Poverty Parties

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.

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

35 thoughts on “Poverty Parties”

  1. Good morning Linda- I have never heard of these poverty parties before, but I’ll say I think they were in very bad taste. How rude and disrespectful for those who participated in them to shun and laugh at the less fortunate. This made me cry and broke my heart.
    Being poor or being rich should NOT be a status, we all bleed red and have compassion to love. We are all God’s children and he does not make mistakes.
    Have a great day, only 2 days until your birthday.
    Love you sister friend. Can’t wait until your release day.

    • Good morning, Tonya……I totally agree. Humans can be so cruel to each other. We do all bleed the same color but so many of the wealthy have and do disagree. We judge and hurt each other in so many ways. Thank you for the birthday wishes. This is a big one for me and I’d as soon forget it. Yes, release day for my short stories is about three weeks away! I’m excited. 🙂

      Love you dearly!

  2. Oh wow, never heard of these. How rude of them!! I bet that caused many a hurt feelings or bigger divide between peoples. It is sad what us sinful humans do at times.

    • Good morning, Susan……It is sad and cruel what we can do to our fellow man. But it goes beyond that when it’s deliberate and on a big scale. Sorry to make you sad on a Tuesday.

      Have a blessed day and put on a smile. Make people wonder what you’re up to! 🙂

  3. I never heard of these before. They do not sounds like a good idea. I think it would be making fun and not that helpful.

    • Good morning, DebraG……Thank you for stopping by. It’s sad to see the lengths that someone would go to ridicule others. But even sadder that many of those wealthy still think they’re superior.

      Have a blessed week and watch for my short story release soon. Hugs!

  4. I have never heard of a poverty party. But these days, that wouldn’t fly. It’s just cruel to make fun of people like that.

    • Good morning, Janine…….I totally agree. But then, people can be cruel and insensitive.

      Have a blessed week and look for things that brighten our world!

  5. I have never heard of these parties and I wouldn’t believe is such things as this or even go to one. It is hard to believe that people did this. I can’t wait to read your new book.

    • Good morning, Quilt Lady……I certainly wouldn’t either. That was extremely rude and cruel. Yes, the new short story book will be out in a matter of weeks. It’s being formatted now. I just love this cover!

      Much love and have a blessed week!

  6. Linda, I can’t imagine people having parties to make fun of the less fortunate–for a CHURCH, no less! Never heard of this, but it’s pretty fascinating, even while it’s disgusting.

    I’m excited that you’ve got a new book of short stories coming out! YAY! Congratulations!

    Hugs, my filly sis!

    • Good morning, Cheryl…..Yes, that these wealthy people had fundraisers to benefit themselves makes them even more disgusting. Just crazy the lengths they went to in order to entertain themselves.

      Yes, I’m jumping into self-publishing and I have to admit it’s terrifying, but something I wanted to try. I need to see how it works in case I find myself jobless. Ha! Nothing is ever a sure thing in the publishing world though. And these short stories were just sitting there gathering dust. The book will be pretty short at around 100 pages. I’m excited to try this. I have some longer stories that I could also put out but we’ll see how this goes. I’m tickled with the cover that Charlene Raddon designed. It’s perfect.

      Love and hugs, dear Filly sister!

  7. I was unaware that these parties had ever existed… thanks for sharing… learned something today.

    • Hi Colleen……I never knew about them either. Not sure how I missed this. I stumbled upon the subject when I was looking for something else and I thought it was interesting.

      Love and hugs!

    • Hi Carrie…….Thank you for stopping by. It’s great to have you and I’m glad you enjoyed my post. We do try to bring little unknown facts to our readers. You never know what we’ll come up with.

      Have a wonderful day!

  8. Not much different today, still people feel free to mock and insult those they feel are inferior.

    • Hi Kate…….Sadly, you are so right. No one seems to have much care or compassion for people they feel are beneath them.

      Have a blessed day. Hugs!

  9. Oh my goodness. I have never heard of these. I can’t imagine who would have ever came up with such an idea. A fundraiser to build a church how contradictory does that seem. Its so disrespectful and not what God would have wanted at all.

    • Hi Stephanie……I’m sure some bored rich person decided that these parties would be just the thing to have. Yeah, to build a church no less. Nothing to actually “help” the poor.

      Love you, lady!

  10. Oh how sad this blog is. I never had heard of these type of gatherings. I love learning new Historical stuff from you thru your books and blogs. Love you dear sweet lady!!! Look forward to this collection of your short stories. Woooooo Hoooooo a book from you!!!

    • Good afternoon, Miss Glenda…….I’m sorry I made you sad. Next time I’ll write a happier blog and tell you about my short stories. Yep, you’ll have another book from me. This one is short. If it goes well, I’ll publish two others I have that doesn’t fit at Sourcebooks. I love you dearly! Don’t have any Poverty Parties there in Alabama!

  11. Hi Linda, I’m looking forward to your release!!! I’ve never head of the Poverty Parties, and agree like the others that they appear to be very rude type gatherings. Take care and I’ll talk with you later. Hugs, P

    • Hi Phyliss…….Glad my subject caught your interest. These parties must’ve been strange to say the least. But then the rich were always looking for some way to entertain themselves–even at the expense of others.

      Love you!

  12. So disgusting to think that they threw these kinds of parties. Instead of having fundraisers to help those in need they preferred mocking those in need. Thanks for sharing this info. It’s the first O ever heard of these parties. Can’t wait to hear about your shirt stories.

    • Hi Carol…..Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found my post of interest. I’ll tell about my short story collection in my next blog so be watching for it.

      Blessings and Hugs!

  13. Linda Broday, I had never heard of these before, but what a shameful look at the wealthier side of our country. How they could call this entertainment, I will never know. I can see a few of these women looking down on the poor, but all of them? Humanity at its lowest. They were lucky those that were poorest didn’t prove to them how wrong they were. Oh well, apparently we have not learned in the last 125 – 150 years as, if you look close enough, we have the same type of people today. Thank you for sharing this with us. Just wish me and my loud mouth had been around. Happy Birthday a couple of days early. Might be something coming for you. Love and blessings to you.

    • Hi Cricket……I’m so happy to see you and glad you enjoyed hearing about these parties. Yes, they were and many still are humanity at its lowest. This country is still pretty much divided between the haves and the have nots. Thank you for the birthday wish! How sweet and thoughtful. I’ll be watching.

      Love and hugs!

  14. I had a nice long comment last night but was falling asleep and must have hit the keyboard and erased it. It just disappeared.
    I feel poverty parties were condescending and demeaning. Dressing down and eating poorly was a game for these people. They had no idea what life was like for the poor, and certainly didn’t get one at these events.
    I have been to theme events several times, even some focusing on the poor. The dress may have been toned down, decorations were minimal, and the food a bit less sumptuous, but the tickets for the event were the same price as the regular events. The difference, information on poverty and programs to help were presented. The difference between what the elaborate party would cost and what the toned down event cost was donated to an anti-poverty program.
    There are many ways to make people aware of a “problem.” The Poverty Parties of the Gilded Age really had little to do with awareness, education, or compassion. Pretending hardship for fun was pathetic and insensitive.

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