With homesteads on the American prairie often far from the nearest town, people needed a unique way to get together, aside from an occasional quilting bee or barn raising. Some ingenious folks came up with the idea of holding a “box social” as a way to catch up with friends, smile at new babies, and—and many cases—raise funds for school supplies or church pews. Since corrugated cardboard boxes weren’t in existence until 1871, and wooden crates were expensive, willow baskets proved a good substitution.

The premise for the auction was simple; women would decorate a basket and fill it with a supper for two. The men bid on the women’s boxes anticipating a meal with the women whose box it is. Generally, the boxes are anonymous so the men don’t know whose box they are bidding on. Of course, if the men knew their wife’s box they were expected to bid on it and get it for their supper. The real competition was among the bachelors and the unmarried ladies with the mystery, teasing, joking, and sometimes humorous results adding to the fun.

The women were very clever at decorating their baskets. Many times the unmarried women would surreptitiously drop hints indicating which box was hers. Pieces of fabric, wildflowers, string or yarn, or burlap doubled as clues as a way of rigging the results.

The auctioneer would start the bidding by announcing the contents of the basket. Cold fried chicken, ham biscuits, hard-cooked eggs, pickles, and cornbread were perennial favorites. Coconut Jumbles, Joe Froggers (molasses cookies), slices of pound cake were most welcomed. And if a bidder was real lucky, a dried apple pie might be tucked in between the folds of a length of toweling.

Often the bidding would start slowly at “two bits” (twenty-five cents).  To sharpen the bidding, a glib-tongued auctioneer encouraged the men, embellishing the contents of the basket making the food sound more appetizing than it might have been. By the end of the bidding, towns usually netted between ten to fifteen dollars depending on the number of baskets.

While watching the second act of Oklahoma! (the box social scene), I was inspired to add this feature in my newest release Grace-Brides of New Hope-Book Three. If you’d like to read an excerpt  CLICK HERE

Though the practice had fallen out of favor with young people since the 1950s, there has been some resurgence in recent years. The rules have become less rigid with men providing boxes as well, but the goal remains the same…raising funds for a school, church, or civic project.


I’ll be giving away a signed copy of Lessie-Brides of New Hope Book One and Posey-Brides of New Hope Book Two to one random winner! For a chance to win, answer the question below:

As a bachelor/unmarried woman, would you have participated in a box supper social in New Hope, Kansas in 1872. Why or Why not?

Jo-Ann Roberts was born and raised in western Massachusetts.  Fascinated by America’s Old West, she always felt she was destined to travel on a wagon train following the Oregon Trail. She enjoys writing sweet historical romances which take readers back to a simpler time when families and friends help one another find love and happiness.

To purchase Grace-Brides of New Hope Book Three CLICK HERE

All three books in the Brides of New Hope series are available for free for those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.

Website:  Jo-Ann Roberts (jo-annrobertsauthor.com)

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  1. Yes, I would have participated! It would be fun to see who would bid on my basket and how much money my basket could raise for the goal of the auction. Then there would be the picnic with the lucky fella who won my basket. Sounds like fun! Of course my basket would feature a blue gingham bow to match the new dress I had stayed up half the night sewing so I could wear it to the social.

  2. Welcome Jo-Ann – Yes I would of participated. I have always thought these social dinner auctions were so cool to read about. I think it’s a great way to get people together since back then everyone worked and there wasn’t much social time or gatherings. I’ve often wondered how many of these auctions actually brought couples together who later married and lived happily ever after.

    • Welcome to you Tonya! I think we know each through Shanna Hatfield (I’m Jo-Ann Verlik in real life!) I’ve often wondered how couples got together since the distances between ‘neighbors’ was so great. I tend to think box socials were a precursor to the pot luck dinners we enjoy today.

  3. I would of have participated to enjoy the company. I would imagine it got lonely for people out on the prairies.

    • Welcome, Estella! It certainly made for a lonely life so far from town and neighbors. I imagine the fun, laughter, and camaraderie that lasted far into the night when folks got together. And maybe a romance or two blossomed as well.

  4. Good morning! Yes I sure would have participated. I love to cook and bake. Not a great decorator though. It would have been fun to experience the anticipation, smell the aromas, see decorated baskets, and watch the fun competition take place. Back in the day, these events had to be the talk of the town.

    • Thanks for joining me today, Kathy. I’m a better baker than I am a cook although my family might disagree. I would imagine the anticipation for such an event would have the women–and maybe, some men–cooking up a storm to show off their signature dishes.

    • Debra, thanks for joining in the conversation today. I definitely would have joined in, especially if I was a single woman. Of course, if no one bid for my basket, I’d be so embarrassed!

  5. Yes I would have participated because it would have been fun to meet someone new and spend time with them. It could have its ups and downs depending on who got your basket though.

    • Welcome! So happy you joined the conversation today. It definitely could have disastrous results for both parties if they were suited for one another…then again, they could have found true love and their own happily ever after!

  6. I absolutely love the whole premise of a box supper, Jo-Ann, and your blog did a lovely job of describing one! Yes, definitely would have participated, but then I would be stressed out about bringing in the least amount of money. How embarrassing!! 🙂

    Thanks for joining us at P&P!!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Pam. I’m always so honored to blog on Petticoats and Pistols. I loved creating this scene with Grace, Tripp and the townspeople. But I must agree with you about bringing the least amount of money. I’d like to think the bachelors would be anxious to enjoy a meal they didn’t have to cook themselves!

    • Welcome, Denise! I imagine the days leading up to the event would have tongues wagging…especially if a romance or two developed between a bachelor and a single woman. I’m almost thinking this could make a great sweet romance series…hmm, it’s something to think about!!! Thanks for joining in the conversation.

    • Welcome, Becky! I agree! Could you just imagine all the single woman planning their baskets, cooking and baking, and dreaming of that special someone with whom to share supper?! Thanks for joining in the conversation.

    • Welcome, Trudy! Thanks for joining in the conversation. Can’t you just imagine the buzz in the town when an advertisement is posted at the general store. I bet the women pulled out all the stops to make a perfect basket full of their special recipes.

  7. I absolutely would have participated! I love cooking, and I love social events. This sounds like the perfect combination of both.

    • Hi, Jess! Thanks for joining the conversation today. I love cooking as well, especially baking. I’m not as much of a social butterfly as my husband, until I get to know someone. I think it’s because I’m an introvert, but I definitely would have attended the social just to watch the fun.

  8. I definitely would have, because it sounds so potentially match-making and romantic, but I would have been embarrassed for the man who bought my basket, because I love cooking but I imagine I would have been extremely plain back in the 1800s– I have horrible eyesight, and would have probably always be squinting– not much of a catch. What if he was disappointed when he found out it was my basket? And then he felt obliged to eat with me, even though he had hoped for some other lady? Or, even more embarrassing, what if he refused to eat with me at all once he discovered it was me? How bad I would have felt! But I still would have done it and hoped for the best.
    I had never heard of this before, it’s so exciting and fun! I wish we still did them.

    • Welcome, Abigail! I’m sure more than one lady had these very same feelings as her basket went up for the bidding. And the men as well. There were dozens of things that could and probably did go wrong. By the same token love could have blossomed with the first bite of fried chicken or a biscuit with jam. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  9. I definitely would have participated. How delightful, fun and special. The whole idea is wonderful and very interesting.

    • Welcome, Anne! Other than holidays, I imagine a box social might have been a highlight of the year in many small towns on t he prairie. After hearing about the social, I bet many farmers and homesteaders extended the journey into town to stock up on supplies and needed items. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  10. This is something that I would have loved to involve myself in because it is meaningful, old fashioned and so simple but memorable. I enjoy picnics and meeting someone would make it even better.

    • Hi, Ellie! Picnics are one of my favorite outings as well. I love eating outside in the fresh air…my husband, not so much. As I stated in the post, it was a simple premise…bringing neighbors together for a dedicated goal whether it was books for the schoolhouse, benches for the church, or much needed supplies for the town’s doctor. Thanks for joining in the conversation today.

  11. I enjoyed the description and spending time at this event would be precious. I would have dreamed about it and created the most lovely picnic basket filled with goodies and treats. I love picnics and collect baskets so I guess I am an old soul who likes simple pleasures.

    • Welcome, Laini. What an opportunity for single women to showcase their decorating and cooking talents in the hopes of romance! When we were first married, we hung baskets from the beams in our home. However, when we retried and moved to NC, we sold most of them. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog.

  12. I do wish that I was there preparing the beautiful picnic supper and enjoying the company of someone new. Days like that are what makes life worthwhile and enjoyable.

    • Sharon, so glad you joined the conversation today. Like you, I wish I could be there preparing a basket for a new someone who might share in a happily ever after. Besides holidays on the prairie, I would imagine these get-togethers were the social events of the year.

    • Welcome, Melanie! I wonder if the courting rules applied? Or were relaxed due to the lack of women in the West? Either way, I agree, it was a great way to meet someone. With so many people around the pressure would be lessened, allowing the bachelor and the lady to relax. Thank you for joining the conversation today.

    • Hello, Emma! That would be fun! I wonder if any men escaped out the back door once they met the lady or tasted the food. Similarly, did women flee once they saw who was bidding on their basket? Thanks for joining in the conversation today.

  13. Welcome back, Jo-Ann. I love the idea of these events. A lot of young women pinned their hopes and dreams on them in catching a husband. Or a beau. But I would’ve been mortified if no one bid on my basket or if it was the last one left. I’ve never written about a box social and I’m not sure why because I’ve always enjoyed reading about them in other authors’ books. So much could go wrong. And right. Depended on how it turned out. Enjoy your stay. Wishing you much success. 🙂

    • Hi Linda, thanks for the kind words. It’s always an honor to blog on P & P. I, too, would be embarrassed if no one bid on my basket or it didn’t bring in any income. As I stated in the blog, the box social segment from ‘Oklahoma’ inspired this scene in the book. I loved doing the research, and I’m so happy the way it turned out. Thank you for contributing to the conversation.

    • Hi, Shanna! It’s always a pleasure to blog on P & P. Doing the research on this scene was so much fun to write! With all the comments today, I’m; thinking a series of novellas by different authors centered around a box social might be fun. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

    • Welcome! Since many trappers, miners and male homesteaders had to eat the food they cooked, I’m guessing they would appreciate a meal they didn’t have to cook themselves. And they might get to enjoy pleasant conversation, and possibly gain a partner and a HEA! Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  14. Hi, Jo-Ann, and welcome! I was unaware of box supper socials until I just read your blog. They sound rather sweet when you think how the ladies must have enjoyed decorating the baskets and preparing their special meals. And what an unobtrusive way to meet a potential beau for the timid. That would have been me.

    • Welcome, Sharon! As I stated in the blog the segment in “Oklahoma” inspired this segment, and it was so much fun to write! I can easily picture single women finding bits of lace and ribbon then adding them to a willow basket, all the while dreaming up what type of foods they might cook to entice a prospective husband or beau. Thanks for contributing to the conversation today.

  15. The box social always looks and sounds like so much fun in movies and books. However, if I was an unmarried woman in 1872 and had the same personality I have now, I am afraid I would want to do it but probably be too introverted to do so!

    • Welcome! As an introvert myself, I feel you anguish. However, I’ve found out after writing this series that if I didn’t take the chance I’d never know how high I could fly. I’m thinking maybe some of the bachelors were quite shy as well, but took a chance to find a HEA. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  16. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post today. Oh yes I would share in a basket social. I love to see the faces of enjoyment from what I have cooked. I would enjoy the social aspect also. I am an introvert, so this would be a fun way to meet one on one. Would I want to purse the relationship or not? hmmm
    quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    • Welcome, Lori. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post today. It was such a fun scene to write. I love to cook, but my true passion is baking. Like you I love to see friends and relatives enjoy what I created. Would I have submitted a basket? As an introvert myself, I’d do it. If it didn’t work out…okay, but it it did a HEA might be waiting for me. Thanks for joining in the conversation today.

    • Welcome, Teresa! I think it would be fun also…and a bit scary! So many things could go wrong but, on the other hand, everything could have gone right and you might have met a beau…or a husband. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

    • Welcome! It does sound like fun. Just imagine meeting your future husband or wife just by taking a chance on a willow basket! Thanks for stopping by P & P blog today.

  17. I would be participating and praying the “right” gentleman bid on my basket. Would it not have been humiliating to be treated as Maureen O’Hara in “The Quiet Man”? Naturally, if it was the “right” gentleman, I would not mind skipping the month of courting, the month of walking out together, and the month of threshing parties and skip right to month four – kissing, just as John Thornton and Mary Kate Danaher did in one of my favorite films, but I would dread something of the outcome of the horse race.

    • Welcome, Regina. I’m sure many of the single women offered up the same prayer for the “right” gentlemen. I’d hope many of them did find the right man and were blessed with their own Happily Ever After. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  18. I’d probably participate just because it does sound fun. It’s almost like today’s version of a blind date or mixer type thing.

    • Welcome, Megan. So glad you joined the conversation today. Just like a blind date, the evening might be the start of someone’s HEA …or maybe not! Either way it would be interesting. Thanks for commenting.

  19. It would depend on how well I knew my neighbors. I have been shy for so long. I am not sure that I would feel comfortable being out with people. I would be happier at home with a craft or reading. Thank you for the opportunity.

    • Welcome! I’m sure many bachelors and single women had the same uncertainties you mention. I hope you continue to do what makes you happy. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

  20. Good morning and thanks for dropping by. I’m very busy right now I’m attending our Pampered Chef Virtual National Conference so I forgot to check out P&P yesterday.

    I didn’t realize that they told what was in the baskets when they auctioned them off. I always thought it was a secret & the bidding went off of just what the bundle looked like & the auctioneer speculating from the smells & what he thought it might contain. Yes, I would have participated every time because it was for charity & just for the fun of having lunch with the highest bidder. I’m competitive and I consider myself a good cook so making it even better every year. I’m the “I want a bidding war” kind of girl because all the single men would want to eat what I brought! ?

  21. Welcome! In some cases auctioneers did speculate but if an auctioneer saw that participation was waning, he’d list the items to “encourage” a bidding war among the bachelors…especially if the bachelors been tipped off as to whose basket they were bidding on. As you stated it was for a good cause, making it a fun event. Thanks for joining in the conversation. I hope your virtual conference went well. P.S. I have a few Pampered Chef items…love them!

  22. Yes, I would have participated. It would be fun to fix up the box & hope the feller you had your eye on would bid on your box. 🙂

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