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Mar 27, 2012 12:38 PM | 0 comments

Brooklyn ladies have always taken pride in their hair. Whether they wear it

            long and wavy


          short and curly

Brooklyn women take full advantage of all the hair options available. And now since the weather has turned relatively warm, we can look forward to not dealing with  the dreaded "hat hair" and can release our locks from their prisons of winter hats. Each new season of course brings with it a fresh opportunity for new and inventive hair styles, as these models can attest at The National Hairdressers and Cosmetologists Association show in 1950. 

The fashion magazines are filled with the latest trends in color and cuts. This is an annual rite of Spring, not usually reserved for starting revolutions, but in the early 1920's one hairstyle did just that. It was...

             The Bob!     


Started by Irene Castle during World War I , The Bob soon caught on the world over. The hair was cut short around the head at  jaw level and could be worn straight, or curly, with bangs or parted on the side. With its ease of styling, the Bob epitomized independence, youthfulness, modernity and a boldness that women were eager to embrace.  And Brooklyn women were right in the middle of it.  There were opponents and proponents of this controversial style, and their debate was chronicled in the pages of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle throughout the 1920's.   

From this article dated August 7 1921, the manager from an employment agency is quoted as saying "...[S]omehow, there is a general feeling that the bobbed haired girl is a bit too radical and likely to be aggressive and self-assertive.  Those are not the qualifications that render her most desirable as a subordinate.  Of course, where her own personality overcomes this impression, she is just as welcome on the job as her long haired sister, but taken on the whole, I know that if a bobbed haired girl and a long haired girl were in the running for a job, and both could supply the same record of efficiency, the long haired girl would get the job every time."   Other detractors opined that it would cause baldness in women, and was not dignified enough.   

But of course there were many more in favor of this exciting turn in coiffures.  Using every argument from mental health to practicality to beauty, it seemed the Bob was here to stay. 

Quoted in the same article, Dr. Eliza M Mosher gave her thoughts on the benefits of the fad: "It is far better for the nerves, to have the hair bobbed.  Many a woman complains of nervous headaches because of the heavy coil of hair weighing down on her head and it is a decided strain on the nervous system to have combs and hair pins sticking into one's scalp all day. It is really a wonder that women have any hair left, what with the process of curling and dyeing it is popularly subjected to nowaways.  And finally bobbed hair is a great deal more sensible.  I can't for the life of me understand the attitude of an employer who would discriminate against a girl with short hair.  Doesn't he know that it takes far less time to arrange the hair when it is short than when it is long and that when a girl cuts her hair it is usually because she is sensible and not because she is vain?"  

An Abraham & Strauss barber also chimed in: "Moreover, the bob is more dignified than the old fashioned way women did their hair, because it follows the line of the head. Properly marceled, close to the head, it is the most dignified way a woman can dress her hair."   

This trend-setting style also provided a decided economic boon to the borough. By 1924 women were bobbing there hair at a rate of 2,000 a day. The 474 beauty parlors in Brooklyn were filled with women waiting to be shorn, as well as the countless barbers who were having difficulty keeping up with the demand.  "We are bobbing 400 heads daily," said Benny, head barber at Frederick Loeser & Co.  "Everybody is having it done and age is no handicap.  Among our patrons are many women of 50 and 60 years of age, for the younger women did it a year ago.  We have never been so busy," 


Not every young woman was happy with the current trend.  Unable to find an Easter hat to fit her locks, she wrote the Daily Eagle: "Is there a single milliner or department store proprietor who desires to cater to the normal woman of today?  I have spent three days in a harassing search of Manhattan and Brooklyn for a hat.  I have found no store which has hats save for the bobbed-haired women.  These peanut contraptions are offered with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.  Sales women announce airily that they have "calls for no other kind."  I still have the hair which Nature have to me and which I hope to retain.  I have not found a single hat I could squeeze on my head.  I shall not bob.  What am I to do? - Flatbush" 


 In addition to the close-fitting cloche hat, the new style also inspired bobby pins, innovations in permanent wave technology, as well as encouraging beauticians to adapt hair-cutting skills formerly the domain of male barbers.

By the 1930's the bob had run its course and women began to grow their hair longer again. But because of this revolutionary hair do, women were freer than ever to adopt the styles of their choice, for their hair and their life.



She's Mad Real: Author Talk with Oneka LaBennett Wednesday, March 28th, 6:30pm

Mar 26, 2012 10:11 AM | 0 comments


Please join us for our monthly author talk series this Wednesday, March 28th, at 6:30pm.  Our guest this month is Professor Oneka LaBennett, who, in her book She's Mad Real, discusses the ways in which teenage girls in Flatbush and Crown Heights successfully carve out and create their own individuality in a world dominated by popular culture.

The Brooklyn Collection is on the 2nd floor mezzanine of Brooklyn Public Library's Central branch, at Grand Army Plaza.  A wine and cheese reception, as well as distribution of tickets is at 6:30 p.m. Seating is limited to 40.  Author talk begins promptly at 7pm.

A Vanished Vista: the Changing Landscape of Prospect Park's Vale of Cashmere

Mar 23, 2012 10:15 AM | 4 comments

Brooklynology is pleased to welcome guest blogger Garry R. Osgood. Garry is a software developer and web designer, who potters as a recreational historian of things Brooklyn.

In March 1893, Frederick Law Olmsted's friend and colleague Daniel Burnham said of him, "An artist, he paints with lakes and wooded slopes; with lawns and banks and forest covered hills; with mountain sides and ocean views." And what better example of this artistry could one find than the vista in the northern reaches of Prospect Park overlooking a glacial kettle, not more than a few minutes' walk from the doorstep of Brooklyn's Central Library.

The Lake. Robert N. Dennis Collection, courtesy of The New York Public Library

The land in the northern end of Prospect Park was shaped by ice age forces. About 17,000 years ago the receding Wisconsin glacier left huge chunks of ice, which slowly melted, causing the soil above to collapse and giving rise to a landscape of dramatic character. Geologists call such formations kettles and in the northern quadrant of the park, Olmsted and Calvert Vaux had a beaut: one with a drop along its northern rim of almost sixty feet. To them, the kettle must have been a gift from landscape heaven.

The Children's Shelter. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Olmsted and Vaux had designated this portion of the park as an area for children. They fashioned a small pool with a convoluted shoreline, and along the kettle's  northern rim they erected a rustic arbor overlooking the view.  A playground had been established in the higher ground to the east and a path descended down a series of steps to what was then the Children's Playground Pool. One can only imagine what it must have been like in those early days--because even as the architects were adding their finishing touches, change was on its relentless march.

Fountain, Vale of Cashmere. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Thirty years on, the architectural firm of McKim, Meade and White was placing its stamp upon Grand Army Plaza, erecting granite fencing, neoclassical columns and gazebos  in place of older rustic  shelters. Park Commissioner Frank Squire had the firm re-work the Children's Playground Pool, which was soon ringed with granite balustrades. Frederick MacMonnies donated a fountain, to complete a Beaux-Arts set piece.  The locale had been renamed "The Vale of Cashmere" by the wife of Brooklyn Mayor Alfred C. Chapin. She has been inspired by Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh, an Oriental Romance." The aged Olmsted detested the name, but a younger generation now held sway and so it stuck.


City of New York, Department of Parks Report, 1903.

And the view? Now muted. Trees, non-existent in the late 1860s, became well-rooted on the east and west rims  of the kettle. The distant view had become largely obscured by their crowns, so that the middle-ground, the Vale itself, became the focus of one's attention rather than a panorama of the whole wide park. None of this was terrible. The park grounds were still well-groomed--just to guiding principles of a different order.

Lily pond, Rose Garden near Vale of Cashmere, c. 1900. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Sadly, much of the twentieth century fell hard on the Vale. The 1898 consolidation of Brooklyn into New York City left Brooklyn's premier park as just some other big park in an outer borough.  Interwar graft diverted much money meant for parks. "By the 1930s," the New York Times observed, "generations of Parks Department officials had lived well and got rich by diverting maintenance funds and the park showed the result of half a century of abuse and neglect."

Photograph: © Garry R. Osgood

And so vanished the vista. Not in a year or a decade, but eventually it was gone. A stroller through the arbor's precinct today might, if struck by some curious diligence, push away the leaves and dirt along the shoulder of the path to discover, at regular intervals, plugs of asphalt, barely distinguishable from the surrounding pavement. These seal off the post holes of the now vanished arbor, the only surviving markers of a different kind of beauty.  

Garry R. Osgood.


From the children's book shelf

Mar 21, 2012 12:15 PM | 4 comments

Writers abound in Brooklyn: you trip over them in the park, bump into them in the street, stand beside them on the subway. And among them, writers and illustrators of children's books form an honorable sub set.  There are also those writers who draw on memories of Brooklyn but have abandoned their native borough for reasons I cannot fathom. This week the children's bookshelf of the Brooklyn Collection has received two new additions--which reminded me that there are some fine older titles resting on it too. When a harried parent with a toddler must finish an assignment, these are among the volumes we call upon to amuse and delight.

New and charming, if a little verbose for the rugrats, is the ABC's of Brooklyn, an alphabet illustrated with photographs of every corner of Brooklyn, including "J is for just one rider on a jaunt by Jamaica Bay," and "D is for a dramatic doorway design" featuring the facade of our very own Central Library. The book also covers numbers 1-10 through Brooklyn themes. This is an amusing and useful book for Brooklyn parents and children -- and for those unfortunate enough to live in other places -- who will surely be inspired to create their own personal alphabets.

Also new! Ann Rosen's In the Presence of Family: Brooklyn Portraits takes a loving look at Brooklyn families with roots in every part of the world. Rosen's photographs capture their subjects in celebratory mood, and the joyful images are supplemented by brief descriptions of family background.

Turning to fiction and autobiography, Myron Uhlberg in his Flying Over Brooklyn recalls a day in 1947 when, as a boy, he awoke to a world transformed by several feet of snow.  As he is sledding in the park, he imagines flying to all of his favorite Brooklyn places, which are magically captured in Gerald Fitzgerald's illustrations. 

Mari Takabayashi's Brooklyn is a jewelled city in which the rhythm of the days and seasons are realized in glowing color and  careful detail.

Alas, out of print is Jonathan Frost's Gowanus Dogs, the story of a homeless man who rescues--and is rescued by--a  stray dog.  You can't get sappier than that, but the black and white illustrations, of dogs tearing apart bags of trash, a sleeping spot under the BQE, pigeons swooping over the canal, are gritty and true, and executed with uncommon skill.

Return of a Native

Mar 14, 2012 1:43 PM | 0 comments

Before leaving us for Australia about a year and a half ago, one of our former Research Assistants, Tara Cuthbert, livened up the pages of this blog with charming posts about little-known Brooklynites: birthday dancers, parrot fanciers, a legendary cyclist, and a homemade submarine builder, to name just a few. Living in the morgue during her days here at the Brooklyn Collection, Tara was able to discover these and other stories from the Borough's past by combing through the extensive photo collection housed down there in row upon row of filing cabinets. And now, having put a copy online of the finding aid for our Brooklyn Daily Eagle Morgue photos (albeit a partial one, still under construction) we can all take part in this hunting and pecking to search for gems in the files. The other day, looking for interesting photos to include in Joy's post about the Morgue finding aid, I came across a folder labeled Pepper, Beverly. And though she may be little-known now, especially to those whose eyes glaze over when in the presence of monumental abstract sculpture, she was, at one point, a real feather in Brooklyn's cap.

Born Beverly Stoll on December 20, 1924 in Midwood (she lived with her parents at 3619 Bedford Avenue until the age of 24) Pepper attended Madison High School and Pratt Institute where she studied advertising design, photography, and industrial design. Though set up with a plum job after graduating, where she made $16,000 a year as an art director at a major recording company, Pepper decided to pursue her passion for painting, and moved to Paris. Once there she took classes from the likes of Fernand Léger, and made studio visits to Ossip Zadkine and Brancusi.

On October 31st, 1954 the Eagle published an article about Pepper in advance of her "one-man" show at Barone Gallery in Manhattan. The reporter, boasting of the returning native, made sure to mention Pepper's inclusion in a prior show in Rome where her work hung beside those of Goya, Daumier, Degas, Renoir, Picasso, and Matisse -- as if to say, "Look at that, ya bums! Brooklyn can produce a master too!" In addition to becoming a successful painter during her time abroad, Pepper also became a wife and mother, marrying William Pepper, a United Press Correspondent, and giving birth to two children, Jorie and John Randolph. Not the least of her creations, Pepper's daughter Jorie -- with the married name, Graham -- has gone on to write numerous books of poetry and amass a small zoo of accolades, including a Pulitzer Prize and the so-called MacArthur "Genius Grant."

And though Pepper is seen in the Eagle displaying small figurative paintings of everyday life in Italy, she would later become known for her large abstract sculptures and works of land art. In looking at the early work versus the later work, one might be forgiven for thinking they were seeing the creations of two completely different artists. Her early paintings have titles like "Love," while her later works have titles like "Astatic Black Web" and "Harmonious Triad." 

From 1986 to 1987 a vast exhibit of Pepper's work traveled to five cities: Buffalo, San Francisco, Columbus, Miami, and Brooklyn. Below you can see the cover of the catalog which accompanied the show at the Brooklyn Museum. By the time of this large-scale exhibit, Pepper could claim work in the collections of a number of prestigious institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian.

Unfortunately for Beverly Pepper, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was long gone by the time her show went up at the Brooklyn Museum. It's likely the hometown paper, which had so affectionately profiled her in 1954, would have been kinder to the hometown girl than was the New York Times. Art critic John Russel, in a pronouncement so scathing it was later recalled in his 2008 obituary as an instance of the supremely lethal turn his criticism could take when accosted by unoriginal art, wrote: "Meanwhile, to walk through the Brooklyn galleries is like going to Carnegie Hall and hearing great music played out of time and out of tune. In its cumulative effect this may well, in fact, be one of the most debilitating, hyped-up and deeply offensive exhibitions of the postwar era. That is not because the work is 'bad,' but because it does not reach that level of achievement at which the words 'bad' and 'good' have any meaning." Ouch. So maybe it's not so much that you can't go home again, but that you shouldn't go home again -- especially if there's an art critic waiting for you there at the door.