History from
the Bottom Up

Pink and Blue

Anyone who’s ever set foot in the “girl” aisle of Toys R Us knows that modern toy manufacturers like to assign pink for girl-toys and anything but pink (usually blue or black or camouflage) for boy-toys. Nowadays everything is color-coded, even pink or blue diapers, because Heaven forbid you should scar your child by dressing him or her in the wrong color, or giving him or her the wrong toy. I’ve ranted blogged about this before. But did you know that this pink-is-for-girls, blue-is-for-boys phenomenon is relatively recent?

Pre-20th century, girls often wore blue.

Sophie_d'Artois_Vigee Каравак_-_Портрет_цесаревны_Натальи_ПетровныAnd baby boys often wore pink.Philip,_7th_Earl_of_Pembroke_(1652-1683)_by_John_Michael_Wright_(1617-1694) Infante_by_CarniceroSome poor babies had to wear stuff like this.1611_Alfons

According to this article in Smithsonian, toy and clothing retailers didn’t dictate pink and blue as gender signifiers until the 1940s. Prior to that, you’d see lots of images like these (note these are both boys):


A paper doll from 1920 called “Baby Bobby.” (Winterthur Museum and Library, via Smithsonian)


A 1910 boy paper doll called Percy (Winterthur Museum and Library, via Smithsonian)

 And most babies, at least those whose parents could afford to dress them somewhat fashionably, were made to wear long dresses and long hair until boys were “breached” at about age 6 or 7. That’s also when they got their first haircutChild_with_toy_soldiers1-465x593 512px-Badger_attributed_Two_Children
Special thanks to my friend, Ying Lee, for alerting me to this pink and blue historical phenomenon!

Fabulous Festival

Yesterday I signed books at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival in Warwick, New York, in a beautiful part of the Hudson Valley. It was a sparkling Fall day, with a fantastic band playing, little kids dancing, and many amazing authors and illustrators. It was really fun to see so many of my writer and illustrator pals. Thanks to the organizers for such a stunning event!

Some highlights:

Ame Dyckman


 … Read more

Warwick Children’s Book Festival

This Saturday, September 26th, I’ll be signing books at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival, in Warwick, New York. The Festival is from 11am-4pm, rain or shine, on Railroad Avenue. Admission is free. Details here. Please stop by and say hello if you’re in the neighborhood!

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

As part of my research for an upcoming book, I’ve been reading old newspaper accounts of murderers, including an infamous poisoning case that happened in London, in 1910. Here are the quick details: Doctor Hawley Harvey Crippen (1862 – 1910) was an American-born “doctor” (well he had some medical training, anyway) who married a brash, heavy-drinking, music-hall singer named Cora Turner. Here’s Cora (in an impressive corset).

The marriage … Read more

End of Summer Send-Off

As a final farewell to summer (*sniff*) I thought I’d post some amazing panoramic images from the Library of Congress, showing bathing beauties from the “aughts,” teens, and twenties. But then I realized there were no people of color in any of these images. In those days, beaches were segregated. I quickly discovered that it’s really hard to find pictures of people of color frolicking on beaches.

Finally, though, I found this cool picture. It’s from a 1930 YMCA camp, and I got permission to post it from the National Museum of American History. My favorite is the girl on the far right. Also the kid with the ball, third … Read more

Suck it Up

I’m reading a lot of medical journals these days. As I was browsing Medical Magazine, dated 1833, I kept coming across lines like this one:

A quick search of the whole journal brought up dozens upon dozens of references to using leeches to cure any number of ills. Here’s just a small sampling:

For rheumatic fever:

For glossitis (an inflammation of the tongue):

For epilepsy: … Read more

Bad’s News

The Regent (later King Charles V, right) and the King of Navarre (Charles II the Bad, left) conferring in a tent. From the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, BL Royal MS 20 C vii f. 135v

Meet Charles, King of Navarre (1332 – 1387), also known as Charles the Bad. … Read more

Happy Labor Day


Hello, Faithful Friends!

I’ve been away from the blog for a month, and–cough–am sort of still away, for a few more days. My book deadline is looming, but I’ve made great progress on it. And yet, I’m eking out a few more days of work and posting this Labor Day blog from last year…

Labor Day has been celebrated on the first Monday of September every year since Grover Cleveland formally declared it a holiday for the working classes, in 1894.

The no-white-after-Labor-Day rule probably began during the late nineteenth century, when newly-well-to-do American … Read more

We Interrupt This Blog…

Hello, Dear Reader, and thank you for stopping by my site. I’ve decided to take the month of August off from blogging. I am working on not one, but two new book projects, plus finishing up my last book, and I really need every moment I can to work on these. Plus I’m sneaking in a little vacation time as well. I will be back after Labor Day. Please stop by again then!

Author Event: Hotchkiss Library of Sharon

Tomorrow evening (Friday, July 30th) I’ll be signing books at the annual Hotchkiss Library of Sharon Book Signing in Sharon, CT. I participated last year and it was a fantastic experience, with a huge, enthusiastic crowd despite a driving downpour. This year it’s supposed to be perfect weather. There’s also a special event for kids– Children and their caregivers will receive free, early admission, with refreshments, from 4:30 to 5:30pm. I’m also looking forward to catching up with some of my favorite kid lit authors.

Hope to see some of you there! … Read more

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