Grooming in 1930s North Carolina
Using primary source materials, this lesson plan provides a glimpse into the lives of girls and women from the 1930s and will give students the opportunity to study what was considered attractive for the time, how the Depression affected grooming practices, and the universal concept of healthful living.
A for grades 8 and 10–12 Social Studies
Students will be able to answer the following essential questions:
- How did the home extension programs assist girls and women in personal hygiene?
- How did living during the Great Depression affect grooming issues?
- What is healthful living and has that concept changed with time?
- gain a basic understanding of the Home Demonstration and 4-H programs in the 1930s
- examine a primary source document
- experience historical empathy
- practice thinking like a historian
- compare and contrast past and present concepts of attractiveness and healthful living
Time required for lesson
2–3 class periods
- Teacher background information about the Home Demonstration and 4H Clubs from the Green ‘N’ Growing collection.
- Chart paper (unlined if possible) and markers.
- One copy of the Extension Miscellaneous Pamphlet No. 35 (PDF) on grooming from the Green ‘N’ Growing website.
- From the pamphlet, copies of pages 3 (cut this page off just above the Facial Expression and dispose of the top), 7, 8, and 11 (cut this page off right above the Essentials of Good Grooming and keep the top section) for all students (or you can make enough for half of the class as they will be working in groups). Or you may want to cut and paste the readings from the brochure: Facial Expressions on page 3, Hair Arrangement on pages 7 and 8, and Clothes on page 11. In this last reading, Clothes, be aware that “rubbers” are described as to worn to protect shoes. Students will have a different understanding of that word. You may want to address this before the reading or cut that section off.
- An overhead of the cover of the Grooming pamphlet.
- Copies of the Matrix for Activity One for each student or you can make an overhead of it and have the students copy it on a sheet of notebook paper.
- Make one overhead copy of the matrix.
- Computers for students to find photographs from the Green ‘N’ Growing site (r this can be done as homework).
- If doing the extension activity, have students bring in magazine pictures of female models (This could be for extra credit and may be assigned after the first activity or in advance.).
- From the pamphlet, copies of pages 9 and 10 (front and back) for each pair of students.
- Copies of Questions for Activity Two, if desired.
- Index cards.
- Filled in cards from the previous activity.
- Lined chart paper and markers.
- Masking tape.
- An overhead from page 3 of the Grooming pamphlet of the Ten Rules for Long Life. (This list includes “bowel habits” as one of the rules. You may want to address this before you put up the overhead depending on the maturity of your students.)
- A computer with an LCD projector would be of use to show the Green ‘N’ Growing website.
- Computers with internet connection for the processing for activity one and for the extension activity. Go to the Learn More tab on the Green ‘N’ Growing website. Near the bottom are links to various essays. Click on the one for the Great Depression. Once there a link comes up that says “Browse images associated with this topic.”
Before students participate in this lesson they should have a background understanding of the causes and general effects of the Great Depression on the American public.
These activities can be done together as a unit or individually.
Activity one: 50 minutes (longer if students need to use the computers at school)
Activity two: 20 minutes (longer if you have students fill in the questions)
Activity three: 15 minutes
Extension activity: homework or one class period if using the internet
Put up two clean pieces of chart paper and draw the general outline of a person on one of them. You may ask a student to do this or have it done in advance). Have the students brainstorm a list of attractive physical traits while you or a student put the words on the form in the appropriate area, e.g. nice hair near the head of the figure or nice nails near the hands. This figure can represent both male and female or you can concentrate on one or the other. On the other chart paper, have the students brainstorm a list of personal grooming tasks that make the attractive traits possible, e.g. wash hair daily, get a manicure.
This could possibly develop into (or you could lead into) a lively discussion about the issues of: “What is attractive?” “Are our ideas about what is attractive fair or even healthy?” and/or “Does our society make too much of looking a certain way?”
Lead the students into quick review of how fashion and a definition of beauty changes over time. This discussion could include:
- changes in female style: Civil War dresses, Gilded Age bustles, hair on top of the head, bobbed hair, post-war poodle skirts, 1960s clothing, and straight, long hair
- changes in male style: Renaissance ruffs, long hair pulled back, knee breeches and white wigs of the Revolutionary Period, top hats and spats, tight jeans and t-shirts of the 1950s, buzz cuts, long hair of the 1960s
Cooperative group activity
- Put the students into groups of three or four.
- Put the overhead of the grooming pamphlet cover on the overhead.
- Ask the students the following:
- What do you see?
- When do you think this might have been published? Why?
(The students may guess 1914 since it is on the cover. Other students may notice that the woman is not from that era. Allow a short discussion if you can. Lead them to understand that the picture is most likely one from the 1930s. Clues include the distinctive hairstyle, shorter dress, and sculptured makeup. It may help to mention movies they may have seen from that take place during that period such as Cinderella Man, Schindler’s List (which starts in the 30s), The Sting, King Kong, and The Aviator
- Why do you think this might have been published?
- Go over basic historical information about the Home Demonstration and 4-H Clubs in North Carolina. As an alternative, you could run off copies of this material and ask the students to read it as homework and finish this activity the next class period.
- Show the students the full copy of the grooming pamphlet and explain that it was one of a series of documents produced by the Extension Service to better help women and girls, particularly those in rural areas, with a variety of needs such as canning, making clothes, gardening, and other home economic type of programs. Some pamphlets were produced especially for the girls in 4-H clubs around the state.
- Explain that the students will be investigating this source to learn about grooming and beauty for the 1930s.
- Ask the students what kind of source this is. (primary) What are some things we need to consider as we examine a primary source? (who wrote it, when was it written, and why: North Agricultural Extension Service in January 1939. The why should be answered as the activity is be completed, although students may have some guesses about the reason it was written, especially since there was an introduction to the Home Demonstration and 4-H clubs.)
- Give each group copies of the reading sheets. Give each student a copy of the matrix or put it on the overhead. Tell the students to read the following sections and fill in the matrix with evidence from the source. They should work together on this and be prepared to present some of their ideas to the rest of the class.
- facial expressions on page 3
- hair arrangement on pages 7 and 8
- clothes on page 11
- Have the groups give one example they found from each of the sections as you write on the overhead copy of the matrix.
- Discuss the finished matrix giving particular emphasis on evidence of the time period for each section.
- Ask the students how this process is similar to what a historian does. (Using primary source material to discover information about the past.)
- Ask the students why it is important to be objective as they think about styles from the past. (This question is to help students understand that all times are not the same in values, styles, or understanding. Students have difficulty with putting themselves in other times and places. They want to incorporate their own value system, likes and dislikes, and knowledge set on a different construct. Each time we can help them challenge this will allow our students to think more like historians.)
Either in class or for homework, have the students write a compare/contrast essay between what was considered attractive in 1939 and today. They are to use examples from the matrix to support their paper. Have the students find at least one photograph from the Green ‘N’ Growing website to use as a visual to support their essay. There are many examples of Home Demonstration agents and of women or girls at club meetings. Using a computer and an LCD, if possible, walk the students through the process of finding the site and navigating to the appropriate page. Go to the history tab in the site. Near the bottom are links to various essays. Click on the one for the Great Depression. Once there a link comes up that says “Browse images associated with this topic.” If students do not have access to a computer at home, you may need to schedule time for students to use a lab or computer in the classroom. They are to indicate on the visual or attached to it, how it supports their essay as an example from that time.
An alternative to this would be to have the students write as if they were historians from the year 2050. They would also do a compare/contrast essay but would be looking at two different historical periods: 1939 and our present. To make the assignment more creative, they could also compare their own time: 2050. Visual support would be in the form of one photograph from Green ‘N’ Growing, one from our present, and you may also ask them to draw an example from 2050. Eighth graders enjoy this type of creative work.
If doing the extension activity, for homework (or extra credit) ask students to bring in magazine pictures of models from today.
Quickly review some points the students learned from the first activity. Ask how the students get the materials they need to do their personal grooming today. Explain that today they will be looking at the same document to discover how living in the Great Depression affected the grooming efforts of women and girls.
- Put students in pairs.
- Pass out copies of pages 9 and 10 to each pair. Ask them to look carefully at the recipes included in those pages and discuss in each pair why they were included in the pamphlet. Or pass out the Question sheet to each pair to fill in after they read.
- Have the whole class discuss the following questions:
- What types of recipes are these? (recipes for personal hygiene items) Have the students give examples from the source. You may want to include other recipes in the booklet that are not on the two pages such as a buttermilk mask, shampoo jelly, hot oil treatment for the hair using olive oil, home cure for dandruff, and hair waxing solution.
- Why might these recipes have been included in the document? (Many people living during the Depression could not afford or were unable to buy these items from a store.)
- Why did the Extension Service feel it important to make the recipes available? (Answers will vary. Students may conclude that even during the Depression people needed to feel good about themselves. Others may also answer that many people did not know how to make these items.) Explain that this helps to answer the “why” question addressed earlier when discussing primary source materials.
- How did documents like these improve life for the women and girls during the Depression? (Answers will vary.)
- What does this tell you about the time period? (Answers will vary.)
- Why is using primary sources important to historians? (Answers will vary.)
- How has reading from the grooming pamphlet better helped you to understand what life was like for women in the Depression Era in North Carolina? (Answers will vary.)
Have the students choose one personal grooming item they use each week. Ask them to list the ingredients on an index card and determine how they could most closely make from household materials if it they couldn’t buy it anymore.
Ask some of the students to share their ideas from the index cards they did for homework. How do those products make us more (or less) healthy? Have the students think silently about what is healthy living for a few minutes.
- Put the students in four groups (more groups is fine, but the activity will take more time).
- Give each group a piece of chart paper.
- Ask each group to come up with five rules for long life.
- Now have them star or underline the ones they think might also be listed in the grooming pamphlet.
- Have each group post their charts on a different wall in the classroom.
- Allow the other a few minutes to walk about to see the other charts or allow each group a few minutes to explain their ideas.
- Tell the students that they will now examine the list from the grooming pamphlet. Put up the overhead with the Ten Rules for Long Life and ask the following questions:
- What do you think Hygeia is? (Greek Goddess of Health)
- How many groups have all five of their items on this list? 3 or 4 items? 1 or 2 items? None? If most of the groups had many of the items, ask them why they did so well. If most groups did not include many items, ask them why they didn’t. Next have a short discussion about the similarities and differences between what was healthy then and now. Have the students indicate what they think should definitely be added to the list (if anything) that comes from our present knowledge of healthful living. Have them defend their reasoning. Most likely, the students will not have a lot to add to this list.
- Ask them if they see something in this list that helps place it in the 1930s. (They may not see this as readily since we still use radios today, but you can point out that radios were similar to what television or video games would be today.)
- Ask the students if they see an example of gender bias in this list. (The physician is listed as a male.)
Either in class or for homework have the students write a letter to someone who lived during the 1930s highlighting the similarities OR differences that they have discovered between what was considered healthful living in 1939 and today. Have them use specific examples from today’s lesson.
Students will have successfully completed the matrix, participated in group and class discussion, and completed a compare/contrast essay. Teachers will assess student understanding as they discuss primary sources, the need for the Home Demonstration materials, the role of the historian, and compare and contrast concepts of what is attractive between 1939 and today. Good mechanics are to be expected in a written assignment. At least one quarter of the grade should come from the attached visual with an explanation as to its significance.
Assessment takes place as the teacher listens to the discussion. Students should show understanding as they discuss in pairs and in a whole class setting the questions from this activity. An alternative would be to collect the question sheets from each pair if you choose to use them. Answers will vary on many of the questions, so thoughtful thinking and completion would be determinants for grades.
Assessment for this activity is from the discussion of the questions and completion of the chart. Each student will also turn in a letter that will enable the teacher to see if the student internalized the information. There are no right and wrong answers for the letter. Evaluation comes from the strength of argument and use of supporting examples from the day’s lesson. As always, good mechanics are to be expected in a written assignment.
Since most of this work is done in groups there are no major changes necessary for the classroom work. For the written assignments, teachers would have different expectations for students of limited abilities. Due to collaborative nature of these activities, they would be practical English language learners.
- As an extension activity, have the students in groups make posters that include comparisons between hairstyles, makeup, fashion, etc. in the 1930s with today. The students will use the magazine photographs they brought in and images from the Green ‘N’ Growing website.
- Have the students take on the role of Home Demonstration agent who is helping rural people today. What is a pamphlet that they might write? Have the students write an outline for their pamphlet explaining what they would want to include and why.
- Have students investigate titles of other Extension Miscellaneous Pamphlets from the Green ‘N’ Growing website. How do they think the document helped the people from the time? Why were they needed?
depression: a time of low general economic activity marked especially by rising unemployment
extension agent: a consultant that is employed by the federal and state governments to give information about agriculture and home economics
home demonstrations: extension agents came to areas to instruct women and girls in programs such as canning, gardening, sewing, and what we would call home economics