It came as a huge shock to me to find out that Irene Mawer probably smoked cigarettes.
In our modern age, it is almost incomprehensible that an athlete (which a dancer surely is) would smoke, but of course, attitudes (and knowledge) were completely different in those days. Certainly in my culture (English), I remember my teachers smoking during school assembly in the late 1960s. They warned us not to smoke as it was bad for our health – but continued to do it in front of us!
Until very recently, (and to some extent even now), smoking was seen as stylish and cultured. Film stars exuded glamour, with some using long cigarette holders, which not only avoided the stained yellow fingers but looked very sophisticated. If I said ‘Audrey Hepburn wearing a black dress, with a cigarette holder in her hand’, if you are my age and from my culture you will undoubtedly instantly be able to bring the picture to mind. (If not, just Google ‘Audrey Hepburn image with cigarette’ for loads of hits.)
I have two sources of evidence to support the fact that Miss Mawer probably did smoke cigarettes: the first is that one of her former pupils thought that she probably did, and secondly, the gift given to Irene Mawer to celebrate the 21st Birthday of the school was, indeed, a silver cigarette box.
Here is the information from The Link, October 1937, p.20 “The personal gifts were silver cigarette boxes, suitably inscribed and also bearing the Diskobolos.” (Please see a previous blog post to find out about the Diskobolos.)
And to top it all, here is a photo of the actual item!