December 20, 2013

A 1920s Lesson on Christmas Candy

An excerpt from Foods and Cookery and the Care of the House: First Lessons for Elementary Schools, 1921:

Home-made candy, packed attractively in pretty boxes or baskets, makes a good Christmas gift.

Small children are better without candy, but it may be used by older persons if it is eaten in reasonable amounts. Candy is more easily digested at the end of a meal than between meals. Candy contains a large proportion of sugar, and sugar when eaten alone is irritating to the digestive organs. A great deal of sugar is found in some dried fruits, such as raisins, dates and figs, and in this form sugar is better for the small child than in candy.

Loaf, granulated and powdered are the forms in which sugar is sold. Sugar is made either from sugar cane or sugar beets. The juice which is extracted goes through many processes before the sugar is ready for the market.

When making candies that are to be of a creamy consistency, it is better to use part glucose instead of all granulated sugar. Commercial glucose is a syrup that does not crystallize, and therefore helps to keep the candy smooth and creamy. Commercial glucose is manufactured by boiling cornstarch with an acid, and is usually sold in tin containers.

By boiling candy mixtures to different temperatures, different types of syrup may be made. It is always best to use a candy thermometer in order to know when the syrup is cooked enough but not too much. When making fudge, panocha and fondant, the candy should be cooked until it reaches the "soft-ball stage", 236 F.; for chocolate caramels, cook to the "hard-ball stage", 254 F.; for butterscotch, popcorn balls and molasses taffy, cook to the "crack stage ", 270 F.

Caramelized sugar is sugar that has been heated without moisture until it melts and becomes a brown syrup. When this is poured over peanuts it is known as " peanut brittle." Caramelized sugar is used also for flavoring custards and cake icings, and in sauces.

Other materials that may be used in cookery to take the place of sugar are honey, maple sugar and syrups of different kinds.

December 12, 2013

Vintage Video: Ballroom Dancing 20s Style

Here's another one of those delightful instructional videos from the 1920s.  Dancers Teddy Royce and Wyn Clare show the dos and don'ts of ballroom dancing in this clip from 1926.

December 4, 2013

Illustrations of Jazz Age Home Interiors

A lot of the historical research I do for any era inevitably leads to art, dance, fashion, politics, and so on.  But somewhere in all this I start to wonder about the truly ordinary things about daily life.  What did the stores look like?  What did a cloche hat actually feel like to wear?  What did the houses look like?  There are a lot of exterior images of the buildings that were constructed in the 1920s, but it's been a bit harder to find images of the interiors of homes.  Which is why paintings and illustrations from the era are so helpful.

A Spare Room, Château d'Auppegard by Ethel Sands, 1925.

Vintage ad for kitchen cabinets, ca. 1920s.

Watercolor - Edith Holman Hunt's Drawing Room by William Holman Hunt.  The painting was likely to have been their home at 18 Melbury Road, Kensington, London, 1925-1928.

Frigidaire ad for electric refrigerator, 1928.

Interior with a Blue Sofa by Patrick William Adam, 1929.

Ad for Williams Ice-O-Matic Refrigeration, 1929.  

Sunlit Interior by Édouard Vuillard.  The painting is of Madame Vuillard's Room at La Closerie des Genets, ca. 1920-1922.

Vintage ad for Keramic tiles, 1929.

A Blue Room in Kensington by James Durden, ca. 1928.

Sketch for master bathroom of a typical U.S. home, ca. 1927.

Madame Vuillard Lighting the Stove by Édouard Vuillard, 1924.

Other good places to find images of home interiors are Antique Home Style, Flickr, and the National Trust's page for Mr. Straw's House - a 1920s semi-detached suburban house frozen in time, with its original interior decorations.   

If you have more sources you'd like to share, feel free to leave a comment.

November 28, 2013

The Tale of the Forty Thieves: Alice Diamond and the All-Girl Gang that Terrorized London

In the 1920s, an organized crime ring of female bandits, extortionists, and blackmailers, terrorized London’s West End. The Forty Elephants was affiliated with the male Elephant and Castle Gang, and had existed from about 1865 as a shoplifting outfit.

The Forty Elephants (also known as the Forty Thieves) specialized in robbery, blackmail, shoplifting, and break-ins. The gang’s blackmailing outfit frequented West End hotels and night clubs searching for aristocrats to blackmail. But shoplifting was the gang’s bread and butter.

They made headlines in the tabloids. One newspaper described the Forty Elephants as “amazons.” Others declared that thirty of the Forty Elephants were “big handsome women about six feet tall” of “giant physique” while the others – scouts and lookouts - were “much smaller” and of the “doll variety.” Members were reportedly chosen for “either beauty or brawn.” They dressed stylishly; some were reported to have even worn the jewelry that they stole. Gang members had special clothes made with secret pockets to hide their loot. The crooks got bold enough to make off with fur coats and entire rolls of silk. They could go through high end shops and society soirées without raising any suspicion. Many of the women even got hired to work in mansions to practice stealing or to get their hands on floor plans for future burglaries. Their stolen income went into wild parties and living well.

Some of the criminals kept razors hidden to protect themselves. Gang members were arrested regularly, but the Forty Elephants could always afford the money to bail them out.

One member, Doris Stewart is known to have given away her stolen wealth instead of spending it all on herself. She was a factory girl from the age of fourteen until she was eighteen in the town of Salford. At eighteen, to escape her life in Salford, she told John Peters, the factory foreman that her father physically abused her and stole her wages. It was all a lie, but John Peters wanted to marry her to rescue her. She wanted to be married in London, and after he gave her half of his savings they decided she would go one day ahead of him to avoid suspicion. Of course, she had no intention of going to London so she went to Manchester with his savings. It was in Manchester that Doris met Alice Diamond who taught her how to make even more money. Doris earned the nickname “Daredevil Dolly”. After her first arrest for pinching her date’s wallet, she finally made it to London in about 1919. She was reportedly thrown into Holloway Prison for six months for stealing a man’s watch. She had lived a double life as pickpocket, jewel thief, and con artist, and then as a rural gentlewoman – living on a rented estate in a village near Sutherland as the aristocratic and refined Mrs. Hamilton. There she supervised charity committees and give her stolen money to the poor by handing out Christmas baskets, food, clothes, and toys. She cared for the sick and even hired a local girl as a maid after townspeople tried to shun her for an indiscretion. To continue making money she took the train to London every fortnight, telling the townspeople that she was visiting her husband to try and reform him. In reality, she hung around elite stores - jewelry stores in particular – pilfering pocketbooks and watches. On her final journey to London she made off with a man’s pocketbook and watch, but he was on to her and soon the police chased her down. When asked why she turned to a life of crime, she said, “Because I love danger for its own sake.” When asked why she was so charitable she replied, “Because I love to do that too.”

Alice Diamond

Born in about 1886 (or 1896 depending on the source), the main leader of the gang was Alice Diamond - also called Diamond Alice, Diamond Annie, the Diamond Queen, or the Queen of the Forty Thieves in the press. Before becoming the leader of the Forty Elephants in 1918, she ran with a male confidence gang. She was described as being the tallest woman criminal in London and having “terrific strength.” As leader, she kept tabs on the police. Her crimes were shoplifting and general instances of hooliganism – she was known to assault her victims with the steel blackjack she armed herself with. Alice Diamond also oversaw the muscle of the gang – all the women who were armed and ready to handle any of the “rough stuff.” This faction of enforcers, who violently settled disputes with male counterparts of the criminal underworld, was able to take control of the area between Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Road. One unfortunate young gangster was reportedly beaten by 6 women after falling foul of them.

Margaret Hughes

Her co-leader and first lieutenant, Mrs. Margaret Hughes (also called “Baby-Faced Maggie”), helped plot the gang’s activities. She was in the courts over twenty times for theft, shoplifting, and attempted murder. Her coy manner, and angelic appearance got her slaps on the wrist or outright release. Baby-Faced Maggie handled the slightly less violent activities of the gang, including blackmail. According to the police, rich married men would go out with a pretty member of the gang, and the girls expected payment to keep his indiscretion a secret. Or the pretty members would hand the men over to the rough members, who took the men’s valuables.

It was Maggie’s husband, notorious London criminal, Alfred Hughes, who brought her in to the criminal underworld when she was young. The two married in 1912 while they were both out on bail pending trial. She eventually tired of her husband’s freeloading and she found another sweetheart. The couple fought often, and it all ended when Maggie took out the razor from her stocking, injured her husband, and sent him to the hospital. Feeling guilty, Maggie compensated him with money, but she wanted out of the marriage. From there she decided to only make money with women, and joined the Forty Elephants.

The gang didn’t have any actual male members, but it was reported to have had about 6 London gunmen on hand. They were kept in the same way that an all male gang keeps pretty female accomplices. They took care of the activities that the women couldn’t do. Other newspapers however, swore that some of the women dressed up as men, and could work without male accomplices. Some of the women argued over men in general, but Diamond Alice and Baby-faced Maggie were against any romances with outsiders. All it would take to destroy their plans was one handsome detective and a lovestruck member of the gang. Diamond Alice and Baby-faced Maggie were right, of course, because it was romance that eventually ruined their crime spree.

One member, Marie Britten, who reportedly came from a good family, fell in love with an outsider named Jackson. Marie knew what kind of trouble she was in for so she finally asked her father in late 1925 to escort her to speak with “Queen Alice”. There was a struggle as Alice attacked her, while Maggie went after Marie’s father with her razor. Marie and her father, Bill Britten managed to flee. The gang swore vengeance. Marie married Jackson immediately. Two days after the incident the Forty Elephants assembled and attacked the Britten residence. They hurled stones and bottles, smashing all the windows. Then they rushed in, shoving their way through the windows. They made their way to Mr. Britten’s room, but only found his wife and her baby. Mr. Britten had run off to protect his daughter in another room. The hoodlums dragged Mr. Britten’s wife out of bed, blankets and baby tossed to the floor in the gang’s effort to flip over the bed and find Mr. Britten. The gang then began to through the rest of the home until they found Mr. Britten and his son at the bottom of the stairs, armed with clubs. The women were armed as well, and fought the pair up the stairs until Mr. Britten went down. Meanwhile, the police arrived and came after the women, fighting them until several members were arrested. Mr. Britten and his son were taken to the hospital, where Mr. Britten was given at least 20 stitches. The police then caught the remaining members of the gang. What followed was the described as the most sensational trial that London had in years. For a while it seemed that the gang’s famous blackmailing victims would be revealed, but the trial ended up centering on the invasion of the Britten home.

Alice Diamond and Baby-faced Maggie were both found guilty and given lengthy sentences of hard labor. Alice Diamond reportedly barely responded to the sentence, but Maggie screamed frantically to the court; “I’ll be a proper villain when I come out!”

At the time Scotland Yard called Alice Diamond and Baby-Faced Maggie the “most expert shoplifters in the world.” Alice Diamond’s last conviction was probably in 1929, and she died in the 1950s.

The gang was  mostly broken up in about 1926, but ex members still lived a life of crime and the gang existed in a less organized form until the 50s. Months after the break up a “bobbed hair bandit” robbed flats in the West End of everything from a fur coat to a leather dressing case. Police believed that the Forty Elephants was Britain’s first violent gang of its size to be made up of women and girls.

I think this will be the first post in a series on women and crime in the 1920s.  Stay tuned.

"40 Large Women in Strange Gang Terrorize London."  The News 5 Oct. 1925
"Amazing Double Life of England's Female Robin Hood."  The Spokesman-Review 7 Oct. 1927
"Bobbew Burglar is Terror of London."  The Milwaukee Sentinel 25 Aug. 1926
"London Female Crooks Baffle Scotland Yard."  The Evening Independent 26 Oct. 1925
"Police on Trail of London Girl Bandit."  Lewiston Evening Journal 1 Oct. 1926
"The Amazing Rampage of London's 'Forty Elephants'."  St. Petersburg Times 16 May 1926
"Wily Bobbed Hair Bandit Despair of Scotland Yard."  The Evening Independent 3 Sept. 1926

November 20, 2013

Goldfish Eating, Pole Sitting - the Fads of a Carefree Decade

In this mini documentary, courtesy of Vanity Fair, director Lee Hirsch examines the fad of pole-sitting and cultural trends of the era.

November 12, 2013

Shopping with a Queen

In 1926, Queen Marie of Romania was invited to the United States by businessman Samuel Hill.  Queen Marie was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander II, and married to King Ferdinand of Romania.  She was quite famous and well-liked in the 20s due to her time as a Red Cross nurse during World War I and her diplomatic work for Romania at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.  Naturally, the Queen's visit to America was covered extensively in the press.

 Queen Marie visiting West Point

She came to New York on October 18, 1926 with her son Prince Nicolas and her daughter Princess Ileana.  They were welcomed by a parade and thousands of New Yorkers.  From there they traveled by train to Washington D.C. to have dinner with President Calvin Coolidge and then on to various cities and towns across the United States and Canada.  She was greeted by crowds and dressed in Paris couture, Romanian costume, or the fur coats, jewels, and diamond tiaras of a queen knowing that her trip was the first time many Americans would ever see a queen.  Of America she said,

"In no monarchy have I been more royally and more solemnly received nor had more colossal receptions as in America, in every single place.

 I thank you, great America, for the love you showed me, for the eagerness with which you received me, took me up in your hearts from one side of your country to the other."

She was accompanied by her American hostess, Constance Lily Morris for the journey and the following is from Morris' memoirs.

Tuesday, November 16

Today is to be "The Queen's own day" as she said she wanted one day to do as she pleased in Chicago. She started off by having what she termed as "a very, necessary shampoo," and at 9.30 we dashed off to the Woman s Athletic Club, concerning which I had spoken to them on the train when I promised them a swim. The Queen, Princess Ileana and I started from the hotel unaccompanied by any of the suite except "Craggie" yipping and yowling over what he felt was something fine. The lynx-eyed Kenyon was up with the Queen s Roumanian chauffeur in the Palace uniform. The Queen had a mistaken impression that she could travel incognito for one day at least, that unaccompanied by the motor-cycle police we could follow the crowd along Chicago s boulevards. She even labored under the illusion that she could go shopping unnoticed in Marshall Field's. Never was she more mistaken. I had been skeptical from the beginning but I pampered her in this whim, knowing what one such day would mean to her. Of course it could not be. Some of those energetic reporters saw us leave the hotel, and that was enough. Until we entered the doors of the Athletic Club they were right with us, but there they were balked. Being a woman s in stitution, they could not get beyond the doors. We felt like those criminals of old who have fled to Sanctuary, and, breathless with relief, we went to the top floor where the fine pool is. In a moment the Queen reappeared from the dressing-room in a dark blue knitted suit that set off beautifully her splendid proportions. She told us that she devoted at least one month of the year to her health, taking baths and treatments so as to keep herself in the best possible trim for such arduous exertions as fall to her lot. She plunged from the springboard like a girl. The Princess was a picture too, of youthful athletic beauty in a suit of gray. The swimming mistress wore one of white woolen tricot which the Queen admired so much she ordered one for herself straightway. We had a race to the end of the pool, the Queen, Craggie and I. I forget who won but it might have been Craggie, having the day of a dog s life. As we rested, we sat about smoking and munching caviar sandwiches before girding our selves up to go shopping. I had an idea of what we would face downstairs, although the Queen dressed as inconspicuously as possible and, in spite of all precautions, photographers, who had been patiently waiting, greeted us with exploding flash lights and fuses. Poor Craggie, utterly demented, dashed out into the street while we waited in agony to see him killed in the melee of wheels. The Queen could not bear it and sprang out herself after him. She boxed his ears for him and called him "a silly dog" while he ducked his cowardly head.

"Now," said the Queen, "let's do our shopping." Confidently imagining ourselves unescorted, we surreptitiously stole down the avenue and selected a quiet entrance to Marshall Field's store. How could we have been so ridiculous as to imagine that the tireless reporters of Chicago would let us "get away" with our project? In less than two minutes after our entrance they were after us with their "Look this way, Queen." . . . "Head a little higher!" Throughout the store there went a cry, "The Queen! The Queen!" and a mob pressed us into a jelly.  It was impossible to move past the first counter. Even Secret Serviceman Kenyon be came alarmed and with the assistance of an employee forced his way through the crowd. The Queen, nothing daunted by the jam, was not going to miss anything. Her eagle eye spied a lovely jade-green dressing-case in the distance and nothing would do but that she must examine this, and have it sent out to the hotel. Then she caught sight of a pleasing cloisonne carafe and tray which she also commandeered. By this time it was impossible to move. Half distraught I suggested to Kenyon that we take an elevator to the top floor as an escape. The door was closed on the crowd and we mounted to a floor which few people frequent at eleven o'clock in the morning. But word had got ahead of us and we met a mob as great when we got out. Kenyon suggested that we take the back stairs while some one held the door closed, but two stories lower it was the same performance, only the mob was denser. I looked for a place of refuge and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a high iron fence and a wall barricading the fur department. That was the very place to go. The doors were closed and the Queen examined at leisure the display of furs which were so much finer than any we had been able to see in the headquarters of the Hudson Bay Company in Winnipeg or Vancouver. She selected a lovely gray lamb coat with a beautiful silver fox collar, for the Princess to try on. As we wanted to do some Christmas shopping, we thought next of seeking a jeweler. This was easier thought of than done. The mob that followed us down the street was so dense that State Street was practically closed. I was nervous and frightened, for I considered the venture dangerous, considering the various stories I had heard but which evidently had not come to Her Majesty s ears, about the antagonistic attitude of many of the city's inhabitants. As we all know, Chicago is the place where the melting in the pot of America comes to a boil. Here the bitter outcast, the conscientious objector, the open fanatic, the discontented representative of mankind, have collected for a few generations. In the midst of this seething mass of humanity, one cannot but fear for the safety of so outstanding a person as the Queen of Roumania. I am sure Mr. Kenyon and I realized the situation on that morning as we never had before, and I felt chills run down my backbone as we pushed through the crowd on our way to a State Street jewelry shop where the Queen admired a jade cigarette box which the manager gallantly presented to her. So far we were unmolested. But upon emerging a more thrilling climax awaited us. Bedlam had broken loose. Having no police to con trol matters, the mob had surrounded the car, were hanging over the top and on the running board.

They were by no means unfriendly, all we could hear was, "Gee, ain't she great !" . . . "She's prettier than the pictures!" . . . etc., etc., but this did not allay my fear. It takes only one madman to inflict an injury, and when the chauffeur could not possibly force a way through the crowd so dense that it filled State Street from one side to the other I was so overwhelmed with the responsibility of it all I could only put my head out of the car window and shout, "Send for a policeman!" It was only after Kenyon procured a few husky Irish policemen to beat the crowd about that we finally managed to get free. I asked the calm Queen if she knew what fear was, and she simply smiled at me and said, "I am in a measure a fatalist, and I believe that nothing will happen to me until my hour comes. I have never been afraid of the physical attack of any human being."

On Tour with Queen Marie, 1927

November 4, 2013

The 1920s in Dazzling Color

I disappeared for a while because I've been working on some writing projects.  I have however, been quite active on social media, so there are regular updates on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.  Even if my updates on the Jazz Age Follies blog slow down, I am on the social networks, so I hope to see you there!

Clifton Royal Adams was a National Geographic photographer between 1920 and 1934.  He took photographs across America, Central America and Europe.  Autochrome was patented by the Lumière brothers in 1903, and the process was used to take color photos until the 1930s.  I've posted about Autochrome color photographs in the early 20th century, so I thought I'd share some from the 20s.

Women buying ice cream from a vendor's car.  Near St. Austel, Cornwall, England

 Hikers on Skelwith Bridge, between Westmoreland and Lancashire, England. 

Girls sending a letter in Belfast, Ireland.  

 Students on the terrace at Cornell University.

A woman in Newport.

Mexican girls in Nogales.

As National Geographic's first foreign correspondent, Maynard Owen Williams was another photographer who took color photos during the 20s.  He famously reported on the opening of King Tutankhamen's tomb in May 1923.  

 French woman in the early evening at Tete d'Or Park, Lyons, Rhone, France.

Raleigh Vintage has a lovely collection of photos from the 1920s that you can see here, here, and here.  Corbis also has a gallery of Maynard Owen Williams' vintage color photos.