Rosemary Can Bob Your Hair

1912. Woodrow Wilson was elected president of the U.S. It was the year of the sinking of the Titanic. Rag music was popular. Gerald Ford and Julia Child were born.

            In Greene, the Sherwood Hotel was built. The Automobile Club was organized with 30 members and made its headquarters the Sherwood. Will Shipman sold his barbershop to Ivan Olmstead. A new roller skating rink was opened on Driscall Avenue with Packard’s Band furnishing music every Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

            In North Colesville, eight miles from Harpursville, Chenango Forks and Greene, Rosemary Hayes Ingraham was born, the fifth daughter of  Jerry and Jennie Hayes. Two years later, a son was born and Rosemary and her five siblings had an idyllic childhood on the farm. There was a spring that always ran and it was pumped into the kitchen sink so they had plenty of water. Her father bought a Model T Ford with side curtains. In the late 1920s they had electricity.  They enjoyed sledding and skating. The district school was very near their home and Rosemary went eight years there and then went to Harpursville to get her Regents Certificate.

Even though she was only six years old she remembers that World War I was a scary time. A cousin had enlisted and in1918 she remembers the horse and wagon that went to many neighbors’ homes to pick up the dead who had succumbed to the Spanish Flu. Later she watched the horses take the caskets to the New Ohio Cemetery that was nearby.

Her mother died when she was 15 and three years later, her father died of TB.  She and her brother were the only ones left on the farm and she knew that it had to be sold. Clifford Decker, of Greene, used to come every month to collect the money for the electric bill. He worked for the Binghamton Light, Heat and Power Company that later was one of  240 local companies that merged into NYSEG. George Decker, Cliff’s son, told me that the Binghamton Power Company was in its early stages and very often things didn’t function very well. His father was always called to fix everything. Rosemary said he was kind to her and recommended her to Erford and Anna Lyons in Coventryville to help with their boarders. She took that job and saved enough money to think about a career. She wanted to make her own way in life. Little did she know that she chose a career that was taking off like wildfire and had changed society in the 1920s - hairdressing.

The one hair style that caused a scandal and helped to change a woman’s role in society  was the bob. In 1920 F.Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story, Bernice Bobs Her Hair, that was published in the Saturday Evening Post. The story centers around how a young woman’s short haircut affected her and the people around her. The bob is essentially a short cut, level with the bottom of the ears all aound the head. It was often worn with bangs and the hair parted in the center. Sometimes there would be curls on the sides. It was a drastic change from the longer hairdos created by Francois Marcel. A marcel was done with a curling iron and deep waves were made in the hair, very popular in the early 1900s.  Around 1915, Irene Castle, a dancer, bobbed her hair for convenience and this caused a sensation. In the 1920s, there was change afoot; it was the flapper age.  There were many fads and young women were cutting their hair with abandon. At first, they went to male barbers who dominated that occupation. Female hairdressers lost so much business that they began to cut hair and eventually women wore their hair bobbed in waved or shingle styles. The shingle was a bob that was cut up the back quite severely at times. As women began to wear short hair, they became more liberated. Some thought too much so. They were able to vote for the first time in 1920.

            By 1925 the bobbed-hair controversy still was discussed. In New Jersey, a teacher was ordered by the Board of Education to let her hair grow. Preachers warned their parishioners that “a bobbed woman is a disgraced woman”. Husbands divorced their wives who had bobbed their hair. But the effects on the beauty industry were astonishing. In 1920 there were 5,000 hairdressing shops in the U.S. At the end of 1924 there were 21,000 established shops. These figures do not include barbershops. There are many more of these statistics and items on the most interesting website, hairarchives.com. For example, the bobbie pin was named after the bob.

1932. On the national scene, the Linbergh baby was kidnapped. In Greene, the Automobile Club was discontinued. Horace Gross retired after 50 years of service in dry goods at the Old Corner Store. A roller skating rink had been established on the upper floor of the building formerly occupied by the G.L.F. on Genesee Street.

The controversy about the bob was over and it was now an acceptable hairstyle.  Rosemary finished her beauty school and received her license. She graduated in 1932 from the only licensed school in the area. The only other licensed schools were in Cortland and Elmira. Her course cost $111.85 and that included her curling iron and the machine that heated the iron. She had learned to marcel, bob and perm. The perm was the next big thing on the horizon and that is why she was hired in Greene by Mrs. Case. Mrs. Case was wonderful with the marcel, finger waves and making hairpieces that were often used to soften the bob. But she didn’t know how to perm hair. Rosemary went to Syracuse to buy her first perm machine. She said it looked like a milking machine. After the hair was rolled onto rods and the perm solution, which was a strong alkali,  was put on the hair, the rods were put into the machine to heat. Rosemary mentioned how unpredictable the heating process could be. She wonders now how she dared to use this machine and the curling iron when the only way she knew how hot they were was by smell. But I guess nobody ever burned up.

In 1935, she married Johnie Ingraham and had three children: Joan, Lee and Vern. She worked with Mrs. Case in the beauty shop south of the Baptist Church in the building that was torn down to build the new Baptist Parsonage.  They worked in a house south of the Masonic Lodge, which also was razed.  When Rosemary had her own shop, the first one was across the street north of the Episcopal Church and in 1953 she and her husband bought their present house where she had her business until she retired in 1997. Her home was built in 1887 and is in pristine condition. To add to its charm, she has left the beauty parlor just as it was for over fifty years. It is a joy to step into it and feel the years slip away.

            Rosemary had all the business she could handle for 65 years. She was on the cutting edge of change in the beauty industry in 1932 including perms, tints and numerous hairstyles. She chose the right profession and with her winning personality, hard work and the “right stuff”, Rosemary Hayes Ingraham, soon to be 95, has been a very successful woman.

 I will end with a quote that was told to me by Carole Westbrook when she was working as a beautician and it applies to Rosemary and all other beauticians in Greene, past and present. Carole was in the grocery store and someone came up to her and said, “Thank you for making the women of Greene look beautiful.”