On December 26, 1938, Time magazine ran this item in its wonderfully succinct Milestones column:
Born. To Dr. St. Louis Estes, 73, famed California food faddist (nuts, raw foods), and his wife: their seventh son, twelfth child; in San Francisco. Like all the other Estes boys, this one will be called St. Louis. Estes daughters have no first names.
This follows an earlier mention of Mrs. St. Louis Estes (whose own first name is Esther) in Time after the birth of her eleventh child, a girl, in1937, in which she is quoted as saying:
“Names are really inconsequential so we have not taken the time to name them. They respond to Dimple and Chickadee so why bother?”
Some years earlier, however, when the family had only eight children, Mrs. Estes dedicated her book Raw food menu & recipe book to them by name:
To My Eight Adorable Children
Suzanne (Honey Baby, my first), St. Louis II (Sonny), Dixie Lou Medora, St. Louis III (Howie), the twins, St. Louis IV (Fatty), St. Louis V (Sugar Plum), Natacha Moraine (Twiddledewinks) and St. Louis VI, my youngest.
Whatever their names, the UCLA Digital Library has some lovely photographs of them, as well as their eccentric parents. The photographs are all part of the Bartlett collection, taken by Santa Monica-based commercial photographer Adelbert Bartlett between 1928 and 1936, when Dr. St. Louis Estes, who must have had both admirers and detractors, was in the Los Angeles area promoting his version of a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. St. Louis Albert Estes claimed to be “the cripple who rebuilt himself”—choosing a diet of only raw and natural food to bring himself back from ill health, paralysis, blindness, and baldness. Esther Estes was his second wife (his first, Clara Estes, sued him for desertion), and seems to have been in agreement with his philosophy, raising all the children, from birth, on only raw foods. Perhaps they were a visionary family, ahead of their time, seeming as if they might have been more at home in the 1960s than the 1930s. Perhaps they were charlatans, selling their ideas about health to a gullible public.
Dr. Estes wasn’t, of course, the only one selling health in the early 20th century. Health fads have a long history in the United States, and the UCLA Digital Library also includes a collection of patent medicine trade cards.
The true motivation of the Estes family may never be known—nor the reason Dr. Estes likes to be photographed with his fist raised—but the story told by the photographs seems to be a determined and nonconformist sincerity.
- Becky Spiro
- UCLA Library Cataloging and Metadata Center