What are some things that immediately come to mind when you think about your childhood years at your grandmother’s house? Perhaps warm hugs, a stomach full of food, and a few extra bucks in your wallet. Or maybe you think about loud yelling, ten cats, and the smell of cigarettes. Whatever it might be that brings back memories of those days, most of us have some some sort of trigger that can take us back. That is one of the wonderful things about the “Grandma’s House” exhibit at the Warren County History Museum. As far as I can remember, neither of my grandmothers owned a record player or a primitive tv; but I do remember seeing a washboard and a room for sewing. This exhibit has the power to transport almost anyone back to a nice childhood time; even if they have not encountered those specific objects before.
When I stepped into the exhibit for the first time it felt like I had entered a dollhouse; but it is with those same items, that resemble toys, that people used to live with. To make it even more real, all of these artifacts were donated from people in Warren County; maybe even people who lived close to where you live now. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit is the kitchen, although it is a wonder how these people ever survived without a microwave.
In “Grandma’s House”, you can also see old posters of brand names that are easy to recognize like Kellogg’s, Kraft, and Tide; and see how their marketing has changed over the decades. However, what I like the most about the exhibit is that it stays true to the propaganda of that time period, even though I don’t agree with it. For example, in the kitchen there is an ad for the Ironized Yeast Company that reads, “6 weeks ago he said ‘She’s too skinny!’ But now ‘Just think darling, in a few days we’ll be married!’” To be honest, the first time I entered the exhibit, I actually thought that this poster was funny, and even laughed a little. I thought to myself, “Well thank God we aren’t so bad off today with those kinds of things.” The second time I went into the exhibit, I actually took the time to read the entire ad and I was surprised at the similarity to today that I did not notice before.
The ad was trying to sell yeast to girls who needed to gain weight. In only a few weeks, these girls could gain 10 to 25 pounds. Does that sound familiar? Our societal perceptions of beauty might have changed, but not the ideals. The poster described sounds exactly like the sorts of things some companies try to sell girls in order to lose weight, and for men to gain weight. The worst part is that a lot of these remedies to control weight can be very harmful to the human body, and those details are sometimes hidden from the public. In a similar way, I found an article on the website for the U.S. Library of Medicine that says that the Ironized Yeast Company was sued because it “would not increase weight, overcome nervousness, produce vigor, improve the appetite, produce charm and popularity, or otherwise accomplish the results promised, implied, and represented.” The article does not say if the product was harmful to its consumers, so hopefully not working was the only problem with it.
On a lighter note, there are also a lot of other posters in the exhibit that make you proud because you can see how we have progressed. The posters show women cooking and cleaning and the men either hitting on them or making subtle misogynistic comments. I think and hope that we have been able to move past the whole “the woman’s place is in the kitchen” type deal, at least for the most part; and women definitely have more opportunities for education and careers nowadays. However, it is also quite unsettling to see zero representation for people of color in the posters. While I am also glad not to see any stereotypical people of color portrayed as “the help”, I do wish there was at least some representation. But thinking about it, if those decades were not so inclusive with their white women, much less with their people of color. This comes as no surprise though, especially in a small town like Monmouth; which makes me happy to think that now Monmouth is much more diverse and hopefully the diversity continues to grow.
I guess the more I visit Grandma’s house, the more little details I notice, and that is one more thing I love about it. Even though the time frame that is represented in Grandma’s House might not have been one of the best ones socially, no time frame ever has been. It is just nice to see and experience what life was like during that time and see the similarities and differences of our life now and life then.
Summer Intern 2017