Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Mary the Fairy



The ‘Health Fairy’ in this week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt below was employed by the Child Health Organisation which enlisted local groups into co-sponsorship. In the prompt picture, and the second one in the set, she is talking to a group of enraptured schoolchildren at Ithaca High. She shared her duties with Cho-Cho the Health Clown, and it would appear from the photos that they put on plays and and mini-lectures in schools about the importance of eating a heathy diet and getting plenty of sleep. In my quest to discover more about the Health Fairy I came upon a book called ‘Children and Youth in Sickness and in Health: a Historical Handbook and Guide’ (2004) in Google Books. Here we can read Eleanor Glendower Griffiths’ story of the Health Fairy in full. In the 1920s authors of health education materials would typically use stories and poems to make health lessons fun and interesting for children.
‘The House the Children Built’ tells the story of how the fairy’s lovely house was burnt down by the wicked witch Ignorance. The house is fully restored brick by brick, shingle by shingle due to good children following healthy guidelines. The wise bird Education travelled to little towns and big cities alike to spread the word to teachers so that more children would eat wholesome food, sleep in the sweet fresh air, play and be happy. As the children grew more healthy and happy the fairy’s house was re-built.
Children of today would perhaps not be quite so easily swayed to eat their greens and get on their bikes, but in the twenties there was quite a lot of interest in fairies. J.M. Barrie had introduced fairies in 1902 in his novel for adults ‘The Little White Bird’ along with the character of Peter Pan. The play and stories which followed evolved into ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ where the fairies don’t seem to set a very good example to children at all. When Peter is guarding Wendy from pirates, the story says:
“After a time he fell asleep and some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy. Any of the other boys obstructing the fairy path at night they would have mischiefed, but they just tweaked Peter’s nose and passed on.”
Up to 1921 there was still quite a lot of interest in the Cottingley Fairies too. Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two schoolgirls, managed to convince even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author and spiritualist, that the fairies they had photographed were real. Amazingly they were also fashion-conscious fairies, appearing in the garments of the day. The story has fascinated for years, long after it was dismissed as a hoax using cut-out paper fairies, not least because of the ingenuity of two girls aged 10 and 16 with an early camera.



My own fairy photos are not of paper cut-outs, but of flesh and blood girls of about the same era as the Health Fairy, the Cottingley Fairies and even Barrie’s Tinkerbell. They are my mother-in-law, born in 1910, and my own mother, born in 1920 and both named Mary.
My mother-in-law seems to be in a school play or pageant. I can’t ask her as she died over twenty-five years ago. My own Mum is dressed in a crepe-paper and tinsel costume in the manner of a real Christmas Tree Fairy for a Sunday School play. My grandma made the whole outfit on her sewing machine. Mum was a good and attentive scholar and would have hung on every word the Health Fairy said if she had met her. She still follows a healthy lifestyle in her 92nd year, eating a balanced diet and swimming. That’s got to be worth a few extra bricks in the Health House.


Why not join us over at Sepia Saturday to see what other fairy magic has been summoned up by the above prompt.

Over at my other, crafty blog, you can see some fairies in cross-stitch too.

20 comments:

  1. I never heard of the Cottingley Fairies before. The article on them is fascinating.

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  2. These photos are adorable. I thought of the Cottingley Fairies straight away when I saw the little girls in the top photo - especially the one lying down on the right. I was utterly convinced there were fairies living in my doll's house when I was small.

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  3. This conjured memories of the Cottingley Fairies immediately, as soon as I spotted the fairy wings on the little girls!

    Jem xXx

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  4. I've never heard of Health Fairies, but when I was in elementary school, we used to have a Health Parade every year. It was quite an honor to be allowed to march. I was in it. I must have had a good dental report, who knows. I found your post very interesting.

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  5. Thank you for the detailed look at the Health Fairy story. Now that I know about it, I'm going to be on the look out for possible links to that in any future fairy photos that I see from that era. The Cottingley fairies are, of course, legendary in photohistory circles. Was J.M. barrie the first to popularise fairies? Interesting.

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  6. WOW, Nell! You gave us the most complete history about this topic ... the top picture is a perfect companion to the prompt picture and please tell your Mom that I said she was a doll. Weird about the orgy thing in Peter Pan.

    Thanks,

    Kathy M.

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  7. So the fairies are conducting orgies? I've never seen that happen in a Disney movie.

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  8. Very weird about the Peter Pan orgies.
    I love your mum's costume. And to think she still swims! So amazing.
    Nancy

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  9. Oh my this is fabulous. Ever since I saw that lovely fairy, I was trying to uncover other info about it. All that you supplied here is just so fascinating, (I kind of stumbled through the land of make-believe a bit to pull my fairy post off! But that too was fun, especially videos I found...got a bit lost in a few too many, but it was like really being there! I just adore the photos too. Now I have to check out your next one!

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  10. Now you mention it I do recall the Cottingley Fairies. Mind you the whole concept of little girls (and indeed little boys) being able to fly around on wings is a frightening thought given what mischief they can come up with when grounded.

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  11. I learnd something new from this. Thanks for sharing!..

    JJRod'z

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  12. I don't think I can have read the precursor of Peter Pan. I feel sure I would remember an orgy.

    The Cottingley Fairies story fascinates me as an example of seeing what you want to see, and the ingenuity of teenage girls.

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  13. A terrific story and perfect fit to the theme. Fairies still seem to be part of our culture, though trivialized into animated mascots for advertising and syrupy cartoon characters marketed to little girls. But Conan Doyle's belief in fairies and other similar nonsense remains one of the great oddities of literary history.

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  14. A fascinating history and photos, never inheriting the sewing gene from my mother I can only marvel at the thought of your grandmother running up a crepe paper costume. A health clown would definitely be very effective I know people who have carried their fear of clowns into adulthood.

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  15. That's a great story, had to smile how the girls have taken Sir ACD for a run, photographing fairies! I salute your mum to her 92 years, still swimming and I guess, we are what we eat is true!

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  16. Thanks for the history lesson as I've never heard of the Cottingley Fairies. It's funny that these young girls were able to pull one over on the adults! Your pictures are wonderful and I think little girls of today would love to wear the fairy costumes.

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  17. A very interesting post with great photos. When my daughter was about two, I argued with her every night for about a week as she wanted to wear her fairy wings to bed.

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  18. I've learned a lot from this post Nell. I had done some research on J M Barrie and Peter Pan when writing about Daphne du Maurier but knew nothing about the Cottingley fairies.

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  19. Right on theme, and most delightful, except perhaps for the girl in the middle row on the left, in the first pic, who has such a desolate expression... I somehow prefer Tolkien's elves, no wings, but an ancient noble race with certain powers. This suits better my own values that your fairies coming back from an orgy... Honestly!!
    :D~
    HUGZ

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  20. So sweet and I just imagine her mother making her costume on an old, vintage sewing machine - well, it was probably quite modern at the time.

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