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Opinion >  Column

100 years ago in Eastern Washington: An opera diva preparing for a show in Walla Walla criticized other women for wearing makeup, pursuing politics and not doing more to ‘make the home cheerful’

 (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
(Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)

Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, a world famous operatic contralto, weighed in on women’s rights – and women’s appearances – prior to her concert in Walla Walla.

“Let them dance, but let them be decent,” she said.

She condemned the “short skirt, the low waist, the use of lipsticks, bobbed hair, eyebrow pencils and even the lowly powder puff.”

“I know I will have all of the young ladies of your city down on me, but I do not care,” said the Austrian American diva. “When they use powder, lipsticks and eyebrow pencils, they spoil their charms. It is unnecessary.”

She said it was more important for women to “make the home cheerful” than to powder themselves up.

“For what is it that has made this nation so great?” she asked. “Is it the powder-covered woman or the fond mother? I tell you, it is your Western farmer and his wife who have made the nation great.”

She added she was “against women in politics,” because her “place is in the home, where she wields a greater influence than any woman could possibly wield in public life.”

From the radio beat: Authorities issued what seemed to be an alarming new rule about the fledgling medium of radio.

“No amateur station is to broadcast weather reports, market reports, music, concerts, speeches, news or similar information or other entertainment,” said the Northwest radio inspector for the Department of Commerce.

The key word was “amateur,” but in that era most radio transmitters were operated by amateurs. This was apparently an attempt to limit what home operators could transmit, and would not affect what we think of today as true radio stations, which were still rare. Spokane’s first commercial broadcast station, KFZ, would not be licensed until March 1922.

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