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
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