Month: April 2019

Sun Smart

Summer may be over and Winter approaching here in New Zealand, and many people will be lamenting the impending loss of their tan.  But it wasn’t so long ago that being in the sunshine was something to be avoided.

Before the 1900s a tan was a stigma – the working classes had tans from their long hours of labour in the sunshine, so being pale was thought to indicate wealth, refinement and beauty. The fashions depicted in artworks and advertisements show full length trousers, skirts and sleeves, and even swimwear and sportswear covered most of the skin.

1. Outing

 Preparing for a summer outing in 1907, complete with hats, parasols, and very little skin exposed to the sun. WRM ref: 2015.93.6

On top of this, women dared not leave the house without a wide-brimmed hat and parasol to shield the sun’s rays. Rudimentary sun screens were available, consisting of petroleum jelly mixed with magnesium, zinc oxide or bismuth, which coated the skin and prevented sun burn and freckles. If colour did start to show they could purchase one of the many bleaching creams or powders designed to whiten skin.

During the 1890s medical studies discovered that sunlight killed the Tubercle bacillus (TB) and prevented microorganisms from growing, and a lack of sunlight caused Rickets Disease. The sun became a provider of health. UV radiation, otherwise known as sunbathing, became a treatment for many conditions including lupus, anaemia, Hodgkin’s disease, renal failure, syphilis and septic wounds.

2. Parasol

 A black and purple brocade parasol, made 1890s. WRM ref: 1975.43.27

In 1910 medical journal The Lancet published the statement, “the face browned by the sun is regarded as an index of health”. Having a tan was no longer a social stigma, and by 1930 was publicly regarded as healthy. Mothers were told to put their children in the sunshine every day to keep their bones and teeth strong. UV radiation lamps were used in hospitals to decrease blood pressure, increase appetite, and promote wellbeing. Models for the home soon followed.

Alongside this, society changed. Work hours were reduced and people had more time to experience the outdoor leisure centres that were being built. Fashions were shortening and more skin was being exposed to the sun, particularly in leisurewear.  Hats and parasols became unwanted trappings of the past.

The Industrial Revolution led to changes in many work environments, from outdoor to indoor. The working classes grew pale, while having a tan indicated having money and leisure to travel. The desire to tan was increased with fashionistas like Coco Chanel declaring “a golden tan is the index of chic”.

But it wasn’t all fun in the sun. As early as 1894, dermatologists noticed that those who worked outside were more likely to develop skin cancers, especially on areas that saw the sun frequently such as hands, faces and necks.

3 Hat

 A black afternoon hat, with brim and lace covering, made around 1880. WRM ref: 1980.47.2

The term “sun cancer” was first coined in 1933 but the initial causal links were largely ignored by the wider medical community and the public. In the 1940s a link between tanning, sunburn and skin cancer was confirmed and the name “melanoma” became commonplace. Knowing UV radiation was dangerous helped to improve sunscreens, but the desire to be tanned and beautiful was stronger. Between 1930 and 1970 the rates of melanoma over the world increased 300-400%.

In New Zealand around 4,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma every year, and around 300 will die from it. We have the highest incidence of melanoma in the world.

So enjoy the sun, but be safe and remember your hats, sunscreens and parasols.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.

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Dear Santa…

Christmas has been and gone but many children will already be planning their wish list for later this year.  Reaching for a tablet or smartphone they could sneakily message Saint Nick another gift for their wish list, while a frustrated parent threatens to email Father Christmas and tell him to cancel the toys because of too many tantrums.

2. Santa Claus's visit

 Postcard of a child waiting for Santa Claus to fulfil her wish list, while her father offers advice about not being too greedy, presumably. WRM ref: 1978.77.5 73c

In today’s world of digital communication, it is quick and easy to get an instant message to Santa through any of the websites the Google elves offer. But what about the hand-written and illustrated letters that used to be sent by post?

The following report appeared in the Wanganui Chronicle on Wednesday 24 December 1952:

 “Father Christmas, No.1 Cloud, Iceland”, so the address proclaimed. The blue envelope with its tuppence-ha’penny stamp rested in the trained hand of the postal sorter. All round him stretched the pigeon-holed sorting bays of the overseas mail floor at London’s General Post Office.

“Well, well,” said the sorter, turning to his companion, “Christmas must be closer than I thought. Here’s the first of the Father Christmas mail. A good one, too.” He put it aside and returned to his stack of letters with a shake of his head, a smile and a thought of Christmas and the children.

That was way back in September. But as the mail sorter said, it meant that Christmas was on the way.

1. Christmas toys

 Postcard of a child’s Christmas wish – fruit, biscuits and toys. WRM ref: 1978.77.5 34b

The letter, with its fairy tale address and childish scrawl, was the first of about six thousand of its kind to pass through London General. They came in from overseas as well as from all around Britain. It is a law of the Post Office that a letter must get as near to its destination as possible. And a request to “Santa Claus, Snow Cottage, Iceland”, which might have been posted in Fiji, comes first to London on its way to Iceland.

The Post Office in Iceland, unable to find Santa, who is probably out on his rounds in any case, holds the letter for a time and then it … well, who but Santa is entitled to read the Christmas wish of a child?

There are very few exceptions to this rule of forwarding Father Christmas’ mail. One is when a child’s letter is addressed simply to “Father Christmas” or “Father Christmas, Fairyland”, or “Toyland”, or when the letter is sent to “Santa Claus, the North Pole.” In these cases the letters are held at their office of origin.

3. Tickner envelope

 Hand-decorated envelope with a festive theme, from the Tickner Envelope Collection. WRM ref: 1989.15.3

Father Christmas has many homes, judging by the variety of addresses where children hope to find him. There was one to “Father Christmas, Reindeer Hotel, Iceland” and yet another with the direction “The North Pole, Arctic Ocean, Siberia”. One child tried to reach him through “Fairy Land, Iceland, England”.

Let’s just hope that Santa’s email account has a good spam filter and plenty of storage.