36. Sociable Bridge: A bridge-playing housewife of the 60s

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1960 was the year I became part of my first-ever bridge club. It was a neighborhood club, with members living within  walking distance of one another–although over time we acquired members from other parts of town as original members moved away.

1960 was also the year I first-ever thought of doing a bridge cookbook. Then it was going to be bridge and brunch–brunch being a trendy word back then. That first thought to write a cookbook for entertaining at bridge was inspired by the “How America Lives” article in the October 1960 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

Most of the heroines of the “How America Lives” series were typical of the time, and the articles would invariably be problem-solving and full of examples of how one could better manage a family.  Janet Crabtree heroine of the October 1960 issue was something else again, not your typical 60s housewife at all.

Janet didn’t like to cook and mostly managed not to do that. She refused to have a washer/drier that most women saw as wonderful labor-saving inventions–sent laundry out to be “done.” Shopped by phone and had it delivered. And she played bridge–four days a week, six hours a day. It was Janet’s bridge-playing all day that intrigued me–how did she manage that?

I only played once every other week and never in the daytime unless it was a bridge luncheon party or bridge fundraiser.  That’s the way it was in our neighborhood. I knew anecdotally that many neighborhoods did have daytime bridge clubs, especially for older women whose children were grown. Ours didn’t.

Janet caused quite a stir in the next month’s Letters to the Editor.

While I was enchanted with the idea of an all day 10-3 bridge club, I disapproved of Janet’s kind of tacky (I thought) lunch menus. But then, she was a minimalist cook.. She always served the same thing when her turn came to be hostess. Tuna casserole (tuna and canned mushroom soup),  a salad of canned mandarin oranges, coconut and sour cream and for dessert she offered store-bought angel cake with canned pineapple and whipped cream.

I spent a couple months on that first bridge cookbook attempt. And then I just gave it up until many years later. In 1987, I picked up that lost project which ultimately sidetracked into Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway?

But here’s a strange thing. Researching Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway?  I discovered that Betty Friedan includes that same Janet Crabtree and the Ladies Home Journal article in The Feminine Mystique. You can imagine that Friedan takes a dim view of the perfect kind-of insular life Janet had created for herself.  

Me? I thought Janet had managed to create just the life she wanted —–just like Betty Friedan–in an era when it was difficult to resist the neighborhood norm for the stay-at-home mom. 

I have often wondered if Janet Crabtree ever knew she’d been part of one of the seminal and most controversial books of the 20th century by a leading feminist?

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