vintage, nostalgia and memories


April 13, 2017

Some Lists of Lost Superstitions of the Early 20th Century America

These deeply entertaining lists of superstitions, gathered by Fletcher Bascom Dressler in 1907, are a good sample of the kinds of sayings American college students from across the country heard in their homes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Dressler reported that he asked 875 students, mostly women who were enrolled at Berkeley's school of education preparing to become teachers, to "write out carefully all of the superstitions they knew, each relying entirely on her own memory. No suggestive communication with each other or with the teacher was allowed." The material was submitted anonymously.

Next to their description of each superstition, students were asked to describe their level of belief in it: "No belief;" "Partial belief"; or "Full belief." Dressler thought that "partial belief" was as good as belief: "It is an indefinite and conditional belief to be sure, but it may be as persistent and as thoroughly superstitious as 'full belief.' " He tallied up levels of credence attached to each superstition in his report below. Many reported superstitions had no believers at all, but some had a good number of adherents.

The topic areas of these superstitions, ranging from animals to plants to dish-rags to babies to foods to furniture, form a neat capsule history of late 19th century American household life.















(via HathiTrust Digital Library, via Slate)

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