In the late 1800s at the tail end of the Gilded Age, the wealthy began having what they called “Poverty Parties.” They mostly provided entertainment for the snooty rich where they could poke fun of the poor and call it “all in good fun.” Believe me, the poor were having no fun.
One such party was at the home of D.W. Tripp in Athens, Pennsylvannia. Guests were instructed to wear flour sack clothes, no jewelry, and speak in dialect.
Here’s a portion of the invitation and it’s very difficult to read:
“Every womin what kums must ware a Poverty dress and apern, er something ekelly erpropriate, an leave her poodle dorg to hum.”
Fines were assessed for dressing too fine, having cigars in a man’s pocket, slicking his hair down, walking with a cane, etc. The party was a fundraiser and the money went toward building a new church.
The food consisted of corn meal mush served with an abundance of cream and sugar, brown and white bread sandwiches, apple and pumpkin pie, donuts and cookies. The table was bare. No tablecloth or napkins and the guests ate from tin plates and drank coffee from tin cups.
These parties established even a greater divide between the classes. These parties came at a time of great inequality. Immigrants were suffering and dying as well as black Americans. I’m sure they had a different view of these parties.
One snooty woman wrote an article in the 1905 copy of Bright Ideas for Entertaining that stressed that the tinware was always “borrowed” for the party. She wanted to make sure no one thought the rich would actually “own” any.
Yet, later on into the 1920s, one woman wrote that Poverty Parties should be used to shine a light on the less fortunate instead of making fun of them and that the guests should perform some real service to help the poor.
Southern fraternities and sororities carried over this form of entertainment well into the 1950s. Then they added unemployment parties where they stood in a bread line to get coffee and donuts.
I had never heard of these until I ran across an article a month or so back. My parents suffered through severe poverty and didn’t think it was much of a party.
What are your thoughts? Have you heard of these? What do you think about the subject?
Oh, and I plan to release a collection of short stories next month. My first attempt at self-publishing. It’ll be in both print and ebook. This isn’t up for sale yet. Soon, my little darlings.