10. Sociable Bridge: “How much bridge is too much bridge?”

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When Jo Culbertson wrote her article, “How much bridge is too much bridge?” in the August 1934 Ladies Home Journal  she was joining the bandwagon of criticism leveled at bridge players in the 30s  as contract reached national obsession level.

The Rotarian published a debate between two members to answer the question, “Should bridge be abolished?” As if it could be! Fads have a momentum, no doubt initiated in most cases by promoters like Ely Culbertson. But once they catch on they grow exponentially. Sociologists have compared fads to the way a contagious disease is spread–person to person.

In the Rotarian debate, Silas Bent answered the “Should bridge be abolished?” with “Yessir” and blamed bridge for everything from heart disease to the break up of marriages and the end of conversation. The pro-bridge Clinton Anderson in “No, Never” defended bridge, but it was clear his main concern was all-male bridge clubs, not the ladies-only bridge clubs.

University professors at places like Columbia, NYU, University of Chicago opined negatively on the claim that playing bridge was good for one’s brain. Bridge players, one said, were incapable of “talk” or listening to music, bridge was about giving these people something to do with their hands, like giving a rattle to a baby.

The professors, in turn, were accused of just trying to “pick up a few publicity crumbs from the mighty banquet” served up by Ely Culbertson.

The most extreme comment–really over-the-top–was that of bridge historian Jack Olsen:

“Whist led to bridge-whist, which led to auction bridge, which led to
contract bridge, which led to mayhem and other social evils.”

Somewhat validating Olsen’s comment, I did find in newspapers of that era, encough examples (Chapter 12  in my book) of mayhem–even a murder and a suicide–to somewhat justify Olsen’s negative opinion of the craze for playing contract bridge.

But here’s the thing. Invariably the mayhem happened between men and women–couples–playing bridge. Men and women only behave badly when they play bridge together is my conclusion.

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