“Eat baked potatoes freely” & other Dietary Advice from 1917

We have many extraordinary, unique items here in Special Collections & Archives, some of which are widely and universally recognized as great treasures for researchers.

But we also have many interesting items that, while they may not document the great achievements of mankind, they give us a picture of “ordinary” life. They remind us that the people of the past were at their hearts, still just people like us, like our parents, like our friends, like other members of our communities…

…people who might concern themselves with proper diet and exercise—and write notes about it, to remind themselves.

That is what we have below.

These notes are from the 1917 diary of 26-year-old Katharine Kennedy (who became Katharine Kennedy Brown upon her marriage in 1921). In these memoranda, Katharine is apparently recording some recommendations for diet and health.

Katharine Kennedy's dietary notes, from 1917 diary, MS-146, Box 10, File 1

Katharine Kennedy’s dietary notes, from 1917 diary, MS-146, Box 10, File 1

Katharine Kennedy's dietary notes, from 1917 diary, MS-146, Box 10, File 1

Katharine Kennedy’s dietary notes, from 1917 diary, MS-146, Box 10, File 1

A transcription of these dietary recommendations is as follows:

Drink 2 or 3 qts. of water daily.

Discard milk.

Eat freely of fresh fruits and green vegetables.

Eat only natural foods – include fruits, nuts, cooked grains, legumes and vegetables, perhaps milk and eggs in moderation and also butter.

Most nuts, also peas and beans contain an excess of protein and should be eaten sparingly.

Nuts – malted nuts, ripe olives & olive oil are excellent substitute for butter & cream.

Use common salt sparingly.

Avoid white bread.

Eat baked potatoes freely & greens of all sorts.

Eat at regular hours – do not omit meal.

Avoid pickles – green olives & preserves.

Drink a glassful of water on rising in the morning. On retiring at night, an hour before each meal, & 2 or 3 hours after eating.

Most of these do not seem particularly outlandish. I think my personal favorite is the advice to eat baked potatoes freely, but I don’t suppose that was meant to include butter, cheese, and sour cream!

In addition to dietary recommendations, additional notes on exercise and bathing are included:

9 miles of walking a day at the rate of 3 miles an hr. is the necessary amount for adults.

Cleanse the mouth & teeth thoroughly before & after each meal, on rising & retiring.

Twice a wk. in winter, take a warm cleansing bath before retiring. Apply fine vaseline if skin is dry.

Take a short cold bath every morning on rising.

It is unclear where or how she came across these recommendations herself, though they do seem to have perhaps come from a book; note the numbers in the margins: 236 and 250, perhaps page numbers.

The front page of the diary gives additional notes of interest. In addition to name, address, phone, next of kin, and make of car (a Fiat! a Fiat in Dayton in 1917!), some of Katharine’s measurements are given as well: she weighed 128 pounds and was 5 feet, 8 inches, tall.

Katharine Kennedy's 1917 diary, MS-146, Box 10, File 1

Katharine Kennedy’s 1917 diary, MS-146, Box 10, File 1

This is just one of the many items we have here in the archives that give us a glimpse of what interested and concerned people in their ordinary, day-to-day lives. We have many special things here, and individual items are special for different reasons.

But a commonality shared by all of them, from these scribbled health notes to the first flight photograph, is that they all record pieces of the past and the lives of real people. And that is pretty awesome, if we do say so ourselves!

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