Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Things that WERE things

We’ve been helping clean out a friend’s mother’s house in preparation for the new owners. Her mother lived in this house since the 80’s and her grandparents lived there since the 50’s. Mother did not throw out a thing. Not. A. Thing. The attic, as well as cupboards, closets, bureaus, and the basement were filled to the literal rafters with stuff. Stuff  that has since been sorted for donation, for sale, for recycling. Because mother also collected mining-related ephemera, we took three large cartons of scrapbooks and file folders home for one final screening before we put them to the curb.

This afternoon, I tackled that job. I found a few interesting pieces, including an entire North Bay Nugget special mining edition that features Cobalt, so that was cool. I also found a 1900 marriage certificate. The handwriting is very difficult to decipher, but I think the bride and groom are my friend’s relatives, if not her great-grandparents.

Reading the scrapbooks left me feeling kind of… well, I don’t know how I felt. Odd. Overwhelmed maybe? So many images that were familiar yet forgotten.

You know those annual “year-in-review” montages at every December month end? It was like that, but for the 60’s and 70’s all mixed up, because the books were not in chronological order. I saw headlines announcing the moon walk, the FLQ crisis, Pierre Trudeau’s marriage to Maggie and the birth of their son Justin – now our current PM. I read about Churchill’s death and about Charles de Gualle’s fatal heart attack. There was a short article about Watergate – déjà vu, anyone?  I read several articles about the Royal Family and more than a few opinion pieces that lashed out at the feminist movement. I also read a tongue-in-cheek column that suggested that the hot-pants fad had bottomed out. I get the sense that the scrapbook keeper approved.

The file folders contained hundreds if not thousands of recipes, many hand-written, many more from magazines or pamphlets issued by the food company. Or from the government as was the case with a Cooking for Wartime publication. Each folder was devoted to a specific category of food preparation: desserts, soups, preserves, etc.

At the back of one folder, I found a series of clippings dedicated to weight loss. One page featured a column written by  Hildegarde Fillmore. She described a series of bathing suit exercises, including how to avoid dowager’s hump. But I won’t share that with you today. Instead, I’m going to focus on the advertisement adjacent to Hildy’s tummy tucks and bust-enhancing moves.

Milk of Magnesia face cream. This was a thing?

Milk of Magnesia was used as a face cream. It was a thing. And apparently, it is still a thing today! Women use it as an economical primer before they put on their makeup.

I had no idea.

In the same folder was an ad for Libby’s.

Is Libby’s still around? Wait. Don’t answer. I should do my duty as a responsible blogger and answer that question myself. One sec.

Yes. But most of the company is owned by Nestlé, judging by the number of references on the Wikipedia page. 

Anywho, back in 1958, Libby’s was flogging its “non-fattening tomato juice 3 times a day to help you stay with your slimming program.” I don’t know about you, but I feel about tomato juice the same way some people feel about beets. That is, those people who are NOT fans.

Neither am I a fan of ads from the 50’s. Or the 60’s. Who am I kidding, I’m not a fan of ads, from any period. PERIOD.

Especially ones like this one:

I’m going to have to ask you guys to caption this. I’m tongue-tied.

Speaking of beets. (Yes, beets. I’m sorry, Greg.) We harvested a decent crop this week. I made more chocolate beet cupcakes and shared the bounty around town. The rest are in storage. I will probably end up pickling them. Judging by the number of recipes in the file folders today, my friend’s mother also had extra beets on hand.

I wonder what this would taste like?

Well now. I sat down to write this post, fully expecting to dazzle you with three things that were things, but it turns out they still ARE things. Women still use a laxative on their faces, ads are as outrageous and insulting, and beet root is still used to make wine! Just ask Harry Potter!

***  ***   ***


A reader asked “What is acid skin?”

I meant to research that for the post – here’s a great piece that describes the marketing ploy:

In the 1930s, Philips tried something similar by advocating the use of creams containing Milk of Magnesia (emulsified magnesium hydroxide) to neutralise any skin acid (deNavarre, 1941, p. 133). The company was ordered to stop using the term acid skin by the American Federal Trade commission (FTC) in 1941, on the grounds that the term did not describe any known skin disease or pathological condition.


Categories: In Other News

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74 replies

  1. On beets and tomato juice-👎Those old ads are hilarious but terrifying, especially knowing there are scads of people in THIS decade who would like to turn back the clock to those unenlightened, trusting blindly, questioning nothing days of blind oblivion. Like sheep to slaughter. I understand how it leaves you not quite sure how you feel. I am beginning to feel that way about some of my own memorabilia…let me know how that wine turns out. Oh and I have made a beet chocolate cake myself, when I was in my juicing phase. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maggie, it sounds like it was a fascinating—and exhausting—deep dive into history . . . and into stuff. The historical elements, especially would have been enthralling. And who knew Milk of Magnesia was a face cream! (What is acid skin?) You succeeded in dazzling.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Every time I go to an estate sale, I have this gnawing desire to come home and 1) take a shower and 2) throw out every damn thing in my house! I am not a saver of stuff and hope to spare my kids the burden of exactly what you and your friend are going through. Now, pass the Libby’s and lets go through stuff. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL – deal – but first I must don my gossamer peignoir. And I’ll find a little something special to add to our Libby’s. One shot or two?

      I know what you mean about feeling like a shower – all through the night I could smell old newsprint – I think the musty molecules penetrated EVERYthing.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You watch. Milk of Magnesia will end up being the secret fountain of youth and all of who had no idea are going to be staring wistfully at those flawless faces…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know people use Preparation H to reduce bags under the eyes but I never knew about milk of magnesia. You learn something every day.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ads, oh yeah! Women mopping floors in dresses and high heels, every hair in place. Maybe even with their pearls on. And white knights that ride through, swinging their magical swords, and, hallelujah! A sparkling house. What were the drugs they were on back in that day?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sometimes it can be quite entertaining to look back on all this old stuff. Sometimes it can be just down right frightening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is fascinating. My mom used to red Red Book and Family Circle and the like, and I’d spend time flipping through and gazing at the pictures. The time I spent yesterday brought those pleasant feelings back – but underscoring it all was this notion that it was LIES! ALL LIES!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting read! I love memorabilia! I actually wish you wrote a longer piece on this 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There were a few old LIFE magazines among my parents things. The articles were fascinating but the ads really held my interest. I don’t remember Milk of Magnesia touted as a face cream but there were a few ads that promoted the health and calming benefits cigarettes. That beet root(?) wine sounds nasty.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Back then people made the best of what they had. Back then feminism was frowned upon, even by many women. Back then they made wine from beets. I wouldn’t ever want to go back there. ❤ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered if the beet root wine was a wartime thing, or maybe a Northern climate thing (since grapes don’t do well here.)

      My friend’s mother was a devoted environmentalist as well as a single mom of two kids in the 70’s as well as a home economist. She kept every last scrap (literally) to keep it from the landfill and to stretch her budget. She walked a fine line between “I am Woman, hear me roar” and finding joy in cooking and housekeeping.

      Yeah, I don’t want to go back there, either. Yesterday afternoon was a long enough visit. 🙂


  11. Fascinating and yet , I’m sure , exhausting to go through all the old stuff . Ah !

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hoarding is one thing, but this treasure trove reminds me that memory is never neat and tidy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And accurate observation, Derrick – thank you.

      What I didn’t mention in the post is that this was an estate sale – mother passed away earlier this year. It was an extraordinary emotional challenge for my friend to not only have to “curate” her mother’s belongings, but also those of several preceding generations.

      Fortunately, mother was a librarian and dedicated note-maker. Most of the items had slips of paper, or more recently, sticky notes attached.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Remember, Maggie, you wanted you AND your house to look wonderful when your husband returned from a hard day on the job. I like tomato juice, but three times a day? Something special would have to be in two of those.

    We went through a similar exercise with my mom’s stuff but, fortunately she had downsized several times. Still I remember old card, recipe, bank statement from 70s, Army discharge papers, gas receipt from 1983. We had to look at each piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • GAH! I know! Those horrid no-holds barred shaming ads! I cannot fathom the damage wrought by Madison Ave!

      I had exactly the same response to the tomato juice in that tall glass – I can handle maybe a small jigger of the stuff – maybe once every decade or so. I remember feeling disappointed with myself when I couldn’t finish the one and only Bloody Mary I ever ordered. What a waste of good vodka!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. There goes the FTC again, spoiling all the fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That was in the good old days when governing bodies actually looked out for the well-being of their constituents.

      Or am I making that up? Perhaps it’s all been a tall glass of rose coloured -[insert vile beverage of choice] that I’ve swallowed.


  15. First of all, good on you for helping to sort out a person’s life, it helps to have an objective look at a lifetime of trash/treasure. And yes, it does motivate us to clean out our own space !!

    I love those old ads, wonder how many tried that milk of mag. ??? The tomato juice may have been low cal, but the water retention from all that salt…wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Van – The added challenge to this move was that time frames were very short. I had heard that on average, real estate sales in these parts can easily take two years to complete. In this case, it took two weeks. With a quick closing. We were indeed motivated.

      I never thought about the salt content of the juice. And now that I do, the cynic in me thinks it was a deliberate ploy by Libby’s – get them to drink the stuff to lose weight, but then they retain water so they gain weight! gggrrrrrrrRRRRR!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Ahhh…the good old days. Where men were Men…and women were cattle.

    No, wait, I’m going back just a TOUCH too far in history.

    I’ve seen other articles and such from the 50’s & the 60’s. Women were supposed to look good for when the hubs came home from a long day, and cater to his every whim. House should be spotless, kids should be spotless/motionless/silent, dinner just ready to come out of the oven.

    No thank you. I’ve far too big a mouth (and ego to match) to be that subservient to anyone.

    And I’ll also no thank you to the tomato juice. You take a perfectly good vegetable, and turn it into a semi-liquid, salty, gloppy mess? Ewww.

    Liked by 1 person

    • [rueful laughter] – yeah, and I’d reckon that you’ve gone so far back in history that you’ve come full circle.

      I was going to scan and post one of those ads for feminine hygiene from the 40’s – The top pictures shows an unhappy couple – he rebuking, she pleading – with a brick wall between them. Below, after she speaks with her doctor about never EVER neglecting her wifely duty to be fresh as a daisy, the wall has vanished and they are reunited, once again.

      Quick. Hand me the barf bag!

      Liked by 2 people

  17. I did know about the milk of magnesia. I did not know about Libby’s — although I’m fairly certain I still buy their fruit, or pie filling, for something. I thought grapefruit juice was the secret to a tiny waist?
    I am fond of old things, but old, useful things. So usually I get those old useful things when someone like yourself has already done the hard bits.
    I enjoy reading old articles, because there are truths and falsehoods in them. Time changes history, as I’m sure you know.
    Fab post, Maggie. Loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you liked it! I believe I have heard about grapefruit being an appetite suppressant, I think? But don’t quote me!

      As regards truths and falsehoods: I hesitated to write this post because I don’t care for the feelings that rise up and the my subsequent sarcasm, snide, and snip. It’s the touchy side of me that really REALLY hates being lied to. Or being manipulated. Being sold a bill of goods. Of having to defend against shaming and having to fight for my self worth.

      Hm. I think I have issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I loved this, Maggie! You found a time capsule and have travelled back into the past! Yeah, I know it’s a bit of a rabbit hole that you can get lost in for hours – even days – but how interesting!
    Every new product was a miracle of science, GUARANTEED to change your life! … wait, nothing’s changed there 😉
    Please tell me there will be more stories “from the archives”!


  19. Milk of Magnesia on your face? Sounds crazy to me, but perhaps I’m too close-minded. I like old ads because they give me a glimpse into how things used to be– or at least how some marketing company on Madison Ave wanted things to be! Great finds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the old ads, too, because they exude a quaint innocence. Though, as you suggested, when Madison Ave is involved, you can kiss innocence goodbye.

      Yeah, I guess I’m glad I don’t need much by way of facial treatments – I don’t think I could bring myself to try this particular remedy, either.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. What a fun discovery! I’ve never come across any old scrap books, but I do have lots of old magazines which are fun to read, mostly for the ads. I’ve seen several Coca Cola ads where the drink is touted as a health-restorative. The magazines give a fascinating insight into the popular culture of the time!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. First let me say that this was a wonderful article (even if it mentioned beets).

    See. I can put on my big boy pants and not throw a fit when I encounter the merest mention of that God Awful root. Yes, I can. I don’t get upset. I maintain control. I don’t ramble or rant.

    See, I can do it.

    But have I ever told you how much I hate beets. Have I?

    (I should probably stop now. I know I should….)

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Beet red wine? Oh my. I remember Milk of Magnesia as a laxative. Along with that wonderful Cod Liver Oil.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Reminds me of V8 vegetable juice adds. Never thought of Milk of Mag for my face.


  24. I need to show this post to my wife because her sister is a bit of a hoarder, and we were just discussing all of this earlier today. Sometimes when we’re at a flea market, I’ll buy an old Life, Look, or Macleans from the 60’s or 70’s to look at those ads. I always end up tossing it, but they’re always a least one cocktail hour’s worth of enjoyment. And yes, ahem, deja vu indeed! – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Having downsized a year ago, I feel for you having to go through your mother’s things. That’s a big job. But it also sounds like it was quite a trip down memory lane and beyond. Milk of Magnesia as face cream? Who knew?! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Carrie – It was a gargantuan task, and fortunately, for me, I was just helping my friend sort through her mom’s estate. She was remarkable: composed, organized, and multi-tasked like a demon to get that place sorted and emptied. Every piece that was donated went to exactly the right person or charity. And there were multiple people and multiple destinations.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. as far as opening lines to blog posts go, this one ranks right up there with Orwell’s opener for 1984 (“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”) I was stunned, but too intrigued to stop reading.

    Who helps clean out a friend’s.mother’ On the relatability scale, it’s way on the left. I had to be compelled to help clean my mother’s house (while I was living there). Do friend’s mother’s even have houses anymore?

    Seriously though, this looks like it turned into a wonderful treasure hunt. I loved the libby’s ad!

    (and as far as I’m concerned, you’ve earned serious points towards a sainthood if this is a potential goal)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, now. As far as sainthood goes, I’ve been battling feelings of inadequacy for not showing up more often to help my friend with the clearing of the house. So, I’ll acknowledge your suggestion, but, really, I don’t qualify.

      Welcome back to the blogs, Gabe. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Your family historian will be pleased to get these sort of things if you don’t want to hoard them yourself. Please don’t throw them out. If no-one in your family does genealogy (there’s always one or two!) then the appropriate historical society would take them off your hands. Personally, though, I wouldn’t be able to part with a treasure like that.

    As to the women’s lib stuff, you can never be sure, maybe she was a secret libber and fuelled her determination with said articles without ever revealing her secret. She knew she wanted to keep a record of it, though, maybe to show what women were up against in those days 🙂

    Ads – I can never get the full page feminine product ads out of my head – those women wearing ball gowns and fake smiles. I reckon I am scarred for life. The brick wall thing sounds way over the top. LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Christine! As it happens, I am the chair of the Cobalt Historical Society, so I am keeping several of the pieces.

      Very interesting viewpoint on the women’s lib stuff. Because, the scrapbook keeper was a strong independent women, the Post Mistress of the Town, the leader of Girl Guides. She moved to Ottawa to help her niece (our friend Vivian from whose estate all these goodies came) care for two children. This is while Vivian, a single divorced mother in the 60’s returned to university. As I was scanning the scrapbooks, I found those editorials so jarring, knowing what little I do of the women who clipped and pasted those news items.

      In closing, I have two words for you: Because. Modess.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. So difficult sorting out a life’s possessions; what to keep what to give to charity, what to throw etc… I have only just learnt about Watergate being from UK so prior to today clippings about that would not have meant anything to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comments – sometimes I can be ruthless when it comes to pitching and purging – and other times I’m frozen with indecision.

      Interesting that references to Watergate meant nothing to you until just now. One can never assume, I suppose!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have not personally been responsible but seen my parents have to do it for their parents. Sometimes have to be ruthless because if looked at every bit of paper it would be never ending.

        I thought I had never heard of it but when think about it, have heard mentioned in talk about Trump but meant nothing.

        Before theatre yesterday I heard unknowingly used phrase kitchen gate. Not knowing that gate in that sense came into use because of watergate.

        Liked by 1 person


  1. For Suzanne. And Jean. – The Zombies Ate My Brains
  2. Recycling – The Zombies Ate My Brains

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