What does the history of swimming and swimwear have in common with the history of food & gender in America?
I created this site in 2012 for two primary reasons: I wanted to share inspiring, funny, and sometimes tragic stories of women whom history has forgotten but whose collective experiences have shaped American culture. I also wanted a space to investigate how advertising and the media affects choice, perception, cultural stereotypes, and even the telling of history. The ideas of “cultural amnesia” and the power of the media to transform and/or perpetuate gendered stereotypes intrigue me. . . . Understanding how cultural stereotypes–especially those surrounding gender–were created/reinforced in the past can help us navigate the minefields of the present.
Plus, it’s fun to review vintage ads and cookbooks!
When I worked as an archivist at the Schlesinger Library, one of the most phenomenal archives for women’s history and culinary history, and as a researcher of gender history, I had the privilege of reading tens of thousands of letters, diary entries, recipes, essays, and cookbooks written by women. I noticed that most women tended to describe themselves as “ordinary.” In their diaries and letters women often discussed cultural ideals for body image, beauty, and personal relationships-–especially as cooks and caregivers. Often, women judged themselves as falling short of society’s ideal.
I took an extended break from this site in 2013 to teach archival theory, gender, food & culture, and work on other projects. But these stories continued to marinate in my mind. So, despite being (like most people today) a bit overworked and short on sleep, I want to resume sharing snippets of their stories and explore how women affected and responded to advertising—especially surrounding food and swimsuits–in the past century and today.
If you have run across any interesting ads or have photographs, videos, or letters about marathon swimmers or beach excursions, particularly in the early 20th century that you’d like to share, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I appreciate any feedback. Thanks!