Wednesday, June 8, 2016

D.Y.W.Y.K. Club: 1889-1926

"Don't You Wish You Knew" was the explanation behind the founding of the D.Y.W.Y.K. Club in 1889, in Maynard, MA, a mill town west of Concord. Membership was limited to twenty men. The club's existence came to an end in 1926. Purpose is lost to history, with the exception that we know that the club held an annual masquerade ball at Maynard's Music Hall, prizes awarded to handsomest lady and most comically costumed gentleman.

The phrase, with or without the acronym, appears to have been common slang some 100 to 150 years ago, separating people in the know from those on the outs. Much like "www" for world wide web, saying the acronym out loud requires more syllables than the words it represents. Only in print does it have a useful brevity.   

We know nothing about how members originally decided to organize, what functions the club had other than the annual ball, or how replacement members were chosen. What we do have on the D.Y.W.Y.K. Club is a short description penned by Ralph L. Sheridan, in 1965. From the list of members in 1900 we learn that many had Irish surnames: McCarron, Doherty, Coughlan, Sheehan... mixed with old Yankee stock: Whitney, Smith, Lawton...

D.Y.W.Y.K. Club ticket in collection of Maynard Historical Society
The D.Y.W.Y.K Club masquerade ball was no small undertaking. The Historical Society has in its records a 1909 printers' estimate for printing 1500 tickets, 1500 promotional flyers and 75 posters to be set in storefront windows. A 1901 poster for the "BAL DE MASQUE" provides details: music by Brigham's Original Celebrated Singing Orchestra, Concert 8 to 9, tickets 25 cents, followed by Dancing 9 to 3, tickets one dollar per couple. To put that into context, male mill workers were making 20 to 25 cents per hour.

The Music Hall, built 1884 by Lorenzo Maynard, had started out as a roller skating rink, also doing duty as a basketball arena, host to dances, theater, minstrel shows and silent movies. It burned to the ground in November 1912. The location was on Main Street, west of McDonald's restaurant, roughly where the new apartment building now sits.  

Dancing, you say?  This town was CRAZY about dancing. The local chapters of national organizations such as Masons, Elks, Moose, Eagles and Odd Fellows would each have annual balls with live music and dancing. Gaps in the calendar were filled by groups of friends who would pool their money to rent a hall, hire a band, and hope to turn a profit selling tickets in advance and at the door. In warmer months these might be "Shirt Waist" dance parties, meaning less formal dress - no suit jackets for the men, and skirts and blouses for the women.

In that era, the burgeoning popularity of ragtime music pitted young against old in the form of "animal dances" and the like thought by many (of the elders) to be so scandalous as to warrant banning. Well-known dance names included the fox trot, turkey trot, bunny hug, grizzly bear, kangaroo hop, camel walk, Texas Tommy wriggle... These dances were danced in close personal contact intended to arouse sex feeling. By today's standards quite chaste in comparison to twerking or grinding, but back then, scandalous.

Much like responses portrayed in movies such as Footloose, there were official and semi-official reactions to any dancing that included lewd movement, unchaste touching, or indecent exposure. In Maynard, the November 1913 Selectman's meeting reached a decision that all of these objectionable forms of dance be prohibited "...for a cleaner and better Maynard."

P.S. "Happy Feet" (animated, penguins) was another movie in which the elders were against dancing.

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