Hundred-Year-Old Advice for Making Breakfast a Pleasant Meal

Two images of young women eating breakfast - one well-groomed; the other not
Source: Household Arts for Home and School, Vol. 2 (Anna M. Cooley & Wilhelmina H. Spohr, 1920)

Is it important to look your best at breakfast? To be frank, I don’t often give much thought to how I look at breakfast, but then I read some advice in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

Breakfast is an important meal, not only because of the food that is eaten, but because it marks the beginning of the day and exerts its influence upon the members of the family for the entire day. The members of the family who leave home to work like to enjoy the memory of an attractive breakfast table surrounded by a happy family. It makes them eager to return to their homes as early as possible after the day’s work.

There is too often a temptation to neglect the details of the meal, and too often the personal appearance of the members of the family is neglected. Everyone should appear at the breakfast table as dainty, fresh and clean as possible. Curl papers, untidy hair, and careless dress do not help to start the day rightly, and no girl should feel that she has the right to come to the dining room until she can present a pleasing appearance.

Household Arts for Home and School (Vol. 2) by Anna M. Cooley and Wilhelmina H. Spohr (1920)

59 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Advice for Making Breakfast a Pleasant Meal

  1. I’d forgotten curl papers. Now I’m remembering those pink rubber curlers, as well as my mother’s admonition to comb my hair and get out of my pjs before coming to the table!

  2. Oh dear! I always eat breakfast in my pjs! But then again, I eat breakfast by myself because I am an early bird and my husband is a night owl. Contemplating this advice gave me a good chuckle. πŸ™‚

  3. Dainty? I can do fresh and clean as possible, emphasis on “as possible” but I don’t think I’m up for dainty. What an interesting glimpse into manners from a different time.

  4. Ooof. No, thank you. My stomach turned thinking of the blame and guilt embedded in here. β€œIf your husband didn’t come home right after work, it’s your fault for not being dainty at breakfast.”

    1. I had the same reaction as you when I read this in the old textbook. I hope that the girls and women reading this book didn’t allow themselves to feel guilty if their husband or father didn’t come right home after work – but somehow I’m guessing that many did. There is much that I like about the past – but the way women were encouraged to take the blame for things like this isn’t one of them.

  5. My father insisted that everyone brush their teeth before coming to the breakfast table – “We don’t eat off dirty dishes” was his mantra. I still follow that rule.

  6. I wonder what the author would think of people leaving their homes in PJ’s? I saw a lady at Lowe’s in a nightgown and slippers the other day. I did make my kids dress for breakfast, but I found it more efficient for getting to school on time.

  7. A beautiful thought. When my children were small my then husband insisted we eat breakfast at home even though their day care fed them and he would eat another full breakfast later in the morning. I’m not a breakfast eater! But we would all be dressed and hair fixed when we sat down to eat, so I have to hope that maybe, somehow, this did help the children to have a good outlook during the day.

  8. “Dainty” smacked me in the face. What a hoot! I think we were always presentable at the breakfast table when I was a child. Before retirement, we were dressed for work and ate just before leaving. I think I was more concerned about eating too fast than how we looked. Surely bolting food is more of a safety hazard than having a hair out of place.

    1. Unfortunately, too often sexist ideas that resulted in many women having a low self esteem was inculcated from a young age. Some things are definitely better now.

  9. Oh my I definitely wouldn’t get passing grades for this one, especially these days. Always fascinating to read these articles on your blog. Hope you and your family are well.

    1. It’s nice to hear that you enjoy this blog. I have a lot of fun pulling together the posts. We are fine. I hope that your family is also well and doing okay.

  10. Oh, I always eat breakfast in my pjs and alone too. My family works from home and at night (time difference) and I’m the only one who’s a student. So, I eat quick and early. I do manage clean and fresh.
    Very interesting advice. Will have to think about it.

  11. With the pandemic, I’m finding myself still slothing about in my nightgown at noon. No one is coming over, so guess that’s OK.
    I’m going to share a number of your posts on the “America in the 1920s” group on Facebook.

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