When I was loading 1920’s flapper girl buttons on this website today I began thinking about my mother, Alma. She often told me stories about her and her friend, Betty, and the fun they had taxi dancing in Fort Peck, Montana. Now that sounded quite risqué to me. I thought it meant they were like the flapper girls of the 1920’s; very “modern” women who smoked, drank, dressed without corsets, danced all night and attended “petting parties”. My mother set me straight. The practice of taxi dancing started in larger cities at bars and dance halls in the late 1800’s. Women employees danced with men who purchased tickets from the establishment owner for the pleasure of dancing with the women. The women collected a ticket from each man for each dance. Tickets normally cost the men 10 cents per dance. At the end of the night women redeemed the tickets they collected for 5 cents each from the dance hall or establishment owner. By the early 1920’s the practice of taxi dancing was being phased out in big cities. In San Francisco in 1921 taxi dancing was outlawed due to the women’s suffrage movement. In the late 1930’s and early 40’s at Fort Peck, Montana, taxi-dancing was still going strong and involved mainly young women, like my mom and her friends, who wanted to earn money dancing and meet nice young men. Interesting to note the price in Fort Peck in the 1930’s and 1940’s when my mom and her friend were taxi dancing was the same as in the big cities when taxi dancing first started. My mother told me taxi dancing was fun and worth it since she earned a lot of nickels and, also, met my dad, a handsome young cowboy!
Have you ever seen something that really appeals to you and you are not sure why. Maybe it is a piece of art or a tea cup. Perhaps it is something more practical like a wonderful bowl. For me, it is a piece of American Folk Art made from China Doll* buttons, laid out in neat rows with a cross design in the middle. The fabric is utilitarian brown with a heavy weave. I don’t know exactly when it was made but I would guess during the Depression years when folks had nothing. To me, it talks of a simpler time in which everything was used and reused. Nothing went to waste because nothing was all that people had. A nameless woman used these simple buttons to create something very lovely. It is now worn and missing a few buttons. I think it just adds character. Whoever made it is long gone but her work remains. I like that.
*China Doll buttons are made out of China slip, similar to dishes. They were first manufactured in England in the mid-19th century. It is these buttons, manufactured cheaply during the Industrial Revolution that allowed the middle class to afford buttons on their clothing. During the American expansion west, buttons such as these were sold by the barrelful in General Stores. They were designed to match the calico fabrics of the day.