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The Bachelor's Lament

It all started with a letter of lament written by a woman who signed herself, “A Marriageable Girl,” published in the Minot newspaper, the Ward County Independent, on 9 January 1908. Well, actually, this grievance had been simmering for a while among the young women of the Magic City.

The writer describes “the peculiar plight in which the marriageable young women of the town find themselves.” She complains, “the truth is, that none of the young men of the town ever ask the girls to marry ... Not only that--but they won’t even make a fuss over us.”

“I’m no Venus,” says the Marriageable Girl, but “I’m an American Beauty compared with some of these spindle-shanked, cadaverous old skeletons that give themselves such airs. I don’t know what the trouble is.”

She is referring specifically to “the old boys about town--those who work in offices, have lawyers’ cards hanging on their doors, roll pills, and write copy for newspapers.” White-collar town fellows. They were happy to attend social functions staged by the young ladies so long as there was food, but then they departed for the manly environs of hotel taverns.

There are several points to make about this letter of lament. The first is that it pays no need to the parallel lament coming from the countryside, that of single male homesteaders, who cried out for marriage partners--you’ve heard the old ballads about lonely bachelors on their claims. The Marriageable Girl wanted no part of country life.

Second, from a twentieth-century standpoint, we have to observe that the correspondent seems to define success in life solely according to courtship and marriage. This reflects, however, the world as it was.

Third, although it might not have been of much comfort, the Marriageable Girl describes a situation that was common, and the object of critical discussion, across the country--the rise of an urban bachelor culture, young men deferring marriage in order to make a start in life unburdened by family obligations. Moreover, the bachelors took an unseemly pleasure in such manly diversions as sporting events and hard drinking. Some local governments enacted bachelor taxes to discourage such irresponsible behavior.

The woman’s letter prompted ready response from Minot’s bachelors, who clearly were living the single man’s life typical of urban settings. There was some simpleminded trash talking, and some complaint about social pressures to conform to the family ideal, but there also emerged a coherent apologia for bachelordom in a developing community.

Writes one of the bachelors, “We work hard during the day and oftimes at night, and when we go out we naturally go where we will be entertained without effort on our part.” More to the point, explains another single man, “Just now business must come first, later on when our city becomes a thriving metropolis . . . then you will see us essaying to do business under cupid’s guidance.” First, however, his concern was to, in the phrase of the time, “make his pile.”

And then there came another lament, this one for the single men, “A Bachelor’s Lament,” sung to the tune, ironically, of the old drinking song, “Rambling Rake of Poverty.” The balladeer, in five stanzas, professes he “is tired of single life,” would love to marry, but says it is the “awful girls” who “put on airs.”

Although I’m much dissatisfied in my perplexing state
I plainly see there’s naught for me but wait, old boy, just wait

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