4e séance du Labo Junior : 14 septembre

lundi 7 septembre 2015

La prochaine séance du Labo Junior aura lieu le lundi 14 septembre, de 17h à 19h, en salle R20 du Bâtiment Recherche (site Descartes de l’ENS de Lyon). Avant de découvrir une nouvelle situation de travail (dans un service municipal d’entretien des espaces verts), nous discuterons l’anecdote ci-dessous, qui se passe durant les Années Folles.

Le récit est tiré du roman (auto-)biographique "Cheaper by the dozen" (traduit en français par "Treize à la douzaine"), un livre qui dépeint la vie quotidienne d’une famille nombreuse organisée selon les principes du taylorisme.

L’image ci-contre illustre l’enjeu du problème de coiffure dont il est question dans le texte : à gauche, les nattes repliées ("cootie garages"), à droite la coupe carrée à la garçonne emblématique des twenties ("bobbed hair").


Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, Cheaper by the dozen, chap. 17 ("Four wheels and no brakes"), New York, Crowell Co., 1948.


– "We’re the only girls in the whole high school who aren’t allowed to wear silk stockings," Ernestine complained. "It just isn’t fair. If we could just wear silk stockings it wouldn’t be so bad about the long skirts, the sensible shoes, and the cootie garages."

– "No, by jingo !" Dad pounded the table. "I’ll put you both in a convent first. I will, by jingo. Silk stockings indeed ! I don’t want to hear another word out of either of you, or into the convent you go. Do you understand ?"

The convent had become one of Dad’s most frequently used threats. He had even gone so far as to write away for literature on convents, and he kept several catalogues on the tea table in the dining room where he could thumb through them and wave them during his arguments with the older girls.

"There seems to be a nice convent near Albany," he’d tell Mother after making sure that Anne and Ernestine were listening. "The catalogue says the wall around it is twelve feet high, and the sisters see to it that the girls are in bed by nine o’clock. I think that’s better than the one at Boston. The wall of the Boston one is only ten feet high."

The so-called cootie garages, which Anne and Ernestine now detested, had been the style several years before, and still were worn by girls who hadn’t bobbed their hair. The long hair was pulled forward and tied into two droopy pugs which protruded three or four inches from each ear. If a girl didn’t have enough hair to do the trick, she used rags, rats, or switches to fill up the insides of the ear muffs.

Anne decided that she could never get Dad’s permission to dress like the other girls in her class, and that it was up to her to take matters into her own hands. She felt a certain amount of responsibility to Ernestine and the younger girls, since she knew they would never be emancipated until she paved the way. She had a haunting mental picture of Jane, fifteen years hence, still wearing pugs over her ears, long winter drawers, and heavy ribbed stockings.

"Convent, here I come," she told Ern. "I mean the Albany convent with the twelve-foot wall."

She disappeared into the girls’ bathroom with a pair of scissors. When she emerged, her hair was bobbed and shingled up the back. It wasn’t a very good-looking job, but it was good and short. […] They sat in Ernestine’s room until supper time, and then went downstairs together. Mother was serving the plates, and dropped peas all over the table cloth.

– "Anne," she whispered. "Your beautiful hair. Oh, oh, oh. Just look at yourself."

– "I have looked at myself," Anne said. "Please don’t make me look at myself again. I don’t want to spoil my appetite."

Mother burst into tears. "You’ve already spoiled mine," she sobbed.

Dad hadn’t paid any attention when Anne and Ernestine entered the dining room.

– "What’s the trouble now ?" he asked. "Can’t we have a little peace and quiet around here for just one meal ? All I ask is…" He saw Anne and choked. "Go back upstairs and take that thing off," he roared. "And don’t you ever dare to come down here looking like that again. The idea ! Scaring everybody half to death and making your Mother cry. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

– "It’s done, Daddy," Anne said. "I’m afraid we’re all going to have to make the best of it. The moving finger bobs, and having bobbed, moves on."

– "I think it looks snakey," Ern hastened to do her duty to her older sister. "And listen, Daddy, it’s ever so much more efficient. It take me ten minutes to fix these pugs in the morning, and Anne can fix her hair now in fifteen seconds."

– "What hair ?" Dad shouted. "She doesn’t have any hair to fix."

– "How could you do this to me ?" Mother sobbed.

[…] Anne had tried to keep up a bold front, but the combined attack was too much and she burst into tears. "Nobody in this family understands me," she sobbed. "I wish I were dead." She ran from the table. We heard her bedroom door slam, and muffled, heartbroken sobs.

Dad reached over and picked up his convent catalogues, but he couldn’t put any enthusiasm into them, and he finally tossed them down again. Neither he nor Mother could eat anything, and there was an uneasy, guilty silence, punctuated by Anne’s sobs.

"Listen to that poor, heartbroken child," Mother finally said. "Imagine her thinking that no one in the world understands her. Frank, I think you were too hard on her."

Dad put his head in his hands. "Maybe I was," he said. "Maybe I was. Personally, I don’t have anything much against bobbed hair. Like Ernestine says, it’s more efficient. But when I saw how upset it made you, I lost my temper, I guess."

"I don’t have anything against bobbed hair either," Mother said. "It certainly would eliminate a lot of brushing and combing. But I knew you didn’t like it, and…"


That weekend, Mother took the girls down to Dad’s barber shop in the Claridge Building in Montclair.

– "I want you to trim this one’s hair, please," she said, pointing to Anne, "and to bob the hair of the others."

– "Any special sort of bob, Mrs. Gilbreth ?" the barber asked.

– "No. No, I guess just a regular bob," Mother said slowly. "The shorter the better."

– "And how about you, Mrs. Gilbreth ?"

– "What about me ?"

– "How about your hair ?"

– "No, sir," the girls shouted indignantly. "You don’t touch a hair on her head. The idea !"

Mother pretended to consider the suggestion. "I don’t know, girls," she smiled. "It might look very chic. And it certainly would be more efficient. What do you think ?"

– "I think," said Ernestine, "it would be disgraceful. After all, a mother’s a mother, not a silly flapper."

– "I guess not today, thank you," Mother told the barber. "Five bobbed-haired bandits in the family should be enough."