Debutante from Dubuque

There was much ado at the Junior League Convention in Boston, according to May 30, 1925 New Yorker. The lead item in “The Talk of Town” concerned the delegation from New York that “wished to exercise censorship over Junior Leaguers who move here from other towns—Dubuque, Iowa*, for example—and whose memberships in the League were transferred to them.”

(*Dubuque, Iowa, as you may recall, is where resides the proverbial “old lady”–the antithesis of a New Yorker reader).

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May 30, 1925 cover by Ilonka Karasz  (New Yorker Digital Archive)

The New York delegates pointed out that their league was “committed to accepting into membership between eighty and ninety debutantes each year; moreover, that it was forced to accept as members, also, those young ladies whose ambitions led them to shake the Dubuquian dust from their French heels and take the train to New York.”

Debutantes practicing the proper way to pick up a handkerchief in 1925. (Buzzfeed)

To address this situation, the New York delegation proposed that such transfer members should only be accepted on a one-year trail basis. “Talk” noted that “It was not said, of course, that the object of this proposal was to allow local Junior Leaguers to inspect their guests against such provincial failings as might not be corrected in the period of twelve months…”

President Calvin Coolidge (History Today)

“Talk” also continued mining the (unintended) humor of President Calvin Coolidge. When a Washington newspaper correspondent (identified as Mr. Sullivan) asked if the president might recognize the arts and letters by inviting some poets to the White House, Coolidge responded, “Who are the leading poets?” Sullivan suggested such luminaries as Edward Arlington Robinson, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Lee Masters and Elinor Wylie. After some consideration, Coolidge replied: “When I was in College, there was a man named Smith—who wrote verse.”

Gilda Gray performed as the Hula-Hula Girl at the old Rendezvous supper club. Photo from 1922. (Wikipedia)

It was reported that the Montmartre supper club had reopened after being closed for a year by Prohibition authorities, and many of the old clientele had returned including Alice and Jimmy O’Gorman “at their usual table with the Storrs and Thelma Morgan Converse, now abroad but that evening fresh from Hollywood and the barber.” Another supper club, the Rendezvous, had also reopened, “although without the erstwhile influence of Gilda Gray’s glamourous shimmy.”

According to Wikipedia, “although the shimmy is said to have been introduced to American audiences by Gray in New York in 1919, the term was widely used before. Some stories said that her shimmy was born one night when she was singing the Star Spangled Banner and forgot some of the lyrics. She covered up her embarrassment by shaking her shoulders and hips. Although the shimmy was already a well-known dance move, Marianna appropriated it as her own: when she was asked about her dancing style, she replied in a heavy Polish accent; “I’m shaking my chemise,” which sounded to the English-speaking audience like shimmy.”

There was also a brief item on the changing fashions of men’s hats:

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“Of All Things” offered its first comments on the upcoming Scopes Trial, coverage of which would be a regular feature in upcoming issues. It was noted “If the anti-evolutionists win in Tennessee, anyone wishing to drink at the fountain of truth will have to go to a speakeasy…We are not without a twinge of envy for J.T. Scopes. A young high school teacher who can give a simple lesson in biology and become a great national menace is getting into the hall of fame on an uncomplimentary ticket.”

We also have our first mention of Mussolini, who “has granted women the ballot and the right to serve in war. It is understood, however, that the Italian women will not be used in actual fighting but will be saved for the heavy work.”

“Profiles” featured William Allen White, famed editor and owner of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette. The piece was written by Edna Ferber, who concluded that “Bill White comes perilously close to being the Great American Citizen.”

1925 catalog ad for radio receivers (Ad scan from a 1925-26 Brown Lynch Scott publication)
Lionel Barrymore in 1923. He mostly known today for his portrayal of Henry F. Potter, a rapacious slumlord, in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. (Wikipedia)

“Music” featured the review of entire radio broadcast—the first lengthy account of radio featured in the magazine. The reviewer tuned in to WEAF, “a commercial station, renting the air to affluent concerns who provide the amusement or otherwise. At least two of the attractions presented (including singers, a piano duet) on our night of earful waiting were sponsored by business interests and on some nights the whole program may be provided by accounts, Consequently, WEAF is able to inundate its listeners with paid entertainers in place of song pluggers and ambitious choir applicants.”

In “The Theatre,” Man or the Devil by Jerome Kern opened on Broadway featuring Lionel Barrymore and Marion Ballou. The character acting was described as pleasurable, but the play itself was referred to as “nothing much…Two men, you see, exchange souls. However, if you wish you can stuff your ears with cotton and make up a dandy plot for yourself as the action develops.”

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David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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