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Talking Back to Bachelors

It’s not like I have any experience in the matter, but there are fellows who really need a smart woman around to let them know when they are behaving badly. A few weeks ago I was talking about a remarkable ballad that originated in Minot in 1908, “A Bachelor’s Lament.”

Quickly to sketch the circumstances: a young single woman in that prairie city sounded off in the columns of the Ward County Independent about the shortcomings of the local set of single men who failed to take any serious interest in the opportunities for respectable female companionship. She went so far as to refer to some of the bachelors as “spindle-shanked, cadaverous old skeletons.”

This set off a rhetorical battle of the sexes in the columns of the Independent (the masthead title of which indicates it might be the perfect venue for such an exchange). Several bachelors retorted that they were too busy launching their careers and building the business community to have time for courting, and they were tired of being pressured by the expectations of the ladies. The amount of time they devoted to defending themselves in print undermines their argument they were too busy for romance.

Indeed, one of them had the time to pen the lengthy lament I mentioned above, declaring that he was indeed weary of single life, but that the local girls were more concerned with makeup and putting on airs than with learning how to do a woman’s proper work taking care of a house and husband.

The exchange was personal and barbed, but the ballad was interesting, and I thought I was done with the episode. Except I kept thinking I might have missed something, that there was another shoe yet to drop. So I went back and searched the papers some more.

Evidently a copy of the Independent eventually found its way to a homestead west of town where a single woman was holding down the claim. She never gives her name, but she deserves to be remembered. She surveyed the epistolary conflict in the columns of the paper and dashed off a salvo that pretty well cleared the field--a “Reply to the Bachelor’s Lament.”

“I am one of the bachelor girls,” she begins, and as for her male counterparts in town, she declares, “I would not marry one I’ve seen / Of all the blooming host.” Now, as I quote additional lines from the counter-ballad, I will sing them to a common folk tune of the time, which I think is pretty close to the one intended.

Now I can plow and till and mow as good as most men can
I do not see what use I’d make of any bachelor man
Unless perchance I’d stand him up amongst the tall corn stalks
To move his arms and bow his head to scare away the hawks

My eyes are brown, my hair is black, my complexion is fair enough
I do not use a powder box nor yet a powder puff
I carry in my hand-bag my fancy work instead
I am quite content and I do not care to wed

There is more, but you get the gist of it. I’m betting this gal proved up her claim and then went on to better things. I’ll leave the final word, however, to the editor of the Hope Pioneer in 1929, also writing under the heading, “Bachelor’s Lament.”

He recounts the reunion of two old chums, one of whom had married, the other of whom tried to explain why he had not. He said he had searched for years for the “ideal woman”--and found her! So why didn’t he marry her then? “Oh, she was looking for the ideal man,” came the broken-hearted reply.

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