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A kiss pledge by female students

Published April 09. 2011 09:00AM

By jim zbick

@$: An interesting article titled "Girls Won't Be Kissed on Lips" appeared in the April 1, 1911, edition of the Tamaqua Courier, but the story was no April Fool's joke.

The writer stated that a number of female students at Bloomsburg State Normal School had joined a group called the World's Health Organization and agreed "not to be kissed or kiss."

Since the Columbia County college attracted a number of students form the Tamaqua area, the writer felt it was important.

The pledge of the ladies stated:

"In order to encourage good health and lessen the spread of consumption I desire to join the World's Health Organization and hereby pledge myself to discourage the custom of kissing on the lips whenever it is in my power."

Even though branches of the organization were being established in many towns and cities around the state - Williamsport had a large club - it was noted that the "boys at the school as yet have not been asked to join the society." At the time, the college had an enrollment of about 600, and "girl students" outnumber the males by about two to one.

"Sentiment is not altogether behind the movement, as many may suppose," the writer stated. "Physicians and health authorities claim that disease is frequently spread through kissing."

The pledge by the Bloomsburg ladies was not all that shocking, given the fact that their pledge came only about 10 years after the Victorian era, with its strict code of morality, officially ended. One Bloomsburg historian noted that at the time, "the Puritan ethic" was still strong in the middle Susquehanna region.

"The strictest manners and mores of the late Victorian era may have dissolved in the cities, but not in the villages and small towns of central Pennsylvania," he explained. "The strictest deportment was expected of those working in the church or with the youth of the region."

During the last 35 years of the 1800s, girls from upper-crust families were always accompanied by a chaperone on their dates even when a boyfriend showed up at the home for a "parlor visit." That chaperone was usually a close family member, such as the girl's mother, an aunt or family friend.

The word "sentiment," which the Tamaqua Courier writer used in his news story, could be translated as having "feelings for another." Likewise in the 1800s, the word "sparking" was just another term for courting, kissing or cuddling.

The kissing pledge taken by the female students was also not that shocking if one considers some of the other rules and regulations that were once in effect and governed social behavior at the teachers college.

For example:

• Teachers stood in the halls with notebooks in hand to record demerits against students who whispered as they passed between classes.

• It was once considered a misdemeanor if a boy and a girl spoke to each other, smiled, or passed notes to each other in the halls - without permission.

• Professors were required to compute a mathematical summary of each student's deportment and read it aloud in chapel at the end of the month.

The discipline was often strict. One Sunday a young lady left the school grounds during quiet hour, and "rode out" with a young gentleman from the town. She didn't return until after supper.

In a special meeting, the faculty considered two courses of action. Either the young lady could be sent home until final examinations - allowing her to return to the school long enough to take the tests - and then be sent home immediately; or she would be publicly reprimanded before the boarders and be required to make a public apology and "... not allowed to appear in any class performance during commencement."

On campus, bicycles remained popular not only with students but faculty as well.

Although the automobiles were becoming more popular in towns across America, horse-drawn carriages were still a primary mode of transportation.

The automobile was still a few years away from impacting courtship patterns, including the way boys and girls approached each other. Within the decade, unchaperoned automobile parties would be attended halfway across the state and they could go on as late as midnight.

As for the popularity of the kiss, the first onscreen lip-lock was captured on film in 1896 by the Edison Company, entitled "The May Irwin - John C. Rice Kiss." The entire film lasted less than 30 seconds, and simply consisted of a man and a woman half-kissing, half-talking, followed by a full kiss.

At the time, however, people were shocked. One review by publisher Herbert S. Stone began, "The spectacle of their prolonged pasturing on each other's lips was hard to bear ... such things call for police interference."

Danish philologist Christopher Nyrop, author of "The Kiss and Its History" (1901), felt women preferred the kiss of a bearded man. According to this authority, the most refined women of Jutland say, "Kissing a fellow without a quid of tobacco and a beard is like kissing a clay wall."

Another tough guy, who obviously dismissed the straight-laced attitudes of the Victorian era, stated: 'Kissing one who neither smokes nor chews tobacco is like kissing a new-born calf on the rump.'"

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