Dress and Home Workbook, 1935

This recent flea market find is a workbook to accompany a high school textbook, The Mode in Dress and Home. The author, Dulcie G. Donovan was a home ec teacher at Hollywood High School.

I don’t remember having a textbook in my 1970s home ec classes, much less a workbook. As a teacher, I know that workbooks are an expensive addition to the school budget, and are usually reserved for classes in which they are most useful. That is, things like primary arithmetic. I’m really curious about a school that could afford  to buy, or more likely, to require the students to purchase an unnecessary workbook during the Great Depression when there was little money for such things.

As it turns out, the school was Concord High School in Concord, Virginia. Nothing I’ve read about this central Virginia village suggests a higher than average standard of living. So, the why of this book remains a mystery. But the contents are what we are really interested in.

I’m sure that much of the content directly mirrors what the students read in the textbook. But there are also many opportunities for each student to reflect on her own preferences and experiences.

If you have read Linda Przybyszwski’s book, The Lost Art of Dress, then you might recall how home ec teachers and writers  taught that the principles of art could and should be applied to one’s manner of dressing.  In this workbook there is a lot of discussion of  principles like proportion and color. Donovan also has the students look at fashions of the past, in their quest for good taste in fashion.

Of course, there is a lot of leading the horse to the water, so to speak. Any fool could see that the lines of 1935 were much better than those of  the prior years.

This page was not completed, but I love the exercise created here. Students were to prove the effects of color by the use of these templates.

In other places fabrics were collected and saved in the workbook. I’ve seen this concept in other student work of this era, mainly in the form of student-made notebooks in which samples of work and fabrics are collected as a resource for the student.

Appropriateness was a big topic. Our student, whose name was Margaret Nash, correctly identified each of the fads, but she wisely neglected to type-cast her classmates as to personality. And to make the results public would have been a big mistake, in my opinion!

And what’s with the little elf character? He’s (she’s?) found throughout the book and is the sort of thing high school girls love to make silly jokes about. Or was that just my high school classmates?

The next part of the workbook was devoted to sewing.  Can you label the parts of the sewing machine?

The class examined the commercial sewing pattern. In 1935 most pattern companies were beginning to add to the instructions included. Up until the mid 1920s, many patterns had only brief instructions on the envelope. By the 1930s there was often an instruction sheet enclosed, but even those instructions required a working knowledge of sewing techniques.

Remember, buttons are sewed on for service and not just decoration.

As in many ambitious curriculums, the school year ran out before the workbook was completed. The second half of the book in which the home is addressed, is not used at all. Maybe it was to be used in a second year of the course. Or, more likely, home ec really meant sewing and cooking, with home decoration being an after-thought, or not studied at all. I vaguely remember cutting colorful pictures out to magazines to create rooms.



Filed under Curiosities, Sewing

13 responses to “Dress and Home Workbook, 1935

  1. Katie

    Hi, Lizzie! I think I actually own the accompanying textbook (happy to send pictures if you like) — how interesting to see that a workbook existed! What an incredible find!


  2. Mim

    That is fascinating! I love seeing the little fabric swatches in there.


  3. Jacq Staubs

    Nice little slice of yesterday! LIZZIE – I have Vera and Key West Hand Print to send to you – if – you want them for your collection? Please email me your PO BOX?


  4. Fascinating, Lizzie – thank you!


  5. I love anything with fabric swatches. But like you, I wonder just who could have afforded an extra workbook.


  6. I graduated from high school in 1951 in southern California. We did not have to buy any of our books, including workbooks. I had Home Ec and spent most of the time making fun of our teacher and doing everything in the cooking class deliberately wrong. I was a real pleasure to have as a student! We did not get any instruction on artistic endeavors or home decor. We sewed. We cooked. I recall vividly that the school was given a huge sack of dried lima beans, so we cooked with them quite a bit. Ghastly.
    bonnie in provence


  7. Hi Lizzie—Interesting and useful book. As I began sewing at age 7 and took lots of Home Ec classes in the early 1950s it’s too bad there was never any book like this one in sight.
    I would like to recommend a new book I am reading, “Threads of Life—A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle” by Clare Hunter. Women get their due as sewers and more. Clare is a thorough researcher, expert sewer and excellent writer with whom I was fortunate to have worked with at “Needleworks” in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1990s and beyond.


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