This is the third installment of a five-part series on potential anachronisms that can ruin the plausibility and accuracy of a historical.
Different methods and information were emphasised at different times in history. Creative learning wouldn’t have been popular in the conformist pre-1960s era. Students were expected to blindly memorise instead of having more interactive, personally meaningful lessons. Until very recently, young students were taught and expected to use cursive. I learnt cursive in second grade, in 1987-88, and always felt cursive to be more grown-up than print. Now I’ve come to find out that a lot of my peers, and younger people, don’t even know cursive, and that many teachers no longer teach it.
An education was a luxury for the rich until mandatory, free public education became popular in the late 19th/early 20th century. Until then, mostly well-off white boys could go to school for longer than a few years. Many schools also had separate doors for boys and girls.
As I’ve written about before, food shouldn’t be a minor detail. You can’t have people in the 1920s, outside of a big city, having pizza, just as you can’t have people during the Civil War having gelato and hummus.
What was in fashion? How long or short were hemlines? What were hats like? Did people wear gloves? Was it common to make one’s own clothes? Do your characters live in a big city, where they could get pre-made clothes at a department store?
Just because an item of clothing was trendy or existed doesn’t mean everyone would’ve worn it. Also, don’t overdo it with the fashionable clothes. It seems like a parody if, say, 1920s characters wear nothing but raccoon coats, rolled-down stockings with clocks and powdered knees, open galoshes, glovelettes, cloche hats, flapper dresses, and greased hair. People wore ordinary clothes too. Fur was also considered an important part of a woman’s wardrobe until a few decades ago. I generally have women who are as repulsed as I am by stoles, muffs, and coats with actual animal bodies and parts left on, but who happily, matter-of-factly accept fur coats as a way to stay warm and look beautiful.
A Pre-Vatican II Catholic is very different from a typical modern Catholic. In those days, the priest didn’t face the congregation, the Mass was in Latin, Communion had to be taken with the eyes closed and right from the priest’s hand to one’s mouth, nuns wore full habits, and even lower-income parents did whatever they could to send their kids to private school for a proper Catholic education.
For much of the 20th century, Conservative Judaism was almost identical to Orthodoxy, minus the mixed seating and some differences in the prayerbook. Reform Judaism was way more liberal, with some shuls holding services on Sunday and serving treyf (non-kosher food) at their banquets. Orthodoxy was also more progressive, in its own way. At midcentury, many proper Orthodox shuls didn’t have a mechitza (divider between men and women). Sadly, much of Orthodoxy drifted further and further to the right after the Shoah.