Sunday, February 5, 2012

Did they really neck in a rumble seat?

I told you awhile back about a memory I have of my grandfather remembering a special moment in a rumble seat . There is clearly no real way to know if any neckin' occurred - but I did some research on adolescence - and I can say that if Nan and Papa did not do some neckin' they were very unlike most of their peers.

Nan and Papa's generation represents many different things in social and political American history -- the "Greatest Generation" is now a standard phrase in our vernacular and a label I feel that birth cohort does indeed deserve. That group / generation/ group lived through a significant redefinition of (if not the creation of) adolescence.

1900 America saw the beginning of several demographic factors which altered the American family -- a significant drop in births per family and children being born closer together - along with a longer life expectancy for all. This meant that households were likely to have several teenagers in their house at the same time and both parents were likely to live to see their children be teenagers.

Public high schools become more common; the focus of their curriculum - socialization.
In 1900 6.4% of 17 year olds graduated from high school; in 1940 - 50.8% of 17 year olds graduated.

The 1920s saw the emergence of movies and automobiles - both of which become more and more common each year -- giving teenagers somewhere to go and a means to get there - independently.

Courtship rituals altered dramatically in the 1920s. By 1924, "dating" was a standard word in American culture. Prior to that, in 1910 -- courtship involved a man, coming to call, and spending time in the home of his "intended" under the watchful eye of her mother -- while all sat in the parlor.

A date in the late 1920s, early 1930s (when Nan and Papa would have been dating) involved a car ride to a movie, a walk somewhere without parental or adult oversite. Dating at that time was not about marriage - it was a competition - girls kept track of who had the most dates and worked to increase their own number.

These teenagers were likely also engaging in intercourse. A Lewis Terman survey - conducted in 1938 of 792 married couples found that of the survey respondents, born after 1910 - 87% of them had made love before they were married.

Lacking in my brief summary is the reality of what it mean to be a Catholic teenager girl in 1920s America - as Nan would have been. I think all of us assume her faith and upbringing placed her in the 13% in the survey - rather than the majority. I think I assume her courtship with Papa was more parlor-rooted that car-driven.

But, Papa did recall some neckin' -- and there is really no one else anyone can imagine him neckin' with than Anne.

What do you all think?


From Front Porch to Back Seat by Beth Bailey
Rites of Passage by Joseph F. Kett

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