In 1939, there was a major article by bridge writer George Copeland in the New York Times on the status of bridge , “Peace It’s Wonderful.” I found it significant that this prominent writer, and newspaper, included the sociable-bridge ladies bridge clubs as one of the three levels of contract bridge in 1939, along with tournament bridge and serious gamblers at commercial bridge clubs.
Why significant? It’s one of few articles I could find (other than in women’s magazines and old cookbooks) that validates that social bridge existed, much less the importance of bridge as a “way of entertaining” and in women’s social lives. Sociable bridge survived and thrived after the invention of contract bridge in the 20s purely on its appeal as pop culture–and despite being ignored and usually denigrated by the bridge establishment.
This article provides a perfect example, as follows:
I open my book, Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? with a quote from a 1998 article in Spokesman–Review by Karen Kromer, describing a ladies bridge club and lunch in Spokane: “On a recent Tuesday, hostess Ruth set two square tables with pastel flowered linens, teacups . . . soon the Northside home buzzed with the comfortable conversation of longtime friends . . . bidding, holding their cards like tiny fans . . . “–more ab out friendships than just cards.
Now, here’s Copeland’s description of just such a ladies bridge club in 1939: “Out in Keokuk or
Smith’s Crossing it is Mrs. Gray’s turn to entertain the Tuesday afternoon bridge foursome. She gets out her bright yellow table . . . gilt-edged cards, and score pads . . . on end tables, alo bright yellow, are cigarettes, bonbons and ash trays” and it continues with a description of arrival of the ladies, the light-hearted gossipy attitude, and sums it all up with “. . . for this is strictly social bridge, where Willie’s tonsilitis, Mabel’s prize poem . . . are often considered more important than the game.”
Three things are striking in comparing the two:
1. Such is the timelessness of the ladies-only-sociable-bridge-and-lunch club that (except for the ash trays and cigarettes), Copeland’s article of 60 years earlier could be exchanged for Karen Kromer’s.
2. If it’s Tuesday, it must have been bridge club day across the decades. In the 40s, Bess Truman in the White House invites her Tuesday Bridge Club for a weekend.
3. What is very different in the two articles is the tone. Copeland is snide, Karen Kromer is affectionate, nostalgic. George Copeland reflects the attitude of the bridge establishmet toward the lowly ladies bridge club. And there’s the whiff of sexism too–serious bridge clubs were (some say still are) dominated by men despite there are more women playing than men, sociable bridge is for the most part a world of women and they set the rules.
As to the bridge world being peaceful in 1939 after years of turmoil, Copeland credits that to a moratorium on rules changes a few years earler. Albert Morehead, bridge columnist for the New York Times in 1939 in his end-of-year column, “Bridge–Harmony for a Whole Year” is more explicit: Ely was writing his autobiography that year instead of new bridge books.
I have a feeling that the women playing social bridge had an influence too–they probably resisted buying new books, taking up the new conventions and rules that so intrigue serious players, but social players see no need for.