Cosmetic and hygiene-related products, perhaps due to the personal and often somewhat private nature of their use, are a deeply compelling class of artifacts. As commodities through which we tailor our appearance (or odor) and in turn shape our relationships and encounters with others, objects …
In the wake of Black Lives Matter movement, started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in 2013 (Herstory 2020) and the mounting calls to reform and rethink institutions of all kinds, colleges and universities throughout the United States have responded by calling attention …
A fun fact for freshmen: if you live in Brody, you might be living in a dump. To be more specific, from the 1920s to the early 1950s, parts of the area now occupied by Brody Complex once served as the site of the City of East Lansing garbage dump. Campus Archaeology investigated a portion of this site during construction near Brody in 2009 and the Emmons Amphitheater in 2011. The large number of artifacts recovered includes everything from food containers to medicines to cleaning products, providing insight into various aspects of East Lansing life during this period.
One category of artifacts that caught my interest includes several cosmetic and hair care products. As a regular makeup user (maybe she got enough sleep, maybe it’s Maybelline) I thought it would be interesting to research these objects and learn about beauty standards and cosmetic use in this era. For this week’s blog post, I focused on three cosmetic items from the Brody/Emmons site that were most likely marketed to and used by women. To provide some historical context for these artifacts, I researched how attitudes toward cosmetics have changed over time, how these attitudes might have affected the availability and forms of cosmetic products, and thought about how this might be reflected in the archaeological record.
In the 18th century, both men and women of the upper class wore makeup (1). Heavy paints and rouges helped to smooth complexions often marred by pockmarks. By the 19th century, however, changing gender norms and beauty standards made it socially unacceptable for men and women to paint their faces (1). For men, the use of cosmetics began to be seen as effeminate (2). For women, conspicuous makeup was considered vulgar due to its association with prostitution. Few cosmetics were commercially manufactured during this time. Instead, cosmetics were mixed at home and applied discreetly to achieve a “natural” look (1). Therefore, we can expect few commercial cosmetics from this era in the archaeological record.
The 20th century brought about another about-face (no pun intended) in attitudes. The influences of Hollywood and flapper culture made it more socially acceptable for women to wear conspicuous makeup (3). By the 1940s, makeup became not just acceptable but a key aspect of feminine identity (3). As women entered the workforce during World War II, bold makeup—particularly lipstick—helped signal femininity and counterbalance the short hairstyles and masculine clothing worn by female workers (1). This era of increased social acceptance, burgeoning production, and conspicuous consumption of cosmetic products frames the context of the Brody/Emmons artifacts and helps us think about how gendered ideals of beauty may have influenced what the people of East Lansing purchased and how they presented themselves.
One of the cosmetic items recovered from the East Lansing dump is a makeup compact case that still contains a white powder puff and the remnants of a pinkish powder. This compact case provides an excellent example of the advent of conspicuous makeup consumption.
Before makeup gained widespread acceptance, cosmetic cases were hidden inside accessories such as walking sticks and jewelry for their owners to access discreetly when outside of the home (4). As it was unacceptable to wear makeup, it was also unacceptable to be seen applying it. Over time, both the use and application of makeup gained social presence and acceptability. Suffragettes of the 1910s applied lipstick in public to shock men (3). Flappers of the 1920s wore heavy makeup and made a show of applying it (3). Beautifully decorated, mirrored compacts became fashionable accessories to be pulled out in public and shown off like cigarette cases or purses (4).
The CAP compact represents such an accessory. Roughly teardrop shaped, made of a silver metal, and decorated on the outside with a geometric line pattern, the compact likely once held a mirror inside the top lid. The compact was refillable, as most compacts were until disposable plastic cases became the norm in the 1960s (5). The user would have filled a thin compartment in the makeup compact with loose powder, compressing it in place with an inner lid that snapped shut. Powder was applied with a thin cotton puff that fit between the mirror and the powder compartment (5).
Another cosmetic product in the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a jar of Pond’s cold cream. Cold cream is a product made of an emulsion of wax, oil, and water that for centuries was made in the home (6). Around the turn of the century, commercially produced cold creams became available that boasted longer shelf lives than their homemade counterparts. As makeup use increased in the 20th century, these cold creams were marketed to women as a means of removing powders, lipsticks, rouges, and the rest of the makeup they were sold (6).
CAP’s cold cream jar is made of opaque white milk glass with the brand name, “Pond’s,” embossed on the bottom. The jar looks very similar to images of the product appearing in advertisements from the 1940s and 1950s (6,7). These ad campaigns show how cosmetics were marketed to women as means of attracting men. The slogan “She’s engaged! She’s lovely! She uses Pond’s!” accompanied by pictures of beautiful women and their equally beautiful engagement rings sent the clear message that women needed to use cosmetics to achieve a certain standard of beauty necessary to win husbands.
The third item I examined from the Brody/Emmons assemblage is a clear, circular, glass perfume bottle decorated with concentric circles and embossed with “DeVilbiss” on its base. The embossing indicates the bottle predates the 1940s, as the company replaced bottle stamping with paper labels in the 1940s (8).
Like makeup compacts, perfume bottles of this era were refillable, decorative, and intended for display (9). The DeVilbiss name comes not from the perfume itself, but from the manufacturer of the atomizer. Dr. Allen DeVilbiss initially invented an atomizing spray nozzle to deliver throat medicines in 1887. In 1907, the atomizer was introduced to the perfume industry with great success. DeVilbiss Manufacturing Company produced perfume atomizers at its factory in Toledo, Ohio from 1907 to 1968, selling as many as 1.5 million per year during its peak years in the 1920s and 30s (9). Like other cosmetic products, perfume was also marketed with sexual and romantic overtones. Perfumes with names like “Mantrap” and “Irresistible” were marketed as product that increased women’s sexual desirability. Perfume was also marketed as an item that men were supposed to gift women: a 1929 ad for DeVilbiss perfume atomizers reads, “Ask her, she’ll say she wants a perfume spray” (9).
The cosmetic products in the Brody/Emmons trash dump provided an interesting opportunity to explore gendered artifacts and think about how these objects reflect the social norms of the era. If you enjoyed this blog post, my next post will focus on hair care products from the same trash dump that were likely marketed to and used by men. In the meantime, be sure to check out other CAP blog posts on personal grooming items like the beard comb found at the privy site and the nail polish bottle topper from the Gunson trash pit.
Here at CAP, we find artifacts of the past that are generally not meant to have been found (e.g. items from trash pits or ruined buildings or privies). In contrast, the scrapbooks curated by MSU Archives contain elements that students found so important that they …
Last summer CAP discovered the foundation/basement of a building known as Station Terrace. This building had many different uses during its approximately 40 years on campus (it was moved off campus in the early 1920s). It housed researchers from the experimental stations, served as bachelor …
This is the second entry of a two-part blog by Blair Zaid and Amy Michael about Myrtle (Craig) Mowbray, one of the first African American graduates of State Agricultural College, now Michigan State University, and the climate and culture of college life in the first decade of 1900s. The first part hereintroduces Myrtle and some of her early experiences on campus as an African American woman. The second blog below discusses her within the larger experiences of African American students across the country.
Myrtle Craig was the first Black woman to graduate from MSU (known as the State Agricultural College when she attended). Her experiences at the college can help us understand college life for African Americans across the country at the turn of the century. As we discussed in part one of this blog, campus life for African American students across the country was much more difficult than we can imagine. With federal laws barring integrated food and accommodation spaces, education at predominantly white institutions often resulted in extremely difficult learning environments for students of color. The changing country was facing technological and social changes that structured the rest of the 20th century. Within the first ten years of the twentieth century, the Ford Motor Company was built and the Wright brothers first took flight. Additionally, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was formed as a result of the Niagara Falls convention and President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the organization of the FBI. The country was undergoing radical cultural and social change and so was MSU.
At the turn of the century, President Johnathon Snyder, along with other coeds from the college had witnessed two major shifts in American culture: a lessened focus on agriculture education and the end of Reconstruction. These two major events created a shift in technology and demographics throughout the country which required new approaches to social support and advancement in the US. The M.AC. Record chronicled student perspectives perspectives; archival evidence demonstrates that students were eager to understand how the college community could integrate itself with the changing social fabric of the country. “Our Colored Brother… Perhaps one of the most widely discussed problem,” wrote one alum as he championed the role higher education could play in assisting the transition between slavery and freedom (Westover, 1899 M.A.C Record Vol 5. 11).
President Snyder addressed these concerns by soliciting the council of Booker T. Washington, then president of the prestigious Tuskegee Institute established in 1881 in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute was one of several colleges and universities established by the Second Morrill Act that ensured education for African descendants barred from existing land grant institutions. Snyder and Washington probably became colleagues as a result of their shared interests in the scientific study of agricultural practices (pers. comm., MSU History Professor Pero Dagbovie). In 1899, President Snyder invited President Washington to give the MAC commencement address but it was delayed one year. In 1900, President Washington addressed the commencement crowd at the armory with a speech titled, “Solving the Negro Problem in the Black Belt of the South” (M.A.C. Record Vol. 5 No. 39).
Upon graduation there were very few roles for women, particularly Black women with bachelor’s degrees. Archival documents from President Snyder suggest that Myrtle had two specific options: teach domestic science or domestic art. President Snyder’s personal recommendation letters for Myrtle, one to a generic audience and one to his long standing colleague, President Washington described Myrtle as “level headed,” further noting that she “has the confidence of her teachers and associates.”
These abilities would carry Myrtle far. Throughout the course of her life, she would take a path similar to many women who achieved the Bachelors degree in Home Economics. Myrtle chose to return to Missouri and taught at several colleges, high schools, and universities in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Eventually she married George Mowbray and became a sorority member of Delta Sigma Theta, a black woman’s social organization. Myrtle retired from Lincoln University, the black land grant institution of Missouri, as a faculty member in domestic sciences. The few details that we can gather from Myrtle’s time here at MSU and beyond help us to understand how race and gender shapes experiences and outcomes of higher education. During the era of Jim Crow segregation, Myrtle Craig’s story demonstrates the entanglement of these race and gender and the triumphs and struggles of a changing nation.
This is the first entry of a two part blog by Blair Zaid and Amy Michael about Myrtle (Craig) Mowbray, one of the first African American graduates of Michigan Agricultural College, and the climate and culture of college life in the first decade of 1900s. …
Author: Amy Michael For the past year, I have been investigating the gendered landscape of the historic campus. University Archives keeps the scrapbooks made by past female students and we can find newspaper clippings detailing female exploits on campus, but until recently it has …
For the past several months, CAP fellow Amy Michael and I have been preparing a presentation for the UMass Amherst Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Values conference
about gendered landscapes on MSU’s campus. What is a gendered landscape, you ask? A landscape can be considered “gendered” if there are discrete areas where accessibility is restricted between women and men. The purpose of our presentation is to determine whether or not we can predict which spaces on campus were used and maintained specifically by women using archaeological material recovered during CAP excavations. In addition to physical artifacts like shoes, buttons, and perfume bottles, we have utilized archival materials such as photographs, journals, and scrapbooks created by female students and preserved at MSU’s University Archives.
It is difficult to accurately identify gendered space based solely on material evidence. This is due mostly to the fact that the campus itself has changed considerably over time. That is, artifacts that may be associated with a gendered space are not necessarily recovered from those areas restricted to gendered use. To date, that vast majority of archaeological evidence for gender has been recovered from trash pits and shovel test sites. Because these assemblages are comprised of discarded materials, it is impossible to determine where they came from and therefore, impossible to predict which artifacts could be associated with a specific space on campus.
Archival evidence has allowed us to determine which areas of campus were frequented by women such as Morrill Hall. Morrill Hall was originally used as a women’s dormitory, as well as holding classes and a gymnasium. Photographic evidence and student journals have informed us that other areas, such as the Victory Gardens and the Red Cedar River were commonly used as meeting places for female students. Artifact evidence from these areas is lacking, however, due to the demolition of Morrill Hall, cleaning of the landscape around the Victory Gardens, and natural processes such as erosion along the banks of the Red Cedar River.
One issue we seek to address is to determine how the overlapping or intrusion of female spaces into areas traditionally reserved for male students affected interactions between women and men on campus. What were the reactions to these changing landscapes? Further, we seek to understand whether female students largely remained in those areas reserved specifically for them, or if there were alternative opportunities for wider access to campus (even in the face of university or social restrictions). Finally, we hope to identify and understand which types of material evidence, if any, recovered by Campus Archaeology can be considered gendered.
The following is my first blog post for the Broad Art Museum Writing Residency program. We were given articles on “mediascape” and landscape and instructed to consider these works in conversation with Trevor Paglen’s artwork (referenced in my intro blog post about the residency) and …