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Card Parties and Lunching Ladies

Jun 16, 2010 3:07 PM | 3 comments

Flipping through our Eagle photograph collection, you see a lot of patterns:  children looking cute, attractive women at Coney Island, enthusiastic Dodger fans, exteriors of churches and schools and so on.  But my favorite "genre" is the party planning committee shots. 

There's no shortage of pictures in our collection that look like this:

Officers of the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor Auxiliary plan a Card Party, 1951

Or this:

Card Party to be given by St. Joseph's Guild Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, 1953

Or this:

Spring Card Party of St. Joseph's Guild, Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, 1951(Don't they seem to be having fun together?)

At first glance, these images seem trivial, if not humorous.  Just exactly how many hat-wearing party planners lived in this borough?  I really ought to go into business attaching ironic captions or funny speech bubbles to these images and placing them on greeting cards.  (Bonus points to any commenter that can come up with a good example!)  But alas, my career is in history, not greeting cards.  

The most common type of party being planned in these images are "card parties."  Card parties are literally parties in which people play cards.  Any card game will do, although the standard selection for women in the 1950s was bridge.  Traditionally, a group of women would rotate the duties of hosting the party.  (My father tells stories about how he was under strict orders not to touch anything in the house on the day my grandmother hosted a card party for 'the girls.')  The hostess would set up card tables in her home and provide lunch or coffee/tea. Players or sets of partners would rotate to various tables around the room until a winner was declared.  The winners of the afternoon would receive a small prize from the hostess in the end.   

But knowing what a card party is doesn't explain why the Eagle enjoyed publishing photos of women awkwardly pretending to be in a meeting.

Making arrangements for the annual fall card party of Anthonian Hall, 1954

The ladies in these images were not planning any ol' party over tea (though I question what is in that tea.  Her fur is looking rather disheveled...).  They were using the card party format to organize fundraisers.  By charging admission and selling raffle tickets, women used the premise of playing cards with friends to raise money for local community charities. 

When flipping through the Eagle itself, you'll often find these pictures on the society page or in some leftover space not taken up by ads.  The committees, almost entirely made up of women (with the occasional priest thrown in), handled everything from ticket sales to door prizes to menu planning.  And the Eagle offered its support by giving them advertising in the form of a photo.   

Annual Card Party Committee for the United Societies of Holy Innocents R. C. Church, 1953("Your suggestion, madam, is shocking.")

The pictures, of course, were also important to the ladies' social lives.  The line between society and philanthropy has always been a hazy one.  It certainly didn't hurt a woman's image to be seen planning a party in the Eagle.  And it was even better if you were listed as a chairwoman--or seen in your best hat, pearls and furs.

Committee in charge of the bridge to be held for the Brooklyn Music School, 1954

Ladies Present a Kiln to the Home for the Blind, 1952

Social climbing or not, these parties supported small initiatives that needed help.  A card party for the Athonian Hall, a home for the blind, helped purchase an electric kiln for resident pottery classes.  The proceeds from the card party for the Flatbush Chapter of the Friends of Ozanam Hall went towards "a building fund for a new and larger home for aged men and women to replace the old structure on Concord Street" in 1953.  And money generated from the Parkville Taxpayers Association card party in 1953 paid for the upkeep of a World War II memorial in Borough Park.  Other card parties supported the general funds of churches, poor houses and retirement communities (like the Graham Home for Ladies).   

Card parties and other such gatherings were not unique to Brooklyn, nor are they a thing of the past.  Do a quick Google search and you'll find that there are card parties scheduled for churches and community centers all over the country.   Perhaps we should take a lesson from our 1950s counterparts and start throwing card parties to support for our favorite causes.


6/25/2010 9:54:05 PM #

What an amusing piece.  I love that the ladies were always dressed with hats and pearls.  Hats really need to make a comeback.


6/28/2010 9:27:53 AM #

Nice slice of ladies' life back in the day...card parties were going strong in the 60s in Catholic schools, and a vestigial one (just raffles now, no cards) lives on at Holy Name School, for one.

Brenda from Flatbush

9/26/2010 6:29:12 PM #

Just to clarify one of the statements in the article; The card parties for Anthonian Hall were to raise money for the kiln for resident classes, but then they sold their pieces to benefit the Hall too!  I know this because I am the grand neice of the founder, Madeleine Walsh Smith who during the depression, noticed a blind woman on the street begging for money and decided then and there to work to create a home for blind women.  She was a school teacher who never married and this was her love and second job until she died in the mid 50's.

Joan Butler Manaster