Three Generations, 1910s

threegenerationsThis family configuration, an older mother living with one of her children, is fairly common in old American photos. In his moving book Being Mortal, Atul Gawande states that over sixty percent of people over the age of sixty-five lived with their children in the early twentieth century; by 1975 that figure had shrunk to fifteen percent. With her position in the front row, this photo shows the mother/mother-in-law as an important family member.

We get a very good look at the older woman’s clothes here. At first glance I thought that this was a casual outfit for a formal photo—a blouse and skirt combination. Perhaps the skirt had a matching jacket for street wear, like these Sears “extra sized suits” from 1913, which she had left off for this interior photo.

Sears catalog, Spring 1913

Sears catalog, Spring 1913

The blouse has fancy details. The stripes form chevrons in front and it has interesting tucks at the shoulders. I still can’t quite figure out how that wing shaped lace piece was attached. Did the blouse have a low neckline filled in by a kind of inset? Note the cameo at her neck and the fringed velvet bag on her lap. When she stood up, the skirt’s seams would give slenderizing vertical lines.

Perhaps I’m imaging it, but I can’t help seeing tensions in the family dynamic on display. The older woman is in the front, yet moved off to the side. Neither she nor her daughter-in-law looks happy.

Thanks to my photo scout Sally for finding this at a Los Angeles yard sale.


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5 Responses to Three Generations, 1910s

  1. Carol in Denver says:

    Well, the older woman’s push-up bra is certainly doing its job!

  2. Bell says:

    You decided she was the husband’s mother, and not the wife’s mother? I decided I saw some family resemblance there as well. My question is about the bows perched precariously atop the little girls heads. I see that all the time in old photos, and I can’t figure it out. I guess it serves the same purpose as the little bow headbands that infant girls currently wear. In an era where both boys and girls wore dresses until they were toddlers, it identifies the children as female.

    • Lynn says:

      Yes, I made a guess about the mother. That’s why it would be nice if all pictures came with stories! I’m afraid that I can’t answer the question about the bows. Maybe some expert on children’s clothing will chime in.

  3. There is a lot going on with that blouse, but you are so right about how the skirt would be very slenderizing.

  4. c says:

    I wonder if the children’s hair is bobbed? I’ve seen pictures of my mother taken in the late ’20s and her hair looked very like this – straight as silk thread and cut at mid-ear length. No bows, however (she was raised by her older sisters after her mother’s death) – I don’t think there was much energy for bows!


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