Hot slugs! What a Jazz Age Scrapbook Teaches Us About Materiality
As both academics and the public grapple with the nature of books and the impact of digital media on our daily lives, one of the issues at the forefront of the discussion is materiality. How is a book made and distributed, who buys it and how do they use it? How are its physical characteristics related to its reception and influence? Does the shift to digital negatively alter patterns of consumption and creation? You might think “A book is a book”, but often the answers to these questions are far more complicated and interesting, if difficult to elucidate for the majority of texts. Sometimes, though, the physical importance of a book is immediately obvious. We recently had an evocative piece with a particularly strong material presence, a Jazz Age scrapbook and diary that sheds light not only on the culture of the 1920s and the experience of a young person’s coming of age, but the relationship between an object and its consumer/creator.
The owner of this scrapbook was a young woman named Christine Hinshaw, who was born in Winchester Indiana in 1908, the daughter of Dr. Otis W. Hinshaw and his wife Luetta Pearl Moody, both from well-to-do Quaker families. From the evidence of the scrapbook, Christine was a popular and outgoing student who served as the class secretary and was a member of the English Club, Drama Club, the Guild Girls (a church group), and the Delta Theta Tau sorority.
The book itself is a purpose-made school scrapbook divided into sections such as autographs; clubs and activities; sports, dances and other entertainments; “stunts & jokes”; “Kodak snap-shots”; and commencement. Though the book is copyrighted 1910 and the interior illustrations are in Edwardian and Art Nouveau styles, the cover is decorated with an up-to-date Art Deco design, indicating that the firm re-published it year after year, updating only the covers to save on expenses.
Hinshaw received the scrapbook on May 30, 1925 and began writing in it immediately, making extensive notes and also preserving the material traces of her experiences. A close look reveals that she initially based her topics on the printed headings, neatly entering her name and high school and describing various activities in their labelled sections. But she also adapted it to her own particular use, often ignoring the printed titles and using the pages differently than the publishers intended. In this way she took full advantage of each leaf, filling the book completely and creating a complex and highly personal record that goes far beyond a simple school scrapbook.
The first section of the book is for classmate and teacher autographs and photos, but instead Christine lists them by name (the book was a graduation gift, so she may not have had the opportunity to obtain signatures in person), and writes notes, nicknames, and jokes alongside. Ruby Graft was “Sure a good old sport” and Don Baker had “loose paper scattered on the floor – Oh no!”, while history teacher Kate Brooks had “finally got married”, and of the school coach she had this to say: “By garsh he knew his onions!”
Hinshaw’s personality shines throughout the scrapbook, particularly in chatty, humorous recollections of her friends and their hijinks. One evening after a meeting of the English Club, “a bunch of us kids went to one of the cafes up town & danced with their player piano. Bill Moorman’s lights on his car went out, it rained – oh how it rained! We got home way after midnight”. On another page she copies the joke poem “He drank but once, he drank no more, what he thought was H20 was H2SO4” and commented that, “I don’t know any Chemistry but they say its poison. I mean H2SO4”. Jazz Age culture makes a striking appearance in small-town Indiana when she writes that, “Joanna Mills was up at the dance with her hair slicked back fit to kill. She said ‘Look me over folks I’m from Broadway.’ Hot slugs” (her favourite exclamation, used frequently in the scrapbook).
Hinshaw was active in the The Drama Club, which “practised every morning from 8.30 to 9am on ‘Come out of the Kitchen’. With Fred Oxley & Geo Kendall running wild really the moral standard of our class was VERY low”. She writes about the play alongside a programme and a clipped newspaper review in which the reporter describes Hinshaw as having “covered herself with glory” in the lead role. She used the next page of the scrapbook to preserve the ribbons from her diploma, even though it was intended for “spreads & entertainments”.
Social rounds were also a significant part of Hinshaw’s life. She attended numerous bridge parties even though she was often “bored to tears. Bridge parties make me sick”, and pasted a number of Art Deco-style scorecards into the scrapbook.
Memories of a dances are preserved via a dance card with its tiny pencil still attached by string, as well as three full corsages.
A high point of the summer was her attendance as a delegate at the three-day “Sunday School Convention” (The Indiana Convention of Religious Education) held at Winona Lake in June, her description accompanied as usual by newspaper clippings, programmes, and other ephemera.
Graduation, as to be expected, forms a substantial portion of her remembrances, and she describes the event itself as well as satellite activities like dinners, picnics, and dances.
These celebrations required a new wardrobe, and on two pages she pastes in the pattern-book illustrations of the dresses she had made, along with fabric swatches and notes. A peach silk dress was modeled after a professional pattern but altered so that it “Didn’t have any sleeves or collar,” and a dress made of moddish blue and red patterned fabric “Had a lace collar and jabo [jabot]”. She sketches her graduation dress and writes, “I had blond satin slippers there [sic] awfully pretty”. Fashion was clearly an important part of Hinshaw’s life. At one point she wonders about her new clothes for college and whether she will get a fur coat. When her parents give her a diamond ring as a graduation present she becomes too excited to attend a school event scheduled for later that day.
The most substantial way that Hinshaw altered the scrapbook, though, was by transforming it into a poignant diary recording the summer between high school and college, as basic descriptions of class activities become longer entries discussing her day-to-day life and the excitement and anxiety she felt at embarking on adult life. Early in the book she describes her classmates’s transitions into employment or college, noting with some sadness that “Certainly doesn’t take a class long to scatter”. Later she writes, “We seniors were going to have a picnic or a party before we got scattered but we didn’t…lot of the kids are working. There were 34 in our class and not half of them were at Alumni”. By Alumni she meant the Alumni Banquet, where she “Had a pretty good time. This is the last function. Now we are DONE”.
Though her school days were ending, new opportunities presented themselves. “Mary Robinson is to be married June 29 and she has asked me to play at her wedding. I sure got a kick out of that. I have never played at a wedding before”.
In July Hinshaw spent a week with the Guild Girls at a cottage by Lake Webster, and though her mother was a chaperone, Christine was allowed to “take our car up & keep it there”. Along with her description of the lake trip she pastes in a butterfly she found, which is still remarkably intact.
In an entry dated July-August 1925 Hinshaw reports that she is “learning how to cook. Get all the meals. Boy I’m keen. Clean chickens bake cakes & pies. Hot stuff! Am teaching Mom to drive the car. She tickles me so”. Though Hinshaw relates most of the stress of graduation with upbeat humour, she does record one momentary loss of equilibrium, an unusual, stream-of-consciousness entry. “Camping with [?]. It’s awful cold. Still run the radio. Aunt Blanch comes down a lot. Gee. Talk about cooking – but I really do like it. I would like to write something here but I guess I won’t. It’s nothing anyhow only a bubble. Sometimes strange things happen. I love to ride horseback”.
Throughout the summer Hinshaw prepared for the start of college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, about fifty miles south of Winchester. In a wonderful example of both her pride and trepidation at entering college she writes that she had to, “get my certificate filled out for Miami…. Made 159 on it. 120 is normal intelligence. Hot slugs. Wonder folks don’t put on dark glasses when there [sic] near me. Oh yes I oughta make something wonderful of my self. I’ll probably take in washing”.
The final entry in the scrapbook reads, “Was over at school a minute this afternoon. There are so many new kids it doesn’t any more seem natural [?] I have no desire to go back. I am no longer Pres of Guild or Secretary to Delta Theta Tau. I have gone to the last card party I will attend before I leave & have had Delta tonight. My trunk is gone & I’m all ready. I can hardly wait. Sure & I suppose I’ll get homesick but who hasn’t. There will be over 800 in my class. Am not expecting to know them all the first day. People this certainly is a great life if you don’t weaken”.* Hinshaw’s conclusion is followed by the only such illustration she made in the scrapbook, a stick figure in a skirt and feathered hat carrying a suitcase toward a building that looks like a house but is labelled “Miami”.
Hinshaw’s scrapbook is an entirely personal, deeply engaging, and visually enchanting record of one young woman’s coming of age during the Roaring Twenties. But it’s also a wonderful example of an individual creatively combining book, text, images, and ephemera as a record of her life. Though pundits like to argue about the ways that new technologies alter or enforce certain behaviors, we can look to this much older technology, the scrapbook, to understand how individuals take control of the tools at their disposal and adapt them to their own circumstances.
*This phrase, a rallying cry for soldiers during the First World War, had become popular as the title of a Gene Byrnes comic strip published in the New York Evening Telegram between 1915 and 1919.