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  • My Spring Break 2014 Trip!!!!!! (to the archives)

    Posted on March 13th, 2014 Rosemary Zlokas No comments

    Over spring break:

    I visited University of Pittsburgh’s Special Collections and Carnegie Mellon University’s archives.  It’s hard to say what portion of the research I completed will I actually be able to use, but it was definitely a valuable experience to visit an archive as a “grown-up” researcher.  I learned a lot from these trips!  It was great that I was able to fit these trips in this week because these locations are, like most archives, only open on weekdays, so a weekend trip later this semester would have not been feasible.  In Pitt’s Special Collections on Monday, I found a really fun beauty guide that was basically an over-sexualized guide for women on how to maintain a certain physical appearance and it largely featured women exercising in bras and panties.  Pitt’s yearbooks are all digitized, so I can look at these another time.  Their newspapers are only available on microfilm, which was tough…but at least they are available somewhere!

    I had an interesting “lead” at CMU on Tuesday.  I had been going through yearbooks from the 40s when I realized that many of the images of women came from sorority functions.  I then focused on finding other records involving sororities, such as pictures, pamphlets, and minutes from meetings.  I went through minutes from one sorority from 1943-1948 that were available, hoping to find discussions/dictations on what constituted as an appropriate appearance.  I found very little of this in these particular minutes, but am now interested in pursing information from other sororities and possibly even the records sororities keep of themselves.

    I also spent time “research journaling” over break, looking at the Belcher questions and journaling pages of responses. It turned out to be really productive to have a few days without the stress of classes to think over my research questions in a relaxed environment and there was no rush to answer a set of questions in time for a blog post.  I am going to take more time to journal over research questions in a stress-free environment for this project and also for projects in other classes.


    Focus statement:

    I am researching the beauty culture of college women during the post-World War II era, engaging in a comparison study between a women’s college and a co-educational college at this time.  This research will seek to approach the topic in two routes: one examining the consumer culture side of this topic and the other focusing on what beauty culture meant to women on a more personal level.  This research project thus aims to answer what beauty meant to women, why it mattered (on personal, consumer, and group levels), and how it affected their lives.  Beauty culture can tell us a lot about women’s ways of life  and choices made during college, because women’s perceptions of themselves/others based on beauty are evident through the choices they made, responses they had to consumer culture, and relationships they formed.  I am researching this topic to see what beauty culture meant in consumer culture, how it shaped women as consumers, and how it affected women’s ideas of themselves as individuals.  In effect, studying beauty culture can show us what types of messages were circulated through popular culture and how women responded.

    Review of article methodology:

    This week, I looked at Deborah M. Olsen’s article “Remaking the Image of Promotional Literature of Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley Colleges in the mid-to-late 1940s” to examine its methodology.  Olsen looks at how these women’s “colleges had often sent mixed messages, reflecting the ongoing dilemma in American culture about women’s role and the proper level and goal of women’s education” (420).  She looks at how new discourses adopted in promotional literature could represent a rupture from the past in a way that led to criticism from college communities.  Olsen examines the techniques used by these colleges and the resulting tensions, conflicts, and paradoxes (421).  She looks closely at how promotional literature reveals specific techniques that were adopted by these colleges in this process of refashioning their image (430), such as: fundraising appeals, links to ideas ideals of marriage and family, and images portraying motherhood.  Methodologically, Olsen does a great job selecting an interesting body of sources, connecting it to a larger narrative, and arguing what this says about the ideals perpetuated by women’s colleges at this time.

    Secondary readings

     This week, I read Betty Friedan and the Making of  The Feminine Mystique by Daniel  Horowitz, which includes some on Betty Friedan’s experience at Smith College (then Betty Goldstein).  Horowitz discusses the editorials in the Smith newspaper written was editor-in-chief for a year beginning in March 1941.  These editorials were anti-war until Pearl Harbor, anti-facist, pro-labor unions, for students’ rights, opposed to the college administration, and critical of the privileged lives many Smith students lived and even flaunted (7).  Though largely had more to do about labor and feminist work (@CHELSEA), these articles still provided an interesting take on how to approach college newspapers. Horowitz argues, “Though most women’s historians have argued that 1960s feminism emerged in response to the suburban captivity of white middle-class women during the 1950s, the material in Friedan’s papers suggested additional origins—antifascism, radicalism, and labor union activism in the 1940s.  This text got me thinking that perhaps the “roots” of decisions made on beauty culture led to some type of cultivation of self image/confidence and impacted women later in life.  Probably a bit of a stretch to think about for this project (except maybe in the oral histories?) but it is quite an interesting idea.

    I also read a suggestion of Betsy’s this week: Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons by Lynn Peril.  Peril looks at women from the 1940s to the 1970s and how they were coaxed to “think pink” by persuasive advertisements and advice experts.  The author explores what feminine perfection meant and how this contributed to the idea of “true feminine success”.  I wish this book talked more explicitly about college women, but it does an awesome job looking at how advertisements and other influences shaped conceptions of “feminine” and “perfect” for women.  Even more exciting, Peril uses period artifacts to illustrate some of her points.  I did something similar with a paper I wrote on birth control while attending Fordham, and I hope to employ a similar methodology with what might be a public history component of my research project.




    7 responses to “My Spring Break 2014 Trip!!!!!! (to the archives)” RSS icon

    • Yay for the trip to the archives! That’s funny about girls exercising in their underwear. I think your approach of “research journaling” is a fantastic idea! Especially during this past week when there was less going on. That is certainly something I should be putting into practice!

      I think the part in your focus statement about how consumer culture affected women’s ideas of themselves as individuals is really important. Were women really “individuals” if they all followed the same beauty hints and advice?

      I’ve never read Betty Friedan’s book before (I don’t think I even pronounce her name correctly!), but you’ve inspired me to do so…just as soon as we graduate and I’ll have time, haha!

      • The pictures are actually hilarious. Make sure I show you today 🙂

        I would definitely suggest more research journaling. After we went shopping last Friday, I came home and took a bath with a glass of wine and my journal 🙂

        That’s a great point about women were “individuals” or not… I’ll definitely consider that in refocusing my focus statement.

    • Archivists gone wild? 😀 I think you might have better luck with Peril’s other book College Girls. Totally ignore this suggestion if you have already checked it out, but it covers a lot of what you’re studying. It’s also a hilarious and fun read.

      • I actually LOLed at “archivists gone wild.” Thanks for the suggestion, but I did read already it last semester. Definitely a fun read! Peril is awesome at writing for a wide range of audiences.

    • Sounds like break was just what you needed at this point in the thesis process! You now know that college archives can be an evidence source for your questions. And the sorority discovery …. great idea. With sorority names, you might be able to track national archives for materials about beauty available to college women through their participation. Pledge manuals might be especially useful, if the sororities are willing to share.

      • The archive trip was really helpful! I wish I could have stayed longer and done more research, but, alas, I had to get back to use VT’s special collections for another project. CMU’s archivist said he could help put me in touch with part of the alumni association that deals with greek life. I love the idea of pledge manuals! It will be very exciting to see what type of records sororities may have kept over the years!

    • tayloringradschool

      Glad you found some great stuff in the archives! Maybe you can give the rest of us some tips. If the sorority records end up panning out, I think that would be a very interesting route. Especially because the women would mostly be from the same economic group (I’m assuming, but there’s always surprises!). Your focus statement is good – I like that you connect it to broader historical questions. But as we progress, it might be helpful to think about any objections to your research. I’m sure you did this when journaling responses, but it’d be nice to see in the statement! I think one of the biggest potential struggles and rewards of your study are your sources, so it’s good that you have a guide to help you.

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