Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Showing some skin

Attending that media history conference I mentioned last week reminded me of a couple of things I've found in the newspaper archives which I've been meaning to post.

Of course, now I can't find them.

But I did run across a few other things, and -- not least since I'm feeling too harried by work-related writing obligations to spend much time commenting on the world -- I thought I'd put them up as part of my series on unexpectedly found history.

Today's instalment comes in a pair.

First, some intriguing -- and, by uptight British standards, quite sane -- commentary about the human body.


Doctor on Short Skirts and Open Necks

"Not Immoral"

The modern woman, with her short skirts and sleeveless dresses, has a staunch upholder in Dr. William G. Savage, County Medical Officer of Health for Somerset.

In the course of an article on clothing, one of a weekly series issued by the Central Council for Health of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, Dr. Savage expresses surprise that "short skirts, which do not pick up the sweepings of the streets," and "the open neck and the sleeveless arms, which do give an opportunity for the ultra-violet rays of the sun to be absorbed," should be described as "immoral."

He thinks they are essentially healthy. "There is no doubt," he declares, "that woman has recognised that clothing is a necessary evil, and is doing her best to have as little of that evil as possible."


The doctor is a firm believer in the value of cold baths in summer and gradual exposure, "to harden other parts of our skins so that when winter comes we need less clothing."

He adds, however, a warning note that hardening should be done judiciously, otherwise, "those who do it unwisely may pay the price and not be here to explain their unwisdom."

Conservative man, "muffled up in his tight collars and his heavy clothes, is far less hygienically clad." But Dr. Savage concedes him one point of superiority in that he does not wear the pointed, high-heeled boots and shoes favoured by many women.

In general, Dr. Savage's prescription is that "clothing must be sufficient to prevent cold, but not so abundant that it discourages the taking of exercise."

(The Daily Herald, 26 June 1929, p. 5.)

Same paper, next day:


Surprise on Arrest of Draper's Model


A girl of 21 employed as a model at a wholesale draper's house was found to be without dress under her coat when arrested for shoplifting in the West End.

Gwen Smith, as she is named, admitted her offence when charged at Marlborough-street Police Court yesterday, and Mr. Mead remanded her.

The girl's father, a linen buyer, residing at Westcliff, explained that his daughter's duties necessitated her being without a dress, but he confessed that he could not understand whey she was out without one.

Mr. Mead asked if the girl had had any religious training?

The girl's father said he was a lay speaker in the Methodist Church, but his daughter was over age, and he could not force her.


"Everyone who is a father sympathises with you," said Mr. Mead, "but it places me in a very embarrassing position. Is this sort of thing to go on?

"We get two or three cases every day. People who carry on legitimate businesses must be protected. The appalling and deplorable thing is that persons in high positions announce from the housetops that no young person must be punished for a first offence.

"It may be a very good thing, but it inadvisable that it should be proclaimed."

(The Daily Herald,27 June 1929, p. 4)
I am assuming that Mr. Mead was referring to the shoplifting part of the matter rather than the lack of a dress when he spoke of 'two or three cases every day'.

It is, though, possible that many people were simply taking Dr. Savage's good advice.


Charlie said...

A great place for history and old newspapers is http://www.footnote.com. The site is growing and their newspaper collection are a priority!

Check it out. You can get a free trial and they are very good about not forcing the issue.

J. Carter Wood said...

Thanks Charlie. It appears to solely deal with American history right now (not a bad thing, just noting it), but I will take a closer look when I get a chance.