

Former President Theodore Roosevelt (Bull Moose)

There had been a schism in the Republican Party between Taft and Roosevelt, which led to Roosevelt breaking away to form the Bull Moose Party.

Roosevelt had been president early in the 20th century. He was part of the progressive wing of the Republican party, but in 1908 he decided that he did not want to run for re-election and supported Taft as the Republican nominee.

However, by 1912 Roosevelt felt that Taft had not appropriately continued the progressive path he’d begun, and ran against him for the Republican nomination. When Roosevelt lost the nomination he founded the Bull Moose Party.

(Roosevelt said that he was as fit as a bull moose—and somehow it ended up being the party name.)

This split basically ensured that Woodrow Wilson would win.

Wilson was the governor of New Jersey when he received the Democratic nomination. He’d previously been president of Princeton University—but in 1910 ran for governor because he was frustrated by the infighting within the university over issues such where the graduate school building should be located, and whether or not there should be eating clubs on the campus.

woodrow wilson

Woodrow Wilson (Democrat)

Wilson stayed out of the brawl between Taft and Roosevelt, and easily won the election.

Many of the campaign issues soon seemed less important. . .

. . . . in 1914, World War I would  break out in Europe.


How aware was Grandma of the national issues? Did she listen to any campaign speeches supporting one or another of the candidates? Did her father talk about who he planned to vote for? Did she hope that within a few years that she’d be able to vote?

Newspaper Headlines: Labor Day, 1912

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:    

Monday, September 2, 1912:  Had to go to school, even if it is labor day. We had this day off last year.

Cold isn’t much better. Have to blow my whistle almost all the time, which constant usage make it rather sore and pink.

Labor Day, September 2, 1912 Chicago Morning Tribune Article

Source: Chicago Morning Tribune (September 2, 1912)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

It’s interesting that in 1911 the students didn’t have to go to school on Labor Day—but that in 1912 they did. Was Labor Day an important holiday in 1912?

A quick scan of newspaper headlines from September 2, 1912 shows that  in 1912 the nation was engaged in a debate over the role of labor and unions (as well as whether woman should be paid the same as men).

Representative Newspaper Headlines

Labor Day, September 2, 1912

Cathedral Packed for Labor Service: Mgr. Lavelle Points Out Socialism’s Weakness to Vast Throng of Union Men (New York Times)

Labor Day Parade: Large Squad of Police Detailed to Assist in Keeping Order-Line of March (Los Angeles Times)

Labor Will Parade Today, While City Lends Cheers: Predicted That 50,000 Persons Will Attend Celebration at Armory (Minneapolis Morning Tribune)

Minnesota State Fair to Open This Morning: Exposition Gates to be Thrown Wide to Northwest Visitors: Labor Program Planned (Minneapolis Morning Tribune)

Urges Pay Raise to Save Women: Bishop Samuel Fallows Advocates Putting Them on an Equal Basis with Men: Bar to Immorality (Chicago Daily Tribune)

Weather Forecast for Steamships

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:     

Thursday, August 29, 1912:  Was real nice going to school this morning. You see it rained last night. Had our first visitors at school today. They were Miss Cakes and Miss Bryson. We had our last class, while they were there.

Recent photo of building that once housed McEwensville High School.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

It sounds like the rain the previous night broke a hot spell.

Here’s what the weather report in the New York Times for August 29, 1912 said.

The Weather

. . . Temperatures remain below the seasonal average in the Northeastern States, the region of the Great Lakes, and the Upper Mississippi Valley, and continue high in the Lower Ohio and Middle Mississippi Valleys and throughout the South. . .  . .

Steamships departing Thursday for European ports will have moderate variable winds and overcast showery weather to the Grand Banks.

Cool—It’s amazing that there was a steamship forecast. How many steamships left the port of New York on a typical day? . . . How many people were on those ships? There must have been a lot or the New York Times probably wouldn’t have included the steamship forecast.


I’m not sure who the two visitors were. Miss Bryson might possibly refer to Blanche Bryson, She was a friend of Grandma and her sister Ruth.

What Courses Did High School Students Take a Hundred Years Ago?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, August 27, 1912:  Brought home my Latin Grammar, all the time thinking I had my Caesar. Didn’t want the former at all. Must study some now, so I’ll soon be in the midst of my studies this evening.

Guess I will like Mr. Teacher.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm. . . This is the first time that Grandma’s mentioned Latin during the year and a half that I’ve been posting her diary entries. . . . though she apparently had taken some Latin in previous years because she used the Latin term puella bona (good girl) in a diary entry that I posted a few days ago.

I was amazed to discover that a hundred years ago, most females who went high school learned Latin. According to the August, 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal, here’s what females were studying in high school:

Latin, French, or German:  82 out of every hundred

Algebra and Geometry:  87 out of every hundred

English Literature:  57 out of every hundred

Rhetoric:  57 out of every hundred

History: 55 out of every hundred

Domestic Economy (sewing, cooking, and household economics): 3 out of every hundred

The article was making the point that few females took domestic economy classes—and that maybe more should.

A Victor Victrola Machine!

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, August 14, 1912: Ruth and I went up to Oakes’ this evening. We were treated to the pleasure of hearing a Victor Victrola. I enjoyed it very much. It being the first time I had ever heard one play.

Victor Victrola

Source: Wikipedia

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

The Oakes family lived on a farm near the Muffly’s. They had several children who were close in age to Grandma and her sister Ruth.

What a fun evening! I can almost picture 4 or 5 teen-agers and young adults gathered around the Victor Victrola machine listening to very scratchy music—while thinking that it was absolutely the most awesome thing ever.

The first Victor Victrola machine was produced in 1906—so the technology must have spread relatively rapidly if a farm family in rural Pennsylvania owned one by 1912.

According to Wikipedia:

Soon an extensive line of Victrolas was marketed, ranging from small tabletop models selling for $15, through many sizes and designs of cabinets intended to go with the decor of middle-class homes in the $100 to $250 range, up to $600 Chippendale and Queen Anne-style cabinets of fine wood with gold trim designed to look at home in elegant mansions.

Victor Victrola

Source: Wikipedia

One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed about Grandma’s diary is when Grandma mentions the first time she experiences various new technologies.

In May, 1912 Grandma rode in an automobile for the first time.

And, in 1911, Grandma used a telephone for the first time and also rode a ferris wheel for the first time;

Percent of Crops in the World Produced by United States, 1912 and 2012

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Tuesday, July 30, 1912:  Nothing doing at all.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’d like to share some interesting statistics about world crop production in 1912 and 2012.

According to the  July 30, 1912 issue of the New York Times:

We Lead in Crops

The Bureau of Statistics of the Department of Agriculture concluded today a resume of the production of staple crops throughout the world which presents the latest information in such line of inquiry.

It shows that the United States stands first in the production of corn, wheat, oats, cotton, tobacco, and hops. The relative rank of the United States in the world’s exports is first in wheat, flour, cotton, cottonseed oil, tobacco, oilcake and oilcake meal, rosin, and turpentine.

The United States produces 19.8 per cent of the world’s wheat crop, 74.8 per cent of the world’s corn crop, 24 per cent of the oat crop of the world, 59 per cent of its cotton, 31 per cent of its tobacco, and 25 per cent of its flaxseed.

Click on figure to enlarge.

The US produces a lower percentage of the world’s total production of wheat, corn, oats, cotton, and tobacco now than in 1912—though of course the actual amount produced would be higher.  (A previous post provides data about actual crop yields a hundred years ago and now.)

Click on table to enlarge.

In both 1912 and 2012, the US was the largest producer in the world of corn.

If you care about the details about how I compiled the data in the figures–

If 2012 data wasn’t available for a crop, I used data from the most recent year available and assumed that it was the same in 2012.

If you’d like to dig deeper into crop current crop production data here are some useful resources:

United States Department of Agriculture–Economic Research Service

Index Mundi–Agriculture

AgMRC: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Major Crops Grown in the United States


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