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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE NEW ZEALAND FOREST, c. 1950

Exhibit X: 1922

Exhibit X: 1922

Washington, D.C., 1922. "Social Hygiene Society exhibit." A peek inside reveals the period-appropriate use of scary dolls and mannequins in a variety of cryptic tableaux. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

 

Gotta love that progressive era

"Social hygiene" was one of the reform movements within the larger progressive movement of the period. It basically aimed to end prostitution and venereal (at the time referred to as "social") diseases. Another progressive program from that period was eugenics to breed healthier, happier people. It was generally a pretty creepy period.

Is this the weirdest Shorpy pick ever?

Let's say you were rummaging through a box of old photos in the attic at your grandmother's. You find this photo - labeled on the back, even.

How in heaven or hell's name could you tell what was going on in the photo? Who are these matrons, sitting in an office with mannequins dressed as Great War soldiers in the windows next to them, with grown men staring in the windows, and in the far right of the photo, a bunch of baby dolls with strange masks over their heads? Oh, with potted palms and free literature, too?

It's like a still from "Un Chien Andalou."

For every ten shots of buildings on city corners, we get one image like this. It helps to remind us how fleeting are our fashions, our politics, and our concept of what is "normal". Thank you for both.

Feelthy!

I'm always amazed how dirty everything looks in these old photos. For example, where the floor meets the baseboard, and all the woodwork in general. Is it really that dirty, or is this an issue with the photos?

Creepy, but just you wait

Cranking up for the Halloween show perhaps?
Pretty good start I'd say.

Pioneer

I think it was Betty Ford that brought substance abuse and breast cancer out into the open.

Euphem-topia

I love the way they tried to communicate important information while being extremely coy and delicate about it. Couldn't the common cold be called a "social disease"? I daresay their contemporaries must have been almost as befuddled as we are today about the message.

I think my first experience with this was when I was 15, finding a 1961 National Geographic on a recycling pile. There was an ad in there for a pharmaceutical company, who boasted of working to find a cure for "the type of cancer most prevalent in women." Come on, was the word "breast" really that taboo? Apparently so.

I guess it was around the same time (mid-'80s) that Oprah pretty much singlehandedly made it OK to talk about some of these things in public. At least, that's how I remember it.

Come to think of it, I'm rather bemused at how the exhibits implied that bathing and kitchen sanitation have anything to do with reducing the spread of STDs.

"For free distribution"

I wonder how many people helped themselves to a nice glass paperweight.

"Speaking of burning."

That occurred to me.

The burning question

What exactly is "Social Hygiene"? It has overtones of a group shower.

[Speaking of burning. Social hygiene is how you avoid social diseases. - Dave]

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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