Another big change in 1910 Santa Rosa: Newspaper advertisers suddenly discovered women buy things and even spend money on themselves.
Newspaper display ads had changed little since the end of the 19th century. In small town daily papers like the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican, an ad with a photograph or drawing usually promoted the same national brands of patent medicines, goop like Danderine shampoo, whiskey, pianos, automobiles and the like, year after year. Local businesses sometimes offered generic cartoon clip art, although it was occasionally used in ways that were tangent or simply inappropriate, such as the Santa Rosa grocer who thought he could sell more meat by showing a cartoon of a pedestrian being run down with a car. What clothing ads that appeared were aimed at dressing men (overcoats! shoes!) with an occasional promotion of the latest engineering in wasp-waisted corsets to inflict organ damage on mature women.
But my, oh my, did things start to change in 1910. Mixed among the usual drab lot there sometimes appeared an illustration with beautiful artwork and elegant composition, such as the first one shown below. It probably took away everyone’s breath at the time; encountering it today still has that effect because it looks so damned modern compared to everything else around it. The laundry soap ad below it was equally compelling. Although not at all artistic, it was guaranteed to be the first thing a reader noticed on that page. Whomever designed its layout was no less brilliant than the creator of the fashion ad.
What all these ads have in common is that they were all aimed at women who made purchasing decisions for themselves without permission from a husband or parent. Buying a new hat in the latest style is an easy example, but nothing here so demonstrates women managing money independently than the luxury of discreetly having your painful corns plastered and bunions scraped by an “expert chiropodist” while at the hairdresser.
Why the change in 1910? For starters, the economy had greatly stabilized after the 1907 bank panic, which nearly plunged America into a great depression. Santa Rosa had mostly finished rebuilding from the 1906 earthquake and there seemed to be more disposable income available, as demonstrated by there being four downtown movie theaters. Or maybe the Press Democrat – where all the ads below appeared – started listening to Oscar E. Binner, one of the leading figures in commercial illustration and advertising in the world. In 1910 he was living in Santa Rosa at least part time, trying to build a business empire around Luther Burbank.
It’s also possible American society was becoming slightly less paternalistic, as hinted in the Santa Rosa Republican reprinting a little magazine essay on the travails of being a housewife. “The wonder to me is that in this ceaseless grind of petty, monotonous cares, the majority of the women do not go insane. Most men would.” It’s not exactly a manifesto for gender equality, but nonetheless surprising to find in the one of the local papers.
But if Santa Rosa women were enjoying greater purchasing power, it wasn’t because there were recently great strides made in the American suffrage movement; a two-year effort to collect one million signatures on a petition for a suffrage Constitutional amendment failed to get even half that number. Most of the front page coverage of the movement concerned the huge demonstrations taking place in London which cumulated in Black Friday that November, when hundreds of women were assaulted or arrested by police while protesting outside Parliament.
The majority of 1910 newspaper coverage of the U.S. suffrage movement concerned the hissing flapdoodle: Suffragists warmly welcomed President Taft for speaking at their annual convention – the first president to do so – but the mood soured during his speech when he warned that it could be dangerous to allow women to vote because it would be “exercised by that part of the class which is less desirable.” He also suggested women first “must be intelligent enough to know their own interests” ‘lest they be on the par of “Hottentots” (an ugly slur meaning a primitive, even savage, group). When someone hissed, Taft doubled-down on the condescending attitude: “Now my dear ladies, you must show yourselves capable of suffrage by exercising that degree of restraint which is necessary in the conduct of government affairs by not hissing.” Amazingly, Taft often stuck his foot into his enormous mouth like this; a wag later wrote, “His capacity for saying the wrong thing, or for being understood to say the wrong thing, amounts almost to genius.”
YOUR OCCUPATIONLESS WIFE
You took upon yourself a wife, and it is your duty to support her as best you may; also, in due season there came struggling along certain very small and absurd travelers from Noman’s Land, and it is your duty to support them. Consequently you must dig; you must be at the office when you would greatly prefer to go fishing; you must earn the bread, not only for yourself, but for from two to a dozen others, by the sweat of your brow and by keeping your nose faithfully on the ever whirring grindstone. Tough, isn’t it? Oh, you bet, one has to pay the price for being a man! And then to add to the sting, the average woman has nothing to do except keep house.
Yes, it really is a fact that many women have nothing to do–except, of course, to keep house, and as the United States census bureau so happily states the case, that is not an occupation. For a light and enjoyable form of entertainment commend me to keeping house, although the women do make such an immortal row over it. Consider for a moment what a snap it is. All the housewife has to do every day without intermission is: Get the breakfast, wash and wipe the dishes, make the beds, straighten the rooms, get lunch, wash and wipe the dishes, mend the kid’s clothing, spank the baby, make a new gown for Susie, get the dinner, wash and wipe the dishes, look neat and cheerful so she will attract her husband, improve her intel–
Oh, see here! I haven’t the heart to continue the list. The wonder to me is that in this ceaseless grind of petty, monotonous cares, the majority of the women do not go insane. Most men would; ours may be the stronger sex, but we would.
And we do not wish our wives to seek some occupation that, strangely enough, suits them better, and hire a housekeeper, because we are so tenderly considerate of them you know! John, Henry or Adolph, don’t you make yourself tired when you think about yourself and you self considering regard for you wife! Just between ourselves, I do.–California Weekly.
– Santa Rosa Republican, November 16, 1910