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What Propriety Demanded of Mothers

Better Babies Medal, Yakima Morning Herald

My grandmother was raised to be a lady. Even in her 80s, one ankle was always neatly crossed behind the other. (A lady never crosses her legs, one over the other!) If the “Hostess Reference Book” of 1928 is any indication, she was expected to hew to the proper way to do everything — raise children; conduct oneself in public; call on others and receive callers; and, of course, ensure mannered meals.

The year my father was born, 1916, thousands of women competed for “Better Baby” medals in county and state contests sponsored by Woman’s Home Companion (predecessor to Good Housekeeping). Babies and children up to five years of age were evaluated and ranked by physicians according to physical and psychological measurements. Raising better babies and better children was a serious responsibility.

Here, for your edification and mine, is some guidance from the past. Have a little dignity, people.



…It is the hope of the writer that many children will read, remember, and follow the suggestions herein outlined as there is no other thing that will assist them more in becoming real, popular and respected young men and women.

Remember your best friends are your mother and father and you owe them all the respect possible; but to be known as a child who at all times is respectful, not only to Mother and Father but to others as well, is a reputation every child should cherish.

Never talk back to older people, especially to your mother and father.

Never hesitate in carrying out requests of your elders.

Never whine or frown when spoken to by your elders.

Never contradict any one under any circumstances. It is very impolite and you may be mistaken.

Never do anything when forbidden by your elders.

Never worry or nag your parents. It is unnecessary and is bad form.

Do as you are told in a pleasant and willing way.

Never argue with your elders. They know best.

Never ask your mother or father to do something for you that you can do yourself.

Never take advantage of your elders. Their faith in you should be respected.

Be polite and respectful to your teachers at school and church.

Never disobey your teachers or your elders or break the rules of the school.

Children’s Appearance

Keep yourself clean and neat looking at all times.

Keep your hair combed, your nails clean, and your shoes looking nice. It is just as easy to look nice as it is to be untidy.

Keep your clothes pressed nicely and well brushed.

Keep your teeth clean. Brush them not less than twice each day.

Remember you are judged by your appearance as much as your manners.

One may have an excuse for not having better clothes but there can be no excuse for not being clean. Soap and water are in the reach of all.

Children in the Home

Always greet the members of your family when you enter and always bid them goodbye when you leave.

Always rise to a standing position when visitors enter, and greet them after your elders.

Never address a visitor until he has started the conversation unless he is a person of your own age or younger.

Never interrupt a conversation. Wait until the party talking has finished.

Always rise when your visitor or your elders stand.

Never let your mother or your father bring you a chair or get one for themselves. Wait on them instead of being waited on.

If your leave or cross the room you should say ‘Excuse me.’

If a visitor should say ‘I am glad to have seen you,’ you should say ‘Thank you.’

Never run up and down the stairs or across the room.

Talk in a low, even voice. It denotes refinement.

Always give way to the younger child. It is your duty to look after them instead of fretting them.

Never retire without bidding the members of your family good night.

Follow these suggestions and you will assist in making the members of your family happy as well as in benefiting them in many other ways.

Children at the Table

Always be on time so you will not delay the meal.

Enter the dining room after your elders.

Remain standing until your elders and the small children are seated.

Place your napkin across your lap and wait until all are served before you start eating.

Eat slowly and make as little noise as possible.

Use your knife and fork and not your fingers.

Sit up straight but comfortably, and keep your arms off the table.

If you finish before the others, remain seated and wait.

Do not ask for your dessert before the others are ready.

Do not leave the table before others have finished unless very urgent and then only after being excused.

Turn your head and place your napkin over your mouth if you should want to cough or sneeze.

Talk as little as possible at the table, especially if you have visitors.

Do not pick your teeth at the table in the presence of others.

Never find fault with the meal. Remember your mother always tries to please and you should not hurt her feelngs.

When you want something ask your elders and not the servant.

When the meal is finished fold your napkin and lay it by your plate.

Pass out of the dining room after your elders.

Children’s Conduct in Public

Always conduct yourself in a manner that will win admiration. Remember both bad and good conduct attract attention. Which would you prefer?

When you are on the street greet your friends in passing.

Make it a point to be nice to every one with whom you come in contact.

Do not call to friends at a distance. It is very undignified.

Do not carry on a vulgar conversation because some one you meet does.

Do not take up with strangers.

Do not be forward and overbearing.

Never call an older person by his or her first name.

Walk with an easy carriage but hold yourself erect.

Boys should always raise their hats when greeting older people on the street, whether it be man or woman.

Vile and smutty talk can do you no good but does you much harm.

Always take your turn in line when buying tickets to a show, and never push or shove.

A manly or lady-like young person is envied by all. If you do not have this reputation it is your own fault and you are to be pitied.”

Next: Marital Advice

(Source: The Hostess Reference Book, produced for Syringa Chapter No. 38, Order of the Eastern Star, North Yakima, @1928, accessed at Yakima Valley Geneological Society.)



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(Re)searching for Grandmother


I never really knew my grandmother Jessie. I visited her house in Yakima, sat across the dinner table from her in Tacoma, occasionally tagged along with my Dad when he brought her dinner at the convalescent home where she spent her final years years. But I didn’t really know her.

I’m not sure any of us in the next generation did. We agree that she was subdued, beaten down, after years of bullying by her husband and perhaps her sister and her parents.

In a blog post last month I wondered why she didn’t divorce my grandfather sooner — the snake who kept a woman, Erma, on the side throughout their marriage. Married in 1911, Grandmother divorced him sometime in the 1950s, more than a decade after her last child left home. I know why he married her — she was his stepping stone to respectability — but I still don’t know why she married him. And why she stayed. I wrote, “Divorce wasn’t impossible even when she married; four were reported in the paper on her wedding day.” Her father, early in his career, represented women in divorce cases. Presumably, she could have had free counsel, if she had wanted it.

And then it dawned up me. Duh. She didn’t divorce him because it would make the paper. Because she would be publicly humiliated. More than she was already by the open secret of his other household.

Her older sister Janie wasn’t present when Grandmother married in their father’s home. Janie’s absence, I assume, was a message. But, afterwards, what was done was done. Janie, who considered herself a society matron, may have insisted Jessie stay lest a divorce besmirch the family reputation. Janie was notorious for her screeds to various family members; when in the presence of one, she usually criticized another.

This week I went back in time. At least it felt like it, combing through newspapers and the archives of the Yakima Valley Museum and the Yakima Valley Geneological Society. Among other things, I wanted to know:

  • Was it true that my Grandmother and Janie dropped out of high school? What were the consequences for my Grandmother’s self concept?
  • What were the expectations of women at the time she married and raised children? How much pressure did she feel to live up to those expectations?

My Grandmother and Jessie most likely attended Central School in the early years of North Yakima. A cousin heard that Janie insisted they drop out after a black girl enrolled in their class. Janie and Jessie were raised by their mother to think of themselves as descendants of “the Harrisons of Virginia,” and Janie worshipped the glories of their plantation past. Janie even had an expression for people she viewed as below her: “the low people.” In the 1900 US census, both Janie and Jessie were listed as “at school.” At the time, Janie was 17 1/2 and Jessie was 15. In 1905, the year Janie would probably have graduated, the Central School senior class picture does not include her. School census records were not kept until several years later, but it’s possible that Grandmother — whose mother completed college in Virginia — did drop out at Janie’s urging, and was isolated in part because of her incomplete education.

1905 Central School, Yakima, WA, senior class

1905 Senior Class, Central School, Yakima, WA

Next, Part II: What Propriety Demanded of My Grandmother

Photo source: “The Papoose,” Senior Class, Central School, Yakima, WA, 1905. (For those interested, the Yakima Valley Geneological Society has a self-published document in its stacks about the history of African Americans in the area. African Americans were present from the pioneer period of the late 1800s and made contributions to many fields, including education, farming, law and commerce.)

With appreciation: to Mike Siebol and John Baule of the Yakima Valley Museum, along with Josie at the front desk; and Frank at the Yakima Valley Geneological Society!


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Tracking My Father

Sighting across Cowiche Canyon, Yakima

This afternoon, as the sun started to dip behind the hills, I laid on my belly and pretended to sight a 22 across Cowiche Canyon. As my father had done. He described going up up the narrow canyon with his big brother and his “running mates” where they had devised a contest. One point for every rock marmot they killed on the far side. I know how politically incorrect that sounds now, but back in the day — the day being 1925 or so — it seemed like good fun. The sport, and the skill that derived from it, had a lot to do with my father surviving World War II. But that’s a story for another time.

This afternoon, I wanted to see the canyon for myself. So I climbed up a hill and laid on my belly — not soft, loose dirt as I’d imagined, but unforgiving black basalt poking up between the sage brush and tawny grass. My father must have been wary of rattle snakes as he settled down and took aim.

This is your country, I thought to myself, the landscape that shaped you.

He would have put the sun at his back, as I did. Across the canyon, a couple of hundred feet away, the sun would have shone a spotlight on his targets.

Maybe he would have glanced at his companions before taking aim. Smirked. He knew he wouldn’t miss.

Editor’s note: Part of Cowiche Canyon is now under a conservancy — no more marmot hunting, but a great resource for the people of Yakima County and beyond.

Cowiche Canyon, Yakima, WA




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In The Spring of Love and War

Henry Campbell and Eileen Driscoll, 1940

As he waited for Dr. Padelford’s class on Browning poetry to commence, my father liked to remember, “I saw this vision enter the room, dressed to the nines.” The vision was my mother. The University of Washington arboretum, nearing completion, was blossoming with co-eds who strolled in their “whooppee socks” (according to “The Daily”) and diaphanous skirts (according to my father). But love wasn’t all that was in the air.

Imagine falling in love knowing the world was about to explode.

Harold LaskiThat winter quarter, Harold J. Laski arrived on campus as the Walker-Ames lecturer. The internationally prominent political economist from the University of London immediately aroused a storm of controversy for his Marxist views. Besides class lectures, he presented a series of seven public lectures to capacity crowds of 3,000. At the last, U.W. students twice attempted to rush the doors after Meany Auditorium had filled. Almost 3,000 were turned away.

War was inevitable, Laski told the crowd, and democracies must fight to stop Fascism. By then, France and Great Britain had recognized Franco’s government in Spain. “It is no accident but inherent in the Fascist state that its practitioners are proficient in the practice of human cruelty,” The Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted him as saying. “Fascism and war are interchangeable terms. The necessity is inherent in the Fascist state. Dictatorships can not live in peace except in an expanding economy. That day has passed in Western Europe.”

A few weeks later, John Gunther, a prominent European correspondent and commentator declared before another near capacity crowd in Meany hall that Hitler, the “Napolean of Europe,” would not be appeased by British policy. “Feeding the tiger will only make him hungrier and stronger.”

Less than a month later, the Nazi’s occupied Czechoslovakia. A column by Gordon Pates in “The Daily” noted, “…Efficiently, swiftly, ruthlessly, (Hitler) has exercised (sic) Czechoslovakia from the body of Europe with all the skill of an accomplished surgeon… By so doing he established his sovereignty over Central Europe, gained economic control of the rich Danubian basin, reduced at least eight, at most ten, small nations to the status of vassals of the Third Reich.”

In three months, Hitler would order the gassing of mentally and physically disabled persons.

My father and mother remained in the U District after they graduated in June. My father remained active on campus, where he studied law. He may have heard or read the fall address of Dr. Lee Paul Sieg, President of the university, who told students, in part:

“What is this war? Why is this war? What can education do in these dark days?

As I see it, this conflict is focussed on a principle that 25 years ago was only in the outer fringe of our consciousness. Other wars have been chiefly wars of aggression or expansion. This war is a war to establish the dignity of man. It may not answer a question, but it sharply sets it forth. And this is the question. Does the individual exist for the state or does the state exist for the individual? But, one might ask, why should one country which places the individual first, go to war with another country which places the state first? … The first country probably disclaims any intention of interfering with the second one. But if it does not interfere, its own life may be in jeopardy. And then what of us in the United States of America, believing as we surely do in the rights of man? What is our stake in this appalling war? Our 3000 miles from the scene of conflict may lull us into a feeling of security, and complete freedom of strife….But our world truly has shrunk in both time and distance…. Neutrality may seem to unthinking minds easy of achievement. But our civilizations are so intricately woven, that genuine neutrality is most difficult, and the danger of our getting into war is by no means a trivial one.

There is a positive way to peace for our country, but it is a hard way, as we shall see….”

My father, “love in bloom,” as he called himself later, had to have been torn as 1939 turned to 1940, 40 to 41: cuddle with my mother, or defend the dignity of man?

From the Timeline of the National WWII Museum


January: Nationalist troops seize Barcelona

February: France and Great Britain recognize the Franco government in Spain.

March 15: Nazis occupy all of Czechoslovakia

May 1: In Germany, gassings of the mentally and physically disabled begins.

May 22: Hitler signs Pact of Steel treaty with Mussolini.

August: Germany and the USSR sign a non-aggression pact.

September 1: German forces invade Poland and WWII begins.

September 3: Britain and France declare war on Germany.

September 5: The U.S. declares its neutrality

September 25: The Luftwaffe bomb Warsaw. 40,000 civilians killed.

November 30: Soviet Union invades Finland; the winter war begins.


March 30: Japan establishes puppet Chinese government in Nanking.

May 9-10: Germany invades Norway and Denmark, then Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.

June 10: Italy declares war on Britain and France.

June 14: German army enters Paris.

July: The Soviet Union absorbs Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

September 7: German Blitz begins against Great Britain.

September 13: Italian forces invade Egypt.

October: Germany enters Romania and Italy invades Greece.

In February 1941, my father joined the 5th Reserve Officers’ Commissioning Corps of the United States Marines.







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