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Sweeping cultural changes covered in the pages of old PJs

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If I was a man of consequence in Wadena in 1949 I would be known as S.M. Hacking. If I was a married woman in 1969 I wouldn't have a first name.

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These are a just a couple of cultural oddities I've observed since I took over writing the "Living History" column in May. Every week I get to peruse through issues of the PJ from 1949, 1969, 1984, 1999 and 2004. I've learned a little bit about Wadena along the way -- and I've had a few laughs, too.

Issues from five or 10 years ago are interesting to read as reminders of more recent events. It's the older issues, though, that I really enjoy looking through. The style of news writing and coverage was very different 60, 40 and even 25 years ago. It's also amazing how much those papers reveal about some of the social changes that have occurred over the years -- all while covering the events of small town life.

Well-known men in the community were sometimes simply referred to by their initials and their last name in articles in 1949. An Oct. 6 article lauded County Commissioner A.M. Anderson's 25 years on the county board. He was called Andy later in an article about the "shindig" in his honor, so I can only assume that's what the "A" in A.M. stands for.

Women were often called by their husband's name in the older issues. Even the birth announcements in 1949 specify only the husband's first name. "Nov. 29--Mr. and Mrs. Norman Painter, Wadena, boy" for example. This practice continued, in increasingly lower usage, even up to 1984 with the byline for the Nimrod society correspondent given as Mrs. Jack Stigman.

The society news itself is an interesting example of old-fashioned small town newspaper coverage. It was kind of the Facebook of its day with the details of people's life recorded for all to see. Women (I haven't come across any male correspondents) would report on who visited who in their community, who traveled where and for how long, who was in the hospital and why, and many other events. Southeast Leaf River, Blue Grass, High Prairie and Orton are a few of the many communities covered. An example of society news is Mrs. Russell Wetherell reporting in the Dec. 8, 1949, Poplar news that "Mr. and Mrs. Harold Chapin motored to Spicer on Thursday for several days visit at the home of their son Leonard and family" and "A group of men sawed wood at the Lennie and Ruth Chapin home Wednesday."

The coverage was extensive and filled pages of each issue. The "Our Town with the Editor" section Oct. 13, 1949, credited this news as being the "warp and the woof" of newspapers like the PJ.

Old-fashioned language like "warp and woof" is another thing that makes old papers fun to read.

The ads can also be entertaining. A Penny's advertisement in 1969 encouraged PJ readers to shop the store's new wig department. The purchase of a curly-haired pre-styled stretch wig came complete with a carrying case and a Styrofoam head all for $19. Penney's also had some very uncomfortable-looking foundation garments for sale in 1949.

Amusing ads from a by-gone era aren't only limited to fashion, though. The use of gender specific terms in the classified section are very noticeable in an age that requires equal opportunity employment. The PJ advertised for an "office girl" in 1969. Other want ads that year requested "male help wanted" at the Farmers Hatchery Co., and a "man to work in service station."

Gender and the workplace made it into news content, too.

In 1969 the Community Action Council in New York Mills asked readers if day care was necessary in the area so poor women could work. The news brief also included an explanation of what day care is for those who were unfamiliar with the term.

Women "working out" and even taking nontraditional jobs popped up a lot in 1984, the year Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president. A Sept. 6 article featured two area women working at road construction jobs.

It's interesting to read about large societal changes through the window of small town life.

PJ editor Steve Schulz originated the Living History column a few years ago and came up with the years the column covers. It goes back far enough for a historical interest, while staying in years that at least of some of our readers lived through.

A lot of change happened between World War II and 2004, and it made it into the pages of the PJ.

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