Many of us celebrate Easter with a number of traditions: dyed eggs, baskets full of candy, or decorations inspired by spring, just to name a few. Many of these traditions go back in history more than 100 years.
At Edison Homestead in Greenfield Village, we showcase a variety of activities during the Easter weekend that would have been enjoyed around 1915. Where do we find our inspiration? Much of the instructional information used to plan these activities come from promotional booklets from companies like Dennison Manufacturing Co. and their Dennison’s Party Book, or from magazine publications like the Ladies Home Journal, both available to families at the time.
In 1915, Easter crafts ranged from decorative pieces for the table to edible delights. Dennison Manufacturing Co., which today is now known as Avery Products Corporation, was a large supplier of inexpensive paper products that encouraged decorations for any number of parties, including an Easter celebration. Listings in the Dennison’s Party Book contain a rabbit with basket of eggs decoration, decorated crepe paper, bon bon boxes, and purple and white festoons, all of which were priced at 25 cents or less. They also suggest how a table might be decorated using the items they have listed for sale as well as homemade items (made of paper, of course).
Easter cards are one of the projects suggested in The Ladies Home Journal, 1912April edition, and would have been an inexpensive craft to make as a gift. In fact, the journal states that, “[Easter] gifts should always be simple and inexpensive; if they are made rather than bought, so much the better.” Using images from flower catalogues, garden and agricultural magazines, the picture is traced on a folded edge of thick paper to create the body of the card. Once cut out, the image is then colored in and an insert is created to write an Easter note to the recipient.
Like our own Easter traditions today, the journal included many references to sweet treats that could be given as gifts. Chocolate eggs could be made by carefully removing the raw egg from the shell, washing the shell, then filling it with melted chocolate. Once cooled, the egg shell could be colored and decorated with crayons and colored pencils, with a scrapbook pictured glued over the opening. Not only were sweets made, but so were displays to put them in. Moss glued onto a half egg shell provided a holding space for small candy eggs or jelly beans.
Feeling inspired and ready to try creating your own archive-inspired holiday decorations? Stop by the Benson Ford Research Center to see a copy of the Dennison's Party Book for yourself.
Emily Sovey is Supervisor of Inspiring and Living History at The Henry Ford.
Easter greeting card, circa 1885. Featuring a spray of lilies, a Bible quotation, and the Christian cross, the greeting reads, "A Happy Easter to You. (THF114187)
After a long winter, we all naturally welcome the signs of spring! I've selected these greeting cards and photographs from our collections that represent a return to warm weather and new growth in nature.
Easter greeting postcard, circa 1920. Artwork shows biblical story of three women and angel at the tomb of Jesus Christ. The message reads, "May this Easter be for you A time of Joy and Gladness." (THF114197)
Many people celebrate the Easter holiday as a time to attend church followed by a family gathering. Easter, a Christian ceremony observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has also become popular as a secular celebration of the arrival of spring.
Trade card advertising Rosenbloom Brothers business establishment of Providence, Rhode Island, 1882. The artwork features children playing around a gigantic egg, decorating it with a flower garland, ribbons and a U.S. flag. (THF114209)
Mailing family and friends Easter greeting cards and children waking up the morning of Easter to eggs and candy brought by a rabbit are two examples of activities that became popular in the United States by the 1880s.
Oval-shaped photographic print mounted onto gray cardboard, circa 1895. The photo depicts two young children, probably a sister and brother, holding Easter baskets full of candy in rabbit and egg forms. (THF114216)
Snapshot photograph printed April 1957. Featuring a man and baby girl, probably dad and daughter, dressed in their Easter best with a fancy Easter basket. They are outdoors in a yard with daffodils in bloom. (THF114228)
Publishers made greeting cards with themes of a religious nature, but many cards reflected less spiritual, earthly themes of flowers, eggs, rabbits, baby animals and birds that signaled the return of spring.
Easter greeting card, used April 12, 1936. Artwork shows a rabbit holding a radio script and talking into a broadcasting microphone. The message (starting on the front and continuing onto the inside) reads, "I'll Tell the World / I'm Wishing You a Real Happy Easter!" (THF114175)
Easter greeting card, made circa 1950. Featuring an Easter basket overflowing with spring flowers and a sleeping kitten, the greeting reads, "From Friend to Friend an Easter Wish." (THF114172)
For more examples of Easter images, go to our online collections and search Easter. I hope this brief journey through time with Easter-related images brings you a breath of springtime!
Cynthia Read Miller is former Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford.
The collections of The Henry Ford include many artifacts related to famous innovators and revolutionary inventions, but we also include humbler artifacts that tell the story of day-to-day life in America. With the Easter holiday approaching, we’ve just digitized a number of related items, as selected by Cynthia R. Miller, Curator of Photographs and Prints. Her choices include this 1973 photograph of young boys wearing bunny ears, as well as additional photographs, greeting cards and postcards, advertisements, and other items. View all of this newly digitized material by visiting our digital collections.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.