America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XV
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THE SMALL TOWN WAS THE BACKBONE OF THE NATION IN THE closing decades of the past century. It was more typically American than the city. The people who lived and worked and played in its familiar environment largely made up the middle class which carried forward the traditions and ideals of democracy. The quarterly town dances of the Middle West were attended by banker and mill-hand, lawyer and grocery boy, their wives and their sweethearts. Every one gathered at the ball park of a Saturday afternoon to watch the local team in action and listened that evening to the amateur band concert in the public square. The town might have its "old whist crowd" and "young dancing crowd," as William Allen White wrote of Kansas in the 1890's, its "lodge crowd," its "church social crowd," and its "surprise party crowd,"1 but they primarily represented people of common interests getting together. There was already a right and a wrong side of the railroad tracks, but social distinctions were not as rigid as they were to become in a later day.

This neighborliness made for a pleasant informality, but it also imposed its restraints. The Victorian era was passing, but the town clung to old ways. The fact that every one knew what every one else was doing enforced a certain conventionality which often made for dullness. There had been no expansion in recreation comparable to that in the city. Conservatism was implicit in the social order, and any departure -- the introduction of the two-step at the Pastime Club's annual assembly, a production of Sappho at the opera house -- led to a storm of criticism.

John Quincy Adams would have known just what to expect at

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