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The National League of Women's Services, 1918

Jul 29, 2010 3:19 PM | 6 comments

Dorothy L. Betts of Brooklyn at Fort Totten, 1918

In 1970, 80 year-old Dorothy L. Betts of Park Slope (in 1918 at the right), donated a set of eleven photographs featuring the National League of Woman's Service.  From the census, I learned that Miss Betts was an only child who grew up in a stately brownstone on 8th Avenue between 1st Street and Garfield (the same residence she occupied at the time of her donation).  Miss Betts was born in 1890.  In 1918, she would have been 28 years old and an ideal candidate for joining the National League of Woman's Services. 

The National League of Woman's Services was a civilian volunteer organization that formed in conjunction with the Red Cross during the First World War.  The League provided stateside war services such as feeding, caring for and transporting soliders, veterans and war workers.  In New York, the League was particularly attractive to young socialites who had time and money to donate. (One Times article noted that the chairwomen had to remind her eager volunteers that work was "not the place for" jewelry and lace blouses).

The two divisions in these images are the Motor Corps and the Canteen Division.  The Motor Corps provided transport and ambulatory service to military personnel in the local region.  Volunteers in the Motor Corps had to fulfill several requirements:  hold a State chauffeur's license and a mechanic's license, take the oath of allegiance, pass a medical examination, receive a typhoid inoculation and (most importantly) own a car.  Members of the Corps were required to wear a khaki uniform and were on-call at all hours of the day.  Over time, the Corps also collected ambulances and trucks that made it possible to handle a variety of requests, including the transport of troops and goods over long distances outside of New York. 

The Motor Corps was one of the most demanding and militaristic divisions of the League.  In September 1918, 120 volunteers from New York and Brooklyn were required to attend a one-week military training camp at Fort Totten.  It was the first time any such training had been completed for the League.  During the week, volunteers were commanded by U.S. Army officers and stayed in official military barracks.  Each woman was allowed one suitcase with the most basic of provisions.  The training included "ambulance driving, litter carrying, first aid, drill, and army cooking" (New York Times, 1918).  At the end of the week, the volunteers completed a formal pass and review for the officers and then returned to Manhattan for a parade along Fifth Avenue. 

Brooklyn National League for Woman's Service Motor Corps in barracks at Fort Totten, 1918

Brooklyn National League of Woman's Service Motor Corps drillings at Fort Totten, 1918

Brooklyn National League for Woman's Service Motor Corps at Fort Totten, 1918

Brooklyn National League for Woman's Service Motor Corps at Fort Totten, 1918

The League's Canteen Division was called upon to provide food service during the week of training.  The Canteen Division, of which Miss Betts was a member, provided "emergency food" to soldiers.  Once the country began to mobilize in 1917, New York was a major hub of activitiy.  The Canteen Division was on call 24 hours a day to supply food to the many soldiers arriving by train and departing by boat.  Volunteers were be called at home and asked to arrive, in uniform, at a determined location to distribute sandwiches, fruit, coffee and more to the masses of soldiers.  In addition, the Canteen Division established dining halls for war workers and veterans in the city and catered meals for holidays and special occasions.  In preparation for one particular military parade in 1918, the Division made 17,000 sandwiches in 2 days (roughly 425 sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper, every hour).  In these photographs, we see a slightly calmer atmosphere, as the "canteeners" serve their sisters in service. 

Brooklyn National League for Woman's Service at mess Fort Totten, 1918

Brooklyn National League of Woman's Service Canteeners in Barrack Kitchen, Fort Totten, 1918 (Miss Betts is holding the platter at the table.)

Brooklyn National League of Woman's Service Canteen at Fort Totten, 1918 (Miss Betts is second from the window at the right.)

It is unclear how Miss Betts obtained these pictures.  I suspect she purchased them directly from the photographer whose signature appears in the bottom corner of each photo:  "Fallon, Whitestone, New York."  The pictures are not numbered chronologically, indicating that more may have been taken.  Three of our images include Miss Betts and the others give a well-rounded view of the week's activities.  We are grateful that she chose to donate them here, helping us understand another chapter in the story of the Brooklyn war effort.     

  Brooklyn National League for Woman's Service, 1918

Many thanks to the useful sources that helped me interpret these photographs:  For God, for Country, for Home: the National League for Woman's Service by Besside Rowland James (1920), Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age by Virginia Scharff (1992), and The New York Times (1917-1918)


Vegetarians vs Meat Eaters

Jul 27, 2010 12:00 PM | 5 comments

One of our readers some time ago suggested we explore the subject of vegetarianism, and so Brooklynology eagerly takes up the challenge. 

In its early years the Brooklyn Daily Eagle treated vegetarianism as a joke, summing up vegetarians as inauthentic and bloodless bores. One of the first references to vegetarianism appears in 1851 in an article on angling, in which those objecting to the sport on grounds of cruelty are termed "canting vegetarians," a phrase that sets the tone for the next fifty years. An 1853 article suggest that a vegetarian diet is all very well in the summer, or for those of sedentary lifestyle, but "the man who will carry a hod for twelve hours with the thermometer at ninety, will require something more substantial than beets or mashed turnips."

Fruit and vegetable stand

Still in jocular vein, a poem on the subject published in 1897 points to the inconsistency of refusing meat yet wearing leather shoes. It begins:

If you'd be a vegetarian of the very strictest creed, 

It is not enough on parsnips and on cabbages to feed;

It will not suffice to revel in a plethora of roots

No; you must, please, in addition walk in vegetarian boots!

The tone begins to change though in the late 1890s, perhaps in part because the Eagle's editor, St Clair McKelway, was himself probably sympathetic to the cause.  A speaker at a dinner of the "V" Club in May 1894, McKelway considered the subject of "Vigor," while  Swami Vivekananda  spoke on "Vegetarianism in India." Other speakers touched on Vanity, Virtue and Vice, and the bill of fare was printed on V-shaped cards.  It included "Various farinaceous crusts," stuffed mangoes, asparagus on toast, baked spaghetti and celestine of chestnuts.

V-Club dinner menu

But reports on the V Club, which seems to have had a small sense of humor, soon give way to more sober reports of meetings of the Vegetarian Society. This was an earnest organization, and, like the V Club,  teetotal.  1901 was a banner year for the society, which doubled its membership and saw the establishment of a vegetarian restaurant (called the Tabloid Restaurant) at 170 Fulton Street, by proprietor Carl Rasmussen.

tabloid bill of fare

Mr Rasmussen, who immigrated from Denmark in 1888 at the age of 23, served meat substitutes known as "protose" and "bromose," but dressed them up with gravy and dubbed them "Compressed beef steak," or  "Compressed fricassee" or "Protose hash."  In November of 1901 he advertised a "Vegetarian Roast Turkey" dinner for 25 cents, with vegetables, pudding and "all the fixings." It is not clear how long the restaurant lasted, but Mr Rasmussen was still in the restaurant business in 1910.

Tabloid Restaurant in 1904 atlas, 170 Fulton co. Fulton and Cranberry

The association of teetotalism with non-meat-eating may not have been in the best interests of the vegetarians, but there were those who would have gone still further. One Eagle correspondent in 1902 thought that  condiments such as pepper, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and spices cause the food to "lose the benefits derived from a purely unstimulating vegetarian diet." 

A gentleman by the name of Samuel Donniss was yet more militant, urging his anti-meat ideas on the patrons of local butcher's shops. This behavior was so unpopular that he was arrested eighteen times, before finally being jailed for two years.

Given the reputation of Park Slope now, we should not be surprised that as early as 1902 a family near Union St was advertising for vegetarian boarders. Today vegetarians no longer have to settle for protose and bromose if they wish to eat out. And if they wish to eat in, they don't have to make do with a tired potato and a can of peas, unless they want to. Back in 1923, the Eagle's household manual recommended the following boiling times for some common vegetables:

Beans, string or shell--1 to 2 hours

Beets, old--4 to 6 hours

Carrots--1 hour or longer

Celery--2 hours or longer

Spinach 15-20 minutes

No wonder eating greens didn't look too attractive! Today, farmer's markets, food co-ops, supermarkets with fine produce counters and Community Supported Agriculture arrangements are making life much easier for vegetarians. 

And for the very pure, nothing could be easier today than finding a pair of vegetarian boots.



Little Known Brooklyn Residents: eden ahbez

Jul 22, 2010 11:00 AM | 2 comments

Although not exactly "little known", and a California resident for much of his life, songwriter eden ahbez was Brooklyn born and bred. You may not immediately recognize his name (spelt in lower case as he believed the only words that deserved capitals were Nature, God, Happiness and Life) -- but you will certainly be familiar with a song he wrote, made famous by Nat King Cole. Nature Boy was a major hit when it was released in 1947, and has since been performed by scores of recording artists.

Portrait of eden ahbez

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that eden ahbez was born in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and got his start in the old Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum on Ralph Ave. and Dean St. Everything he learned about music he picked up in a year of piano lessons at the orphanage. He was adopted by a Kansas family, and as an adult became a "wandering minstrel who wore burlap pants, a zoot jacket and no socks", the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported. A "disciple of quiet meditation and ascetic living, he picked Hollywood for his permanent campgrounds", where he lived on a vegetarian diet of fruit and nuts and slept outdoors under the Hollywood sign.

Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum

On May 26, 1948, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that eden kept his verbal agreement to give 30 percent of his royalties from the song to the stage doorman who brought the song to the attention of Nat King Cole, at a time when everyone else was "slamming doors in his face." After the release of the song, eden returned to Brooklyn, camping on the roof of a friend's garage at 31 30th St. in Bay Ridge, and was featured as a guest on "We the People", a simultaneous broadcast-telecast with Nat King Cole and other guests.

eden ahbez, his wife Anna, and their newborn son

eden ahbez fell in love at first sight with a woman he saw in a California health food store, and followed her onto a crowded street car, managing to pass her a note out the window as she exited the trolley. A month later they were married in a fruit orchard, and she gave birth to their only son in October 1948. eden ahbez continued to compose and record many songs throughout the 1950s and 1960s, creating an alternative lifestyle decades before the hippie movement made it commonplace.


What's in the Cards?

Jul 18, 2010 8:16 AM | 1 comment

On the surface, trade cards -- those little slips of card stock intended to advertise a business--send a simple message. "Come here and buy my wares," they say in various tones from respectable to louche. Today, the subject matter of trade card imagery tends to be connected to the trade being promoted. A card for a paint store might show a can of paint; a pet food purveyor might show a cute cat or dog. So much seems self-evident.

But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, merchants would sometimes choose stock images for their cards that had no apparent connection to their trade whatever.  Perhaps, the thinking went, customers would associate a good joke with a pair of shoes from Mr Muggins, and would therefore enter the store well-disposed toward the proprietor. Or the pretty shepherdess on the carpet-seller's card would lull the buyer into dreams of the quasi pastoral pleasures that could be obtained by buying a rug from Mr Scoggins.

Even allowing all this, one cannot help but think that some of the images must have formed counter-productive associations in the mind of the customer.  Here are four examples from our collection of hundreds of trade cards, some of which can be seen online

Shoe stores in particular seemed unaware that  the medium is the message. Mr Healey, of Healey's Shoe Store at 341 Myrtle Ave (above) evidently thought his shoes could best be used for whacking an unfortunate child's backside. While adults may have frequented the store, I imagine children throwing tantrums outside to avoid buying the shoes that would be the instruments of their torture.


Customers of C. Ruppel's Boot and Shoe Store at 385 Grand St in Williamsburgh may not have enjoyed the suggestion that domestic violence would erupt in their household as soon as they took home a pair of Ruppel's shoes.

And look what happens to you if you buy boots from Huggins of 125 Bridge Street. "Try one pair," says the advertisement, failing to mention that customers risk a peculiar metamorphosis. I bet no one ever went back for a second pair.

But shoe stores were not alone in mixing their messages. S. Young, perfumer at the corner of Myrtle and Carlton Avenues, seems not to have noticed his trade card's suggestion that Wenck's Celebrated Perfumes might turn you into a two-headed monster. And that's not all: one spray of that scent and your father will likely go out and lose your beloved poodle, leaving you to search for her all over Brooklyn. No Wenck's for me, thank you very much.    

Check out our 2010 Student Projects slideshow...

Jul 16, 2010 11:13 AM | 0 comments

To further celebrate the accomplishments of our Brooklyn Connections students, we've posted some of their best projects and quotes to share online. 

We're still hoping that all you Brooklynites out there will stop by the Collection to see our exhibit of student work this summer.  But for our long-distance fans, we hope this little slideshow will provide you with a nice summary.  We are proud of all of our students and are already planning for 2010-2011.  And if you're a teacher, administrator or parent who would like to get your class involved in Brooklyn Connections, check out our online application here!