Gay Nineties

Prepared for the American History and Genealogy Project.
This is not a USGenWeb Project or Property
Copyright (C) 2001-2003 by Sandra Sanchez
All Rights Reserved

The Nineties was a period of great formality in Mount Vernon. After one of the many formal receptions given by the Ingleside Club, the secretary made separate lists of guests who had sent written or oral replies to the R.S.V.P., invitations, and a black list of those persons who had not replied in any manner whatever.
Formality extended to manners and morals here as elsewhere. "No lady would dream of crossing her knees in public." Perhaps this dictum was more of a credit to their good sense than to their modesty, as nothing could have been less glamorous than a glimpse of the shapeless black cotton stockings which were concealed by the many petticoats and voluminous skirts.
In those car-less, movie-less , dance-less days most of the good times were had in the home. Certain homes, such as the Lozier, Fancher, and Iorns houses, were famous for their wholesale entertaining of young people who were always welcome for impromptu fun and music. Charades and guessing games were popular, as were authors, parchesi, tiddledy-winks, "Up Junkins," fruit- basket and taffy-pulls. For the worldy few who choose to play "real" cards, progressive chinch was the game in vogue.
We read in the Hawkeye of 1893 under the heading "Parlor Matches" that most matches are made in the parlor in winter. In the summer they are made on the college campus, lover's lane, the pine grove and elsewhere. Elsewhere might well include some of the benefit suppers which were patronized by the whole town, such as the baked bean sociables put on by the G.A.R., where an ample meal and evening's entertainment were provided for a quarter. Ice cream sociables in the summer, basket-suppers and oyster-suppers in the winter furnished fun for old and young.
These were days of the carry-all, the surrey, the phaeton, the pony cart and the carriage. It was also the day of the bicycle.
Major sports of the nineties were baseball, croquet and lawn tennis in the summer;coasting and skating in the winter; and hiding and picnicking at the Pal whenever the weather was suitable.
Best known of the songs of the gay nineties was After the Ball, Just break the news to mother, Two little girls in Blue, Daisy, Daisy Give me your promise true, Little Annie Rooney, The sidewalks of New York and Where did you get that hat.
Advertisements in the local paper furnish fascinating reading, especially the ones praising the magic properties of Lydia E. Pinkham's syrup, Chamberlain's Lotion, Syrup of Figs, and other wonder working drugs. Old timers remembered the medicine men who pitched their tents on the edge of town, chanting the praise of Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, a remedy guaranteed to "Cure your ills from corns to spots before the eyes."
Mount Vernon had her share of wandering hoodlums. In 1894 a mass meeting was called for the purpose of ridding the town of "boot-leggers" and "criminals."
Electric lights were first turned on in Mount Vernon on February 12, 1897 putting out of service Bill Shafley, the old lamp lighter.
One of the many feminists of the time was Dr. Kate Mason Hogle, who combined a medical career with home-making, serving on the school board and performing many other duties in club, church and town.
There were many other women of the town who played their part in the Gay Nineties Revue, some famous for wit or hospitality, good deeds or learning. To give them all their due would require another chapter for which space is lacking. Their records are written in works they left behind.

There were Ladies then and Gentlemen;
We may not see their likes again.
They moved with grace at leisured pace
On duty's pathway clear.
Mount Vernon is a better place
Because they once lived here.

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