Columnist unlocked the secret to staying perpetually youthful
Happy marriage was the solution, according to advice guru Dorothy Dix
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.