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Tips for Keeping your Tenement Tidy (in 1911)

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Mabel Hyde Kittredge, activist and founder of the hot lunch program for public schools in New York, was the Martha Stewart of tenement living. She championed the cause of domestic science for the disadvantaged at her "housekeeping centers"—model apartments where young girls from the crowded tenements could, by observing and doing, learn all the particulars of home management.  Her 1911 book, How to Furnish and Keep House in a Tenement Flat, was organized as a series of lessons to be used at the housekeeping centers in New York or in other cities which had started to establish centers of their own. The young girls who took the courses were meant to see the model apartments as "an illustration of the sanitation and beauty which lie within reach of the laborer's income." But in order to achieve that sanitation and beauty, there was an awful lot of work to be done. 

CLEANING TIPS

Kittredge acknowledged that "housework can be very dull," but she emphasized that "when it becomes an art, it is interesting. When a child realizes that she is gradually mastering an art, she has the desire and the ambition to go on." The children were offered motivation in the form of a card with tasks that could be checked off as they mastered them. Here is what the child had to master in order to complete the first course:

The holder of this card has

Made a fire.
Washed dishes.
Washed dish towels.
Cleaned sink.
Prepared soda and cleansed pipes.
Scrubbed floor.
Scrubbed table or tubs.
Cleaned kitchen.
Washed and aired food tins.
Washed windows.
Made bed.
Fought bedbugs.
Cleaned toilet.
Dusted bedroom.
Cleaned drawers.
Scrubbed woodwork.
Dusted down walls.
Boiled out cleaning cloths.

Then they could move on to the card for the second course:

The holder of this card has

Swept and dusted dining-room.
Set table.
Prepared breakfast.
Served breakfast.
Cared for linen and lined drawer.
Cleaned silver.
Cleaned knives.
Cleaned brass.
Cleaned lamps.
Cared (daily) for lamps.
Thoroughly cleaned dining-room.
Made starch. 
Washed and ironed bed linen or towels.
Washed and ironed table linen or curtains.
Covered ironing board.
Prepared meal for sick.
Made and served tea.

Kittredge gave the full details on how each of these tasks was to be done best: Clean the kitchen closets from the top shelf down. Wash bread box with soda and hot water, dry by the stove, and air in the sun. Take apart the kerosene lamps and boil all the parts. If you find bedbugs, wash the bed, alternating soap and water and carbolic acid. Soak the mattress in naphtha (basically, lighter fluid) "but be sure that no fire is near, open all the windows, and after pouring on the naphtha, lock the door of the room and leave it closed for a day to allow the gas to pass off."

TIME SAVING TIPS

How was all of this work to be done? Kittredge stressed the importance of sticking to a strict order of tasks because "confusion is due to lack of order, and running back and forth with no method." The morning routine, for example, has nine steps, from lighting the fire to washing up the breakfast dishes, and by the time it's all done, you are dressed, the family is fed, and the beds and rooms are aired and dusted. It was also important to "see before going to bed that the materials for breakfast are in the house," in order to avoid the inefficiency of the "almost universal tendency to 'run out and buy' before each meal."

MONEY SAVING TIPS

Kitteredge gives a complete list of everything a family of little means need to acquire—including furniture, dishes, utensils, and linen—in order to run a proper household. Helpfully, she lists the prices of everything—from the stove ($9) to the pepper shaker (5 cents) to sandpaper for the laundry (1 cent). Other tips include things like how to convert a pickle barrel into a laundry hamper that doubles as a kitchen seat, or how to use a window box to cool food if you don't have an ice box. She also shows why the cheaper option is often the more attractive, as when she notes that not only is kerosene cheaper than gas, but "a low lamplight is better to read by and looks prettier." 

BEAUTIFYING TIPS

The point of these lessons was not just to make tenement living more sanitary and efficient, but also more beautiful. Some thought given to decorating could go a long way. Kittredge advised yellow paint for all the rooms, "as tenement flats are apt to be dark." For decoration, pictures could be pasted on the walls and then washed over with liquid shellac. That way both pictures and wall could be easily cleaned at the same time. But most important was to take that little extra moment—after all the hard work was done—to see that your work pleased the eye. Because "a room may be clean and yet not attractive. See that the shades are even, the chairs straight, the blotter clean, inkwell clean and filled, plants watered and dead leaves taken off."

Then I suppose it was okay to put your feet up. Until it started all over again the next day.

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

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Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

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Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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