Anti-Boredom for Girls

A Girl’s Treasury of Things-to-do – written by Caroline Horowitz, illustrations not credited
Hart Publishing Company, 1946

Who was Caroline Horowitz? It’s difficult to find any information about her online, aside from links to booksellers offering used copies of her works.  She specialized in collections of recommended activities for different categories of children; boys, girls, “tiny tots,” little girls, young boys. Some of the collections are described as “swell,” “jumbo,” or other attractive adjectives. One is entitled, The Great Big Happy Book.  I’ve acquired some of these, and I look at them affectionately, in spite of the radical gender division and the fact that some of the suggested activities might cause physical harm.

Horowitz might be the illustrator, as well, of this volume, since no other illustrator is listed.  The publication date, immediately after World War II, is significant.  Since children would no longer be involved in growing victory gardens or in collecting scrap metal or rubber for the war effort, they presumably needed other activities.  In addition, the temporarily expanded opportunities for women on the home front had been abruptly closed off, and it was time to train girls for their future roles as homemakers.  The acknowledgements of support at the beginning of the book are also interesting. One is to Josette Frank of the Child Study Association of America. Frank was quite well known as an advocate for children’s literacy and several progressive causes, and as a voice of sanity in the attacks on comic books. Evidently, although Horowitz is little-known today, she interacted with key players in the world of children’s literature. 

So what, according to Horowitz, should girls be doing with their free time, in an era when structured and highly specialized after-school activities were less common than today? Here are a few suggestions.  They might create a “sweet-spice sachet” out of apple, cloves, and ribbon.  That might now show up on Etsy. A somewhat more ambitious project, but still very feasible, involves making a picture frame. Perhaps “ambitious” is less precise than “dangerous.”  This project requires cardboard, tape, and ribbon, but also a razor blade.  I can’t help but notice that the drawing of a girl inside the complete framed bears a marked resemblance to Barbie, the revolutionary new doll who would not appear until thirteen years later. Speaking of dolls, girls can learn to craft a simple yarn doll, designed with many emblems of femininity. “Susie Shy Lapel Doll” doesn’t actually list any way to attach her to the crafter’s lapel, but she is truly decorative, with a skirt, a pink face, red lips and “downcast eyes,” and a ruffle.

Girls need no restrict themselves to making dolls. For future journalists there is a family newspaper. Granted that it is restricted to domestic news: “…a visit from a relative, someone’s graduation from school, a new business venture by some member of the family, a furlough visit of your older brother.” Many men were still completing their military duty in 1946, although Horowitz may well have written the book before the war ended.  For a different form of communication, readers could simulate a telegram by pasting words from newspapers or magazines onto a sheet of paper.  One of the most refreshing elements of the projects, razor blades aside, is the simplicity of the materials. Most require only paper, pencils, ribbons, glue, and one’s mental faculties, such as “Toothpick Tower.. 

“Mixed Answers” is billed as “hilarious…a sure-fire hit at any party.”  It’s somewhat related to Mad Libs, mixing questions and answers in an improbable way.  Some of the questions are: “What will you serve at your wedding,” “Where will you meet your husband or wife,” and “What business will you be in then?” This is apparently a coed game; maybe the girls will work in businesses someday, and the boys might concern themselves with the food at their future weddings. 

I don’t mean in any way to mock this sweetly nostalgic exercise. Projects and memory games are great.  The “Gallery of Movie Stars” is basically a scrapbook of celebrities. If “Schnozzola,” a game involving transferring a matchbox from your nose onto someone else’s nose in a relay, seems problematic, you might try one with less contact, “Who Am I?” Children with the names of famous people taped to their backs need to ask one another yes or no questions about their identity: “Am I an American?” “Am I a man?” “Am I alive?” If the possible famous people list of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Cleopatra, or George Washington, seems limited, feel free to add your own choices. The best part of this and all the activities in the book, according to the author, is that “It won’t be necessary for an adult to give directions or supervise your play. What’s more, you’ll be so interested you’ll want to do everything yourself.”  That’s an idea which isn’t dated at all.

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