Saturday, February 09, 2013

Dancing and drinking and playing cards ...

Irwin and Ethel (Dent) Myers might not have married had Grandmather's first propsecive mother-in-law not held the sins of her father against her.

Back when my paternal grandmother was a girl --- before evangelical and fundamentalist protestants became transfixed by same-sex marriage, a woman's right to choose and getting God registered as a Republican --- there were other things to worry about; drinking, dancing and playing cards among them.

Time has marginalized these preoccupations in many denominations, but I've always been grateful for them. Had it not been for Protestant aversions to a trinity of vices --- drinking, gambling and carousing --- I most likely wouldn't be here.

As my dad told the story, his mother was engaged initially at the turn of the 20th century to a fine young Lucas Countyan from a family of high moral standing, but then word spread in the Otterbein neighborhood south of Chariton about her rapscallion father, my great-grandfather, Cash Dent. Cash was a notable drinker, gambler and carouser --- so notable in fact that his reputation spread from the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming, where he lived, to southern Iowa, where his daughter had mostly lived since the untimely death of her mother.

The mother of the prospective bridegroom, upon learning the unsavory facts about old Cash, decided that Grandmother was not suitable daughter-in-law material, or so my dad said, and maneuvered an end to the relationship. A year or so later, Grandma met my grandfather, the Myers were less inclined to hold the sins of the father against the daughter, they married --- and the rest is history.

Sorting piles of paper the other day, I came upon brief articles from the Chariton newspapers that illustrate the strength of those aversions.

This brief front-pager is from The Chariton Patriot of April 9, 1908, when strong drink rather than LGBT people was considered by many Christians to be the root of all evil. The headline reads, "Enthusiastic Temperance Meetings":

"Last Sunday was temperance day in Chariton. Enthusiastic meetings were held in several of the churches. Rev. W.C. Barber, state superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, addressed large congregations at the United Presbyterian church in the morning and at the United Brethren church in the evening. Mr. L.N. Butterfield of Red Oak, district superintendent of the league, spoke in the Christian church. The addresses were urgent pleas for prohibition, and for support for the movement to again submit to the voters of Iowa the question of a prohibitory amendment to the state constitution. There is a great prohibition wave now sweeping the country and it is certain that the question of further limiting the liquor traffic in Iowa will be up for consideration in the near future."

A few years later, dancing reared its ugly head in the public schools. The following appeared in The Patriot of Jan. 16, 1911, under the headline "Protest Against Pupils Dancing."

"Rev. Munn of the United Presbyterian church and Rev. Evans of the Methodist Episcopal church, representing the ministerial association of Chariton, called upon Superintendent Johnson of the city schools Tuesday and entered a protest against the practice, by high school students, of dancing at their class parties. The question was put to the class with the result that 24 voted in favor of dancing and only two against it. Prof. Johnson says that the question of dancing by the pupils is one that neither he, the other teachers nor the school board has any right to attempt to regulate. It is a matter for adjustment between the pupils and their parents."

And finally, here's what happened when The Chariton Leader inadvertently implied that the ladies of Otterbein United Brethren Church were engaged in card-playing. The headline in the Leader of Nov. 9, 1911, reads "Look Out for a Lynching."

"Among the Otterbein items, last week, appeared the following notice: 'The Otterbein Card Society will meet at the home of Mrs. Henry Miller Thursday, Nov. 2.' The item was written correctly by our correspondent but the compositor substituted the word 'card' for 'aid,' so the women's good church society was published to the world as promoting a 'card society.' The Leader has been making amends so far as it could and has had the compositor bound to a stake and is prescribing slow fire to cause proper repentance for the careless error. However, it is understood the good women are organizing a lynching party and will soon move on this stronghold with the intention of demanding satisfaction. A lynching as been suggested and everybody is invited in to see the fun. And the penalty is none to severe, but before the execution we want to confess that there is no 'Otterbein card society' but there is an aid society and this aid society met with Mrs. Henry Miller on Thursday, Nov. 2."

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