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Keeping Cool on Hot Summer Days


A summer afternoon in the Bois de BoulogneNo matter the temperature, our sturdy Edwardians remained buttoned and corseted, which, since weather has largely remained the same in all corners of the globe, made for very uncomfortable times. Let’s explore how people at the turn-of-the-century kept cool amidst sweltering summer heat.

The Menorah: a Monthly Magazine for the Jewish Home, v29 (1900)

The problem of problems for the summer is. How to keep cool? Much depends on what we eat and drink, but more on what we wear. Strange there should be any doubt what the latter is, when the proofs of WHAT NOT TO WEAR are so much in evidence on a hot day. See that man in linen shirt and collar! Tiring of the effort to keep his neck dry by mopping, he inserts his handkerchief between skin and collar to save what is left of the stiffness in the latter. Compare with the man in shirt and collar of wool (negligee). The pitying smile on the face of the latter as he glances at the victim of linen tells the story in a nutshell.

Think this over a minute. If contact with linen causes so much distress to the neck, how are we to measure the mischief done where the entire body is covered with it?

Perspiration as it first leaves the pores is vapor, and as wool has a strong affinity for vapor it absorbs it as fast as it emerges from the pores. But wool has also a repulsion for water, so that the vapor taken up by it is not allowed to condense in the material but is passed through to the outside and evaporated.

What follows? That to keep cool in summer your underwear MUST BE WOOLEN. It is, of course, essential that the wool be of absolute purity. It is also necessary that the texture be of such weave and fineness as will give the maximum of lightness and porosity. These three requisites will be found combined to perfection in the aptly-styled “gauze weight” of the Dr. Jaeger System. In an undersuit of this extremely light all-wool Jaeger fabric you can defy Old Sol, and at the same time snap your fingers at sudden falls of temperature. Like a gull on the ocean, you can then enjoy life, whether borne on the top of a ‘-hot wave” or plunged without warning down the mercurial incline—secure in either case against prostration or chill.

May’s Anatomy, Physiology, and Hygiene (1899)

How to Keep Cool in Summer.—In summer we should eat less meat and less food than in winter. Usually our appetite is not so good in summer as it is in winter, and naturally, therefore, we take less food, and we should wear light clothing. Everything we do during the warm parts of the summer days we should do slowly and should not hurry. We should not walk much in the sun without being shaded.

How the Body is Kept Cool in Summer.—It would seem difficult to prevent the body from being overheated in summer when the air around us is so warm; and you might wonder, too, why it is that the blood of a locomotive engineer, or of a cook, who is in front of a hot fire all day long, is no warmer than that of persons who can keep cool. There are two ways in which the bodily heat is prevented from rising above 98 degrees when persons must be near furnaces and fires or are otherwise exposed to the heat.

Both methods depend upon the fact that whenever moisture or water leaves any surface it makes that surface cold; that is, it takes some of the heat of that surface with it. In India, the drinking-water is cooled by placing it in porous clay vessels which allow a little of the water to soak through, after which it passes off into the air and thus makes the rest of the water cool. If you wet your hand and then hold it in the air, it feels cold, because the water in passing into the air takes some of the heat of the hand with it.

In this way our blood does not get any warmer in summer than in winter. For in summer more moisture leaves the body than in winter. Moisture leaves the body in two ways: By the lungs and by the skin. We breathe more rapidly in summer than in winter, especially if it is very warm, and in this way, more moisture is given off to the air from the blood passing through the lungs. Then again, the expired air contains more moisture in summer.

Perspiration.—The moisture which passes off by the skin is called perspiration. This is taking place constantly through the pores, but in summer so much passes off that it collects in drops and is then called visible or sensible perspiration.

Ice-water in Summer.—There is no objection to ice-water in summer if you do not drink too much, and if you take but a little at a time. Some people get into the habit of drinking ice-water constantly. This is very unhealthy and will make them suffer. But if it be remembered to drink it slowly and only a little at a time, it will not usually do any harm.

Sunstroke.—When a person has been in the sun a long time, the heat of the blood may become so great, or the effect of this heat upon the nerves so serious, that it makes him dangerously sick; this is called sunstroke. It is a very dangerous condition. If you have to walk much in the sun, you should stop and go into the shade and rest as soon as you feel the least faint or dizzy.

From The Dominion:

Lingerie Dresses

How to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days

THE use of a vacuum bottle as a Winter need, or as a requisite for the sick rooms, needs little argument in its favor, but it may not be generally recognized that the same bottle can be used as a means of keeping cool on hot Summer days. If a water bottle filled with hot water comes to the aid of the aged and cool-blooded individuals during the Winter, why not fill the same bottle with cold ice water in Summer and use it to cool overheated blood?

A national advertiser, in advertising his makes of water bottles, offers this suggestion:

“Here is a use for a water bottle many people don’t think of, because they usually think of it as a hot water bottle only. Fill it with cold water and use it to help keep cool.

“Hold it on the back of your neck when you are over-heated. Rest your neck upon it when the night is uncomfortably hot.

“Heat and discomfort quickly pass, as it cools both brain and body. Instead of a restless, wakeful night, you quickly sink into profound, refreshing sleep.

“Don’t forget your water bottle when you don’t need it to warm you. Use it as a cold water bottle and enjoy a new Summer luxury.”

From the New York Times:

Now that the torridity of midsummer is upon us, let me recommend to your readers a very simple, harmless, and effective device for getting and keep cool on warm nights. An ordinary rubber water bag half filled with cold water placed as a pillow under the head on retiring in about five minutes reduces the temperature of the whole body sufficiently to insure several hours of comparative relief and comfort.

During the sultry weeks in Paris dwellings of that city of light and brightness are kept cooler than those of America. Carpets are replaced by matting that can be sprinkled. Windows are closed at sunrise to keep in the cool night air until sundown. The courtyard is frequently watered to prevent its becoming heated and to keep up evaporation. Keep a large block of ice on a grooved marble table, the cool waste water draining through a concealed pipe in the standard of the table and connected with a refrigerator below, seeping over salad leaves and covered jars. By this device a uniform temperature is maintained.

The municipality aids the citizen by having the streets thoroughly watered and the trottoir (sidewalk) washed down long before Parisians are astir. Along the boulevards are large trees that turn the heat aside. There are little cafes with awnings drawn over the pavements, chairs around small tables, and for three half pence the thirsty man receives a glass of water from the garçon. French summer drinks are cooling rather than inebriating. Domestic wines, orgeat, raspberry vinegar, are dispensed in long glasses produced from the refrigerator.


American Resorts: Newport


Newport, known as the Queen of Resorts, or as Elizabeth Drexel Lehr stated ironically in her memoirs: “the very Holy and Holies, the playground of the great ones of the earth from which all intruders were ruthlessly excluded,” was transformed each summer for the sole and very conspicuous consumption of New York’s most exclusive society. Entree into this tiny kingdom by the sea was highly sought after, and nothing–not wealth, lavish entertainments, nor even making a splash in the highest European circles could crack this nut–as the grand doyenne of Chicago society, Mrs Potter Palmer, soon discovered when she made her first foray into the city. But Mrs Palmer was made of sterner stuff and she kept battering the gates of social recognition until the Mrs Astor had to acknowledge her Midwest counterpart. Many others, however, were not so determined nor so successful in their attempts to enter Newport society, and defeated and with lightened pockets, they were apt to sail away to more congenial climes, perhaps even Narragansett Pier, a smart Rhode Island city, though not as smart as Newport, of course.

BeechwoodPrior to the early 1880s, Newport was a sleepy town whose charm lay largely in its agreeable climate and quaint Georgian air. Prior to the Civil War, Southerners journeyed north to Newport to escape the sweltering heat of their summers and did not disturb the genial air blanketing the city. A small but recognizable number of wealthy elites from other cities began to arrive in Newport, also attracted by the weather, and built the first mansions–but these were simple and modest, as native Newporters frowned on ostentatious display. Mrs August Belmont, a member of the Four Hundred, attempted to recreate the social milleu of New York but it wasn’t until Mrs. Astor, at the urging of Ward MacAllister, summered there that Newport officially arrived for the Four Hundred. The Astors purchased Beechwood in 1881 and promptly spent $2 million renovating it to their standards. Following in their steps was Alva Vanderbilt who in 1888 was given carte blanche to design and build a Newport estate by her husband as a birthday present. She hired Richard Morris Hunt and mischievously erected a tall wall around the construction site to keep away prying eyes. Marble House cost $11 million to build and furnish and Alva threw a ball to celebrate the completion of her “cottage” in 1892.

Marble HouseJust as the Vanderbilt mansions on upper Fifth Avenue sparked a rush to build magnificent mansions to replace the declasse brownstones of yesteryear, Alva’s Newport cottage was a gauntlet thrown to others, including her own brother-in-law, Cornelius Vanderbilt, who commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to build a mansion even greater than Marble House. This was The Breakers. The ground was broken in 1893 and two years and seven million dollars later, Cornelius threw open the doors to this seventy room mansion to the awe of everyone. The Breakers stood on 13 acres of land at Ochre Point and faced the ocean, whose spray and crashing surf provided a dramatic backdrop to this impressive “cottage.” Joining Beechwood, Marble House, and The Breakers were other magnificent cottages such as Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Rosecliff, Belcourt Caste, Ochre Court and Rough Point. These mansions and the accompanying wealth surrounding them completely changed the tone of Newport. Now, the city was all about the very, very rich.

The BreakersThough the only hotels in Newport were for the lodging of salesmen from Tiffany, Mumms and other purveyors of luxury items, it was quite easy to “crash” the city, and the year-round inhabitants kept the Four Hundred from total exclusivity. To mitigate unwanted persons from mingling with them, a number of financial hurdles were erected, such the rather steep fee of keeping up appearances. For example, one could buy membership to the Newport Casino for $500, but keeping up appearances afterward was a pill for it was not unknown for an average “cottager” to spend $25,000-$40,000 on staff and maintenance of their residence alone. Women were expected to have on hand 80-90 new dresses, as no one ever wore a dress twice, and an entertaining budget of at least $150,000! And gentlemen weren’t exempt for Newport was one of the principle yachting centers in America, as the America’s Cup sailed annually in the vicinity, and the costs of buying and outfitting a yacht could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, minus the cost of keeping the boat in tip-top shape.

Stamina was also a requirement for the schedule was grueling and tightly regulated:

Bailey's Beach

8-9 am: Breakfast. Change into riding habit
9-10 am: Morning ride. Change into day dress and drive in a phaeton behind a matched pair to the Casino, or to shop.
11-noon: Swimming at Bailey’s Beach.

According to Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, “Only the elite could bathe at Bailey’s Beach. It was Newport’s most exclusive club. The watchman in his gold-laced uniform protected its sanctity from all interlopers. He knew every carriage on sight, fixed newcomers with an eagle eye, swooped down upon them and demanded their names. Unless they were accompanied by one of the members, or bore an introduction from an unimpeachable hostess, no power on earth could gain them admission. If they wanted to bathe, they could only go to Easton’s Beach—’The Common Beach’ as the habitues were wont to call it. There they would have the indignity of sharing the sea with the Newport townspeople, referred to by Harry Lehr [her husband], who was fond of quoting the sayings of Louis XIV, as ‘Our Footstools.'”

Noon-2 pm: Luncheon on yacht or picnic on a local farm
2-3 pm: Drive to Polo Field to watch a polo match from carriage
3-5 pm: Promenade in carriage down Bellevue Avenue. Cards are left.
5-8 pm: Tea on lawn or terrace. Change for dinner
8-10 pm: Dinner on yacht, or supper before the weekly Casino dance, to which tickets are sold for $1 to spectators
10 pm-early morning: Dances, cultural offerings, theme balls with second supper at midnight and breakfast as dawn breaks over Sakonnet Point

With such tightly-restrained gaiety, it’s a given someone would break out to lessen the monotony, and for the staid Newport schedule, Harry Lehr and his Triumvirate, of whom Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish was his prime cohort, were at their service. Horseback dinners and Little Egypt scandals aside, it was in Newport that many of the Four Hundred’s grossest indulgences were, well, indulged in. Mamie Fish treated Gilded Age society as a plaything, establishing her modus operandi early on by declaring “I’m so tired of being hypocritically polite,” and was known for kicking her guests out of her home when she grew tired of them (accordingly, her invitations were highly sought after). With Harry Lehr at her side, the two terrorized Newport society, throwing dogs dinners, servant suppers and monkey fetes. So notorious were their antics, the more conservative members snubbed them–but that didn’t stop Mamie or Harry one bit. A particular antic that survives in the annals of history involves Grand Duke Boris of Russia who came to America at the invitation of Mary Goelet. Mamie announced a ball at Crossways in honor of the Grand Duke and purposely excluded a favorite of Mrs Goelet’s from the guest list. Mary retaliated by letting it be known none of her friends would attend. Mamie refused to be checkmated and turned to Harry for advice. When guests arrived at the Fish residence they were informed that Mamie’s guest of honor was Tsar Nicholas II! The eager guests bowed low when the doors were thrown open to announce the entrance of His Imperial Majesty–Harry Lehr dressed as a Tsar! Everyone had a great laugh over this, including the Grand Duke who met Harry the next day to crown him King Lehr.

When the summer ended so did the season, though after the turn of the century a few socialites stayed on into the early fall, and the Four Hundred moved on to its next social enclave. This jewel in the crown of New York society began its slow descent by the outbreak of WWI and though it retained prominence as the social resort, the new generation of idle rich found the Gilded Age mansions rather cumbersome and outmoded. Thankfully many of these outstanding mansions remain standing and available for tours to retain an appreciation for American social and architectural history.

Further Reading:
A Season of Splendor: The Court of Mrs Astor in Gilded Age New York by Greg King
Newport Villas: The Revival Styles 1885-1935 by Michael C. Kathrens
Wicked Newport: Sordid Stories from the City by the Sea by Larry Stanford and J. Bailey
The Golden Summers: An Ancient History of Newport by Richard O’Connor
The ultra-fashionable peerage of America by Charles Wilbur de Lyon Nicholls
This Fabulous Century: 1900-1910 by The Editors of Time Life
To Marry An English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
Baedeker’s United States, 1909 by Karl Baedeker
Class and Leisure at America’s First Resort
The Newport Postcard Museum

Summer at the Beach


west-pier-brighton With summer came the great exodus from the sweltering weather of London. The railways had opened England’s coastal resorts to the middle classes in the Victorian era, and the tramways and motorbuses opened them to the working classes, enabling them to take part in the popular concept of the “week-end.” Accordingly, the upper classes frequently moved on to Trouville-Deauville or Biarritz–both in France–for their summer getaway.

The seaside resort had its roots in the mid-18th century as an extension of the older health regime of the spa where physicians believed the sea to have prophylactic powers at the August spring tides. The first sea-bathing resorts began in North Yorkshire and spread quickly to south-eastern England, the most fashionable being Margate, Brighton and Weymouth. With the royal patronage of the Prince Regent upon Brighton, the seaside resort became the fastest-growing kind of British town by the first half of the 19th century, and by the 1900s, every English and Welsh coastline was studded with resorts of different sizes, and every possible market could find a congenial holiday home in one or other of well over 100 substantial coastal resorts, the largest of which had well over 50,000 year-round residents.

bathing machine Ensconced in a boarding house, or perhaps a sea-side villa, the intrepid holidayers would venture to the coastlines for the morning dip. Children were handled by nannies attired in straw boaters and stiff white pique dresses, who pushed perambulators in which the babies were almost hidden behind the bathing dresses, towels, wooden spades (for iron ones were forbidden because they could cause injury) for their elder siblings. Despite the relative modesty of bathing costumes, it was considered an article of clothing improper for a mixed crowd and until 1901, both sexes were confined to segregated bathing machines (roofed and walled wooden carts that rolled into the sea) to retain a measure of propriety.

bathing-suit As the only activity for women involved jumping through the waves while holding onto a rope attached to an off-shore buoy, their bathing costume was quite unsuited for real swimming. Made of serge or preshrunk mohair in black, red or navy, it consisted of a knee-length skirt, a pair of bloomers and a tunic, or a combination type with skirt. The costume was then accessorized by long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and fancy caps. The style of costume changed little between the years 1880 and 1907, cap sleeves being the only new concession to fashion. It was Australian swimmer, Annette Kellerman, who heralded the transformation of the bathing costume’s silhouette.

Her performance as an “underwater ballerina” was a version of synchronized swimming involving diving into glass tanks and looking graceful. Since her costumeannette kellerman was tailored to suit her movement, she was arrested for indecent exposure because her swimsuit showed arms, legs and the neck. Though Kellerman later changed the suit to have long arms and legs and a collar, it kept the close fit of her first costume. After this event, bathing wear started to shrink, first uncovering the arms and then the legs up to mid-thigh. Collars receded from around the neck down to around the top of the bosom. The development of new fabrics allowed for new varieties of more comfortable and practical swim wear. Until 1860, it was customary for men to swim nude, and after this was banned in 1860, masculine bathing costume followed the lines of womens, consisting of shirt and shorts, made of dark-colored serge. As with women, men’s costume changed by the late 1900s, when a few daring men were seen swimming topless!

Sunday heralded the end of the weekend. Bathing on the Sabbath was frowned upon and after morning services, visitors thronged the promenades, attired in their Sunday whites to enjoy the sun, regimental bands, minstrel players and delicious treats sold by vendors. As the dusk fell, servants or hotel staff, or perhaps just the family, busily packed their belongings for the return to London on Monday. Sated and full of sea air, the weekend getaway to the beach was open to nearly all classes and walks of life. For the unforunates who were unable to afford the cost of the trip, charitable organizations brought the beach to them, one well-known London-based charity importing sand to the East End to give the children a taste of the delights of a sea-side resort.