In our last thrilling episode, we took up the question of postcards with slightly surprising content. U grew up being told, don’t you recall, that the nineteenth century was an era of repression and tight-lipped prudery which forbade books by male and female authors to sit on the same shelf (unless they were married.) The gay Nineties loosened things up a bit, but it took World War I to bring about the less restrictive morals of the Roaring Twenties, while the Depression and World War II allowed things to be shaken up to the point where authors could use words like “Hell” and :damn” in general magazines. Then came the Sixties, and all barriers were lowered, and from there on, anybody could say and do what they pleased.
As time went by, I learned most of this was spinach. Only one writer made that instruction about male and female authors, and most people made fun of her even at the time. Sure, in the 1920s, Hemingway was infuriated when some of his dialogue was printed as “F—“, but most people knew what word he meant. I had been misled by the Sixties generation, which was merely the latest in the line of generations which knew THEY had discovered the true meanings of love, free speech, and social justice.
Nonetheless, I did still cherish an idea that for much of our recent history, and especially the period between the Civil War and the Vietnam War, the majority of Americans looked away from rude jokes (though they might tell them, the ladies at their teas and the men behind the barn.) Certainly, the U.S. postal Service, which at that time held a lock on what sorts of literature could and couldn’t be sent through the mails, would not allow anything that would raise an eyebrow to pass uncensored.
Most of the postcards we looked at last time dated from the Thirties through the fifties, when, as my mental history book has it, things were lightening up. And, in any case, postcards were seeing a drop in their social level, being restricted as the century went on, to people on vacation of traveling salesmen on the road, who might send a rude joke now and again. But surely nothing suggestive was to be seen before the twenties started to Roar.
Well, now. The pun is nice, but there’s that naked leg, that corset, and, most notably, that stocking which has somehow retained the form of its wearer, AND the little boy reaching into it. Jokes about ladies keeping their mad money in their stocking tops were fairly popular (there was a postcard of the same era which noted that such women are keeping all their treasures together. And even THAT went through the mail.)
As long as we’re in the bathroom, where we left off at the end of the last column, let’s visit this young lady, whom I adore for her deep resentment of her plight. But, um, wasn’t that a little, er, ANATOMICAL a reference for the authorities of the time? (If you didn’t catch it from the chamberpot, she is grieved that a woman has to undress so much more than a man just to…okay, you got it. Just checking.)
This, of course, would not fly at all today. Around 1910, when this series of baseball romance cards was published, though, spanking was much more openly discussed. Besides,
She does get some of her own back later in the series. The spanking of children was a common trope in humor well into the Sixties, and postcards abound with examples through much of the first half of the century. And there was the birthday spanking, after all, which was all in gun.
All in fun, I say. Note that both these ladies are smiling, to show how all in fun this is. And yet…well, let’s just say this probably wouldn’t fly today either.
And what might this couple be up to? What will they be up to when they get down to it?
With any luck, too, they could go on plying with their Happy Thoughts for sine tine without consequences. Please tell me my great-grandmothers at least blushed when this card turned up in the mailbox.
And with these last two, I’m sure I’m just exercising a filthy, modern imagination/ yes, the lady is in her nightie, and it is dark, and she is patting her Cat, which she would know if she felt it in the dark. I have been unable to tie this card or the next one (which is from the same publisher) with the lyrics of a pop song of 1910 or an advertising slogan, or///and I’ve checked the history of slang expressions in English, and the dictionaries all tell me the same thing. But really? There must me a misunderstanding somewhere.