15. Sociable Bridge: “My mother’s bridge game”

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One of my favorite bits of trivia found while writing Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? was a  newspaper column by Heywood Broun from 1941 with that title–“My mother’s bridge game.” It was fun to come across a column by this political pundit I enjoyed in my youth that fit right into my book’s topic–ladies bridge clubs.

I was 21 then and read Broun’s column regularly, along with that of Eleanor Roosevelt. As I remember, both appeared in the newspaper my father brought home every evening–the New York World-Telegram.

Heywood Broun back then was both famous and controversial, having been arrested a few times in his youth for his radical politics. He was amused by reports of police cracking down on gambling at bridge that sometimes got a bit silly when the raids brought in nice old ladies like his bridge-playing mom who played for a couple of bucks at most. So he wrote this column just for her.

If she’s arrested, he promises his mom to be more sympathetic than she had been to him when he was arrested for radical politics in his youth. And he gives her advice based on his experience: go quietly, insist on making one phone call before going to jail, and don’t give your real name.

The satire was not too broad if you consider this newspaper account of an incident in New York City. Eight women are playing bridge outdoors, having set up two tables along Pelham Parkway in the Bronx. They’re escaping the heat of their apartments in an era when air conditioning did not exist.

Driving by in his chauffered limousine is Robert Moses. Next to the mayor, probably the most powerful government official in New York City. He actually stops his busy day to call the police and has them issue arrest summons for those bridge-playing ladies by the side of the road.  At their court appearance, however, a sympathetic judge fines them just $1 each, instead of the $2 fine for gambling on public property.

It was, I found, one of two continuing themes about women and gambling at bridge. One was sporadic campaigns by local officials to crack down on them for gambling when even small amounts of money were involved.

Second theme was, resentment of poker players (men) when they were targeted for arrest but police did nothing about bridge. What about those bridge-playing ladies? That’s gambling too!

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