Every once in a while you stumble upon a time capsule. Not the kind buried underground or in the cornerstone of an imposing edifice, but the ephemeral trail to which digital transfer has given us access.
My treasure is a midwestern-American publication from the year 1940 called Kitchen-Klatter Magazine. It was produced and edited by Leanna Field Driftmier, a home economist and radio personality of her day based in western Iowa.
Her sister was a founder of the 4H movement and her brother owned a seed company and dabbled in radio. Additional members of the family provided articles from themes based on their expertise, one daughter, for example was a librarian and offered monthly selections from among recently published books. Other friends supplied additional columns themed according to their professional backgrounds and training.
This was all set into the background of the heyday of the Home Economist movement, which emphasized education for women, particularly in training for developing a healthy, efficient, financially secure home. But it incorporated health sciences, consumer sciences (both of which held the meat, agricultural, and packaged food industries to quality and safety standards), fashion and interior design, sewing, vocational training, cooking and meal preparation, nursing, fitness, etc. The list goes on.
Kitchen-Klatter is fascinating to read. It’s a window into the concerns and insecurities of its time. And what a time it was, in 1940 the world was at war. The U.S. was beginning to ramp up military production, wary, rightly so, that it, too, would become involved in the conflagration that had emerged in Europe and Asia.
In particular, in the latter issues of that year, October and November, Leanna Driftmier’s son, Frederick (Ted), who had been teaching at a mission sponsored school in Assiut, Egypt and regularly sent letters home to his mother, excerpts of which she included each month, began to describe the seriousness of the war situation as it drew closer and closer to Egypt and the Middle East.
Major events, like the Second World War, often become just a dry and dusty marker on the timeline of history. We can find it hard to relate to all the battles and casualties on a human scale, so when I find these very personal accounts of how a young person felt in the midst of unanticipated danger, it helps to draw down history to an relatable level.
Ted Driftmier writes in the October 1940 issue (page 5): “Besides enduring this terrible heat, there is the reality that the war is coming nearer to Egypt daily, and it is quite a nervous strain. Every airplane that flies over makes us jumpy….The Mission does not want to send us all home for probably the school can be opened in the fall and [otherwise] they would have to bring us all back again at a terrific cost. These colleges can’t be left standing [empty]. They must carry on. We will leave only when our lives are endangered but not until then.”
We, too, are facing great uncertainty in our time, with an epidemic, with political instability, so it is, in a strange way, comforting to read and relate to the uncertainty of a previous era. We can face up and move forward, despite constraining unpredictability.
That’s a historical treasure to my way of thinking. Also, there are recipes, and practical housekeeping and gardening tips, and who couldn’t use those?
Take a moment to explore the issues of Kitchen-Klatter from 1940. The magazines are in a publicly accessible digital database at Iowa State University, and available through this LINK.
October and November 1940 are especially poignant.
Keep thinking history!
~ Amanda Stiver