Dove Soap Could Learn Something from Children’s Books

In observance of Black History Month, this 2013 post about a Dove Soap advertising campaign that fell completely flat (and for excellent reasons) which explores the concept of cleanliness is intertwined with cultural connotations of blackness and whiteness seems worth revisiting.

The week in business was a reminder that those who know little history are condemned to repeat it. Whether it was inadvertent or deliberate, Dove’s allusion to the ancient topos of turning dark-skinned people white to advertise soap, a product with a tradition of exploiting race in its promotion, was a public relations nightmare.

As CEO of Neutrogena, Mr. Cotsen accumulated ephemera about the product his company made that documented the history of its promotion.  As a children’s book collector, he looked for illustrated pamphlets about soap that were either directed at children or featured child sponsors. Over the years he selected examples that offer really interesting insights into the way literature and the concepts of blackness and whiteness have been used to encourage cleanliness in the early twentieth century. Here are some of the most interesting ones…

Cotsen 12917.

Under the direction of advertising immortal Artemas Ward, Sapolio Soap drove old-fashioned general household cleaners like bath-brick and rotten-stone out of the cupboards of modern housewives. Among the brand’s sponsors were the precocious Gemini Twins, Luck and Pluck, featured here on a two-sided accordion-folded strip. Once they have cleaned all their friends and relations, the two chubbins mount a ladder into the sky and scrub the moon’s face shiny bright. So bright that the amount of light radiated increased exponentially.

Gemini: A Sapolionic Tale . New York: Enoch Morgans’ Sons, Co, ca. 1900?. Cotsen 17195.

Their boyish antics contrast sharply with the pictures on the other side of the strip showing female servants hard at work keeping the household’s silverware, dishes, metal, bath tubs, and marble mantels spotless with Sapolio. But only the African-American woman sings the product’s praises in dialect on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor.

Princeton Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has an archive of the Enoch Morgans’ Sons business papers, if you want to learn more about the early history of Sapolio Soap…

Other soap manufacturers hired well-known author-illustrators to design promotional brochures that incorporated their iconic characters. Palmer Cox, the creator of the Brownies, was more than happy to let his little elves pitch all kinds of merchandise. Neither Cox nor the executives of Oakley’s American Glycerin Soap had any reservations about the Brownies breaking into the company’s premises to steal quantities of product to wash their faces.

Oakley’s American Glycerine. N.p., n.d. Cotsen 8099.

Chicago firm N. K. Fairbanks commissioned E. W. Kemble, whose stereotypical illustrations of African-American children were considered adorable then, to draw those “dear little, queer little Gold Dust Twins” with their “rolling black eyes and roguish grins” making their work into play as if they were circus performers. Dressed only in their trademark short skirts, they romp bare-chested through the laundry, ironing, dish washing, pot scouring, mirror polishing, stair scrubbing, etc. in record time. The ugly old stereotype of the happy-go-lucky darky makes an appearance at the end of this ostensibly delightful brochure when the two break into a celebratory clog dance.

E. W. Kemble. The Gold Dust Twins at Work and Play. Chicago: N. K. Fairbanks Co., c. 1902. Cotsen 61770.

Here is a 1908 reimagining of the Gold Dust Twins by an uncredited artist for comparison. More submissive than the Kemble’s little imps, the ones here sign the text to the lady of the house as “your servants” and they are depicted as bald with coal black skin and big red fleshy lips.

Who are We? N.p.: N. K. Fairbank Company, c. 1908. Cotsen 28337.

One of the most intriguing brochures in the collection is this one published by Larkin Soap. It contains a heartwarming story of girlish entrepreneurial spirit: Fannie admires the Chatauqua Desk at Margaret’s house and learns that if she sells just $10.00 of Larkin Soap to friends and family (just two afternoons’ work, according to Margaret), she too can purchase her own solid oak desk! The second story on the back panel which brings us back full circle to this week’s misfired Dove advertisement. Three Turkish princes are spurned by three “white Caucasian maids” until they agree to try and “erase the dark disgrace with the help of Sweet Home Soap.” The bars of soap works their magic and turns the boys’ faces milky white, removing all obstacles to immediate marriages.

Cotsen unprocessed item 7160339.

This story is a variant of the Aesopian fable, known as “The Ethiopian washed white” or “The Blackamoor,” in which the master foolishly believes that the dark skin of his new enslaved man is simply dirt and filth. He orders the man to be washed clean, but of course, his servants can make no “progress” and succeed causing the poor man’s death from cold. Obviously, this fable cannot be included in anthologies for children and probably only older adults remember it. Below is one of the less objectionable illustrations of the fable by William Mulready that appeared in William Godwin’s Fables.At the turn of the nineteenth century, however, children were still being exposed to the trope of washing a dark-skinned person or thing skin white.

May Byron. The Poor Dear Dollies. Illustrated by Rosa C. Petherick. London: Henry Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, ca. 1905. Cotsen 19786.

Rudyard Kipling’s “How the Leopard Got His Spots” also plays with the idea that skin color can be altered and the resulting transformation is life changing. To survive in a new environment, the Ethiopian must change his skin from “greyish, brownish-yellowish” to black. In order to help his hunting companion the leopard, he stamps spots on his coat using the excess pigment on his fingers…

Rudyard Kipling, The Just So Stories. Color plates by Gleeson. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1949. Cotsen 9736.

There’s some profit in knowing a thing or two about the history of children’s books, even if for titans of business…

Report on the Cotsen Conference “Putting the Figure on the Map” Sept. 11-13, 2013

“Putting the Figure on the Map
Imagining Sameness and Difference for Children”

Co-organized by Andrea Immel and Emer O’Sullivan
Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University Sept. 11-13, 2013
Teaching Geography: hand-colored wood engraving, "The Party," from The Little Traveller (Dean & Monday, [ca. 1830])

Teaching Geography: hand-colored wood engraving, “The Party,” from The Little Traveller (Dean & Monday, [ca. 1830])

The world seemed to shrink during the nineteenth century, thanks to improved communications and transportation that facilitated travel, whether for commerce, conquest or leisure. Similarly the wonders of the world could be brought into the home via photography, maps, travel writing, and fiction. The representation of foreign lands inevitably required the illustration and description of their residents, which gave rise to a rich repository of colorful images of diversity.

Children’s books were important vehicles for the expression of senses of national identity that could confirm the superiority of one culture, marginalize others, instill a sense of international brotherhood or regional patriotism. Through a tangle of national types, stereotypes, and archetypes, children’s books shaped discourse as much as they reflected mainstream adult culture.

Cotsen Curator Andrea Immel welcomes attendees

Cotsen Curator Andrea Immel welcomes attendees

Emer O'Sullivan delivers the keynote talk: "Picturing the World for Children: Early 19th-c. Images of Foreign Nations"

Emer O’Sullivan delivers the keynote talk: “Picturing the World for Children: Early 19th-c. Images of Foreign Nations”

Exploring these themes, and others, this interdisciplinary Cotsen Library conference featured presentations that drew on the approaches of imagology, history, anthropology, psychology, and literary criticism, to discuss modes of expression arising that either targeted children, within or without the classroom, or appropriated discourses for them, to present competing, complimentary or contradictory images of foreign nations.

Presenting scholars represented institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including: Princeton, University of Toronto, University of Innsbruck, University of Cologne, Leuphana University, Aarhus University, Roehampton University, Anglia Ruskin University, Ohio State University, and Wells College.  (A full listing of speakers, abstracts, and biographical profiles, as well as the conference program schedule is available on the Conference website.)

Jill Shefrin discussing travel illustrations, maps, and "dissected maps" for children

Jill Shefrin discussing travel illustrations, maps, and “dissected maps” for children

Setsuko Noguchi discussing Japanese Suguroku picture games at workshop

Setsuko Noguchi discussing Japanese Suguroku picture games at workshop

The conference program also included  two workshops focusing on materials from the Cotsen research collection  — Japanese Picture Sugoroku games and English “dissected maps” and geography games — with a selection of collection objects available for viewing by attendees.

 

Two of the Cotsen collection items on display for attendees to
see after the speakers’ presentations:

Detail showing Africa and the Mediterranean area from an English "dissected map" comprised of 40 pieces mounted on mahogany; it served as a jig-saw puzzle to both teach and entertain children learning about geography. "Africa in its Principal Divisions" (London: J. Spilsbury, 1767).

Detail showing Africa and the Mediterranean area from an English “dissected map” comprised of 40 pieces mounted on mahogany; it served as a jig-saw puzzle to both teach and entertain children learning about geography.
“Africa in its Principal Divisions”
(London: J. Spilsbury, 1767).

Japanese Soguroku Game Board コドモアソビスゴロク ("A game on children's play") (Tokyo: Hakubunkan, 1917). Soguroku within sogoroku: the game board's theme is "children's play," with 12 panels of pictures are arranged by month. Each panel shows a children's leisure activity in that month; the panel for Jan. (bottom right) appropriately shows children playing sugoroku.

Japanese Soguroku Game Board
コドモアソビスゴロク
(“A game on children’s play”)
(Tokyo: Hakubunkan, 1917).
Soguroku within sogoroku: the game board’s theme is “children’s play,” with 12 panels of pictures are arranged by month. Each panel shows a children’s leisure activity in that month; the panel for Jan. (bottom right) appropriately shows children playing sugoroku.

Some Presenters & Discussion at the Conference
(click on any thumbnail image to view larger version)

Gillian Lathey: "Children's Encounters with Other Peoples at the 1851 Great Exhibition"

Gillian Lathey:
“Children’s Encounters with Other Peoples at the 1851 Great Exhibition”

Lara Saguisag: "Foreign Yet Familiar: The Immigrant Child in Progressive Era Comic Strips, 1896-1912"

Lara Saguisag:
“Foreign Yet Familiar: The Immigrant Child in Progressive Era Comic Strips, 1896-1912”

Eric Johnson: "Politicizing Childhood: Oncle Hansi and Alsatian Nationalism, 1912-1919"

Eric Johnson:
“Politicizing Childhood: Oncle Hansi and Alsatian Nationalism, 1912-1919”

Cynthia Koepp: "A World of Difference: Pedagogical Imagination of Louis-François Jauffret"

Cynthia Koepp:
“A World of Difference: Pedagogical Imagination of Louis-François Jauffret”

Nina Christensen: "Education to Tolerance: World Citizens in 18th C. Century Children's Literature"

Nina Christensen:
“Education to Tolerance: World Citizens in 18th C. Century Children’s Literature”

Minjie Chen: "Foreigners Not (Yet) in One Box: Race & Foreign Nationals in Chinese Children's Materials, 1890-1920"

Minjie Chen:
“Foreigners Not (Yet) in One Box: Race & Foreign Nationals in Chinese Children’s Materials, 1890-1920”

Gabriele von Glasenapp: "Information or Exoticization? Constructing Religious Difference in Children's Non-Fiction"

Gabriele von Glasenapp:
“Information or Exoticization? Constructing Religious Difference in Children’s Non-Fiction”

One of the lively discussion after the presentations

One of the lively discussion after the presentations

Opening conference reception, held in the Cotson Library's Bookscape gallery

Opening conference reception, held in the Cotson Library’s Bookscape gallery