Besides photographs and postcards, I have a few other Fort Collins related collections that I will occasionally share on this blog. I can’t seem to pass up fraternal organization ribbons, transportation and trade tokens, stock certificates of local companies, and a loosely defined category of collectibles called “ephemera.” In collecting circles, ephemera usually means printed paper items that were never meant to last. One example are dance cards.
Dance cards are small printed booklets carried by women at formal dances in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most were nicely decorated, with attached cords so the women could wear them on their wrist or pin them to their gown. Their primary function was to record the woman’s dance partners on the blank line provided for each dance. A man asked a woman for a particular dance and if she accepted his name was written on the appropriate line.
Some dance cards, like these two, had small pencils attached, but men usually carried pencils with them. According to dance etiquette, if a man introduced himself and asked properly for a dance, the woman was obliged to accept.
The dance cards shown in this post are from a set of 28 cards bought as a single lot. These cards are from college events held in 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1943, when the Fort Collins’ college was formally known as Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.
Most likely a young woman attending the school in the early 1940s saved the dance cards as souvenirs of her time in college. Unfortunately, the cards record her dance partner’s names but not hers. One thing we do know is that our young lady was popular, as proven by this dance card from the October 19, 1940 Alpha Gamma Rho Pledge Dance. Every dance is filled in, with an extra partner, in case one dropped out. We also know that Dick Allen was special, securing the first and last dance and two in between.
By the middle of the 20th century, dance cards were losing their popularity due to less rigid gender and etiquette practices but they have become wonderful pieces of social history. Each of them includes the occasion, date, time, location, sponsors, and chaperones for the event, and, often, some information on the music, making dance cards a primary source for tracking changes in social behavior over time.
In a way, dance cards are still with us through phrases we still use such as , “My dance card is full,” “Pencil me in,” or “Save the last dance for me.”