This is the section of my paper that is relevant to this time period. I bolded some of the more important points.
From the mid eighteen hundreds to the early nineteen hundreds courtship in the form of calling was mainstream. When a girl reached the proper age, she became eligible to receive male callers. At first her mother would invite prospective callers and later the girl could offer an invitation to an eligible unmarried man that she had been properly introduced to at a dance or other entertainment. If invited it was customary for a man to call on the woman as a sign of thanks and respect even if he was not actually interested in courting her. Women selected special day during which they would receive callers in their home, this resulted in women having most of the control in the courtship process. The men were dependent on being invited to call by the women or her family and the call itself took place in the woman’s home and often under the supervision of her mother. Only men of the correct social class were invited and if a caller was deemed unsuitable he was given an excuse and turned away. Unlike in almost every other aspect of life, almost all of the power was in the hands of the woman who represented her husband in this ritual of social status.
There was nothing simple about the call according to Beth Bailey “The call itself was a complicated event. A myriad of rules governed everything: the proper amount of time between invitation and visit (a fortnight or less); whether or not refreshments should be served (not if one belonged to a fashionable or semi-fashionable circle) … chaperonage (the first call must be made on daughter and mother, but excessive chaperonage would indicate to the man that his attentions were unwelcome); appropriate topics of conversation … how leave should be taken (on no account should the woman “accompany [her caller] to the door nor stand talking while he struggles into his coat”)” . These conventions of courtship were set forth in many women’s national magazines and books on etiquette, and they were considered to be the manners of any “well-bred” person. Men often felt a strong pressure to live up to these expectations “they wrote to the same advisers with questions about calling. In 1907, Harper’s Bazaar ran a major article titled “Etiquette for Men,” explaining the ins and outs of the calling system.” . These customs did vary slightly by region or ethnic group but for the most part they were universally accepted by the American middle class and was often also practiced by the working and upper classes with some changes. The rigid customs of calling only began to change in the early twentieth century with a radical new idea the date.
Dating, both the word and the activity, came in to the mainstream of the middle class in the early twentieth century. It originated in the lower classes mostly out of necessity, most lower-class people simply did not have enough room to accept callers as they were often squeezed into one or two rooms in the dense urban landscape. Working class girls often struggled to receive callers, and often resorted to pooling their money to rent a single room where they could receive callers. The only other alternative was the street as they simply did not have enough room at home. Many moved to seeing men in public spaces like parks, dance halls or the cinema.
This shift also created the system of the women being dependent on the man when dating. Since young working women’s wages often did not cover necessary expenses” Since housing, food, fuel, and clothing consumed most of their income, the working-class family as a unit could afford only the cheapest of amusements.” they relied on men to pay for the dates and entertainment. In the beginning this type of behavior was not seen as respectable and young women going out in public to places like dance hall was looked down upon. That didn’t mean that they couldn’t go out in public at all “Respectable young women did, of course, enter the public world, but their excursions into the public were cushioned. Public courtship of middle-class and upper-class youth was at least supposed to be chaperoned; those with money and social position went to private dances with carefully controlled guest lists, to theater parties where they were a private group within the public.” . This slowly began changing as the privileged youth from the middle and upper classes wanted a way to rebel against the strict customs of their parents and led more private lives. The possibility of privacy in an anonymous public place was a big draw to young people who wanted to escape the parental supervision of the home even if it meant appearing less respectable. This along with more young women going to college and getting jobs slowly moved the concept of dating more into the mainstream.
Dating in America really took off and became commonplace with the end of World War 1 and the roaring twenties. By the start of the 1930’s dating had become a universal custom in all of America with the practice of calling effectively becoming extinct. One of the biggest influencers on the dating scene was the invention and wide adoption of the automobile, “the car allowed a level of intimacy and privacy… A boy called for his date usually just by honking the horn, and the young couple was off and away, out or reach of parental controls” . This was especially important in suburban and rural areas where getting around previously was extremely difficult and time consuming. The car gave the youth a sense of freedom, mobility and privacy which was very difficult to achieve before, and while the car did not cause the concept of dating it did substantially accelerate and extend the process.
The new system of dating resulted in several important changes to the American way of courtship. One of the largest changes was generational, dating significantly reduced the control of the parents and gave young men and women more freedom. No longer were young couples confined to the home where they were close to parental supervision , now they could see each other outside the home and had complete control over their activities. The dating system also resulted in a massive shift of power from the women to the men, one that we can see the effects of even today. Courtship used to take place in the girl’s home which was in the woman’s sphere, but as dating moved outside the home into realm of the men’s sphere. Despite the traditions of courtship and calling being very restrictive and repressive they did allow the women control over the process, dating completely changed that. In the calling process the women took the initiative and invited a man to call on her and it was highly inappropriate for a man to take the initiative.
In the new dating system, it was the man that took the initiative and asked the woman on a date. This was made very clear in the numerous books and magazines that focused on dating etiquette “One teen advice book from the 1950s told girls never to take the initiative with a boy, even under some pretext such as asking about homework: “Boys are jealous of their masculine prerogative of taking the initiative.”” and because “the invitation to go out must “always” come from the man, for he was the one “responsible for the expense.”” . This led to dating in a way becoming an economic exchange, in which a man spent money on a woman in public, in fact one of the early meanings of the word date was the economic exchange of prostitution.
The system of dating was heavily focused on money, it made access to women directly dependent on money. If a man could not afford a proper date his choice in girls would be severely limited, and men often complained of the high costs of seeing girls. Girls simply would not go out with boys that could not afford them “A highschool girl said, 'Il know I don’t give many second dates to boys unless they can take me to keen places. Some of the fellows I’d like to go with can’t afford it, and I just don’t go with them, that’s all."” . Men basically exchanged their money and companionship for the companionship of women and while this may seem extremely imbalanced at first men were also getting something else from this deal - power. The women were almost never expected to pay for dates “A Senior Scholastic poll on dating found that while 90 percent of the girls questioned would agree to “occasionally,” if reluctantly, share expenses, 50 percent of the boys strenuously objected to the idea.” , just spending time with a boy was not considered a date, a date required money to be spent on some form of entertainment. There was nothing cheap when going on a data “an “average date” usually cost a boy $5.25: $3 for a car, $1.25 for a “show,” and $1 for “eats.”” or about $50 in today’s money, back then the median family income was about $3,000.
This system of very specific expectations largely resulted in the stereotypes and practices that still exist today. Both genders were told to look for certain qualities in each other “countless sources told men that they could evaluate women on the size of their breasts, others told women to evaluate men on the thickness of their wallets” . Many of these stereotypes and practices exist today with men being judged on what job they have and how much money is in their bank account while women are mostly judged on their looks.
In the interwar years dating was largely seen more as a competition as to who was more popular than it was a way to find a spouse. This all has to happen a certain way “popularity defined in a very specific way. It was not earned directly through talent, looks, personality, or importance in organizations, but by the way these attributes translated into dates. These dates had to be highly visible, and with many different people, or they didn’t count.” this all translated into a rating dating system that was very prevalent on college campus in the 1930’s, the goal was not to find a single partner but to go on as many dates as possible with the goal of appearing generally popular. This competition could also be seen on the dance floor with girls being encouraged to be “once-arounders” which means to dance with as many boys as possible, otherwise they would give off the wrong feeling. Even dancing had strict guidelines “The man had to request the dance and was responsible for the woman until she was taken over by another partner. On no account could he leave her stranded on the dance floor or alone on the sidelines. Only she could suggest leaving the dance floor” , getting stuck with one partner was one of the worst things that could happen it was viewed as sign of social failure and often young men would not ask girls to dance unless they had already proven their popularity. This convention lasted until the 1950’s at which point it became extremely rude to cut in and to dance with lots of people. This was largely due to a shortage of eligible men as the women now outnumbered the men because of men working more dangerous jobs, reduced immigration and World War 2.