Volume V, No. 4, Summer 1978


by Caryn Rader, Drawings by Gala Morrow

"We had to be ladylike in all of our actions. We were trained to be ladies in all we did. I think our family was more fortunate than most because my mother grew up in Iowa and went to a finishing school. She had us to walk with books on our heads--even the boys. We had to practice exercises every day to stand up and breathe deep and to sit correctly at the table," Myrtle Hough remembered. "When I was a girl I had to wear a big old split bonnet in the daytime. We didn't dare let the sun strike our faces. I didn't take that old bonnet off and get scolded by my mother once, but dozens of times. In the summer we wore worn out wool socks to keep the sun from tanning our legs. We didn't know what it meant to have that nice sun on our flesh. I resolved that if I had little girls I'd never make them wear big old bonnets! I think all the girls felt like I did."

Women didn't spend a lot of time and money on cosmetics and beauty aids the early part of the twentieth century in the Ozarks. Lotions for chapped hands and lips, tooth powder, soaps for bathing and shampooing hair were made from materials found on most farms. Talcum powder, and later rouge, were bought from the store or the traveling peddler. But, for girls, the main beauty secret required not cosmetics, but a big sunbonnet and long sleeved dresses or blouses.

Ail ladies had to have lily-white complexions. Lois Roper Beard recalls, "We all worried about getting dark. Trying to keep lily-white was one of the things I can remember. When we girls worked out in the fields, we'd take old socks and cut the toes off and pin them onto the sleeves of our dresses. Mother would scold me if I went out without my bonnet and umbrella. We had to carry an umbrella, and we didn't carry it just for protection from rain. We carried it to keep from getting brown."

In case the girls did get some tan, there were two commonly used bleaches. Some used lemon juice and rinds, but tansy and buttermilk were the best bleach to keep the skin white. Tansy is a plant with a curly leaf somewhat like curly mustard. The women mixed the leaves with buttermilk, then put that on their face and arms to dry. Then when they washed it off, it hopefully left a lily-white complexion.

Keeping faces and hands soft and preventing chapped and dry skin was a problem, especially in winter. Beef or mutton tallow made an effective moisturizing lotion. When a steer or mutton was butchered, the tallow was rendered like lard. But, right before it cooled and hardened, many women added some kind of scent since tallow has a greasy odor. This way women made their own herbal essence by adding a few drops of camphor or rose essence or a few broken twigs of sassafras. Tallow is more solid than lard, but softens easily when rubbed on the hands. Just a little piece of tallow would keep the skin soft and healthy.


Since women who lived in the city had more time and opportunities to use and buy beauty aids than rural women, they eagerly awaited receiving the NATIONAL CATALOGUE. The drawings and descriptions come from the Spring and Summer 1918 NATIONAL CATALOGUE.


9¢ 1¢ post.
Inexpensive rouge for tinting cheeks and lips. 1/2 ounce bottle.

Winter was hard on the feet, too. Corns were much more common than now because of poor-fitting shoes. Since corn pads and drug store remedies were not available, the Ozarkians made their own. Lois Beard used salicylic acid and lard. "We used salicylic acid for canning tomatoes. It's outlawed now. But we would mix the acid in lard. First we'd cut a little tiny hole in a piece of cloth that would fit over the corn and tied it on the foot. Then we put the acid mixture on the hole. We didn't want to get that acid on our skin, but it would take off a corn. It'd eat your toe off though, if you didn't watch it."

Lipstick was unknown, but women bought some sort of vaseline or petroleum jelly to keep lips from chapping or cracking. This vaseline jelly was also used on eyes to make the eyelashes and eyebrows grow. If the eyebrows were light colored, a piece of charcoal darkened them.

If a woman wanted to get fixed up fancy she might wear some rouge. "One thing I remember, "Lois said, "is old time women used to wear hats with roses and flowers of all kinds. One lady kept one of the red roses off her hat. It would fade and she would dip it in a little bit of water and rub it on her cheek. Now, that was the best of rouge." After 1910 or 1912 rouge could be bought in stores. But, those who didn't have any old rose or rouge could always pinch the cheeks to make them rosy.

Baking soda and salt were frequently used as a tooth powder. Myrtle Hugh's family made their tooth powder out of charcoal and salt. "We had a fireplace and we'd put the charcoal from that in a big thick cloth. Then we'd take the hammer and just pound that up, then sift it. Then we'd add equal amounts of salt and that makes a marvelous tooth powder, Oh, that makes your teeth shine."

People then as now had problems with their teeth and occasionally had to have one pulled. Elvie Hough said, "There was an old feller that lived here who cut hair and pulled teeth. He was a good hand at it. He pulled a tooth for me once. He had some forceps and told me to catch hold of the rounds of my chair. Then he pulled my tooth. Just yanked it out. He'd have it out of there 'bout as quick as any dentist now."

Hair care varied with families. Most girls wore their hair long and the men wore theirs short. There weren't any barbershops in the rural areas so family members or friends cut each other's hair. The men would get their hair cut about once a month. No one had clippers then, so they used scissors. Elvie's family had a pair of scissors just to cut hair and weren't to be used on cloth or anything else.


22¢  2¢ post.
Soothing to the skin. Apply daily before retiring. 2 ounce jar.


9¢  l¢ post.
Inexpensive Lip Rouge in stick form. Delicately scented. Pure and harmless. In celluloid box.


Girls usually only trimmed the ends of their hair. They tried to trim their hair when the moon was new because then it would grow faster.

Hair styles didn't vary as much as they do today. Elvie said of men's hair styles, "After you cut a fellow's hair a few times you knew just what to do to please him. There was styles then, but just to suit each feller."

Young boys got bowl hair cuts. Myrtle's mother cut her seven brothers' hair. "She had a little pan she just turned down over their head and cut that hair."

Young girls wore their hair in braids or curled. Jessie Burley remembers, "I tied my hair back with a little ribbon. I had just three little curls and that's all I had. But my daddy came from St. Louis one day and brought me three more curls and a new kind of a little curler--a curling iron. And I thought I had all the hair in the world. I tied a ribbon around my head and then this ribbon went through a little pin on both sides and that held the curls in place."

Myrtle Hough wore her hair in long curls until she was eight or nine. But it was hard to keep her hair curled. "I had to wind my hair up on six by one inch rags. Mother rolled it up at night. It was easy for her to do that to my hair because I was the only girl. I had to wear a night cap. That's a little tight fitting cap just like a baby cap. Mine had a little round place in back to fit the head. It tied down tight so you wouldn't mess your hair up. When I was in my teens we cut tin cans in strips and wrapped them in paper and used them just like you do curlers. Now it really made it nice and kinky when you took those out."


42¢  2¢ post.
Pebeco Tooth Paste is a widely advertised brand, very beneficial for teeth and gums. Regular 50 cent size.


Our low price places these handsome three strand switches of "National" fine quality natural wavy or straight human hair within every woman's reach. Each switch is made with three separate strands mounted on silk loops. You will find this style very convenient in dressing the hair and arranging it in many new styles. Ail colors except grey. In ordering be sure to send a sample of your hair. We guarantee to match it perfectly. State whether wavy or straight hair is desired.

Length Weight Our Price
20 in. 1 1/4 oz. $1.29 + 3¢ post.
30 in. 3 oz. $3.50 + 3¢ post.

Kathryn Stepp wore her hair pulled back in plaited braids in a long switch. "I also used kid curlers, They were a piece of leather with wires sewn in like a belt. We rolled our hair around those and bent the ends down to hold the hair."
Shampoo was unheard of but lye soap left hair as clean as could be. Lois Beard said, "Hair was one thing we were very careful about. You know hair will smell if you don't wash it. If you can get a bar of lye soap, it is the best thing you can wash your hair with. The best thing then is to use homemade apple cider vinegar afterwards as a rinse."


39¢  l¢ post.
Cato for coloring eyelashes, hair, eyebrows or moustaches. Black or brown. State color.



Contains prophyiol, prophylactic

Violet 12¢
Garden of Paradise 15¢
Rose D'or Mo 25¢
Nasuco 15¢
Mennen' s Talcum 17¢
2¢ post.


23¢ 1¢ post.
Has a nation-wide reputation as beneficial for skin, scalp and complexion. Full directions for use with each cake.

If the soap was bar soap, people would put it in a pan of water to soften before using it. If they had any, they always tried to use rain water or spring water--soft water. Myrtle Hough washed her hair every week in the summer and every two or three weeks in the winter. But many didn't wash their hair that often. Kathryn Stepp said, "When I was a little girl, after I would get ready for school in the morning I would go over to the neighbor's house and fix the other girls' hair, and my hands would be so dirty I'd have to wash them because they didn't wash their hair very often."

Jessie Burley recalled another problem with hair. "My mother shampooed my hair at least once or twice a week. Do you know why? 'Cause the little girl in front of me in school had lice all over her head. You could see them crawling on her! It was awful to go to school and watch those animals crawl around. Their mothers didn't seem to care. The teacher got a hold of some Oil of Fishberries. It was a liquid that they used to wash their hair to kill those blessed bugs. I never got them on me because my mother washed my head away."

Since the girls did not wash their hair as frequently as many do today, they used another method to keep their hair clean. They would comb their hair a hundred strokes every day with a very fine toothed comb to clean the scalp and help get rid of dirt.


8¢  1¢ post.
Witch Hazel toilet soap. An excellent soap for toilet and bath. Moderately priced. 3 3/4 oz.

Men usually just washed and combed their hair. Elvie Hough said with a twinkle in his eye, "I didn't have to fix myself up to go anywhere. I was fixed good all the time. There wasn't any room for improvement!" Some men, including Ely!e, did use cinnamon oil on their hair. They would cut cinnamon bark fine and put it in warm water to get out the oil. Later they could buy the oil instead of bark. They would put a few drops of that in the water they washed their hair in to make their hair shine.

Cinnamon oil had other uses too. It made a good mouth wash and perfume. Elvie added, "We'd put it under the arm or on our coat lapel. It'd stay there till the girls rubbed it off!"

Some men also used Bay Rum on their hair to make it grow and lie down. The dark liquid Bay Rum was rubbed in the hair after it was washed.

Bathing in the summer was no problem for the men and boys if they lived near a creek or river. They bathed in the creek or river. But girls didn't do things like that. The girls in the family, and families that didn't live near the rivers, would take baths in big wash tubs in water carried in from the spring or well. Lois Beard said, "Usually on Saturday night everybody took a bath. In the summertime they'd set a tub of water outside and let the sun warm it. Then at night they would carry it inside and sometimes everyone would take turns taking a bath in the same tub of water. The last ones didn't have much fresh water, did they?"


29¢  1¢ post.
Liquid preparation to prevent perspiration.

Myrtle Hough said, "I think probably the littlest ones got the first bath. Of course now, that doesn't mean that every one of the children were bathed in the same tub because it would have been black by the time we got through with the eight of us! In the summertime we would bathe every two or three days. In the wintertime about once a week." In wintertime men and women all bathed indoors usually in the kitchen by the stove on which they heated the water.

Homemade lye soap was used for bathing. Wash cloths were made from worn out towels or sheets. Towels were made from a coarse material called sacking. Grain sacks were also used as towels as were corners from worn-out sheets. In the summertime different towels were used to dry the feet. Since most kids went barefooted, these towels were usually too dirty to use on the face or body.

Soap and water was the main deodorant, though talcum powder was used some. Jessie Burley said, "We must of had something we used as deodorant, but I can't think what it was. I guess I just went dirty!"

Perfumes and colognes were scarce but some could be purchased. Lois Beard recalled, "Once in a while we'd get some perfume. They called it toilet water. Never heard of such a thing as cologne--it was toilet water. We got it in a large bottle and we'd scatter a little in our hair to make it smell good. I don't remember using or having anything else but talcum powder."

Myrtle Hugh's mother made her own perfume before 1900. "My mother had a rose jar. Each spring she picked the petals off arose called a cabbage rose--a huge white rose. We had to pick those petals early in the morning while the dew was still on. Oh, that was a pleasant job. We would fill the bottom of a brown jug that had a tight fitting lid with a layer of rose petals. Then mother bought Oris Roots Powder at the drug store. We'd sprinkle this powder over the layer of rose petals, then add another layer of rose petals and powder until the jar was full. Then the lid was put on tight. I forget how long it had to stay, but that extracted a perfume we used. Just a little bit on your fingers around your face and neck was so sweet smelling."


59¢  l¢ post.
Hand-engraved silver plated vanity case with powder pad and mirror and white or flesh color powder, light or dark rouge in cake form. Link chain.


6 for 39¢  1¢ post.
Soap fits the bottom of the shaving mug. Famous for its generous lather.


25¢  1¢ post.
Used in aiding the removal of freckles without injury to skin.



29¢  1¢ post.
Men's pure linen initialed handkerchief of good durable quality. Neatly finished with 1/4 in hem stitched hem and very neatly embroidered initial. Any initial except I, O, Q, U, V, X, Y, and Z. White only. State initial.


One of fashions most popular shoes for street or dress wear. A smart high cut shoe with black patent leather. Perforated vamp and perforated top of black dull leather. Recede toe. $2.69
Sizes 2 1/2 to 8 C, D, E widths.

Not only did the Ozark girls not have nearly as many cosmetics and beauty aids as we do now, but, in many other ways it was much harder to be a girl then. Since girls were supposed to be ladies at all times, they were restricted in what they could do. Myrtle still resents not being able to do what her brothers did. "I had to have my hair curled and I couldn't get out and run races like the boys did. I couldn't ride stick horses. I couldn't do all of those things and I wanted to so bad. I had seven brothers, two younger than me and the others were all older. So I really wanted to get out. A little creek that ran at the back of  our farm had the nicest swimming hole on it, but I couldn't swim. I could go down with the boys but I couldn't swim. I had to wear my dress and I couldn't get in over my knees--the girls just didn't do those things. My friends and I wanted to wade and swim around in that creek like the boys all did every Saturday afternoon. But we couldn't do it. We had to keep our dresses down over our knees. It wasn't ladylike to swim or run races. So, what could we do for fun?"

Before Myrtle had a chance to answer her own question, Elvie did. "They watched the boys!"


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

Next Article | Table of Contents | Other Issues

Local History Home

 Springfield-Greene County Library