Colum­nist un­locked the se­cret to stay­ing per­pet­u­ally youth­ful

Happy mar­riage was the so­lu­tion, ac­cord­ing to ad­vice guru Dorothy Dix

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - JOHN MACKIE jmackie@post­

Eighty-five years ago, syn­di­cated colum­nist Dorothy Dix claimed she had dis­cov­ered the “Foun­tain of Per­pet­ual Youth.”

But it wasn’t in some swamp in Florida, or in “jars and bot­tles with a French la­bel on them.” To Dix, the se­cret to women stay­ing youth­ful was much more sim­ple: a happy mar­riage.

“A fa­mous English doc­tor says that women who are con­ge­nially mar­ried not only live longer than old maids and di­vorcees and fret­ful, nag­ging wives do, but that they re­tain their youth and good looks longer,” wrote Dix. “And on the con­trary, noth­ing ages a woman so quickly as an un­happy do­mes­tic life.”

The 62-year-old Dix an­tic­i­pated that many women would take is­sue with her state­ment.

“Ah, but you will say, a happy mar­riage is a gift of the gods,” she wrote in the Sept. 17, 1932, Van­cou­ver Sun. “You can’t wish your­self a happy mar­riage any more than you can nat­u­rally wavy hair.”

But Dix said you could do some­thing about it.

“If Na­ture made the faux pas of af­flict­ing you with stringy, lanky locks, you don’t suc­cumb and sit meekly down and meekly go through life with a head look­ing like a peeled onion,” she wrote.

“You beat it to the near­est beauty shop and have a per­ma­nent put in that sur­passes Na­ture’s best ef­forts. But if your mar­riage fails to come up to your ex­pec­ta­tions and is more or less of a mis­fit, you sim­ply take the count.

“You don’t make any ef­fort to put a crimp in it. You don’t try to man­u­fac­ture a syn­thetic bliss that may be al­most as good as the real thing. You just let mis­ery and dis­con­tent over­flow you and make you old and ugly be­fore your time.”

This sounds a lit­tle harsh to­day, but in her time, Dorothy Dix was hugely in­flu­en­tial, the Dear Abby of early 20th-cen­tury news­pa­pers. Ac­cord­ing to her En­cy­clopae­dia Bri­tan­nica bio, in 1940 her col­umn ap­peared in 273 news­pa­pers.

Sadly, her own mar­riage wasn’t very happy.

Born El­iz­a­beth Meri­wether in 1870 in Ten­nessee, at 18 she mar­ried Ge­orge Gilmer, who de­vel­oped a men­tal ill­ness. Some bi­ogra­phies say he was sent to an asy­lum, oth­ers say she looked af­ter him at home.

Forced to sup­port her­self, in 1896 she started writ­ing for the New Or­leans Picayune un­der the pseu­do­nym Dorothy Dix. Af­ter a stint with Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst’s New York Jour­nal, in 1917 she be­came a syn­di­cated colum­nist and moved back to New Or­leans.

Her con­ser­va­tive moral out­look seemed to res­onate with many read­ers dur­ing the cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion that ac­com­pa­nied the Roar­ing ’20s. Her col­umn con­tin­ued to ap­pear un­til her death in 1951, al­though the last few years were re­prints af­ter she suf­fered a stroke.

The cul­ture clash was felt in mu­sic, as well. Hot jazz was all the rage in the 1920s, but by 1932, a Sun story claimed there was a coun­ter­move­ment to­ward “sigh­ing string en­sem­bles and plain­tive airs.”

Ac­cord­ing to writer Mary Pa­tri­cia Moloney, “at present there seems to be a dearth of tunes es­pe­cially writ­ten for danc­ing.”

“Long skirts for evening wear have brought a slow­ing down of danc­ing rhythm,” wrote Moloney. “(Song­writer) Irv­ing Ber­lin as­serts that the rea­son noth­ing new is be­ing writ­ten is that there are no dancers nowa­days. Peo­ple are not in the mood and can­not af­ford ex­cite­ment.”

It was the Great De­pres­sion, af­ter all. The trend to­ward bal­lads was ap­par­ently be­ing felt on the live ra­dio broad­casts of big bands that aired in Van­cou­ver, such as Paul Birchette at the Bilt­more Ho­tel in Los An­ge­les and Ansen Weeks at the Mark Hop­kins Ho­tel in San Fran­cisco.

Lo­cally, Moloney noted “Ole Olsen at the Com­modore Cabaret has been play­ing in­creas­ingly more ‘drags’ and fewer ‘hot’ tunes. Adap­ta­tions of the slower ne­gro rhythms in num­bers whose tempo is ac­cred­ited by lyrics speak­ing of ‘lazy rivers and old mill streams’ are most fre­quently re­quested by the dancers.”

There were all sorts of big bands play­ing in halls and ball­rooms, in­clud­ing Mart Ken­ney and his Alexan­dri­ans at the Alexan­dra Ball­room at Rob­son and Hornby (where Rob­son Square is to­day).

There was also an ad for danc­ing at the Moose Au­di­to­rium at 636 Bur­rard that fea­tured a Monopolystyle draw­ing of a cou­ple danc­ing much, much closer than Dorothy Dix would have found proper.

Noth­ing ages a woman so quickly as an un­happy do­mes­tic life.

Syn­di­cated colum­nist Dorothy Dix was hugely in­flu­en­tial, be­com­ing the Dear Abby of more than 250 news­pa­pers in the early 20th cen­tury.


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