Thursday, March 28, 2019

Maynard's Dance Ban

A tad over one hundred years ago the weekly local newspaper The Maynard News served the towns of Maynard, Hudson, South Acton, Stow and Concord Junction (West Concord). From the paper on November 14, 1913: “At the Selectmen’s meeting Wednesday evening, it was decided that the objectional dances which have been indulged in in the dance halls in this village must be stopped. All parties holding dances in the future will be notified that these objectionable and so-called animal dances are prohibited and must not be permitted in any dance hall in this municipality. This action is the opening of a vigorous campaign to suppress these objectionable forms of dance and Rev. Walter J. Browne, Father Sheehan, and other clergymen if the town, as well as a large percentage of the men and women are in sympathy with this movement and will sustain the Selectmen in this action for a cleaner and better Maynard.”

Sheet music for The Bunny Hug, circa 1911.
According to Wikipedia, the “Animal Dance” craze was directly related to the popularity of ragtime music, derived from African-American traditions, with a syncopated beat. To name but a few: Turkey Trot (and the more sedate Fox Trot), Chicken Scratch, Bunny Hug, Kangaroo Hop, Texas Tommy and the Grizzly Bear. Scott Joplin’s ragtime scores, especially his Maple Leaf Rag, were the archetype songs for these exuberant partner and solo dances. Silent movies (shown with live music accompaniment) spread the fad dances across the nation.

Maynard was not alone in prohibiting provocative dances. In 1912, New York City placed the Grizzly Bear under a "social ban", along with other "huggly-wiggly dances" like the Turkey Trot and the Boston Dip. Fears that partygoers might do the Bunny Hug or Turkey Trot may have even led to the cancellation of the official inaugural ball of newly elected President Woodrow Wilson in the spring of 1913. Catholic bishops in Nashville and Cincinnati told their flocks that dancers of the Turkey Trot would not be forgiven for their sins. Everywhere, people were ejected from dance halls, even arrested, for performing these lascivious dance moves.

A big problem with acceptance of these dances were that they called for close personal contact, a novelty at the time. There was belief that these were imitative of the lower animals in their sex life, sex desire, sex excitement and sex satisfaction; and these things are in the minds of the dancers who understand the meaning of the animal dances. Or as one critic put it “A wicked and scandalous, infamous and immoral, bawdy and obscene song and dance, or act, corrupting the morals of the public and youth, and too filthy, obscene and immoral to be in decency further described…”  Ragtime gave way to Roaring Twenties jazz and big band swing. People found other things to worry about (Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, Rock and Roll).

Footloose, the movie, addressed a ban on dancing of any type. In the rural Baptist town of Elmore City, Oklahoma, dancing has been strictly forbidden since 1898, on moral grounds. In 1980, students from Elmore City High School initiated a proposal to overturn the ban, for a prom. The community's religious leaders have major objections; one Reverend F.R. Johnson, from a church in a neighboring town, was quoted as saying "No good has ever come from a dance…. When boys and girls hold each other, they get sexually aroused. You can believe what you want, but one thing leads to another." At a town meeting to consider the question, a local citizen predicted that after the dance there would be a surge in pregnancies at the school “because when boys and girls breathe in each other’s ears, that’s the next step.” Despite these objections, the students won the case, and the prom took place. The events inspired the 1984 film, starring Kevin Bacon (and a 2011 remake).

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Maynard's Co-operative Associations (part 2)

Riverside Co-operative Association building, southwest corner of Summer
and Nason streets, Maynard, MA. Built 1882. Co-op was bottom floor. The
rest of the building was rented out to organizations and for events. Burned in
1936. Replaced be two-story brick building, long-time Knights of Columbus.
All images courtesy of Maynard Historical Society.
Riverside Co-operative Association was Maynard’s oldest. It was started by English and Scottish immigrants who worked at the woolen mill. Many of them may have been familiar with the co-operative movement in Great Britain, which by the 1870s numbered in the hundreds. Riverside began in 1875 as a chapter in an American movement, the “Order of the Sovereigns of Industry.” This was an urban workers organization modelled on the Grange – a farmers’ organization formally known as the “Order of Patrons of Husbandry.” ‘Sovereigns’ was in effect a buyers’ club with intention to secure high quality goods at lower prices. Locally, this meant buying wholesale in Boston, transported to Maynard by train, delivered in town by wheelbarrow. Nationally, the Sovereigns organization faltered under financial mismanagement, but in 1878 the local chapter reformed itself as the Riverside Co-Operative Association.

Shares were $5 each (equivalent to about $125 in today’s dollars), members limited to 60 shares. The total capital investment was $1,500. Per the by-laws, regardless of how many shares owned, each shareholder had one vote. The operation started in the basement of the Darling Block building (northeast corner of Summer and Nason streets), moved to the Riverside Block (later Gruber Bros Furniture), and then in 1882 built its own building at the southwest corner of Summer and Nason. The building was a four-story wooden edifice, with the store on the first floor, entrance on Nason Street. The other floors were rented out.

Riverside employees in front of store, circa 1920.
Click on photos to enlarge.
By 1909, Riverside had more than 600 members. In addition to quality of goods and competitive prices, members were twice a year paid a cash refund ranging from 2 to 10 percent based on how much shopping they had done and how good a year the co-op was having. Additionally, shares earned five percent interest. Decline started with recession of 1920, compounded by cost of repair after a fire, same year. In 1929 the store business was sold to George Morse (the store manager), while the co-op continued to own the building. A large fire in January 1936 led to dissolution of the Association later that year and sale of the site to Knights of Columbus, which had been a long-time tenant. Proceeds were divided amongst the remaining shareholders.

A document from the United Co-operative Society criticized Riverside as having emphasis on dividends to stockholders, but without an education program for members and their children, lost coherence as a social institution. Contributing factors were that the children of the founders of Riverside were moving up the socio-economic ladder at same time as England and Scotland were less of a source of immigrant labor. A front-page newspaper article from 1913 had noted that prior to 1900 the town was mostly English-speaking, but the expansion of the mill had doubled the town’s population by bringing in large numbers of immigrants from Finland, Poland, Lithuania and Italy.

Sign on building at site of what was
Riverside Co-operative (KOC sold
bldg., currently Celia T's)
The rise and fall of the United Co-operative Society – the largest and longest enduring co-op in Maynard – will be covered in a subsequent article. There were smaller and shorter-lived efforts.  Suomalainen Osuuskauppa, which translates as ‘Finnish Co-operative Store’, started 1899. Capitalized at only $800, it lasted a few years before dissolving and selling its store to a private owner. Maynard had a chapter of the Grange, started 1913, but unlike in rural situations, the Grange never operated a co-operative store. Gutteridge’s 1921 history mentions “Keefe’s Co-operative” without any details. The Historical Society has a share certificate for the Russian Co-operative Association dated 1917, but there is no other evidence in the collection that this effort reached its capitalization goal of $5,000 or became operative.

Map showing First National Co-operative Association at
corner of Main and River Streets (site now Thai Chilli).
The Maynard Co-operative Milk Association was formed in 1914. Three years later it split, with some of the dairy farmers becoming the diary operations of the United Co-operative Society. The other members, who did not want to affiliate with the Socialist/Communist atheist United, formed the First National Association, which existed to 1941. It owned and operated out of a building on the corner of Main and River streets that had been the Somerset Hotel, site now occupied by Thai Chilli. The International Co-operative Association was started in 1911 by immigrants from Poland. It lasted 20 years. It began in a building near the Methodist Church, later moved to space in the Masonic Building. Membership numbered 200 to 400 over the years. First National and International failed in part because of extending credit to members during the Great Depression.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Maynard's Co-operative Associations (part 1)

Share certificate for Kaleva Co-operative Association,
 dated 1915 (Click on photos to enlarge)
Maynard’s various histories name eight co-operative associations or societies; six of these co-existed in 1917. The oldest was Riverside Co-operative Association (1875-1936). The longest duration and largest was United Co-operative Society, initially named Kaleva Co-operative Association (1907-1973). A U.S. Department of Labor report for 1947 mentioned that United was one of the top ten co-ops in the country for oldest, membership and annual sales. More than half the households in Maynard were members. This column is the first of a three-part series on the history of co-operatives in general and specifically in Maynard.  

To get back to the origins of the co-operative concept, in 1844 a group of 28 weavers in Rochdale, England, organized the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, “…and opened their first store, with a small stock of flour, oatmeal, butter and sugar.” Soon added tea, tobacco and candles. Their guidelines formed the basis for the principles on which co-operatives around the world continue to operate. The Rochdale Pioneers became highly successful, with 1,400 members by 1855 and 5,560 members by 1870, able to shop at many stores.

Share certificate for Russian Co-operative
Association (dated 1917)
There had been earlier attempts to establish co-operatives that were basically buyer’s clubs, which by pooling their purchases were able to buy at wholesale prices and sell to members at below retail prices. The Rochdale Pioneers were one the early co-operative efforts to add profit-sharing to members based on a percentage of the cost of the goods the members purchased, i.e., a patronage dividend. The seven Rochdale Principles:
   Open membership,
   Democratic control,
   Distribution of surplus,
   Limited interest on capital,
   Political and religious neutrality,
   Cash trading, and
   Promotion of education.
Open membership: Although co-operatives often started as groups of workers within one laborer profession (weavers, miners…) or group (Finns, Italians…) membership was not limited. Membership was also voluntary, meaning that members of a union could not be required to also join an affiliated co-operative. Non-members could shop at the stores at the same prices as members, but would not get the additional benefits. United’s start in Maynard was fomented by immigrants from Finland, working in the woolen mill, but non-Finns could join, and by 1947 outnumbered those of Finnish heritage.

Democratic control: All shareholders had one vote regardless of how many shares they owned. Typically, membership shares in the early twentieth century cost $5 (equivalent to $125 now), and members were limited to 20 or 40 shares. Shares could be sold back to the co-operative, but not to other people.

The Maynard Co-operative Milk Association merged into 
Kaleva,which in 1921 became the United Co-operative
Society (from collection of Maynard Historical Society)
Distribution of surplus: At the end of a fiscal year, profits were distributed to members based on the amounts of goods they had purchased during the year. In a pre-computer era, members saved their receipts, then brought all receipts to the co-operative. Staff checked their totals. For Maynard’s Riverside and United, depending on how well the year had gone, members got a cash payment equal to one percent to as high as ten percent of their year’s purchases. If the co-operative had operated at a loss for a year, no refund that year.

Interest on capital: In addition to reimbursements, shareholders got interest on their investment, typically five percent. Share value did not change. When a co-operative voted to dissolve, shareholders expected to get their original investment back.

Neutrality: Co-operatives were supposed to operate neutral to issues of religion, race or politics. The American reality was that co-ops were started by immigrant groups – in Maynard, English, Finnish, Polish, Russian – and often conducted business meetings in their native language.  

Cash only: Many early efforts at establishing co-operatives were under-capitalized, and foundered when members were allowed to purchase goods on credit. Two of Maynard’s co-ops failed in the Great Depression for this reason. Credit unions were separate entities, better capitalized, designed to serve as banks but return profits to members.

Kaleva (founded 1907) became the
United Co-operative Society in 1921
Education: Programs were conducted to educate members and non-members on co-operative principles. Maynard’s United Co-operative Association had adult classes, Young Co-operators’ Club, and Co-operative Day Camp.

United added an eighth principle, which was continuous expansion. Over the initial 50 years membership grew from 184 to 2,960 members as bakery and dairy delivery, coal, firewood and fuel oil, appliances and hardware, and a Gulf automobile gas/service station were added.

United's By-laws had an interesting clause: On the occasion of dissolution of the co-operative, which required a 3/4 majority of votes at a meeting, the assets would be used to pay the purchase value of the outstanding shares. Any surplus would go to the  Co-operative League of the United States rather than to members. 

The International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), founded in 1895, adapted the Rochdale Principles of Consumer Co-operation in 1937, then amended the list in 1966. A major addition was the concept of cooperation among cooperatives but without crossing lines into price-fixing or monopolizing markets. A subsequent revision in 1995 added autonomy from governments and concern for community. The ICA represents millions of co-operatives worldwide, and through that, more than one billion people who are co-operative members. Its purpose, in part, is to work with global and regional governments and organizations to create the legislative environments that allow cooperatives to form and grow.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Short Stories

In Oak Park, Illinois, a car stops at a traffic light, an older and a younger man in the front seats, a young woman in the back. She opens the door, steps out, tosses a keychain into a storm drain and gets back into the car. The light turns green.

Great Blue Heron with catfish
(Click on photos to enlarge)
In Boca Raton, Florida, a Great Blue Heron caught a catfish as large as its head. Standing in the water, it spent minute upon minute upon minute repositioning the fish in its beak, at times shaking the fish, placing the fish on the shore to start over, or dipping it in the water.

A bicyclist is riding the wrong way on a one-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A pedestrian steps out…

A bicyclist is riding the wrong way on a one-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A car door opens…

A bicyclist is riding the right way (with traffic) on a two-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A door opens…

Griffith Park, entirely within the City of Los Angeles, has signs at every entrance warning visitors that the Park contains rattlesnakes. One LA newbie exclaimed “Why did they put rattlesnakes in the Park!?” The answer was that the snakes were there long before it was designated a park. Snakes can strike to a distance of 1/3 to 1/2 body length. More to the point, snake strikes occur in one-twentieth to one-tenth of a second, whereas human reaction time is about one-fifth of a second. Snake beats human every time.

In addition to rattlesnakes (and coyotes), Griffith Park is home to one male mountain lion known as “P22.” The lion has a GPS tracking collar, so park staff know its location at all times. This did not prevent P-22 from entering the Griffith Park Zoo in March 2016, scaling a fence, then killing and carrying off a koala. P22 has TWO Facebook accounts.

The Assabet River rises after every rainstorm, after every snow-melting day. During winter weeks the water level can slowly drop while the air temperature is below freezing. Along the branches of trees that have fallen into the river, icicles form. Rather than tapering to a sharp point, the bottoms are blunt-ended, terminating just about the water’s surface. In sunlight, a long row of these, each several inches long, look like the pendant glass of a chandelier, shimmering white.

Great Blue Heron preparing
to swallow fish
The same river, summer, observed from a bridge: there are fish down there, swimming just fast enough to counter the flow of the sluggish low-water river. The fish are doubly camouflaged. From above, the dark upper surface blends into the dark tones of the river bottom. From below, silvery scales blend into the brightly refractive surface of the water above. One way to spot fish is to look for shadows on the bottom, then find the fish above.

Get in the habit of throwing food scraps out the back door and there will be visitors. Footprints from cats, skunks, raccoons and opossums can be differentiated in a night’s dusting of snow. The morning after tossing out some lamb shanks a murder of crows was working over the remains, scattering when a pair of ravens dropped in.  

Great Blue Heron
swallowing fish
One sunny late August day, gusting cold front blowing in, water temperature in the 70s but air temperature in the low 60s – the result for one small-boat sailor tacking into the wind was gradually progressive hypothermia. Each splash of water felt warm on a cotton T-shirt. Between splashes, evaporative cooling chilled. Physical clumsiness set in, and a touch of mental fog. A gust tipped the boat over. Swimming to the overturned hull, flipping the boat back upright and climbing in was more wearying than it should have been. Same the second time. The sailor turned toward home, miles away.       

Roadside, rural Pennsylvania: A fawn was thrashing about in the ditch next to the road, unable to stand, legs broken from being hit by a car, but otherwise apparently not seriously hurt. A doe stood in the wooded edge of the road. Cars drove by, occupants observing or oblivious. A bicyclist rode by. Stopped. Laid down the bike. Picked up a rock. Walked back…