Timeline Tuesday: When Nebraskans Used Creek Mud and Lemons for Greater Beauty

The 1926 interior of Miss Agnes’s Beauty Shoppe, inside the Hotel Cornhusker, at 301 South 13th Street in Lincoln. RG2158-11-1


Tanned skin has not always been a mark of beauty. Mollie Dorsey Sanford’s diary from 1867 described the problem and an unusual solution used by Mollie and her young sister: “We are tanned awfully and look a little rough I know. The little boys have been, for sport, besmearing their faces with the black mud that settles in the bottom of the creek. They discovered it took the tan and sunburn off. . . . So one day last week we donned our bathing suits and sneaked off to the creek. Doing our heads up in cotton handkerchiefs, we plastered our faces thickly over with the black mud. Although we have found ourselves a few shades whiter, I think we will not try it again soon.” Other advice on whitening suntanned skin and building more attractive arms was offered young women by the Omaha Daily News, of February 3, 1901, in an article on the season’s new fashion in sleeves: “One very effective cure for scrawny arms is two hours’ use each day of the carpet sweeper. After this has been done every day for a month the wrists and elbows will fill out and look nice and plump. Then some cream, made from oats, can be systematically applied and the brown skin will become white. “Then there is the other extreme, a fat arm. That is just as easy to make shapely as the thin one. It must be well rubbed every day with a reduction pomade and given an iced sponging until it begins to look more shapely and better suited to the new [angel] sleeve and for the public gaze.” “Beauty hints for the honeymoon” from the Lyons Mirror in 1910 included the following advice for whitening knuckles and beautifying hands: “The lemon should have a conspicuous place on the toilet table for some time before the wedding. The bride is apt to be sewing industriously and this is not particularly good for the fingers. She should keep a cut lemon on her dressing table. Every night after she has washed her hands she should stick her fingers right into the pulp of the lemon and rub them around and around. This will help to remove stains, stop the growth of the cuticle at the base of the nail, and make knuckles look white and soft instead of red and rough.”

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