09. Sociable Bridge: Jo Culbertson & playing bridge in the 30s

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Playing bridge, in women’s magazines of the 20s-60s, was usually a topic included in articles on food or entertaining. A notable exception was a major article, “Women are Better Bridge Players than Men” by Jo Culbertson, in the Ladies Home Journal in 1933.

Who better to write it? Jo was then the #1 ranked woman bridge player in the country.

Said Jo Culbertson–in a random test amongst a thousand or a million bridge players women will “vanquish” men. And that’s because amongst this mass of general players, women don’t try to make something out of nothing. Men “never listen” and bring habits from the poker table to the bridge table. Then too, women played a lot more bridge than men in an era when working outside the home was rare.

Despite that provocative title, Jo ends up re-stating the accepted and conventional wisdom of that day (and this, far as I know).  Women outnumber men at all levels of bridge from sociable to tournament, but at very top levels–the elites of tournament bridge–men outperform women.

Jo Culbertson credits that to men having a sense of strategy women lacked. In love, however–relationships between men and women–she says women invariably out-strategize men, know the “tricks of the trade.”

This Journal article wasn’t the only one by Jo Culbertson that seemed provocative from the title but turned out to be just another bit of publicity-seeking promotion by the Culbertsons.

In the opening paragraph of a Journal article in 1937–“How much bridge is too much bridge?”–she writes:  “The time has come to call a halt on bridge . . . . from an abundant blessing, enriching the earth [bridge] has become a landslide.”

Apart from her questionable word usage, she seems to be saying she thinks we all ought to be cutting back on our bridge-playing. This from the couple that almost all by themselves had created the fad for bridge in the first place. Not so.

Jo goes on to describe an acceptable level of bridge playing by women and couples that could get you reported to child welfare today. The actual message of the article is a pitch for the status quo. Be faithful to the game of bridge, don’t be a faddist and move on to some other card game.



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