I could not have written Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? without women’s magazines of the 20s through the 60s. That’s where the paper trail existed because women’s magazines, even today, invariably include food and entertaining articles, and that’s what sociable bridge is about–food and entertaining as much as the card game played. [Old small town newspapers would probably be a second source–but that’s a source I didn’t access.]
As I have recounted elsewhere, until I started researching lunch and bridge at the Miami Public Library in the mid-80s, I hadn’t really noticed that the only women playing bridge anymore were women like me who’d learned to play 10 or 20 or more years earlier. Social bridge, that is. I wasn’t interested in the bridge of the ACBL–hadn’t really given it a thought. Bridge for me, was about playing with other women or as part of giving a dinner party.
That Readers’ Guide to Periodicals at the library said it all–I think I found only one article about playing social bridge or even entertaining at lunch, from the 70s on. If any readers remember writing papers for school back then the Reader’s Guide was the key resource for locating articles from magazines of all kinds.
By the 80s and 90s, when I was starting to work on my book, you’d then have to find a library that had the text of the articles on microfiche, and laboriously scroll thru, printing out those you wanted to take home, taking copious notes on others. In New Hampshire where I did most of this work, I was lucky to have the Plymouth College Library nearby. They allowed residents over 65, like me, access to their library. College libraries have wonderful reference sections that most public libraries cannot afford to maintain.
Another thing about New Hampshire is that several of the larger public libraries had stacks and stacks of the actual old magazines in the basement that they’d bring up for you to leaf thru. One I remember had every issue of the Ladies Home Journal back to its very first in, as I remember, the 1880s. Scanning a microfiche is hard labor; leafing through a stack of old Ladies Home Journals is addictive and pure pleasure. Time-consuming, yes–but fun.
If you want to know “How America Lives”–to use the Ladies Home Journal’s title for a feature they ran for decades–go back and leaf thru old women’s magazines. They are invaluable as a source for popular culture research and writing. Or to use my favorite definition for pop culture–“what people do when they’re not working.”