Dust Everywhere

I left off my laundry post with Dotty writing home that everything gets coated in dust.  I’ve previously discussed how advice literature told readers to wear tall boots to keep out dust and to wrap good clothes in paper to prevent dust building on them, so it is no wonder that prescriptive literature also included how to keep oneself looking one’s best. Driving conditions, which included excessive wind, sun, and dirt, could wreak havoc on one’s skin.  Frederic Van de Water, who I’ve mentioned was a popular humorist of the time, wrote that, “dust was prevalent.  There can be no question about that.  It penetrated the inmost layer of clothing and almost worked its way through the skin.”  To combat the dust, his family bathed at least four times a week during their five-week road trip.[1]   Another author from that time, Allison Edwards, writes that he and his wife originally worried about the “bathing problem,” but realized it had been needless as they “found no difficulty in locating camps with shower baths.”[2]

Overall, and as I expected, women wrote more of cosmetics and creams than baths in the battle against the conditions.  T.H. Peterson, who I mentioned in the laundry post, in describing the daily preparations of getting ready at the autocamps in the morning writes,

make-up is a matter of vast importance.  It should be to all girls on a cross-country motor trip where wind, sun, dust and water combine to do their worst to the best of complexions.[3]

“A Woman’s Advice on Motor Camping” suggested a cleaning regimen that includes the application of cold cream onto one’s face each morning and night to prevent a “sore face or cracked lips.”[4]  Author of numerous etiquette books and articles, Emily Post also discussed cold cream for traveling women, writing during her cross-country motor trip in 1915 that “you need cold cream even if you don’t use it at home.”[5]  In 1929, one could purchase cold cream for $.45 for one small jar.[6]  Both Frank Brimmer’s and Van de Water’s articles lack any mention of cold cream or another personal hygiene product, although in addition to bathing regularly, Van de Water does write that he and his family brought “essential toilet articles.”[7]  Perhaps cold cream was among those essentials.

Dotty neither mentions cold cream, nor any specific cleansing product, nor an exact cleaning routine in any of the postcards or letters, but she does agree with these contemporary authors that the elements were adverse to one’s appearance.  The girls, or at least Dorothy, started to tan, a fact she called “terrible,” especially on her nose.[8]  In Houston, they all received sunburns worth writing home about, “The day before yesterday it was very hot, + we all acquired another sunburn.  My nose is very red”.[9]

The admittance of their sunburns flew in the face of prescriptive literature because unlike today, a natural looking tan was not desirable.  Author Lois Brown, discussing the types of autocampers, describes one kind as “sunburned country-folk.”[10]  Sunburns, Clay McShane adds, “suggested farm wives, a hopelessly déclassé lot.”[11]

Perhaps the girls, ages 23 and 25, didn’t care about cold creams and ignored such advice, or maybe they did not read these magazines, as they did not fit the average reader demographic of middle-class white women with a home, husband, and family.  Another possibility exists in that maybe they did use cold cream as part of their daily regimen, but because its application did not differ too much from what they would do at home, its presence in their routine escaped mention in the postcards.  If cold cream was used on the road it is likely that they did not change their cleansing routine while they stayed in cabins or with the relatives of Edith and Evelyn Stohl in Elgin and Chicago, Illinois and San Diego, California because of the comparable amenities between locations.


[1] Frederic Van de Water, 7.

[2] Allison Edwards, “Camping in Comfort,” Sunset, July 1925, 39.

[3] Peterson, 206.

[4] “A Woman’s Advice on Motor Camping,” 86.

[5] Emily Post, By Motor to the Golden Gate, 251.

[6] Sears, Roebuck and Co., Spring and Summer Catalog, 1929, 121.

[7] Van de Water, 7.

[8] Dorothy Guyott, Letter from Frenchtown, Montana.

[9] Dorothy Guyott, Letter from Houston, Texas, private collection, November 21, 1929.

[10] Lois E. Buriff Brown, “Modern Gipsies,” The Nation, May 4, 1927, 500.

[11] Clay McShane, 166.

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One Response to Dust Everywhere

  1. Pingback: A Quick Note on Camps and Cabins | Three Months By Car

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