Stronger Than Dirt: A Cultural History of Advertising Personal Hygiene in America, 1875-1940 / Edition 1

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Only a century ago the privilege of washing with soap was mainly a special prerogative of the well to do, and a bath was something most people avoided. But by the end of World War I a revolution in standards of personal hygiene had taken place. Soap was not only more widely used but was suddenly viewed as a powerful symbol of purification, civilization, and progress. What caused this radical shift in attitudes?

In this fascinating cultural history, Juliann Sivulka shows that the transformation of soap from luxury product to everday staple and symbol of success was the result of both the newly emerging advertising industry and large-scale societal changes brought on by the modernization of daily life. The new emphasis on soap translated into more elaborate cleanliness rituals, creating in turn specialized places devoted to care of the body, more complex domestic interiors, and eventually new customers for an emerging consumer society.

Making use of a large body of primary research material, Sivulka's study reveals that cleanliness came to symbolize a morally superior and civilized individual. Keeping clean, according to advertisements, was not only a healthy habit, it also ensured romance, material abundance, and acceptance into the successful white middle class. Advertisements also reflected women's changing roles as agents of cleanliness, as well as creators of mass cultural images that reinforced narrow stereotypes of both men's and women's role in society, which feminists later protested. The African American consumer culture and personal cleanliness rituals emerged in a pattern similar to their white counterparts but were informed by politics of appearance.

This profusely illustrated study is full of insights about the development of the consumer culture that we all take for granted. Sivulka reveals many interesting connections between our attitudes toward cleanliness and conceptions of the body, inhabited space, social class, gender, and race.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This new book by Sivulka (journalism and mass communications, Univ. of South Carolina) makes a good case that advertising was a major factor in Americans' heightened awareness of personal hygiene, which began in the middle of the 19th century. Sivulka concentrates on how soap, towel, and plumbing manufacturers used advertising in ever more sophisticated ways to convince Americans, especially women, that buying their products would improve their lives. He examines various advertising campaigns in some detail and considers the use of new forms of mass communication such as magazines and radio. He also looks at racial prejudices concerning cleanliness and how African Americans were influenced by hygiene advertising. This is not a history of hygiene little medical information is offered but instead a study of the role advertising played in shaping public opinion on commercial personal hygiene products. Scholarly, well documented, and clearly written, this book is definitely recommended for all libraries with advertising collections, but other libraries can perhaps pass on it. Lawrence R. Maxted, Gannon Univ., Erie, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573929523
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Juliann Sivulka, Ph.D.(Tokyo, Japan) is the author of Stronger Than Dirt: A Cultural History of Advertising Personal Hygiene in America, 1890 to 1940 and Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising. She lives in Tokyo, Japan, where she is a professor of advertising and American studies at the School of International Liberal Studies of Waseda University.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 11
1. A Culture of Cleanliness 13
Soap as an Artifact of Culture 16
Definitions: Myths, Icons, Stereotypes, Heroes, Rituals, and Formula 19
2. Cleanliness, Not Always a Virtue 25
One Thousand Years without a Bath 28
New Gentility in the New World 32
Nineteenth-Century America 36
The Commercial Soap Trade 45
3. Rise of the Mass Market, 1875 to 1900 59
The New Culture of Consumption 60
From Domestic to Municipal Housekeeper 64
From Outhouse to In-House 66
Soap Trade and the Era of the National Market 71
Advertising and Mass Production 75
The First National Advertisers 84
Brightening the "Dark Corners of the Earth" 98
4. Soap, Sex, and Science, 1900 to 1920 107
The Great Unwashed 109
The Modern Bathroom 115
The Soap Trade and Mass Selling 120
Advertising and the New Science of Psychology 134
Three Campaigns in the Making 138
Soap Goes to War 157
5. Shrines of Cleanliness, 1920 to 1940 161
The Liberation of the Bathroom 164
The Importance of Knowing the Customer 173
Three Formulas in the Making, 1920s 183
Advertising Gets Entertaining, 1930s 201
6. Soap, Sex, and Society, 1920 to 1940 213
Women Compose the Selling Prose 214
Beauty Types 220
The Cleanliness Institute, 1927 to 1932 229
Soap Operas and Soap 247
7. White Soap and Black Consumer Culture 251
African Americans and Personal Care Enterprise 253
The Politics of Appearance 255
Beauty Types, Stereotypes, and Countertypes 271
The White Trade in Black Beauty 284
Sexualizing the Sell 288
Afterword 291
Advertising and the Consumer Culture 292
New Shrines of Cleanliness 299
A Word about Sources 305
Notes 309
Bibliography 343
Index 357
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