• Steven Heller

How Hygiene Was Taught

There were at least two scourges in America that triggered dozens of cautionary and sermonic educational pamphlets. The two I’m talking about both deal with sex and sexuality, one of America’s most uncomfortable facts of life.

Here are three pamphlets spanning the early to late 1940s, when war wreaked havoc on American morals and mores, and teenage “folks” were just coming into their own as a bonafide demographic.

Solid Facts For ‘Teen-Age’ Folks was published in 1948. It takes a soft approach to the subject of venereal diseases. Rather than scare the reader into submission, for its time, it posits a more liberal attitude. It also takes a curiously enlightened approach, blaming Christopher Columbus for bringing the diseases he and his men caught in the New World back to Europe. No matter, whoever or whatever was the cause, “Proper sex conduct has bearing on your own happiness” was the watchword of this warning.

There is a somewhat more fearsome tone and look to this clarion of irreversible dangers. Wake Up, published by the U.S. Public Health Service, is even more typical of the Stamp Out VD literature. Produced during World War II when promiscuity was rampant, VD was held up as the silent killer—the “Crippler” of normal-looking people who carry the disease and spread it whenever they have sex. In addition it fanning fears, leading to circumspection, this dramatically illustrated piece also suggested that carriers are not pariahs but victims who need to be cured. Kind of enlightened in a way. Oh yeah, and watch out for those toilet seats.

Rather than come right out and call a period a period, this pamphlet quietly advertising Modess tampons begins its guide to becoming a grown-up on a very positive note. What does it mean to be a teenage girl? Coping with the monthly “flow.” Published in 1944, as the War was still raging, this introduction to the female body was one of the first to tell it like it is in positive terms. Few morals here, but there are plenty of bromides: “It’s a good idea to remember the whole process is much easier if you’re relaxed. Besides, a calm, relaxed girl is much more attractive.” Keep smiling.

Postcards From PRINT PRINT magazine, one of the world’s most revered graphic design publications, turned 75 in 2015. In celebration, Steven Heller curated a collection of 75 postcards, each featuring an iconic cover of PRINT magazine straight from the archives.

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