of millions of (mostly) women. It is the unwanted offspring of establishment bridge. Sociable bridge has no organization or structure whatever–like all true popular culture (as opposed to corporation promoted) its growth has been by word-of-mouth, passed on from mother to daughter. Until the 70s, that is. Today we’re mostly the last survivors of Charles Goren’s influence in the 50s–but bridge IS also making a bit of acomeback as part of the Retro 90s nostalgia for pop culture of the 1950s.
Sociable bridge players are uncountable, beneath media radar, a subterranean sisterhood. And we are a pop culture phenomenon if you consider the role bridge has played in the lives of millions of women since the turn of the 20th century and still today.
I learned to play in the 50s. I didn’t get “hooked” on the pop culture and history of bridge and start collecting “stuff” on the topic until the mid-80s at the Miami Public Library. I was spending Christmas in Florida with my daughter and thought I’d spend the days (while she worked) looking into a book idea I’d long wanted to explore. A bridge and brunch cookbook.
It didn’t take long that day at the library to discover that even though I was still playing bridge and most of the women I knew were doing the same–ladies bridge parties were not to be found, as a way of entertaining, in current cookbooks or women’s magazines of the 80s. How come I wondered?
For library junkies like me, browsing the bookshelves in a library is like following Hansel and Gretel’s trail of crumbs. One thing leads to another until, I ended up in social sciences to find an answer. I came across an article by Hugh Gardner, “Bureaucracy at the Bridge Table” included in a popular culture anthology called Sidesaddle on the Golden Calf. I was hooked!
I’d played bridge for 30 years and until then didn’t have a clue about bridge history. I may have heard of Ely Culbertson, but only as someone replaced by Charles Goren. I knew of Goren of course–he was Mr. Bridge in the 50s when I learned to play. That’s about it. The Gardner article set me off on decades of dabbling in bridge history and popular culture. As a sometime pursuit, that is, on again off again.
It was the totally different status of the two kinds of bridge–serious and sociable–that I found so interesting. And the wild Culbertson era of the 20s and 30s. The pervasive role of bridge in women’s social lives since the end of the 19th century, even though what little mention I could find in print was mostly criticism of women for wasting time on playing bridge.
I began thinking of us as descendants of a stubborn, persistent line of women who refused to give up their bridge game in the face of constant criticism. An embattled sisterhood. I want us sociable bridge ladies to survive after I’m gone!