I love checking out advice from old how-to books, most often seen at used book sales.
If the advice is wacky or weird enough, I usually buy the books, skim through them for a chuckle or two, then give them ironically as gifts, or sell them online.
Last Saturday, we found two great examples: The Mother’s Encyclopedia from 1933, and The Executive Life from 1956. The first was an early Dr. Spock sort of thing, and the second was the kind of book Don Draper might have furtively flipped through as he faked his way into the ad world. Assuming he would have read a book – of course he would have just followed his instincts and bluffed.
What we would now call the parenting book is organized alphabetically. This volume begins with MARRIAGE: 24 RULES FOR HAPPINESS and ends with SCHOOL FAILURE AND ITS CAUSES.
Here is the advice under NAMING THE BABY: “Mabel, Alice, Emily and Gertrude have been pretty steadily falling, while Mildred and Lucille and Dorothy have been rising….Bridget has come to mean a cook, because at one time most of the kitchen help was Irish. Dinah and Chloe seem to mean colored mammies, while Geraldine and Alfreda seem to demand a Lady in front of them. Freakish names like Ruby Violet or Hyacinth Orchid react against their bearers or their parents.”
NAMING THE BOY: Even if he wears dresses and blue ribbons at first, he is really male, and needs a masculine sounding name. In the universities, one man in twenty is William – a larger proportion than any girl’s name holds. Then follow James, George, Charles, Harold, Robert, Edward, Joseph, Arthur, Francis and Henry. James has long been popular for coachman or chauffeur, and everyone calls the Pullman porter George.” Such tossed-off racism!
My favorite part of THE EXECUTIVE LIFE by the editors of FORTUNE is the chapter called HOW EXECUTIVES CRACK UP: “Some doctors believe that all men between the ages of 45 and 60 go through an experience known as male menopause or the male climacteric. It suddenly dawns on the individual that time is running short and much of his life is over.”
“In asthma, the central conflict was fear of separation from the image of the mother, an anxiety accentuated by sexual temptation. By the same token, executives suffering from heart ailments quite often possess what has come to be known as the coronary personality. Promotion anxiety is generally characterized by a great anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, and emotional conflict.”
There are great chapters on HOW TO GET A RAISE and HOW TO TREAT VICE PRESIDENTS.
Ah, the good old, bad old days. So much nonsense and psychobabble, all contained in books.