24 Sure Signs You’re an 1890s Kid

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If you can remember these fashion fads, recess trends, and dubious medical practices, you were definitely an 1890s kid.

1. Acting Up in Class Was Punishable by “Nose Hole” (If You Were Lucky).

Truly bad behavior often led to some old-fashioned corporal punishment. That said, lenient teachers had another card to play when a minor offense was committed. Culprits would be instructed to clasp their hands behind them and press their noses up against a circle drawn on the blackboard (aka: “the nose hole”) for a few embarrassing minutes.

2. You Played “Ante Over” At Recess.

The rules were simple. Two teams would stand on opposite sides of a building and toss a ball over the roof, shouting “Ante-Over!” with each serve. This volleyball-like sport remained a treasured pastime until the Second World War.

3. You Used Cocaine to Fight Toothaches.

Well, that’s one way to get junior to take his medicine! Medicinal toothache drops laden with the addictive substance could be had for a measly fifteen cents per bottle.

4. Ragtime Was Considered Scandalous.

Long before televangelists were denouncing rock ‘n roll, Gilded Age critics complained that Ragtime fanciers had “sold themselves body and soul to the musical devil.”

5. Beautiful Joe Made You Cry.

Scott Plumbe

Marley & Me has nothing on Marshall Saunders! Her 1893 book, told from the perspective of a hopeful little dog, sold just under 1,000,000 copies. Legions of kids fell in love with plucky Joe’s story, and teared up whenever it involved a vicious human abusing him.

6. You Didn't Know if Your New Friends’ Houses had Indoor Plumbing.

Make no mistake—flush toilets were definitely around. But less than a quarter of American homes actually included them late in the 19th century, partially because running water hadn’t yet taken off in many regions.

7. You Knew Gelett Burgess’ Poem “Purple Cow” By Heart.

Thinkstock

“I never saw a purple cow/ I never hope to see one/ But I can tell you anyhow/ I’d rather see than be one.” This simple rhyme (published in 1895) became an unexpected national hit. Overwhelmed by its meme-like popularity, Burgess spoofed his own creation two years later: “O yes, I wrote the Purple Cow/ I’m sorry now I wrote it/ But I can tell you anyhow, / I’ll kill you if you quote it.”

8. Your Mom Really Wanted a Turkish Couch.

Thanks to your good friends at the Sears-Roebuck company, Turkish couches turned into very popular mail-order furnishings. 

9. You Heard the Terrifying Screams of Edison’s Phonograph Dolls.

Not all of Thomas Edison’s inventions were hits. The short-lived “Phonograph Doll” recited pre-recorded nursery rhymes, which were stored on wax records. However, these discs wore out fast—and when they did, the toy released a blood-curdling screech. Parents of traumatized children demanded refunds en masse, forcing Edison to pull the plug.

10. You Had to Curtsy or Bow to Your Teacher Every Morning.

You’d be expected to perform one of these genteel gestures while entering the school-house each day, a ritual called “making your manners." [PDF]

11. You Remember Rover II Mania.

John Kemp Starley’s Rover II safety bicycle was a huge seller in the U.S. and U.K. alike; midway through the decade, some 300 firms were mass-producing them. Cycling was big business, as evidenced by the 100,000-member-strong “League of American Wheelmen.” 

12. If You Were A Boy, You Couldn't Wait to Outgrow Knickers.

Stores and catalogues offered a nearly-endless variety of Knickerbockers, but these were mostly just for kids. Baseball players notwithstanding, young men usually swapped their baggy shorts for a decent pair of trousers in their teen years.

13. You Couldn't Wait to get Your First Shirtwaist.

Putting on one of those blouse-like garments for the first time (around her 15th birthday or so) sometimes felt like a gal’s rite of passage, since younger children largely didn’t wear them.

14. You Remember Jelly-Con’s Sweet Dessert Empire.

Before Jell-O came along, its now-extinct rival, Jelly-Con, offered similar gelatin products “for the immediate production of a delicious and tempting Dessert.” These two companies would later embark on an epic Coke/Pepsi-style advertising duel.

15. You Visited the Local Milk Bar.

Large dairy companies wouldn’t go through the expense of pasteurizing their own milk, so independent street-corner “processing stations” began flourishing in cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. Trained vendors used to pasteurize pints and quarts of the stuff, which were then sold off at prices even the poorest families could afford.

16. “Rival Policemen” Was Your Favorite Board Game.

The Games We Played, by Margaret Hofer

Competing police forces struggled to catch the largest number of wanted felons in this McLoughlin Brothers classic.

17. You Rooted for the Boxing Gordon Sisters.

Eccentric vaudeville performers were a dime a dozen, but this gaggle of fighting siblings just might’ve taken the cake. Bessie (“Belle”), Minnie, Alice, and Freda Gordon spent several glorious years in the late 1890s and early 1900s slugging it out while touring the east coast, delighting gimmick-loving audiences.

18. You Shouted “Bully!”

Today, we mainly associate this exclamation (meaning “wonderful” or “excellent”) with Theodore Roosevelt’s odd vocabulary, but folks of all ages were yelling “Bully!” long before TR occupied the Oval Office.

19. The Pledge of Allegiance Went Like This:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Written by National Education Association committeeman Francis Bellamy in 1892, the original recitation was barely tampered with until 1923 (it was changed still further in 1954, when the phrase “Under God” was added).

20. Christmas Season Was Roughly One Week Long.

Consider the diary of one Mr. Llewellyn Barker. In 1890, his family didn’t start shopping for Christmas presents until December 19th and waited until the 24th to cut down a tree. In the days before mass-marketing and X-Mas jingles being played in early November, their approach was quite typical.

21. You Might Have Taken “Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills for Pale People.”

The awesomely-named drug was heavily advertised in 82 countries & claimed to help cure any disease caused by “thin, impoverished blood” or “nervous disorders resulting from malnutrition."

22. You Wore a Lot of Mauve.

During the late 19th century, purple clothes—long associated with royalty thanks to the expensive dyes used in making them—became so widely-available that the 1890s have been called “The Mauve Decade.”

23. You Wanted to Play the Mandolin.

Just before the two countries went to war, roaming American bands found great success imitating Spanish music. Their most iconic weapon? The festive mandolin.

24. Happiness was a Steel Rolling Hoop.

The timeless game of “hoop rolling” could be challenging, but wooden hoops made it tougher still because they needed to be repeatedly hit with one’s stick in order to keep moving. Metal varieties, on the other hand, could be pushed along more easily.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless otherwise noted.

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May 19, 2014 - 12:00am
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